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Thomas Edmondson

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c.1850 Ticket printing and numbering machine
c.1850 Ticket date-stamping machine

Thomas Edmondson (1792-1851) was the inventor of the card-based printed railway ticket system.


1792 Born in Lancaster

Started work for Gillow and Co

1836 joined the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway as station master at Milton.

He later moved to Manchester, where in 1839 he became the chief ticket clerk at the terminal station of the Manchester and Leeds Railway.

He invented a system of printing and consecutively numbering railway tickets. Seeking a manufacturer, he approached Joseph Whitworth. Whitworth was not interested, but passed him on to William Muir, who at that time worked for Whitworth.

1842 When Muir left J. Whitworth and Co to start his own business, he continued to work with Edmondson. This was a fortuitous pairing. Edmondson's machine demanded a high level of precision in manufacture, and William Muir was ideally-placed to meet that need.

Note: Edmondson also engaged with his friend John Blaylock of Carlisle in the production of these machines, but it is not clear what part his company played in the production.

As Muir's business expanded, he and Edmondson moved into larger premises, Bateman and Sherratt's former Salford Iron Works at Miller's Lane, Greengate, Salford. Edmonson printed tickets on the upper floor, while Muir made the machines in other parts of the premises.[1]

The first production version of the printing machine was patented in 1850 (Patent No. 13,007).

1851 Thomas Edmondson 58, letter-press printer, was lodging in Broughton, with Rachel Edmondson 56, John Edmondson 19[2]

Thomas Edmondson died in 1851, and the business was continued by his son, John Beeby Edmondson, as Edmondson and Co.

Ticket Machines

c.1850 Edmondson's ticket machines were described and illustrated in the 1853 The Imperial Journal. See illustrations. One machine printed and numbered the tickets. Another, much more compact machine printed the dates when issued. A third machine (not shown here) counted tickets. The dating machine, a compact cylindrical cast iron device, can still be seen in use at some heritage railways. Edmundon's first dating machine was a simple wooden toggle-press.

The first of these printing machines were desktop-mounted and manually operated by a lever. The operator had to insert the appropriate block of type for printing all the details (apart from the consecutive numbers, which were printed by a separate part of the machine). The tickets were consecutively numbered 0000 to 9999 using two large wheels, each numbered 00 to 99. To provide some illustrations of the need for precise manufacture: the blank rectangular cards, about 1/32" thick, were stacked in the tall tube seen in the drawing. These had to be reliably drawn individually from the bottom of the stack and placed in line with the printing head. This picking and placing was done using a moving plate having a pocket of precisely-defined depth. The numbering wheels needed to have the embossing numbers and the corresponding ratchet teeth precisely indexed.

Note: Later models, patented by John Beeby Edmondson, James Carson (2) and John Blaylock in 1862, introduced considerable improvements, including a numbering system which used four small wheels, each numbered 0 to 9.[3]

1878 'THE RAILWAY TICKET SYSTEM. Mr. John B. Edmondson, of Cheetham, Manchester, contributes to the English Mechanic a notice of the system, now adopted by almost every country throughout the world, and of its originator or inventor, Mr. Thomas Edmondson. The son says:- 'The whole affair, not only tickets but the machinery for printing them, and arrangements for using them, originated in the mind of one individual, Thomas Edmondson, a member of the Society of Friends, who was born at Lancaster, on June 30, 1792. The Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, now a portion of the North-Eastern system, opened for passenger traffic, and a station-master being required for the small roadside station at Milton, since called Brampton, Thomas applied, amongst a number of competitors, for the post, and fortunately obtained it. Thus then, about 1836, when in his forty-fourth year, he made his first acquaintance with the railway world at the solitary little station of Milton, situated about fourteen miles from Carlisle — a point at which the traffic was then so small that the duties of the stationmaster and booking-clerk were performed by the same person. In the first days of railway travelling it was natural that the kind of tickets which had served for coach passengers should still be used as vouchers that a traveller had paid his fare. But as travellers increased in number these scraps of paper proved inconvenient in many ways, and Mr. Edmondson at once felt that a change was needed in them. Another want, and one of still more importance, soon became apparent to him. He found that little or no systematic check was imposed upon the station clerks, it being left to their integrity to account correctly for moneys paid to them. His ingenuity was therefore soon at work, endeavouring to organise a system which should be a complete check in the first instance upon himself, a task congenial to his constructive head and honest heart." Mr. J. B. Edmondson proceeds to describe in detail the successive stages of the invention after which he says :— "To extend to other stations, what was found so applicable to his own was his next consideration, but for unexplained reasons his propositions were not at first entertained, and it was only after repeated efforts that he was able to induce the directors of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway to arrange for the adoption of his plans at some of their stations. There was a preposition to remove him to Newcastle, but it was not carried into into effect and the repeated delays were very disheartening to him. Whilst in this state of discouragement he received a visit from Captain Laws, at that the the enterprising and energetic manager of the Manchester and Leeds Railway, who, having heard of the plan adepted by the clerk at Milton Station for 'checking bimself', came over to inspect it, and, having had the details thoroughly explained to him, was clear-sighted enough to perceive its immense value to the railway interest, then becoming an important feature in the country. He, therefore, at once to propose to Mr. Edmondson that he should remove to Manchester with the object of introducing his system on the above railway making the promise 'That his salary should be multiplied by two,' an offer which, after due consideration, was gratefully accepted. This unexpected recognision and timely acknowledgemet of his invention paved the way for its general adoption, and for the next ten or twelve years the introduction of his plans on to new lines of railway as they rapidly developed themselves, in addition to his duties on the Manchester and Leeds line, involved a great amount of labour on the part of the inventor. At length that company, with a complimentary minute of the board, liberated him from their service, in order that he might devote his whole time to the further development and introduction of his system. Mr. Edmondson consulted a practical friend of his, Mr. John Blaylock, of Carlisle, by whose assistance he was enabled to put together a printing machine which carried out his ideas and was sufficient for the requirements of that period. This machine, however, has been greatly improved upon from time to time, and while the original feature of printing one ticket at once has always been maintained, its general completeness and efficiency have been materially increased by the ingenuity and careful study of Mr. James Carson (2), who, from the early rise of ticket printing as a business, has occupied the responsible position of foreman in the principal manufactory in Manchester, where Mr. Edmondson's son still continues the business which his father established. There only are tickets printed, but the printing machines, ticket cases, and dating presses, together with other ticket apparatus, are manufactured, and supplied to railway companies as required." Mr. Edmondson died at his residence in Manchester on the 22nd June, 1851.'[4]

