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Gisbert Kapp

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Gisbert Johann Eduard Kapp (aka Gilbert John Edward Kapp) (1852–1922), electrical engineer and university teacher

1852 Born 2 September in Mauer, Austria, the first of two children of Johann Gisbert Sebastian Kapp, a senior civil servant, and his wife, Aloisia Theresia Young, a professional singer, born in Linz of Scottish descent.

Educated at parish and secondary schools in Vienna,

1864 to 1869 attended the Deutsche Oberrealschule, Prague.

1869 studied mechanical engineering at the Eidgenössisches Polytechnikum, Zürich

1872 Service in the Austrian navy,

1873 Went to England and accepted the post of chief draughtsman at Gwynne and Co, Hammersmith

1879 joined Richard Hornsby and Sons at Grantham, as a sales representative in Italy, Russia, and North Africa.

1881 As a result of visiting the Paris Electrical Exhibition, Kapp decided to become an electrical engineer.

1881 became a naturalized British subject.

1882 Despite his lack of electrical engineering knowledge, Kapp was engaged by R. E. B. Crompton as manager of his Chelmsford works. Patented a number of inventions jointly with Crompton.

1884 married Theresa Mary Krall, daughter of a London coffee merchant. They had two sons, Reginald Otto (b. 1885) and Norman Gisbert (b. 1887).

1884 Established his own consulting electrical engineering practice. He designed electrical equipment for W. H. Allen and Co, and supervised their electrical department.

1885 developed a theory of the magnetic circuit — a concept which was also developed independently at about the same time by John Hopkinson (1849 - 1898).

From 1886 to 1889 he was the London editor of Industries, a weekly technical journal.

Towards the end of the decade he undertook some consultancy work for the Brush Company. His dynamos were widely used, and some of his designs were installed in the St. Pancras Power Station, London, in 1891.

From April 1891 to 1893, working with W. H. Preece, he designed a new electric power station and distribution scheme for Bristol Corporation (see Bristol Electric Light Station).

1894 Kapp moved to Berlin on appointment as general secretary of the new Verband Deutscher Elektrotechniker (VDE) and editor of its journal. He also taught part-time at the Technische Hochschule at Charlottenburg.

1901 Communicated as representing the "German Electrical Technical Association"

1905 returned to England as the first professor of electrical engineering at Birmingham University

1909 he was elected president of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

1919 retired from the university.

1922 Died at home in Selly Oak, Birmingham.

1922 Obituary [1]

"By the death of Dr. Gisbert Kapp, who passed away at his home at Selly Park, Birmingham, on the 10th of this month, the electrical profession has lost one of its most able members. Although the last few years of his life seem to have been spent in almost complete retirement, he was. as all electrical engineers know, one of the foremost and most ingenious of electrical experts, anti his work will long be remembered. Dr. Kapp was born at Mauer, near Vienna, on September 2nd, 1852, his father being German and his mother Scottish. After working some time in an engineering factory in Germany and having studied at the Zurich Polytechnic, he became in 1873 a member of the engineering staff at the Vienna International Exhibition, and two years later he came to England to take up a post with Messrs. Gwynne and Co. Subsequently he spent a few years in travelling on the Continent and in the North of Africa ; but in 1882 he returned to England, where he met Colonel Crompton, who made him electrical designer at his Chelmsford works.

In conjunction with Colonel Crompton he invented, among other things, a system of compounding dynamos and new electrical instruments for measuring Current and electromotive force. He also took out patents on his own account for electrical measuring instruments that could be permanently calibrated bv using over-saturated electro-magnets, a selfregulating arc lighting dynamo, an alternating-current dynamo, a high-speed steam engine, a system

of alternating-current distribution, a return feeder traction booster, and a transformer which was patented jointly with Messrs. W. H. Snell and Kent.

