Reading Comprehension 056

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The making of machines to make machines was one of the most important aspects of the Industrial Revolution, but it must not be forgotten that the making of machine tools can be traced back a great many centuries. The lathe, for example, is the oldest known machine tool and dates back to antiquity. However, it was not until the late 17th Century that clockmakers, builders of scientific instruments, and furniture and gun makers began the changeover from wood-working lathes to ones capable of machining tool steel. They had a need for a variety of gear cutting, grinding, precise screw-cutting machines to fabricate their products. The development of precise machine tools for these purposes profoundly affected the art of navigation and paved the way for the industrial machine tools of the late 18th and early l9th Centuries, which made possible the construction of the steam engine and the machines it had to power. This in turn made possible the great advances in standards of living for many people throughout western Europe and North America.

The first satisfactory screw-cutting lathes were made by an English instrument maker, Jesse Ramsden (1735-1800) in 1770. His work had wide ramifications, probably inspiring a large screw-cutting lathe first designed by Henry Maudslay (1771-1831) in 1797 and produced in 1800. The micrometer for the bench work on this machine was accurate to 1/10,000 of an inch. Maudslay had a long-lasting influence on the British machine tool industry. Three of his assistants developed other variants of machine tools. Richard Roberts (1789-1864) introduced a more powerful lathe, and in 1817 built the first planing machine for metal, and shortly thereafter, his first gear cutting machine. He also improved the spinning mule and designed a punching machine for making rivet holes in 1847. Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887) improved and enlarged many of the early machine tools, which he first encountered in Maudslay's works. He is best known for constructing a measuring machine that could measure to an accuracy of one-millionth of an inch, and for first suggesting the standardization of screw threads in English industry. Probably Maudslay's greatest protege was James Nasmyth (1808-1890), whose inventions include the milling machine and a planing machine or shaper.

However, the prestige of being the greatest machine tool maker in England probably belongs to John Wilkinson, the Ironmaster (1728-1808). He invented the cylinder boring machine (the boring mill, circa 1775) that made Watt's steam engine a practical source of power. He was the first to demonstrate that coke made from coal could be used in place of charcoal to produce quality iron on a large scale. He designed in 1779, the first all-iron bridge constructed in England (1781), and his factory cast the iron for it. During the late 1780s he minted his own "wage tokens" when the English government failed to produce enough coins for him to pay his workers. At the same time (1787) he built the first iron barge to transport his iron products down the River Severn. He was an able businessman and an industrial genius, whose name is attached today to Wilkinson razor blades. Wilkinson offers us a significant example of the power of the producer, a man who was an inventor, creator, builder, and businessman.

Although Wilkinson took out a number of patents during his life, when he made his boring mill in 1775, he felt that secrecy was better protection against the pirating of his invention than a patent complete with drawings. He was probably right, for his machine works were the only ones to bore cylinders for the firm of Boulton and Watt for 25 years. In England, the first patent had been granted in 1552. Their abuse by the Crown for the issue of money-raising grants of monopoly let Parliament in 1624 to declare that such privileges were grievous and inconvenient. However, the Crown was left free to grant exclusive rights under letters patent for not more than twenty-one years to "the first and true inventor or inventors of manufactures." Neo-Tech businessmen, like Wilkinson, realized that state protection did not always accomplish what it set out to do, and that he was better off relying upon trade secrecy rather than seeking government assistance in protecting his invention.

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