Samuel Smiles (1812-1904) was a British journalist, author, and social reformer. In
early life he was a strong supporter of the left-wing Chartist movement, but he distance
himself from its more violent radicals in the 1840s, and became one of the greatest
champions of industrialization. His most famous book,
(1859), argued that
thrift and hard work could life anyone out of poverty.
like some of
his other books, told the life stories of successful industrialists, emphasizing how their
energy had improved the lot of ordinary Britons.
CHAPTER XVI. WILLIAM FAIRBAIRN.
"In science there is work for all hands, more or less skilled; and he is usually the most
fit to occupy the higher posts who has risen from the ranks, and has experimentally
acquainted himself with the nature of the work to be done in each and every, even the
humblest department." (J. D. Forbes)
The development of the mechanical industry of England has been so rapid, especially as
regards the wonders achieved by the machine-tools above referred to, that it may almost
be said to have been accomplished within the life of the present generation.
"When I first
entered this city," said Mr. Fairbairn, in his inaugural address as President of the British
Association at Manchester in 1861, "the whole of the machinery was executed by hand.
There were neither planing, slotting, nor shaping machines; and, with the exception of
very imperfect lathes and a few drills, the preparatory operations of construction were
effected entirely by the hands of the workmen.
Now, everything is done by machine-
tools with a degree of accuracy which the unaided hand could never accomplish.
automaton or self-acting machine-tool has within itself an almost creative power; in fact,
so great are its powers of adaptation, that there is no operation of the human hand that it
does not imitate." …
When William Fairbairn entered Manchester [in 1811] he was twenty-four years
of age; and his hat still "covered his family."
But, being now pretty well satiated with his
"wanderschaft,"—as German tradesmen term their stage of travelling in search of trade
experience,—he desired to settle, and, if fortune favoured him, to marry the object of his
affections, to whom his heart still faithfully turned during all his wanderings.
succeeded in finding employment with Mr. Adam Parkinson, remaining with him for two
years, working as a millwright, at good wages.
Out of his earnings he saved sufficient to
furnish a two-roomed cottage comfortably; and there we find him fairly installed with his
wife by the end of 1816.
As in the case of most men of a thoughtful turn, marriage
served not only to settle our engineer, but to stimulate him to more energetic action.
now began to aim at taking a higher position, and entertained the ambition of beginning
business on his own account.
One of his first efforts in this direction was the preparation
of the design of a cast-iron bridge over the Irwell, at Blackfriars, for which a prize was