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Benjamin James Hall

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Benjamin James Hall (1865-1934) of B. J. Hall and Co

He designed the first practical electric copying machine.


1934 Obituary [1]

BENJAMIN JAMES HALL was the inventor in 1896 of the electric copier which has revolutionized drawing-office practice in all countries. Prior to this invention, photographic copies of plans and drawings could only be made in sunshine or bright daylight, and in winter when the light was inadequate, copies had to be made by hand. The invention owed its success largely to the adoption of an enclosed arc lamp, which, although it gave unsatisfactory illumination for lighting, produced invisible actinic rays which affected the sensitized materials much more powerfully than visible rays.

Mr. Hall was born at Stratford on Avon in 1865 and served an apprenticeship from 1880 to 1886 with the London and South Western Railway at Nine Elms.

He then spent a year in the drawing office of a civil engineer at Torquay and subsequently became leading draughtsman at the works of the West Cumberland Iron and Steel Company, Workington.

In 1888 he joined the Lowca Engineering Company, of Whitehaven, in a similar capacity and designed the plant at the Moss Bay steel works.

He went into business as a consulting engineer on his own account in London in 1895, and a year later brought out his invention of the cylindrical electric copier. In partnership with his brother-in-law he founded the firm of Messrs. B. J. Hall and Company, manufacturers of drawing-office materials, of which company he was chairman until his death on 28th April 1934.

In 1904 he invented a process of copying in permanent black lines on unsensitized paper or tracing cloth, without shrinkage; this was the chief black line printing process used in this country during the War. The continuous drum copier was invented by Mr. Hall in 1906.

During the War he designed and constructed emergency paper-sensitizing machinery, as the German supplies of that material were cut off. Zinc plates were also unobtainable and he invented a coating table which made it possible to copy plans 20 feet long in one piece, true to scale. He also invented a penetrometer for testing road materials.

Mr. Hall was elected an Associate Member of the Institution in 1896 and was transferred to Membership in 1921.


1934 Obituary [2]

BENJAMIN JAMES HALL passed away on April 28, 1934, after a short illness.

The son of the Rev. Richard Hall, B.A., a Hebrew and Greek scholar, he was born at Stratford-on-Avon on February 7, 1867. He resolved to become an engineer and, having served his apprenticeship in the usual way, he rose to the position of chief draughtsman in an engineering works at Workington.

In 1895 he resigned his position in the North of England and came to London to set up as a consulting engineer. He occupied his spare time with the designing of various machines, and shortly his attention was directed to the question of the copying of drawings and plans. At that time photographic copies of engineering drawings could only be made in sunshine or bright daylight; it frequently happened during the winter months that for long periods at a time the daylight was inadequate and copies had to be made by hand.

In 1896 Mr. Hall designed what is believed to be the first practical electric copying machine; its success was due to the unorthodox adjustment of the carbon arc employed as the source of illumination; the rays produced, although unsatisfactory for purposes of illumination, had a powerful effect on the sensitised material. The electric copier attracted much attention, and subsequently, in partnership with his brother-in-law, Mr. Hall founded the firm of Messrs. B. J. Hall & Co., Ltd., drawing-office material manufacturers, of which he was chairman until his death.

Mr. Hall became an associate member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1896 and was transferred to the rank of member in 1921. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1919. Mr. Hall had for long been a member of the Iron and Steel Institute, his election having taken place in 1894. At the annual meeting of the Institute in 1896 he read a paper on "The Ford and Moncur Hot Blast Stove"; this stove had been first introduced some twelve years previously, and was afterwards adopted in many blast-furnace plants.


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