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THIRD DECADE 1919-1929
In the nationalistic atmosphere of war the Company had found that American control, though not American technology, was a severe handicap; British Westinghouse was even refused admission to the Federation of British Industries.
Moreover the future of international economic relations was very uncertain. In the autumn of 1916 Lange went to America to start negotiations, and by the following May a British holding company had been formed to buy the American shareholdings. Funds were provided by the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Company Limited, whose chairman, F. Dudley Docker, was considering the formation of a large electrical combine like those existing in Germany. He was instrumental in finding £1,000,000 to enable the Company to carry on its business and keep up with modern developments, and in 1918 the authorized capital of £1,395,000 was increased by £5,000,000.
The B. W. Company was now British in fact as well as name, and early in 1918 Lange and Blunt, already shorn of a good deal of executive responsibility since Magdeburg and even Maryland had become undesirable as birthplaces, resigned from the Board.
Lange was one of the corner-stones on which the success of the Company was built. He had progressive views on the function of management; he was an early advocate of high wages and payment by results, and he started the first foremen's bonus scheme. Personally he was firm, sometimes ruthless but always just. His office was always open to anyone with a genuine grievance, and at heart he was human and sympathetic. He had a commanding presence, owing little to his well-groomed figure with four-in-hand tie and pin, and an artistic temperament which found expression in music and painting. He was retained for some years as technical adviser, and it is said that on his entering the 'upper dining room' after a long absence the managers present rose spontaneously to their feet as a mark of respect and affection. As late as 1937, just before his death at the age of 81, a mention of his name at the annual gathering of long service members was greeted with loud and prolonged applause.
Alongside Lange, Blunt had constructed the commercial organization and maintained it through good times and bad. He served the Company from its birth to his resignation in October 1919, and though he then returned to America (joining his brother in a large foundry business) he continued to represent us for many years. He was conspicuous for geniality and kindness and for his fondness for sport, which dated from early prowess at lacrosse and Rugby football.
Another pioneer, A. M. Randolph, who had been manager of the detail department since 1910, returned in 1919 to America, where in spite of ill-health he represented our interests until his death in 1927. Randolph, who had served for more than thirty-three years with Westinghouse Companies, was a popular figure in the works; he was felt to represent industrialism on its highest plane and was a beneficial influence on all around him.
Lange was succeeded by Lincoln Chandler, at that time managing director of the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Company, but this appointment did not last out the year. At the beginning of 1919 a new managing director came on the scene — R. S. Hilton. Captain Hilton, as he was always known, spent the early part of his career in Lancashire as a mining engineer and colliery manager. In 1911, at the age of 41, he became manager of the Birmingham Corporation Gas Department, and during the war he was seconded from the Royal Warwickshire Regiment to a Government post to organize the country's gas undertakings for the manufacture of toluol and high explosives.
Hilton's arrival at Trafford Park was only one of the significant events of 1919. A few weeks later, too soon for any progress to be made with Docker's larger plans, the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co and with it the British Westinghouse were acquired by the world-famous firm of Vickers Limited, who wished to be able to supplement their production of steel, ships, trains, and machinery with that of the associated electrical equipment. As a result of this association, which ebbing and flowing over the years still exists, there appeared on September 8, 1919, the new title Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company, a name that has become famous particularly in abbreviated forms such as the official 'Metrovick' and the colloquial M-V or, locally, 'Metros'. This was also the first year in which ordinary shareholders of the Company received a dividend: 8 per cent was paid in respect of £1,000,000 of shares, which had been allotted to the Metropolitan Carriage Company in April for cash.
In November 1919 G. E. Bailey, superintendent of the engine department, was appointed works manager, another step that was to prove decisive for the welfare of the Company. Bailey succeeded McLean, an uncompromisingly honest Scotsman who had decided to retire after having been associated with the Westinghouse Companies since 1897. McLean was plant and motor superintendent before becoming works manager in 1916, and he had taken a valuable interest in apprentice training; he received the M.B.E. for his work during the war. Within a year of this appointment Bailey took full control of the works, in succession to Mensforth, who had been appointed Director-General of Factories at the War Office. Mensforth had been general manager of works since 1917 and, perhaps because of his Yorkshire pertinacity, he had been particularly successful m handling wartime labour difficulties and in increasing the output of munitions in the district. For this he was awarded the C.B.E, and he was knighted in 1923.
On the passing of the B.W. era many of those who had served felt that an association should be formed with the object of keeping in touch with old friends, for instance by annual reunions. The first committee meeting of the 'ex-British Westinghouse association' was held in London on November 13, 1918 under the chairmanship of C. Dalley, others present being L. R. Morshead, H. S. Aspinall, C. W. Crosbie, A. F. Dick, and L. S. Richardson. Richardson, who had been an apprentice at Trafford Park during 1904-8, agreed to act as secretary, and for more than thirty years he has brought enthusiasm, imagination and energy to a live association still mustering some 350 members.
The ten years that opened with the change of control began also with business hampered by post-war conditions: political uncertainties, Government restrictions raw material and shipment difficulties, and labour unrest. Even so the tonnage output for 1920 was up by 30 per cent, and the total number employed rose to nearly 10,000. But a trade depression was beginning: orders started to fall off, and in 1922 hopes of improvement were clouded by a dispute with the engineering unions. This resulted in a three months' lock-out, during which the works committee kept in touch with the management right up to the final settlement providing that in any future dispute work should go on while the trouble was argued out.
In 1922 the chairman of the Board, J. Annan Bryce, resigned owing to failing health and died a few months later. Bryce was a brother of the famous ambassador and writer and was for many years M.P. for Inverness Burghs. An original director, he had been chairman for fourteen years, during which he conducted general meetings with skill in difficult circumstances. He was succeeded by Sir Philip A. M. Nash, who had been Inspector-General of Transportation for the Western Front and permanent representative on the Inter-allied Transportation Council.
The difficulties of the electrical industry in the following years were reflected in a dividend reduction from 12 1/2 per cent to 8 per cent in 1923 and 6 per cent in 1927. In 1924 output was beginning to increase, but 1926 suffered from the effects both of a coal strike lasting from May to October and of the only general strike in British industrial history. The general strike lasted from May 3 to 12, but for M-V it passed off with the loss of only one day's work, thanks largely to the works committee, who with their chairman, Sam Ratcliffe, had made strenuous and successful efforts to keep the works going; one stalwart, Teddy McGrath, living near Oldham walked 170 miles to and from the works in the absence of his usual train. Later in the same year, Ratcliffe was chosen to visit America with a Daily Mail mission of trade unionists to study conditions in the engineering trades there. To the credit side of 1926 must be put the passing of the Electricity (Supply) Act, which implemented the report of the Weir Committee by authorizing the creation of the Central Electricity Board and the construction of an electricity 'grid'. By 1928 the C.E.B. was at work, thus releasing a flood of heavy plant orders that had been held up pending legislation.
Important administrative changes took place in February 1927, when Hilton relinquished the title of managing director to become deputy chairman: G. E. Bailey and A. McKinstry were elected to the Board and appointed general managers in charge of the manufacturing and commercial activities respectively. This arrangement brought executive heads into closer contact with the higher administration of the Company and was a fitting recognition of their part in building up its increased prosperity. J. S. Peck, the chief electrical engineer, became a director in the following January.
Bailey, who had been works manager since 1919 and whose responsibilities were now enlarged to those of general manager of the works, had acquired a high reputation. This was not solely due to his contribution to the efficient organization and equipment of the works nor to his personal driving force — "Never mind your Kruschen's daily: Take a dose of G. E. Bailey".
It stemmed also from his keen interest in the human factor in industry. His genuine concern for the welfare of the Company's men and women took practical form in the provision of many amenities and in the consistent support of organizations such as the works and staff committees, which ensure that relations between labour and management are kept on the best possible footing.
The year 1927 was marked by a record output from the works, but it was essential to find some way of reducing costs if the necessary export business was to be maintained in the face of very severe competition. Moves in this direction were well under way when in January 1928 Hilton left the Company.
For nine years he had brought to bear a striking sense of leadership and discipline, tempered by an unsuspected streak of sentiment that made him particularly responsive to welfare schemes, many of which were started with his encouragement. As managing director he inherited the mantle of his great predecessor: what Lange had created in an uphill task, Hilton was able to consolidate, bringing the Company to the forefront of the electrical industry and making a great contribution to the good relations between management, staff, and workpeople.
Hilton was rather sparing of words, a patient listener to a businesslike case but unimpressed by exaggeration or diplomacy. Too reticent to be loved, he was fair in judgment and action, though capable of aggressive action at the right moment. His example in placing the Company's interests before his own — to the point of altruism — left its mark on the whole organization. He joined the United Steel Companies as managing director, later becoming deputy chairman. He was knighted in 1942 and died in retirement in the following year.
In 1922 there occurred one of the outstanding events of the century — the birth of broadcasting in this country — and it was the research department at Trafford Park that transmitted the first B.B.C. programme in the north.
The American Westinghouse had sent out the first regular programmes of music and speech from East Pittsburgh in December 1920. In a few months radio became a craze, and as interest developed on this side. P.M. Fleming crossed the Atlantic to see broadcasting in operation and gauge the public demand. On his return, the Company decided to set up a transmitting station in the research department at Trafford Park.
