British-born American electrical engineer and industrialist who revolutionized the Electro-plating industry, founded the Weston Electrical Instrument Company. A prolific inventor who held 334 patents, Edward Weston helped revolutionize the measurement of electricity.
In 1886 he developed a practical precision, direct reading, portable instrument to accurately measure electrical current, a device which became the basis for the voltmeter, ammeter and watt meter. Edward Weston was born in the rather dull town of Oswestry, Shropshire (England), in 1850 and brought up in nearby Wales.
His father was an unsuccessful merchant, and mother was a novelist, as well as a magazine writer. Edward Weston attended the Adams School. He studied medicine at the insistence of his parents and began his career as apprentice to a local physician where he developed an interest in chemistry. However, after receiving his medical diploma in 1870, he went to America, New York City, at the age of 20.
Portrait of a young Edward Weston
Weston found a job in the electroplating industry, and made many improvements in the processes used. During the first eighteen months in America, he revolutionized the Electro-plating industry. He realized that a constant source of current was required for quality plating, and the batteries used at the time were not sufficient for the job.
After the first company he worked for went out of business, Weston had a short career as a photographer, but returned to the plating industry in 1872, opening a business in partnership with George G. Harris. The Harris & Weston Electroplating Co. was founded in 1873.
In 1873 he developed his first dynamo for electroplating. He patented the nickel-plating anode in 1875, he also patented the rational construction of the dynamo, and raised the efficiency from +5% to over 90% in 1875. In 1875 he had moved to New Jersey, in business for himself making dynamos.
Weston Dynamo Electric Machine Company
Frustration with inadequate electricity supplies led to an obsession with power generation. In 1876 he patented a design for a dc generator. One of Weston’s dynamos, running electric arc lamps, was shown at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, but it received little attention. Shortly after this, Weston was contacted by Frederick Stevens, who offered Weston the opportunity to set up a dynamo division of his Steven, Roberts & Havell company.
In 1877 the division was organized as a separate company, the Weston Dynamo Machine Company, in Newark, New Jersey, – the first US factory of it’s kind. To expand the market, he began making generators for arc lighting. Inevitably, innovations and improvements to the lamps themselves followed and, due to its success, the company changed its name to the Weston Electric Light Company, going on to win the contract to illuminate the new Brooklyn Bridge.
At the same time, independent of Edison and others, Weston was experimenting with incandescent light. Using his knowledge of chemistry, electricity and mechanical engineering he designed a carbon filament of unprecedented uniformity and longevity, subsequently used in all incandescent lights until the introduction of tungsten 25 years later. From 1875 to 1884, Edward Weston was granted a total of 139 US patents, yet despite this prodigious output, his best was still to come…
Weston’s arc lamp
Weston had first used a carbon arc lamp in his own shop in 1874, run by his plating dynamo, and he continued to research lighting equipment. By 1877 he had made many developments in arc lighting and in 1878 he put an arc light on the Newark Fire Department’s watchtower in the center of town.
Publicity from this led to an order from the city for lighting Military Park, and this was followed in 1879 by an installation in Boston’s Forest Garden. In 1880 the firm’s name was changed to the Weston Electric Light Company, which became a leader in the supply of arc lighting systems, providing the lighting for the new Brooklyn Bridge when it opened in 1883.
Weston was also working on incandescent lamps; his background in chemistry served him well in developing filament materials. On 26 September 1882 he was granted a patent on the Tamidine filament, a carbon material which gave a bulb life of up to 2000 hours, when other materials burned out after only a few hundred hours.
Weston also took out patents on incandescent lamp seals and many other inventions in the lighting field, and by 1886 had been granted 186 patents. His electric arc furnaces and incandescant lamps were as good as Edison’s or Swan’s, if not better, and his filaments were used until the tungsten became available.
The image to the left shows three Weston incandescent lamps made in the 1880s. The two smaller ones have Tamidine filaments.
Since his early days in electroplating, Weston had been concerned about the lack of accurate, practical devices for measuring electrical parameters so in 1887, having withdrawn from the generator and lamp business, he established a laboratory. In 1888 the Weston Electrical Instrument Company began trading.
Edward Weston developed the truly permanent magnet in 1886 and 1887. He also developed two important alloys, especially for electrical measurement: Constanta having a negative temperature coefficient; and Manganin, having an extremely low temperature coefficient, Patents No. 381304 reissue No. 10994 and Patents No. 381305, reissued No. 10945 in 1888.
A prolific inventor who held 334 patents, Edward Weston helped revolutionize the measurement of electricity. In 1886 he developed a practical precision, direct reading, portable instrument to accurately measure electrical current, a device which became the basis for the voltmeter, ammeter and watt meter.
His company, Weston Instruments, produced world famous precision electrical measuring instruments including volt, amp, watt, ohm, and HF meters, current /potential transformers and transducers. Other Weston contributions include the magnetic speedometer, and the dashboard ammeter for Harley – Davidson motorcycles.
Edward Weston invented electric motors, potential transformers, current transformers, A.C and D.C. voltmeters, ammeters, wattmeters including polyphase, ohmmeters, both A.C and D.C laboratory standards, standard cells, panel meters in hundreds of sizes, shapes and ranges, power factor meters, control relays, tachometer generators, A.C and D.C. amplifiers, radio tube (bulb), radio test instruments, insulation testers, multi-range, multi-purpose industrial circuit test instruments, mutual conductance electronic radio-tube analyzers, A.C. industrial test units, A.C clamp ammeters and voltmeters for powerline works, moisture measuring meters, electrical and mechanical recorders and controllers, thermometers mercury tube, thermocouple and bimetal types, hydrometers for all branches of chemistry, ground detectors, humidity indicators, meggers, frequency meters, sensitive relays, laboratory standard electrical measuring instruments, aircraft navigational and engine condition instruments, including the first-blind landing instrument in 1933, switchboard instruments, shunts, resistors, D.C. galvano-meters thermal converters, copper oxide rectifiers, projection instruments, VU meters, photoelectric cells initally used in illumination meters, light meters and foot-candle meters.
Instruments such as this were used by trained technical/scientific staff for precision laboratory measurements of voltage, and as secondary standards for calibrating other meters. The mirrored scale makes it easier to read the instrument to a given accuracy by enabling the user to avoid parallax errors. This particular instrument was specified to be accurate to Â±0.5%.
Weston Saturated Cadmium Cell Weston invented and patented the saturated cadmium cell in 1893.
Cd(Hg) | CdSO4(aq), Hg2SO4 | Hg
It had the advantage of being less temperature sensitive than the previous standard, the Clark cell. It also had the advantage of producing a voltage very near to one volt: 1.0183 V. In 1911 the Weston Saturated Cadmium Cell became the International Standard for electromotive force recommended by the National Bureau of Standards for almost a century to calibrate other meters. Weston waved his patent rights shortly afterward so anyone was allowed to manufacture it.
Dr. Edward Weston, 1930
With his usual enthusiasm, Weston tackled the problem of educating workers to the uses of electricity and the newly developing industries. He worked tirelessly to support the creation of the Newark Technical School (now New Jersey Institute of Technology) in 1881 and served on the board of trustees for its first six years. He firmly believed in the idea of educating others in the practical methods of engineering, a field which grew as a result of his own inventions.
Portrait of an older Edward Weston
Weston became a U.S. citizen in 1923. In 1932 Dr. Edward Weston received Lamme Medal “For his achievements in the development of electrical apparatus, especially in connection with precision measuring instruments.”