Richard Hornsby & Sons was an engine and machinery manufacturer in Lincolnshire, England from 1828 until 1918.
The company bearing the name of Richard Hornsby (1790-1864), the agricultural engineer, was founded when Richard opened a blacksmithy in Grantham, Lincolnshire in 1815 with Richard Seaman, after joining Seaman's business in 1810. The company became Richard Hornsby & Sons in 1828, when Richard bought out his partner's ownership, when Seaman retired.
Product range and inventionsEdit
R. Hornsby & Sons grew into a major manufacturer of agricultural machinery, at their Spittle Gate Works. The firm went on to produce steam engines used to drive threshing machines and other equipment such as traction engines; their portable steam engine was one of their most important products and the market leader. A farm was purchased nearby, where all their new products were tested before being produced.
Later a chain-track was added to an oil-engined tractor: the caterpillar track; these were developed and patented by Hornsby's chief engineer (and managing director), David Roberts, from July 1904. These were first used on tractors which served with the British Army towing artillery from 1910, but were later fitted to tanks which were used in the First World War from 1916. In 1909, a development model called the Little Caterpillar was demonstrated to the War Office. The army officers present at the demonstration believed it would frighten the horses.
First commercial filmEdit
In 1907, a chain-track was fitted to a 40hp petrol-engined car, and trialled in Aldershot, with film footage taken of the 15mph phenomenal machine. The film also showed a team of horses pulling a heavy carriage over a marsh. The horses, without much ceremony, sank. A caterpillar tractor then drove over the same marsh and avoided similarly sinking, and pulled out the horses. This film was shown to cinema audiences in summer 1908, who found it beguiling. It is thought to be the first (long-length) film made for commercial purposes. Shorter length film adverts had also been produced since the late 1890s.
Hornsby Akroyd engineEdit
Work with Herbert Akroyd Stuart in the 1890s lead to the world's first commercial vaporizing oil engines being made in Grantham (from July 8 1892). Other larger engineering companies had been offered the option of manufacturing the engine, but they saw it as a threat to their business instead. Only Hornsbys saw its possibilities. The first one was sold to the Newport Pagnell Sanitary Authority (later to be bought back by Hornsbys and displayed in their office). Later in 1892, T.H. Barton at Hornsbys replaced the engine's vaporiser with a cylinder head, increased the compression ratio, and the engine ran on compression alone for six hours; the first time this had been achieved. This was the first recognisable 'diesel engine', although it was built several years before Rudolf Diesel built his first prototype engines. 32,417 of the vapourising oil ('hot-bulb') engines were made by Hornsbys. They would provide electricity for lighting the Taj Mahal, Rock of Gibraltar, Statue of Liberty (chosen after Hornsbys won the oil engine prize at the Chicago World's Fair]] of 1893), many lighthouses and for powering Guglielmo Marconi's first trans-Atlantic radio broadcast.
After Richard's death in 1864, the firm was owned by his son, also Richard. He died at the early age of 50, quite suddenly, in 1877. The company became a public company, being valued at £235,000. Employing about 1,400 workers, it was managed by the two other sons - James and William. Throughout the First World War, Hornsbys were seconded to producing munitions and engines for the Admiralty. This left them little room for marketing or manufacturing other products - often needing years of development. The management realised their future was in doubt, so looked for a suitable (and preferably nearby) company to amalgamate with, choosing Ruston. On September 11th 1918 when employing about 3,000 people, the company was bought out by Ruston Proctor of Lincoln, Lincolnshire.
As an Early producer the machines are rare. The Traction Engine Register 2008 only lists 15 Hornsby machines in the UK and several of these have been repatriated from abroad.
- Portable engine of 1871 in the Science Museum store at Wroughton. -
- FL 2598 - Maggie of 1889 is a Traction engine version. -
- Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 6759 - BS 8421 - Sir John William of 1889 is an 8 hp Traction engine that was shipped to Tasmania, but was repatriated to the UK and restored.
- - A Hornsby-Ackroyd Oil engined tractor of 1896 single cylinder 20 hp Oil Engine, looking like a steam engine at first glance and weighting in at 8 tons. This design was the first British built tractor with an engine. The machine cost the huge sum of £500 when built.
|Engine No.||Name||Build Date||Type||Weight||Power nhp||Reg No.||Owner||Image||Other info|
|-||1870||PE||? ton||? nhp||-||Owner ?||To add||At Preston Services 2010|
|-||1871||PE||? ton||6 nhp||-||Science museum collection||
||In storage at Wroughton|
|-||1875||PE||? ton||9 nhp||-||Newcastle Science Museum||
||May be at Beamish Open Air Museum|
||Repatriated from Tasmainia c.1995|
||Imported from Mozambique|
|-||~ 1880||PE||? ton||? nhp||-||Owner ?||Photo here||On Steam scenes|
|Maggie||1889||TE||? ton||8 nhp||FL 2598||C. Hartwright, Abingdon Oxon||to add||At Welland Steam and Country Rally 2011|
|Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 6759||Sir John William||1899||TE||? ton||8 nhp||BS 8421||Owner ?||To add||At ?|
|Bob||1892||TE||10 ton||8 nhp||-||In Museum of Lincolnshire Life collection||
||Repatriated from Australia|
|-||1893||PE||? ton||6 nhp||-||Preston Services||To add||At (T87) Preston Services 2010|
|-||1896||PE||? ton||8 nhp||-||Owner ?||
|-||1899||PE||? ton||10 nhp||-||Owner ?||
||Semi portable originaly|
|-||1903||PE||? ton||8 nhp||-||Owner ?||
|several more survive||in Australia||and New Zealand||
|Name ?||date built||type||weight||power||Reg no.||Owner||
|Key||References / sources|
|Machine types Key: PE = Portable engine, PLG = Ploughing Engine, RR = Road Roller, SM = Showmans engine, SW = Steam Wagon, TE = Traction Engine|
- Ruston (engine builder)
- List of Engine Manufacturers
- List of Steam Machinery Manufacturers
- Shows and Meets
- One Hundred Years of Good Company (history of R & H), by Bernard Newman, 1957, Northumberland Press.
- Newby show guide and display board with the tractor.
- Scale model of Hornsby Chain Tractor at 2005 Harrogate Model Engineering Show
- Richard Hornsby & Sons oil engine
- Dedication to the only commercially-sold Hornsby caterpillar crawler
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