A conference room was fitted with a marquee-like arrangement to give the deadness then required of a studio and was connected by festoons of wire to a tiny transmitter room under a staircase; more wires led to a cage-type aerial slung between the tip of the water-tower and the top of the main buildings. A smaller transmitting and receiving station was set up six miles away, in Fleming's home at Hale, to receive the transmissions and to provide signals to check the Trafford Park receivers. Experimental transmissions were started on May 17, 1922, and continued throughout the summer and autumn.
A little earlier, on March 31, the Company had made formal application to the General Post Office for permission to "carry out the broadcasting of music and speech by wireless telephony". This historic letter proposed two stations, at Manchester and at Slough, to operate with an input of 3 kW and to broadcast regularly on a 375/435-metre waveband from 4 to 5 and 7.30 to 10 p.m.
At first the G.P.O. was not favourably inclined on the grounds that "the ether was already full", but when some twenty similar applications had been made it was suggested that an agreed scheme might be considered and eventually a British Broadcasting Company was formed. This first B.B.C. (which was replaced by the present Corporation five years later) comprised a group of manufacturers, M-V, B.T.H., G.E.C., Marconi, Radio Communication, and Western Electric. It proposed to operate eventually at least eight stations at London, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Cardiff, Plymouth, Glasgow, and Aberdeen; the expense was to be borne partly by the manufacturers and partly by a proportion of the receiving licence fees. The Broadcasting Company with A. McKinstry as the M-V representative was registered on December 15, 1922, its licence to broadcast being made retrospective from November 1.
The experimental station in the research department became the first Manchester station of the B.B.C., working on a wavelength of 385 metres with the call-sign '2ZY'. Official operation started at 24 hours' notice on November 15, 1922, the day after the first broadcast from Savoy Hill (2LO). In addition to a lucky scoop in the form of General Election results, the first programme included children's stories, and music by Uncle Humpty Dumpty and the Lady of the Magic Carpet, music from gramophone records, humorous stories by Mr. X and others, and records of dance music continuing until 1.15 in the morning. The station was staffed by members of the research department under H. G. Bell (now manager of a B.E.A. sub-area) and by college apprentices, who often had to fill a gap by acting as artists as well as technicians. Musical evenings, both records and 'live', were directed by K. A. Wright, the present deputy director of music at the B.B.C. Several of the staff appeared as Uncles and Aunties in a popular Children's Corner; many will remember S. J. Nightingale as the Sandman, Wright as Uncle Humpty Dumpty, the Misses A. and A. L. Bennie as the Lady of the Magic Carpet and Cousin Bunny, and Miss J. M. Cormack as the Cloud Lady and pianist.
Talks ranging from gardening to welding were given by Bell and W. J. Brown, as Mr. X and Mr. Z, and humorous sketches, often impromptu, by J. W. Buckley and R. T. Fleming as Rastus and Massa Johnson. Regular announcers included A. E. Grimsdale and Victor Smythe (afterwards in charge of outside broadcasts from the B.B.C. station in Manchester).
The programme and the times of the main items soon took on the familiar form: children's hour was before the first news, the news itself at 6 and 9 p.m., talks between 7 and 8, and the main entertainment from 8 to 10. There were many amusing incidents. It is said that at the end of an unusually tiring day, Victor Smythe not only gave his usual "Good night everybody, go-o-od night", but added to the standby engineer "Pull that b.... y switch out", a remark that scandalized listeners for many miles around.
The early experimental programmes were sent out from a 50-watt transmitter constructed by the research department, but this was replaced by a 700-watt equipment (later doubled in power) made by the R.C.C. with which M-V was technically associated. Reception was reported joyfully from places as far apart as Dingwall and Paris, Londonderry and the Channel Islands.
The Company continued to broadcast for the B.B.C. until August 1923, when a station of 5-kW capacity was opened in Manchester. Towards the end of that year American programmes broadcast on extra short wave transmission were being received with some success, and these were relayed from the research station on the call sign 2AC and occasionally included in B.B.C. programmes.
The happy amateurs who started 2ZY—rather as a joke that might some day become serious — had to solve many problems in a hurry, without proper data and with makeshift apparatus. For instance the science of studio acoustics, which with the development of microphones was the concern of J. W. Buckley, was then an uncharted sea, but many quick and practical solutions have stood the test of time.
A serious problem was to find a suitable microphone. At first only the ordinary telephone mouthpiece of the carbon-granule type was available, but this played queer tricks when a musical note coincided with its own natural frequency. The same trouble was found with the 'photophone', and for a time certain Hawaiian melodies that did not contain the fatal note were in great demand. Electromagnetic microphones with oil or grease damping put an end to most difficulties, the first example being made up from a loud speaker damped with turbine oil. This enabled the research station staff to put on an 'outside broadcast' early in 1923 from the Oxford Street Picture House, Manchester. Several miles of buried cable were used, despite expert opinion that the frequency band that could be transmitted would be too narrow to give reasonable reproduction, and not long afterwards this became the general method of transmitting outside broadcasts.
On the receiving side of broadcasting an experimental laboratory was set up and many types of receivers designed, from the 'crystal and cat's whisker' upwards. In the autumn of 1922 an advertising campaign presented the Cosmos crystal type Radiophone at £4 10s, and valve type Radiophones soon followed. The starting of a radio section of the M-V Club betokened growing interest. In 1923 the enthusiastic amateur was offered Radiobrix, a series of numbered units mounted in standard cubes, such as an h.f. amplifier or an l.f. amplifier; with these he could build his own receiver, from a crystal set to a six-valve model.
In 1924 development work in the research department under E. Y. Robinson produced the Cosmos Shortpath valve. This marked a radical change in construction since the clearances between electrodes were only a fraction of those previously employed. In spite of the improvement in performance (and the excellent scientific reasons for it), the new 'trade' was sceptical of the commercial prospects, but eventually Shortpath valves were made in large numbers, thus laying the foundations of the modern valve industry.
The christening of M-V in September 1919 was accompanied by the birth of the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Export Company, which was formed to handle overseas trade, always an invaluable support to the business. Towards the end of the war a study had been made of world trading conditions and markets by representatives on the spot, and the end of American control had opened up fresh fields for expansion.
The new company was launched with Hilton as chairman, H. J. Lloyd as managing director, E. J. Summerhill as administrative (later general) manager, and F. S. Holder as representative at Trafford Park. McKinstry was brought back from Australia, where he had just been appointed a State Electricity Commissioner for Victoria, and was later associated with Lloyd as joint managing director; on Lloyd's resignation in 1922 his place was taken by C. S. Richards, home from Japan.
Continuing the policy of direct representation wherever the market warranted, the Export Company began with offices in Brussels, Bombay, Calcutta, Johannesburg, Melbourne and Sydney. (The European Westinghouse Companies had been sold to Brown, Boveri and Co.) Elsewhere it continued to work through agents, often with an M-V representative attached. Frequent visits overseas by engineers and commercial managers brought an intimate knowledge of markets, and valuable contacts were established.
In the following years export business continued to improve, though on a low profit level: in spite of the severe competition from tariff-protected countries it was essential to fill shops affected by the slump at home. Business expanded particularly in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. A million-pound order for traction equipment for South Africa, secured in 1922 by P. S. Turner against American and continental competition, brought the value of exports to half the total business done by the Company. Branch offices were opened in New Zealand with S. A. Joyce, in the Argentine with G. Harlow, and in Brazil and the Far East.
In 1923 new representatives were appointed — A. L. Ohison in South Africa, and others in India, China, and Japan. Ohison, who is still directing operations in Johannesburg, came to Trafford Park from the Brush Company and from 1917 was in charge of marine business, particularly geared turbines. In South Africa he has been very successful in carrying on du Pasquier's work in the electric winder field, some sixty-seven winders having been installed during his first ten years, and a further hundred and sixty later.
It was C. S. Richards who, with Hilton's support, made the first approaches after the war to the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Richards had been acting manager in Moscow before the 1917 revolution, escaping in time to join the British intelligence staff at Murmansk, and he and A. A. Simon (manager of continental sales) had a wide personal knowledge and understanding of the country and were confident of the stability of the new republic. As a result, within a very few years the Company — unassisted by Government credits — had established close trading relations with the Soviet authorities, a step that was never regretted. By 1924 large contracts were in hand, and orders, mainly for heavy plant, to a total value of some £5,000,000 were carried out in the period between the wars. M-V turbo-generators of a capacity approaching 1,000,000 kW were installed, and the Company's name became more than ever a household word in Russia.
For some years until the British grid got under way, almost all the main technical developments were inspired by the needs of export markets, and all the largest plant made went abroad, destinations ranging from South Africa to Japan, New South Wales to Chile. A Brazilian contract of 1926 — for electrifying the Oeste de Minas Railway — was unusual in that the resident engineer had first to build houses and a church, the priest's blessing being necessary to ensure that work began under favourable auspices. The same engineer is said to have backed up an unconventional request by a story of two men who were chased by a bull, one taking refuge up a tree and the other in a cave; the latter made repeated sallies, only to be chased back, and when his friend called out "Why don't you stay in the cave?" the reply was "You don't know local conditions!" There was a bear in the cave. The growth of export business brought an increasing number of overseas apprentices to Trafford Park, and in August 1925 the 'M-V overseas association' was formed. An Australasian association had been in existence for some months, but it was felt that a more comprehensive body would enable apprentices from all overseas countries to mix and come to know each other better. This idea, backed by McKinstry, won strong support from the management, and a cosmopolitan committee was elected from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Argentina.
