|Library and Archives - Archives|
Further research on a letter and postcard from 1914 has not only uncovered the letter writer, Robert B Clifton, Professor of Physics at Oxford University from 1865 to 1915, but also brought to light an interesting story about a ‘perpetual motion machine’.
Background to the Letter of 31 August 1914
In this letter R B Clifton, who is writing to Professor Silvanus P Thompson, is clearly answering earlier questions put to him by Thompson about the ‘perpetual motion’ machine, also called a ‘toy’ by Clifton which was held at Oxford University’s Clarendon Laboratory.
This perpetual motion machine is still housed at Clarendon today and is known as The Clarendon Dry Pile or The Oxford Electric Bell, a pair of voltaic ‘dry piles’ connected to two bells which have been ringing at Oxford since it was set up in 1840. Here is a link to Oxford’s online exhibition about The Clarendon Dry Pile including an image - Clarendon Dry Pile
The Letter of 31 August 1914
In the letter, Clifton discusses The Clarendon Dry Pile as follows;
“In 1870 it had to be moved from the Museum to the Clarendon Laboratory and I carried it myself. It was working when I took it from the old house & it started gaily when I put it down in its new home. Since October 1870 it has not been touched and has never stopped action.”
Clifton goes on to say;
“Of all the toys I have ever seen ours is the only one in which the piles are insulated by a covering of sulphur.”
Perpetual Motion Machines and Toys
Perpetual motion, a motion that continues indefinitely without any external source of energy, is impossible due to friction and other sources of energy loss. However, purported perpetual motion machines that could work forever without an energy source and perpetual motion experiments were very popular as ideas/concepts in the early to mid-19th century. Clifton, in his letter, discusses some of these toys, and says;
“When I was at school in Brighton (1846-51) there was a toy of the same type as ours which interested me greatly – it was in the shop corridors of Noakes Chemist etc, North Street, and if I remember right it bore the names of Watkins and Hill as makers. After about 1850 I was often in Watkins and Hill’s shop at Charing Cross – the old shop before Elliott Brothers took the business and moved into the Strand. There I met an elderly man who, as I was told, had made a great lot of these toys, but I cannot recall his name. I have seen several of them in various places but I think our specimen must be nearly the last, perhaps actually the last survivor.”
I believe Noakes’ spider – a spider moving over a web, died before I left Brighton for I have a distinct recollection of grief at the loss of an old friend”.
In his subsequent postcard of 1 September 1914, Clifton mentions another ‘dry pile’ as follows;
“Since I finished my letter I have looked at a Bohnenberger Electroscope supplied by Watkins & Hill to a friend of mine who gave it to me many years ago. The piles, no doubt made by the same man that made those at the Laboratory, are still charged so that the instrument works fairly well when the leaf is a full inch from a terminal of each pile”.
A Bohnenberger Electroscope can be found in Florence’s Museo Galileo and an image and description in English can be found here - Bohnenberger Electroscope.
A Mystery Resolved
Knowing the above story – it becomes very clear why the letter and postcard were stored by S P Thompson in the particular book where the items were found. The book from which the items came was 'Della Pila Elettrica a Secco. Dissertazione dell' Ab. Giuseppe Zamboni' or ‘The Electric Dry Pile. Dissertation’, by Giuseppe Zamboni (1776-1846), published in Verona in 1812. The Zamboni pile was an early electric battery invented by Giuseppe Zamboni in 1812. Images of the title page and figure 1 from this book showing Zamboni piles are shown below.
Who Was Robert B Clifton?
R B Clifton (1836-1921) was the Professor of Experimental Philosophy at Oxford (effectively the Professor of Physics). According to the book ‘Physicists Look Back: Studies in the History of Physics’, edited by J Roche, Clifton was, ‘elected on the basis of one original paper of which he was the junior author and because of the reputation of the excellent lectures he gave as a Professor of Physics at Owen’s College, the forerunner of the University of Manchester’. The book also mentions a, ‘widely accepted view’, that Clifton was chosen by the Electors to the Chair in preference to Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-94) and comments that Clifton had no interest in research, so that during his professorship, there was practically no research at the Clarendon Laboratory.
Experimental Philosophy was first examined as a degree subject at Oxford in 1850 and the Reader, then the Reverend Robert Walker, was promoted to Professor in 1860. Robert Clifton took over from Walker in 1865 and held the office until 1915, the year after this letter and postcard were written. Clifton designed the original Clarendon Laboratory, which was built by 1872 and was the first purpose-built physics laboratory in the British Isles. Further information about the history of Physics at Oxford University, the Clarendon Laboratory and Clifton can be found on the Oxford Department of Physics history web pages here - History of Physics at Oxford.
Where Did the Letters Come From?
The habit of S P Thompson to enclose his correspondence with authors, scientists and engineers within books and pamphlets in his library, now in the possession of the IET, has been mentioned in earlier blogs. This letter and postcard written in 1914 by R B Clifton and sent to S P Thompson had been put to one side in the archives some time ago for further investigation as the writer of the letter and postcard had not been determined at that time. A note kept with the items mentioned the book in which the letter and postcard had been found. Not only is this important for tracking the provenance of an item but also the book forms a very interesting part of the story.
The letters were recently recalled from storage and further work uncovered the author of the letter and postcard. Comments made within the letter such as the fact that Clifton had come to Oxford in 1865 and that his predecessor was the ‘Reverend Robert Walker (elected 1839)’, enabled the pinpointing of Clifton as the letter writer, and the signature at the end of the letter in hindsight is very clearly that of R B Clifton. The letter and postcard have been catalogued as items SC MSS 3/A/207 and SC MSS 3/A/208 respectively and can be consulted in the IET Archives.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
Edited: 12 August 2015 at 02:40 PM by Jonathan Cable
The IET Archives recently received a donation of 6 booklets dating from the 1920s to 1940s covering the subject of tabulating machines which give a fascinating insight into the history of computing and also the forerunners of the well-known computing companies IBM and ICL.
What are tabulating machines?
The tabulating machine was an electromechanical machine designed to assist in summarizing information and, later, accounting information. The machines used punched or perforated cards to add numbers coded on those cards. A typical punched card is shown below.
Invented by Hermann Hollerith, the machine was developed to help process data for the 1890 US Census. It led to a class of machines, known as unit record equipment, and the data processing industry. The term ‘Super Computing’ was used by the New York World newspaper in 1931 to refer to large custom-built tabulator that IBM made for Columbia University.
According to a 1921 article about the Powers tabulating system;
“The complete installation consists of 3 different machines, all of which are electrically driven. These are known as the Punch, Sorter and Tabulator. The whole of these machines are quite easy to operate, and any unexperienced girl can be taught to use either in an ordinary working day.”
Which companies were involved with and made tabulating machines?
Hollerith started his own business in 1896, founding the Tabulating Machine Company. In 1911, 4 corporations, including Hollerith’s firm merged to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Company (CTR) and in 1924 CTR was renamed International Business Machines (IBM). A Hollerith tabulator illustrated in a 1929 booklet is shown below.
A competitor for the Hollerith Machine was the Powers Tabulating Machine Company which in 1915 established a European operation in the UK through the Accounting and Tabulating Machine Company of Great Britain Limited which in 1929 was renamed Powers-Samas Accounting Machine Limited.
During WWII the company produced large numbers of Typex cipher machines, derived from the German Enigma machine, for use by the British Armed forces and government departments. In 1959 Powers-Samas merged with the competing company the British Tabulating Machine Company to form International Computers and Tabulators which went on to become part of International Computers Limited (ICL). A Powers tabulator illustrated in a 1929 booklet is shown below.
The changing nature of the 20th century office
The typing pools of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s might seem very old fashioned now, but in the 1930s there were whole departments of large businesses that were dedicated to card punching and tabulating. The images below show the Punching Department and the sorting / tabulating rooms respectively at Cornhill Insurance Company in London in 1938.
The collection of booklets has been catalogued (archive reference NAEST 233) and is available to consult at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
A group of four letters recently came to light in the IET Archives which were written from the physicist Sir Oliver Lodge to the Professor of Physics Silvanus P Thompson between 1900 and 1906. The two letters from 1906 were particularly interesting because they were discussing J J Thomson and the electron – Thomson was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in the same year that the letters were written (1906) for the discovery of the electron and for his work on the conduction of electricity in gases.
It is fascinating to see how two contemporary physicists view and absorb a new discovery/theory concerning particle physics in 1906 and perhaps compare it with how modern particle physicists have reacted to the discoveries/theories resulting from the work at the Large Hadron Collider beneath the Franco-Swiss border.
Extract from Letter of 6 March 1906
“My dear SPT, ashamed of delay, but I am lazy. J. J. T. [J J Thomson] atom is not a hollow shell of pos. [positive] E. [energy] it is a solid uniform mass (or sphere) or jelly of it in the substance of which the electrons are embedded. This is to get at law of direct distance, and therefore, the equal periodicity of orbits independent of varying amplitude, shape etc…… I like it much. Of course the treatment of + E [positive energy] is excessively provisional. That is the real outstanding puzzle, and until + E can be tackled the whole theory is vague.”
