Category Archives: Engineering

Engineering success: S Pearson & Son

The Pearson group of companies was by far the largest British business in 1919.

Weetman Pearson (1856 – 1927) became a partner in S Pearson & Son, a public works contractor, in 1876. The firm had been founded by his grandfather, Samuel Pearson.

Pearson was single-handedly responsible for growing the family firm from a regional to an international player.

Weetman Pearson in 1917

Pearson embarked upon a £2 million project to provide a drainage canal for Mexico City, which had experienced seasonal flooding, in 1890. The Grand Canal in Mexico City was completed in 1896, on schedule and on budget.

Around the turn of the century, Pearson built three harbours, Vera Cruz, Salina Cruz and Puerto Mexico, as well as the Tehuantepec railway (completed 1905) which connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Pearson began to acquire oil concessions in Mexico from 1901. He was encouraged by President Porfirio Diaz (1830 – 1915), who was keen to develop a rival to the US oil companies already operating in the country.

Porfirio Diaz  (1830 – 1915) in 1907

S Pearson & Son was the largest engineering firm in the world by 1905, employing 60,000 men.

Pearson struck oil in Mexico, and agreed to supply C T Bowring, the largest distributor of petrol in Great Britain, with oil at a fixed price. Unfortunately, his well ran dry, and he was forced to buy oil at inflated prices from his rival, Standard Oil, in order to fulfil the contract.

In a huge stroke of luck, Pearson made a large oil discovery in 1908. Dos Bocas was the largest oil deposit yet found in the world.

The Mexican Eagle Co was formed to exploit this field in 1908.

Mexican Eagle went public in 1910, with a capital of £3 million. Its production output over the next two years was estimated at 750,000 tons. Mexican Eagle was recognised as a strong competitor to Standard Oil Co, controlled by John D Rockefeller (1839 – 1937).

Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell virtually controlled the global oil market at this time. As Pearson did not want to be reliant on them, he established the Eagle Oil Transport Co to process and distribute his raw product.

The Anglo-Mexican Petroleum Co was registered in 1912 to market the product outside of Mexico.

The value of Mexican Eagle tripled between 1910 and 1913. Between 1912 and 1913, the company held an estimated 50 percent market share for fuel products in Great Britain. Production in 1913 was eleven million barrels.

Mexico was the third largest oil producer in the world by 1914, after the United States and Russia, and Pearson controlled around 60 percent of the country’s output.

Mexican Eagle produced nearly 19 million barrels of oil in 1919.

Eagle Oil Transport had a capital of £3 million in 1919. Mexican Eagle had a capitalisation of nearly $56 million.

With a market capitalization of £79 million, the Pearson group of companies ranked as by far the largest business in Britain by 1919, with a valuation more than 25 percent higher than its nearest rival, Burmah Oil.

Pearson sold 35 percent of the ordinary capital of Mexican Eagle and 50 percent of the shares of Anglo-Mexican to the Shell Transport & Trading Co for a reported £10 million in 1919. Shell representatives were given a majority on both boards of directors.

The merger represented the takeover of the largest British company by the largest European company. The Shell companies had an output of oil in 1918 roughly double that of Mexican Eagle, around 40 million barrels.

Shell invested heavily to increase production in Mexico. Mexican Eagle produced over 32 million barrels in 1920. An estimated 50 million barrels were shipped in 1921. The company had a daily capacity of well over 100,000 barrels.

Pearson died in 1927 with an estate valued at £4 million. According to his obituary in the Manchester Guardian, he “never lost his accent and pleasant Yorkshire ways”.

Pearson had struck lucky again, by cashing out at the right time. Mexican Eagle share prices declined by 89 percent between 1920 and 1930.

By the early 1930s, Mexican Eagle, in common with its competitors, was decreasing its investment in Mexican oil. The Mexican oil industry was nationalised by the government in 1938.

Building bridges: Dorman Long

Dorman Long was the largest steel and iron manufacturer in the British Empire, but is best known for its large structural engineering projects, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge

Arthur John Dorman (1848 – 1931) was the son of a Kentish tanning yard owner. He relocated to Middlesbrough in the North East of England in 1866 to serve an apprenticeship to E G Johnson of Richard Johnson & Co, iron producers.

