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Thomas and Albert

1830 - 1878

Toledo Factory
Thomas and Albert Vickers were both born in Sheffield, Thomas on 9th July 1833 and Albert on 16th September 1838. Their father Edward (1804-97) was a miller who had married Anne, the daughter of George Naylor, a senior partner in the local steelmaking firm of Naylor & Sanderson. Edward's brother William, owned a steel rolling mill and he too was connected with the firm. As a result of profitable railway investments during the 1830's and 40's Edward was able to gain control of the business, which continued operating under the name of Naylor Vickers at Millsands, Sheffield.

By the 1850's Edward had begun to hand over the running of the firm to his sons Thomas and Albert. Edward served as the town's Alderman, Mayor and was the first president of Sheffield's Chamber of Commerce. His firm was one of the three largest crucible steel manufacturers in Sheffield.

Tom and Albert received a technical based education in Sheffield and Germany.

Tom before the age of 21 was put in charge of the hammers and rolling mills. As the demand for crucible steel rapidly grew new works were needed and a new site was set up on the River Don in Brightside district of Sheffield. The River Don works opened in 1863. The company used the German Riepe process (pouring crucible steel into specially treated clay moulds) capturing the market share for steel castings. The firm were noted for the production of cast steel bells, popular because they could withstand extremes of temperature and be heard over great distances. The work of Tom Vickers enhanced the reputation of the firm and it's only rivals in technical expertise were the German firms of Bochum and Krupps.

In 1867 the firm was incorporated as Vickers, Sons and Co. Ltd., they had formed a partnership with their American agent Ernst Leopold Schiesinger Benzon. The River Don Works in 1873, when Tom became the chairman, employed more than a 1000 men and stretched for nearly a quarter of a mile along the Midland Railway.

Albert joined the business in 1854, his interests lay in the managerial and commercial aspects of the firm. He was able to converse in most European languages and spent a considerable part of his time setting up deals on the continent and in the USA. He had acquired his business skills in Boston where he had obtained large export orders for high-grade tool and sheet steel to the USA. During the 1860's business slumped despite the demand for railway tyres, but Albert found new markets in the heavy trade. In 1868 the firm began manufacturing marine shaftings, four years later the first screw propeller was cast and by 1882 a forging press had been set up.Thomas Vickers took advantage of the William Siemens invention and installed a regenerative furnace.

When there was another slump in the markets in the early 1880's Vickers once again changed direction, this time to armaments. They produced a successful armour plate in 1888 and its first artillery piece in 1890. Albert's vision was to supply not only armour and cannon but a complete selection of weaponry from light machine guns to heavy battleships. This trend was followed by other steel manufactures the Firths; Sir John Brown and Charles Cammell.

In 1884 Albert became the chairman of the newly formed Maxim Gun Co, set up to manufacture the machine gun designed by the American Hiram Maxim. In 1897 Vickers acquired the firm and in the same year they bought the Naval Construction Co. In 1902 they bought a half share in William Beardmore & Co., the armour plate and warship manufactures in Glasgow. In 1906 they took out a similar holding in the Whitehead & Co., the Weymouth and Flume torpedo makers. After 1900 Vickers developed an interest in submarine, aircraft and motor car manufacture.By 1902 the firm had become one of the top ten manufacturing concerns in the country. By 1914 they had set up foreign subsidiaries in Spain; Italy; Japan; Russia and Turkey.

In 1909 Tom retired from his chairmanship of the firm and handed it over to Albert. Tom had married in 1860. His wife Frances Mary Douglas (1841-1904) was the only child of the London surgeon, Joseph Douglas. They had two sons, Douglas (1861-1937) and Ronald (1869-1942) and four daughters, Mabel Frances (1862-94), Clara Mildred(1865-1952), Florence Evelyn (1867-1947) and Bertha (1870-1946). For many years Tom Vickers lived with his family at Bolsover Hill, a large house to the north of Sheffield. Later the family moved to London. Tom's son Douglas became a director of the company in 1897. Tom was the commanding officer of the Hallamshire Volunteers (1871-99). He became Master Cutler in 1872. Tom continued to visit the works until two months before his death, when he was wheeled around in his bath-chair.

Thomas Vickers died at his London home on the 19th of October 1915, he was cremated at Golders Green.

Albert retired from the chairmanship of the company in 1918. Albert married a Bostonian, Helen Horton Gage (d. 1873). They had three children, Almyra (b 1862) Edward (1863-87) and Maud (b. 1865). He was remarried in 1875 to Edith Foster (d.1919). Edith was the daughter of John Foster, of Newhall Grange, Maltby, they had a son, Vincent Cartwright (1879-1939) and two daughters Edith Dorothy (1878-1949) and Izme (b. 1885).

Albert died at Eastbourne on the 12th July 1919, he was buried in Surrey.

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