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Sherard Osborn Cowper Coles

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Sherard Osborn Cowper Coles (1866–1936), Electrometallurgist and Inventor.

1866 Born, son of Captain Cowper Phipps Coles at Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Educated privately and at King's College, London, later studying at the Crystal Palace School of Engineering (1883–4) followed by research work at laboratories in London.

1885 Took out his first patent

1888 Entered business as a mechanical engineer

Late 1890 became manager of the London Metallurgical Co where he began to work on electrodeposition

1892 Awarded a silver medal for the electrodeposition of silver-cadmium alloys at the 1892 Crystal Palace Exhibition. Made electrogalvanizing a commercial possibility - adopted by the Admiralty and numerous dockyards.

1893 Set up in business again.

Received prizes and medals at many exhibitions.

Cowper-Coles invented the sherardizing process, which electrolytically produced a zinc coating on iron and steel rendering them rustproof, as the result of a chance discovery when annealing iron and steel packed in zinc dust to exclude air, which was patented in 1900.

A small company was formed and plant built at Willesden but commercial development was slow. Cowper-Coles, with limited scientific training, was perhaps unable to solve the problems. By the 1930s, when companies had adequately qualified staff and better facilities, the patent rights had lapsed.

1903 Co-founder of the Faraday Society

1912 Established laboratory adjacent to his home in Sunbury-on-Thames where he had a team of researchers. Work was often sponsored by firms, such as Westinghouse, or by the government.

1919 Cowper-Coles married Constance Hamilton Watts at the parish church of St James, Piccadilly. They had three sons.

1921 Registered a patent living at The Cottage, French Street, Sunbury-on-Thames. [1]

Gained more than 900 British patents in a wide range of fields.

1936 Died on 9 September 1936 at his home, Rossall House, Sunbury


1936 Obituary [2]

SHERARD OSBORN COWPER-COLES will be chiefly remembered for his remarkable researches into the electrodeposition of metals, and for his invention of the process of "Sherardizing" associated with his name.

He was born at Ventnor in 1866, the fourth son of Captain Phipps Cowper-Coles, C.B., R.N., inventor of the turret system of warships. He was educated privately and later studied at King's College, London.

In 1890 he became a manager of the London Metallurgical Company, which manufactured special machinery for metal stamping. Shortly afterwards he began his work on electro-deposition, and was awarded a silver medal at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1892, for his production of non-tarnishable silver. In the same year he succeeded in making electro-galvanizing a commercial possibility, which was adopted by the Admiralty and by many important dockyards.

He was the recipient of many honours in connexion with his inventions, including the Bessemer Medal in 1898 for his paper on protective metallic coatings for iron and steel, a silver medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1900, and a gold medal at the St. Louis Exhibition in 1904 for his process of manufacturing metallic reflectors for searchlights by electrodeposition, and the Grand Prix for electro-chemistry at the Franco-British Exhibition in 1908.

His publications were very numerous and indicated the range of his researches. He presented a paper in 1908 to the Institution on "The Direct Production of Copper Tubes, Sheets, and Wire," in which he described the centrifugal process which he evolved for the manufacture of copper wire; in this process the weakness due to a natural line of cleavage in the copper crystals was utilized to enable wire and strip to be unwound from the mandrel, by adopting a cathode with V-grooves.

Mr. Cowper-Coles established his own works at Sunbury on Thames in 1912 and there he extended his researches to the electrodeposition of iron, lead, zinc, cadmium, and many other metals; he was later a pioneer in the commercial application of chromium plating. He even experimented with the deposition of non-metallic surfaces, including rubber.

In addition he presented several papers on metallurgical problems, notably the recovery of gold from cyanide solutions, the treatment of complex sulphide ores, and aluminium welding. His "Sherardizing" process consisted essentially of the deposition in a low-temperature furnace of metallic coatings, such as zinc and cadmium, on iron or steel, to provide protection against corrosion. Later he extended the process to include additional metals, and devised methods for lining copper tubes with nickel, tin, and other metals. He also designed an automatic pickling and sheet-coating process.

A variation of "Sherardizing" was more recently brought out by him, and enabled the coating to be applied to metal in situ simply by means of spraying. In other directions his inventions included a process for recording sound directly on metal records, two varieties of window glass having special qualities, which he placed on the market, and a method for the fireproofing and preservation of timber.

He instigated the foundation of the Faraday Society, and at the time of his death, which occurred at Sunbury on Thames on 9th September 1936, he was preparing a lecture for presentation before that society.

Mr. Cowper-Coles was elected a Member of the Institution in 1892, and was also a Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and an Associate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1921/05/13
  2. 1936 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  • Biography of Sherard Osborn Cowper-Coles, ODNB [1]