Library and Archives
Library and Archives
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August 31, 2017
My visit to IET

From doing work experience here for three days, I can tell how prestigious the IET is. The library is extensive, being stored in nine different places across the site, and is available to all members. Books range from wiring for dummies, to 14th century navigational equipment manuscripts, all of which can be viewed with the help of the tireless library staff. Also available is the vast range of eBooks, downloadable from across the world. On top of this, the stunning location made it a tremendously enjoyable experience, with views of the Maxwell library (as seen below) and the Thames from the roof terrace being available to all.

When visiting the archives, I got to gaze at books up to 600 years old, and marvel at the calligraphy, and pictures that have retained their colour through the centuries. Letters from Charles Dickens to Michael Faraday, controversial manuscripts written in English by Chaucer, mammoth books by Galileo, the archives contain one of a kind volumes in beautiful print with artfully structured bindings.

I would recommend becoming a member of IET to all people who work in engineering or technology, if just to stroll through the Maxwell library, relax in the Faraday Centre or view the interesting exhibitions about engineering and technology throughout history.


Edited: 01 September 2017 at 08:43 AM by Mike Dunne


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 31 August 2017 04:15 PM     Library     Comments (0)  

October 28, 2016
Recents additions to the library: A new biography of Sir Francis Ronalds and a history of the Cavendish Laboratory


Book cover: Francis Ronalds

Sir Francis Ronalds

Father of the Electric Telegraph

By Beverley F Ronalds

 Knowledge Centre classmark: 92(RONALDS) RON


‘In this book, details of Sir Francis's inventions — covering areas as diverse as electrical devices, weather forecasting, photography, art, mass production, and even fishing — are interwoven with personal and professional tales of achievement. Fresh light is shone on controversies and precedence in several important discoveries. Using both anecdotal and scientific evidence, it is written for those interested in the pursuit of science in the 19th century and the fascinating developments which have proved essential to the technological revolution of the 21st century.’


  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Founded on Cheese
  • Scenes in the Story
  • Frank and his Family
  • A Life of Science
  • Electrical Science and Engineering 1810–19
  • Who Invented the Electric Telegraph?
  • The Grand Tour
  • A Sulphur Business Opportunity?
  • Perspective Tracing Instruments
  • Dr Alexander Blair and the Carnac Megaliths
  • Science Exhibitions: A Glimpse into Ronalds' Mechanical Inventions 1824–41
  • Kew Observatory 1842–55 and Beyond
  • Atmospheric Electricity and Meteorology: Instruments and Observations
  • Photographic Recording Instruments for Meteorology and Geomagnetism
  • Last Years and Legacy


Maxwell's Enduring Legacy: A Scientific History of the Cavendish Laboratory

By Malcolm Longair

Knowledge Centre classmark: 92(MAXWELL) LON


Book cover: Maxwell enduring legacy

This book is a history of the scientific achievements of the Cavendish Laboratory from its origins in the late-nineteenth century to the present day. It includes detailed discussions of the broad range of physics studied and the discoveries of the 29 Nobel Prize winners that worked there.

‘The Cavendish Laboratory is arguably the most famous physics laboratory in the world. Founded in 1874, it rapidly gained a leading international reputation through the researches of the Cavendish professors beginning with Maxwell, Rayleigh, J. J. Thomson, Rutherford and Bragg. Its name will always be associated with the discoveries of the electron, the neutron, the structure of the DNA molecule and pulsars’

Table of contents

Part I. To 1874: 1. Physics in the nineteenth century; 2. Mathematics and physics in Cambridge in the nineteenth century;

Part II. 1874 to 1879: 3. The Maxwell era;

Part III. 1879 to 1884: 4. Rayleigh's Quinquennium;

Part IV. 1884 to 1919: 5. The challenges facing J. J. Thomson; 6. The J. J. Thomson era, 1884-1900 - the electron; 7. The Thomson era, 1900-19 - atomic structure;

Part V. 1919 to 1937: 8. Rutherford at McGill and Manchester Universities - new challenges in Cambridge; 9. The Rutherford era - the radioactivists; 10. Rutherford era - the seeds of the new physics;

Part VI. 1938 to 1953: 11. Bragg and the war years; 12. Bragg and the post-war years;

 Part VII. 1953 to 1971: 13. The Mott era - an epoch of expansion; 14. The Mott era - radio astronomy and high energy physics; 15. The Mott era - the growth of condensed matter physics;

Part VIII. 1971 to 1982: 16. The Pippard era - a new laboratory and a new vision; 17. The Pippard era - radio astronomy, high energy physics and laboratory astrophysics; 18. The Pippard era - condensed matter physics;

Part IX. 1984 to 1995: 19. The Edwards era - a new epoch of expansion; 20. The Edwards era - new directions in condensed matter physics; 21. The Edwards era - high energy physics and radio astronomy;

Part X. 1995 to present: 22. Towards the new millennium and beyond; 23. The evolution of the New Museums site; 

Edited: 28 October 2016 at 02:54 PM by Mike Dunne


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 28 October 2016 02:44 PM     Library     Comments (0)  

September 2, 2016
Knowledge Centre closed: 6th October 2016

The Library service in the Knowledge Centre at Savoy Place will be closed to visitors all day on 6 October 2016 for an event.

Members can request and renew books online as usual via the Library catalogue

Library staff will also be available by phone and email:

Tel: +44 (0)20 7344 5461

Email: for enquiries.

We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 02 September 2016 10:21 AM     Library     Comments (0)  

August 10, 2016
New electrical ebooks in IET library

The library service has recently added a number of new electrical titles to its ebook service.

These are available through the Dawsonera service.