Extract from Letter of 17 October 1906
“Dear Silvanus Thompson, I am bringing out a new edition of ‘Modern Views of Electricity’. I don’t want to change it much less to reopen it. I shall not be dealing with the electron business: that occurs in another volume; but the old book is often enquired for, and I think would still be useful to elementary students who should not lose sight of the old facts in attending to electrons and new facts…..”
Who Were These Individuals?
Sir Oliver Lodge, FRS (1851-1940), the writer of the letters, was a British physicist and writer involved in the development of, and holder for key patents for, radio. He identified electromagnetic radiation independent of Hertz’ proof and at his 1894 Royal Institution lectures, Lodge demonstrated an early radio wave detector he named the ‘coherer’. Lodge was Principal of the University of Birmingham from 1900 to 1920 and was awarded the IEE’s Faraday Medal in 1932.
Silvanus Phillips Thompson, FRS (1851-1916), the recipient of the letters, was a professor of physics at the City and Guilds Technical College in Finsbury, and was known for his work as an electrical engineer and as an author. S P Thompson was the President of the IEE in 1899.
Sir Joseph John Thomson, OM, FRS (1856-1940) was an English physicist who was appointed to the Cavendish Professorship of Experimental Physics at the Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory in 1884. In 1897 Thomson showed that cathode rays were composed of previously unknown negatively charged particles, which he calculated must have bodies much smaller than atoms and a very large value for their charge-to-mass ratio. He is therefore credited with the discovery and identification of the electron and with the discovery of the first subatomic particle. Sir J J Thomson was awarded the IEE’s Faraday Medal in 1925.
Where Did the Letters Come From?
S P Thompson’s large scientific library and pamphlet collection came to the IEE in the early 20th century some years after his death. Thompson had a habit of enclosing his correspondence with authors and scientists and engineers amongst those books and pamphlets.
In the case of the books any letters discovered inside were subsequently extracted for their own protection and now form a separate collection within the IET Archives. However not all the letters were found at the outset and further ones have emerged since that time. These four letters between Lodge and Thompson probably come from within the pages of those books and pamphlets and had been put to one side at some point over later decades. The letters have been catalogued as collection SC MSS 265 and can be consulted in the IET Archives.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
Amongst the items held by the IET Archives are two nuclear reactor plates taken from the Merlin nuclear reactor. However, there is no need for the archivists to get out a Geiger counter every time we bring out the plates because they are information plaques attached to the outside of the reactor. The first plaque, shown below is from the opening of the reactor in November 1959.
The Merlin Reactor and Aldermaston
Merlin was a 5 MW research reactor at Aldermaston Court, Aldermaston, Berkshire, England, which operated from 6 November 1959 until 1962 before its license was revoked/surrendered in 1963. It was the first commercial scientific reactor in Britain and was privately owned and operated by Associated Electrical Industries (AEI). A British Pathé recording of the opening of the reactor (without sound) can be found on the British Pathé website here - Merlin Reactor Opening.
Aldermaston Court is a country house and park built in the Victorian era for the British Member of Parliament, Daniel Higford Davall Burr (1811-1885) with elements incorporated from buildings of earlier centuries that had been present on the site. In 1939 AEI bought the house and immediate grounds for £16,000, but despite this purchase, the government soon earmarked the location for an airfield, RAF Aldermaston. During WWII the land and house were requisitioned by the government as a barracks for the Women’s Land Army.
After the war, the airfield remained in use but after the airfield’s closure in 1950, the park was returned to AEI, which used it as a plasma research laboratory. AEI built the now demolished reactor between the house and its lake. This facility became the UK’s Atomic Weapons Research Establishment later the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) for research, commissioning, and de-commissioning of most such weapons.
How did the plaques come under the care of the IET Archives?
A little of the provenance of these items is unclear but they most likely came into the archives with the donation of the papers of Douglas Richard Chick, FIEE.
In 1946 Chick joined the Research Laboratory of AEI at Aldermaston, where he was appointed Section Leader of the Nuclear Physics Section. He later became Group Leader of the newly-formed Nuclear Sciences Group. In 1963, after the closure of the Merlin reactor, Chick moved to become Research Manager of the Vickers Company Research Laboratory, Ascot, where he remained until 1966, when he was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the new University of Surrey. The Chick papers include many of AEI’s research papers including reports about the Merlin reactor.
The second plaque, which is shown below, perhaps hints at the frustration of the engineers, technicians and scientists at Aldermaston when the Merlin reactor was shut down in 1962.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
On occasion objects come into the archive collections which are labelled and usually these labels are taken at face value unless there is good reason to believe otherwise. However, we recently examined an object label which caused us to question the accuracy of the information on the label.
Through a chance set of circumstances two particular boxes of objects were brought back to the IET Archive Centre from storage at the same time. Once those boxes had arrived it was noticed that the online catalogue showed two items with a different reference number, supposedly one in each box, and each with an identical description.
The description for both items was ‘gavel set presented to the IEE by the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Technician Engineers upon the centenary of the IEE in 1971’.
The first thought was that there must be some duplication in the catalogue and there was an expectation that upon examining the contents of the boxes we would find that only one gavel existed. However, when we opened the boxes we did find a gavel set in each box.
The first gavel (new reference OPC/1/161/7) is shown below:
The wood for the gavel and stand match (wood colour and grain) and there is a metal engraved plate which says ‘THE INSTITUTION OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERS - CENTENARY YEAR. Presented by the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Technician Engineers, 17 May 1971'
The second gavel (new reference OPC/1/161/9) is shown below:
The mount (in 2 sections), with typed label glued to the base, and its associated gavel appear to be a second gavel gift set (the set is the same colour and wood grain - though these are different from the first gavel set) presented by the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Technician Engineers to the IEE upon its centenary in 1971.
Which is the real gavel presented by the IEETE to the IEE in 1971?
Whilst it is possible that the IEETE gavel the IEE two sets of gavels and stands this would be highly unusual. If the IEETE only presented one gavel set then the question becomes which set is likely to be the genuine set? Our belief is that the top gavel set is the original as someone has gone to the effort of having a metal plate engraved and this would be an appropriate treatment for a centenary presentation gift from one professional body to another. It is also unlikely that an organisation would stick a typed label to such a high profile gift.
Our guess, and it is no better than a guess, is that the second gavel set was discovered without a label at some point after 1971 and that it was assumed to be the IEETE’s gavel gift. The 1970s was a period well before the advent of archive cataloguing software and tracking tools such as barcodes and even the IEE’s Archives only came into existence after 1970.
The catalogue entries for these two gavel sets have now been amended to refer to each other and to mention the uncertainty about the provenance of the second gavel set.
Note: The IEETE and the IEE are both predecessor organisations of the IET. The IEETE, after a number of mergers and name changes, was one of the organisations that merged to form the IIE in 1998, which itself merged with the IEE in 2006 to form the IET.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
The first local centre of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in the North-East was the Newcastle Local Section which was formed in 1899. The Teesside Branch was spun out of this Section in 1912 and became the Teesside Sub-Centre in 1919 whilst the Newcastle Local Section itself changed its name to the North-Eastern Centre in 1919.
A Recent Discovery of Early Minutes Belonging to the Newcastle Local Section
In 2014, a donation was made to the IET Archives of the minute book of the Newcastle Section (archive reference IET/CEN/15/1/94). The donor had no idea how the minute book came to be in his attic but we were nevertheless very grateful to receive this wonderful volume. The minute book covers the period 1913 to 1921 and includes not only the minutes of the Newcastle Local Section Committee and its successor the North-Eastern Centre Committee but also includes minutes of the Teesside Branch Committee.
Other than a list of the members of the 1913-1914 Dinner Committee pasted to the inside cover, the first entries are for the Annual General Meeting of the Section held in Armstrong College on Monday 26 May 1913 and the 12th Committee Meeting of the Section for the 1912-13 session held again at Armstrong College, Monday 22 September 1913. These first entries are shown below.
The minute book gives a particularly valuable insight into the regional activities of the IEE. Until the discovery of this volume the IET Archives only held the minutes of the North-Eastern Centre dating from after 1920.
Formal regional groupings of IEE members around the UK were called Centres for most of the 20th century. Centres organised most of their own affairs, and whilst they would usually send copies of their minutes to the IEE at Savoy Place in London they were under no obligation to send their original records to the IEE’s archives. The original IEE Centre minutes that exist today in the IET Archives are those that particular centres chose of their own volition to send to London and several gaps remain in the series of Centre minutes.
Are minutes really that interesting?
The IEE Centre minute books from the early 20th century are quite unlike a modern set of minutes where there is typically only a brief record of a meeting and where much of the detail is in the supporting reports. The early minute books were written in great detail, were very wide ranging and contain much social history as well as personal opinions.
