William Edward Sumpner
William Edward Sumpner (1865- )
1937 Bio Note 
SUMPNER, William Edward: b. London, 1865. Educ.: Fellow of University College, London; D.Sc., London, 1889; Fellow of City and Guilds of London Institute; Lecturer City Guilds Engineering College, South Kensington, 1888-1893; head of Electrical Engineering Department, Battersea Polytechnic, 1894-1895; Principal and head of Electrical Engineering Department, Birmingham Technical College, 1895-1930; Fellow of Physical Society, London; Member of Institution of Electrical Engineers; has served as Chairman of Birmingham Section of Institution of Electrical Engineers, and also as Vice-President of the Physical Society; m. Lucy, d. of R. W. Weekes, 1901; one s., one d. Publications Various scientific papers sent to Royal Society, Physical Society, British Association, Institution of Electrical Engineers, Philosophical Magazine, and Technical Press. Recreations: Golf, chess, mountaineering. Club: Clef. Address: 71, Cotton Lane, Moseley.
WILLIAM EDWARD SUMPNER, D.Sc, who was born in 1865 and died on the 8th May, 1940, had retired from the principalship of the Central Technical College, Birmingham, in 1930. He was connected from the first with the movement inaugurated by the City and Guilds of London Institute for the advancement of technical education. In 1885 he obtained first-class honours in both mathematics and physics in the final B.Sc. examination of London University, and 4 years later took the degree of D.Sc. From 1888 to 1893 he was lecturer in the City and Guilds Engineering College, South Kensington, and in 1894-95 was head of the electrical engineering department, Battersea Polytechnic. He left this post to take up the principalship of the Birmingham Municipal Technical School (later the Central Technical College). This college had been in existence only 4 years and there were still many people who were dubious of the benefits to be derived from technical education. Dr. Sumpner must be given the credit for the wise guidance of the college through its early stages and its subsequent development. During the 35 years in which it was under his leadership the college made remarkable progress and played an ever more important role in the educational life of the city.
He will be remembered with affection by the generations of students who passed through his hands. Quiet and unassuming, he was a man of delightful personality and human qualities. Students and members of the staff found him always helpful and friendly. When he retired in 1930 one of the methods adopted by his colleagues and former students to perpetuate his name was the foundation of a special Sumpner Prize in Mathematics and Physics. His eminent services to the college were recognized when, in 1936, the honorary associateship of the college was conferred upon him.
Whilst he was a man of unusual distinction in physics and mathematics, he considered himself primarily an electrical engineer. Probably owing to his early association with one of the pioneers of electrical measurement, W. E. Ayrton, Dr. Sumpner's main work lay within this field. At an early stage in his career he was investigating the, at that time, difficult problem of power measurement in a.c. circuits. In 1891, in collaboration with Ayrton, he described in a paper read before the Royal Society the now familiar three-voltmeter method of power measurement. In March, 1891, he pointed out that for every problem involving alternating potential differences in series there was an analogous problem involving alternating currents in parallel, and these ideas were further developed before the Physical Society in June, 1891.
His initial work at Birmingham was on the use of iron in alternating-current instruments. In 1905 he described, in a paper before The Institution, new iron-cored instruments for a.c. measurements, and this was followed by a similar paper in 1907, this time in collaboration with J. W. Record. In 1910, before the Physical Society of London, and in collaboration with W. C. S. Phillips, he described his a.c. galvanometer.
During this period he had interested himself also in the question of phase. In 1904 he described methods of measuring small differences of phase, and in 1905 he outlined the theory of the then known phase-meters. Both papers were read before the Physical Society. Power work claimed his attention in connection with transformer and motor efficiency measurements, and many members will recollect the standard college Sumpner transformer test.
Throughout his career he was interested in the vector method of attack, both in its restricted sense, as applied to a.c. problems, and in its more generalized forms. In the later part of his career he studied and interpreted Heaviside. He was honoured by The Institution in being chosen to give the 23rd Kelvin Lecture in 1932. He took as his subject the work of Oliver Heaviside. It is obvious that in giving this lecture Dr. Sumpner was performing a task of gratitude. In this and other lectures he showed that he possessed many of the virtues of Heaviside himself particularly those of lucidity and precision, whilst in the Kelvin Lecture there appear at times traces of Heaviside's dry and caustic humour and brilliant turn of phrase.
He was elected an Associate of The Institution in 1887 and a Member in 1898, and served for many years on the Committee of the Birmingham Local Section, being Chairman in 1904-5.
Sources of Information
- 1937-8 Birmingham Year Book
- 1940 Institution of Electrical Engineers: Obituaries