Robert William Thomson was born on July 26th 1822.
The names of the great Scottish inventors roll easily off the tongue; John Logie Baird,Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Macintosh, and John Dunlop inventor of the pneumatic tyre, or should that read re-inventor of the pneumatic tyre?
Indeed it should read re-inventor; the pneumatic tyre was in fact patented by one of Scotland’s most prolific, but now largely forgotten, inventors, Robert William Thomson on 10 December 1845, some 43 years before John Dunlop’s re-invention. Thomson’s “Aerial Wheels” were subsequently demonstrated in Regents Park London in 1847 and proved to all present that they could both reduce noise and improve passenger comfort.
Robert was born in Stonehaven, the was the son of a local woollen mill owner and was the eleventh of twelve children. Originally destined for the ministry, he apparently had great difficulty coming to terms with Latin so refused his family’s wishes.
Instead, at age 14, Thomson was shipped to an uncle in the United States, where he served an apprenticeship with a merchant. Upon his return to Scotland, Thomson immersed himself in science, learning all he could about chemistry, electricity and astronomy, and soon began improving the design of mechanical devices in the family’s household. After serving an engineering apprenticeship, Thomson found work as a civil engineer and soon after designed a method of detonating explosive charges via electricity, this saved thousands of lives in the coal mining industry alone.
On December 10, 1845, at the age of 23, Thomson was granted a British patent for the very first pneumatic tyre, a device he called the “Aerial Wheel.” Intended for use on carriages (because bicycles had not yet been popularized), the Aerial Wheel used a rubberized fabric tube filled with pressurized air and encased in a thick leather outer skin. This leather “tire” was bolted to the rim, and the tread section was then stitched to the tyre’s sidewalls. By period accounts, Aerial Wheels yielded a much improved ride compared to conventional solid wheels, and even proved durable enough to accumulate more than 1,200 miles before wearing out. The following year Thomson applied for and received a French patent for his pneumatic tyre, and in 1847 he was granted a U.S. patent for his design.
Though revolutionary, Thomson’s Aerial Wheels were never commercially successful. The cost of the rubber needed for construction of the wheel’s pneumatic bladder priced the product beyond the means of most, and the improvement in ride quality failed to justify the expense in the eyes of the public.
It wasn’t until 1888 that another Scottish inventor, veterinarian John Boyd Dunlop, improved on Thomson’s design to create a pneumatic tire for bicycles, as a means of preventing the headaches suffered by his son when riding his bicycle on bumpy roads. In 1888, Dunlop was given his own patent for the improved pneumatic tyre, but two years later, this was rescinded due to its conflict with Thomson’s Aerial Wheel. Undeterred, Dunlop continued his work on the pneumatic tyre, and by 1890 was mass-producing tyres for bicycles at a factory in Belfast.
Other patents and developments Thomson made were,
Writing and drawing instruments (the self-filling pen)
Improvements in obtaining and applying motive power
Dividing hard substances such as rock stone and coal
Improvements in steam gauges
Applying steam power in cultivating land
Elastic wheel tyres
Guiding road steamers on street tramways
Elastic belts, seats and other supports or cushions.
He didn’t stop there though, then there are:
The washing mangle with reversible mangles
The ribbon saw
Elliptical rotary engine
Use of electricity to detonate explosive charges
Machinery for sugar manufacturing
The portable steam crane
Hydraulic dry dock
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Youth’s response to “what’s he like?” according to Matt Everitt on I Am the Eggpod (Youth is McCartney's collaborator/producer of The Fireman)
This photo by Chris Floyd is mentioned in the episode. According to Floyd, he knew what he wanted from the shot:
“I know what I want. All through his life James Paul McCartney has been an ambitious 1950s Liverpool grammar school boy. Even now he’s still an ambitious 1950s Liverpool grammar school boy. He’s competitive, focused and, I’m certain, ruthless. His persona, his public persona, the one we all know, that’s a front. I don’t think it’s a conscious front, it’s a part of him as much as his hands are a part of him, but it’s something he’s developed through his life that he can deploy to get what he wants. Underneath all that breezy, winsome charm is a surgical ruthlessness that has kept him and his interests aligned. That’s what I want from this encounter. I want to get that on film...
...And like that, it’s all there. The thin layer of sea covering the edge of the beach fizzles into the sand and everything I believed to be concealed underneath is revealed.
The public McCartney we have known all our lives is gone, the eyes narrow and, the thing I remember most, his jawline tightens and clenches. For a few seconds his face has gone from soft marshmallow cherub to steel reinforced granite. Right there, for two frames, locked in silver nitrate, he hates me and I love him for it.” — Chris Floyd
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