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Charles Eugene Lancelot Brown

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Bust of C. E. L. Brown at the Deutsches Museum

Charles Eugene Lancelot Brown (1863-1924) of Brown, Boveri and Co

Charles Eugene Lancelot Brown (17 June 1863 – 2 May 1924) founder of Brown, Boveri and Co with Walter Boveri

He was born in Winterthur and was one of 6 children. His mother was Swiss and his father, Charles Brown a British engineer, was the founder of SLM - Schweizerische Lokomotiv- und Maschinenfabrik (Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works). He attended the Engineering School of Winterthur. He worked at his father's factory and then became the director.

1924 Obituary [1]

CHARLES EUGENE L. BROWN died at his home in Montagnola, near Lugano,- on the 2nd May, 1924, at the age of sixty-one, from heart failure following a short illness.

He was born in Winterthur on the 17th June, 1863, being the son of the late Mr. Charles Brown, who was mainly responsible for the Sulzer drop valve-gear. After a year as improver with Burgin in Basle, he entered the Oerlikon Machine Works and two years later, when barely 24 years old, became manager of the electrical department.

His early years at Oerlikon were occupied in developing a direct-current system and in designing commercially workable direct-current machinery. His first machines were of the two-pole Manchester type with ring armatures, and for the first power transmission in Switzerland (Krieg- stetten-Solothurn, 37 kW over five miles) machines of this type were employed. By successive stages in development, four-pole designs with slotted drum armatures were arrived at, which (contrary to the usual practice at that time) were distinguished by relatively large magnetic fluxes and a small number of armature conductors, so that even machines for 600 volts had but one turn per segment and sparkless commutation was ensured.

Among the early power plants which he constructed may be mentioned the Neuhausenplant, the 6 000- and 12 000-ampere machines for which remained for long the largest direct-current dynamos in Europe; those for 12 000 amperes had vertical shafts, and multiple series-parallel winding was used for the first time. He employed for his first alternating-current transmissions single-phase generators and synchronous motors, which were of the Kapp ring-armature type, and these were the first machines provided with direct-coupled exciters. The practical development of the polyphase motor was realized during the year 1890.

Simultaneously with Dobrowolski he originated the polyphase winding with rectangular coils in slots (in practically its present-day form), whereby magnetic leakage is so far reduced that a sufficiently high starting torque can be reached. Later on, he used for the first time the distributed winding in slots for the stators and rotors of the larger polyphase motors.

The year 1891 brought the opening of the Frankfort Exhibition and the celebrated power transmission from Lauffen to Frankfort (110 miles) with three-phase current at 25 000 volts, this effectively demonstrating the technical possibility and commercial feasibility of the transmission of power over great distances by electricity. He designed for this power transmission (the failure of which was confidently predicted in electrical circles at that time) the 40-pole generators with claw pole-wheel and single exciter coil and oil-cooled 86/25 000-volt transformers. The latter - the first oil-immersed transformers - were made with three cores situated at 120° to one another, connected above and below by a round yoke, and for them was used for the first time the double concentric winding.

In 1891, in association with Mr. W. Boveri, he founded the works of Brown, Boveri and Co., Baden, Switzerland, many of whose present day designs bear the impress of the original ideas of the technical founder of the firm. The high position in the construction of single-phase and polyphase machinery to which he brought his firm by means of his inventions and designs became apparent in 1894 when eight alternators (four of 525 kW and four of 1 050 kW running at 85 r.p.m.) were built for the city of Frankfort in face of great competition from German firms.

From the year 1895 onwards the development of many Swiss water powers was actively carried out, and for the vertical units called for by the low falls, the umbrella type of generator was designed (1897). Two years earlier he had constructed the first flywheel generators with pole-wheels rotating outside the stationary armatures.

In 1896 were built the 8 000-volt generators for Schwyz, while in 1898 the noteworthy 14 500-volt generators for Paderno were constructed. In the electric railway field the Lugano tramway, installed in 1894, was the first traction system for which three-phase motors were used, and this was followed by many mountain and other polyphase railways, which are all in successful operation at the present day.

