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British Industrial History

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Ludwig Epstein

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Ludwig Epstein (1853-1899)

1897 December. Accumulator Traction on Rails and Ordinary Roads.[1]

1898 January. Article 'Electrical Accumulator Traction'.[2][3][4][5][6]

1898 July. Patent 5,528. 'Electrically Propelled Motor Road vehicles'.[7]

1900 Obituary [8]

LUDWIG EPSTEIN was an Austrian by nationality, being the only son of a banker at Teplitz in Bohemia, a well-known health resort.

He was born in 1853, and was consequently only forty-six years of age at the time of his death in August, 1899.

His father, recognising the liking of his son for physical research, provided him with a laboratory, and at the early age of seventeen he was busy preparing himself for the study of accumulators, the improvement and application of which were his sole object for nearly twenty-five years.

In 1879 he came to England and carried on a series of experiments at the works of the Pilsen Joel Company. During nearly three years' stay in England he progressed so far that he returned to the Continent and commenced manufacture at Leipzig, A misfortune befell his business there by the occurrence of a series of short circuits on a temporary installation in the Gewahdhaus on the occasion of a royal visit. His accumulators, which were being used to provide the current, were in no way to blame, but the prejudice created by the mishap was too great to overcome.

Moving to Berlin his accumulator was taken up by the firm of Siemens and Halske, and Mr. Epstein became the director of the accumulator department of that firm.

He married in 1886.

In 1889 he became seriously affected by lead poisoning, and during his convalescence he took the opportunity to reconsider the whole question of accumulator manufacture. Up to that time he had adhered to the pasted grid system of making plates; thenceforward he became the apostle of the modified Plante type.

In 1890 he brought his new plates to London, and after undergoing severe tests they were taken up by Woodhouse and Rawson, Limited, and a year later the Epstein Company was formed. The results obtained showed that a great step in advance had been made, and the Epstein cells rapidly came into favour on account of their freedom from most of the weaknesses long associated with accumulators.

Mr. Epstein soon attacked the problem of accumulator traction, though the figures obtained during a two years' trial on a section of the Birmingham tramways were not encouraging to the cause in England ; but, as was acknowledged afterwards in the discussion of a paper on the subject of electric traction at the Institution of Electrical Engineers by Mr. Epstein, the fault lay not with the accumulators but with the installation of the system.

Mr. Epstein had set himself a high ideal for an accumulator, and towards this he continued to press. Experiments were constantly carried on in his private laboratory at Richmond. The application of accumulators to launches, torpedoes, and traction work generally occupied the whole of his time, and to the last he was at work on an improved form of traction cell. His early death was caused by the worry of litigation affecting an impetuous mind concentrated upon arriving at perfection. His great experience of accumulators made him a valuable authority on the subject, and though an enthusiast in his special line he always recognised the limitations of the lead accumulator, and was ready to try any substitute which showed promise of success.

He was a great admirer of all things English; if he had lived he had intended to become a naturalised British subject. He leaves a widow and one boy.

He became an Associate of the Institution on the 24th of November, 1892, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 25th of February, 1897. His paper on "Accumulator Traction on Rails and Ordinary Roads" was read at the Ordinary General Meeting on the nth of November, 1897.

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