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Blockmaking

Thursday 22 August 2002

More online exhibitions: The Science Museum puts neat little exhiblets on its website. Like Blockmaking, eight pages about machines from the Royal Navy block factory, set up in 1805. The factory pioneered mechanised production of large numbers of identical widgets. Lots of blocks (which sailors never call pulleys) were needed on sailing ships — the exhiblet tells us that a seventy-four gun ship needs 922 of them. So the ship’s block was a good candidate for factory production.

Stropped block. Drawing from Harvey Garrett Smith, 'The marlinspike sailor' (New York, 1971).

…ten men, by the aid of this machinery, can accomplish with uniformity, celerity and ease, what formerly required the uncertain labour of one hundred and ten. — Richard Beamish, ‘Life of Sir Isambard Brunel’.

The exhiblet mentions the debates over who invented the block factory:

Tributes for this high accolade have been given to three men. Sir Samuel Bentham, by his wife, Marc Brunel through the articles in Rees’s Cyclopedia, and Henry Maudslay through his assistant James Nasmyth.
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