Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Adams, William Bridges

ADAMS, WILLIAM BRIDGES (1797–1872) was an ingenious and prolific inventor in the early days of railroads. The invention by which he is best known is the fish-joint for the rails of railways. Before the date of this invention (1847) engineers had failed in all their efforts to contrive a joint which should firmly unite the ends of the rails while allowing fast traffic to be carried over them. Bridges Adams applied the well-known ‘fish’ or overlapping plate to the ends of the rails, and set the joint in the space between two of the supporting ‘chairs,’ instead of immediately over a ‘chair,’ so that the destructive effect of the pressure between the wheels and the chair was avoided. This joint is still universally used on railways. Adams also originated many valuable improvements in rolling stock, and did much to reduce the inordinate weight of the earlier locomotives. For a time he manufactured railway plant at works at Bow, but he was unsuccessful alike in his commercial enterprises and in his inventions. His works failed, and he realised but small profit from any of his many patents; even that for the fish-joint brought him in very little, and soon passed out of his hands. He took out no less than thirty-two patents. Besides patents connected with railways he patented improvements in carriages for common roads, in ship propulsion, guns, wood-carving and other machines. He was the author of several books—‘English Pleasure Carriages,’ 1837; ‘Railways and Permanent Way,’ 1854; ‘Roads and Rails,’ 1862—and of memoirs and articles innumerable. He read several papers to the Society of Arts and the Institution of Civil Engineers, and contributed largely to the journal of the first-named society, as well as to many of the scientific and technical periodicals. Besides his writings on technical subjects, he was the author of several political pamphlets, published under the pseudonym of Junius Redivivus. Most of these were issued about the time of the 1832 Reform Bill. He died at Broadstairs, and was buried at St. Peter's. In 1834 he married Sarah Flower [see Adams, Sarah Flower].

[A very full biographical notice in Engineering newspaper, 26 July 1872 (xiv. 63), and a shorter sketch in the Journal of the Society of Arts, 2 August 1872 (xx. 763); Men of the Time (eighth edition).]

H. T. W.