Dorman was not afraid to get his hands dirty, and although his spectacles and Southern accent caused great amusement to his fellow puddlers, he earned their respect in undertaking their strenuous work. A straight-forward and likeable man, he rose to the position of assistant manager.

Dorman partnered with the financier Albert de Lande Long (1844 – 1917) to acquire the West Marsh Ironworks at Middlesbrough in 1876. With 20 puddling furnaces and three rolling mills, the firm specialised in producing wrought iron bars and angles for the shipbuilding industry.

Developing business led Dorman Long to acquire the Britannia Works from Bernard Samuelson and steel production commenced on a large scale.

Dorman Long became a limited company with a share capital of £350,000 in 1889. It had an annual output of 100,000 tons of steel.

A half share in Bell Brothers of Middlesbrough was acquired from Sir Hugh Bell in 1899. Bell Brothers held extensive collieries, ironstone mines and limestone quarries.

Company capital was increased to £1 million in 1902 to purchase the remaining half of Bell Brothers  from Sir Lowthian Bell, who became company chairman. The firm was now the largest steel producer in the North of England, and the only one that was entirely vertically integrated.

The merger made logical sense as the result of increasing co-operation between the two firms. It was also a response to the formation of United States Steel in 1901, which was the largest manufacturer in the world.

The North Eastern Steel Company was acquired in 1903.

During the First World War Dorman Long was the first non-armaments company in Britain to dedicate itself to shell production.

The six blast furnaces of Walker Maynard & Co at Redcar were acquired in 1915.

A steelworks was opened at Redcar at a cost of £2 million in 1917.

Sir B Samuelson & Co of Middlesbrough was also acquired in 1917.

Dorman Long was easily the largest iron, steel and coal company in Britain by 1923.

The Redcar steelworks covered 150 acres and employed 2,500 men by 1923.

Richborough, the state-owned Kentish coal port which had been neglected since the war, was acquired in 1924.

Dorman Long entered the bridge building industry in 1924. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was their first contract, constructed at an estimated cost of £4.5 million.

Dorman Long acquired Bolckow Vaughan in 1929 to form the largest steel, iron and engineering firm in the British Empire. The merged firm had an annual capacity of three million tons of steel (25 percent of British production) and two million tons of pig iron. The merger was due to a slump following the post-war boom, and neither firm had issued a dividend since 1921.

A J Dorman died in 1931. His obituary in the Yorkshire Post heralded his strong relationship with his workforce. By this time Dorman Long was the best-known bridge builder in the world.

A keen Anglican and Conservative, Dorman was also a generous benefactor. He built Dormanstown garden village to improve the living standards of his workforce, and donated the Dorman Museum to the people of Middlesbrough.

Dorman Long struggled during the Great Depression, and entered into receivership in 1933. The board of directors was reconstituted, and managerial control was returned to Middlesbrough.

Dorman Long opened the second largest coking plant in Europe at their Cleveland Works in 1936.

Dorman Long employed 39,889 people in 1937, with the vast majority working in County Durham and Yorkshire. The wage bill for the year amounted to nearly £7 million.

Dorman Long built the second largest bridge in the world at their works in Middlesbrough in 1937. It was erected in Denmark and still stands.

By 1938 Dorman Long controlled collieries with an annual output of four million tons, and ironstone mines with an annual capacity of 2.5 million tons. The South Bank works contained the largest coking plant in England.

By 1949 Dorman Long held 60 percent of the structural engineering industry in South Africa, and owned the largest structural engineering company in South America, British Structural Steel of Buenos Aires.

By 1963 Dorman Long had declined relatively, to be the 38th largest steel manufacturer in the world, with an annual output of 1.745 million metric tons.

Dorman Long was responsible for 22 to 25 percent of British structural steel output in 1964, and employed a total of around 25,000 people.

Dorman Long merged with South Durham and Stewarts & Lloyds in 1967 to create British Steel & Tube, one of the largest steel manufacturers in the world.

Later that year, British Steel & Tube was nationalised, under the name British Steel.

After large profit losses in the early 1980s, Dorman Long reduced its workforce from 9,000 to 3,000.

Trafalgar House acquired Dorman Long from British Steel for £10 million in 1982. Trafalgar House merged the firm with its own Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co to form the largest structural steel fabricator in Western Europe, with 7,000 employees.

Dorman Long Technology still specialises in the construction of bridges. It has company headquarters in Northamptonshire, and maintains its North of England headquarters in Darlington.