The acquisition by his firm in 1900 of manufacturing licences under the Parsons steam-turbine patents turned his thoughts to some of the special problems due to the introduction of high-speed machinery, and he soon recognized that for turbo-alternators of large outputs and high peripheral speeds the construction with projecting field-poles could not be satisfactory. This led to the creation of the generator rotor in the form of a cylinder with radial or parallel slots for carrying the excitation winding, which has proved to be the only possible constructive solution and has been universally adopted. In the direction of switch and control gear many original designs were developed, amongst which may be mentioned the multiple-break oil circuit-breaker and the so-called "horn" arrester.

After the conversion of the firm of Brown, Boveri and Co. into a limited company in 1900, he became chairman of the board of directors and held that position until 1911, when he retired altogether from his business and technical activities. In 1912 he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor by the Technical College of Karlsruhe.

He was elected a Foreign Member of the Institution in 1892 and became a Member in 1911.

1924 Obituary [2]

"IT is with much regret that we have to announce that Mr. Charles Eugene Lancelot Brown died at his home in Montagnola, near Lugano, on the second of this month. A full account of the great part which he took in the development of electrical engineering, when acting first as director of the electrical department of the Oerlikon Company, and later as technical administrator of Brown, Boveri et Cie., would occupy many of our columns.

He was born in Winterthur, in June of 1863, his father, Charles Brown, being an engineer of exceptional ability who for some years devoted his energies to the perfection of the steam engine in the works of Sulzer Brothers.

At the age of twenty-one Brown joined the Oerlikon Company, and two years later he became director of the electrical department. Whilst with this firm he did much useful work in connection with the development of the direct-current dynamo and electrical transmission. He also developed numerous protective devices for use in conjunction with his installations, such as lightning arresters and automatic circuit breakers, which avoided breaking the current suddenly, but which cut down the field current of the generators when the line current increased beyond a certain value..." .

1924 Obituary[3]


It has been said that modern methods of electric power generation and distribution are pre-eminently due to three men, viz., Mr. S. Z. de Ferranti, Sir Charles Parsons, and Mr. C. E. L. Brown. It was Mr. Ferranti who was the first to realise that the path of progress lay in the development of large power stations feeding sub-stations through long transmission lines, and he did much to solve the problem of constructing these lines by his invention of the lead-covered paper insulated cables. By his development of the steam turbine, Sir Charles Parsons practically halved capital and running costs of steam-operated power stations, whilst to Mr. C. E. L. Brown is mainly due the practical development of three-phase transmission. It is with great regret that we learn that Mr. Brown died at his home at Montagnola, Italy, on May 2 last, after a short illness. Born in 1863, he was the eldest son of the Charles Brown who, when a young man, was induced by Messrs. Sulzer, of Winterthur, to make his home in Switzerland, where the work he accomplished was of such importance that he has been acclaimed as the father of Swiss mechanical engineering.

Mr. C. E. L. Brown inherited to the full his father’s ability as a designer, and long before his remarkable work on three-phase transmission had made his name generally familiar, he had acquired a high reputation as a highly original but also exceptionally sound designer of continuous current machinery.

He was educated by his father along lines more characteristic of English than of Continental systems of training engineers. • His theoretical knowledge was picked up at local schools and in practice, and he was in no way a mathematical expert. As previously proved by Faraday, however, facility in handling formulas is not essential to accurate and highly original thought. To the man of ordinary capacity no doubt mathematical methods of approaching new problems are generally the simplest, but possibly this is in part due to the circumstance that mathematics often makes it possible to dispense with thought. Formulas are manipulated according to certain definite rules, and the required result is obtained without the necessity of visualising the physical character of the phenomena dealt with. Lacking this mathematical crutch, however, algebra has to he replaced by hard thinking, and given some touch of genius there is perhaps some accruing advantage for such pioneering work as Mr. Brown accomplished, of the engineer being compelled,,to consider problems of design wholly in their physical and mechanical aspect.

