Born in Alnwick, Northumberland, England on January 27, 1827, there is virtually nothing known about the personal life of Robert Henry Bow. This is not altogether surprising considering he was uncompromisingly devoted to his career as a civil engineer. Based in Scotland, it is believed Mr. Bow became acquainted with physicist James Clerk Maxwell during Professor Maxwell's lectures on color at Edinburgh University. An expert on iron roof and bridge construction, Mr. Bow established his professional reputation at an early age with the publication of A Treatise on Bracing (1851), which was followed up by several well-received articles on structural engineering. In his text The Economics of Construction in Relation to Framed Structures (1873), in which he collaborated with fellow civil engineer Edward Sang, he subdivided 136 trussed frameworks into four distinct classes – Class I, statically determinate; Class II, kinematically determinate; Class III, statically indeterminate; and Class 4, others that he identified as dual polygons of forces. A design enthusiast, he teamed with renowned builder Thomas Bouch to rebuild the Firth of Tay bridge after its decimation due to high winds. He also offered his services as an engineering consultant, specializing in trussed roofs for railway stations. For his efforts, he received a prestigious fellowship at the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Mr. Bow became fascinated with stereoscopic photography in the 1860s, and like many amateur photographers of the period, grew increasingly frustrated with distortion caused by flawed lenses or improper square placement of the camera. He believed lenses were the culprit, and championed an achromatic plano-convex focal length lens measuring 4 1/2 inches he maintained was free from distortion. He subsequently designed an instrument he dubbed a focimeter, which allowed transparencies to be viewed from the same angle as they appeared in the lens. Mr. Bow also became a vocal champion of using ammonia to fix photographs. He cited its affordability and the short time required between the toner bath and print finishing. Furthermore, he believed that the lack of sulphur chemical compounds resulted in greater print quality, subtle shadings, and richer tints that were particularly advantageous in portraiture and landscape photography.
In his later years, engineering again became Mr. Bow's primary preoccupation. However, his passion for stereoscopic photography and focal lens experimentation never waned. Eighty-two-year-old Robert Henry Bow died in Edinburgh, Scotland on February 17, 1909.
1907 The British Journal of Photography, Vol. LIV (London: Henry Greenwood & Co.), pp. 62-63.
1892 The Chemistry of Photography by William Jerome Harrison (New York: The Scovill & Adams Company), p. 387.
2012 The History of the Theory of Structures by Karl-Eugen Kurrer (Berlin: Ernst & Verlag fur Architektur und technische), pp. 369, 1984.
1899 The International Annual of Anthony's Photographic Bulletin and American Process Year-Book, Vol. XI (London: Percy Lund, Humphries & Co., Ltd.), p. 14.
1864 Journal of the Franklin Institute, Vol. XLVII (Philadelphia: The Franklin Institute), p. 408.
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