A Wear we go: William Doxford

Doxford of Sunderland was the largest shipbuilder, and the largest manufacturer of marine engines in the world.

William Doxford (1812–1882) established a shipyard at Coxgreen, Sunderland in 1840. In 1858 he relocated the works to Pallion, Sunderland.

Business expanded after the firm began to build iron ships from 1864. In 1870 a larger yard with a five berth capacity was acquired.

The first government contract came in 1872 with an order for three gunboats.

The engineering works were opened in 1878. The marine engines business was to become as important as shipbuilding to the firm.

In 1879 the firm built the largest steamer afloat, the 4,500 ton Grecian.

The company was incorporated in 1891 with a capital of £200,000, all owned by the Doxford family.

In 1892 the firm launched the first turret-deck steamer. In 1892 the firm launched the Samoa, the largest cargo vessel in the world.

In 1896 the firm launched the largest cargo-carrying vessel ever built in England or Scotland. The Algoa, with a carrying capacity of 11,300 tons, was the second largest ship afloat.

In 1900 the firm laid down the largest private crane in the world.

A limited public offering was offered in 1900. The company had a share capital of £500,000. The firm’s works covered 32 acres.

In 1904 the original five berths were replaced with three berths of greater length, each capable of building a 12,000 ton ship.

In 1905 and 1907 the firm held the “Blue Ribbon” for the largest output of any British shipyard. 20 vessels were launched in 1905 with 86,532 gross tonnage. Output in 1906 was much larger, at 106,000 tons, although the firm did not win the Blue Ribbon.

The company built its first oil engine in 1912.

From 1914 the shipyard and engineering works were dedicated to building destroyers. 21 were built during the First World War.

In 1919 the Sperling Group-controlled Northumberland Shipbuilding Company acquired over 90 percent of William Doxford & Sons. Chaired by Viscount Furness, the combine was one of Europe’s largest industrial companies.

In 1921 the Doxford opposed-piston, airless injection oil engine was introduced.

Charles David Doxford died in 1935, the last member of the Doxford family to take an active interest in the running of the firm.

In 1951 the firm launched its largest vessel yet, the 16,500 ton Charlton Venus tanker.

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s the Doxford engine had a 25 to 30 percent global market share, and 25 licencees around the world.

In 1961 the Sunderland Shipbuilding Dry Docks and Engineering Company Ltd was acquired. It brought the Wear’s largest engineering works and three shipyards under a single owner.

In 1972 Doxford was acquired by Court Line.

The last Doxford engine was built in 1980. Across its history, 1,200 were sold.

The three Wearside yards of Sunderland Shipbuilders were closed in 1990 with the loss of 2,500 jobs.

 

 

Engine of growth: Richardsons Westgarth

Richardsons Westgarth was the largest builder of marine engines in the world.

Thomas Richardson & Sons
Thomas Richardson (1793 -1850), a timber merchant turned shipbuilder, established an iron foundry in the village of Castle Eden, Durham in 1838.

Richardson relocated to the Hartlepool Iron Works at Middleton, situated between West Hartlepool and Old Hartlepool, from 1847. The firm built colliery engines, and employed around 300 people.

Thomas Richardson was succeeded by his son, also called Thomas Richardson (1821 -1890), from 1850. The firm was constructing ship engines and boilers by 1857.

Thomas Richardson & Sons, engineers and ironfounders, entered into receivership in 1875, after amassing debts of £280,000.

Thomas Richardson & Sons built its 636th pair of steamer engines in 1879.

Thomas Richardson & Sons produced twelve marine engines in 1886; the second largest total of any firm in Britain that year.

Donald Barns Morison (1860 -1925), a skilled engineer, became general manager of the business from 1888. The works could produce 30 to 40 sets of engines every year by 1890

Richardsons was a household name in Hartlepool by 1898, and the firm had a worldwide reputation in the shipping trade. It was the oldest established firm in the Parliamentary borough.

Thomas Richardson died in 1890, and was succeeded as proprietor by his son, also called Thomas Richardson (1846 – 1906). By this time Richardsons was one of the leading marine engineering works in the world, and employed around 2,000 people.

Thomas Richardson was knighted in 1897. In 1898 the Hartlepool Mail reported, “Sir Thomas is a Varsity man, but that has by no means damaged his capabilities as a man of business”.

