Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 148,124 pages of information and 233,665 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
Joseph Emerson Dowson (c1845-1940), Inventor of Dowson's Gas
Born the son of Joseph Emerson Dowson, a Metal and Gas merchant.
1864 Dowson's Plate Structures.
1872 Married in Penge to Mary Emily Tee
1911 Living at 26 Egerton Crescent, London SW: Joseph Emerson Dowson (age 66 born St. John, Kensington), Civil Engineer, Managing Director of Dowson and Mason Gas Plant Co. With his wife Mary Emily, a Medical Practitioner, Author and Journalist, and two daughters.
1940 Obituary 
A further link with the early development of the gas engine and the use of producer gas, for power, industrial, and transport purposes has been broken by the death of Mr. Joseph Emerson Dowson, which occurred at his home, Landhurst Shaw, Hartfield, Sussex, on Wednesday, January 3rd, at the advanced age of 95.
Joseph Emerson Dowson was born in London in 1844, and received his education at the Lycee de Versailles and Dulwich College. Originally it was intended that he should follow the legal profession, but he evinced a dislike for the law, and was trained as a civil engineer. He was articled to his father’s firm of engineering contractors from 1863 to 1865, and in 1866 continued his pupilage as engineering contractor’s assistant on works at Herne Bay, carried out by the late Charles Fox and J. W. Wilson, who were the engineers for the scheme.
From 1866 until 1869 he was in sole charge of work carried out for the Scarborough Pier Company, under Mr. E. Birch, engineer. Further pupilage work was carried out with Mr. E. W. Hughes, and in that year he was passed by Mr. George Berkley as a second class engineer for the G.I.P. railway.
Two years later he went out to Ceylon and India, to report on projects for tramways in Colombo, Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras.
Returning to England in 1873, he was appointed jointly with Mr. A. Dowson, engineer of the Cleethorpes Pier, and carried through extensions. In the following year he visited Saragossa to report on a project for water supply and drainage, and in 1875 visited Madras in connection with tramway projects.
In 1876, he was engaged on various designs and reports, and on experimental work for Colonel Bolton and Mr. T. J. Bewick, among which was work on the treatment of low grade copper ores, and finding it necessary that he should understand the nature of the process he set himself to study inorganic chemistry, giving particular attention to the working of furnaces and the combustion of fuels.
From 1876 until 1882 he continued to work on his own account.
About 1878, he patented his invention for the making of a cheap gas for heating purposes, and for working gas engines, and collaborated in this work with the gas engine manufacturers. In 1879 the Dowson gas plant was put to work with a Crossley engine.
At the York meeting of the British Association of 1881 Mr. Dowson read a paper on the working of engines on suction gas, and illustrated it by a small Otto gas engine working with a Dowson producer plant. The engine and its plant were afterwards exhibited at the Smoke Abatement Exhibition, and Mr. Dowson was awarded a Gold Medal and prize, offered by the late Sir William Siemens for the best method for the utilisation of fuel as a heating agent for domestic and industrial purposes, combining the utmost economy, with freedom from smoke and noxious vapours.
In 1882 he read another paper on gas producers before the Royal Society of Arts, and gained a Silver Medal. In 1901, he read a paper before the Institution of Civil Engineers on “ The Efficient Working of Gas Plants for Engines,” which gained for him the Watt Medal and a Telford Premium. For a further paper, read before the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1904, he was awarded a Special Premium.
By this time engines up to 520 I.H.P. were successfully running on “Dowson” gas, and in order to develop this work he founded the Dowson Economic Gas and Power Co., Ltd, which in 1910 was merged with Mason's Gas Power Company, Ltd., to form the Dowson and Mason Gas Plant Company, Ltd., of Alma Works, Levenshulme, Manchester. This company was formed to develop the invention and carry on further research work. Research was especially necessary as the field was a new one, and many trials had to be made, there being no previous experience upon which to draw. As a pioneer company it was remarkably successful and installations of many kinds and sizes were established both at home and abroad.
Alongside his development work, Air. Dowson found time to write the papers we have referred to, and was also the author, along with his assistant, Mr. A. T. Larter, of a standard book on producer gas which has run into many editions. Mr. Dowson was also the author of the article on “Gas Plants for Engines” in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. For some years he was chairman of the Executive Committee of the Decimal Association and took an active part in advancing the adoption of metric weights and measures. He was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and retired from active work about 1916, since when he had lived a quiet life in his country home.
Dowson was a remarkable man and was respected by everyone who knew him, not only for his engineering ability, but also for his unfailing courtesy. After retiring from the company, he made his home in the country, as already mentioned, but he retained a remarkably keen mind even at a mature age, and kept up his interest in his life’s work, as is testified by correspondence carried on even at the age of 93.