Petree, James Foster 1893 - 1970


(1893-1970), historian of technology

James Foster Petree was born on the 23rd of November 1893 in Prenton, Birkenhead. After he had matriculated at Wallasey, he entered a five-year apprenticeship at the marine engine works of what in 1903 had become Cammell, Laird & Co. Ltd., which included drawing office work, time in the shops and trial trips of ships. After the outbreak of the First World War, in 1915 Petree joined the Admiralty staff, serving in the Engineer-in-Chief's Department and the Warship Production Department, on the Clyde, the Tyne and Southampton. In 1919 Petree joined Gwynnes Ltd. of Hammersmith as senior draughtsman on centrifugal pump work. In 1923 he joined J. Hamilton Gibson, consulting Engineer and adviser to Michell Bearings Ltd. and in 1928 was taken into partnership.

In September 1930, Petree joined the Newcomen Society and became a Member of Council in 1936; served as Honorary Treasurer from 1941 to 1963; was elected Vice-President in 1944; and was installed as President on 21 November 1951. On 1st May 1968 he was awarded the Dickinson Memorial Medal for his lecture on "Engineering Biography". One of his great enthusiasms was for the work of Henry Maudslay (1771-1831) and our knowledge of Maudslay's work has been greatly enhanced by Petree's researches. He served as President of the Maudslay Society in 1964-66.

Petree's literary work resulted in him becoming Assistant Editor of the journal 'Engineering' in 1937, joint Editor with Charles Copper in 1939 and sole Editor in 1949. He retired from the editorship on the 31st December 1953 but remained a Director of Engineering Ltd. until the sale of 'Engineering' to the International Publishing Corporation in 1970. Petree was a member (later a fellow) of the Institution of Mechanical engineers, of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects and of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. On the 1st January 1954, he was appointed European Correspondent to 'Mechanical Engineering', the monthly journal of the ASME. He was one of the early members of the Railway & Canal Historical Society, elected on 28 January 1955, and served on the Council. He died suddenly on the 14th September 1970.