Cover of Scaddan book

17th Edition IET Wiring Regulations: wiring systems and fault finding for installation electricians [electronic resource]
Brian Scaddan
6th revised edition

•Fully up-to-date with the 17th Edition IET Wiring Regulations: Amendment 3
•Covers all the principles and practice of testing and fault diagnosis for students and non-electricians
•This book deals with an area of practice that many students and non-electricians find particularly challenging. It explains how to interpret circuit diagrams and wiring systems, and outlines the principles of testing before explaining how to apply this knowledge to fault finding in electrical circuits.

Cover of book

Brian Scaddan
8th edition
•Mapped closely to the learning outcomes of City & Guilds and EAL exams
•Coverage of Level 2 and Level 3 units in one volume
•Fully aligned to the 3rd Amendment of the 17th Edition of the IET Wiring Regulations
Brian Scaddan's Electrical Installation Work explains in detail how and why electrical installations are designed, installed and tested.
You will be guided in a logical, topic by topic progression through all the areas required to complete City & Guilds and EAL courses.

Cover of book


PAT: portable appliance testing
Brian Scaddan
4th edition
•Fully up-to-date with the relevant parts of the 17th Edition IET Wiring Regulations: Amendment 3 and the 2012 Code of Practice
•Provides all the required information on portable appliance testing
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 requires any electrical system to be constructed, maintained and used in such a manner as to prevent danger. This means that inspection and testing of systems, including portable appliances, is needed in order to determine if maintenance is required.
This book explains in clear language what needs to be done and includes expert advice on legislation as well as actual testing. The book contains an appendix providing the electrical fundamentals needed by non-specialists and also has sample questions (with answers) for the C&G 2377 exam.

To access Dawsonera:

Go to:

Log into your IET account- top right

Under electronic books click onto Dawsonera

On the next page- click onto ‘Access Dawsonera’

 This will take you into the service- either search for the book you are looking for or click onto 'ebook catalogue' to see the collection of ebooks the IET library takes.

Edited: 11 August 2016 at 11:37 AM by Mike Dunne


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 10 August 2016 03:19 PM     Library     Comments (0)  

June 30, 2016
New ebooks added to the library colllection

The library service has recently added a number of new titles to its ebook service.

These are available through the Dawsonera service.

Broadband Matching: Theory And Implementations (3rd Edition)

Front cover of book




Author: By Wai-Kai Chen

Pages: 879

Publisher: World Scientific Pub Co

Published: Oct 13, 2015

eISBN-13: 978981461907


The third edition presents a detailed account of broadband matching theory and its applications to the design of broadband matching networks and amplifiers. A special feature is the addition of results that are of direct practical value. They are design curves, tables and explicit formulas for designing networks having Butterworth, Chebyshev or elliptic, Bessel or maximally flat group-delay response.


Integration of Distributed Generation in the Power System

Front cover of book

Author: Math Bollen And Fainan Hassan.

Pages: 526

Publisher: IEEE Press

Published: Aug 4, 2011

eISBN-13: 9781118029015




The integration of new sources of energy like wind power, solar-power, small-scale generation, or combined heat and power in the power grid is something that impacts a lot of stakeholders: network companies (both distribution and transmission), the owners and operators of the DG units, other end-users of the power grid (including normal consumers like you and me) and not in the least policy makers and regulators.


Mobile Satellite Communications Handbook

Front cover of book

Author: Roger Cochetti

Pages: 267

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons

Published: Sep 16, 2014

eISBN-13: 9781118908419 






This comprehensive reference book explains the historic, available, and planned technological systems of mobile satellite communications, and addresses both the technical and non-technical professionals who work with and help develop this technology everyday. 

To access Dawsonera:

Go to:

Log into youe IET account- top right

Under electronic books click onto Dawsonera

On the next page- click onto ‘Access Dawsonera’


This will take you into the service- either search for the book you are looking for or click onto 'ebook catalogue' to see the collection of ebooks we take.

Edited: 30 June 2016 at 02:28 PM by Mike Dunne


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 30 June 2016 02:19 PM     Library     Comments (0)  

January 19, 2016
UK Electricity Supply Industry Papers Covering the Period up to Privatisation in 1990

A collection of papers authored by Ray W Orson, and covering a significant period of change in the UK’s Electricity Supply Industry (ESI), has recently been donated to the IET Archives.

Ray W Orson CBE sat on The Electricity Council, the governmental body set up in 1957 to oversee the Electricity Supply Industry in England and Wales. He was its Commercial Officer in the 1970s and 1980s, and was its expert on tariffs until he retired early in 1989. Ray continued to work in the electricity industry for a period before becoming visiting Professor at the University of Surrey.

The deposited papers are primarily reports and memoranda written by Ray Orson. He wrote these documents for The Electricity Council, the National Grid Company, the London Electricity Board and others, and they relate to financial / organisational aspects of the UK’s ESI and its privatisation which began in 1990 following the Electricity Act 1989. The majority of these papers come from the years in the run up to privatisation and during the first year of ESI privatisation in 1990. Topics covered in the reports include; economic pricing in electricity supply; the competitive market and capacity planning; and regulation of public utilities. One of the papers written in January 1989 for the London Electricity Board, on the subject of ‘the competitive market and capacity planning’ (archive reference SC MSS 266/15), is shown below;

Some of the most interesting documents are a series of 6 reports written by Ray Orson for the Spanish electricity company Iberduero through the later part of 1989 and up to 1992. Iberduero was to merge with Hidroeléctrica Española in 1992 to form the Spanish multinational company now known as Iberdrola. Orson provides a report for Iberduero on the ‘about-to-be-privatised’ electricity industry in February 1990, just a month before the new ESI structure was introduced on 31 March 1990. He goes on to provide reports dealing with the first few days and months of operation of the new structure in April 1990 and June 1990. The April 1990 report (archive reference SC MSS 266/31) is shown below;

The collection of papers (SC MSS 266) has been catalogued at item level i.e. each individual report has its own entry in the IET Archives online catalogue. It can be consulted at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, by appointment.


Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 19 January 2016 03:59 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

January 6, 2016
Early ICI Billingham Electrical Engineering Drawings

The IET Archives has recently received a donation of 200 electrical engineering technical drawings relating to ICI Billingham. The large majority of these drawings date to two specific periods, the late 1920s and the early 1950s. The earliest drawing was produced in 1926 and the latest in 1966.

The drawings, primarily of electrical switchgear and transformers at the various substations on the Billingham site, were produced by some noted British electrical engineering suppliers of the time. These include; A Reyrolle & Co of Hebburn, Tyne and Wear; The British Thomson Houston Company, Willesden, London (BTH); and The British Electric Transformer Company of Hayes, Middlesex. The bulk of the drawings, some 140 in total, were produced by A Reyrolle & Co. One of Reyrolle’s drawings, number 10W370, showing a ‘wiring diagram for A gear – summation metering panel’, is shown below.




History of the ICI Billingham Site

In March 1918, the Minister of Munitions gave approval for a factory to be developed at the site, initially known as the Government Nitrogen Factory, which would manufacture ammonium nitrate. Brunner Mond took over the works in March 1920 and ran it as Synthetic Ammonia and Nitrates Limited – this name can be seen at the bottom of the drawing shown above.

Brunner Mond, Nobel Explosives, the United Alkali Company and the British Dyestuffs Corporation merged in December 1926 to form Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). Brunner Mond's Billingham works, that had been run as Synthetic Ammonia Nitrates Limited eventually, although not immediately, became known as ICI Billingham. Most of the drawings in this donation therefore date to the very early years of the existence of ICI. The name of ICI disappeared when the company was acquired by AkzoNobel in 2008.

The reason for the dates of the drawings falling into two main groups is down to two significant periods of development at the site. There was a major expansion of the site around 1928 when the power station and several large production plants were built. This necessitated a large number of new substations around the site, and many of the drawings relate to that expansion. There was then a new wave of expansion in the early 1950s when the power station was extended to meet an increase in demand for steam and electricity.

A paper on the steam and electric power plant at ICI Billingham was written by its designers, Humphrey, Buist and Bansall. This paper appeared in the IEE Journal, vol. 68 no. 406, October 1930, pp 1233-1275, and contained many figures including the site plan shown below.



The paper, which claimed many new features for the plant, was not without a little controversy and the discussions that followed the presentation of the paper, at the IEE in London and also at the IEE’s North-Eastern Centre in Newcastle, had several speakers who stated that some of the features were not as novel as claimed by the designers. The discussions about the paper were also printed in the IEE Journal.

One of those who participated in the discussion about the paper was the well-known electrical engineer Charles Hesterman Merz (1874-1940), who pioneered the use of high-voltage three-phase AC power distribution in the UK. Merz commented, “some of the points specially referred to as novel are, perhaps, not quite so novel as would appear. For instance, the cable tunnels are in accord with recent practice in power stations in various parts of the world.” 

Hand-coloured Engineering Drawings

From a purely aesthetic perspective some of the most attractive drawings are the 16 hand-coloured drawings of The British Electric Transformer Company, two of which are shown below. The first drawing (archive reference NAEST 236/4/8) below is a sectional arrangement of windings for a 1,500 KVA transformer dating to 1929. The second drawing, also from 1929 (archive reference NAEST 236/4/17) is a sectional arrangement of a 750 KVA core type transformer.




The Story of the Rescue of These Engineering Drawings

When the ICI drawing registry at Billingham closed circa 2005, the majority of the engineering drawings were not retained. However a number of the electrical drawings were kept as being of ‘specialist interest’ and it is these 200 retained electrical drawings that form the collection now in the IET Archives.

The depositor, John Wheeler (IET Member) and a colleague were responsible for deciding how to disperse the registry’s historic material. The majority of the historic material went to the Teesside Archives, the photograph collection went to Beamish Museum, and the ‘special interest’ electrical drawings, which were outside the scope of the Teesside Archives, have now come to the IET. The whole archive project was summarised in an article that John wrote for the journal of the Business Archives Council (BAC). It can be found in the BAC journal, Business Archives Principles and Practice, vol. 89, May 2005, pp 53-64.

The collection of drawings (NAEST 236) has been catalogued at item level i.e. each individual drawing has its own entry in the IET Archives online catalogue. It can be consulted at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, by appointment.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 06 January 2016 12:20 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 23, 2015
BTH Research Laboratory - Recently Discovered Oral Histories Circa 1957

A recording of interviews of retired BTH Research Laboratory staff, made around 1957, has recently been discovered by the family of the original interviewer and a digital version of these interviews has just been donated to the IET Archives.

British Thomson-Houston (BTH) Research Laboratories came into existence in 1924 when BTH completed a new building (no.52) at its Rugby works. The first staff, which only numbered 18 people, came together by combining the earlier Experimental Electrical and Insulation Laboratories and the group was led by R C Clinker as Chief. A photograph of the Research Laboratory staff in 1929 is shown below.

Many well-known scientists and engineers passed through the doors of the Research Laboratory over the years and the facility had many noteworthy achievements. Amongst other things BTH Research Laboratory engineers produced the first 16mm sound film in Great Britain, exhibited in 1931, and undertook pioneer work on fluorescent lamps with the first high wattage mains voltage lamps being designed and made in the Research Laboratory.

Discovery of the recording of the interviews

The recordings were made circa 1957 by K J R Wilkinson (image below) who had worked at the BTH Research Laboratory and who in the late 1940s was in charge of the Special Investigations and Measurements Section of the Electronic Engineering Department (this department was split off from the Research Laboratory in 1946).

Mr Wilkinson, later to become Dr Wilkinson, FIEE, sadly passed away in 1985. However his tape recorder survived and had been left untouched until recently when his family came to repair the machine at which point they came across this recording of interviews.

