John McDowall began his career as a mechanic in the cotton mills of Johnston, Renfrewshire, Scotland, and founded his own general engineering business in the town in 1823. By 1834 he had developed and patented a saw frame and a wood-planing machine which were the basis for specialisation in a wide range of woodworking machinery, much of which was exported. McDowall died in 1857 leaving two young children and the firm was continued by trustees and the managers. The annual output in 1876 was roughly two hundred machines, worth about £30,000. James Barr (1840-1908), who had joined the firm as an apprentice, became a partner in the business with John McDowall's two sons, Daniel and Harry, although neither son played a dominant role in the firm. The company prospered under Barr's leadership until his death in 1908. The company continued, but difficulties in the depression of 1929-1932 brought voluntary liquidation of the company, and incorporation of the business into the firm of Thomas White & Sons, engineers of Paisley, Renfrewshire.
Source: Michael Moss & John Hume,Workshop of the British Empire: Engineering and Shipbuilding in the West of Scotland(London, 1977)Anthony Slavin and Sydney Checkland, , Vol IDictionary of Business Biography 1860-1960(Aberdeen, 1986)