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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 2 (June 1, 1928)

A Glimpse into History

A Glimpse into History.

The efficiency of the turret lathe did not add to its popularity with tradesmen of the old school. When first introduced to the engineering fraternity its reception was not too cordial. From a distinct labour point of view, this was a blunder which can be best appreciated by those who have moved with the times.

It would be interesting to know what Henry Maudslay would say if he could make a tour of our new railway workshops when the work therein is in full swing, and see some of the latest bar and combination lathes in operation. Henry Maudslay, just over 125 years ago, invented the first slide rest lathe with an improvised screw-cutting attachment, which to-day can be seen in the South Kensington Museum, London. His first plain slide rest lathe is now the property of the British Machine Tool Trades’ Association, and it was exhibited by that Association at the 1924 Machine Tool Exhibition.

The lathe of Henry Maudslay was made before the dawn of the planing machine. The present-day fitter sometimes pictures to himself that old-time craftsman toiling with his chisel and hammer, file, callipers, and wooden rule—with occasional reference to an old shilling that was used as a sort of step gauge.

Maudslay had very little schooling. He commenced work in the Woolwich Arsenal at the age of twelve, in the year 1769. He was a born craftsman, however, and with his skilll and dexterity he combined an intuitive power of mechanical analysis and a fine sense of proportion. At the age of nineteen he was a workshop foreman, and at twenty-six a workshop manager — drawing the handsome salary of 30/- per week.

Evidently not too satisfied with a big position and a small salary, Maudslay started in business for himself, founding the world-famed firm of Maudslay, Son and Fields. This firm subsequently produced some of Great Britain's finest engineers, including Sir Joseph Whitworth, who served the first years of his apprenticeship under this grand old champion.