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William B. Bement

Modified on 2015/04/04 13:24 by Joel Havens Categorized as Biographies

      In another part of the present issue we treat on "Old Masters in Mechanics," but the masters whose influence is now around as and make our position in the world as constructors, are the immediate, or recent masters who have passed beyond the routine of common practice, and set up a new standard in our time and for a generation to come. Notable among the " masters" of our day who have widely affected practice, is W. B. Bement, now nearing the four score mark in years, and whose name, if not known to every mechanic in this country, is known in every works of any size in this and other countries. His portrait above, reproduced from a photograph, will be an object of interest to our readers. It is truthful, and as we have always thought, conveys a full idea of Mr. Bement's powers trait and character.

      Of his contributions to constructive engineering work in this country we need say nothing. Its extent is well known, but it will be proper to point out that when the methods of the Industrial Works were fixed thirty-five years ago, it was in an environment and state of the art that only the older mechanics can now recall. We had not then reached in any branch of work the quality now common in all, so the Industrial Works were founded on original lines. The firm, now Bement, Miles & Co., was then Bement & Dougherty, composed of W. B. Bement and James Dougherty, whose name can be worthily linked with that of Mr. Bement. Mr. Dougherty, when the firm was founded, stood easily at the head of foundrymen in this country. His education and abilities had led to his connection with Winans & Harrison in the construction of the Moscow and St. Petersburg Railway in Russia, and he had also been in some capacity, not now remembered, engaged in the Royal Foundry in Vienna, Austria.

      Mr. Dougherty introduced loam moulding, and produced without patterns and without inherent strains the main frames for machine tools designed by Mr. Bement. The building of these moulds from figured dimensions was a work of great intricacy and skill that contributed much to the reputation of the Industrial Works. We can well remember his white canvas cap, which could be seen making its course all over the foundry at certain hours each day, and whenever some difficulty arose.

      To Mr. Bement, who has no knowledge of this notice, the writer here makes acknowledgment of kindly counsel and instruction through many years, part of them spent in his service, and all of them with an admiration of his great powers as a designer and constructor.

      The most marked feature of Mr. Bement was a kind of intuitive perception of machine functions and adaptation, that found expression in unusual skill of delineation and powers of description, the latter with but few words, sometimes no words at all. He would pass through the draughting room, the largest and finest one in this country, and from one desk to another, perhaps without a word, even if he saw blunders and faults, but he left an impression of approbation or dissent.

      At the time we are speaking of, 1866 to 1876, the machine tool practice of this country was divided into two types or classes, that made in New England, and the Philadelphia type, the latter taking cognizance of practice all over the world, and consisting of original designs, massive, well-fitted, plain in contour, and without ornament of either metal, paint, or burnishing: the New England type was, on the contrary, a "manufacture" at that time.

      The difference, so great then, has to a great extent disappeared. Western or Middle State makers, now prominent in machine-tool making, copied the designs and characteristics of Philadelphia, especially Mr. Bement's work, and the methods in New England have changed greatly in the same direction since 1870, so the old position and relations of the Industrial Works, as before remarked, is hard to imagine at this time.

      Mr. Bement in his early experience at the Lowell machine shop had the advantage of taking part in the hydraulic work of Boyden and Francis, and often told us of writing dimensions on the radii of fillets, so accurately were the drawings made. The Fourneyron water wheels, made there about 1860, all things considered, were the most scientific and advanced work that had ever been done in this country.

      This and other circumstances gave Mr. Bement a bent toward accurate work, and he acquired a detestation of sham and bad fitting that always remained one of his strongest characteristics. The methods of drawing, pattern making, implements and inspection at the Industrial Works all savored of precision. "Make good work and ask a good price for it," was Mr. Bement's motto, and was the fixed policy of the business.

      We have but little personal knowledge of the works for nearly twenty years past, but find in the products wherever met with sign and token of similar methods continued to this time.

      When Mr. Bement first visited Europe the reputation of his work was well known, and he received, in England especially, the courtesy due to his position at home. At the works of Messrs. Harvey, of Glasgow, makers of shipbuilding and other heavy machine tools, and among the noted firms at Manchester, he found counterparts of his own practice and a willingness to 'exchange ideas." For many years exchanges were made of machine photographs with Messrs. Harvey and other firms.

      About fifteen years ago Mr. Bement turned over his interest in the large works to his sons and others, and has since enjoyed a well earned rest from active business. His work well and faithfully done goes on, and is a credit alike to himself and his country.

Information Sources

  • Industry Magazine May 1895 pages 273-275

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