As might be expected the Newcastle Local Section minute book contains details of lectures, visits, and dinners that formed key elements of the Section programme. For example the first lecture mentioned, which was given at the 1913 AGM, was on the subject of ‘notes on gas engines’ given by Albert P Pyne (many years later Albert became the Chairman of the Section). The September 1913 Committee minutes noted a recent visit to see the SS Tynemouth at the Walker Shipyard belonging to the famous shipbuilders Messrs Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson. Swan Hunter was well-known in the early 20th century for its building of RMS Carpathia in 1903 and RMS Mauretania in 1913. The SS Tynemouth of Newcastle was stranded off the coast of Northumberland in May 1913 and was probably in the Swan Hunter shipyard for repairs. The 1913 Board of Trade wreck report on the Tynemouth can be found here - SS Tynemouth wreck report.
The minutes also discuss cooperation with the IEE in London and subjects of particular interest to the Section/Centre. There is also an example of the Centre adopting a different attitude to the IEE Council. In March 1919 the Centre Committee wrote to other Centres about an IEE Council decision to support a Board of Trade report on electric power supply with which the North-Eastern Centre ‘regretfully’ could not concur.
There is a significant amount of coverage in the minutes of the relationship of the Section/Centre with other technical and engineering organisations in the region such as the Junior Institution of Engineers and given the period covered there is a large amount of material relating to WWI.
The extract from the minutes shown below comes from a meeting held Monday 30 July 1917 in the boardroom of another famous North-Eastern engineering company, Merz & McLellan. The minutes shown discuss the proposed formation of an Electric Light & Signal Company and the committee proposed seeking the immediate cooperation of the Chamber of Commerce Electrical Section to organise a mass meeting of the electrical industry to bring this about.
Prominent and Noted Engineers Involved with the North-Eastern Centre
Many well-known engineers were Committee members and they have signed the pages of the minutes or have added entries by hand. These individuals include;
C Vernier (Section Chairman 1913).
Philip Vassar Hunter (Section Chairman 1914-1916 and President of the IEE 1933).
Henry William Clothier (Section Chairman 1916-1917).
Albert Henry Weaver Marshall (Section Chairman 1917-1918).
Albert P Pyne (Centre Chairman 1918-1919).
William Cross (Centre Chairman 1919-1920).
James Robert Beard (Centre Chairman 1920-1921 and President of the IEE 1940).
The eminence of the individuals can be illustrated by Philip Vassar Hunter (photograph below).
Philip Vassar Hunter was made the Head of the Electrical Department of Merz & McLellan in 1909, was loaned to the Naval Staff as Chief Engineer of the Experiments and Research Section of the Anti-Submarine Division for WWI, and after the war became Joint Manager and Chief Engineer of Callender’s Cable and Construction Company. When British Insulated Callender’s Cable Co (BICC) was formed in 1945 he became a Director and Engineer-in-Chief and later he became Deputy Chairman of the company.
P V Hunter as well as being the IEE’s President in 1933 was also made an Honorary Fellow of the IEE in 1951 and the IEE recorded a film of him in 1951 as it did of many other Honorary Fellows and Faraday medallists. The IET Archives holds film files including the scripts for many of these films including that of P V Hunter in which he talks about his experiences and work in WWI and WWII and the power distribution work carried out by Merz in the early 20th century.
History of Technology TPN Event in Newcastle – June 2015
There has always been a strong relationship between engineering and the North East of England and on the weekend of 6-7 June 2015 at the Newcastle Discovery Museum there will be a conference on the history of power generation, distribution, utilisation and other engineering specialisms. This conference is being organised by the History of Technology TPN and there will be an opportunity to visit the Discovery Museum’s ‘Arcs and Sparks’ collection. There will also be an optional visit on Sunday 7th June to Cragside House, a National Trust property which was the first private residence to employ hydroelectric power.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
The IET Archives has several important collections of papers, photographs and other material related to transatlantic telegraph cables. In particular collections related to the 1st and 2nd transatlantic cable expeditions of 1858 and 1865/66 respectively are frequently consulted by researchers.
More information about these expeditions, including images, can be found on the IET Archives web pages here The First Transatlantic Telegraph 1858 and also here The Transatlantic Telegraph Cables 1865-1866. The IET Archives also holds segments of various transatlantic cables. The image below shows a section of what was to become the 2nd transatlantic cable.
The cable has been set in a brass ring and mounted on a wooden block probably intended as a presentation gift. The words inscribed on the brass ring are ‘ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH CABLE 1864’. The date might be a little perplexing as the 2nd transatlantic telegraph cable expedition didn’t commence until 1865. However, the cable for this 2nd expedition was already being manufactured by the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co. Ltd (Telcon) in 1864 and the cable was being stowed, and continually tested, on board the ship Great Eastern where the water tanks protected and preserved the gutta percha insulation (see ‘The Cable: The Wire That Changed the World’, by Gillian Cookson, 2003, p.140).
The manufacture of the cable was eventually completed in May 1865 and an invitation was sent out by Telcon to witness the completion of the cable’s manufacture on 29 May 1865 (invitation shown below in included in the ‘1865 Telegraph Album’, reference SC MSS 254).
Mermaids and the Early Transatlantic Cables
The state of progress with the transatlantic telegraph cable project featured regularly in the pages of the press of the day, and cartoonists often took the opportunity to poke fun often employing images of Neptune and mermaids. The illustration below is one such cartoon, published in Punch, 5 August 1865, and it accompanied a 5 verse poem titled, ‘Neptune to the Mermaids’ which celebrated the cable but implored the mermaids to leave it alone!
The caption for the cartoon titled, ‘a word to the mermaids’, has Neptune saying, “Ahoy there! Get off of that ‘ere cable can’t yer – that’s the way t’other one was wrecked!!!”
Later Transatlantic Cables
Another transatlantic cable collection in the IET Archives is that of Cecil Herbert Finnis (1885-1951), an electrical and mechanical engineer involved with Siemens Brothers’ cable laying vessel the CSS Faraday. (collection SC MSS 77). This includes Cecil’s handwritten diary from a cable repairing expedition carried out by the CSS Faraday in 1903. The cable to be repaired was that belonging to the Direct United States Cable Company (DUSCC) which had been laid in 1875.
The extensive diary entries include depth soundings and weather conditions from every one of the 73 days spent at sea beginning May 19th 1903. The diary begins, “started from Charlton [on the Thames river], opposite the works at about 6 pm. Father and some of the gents accompanies us to Gravesend & left at 8pm with the cry, ‘Simla’ after a lunch at 7 pm.”
The CSS Faraday was built in 1874 at Newcastle upon Tyne and was purpose-built for Siemens Brothers as William Siemens had found chartering vessels for cable-laying totally unsuitable. Over 50 years SS Faraday laid over 50,000 metres of cable before being sold for scrap in 1924. More information about the CSS Faraday can be found on the website titled History of the Atlantic Cable. Siemens’ own website also has a history of Siemens involvement with the transatlantic cable the DUSC and the CSS Faraday and can be found here Siemens and the CSS Faraday.
The image below is one of several photographs taken by Finnis on that expedition using a Kodak box camera and shows individuals on the deck of the CSS Faraday.
Message in a bottle
One of the more unusual items in the Finnis collection is a handwritten note that Finnis originally put into a bottle and dropped into the sea on Thursday 23 July 1903, the day on which the final splice of the DUSC took place. In that letter shown below, Finnis offered to pay a reward and expenses to any finder of the message in a bottle who returned it to Finnis at his home in Chiswick.
The letter was found over 5 months later by Joseph Andrew on Praa Sands beach near Marazion in Cornwall, UK on 12th January 1904 and it was returned by Mr Andrew to Cecil Finnis in order to obtain the reward (letter shown below).
To view and consult any of the items mentioned above please contact the IET Archive Centre.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
On the 26th February 1935 a test took place known as ‘The Daventry Experiment’ which is considered to be the precursor of radar in Britain. The test involved the Daventry transmitter of the BBC’s Empire Service and an RAF Heyford bomber which had been assigned to this test by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.
The full story of The Daventry Experiment, written by Brian Austin appears in the February/March 2015 issue (issue no. 153) of the vintage radio enthusiast magazine ‘Radio Bygones’. I am grateful to Brian for allowing me to extract elements from his story.
The plan was for the bomber pilot, Flight Lieutenant R S Blucke to fly to Daventry where, on arrival, Blucke would fire a Verey light to indicate his presence. He would then follow a particular course that would take him along the transmitted beam from the BBC transmitter at an altitude of 6,000 feet. After executing an about turn over some designated marker he would fly back to Daventry while losing altitude to around 1,000 feet. After firing another Verey light he would then return home.