Contents of the Recording

The recording consists of 9 interviews plus a 1956 BBC broadcast made by Charles Clinker about R C Clinker (1874-1931), the first Head of the Research Laboratory. The 9 interviews are quite remarkable, not only giving an insight into the Laboratory and the people that worked there, but also recording the voices of some famous individuals and their stories from their time at BTH.

Sir Hugh Warren (1891-1961) is one of the interviewees. Sir Hugh was initially the Deputy Chief of the Laboratory when it was created but became the Head of the Research Laboratory in 1929. Professor C J Milner, who worked at the Laboratory from 1936 to 1952, and later became Chair of Applied Physics at NSW University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, is another interviewee.

Professor Milner recounts the work at BTH on the klystron working together with Sir Mark Oliphant, Professor of Physics at the University of Birmingham. Professor Milner said that during WWII it was policy for BTH to work with and cooperate with Oliphant and his team at Birmingham, with BTH Research laboratories trying to make models of Oliphant’s Klystron. It was deemed vital to the war effort to do something in 3 to 4 weeks. However, BTH couldn’t make a model to Oliphant’s design. After two weeks, the BTH team was split in two and they proceeded to work 24 hours a day for the next 9 days but still to no avail. This work then came to a halt as it was overtaken by work elsewhere on the cavity magnetron for radar microwave generation.

Other BTH Material

This recording is not only the earliest oral history recording (excluding films) that is held in the IET Archives but it is also an important addition to the BTH material that is already held amongst the archive collections. In addition to a range of BTH publications such as, ‘BTH reminiscences: sixty years of progress’, published in 1946, the IET Archives holds an extensive collection of BTH Rugby photographs and glass plate negatives (28 albums and 13,000 glass plate negatives) relating to machinery produced from 1902 onwards at the Rugby site. Two of the images from this collection (archive reference NAEST 74), are shown below. The first image is a District Line train and the second image is of a Croydon Corporation Purley and Thornton Heath Tram.

The IET Archives is also very fortunate to hold a silent 16mm black & white film made by BTH in the late 1920s (archive reference IET/SPE/3/6/56) showing the work carried out at the BTH Research Laboratory on the process of adding sound to film. A still from this film which has now been digitised is shown below.

The BTH Research laboratory oral history recording (archive reference NAEST 237), and other BTH material can be consulted by appointment at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 23 December 2015 01:37 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 8, 2015
Amy Johnson - New Papers Uncovered in WES Archives

Amy Johnson (1903-1941), the famous English aviator shown in the image above, was the first woman pilot to fly solo from Britain to Australia. Either solo or together with her husband, Jim Mollison, she set many long-distance flying records in the 1930s. She died tragically young, before reaching the age of 40, when the Airspeed Oxford she was flying for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), reportedly ran out of fuel, and crashed into the Thames Estuary. Although Amy had bailed out her body was never found.

Amy Johnson was a 2-term President of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), for the years 1935/36 and 1936/37, and had been a member of WES before that. Before and during the years of her Presidency she corresponded frequently with the Honorary Secretary of WES at that time, Caroline Haslett. A file of this correspondence has recently been uncovered in the archives of WES which are held in the IET Archives. This correspondence has now been catalogued at individual letter level with almost all of the letters being transcribed as part of the description. Each of the 85 letters and paper items has also been digitised. Amy is shown below, with Caroline Haslett in the background, addressing the 1935 WES Annual Conference.


Contents of the correspondence

The first of Amy’s letters to Caroline, dating from 9 June 1932, shows her generosity by saying, “use my name on the programme by all means – in fact make whatever use of it you can”. This is the only letter in the correspondence which Amy has signed as Amy Johnson (letter shown below). Amy was to marry the aviator Jim Mollison the following month in July 1932, and thereafter signed her letters sent to Caroline as Amy Mollison (Amy was to divorce Mollison in 1938 and soon afterwards reverted to her maiden name).


Amy spoke on several occasions to WES members. On one such occasion at an 'at home' held at the Club, 20 Regent Street, Monday 10 December 1934, Amy gave an address covering the reasons for the Comet failure (in the October 1934, England to Melbourne air race), lessons of the race, and the ground organisation needed in England – the full 9-page typescript annotated address can be found with this correspondence. At another meeting in January 1935, a debate was held on the topic, ‘that record-breaking flights no longer serve a useful purpose’. Not only is this fascinating given that Amy, who held many such records, was proposing the motion, but also because her husband Jim Mollison was opposing the motion!

A photograph of Amy, her husband Jim, and Caroline is shown below.


It is clear from the letters and their content that a close relationship formed between Amy and Caroline, beyond the relationship of just President and Honorary Secretary. The early letters from Amy all begin ‘dear Miss Haslett’, but by the time of the last letters in the correspondence, dating from 1937, Amy begins her letters ‘my dear Caroline’ and some of the content of the letters is of a more personal nature not just about the administration of WES.

This personal insight can be seen in a handwritten letter from Amy, dated 13 January 1937, sent from Val Mont, Glion sur Montreux, Switzerland, where Amy had been sent by her doctor to rest (letter shown below).


In the letter above Amy reveals her personal concerns by saying;

“I have been thinking a great deal about our talk about Lord Wakefield. It seems to me so strange that the man to whom I owe the most in the world should still be addressing me as 'Mrs Mollinson'. I don't really know him at all & have never even met Lady Wakefield. I sent them flowers for Xmas as I usually do & had such a funny cold note of thanks saying that 'Lady W thanked me for the flowers' & never mentioned himself.”

It was Lord Wakefield together with Amy’s father who funded the purchase of Amy’s plane G-AAAH, a second-hand de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth which she had named Jason after her father’s business trade mark. By sad coincidence Lord Wakefield died just 10 days after Amy Johnson in January 1941 and both were commemorated in a tribute issue of the Woman Engineer, the WES journal, in March 1941, the cover of which is shown below.


This Amy Johnson / Caroline Haslett correspondence, catalogued as NAEST 92/13/1, can be consulted in the IET Archives at Savoy Hill House.

