Bernhard Samuelson (1820-1905)

Educationalist, Industrialist, Liberal Politician and Pioneer of Technical Education
Born in Hamburg and brought up in Hull and educated at the Rev J Blezard’s school he started work in his father’s business and was then apprenticed to a Swiss company in Liverpool. After the apprenticeship he worked in a manufacturing firm Sharp, Stewart and Company based in Manchester that exported machinery. This appointment gave him opportunities to travel extensively across Europe. Samuelson was now a qualified iron-master and gained extensive experience of exporting locomotives and machinery. Samuelson bought a small agricultural manufacturing company in Banbury in1848 and made a great success of this enterprise helping to turn Banbury from a market town into a major industrial centre and by 1872 was producing 8,000 reaping machines. Also the production of iron, tar and other products from his ironworks had grown significantly.  As a result he became a very successful businessman with factories in America, France and was instrumental in developing the iron and steel complex on Tees-side and at Newport. He became active in politics from 1865 until 1895 serving in the Gladstone administrations and as an MP represented Banbury and later North Oxfordshire. Samuelson had a wide range of interests ranging across such subjects as: industrial issues, mathematics, modern languages, music and the urgent need to develop technical education. He became well known for his advocacy of scientific and technical education. Not unsurprisingly Samuelson was not a typical businessman particularly at this time being passionate about the diffusion/spread of scientific and technical knowledge and concepts whilst managing major business enterprises and holding down a political career.
From 1867 he travelled widely and made a detailed comparative study of European technical education drawing insightful conclusions about the English education system particularly technical education. As a result of his interests he wrote many technical papers and chaired committees on these subjects. Samuelson chaired the first formally established parliamentary investigation into education and industry in 1868 and was appointed chair to the Royal Commission on Technical Education (1882-84). In addition he served on the Devonshire Commission representing the Science and Art Section of the Report. He also was a member of the Cross Commission (1888). He was elected an FRS in 1881. In 1884 Samuelson, see portrait opposite, created a technical institute in Banbury that was formally opened by Antony Mundella (1825-1897).
He was a member of the the Institution of Civil Engineers, a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and an FRS.
Samuelson in the preface to ‘Technical Education’ (1) (F.C. Montague 1887) voiced concern about the inadequate level of funding for scientific studies and that technical institutions were in constant financial difficulty being ‘inadequately provided with funds and not numerously frequented’. Throughout his life he was a strong advocate for the creation of high standards of technical education in Britain that were comparable to those he had witnessed in his travels in Europe.
Useful references:
(1)   Montaque. F. C. ‘Technical Education.’ Cassell. 1887.
       and the Oxford Directory of National Biographies.

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