MacGregor, Robert

MacGregor, Robert
SUBJECT AREA: Ports and shipping
b. 1873 Hebburn-on-Tyne, England
d. 4 October 1956 Whitley Bay, England
English naval architect who, working with others, significantly improved the safety of life at sea.
On leaving school in 1894, MacGregor was apprenticed to a famous local shipyard, the Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company of Jarrow-on-Tyne. After four years he was entered for the annual examination of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights, coming out top and being nominated Queen's Prizeman. Shortly thereafter he moved around shipyards to gain experience, working in Glasgow, Hull, Newcastle and then Dunkirk. His mastery of French enabled him to obtain in 1906 the senior position of Chief Draughtsman at an Antwerp shipyard, where he remained until 1914. On his return to Britain, he took charge of the small yard of Dibbles in Southampton and commenced a period of great personal development and productivity. His fertile mind enabled him to register no fewer than ten patents in the years 1919 to 1923.
In 1924 he started out on his own as a naval architect, specializing in the coal trade of the North Sea. At that time, colliers had wooden hatch covers, which despite every caution could be smashed by heavy seas, and which in time of war added little to hull integrity after a torpedo strike. The International Loadline Committee of 1932 noted that 13 per cent of ship losses were through hatch failures. In 1927, designs for selftrimming colliers were developed, as well as designs for steel hatch covers. In 1928 the first patents were under way and the business was known for some years as MacGregor and King. During this period, steel hatch covers were fitted to 105 ships.
In 1937 MacGregor invited his brother Joseph (c. 1883–1967) to join him. Joseph had wide experience in ship repairs and had worked for many years as General Manager of the Prince of Wales Dry Docks in Swansea, a port noted for its coal exports. By 1939 they were operating from Whitley Bay with the name that was to become world famous: MacGregor and Company (Naval Architects) Ltd. The new company worked in association with the shipyards of Austin's of Sunderland and Burntisland of Fife, which were then developing the "flatiron" colliers for the up-river London coal trade. The MacGregor business gained a great boost when the massive coastal fleet of William Cory \& Son was fitted with steel hatches.
In 1945 the brothers appointed Henri Kummerman (b. 1908, Vienna; d. 1984, Geneva) as their sales agent in Europe. Over the years, Kummerman effected greater control on the MacGregor business and, through his astute business dealings and his well-organized sales drives worldwide, welded together an international company in hatch covers, cargo handling and associated work. Before his death, Robert MacGregor was to see mastery of the design of single-pull steel hatch covers and to witness the acceptance of MacGregor hatch covers worldwide. Most important of all, he had contributed to great increases in the safety and the quality of life at sea.
Further Reading
L.C.Burrill, 1931, "Seaworthiness of collier types", Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architechts.
S.Sivewright, 1989, One Man's Mission-20,000 Ships, London: Lloyd's of London Press.

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

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