On the ground, near to the village of Weedon, Sir Robert Watson-Watt and A P Rowe from the Air Ministry had joined Arnold Wilkins, a Scientific Officer at the Radio Research Station (RRS) a vastly experienced radio engineer, together with the driver of a converted Morris ex-ambulance that was used as the RRS’s ‘travelling laboratory’. The previous night in preparation for the test, Wilkins and the driver had erected two parallel antennas in a co-operative farmer’s field.
When Blucke’s aircraft appeared on the morning of the 26th February it was initially well to the east of the agreed flight path and no indication of its presence appeared on the cathode ray tube (CRT) screen. However, on its next pass, now closer to the observers, there were definite variations on the CRT screen – described by Wilkins as a ‘rhythmic beating’. This happened again on the following run and Wilkins and Watson-Watt estimated that they were able to observe the Heyford over a distance of about 8 miles.
There was much more to be done before Watson-Watt’s eventual radar system, came into existence but it all began with this Daventry experiment.
Sir Robert Watson-Watt and Radar
Sir Robert Watson-Watt (1892 – 1973), known as the father of British radar, was celebrated in an IEE History of Technology lecture in February 1993 to mark the centenary of Watson-Watt’s birth. Sir Robert, who had been a member of the IEE, had also been at one time the Chairman of the IEE’s Radio Section. An abstract from that lecture, written by the lecturer, Professor R Hanbury Brown, is set out below;
“Radar was ‘invented’ by Watson-Watt in response to an enquiry about a death-ray. His great achievement was not simply to invent a new gadget; it was to apply this invention to an urgent and historically important problem, the air defence of Great Britain. The original work on RDF, as radar was called, started secretly in 1935 at Orfordness. In 1936 it was moved to a nearby mansion, Bawdsey Manor, where for three years Watson-Watt was the Superintendent and the lecturer was a junior member of the staff. The principal objective to this early work was to develop a chain of radar stations to detect and locate enemy aircraft so that Fighter Command could intercept them. The first, almost disastrous, attempt to demonstrate this use of radar in 1936 is described. In due course a chain of radar stations (CH) was built all-round the coast and proved to be a vital factor in the defence against daytime raids of the Battle of Britain. For defence at night Watson-Watt, perhaps prompted by Sir Henry Tizard, foresaw the need for a radar to be carried in the fighter and in 1936 he started the first and only team in the world working on airborne radar. Radar-equipped night-fighters (AI), guided by ground control radars (GCI), were used effectively against the heavy night raids in 1941. In 1938 Watson-Watt left Bawdsey for the corridors of power in Whitehall. After the war he formed a small firm of scientific consultants and eventually moved to Canada.”
A video version of the lecture was made featuring Professor Brown presenting his lecture material, interspersed with many images and film clips (archive reference IET/SPE/3/2/7/1). It covered Watson-Watts' history and his involvement with the early days of radar. The video has been digitised and is available to watch via the IET Archives Centre.
Professor Brown worked with Watson-Watt at Bawdsey Manor as a junior member of the team and tells many fond stories about Watson-Watt including his humorous use of unintelligible phrases which Brown used to ‘collect’. The image from the video below shows the Professor mentioning one such phrase which is captioned. Watson-Watt used this phrase when describing his position in the UK to Chiefs-of-Staff in Washington.
IET Archive letter from Sir Robert
Whilst the IET Archives does not hold a great deal of Watson’s-Watt’s own material there is a curious letter in the IET Archives in the Owen S Puckle collection (NAEST 101) written by Watson-Watt in New York to Puckle – see image below.
In the letter Sir Robert thanks Puckle for an earlier letter of congratulation (Puckle assisted in the development of the ‘Radio Location’ device). Whilst Sir Robert received many accolades during his lifetime and held many official positions with various institutions it is not clear to what the earlier congratulatory letter refers as most of Sir Robert’s awards came earlier in his life than 1952. Watson Watt did re-marry for the second time in 1952. He married Jean Wilkinson, a Canadian, the widow of historian Professor George M Smith, so perhaps Puckle was referring to Sir Robert’s forthcoming marriage?
For those interested in the history of radar the IET Archives also holds many relevant collections including Sean Swords’ collection of papers on radar (NAEST 144). Sean Swords wrote the ‘Technical History of the Beginnings of RADAR’ in 1986 and this collection comprises correspondence and material used in the production of that book. For example there is a copy of the 1935 letter to H T Tizard from A P Rowe regarding the secret memorandum prepared by Watson-Watt on the possible use of electromagnetic radiation for air defence.
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Within a recent donation to the IET Archives covering several different collections, there was a single audio cassette tape, unrelated to the other items and annotated ‘Diana, Colin and Tom Lodge 1995’. The tape recording was donated by the researcher who in 1995 interviewed Diana, Colin and Tom Lodge at Diana’s home of ‘Trillgate’ in Slad, Gloucestershire and this was a tape of that interview. A copy of a painting of ‘Trillgate’, painted by Diana and used as a card illustration, is shown below.
The reason for conducting the interview was that the researcher was interested in the eminent British physicist and writer Sir Oliver Lodge FRS (1851-1940) who was involved, amongst other things, with important developments in wireless telegraphy. Diana Lodge, the interviewee, was the 2nd wife of Sir Oliver’s eldest son also called Oliver Lodge. Diana had many memories of Sir Oliver Lodge from her earlier life and it is some of these memories that are recorded on the cassette tape.
In addition to his important scientific contributions Sir Oliver Lodge is also known for his studies in psychical research and spiritualism and he wrote many books on the subject. For those interested in finding out more about Sir Oliver, the 1974 biography called, ‘Sir Oliver Lodge’, by W P Jolly, can be found in the IET Library. The IET Archives also has a number of letters written by Sir Oliver Lodge to W H Preece (see collection NAEST 21). For example in the letter below dated 4 March 1898 Sir Oliver writes to Preece about his magnetic telegraphy scheme about which he says, ‘naturally I should like the Government to take it up, as I believe that it is the most powerful and by far the simplest plan possible’. This letter is shown below.
Given the importance of Sir Oliver Lodge it would be easy to overlook the interviewee, Diana Lodge, but Diana also had a fascinating, but very different life.
Diana Lodge (1906-1998), the Welsh painter, was born Diana Violet Irene Mabel Uppington, and became the second wife of Oliver W F Lodge in 1932. Oliver William Foster Lodge was a poet, author and painter unlike his 5 brothers who all qualified as engineers. He was a member of the Bloomsbury Group and associated with artists such as Eric Gill and David Jones.
Oliver W F Lodge met Diana Uppington, 10 years after the death of his first wife in childbirth, when she answered his advertisement for a model. Diana had previously modelled for other artists and had appeared on stage as a Tiller Girl. Following Oliver’s death in 1955, Diana changed her name by deed poll to Diana Kohr following her involvement with the Austrian economist Leopold Kohr, who had met Oliver and Diana in the USA during WWII. She changed her surname back to Lodge in 1966 following her separation from Kohr. Continuing the literary connections Diana was also a neighbour and friend of the writer Laurie Lee. A television documentary for HTV called ‘Inner Journeys’ by Jonathan Stedall was aired in 1993 and covered personal stories of ten individuals including Diana.
Given Diana’s background it is perhaps fitting that the first story she tells during her interview is about visiting her father-in-law in the period before WWII (after Sir Oliver’s wife Mary had passed away). At that time Diana recalled that two of Sir Oliver’s daughters, Lorna (1892-1987) and Norah (1894-1990) took it in turns to stay with Sir Oliver and look after him. Diana stayed with Lorna and they, together with another daughter Violet, visited Sir Oliver at his home, Normanton House, and pretended to be a Russian dancing troupe. Diana remembered Sir Oliver putting an arm around her shoulders and saying, ‘this one can dance’! Diana also recalled that every night before bed at Normanton House they would dance, typically a waltz.
The interview, around 55 minutes long, only contains a limited number of stories and comments about Sir Oliver, typically tributes about his character. The interview, which was also conducted with Diana’s sons Colin (1944-2006) and Tom (1936-2012), contains many more reminiscences about Sir Oliver’s other children including Brodie (1880-1967) and Alec (1881-1938) who set up the Lodge Plug Company and also Raymond who died in WWI at Ypres. It was a poignant moment during the interview when Diana read out 2 poems written by her late husband Oliver W F Lodge, one in memory of Oliver’s brother Raymond, and one in memory of his father Sir Oliver.
Tom Lodge, another interviewee was no less interesting. He moved to Calgary, Canada, when he was 18 and became a cowboy, a used-car salesman, a fisherman and a gold-miner before becoming an announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. On his return to the UK he was involved with the launch of Radio Caroline and became one of its presenters (Tom’s obituary can be found in The Independent, 2 April 2012).
The audio cassette has been digitised and catalogued (reference SC MSS 236) and it can be consulted in the IET Archive Centre.