See Wikipedia entry for information of the Edmondson ticket system, which found long-term use worldwide.

Further information on the process and its history here.From this source we learn the function of the counting machine:-

'The printed tickets are next conveyed to the counting machine, which is simply an additional check as to the accuracy of the progressive numbering, the necessity for it arising from occasional inequalities in the size and thickness of the tickets, and a liability to warping on the part of the cardboard. As the thickness of an average ticket is the only available gauge by which to adjust the catch of the printing press, it will be easily understood that in case of a warped card the catch misses it, and as no blank ticket is drawn in the printed one is not pushed forward, and, therefore, receiving repeated impressions is spoiled. As soon as the attendant finds that something is wrong he stops the machine and puts it right, but in re-arranging the numbering, which has been going- on and changing with every stroke, he may possibly set it a number in advance or otherwise of the last good ticket. Hence the necessity for an additional check. The counting machine is furnished with feeding and receiving tubes, and with accurately numbered wheels similar to those of the printing machine. The attendant having placed his pile of tickets in the feeding tube, the lowest number at the bottom, he draws it into view by means of a catch similar in arrangement to that of the press, observes the number of the ticket thus produced, and sets the corresponding number on the counting-wheel to an index or eyelet-hole situated conveniently for the eye of the counter. When the machine is in motion for every ticket that is drawn out of the feeding tube the counting-wheel moves a number forward, and so long as the two numbers agree all is right. In order to ascertain if they do so the attendant stops frequently to examine. Errors (if any) having been corrected by the man who printed the tickets, these are now ready for packing. As progressive order is so essential in the issue of the tickets no danger of that being broken must be left unprovided for ; they are, therefore, placed in bundles of 250 in a frame or screwing- up apparatus, by which they can be tightened almost into a solid mass. While in this condition a band of string is passed round them, and, being secured by a suitable knot, they retain their solidity when liberated from pressure, and are in a state for distribution to all parts of the world.'

First Use of the System

From Herapath's Railway Journal, 1 August 1839


'A very ingenious system has been invented by Mr. Edmonson, chief clerk in the Manchester and Leeds Railway booking-office, to prevent frauds on the part of passengers and company's servants, and to keep the accounts. By it 110 attempts at fraud were prevented in one day. From a very verbose description of it in the "Manchester Guardian" we extract the following :

'The tickets are small, stiff cards, each having printed on its face the place of the passenger's destination, and an intimation that the passenger is to show the ticket to the company's servants if required. Each ticket also bears at one end some small embossed figures, which constitute its progressive number. The face of each ticket, for whatever station, is white; and on one end is legibly stamped the date of issue. The back is of a different colour for each station. Those for passengers to Manchester are pink, or rose-colour; and those hereafter to be used for passengers to Leeds are to be white. Those for Mill's Hill (Oldham or Middleton) have blue backs; those for Rochdale, green; and for Littleborough, yellow backs.

'The tickets for passengers at any station going towards Leeds have engraved on the back the representation of a fleece; the tickets for passengers from Leeds, or any intermediate station, towards Manchester, have the representation of a bale of cotton. To distinguish the tickets of the three several classes of conveyance, those for the first-class carriages have plain backs, except so far as we have already described; the second-class tickets have several horizontal lines drawn along the back; and those of the third-class have the back divided by perpendicular-and horizontal lines into small squares, or what may be called a checked pattern. Thus, no one, by any addition, such as ruling lines or checks on the back of his ticket, can convert a third-class ticket into one for the second or first-class carriages; any such addition only reducing the value of the ticket. The lines and checks, being open, do not interfere with the distinctness of the engraved fleece or cotton-bag, as the case may be; and the use of all these is to enable the guards collecting the tickets to discriminate, without having the trouble of reading them, the tickets of one station and of one class of carriages from those of the other stations and carriages.

