Robert Maillart

Robert Maillart, a Swiss structural engineer, was born Feb. 6, 1872. Maillart is best known as a bridge engineer, and in particular, for inventing the modern concrete arch bridge. Earlier bridge designers had employed reinforced concrete, but they tended to treat it like timber or stone, using old designs and structures for their new material. Maillart got rid of stone piers and thick arches and allowed the concrete to take flight and soar…

Henry Foster

Henry Foster, a British scientist and naval officer, died Feb. 5, 1831; his date of birth is unknown. Foster participated in several expeditions to the Arctic between 1823 and 1827. On the first of these, he assisted the Army officer and physicist Edward Sabine as he used a pendulum to try to establish the exact force of gravity at various locations in the Greenland Sea. On the second voyage, 1824, Foster accompanied Edward Parry in an attempt to navigate through the Arctic archipelago. The quest was unsuccessful, but Foster’s magnetic and pendulum studies so impressed the Royal Society that he was awarded the Copley medal, the Society’s highest annual award…

Thomas Hudson

Thomas Hudson, an English portrait painter, died Jan. 26, 1779, at age 78; his date of birth is not known. Hudson was the foremost portraitist of his day, which is to say, the 1740s and 1750s. Most of his portraits captured wealthy gentry and their families-dukes, earls, baronets and such-but not a few of his subjects were natural philosophers, which was fortunate, because in many cases the Hudson portraits are the only ones we have…

William MacGillivray

William MacGillivray, a Scottish naturalist, was born Jan. 25, 1796. A native of Aberdeen, he moved at a young age to the Harris end of the island of Lewis and Harris, in the Outer Hebrides, just west of the northern Scottish mainland. He returned to Aberdeen to educate himself, and he used to walk back and forth between Harris and Aberdeen, a fair distance, even for someone on horseback. In 1819, at age 23, and now an enthusiastic birder, he got the urge to see the bird collection in the British Museum in London. So he set off on foot, with ten pounds in his pocket, a drinking glass, and a trowel, to visit a metropolis that was 840 miles away…

George Ord

George Ord, an American naturalist, died Jan. 24, 1866, at the age of about 85; his date of birth is unknown. Ord lived in Philadelphia and was a prominent member of the two great scientific societies of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society and the Academy of Natural Sciences. He was also a friend of the early American ornithologist, Alexander Wilson, and when Wilson died of overwork before finishing his 9-volume American Ornithology, Ord stepped in and saw the last volumes through the press…