The Hartlepool Engine Works covered over nine acres by 1900.

Richardson Westgarth & Co
T Richardson & Sons merged with Furness Westgarth & Co of Middlesbrough and W Allan & Co of Sunderland to form Richardson Westgarth & Co in 1900. The company employed thousands of people and had a share capital of £700,000.

Sir Christopher Furness was chairman, Sir Thomas Richardson was vice-chairman, and William John Richardson (1852 – 1918), W Allan and Stephen Furness were directors. Tom Westgarth (1852 – 1934) and D B Morison were joint-managing directors.

Sir Christopher Furness was the largest single shareholder, and between them, the Furness and Richardson families had £450,000 to £500,000 invested in the company.

The merger allowed Richardson Westgarth to diversify its product range and combine its research and development talent. Some manufacturing was consolidated at Hartlepool. The affiliation with Christopher Furness also gave the company a ready market with his shipbuilding firms of Furness Withy and Irvine & Co.

Richardson Westgarth & Co built 55 engines with a combined horsepower of 106,300 in 1901; more than any other business in the world that year.

Tom Westgarth toured American and Continental iron, steel and engineering works in 1901. Upon his return, he warned that foreign competitors were gaining on British manufacturers. He called upon British workers to lose less time, take fewer holidays and to be more adaptable to changing conditions in order to ensure that indigenous industry remained competitive.

In 1911 Sir Christopher Furness criticised the irresponsibility of trade union leaders who identified foremost with political theories over practical business sense.

Richardson Westgarth employed 3,500 people in 1911, well within the top 100 largest British manufacturing employers.

Tom Westgarth retired from active control of the company in 1912 due to illness, but remained as a director.

Richardson Westgarth had never built an engine for the Admiralty, and at the beginning of the First World War, orders were slack. So the company wrote a letter to the government advertising its services, and war orders began from 1915. Between that time and the end of 1920, the firm engined 202 vessels, including 59 for the Admiralty, 57 for the Ministry of Shipping and 86 for the Mercantile Marine, with a total horsepower of 685,000. 51 ships were engined in 52 weeks in 1917 alone.

Richardson Westgarth built its first turbine engines during this period. The company also built 28 turbines for generating electric power onshore.

At the request of the Admiralty, Richardson Westgarth opened a shell manufacturing plant at Middlesbrough in 1915. Tom Westgarth supervised the project, and eventually, 4, 6 and 8 inch shells were being produced at the rate of 1,000 a week.

Investment in plant and machinery between 1915 and 1920 totalled over £300,000.

Following the death of W J Richardson in 1918, D B Morison became chairman and managing director.

Richardson Westgarth produced the largest number of marine engines in Britain in 1920, with a total horsepower of 96,000. Worldwide, the company ranked sixth among marine engine builders, behind five American firms. However, the profitability of the marine engines business had declined substantially since the pre-War period.

Richardson Westgarth constructed its first diesel engine in 1923.

D B Morison retired in 1924, and was succeeded as chairman by Tom Westgarth.

A trade depression effected shipping particularly badly, and Richardson Westgarth merged with North-Eastern Marine Engineering Co of Wallsend and George Clark Ltd of Sunderland in 1938. The new venture took on the Richardsons Westgarth name, but North-Eastern Marine Engineering held the largest stake, and company headquarters were transferred to Wallsend.

Richardsons Westgarth and Weir Group of Glasgow merged their seawater desalination businesses as Weir Westgarth to create a world leader in the field in 1962. Weir Westgarth offices were relocated from West Hartlepool to Glasgow from 1964. Weir Group bought out the Richardsons Westgarth stake in the venture in 1967, although the Weir Westgarth name was retained.

Turbine and generator production came to an end in Hartlepool in 1967, with the closure of the South Works, and the loss of around 400 jobs.

Richardsons Westgarth was Britain’s largest manufacturer of slow speed marine diesel engines in 1973.

Richardsons Westgarth closed its Hartlepool operations in 1982.

Richardsons Westgarth, which had reinvented itself as a steel stockholder headquartered in Kidderminster, was acquired by Klockner, a German metals trader, for £25 million in 1999.

Meanwhile Weir Westgarth was acquired by Veolia Water in 2005 and offices were relocated to East Kilbride.