Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wyatt, John (1700-1766)

WYATT, JOHN (1700–1766), inventor, eldest son of John and Jane Wyatt (born Jackson) of Thickbroom in the parish of Weeford, near Lichfield, was born in April 1700, and educated at Lichfield school. His family was connected with that of Sarah Ford, Dr. Johnson's mother. He worked for some time in his native village as a carpenter, until, in 1730, his mind was diverted by a plan which he conceived for a machine to make files. He sought pecuniary help from another Birmingham inventor, Lewis Paul [q. v.], but the difficulties involved in perfecting the machine soon led to its abandonment. Wyatt was already engaged in a new and more profitable sphere of invention. The discovery of the fly-shuttle in 1733 had greatly increased the demand for yarn, and suggested the need of a machine to perform the operation of spinning. The earliest hint of the construction of such a machine is contained in a letter from Wyatt to one of his brothers, written about 1733, in which he says he intends residing in or near Birmingham, as he has ‘a gymcrack there of some consequence.’ He was unable, however, to carry out his idea without additional mechanical assistance; this he obtained from Lewis Paul, who in June 1738 took out a patent (No. 562) embodying for the first time the all-important principle of spinning by rollers revolving at different velocities. A company, including the names of Edward Cave [q. v.] and Dr. James, was formed to apply the invention at a cotton mill, Upper Priory, Birmingham. Two hanks of the cotton thus spun are preserved in the Birmingham Reference Library, and attached to them is an inscription in Wyatt's own hand testifying that they were spun without hands about 1744, the motive power being ‘two or more asses walking round an axis’ and the superintendent, John Wyatt. The concern nevertheless languished and eventually died, owing partly to defects in Wyatt and Paul's machinery, which, though highly ingenious, was far inferior in efficiency to that brought to perfection by (Sir) Richard Arkwright [q. v.] in 1769, and partly to the heavy cost of freight and the difficulties of transport in the then condition of the country roads.

His spinning speculations having failed, Wyatt turned for work to the Soho foundry, which was established in 1762. While employed there, he invented and perfected the compound lever weighing machine. Five-ton weighing machines constructed by him were set up at Birmingham, Liverpool, Chester, Hereford, Gloucester, and Lichfield (a model of this last is at South Kensington). The machine is similar in its outlines to those now used by most of the railway companies. Wyatt died on 29 Nov. 1766, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Philip's, Birmingham. He was followed to the grave by Matthew Boulton [q. v.], who is said to have upbraided Wyatt's sons for not asserting their father's inventions, and John Baskerville [q. v.] His tombstone has recently been set erect and reinscribed. Wyatt was twice married, and by his second wife left four daughters and two sons—Charles, who took out several patents between 1790 and 1817; and John, publisher of the ‘Repertory of Arts’ (1818).

A number of his papers, plans, and designs for inventions were presented to the Reference Library, Birmingham, by Mrs. Silvester of Bath. The original model constructed by Wyatt and Paul, by which the first cotton thread is said to have been spun, was ‘offered to Arkwright as an interesting relic, but the successful adapter declined to take it’ (Timmins, Indust. Hist. of Birmingham, 1866, p. 214). Wyatt is said to have been one of the unsuccessful competitors for the erection of Westminster Bridge in 1736.

[John Wyatt, Master Carpenter and Inventor, London, 1885; French's Life and Times of Samuel Crompton, chap. iv.; Baines's Hist. of the Cotton Manufacture, pp. 121–40 (Baines's advocacy of Wyatt's claims against Paul was strongly combated by Cole); Cole's Account of Louis Paul and his Invention for Spinning Cotton and Wool by Rollers, September 1858; Guest's Hist. of the Cotton Manufacture, 1823; Dent's Making of Birmingham, 1894, p. 79; Gent. Mag. 1812 i. 196, 1836 ii. 231; Builder, 14 Aug. 1880; Simms's Bibliotheca Staffordiensis, 1894, p. 530.]

T. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.286
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
180 ii 21 f.e. Wyatt, John: after Boulton & Watt insert which was established in 1762
20 f.e. omit about 1744