Biographical entry Whitehead, Robert (1823 - 1905)
- 3 January 1823
Bolton, Lancashire, United Kingdom
- 14 November 1905
Shrivenham, Berkshire, United Kingdom
British engineer Robert Whitehead invented and patented the first self-propelled torpedo that was proven to be effective in combat, known as the Whitehead Torpedo.
At the age of 14 Robert Whitehead was apprenticed to his uncle, an engineer at Messrs. Richard Ormerod in Manchester.
After 9 years with his uncle he relocated to Milan, where he designed improved silk-weaving machinery. In 1848 from Milan he moved to Trieste and after working at the firm Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino for some years relocated again, this time to Fiume where in 1856 he established his Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano. Whitehead was decorated by the Austrian emperor for the firm's excellent work producing steam engines for Austrian warships.
It was while Whitehead was managing this company that he was approached in 1864 by retired Austrian Naval officer Giovanni Luppis. Luppis had developed a self-propelled surface torpedo called the 'Coast Saviour' and requested Whitehead's assistance in perfecting it. Whitehead conceived of a submerged version of the weapon and the two collaborated consistently for several years.
The first prototype was completed in 1866 and after some improvements were made the Whitehead Torpedo was officially presented to the Austrian Imperial Navy in 1868.
In 1872 Whitehead went into business with his son-in-law George Hoyos and converted his Fiume engine works into a Whitehead Torpedo factory.
Whitehead died in retirement at his Berkshire estate in 1905.
- 1837 -
- Career event - Apprenticed to Mr. William Swift manager of the engineering works of Messrs. Richard Ormerod, Manchester
- c. 1844 - c. 1847
- Career position - Employed at Messrs Phillip Turner And Co., Marseilles office
- c. 1847
- Life event - Emigrated to Milan, Italy. Found work producing silk-weaving machinery
- c. 1848 - ?
- Career position - Employed at the Australian Lloyd Company, Trieste
- Life event - Relocated from Milan to Trieste, Austrian Empire
- c. 1854 - c. 1856
- Career position - Employed at Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino, Trieste
- Career event - Established Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano, Fiume
- Life event - Relocated from Trieste to Fiume, Austrian Empire
- Career event - Became manager of Fonderia Metalli, Fiume and changed its name to Stabilimento Tecnico di Fiume
- 1856 - c. 1872
- Career position - Manager of Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano, Fiume
- c. 1860
- Career event - Met Giovanni Luppis, began collaborating on his idea of the coastsaver
- Career event - Entered into partnership with Giovanni Luppis
- Career event - The first experimental model of the Whitehead Torpedo was completed
- Career event - The Minenschiff, the Whitehead-Luppis self-propelled torpedo is presented to the Austrian Imperial Naval Commission
- Career event - Stabilimento Tecnico di Fiume is declared bankrupt.
- Casali, A and Cattaruzza, M, Sotto I mari del mondo La Whitehead 1875-1990, Gius. Laterza & Figli Spa, Roma-Bari, 1990, 299-318 pp. Details
- Gray, Edwyn, The Devil's Device: Robert Whitehead and the History of the Torpedo, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1991. Details
- Gray, Edwyn, Nineteenth Century Torpedoes and Their Inventors, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2004. Details
- Cowpe, E., 'The Royal Navy and the Whitehead Torpedo', in Ranft, B. (ed.), Technical change and British Naval policy 1860-1933, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1997, pp. 23-36. Details
- Gray, E, Personal Communication., Correspondence and Dictionary of National Biography entry for Robert Whitehead with corrections by Edwyn Gray.. Details
- Whitehead, R., 11 December 1873. Details
- 'Robert Whitehead', The Engineer, vol. 100, 17 November 1905, pp. 495-496. Details
- 'The Whitehead Fish Torpedo', The Scientific American, 28 March 1874, p. 193. Details
- 'Notes from the South-West: The Whitehead Torpedo', Engineering, vol. 26, 29 November 1878, p. 436. Details
- 'The Whitehead Fish Torpedo', Engineering, vol. 29, 7 May 1880, p. 360. Details
- 'The Autobiography of a Whitehead Torpedo', Engineering, vol. 39, February-May 1885, pp. 127-128. Details
- 'The Whitehead torpedo in action', Engineering, vol. 51, 1 May 1891, p. 536. Details
- 'The Whitehead Torpedo Works at Fiume', Engineering, vol. 72, 20 September 1901, pp. 395-401. Details
- Briggs, m., 'Innovation and the Mid-Victorian Royal Navy: The case of the Whitehead torpedo', The Mariner’s Mirror, vol. 88, no. 4, 37561, pp. 447-455. Details
- Ellicott, J. M., 'Automatic Torpedoes Automobile Torpedoes, the Whitehead and Howell with a Detailed Description of each', Engineering, vol. 50, November-December 1890. Details
- John M. Ellicott, 'The Whitehead torpedo', The Engineer, vol. 72, 1891. Details
- Wolstencroft, A., 'The Whitehead Story', The Mariner’s Mirror, vol. 59, no. 3, August 1973, pp. 345-348. Details
- 'Naval and Military Intelligence', The Times, 5 September 1876, p. 6. Details
- 'The Whitehead Torpedoes', The New York Times, 11 September 1890, p. 4. Details
- 'Howell Versus Whitehead', The New York Times, 23 September 1891, p. 10. Details
- The Liburnia Project, Whitehead , Livorno and the Italian Navy, The Whitehead Cultural Association. Details
- The development of the automotive torpedo - The Whitehead Story, A short account of the development of the Whitehead torpedo from its inception in 1866 to the introduction of the Obry Gyroscopic Steering Mechanism in 1897, 2000, http://homepages.fh-giesen.de/~hg6339/Articles/tTorpedoes.htm. Details
Sources used to compile this entry: Gray, E, Personal Communication., Correspondence and Dictionary of National Biography entry for Robert Whitehead with corrections by Edwyn Gray.; Gray, Edwyn, The Devil's Device: Robert Whitehead and the History of the Torpedo, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1991; Gray, Edwyn, Nineteenth Century Torpedoes and Their Inventors, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2004.
Prepared by: Rebecca Rigby