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Edward Dixon (1872-1940)

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Edward Dixon (1872-1940) of Engineering

1940 Obituary [1]

As recently as July 19 of this year, we had the pleasure of recording that the Staff Society of Messrs. Thos. Firth and John Brown, Limited, had presented his portrait in oils, painted by Captain Oswald Birley, to Mr. Edward Dixon, to mark his completion of fifty years' service with the firm; but, in doing so, we had no premonition that the occasion would arise for the portrait to be reproduced in the same volume of ENGINEERING, as a memorial to the chairman who has presided over the board of directors of this journal for the past eleven years, in succession to his father-in-law, the late Mr. A. T. Hollingsworth, and whose sage counsel has been so often justified by the course of events during that difficult period of world unrest and industrial tribulation. In such a time, the value of a broad outlook, based on extensive personal contacts among those whose responsibility it is to preserve and instil sanity of purpose in the conduct of commercial affairs, needs no emphasis; and we count ourselves fortunate that the regime of Mr. Hollingsworth should have been succeeded by one not less considerate, while being even more thoroughly informed on the general trends of the day.

Mr. Dixon was a Yorkshireman, having been born in Sheffield on August 14, 1872. His father, John Dixon, was trained, and practised, as a solicitor, but was subsequently called to the Bar of Lincoln's Inn, and eventually became a Q.C. Although he was related by marriage to the Firth family, he had no personal connection with the steel industry, and there appears to have been no particular reason why Edward, the second of John Dixon's four sons, should have chosen to undergo training in that arduous trade on leaving Sherborne School, Dorset, in preference to adopting a professional career. Having done so, however, he applied himself to it with characteristic thoroughness, and in the course of his apprenticeship with Messrs. Thos. Firth and Sons, at the Norfolk Works, Sheffield, he passed successively through the forge department, machine shops, drawing office and chemical laboratory. Concurrently, he attended lectures at the Firth, College, Sheffield, thus acquiring a sound theoretical as well as practical knowledge of the processes of heavy steel manufacture, especially for marine and armaments purposes, on which the works was principally engaged. He spent some time in France, studying steelworks practice at St. Etienne, before returning to the Norfolk Works in 1895 to take charge of the shot forge.

In 1909, he was appointed works manager of the gun department as a whole, soon afterwards becoming general manager. Two years later he became a local director, and, in 1920, a full director of the firm; and when, in 1931, Messrs. Thos. Firth and Sons amalgamated with Messrs. John Brown and Company, Limited, Mr. Dixon was elected to the new board of Messrs. Thos. Firth and John Brown, Limited. He was also a director of High Speed Steel Alloys, Limited, of Widnes, and chairman of Firth-Derihon Stampings, Limited, Sheffield, and of L'Agence des Acieries Firth Sheffield, Liege. For his services in developing munitions production, he was awarded the O.B.E. in 1918.

As indicated above, Mr. Dixon's association with ENGINEERING had its origin in family connections, his father-in-law, the late Mr. Alexander T. Hollingsworth, having acquired this journal from its founder, Zerah Colburn, so long ago as 1870. It was then edited by Mr. (afterwards Dr.) William H. Maw and Mr. James Dredge, and it was these three, working in the closest and most friendly collaboration, who directed its fortunes until 1906, when Mr. Dredge died. Dr. Maw died in 1924, and it was in the following year that Mr. Dixon was elected to the board of Engineering, Limited, the private company which, in 1891, had succeeded the original partnership. When Mr. Hollingsworth died on December 31, 1928, Mr. Dixon became chairman of the board in his stead, and, therefore, had occupied that position for nearly twelve years. Had he lived a few months longer, he would have had the pleasure of seeing the completion of 75 years' publication of ENGINEERING, the first issue having appeared on January 5, 1866.

Perhaps the most marked characteristic of Mr. Dixon's business career was his strong belief in the value of co-operation between competitors. The waste of effort and the ill-feeling often engendered by cut-throat antagonism in business were abhorrent to him, and he devoted much time and energy, with marked success, to the promotion of trade associations designed to this end. In his own words, when acknowledging the presentation of his portrait, "when I began to take an active part in the commercial side of the business, I quickly realised how friendship might play a very important part between the steel-making firms and their customers. The formation of trade associations brought about the closest co-operation of the interested firms, the heads of whom became personal friends instead of showing the jealous spirit which had previously existed."

Mr. Allan J. Grant, managing director of Messrs. Thos. Firth and John Brown, Limited, in his introductory remarks at the same ceremony, mentioned that Mr. Dixon had been chairman, since 1922, of the Federated Forgemasters' Association, which had been founded in 1897 by Mr. J. Rossiter Hoyle and Mr. Bernard Firth as the Steel Forgemasters' Association. He was also chairman of the National Forgemasters' Association, which was formed for the purpose of affiliating the Federated Forgemasters, the English and Scottish. Forgemasters' Association, and the Midland Forgemasters' Association with the British Iron and Steel Federation. He took an active part in coordinating the various castings associations which ultimately formed the General Steel Castings Association; was a member of the committee and a trustee of the HighSpeed Steels and Alloy Steels Associations; chairman of the File Trade Association since its formation in 1922, and of the Ground Thread Tap Association, the Special Billet and Gun Forgings Association, the Acid Forged Ingot Makers' Association, and the Shoe and Die Association, being responsible for the formation of the two last-named, and chairman of both since their inception. He was also actively interested in the Railway Tyre and Axle Makers' Association, the Twist Drill Traders' Association and the, Milling Cutter and Reamer Association. For many years he was a Searcher of the Cutlers Company, and greatly regretted that, for family reasons, he was unable to accept nomination as Master Cutler. Following the retirement of Mr. F. C. Fairholme, too, he had been chairman, for a number of years, of the Sheffield and District Economic League.

On the social side, Mr. Dixon had many interests. Latterly, his chief recreation had been game shooting, at which he was still no mean performer, in spite of the handicap of failing sight in his right eye; a disability which he overcame by using a gun with an offset stock, enabling him to shoot from the right shoulder while aiming with his left eye. He was a keen motorist - one of the first in Sheffield, where he pioneered the use of special alloy steels in motor-car construction, and was a very early member of the Royal Automobile Club. The club which he used most frequently in London, however, was Boodle's. In his younger days, he was a keen Rugby footballer, and played for many years for Blackheath, although to do so often entailed a special journey from Sheffield. At tennis, also, he played a vigorous and skilful game until well advanced in middle life.

Mr. Dixon is survived by his widow and three sons, to whom we desire to offer all the sympathy that comes from a personal appreciation of the magnitude of their loss. The two younger sons, Captain David Dixon and Lieutenant Gordon Dixon, served in France and Belgium with the Grenadier Guards, and both were fortunate in returning safely to this country. The eldest son, Mr. John Alexander Dixon, M.A. (Cantab.), A.M.I.Mech.E., who now succeeds his father as chairman, has been connected for some 14 years with ENGINEERING and, since 1936, has been manager and publisher.

1940 Obituary [2]

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