Professor Archibald Barr

On this day in 1888 Archibald Barr and William Stroud filed a patent for a new optical rangefinder, in commemoration of this we have taken a look back at the life and work of Archibald Barr:

Archibald Barr was born near Paisley in 1855 and went on to study at the University of Glasgow, gaining a BSc in 1878. Barr, alongside William Stroud, founded the optical engineering business Barr & Stroud.


Archibald Barr at the University of Glasgow

The rangefinder that they developed is known as their pioneering achievement, being adopted by the British Navy in 1892 and eventually used by navies around the world. The rangefinder is deemed pivotal in naval technology and is credited with helping the Imperial Japanese Navy win the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. Barr & Stroud’s innovations were crucial for the Allied Powers during World War I, playing their part in this new industrialised warfare.

The company went on to produce a wealth of products continuing to make military equipment combining their experience in optics with advanced technology to produce items such as thermal imaging equipment and remained the primary provider of optical equipment to the British Navy. Though they are arguably best known for making military equipment, Barr & Stroud also produced smaller scale items such as personal binoculars. Barr remained the chairman of the company until his death in 1931.


A collection of Barr & Stroud rangefinders

The University of Glasgow Archives Services holds the records of Barr & Stroud tracing the history of the company, their products and the workers who produced them. More information on the collection and the company’s history can be found on our online catalogue.

Though Barr was dedicated to his business he also played a key role in University life. From 1876 he was appointed as a young assistant to Professor of Engineering, James Thomson before gaining his BSc in 1878. He then went to Leeds for a brief period for a professorship, where he met William Stroud, before returning to Glasgow in 1889 to take up a position as Regius Chair of Civil Engineering.

He was renowned for his impact on teaching, increasing the numbers of students from thirty-nine to over two hundred between taking his position and leaving in 1912 to focus on the Barr & Stroud business. He used his influence to create a lectureship in Electrical Engineering, which was granted in 1898 and in creating the new Faculty of Science in 1893. His link with Glasgow industrialists also saw him as a crucial figure in raising funds for the James Watt building for further study and teaching in science and engineering.

The career of Professor Archibald Barr serves to highlight the breadth and interconnections of the collections that are held at the University of Glasgow Archives Services with his being a student and member of staff as well as a key figure within the Scottish business. As well as this it ties these collections together at such a pertinent moment in history, the First World War.

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