Braithwaite was third son of John Braithwaite the elder. He was born at 1 Bath Place, New Road, London, on 19 March 1797, and, after being educated at Mr. Lord's school at Tooting in Surrey, attended in his father's manufactory, where he made himself master of practical engineering, and became a skilled draughtsman. In June 1818 his father died, leaving the business to his sons Francis and John. Francis died in 1823, and John Braithwaite carried on the business alone. He added to the business the making of high-pressure steam-engines. In 1817 he reported before the House of Commons upon the Norwich steamboat explosion, and in 1820 he ventilated the House of Lords by means of air-pumps. In 1822 he made the donkey-engine, and in 1823 cast the statue of the Duke of Kent by Sebastian Gahagan which was erected in Portland Place, London.
He was introduced to George and Robert Stephenson in 1827, and about the same time became acquainted with Captain John Ericsson, who then had many schemes in view. In 1829 Braithwaite and Ericsson constructed for the Rainhill experiments the locomotive engine, The Novelty. This engine was the first that ever ran a mile within a minute (fifty-six seconds).
At this time Braithwaite manufactured the first practical steam fire-engine, which was ultimately destroyed by a London mob. It had, however, previously done good service at the burning of the English Opera House in 1830, at the destruction of the Argyle Rooms 1830, and at the conflagration of the Houses of Parliament in 1834. It threw two tons of water per minute, burnt coke, and got up steam in about twenty minutes; but it was looked upon with so much jealousy by the fire brigade of the day that the inventor had to give it up. He, however, soon constructed four others of larger dimensions, two of which, in Berlin and Liverpool respectively, gave great satisfaction. In 1833 he built the caloric engine in conjunction with Captain Ericsson.
He died very suddenly at 8 Clifton Gardens, Paddington, on 25 Sept. 1870, and his remains were interred in Kensal Green cemetery.
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