The archives of WES also contain the ‘appreciation’ written by Caroline Haslett shortly after her death which The Times was interested in publishing. In that tribute to Amy, Caroline said of her;

“All the world knows of Amy Johnson who at the age of 22 flew solo to Australia ten years ago, but it is perhaps those who knew her more closely who were able to appreciate her gifts and abilities, the generosity of her mind, her modesty over real achievement, her unquenchable spirit which, with her keen wit and boundless humour, must have carried her through times of tedium as well as of horrific experience. Whatever Amy did she did it with zest and relish. The sparkle and vigour of her personality communicated itself to all who came into contact with her…..”

Given the above it is very fitting that the new roof terrace in the refurbished Savoy Place will be named the Amy Johnson roof terrace in her honour.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 08 December 2015 11:04 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

November 25, 2015
Theresa Wallach - Motorcycle Pioneer of the 1930s

In December 1934, Theresa Wallach and her friend Florence Blenkiron set out from London to Cape Town, South Africa, on a 600cc single-cylinder Panther motorcycle with sidecar and trailer. They rode straight through the Sahara desert without a compass to complete a truly astonishing journey in record breaking time, arriving in Cape Town in July 1935.

The June 1935 issue of the Woman Engineer gave the following report about progress on their journey;

“Miss Wallach and Miss Blenkiron are now heading for Nairobi on their motorcycle combination; some of their more unpleasant adventures have included four nights in a tropical jungle without food or shelter, and capture by Tourags in the desert”.

Theresa was inducted into the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2003 and more about her story and life including photographs can be found on the AMA website here - AMA Teresa Wallach Biography.

Teresa was also a member of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), whose historic papers are held in the IET Archives, and it was here that we have just uncovered references to Theresa. We are currently cataloguing and scanning, a previously uncatalogued file of WES papers relating to the famous aviator Amy Johnson. Amy was the two-term President of WES from 1935-1937, and the file of correspondence is primarily between Amy and the WES Honorary Secretary, Caroline Haslett, during this period.

Amongst these newly discovered papers are several letters that refer to Amy Johnson (under her married name Amy Mollison) introducing Theresa Wallach and Florence Blenkiron to a WES meeting in London on May 26 1936. One such letter, from Caroline Haslett to Amy, dated 21 May 1936 referring to the meeting is shown below. The reference in the letter to Amy’s ‘latest triumph’ is Amy’s own record-breaking solo flight also from London to Cape Town which took place in May 1936, where she regained her Britain to South Africa record.

A brief report of Miss Wallach’s talk to WES appeared in The Willesden Chronicle on 29 May 1936. The report appeared in this journal because Theresa was a former pupil of Kilburn and Brondesbury High School, within the geographical remit of the Chronicle. This article with an image of Theresa is shown below:

A more lengthy account appeared in The Woman Engineer in June 1936, where it was reported;

“Miss Wallach was introduced by Mrs Mollison, who received a rousing reception, and who referred to many points of difference between her own London-Cape trips and those of the lecturer. In her remarks Mrs Mollison mentioned the earlier motor cycle records gained by Miss Wallach and Miss Blenkiron and also by Miss B Shilling, another member of the WES. With that generosity that is typical of sportsmen, the President made light of the dangers and trials of her own hazardous adventures in comparison with those about to be described. She found one too obvious similarity, however, the definite and complete refusal of all financial backing on the grounds that support would be aiding in sending the enthusiasts to certain death.

Miss Wallach gave a racy account of her adventures, referring lightly to the endurance test of the Sahara, the wild beasts that approached sufficiently close for discomfort, though never for real, the snakes that became part of the day’s experiences, the encounters with tribes in varying degrees of civilisation, the tackling of problems connected with the cycle, with water, with other provisions, including petrol, and, finally to the enthusiastic welcome at Cape Town.”

Theresa’s companion on the journey, Miss Florence C Blenkiron, became an Associate Member of WES in 1938 in recognition of the above feat and her considerable experience of the administrative side of steel production gained in the firm Hadfields Ltd.

More Extraordinary Feats!

The Women Engineer reported in autumn 1939 that Theresa Wallach was the only dispatch rider in the British army and she represented the Auxiliary Territorial Service at the Auto-Cycle Union’s National Rally 22-23 July when she gained a silver plaque. She had also gained her Gold Star in the spring, riding a 350cc Norton. This was the trophy awarded for completing a circuit of the Brooklands track on a motorcycle at a speed of over 100 miles per hour. Only two other women had been awarded the Gold Star (both members of WES).

Theresa’s story is another tale of pioneering engineers, who are perhaps less well known today, whose names are frequently mentioned in the WES archives (archive reference NAEST 92). The new Amy Johnson papers that contain the references to Theresa are expected to be available for consultation in the IET Archives from the New Year.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 25 November 2015 04:37 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

October 14, 2015
The Great Melbourne Telescope

The IET Archives has an ongoing multi-year project to conserve a collection of pamphlets known as the S P Thompson pamphlets. These pamphlets, covering a multitude of scientific and engineering subjects, came to the Institution of Electrical Engineers along with Silvanus P Thompson’s library of rare books in the first part of the 20th century, several years after S P Thompson’s death in 1916. Not only are many of the pamphlets exceedingly rare, but they often have letters within, as S P Thompson used to insert his correspondence, from leading scientists and engineers of the day, within a relevant pamphlet or book.


As a result of the fragility of these pamphlets and their poor general condition, the IET Archives only begins work on researching, cataloguing, and digitising the pamphlets once they have been conserved and can be handled more easily. The image below shows a volume of unconserved pamphlets which is titled, ‘Electric Discharges I’.

Unconserved documents


Despite many volumes of pamphlets being conserved over the years since they came into the possession of the IEE, each volume on a specific subject containing around 30 to 50 individual pamphlets, there remain several hundred volumes of unconserved pamphlets still to be worked upon. We usually manage to conserve around 3-5 volumes each year given the time consuming and expensive process of conservation.