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Stretching the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment analogy – the IET Archives recently received a small box that supposedly contained a ‘permanent detector’ a component that was used in connection with crystal radio sets of the 1920s. A permanent detector made by the company Radio Instruments (RI), made by the company between 1922 and 1930, was what was advertised on the box – but was that really the item that could be found in the box?
Well there was something in the box and it looked a little like the illustration on the outside of the box, but it was definitely a different object. Upon very careful examination, in a certain light, at a certain angle, the faint lettering ‘Brownie Permatector’ could be found.
This item was nothing to do with the eponymous dessert square, developed in the US at the end of the 19th century, but instead a permanent detector made by a rival firm to RI called the J W B Wireless Company (Brownie was a brand name). Both companies manufactured permanent detectors for crystal radio sets in the 1920s. The Brownie permanent detector found in the box, which the company introduced in 1926, is shown below.
The crystal radio receiver, or crystal set, contained a .cat’s-whisker detector, an electronic component consisting of a thin wire that gently touches a crystal of semiconducting mineral. The Brownie permanent crystal detector shown above comprises a nickel-plated housing with a crystal and whisker inside the housing. The whisker could be fixed permanently at a sensitive point on the crystal hence the term ‘permanent detector’.
Given the above, we now have evidence of one reality in answer to the Schrödinger cat conundrum. What is inside the box – it is a cat’s whisker!
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The IET Archives recently received a donation of electrical technical papers, dating primarily from the period 1949 to 1955. These papers were amassed by Edward J Back when he was working as a Technical Assistant in the 1950s for the Consulting Engineering Department of the Company Johnson & Phillips. Edward Back was a Graduate member of the IEE before becoming an Associate Member in 1953. This collection has been catalogued with the reference SC MSS 262.
Whilst many of the papers and articles were from journals that can be found in the IET Library such as ‘Distribution of Electricity’, ‘Electrical Times’, ‘The Electrical Journal’ and ‘Electrical Review’, these readily available articles were interspersed with letters and memoranda typically written by S Austen Stigant the Technical Adviser at Johnson & Phillips. The papers are organised by subjects including cables, electro-technology, rotating machinery, transients, and transmission.
The subject matter is understandable given that Johnson & Phillips was a cable making and wire rope machinery company founded in 1875 which by the 1950s had become a specialist in the area of transmission transformation and control of electricity. It manufactured electric cable, cable accessories, switch gear, transformers, capacitors and overhead line materials. It was acquired by the Delta Metal Company in 1964.
The collection is a useful addition to the IET Archives technical collections, particularly because the collection includes brochures and publications of other companies involved in the manufacturing of electrical equipment such as the English Electric Company, British Insulated Callender’s Cables (BICC), and Ferguson Pailin. The illustrations below are from a BICC publication from the early 1950s for its power capacitors which show a layered section diagram of its automatic power factor correction equipment for capacitors.
All layers of diagram showing;
Overlay 1 removed;
Radio Objects from the 1920s/1930s
As is quite often the case with collections of papers formed by individuals, some small objects, related to the individual are donated along with the papers. In this case Edward Back was likely to have been a radio enthusiast because the collection included a radio microphone dating from the period 1935-1940, inductors used in radios (coils of wire wrapped on a Bakelite core), and a permanent detector used in crystal radio sets from the 1920s.
The Telsen Electric Co (1935) Ltd ‘Ace’ spring-suspended microphone (type 68) is shown below;
Telson Electric Limited was a British firm that made a spring-suspended microphone (Ace brand) from 1930 to 1939. The company, founded by A Macnamara, based in Birmingham was active from 1924 to the 1940s, and manufactured wireless broadcast receivers, components, microphones and construction kits. It was founded by A Macnamara and had a cabinet making department which made the furniture into which the wireless receivers were built. It purchased Bakelite cases from Edwin Elliot of Birmingham; produced components for the building of a home wireless receiver, and produced blueprint layouts for home construction. The company went into receivership in 1935 but was then bought out of receivership. After this the company traded as The Telsen Electric Company (1935) Limited.
Telsen microphones were used for both home recording and public address. The Science Museum has a Telson microphone in its collection but that is a different model, likely to be a model 58, rather than the microphone above which is a model 68. Here is a link to the model in the Science Museum collection. Telsen Ace microphone at Science Museum.
SC MSS 262 can be consulted in the IET Archive Centre. Details for visiting the Archive Centre can be found on the archive web pages here - Archive Centre details.
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The subject of the training and education of engineers has been a topic very dear to the hearts of the members of the IET and its predecessor organisations for decades going back to the 19th century. These subjects appear time and again in the minutes of these organisations such as within the IEE’s Council minutes. Material on education and training can also be found extensively throughout the other, non-organisational collections, found within the IET Archives such as the papers of Sir Arthur Fleming (NAEST 70) who established a trade apprentice school at what became Metropolitan-Vickers.
Training and availability of engineers has been an issue that many governments have sought to address and concerns have resulted in many significant reports such as ‘Engineering Our Future’, known alternatively as the Finniston report, published in 1980, and shown below.
The subject remains very topical and when EngineeringUK’s report, ‘Engineering UK 2015: the state of engineering’, was published earlier this week, it received widespread media attention
Given this background the IET Archives has been fortunate to receive a recent donation of questionnaires and related correspondence which was the output of a project undertaken in 1994 and 1995 to look at the education and training of engineers born between 1915 and 1925.
The 1994/1995 Survey of Engineers
Dr Colin Hempstead, an academic at the University of Teesside, carried out a survey in 1994, targeting engineers who had been born between 1915 and 1925. Dr Hempstead sought participants via 'IEE News' in 1994 and via other channels such as the 'Newcomen Bulletin'. He asked engineers born between 1915 and 1925 to complete a survey questionnaire about their education and training. The questionnaire was very detailed and asked questions under the categories of; personal details; education; qualifications; training, funding of education and sociological information such as mother’s and father’s occupation, reasons for leaving school and reason for becoming interested in engineering.
Many of the respondents provided additional personal histories and biographical information to supplement the completed questionnaires. Whilst the survey was not exclusively aimed at the Institution of Electrical Engineers and its members, the majority of completed questionnaires came from IEE members from who circa 150 replies were received.
This detailed information on the educational and training background of engineers in the first half of the 20th Century is likely to be a very useful and valuable resource for researchers in the future but they will have to wait for several more decades before these records are made available for open consultation.
As this collection contains detailed personal information on individuals who provided this information relatively recently in 1994/1995 the files will remain closed to researchers in the short to medium term in line with the IET Archives’ closure policy in respect of collections containing personal or sensitive information. Using extracts of information from the collection, where individuals cannot be identified from the information provided, would be possible in the intervening period.
This new deposit has been catalogued as SC MSS 261, although the catalogue entries do not mention the name of individual respondents to preserve anonymity until the closure period has expired.
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The IET Archives recently received a donation of cassette tapes and notes relating to an oral history project carried out in the late 1990s. These items have now been catalogued as NAEST 221 and the audio cassette tracks have been digitised.
The oral history project recorded interviews with several people who were intimately involved with H W Sullivan, the noted British instrumentation company, which began life in 1897 and was taken over by Cambridge Instruments in 1967. Cambridge Instruments was itself taken over by George Kent and then Thorn. In 1972 Thorn, which ultimately became Thorn EMI, moved the manufacturing of Sullivan products from Orpington, Kent, to its Dover, Kent, site where Thorn was already manufacturing instrumentation under the AVO brand. The Sullivan brand was maintained for a period and was still being used in the early 1980s. H W Sullivan was known for its precision test equipment and measuring instruments such as Wheatstone bridges and galvanometers. An H W Sullivan product is illustrated below, taken from a telephone cable testing equipment catalogue circa 1955.
The product below is one of the last products with the Sullivan brand name and comes from the late 1970s.
The donation was particularly welcome because the IET Archives already has an extensive collection of instrumentation material. Collection NAEST 145 comprises the trade literature and technical manuals of AVO International Ltd including its predecessor companies such as, Thorn EMI Instruments Ltd (renamed Megger Instruments Ltd in 1987), Evershed and Vignoles, and of course H W Sullivan. The HW Sullivan element alone of NAEST 145, mainly technical literature and manuals of the 2nd half of the 20th century, fills 9 archive boxes.
