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George Lowe

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George Lowe (c1788-1868)

1823 George Lowe, Charter House Square, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1845 Patent. 'In the Matter of Letters Patent, granted to George Lowe, of Brick-lane, Old-street, in the county of Middlesex, <Civil Engineer, for an invention for increasing the illuminating power of such Coal Gas as is usually produced in Gas Works; also for converting the refuse products from the manufacture of Coal Gas into an article of commerce not heretofore produced therefrom; and also of a new mode of conducting the process of condensation in the manufacture of Gas for Illumination, which Letters Patent, respectively, bear the following dates; that is to say, for England, Wales, and Berwick-upon-Tweed, the 9th day of June, 1832; for Ireland, the 14th day of November in the same year; and for Scotland, the 6th day of December in the same year.'[2]

1870 Obituary [3]

Mr. George Lowe was the son of a brewer at Derby, where he was born about the year 1788, and in which town he was for some years engaged in his father’s occupation.

His attention was at an early period directed to illumination by coal gas; and several articles written by him on the subject, which appeared about fifty years ago in Tilloch‘s Philosophical Magazine, showed that he had considered the question with a clear and comprehensive mind. The knowledge he displayed of the science of gas making seemed to fit him peculiarly for undertaking the duties of gas engineer, and in 1821 he was appointed one of the engineers of the Chartered Co, which was then beginning to make known the advantages to be derived in the metropolis from the introduction of gas lighting. That office he continued to hold until the year 1862, when, in consideration of his long and valuable services, the Directors of the company gave him a retiring pension equal to the full amount of his salary.

Mr. Lowe married about three years before his engagement as Engineer to the Chartered Co, and he lost his wife, to whom he was devotedly attached, in 1843.

Mr. Lowe was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 29th of April, 1823, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 2nd of June, 1829.

He served on the Council from 1837 to 1845, both years inclusive, and took a very active part in the discussions at the Ordinary General Meetings, as is shown by a reference to the early volumes of the ‘Minutes of Proceedings.’

In 1835 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, for which honour he was chiefly indebted to the production of Prussian blue from ammoniacal liquor and from the refuse lime liquor of gas-works, specimens of which, produced by him, attracted the notice of H.R.H. the Duke of Sussex, who was at that time President of the Society.

Mr. Lowe entered actively into various fields of scientific inquiry, and was elected a Fellow of the Geological, of the Chemical, and of the Microscopical Societies, and he was also elected a corresponding Member of the Franklin Institute, which was an honour he much prized, on account of its having been conferred on him without his knowledge.

In addition to the responsible office of Engineer of the Chartered Gas Company, Mr. Lowe fulfilled at the same time the duties of Consulting Engineer of the Imperial Continental Gas Association, of the European Gas Company, of the Dublin Alliance Gas Company, and of many other gas companies at home and abroad.

The activity of Mr. Lowe’s mind developed itself in numerous inventions for improving the manufacture and the illuminating power of gas, of which the Patent Office contains the records.

The first invention patented by Mr. Lowe was that known as his 'reciprocating retort,' dated October 12, 1831. In that invention long retorts were first employed. The usual charge of coal was put in at each end of the retort to half its length, so that the gas of inferior illuminating power evolved from the charge of coal first introduced might mix with the richer gas evolved from the charge introduced subsequently. The same patent comprised the introduction into the furnace of highly-heated atmospheric air, for the purpose of igniting the gases and vapours arising from the lime and ammoniacal liquors placed under the bars of the furnace, the products of which were to be conducted into condensers to produce sulphurous acid, to be afterwards applied to purifying the gas. The specification of the patent further included a means of generating hydrogen gas by passing steam through the incandescent coke withdrawn from the retorts, the gas produced being afterwards enriched by the process since called carburetting.

In the next patent, dated June 9, 1832, the process of carburetting was applied to increase the illuminating power of ordinary coal gas, and with it was combined a process for the production of Prussian blue from ammoniacal liquor and from the refuse lime liquor.

A third invention included in the same patent consisted in a means of collecting the tar, of different degrees of specific gravity, by self-acting syphons placed at different parts of the condenser.

