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Arthur Wright (c1858-1931), chief engineer to the Brighton and Hove Electricity Supply Co and later a consulting electrical engineer
Responsible for developing the maximum demand system of charging for electricity.
BY the death of Mr. Arthur Wright, which occurred on Tuesday last, the electrical industry has lost one of its most prominent pioneers.
Although originally intended for the medical profession, electricity soon attracted his attention, and he began to study electrical engineering. In due course he became chief engineer to the Brighton and Hove Electricity Supply Company and subsequently engineer and manager to the Brighton Corporation undertaking, which, under his guidance, became a conspicuous success.
He was responsible for the Portslade generating stations and for many progressive steps in connection with electricity supply at that popular seaside resort.
Many years ago, however, he retired from Brighton and took up consulting work, in which he was also eminently successful. During the years 1889-1906 he acted as consulting electrical engineer to the Stepney Borough Council; he was also engaged in advisory capacity by the Marylebone Borough Council and by various undertakings abroad, including one in South America.
Until three years ago he was making visits to Boston, U.S.A., twice a year as consultant to the Boston Edison Company. He was the founder and first President of the I.M.E.A. and the inventor of the well-known maximum demand indicator.
For many years he was a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, although by reason of his busy life he seldom attended the meetings.
"THE LATE MR. ARTHUR WRIGHT. Mr. Arthur Wright, who died on Sunday, July 26, at the age of 73, will probably be best known to all electrical engineers, and certainly to those of the older generation, as the inventor of an ingenious system of metering electricity supply, by the use of which, it was hoped, the amount that had actually to be paid by the consumer could be related more closely to the cost to the undertaking of supplying the energy consumed, than was possible with a flat rate. In his Presidential Address to the Junior Institution of Engineers in 1892 John Hopkinson argued that the cost of supplying electricity depended mainly on the rate at which it was supplied, and could be divided into two parts, one of which did and the other which did not depend on the hours of supply. Mr. Arthur Wright, who was then the electrical engineer at Brighton, attempted to translate these ideas into practice and, as a result devised a system which, though fundamentally sound, was not altogether easy to explain, either to the technically or the non-technically minded. The result was that by a process of onomatopoeia not unfamiliar in the English language, it was soon known by a term which expressed both the theory on which it was based and the difficulty of understanding it. The Wright system would now of course be termed a two part tariff, the fixed charge in which was determined by making the consumer pay at a high rate per unit for the first 365 hours’ use per annum of his demand, while the running charge was based on some lower rate per unit. At Brighton, for instance, the two rates were respectively 1d. and 3d. per unit, the maximum demand being measured by a special meter, which registered the maximum current taken at any time during any one month. The consumer’s demand being determined in this way, if his daily average use at that rate was under one hour he was charged at the higher rate, while if it was over that amount any excess was charged at the lower rate. The system was perhaps a little too complicated for ordinary use and in addition had the disadvantage of requiring the employment of two meters. It is not, therefore, surprising that in later years Arthur Wright himself was inclined to favour the system associated more closely with the name of Hopkinson.
Mr. Wright was born in London and his education was directed with the idea that he should adopt the medical profession. He soon, however, forsook this pursuit for electrical engineering and at an early age, was appointed electrical engineer to the Brighton Electric Light Co, when that concern was founded by Mr. Robert Hammond to develop electricity supply in that town. This development at first mainly took the form of erecting arc lamps for street lighting, but as early as 1883, sets of Lane-Eox incandescent lamps with cut-out devices were being installed in series with arc lamps on certain premises, the circuit being supplied at 1,800 volts through paraffin covered twin and triple wires. This somewhat elementary type of cable gave no serious trouble in spite of the fact that it was only stapled on to the walls.
During this time the company had been operating without a Provisional Order, and when application was made for one in 1888, the opposition of the Corporation was aroused, with the result that the undertaking was bought out. For a time after this transfer of ownership had taken place, Mr. Wright was a member of Ferranti’s staff in London and assisted in developing the alternating current meters and transformers used on the Deptford system, but subsequently he returned to Brighton as borough electrical engineer and in that position designed the generating station at Portslade. He resigned this position in 1905, though he continued to act in an advisory capacity for another five years, and was then for many years in practice as a consulting engineer in London. After retiring for a time, he was again drawn back into active occupation, and until two or three years ago, visited the United States at regular intervals on behalf of the Boston and Chicago Edison Companies.
Mr. Wright devoted a good deal of his time to. the development of electrical calculating machines and to the examination of possible methods of applying electricity to the needs of industry, though he made few public appearances, and had ceased to be greatly in the public eye. He was elected an associate of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1882 and a full member in 1902 and served for a time on the Council. He was the first president of the Incorporated Municipal Electrical Association, and was afterwards elected an honorary member of that body.