Born and bred in Manchester, William Johnson was educated at Manchester Central High School for Boys. Johnson served four years' with Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) in Italy during the Second World War and his early teaching career at London's Northampton Polytechnic, now City University.
Johnson was always an educator, starting his teaching career at Northampton Polytechnic in 1950 before moving to a Lectureship in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Sheffield University, which allowed him to initiate and develop his research interests in metal forming, especially the application upper bound techniques and slip-line field theory, the field in which he established his international reputation.
His move to Manchester University to work in the Department of Engineering, enabled him to develop further his work on plasticity, especially applied to forging. This interest in high speed metal forming presaged the interest he would later extend into the subject of Impact Mechanics.
Metals behaviour in manufacturing processes
William Johnson is known around the world for the breadth of his engineering expertise and for his ground-breaking research on how metals behave in manufacturing processes.
Turbine blades and jet engines
He has solved many problems for industry, from turbine blades for to assessing the crashworthiness of vehicles and he has even written books on how bombs bounce and ricochet.
His paper on the mechanics of kicking a football still remains highly cited.
1978 William Johnson. Variation of punch load with punch travel. The Perforation of Circular Plates with Four-Sided Pyramidally-Headed Square-Section Punches.
Johnson at Manchester
In 1960, after working at the Universities of Sheffield and Manchester, Johnson at the age of 38 was appointed as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), currently University of Manchester. This post was vacated by Professor Henry Wright-Baker, famous, amongst other things, for his role in 'unwrapping' some of the Dead Sea Scrolls'.
Whilst working at The University of Manchester he created a department with a major international reputation for research and teaching. He also helped set up a history of science and technology department and a medical engineering unit. Johnson established the three Divisions of Applied Mechanics, which he led, Fluids and Thermodynamics led by Professor Roland Benson and Machine Tools led by Professor Frank Koenigsberger Johnson was awarded several honorary degrees including one from UMIST.
Johnson's career at the University of Manchester lasted for 15 years until moving to become a Professor of Mechanics at Cambridge University in 1975, where he stayed until 1982.
It was his time here that marked the beginning of his interest in contact mechanics and where he obtained his PhD for his research project on "Surface Interactions between Elastically Loaded Bodies under Tangential Forces".