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Sir William Henry White (1845-1913)
25th President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
White was born at Devonport, Engand on 2 February 1845. He began work as an apprentice shipwright in the Royal Dockyard in his hometown. At the same time, he attended the dockyard school. In 1863, he won an Admiralty scholarship. The Admiralty was at that time setting up the Royal School of Naval Architecture at South Kensington. White took the first entrance examination and won first place. During his three years there he continued to take first place and graduated with Diploma of Fellow (first class) in 1867.
That year he entered the Admiralty. He was promoted to Assistant Constructor in 1875, and Chief Constructor in 1881. After a couple of years, he returned to the Admiralty as head of the Constructive Department. He rose to the position of Director of Naval Construction and Assistant Controller before retiring due to ill health in 1902.
During his career at the Admiralty, he won recognition for his original and arduous work in the development of naval architecture. Whilst at Elswick Works he designed warships for Austria, Italy, Spain, China and Japan, and his designs for two United States cruisers were bought by the authorities at Washington. On his return to the Admiralty, he did much work to harmonize the great variety of types of ship-making up the Navy, introducing eight ships of the ‘Royal Sovereign’ class. During his seventeen years in office, he was responsible for the design and construction of 43 battleships, 26 armoured cruisers, 21 first-class, 48 second-class and 33 third-class protected cruisers, and 74 smaller vessels.
After regaining his health, he gradually took up various appointments. He was on the Cunard Commission to determine the type of machinery to be installed in the ‘Lusitania’ and ‘Mauretania’. He was also a director of Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, builders of the ‘Mauretania’. He was appointed a Commissioner by the Government to look into the question of load-lines of merchant ships.
As well as being President of the IMechE in 1899-1900, White was a Fellow of the Royal Society; Honorary Vice-President of the Institution of Naval Architecture; President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1903-1904; and Chair of the Institute of Metals in 1909.
He died in 1913.