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British scientist and structural engineer.

Biographical Information

Name: John Baker
Full name: John Fleetwood Baker
Born on 19 March 1901 in , Merseyside, North West England, England, United Kingdom, Europe
Deceased on 9 September 1985 in , Cambridgeshire, East of England, England, United Kingdom, Europe

Short Biography of Sir John Fleetwood Baker

After completing his studies at the University of Cambridge in 1923, John Fleetwood Baker was employed by the Air Ministry on the structural design of airships. When he was 28 he was diagnosed as having tuberculosis and the doctors recommended that he give up work. However, financial reasons forced him to ignore the doctors' advice – a wise, if risky, decision that would later prove to be fortuitous for the development of structural analysis in its invention and innovation phases. In 1929 he was appointed Technical Officer on the Steel Structures Research Committee (SSRC), with the challenging task of revising the British structural steelwork standards. His measurements on steel structures revealed that the analysis principles led to results that deviated significantly from real loadbearing behaviour. The solution of this dilemma through the introduction of plastic methods of design formed Baker's scientific life's work. From 1933 to the start of World War 2 he was professor of engineering at the University of Bristol, where he was able to continue his ultimate-load tests successfully. He earned great praise as the scientific adviser to the British Home Defence thanks to his design of air-raid shelters. His analysis of buildings damaged by bombs formed the basis of a critical examination of existing air-raid shelters and led to the development of small steel shelters which could be erected in houses and which were designed using Baker's ultimate-load theory. More than 1.25 million of these so-called Morrison shelters (named after the then Minister responsible) saved countless lives. After Hitler conceded defeat in the Battle of Britain, and the tide had turned in favour of the Allies, Baker responded to the University of Cambridge's request (1943) to set up a Structural Research Laboratory at the University, which would later become famous for its pioneering contributions to the field of structural engineering: plastic hinge method, inherent stresses, brittle failure and fatigue problems in steel. The welded construction of a building for the Welding Institute (a spin-off of the University of Cambridge) built in 1946 near Cambridge was the first steel-frame building designed according to plastic theory; three more buildings belonging to Cambridge University's Faculty of Engineering followed in the early 1950s. He served his Alma Mater as dean of the Faculty of Engineering until being granted emeritus status in 1968. He was elected a member of the Royal Society 1956, knighted in 1961 and granted a life peerage in 1977. Lord Baker deserves to belong to the Hall of Fame of great British structural and civil engineering personalities together with famous names like Telford and Rankine.

Main contributions to structural analysis

  • The Mechanical and Mathematical Analysis of Steel Building Frames [1932];
  • The Rational Design of Steel Building Frames [1935/36];
  • Modern Methods of Structural Design [1936/37];
  • The Steel Skeleton 1: Elastic Behaviour and Design [1954];
  • The Steel Skeleton 2: Plastic Behaviour and Design [1956];
  • Plastic Design of Frames 1: Fundamentals [1969]

Source: Kurrer, Karl-Eugen The History of the Theory of Structures, Wilhelm Ernst & Sohn Verlag für Architektur und technische Wissenschaften GmbH, Berlin (Deutschland), ISBN 3-433-01838-3, 2008; p. 714


  1. Baker, John Fleetwood (1962): Plastic Method of Designing Steel Structures. In: Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, v. 127, n. 2 ( 1962), pp. 597-630.


  2. Baker, John Fleetwood (1959): The Plastic Method of Designing Steel Structures. In: Journal of the Structural Division (ASCE), v. 85, n. 4 (April 1959), pp. 57-90.


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