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William Edwards Staite

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1846 to 1853 William Petrie collaborated with Staite on electric lighting.

1848 The arc lamp they developed was displayed at the Hanover Square Rooms and on the portico of the National Gallery and the following year by lighting the old Hungerford Bridge.

1850 Petrie and Staite described their achievements to the Society of Arts but did not achieve financial success - the necessary electrical generators only became available in the 1870s.

On Monday evening, W. E. Staite, Esq., the patentee of the Electric Light (pursuant to the request of several gentlemen who had previously witnessed it), delivered a lecture explanatory of his invention, in the Lecture Room, Nelson-street, in this town. There was a numerous and highly respectable attendance, including several gentlemen of considerable scientific ability connected with the great mining and manufacturing establishments in the district. Some delay occurred, owing to a misunderstanding as to the hour appointed for commencing the proceedings.

'On Mr Staite appearing he was very cordially received. Having apologized for the delay, the cause of which he explained, he prefaced the experiments he was about to make (for such he desired to call them), by observing on the mysterious agency of electricity and its wonderful yet practical effects. It was not his purpose to treat of the abstract question, but he might remark that, according to his judgment, it had been proved that none of the forces of matter, electricity, heat, light, chemical affinity, or motion was independent, but correlative and dependent on each other, as he thought had been proved by Professor Groves in the papers he had read to the Royal Institution, and to whose publications he referred the inquirer in this interesting branch of knowledge. With a view of showing the properties of electricity he brought the terminal wires of the battery gradually together until fusion took place, and then applied the wire to a file which it burnt like a candle. [This beautiful illustration was received with loud applause.] He next exhibited the light both constant and intermittent, with a fresnel lens and parabolic reflector, amidst warm and general cheering. He then explained the construction of galvanometers used by him for measuring the progress of and weighing the electric fluid, and showed them in operation to Mr James Watson and one or two other gentlemen who, on the invitation of the lecturer, stepped upon the platform for the purpose.

'Mr. Watson said the experiments were exquisitely beautiful, if the audience could see and fully comprehend them. It was said that Franklin caught the Electrics fiery wing, but this gentleman appears to have caught the whole bird (applause).

'Mr Staites went on to explain the importance of another small instrument used by him, by which he was enabled to ascertain whether there was an excess of quantitative power in the battery, and to shut it off and regulate its passage according to the requirements of the lamp. After giving a full and lucid explanation of the invention, the lecturer slightly touched on the cost of producing the light. He stated that it was already in such a position as to compete successfully with other lights, and was quite willing to make such arrangments as would be satisfactory to the parties using the light; indeed he had taken steps, in two or three instances, to send tenders (applause). After some other observations, the lecturer referred to the applicability of the light for the purposes of lighting coal mines, inasmuch as it could be easily introduced, would not fire explosive gases, and would burn in a perfect vacuum. Since he had been in the north he had had the honour of meeting several gentlemen who take an interest in colliery pursuits, and he had been asked to get up a series of experiments with a view of illustrating the applicability of the light to coal-mines. He had only to say that he should be very happy to do so at some future period, and he had no hesitation in saying that it would be easy to construct a lamp which would not explode in the foulest carburetted hydrogen or other explosive mixtures. If such a lamp would be valuable, it could be had, and before long he hoped to be able to shew this by experiments in this neighbourhood (applause). Mr. Staite concluded by exhibiting a small light suited for private dwellings, perfectly self-regulating like the other, its chief characteristic being, that place of carbon points, or electrodes, the light is produced from a wire of the metal called irridium which does not consume unless exposed to a very intense heat. [We have only given a brief abstract of this interesting lecture, inasmuch as last week ample report of similar experiments Sunderland appeared in our columes].

'At the close of the lecture, Mr Hewitson rose to propose a vote of thanks to Mr Staite for his admirable address, and complimented him on the talent, energy, and perseverence which had enabled him to bring his beautiful invention to successful completion. He was delighted to hear of the adaptation of the light for the illumination of subterranean workings. Recent painful events had afforded evidence of the importance of having a perfectly safe light in coal mines, and if Mr Staite carried out his invention to this extent, he would not only reflect honour on himself, but benefit this district and serve the interests of humanity (applause). The motion was carried by acclamation.

'Mr Staite, in returning thanks, said he had come out of private society from conviction that it was his duty to bring before the public this invention. In doing so he endeavoured to leave self as much as possible out of the question, and in giving these public exhibitions he did not desire to put a shilling into his pocket, but merely to cover his expenses (applause).

'The proceedings then closed, several persons remaining behind to witness still further the lights and to elicit additional experiments from the lecturer, which we believe were entirely satisfactory.'[1]

1854 Staite conducted experiments with Charles Tilston Bright and his brother on electric lighting, which was exhibited nightly on the landing-stage at Liverpool.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury - Saturday 22 June 1850
  • Biography of William Petrie, ODNB