In the spring of 1885 Dr. Kapp left Crompton's works in order to enter business by himself ns a dynamo designer, and a number of linns, including Messrs. W. H. Allen, Johnson and Phillips, and F. M. Newton, of Taunton, began to build his direct-current. machines under licence. His alternator was not taken up by any manufacturer in this country, but the Oerlikon Company constructed the machine for some years and installed somo fairly large water turbine-driven units in the Zurich central station. In the design of his alternator Kapp aimed at making the whole of the armature winding active, which led to the development of a disc, armature with a coiled band iron core ; but eventually this and other early machines were superseded by the revolving field and fixed armature machine. In the early days Dr. Kapp also gave much attention to t he design of transformers. Whilst some designers were endeavouring to reduce the hysteresis loss, others to save iron and copper, and others to reduce the inductive drop. Kapp was endeavouring to minimise labour and to utilise every scrap of iron in the sheet from which the laminations were punched. His first transformer proved a failure, because it made a great deal of noise, and the simple design had to bo abandoned in favour of a transformer which involved separate sheets interleaved nt the corners, a construction which required more labour and led to a slight waste of iron. Eventually ho and othor engineers discovered that the most important factors in transformer design were strong mechanical construction, interleaved joints, alloyed iron, subdivision of the winding, good insulation and efficient cooling.

In 1888 Dr. Kapp commenced practice as a consulting engineer. He also became a frequent contributor to technical journals, including the Electrician and The Engineer, and in 1880 he accepted an appointment ns editor of Industries. In 1885 he read a paper before the Institution of Civil Engineers on “ Modern Dynamos and their Engines.” for which ho received a Telford premium and medal. His book on “ 'Pho Electrical Transmission of Energy ” was published in 1880, the fourth edition appearing in 1894. From time to time he read a fair number of papers before the Institution of Electrical Engineers, of which he eventually became president. His earliest paper before that body seems to have been read in 1880, when the Institution was known as the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians, the title of the paper being “ The Pre-determination of the Characteristics of a Dynamo.” Another early paper which he read before this Society was on “ Alternating-current Transformers.” That was in 1888, whilst a year later he presented a paper at the Institution of Civil Engineers on “ Alternating-current Machinery."

As a lecturer on electrical engineering Dr. Kapp was always interesting. In the spring of 1881 he gave three Cantor lectures on “ Electric. Transmission of Power " at the Society of Arts. He also lectured at the School of Military Engineering on “ Electric Tramways and Alternating Currents.” Ho was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Electrical Engineers, nnd a honorary member of the Physical Society, of Frankfort. In the autumn of 1894 he left. England to take up an appointment ns secretary to the General Association of Engineers in Germany nnd to become editor of the Elektroicchnisclie Zeitschrift. He was also one of the lecturers on electrical engineering nt the technical high school in Charlottenburg; but in December, 1904, be wns appointed to the newly created Chair of Electrical Engineering at the Birmingham University. Tn recognition of his services whilst in Germany, two of the technical high schools conferred the title of Doctor of Engineering upon him. In 1913 ho acted as British delegate at the Electro-technical Commission meeting held in Berlin. The best known of his books nre “ Dynamos, Alternators and Transformers.” “ The Transformer,” and “ Electro-mechanical Design,” the latter being translated into French, Italian, Russian and German. For some years prior to his death Dr. Kapp took a great interest in power factor correction, and besides rending papers on the subject, he invented the vibrating type of phase advancer, which appears to have mot with a very fair measure of success."

1922 Obituary [2]

GISBERT KAPP, Dr.Eng., was born at Mauer, near Vienna, in 1852, and died at Selly Park, Birmingham, on 10th August, 1922. His father was a native of Trieste, and Civil Governor of that town. His mother was Scotch.

He received his education as an engineer at the Zuiich Politechnic School under Professors Zeuner and Kohlrausch. The good grounding obtained in mechanical engineering was evidenced throughout his successful career.

