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British Industrial History

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Conrad William Cooke

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Conrad William Cooke (1840-1926), grandson of George Cooke, a famous line engraver[1] and son of Edward William Cooke, marine and landscape painter[2]

1844 Born in Barnes

Served apprenticeship to John Penn and Sons

Assistant to Sir Joseph Whitworth

Surveyed under Professor H. S. Castle of King's College.

Survey for Isle of Wight Railway, under Sir Charles Fox

Partner in firm of Whieldon and Cooke, Engineers, Lambeth.

Designed and installed first electric light on the Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament.

1881 Civil engineer and electrician; at the time of the census was staying in Hastings with his grandmother[3]

Went into Consulting practice.

1888 Possessed one of the lenses with which Daguerre made his photographic researches (c.1829), obtained from Dr. Diamond, one time Secretary to the Photographic Society.[4]

1911 retired consulting engineer[5]

1926 Died in Hampstead

Member of Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


1926 Obituary [6]

CONRAD WILLIAM COOKE died at Hampstead on the 9th January, 1926, in his 83rd year. By his death the Institution loses one of its oldest members. He was well known to all who were connected in any way with the early days of electrical work.

Born in 1840, the son of an eminent artist, he was trained in the establishment of Messrs. J. Penn and Son, the well-known engineers of Greenwich.

He began professional work as a civil engineer by surveying and laying out the first Isle of Wight railway under Sir Charles Fox.

Afterwards he became assistant to Sir Joseph Whitworth.

His connection with electrical work seems to have begun at the time of the invention of the Gramme dynamo in 1870. This greatly attracted him. He recognized that it made direct-current dynamo-electric generation practicable, for it gave a current not merely continuous in direction but also sensibly uniform in: strength. It is said that the patent specification of this invention was brought out of Paris by balloon during the siege by the Germans in 1870. Cooke recognized its importance and introduced and made the machine here. He used it to supply a searchlight on the clock-tower of the Houses of Parliament, all the work being designed and carried out by him.

He joined the Institution's predecessor, the Society of Telegraph Engineers, as an Associate, in 1875, and became a Member in 1878. He remained a Member and maintained his interest in electricity all his life, but his activities were not confined to that branch of engineering. He experimented on improvements in gas lighting, took part in the introduction of the incandescent gas lamp here, and became consulting engineer to the Welsbach Co.

He was led to take a great interest in the telephone by being present when Kelvin first described Bell's invention - at the British Association meeting in 1876. He then wrote the oft-quoted article on this invention which appeared in Engineering.

In 1879, in a lecture at the Society of Arts, he first showed the loud-speaking receiver of Edison. He was the author of the two portly volumes on "Electric Illumination," which were published in 1882 and 1885 by Engineering. They are still useful as books of reference as to early applications.

He wrote a memoir of Gilbert, of Colchester, and with Prof. Silvanus Thompson founded the Gilbert Club to produce the handsome translation, by P. F. Mottelay, of Gilbert's "De Magnete " (1893).

He was interested in astronomy and was chosen to take part in the Solar Eclipse Expeditions of 1896, 1900 and 1905.

His general engineering knowledge made him a valued member of the juries of many exhibitions, including the Chicago Exhibition of 1893. He was of a very happy disposition—this, and his broad views, great experience and erudition, made him a general favourite in the engineering world, and he was able to enjoy life to a mature age.

He had five sons and a daughter by his first wife. These all survive him, as does his second wife, Miss Sophie Augusta Bonnavie, daughter of a Christiania advocate. He presented to the Institution library a very interesting and admirable collection of drawings made by his father, E. W. Cooke, R.A., F.R.S., the marine painter, of scenes on H.M.S. "Agamemnon" during the laying of the first Atlantic cable in 1857 and 1858. In an accompanying letter he mentioned that his father was the only Royal Academician who was also a Fellow of the Royal Society. This collection, which also contains some excellent photographs taken on this cable ship, cannot fail to be of interest to old telegraph men.


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