Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 148,386 pages of information and 233,851 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
John Steel Nicholson (1879-1920)
1920 Obituary 
JOHN STEEL NICHOLSON, O.B.E., D.Sc, Wh.Sch., was born at Alford, Aberdeenshire, on 21st December, 1879.
He received his early education at Alford and subsequently at Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen. From there he proceeded to the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College (now The Royal Technical College), and gained the diploma of the College and the Sir John Pender Memorial Scholarship.
He entered the engineering classes at Glasgow University in 1898 and graduated B.Sc. after a distinguished university career, during which he gained many prizes, including the first Walker prize and the George Harvey prize.
His apprenticeship in engineering was served on the "sandwich" system and in the summer of 1896 he commenced his practical work with Messrs. Matthew Paul & Co., Ltd., Dumbarton, completing his apprenticeship with them in 1901.
From 1901 to 1904 he was a demonstrator under Professor Barr at Glasgow University and assisted in the development of the newly opened James Watt Laboratories. At that time also, he taught classes in Dumbarton Academy and Coatbridge Technical School and Mining College.
In 1903 he gained first place in the Whit worth Scholarship' examination. Then followed a year of special study and practical work in Germany, and in 1905 he was appointed, by Glasgow University Court, Lecturer in Electrical Engineering and chief laboratory assistant to Professor Barr. During this time he collaborated with Sir J. B. Henderson in research work on armature reaction in alternators, and with Professor Barr on the influence of temperature, loading, etc., on the elastic limit and the breaking stress of mild steel.
On the outbreak of the War he joined the Officers' Training Corps and later took up munition work with Messrs. Denny & Company, Dumbarton. Shortly afterwards he was asked to join the Royal Flying Corps as an Equipment Officer. He continued at this work until demobilization in the autumn of 1919. He became a Section Director of the Aeronautical Supply Department with the rank of Major and was subsequently transferred to the Technical Department of the Air Ministry, and his services were recognized by the award of the O.B.E.
Dr. Nicholson made many contributions to scientific engineering, and among them it might be noted his papers to the Institution on "A Simple Graphical Construction for determining the Efficiency of a Polyphase Asynchronous Motor from the Current (Circle) Diagram" and "A Single-phase Motor with Pole-changing Windings"; and his paper to the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland on "Development of Metal Construction in Aircraft."
In 1919 he was contemplating an extension of his paper on "The Magnetization of Iron at High Flux Density with Alternating Currents" read before the Institution in 1915.
In May 1920 he was stricken with illness and in July it was decided to operate. He died on the 21st July after an illness borne with cheerfulness and hopefulness and when he was on the threshold of an important and useful career. All who knew Dr. Nicholson admired his manliness and tenacity, loved his unfailing cheerfulness and amiability, and respected him for his clearness and inspiration as a teacher and his accuracy as an investigator. His students, his colleagues, and his friends miss him.
He joined the Institution as an Associate Member in 1906 and was transferred to full membership in 1917. He served on the Glasgow Local Centre Committee from 1906 to 1909, and on the Committee of the Scottish Local Section from 1913 to 1916. From 1907 to 1913 he was Vice-Chairman of the Glasgow Students Section.