Biography of Otto Titusz Blathy



Otto Titusz Blathy is not as well known as his invention, the transformer, which he developed in cooperation with Miksa Deri and Karoly Zipernowsky. Blathy’s other inventions include the induction meter, the tension regulator, the AC Watt meter, the alternating current motor, and the turbogenerator. Blathy’s achievements were recognized at the Paris International Exhibition of 1900 where he was awarded the Grand Prix.

Otto Titusz Blathy was born on August 11, 1860, in Tata, Hungary, in a family of a wealthy merchant. He received his diploma of mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Vienna in 1882.

His dissertation was on the theory of belt drives. Blathy began working at the Ganz factory as a mechanical engineer in 1883, and his activities tied him to the factory for the remainder of his life. A remarkably talented man, Blathy quickly recognized problems, and his intellect was characterized by an exceptionally good memory.

Otto Titusz Blathy studied new theories of electrical and magnetic phenomena discovered recently, but he was not satisfied with studying the theory only. He always tried to implement the theoretical discoveries to practical applications. In 1884, he designed an automatic mercury voltage regulator for direct-current dynamos as his first patent.

The development of the electrical industry was hindered by the fact that the dynamo could only supply electricity trouble-free to short distances; to longer distances a large portion of electric energy got “lost” through overheated cables. The electrical engineers of that period were well aware that cheap electrical transmission could only be achieved by increasing the voltage. However, the experiments with DC (direct current) constantly ended in failure.

Between 1884 and 1885 three engineers at the Ganz factory, Otto Titusz Blathy, Miksa Deri and Karoly Zipernowsky developed a new current distribution system based on the use of the induction apparatus called “transformer”. Their joint effort resulted in one of the most important electronic inventions of that period. Their joint patent described a transformer with no poles and comprised two versions of it, the “closed-core transformer” and the “shell-core transformer.”

In the closed-core transformer the iron core is a closed ring around which the two coils are arranged uniformly. In the shell type transformer, the copper induction cables are passed through the core. The core consists of iron cables or plates. Shunt connection was the idea of Karoly Zipernowsky. The experiments were performed by Miksa Deri, whereas Blathy contributed to the success by suggesting the use of closed iron cores.

Demand for power-plant-side (voltage-increasing) transformers came at the end of the 19th century, due to voltage increase in power transmission lines. The new system was presented at the National Exhibition in Budapest in 1885.

The entire area of the exhibition was illuminated by alternating current, distributed at 1,350 Volt primary voltage, of a frequency of 70 Hz, utilizing 1,067 incandescent lamps and 75 small shell-type transformers. It was an immense success. Based on this invention electrical power transmission even to long distances could provided, it became possible to provide economical and cheap lighting for industry and households.

The Blathy, Zipernowski and Deri Transformer

One of the best of the early ring-shaped transformer was presented by Otto Blathy, Karoly Zipernowski and Miksa Deri in 1885. In this transformer, which was electrical excellent though mechanically not very sound, the positions of the coils and the iron were reversed. The primary and secondary coils, both thoroughly insulated, was wound into a kind of solid core and over-wound with a heavy layer of iron wire. They also took a crucial step in March 1885. This comprised of three major elements.

Rejecting series connection and connecting transformers that supply the consuming equipment groups in parallel to the main line,
Applying high-ratio transformers, separating high-voltage (1400-2000 V) wide supply network from low-voltage (100 V) consumer networks, and
Developing a transformer with closed iron core, low drop (i.e. terminal voltage is almost independent of the load), and low loss.

Otto Titusz Blathy

In 1886 Blathy undertook a journey to America, where he also visited the Edison Works. It was there that he observed that the parameters of the exciting coils of the machines to be produced were established on the basis of empirically set charts. Blathy proved that these data can be derived from rigorous calculations as well, thus winning the admiration of the engineers at the factory. He did not stay in America for a long time. Work in the Ganz Works was awaiting him.

The transformer system brought considerable international recognition for both the factory and its creators. In 1886, the power plant in Rome was built, then in 1892, the hydro-electric power station at Tivoli; the energy produced there was also transported to Rome.

The latter hydro-electric power station was in fact the biggest hydroelectric current-generating plant in Europe at that time as well as the first power transmission supplying an entire urban distribution system from a considerable distance (through a 28 km long power transmission line), directly from the high-voltage generators. Rome was followed by Vienna, where an electric power plant was established on the basis of the transformer system of the Ganz Works. The construction of the Budapest electricity works also dates back to the same period.

Blathy’s watt-meter

The first specimen of the kilowatt-hour meter produced on the basis of Blathy’s patent and named after him was presented by the Ganz Works at the Frankfurt Fair in the autumn of 1889, and the first induction kilowatt-hour meter was already marketed by the factory at the end of the same year. These were the first alternating-current wattmeters, known by the name of Blathy-meters.

