1902 Encyclopedia > Henry Bell

Henry Bell
Scottish engineer
(1767–1830)




HENRY BELL, a mechanical engineer, well known for his successful application of steam-power to the propulsion of ships, was born at Torphichen, in Linlithgowshire, in 1767. Having received the ordinary education of a parish school, he was apprenticed to his uncle, a millwright, and, after qualifying himself as a ship-modeller at Bo'ness, went to London, where he found employment under Rennie, the celebrated engineer. Returning to Scotland in 1790, he first settled as a carpenter at Glasgow and afterwards removed to Helensburgh, on the Firth of Clyde, where his wife superintended a large inn, together with the public baths, while he pursued his mechanical projects, and also found occasional employment as an engineer, it was not until January 1812 that he gave a practical solution of the difficulties which had beset all previous experimenters, by producing a steamboat (which he named the " Comet,") of about 25 tons, propelled by an engine of three-horse power, at a speed of seven miles an hour. Although the honour of priority, by about four years, is admitted to belong to Robert Fulton, an American engineer, there appears to be no doubt that Fulton had received very material assistance in the construction of his vessel from Bell and others in this country. A. handsome sum was raised for Bell by subscription among the citizens of Glasgow; and he also received from the trustees of the River Clyde a pension of £100 a year. He died at Helensburgh, 14th November 1830, and a monument was erected to his memory at Dunglass, near Bowling, on the banks of the Clyde.








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