Joseph Bramah

Joseph Bramah: A Pioneer in the Machine Tool Industry

Joseph Bramah was born April 13, 1748, in  Stainborough Lane Farm, Stainborough, Barnsley Yorkshire. He was an English inventor and locksmith. He is best known for having invented the hydraulic press. He is considered along with William George Armstrong, a father of hydraulic engineering.

Early Years

Bramah was the second son in the family of four sons and two daughters of Joseph Bramma (different spelling), a farmer, and his wife, Mary Denton. He studied at the local school and after finishing school he completed a carpentry apprenticeship. He then moved to London, where he began working as a cabinet-maker. In 1783 he married Mary Lawton and the couple established their home in London. They eventually had a daughter and four sons.

Water Closet

In London, Bramah worked installing water closets (toilets) which were designed by Alexander Cumming in 1775. He discovered, though, that model being installed in London houses had a tendency to freeze in cold weather. Although it was technically his boss who improved the design by replacing the usual slide valve with a hinged flap that sealed the bottom of the bowl, Bramah obtained the patent for it in 1778, and began making toilets at a workshop. The design was produced well into the 19th century.

Bramah's original water closets are still working in Osbourne House, Queen Victoria's home on the Isle of Wight.

Bramah Safety Lock

After attending some lectures on technical aspects of locks, Bramah patented the Bramah safety lock on August 21, 1784. His lock was considered unpickable until it was finally picked in 1851. This lock is now located in the Science Museum in London.

According to lock expert Sandra Davis, "In 1784, he patented his lock which for many years had the reputation of being absolutely unpickable. He offered £200 to anyone who could pick his lock and although many tried it - it was not until 1851 that the money was won by an American, A.C. Hobbs, although it took him 16 days to do it! Joseph Bramah was deservedly honoured and admired as one of the earliest mechanical geniuses of his day."

The same year as he received his lock patent, he set up the Bramah Lock Company.

Other Inventions

Bramah went on to create a hydrostatic machine (hydraulic press), a beer pump, the four-cock, a quill sharpener, a working planer, methods of paper-making, improved fire engines and printing machines.  In 1806, Bramah patented a machine for printing banknotes that was used by the Bank of England.

One of Bramah's last inventions was a hydrostatic press capable of uprooting trees. This was used at Holt Forest in Hampshire. While superintending this work Bramah caught a cold, which led to pneumonia. He died at on December 9, 1814. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's, Paddington .

Bramah ultimately obtained 18 patents for his designs between 1778 and 1812.

In 2006 a pub in Barnsley was opened named the Joseph Bramah in his memory.