Laird, John

SUBJECT AREA: Ports and shipping
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b. 1805 (?) Greenock, Scotland
d. 26 October 1874 Birkenhead, England
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Scottish pioneer of large-scale iron shipbuilding.
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When only 5 years old, Laird travelled with his family to Merseyside, where his father William Laird was setting up a ship-repair yard. Fourteen years later his father established the Birkenhead Ironworks for ship and engine repairs, which in later years was to achieve great things with John Laird at the helm. John Laird trained as a solicitor, but instead of going into practice he joined the family business. Between 1829 and 1832 they built three iron barges for inland use in Ireland; this form of construction had become less of a novelty and followed the example set by Thomas Wilson in 1819, but Laird was fired with enthusiasm for this mode of construction. New iron ships followed in rapid succession, with two of especial note: the paddle steamer Lady Lansdown of 1833, which was dismantled and later re-erected on the river Shannon, becoming one of Britain's first "knock-down" contracts; and the early steamer Robert F.Stockton, which had a double Ericsson screw propeller and the first iron transverse watertight bulkheads. With the good name of the shipyard secure, they received orders from MacGregor Laird (John Laird's younger brother) for iron ships for the West African trade. This African connection was to grow and the yard's products were to include the Ma Roberts for Dr David Livingstone. Being of steel and with constant groundings on African rivers, this craft only lasted 18 months in steady operation. In 1858 a new yard dedicated to iron construction was opened at Monk's Ferry. In 1861 John Laird was returned as the first Member of Parliament for Birkenhead and his sons took over the day-to-day affairs of the business. Laird was to suffer acute embarrassment by questions at Westminster over the building in the Birkenhead Works of the United States Confederate raider Alabama in 1862. In 1874 he suffered serious injuries in a riding accident; his health declined and he died later that year.
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Bibliography
1858, with Fairbairn, Forrester, Lang and Sea-ward, Steam Navigation, Vessels of Iron and Wood, the Steam Engine, etc. 2 vols, London: Weale.
FMW

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

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