Biography of John Elder
The John Elder Chair of Naval Architecture is named for John Elder (1824-1869), the Clyde shipbuilder and marine engineer.
Born in Glasgow, the son of the famous marine engineer David Elder, John was educated at the High School and attended classes at the University. In 1852 he became a partner in Randolph, Elder & Co, millwrights, which sought his expertise to enable them to branch out into marine engineering and in 1860 acquired the Govan Old Shipyard. Three years later, the firm moved to the new Fairfield Shipyard, employing 4,000 men there. In 1868 Elder became sole partner in the business.
Elder's greatest achievement was the development from the 1850s of the marine compound engine, which consumed far lower quantities of coal than other engines of the day. Refinements in the design allowed further reductions in fuel consumption, greater power and a diminution of friction in the firm's marine engines, all resulting in greater efficiency and performance. His experiments in developing the triple and the quadruple expansion engines were to have a profound influence on marine engine design after his death.
After his death, Elder's wife Isabella (1828-1905) ran the business for a short time before transferring control to a new partnership. She became a major benefactor of the University, and in 1883 she endowed the new chair of Naval Architecture which was named for her husband.