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Alfred Rosling Bennett

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Alfred Rosling Bennett(1850–1928), electrical engineer

1850 Born on 14 May in Islington, London, the son of John Richard Bennett.

Educated at a private school, and later at the Bellevue Academy, Greenwich.

1869 Appointed to the Indian government telegraph department in Karachi; commended for his proficiency in the testing of land line and submarine cables.

1873 Returned to England; became electrician to the Highton Battery Co, which worked the battery and other patents of the Revd Henry Highton.

1877 Set up the first experimental overhead telephone line in England, linking the Queen's Theatre in Long Acre and the Canterbury Music Hall to demonstrate Varley's musical telephone.

Patents on the telephonic translator (1880), the caustic alkali and iron battery (1881), and a telephone transformer (1881).

1883 Joined National Telephone Co

1886 General manager and chief engineer for Scotland and north-west England. Installed the first incandescent lamps in Scotland, and the first electric lighting in a coal mine, near Hamilton.

1890 General manager and chief engineer of the Mutual Telephone Co and the New Telephone Co

From 1891 Bennett published books and papers on both telephony and railways. He was a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and a vice-president of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers.

1892 In connection with the 1890 Edinburgh International Exhibition, proposed that an American steam locomotive maker should be invited to send a locomotive to the UK for comparative testings[1]

1893 Set up as a consulting telephone and telegraph engineer.

1915 Vice President of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers.[2]

1928 Died at Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment, Matlock.


1928 Obituary [3]

ALFRED ROSLING BENNETT, who was born in London on the 14th March, 1850, and died on the 24th May, 1928, was elected a Member of the Institution in 1876. He was, perhaps, the most interesting of the pioneers of telephony in this country.

When the writer of this notice started telephone work with him at Glasgow, in 1882, Mr. Bennett's was a very active, alert and high-spirited personality. He had a new business to create and he brought to bear on it great initiative and originality of design. His over-roof pole-and-wire work remains standard to-day. At a later date switchboards of his own design were fitted in all the municipal and other exchanges, and the operators' instruments introduced there have become the standard for the world.

For many years he was much in the limelight as an advocate for popularizing the telephone by giving cheap and efficient service; and in conjunction with that he advocated municipal ownership of local services. There was considerable opposition to the development of municipal exchanges and, in the end, one by one his installations disappeared, until to-day only Hull and Guernsey remain as municipal systems. Hull is being converted to automatic working, but Guernsey nourishes, the rates being low and the percentage of telephones higher than in any other town in this country. His book describing the system shows the happy relationship that existed between him and his staff and the public. Most of the avenues for the exploitation of telephony being thus closed, Mr. Bennett showed his versatility by taking up literary work and locomotive engineering - the latter so effectively that in 1911 he was elected vice-president of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers.

His literary work embraces the following:- "An Electric Parcels Exchange," "The Telephoning of Great Cities"; "Some Lessons in Telephony"; "The Telephone Systems of the Continent of Europe"; "The Convection Mill" and "Convection Calorimeter" (two of his inventions); "Proposals for London Improvements"; "The First Railway in London"; "The Sagas of Guernsey," a poem of 79 nine-line stanzas; "Welcome," a poem on the occasion of the visit of the King and Queen to Guernsey; "London and Londoners in the 1850's and 1860's," which was excellently reviewed in all the leading papers; "The Guernsey Telephone System"; "The Chronicles of Boulton's Sidings" (on locomotives); and "A History of British Telephones, Electric Light and Traction" (left unfinished).

He went to India in 1869 in the service of the Indian Government Telegraph Department and was four years in the East.

In 1877 he erected the first over-roof metallic circuit line in London in connection with Varley's musical telephone. In May 1880 he was appointed engineering superintendent for the East London District of the United Telephone Co.

In 1881 he was engineer of the Glasgow Commercial Telephone Exchange (where the first all- night telephone service was then given).

In 1881 he patented his telephone translator (repeater) for connecting metallic circuits to single-wire lines.

In 1882 he produced his corrugated insulator to replace the shackle insulators in use.

In 1881 he brought from France bronze wire, first using No. 20 and then No. 18 gauge to replace the heavy iron wire.

In 1883 he joined the National Telephone Co. as general manager for Scotland (with the exception of Glasgow and the West of Scotland district) and the North-Western English counties, a position which he occupied until October 1890. He introduced the designation "junction" for local inter-office lines. On trunk lines he used the cross-connecting method of neutralizing cross-talk.

After leaving the National Telephone he was general manager of the Mutual Co., and in 1892 was general manager and chief engineer of the New Telephone Co.

In 1897 he visited the United States and examined the Strowger automatic system. In Fielden's Magazine of October 1899 he wrote of it: "That the principle of this ingenious invention is correct and that it has already been brought to a remarkable degree of perfection cannot be questioned."

In 1881 he had charge of the first electric light installations in Scotland and fitted the first coal mine installation.

In 1890 he was the originator of the Edinburgh International Engineering Exhibition. The tramway round the grounds was the first overhead trolley-line system to operate in Scotland and one of the first in the kingdom. After forty years Mr. Bennett and the writer of this notice met again at intervals, but the erect form was now bent and aged. The intellect was still keen, and an astounding memory made conversation most racy and interesting. At 78 he was still at work, travelling, consulting and planning for the future "if spared." He was feeling well and pleased with his trip, to various places on the Mediterranean and added that he only needed some treatment at Matlock to make him fit to carry on, and that we should meet again on his return journey. Serenely he reviewed the past and as serenely he looked forward - happy man.


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