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John Matthias Augustus Stroh

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John Matthias Augustus Stroh (1828-1914)


1915 Obituary [1]

JOHN MATTHIAS AUGUSTUS STROH died at his house on Haverstock Hill, N.W., on the 2nd November, 1914, in the 87th year of his age.

He had been a Member of the Institution for 40 years, having been elected on the 24th February, 1875. His proposer was Wildman Whitehouse and his candidature was seconded by the following Members, Carl Becker, Professor (afterwards Sir) Frederick Abel, Robert Sabine, George Preece, and Major (afterwards Colonel, Sir Frank) Bolton, all of whom as well as his proposer having predeceased him by several years.

He was a Member of the Council of the Institution from 1880 until 1889, and again from 1894 to 1896. He also served as Honorary Auditor from 1890 to 1897, and in 1881 was appointed one of the British Delegates to the Electrical Congress which was held in Paris in that year in connection with the Exposition Universelle de l'Electricite.

He contributed two papers to the Proceedings of the Institution, to which reference will be made later, and he gave the Institution the benefit of his experience on subjects with which he was specially familiar on many occasions in the discussion of papers by other members.

Mr. Stroh was born at Frankfort-on-Main on the 7th May, 1828. He left school at a comparatively early age and was apprenticed to a clock- and watch-maker in his native town, and he showed such great proficiency for accurate mechanism and construction that he came out of the examinations first on the list, and the examiners, as a mark of their appreciation of his work, presented him with the test instrument he had constructed (a special form of clock escapement), a concession that never before had been made to a competitor.

Hearing about the wonders to be seen at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park (London) in 1851 he spent his holiday by paying a visit to London in that year, and was so impressed not only by what he saw but by the institutions and scientific advancement of this country that he made England his home and not long after became a naturalized British subject.

Within two or three years of his arrival in England Mr. Stroh was introduced to the late Professor (afterwards Sir Charles) Wheatstone, and an association thus begun lasted until the death of Sir Charles Wheatstone, which took place in 1875. Throughout this period, owing to the mechanical and inventive genius of Mr. Stroh, Wheatstone produced an immense number of appliances connected with telegraphy and with acoustics. One of the most important of them was the A.B.C. telegraph, which was used for many years in banks and houses of business as well as in private houses until it was replaced after 1878 by the far more convenient telephone.

The most important, however, of these joint inventions was what is known as the "Wheatstone Automatic" system, which is so largely used in the British Post Office at the present day and is the most rapid system in existence ; and even in 1878 it was thought so much of on the Continent that it won for Mr. Stroh the Gold Medal (Medaille de Collaborates) awarded to him by the International jury of the Paris Exhibition of 1878.

In the year 1860 Mr. Stroh took premises in London which he converted into a factory for the construction of the Wheatstone and Stroh instruments, at which place he designed and manufactured many instruments for the Post Office, besides working out many of his own very beautiful devices in aid of research or for demonstration of physical phenomena.

These works were, in the year 1880, taken over by the Post Office, for which he received a considerable sum, which enabled him to retire from business and to devote the whole of his energies to original work in connection with almost every branch of physical and mechanical science.

Mr. Stroh, as all his friends knew, was a most skilful and accomplished mechanician, and he established at his house on Haverstock Hill a workshop in which he spent the greater part of his remaining years in the designing and construction of the most delicate physical instruments to aid him in his very unique researches.

At the Paris Electrical Exhibition of 1881 the exhibit that, probably more than any other, excited the interest of scientific men was the series of very beautiful demonstrations contributed by Professor Carl Anton Bjerknes, Professor of Mathematics in the University of Christiania, illustrating his mathematical research upon attraction and repulsion produced by vibration of bodies moving in a viscous liquid demonstrating, in a most remarkable manner, an analogy between those phenomena and those of electricity and magnetism. This was pre-eminently a subject that would appeal to Mr. Stroh's love for a physical research which required the construction and use of especially delicate apparatus, and Mr. Stroh immediately took up the subject, and by means of the most exquisite apparatus, entirely constructed by himself, he extended the research and demonstrated the phenomena without the use of viscous fluids but in air at' ordinary pressures. Mr. Stroh brought these experiments before the Institution in a paper in which he treated the subject in a most exhaustive manner, which was read at the meeting held on the 27th April, 1882, and of which the following was the title, "On Attraction and Repulsion due to Sonorous Vibrations, and a Comparison of the Phenomena with those of Magnetism " (Journal of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians, vol. 11, p. 192, 1882). This paper excited the most intense enthusiasm. The late Colonel Webber was President, and an interesting discussion followed in which the following Members took part: the late Professor Guthrie, the late Sir William Preece, and Professor George Forbes.

Mr. Stroh contributed only one other paper to the Institution, namely, "On the Adhesion of Metals produced by Currents of Electricity," which was read on the 14th April, 1880, during the Presidency of the late Sir William Preece (Journal of the Society of Telegraph Engineers, vol. 9, p. 182, 1880), but he gave the Institution the benefit of his experience on many occasions. Mr. Stroh was, however, of so modest and retiring a nature that he could only be induced to speak when from his special knowledge of a subject he could add to the value of the discussion.

Mr. Stroh was a distinguished horologist, and had at his house a magnificent collection of watch and chronometer movements embracing every variety of escapement and exhibiting refinements of construction for eliminating errors of every description. In early life he constructed with his own hands a watch of high quality, the dimensions of which, i.e. diameter and thickness, were the same as those of a half-crown, and this he presented to Sir Charles Wheatstone, in whose family it has remained ever since.

In 1860 Mr. Stroh devised a system of electric clocks whereby a number of dials were worked from a parent or motor clock. The dials were actuated by continuously revolving astatic galvanometers synchronously driven by alternating currents transmitted by the pendulum of the motor clock. An especial feature of this clock was the very beautiful almost frictionless escapement, the pallets being in the form of anchors which made a rolling contact with the teeth of the 'scape-wheel. Mr. Stroh was a man who never touched a thing without improving it, and soon after the introduction into this country of the phonograph he constructed an instrument entirely in aluminium which has never been excelled for perfection of performance, for uniformity of speed, and for silence in its mechanical working. This was due to two features, the perfection of workmanship and the extraordinary efficiency of the governor which regulated the speed. Acoustics and the analysis of musical notes occupied much of the interest and work of Mr. Stroh. As far back as 1872 he devised a musical instrument the notes of which were produced by a single vibrating tongue or reed, the effective length of which was controlled by a set of keys arranged on a finger-board, and so delicate was it in its action that the various notes produced were musically pure and extended over three octaves. He also constructed an instrument for analysing and recording on paper the successions of sonorous vibrations set up by a piece of music performed by an orchestra, a chorus or a vocalist. He showed this as one of the illustrations to a discourse he gave at the Royal Institution at one of the Friday evening meetings, on the 17th February, 1879, its title being "On Studies in Acoustics : a Synthetic Examination of Vowel Sounds." Another subject in which Mr. Stroh excelled was photography, and it would be difficult to say if he most excelled in landscape work, in portraiture, in stereoscopy, or in the production of photographs in their natural colours, for he was always up to date; and the apparatus he used was nearly always designed and constructed by himself.

Besides being a Member of the Institution he was also a Member of the Physical Society, of the Royal Institution, of the Camera Club, and of the Societe Internationale des Electriciens, and he served on the juries of awards at several of the international exhibitions. He was one of the most modest and retiring of men, and there can be but little doubt that but for these admirable qualities he might have received the highest honours in this and other countries; but he was honoured and beloved by all his friends, who knew his worth and admired his character. He was one of the central figures in a little coterie which used to meet for their midday meal three times a week, first at "The Horse Shoe" and more recently at Frascati's. This little group of genial companions was composed of the late Professor Hughes, Mr. Buckney, our late Secretary, Mr. F. H. Webb, Mr. Heaviside, Mr. Horton, Professor Spooner, and Mr. Conrad Cooke, and was often joined by the late Sir William Preece and by Professor George Forbes. By Mr. Stroh's death this little society must necessarily cease to exist, but his memory will long be cherished with affection by all who had the privilege of his friendship. He was married to a Miss King, who died some years before him, and he left one son and two daughters.

He was buried in Hampstead Cemetery.


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