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About the David Fergusson Scholarship

Adapted from an article written from Joseph Campbell

   David Fergusson, a mechanical engineering graduate of Bradford Technical College England was an innovative engineer who played a key role in the early development of the automobile. He was one of the early pioneering engineers whose inventiveness, and eagerness to improve the product helped to bring the automobile from a luxurious toy of the turn of the century to the indispensable machine of today.

Pierce-ArrowDavid Fergusson in his first Pierce Motorette. The photo was taken in 1901, and loaned by his son.  The engine was a 2 3/4 horsepower DeDion.

   Mr. Fergusson was born in 1869 in Bradford, Yorkshire, England. After obtaining his formal education he worked for various English firms engaged in developing steam and gas engines. He formally entered into automotive design and development when he became the chief engineer of the London patent firm of Edward J. Pennington.

   In 1899 the Pennington firm sent Mr. Fergusson to New York with one of their newly developed machines in an effort to attract investments by American financiers. The endeavor, though unsuccessful for Pennington, proved to be a turning point in Fergusson's life. He decided to sever his relationship with the Pennington group and remain in this country. He joined the E.G. Stearns Company in Syracuse, New York, who were then experimenting with steam powered cars. Impressing the firm with the possibilities of gasoline engines, he was engaged to design and build an experimental model. He soon found out however that his efforts were stymied by the other Stearns engineers who were strongly opposed to a gasoline powered design.                            

Pierce-ArrowPierce-Arrow vehicles Model 48-B-5 7-Passenger Touring 1919 from Wikipedia

   After learning that the George N. Pierce Company, a bicycle manufacturer in Buffalo, was having difficulties trying to develop a steam driven car, Fergusson traveled to Buffalo and presented his ideas to the board of directors. He was immediately hired to design and build two gasoline powered vehicles. This association proved to be of long duration and a period during which he was able to develop many of his ideas. As chief engineer he designed many of the well-known Pierce-Arrow models, some of which are today's historical relics.

   In 1922, following a shift in management, he left the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company, as it was then named, and for a brief period worked as an automobile consultant. His consulting practice brought him in contact with the Cunningham Motor Car Company in Rochester, an encounter which became the next significant turning point in his life. On November 1, 1924 he moved to Rochester and joined that firm as chief engineer, a position he held until his retirement in 1950.

   It was then that David Fergusson joined the Rochester Engineering Society. His activities as a member proved that Buffalo's loss was Rochester’s gain. Though he never held office in the Society, he did become a frequent author of articles for The Rochester Engineer. A prolific writer, each year from 1928 through 1940, he wrote articles in which he critiqued the new model cars for that year. Those articles, replete with statistics on each model, were well written and obviously the product of considerable research.

Cunningham_SpecialCunningham Special from 1924 from Wikipedia

   He also wrote three other articles for The Rochester Engineer on specific items which were of great interest at the time. Those articles and the dates of issue are: December 1924, "Inherent Vibration and Inherently Balanced Engines, December 1925, "The Importance of Freedom From Vibration in Passenger Car Engines: which is the Ultimate Type"; and March 1927, "The Pronounced Trend Towards the Eight Cylinder Car."

   In his association with both Pierce-Arrow and Cunningham, Fergusson distinguished himself as a designer of the luxury and high powered cars of the era. Many of his concepts were well ahead of the period and have only recently been "re-discovered" by the industry. He was one of the first to extensively employ aluminum in his designs in an effort to reduce weight there-by increasing power. His early designs for Pierce-Arrow had bodies which were casted in flanged aluminum panels and eighth-of-an-inch thick and riveted together. Hoods, crankcases, oil pans, transmission housings, and intake manifolds were also aluminum. His early "Pierce Motorette Knockabout" (1901) had the gear shift lever mounted on the car's steering column and its motor mounted directly over the real axle, both concepts reappearing over thirty years later. He was also an early proponent of the "V" engine and particularly the V8, having designed one of the earliest and most advanced V8 engines to be used in auto construction. He also designed medium and light tanks and half-track machine guns in the period between World Wars I & II.

   The annual articles which David Fergusson wrote for The Rochester Engineer contained numerous personal comments on the safety and efficiency of the automobile of that period. Many of those comments indicated that he fully understood the future of the American automobile. His instincts enabled him to understand the motoring public's needs and desires. Motoring safety was obviously of great concern to him and he offered suggestions then for safer vehicles which we accept today as standard.

   David Fergusson, a superb engineer of his time, could be compared with those of today who are responsible for the significant advances made in modern technology. He was engaged in the rapidly expanding technology at he dawn of the twentieth century and the products of his genius, and those of his peers, became the foundation for the remarkable achievements which were responsible for America’s industrial leadership.

   Many gifted people have been recorded in history for their inventions which improved the standard by which we live, enhanced our life style, created employment, and encouraged industrial leadership. The successful development of many of those inventions however were made possible by the creative minded engineer. History rarely recognized the engineer who developed the methods by which an invention could be manufactured and who added their own innovative thoughts which improved on the original concept. David Fergusson was one of those who received too limited a recognition for his remarkable contributions.

   David Fergusson died on April 27, 1951 at the age of 81. In addition to being a member of the Rochester Engineering Society he had also been an active member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

   Since the great achievements made by David Fergusson during his lifetime should serve as an inspiration to all students of engineering, it is fitting that the Rochester Engineering Society should award scholarships under his name. Using a gift of approximately eighty two thousand dollars made by Mr. Fergusson’s son, Mr. David V. Fergusson, and daughter Mrs. Jerold B. (Dorothy) Foland, the RES created the David Fergusson Memorial Scholarship Award. Each year several scholarships will be awarded, from the earnings of the fund, to students pursuing an education in engineering.

   By awarding scholarships only from earnings, the principal will remain intact, thereby creating a perpetual fund in memory of David Fergusson, the outstanding engineer. JWC


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