Seven years afterwards a joint patent was obtained in the names of George Lowe and John Kirkham, which comprised five inventions.

The first was a modification of Mr. Lowe’s reciprocating retort, applied to a combination of several retorts.

The second invention was a combination of clay and iron retorts, which principle has since been extensively amplified by others.

The third related to a mode of applying heat to retorts, during the first hours of distillation, by means of a blast of air into the ash-pit of the furnace.

The fourth invention consisted in a mode of employing tar as fuel, by mixing breeze with the tar, which was then introduced into a retort, and the distilled products were conveyed by a pipe to the fire in the furnace.

The fifth invention specified in the same patent consisted in setting the retorts nearly vertically, and so arranged to be charged at the upper ends, and from time to time drawn at the lower ends. The novelty of this invention is described as consisting 'in so constructing such retorts as to cause the gas evolved from the fresh charges to descend, and pass amongst the highly-heated charges, and mix with the gas evolved therefrom.'

In March, 1841, Mr. Lowe was again in the Patent Office, with an invention for 'improved methods of supplying gas under certain circumstances, and of improving its purity and illuminating power.' The specification of this patent was divided into five parts, the first three of which related to improvements in gas-meters, and included Mr. Lowe’s motive-power meter, and a means of purifying gas in passing through meters by the introduction into them of alkaline solutions. The fourth part related to the purification of gas in dry purifiers, by causing the gas to pass over a series of shallow trays, containing sponge impregnated with a caustic alkaline solution. The fifth part of the invention consisted in a mode of increasing the illuminating power of coal gas, by passing it over similar shallow trays containing sponge impregnated with naphtha.

A fifth patent, dated Oct. 5, 1846, was granted to Mr. Lowe for 'Improvements in the manufacture and in burning gas, and in the manufacture of fuel.' In this invention blocks of dried peat were immersed in melted resin or pitch in a closed vessel, from which the air was pumped out, to form a material for making gas.

It included, also, the application of revolving perforated pipes for distributing water or purifying liquor in gas washers; and the improvements in burning gas consisted in the adjustment, by screws, of the air supplied internally and externally to the flame of an Argand burner, a button being employed internally to deflect the air on to the flame, and the conical shape of the chimney caused the current of air to be directed on the flame externally.

The last appearance of Mr. Lowe’s name in the records of the Patent Office is on the 20th of January, 1852, when, in conjunction with F. J. Evans (M.Inst.C.E.), he patented an invention to fix the purification of gas by 'anhydrous peroxide of iron,' the energies of which might be repeatedly renewed by exposure to the atmosphere. This patent was dated four days before that of Mr. Hills for the purification of gas by hydrated oxides.

These various patented inventions for improving the manufacture of gas prove that Mr. Lowe’s powers of mind were remarkably active and inventive, and that he possessed extensive knowledge of the principles on which the production and purification of gas depend.

It will be seen from this cursory survey of his ingenious and well-devised plans, that many subsequent inventors and patentees have derived from Mr. Lowe not only their ideas but the methods by which they were practically applied.

In addition to those inventions which he secured by letters patent, Mr. Lowe contrived many other very useful appliances which he gave to the public, among which may be mentioned the bladder valve, now found so useful in preventing the escape of gas during the laying of mains; and his 'jet photometer' is to be found in all well-managed gas-works.

It is not, however, by his inventions alone that Mr. Lowe’s influence on the progress of gas lighting is to be estimated. His sound judgment, his varied and practical scientific knowledge, rendered him an authority to be applied to in all questions of doubt; whilst his amiable disposition and courteous manners imparted additional value to his opinions and advice.

Mr. Lowe had long suffered from a tendency to congestion of the lungs, and his life had been prolonged only by the most careful precautions, which latterly involved almost entire seclusion; but to the last he retained the cheerful and genial disposition which had endeared him to a large circle of professional and private friends, and which secured respect even from those who differed from him.

A long, valuable, and honourable career was closed on Christmas Day, 1868, at his residence in St. John’s Wood Park, London, in the eightieth year of his age.

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