Today membership is open to all M-V men who have spent two years abroad in the service of the Company or have lived abroad for five years, and the original sixty-three have grown to over seven hundred. Though something like two-thirds of the present members have left M-V, perhaps it is they who place the highest value on the link provided by the association. Its original function of promoting good fellowship amongst members at Trafford Park is maintained by the annual dinner, the handbook of names and addresses, and the formal welcome given to new overseas apprentices; further, through the A.E.I. News, it disseminates news of members abroad, who themselves arrange local gatherings from time to time.
NEW name, new control, new directors were far more than a changing facade. They were symptomatic of a fresh outlook that was to affect almost every aspect of the organization—technical, commercial, and social.
One of the first signs of the new regime at Trafford Park was a call by the works committee for a mass meeting of management and workers. About 4,000 people gathered in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, on May 18, 1919, and with Hilton presiding the chairmen of the Company, the works committee, and the staff committee appealed for mutual cooperation.
The general outline of a new framework for the works organization appeared early in 1921. This, the present 'group system', brought an increased sense of responsibility and the end of watertight compartments, and it was perhaps the most lasting result of Hilton's term of office. The change was simple and fundamental, The three-legged engineering, manufacturing, and selling structure—united only at the apex—was stabilized and strengthened by adding cross-ties in the form of 'group committees', consisting of a chief engineer, shop superintendent, and sales manager. The mechanical and the large electrical plant groups were first set up, and as separate motor, control, switchgear, transformer, instrument and meter, traction, and other departments achieved independent status so the group system spread, until today it embraces the whole of the Company's products. Early results of the association with Vickers were the taking over of their electrical department at River Don works, Sheffield, which was making the smaller electrical machines, and the decision to transfer the tramway motor section to Sheffield, where steel castings were easy to get and a newly built armament factory was available at Attercliffe Common. By August 1920 the Company was in full control of the electrical work at Sheffield. A. D. Williamson, who had been general manager of the Vickers electrical department, took charge of both factories with G. H. Nelson as works manager; A. E. Hodson (like Nelson, a Trafford Park man) became superintendent at Attercliffe, and T. Campbell continued as superintendent at River Don. Traction motors were still designed in the motor department at Trafford Park until early in 1922, when a separate traction motor engineering department was set up at Sheffield to which the staff was transferred with G. H. Fletcher as chief engineer.
In 1923 when Williamson retired and his responsibilities passed to G. E. Bailey, then works manager at Trafford Park, the post-war demand for electrical equipment had fallen off. It was decided to make Attercliffe Common into a self-contained traction motor factory, and the electrical department at River Don was closed down, except for the mica shop which remained there until 1932. In 1928 the growing traction orders were threatening to swamp the manufacturing capacity at Sheffield, where the employees numbered nearly 800, and negotiations with Vickers ended in M-V buying the whole Attercliffe Common works (apart from the stamp shop) in 1931. This made 4 1/2 acres of single-storey building available for traction work.
The Company's ability to provide comprehensive equipment for railway electrification reached out in 1926 into the field of railway signalling. A new company, Metropolitan-Vickers-GRS Limited, was formed jointly with the General Railway Signal Company of Rochester, New York, to sell in this country and in the Dominions apparatus designed and developed by the American company and made at the Trafford Park works. This intention has been amply fulfilled by the M-V-GRS equipment installed in many parts of the world.
Another useful acquisition from Vickers was the electric heating and cooking appliances business of a subsidiary. Electric and Ordnance Accessories Limited of Birmingham. This fell in well with Hilton's view that the 'supplies' business could be dealt with more effectively by selling goods of our own make than by factoring, and there was room at the Cosmos works to make domestic appliances. A range of radiant fires was evolved that were the first of their type and, in fact, the ancestors of today's models.
The manufacture of electric light fittings was tackled by buying Harcourts Limited, a century-old Birmingham firm carrying on a high-class business as brass founders. A well-known sculptor, Walter Gilbert, whose father created Eros in Piccadilly Circus, was engaged as art director, together with skilled modellers, casters, chasers, and artists. By 1922 many types of fittings from the most utilitarian to the most elaborate required by architects were being produced under the management of N. Dennes. As the new supplies business developed it was decided to handle it through a subsidiary company, and on June 5, 1924, Metro-Vick Supplies Limited was registered with Hilton as chairman. It had a head office at 4 Central Buildings, Westminster, and a large showroom in Holborn.
Earlier in the year Layton, the managing director of the Cosmos Company, had died, and Gordon Franklin, who had gained valuable experience in the heating and cooking appliance business with the Norwegian branch, became general manager of the factory, where he pursued a far-sighted and progressive policy. Business in Cosmos lamps, appliances, and wireless sets and in Harcourts fittings increased rapidly, and better premises were soon required in London and the provinces: the London office was moved to Metro-Vick House, 155 Charing Cross Road, and new showrooms were opened in Glasgow and Newcastle. Sir Herbert Morgan became chairman of Metro-Vick Supplies, and P. F. Crinks gave up his appointment as manager of M-V London office to become full-time managing director of the subsidiary company.
At Trafford Park the manufacture of domestic cooking equipment joined that of baking ovens, while radio valves and receivers were moved to Brimsdown. In 1928 the domestic appliance work was mainly transferred to Harcourts, where considerable extensions had been made, and the Cosmos works concentrated on the manufacture of lamps and valves; the lamp output for that year was a record, and the demand for receiving valves—in six types—was growing steadily.
At Trafford Park three new works departments were inaugurated. They dealt with inspection, processing and rate fixing, and production on composite contracts, and each was designed to centralize and coordinate work previously done on a departmental basis.
More and more inspection had been required as Government work increased during the war, and this brought out forcibly the need for a central inspection organization. Accordingly in 1919 an inspection department was set up and given direct responsibility to the directors for the quality of the goods produced by the Company, the criterion being "Would we buy it?".
A. J. Simpson was appointed chief electrical inspector and T. Edmonds chief mechanical inspector, but after the first year both sections were put under L. Nicholson as chief inspector for the Company. Since 1902; when he is reputed to have been the first chairman of apprentices, Nicholson had obtained wide experience on dynamo test and outside erection, and he did much pioneer work in organizing the new department.
The analysis of machining and other production operations in the works and also the fixing of prices to be paid for various classes of work, once the responsibility of the foremen, were handed over to a new 'process and rate-fixing' department formed by G. E. Bailey in 1920 with T. Smith as superintendent and W. Symes as chief assistant.
Its original terms of reference were comprehensive enough: they were to coordinate the drawing up of manufacturing processes and the fixing of piecework prices, to carry out time and motion studies of shop processes, to transfer work from overloaded to under-loaded departments, and to keep in touch with advances in machine tool design. Additional duties came later, for instance the testing of new small tools and cutting steels and recommending the purchase of new and more efficient plant.
'P & R' scored an immediate success with a contract just secured for power plant for Australia at a price that appeared on the basis of the original estimates to involve a loss. It was decided that the new department should process the job down to the smallest detail with the result that on its completion a profit emerged. Since then the advance in manufacturing methods and specialization have made P & R with its records even more valuable, particularly in making available to individual departments the accumulated experience of all.
'Main production' department really arose from a proviso made by Bailey on his appointment—that a new department should be started to coordinate the production of equipment involved in composite or interdepartmental contracts. T. F. Lister, who had joined the Company in 1906 and had been concerned with production from the early days, was chosen as the first superintendent in 1921. In 1925 he left to join the Hackbridge Electric Construction Co (later following W. W. Hughes as chairman and managing director) and was succeeded by R. B. D. Lauder, who remained superintendent until 1940.
Today main production department is responsible for time-planning and coordinating the programmes on some 400 large composite contracts, ranging from steam and water power stations to mines, rolling mills and railway electrifications, and also on special contracts such as those for the Atomic Energy Research Committee. These are covered from the enquiry stage to installation on site, including coordination with the programmes of other manufacturers or contractors and, since the last war, of the Ministry of Supply and the nationalized industries, where major subcontracting is now involved. Continuous analytical work with appropriate action is necessary to cover an expanding field of constantly changing character.
A revolution in manufacturing methods began when fabrication by welding came up for consideration at the end of the war. Welding had long been used for repairing worn and damaged parts and for making sheet steel components such as small transformer tanks and switch boxes, but it was thought that many savings could be made by extending its use to larger products. In 1919 therefore a building that had been constructed for the fabrication of mines and paravanes was turned over chiefly to the welding of transformer tanks. This 'tank shop' was fully equipped with machine tools, and from twenty-five to fifty welders were employed. The use of welding progressed steadily and by 1927 the Company had manufactured its first all-welded bedplate; condenser shells and a.c. generator yokes followed in 1928, and d.c. generator yokes in 1929.
The volume of switchgear work gradually outgrew the accommodation in K and E aisles, and in 1928 a new building of 90,000 sq. ft., the nucleus of the present 'West works', was put up for the assembly of outdoor and metal-clad switchgear. Designed to accommodate eventually 400-kV switchgear and equipped for testing at voltages up to 500 kV in any part of the assembly area, it is still the most modern switchgear assembly shop in the country.
On account of the growing demand for power in the factory after the war it was decided to scrap the original works generating plant and buy current from the local electricity supply undertaking. Something like 15,000,000 units of electricity a year were being used, and all the electric motors and other apparatus were changed over from 25 to 50 cycle operation without interfering with manufacture. As at that time the facilities for turbine testing were becoming inadequate, the new substation, 5,000 kW in capacity, was placed in the main avenue, allowing the engine room space at the south end of B aisle to be used for a new turbine test.