After some practical experience and a year's service in the Austrian Navy, he came to England in 1875 and spent the most of his life in this country. He took out his naturalization papers as soon as possible and always looked upon England as his home. At first he was employed by Messrs. Gwynne and Co. in the design of centrifugal pumps, and was responsible for some land-drainage schemes in Holland. This was followed by some time spent as the representative of Messrs. Hornsby in Russia, Italy, and on the north coast of Africa.

Dr. Kapp's connection with electrical engineering commenced in 1882, when he was appointed by Colonel Crompton to be engineer of the Chelmsford works, and this connection lasted until the spring of 1885. The Patent Office records show that these years were fruitful in inventions for improvement in both the mechanical and electrical construction of dynamos, and for measuring instruments, etc. These patents were taken out conjointly with Colonel Crompton, and included one for the compound winding of dynamos.

In 1885 he commenced his practice as an independent electrical expert. He continued to make improvements in dynamos and his designs were manufactured by several firms in this country. His first paper on the subject, " Modern Dynamos and Their Engines," was read that year before the Institution of Civil Engineers and was awarded the Telford Medal and Premium. This paper is of historic interest and clearly shows the progress which had been made at that date in dynamo design, and the great need there was for improvement in many of the machines then on the market. The discussion indicates the general want of knowledge at that time as to the design of the magnetic circuit. Dr. Kapp's methods of calculation were simple and clear and, as a result, his paper helped many engineers to improve the machines for which they were responsible.

In 1886 he read a paper before the Institution of Electrical Engineers on " The Predetermination of the Characteristics of Dynamos " which was another step in the same direction. In the same year the first edition of his book on " Electric Transmission of Energy " was published. Dr. Kapp wrote for the ordinary engineer, and avoided higher mathematics as much as possible. He did much to introduce the graphical treatment of electrical problems. His formulas were always based on- practical tests, and the information he obtained in this way was freely communicated to his contemporaries. This was done at a time when secrecy in such matters was too often the rule, and hence the exceptional value of his publications. In 1889 he read a paper on " Alternators " before the Institution of Civil Engineers, which is also historic and received the Telford Medal and Premium.

In 1889 he introduced the multipolar type of direct-current dynamo, the first machines being installed in the St. Pancras electricity works. These dynamos had cast-iron field magnets, and worked successfully. They were the first examples of the now universally' adopted type. In the same year the Amberley-road station of the Metropolitan Electric Supply Co. was equipped with alternators designed by him. These machines had iron armature cores, whereas most of the alternators at that date were constructed without any iron in the revolving armatures. In 1891 he designed the first Corporation electricity works at Bristol acting as joint Consulting Engineer to the Corporation with the late Sir William Preece. He was then practising as consulting engineer in Westminster, and he designed several power distribution schemes for use abroad. His chief interest still lay in the perfection of electrical machinery and his patents are remarkable for their practical nature. Amongst these were several for the improvement in the mechanical design of dynamos and transformers, also a system of two-rate metering of electricity to enable the current supplied during the daytime to be charged at a lower rate than that supplied during the peak lighting hours. He also invented the system of negative boosting for the return feeders of electric tramways, which was widely adopted.

From 1894 to 1905 Dr. Kapp acted as Secretary of the Verband Deutscher Elektrotechniker in Berlin. At the same time he was Editor of the Elektrotechnische Zeitschrifi. The object of the Society was standardiza- tion, and Dr. Kapp's thorough technical knowledge aided greatly in the work. His power of organization and tact were even more essential in reconciling many conflicting interests. As a result of his efforts a series of Standard Specifications were issued by the Society, and have been more or less adopted in other countries. Another series of regulations for electrical work, wiring rules, etc., were also prepared at this time. While living in Berlin, Dr. Kapp lectured to the post-graduate students of the Technical High School at Charlottenburg on electrical design, and the Universities of Dresden and Karlsruhe both conferred on him their honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering. With all these responsibilities Dr. Kapp still found time to act as independent electrical adviser, and his services were in demand. Besides acting as arbitrator, he designed schemes for power supply, lighting and traction. Amongst the towns he advised were Moscow, Trieste, Leipsig and Trondjiem. He had also to do with power schemes in Switzerland and Italy.