The patent was registered in the autumn of 1889, and this is the time since the Ganz Meter Works has existed. He further improved the instrument accuracy in 1912. The first Blathy-meters were mounted on a wooden base, running at 240 revolutions per minute (the number of revolutions was difficult to read at total load); they weighed 23 kg (by the beginning of the 1920s, their weight was decreased to its one-tenth.) The kilowatt-hour meters used at present operate on the same principle as his original invention.

An advanced version of the Blathy’s watt-meter (1899)

In 1889, he created a suspension-piston, servo-motor system for the automatic regulation of water turbines. This regulator was first applied in the construction of the power plant at Innsbruck.

Otto Titusz Blathy

Blathy’s interest was also aroused by the three-phase system. (The system was discovered by the British engineer Hopkinson in 1880, when he realized that three alternating currents in phase shift with each other can be transmitted easier than normal alternating current.) Otto Titusz Blathy developed the up to now one-phase generator and transformer into a three-phase one. With this, a new technical and economic prosperity began in Hungarian heavy-current industry. The application possibilities of transformers also became wider: further power plants were constructed in Dalmatia and Italy, and the transformers of these were considered to be a record of that time. All this shows the indefatigable creativity of Blathy and his colleagues.

A Ganz Works turbogenerator designed by Blathy in 1903

The steam turbine created at the beginning of the present century, in the victory of which Blathy played a significant role as well, presented new tasks for generator designers. Blathy took the lead in this field, too.

He designed his turbogenerator in 1903, and as early as 1911, the Ganz Works could present a turbogenerator of 4,200 kW power to experts at the exhibition in Torino. Blathy was a man of practice. At the sight of the pictures of a damaged generator, this was all he said: “Now we know how to reinforce coil ends against short circuits.” Later on there were no such failures. The orders of the Ganz Works increased; generators acquired a reputation for both the factory and Blathy.

The Great Recession and the years to follow did not favour large-scale investments, nor the products of this factory, either. High-power electric railway traction then began in Hungary. Blathy was also brought down by the sudden death of Kando in 1931, who was not only a passive observer of this invention, but it was he, in fact, who actually improved the phase-converter electric locomotive devised in 1923. He himself was already getting well on in years, as well; past 70, he wanted to continue, because it should be continued, what Kando had not been able to accomplish.

Ever since his young age, he had been a great enthusiast of cycling. He was a well-known figure in the streets of Buda, where he would ride his special, direct-drive, large-wheeled bike, his own design. Later on he made high-ratio, cog-wheeled bicycles. He also had an extensive collection of special bicycles. He made tours throughout Italy, Austria, and Bosnia by bicycle.

At the time automobiles appeared, his attention turned towards motoring, and he remained to be an enthusiastic driver until his old age. As vice-president of the Automobile Club of the time, he regularly participated in car race juries. On one occasion, he was asked by his colleagues whether he would like to fly by an airplane. Blathy’s concise answer was the following: “No, I would not.

It is not for me any longer. It is great enjoyment, though, to look down on the earth as if it were a live map. Do you know what my greatest sports enjoyment has been in my life? Cycling! One cannot even imagine purer joy than the feeling I had racing along the serpentines of the Bosnian mountains. Vehicles faster than bicycles already prevent you from enjoying the beauties of the scenery in perfect tranquility.”

He was also a passionate dog-lover and dog-breeder at the same time. His dogs won awards at several exhibitions. Money ” which he was not short of ” did not remain in his pocket for long. For him, this was not a measure of value. In the last period of his life, he sold his house on Svab Hill and stayed in Hotel Hungaria.

Chess also played a particular part in his life. His book titled ‘Vielzugige Schachaufgaben’, introducing new possibilities of chess problems, such as “White starts and mates in 125 moves “, was published in Leipzig in 1891. Blathy was credited for creating the longest chess problem, mate in 292 moves. On Christmas greeting cards, not only did he send his best wishes, but chess problems as well. He was considered to be a genius of chess problems throughout the Continent.

Blathy’s chess problem: White to play and win in 292 moves (see the solution)

He was a colourful personality, and lived a plentiful and substantial life. He was not conceited at all. When he was celebrated on his 70th birthday, he only said modestly: “In my days it used to be easy. Science was like a tropical forest. All you needed was a good axe, and wherever you stroke, you could chop down an enormous tree. Now you may walk for entire days without even finding a bush.”

In 1917, Otto Titusz Blathy was conferred honorary degrees by the Technical Universities of Budapest and Vienna, and in 1927 he was elected honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He was awarded a long range of foreign decorations, and was not short of recognition in Hungary, either. However, he was proud of the fact that he had been the first to receive the Kando-medallion of the Hungarian Society of Engineers and Architects. His patents, more than a hundred in number, relate mostly to electric machinery. He was active even at the age of 79. He managed experiments even from the sanatorium.

On 25 September, 1939, he still sent a message to the factory. The next day only the herald arrived with the news that a prosperous career had ended. On 26 September,1939, Blathy died in Budapest. His name will remain among those who have set the landmarks of science. His statue stands in the yard of the vocational secondary school named after him, with hundreds of students passing by each day.


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