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Ernest Wilson (1863-1932)

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Professor Ernest Wilson (1863-1932), electrical engineer and author.

1932 Obituary[1]


Many generations of electrical engineering students of King’s College, London, will hear with the deepest regret of the death of Professor Ernest Wilson, which occurred at Reigate, on Wednesday, February 17, at the age of 68. It may truly be said that seldom was a master more respected or more loved by his pupils than he. He devoted himself entirely to their welfare and was as interested in their play as in their; work. His idiosyncrasies only endeared him to them the more, and in English-student fashion they exhibited both their respect and their love by nicknaming him “ Freddy,” and the “ Little Professor,” carrying him in procession once a year from the college round the church of St. Mary-le-Strand, and listening to his flute solos on the occasion of their annual dinner. The explanation is simple: to the end he succeeded in remaining young.

Ernest Wilson was born on November 25, 1863, and was educated at the Grammar School, Alford,' Lincolnshire, at the Yorkshire College, Leeds, and at; the Königlische Technische Hochschule, Hanover,; where he studied under Kohlrausch. In 1882, he was' apprenticed to Mr. Arthur Greenwood, of Messrs. Greenwood and Batley, Leeds, for three years, and subsequently entered the employment of Messrs. Siemens Brothers and Company, Woolwich, as a draughtsman. During the next four years he was engaged with that firm in the design of dynamos and other plant, notably the electrical equipment of the locomotives for the City and South London Railway.: He also devised one of the earliest forms of polyphase motor, a type of machine which had shortly before that time been held to .be impossible, and took part in the design of the machinery for the Siemens Electrical Engineering Laboratory at King’s College, London,, which had been endowed by Lady Siemens as a memorial to her husband, the late Sir Charles William Siemens.'

In 1891, he was appointed assistant to John Hopkinson, the Professor of Electrical Engineering in that Institution, the two forming an excellent combination, since the clear vision of the one was complemented by the skill and dogged workmanship of the other. In those pre-examination days, the laboratory was a place where knowledge could be leisurely, though industriously, sought for its own sake, and it was these two qualities which characterised all Wilson’s work and, to some extent, no doubt, prevented him from securing full recognition for his activities in both physics and engineering. On the death of Hopkinson in 1898, he was appointed professor of electrical engineering at King’s College, a position he held until his retirement as Emeritus Professor in 1930.

During this period Wilson was engaged, inter alia, on a number of magnetic investigations, the results of which were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society under the titles of “ The Properties of Iron when Shielded from the Earth’s Magnetism ” ; “ The Production of High Permeability in Iron ” ; “ The Measurement of Low Magnetic Susceptibility by an Instrument of a New Type ” ; and “ The Susceptibility of Feebly Magnetic Bodies as Affected by Tension.” He also dealt with the subject of “ Magnetic Susceptibility of Low Order,” in three lectures which he delivered before the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1921, for which he was awarded the Kelvin Premium. He described a new form of string galvanometer in one of the numerous papers he read before the Physical Society. Reference may further he made to his researches upon the effect of exposure to the atmosphere on the electrical conductivity of light aluminium alloys and copper conductors, in the form of wire 0-126 in. in diameter. These extended over the period from 1901 to 1925; the results being reported upon from time to time in Engineering, and at the meetings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and the British Association. Using twenty-five alloys of aluminium with copper, nickel, manganese and zine, in amounts not exceeding 1 or 2 per cent., he found that the effect of copper alone, or of copper and manganese jointly, was continuously to diminish the conductivity of the alloy, while with copper and nickel or copper and zine or combinations of all three, the conductivity first decreased, then, in some cases, greatly increased and finally became constant. More recently, he made similar researches into the possibility of finding a light alloy of aluminium which could be used without a steel core for overhead lines, and published his results in a paper which appeared in the Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers just over a year ago. For this paper he was awarded an Extra Premium. In collaboration with Mr. F. Lydell he was the author of a well-known text book on “ Electrical Traction.”

Professor Wilson was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1912, and of the Institution of Electrioal Engineers in 1890, while he had served on the Council of the latter body."

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