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British Industrial History

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Whitehead and Co

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Whitehead and Co of Weymouth

1866 Robert Whitehead developed the first automobile or self-propelled torpedo whilst working as manager of the Fonderia Metalli situated in Fiume (Rijeka), today in Croatia. He thus introduced the world to a weapon that almost changed the course of history during both World Wars.

The Austrian gunboat Gemse was adapted for launching in the Fiume shipyard of Schiavon. This ship was equipped with a launching barrel, which was Whitehead’s invention. More than 50 launch trials were performed in front of the factory, in Fiume bay. The gunboat’s commander was a frigate lieutenant, Georg Hoyos, who later married Robert Whitehead’s daughter Alice.

By 1870 Robert had managed to increase the torpedo's speed to 7 knots and it could hit a target 700 yards away

1872 The Whitehead Torpedo was seen as a form of submarine gun of unknown efficacy[1]

1873 Though the product was promising, the torpedo did not help Stabilimento Tecnico di Fiume survive and it went bankrupt in 1873.

1875 Robert took it over in conjunction with his son-in-law, Count Georg Hoyos, and transformed it into a private company called Torpedo-Fabrik von Robert Whitehead. Later, the company was changed into a stock company Whitehead & Co., Societa in Azioni. The works were devoted solely to the construction of torpedoes and accessory appliances. Whitehead's son John subsequently became a third partner.

1890 a branch was established at Portland harbour, under Captain Payne-Gallwey, a former naval officer

1898 the original works at Fiume were rebuilt on a larger scale.

1906 Control of the company was acquired by Vickers, Sons and Maxim in conjunction with Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co[2]

c.1920 The Fiume torpedo works closed.

1923 The establishment at Wyke Regis, near Weymouth, was re-opened for torpedo development.

Later became part of Vickers-Armstrongs

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, Apr 04, 1872
  2. The Times, Mar 27, 1934