Robert Roger Whitehead

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Robert Roger Whitehead

Birthplace: Bolton, Greater Manchester, England, United Kingdom
Death: Died in West Berkshire, England, United Kingdom
Place of Burial: West Sussex, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of James Whitehead and Ellen Whitehead
Husband of Frances Maria Whitehead
Father of Alice Whitehead; John Whitehead; Sir James Beethom Whitehead, KCMG; Mrs Plöch / Ploech and Ellen Drury

Occupation: Inventor
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Robert Roger Whitehead

Robert Whitehead, the son of a cotton-bleacher, was born in Bolton on January 3rd, in 1823. After being educated at the local grammar school, Whitehead left at fourteen to become an apprentice engineer. For the next few years he attended Manchester's Mechanics Institute.

In 1844 Whitehead went to work in France and three years later started his own business in Milan. By the 1850s Whitehead was working for the Austrian government. Whitehead had been asked to develop a new weapon based on the papers of a now-unknown officer of the Austrian Marine Artillery whose documents describing the initial designs had come to Captain Giovanni (Ivan) Luppis von Rammer, who in turn had taken them to the Emperor Franz Josef. The Emperor was impressed, and called for a development team to be assembled to design the weapon. The English engineer, Robert Whitehead had an established business in Fiume (modern-day Rijeka) and produced for them a floating torpedo. Luppis signed over all rights to Whitehead. The first torpedo lacked speed and range. However, by 1870 he had managed to increase its speed to 7 knots and could now hit a target 700 yards away. The following year the British Navy purchased Whitehead's invention.

Although a star torpedo, a charge attached to a long pole and carried by a small boat, had been used during the American Civil War, Whitehead was the first to produce a self-propelling torpedo. Whitehead's torpedo was propelled by a compressed-air engine, carried 18lbs. of dynamite. Its most important feature was a self-regulating device which kept the torpedo at a constant preset depth.

Whitehead's torpedo was very popular and by 1881 his customers included: Britain (254), Russia (250), France (218), Germany (203), Denmark (83), Italy (70), Greece (70), Portugal (50) Argentina (40) and Belgium (40). Robert Whitehead died in 1905.

Inventor of the torpedo - with the man whose original idea it was, that is, Giovanni (Ivan) Luppis retired naval officer of Rijeka.

Robert's obituary, published in "The New York Times" of 15 November 1905:

"Robert Whitehead Dead. LONDON, Nov. 14 - Robert Whitehead, inventor of the torpedo which bears his name, died to-day at Shrivenham, Berkshire. The idea of the self-propelling torpedo originated with an officer of the Austrian marine artillery, but the first practical trials of the torpedo were made in 1864 by Mr Whitehead, who was the Superintendent of iron works in Fiume [Rijeka]. From that time on the Whitehead Torpedo has undergone many improvements, and the right to use it has been purchased by the United States and most of the European nations."

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Robert Roger Whitehead's Timeline

January 3, 1823
Bolton, Greater Manchester, England, United Kingdom
Age 22
Old Byland, North Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
January 31, 1851
Age 28
Tristach, Lienz District, Tirol, Austria
Age 30
July 31, 1858
Age 35
Trieste, Trieste, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
November 14, 1905
Age 82
West Berkshire, England, United Kingdom
West Sussex, England, United Kingdom