The number of accidents in the works fell off steadily after the war — the injury roll was halved between 1916 and 1922 — and in 1925 this tendency was accelerated by setting up an 'accident prevention committee' of management, shop supervision, and workers. This committee recommends any changes in safety precautions that may be desirable as a result either of analyses of accident statistics or of changes in legislation, and its formation was soon followed by the appointment of two 'safety first' inspectors, at first on a part-time basis.
A centralized suggestions scheme, started as one of the first in the country in 1917, was reorganized with a representative committee in 1923, following a 'suggestion' from G. E. Bailey. In the first year over 160 suggestions were received. The committee now sits weekly and is open to consider constructive ideas based on any of the Company's activities and sent in by any of its employees. Awards, depending on the value to the Company, have ranged from a few shillings to many pounds: over £20,000 has been distributed.
Nearly 30,000 suggestions have been received and investigated. Among those that have proved to be more than just ideas were a wiring layout on a contact unit, which earned an award of £75 for H. Birkinshaw of West works switchgear, and a method of prolonging the lives of sillimanite crucibles used in high frequency sintering furnaces, which gained £50 for W. Lowe of research. In special competitions, which were started in 1927, J. Deans (iron foundry), C. W. Carless (C engine details), and W. Birch (instrument assembly) have won £20 prizes in addition to their normal awards. A 'general engineering' department was recreated by Mensforth in 1919 in order to cover the engineering work on installations of power plant (including marine) and heavy electrical plant such as mine winders and rolling mills; W. Eccles has been chief engineer (under K. Baumann) from the beginning. In October 1921 J. N. Bailey took charge of the commercial work associated with the department, and two years later a general engineering group was set up, consisting of Baumann, Peck, Eccles, and Bailey. In 1922 a new section was added to deal with mining matters under J. F. Perry, who had previously been concerned with electric winders, and in 1928 the department took over the industrial motor application section under L. Miller (who was followed by F. B. Holt in 1937).
In 1919 also, after an interval of twelve years, a standards section was re-formed and a standards committee set up with the object of promoting uniform practice and preventing overlapping between the various drawing offices; the whole organization was under the chief mechanical and electrical engineers. J. Collinson, originally in charge of electrical and detail standards, became chairman of the committee in 1922, and in 1934 he took over the whole of the standards work.
The commercial organization under W. W. Blunt, who retained the title of sales director till he retired, went through many vicissitudes during the years of changing control. Eventually, however, P. N. Rand, who had been Blunt's assistant, was appointed general sales manager and leader of the commercial organization, and J. C. Whitmoyer became contracts manager. Many branch offices changed hands: for instance D. MacArthur took charge of Glasgow, H. Paterson of Newcastle, A. S. Kinder of Manchester, and R. G. MacLaverty of Sheffield. At the London office, which had just moved to 4 Central Buildings, Westminster, O. H. Baldwin, a survivor from the old 'agency' Company and before, was succeeded by P. F. Crinks in 1923. Three years earlier the present London office manager, J. I. Law-Brooks, had begun his record term of twenty-five years in charge of motor sales.
From the end of 1923 each department dealt with its own orders, leaving the contracts manager free to work on composite installations. Since then the contracts department has handled orders for complete power station schemes and railway, colliery, rolling mill, and other electrifications all over the world. It also deals with spares and repairs, particularly the emergency work required to prevent shutdowns at a power station or colliery or to avoid delay in turning round a ship, and it functions as a consultant on the legal side of contracts.
A publicity department became an independent part of the organization in 1920 under A. E. du Pasquier, formerly at Johannesburg. (The printing works had been disbanded after the war.)
The comptroller, J. H. Tearle, resigned at the end of 1920 after twenty-three years with Westinghouse companies; he was a good friend to the staff, individually and in social affairs, and had been a wise counsellor to the new management. Tearle was succeeded by E. H. W. Cooke, who had been chief accountant of the Birmingham Gas Department and had installed the first tabulating machine system on general accountancy in this country. Cooke was also responsible for the pioneer food rationing scheme of the war. In 1922 he introduced four-weekly accounting periods at the works; these enabled comparisons to be made on an accurate basis and lasted until after the formation of A.E.I.
Changes in the works accounting and costing systems began in 1918 with the amalgamation of the whole of the cost sections under the comptroller and continued with the application of the Hollerith system to both accounting and costing. This made it possible to obtain promptly all the analyses of costs, overhead expenses, sales and so on that are necessary for precise and efficient administration in a large organization.
A spate of schemes designed to enhance the personal wellbeing of the Company's people began in 1921, though perhaps none was more popular than the general permission to smoke in the works, granted the previous year. A works benevolent fund was inaugurated in March 1921 with the objects of relieving distress among the workpeople, whether due to sickness, accident or other cause, and assisting their widows and orphans. This fund, which replaced the old sick benefit societies and local collections in the shops, has paid out over £210,000 in sickness and accident benefit alone and has also given money grants in other cases of distress and to hospitals and other charitable objects. Members' contributions range from 1d a week (under 16) to 4d a week (over 21), and the Company contributes £100 a month. Since 1924 membership of the fund has been a condition of employment for all 'clock' employees, men and women.
In November 1922 a staff benevolent fund was started. Members' contributions vary from 1d to 4d a week according to salary, and £60,500 has been paid out in grants. Though the Company does not contribute directly, its practice of extending salaries beyond the regulation period keeps the fund financially healthy.
From October 1928 employees could also belong to a contributory hospital scheme, which provided free medical and surgical treatment in the public wards of the local voluntary hospitals in the district. The subscription was 1d a week for the man and an extra 1d for his wife (children under 16 were included later). By 1938 the cost of treatment had risen far above the payments made from the fund. An appeal to employees to increase their own subscriptions to 2d a week was successful, and with an annual contribution of £500 from the Company the total income for 1939 was £8,000, enough to pay the full cost of treatment for all patients in the scheme. Thereafter, a contribution of £4 10s a week was maintained for each patient until the scheme ended with the introduction of the national health service.
Provision for old age was first made in March 1922 when a pension scheme for male staff was set up. This scheme works, in conjunction with an insurance company, on the basis of equal contributions from the employee and the Company, and it provides a pension at the retirement age of 65. There are now 3500 contributing members and 120 annuitants, and almost £100,000 has been paid to the dependants of employees who have died. Women's retirement was not provided for until 1928 when a female staff benefit scheme was started. This is an internally managed fund with equal contributions from members and from the Company; it has 1000 contributing members and assets amounting to £95,000.
Another aid to personal solvency was provided in 1926 by the establishment of a thrift scheme (originally for women only) to which deposits could be made by payroll deductions, a very convenient way of saving money. This scheme bears its own expenses, but the Company makes an annual contribution as sponsor. Deposits are invested in trustee securities and mortgage loans, including loans to employees for house purchase — a popular service; interest is paid, at present 4 per cent per annum on balances up to £400 and 3 per cent above. Retired employees can leave their balances in the scheme and deposit pension money up to £1,000. There are more than 9,000 members with an average balance of £35 each.
The daily round was not only lightened by provision for sickness and retirement: it was also brightened by the building of new canteens. As Trafford Park is a non-residential area, only a few can get home for a midday meal. In the primitive times of 1902 there was just an eating shed with rough tables and tea-brewing kettles, and since then only some small canteens had been provided. Now, in 1921, two large canteens seating a total of 4500 were opened.
The workmen's canteen, off K aisle, had one half run on the cafeteria system and the other as a restaurant the meat course known as the 'dinner' being brought round to the tables on wagons. At the cafeteria end, meat with two vegetables and pudding were obtainable from 7d to l0d. Old customs die hard, and it was very many years before the canteen was used to capacity.
The staff canteen was opened a few months later and was also split into two sections, one for men and one for women; this parting of the sexes persisted until the end of the last war. Waitress service was provided throughout, and a dinner costing about 1s could be selected from three meat dishes (or vegetarian) and four sweets—apples and oranges thrown in.
A work-girls' canteen was opened in a small building near the foundry in 1921 and extended in 1928, when with the adjacent foundry canteen it catered for all the girls who stayed for dinner.
Towards the end of 1922 some of the older employees suggested the formation of an association to link together and watch the interests of those who had been with the Company from the very early days, say for twenty years. Upwards of 200 out of the 300 men and women eligible attended a preliminary meeting. A further meeting on April 16, 1923, set up the present 'long service association', electing A. Walmsley as chairman, an office he retained for twenty-five years. Later on, it was evident that the membership would become unwieldy, and the qualification was increased gradually to reach thirty years in 1952.
Members of the association enjoy special consideration as regards loss of employment and receive the gift of a gold watch (or equivalent) from the Company after thirty-five years' service. Their subscription of 6d per week provides funds out of which grants are made to members in distress from any cause such as long sickness, accident, or domestic affairs, and also to their dependants. In 1928 the Company began an annual payment to a 'special grants account' designed to provide relief as necessary to members compelled to give up active work. (Later this account was replaced by a works retiring grants scheme.) The association organizes social events, such as bowling competitions and theatre nights, and it holds an annual social gathering in the form of a supper and concert.
Social activities at the works revived rapidly after the war, centring on the rechristened Metropolitan-Vickers Club, which was considerably extended: a new dance floor was provided in 1923, and more tennis courts and a bowling green in 1925. Among the many affiliated organizations that sprang up at this time the Rugby football club, the male voice choir, and the debating society may be taken as representative.