So much did Mr. Brown’s ability impress those associated with him that, when scarcely 23 years old, he was appointed director of the electrical department of the Oerlikon engineering works, and whilst holding this post he gave the first demonstration of the commercial practicability of electric power transmission. This work was described in our issue of March 11, 1887. Up to that date, about the best result obtained in electric power transmission had been a commercial efficiency of some 45 per cent., which was a distinctly discouraging result. Mr. Brown, however, saw where the defects 'of design lay and, correcting these, constructed a plant for transmitting 50 h.p. a distance of five miles. As tested by Professor Amsler-Laffon, a commercial efficiency of over 70 per cent, was realised. In addition to noting the high efficiency of the plant, for that date, special attention was also drawn by Prof. Amsler-Laffon to the simple solid and judicious construction of the dynamos and motors. The success of this pioneer plant led to other successful installations, and in connection with these various protective devices had also to be originated.

His next important new work was the design of low-tension generators for aluminium reduction, current of 12,000 amperes being required at from 12 to 15 volts. These machines were finished in 1888, and embodied many novel features. In 1892 he designed the railway, generators for the Heilmann locomotives, which again were both original in design and satisfactory in operation.

Alternate current work was taken.up in 1889, at first with single-phase systems and later on with the three phase. The adoption of oil insulation for transformers was originated by him in 1890, and with this he made experiments up to 40,000 volts. Thbse led him to adventure on the famous Lauffen-Frankfort transmission in which power was transmitted about 115 miles, under a potential of about 8,000 volts., the overall efficiency being about 74 per cent.

In 1891 Mr. Brown left the Oerlikon Company, and in conjunction with Mr. Boveri and his brother Sidney Brown, founded the since famous works at Baden. These were originally laid out to accommodate 40 men as a maximum, and during the first year of operation only 16 were actually employed. Castings were purchased and most of the machine work done by outside firms, the designing and the winding alone being undertaken by the new firm. The firm prospered from the outset and scored a great triumph in 1894 'by securing the contract for the equipment of the Frankfort Municipal Power Station. German electricians were then still devoted to continuous current machinery, and knew very little about alternating current plant. They strongly opposed the innovation, but the city council nevertheless accepted the advice of their great engineer, Mr. W. H. Lindley, and awarded the contract to the Swiss firm. Needless to say it was a striking success.

A few years later Mr. Charles Brown, the elder, became convinced of the importance of the Parsons steam-turbine; and endeavoured to persuade his old firm, Messrs. Sulzer Brothers, to take up the Continental rights. They, however, were absolutely convinced that no steam turbine could approach in efficiency the Sulzer engine, which had an international reputation for excellence. At that time the advantage the turbine had in utilising “ the toe' of the diagram ” was not realised by engineers, and moreover, but small units had been built, and as is well known the steam turbine makes its best showing in large sizes.

Failing with his old firm, Mr. Charles Brown in 1900 persuaded his sons and their partner to make the venture. His task was rendered easier by the fact that his son had visited the Manchester Square station in 1895, and been much impressed by the possibilities of the new type of prime mover. Success followed at once, and the turbine proved even better than its promise. Mr. C. E. L. Brown was, however, dissatisfied with the type of generator originally used, and with his accustomed mechanical insight devised the high-speed rotary field machine, which has been copied the world over.

The subject of our memoir had the artistic temperament, and worked best in fits and starts. During his earlier years, of course, this constitutional peculiarity could not be indulged, but when the new firm was well established he used to take long absences, and on his return from these would do work no one else could attempt, as his partners were the first to recognise. As time went on, however, the growth of the firm forced more and more administrative and financial burdens on to Mr. Brown, whose tastes and special abilities lay much more on the technical side. He began therefore to find the conditions irksome and retired accordingly in 1911. Since then he lived mainly in Italy, near Lugnano.

In recognition of his conspicuous achievements an honorary doctor’s degree was conferred on, him by the Zurich University in the year of his retirement."

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1924 Institution of Electrical Engineers: Obituaries
  2. The Engineer 1924/05/16
  3. Engineering 1924/05/16