In 1904 he was offered the new professorship of electrical engineering by the Birmingham University, and he received a hearty welcome back to England on taking up his duties the next year. He devoted himself almost entirely to his students, giving the lectures on electrical engineering personally. His wide knowledge both of English and Continental practice added great interest to these lectures and he had a wonderful power of stating concisely the essentials of any particular equipment or process. The growth of the Department was seriously handicapped by the War, as the University buildings were converted into a hospital and most of the students into soldiers. Dr. Kapp always encouraged independent thought, and his students took their lead from him. It was during this time that he perfected the vibrating phase-advancer for improving the power factor of alternating-current motors. The students obtained valuable experience in the experimental work on this type of apparatus which has been widely adopted in this country. He retired from the University in 1919. Soon after his return to England he began to have trouble with his eyes and for the last few years was seldom free from great discomfort. He did not allow this to interfere with his activities. Elected an Associate in 1883 and a member in 1887, his connection with the Institution of Electrical Engineers extended over nearly 40 years and he served ten of these on the Council. He contributed 11 papers to the Proceedings and regularly took part in the discussions on papers read by others. While in Birmingham he took a most active part in the meetings of the Local Centre and was Chairman in 1907-8. Elected Vice-President in 1907, he was made President of the Institution in 1909 and his Address was a wonderful resume of progress. His record as a pioneer of the electrical industry is an exceedingly full one. When working at his usual high pressure he spared neither himself nor those associated with him. He made many friends and was a delightful host. His recreations were sailing, golf and music.

He married in 1884 Therese Mary Krall, and had two sons, both of whom have followed in their father's profession.

1922 Obituary[3]

"Although Dr. Kapp’s name is not definitely associated with any of the great discoveries and inventions which have marked the progress of electrical engineering and have allowed a great step forward to be taken from time to time, it none the less has been prominently and honourably connected with almost the whole history- of what is generally known as heavy electrical engineering.' Dr. Kapp was trained as a mechanical engineer, but became connected with electric work at about the age- of 29 when he was appointed manager to Crompton’s Chelmsford works and was associated with Colonel Crompton in the design of a compound dynamo. This was about the year 1882, and from that time until his death, which took place at Birmingham on the 10th inst., Dr. Kapp was connected as a designer, consulting engineer and teacher with almost every aspect of the progress which electrical generating and converting machinery has made in the last forty years. One of his latest contributions to practical work was his phase advancer, which is manufactured by the General Electric Company.

Gisbert John Edward Kapp was born at Mauer, near Vienna, on September 2, 1852. His parentage was German-Scottish. .His technical education was received at the Zurich Polytechnic, which has turned out so many first-class men. He went to Zurich in his 17th year, and after gaining a mechanical engineering diploma in 1872, obtained an appointment -with the Machinenfabrik Augsburg in Germany. He remained there little more than a year, and during the year following was an engineer in the Imperial Austrian Navy, where his work was mainly assisting at and reporting on trial trips. In 1875 he came to this country and obtained an appointment as a draughtsman with Messrs. Gwynnes, of Hammersmith, where he was concerned with the design of large steam-driven centrifugal pumps for draining reclaimed lands, known as polders, in Holland. He was engaged in that country to a considerable extent for his firm until 1879, when he joined Messrs. Hornsby, of Grantham. His work in connection with this firm also took him on to the Continent, as his post was definitely concerned with the introduction of the firm’s products in Russia, Italy and North Africa.

