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Replication, re-placing and naval science in comparative context, c.1868–1904

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 February 2012

Centre for the History of the Sciences, School of History, Rutherford College, University of Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NX, UK. Email:


The test tank broadly embodied the late nineteenth-century endeavour to ‘use science’ in industry, but the meaning given to the tank differed depending on the experienced communities that made it part of their experimental and engineering practices. This paper explores the local politics surrounding three tanks: William Froude's test tank located on his private estate in Torquay (1870), the Denny tank in Dumbarton (1884) and the University of Michigan test tank (1903). The similarities and peculiarities of test tank use and interpretation identified in this paper reveal the complexities of naval science and contribute to the shaping of an alternative model of replication. This model places the emphasis on actors at sites of replication that renegotiated the meaning of the original Froude tank, and re-placed the local values and conditions which made it a functional instrument of scientific investigation.

All the European [test tank] stations are modelled on the station at Haslar; [yet] each station had its own individuality which I will try to throw into relief, avoiding tedious repetitions or comparisons.1

Research Article
Copyright © British Society for the History of Science 2012

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