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British Industrial History

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Albert Henry Midgley

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Albert Henry Midgley (1881-1961)

1881 November 29th. Born in Huddersfield the son of Albert Midgley, a ventilating engineer who had become a silk mercer.

Midgley showed an uncanny aptitude for engineering

1891 Living at 43 (?) Street, Bradford: Albert Midgley (age 43 born Huddersfield), Ventilating Engineer. With his wife Mary Jane Midgley (age 38 born Stepney, London) and their three children; Ethel Mary Midgley (age 11 born Huddersfield); Albert Henry Midgley (age 9 born Huddersfield) and Alice Maud Mary Midgley (age 8 born Huddersfield). Also Mary Terry his Mother-in-law?.[1]

1893 At the age of 12 he won a scholarship to Bradford Technical College, where he proved to be a brilliant scholar, with a particular interest in the production of light and motion by electrical means.

c.1896 He had to leave Bradford Technical College as a day student at the age of 15 and was apprenticed to A. J. Harris and Co, electrical engineers. He continued his studies at Bradford Technical College as a night student.

1898 Moved to London and worked first for George Ayland and Company as a designer of motors and ventilation fans for use in factories and mines

1901 Worked for GEC as an estimator and designer of dynamos and switchboard equipment for generating stations.

Developed a dynamo small enough to be mounted in a car and which would provide a constant source of energy irrespective of the speed of the vehicle, which led to his first patent in 1902, and 2 further patents in 1903.

1904 Joined Reed's Electrical Company which made dynamos and motors for industry.

1907 Joined a German firm, "Plute Schule" (sic), as manager and designer of small dynamos. This gave him the opportunity to travel to France and Germany to study developments there. He formed a company with Plute Schule to develop his patents which included a design for electrical transmission for cars, a device for driving sewing machines and small lathes, and a domestic knife cleaning machine.

1908 He joined Paul Behren's (sic) of Berlin, where he designed small motors and dynamos and was their sole agent in Britain and the Colonies. Also obtained an agency agreement with H. P. Brookes and Co of Birmingham for the sale of the motors and dynamos that they manufactured.

1910 Midgley formed a syndicate with Charles Vandervell, and William Proctor, a buyer for the Daimler Car Company and a friend of Vandervell's, to manufacture Midgley's electrical transmission gear and dynamo and develop Vandervell's idea of an accumulator powering an electric lighting set for cars. The firm was later known as C. A. Vandervell and Co.

Midgley made arrangements with Brookes to manufacture his dynamo for Vandervell's. Orders came in at a great rate as the system was in great demand from the motor industry and the manufacturers of lighting systems for trains. Production was moved to new works in Acton.

1911 Living at Lothair, Eagle Road, Wembley: Albert Henry Midgley (age 29 born Huddersfield), Electrical Engineer. With his wife Florence Mabel Midgley (age 29 born Highgate) and their daughter Mabel Eileen Midgley (age under 5 months born Wembly).[2]

Midgley continued to develop new products, taking out 28 patents from 1910 to 1914 and designing a starter which for the first time enabled the car engine to be started efficiently electrically, putting CAV in a dominant position in supplying the motor car and heavy vehicle industry by the outbreak of war in 1914, at which date the new factory in Acton employed 2000 people.

WWI Midgley was seconded to the Ministry of Munitions to develop inventions for the war effort. His inventions ranged from fuses for bombs, mortars and hand grenades, to gyroscopes and signalling equipment for aeroplanes.

1921 Midgley resigned from the company which was acquired by Joseph Lucas Ltd. .

1921 Developed a completely new system of car lighting and starting. He also developed ideas in the areas of organ building, radio and the production of musical sounds by electrical means. He was granted 8 patents in 1921

1923 set up a new company with J. Stone and Co of Deptford to manufacture car lighting and starting components. The firm was called the Midgley Car Lighting Co. This company failed under commercial pressure from Joseph Lucas Ltd and Midgley again looked in new directions.

Between 1924 and 1927 he was granted 13 patents for radio valves, receivers and loudspeakers. In cooperation with Auto Sundries Ltd he produced a 5-valve radio set called the Radio Sun, or "Midgley's Mystery Portable", as no-one could explain how it worked.

A single valve set was manufactured by EdiSwan using multi-electrode valves developed by Midgley and was sold under the name of the One Der Radio set. This venture was brought to an end when EdiSwan were acquired by British Thomson Houston.

1931 Also developed an electric organ which was patented in June 1931, and manufactured by Midgley Leighton Ltd until taken over by a new company formed by the Walker brothers and Albert called the Electrophonic Organ Co Ltd.

Having installed in his home an organ which he had designed (built by the firm of John Compton Ltd), he designed an organ for the firm suitable for use in cinemas and theatres. Established a new company called John Compton Organ Co in partnership with John Compton and Reginald and Pickering Walker, directors of J. W. Walker and Sons Ltd another organ building firm. Sales of the new organ boomed and the company prospered.

1937 Midgley was associated with the John Compton Organ Co as technical director until 1937.

1939 The Electrophonic Organ Co was acquired by Midgley Electrical Instruments. However, the company closed at the start of the Second World War.

At the same time Midgley had also turned his attention to improving radio receivers.

Midgley also worked on an amplifier and loudspeakers which he sold as a high quality radio gramophone. This was also manfactured by Midgley Leighton Ltd until 1933 when the company changed its name to Midgley Harmer Ltd.

He also invented a microphone and sound recording equipment for use in the film industry.

WWII Midgley Harmer Ltd designed and manufactured fuses for bombs, including the W bomb used by the RAF, and the fuse for the Barnes Wallis Tallboy bomb.

Post-WWII Midgley first moved into making toys, and then into the production of timing switches for washing machines and cookers, and the automobile industry to control traffic signalling indicators, mainly supplied to Trico Folberth Ltd.

Midgley continued to design and invent, being granted 28 patents between 1947 and 1958 for timing devices and motors. He worked right until his death on 1 October 1961.

1961 Obituary. 'We record with regret the death of Mr. A. H. Midgley, chairman and founder of Midgley Harmer Ltd., who died on October 1 at the age of seventy-nine. Mr. Midgley was actively engaged in the affairs of his company until the day of his death'. [3]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1891 Census
  2. 1911 Census
  3. The Engineer 1961/10/27, p717.