Kirkaldy, David

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b. 4 April 1820 Mayfield, Dundee, Scotland
d. 25 January 1897 London, England
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Scottish engineer and pioneer in materials testing.
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The son of a merchant of Dundee, Kirkaldy was educated there, then at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh, and at Edinburgh University. For a while he worked in his father's office, but with a preference for engineering, in 1843 he commenced an apprenticeship at the Glasgow works of Robert Napier. After four years in the shops he was transferred to the drawing office and in a very few years rose to become Chief. Here Kirkaldy demonstrated a remarkable talent both for the meticulous recording of observations and data and for technical drawing. His work also had an aesthetic appeal and four of his drawings of Napier steamships were shown at the Paris Exhibition of 1855, earning both Napier and Kirkaldy a medal. His "as fitted" set of drawings of the Cunard Liner Persia, which had been built in 1855, is now in the possession of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London; it is regarded as one of the finest examples of its kind in the world, and has even been exhibited at the Royal Academy in London.
With the impending order for the Royal Naval Ironclad Black Prince (sister ship to HMS Warrior, now preserved at Portsmouth) and for some high-pressure marine boilers and engines, there was need for a close scientific analysis of the physical properties of iron and steel. Kirkaldy, now designated Chief Draughtsman and Calculator, was placed in charge of this work, which included comparisons of puddled steel and wrought iron, using a simple lever-arm testing machine. The tests lasted some three years and resulted in Kirkaldy's most important publication, Experiments on Wrought Iron and Steel (1862, London), which gained him wide recognition for his careful and thorough work. Napier's did not encourage him to continue testing; but realizing the growing importance of materials testing, Kirkaldy resigned from the shipyard in 1861. For the next two and a half years Kirkaldy worked on the design of a massive testing machine that was manufactured in Leeds and installed in premises in London, at The Grove, Southwark.
The works was open for trade in January 1866 and engineers soon began to bring him specimens for testing on the great machine: Joseph Cubitt (son of William Cubitt) brought him samples of the materials for the new Blackfriars Bridge, which was then under construction. Soon The Grove became too cramped and Kirkaldy moved to 99 Southwark Street, reopening in January 1874. In the years that followed, Kirkaldy gained a worldwide reputation for rigorous and meticulous testing and recording of results, coupled with the highest integrity. He numbered the most distinguished engineers of the time among his clients.
After Kirkaldy's death, his son William George, whom he had taken into partnership, carried on the business. When the son died in 1914, his widow took charge until her death in 1938, when the grandson David became proprietor. He sold out to Treharne \& Davies, chemical consultants, in 1965, but the works finally closed in 1974. The future of the premises and the testing machine at first seemed threatened, but that has now been secured and the machine is once more in working order. Over almost one hundred years of trading in South London, the company was involved in many famous enquiries, including the analysis of the iron from the ill-fated Tay Bridge (see Bouch, Sir Thomas).
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland Gold Medal 1864.
Bibliography
1862, Results of an Experimental Inquiry into the Tensile Strength and Other Properties of Wrought Iron and Steel (originally presented as a paper to the 1860–1 session of the Scottish Shipbuilders' Association).
Further Reading
D.P.Smith, 1981, "David Kirkaldy (1820–97) and engineering materials testing", Transactions of the Newcomen Society 52:49–65 (a clear and well-documented account).
LRD / FMW

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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