Recently we received 4 volumes back from the conservators including one volume labelled, ‘Telescopes I’ and another labelled ‘Telescopes II’. The pamphlets and catalogues within shed light on a wonderful project called the Great Melbourne Telescope. An image of the conserved volume ‘Telescopes I’, with each conserved pamphlet individually protected, is shown below’.

Conserved documents


The Great Melbourne Telescope


The Great Melbourne Telescope (GMT) was built by Thomas Grubb in Dublin, Ireland in 1868, and installed at the Melbourne Observatory in Melbourne, Australia in 1869. The illustration below, showing the GMT, is taken from a pamphlet found in Telescopes I which records Howard Grubb’s lecture to the Royal Dublin Society in 1869 (Sir Howard Grubb was one of Thomas Grubb’s 8 children and joined his father’s firm in 1864).

Illustration of the Great Melbourne Telescope


The telescope had a 48-inch diameter speculum primary mirror, and was mounted on an equatorial mounting, enabling it to track stars accurately as they appeared to move across the sky. The design had been approved by a committee of British astronomers and scientists. At the time of commissioning it was the second largest telescope operating in the world, after Lord Rosse’s 6 foot reflector at Birr, Ireland, and it was the largest fully steerable telescope in the world.


The telescope was designed to explore the nebulae visible from the southern hemisphere, and in particular to document whether any changes had occurred in the nebulae since they were charted by John Herschel in the 1830s at the Cape of Good Hope.


When Melbourne Observatory closed in 1945 the GMT was sold to the Australian Government’s Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra where it was rebuilt in the 1950s with a modern drive and a new 50-inch pyrex mirror. In 2003 a bushfire destroyed the telescopes and buildings at Mount Stromlo and afterwards the remnants of the 50-inch telescope were transferred to Museum Victoria, which had previously acquired discarded parts of the original telescope in 1984.


Restoration of the Great Melbourne Telescope


A project is now underway to restore the Great Melbourne Telescope to working order so that it may be used for educational and public viewing at its original home at the Melbourne Observatory. The project is a joint undertaking between Museum Victoria, the Astronomical Society of Victoria and the Royal Botanical Gardens. A link to the project’s website can be found here - The Great Melbourne Telescope.


Once the IET Archives became aware of the GMT project we contacted some of the team members to let them know about some ‘Grubb pamphlets’ that had been discovered in Telescopes I. We thought that they might be of interest, if they didn’t already have access to the pamphlets, particularly as the pamphlets contained many technical details about the telescope. The GMT project didn’t have these pamphlets or copies of them amongst its papers and so we were happy to supply digital copies of 5 pamphlets to the project team. The pamphlets supplied were;


‘Royal Dublin Society: afternoon scientific lectures: the Great Melbourne Telescope: a lecture by Howard Grubb CE, May 29 1869’. 17pp.

‘The Great Melbourne Telescope: an examination of and reply to the official reports from Melbourne respecting the instrument, its erection at Melbourne, etc, etc: by Thomas Grubb FRS’. 20pp. This pamphlet was for private circulation only.

‘Telescopic Objectives and Mirrors: Their Preparation and Testing: A Discourse by Howard Grubb delivered as The Royal Institution, April 2 1886’.

‘Report of the Committee on the Melbourne Telescope to the President and Council of the Royal Society’. Dated 19 February 1868.

‘Telescopes for Stellar Photography’, by Sir Howard Grubb. Lecture and following discussion given by Sir Howard April 18 1888 at the Society of Arts.


Museum Victoria kindly supplied us with two recent photographs related to the project (photographs taken by Rodney Start), one of which is shown below.

GMT project image


Museum Victoria also has many 19th century images related to the GMT which can be seen on its website here - GMT Images.


The volume titled Telescopes I included many other interesting pamphlets and catalogues, not just Grubb related material, including a 19th century pamphlet by the German Astronomer Heinrich Louis d’Arrest (1822-1875) which included the plate shown below.


Plate showing the Great Melbourne Telescope

Telescopes I and all the other conserved volumes from the SPT pamphlet collection are held permanently in the strongroom at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, and are available for researchers to view by appointment.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 14 October 2015 02:40 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

September 22, 2015
Reflections from 1947 Concerning Princess Elizabeth and her Future

After the recent celebrations concerning the length of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, we have delved back into the IET Archive collections to uncover a fond tribute to the young Princess Elizabeth which occurred in 1947 on the occasion of her engagement to Lieutenant Mountbatten.

The tribute came in a radio broadcast by Dame Caroline Haslett which was heard on the BBC’s Women’s Hour, 10 July 1947 (Women’s Hour, still running today, was first broadcast in October 1946). Dame Caroline became the 1st Secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society in 1919 and was latterly its President in 1941. From 1946-1954, covering the time of the broadcast, Dame Caroline was the only woman member of the Council of the British Institute of Management. In addition, from 1947-1956 she was also the only woman member of the British Electricity Authority. The Caroline Haslett collection can be consulted in the IET Archives (archive reference NAEST 33).

Dame Caroline met the British Royal Family on many occasions through the various offices that she held and her high regard for Princess Elizabeth can be read in the broadcast script.

The two images below show Princess Elizabeth, the year before the broadcast, with her grandmother Queen Mary during an industrial visit to Battersea Power Station in April 1946, a visit that is referred to in the broadcast script.




Dame Caroline Haslett’s Script

Dame Caroline’s script which is reproduced in full below, discusses the life of the young Princess whilst she was growing up, mentions her interest in industry, and describes some of the visits with which the Princess was involved. Finally Dame Caroline sends ‘loyal and loving wishes’ to Princess Elizabeth and expresses her certainty that the newly engaged couple will ‘carry on and uphold all that is best in the great traditions of our country’.

