Thomson, Elihu


Thomson, Elihu
SUBJECT AREA: Electricity
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b. 29 March 1853 Manchester, England
d. 13 March 1937 Swampscott, Massachusetts, USA
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English (naturalized) American electrical engineer and inventor.
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Thomson accompanied his parents to Philadelphia in 1858; he received his education at the Central High School there, and afterwards remained as a teacher of chemistry. At this time he constructed several dynamos after studying their design, and was invited by the Franklin Institute to give lectures on the subject. After observing an arc-lighting system operating commercially in Paris in 1878, he collaborated with Edwin J. Houston, a senior colleague at the Central High School, in working out the details of such a system. An automatic regulating device was designed which, by altering the position of the brushes on the dynamo commutator, maintained a constant current irrespective of the number of lamps in use. To overcome the problem of commutation at the high voltages necessary to operate up to forty arc lamps in a series circuit, Thomson contrived a centrifugal blower which suppressed sparking. The resulting system was efficient and reliable with low operating costs. Thomson's invention of the motor meter in 1882 was the first of many such instruments for the measurement of electrical energy. In 1886 he invented electric resistance welding using low-voltage alternating current derived from a transformer of his own design. Thomson's work is recorded in his technical papers and in the 700plus patents granted for his inventions.
The American Electric Company, founded to exploit the Thomson patents, later became the Thomson-Houston Company, which was destined to be a leader in the electrical manufacturing industry. They entered the field of electric power in 1887, supplying railway equipment and becoming a major innovator of electric railways. Thomson-Houston and Edison General Electric were consolidated to form General Electric in 1892. Thomson remained associated with this company throughout his career.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Chevalier and Officier de la Légion d'honneur 1889. American Academy of Arts and Sciences Rumford Medal 1901. American Institute of Electrical Engineers Edison Medal 1909. Royal Society Hughes Medal 1916. Institution of Electrical Engineers Kelvin Medal 1923, Faraday Medal 1927.
Bibliography
1934, "Some highlights of electrical history", Electrical Engineering 53:758–67 (autobiography).
Further Reading
D.O.Woodbury, 1944, Beloved Scientist, New York (a full biography). H.C.Passer, 1953, The Electrical Manufacturers: 1875–1900, Cambridge, Mass, (describes Thomson's industrial contribution).
K.T.Compton, 1940, Biographical Memoirs of Elihu Thomson, Washington, DCovides an abridged list of Thomson's papers and patents).
GW

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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