The 'rugger' club is believed to be the oldest in industry. It started in 1923 and draws its players (mostly college and school apprentices) from all parts of the world, a unique distinction outside the universities. The fixture list includes Bowdon, Furness, Rochdale, and most of the northern university clubs. Four teams are fielded regularly, and a member has been capped for Lancashire. A thirteen-acre ground was secured in 1934, largely through R. B. D. Lauder who was chairman from 1923 to 1944. It has three pitches and is being planted with trees in memory of sixteen members who fell in the war. Two years ago the club decided to run a cricket section, and it is now the Metrovick Rugby football and cricket club.
The male voice choir also founded in 1923 gives frequent public concerts, often with well-known soloists, and has raised over £2,000 for charitable causes. It has won five first prizes and six seconds at northern and midland choral festivals. The choir assists regularly at canteen concerts in the works, a voluntary service that is particularly welcome on festive occasions such as Christmas dinners when the proceedings are enlivened by decorations and community singing.
The debating society, formed by D. B. Hoseason with the encouragement of J. S. Peck, originated in the lunch-hour discussions of 1925. The society, whose motto is ‘quot homines tot sententiae’ (so many men, so many opinions), has been fortunate in a succession of active presidents and has provided much experience in public speaking. Social, political, and other questions of interest have been ventilated, and the debates graced by speeches from distinguished visitors. The members, now numbering 270, hold frequent challenge debates with other societies.
Perhaps the high spot of winter social events was the annual dinner, revived in 1919, and its successor the carnival dance and cabaret, both of which did much to ensure that the old 'Westinghouse spirit' should nourish under a new name. In 1924 it was felt that a carnival would provide a gathering that would be more generally enjoyed than a dinner, and these cheerful functions (as one remembers them) continued for four years. Between 2000 and 3000 people thronged the gaily decorated Free Trade Hall, and costumed dancers from directors to office boys partnered each other's ladies. Unfortunately, lapses on the part of some revellers became too frequent and, combined with the continuing trade depression, brought the carnivals to an end.
Among Royal visitors received at the works the Shah of Persia was welcomed in 1919, the Crown Prince of Japan in 1921, King Fuad of Egypt in 1927, and King Amanullah of Afghanistan in 1928, when to the particular disappointment of the work-girls with their machines decorated in Afghan colours his beautiful Queen Souriya was kept away by indisposition. But the greatest reception was given to the Prince of Wales, who paid a flying visit in 1921 to inspect ex-servicemen paraded under K. G. Maxwell of the research department.
The British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley in 1924 was the largest and most ambitious ever held in Britain and was visited by over eighteen million people in six months. The Company's stand—bigger than that of any other firm—showed products ranging from a 15,000-kW turbine and three automatic substations to electric fans, fires, and irons. In addition to the use of Cosmos Radiobrix for relaying the King's speech on the opening day, an interesting demonstration of radio transmission was given on September 3, when the converters in a 500-kW automatic substation on the stand were started and stopped by wireless from the Company's research department 170 miles away.
Worldwide interest was aroused by an exploit of 1919 with which the Company can claim some association. The feasibility of flying the Atlantic was at that time much debated among airmen and aeroplane designers. Among the former were John Alcock, a Manchester man who had a brilliant war record in the air, and Arthur W. Brown, a B.W. apprentice of 1902, who after being wounded and taken prisoner had later in the war been working on aero engine production and testing for the Ministry of Munitions. These two decided to attempt the Atlantic flight using a Vickers-Vimy biplane fitted with two Rolls-Royce engines, wireless, and direction-finding apparatus.
On the afternoon of June 14, 1919, they took off from Newfoundland in a 40 m.p.h. gale. For several hours the fog was so thick that they saw nothing, and at times they had to descend within 300 feet of the sea; their speed indicator jammed, and the wireless installation failed. At no time did they sight a ship. But Alcock's skill as a pilot and Brown's calculations and navigation brought them through, and after sixteen hours they landed in a bog at Clifden in County Galway. They had made the first transatlantic flight-eight years before Lindbergh-and won a Daily Mail prize of £10,000.
Both Alcock and Brown were knighted. The former was killed in an air crash before the end of the year, and three years later Sir Arthur Whitten-Brown returned to his old firm, where he was manager of the Swansea sub-office from 1923 until his death in 1948.
The training of apprentices entered a new phase after the war when the Company began to seek graduates in mechanical and electrical engineering for a two-year college apprenticeship' course. Selection by interviews, first at colleges and then at the works, secured the pick of the engineering students, who were given a course designed not to impart manual skill (though it included workshop training) but to provide experience of works methods and organization and a knowledge of the Company's products. At the end the apprentices had enough workshop and office experience to settle down into staff appointments and were in a position to decide whether to enter the manufacturing or design, the research or sales side of engineering Naturally they were not fully productive at first, and they were therefore given further training in their departments or, in selected cases, by post-apprenticeship courses, which might last from six months to two years.
School apprentice training followed the general lines of the course for university men-boys from public and secondary schools entered at matriculation standard and underwent a four years' course, during which they had opportunities for part-time day study at the local colleges of technology. Trade apprentice courses were expanded at the same time, using ex-service instructors selected for their good craftsmanship and their interest in the training of boys. By the end of 1920 the education department was responsible for no less than 1450 men and boys including 100 college, 100 school, and 800 trade apprentices, and only a tenth of the applicants for admission could be accepted.
To link up recreational and out-of-works activities for college and school apprentices an association was formed in 1919, the first chairman being A. W Muir (now of publicity department). In 1921 A. P. M. Fleming decided to fuse this and the existing trade apprentice organization into a single apprentice association. The two sections could act either individually or jointly as required, and this system, combined with side-by-side training, has been exceedingly effective in establishing mutual regard between the managers of the future and their right-hand men.
Training was not confined to men: the education department started evening classes in commercial subjects designed to equip the younger girls for promotion, and the women's supervision department had long been active in fostering the interest of women in their work and encouraging a corporate feeling by education and a broader outlook. During the war it had instituted fortnightly lectures attended in working hours by delegates from the departments, and by 1920 they had transformed themselves into a 'women's works committee'.
Here everything affecting the interests of women workers was discussed with representatives of the Company and the fore-mistresses; on the very first agenda was an item 'brewing', which put works tea-making at once into its rightful place of importance. This organization, still one of the few all-women committees in the industry, has done much to promote goodwill and cooperation and thus keep up productive efficiency.
At the same time the employment aspect of women's supervision was developed. A more thorough system of interview and selection tended to ensure that the right woman found the right job, close contact with the departments and more complete records improved the transfer and promotion system, and advice on individual problems was made easily available.
The opportunities for women as professional engineers were underlined in 1920, when Miss Gertrude Entwisle, who had joined motor department in 1915 as the only woman on the technical staff of the Company, became the first woman Associate Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. Miss Entwisle, now a plant engineer, has been a pioneer for woman's place in the engineering industry. Her career has been closely paralleled by that of Miss Dorothy Smith of the motor engineering department, and they have been followed by many others who hold and have held responsible positions in the design departments, drawing offices, and research laboratories. Close on a dozen women have had a regular apprenticeship training.
FOLLOWING the decision to develop a department of research and scientific study under A. P. M. Fleming, long-term investigations were held in abeyance by the war, and work was concentrated on manufacturing materials. A chemical section incorporating the early chemical laboratory was set up in June 1919 under R. W. Bailey, an early apprentice, and separate mechanical and metallurgical sections were established in the same year. A workshop for making experimental apparatus was started by N. Holt. New plant and instruments were hard to come by, and the arrival of a three-element oscillograph, still in use, was a major event.
In the insulation test the growth of work necessitated by 1920 a move to a larger area, and division into an electrical and magnetic section and a high voltage section; from 1919 this work had been in charge of B. A. G. Churcher, who later had as colleagues P. P. Starling and C. Dannatt and as apprentices D. B. Hoseason and J. D. Cockcroft, names that will come up again. Insulating materials today owe much to a close liaison between research department and the manufacturers. Before the first war, grey pressboard for use in transformers and other applications could only be obtained with difficulty from Germany, and the quality was uncertain. Methods of manufacture were investigated, and early in 1920 B. S. & W. Whiteley Ltd. agreed to produce it at their mill in Yorkshire. Thus a supply of high-grade grey pressboard was ensured. Between 1923 and 1925 much work was done on high grade porcelains and on micanite products, papers, and asbestos sleeving.
From the idea of material specification came that of process specifications. These were developed by the research department in 1921 as a step towards lower manufacturing costs, which would strengthen the competitive position of the Company. Process specifications define the technical operations to be followed in the manufacture or preparation of intermediate materials, ensuring that the materials are processed efficiently and are consistent in their properties.
Research into the magnetic behaviour of steels for electrical purposes was necessary to maintain the quality of incoming supplies of electrical steels and generator forgings and to supply the engineers with technical data, but new methods and apparatus for magnetic measurement had first to be devised. A permeameter of high accuracy was produced, and an iron loss tester (due to Churcher) having magnetizing windings that ensured a uniform flux distribution in the test specimen; both are now accepted as British standard testers and are used in many steelmakers' laboratories. Improvements in the wattmeter and bridge methods of measurement enabled iron losses to be investigated at frequencies up to 1 Mc/s and above.