Almost 70 years after the original broadcast, with Queen Elizabeth still working tirelessly for the country, Dame Caroline, had she been alive today, would no doubt be overjoyed to see that her certainty in 1947 had been so well founded.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 22 September 2015 03:26 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

September 18, 2015
Knowledge Centre at Savoy Place: re-opening plans

As refurbishment of Savoy Place nears completion, keep up to date with the plans being made to re-open the new Knowledge Centre.



    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 18 September 2015 08:45 AM     Service changes     Comments (0)  

September 16, 2015
32nd IEE Member to Fall in World War 1 - Lieutenant A W Brydon

Lieutenant Alec Whitworth Brydon of the 4th Battalion The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) (T.F.), died 31 August 1915, the 32nd member of the IEE to die in World War 1.

Alec Brydon was educated at Rossall School, Lancashire (1898-1901). He was apprenticed in 1901 with The Lancashire Dynamo and Motor Company, Manchester, and during his apprenticeship he attended evening classes in electrical engineering at the Municipal School of Technology, Manchester (1902-1907). When his apprenticeship ended in 1906 Alec joined Lancashire Dynamo and Motor Company on its Technical Staff as an Assistant Engineer and he stayed working for the company in various positions until 1912 when he resigned to enter an engineering partnership. Alec became a partner in Rhodes, Brydon and Company of Stockport, Cheshire, and was appointed Managing Director. He relinquished this position in the summer of 1914 in order to serve in the Army.

Alec was given a Commission in the Territorial Force in September 1914 and was promoted to Lieutenant in March 1915. The requirement for further reinforcements for the Gallipoli Peninsula in the summer of 1915 resulted in Alec’s Division sailing for the Dardanelles Theatre of Operation on 17 July 1915. His Division took part in the fierce fighting of The Battles of Suvla (6-21 August 1915). Operations on 21 August were the last of scale on the Suvla front but Alec’s Division continued to serve on the front. On the evening of 31 August 1915, he led a machine-gun detachment into the front-line trenches opposite the Turkish position. Shortly after reaching the portion of the line assigned to his party, he was shot through the head by a sniper’s bullet and killed instantaneously.

Lieutenant Brydon’s obituary was published in the IEE World War I Honour Roll and these details have been reproduced below.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 16 September 2015 04:21 PM     World War I     Comments (0)  

31st IEE Member to Fall in World War 1 - Second-Lieutenant W Winkworth

Second-Lieutenant Walter Winkworth of the I/5th Battalion The Northumberland Fusiliers (T.F.), died 26 August 1915, the 31st member of the IEE to die in World War 1.

Walter Winkworth was educated privately and at Rutherford College, Newcastle-on-Tyne (1895-1896). In 1897 on completion of his general education Walter was apprenticed with Messrs J H Holmes & Co, manufacturing electrical engineers. Whilst still an apprentice he enrolled as a student at Armstrong College, Newcastle-on-Tyne and also attended evening classes in electrical engineering subjects where he won prizes in electrical engineering in 1900, 1901 and 1905. When the apprenticeship ended Walter was employed by J H Holmes & Co as a Tester in the Motor Testing Department, made Assistant to the Chief Tester in 1905, and became Chief Tester in 1912.

Walter relinquished his appointment in August 1914 on the outbreak of war, in order to serve in the Army. He enrolled in the Leeds University Officers’ Training Corps and went into training at Seaton Delaval, Northumberland. Walter was initially employed on coast defence duties and then his Battalion was sent to France on 9 July 1915. On the evening of 25 August 1915 he was directed to carry out a night’s reconnaissance in the neighbourhood of Houplines and led his Platoon out of the trenches into No Man’s Land. Whilst he was feeling his way forward the enemy put up flare lights and located his command. The Germans then opened a heavy machine-gun fire on his detachment and he was hit in the abdomen and the right arm. He was conveyed at once to the Military Hospital at Bailleul, where he succumbed to his wounds the following day.

Second-Lieutenant Winkworth’s obituary was published in the IEE World War I Honour Roll and these details have been reproduced below.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 16 September 2015 04:18 PM     World War I     Comments (0)  

September 9, 2015
Commemoration of Royal Events in the IET Archives

Today, with the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II surpassing the length of Queen Victoria’s reign, we have taken the opportunity to look through the IET Archives collections to see how the IET’s predecessors and other organisations commemorated notable royal events.

Celebration of Royal Events by the Institution of Electrical Engineers

In 1977 on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, the IEE’s General Purposes Committee (GPC) was tasked with investigating ways of commemorating the Silver Jubilee. Its recommendation was that three undergraduate scholarships were to be awarded annually to mark the event. The relevant paragraph from the GPC report to the March 1977 IEE Council is shown below.


Later that year, in October 1977, the Chief Executive of the City of Westminster, David Witty, approached the IEE about donating a special seat to commemorate the Jubilee which the Council had available for erection along the Embankment in London. This resulted in the IEE donating two seats and the photograph below shows one of the two seats shortly after installation.



Going a little further back in time on the occasion of the coronation of Elizabeth II in June 1953, the following photograph shows that the IEE chose to mark the event by displaying all the Commonwealth flags on the top of its building at Savoy Place.



Celebration of Royal Events by the Institution of Production Engineers

Another of the IET’s predecessor organisations, the Institution of Production Engineers (IProdE), celebrated royal events in a different manner. The IProdE was formed in 1921 and changed its name to the Institution of Manufacturing Engineers in 1991 shortly before its merger with the IEE also in 1991. The IProdE celebrated both the Coronation of King George VI in 1937 and the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977, by producing illuminated manuscripts for the respective monarchs which also showed the institution’s seal. The IProdE made copies of these congratulatory messages and framed them together with the letters received, in each case from the Home Office, which conveyed their Majesty’s thanks. The framed copies are shown below.


