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British Industrial History

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Wolf Defries

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Wolf Defries (1860-1931)

1889 of J. Defries and Sons


1931 Obituary [1]

WOLF DEFRIES, M.B.E., was associated for most of his life with his father's firm, Messrs. Defries and Sons, London, best known in connexion with display illumination lighting. His experience covered a wide range of activities, which included the manufacture of glass-ware lamps for railway companies, "Safety" paraffin oil lamps, pneumatic safety lamps, various signal and telegraph instruments, and work in connexion with the Pasteur filter.

Mr. Defries was interested in bacteriological work, and the firm produced some ingenious indicators for the sterilization of bedding, etc., in hospitals. With thick mattresses which were usually treated in the sterilizing chamber in a tightly-coiled condition, it was difficult to know if the necessary sterilizing temperature had been reached in the centre of the mass. A series of lead-tin-bismuth alloys was prepared and drawn into wire about 1 mm. in diameter. By inserting short coils of these wires in glass tubes in the bundles, it was possible to ascertain the distribution and degree of temperature by the melting of the wires.

Mr. Defries served a five years' apprenticeship with Mr. V. I. Feeny of London, and by devoting his evenings to study he obtained the B.A. degree of the University of London. He was a skilled writer and linguist and was awarded the M.B.E. in connexion with editorial publications for the Ministry of Munitions during the War. He also contributed extensively to the technical engineering press.

Mr. Defries died on 24th December 1931, in his seventy-second year.

He had been a Member of the Institution since 1889.


1932 Obituary[2]

"THE LATE MR. W. DEFRIES.

It is with a keen sense of personal loss that we record the death of Mr. Wolf Defries, which occurred after an operation, on December 24. Mr. Defries, who had been connected with London and London engineering circles during practically the whole course of his life, was known to a wide circle. He was seventy-one years of age at the time of his death, having been born in 1860. At the age of ten he was sent to University College School, where he remained six years, when he passed the matriculation examination of the University of London. He then entered University College, Gower-street, remaining there for two years and working under Professors W. K. Clifford, Carey Foster, and Alexander Kennedy. He had hoped to remain longer and to take a degree, but at his father’s request left at the end of the two years and entered business. By devoting his evenings to study, however, he, unknown to his parents, qualified himself and passed the examinations for the B.A. degree of the University of London. This incident is illustrative of the remarkable powers of application and hard work which Defries had, and of which we have seen many illustrations.

Defries’ father, Mr. Henry Defries, was head of the firm of Defries and Sons, but after leaving college the subject of our memoir did not immediately join the firm, hut was placed with Mr. V. I. Feeny, of Queen Victoria-street and Bermondsey, where he served an apprenticeship of five years, passing through the drawing office and shops. He then joined his father’s firm and was engaged in a wide range of engineering activities. The firm combined a manufacturing business with merchanting, and were concerned with both mechanical and electrical engineering of various kinds. At about the time Defries joined the firm, they produced a “ Safety ” paraffin oil, or kerosene, lamp. Many accidents and fires were caused by oil lamps, which were a common method of illumination in those days, following overturning, or breakage of the reservoir, and the Defries lamp, which had a metal container with a wick of circular form between inner and outer metal tubes, proved very successful. The firm also produced a pneumatic safety lamp and various electric signal and telegraph instruments. We believe they supplied glass-ware, lamps and similar material in large quantities to some of the railway companies.

Defries was interested in bacteriological work, and the firm was connected with the Pasteur filter. As an illustration of their range of work in this connection, mention may be made of some ingenious indicators which they produced for use in connection with the sterilisation of bedding and clothes in hospitals. With thick mattresses, which were usually treated in the sterilising chamber in a tightly-coiled condition, it was difficult to know if the necessary sterilising temperature had been reached in the centre of the mass. To obtain, in an inexpensive way, the necessary data on which future operations could be carried out, a series of lead-tin-bismuth alloys was prepared and drawn into wire about 1 mm. in diameter. By inserting short coils of these wires in glass tubes in the bundles, it was possible to ascertain the distribution and degree of temperature by the melting of the wires. The firm did much work in connection with theatre lighting and display work, as well as lighting effects for street decorations. They were extensively concerned in this way at the time of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887. It was shortly after this time that, in 1889, Defries joined the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, of which he was consequently a very old-standing Member. At a later date, Defries was concerned with a scheme to take over and operate part of the Thames Ironworks, which were then closed down, but, as far as we know, nothing came of the project.

During the war, Defries was not able tó fit himself into any direct line of work in the manufacture of munitions, but found a useful place in writing for, and editing publications for, the Ministry of Munitions. He was awarded an M.B.E. for this work. He was a skilled writer and good linguist, and shortly after the termination of the war began contributing articles to our columns. This connection gradually became definitely established, and although Defries was never actually on the staff of this journal, he was closely and continuously concerned with various spheres of work, and dealt with them regularly in our columns. His loss is a very real one, and not only his good nature and kindliness, but also his work, will be greatly missed from this office."


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