Ways of physical testing that did not damage or destroy the specimen were much sought after. Methods of detecting cracks in iron and steel had been under investigation for two years when something unusual was noticed about a magnetized specimen that was being prepared for metallurgical examination: the very fine dust from the polishing operation always settled along a sharp curve.
No cause could be seen by the naked eye, but the microscope showed an extremely fine crack. Clearly the magnetization had produced a polarity at the edges of the crack, which behaved like a fine magnet and was shown up by the iron dust it attracted. Thus was magnetic crack detection discovered in 1922, and within five years it was being applied to alternator rotors, turbine discs and blades, and traction pinions. In later practice the doubtful surface was explored with a suspension of magnetic particles in light oil, and by suitable magnetization of a specimen in more than one plane, cracks lying in any plane could be detected at the first attempt.
Before this, permanent quarters had been prepared for research work: an administrative building including a library was opened in 1920, and the first laboratory building—chemical, mechanical, and metallurgical—in 1921. Thus early the Company had probably the best designed and equipped laboratories for industrial research in the kingdom, the staff numbering about 130, and a new research building or extension was to spring up almost every year.
A high voltage laboratory was built in 1924. It was first provided with a 500,000-V 50-c/s testing set, and four years later with a million-volt plant made in the works and consisting of two 500-kV units arranged for connection in cascade. The laboratory, more completely equipped than that of any other British commercial firm, was honoured by a formal opening by Sir Ernest (later Lord) Rutherford, then Cavendish professor of experimental physics at Cambridge and president of the Royal Society. This took place in February 1930 in the presence of a galaxy of scientific and engineering talent including four Nobel prize winners.
In 1924 also C. R. Burch and N. R. Davis were working on eddy current heating when they became dissatisfied with existing published theory. In the course of a rigid mathematical analysis of the principles involved they were surprised to find that a definite quantity of material such as copper ought to melt efficiently when placed in a coil fed with 50-c/s alternating current; when the experiment was tried, a 100-lb charge of copper was successfully melted. Further work showed that steel could be melted economically at frequencies from 350 to 500 c/s, and an experimental furnace was designed in which a 300-lb melt was carried out. The great advance was the proof that induction melting did not need expensive high-speed high frequency generators. By 1926 a 5-cwt 500-c/s experimental furnace capable of melting more than a ton of steel a day had been made and sold to the steel industry, and in 1928 a similar model was shown at a Manchester exhibition.
Induction furnaces can ensure accurate composition and uniform quality of the melt, and they have revolutionized the manufacture of alloy steels. In laboratory sizes also they have been invaluable for metallurgical work, and similar furnaces have been developed for sintering, an important aid to powder metallurgy, and for the melting and casting of metals in vacuum giving a gas-free product. This last application arose while T. E. Allibone was working for the Company at Sheffield University on zirconium steels. Needing to produce pure zirconium he employed a thermite process by which a zirconium salt was reduced by aluminium at high temperatures in vacuum, and in order to avoid contamination of the metal by the residual gases in an Arsem carbon furnace Burch suggested heating the metal by eddy currents. Thus the Company came to make the first vacuum high-frequency induction furnace, and the final design incorporated the first water-cooled anode valve to be used in this country. These furnaces were later used in work by C. Sykes on the properties of zirconium alloyed with various common metals.
Investigations into the creep of metals were set in motion by R. W. Bailey about 1925 and have contributed much to the design of present-day power plant, which requires alloys that will withstand temperatures far above those used a few years ago. For instance, the work led to the introduction of chromium-molybdenum bolt steel and of molybdenum-vanadium steel for important parts of gas and steam turbines, including steam piping. The latter alloy, familiar to the Company for more than ten years, is now becoming generally recognized here and in America as the only type of ferritic steel that can be used with the highest steam temperatures and pressures in combination.
Later studies, chiefly by A. M. Roberts, with a form of temperature-controlled creep-tensile testing machine enabled the first batch of creep-testing units to be designed. These have been in use since 1928, and the extensive study of creep in the following years has been vital to the development of jet engines and gas turbines.
In 1925 a six-element recording electromagnetic oscillograph was constructed and installed, complete with dark room, near the main test beds in the works, forming the nucleus of the present oscillographic section. This is only one of the many pieces of testing apparatus that have been developed in the research department for works use. Examples are apparatus for the measurement of air flow in large turbogenerators, resistance test sets, short-circuit coil testing sets, iron loss test sets, temperature indicators for transformer windings, an harmonic analyser for direct measurement on electrical machines, and a.c. bridges for power measurement.
In 1926 came the brilliant discovery by C. R. Burch of the low-vapour pressure oils and greases known as Apiezon compounds. Distillation was a process that had always interested him, so it was natural that the sight of a tank of 'steaming' transformer oil, the degassing of which he had been asked to investigate, should reawaken the desire to work on distillation—this time, on vacuum distillation.
"No chemist", he had been cynical enough to say, "knows how to make a vacuum, and no vacuum worker has been interested in distillation except Hevesy, and he has not applied molecular distillation to organic chemistry. It would be rather jolly to distil mineral oil under really high vacuum, in fact the best vacuum possible". In this spirit Burch devised a molecular still and obtained distillates having extremely low vapour pressures and therefore capable of being used for high vacuum impregnation. Thus encouraged he developed larger experimental stills incorporating the principles of molecular distillation; an early commercial application was the concentration and separation of vitamins in fish liver oils, where the high temperatures normally required would have destroyed the vitamin content. But the most important outcome of this work was that it became possible to use oil diffusion pumps for high vacua and to construct large high vacuum vessels in a demountable form. Oil diffusion pumps could create a high vacuum more readily than mercury pumps, and the use of Apiezon oils (making a liquid-air condensation trap unnecessary) enabled them to be built for the first time, thus leading to the present wide commercial range. Likewise Apiezon greases could be used to seal the joints in high vacuum apparatus, and devices that had previously to be sealed off could be continuously evacuated, for instance high power radio valves, x-ray tubes, and vacuum furnaces.
A manufacturing process for a high grade aluminium-silicon product known as M-V 'C' alloy was developed in the research department in 1927. This light alloy, which was due to A. Phillips, at that time the foundry metallurgist, and E. Baron, general foreman in the brass foundry, is exceptional in its ease of casting, ductility and strength, and resistance to corrosion. Originating in an agreement to reduce the weight of naval armaments, it is now used for many light castings, e.g. fishing floats.
Methods of working molybdenum and other refractory metals were developed to overcome the considerable difficulties in obtaining a supply of processed material. Sheet molybdenum was in great request for the anodes of radio receiving valves and other electronic devices.
The first laminated plastic of its kind, Traffolyte, was produced in 1927 for use in transformer nameplates. Before long it was being made as decorative panels and veneers, being particularly suitable for walls or fittings in kitchens, bathrooms, and restaurants on account of its stain-resisting qualities. During the last war it was widely used for its lightness and resistance to corrosion. The complete business was sold to De La Rue Insulation Ltd. of Newcastle in 1945.
As electrical equipment came into more general use, quietness of operation became important, alike in turbo-generators and watt-hour meters. Noise problems in engineering apparatus had been studied under Churcher for two years when in 1928 an acoustics laboratory was built. At first much time had to be given to designing and making accurate equipment for measuring and analysing noise, and many results of the fundamental investigations were subsequently adopted by the B.S.I, in their definition of the standard phon. Further work under A. J. King covered, among many subjects, the mechanism of noise transmission in ducts, which led to improvements in the noise-attenuating properties of ventilating systems and later enabled suitable testing structures for gas turbine plants to be designed.
The third decade was a period of far-reaching technical developments, both mechanical and electrical. In the power supply field the size of turbo-generator units jumped ahead, and a tendency towards higher steam conditions began to appear. The higher voltages in use overseas required new transformer and switchgear designs, which paved the way for the British 'grid'.
In steam turbines many further developments took place under K. Baumann. These were assisted in 1921 by the setting up of an experimental department, where blade and nozzle forms could be tested accurately in an actual turbine under practical conditions. The largest units in hand at that time were three single cylinder turbines — 25,000-kW 1,500-r.p.m. machines with two-stage feed heating— for the new Manchester station at Barton. These sets, installed in 1923 and still in operation, resulted in a very high station efficiency and put Barton at the top of the Electricity Commissioners' analyses for the next five years.
Meanwhile it had been found that still higher efficiencies were obtainable from lower steam velocities, pointing to the use of more stages and smaller diameters. This required tandem cylinder construction like that of the special 2,400-r.p.m. machines made for North Tees in 1917, and machines of 10,000 kW output at 3,000 r.p.m. were built in 1923. As well as the better efficiency, tandem construction gave improved operating characteristics, easy starting and stopping, and smooth running on load, and outputs went up progressively. A 41,000-kW 1500-r.p.m. set put in hand in 1926 for extensions at Barton had four-stage feed heating to 300°F and was the prototype of many turbines installed over a long period. By 1926 also the first test had taken place on the new turbine test bed, which comprised nine berths providing for turbines from 500 kW to 50,000 kW.
