34 Facts About William Murdoch


William Murdoch was a Scottish chemist, inventor, and mechanical engineer.


William Murdoch was the inventor of the oscillating cylinder steam engine, and gas lighting is attributed to him in the early 1790s, as well as the term "gasometer".


William Murdoch made innovations to the steam engine, including the sun and planet gear and D slide valve.


William Murdoch invented the steam gun and the pneumatic tube message system, and worked on one of the first British paddle steamers to cross the English Channel.


William Murdoch built a prototype steam locomotive in 1784, and made a number of discoveries in chemistry.


William Murdoch remained an employee, and later a partner, of Boulton and Watt until the 1830s, but his reputation as an inventor has been obscured by the reputations of Matthew Boulton, James Watt, and the firm they founded.


William Murdoch was born in Bello Mill near Old Cumnock in Ayrshire, Scotland, the third of seven children and the first son to survive beyond infancy.

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William Murdoch learned the principles of mechanics, practical experimentation and working in metal and wood by assisting in his father's work.


William Murdoch's "Wooden Horse on Wheels" was a tricycle propelled by hand cranks.


William Murdoch is said to have carried out experiments in coal gas, using coal heated in a copper kettle in a small cave near his father's mill.


In 1777, at age 23, William Murdoch walked to Birmingham, a distance of over 300 miles, to ask for a job with James Watt, the steam engine manufacturer.


William Murdoch began his career with Boulton and Watt in the pattern workshop of their Soho Foundry, making patterns for the casting of machine parts.


William Murdoch progressed to work in fitting and erecting steam engines and was often sent from Soho for this purpose.


On his first solo job erecting an engine at Wanlockhead Mine, William Murdoch made the first of many improvements to the standard Boulton and Watt engine by rearranging the gears to enable the steam valve to be worked automatically by the action of the exhaust shaft.


From 1782 there is evidence that William Murdoch was discussing and collaborating with Watt on a number of inventions and improvements.


William Murdoch has another rotative scheme to add, which I could have told him of long ago when first invented by William Murdock but I do not think it a matter of much consequence.


William Murdoch carried out a number of experiments with compressed air and developed the first pneumatic message system which worked by using compressed air to propel a message in a cylinder through a tube to its intended destination.


William Murdoch used compressed air to ring a bell at his home to announce visitors.


An important invention for which William Murdoch's name is little known is Britain's first working model of a steam carriage, or road locomotive, in 1784.


William Murdoch's working model was a three-wheeled vehicle about a foot in height with the engine and boiler placed between the two larger back wheels with a spirit lamp underneath to heat the water and a tiller at the front turning the smaller front wheel.


Shortly after this birth, and with a second model already built, William Murdoch took steps to patent his steam locomotive.


One story often told, both in respect of a full size carriage and one of his models, is that one night William Murdoch decided to test his carriage outside on the open road and it soon outpaced him, leaving him to chase after it.


One such was the discovery, first recorded in 1784, of iron cement made from sal ammoniac, or ammonium chloride and iron filings, apparently discovered when William Murdoch observed that these two components had accidentally mixed in his tool bag and formed a solid mass.


In 1795 William Murdoch developed a replacement for isinglass, a precipitate made from sturgeon used in the clarifying of beer to remove impurities, which had to be imported from Russia at great expense.


William Murdoch's replacement was made from dried Cod and was much cheaper than the 25 shillings a pound which isinglass cost.

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Use of William Murdoch's "Isinglass made of British fish" continued and played an important role in reducing British brewers' reliance on imported raw materials.


The key invention for which William Murdoch is best known is the application of gas lighting as a replacement for oil and tallow produced light.


However, numerous accounts exist that by 1794 William Murdoch was producing coal gas from a small retort containing heated coals with a three or four-foot iron tube attached, through which he piped the gas before sending it through an old gun barrel and igniting it to produce light.


In 1798 William Murdoch returned to Birmingham to work in the Soho foundry and continued his experiments with gas, as part of which he lit the interior of the Soho main building, although it is likely that it was lit only in part and not permanently.


William Murdoch was primarily responsible for designing and building this engine and for agreeing technical details and designs with Fulton, who worked on the design of the engine.


William Murdoch wrote a paper, "Account of the Application of Gas from Coal to Economical Purposes" which was presented to the Royal Society in 1808.


In 1817 William Murdoch moved into a large new house he had built outside Birmingham.


The reasons for this appear to be both the increasing unprofitability of Boulton and Watt and William Murdoch's increasing ill health.


At the celebration of the centenary of gas lighting in 1892, a bust of William Murdoch was unveiled by Lord Kelvin in the Wallace Monument, Stirling, and there is a bust of him by Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey at St Mary's Church.