Born in Dundee,
Scotland, the third son of a minister of the Free Church of Scotland
and educated at West End Academy and the High School of Dundee,
Ewing showed an early interest in science and technology.
Ewing won a scholarship to Edinburg University where he studied
under William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin and Peter Guthrie Tait
before graduating in engineering. During his summer vacations, he
worked on telegraph cable laying expeditions, including one to
Brazil, under Thomson and Fleeming Jenkin.
In 1878, on Fleeming Jenkin's recommendation, Ewing was recruited to
help the modernisation of Meiji Era Japan as one of the o-yatoi
gaikokujin (hired foreigners). Serving as professor of mechanical
engineering at the University of Tokyo, he was instrumental in
founding Japanese seismology.
Ewing made two special friends at Tokyo University soon after
arriving: Basil Hall Chamberlain and Lieutenant Thomas Henry James
R.N. who taught navigation. He was also in close contact with Henry
Dyer and William Edward Ayrton at the Imperial College of
Engineering (Kobu Dai Gakko).
In Tokyo, Ewing taught courses in mechanics and on heat engines to
engineering students, and electricity and magnetism to students of
physics. He carried out many research projects on magnetism and
coined the word 'hysteresis'. His investigations into earthquakes
led him to help T. Lomar Gray and John Milne of the Imperial College
of Engineering to develop a seismometer. All three men worked as a
team on the invention and use of seismographs, though Milne is
generally credited with the invention of the first modern