Developments in condensing plant and the like were taking place round about 1923. The use of surface condensers instead of the jet type was spreading from the larger sets to industrial plants, and the steam operated surface-cooled air ejector invented by Leblanc began to displace the Westinghouse-Leblanc rotary air extraction plant. The early large condensers, which could only show a low rate of heat transmission, were replaced by the central flow design which ensured also a high temperature and effective de-aeration of the condensate. Power plant continued to increase steadily in size. Sets of 51,250 kW and 67,200 kW at 1500 r.p.m., the latter (for the new Battersea station) having a three cylinder turbine, were put in hand in 1928, and a 32,500-kW set ordered for the Victoria Falls Company in 1929 was notable as having the largest output then obtained from a normal turbine running at 3,000 r.p.m. Following experience obtained at North Tees a 38,500-kW reheater turbine for Japan was provided with effective protection against over-speeding on a sudden decrease in load (due to expansion of steam in the system beyond the control of the governor). Signs of a tendency towards higher operating conditions with their consequent economies appeared in 1927, when three 12,500-kW back pressure turbines were made for initial steam conditions of 630 p.s.i.g. 833°F.
Machine foundations began to be designed on scientific lines after the war with the object of preventing resonant vibration. In a few years the usual combination of rolled steel joists and concrete was superseded by steelwork alone for the largest sets (today ferro-concrete would be used). The closed feed system for boiler plant, now the standard method, was developed in 1925 in order to reduce the oxygen content of the feed water.
Small turbine work took on a new aspect in 1927 when the self-contained type, all on one floor with auxiliaries driven from the main shaft, was introduced. This design, the result of efforts to save space on marine installations, did away with the usual basement and independent auxiliaries and was preferable on all counts— installation cost, starting, efficiency, and reliability. Though the principle was soon taken up by other manufacturers M-V has kept its lead, having made nearly five hundred self-contained sets to date.
The post-war reduction in shipbuilding speedily affected the Company's position in the marine propulsion field, though in 1919 two 9000-hp turbines with floating frame gears were ordered for s.s. Cuba, and fourteen similar ships were equipped. Two Japanese ferryboats were each fitted with two 3000-hp geared propulsion turbines in 1921.
Very high efficiencies were obtained on turbo blowers, of which some single flow units with 48-in impellers were ordered in 1928: the official tests on the first of these gave a record adiabatic efficiency, 7.97 per cent above the guaranteed figure.
For electric winders where the supply system could not cope with large peak demands, an important development was a turbo-electric scheme invented by A. Stubbs and J. F. Perry in 1924. This proved useful later on sinking winders in South Africa, where it must be possible to raise the men from the shaft even though current is cut off by lightning disturbances. In the Stubbs-Perry system the d.c. Ward-Leonard generator is geared to a high-speed steam turbine, and the flywheel effect enables the steam demand to be limited to, say, 15 per cent above the average over the winding cycle; collieries with their own boiler plant can thus obtain the advantages of electric winding.
In 1927 the turbine shops carried out a remarkable piece of engineering work outside their usual line. This was the construction of two large and highly complicated bottle-making machines designed by a solicitor, who was also a director of John Walker & Sons, Ltd., proprietors of the famous whisky. Each machine weighed about 40 tons, measured 17 feet in diameter by 15 feet high, and had fifteen operating heads. As the whole mechanism rotated at six revolutions a minute, a cam-and-lever system caused each head to go through a complete series of operations from drawing molten glass into a mould to ejecting a finished bottle. Using dual moulds, over a million pint-bottles could be made in a week.
Electrical development in turbo-generating plant kept pace with the mechanical end. Machines made in three successive years, culminating in 1921 in a 20,000-kVA unit for Sydney, held pride of place as the largest 3,000-r.p.m. generators in the world. The increase in sizes made it necessary to enlarge and reorganize dynamo test; by the end of 1920 two new pits had been provided, one for turbo-generators and one for rotary converters and induction motors, and plant rated at 25,000 kVA could be tested. Further world's records for their speeds were set up in 1925 by generators rated at 43,750 kVA 1,500 r.p.m. and 15,625 kVA 3,600 r.p.m. for Japan, and in 1926 by a 38,500-kVA 3,000-r.p.m. machine for Russia. A 62,500-kVA 1,500-r.p.m. turbo-generator built for Portishead in 1928 was the largest that had been produced in any British factory.
These rapid developments required testing accommodation in which the rotors could be run at over-speed, and in view of their size a special test house was built in 1926. It was made of concrete lined with timber and sandbags almost enough to resist a bomb explosion, and the motor and gear box driving the rotor were placed outside the building. Over-speed tests are controlled by one man from a safe distance.
One of the most important technical developments was closed circuit ventilation. The air filters used on the early machines gave serious trouble, and in 1920 the Company's engineers decided to adopt a closed circuit system, in which the same air was used continuously and passed over water tube coolers. This system with subsequent improvements is still the standard method of ventilating large turbo-generators and similar machines.
Improvements in generator construction concerned the transposing of parallel conductor strips in the stator windings to reduce eddy currents, for which a method still in use was patented by J. A. Kuyser in 1920, and also the supporting and construction of rotor coil-retaining rings. The rings became more liable to move with the increasing length and speed of rotors, and trouble from the consequent damage to the insulation was cured in 1922 by the adoption of a sleeve-supported retaining ring. The use of non-magnetic steel for the retaining rings started in 1928 and had the effect of reducing the stray losses and also the intensity of stray magnetic fields, which caused local overheating at the ends of the stators.
For turbo-generator stators the Company introduced in 1924 the practice of bakelizing together the parallel straps of the slot conductors in order to provide a solid foundation on which to wrap the main insulation, thus avoiding insulation breakdown owing to movement Of the individual copper straps. Soon afterwards silver soldering by electric brazing was substituted for the soft soldering in general use on stator winding joints.
A three-part construction for turbo-generator rotors was adopted in 1927 to replace solid steel forgings, which were unobtainable in the sizes required for the largest 1,500-r.p.m. machines. In the M-V design a central cylinder and two shaft ends were held together by links of high tensile steel, shrunk into slots at each end of the rotor; by measuring the length of each link before and after shrinking, then stresses are accurately known. This construction has been used on generators totalling over 1,000,000 kVA in capacity. A 4,700-kVA 3,000-r.p.m. machine made in 1923 was the largest single-phase generator that had been built. It was fitted with a new type of damper winding developed by the Company to eliminate the troubles experienced on the smaller two-pole single-phase machines. Another special machine was made for the Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge, where in 1925 Kapitza and Cockcroft were carrying on early research work in nuclear physics under Rutherford. The' Rutherford generator', as it was known in the shops, was designed to supply a current of 72,000 A to a small coil for the production of magnetic fields of high intensity.
Auxiliary generating plant for use in ships included a large number of a.c. sets made in 1920 for forty oil tankers. This was the first time that an a.c. system had been used for marine auxiliaries, and the equipments are giving good service on those vessels still afloat.
To meet the progressive increase in transmission voltages, the Company manufactured transformers for 88-kV service in Tasmania in 1921, for 110-kV and 115-kV service in New Zealand and Russia in 1923, and for 132-kV service in South Africa in 1924. The South African transformers went to the Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Company as part of the first order for British-made 132-kV equipment, transformers and switchgear. This was an epoch-making event, four years before the British grid, and the experience gained was of great value in designing 132-kV equipment for the home market.
In 1928 when work began on the grid the Company was commissioned to build 132-kV transformers for Central Scotland. These were fitted with on-load tap changing, which was unusual at such high voltages; a new design of tap changer was evolved, and the first equipments are still in service. Even higher voltages were required overseas, a 33,000-kVA transformer group being supplied for 145-kV service in South America.
Transformer cooling methods began to change from water cooling to air cooling. Water-cooled oil coolers with forced oil circulation gave place to radiators for natural cooling up to half full load, with fans and oil circulating pumps for mixed cooling up to full output.
In the early days groups of single-phase transformers were used on three-phase systems, but as the use of electricity increased and greater capacities were required it became more economical to build and use three-phase transformers. To solve the transport problem a 120-ton railway truck of the side girder type was designed in conjunction with the railway companies to enable the full height of the loading gauge to be used. Road trailers were made to carry similar loads so that the largest transformers could be shipped direct to the docks.
During the war Swiss investigations, extensive but on a laboratory scale, had revived the possibility of rationalizing circuit-breaker design. Though a considerable amount of testing was done subsequently on power systems in America, the data obtained proved disappointing when applied to British designs. At the works every opportunity was taken of testing at weekends with generators going through dynamo test, and new oscillographs and other equipment were installed with the cooperation of G. A. Juhlin, chief engineer of the plant department; to him were due several improvements in switchgear design, culminating in the cross-jet explosion pot mentioned later. It was, however, only possible to conduct circuit-breaker tests at rare intervals.
Indoor switchgear was normally housed in moulded stone cubicles until 1918, but the combination of compactness and greater safety rapidly gained support for metal-clad gear. In 1922 W. A. Coates was set the task of producing designs for a complete range. The circuit breakers themselves were applicable to either cubicle or draw-out metal-clad structures.
The first of the new breakers were built in the following year. They were cubicle mounted rated at 1,500 MVA 33 kV, and are still in service in Salford with the original condenser bushings. Shortly afterwards the first order was received for an 11-kV full metal-clad switchboard for Liverpool, and in 1924 the Company's first 33-kV draw-out metal-clad unit was shown at Wembley. From this flying start horizontal draw-out metal-clad gear established itself, and it almost eliminated cubicle construction except for subsidiary services where cost was all-important.
A further landmark in this class of switchgear was set up in 1928 when Juhlin patented the cross-jet pot, which by restricting the arc path and controlling its length transferred circuit-breaker design from an empirical to a theoretical basis and showed the way to the apparatus of today.
