Wilkinson, John

Wilkinson, John
SUBJECT AREA: Weapons and armour
b. 1728 Clifton, Cumberland, England
d. 14 July 1808 Bradley, Staffordshire, England
English ironmaster, inventor of a cannon-boring machine.
Wilkinson's father Isaac was a farmer turned ironmaster. Soon after 1750, the family acquired Bersham furnace, near Wrexham. This was later in the hands of John and his brother William. By 1763, John had risen to take sole charge of Broseley furnace near Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, and in 1770 he set up a third furnace at Bradley, Staffordshire. By this time he had become one of the country's leading ironmasters, known for the wide range of ware made of cast iron, doubtless the reason for his nickname "Ironmad Wilkinson". He made a cast-iron boat which, to the surprise of many, floated. For his own eventual use, he also made a cast-iron coffin, but did not make sufficient allowance for increasing girth with age! Wilkinson's most notable invention was his cannon-boring machine, patented in 1774. The gun barrel was held rigidly while the cutter head moved forward on a rod inside a hollow boring bar. The machine was easily adapted to bore the cylinders for Boulton \& Watt's steam engines and he became a regular supplier, as only he could bore them with the required accuracy. On the other hand, their second engine was supplied to Wilkinson to power a blowing engine to provide air blast for his Broseley furnace: this was the first use of a Boulton \& Watt engine for a purpose other than pumping. By 1780 he had three further steam engines at work. Wilkinson installed the first Boulton \& Watt engine in France at the Paris waterworks, for which he supplied the iron pipes. Another patent was obtained in 1794 for the invention of the cupola or furnace for melting metal for small castings, although it is now thought that the real inventor was his brother William. Apart from domestic and engineering ironware, Wilkinson was supplier of arms to the American and, illicitly, to the French.
Further Reading
H.W.Dickinson, 1914, John Wilkinson, Iron-master.

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

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