English engineer, hydrodynamicist and naval architect.

Born: November 28, 1810, Dartington, Devon, England

Died: May 4, 1879, Simonstown, South Africa

Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers

Institution of Mechanical Engineers (1852)

Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) (1870)

In 1876 he received the gold medal of the Royal Society for “his researches, both theoretical and experimental, on the Behaviour of Ships, their oscillations, their resistance, and their propulsion.”

Honorary degree of LL.D. from the University of Glasgow (1876)


He was the son of Robert Froude, Archdeacon of Totnes and the brother of James Anthony Froude, a historian, and Hurrell Froude, writer and priest.

He was the first to formulate reliable laws for the resistance that water offers to ships (such as the hull speed equation) and for predicting their stability.

His first employment was as a surveyor on the South Eastern Railway which, in 1837, led to Brunel giving him responsibility for the construction of a section of the Bristol and Exeter Railway. It was here that he developed his empirical method of setting out track transition curves and introduced an alternative design to the helicoidal skew arch bridge at Rewe and Cowley Bridge Junction, near Exeter

At Brunel’s invitation, Froude turned his attention to the stability of ships in a seaway and his 1861 paper to the Institution of Naval Architects became influential in ship design. This led to a commission to identify the most efficient hull shape, which he was able to fulfill by reference to scale models: he established a formula (now known as the Froude number) by which the results of small-scale tests could be used to predict the behaviour of full-sized hulls. He built a sequence of 3, 6 and 12 foot scale models and used them in towing trials to establish resistance and scaling laws; Raven’s sharp prow followed the “waveline” theory of John Scott Russell, but Swan’s blunter profile proved to offer lower resistance. Froude’s experiments were vindicated in full-scale trials conducted by the Admiralty and as a result the first ship test tank was built, at public expense, adjoining his home at Chelston Cross, Torquay (Admiralty Experiment Works). Here he was able to combine mathematical expertise with practical experimentation to such good effect that his methods are still followed today.

1877 Froude was commissioned by the Admiralty to produce a machine capable of absorbing and measuring the power of large naval engines. He invented and built the world’s first water brake dynamometer, sometimes known as the hydraulic dynamometer, which was later exploited by his son’s business, Heenan and Froude, in Birmingham and Worcester.

Contributed to the sections of The Life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Civil Engineer on the Atmospheric System.

Associated With

William Bell

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Known For


Mentioned In

Author of


Some content on this page courtesy of Grace’s Guide, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.