Pioneers of Lighting and Power

  • Leslie Hannah


Britain had led European economic growth during the industrialisation of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.1 To a considerable degree, this unprecedented growth derived from the ingenuity and empiricism of practically-minded entrepreneurs and inventors. Their modifications of existing practice, and their more radical innovations, were taken up by craftsmen and manufacturers in the basic metal, textile and engineering industries. Scientific inquiry and elaborate mathematical calculation had not been absent,2 but these factors were to play a much greater role in the next wave of innovation in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Thus, with the infant organic chemical industry, the electricity supply industry shares the distinction of being the first important modern industry to rest its fundamental development on the inquiries of scientists. The industry did, of course, also have clearly discernible links with established engineering practice, but the readily comprehensible work of the mechanical engineer, dealing with machines whose effects were visually apparent, yielded precedence, in the electrical industry, to an industrial culture which drew equally on the contribution of the research scientist. It involved phenomena at one remove from the easily understood experience of the common man. The spinning jenny and the first iron bridge at Coal brookedale could be seen and apprehended; electric power, by contrast, was at first a mysterious force, and, even when the public became familiar with its properties in use, understanding of its nature and the development of its applications remained the prerogative of the engineer and scientist.


Local Authority Alternate Current Private Enterprise Electricity Supply Public Supply 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes on the Text

  1. 1.
    For fuller surveys of the early history of the public supply industry see I. C. R. ‘Byatt, The British Electrical Industry 1875–1914’, unpublished DPhil thesis, Oxford 1962;Google Scholar
  2. R. A. S. Hennessey, The Electric Revolution, (Newcastle, 1972);Google Scholar
  3. R. H. Parsons, The Early Days of the Power Station Industry, (Cambridge, 1939); on all of which this chapter draws extensively.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    See e.g. A. E. Musson, Science, Technology and Economic Growth in the Eighteenth Century, (1972).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    M. W. Lackie, ‘Early Experiments in Electric Traction’, JIEE, vol. 42 (1908–9) pp. 626–9.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    On the early manufacturing companies, see e.g. J. D. Scott, Siemens Brothers 1858–1958, (1958);Google Scholar
  7. H. C. Passer, The Electrical Manufacturers 1875–1900, (Cambridge Mass., 1953) pp. 14–71;Google Scholar
  8. B. Bowers, R. E. Crompton: Electrical Engineer (1969).Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    reprinted in W. H. B. Court, British Economic History 1870–1914 —Commentary and Documents, (Cambridge, 1965) pp. 123–4.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    W. E. Swale, Forerunners of the North Western Electricity Board, (Manchester, 1963) p. 2.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Lady Gwendolen Cecil, Life of Robert, Marquess of Salisbury, vol. 3 (1931) p. 3.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    The locus classicus of this view is E. Garcke, The Progress of Electrical Enterprise, (1907).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    H. O. O’ Hagan, Leaves from My Life, vol. 1 (1929) pp. 118–40.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Robert Hammond, The Electric Light in Our Homes, 1884, p. 176.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    See e.g. T. P. Hughes, Thomas Edison: Professional Inventor, (1976).Google Scholar
  16. 24.
    T. P. Hughes, ‘British Electrical Industry Lag: 1882–1888’, Technology and Culture, vol. 3 (1962) pp. 27Senary-44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 28.
    S. Z. de Ferranti and R. Ince, The Life and Letters of S. Z. de Ferranti, (1934), especially pp. 57–104.Google Scholar
  18. 30.
    R. H. Parsons, The Steam Turbine and other Inventions of Sir C. Parsons, O.M. (1942).Google Scholar
  19. 31.
    C. Merz and W. McLellan, Tower Station Design’, JIEE, vol. 33 (1904) pp. 705–8;Google Scholar
  20. 34.
    F. M. L. Thompson, ‘Nineteenth Century Horse Sense’, Economic History Review, vol. 29 (1976) p. 80.Google Scholar
  21. 35.
    P. Dunsheath, A History of Electrical Engineering (1962) pp. 178–95.Google Scholar
  22. 37.
    V. Knox, ‘The Economic Effects of the Tramway Act, 1870’, Economic Journal, vol. 11 (1901) p. 492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 40.
    H. J. Habakkuk, ‘Fluctuations in Housebuilding in Britain and the United States in the Nineteenth Century’, Journal of Economic History, vol. 22 (1962) p. 211.Google Scholar
  24. and see generally T. Barker and M. Robbins, A History of London Transport, vol. 1 (1963),Google Scholar
  25. 44.
    Quoted in A. E. Musson, Enterprise in Soap and Chemicals. Joseph Crossfield and Sons Ltd., 1815–1965 (Manchester 1965) p. 211.Google Scholar
  26. 45.
    R. B. du Boff, ‘The Introduction of Electric Power in American Manufacturing’, Economic History Review, vol. 20 (1967) pp. 509–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 46.
    I. C. R. Byatt, ‘Electrical Products’ in D. H. Aldcroft (ed.), The Development of British Industry and Foreign Competition 1875–1914 (1968) pp. 255–8.Google Scholar
  28. 49.
    The Genesis of the Present Pricing System in Electricity Supply’, Oxford Economic Papers, vol. 15 (1963). and see also the discussion on domestic tariffs, pp. 199–200 below.Google Scholar
  29. 50.
    L. Crouch, ‘Electrical Development in Industrial Areas’, Electrical Review, 12 January 1912, p. 75.Google Scholar
  30. 55.
    B. J. Barber, ‘Leeds Corporation 1835–1905: A History of the Environmental, Social and Administrative Services’, unpublished PhD thesis, Leeds, 1975.Google Scholar
  31. 56.
    J. Chamberlain, ‘Municipal Government; Past, Present and Future’, The New Review, no. 61 (June 1894) p. 658;Google Scholar
  32. see also A. Briggs, History of Birmingham, vol. 2 (1952) chapters 1–4.Google Scholar
  33. 58.
    E.g. E. Garcke, The Limitations of Municipal Trading (1900);Google Scholar
  34. idem, The Progress of Electrical Enterprise (1907);Google Scholar
  35. and generally N. Soldon, ‘Laissez-Faire as Dogma: The Liberty and Property Defence League 1882–1914’, in K. D. Brown (ed.), Essays in Anti-Labour History: Responses to the Rise of Labour in Britain, (1974).Google Scholar
  36. 60.
    Joint Select Committee on Electrical Energy Generating Stations and Supply, Report, HofC IX 1898, p. 615.Google Scholar
  37. 63.
    Mr J. C. Macdona, Progressive Conservative member for Southwark, Rotherhithe, HC Deb, 4th series, vol. 79, col. 1374, 1 March 1900.Google Scholar
  38. 64.
    See also J. Rowland, Progress in Power, (1960) for an account of the role of Merz & McLellan.Google Scholar
  39. 65.
    J. T. Merz, A History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century, vol. 1 (1896) p. 92;Google Scholar
  40. and cf. C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge, 1959).Google Scholar
  41. 66.
    C. H. Merz and W. McLellan, ‘Power Station Design’, JIEE, vol. 33 (1904) pp. 696–793.Google Scholar
  42. 67.
    C. Vernier, Chairman’s address to Newcastle Local Section, JIEE, vol. 52 (1914) pp. 17–18;Google Scholar
  43. 73.
    S. Z. de Ferranti, presidential address, JIEE, vol. 46 (1911).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Electricity Council 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie Hannah
    • 1
  1. 1.Emmanuel CollegeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations