- Engineering & Materials
- Hodgkinson, Eaton (1789–1861)
Hodgkinson, Eaton (1789–1861)
English civil engineer who worked to introduce scientific methods of measuring the strength of materials.
Hodgkinson was born on his father's farm at Anderton, Cheshire, On February 26, 1789. After showing distinct ability in mathematics during his schooldays because of the early death of his father and his mother's consequent penury he was obliged to give up hopes of a professional education and instead to assist his mother in running the family farm. He had little aptitude for this work and pursuaded his mother to invest her limited capital in a pawnbroking business in Salford, Manchester.
He also found time to develop his interest in natural science and became acquainted with the chemist John Dalton and other gifted men then living in Manchester. In March 1822 he read a paper on “The transverse strain and strength of materials” before the Literary and Philosophical Society. In this contribution he recorded a factor that became important in all his subsequent experiments, namely “set” or the original position of a strained body and the position it assumes when the strain is removed. He fixed the exact position of the “neutral line” in the section of rupture or fracture and made it the basis for the computation of the strength of a beam of given dimensions. His conception of the true mechanical principle by which the position of the line could be determined has long been generally accepted.
In 1828 he read before the same society an important paper on the forms of the catenary links in suspension bridges, and in 1830 one on his research into the strength of iron beams, one of the most valuable contributions ever made to the study of the strength of materials.
From a theoretical analysis of the neutral line, he devised experiments to determine the strongest beam, which resulted in the discovery of what is known as “Hodgkinson's beam.”
Hodgkinson rendered important services to Robert Stephenson in the construction of the Britannia (Menai) and Conway tubular bridges by fixing the best forms and dimensions of tubes. He edited the fourth edition of Tredgold's work on the strength of cast iron (1842) and published a volume of his own: Experimental Researches on the Strength and other Properties of Cast Iron (1846).
He worked 1847–49 as one of the Royal Commissioners to inquire into the application of iron to railroad structures. Also in 1847 he was appointed professor of the mechanical principles of engineering at University College, London, where his lectures were somewhat impaired by his hesitancy of speech. He did not live to see an authoritative publication of all his collected papers, dying in Manchester on June 18, 1861.
From the Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Biography, © RM, 2020. All rights reserved. Published under license in AccessScience, © McGraw-Hill Education, 2000–2020. Helicon Publishing is a division of RM.