In 1928 the first metal-clad gear for 1500 MVA at 6-6 kV was installed at Edinburgh. As the currents to be handled made draw-out construction impracticable fixed circuit-breakers and oil-immersed isolators were used with compound filled copper busbars of hollow square section to solve the problem of heat dissipation. Removable bushings gave direct access to the cables for test purposes.
Outdoor switchgear was developed by R. W. Todd for the highest voltages in use, starting in 1922 with 110-kV plain-break gear for the Mangahao system in New Zealand. This was quickly followed by the 132-kV gear for the Victoria Falls Company, using breakers with snap-breaks and insulated explosion pots. The next stage was the introduction of oil-blast pots with separate pressure-generating arcs. Several 1,500-MVA 132-kV breakers were sold to Russia, and in 1927 similar gear was ordered for half the switching stations on the Scottish grid. In all some hundreds of such equipments were sold to the Central Electricity Board.
Converting plant had long been a speciality of the Company, and a 4500-kW rotary converter supplied to Australia in 1923 (repeated in 1929) was at that time the largest ever built in this country. A 2,500-kW motor converter installed in the Charing Cross area in 1928 was also outstanding in size. Another development of 1923 was the use of induction regulators for controlling the voltage at the ends of distribution feeders and controlling the load on parallel feeders. (Later the development of on-load tap changing gear for transformers provided a better method.)
Automatic control equipment for substations and hydroelectric generating stations had made great strides in America, but it was little known in this country when in 1920 two 500-kW rotary converters with automatic control were ordered for tramway service in Liverpool. Accordingly the equipment was ordered from the American Westinghouse Company (with which ties were still strong), but before it arrived an order for a 250-kW plant for power and lighting service at Barrow-in-Furness led M-V to develop a complete set of apparatus including relays. The Liverpool equipment, the first in this country, was the forerunner of many others, and when, for electric railways and hydroelectric stations in particular, an addition in the form of remote control from a central point appeared to be desirable the Company worked out the first' supervisory control' scheme. This was based on the use of automatic telephone gear.
In 1919 a meter engineering laboratory was set up for the development of new apparatus. By 1924 prepayment meters were being advocated in order to increase the domestic demand for electricity, and it was decided to design a prepayment mechanism, which became the foundation of a considerable business.
The physical size of watt-hour meters was reduced by a new design based on the type N meter; this appeared as a credit type in 1926 and as a prepayment type in the following year, and it was also built as a poly-phase meter and for switchboard and consumers' service. A mercury motor type of d.c. ampere-hour meter was developed and later provided with prepayment mechanism.
Automatic protective gear was in general demand by 1920, and the Company's first important development was an inverse definite-minimum time delay relay: this was followed by a power directional relay, the two together giving complete discriminative protection on the graded time principle. Both these novelties are now included in the British Standard specification.
Subsequent developments, such as a supersensitive moving-iron relay, sensitive attracted-armature relays, the Translay differential protective system, and distance relays for line protection, gave the Company the premier position in the design of protective gear, and the start of the grid brought orders for the whole of the protective gear and metering equipment for the Central Scotland area. This gear is still working satisfactorily, almost unchanged, and today something like three-quarters of all the protective relays on the grid are M-V products. The payment by the C.E.B. for the electricity generated at the power stations involved complicated metering for which watt-hour meters of a precision type, maximum demand mechanisms, printometers, and summators were designed. The first types having satisfied requirements (after modification), complete metering equipment was ordered for three further areas — Mid-East England, South-West England, and South Scotland.
Electric motors in all sizes were finding a growing market, the largest machines being for rolling mills and mine winders. Motors having peak outputs of 25,000 hp were supplied to a Moss End steelworks in 1923 (similar motors were made for the Corby plant ten years later). Many large motors were included in a complete electrification scheme carded out for a new steelworks near Scunthorpe; these were ordered in 1919, but owing to the general depression in steel and shipbuilding they were not started up until 1928, when the plant became one of the most modern in the world.
Among electric winders an equipment of 1928 at the City Deep mine in South Africa was rated at 5,000/12,500 hp and raised a net load of 9| tons from a depth of nearly a mile at a speed of 40 m.p.h. This winder was the largest in the world and has remained so, though it will be outshone by a skip winding equipment now on order for Mosley Common colliery, Lancashire.
The introduction of the inverted type of synchronous induction motor in 1920 provided a design in which the active material could be used to the greatest advantage. In this machine the rotor is connected to the mains (limiting it to low voltages), and the stator carrying the secondary winding is connected to the exciter.
Motors up to 300 hp began to appear in new designs soon after the war. An early innovation was to improve the cooling of d.c. motors by fitting a large fan and sectionalizing the field coils to give more surface; the old round brackets and sleeve bearings were retained. At about the same time ball and roller bearings began to come into use, though slowly at first, and—an important event—the double-wound squirrel cage rotor was developed commercially in 1924, thus providing a type of high torque motor new to this country.
In 1926 R. Johnson formed an engineering development section of the motor department and put D. B. Hoseason in charge. This heralded major changes in design. The existing line of a.c. motors up to 150 hp was replaced by a new type having ball bearings and square end-shields, which allowed other types of enclosure to be provided by just changing the end-shield covers. Shortly afterwards some of the d.c. machines were similarly treated. By 1928, besides a complete range of motors for general purposes, special types were available for ship ventilation (requiring particularly quiet operation), for steelworks auxiliaries, for lifts (tandem type motors), for high starting torque drives, and for use in explosive atmospheres. Industrial control gear developments included oil-break stator switches and star-delta and auto-transformer starters, an air-break star-delta starter that was a predecessor of the present design, oil-break stator reversing contactors, autotransformer starters for high voltages, and cam-contactor controllers for duties those of the drum type. Flameproof testing on mining gear was being undertaken in the research department in 1922, using improvised apparatus with a motor-cycle magneto to provide the igniting spark.
When official testing started at Sheffield University one of the earliest certificates issued (No. 24, dated March 10, 1923) covered the M-V oil-break drum controller for use in fiery mines. In the following year coal-cutter protection, with which the Company was concerned as far back as 1908, was advanced by the development of a flameproof gate-end box of the automatic contactor type, equipped with many protective features; this was designed to give greater safety, reduced costs and increased output.
Drill control equipments for oilfields were produced in transportable form in 1926, the resistances, circuit breaker, and cam contactor controller being arranged as a self-contained unit on skids. By this time also automatic contactor gear was being applied to blast furnaces, machine tools, power station auxiliaries and so on, and the first multi-motor contactor equipments with sequence interlocking had been made for the centralized automatic control of coal preparation plants.
Electric traction work — the original object for which the Company was founded — took a leap forward in 1922, when an order was obtained for seventy-eight locomotives for the Natal electrification of the South African Railways. This was a 3,000-V d.c. scheme, and to handle heavy trains up to 1,500 tons on a 3 ft. 6 in. track, very curvy and with long gradients, triple heading was necessary and regenerative braking desirable. The locomotives were built as four-axle 1200-hp units with normal axle-mounted motors and electro-pneumatic control and were the first in the world for 3000-V regenerative multiple-unit operation. They brought the Company to the forefront of electric locomotive builders and led to the supply of locomotives aggregating over 350,000 hp to the South African Railways.
In 1926 the Company obtained a further notable order from overseas. This covered forty-one 2,600-hp 1,500-V heavy freight locomotives for the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, where the heavy loads and long descents of the Ghats again necessitated the use of regenerative braking. Sample passenger locomotives were also supplied by M-V and other makers, and the Company was successful in obtaining an order for twenty-two 2,160-hp passenger locomotives in 1929.
This particular railway electrification was welcomed in the jungle, as the overhead system was in position for some time without the current being switched on. New and better trapeze acts by the monkeys were followed by days of mourning, but the performance was soon in full swing again, apparently unhampered by the new rule about letting go the iron before grabbing the copper. Equipment for motor coach trains supplied at this time included, in addition to orders from the Southern Railway, somewhat similar motors for the L.M.S. and motors with control equipment for the London Underground railways: about 250 complete equipments and 100 motors amounting to 200,000 hp in all were supplied between 1919 and 1935. A large order was received for the Sydney (N.S.W.) suburban lines, for which 530 equipments totalling 375,000 hp were eventually made.
In lighter traction work an innovation of 1922 was the first hand-operated cam controller for tramcars; the principle has since been adopted in the industrial field. Much later, in 1938 when speeds and horse-powers of trams had increased, a compact design of electro-pneumatic equipment for remote control was developed, a type that still holds the field for heavy trams and in its most recent automatic multi-notch form gives accelerations as high as 3 miles/hr/sec.
As the use of fabrication extended, the Company started to develop welding plant of its own design based on its own welding experience. In 1922 a research specialist in arc welding was appointed, and a single-operator d.c. arc welding set built; this was a 200-A set with separate motor and generator, the latter differentially compound-wound with tapped series field for maximum and minimum currents. Five years later, 200-A and 300-A sets were developed with motor and generator in one yoke, which carried an overhung exciter and the starting and control gear.
While the cooker and heater department was making equipment with the normal type of resistance element, work was going on at Brimsdown on tubular-sheathed elements with magnesium oxide insulation under licence from a Norwegian, C. B. Backer. The investigations were transferred to the research department, which early in 1929 produced the basis of a satisfactory manufacturing process.
METROPOLITAN-VICKERS ELECTRICAL COMPANY LIMITED FEBRUARY 1924
BOARD OF DIRECTORS