Brief Chronology for H W Sullivan
1856 Herbert Watson Sullivan born in Malta.
1870 H W Sullivan apprenticeship with Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co Ltd.
1873 H W Sullivan joined Eastern Telegraph Co, Gibraltar.
1878 H W Sullivan became an Associate Member of Society of Telegraph Engineers (STE).
1879 H W Sullivan joined Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Co Ltd.
1892 H W Sullivan became a Member of the IEE (formerly STE).
1893 H W Sullivan granted galvanometer patent.
1895 Donald Arthur Stevens born.
1897 Company H W Sullivan formed; offices at 19 Gt Winchester St; works at Old Broad St.
1914 Works address changes to 104-6 Middlesex St.
1921 Donald Stevens BSc (Civ. Eng.) at KCL, goes to Africa.
1922 The company HW Sullivan Ltd formed with DA Stevens, Lt Commander Walter George Bishop & James Hayne Stevens.
1925 Herbert Sullivan dies and Donald Stevens takes charge.
1927 Company factory moves from Middlesex St (Petticoat Lane) to Leo St, Peckham.
1963 Company factory moves to Murray Road, Orpington.
1964 Donald Stevens retires, with his sons Brian and David Stevens taking over.
1966 Donald Stevens dies.
1967 Company taken over by Cambridge Instruments.
1968 Company taken over by George Kent, with Bill Goldfinch as General Manager.
1970 Company taken over by Thorn.
1972 Thorn moves manufacturing of Sullivan products to Archcliffe Road, Dover site with AVO.
1980s Possibly the last use of the Sullivan name in advertising.
The H W Sullivan Interviews
The interviews were typically around 90 minutes long and took place with the following five individuals (summary transcripts of the interviews were made at the time of the recordings);
1. Mrs Mabel Stevens, widow of Donald Stevens. Donald Stevens ran the company from 1925 until 1964, taking over the running from Herbert Watson Sullivan.
2. Mr David Stevens, son of Donald Stevens, who jointly with his brother, Brian, took over the running of H W Sullivan from his father in 1964. Donald focuses particularly on the subject of sales.
3. Mr John Lewis who covers the topic of the H W Sullivan office and personnel and who ultimately became Personnel Director for the whole of Thorn-EMI Electronics.
4. Mr Chris Jones who covers the subject of resistance testing and gives a colourful shopfloor viewpoint.
5. Mr Bill Goldfinch who deals with the subject of the Cambridge Instruments takeover in 1967. Cambridge Instruments was taken over by the George Kent Group in 1968 to form the largest independent British manufacturer of industrial instruments. The George Kent Group was itself taken over by Thorn in 1970. Bill Goldfinch was the General Manager of George Kent Group.
In addition to providing very detailed accounts of the operations of the company, its staff, the competitive environment, and the company’s financial performance, the interviews give some fascinating insights into British industrial and social history.
Mr Jones talks of joining H W Sullivan in August 1941 at the age of 13. At that time the company was “in the hands of the bank who put in Mr Burrows as Manager”. When he was being interviewed in July 1941, he was told he could start on August 4th and when he protested that he would not be 14, the minimum age for work at that time, he was told, “if you want the [expletive] job you start on Tuesday”.
Mr Lewis tells a different story from the war period, “we weren’t used to people walking around without their coats on, they didn’t do it. Mr Stevens always came in a black coat, waistcoat, and black striped trousers. I remember during the war my mother bought me a pink shirt with a Trubenised [brand name] collar at the market, and at five past nine I was on my bike back home to change into a white shirt with stiff collar having been asked didn’t I realise you only wore coloured shirts on Saturday.”
The digitised audio files for NAEST 221 can be consulted in the IET Archive Centre. Details for visiting the Archive Centre can be found on the archive web pages here http://www.theiet.org/resources/library/archives/archives-contacts.cfm .
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Edited: 10 February 2015 at 03:54 PM by Jonathan Cable
The IET Archives has just completed a project involving the digitisation of some of its 16mm film collection, a project which has been running throughout 2014. 34 films, none of which had previously been converted to other formats, and had therefore been unavailable to view within the IET for several decades, have now been digitised. Browse versions of these films are now available in either .mov or .mp4 formats for viewing on computers and other devices or alternatively they can be copied to a DVD format if required by enquirers. The IET Archives also holds these films in an uncompressed file format for long-term preservation purposes.
The majority of the films digitized, date from the 1930s to the 1950s, and are short 7-10 minute films of individuals who had been awarded the IEE’s Faraday Medal or who had been made IEE Honorary Members. Most of these films were made specifically for the IEE, following a particular award. The still below comes from a film made in 1934 of Sir John Ambrose Fleming, 7th recipient of the Faraday Medal, when it was awarded by the IEE in 1928. Fleming, who invented the thermionic value in 1904, was aged 85 when he took part in this film.
The film was a British Thomson-Houston (BTH) Electrical Recording. BTH was founded as a subsidiary of the General Electric Company of the US but came into British ownership when it was amalgamated with Metropolitan-Vickers in 1928 to from Associated Electrical Industries (separate BTH brand identity remained until 1960).
The image below is from another of the digitised films but is a little different in that is a General Electric Company film, made in the US in 1932. The film is of Professor Elihu Thomson who was the 6th recipient of the Faraday Medal when it was awarded by the IEE in 1927. In the film Thomson, the person shown on the left below, talks about the merger of the Thomson-Houston and Edison companies to form GE, his life, and also his inventions (Thomson took out 700-800 patents).
Elihu Thomson (1853 to 1937) although born in Manchester in 1853, moved with his family to Philadelphia in 1858. Together with Edwin J Houston he founded the Thomson-Houston Electric Company in the US in 1883 which was one of the precursors of the General Electric Company of the US which was formed in 1892. The GE film above was an RCA Photophone recording and the interview was carried out by Thomson’s friend, Edwin W Rice Jr, Honorary Chairman of GE at that time, on the lawn of Mr Rice’s home in Schenectady, NY.
The frame above shows a steam train passing by in the background, the sound of which can clearly be heard on the film. This is quite appropriate given that Thomson talks on the film about the development of the railways amongst other things.
Film from the 1920s – BTH’s Work on Sound on Film
The 16mm digitisation project also included two early 20th century films that were donated to the IET in 2013 from a former BTH employee. One film (without sound) from the 1930s is of the production by BTH of its well-known Mazda branded light bulb and shows the complete process of manufacturing, packaging and distribution at its factory. A still from that film is shown below.
The second film (again without sound) is another BTH film, this time from the 1920s, and shows the company’s work on developing films with sound (the technology for synchronizing electrically recorded audio to a picture image on a commercial basis was developed by several competing companies in the US and UK in the late 1920s).
Coincidentally the IET Archives has several collections containing BTH material, in particularly a collection referenced as NAEST 74. NAEST 74 is a very large group of photographs and glass plate negatives of early BTH sites, equipment and manufacturing processes and installations, primarily covering its Rugby factory. It covers 28 albums and 13,000 glass plate from the period 1898 to 1939. The company products included induction motors, alternators, switchgear, turbo-generators and turbines, as well as a large number of rotary converters and motor converters, primarily for chemical plants. In the period before the First World War, BTH manufactured most of the equipment for railway electrification in Britain and equipped more than fifty tramway systems. In addition the company carried out a great deal of work for the new London Underground lines.
In the New Year the IET Archive online catalogue will be amended for those 16mm films that have been digitised to make it clear that digitised versions of the films are available. Anyone interested in a copy of the digitised films should contact the IET Archive Centre via phone on 020 7344 8407 or via e-mail using email@example.com.
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A file of papers recently deposited with the IET archives contained over 40 years’ worth of primarily technical notes, thoughts and ideas on the subject of the condenser microphone written by the audio and electronic engineer Peter J Baxandall. The notes cover the period from the early 1950s to the early 1990s. The condenser microphone, also known as a capacitor microphone or electrostatic microphone, was invented at Bell Laboratories in 1916 by E C Wente. Two images of a condenser microphone from amongst the Baxandall papers, probably of experimental models taken circa 1965, are shown below.
Baxandall (1921-1995), wrote a chapter on electrostatic loudspeakers for both the 1st edition (1988) and the 2nd edition (1994) of the Loudspeaker and Headphone Handbook, that is sometimes referred to as the seminal work on the subject. He also contributed chapters on 'power amplifiers, control units and preamplifiers' which appeared in the 1st and 2nd editions (1994 and 1999 respectively) of the Audio Engineer's Reference Book, edited by Michael Talbot-Smith. However, he had already gained significant attention in the early 1950s for his bass and treble circuit or tone-control circuit about which he published details in Wireless World, October 1952, and which was used in hi-fi audio systems.
Biographical Details for Peter J Baxandall
Peter Baxandall, born in 1921, was educated at Kings College School in Wimbledon before going on to study electrical engineering at Cardiff Technical College, Wales. He graduated with a BSc (Eng) in 1942.
Following graduation Peter spent two years as a radio instructor for the Fleet Air Arm before joining the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE), based at Malvern, where he began work in the Circuit Research Division. He worked for the RSRE until his early retirement in 1971. After that Peter continued to work as an electroacoustical consultant.
Projects on which Peter worked as a consultant included; audio-frequency transformers, radio-frequency carrier microphones, powered loudspeakers, dipole and electrostatic loudspeakers, loudspeakers with motional feedback, bandbass loudspeakers, oscillators, high-speed tape-duplicating equipment, and high-precision microphone calibration methods.
