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Scottish civil engineer and photographer

Biographical Information

Name: Robert Bow
Full name: Robert Henry Bow
Born on 27 January 1827 in , Northumberland, North East England, England, United Kingdom, Europe
Deceased on 17 February 1909 in , Scotland, United Kingdom, Europe

Short biography of Henry Bow

Bow is an enigmatic figure among the British structural engineering fraternity. Many older engineers link his name with the elegant graphical methods of analysing trussed frameworks. In the early 1870s, Bow translated Maxwell’s difficult-to-use graphical statics into serviceable graphical analysis, which formed an important intellectual resource for practical engineers for the next century. However, little is known about the life of Robert Henry Bow. We suppose that he was present at lectures at Edinburgh University in the mid-1840s. He first became known through his book on trussed bridges published in 1851 and various articles on iron roofs in the early 1850s. From 1854 to 1864 he worked as a designer for (or with) the bridge-builder Thomas Bouch, whose bridge over the Firth of Tay (1879) collapsed as a result of high winds. Following this period, Bow concentrated on the design and construction of trussed roofs, many of which were required for railway stations in particular. At various times in between he worked as a consulting engineer. His second book deals with trussed girders, breaking them down into 136 different types and classifying them as statically determinate (class I), kinematically determinate (class II), statically indeterminate (class III) and others (class IV), for which he draws the associated dual polygons of forces. Bow’s classification and practical application of dual polygons of forces formed a crucial element in the rationalisation of engineering in the classical phase of structural theory and led to these diagrams being directly attributed to Bow in some German publications [Scholz, 1989, p. 200], although the majority ascribed this method to Cremona, who had furnished the theoretical basis. Whereas Bow’s second book [Bow, 1873] uses a classification based on economic use of materials, his first book [Bow, 1851] provides a typology of structures; Schwedler also published such a typology in 1851 (see [Hertwig, 1930/2]).

Main contributions to structural analysis:

A Treatise on Bracing [1851]; The Economics of Construction in Relation to Framed Structures [1873]

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. 719

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