Celebration of Royal Events by the Electrical Association of Women (EAW)

Perhaps the most unusual way that a royal occasion has been celebrated can be seen in the EAW collection held by the IET Archives (archive reference NAEST 93). The EAW chose to celebrate the occasion of the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip in November 1947 by presenting her with an electric blanket – probably still quite a novelty in 1947.

Princess Elizabeth sent a very warm personal letter in response addressed to Dame Caroline Haslett, who was at that time a Director of the EAW. Elizabeth mentions in particular the monogram embroidered by the students of The School of Stitchery and Lace. The EAW arranged for a photograph of the blanket to be mounted together with the reply from Elizabeth and this is shown below.



Today we celebrate this special day in history by highlighting some of the royal correspondence in the IET Archives that reflects the high regard in which the royal family has been and continues to be held.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 09 September 2015 11:37 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

August 12, 2015
Perpetual Motion in the IET 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.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology

Edited: 12 August 2015 at 02:40 PM by Jonathan Cable


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 12 August 2015 02:22 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

30th IEE Member to Fall in World War 1 - Private A M Doig

Private Alexander McLaren Doig of the I/6th Battalion The Manchester Regiment (T.F.), died 11 August 1915, the 30th member of the IEE to die in World War 1.

Alexander Doig was educated at Ducie Avenue Higher Elementary School, Manchester, where he passed the entrance examination of the Victoria University, Manchester, and also won a scholarship at the Municipal School of Technology, Manchester. He entered the Municipal School of Technology in September 1906 and took the 3 year course in electrical engineering under Professor A Schwartz. He was a brilliant student and won the First Prize in the 2nd year examinations and the Second Prize in the 3rd year final examinations. Alexander then took a post-graduate course at the school and on termination, obtained the University Honours Certificate in Technology in June 1910. In August 1909 he was bound by indenture as a School Apprentice (Electrical) with The British Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company Ltd. Upon termination of the apprenticeship in July 1912 Alexander was employed by the company as a Draughtsman in the Transformer Department. He was promoted to Chief Transformer Tester in July 1913 and 6 months later was appointed Engineer in the Drawing Office.

Alexander relinquished his appointment in August 1914 upon receiving his mobilization orders whereupon he joined his Battalion, the 6th Battalion The Manchester Regiment, with whom he had enlisted in the summer of 1912, and went into camp with it at Littleborough, Lancashire. His Division was placed under early orders for Egypt and he sailed from Southampton to the East 10 September 1914. Having spent the early part of 1915 in Egypt, Cyril’s Battalion reached the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey in May and was involved in the Battles of Helles (25 April to 6 June 1915). Alexander’s Brigade was involved in the Third Battle of Krithia and for his actions on June 4th 1915 Alexander was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous gallantry and initiative as well as being mentioned in despatches. He was wounded in the charge in the early part of the fighting and was subsequently sent to the Military Hospital, Alexandria, where he was under treatment for over 6 weeks, before rejoining his Battalion at Imbros on 27 July. Alexander and his unit took part in the Actions of Krithia Vineyard which began on 6 August and on the 7th he was mortally wounded. He was at once placed on board the hospital ship Tunisian but on his way to Alexandria he succumbed to his injuries and was buried at sea on 11 August 1915.

Private Doig’s obituary was published in the IEE World War I Honour Roll and these details have been reproduced below.


Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 12 August 2015 09:17 AM     World War I     Comments (0)  

August 4, 2015
The History of Computing - Tabulating Machines

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.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 04 August 2015 02:32 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

August 3, 2015
IEE Institutional Involvement in WW1 - Council Minutes Extracts - July 1915

Council meeting of 15 July 1915

“486. The following report of the Finance Committee was received and adopted [only points (a) and (d) shown];

(a) Enlistment of staff.

Mr C W Skinner, a member of the staff, has applied for reconsideration of the terms on which he was given permission to enlist (see Minute No.468, 27 May 1915), and in view of further information received, the Committee have agreed to make him an allowance of 8 shillings per week while serving in the Army under the conditions of his present enlistment.

(d) First floor rooms.

Since the outbreak of the war the first floor rooms have been in the occupation of various departments of the Admiralty and War Office free of rent (see Minute No.307(b), 26 November 1914). In view of the falling off in the income of the Institution, the Finance Committee have suggested for the consideration of the Office of Works that a rental of £15 a week (about half of the usual rental), should now be paid to the Institution, and it is understood that the matter is under consideration.”

“487. It was agreed that, in the present exceptional circumstances, no action be taken in regard to removing from the register the names of students over 26 years of age now serving in Him Majesty’s Forces.”

“490. A letter (11 June 1915) was read from the Admiralty Air Department asking for the co-operation of the Institution in supplying information regarding German ports, industries, factories, etc. It was agreed that members of the Council be invited to communicate to the Secretary any such information that they may possess.”

“491. A letter (1 July 1915) was considered from Mr F Creedy, Associate Member, suggesting that the Institution take steps to bring engineers who have specialised in industrial research work into touch with the authorities with a view to investigating and developing inventions or assisting in any way that may be desirable.

A letter (3 July 1915) from Mr W Duddell on a similar subject was also considered. It was agreed as follows:-

(a) To place the services of the Council at the disposal of the Admiralty Inventions Board, of which Lord Fisher is Chairman.

(b) To make the same offer to any similar committee which may be formed by the War Office.

(c) To place the services of the Council at the disposal of the Board of education under the scheme for subsidising industrial research (see Minute No.473, 27 May 1915).”

“493. The President reported the replies received from the Local Sections in regard to forming Engineers’ Volunteer Training Corps outside London (see Minute No.428, 15 April 1915), and after hearing the views of the authorities of the Volunteer Training Corps which had been obtained by the President it was resolved that no further action be taken in this matter.”

[Note: there were no Council meetings in August 1915 or September 1915]

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 03 August 2015 03:35 PM     World War I     Comments (0)  

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