This week marks 170 years since the birth of Sir William Henry White. Sir White was born on the 2nd February 1845, in Devonport. Starting his career as an apprentice shipbuilder in his hometown dockyard, he went on to win one of the first places at the new the Royal School of Naval Architecture at South Kensington. During his three years there he continued to take first place, and graduated with Diploma of Fellow (first class) in 1867.
That year he entered the Admiralty. He was promoted to Assistant Constructor in 1875, and Chief Constructor in 1881. He became president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1899. White rose to the position of Director of Naval Construction and Assistant Controller before retiring due to ill health in 1902.
During his career at the Admiralty he won recognition for his original and arduous work in the development of naval architecture. Whilst at Elswick Works he designed warships for Austria, Italy, Spain, China and Japan, and his designs for two United States cruisers were bought by the authorities at Washington. On his return to the Admiralty, he did much work to harmonize the great variety of types of ship making up the Navy, introducing eight ships of the ‘Royal Sovereign’ class. During his seventeen years in office, he was responsible for the design and construction of 43 battleships, 26 armoured cruisers, 21 first-class, 48 second-class and 33 third-class protected cruisers, and 74 smaller vessels.
After regaining his health, he gradually took up various appointments. He was on the Cunard Commission to determine the type of machinery to be installed in the ‘Lusitania’ and ‘Mauretania’. He was also a director of Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, builders of the ‘Mauretania’. He was appointed a Commissioner by the Government to look into the question of load-lines of merchant ships.
As well as being President of the Institution in 1899 and 1900, White was a Fellow of the Royal Society; Honorary Vice-President of the Institution of Naval Architecture; President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1903-1904; and Chair of the Institute of Metals in 1909.