Dr. Kapp’s definitely electrical career may be said to have begun in 1882, when he joined Messrs. Crompton, and was appointed manager of the Chelmsford works. As already stated, he was first engaged with Colonel Crompton on the working out of a method of compounding dynamos, and a racy and amusing account of some part of that work was given by Colonel Crompton in the reminiscences which he contributed to the Commemoration meetings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers held last February.. During his connection -with Crompton’s, Kapp’s inventive ability displayed itself very fully and either alone, or in conjunction with the head of the firm, he designed various electrical measuring instruments, an electricity meter, and many features adapted to improve the working and efficiency of the dynamo. In 1884, Dr. Kapp broke his connection with Chelmsford and started a consulting practice in Westminster. At this time his ability, coupled with the practical electrical experience he had obtained, gave him an important position in the electrical engineering world and he acted as consultant for the Westminster Electric Supply Corporation, Messrs. W. H. Allen and Co., and Messrs. Johnson and Phillips. These latter films, in addition to Messrs. Laurence Scott, of Norwich, and Messrs. Newton, of Taunton, at that time manufactured dynamos to Dr. Kapp’s designs.

Dr. Kapp wrote many technical articles and books in the course of his life, and the period following his setting up in Westminster was very active in this respect. He contributed to The Electrician and The Engineer, and in 1886 became London editor of Industries, an engineering weekly which ran for a number of years during this period. In 1885 he was elected an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and in the same year read a paper before the Institution on “Modern Dynamos and their Engines.” In 1899 he read a further paper before the Institution of Civil Engineers entitled “ Alternate-Current Machinery.” For these papers he was awarded a Telford medal and premium. He was elected a full member of the Institution in 1891. Dr. Kapp also read various papers before the Institution of Electrical Engineers, to which he was elected an associate member in 1883 and a full member in 1887. He was later chairman of the Birmingham Local Section, and was president of the Institution in 1909. His presidential address was a long one and was distinguished for the completeness with which it entered into technical detail. In 1886 Dr. Kapp published a book on the “ Electric Transmission of Energy,” which went through a number of editions and was later followed by other works on “ Transformers,” “ Dynamo Construction,” “ The Principles of Electrical Engineering and their Application,” and other subjects. Dr. Kapp’s books were of a practical nature and dealt with theoretical principles in a way that assisted their application in the workshop. His works were of great assistance to many engineers, particularly in the earlier years when a knowledge of the principles of electrical design was less widespread than it is to-day.

The literary activities which followed the year 1884 did not interfere with Dr. Kapp’s consulting business, which was continued until 1894, when he accepted the secretaryship of the Verband Deutscher Elektrotechniker, and'with it the editorship of the Society’s journal, the Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift. This post naturally involved his residence in Berlin, and in the years that followed he held a lectureship in electrical engineering at the Technical High School, Charlottenberg. He was also still able to continue with his consulting work, and he carried out many schemes in Germany, Norway, Sweden and Italy, as well as in this country. His literary work was also continued. Apart from bis educational work and his contributions to the development of dynamo design, he did good work, as far as this country was concerned, in connection with the introduction of three-phase working. He himself told at the Commemoration Meeting of the Institution of Electrical Engineers how in 1891 he had been instructed to prepare plans for an overseas three-phase installation, and how difficult he found it to induce English manufacturers to consider the matter at all. He finally adopted a two-phase plant produced from single-phase machines mechanically coupled and obtained a very satisfactory job from, an English firm.

In 1894 Dr. Kapp returned to the country of his adoption, when he was appointed to the Chair of Electrical Engineering in the then newly-formed University of Birmingham. By that time he had attained a European reputation and the appointment was very generally, welcomed in this country. He retained the post until 1919, and did goodwork in the professional sphere, his long connection with practical work and his consulting connections which he still retained enabling him to bring a sound engineering outlook into the class-room.

He retired in 1919, owing to advancing years, but still maintained an active interest in electrical matters and carried on some consulting work from his home at Selly Oak, Birmingham. Dr. Kapp appeared to age somewhat rapidly of recent years, and this was very noticeable when he spoke on railway electrification at the joint meeting of the engineering institutions at Birmingham last January. He, however, continued at work to the end, and had been ill only some ten days when he died on the 10th inst."

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Sources of Information

  • Biography, ODNB