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William Edwards Staite

Information on William Staite who made a major contribution to the development of the arc lamp in Britain 

First page from W.Staite's notebook on opinions of the press concerning the electric light.

William Staite made a major contribution to the development of the arc lamp in Britain. He began experimenting with arc lamps in 1834. Over the next few years he took out several patents both for lamp mechanisms and for the production of carbons, and in 1836 he showed that the movement of the carbons could be regulated by clockwork. 

With the help of William Petrie he continued to improve his lamp, taking out further patents between 1846 and 1853. They gave many demonstrations around the country - in his memoirs on the development of the light Staite lists 40 different displays. In 1848 they floodlit the portico of the National Gallery in London, and by now the public were getting used to demonstrations of electric light. 

The Illustrated London News pointed this out, but it also pointed out that arc lamp systems were too costly for use on a regular basis.

The problem was that there was as yet no cheap electricity supply and very few practical generators. Primary batteries such as the Daniell cell and other chemical batteries had to be used to power individual lamps, and batteries cost too much to be used for a permanent system. Staite found this out the hard way - his Patent Electric Light Co. failed in 1850 after only a few years in business. He received little credit at the time for his work. 

Arc lamps were featured in the Great Exhibition of 1851, but no mention was made of Staite's pioneering efforts, despite the fact that the lamps on show used many features that he had helped to develop. The Times declined to publish a letter from Staite setting out his claims, which partly prompted him to write a memoir of his work with arc lamps. This manuscript is now in the IET Archives.

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