Peter was closely associated with the Audio Engineering Society. He became a Fellow of the AES in 1980 and was awarded its Silver Medal in 1993 which is given in recognition of outstanding development or achievement in the field of audio engineering. Peter died in 1995 and an 'in memoriam' tribute to him was published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, vol.44 no.9, September 1996.
For anyone with a technical interest in microphones there are dozens of Baxandall’s handwritten notes detailing his experiments, ideas for solving problems, and thoughts and comments on published technical literature. The note titles, written in the first half of 1965 are shown below as an illustration of the types of material to be found.
'Data from advert by International in Journal of the AES', dated January 1965.
'Circuits of transistorized rf condenser microphones', based on article in the January 1965 issue of the Journal of the AES by H J Griese.
'Thoughts re tension and diaphragm in cardioid condenser microphone', dated April 1965.
'Thoughts on what should be done about rf microphone system', dated 19 May 1965.
'Design of miniature pressure capsule', dated 9 June 1965.
'Own thoughts on cardioid capsule theory', dated 19 June 1965.
Peter’s technical notes are interspersed with correspondence with microphone manufacturers, orders for materials for his experimental equipment, and discussions with others who had an interest in the field. It is interesting that there are several notes on the subject of Reg Williamson’s condenser microphone capsule because ultimately this file of material passed to Reg Williamson upon Peter’s death – there is a letter with the deposit dated 1996 (the year after Peter’s death) in which Reg recalls the visit to Peter’s house when he picked up this file of material on condenser microphones. Reg also recalls leaving ‘a vast amount of paperwork’ which he expected to be dumped.
The Peter J Baxandall papers have now been catalogued (reference SC MSS 260) and are available to view in the IET Archives. The contents of the collection can be viewed in the IET Archives online catalogue.
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Edited: 10 February 2015 at 03:50 PM by Jonathan Cable
Image of Oliver Heaviside and his family.
This blog has been written to promote the launch of our new family history leaflet. It supplements what you can find in the leaflet and on our website under the family history section.
The IET was founded in 1871 as the Society of Telegraph Engineers but through an amalgamation with the Institution of Incorporated Engineers in 2006 our predecessor institutions date back to 1854. The Society of Telegraph Engineers began as a learned society for those involved in the electric telegraph industry but to keep up with technological developments of the time it changed its name to the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1889. Since then the IEE amalgamated with the Institution of Radio Engineers (IERE) in 1988 and the Institution of Production Engineers (IMfgE/IProdE) in 1991.
It's a family affair
If you are researching your family history or the life of an individual we may be able to help you with some details concerning their profession. Although the term 'electrical engineer' in the nineteenth century did not denote affiliation with a professional organisation if you see the post nominal MIEE (Member), AMIEE (Associate Member), or FIEE (Fellow) then they were members of the IEE.
Our membership application forms from 1871-1901 can help fill in the gaps about an individual's employment, education and social circles. The printed lists of members from 1871-1997 can trace geographical movement as well as mobility through the membership categories. It is now possible to browse a list of members from 1871-1930 online, view the full record and download an image of the original thanks to a partnership with Ancestry.co.uk
Part of this project was to digitise over 170,000 electrical engineer records. Records were selected and scanned on site at Savoy Place, London, using the most current scanning technology to produce high quality images. These are now fully searchable by name, date of birth, location and date of application. For more information on how to access these records please visit our family history section of our website
Other records to help further your study
If the person you are researching was not a member of our Institution we can still help by looking through the Electrical Trades Directory (known as the Blue Books) published from 1883. Within these pages are information on electrical firms, advertisements and an alphabetical classified section on individuals. We also have some other institutional records from the IERE, IProdE and IIE.
Occasionally an obituary or biography may have been written about certain members and published in the Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (JIEE) or in the Blue Books directory.
In addition to paper records we also have some photographs, portraits and films of notable engineers. These include past Presidents, Faraday Medallists and Honorary Fellows.
Our military records can help to learn more about an engineer's role during the two world wars. Some contain biographical information such as the First World War Roll of Honour, which holds details on the member, where they were stationed, military action and how they died.
We also hold a number of interesting collections relating to women in engineering and science, education and the importance of domestic electricity.
Francis Hughes Webb, Secretary of the Socieity of Telegraph Engineers, seated with a child.
Contact us for some advice
If you would like to know more about our records please visit our family history pages on our website or see our new family history leaflet.
This leaflet was produced to highlight the varied collections we hold that may help with family history research. We want to reach new audiences to open up our collections and to assist those who are embarking on their family history with an engineering aspect. The images chosen illustrate the range of material we have to offer.
If you have any enquiries regarding your research please contact us for a chat, we are always happy to help.
Edited: 15 December 2014 at 11:00 AM by Asha Gage
The IET Archives recently received a donation of papers belonging to James Henry Herbert Merriman who was the IEE President in 1974-75. The photograph above is the IEE’s formal black & white photograph of James taken at the start of his Presidential term. Perhaps surprisingly the IET Archives has very few collections of former IET/IEE Presidents who held that position after the Second World War so this collection was very warmly received.
Biographical Details for James H H Merriman
James Merriman was born in Pembroke, 1915. He was educated at King's College School, Wimbledon, and King's College, University of London. He obtained his BSc (Hons) in 1935 and did postgraduate research at King's College London obtaining his MSc in 1936.
James entered the GPO Engineering Department, Radio Research Branch, Dollis Hill, in 1936 and was associated with the development of long distance radio communication systems. From 1940 to 1948 James was Officer-in-charge at Castleton radio research station. From 1948 to 1953 he worked as Engineer-in-Chief, GPO London HQ on HF, VHF and microwave system development and planning.
In 1954 James went to Imperial Defence College and in 1955 he became Head of GPO Engineering Department O&M unit. From 1956 to 1959 he was Deputy Director Organisation and Methods Division, HM Treasury. He then became Assistant Engineer-in-Chief GPO with oversight of all transmissions including space systems in 1963, becoming Deputy Chief Engineer in 1965, Senior Director of Engineering in 1967, then Senior Director, Development. Eventually James became Board Member for Technology 1969-1976. Other positions James held included Chairman National Computing Centre 1977-1983 and he was a member of the NEDC Electronics Committee from 1977-1983.
James who received an OBE in 1961 and his CB in 1969 was Faraday Lecturer 1969-1970, was made a Fellow of King's College in 1972, received an Honorary DSc from Strathclyde in 1974, became President of the IEE in 1974-75 and was made an Honorary Fellow of the IEE in 1981.
When James completed his term in office as IEE President, as was customary at that time, he received a certificate of thanks from the IEE Council which was signed by a Council member, and the new incoming President. James’ certificate is shown below.
The deposited collection comprises primarily James’ published papers and articles, annotated typescript versions of lectures and a small number of photographs.
There are some nice black & white photographs from the 1969-1970 Faraday lecture. This was given by James on the subject of ‘people, communications and engineering’. The lectures were given around the country and took place over many weeks. The two photographs below show James on stage at one of the lectures and then the two GPO vans that were required to transport all the equipment need to support the lectures.
The James HH Merriman papers have now been catalogued (reference SC MSS 259) and are available to view in the IET Archives. The contents of the collection can be viewed in the IET Archives online catalogue.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
The eye-catching wood-panelled lecture theatre at the IET’s Savoy Place in London has been enjoyed for many decades by IET staff who worked there, attendees at events hosted at Savoy Place and general visitors to the building. However, many of those who have passed through the doors of the lecture theatre may not have been aware of the history of the eight portraits that have hung on the walls, or the people represented in those portraits.
The two images below show the lecture theatre at two different points in its history. The first image is from the 1930s shortly after the portraits were hung for the first time – note that the portraits are framed and hung on top of the wooden panelling. The second image is much more recent and dates from after the major refurbishment of the lecture theatre which took place in 1959-60 (when the paintings were mounted in recesses behind the panelling and also lit) and after the 1990s installation of the ceiling design by artist Tony Raymond.
Who Are the People Shown in the Portraits?
The eight portraits that were hanging in the lecture theatre in early 2014 were of the following well-known people; Sir Joseph Wilson Swan; Lord Kelvin; Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti; Michael Faraday; Alexander Graham Bell; Andre Marie Ampere; John Hopkinson; and Alessandro Volta. Images of two of the paintings following their recent restoration are shown below. They are firstly Michael Faraday, painted by George Harcourt in 1926 and secondly Alessandro Volta painted by Giuseppe Palanti in 1928.
How Did These Particular Portraits Find Their Way Into Savoy Place?
The IEE Council minutes of 1925 show the beginning of the discussion about oil paintings for the lecture theatre. It is probably no surprise that there was much debate about who should be represented in the portraits, who should be commissioned to paint the portraits, and which images of the chosen subjects should be used as the basis for the new portraits.
