Gas Engine Pioneer: Sir Dugald Clerk

Dugald Clerk was one of the first pioneers in the birth of the gas engine, and lived to see it become a successful everyday machine.

| August/September 2019

Dugald Clerk in 1904

Does the above name ring a bell with you? Of course it does! He’s the gent who invented the Clerk Cycle of engine operation. And who was the major maker of that type of engine in America? Joseph Reid. So now it all comes together for you. But for this article, we are going to journey across the pond to Scotland, and see what we can learn about this most interesting individual. It will be a good story.

Clerk was definitely a unique and gifted person. He was intelligent, diligent and thoughtful. Although his career developed into many different areas, he never forgot his love for the gas engine, and was always eager to learn more.

Clerk was one of the very early pioneers in the birth of the gas engine, and lived to see it become a successful everyday machine. Few others were given that pleasure.

Going back

Donald Clerk was born in 1819 in Argyle, Scotland, a rural area very near to the city of Glasgow. Clerk had a mechanical inclination and soon opened a blacksmith shop. Tools were crude then, but he persevered and became a master blacksmith. By 1871, he and his wife were living in Glasgow and his works employed five men and 10 boys! He and his wife had a large family of 10 children, Dugald being the oldest. Donald Clerk passed away in 1880 at the age of 61, and it is sad that he did not live to see Dugald’s many honors.

What it must have been like to live and work back then? Certainly very different from today. This was the era of the Industrial Revolution, which lasted essentially from 1740 to 1880. The world was changing, and one had to change to keep up with it, and the pace must have been hectic. Manufacturing was transitioning from cottage industries to huge factories. There were inventions galore. The cotton gin, the power loom, the sewing machine, the spinning jenny, the steam engine and the locomotive, just to name a few. Glasgow must have been busy and dirty. Factories sprung up, powered by crude steam engines whose boilers spewed forth black sooty smoke. And in the midst of this, Dugald saw opportunity.


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