'This ingenious gentleman has also constructed a small printing-machine, which prints the face of the ticket in the usual way, embosses a progressive number on each ticket, being for this purpose a self-acting machine, and prints many thousands without a renewal of ink; and this done, it deposits the tickets in a pile, in the order of their progressive numbers, ready for transference to the tubes, which are of wood, resembling in form the wooden rainspouts of houses.

'Each tube contains 500 tickets, which are pressed upwards by a spiral spring in the bottom of the tube. The present number of stations, or stopping-places on the line, being three from each end, and the classes of conveyance three, there are nine of these tubes used for each departing train. They are let into a sort of desk, somewhat resembling an ascent of three steps; and this desk forms a part of the counter at which passengers apply for tickets, but is not visible to persons outside the counter. The heads of the nine tubes are arranged so as to be under the right hand of the ticket-clerk; the three tubes nearest him are those containing the Mill's Hill tickets, an inscription on blue paper over them specifies and distinguishes them, the nearest being that for the first-class carriages, the second for the second-class, and the third for the third-class. The next three, in similar order, under a green label are for Rochdale; and the other three, under a yellow label, are for Littleborough. When the whole of the line is opened, and there will be perhaps twenty stopping-places between Manchester and Leeds, there will consequently be required sixty of these tubes, which may be so arranged in steps or tiers, one above another, as all to be comprised within a very small space. The top of each tube has a half-lid, on hinges, which, being turned back, discloses the uppermost ticket, at least that end of the card which shows its progressive number. Inside the lid is inlaid a small piece of slate, on which the progressive number of the uppermost ticket in each tube is copied before commencing to supply tickets for the next departing train. When the doors of the office are closed for that train, the number on each little slate, deducted from the progressive number on the then uppermost ticket in the tube, gives the number of passengers for each station, and by each class of coach. This plan affords remarkable facilities for making up the waybill, which only needs nine entries, corresponding with the nine results obtained from the tubes; and at the departure of the six o'clock evening train, we observed that the number of tickets gone from each tube was ascertained, and the waybill made out in forty seconds, though all the third-class tubes exhibited a large number of passengers.

'We have still another ingenious instrument to describe. It stands on the counter before the clerk, and is a small printing machine (in neat mahogany frame), for dating the tickets; which operation is performed by just pushing the ticket into a crevice in the machine, and drawing it out again instantly. This little machine, the principle of which, though great ingenuity is displayed in its adaptation to the purpose, is extremely simple, is also the invention of Mr. Edmondson, and does great credit to his mechanical talent. By means of this little machine, every ticket is stamped with the month and day of the month on which it is issued; this printing being performed with great rapidity by the ticket-clerk, and no ticket being printed with this date till it has been asked for by a passenger. The operations of the single clerk, who supplies all the tickets for a crowd of passengers, prints the date on each ticket, receives the money, and gives the change for gold, &c., are all conducted with the greatest apparent ease, and without any confusion or loss of time. With his right hand he draws the ticket from its tube, pushes it into the dating-press, and throws it on the counter; while with the left hand he receives the amount of fare, which he places in bowls before him.

'In this way nearly a thousand tickets were supplied over the counter, chiefly by this single clerk, during Thursday last, with less bustle or confusion, and certainly in much less time, than half the number could have been issued in the mode ordinarily practised in the booking-offices of railways.

'Again, each station has a waybill, which is a piece of stiff pasteboard, printed in a tabular form, in nine divisions. This waybill slides in a groove in a wooden case, and is protected in front by a thin sheet of talc, so that the waybill may be read by the guard on the road in wet weather, without being defaced or injured by rain or snow. There are six of these eases or slides attached, much as the leaves of ivory tablets are secured together, so that one series of them serves for a train from leaving Manchester to its return to this station, which is the head office, and to which all the returns are made. The number of tickets issued, and the number of tickets returned by the guards, are entered in a book, and compared the following day with the summary from each station; and thus a system of check and counter-check is maintained with the least possible amount of bookkeeping, and certainly with very much less trouble and loss of time than must ordinarily attend the keeping of railway passengers' accounts. There are several other contrivances by which this system is fully carried into every department of the company's operations. One very striking feature of the system is the absence of that great number of books of tickets, registry, &c., which are generally required by railway companies. The tickets, the waybills (which, instead of large, complicated sheets, are small strips of card), the station summaries, and one small book in which the number of tickets for each train are entered from the waybills, are the only substitutes for all the usual day-books, &c. The clerk, on receiving nine tubes, each supplied with 500 tickets, is debited with the whole amount, as if they were so many bank notes; and of course he is credited with the amount of cash received by him and paid over,—the cash being balanced after the departure of each train.'

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'Henry Maudslay & The Pioneers of the Machine Age' by John Cantrell & Gillian Cookson, Tempus Publishing, 2002
  2. 1851 census
  3. [1] The Engineer, 26 June 1863, p.364
  4. Cumberland & Westmorland Herald - Saturday 24 August 1878

Chris de Winter Hebron, 50 Famous Railwaymen, 2005