The first two paintings agreed upon were Faraday and Kelvin both to be painted by Mr G Harcourt ARA for a fee of 400 guineas for each painting. What is perhaps surprising is that the IEE only commissioned and paid for one of the portraits, that of Kelvin. The portrait of Faraday was commissioned by Mr Evershed and then immediately presented to the Institution as a gift. This was the pattern set for the subsequent paintings. Each was commissioned and paid for by a noted member of the IEE and then donated to the IEE. This situation meant that the commissioner of each painting had a significant influence over the subject matter and painter of each portrait. The portraits of Faraday and Kelvin were completed and hung in 1926.
In 1927 a short-list of 6 names for the remaining paintings was noted in the IEE Council minutes. That list included Volta, Ampere, Hopkinson, Bell and Swan all of whose portraits were painted over the next few years. However, the name of Gilbert dropped off the list to be replaced by de Ferranti. Mr Paul donated the Volta painting, Sir Charles Parsons donated the Swan painting, Sir Tom Callender donated the Hopkinson painting, Mr Garcke donated the Ampere painting, Sir Hugo Hirst donated the painting of Bell, and Mr Marryat donated the painting of de SZ de Ferranti.
A 9th and a 10th painting, one of Charles Wheatstone and one of James Clerk Maxwell, were also commissioned as part of this process. However, despite the paintings being produced, they do not appear on the walls of the lecture theatre in the 21st century although the portraits do still exist and are in the IET’s portrait collection.
The Recent Restoration
As part of the process of redevelopment of Savoy Place, the lecture theatre paintings were taken down in early 2014, which involved carefully removing some of the panelling to extract the individual paintings. This opportunity was used to send the 8 lecture theatre paintings to a fine art restorer to clean and restore any damage to the paintings which had been in situ for many decades. This process was completed a few months ago and the paintings are now crated and in storage awaiting their return to Savoy Place in 2015.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
Earlier in 2014 the IET Archives received a donation of papers belonging to Bernard Martin Crowther. Bernard Crowther was intimately involved with the history of the IET, particularly the IET’s Inspec database, where he was the Chief Editor from 1945 to 1964 of what was then known as Science Abstracts.
The history of Science Abstracts and Inspec is recorded in detail on the IET Archives web pages here http://www.theiet.org/resources/library/archives/inspec/index.cfm. Bernard Crowther is mentioned in passing on those pages in the section covering Inspec staff memoirs where the recollections are recorded of two Assistant Editors who worked for Bernard, the well-known author Sir Arthur C Clarke, and Gerald Beck.
Bernard’s papers which include extensive records of instructions and notes for abstractors, commentaries on the role of abstracting, and details of the changing face of the office in the mid-20th century, such as the introduction of typewriter composition, are therefore a very welcome addition to the archive collections.
Bernard Crowther’s Life Outside of Science Abstracts
Bernard M Crowther was educated at Oundle School, near Peterborough 1924-1929, then at Clare College, Cambridge, 1929-1932, where he studied in the physics faculty, and was taught by the eminent physicist Ernest Rutherford. He worked at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory from 1932 to 1935 and was awarded a PhD in 1936 for his work on 'the separation of isotopes'.
Prior to joining the IEE in October 1945 as Editor of Science Abstracts, from 1936 to 1945 Bernard was a researcher at EMI in Hayes, Middlesex. This was an important period in the development of high-definition television in which EMI was a major player and Bernard worked as a junior colleague with the noted electronics engineer Alan Blumlein.
Between 1943 and 1947 Bernard wrote scripts for a 10-minute BBC World Service programme which included reviews of new issues of Nature and Discovery. This interest in ‘reviewing’ then extended further with an invitation from The Economist in 1947 to write physical science book reviews for the journal. This began an 11-year relationship between Bernard and The Economist and many of his book reviews, written between 1947 and 1958, are included in his papers.
Office Life in the 1950’s and 1960’s
Whilst it might be expected that Bernard’s papers would contain extensive details about abstracting and the world of abstracting, it might be less expected that they would contain a detailed record of office life in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. He kept a work diary and also a memoranda copy book covering the period 1955 to 1963 in which minute details are kept of working arrangements in the office and in which the memoranda to his staff are recorded. The formal nature of the office is perhaps exemplified by the following two memoranda:
Memorandum to a Mr Anderton dated 13 September 1960, “Please supply Mr Lever of Science Abstracts with one Comet stapler to replace one evidently removed from his desk illicitly during his holiday. B M Crowther.”
Memorandum dated 27 April 1960, “congratulations – since 4th March you have kept up a pretty steady average of 16 pages per day – actually, allowing for Easter, you are just 32 pages short of the exact average, counting sheets actually sent off. Please keep this up…. BMC.”
The Launch of Tetra Pak in 1951
Another surprising ‘find’ amongst Bernard’s papers was a folder of publicity material from Tetra Pak on the launch of its innovative product in 1951 which had been sent to Science Abstracts. Tetra Pak, a subsidiary of the Swedish firm Akerlund and Rausing, was formed in 1951 just prior to the public launch of its ‘revolutionary new one-way package for milk, cream, auto-oil, fruit juices and ice cream’. Two of these marketing images showing the new product and the novel way of storing multiple packages are shown below.
Life After Science Abstracts
Bernard gave up his executive responsibilities with Science Abstracts in 1964 although he continued to have an association with it for a few more years, first as an Advisory Editor and then as a consultant. His interest in science, technology and physics did not diminish and within his papers is a set of correspondence from 1981 between Bernard and the Head of Documentary Features at the BBC, Will Wyatt. Bernard had heard that a documentary was planned covering the launch of the BBC’s first high-definition television broadcasting service from Alexandra Palace in 1936. He was concerned about potential inaccuracies in the coverage of the efforts of the EMI research team and wanted to speak to the producer to ensure the accuracy of the documentary. Bernard stated, “I was a member of the research team at EMI at the time of the inauguration of the service, and knew all the principal participants at the EMI end quite intimately”. Bernard also wrote a manuscript list of names of the principal participants which he stapled to the set of correspondence.
The Bernard M Crowther papers have now been catalogued (reference SC MSS 258) and are available to view in the IET Archives. The contents of the collection can be viewed in the IET Archives online catalogue.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
Edited: 03 December 2014 at 08:13 AM by Jonathan Cable
When the new IET Archive Centre was opened earlier in 2014 at Savoy Hill House there was an initial period when the new strongroom remained empty to allow the environmental conditions to stabilise. Following that period the core archive collections were brought back from storage – those collections that were deemed to be especially valuable or popular. Whilst this process was completed by the summer of 2014, one large gap remained on the strongroom shelves. This was the area allocated to the IET’s collections of rare books particularly those collections known as the S P Thompson rare books library and the Ronalds library.
As the rare books, many bound in leather or vellum, and many of them dating back several centuries, are particularly sensitive to conditions, such as the relative humidity, it was decided to postpone bringing back these rare books until there was a track record of stable conditions through both the colder spring months and also the warmer summer months. Now these collections of rare books have also been returned from storage and sit on the shelves of the archive strongroom. The image below shows the rare books on the strongroom shelves that are predominantly from the Ronalds collection.
Prior to the move out of Savoy Place in 2013, many of the more valuable and fragile rare books, mainly from the S P Thompson collection, were measured. These measurements were used to make ‘book boxes’, which were then fitted to provide further long-term protection to the individual books prior to being them being packed and transferred to archive quality storage (compliant with PD5454:2012). Those boxed books are shown in the image below, now situated on the shelves in the strongroom at Savoy Hill House.
More Unusual Subject Matter in the Rare Books Collection
Given that the SP Thompson collection is commonly called ‘the electrical library of Silvanus P Thompson’, there are perhaps unexpectedly, many books on matters perhaps considered less electrical. One such example is an old work on amber, illustrated below.
The volume called, ‘historiae succinorum corpora aliena involventium et naturae opera pictorum et caelatorum…’, by Nathanael Sendel (1686-1757) is dated 1742. Amongst other things this work describes the formation of amber and its properties and contains a series of plates illustrating animals and plants encased in amber. It has been said that this work laid the foundation for future paleobiological amber research.
A Map Puzzle
Within the S P Thompson rare books collection there is a wonderful ‘map of the arctic regions’, 1597, supposedly by Cornelius Wytfliet which is shown below.
The map comes with two slips of paper written by Thompson. The first slip says that the map, exhibited by S P Thompson, was a map of the artic regions from 1597 and that it was probably by Cornelius Wytfliet. The second slip says the following;
“this map shows at the North Pole a high black rock. It also shows in the artic sea to the north of Eastern Siberia two positions for the alleged Loadstone Rock or magnetic pole, one located on the hypothesis that the line of no variation passes through Cape Verde, the other on the hypothesis that it passes through the Island of Corvo in the Azores. At an outlet of Davis Strait, north of Labrador, it bears the inscription, a furious over-fall.”
However, other sources would suggest that this map, titled, ‘Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio, 1597’ is not by Wyfliet but is instead by C Loew (pseudonym for Matthias Quad), after Mercator, published in 1598 from the book "Meer oder Seehanen Buch", Colonia, 1598.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
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