Alexander Kirk

1830 – 1892

Alexander Kirk

Engineering Achievements

Kirk’s three major contributions – improvements in the distillation of paraffin from shale oil, the air cycle refrigeration system and the triple expansion steam engine would each qualify him for entry to the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame. The fact that he is responsible for all three of them indicates the esteem in which he should be held – as Robert Dundas, the President of IESIS, said in announcing his death in 1892, “In him we have lost one of our ablest members”

Kirk was a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. He was apprenticed in Robert Napier & sons, and later worked at James “Paraffin” Young’s shale oil works where he improved the distillation process, and also John Elder & Co’s marine engines, all of them inductees to the Scottish engineering Hall of Fame.

He served as President of IESIS from 1887-89 and was a member of the Glasgow Hammermen.

Alexander Kirk developed an air cycle refrigeration machine based on the Stirling engine which was significantly more reliable and efficient than previous designs and served as the archetype for this type of machine for the next 20 years. It paved the way for the establishment of the frozen meat trade from Australia, New Zealand and South America. His triple expansion steam engine in 1874 – the first of this type of engine in the world - reduced coal consumption for marine engines by 25% and rapidly superseded the compound steam engine. Distillation, refrigeration, and improved steam engines – multiple reasons to be an inductee.

  1. 1830 Year of birth
  2. 1850 Started his apprenticeship with Robert Napier & Sons
  3. 1861 Became Chief Draughtsman with Maudslay, Sons and Field
  4. 1861 Became engineering manager for James Young in shale oil industry - developed oil shale retort and refrigeration technology
  5. 1865 Joined James Aitken and Company, engine works Glasgow
  6. 1870 Joined John C Elder engineering works
  7. 1877 Returned to R Napier & Sons, designed triple-expansion engine
  8. 1887-9 President of IESIS
  9. 1892 Year of death
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