James Renwick (physicist)

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For other people named James Renwick, see James Renwick (disambiguation).

James Renwick (1790–1863), was an English-American scientist and engineer.

He was born in Liverpool, England, on 30 May 1790. He graduated from Columbia College in 1807. In 1820 he was appointed professor of natural philosophy in that college, a position he held until 1854. In 1838 he was appointed by the U.S. government one of the commissioners to explore the line of the boundary, then settled by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, between Maine and New Brunswick. In addition to his collegiate duties he wrote the biographies of Robert Fulton, David Rittenhouse, and Count Rumford, in Sparks's American Biography; a Memoir of DeWitt Clinton (1834); and a Treatise on the Steam-engine (1830). His textbooks, Outlines of Natural Philosophy (1822), Elements of Mechanics (1832), and First Principles of Chemistry (1840) were among the first works of their kind published in the United States, the first and third of these, along with his other educational works, passing through multiple editions. He was elected an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1863.[1] Renwick died in 1863.

He married Margaret Brevoort, from a wealthy and socially prominent New York family. His eldest son, Henry Brevoort Renwick, was a mechanical engineer and inspector of steamboat engines. His middle son, James Renwick, Jr., was a noted Gothic Revival architect, designer of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York and the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C., among many other buildings. His youngest son, Edward S. Renwick was a mechanical engineer, inventor and patent expert.

Engineering on the Morris Canal[edit]

Renwick was also responsible for the idea and initial design of the inclined planes on the Morris Canal.[2] The design of these planes were later copied for the Elbląg Canal in Poland.[3]


  • This article incorporates text from the International Cyclopedia of 1890, a publication now in the public domain.
  1. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter F" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved September 13, 2016. 
  2. ^ Kirby, Richard Shelton (1990). Engineering in History. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 214–215. ISBN 0486264122. 
  3. ^ "Railroad Extra, the Morris Canal and its Inclined Planes". Retrieved 2014-02-06.