Volk, Magnus

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b. 19 October 1851 Brighton, England
d. 20 May 1937 Brighton, England
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English pioneer in the use of electric power; built the first electric railway in the British Isles to operate a regular service.
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Volk was the son of a German immigrant clockmaker and continued the business with his mother after his father died in 1869, although when he married in 1879 his profession was described as "electrician". He installed Brighton's first telephone the same year and in 1880 he installed electric lighting in his own house, using a Siemens Brothers dynamo (see Siemens, Dr Ernst Werner von) driven by a Crossley gas engine. This was probably one of the first half-dozen such installations in Britain. Magnus Volk \& Co. became noted electrical manufacturers and contractors, and, inter alia, installed electric light in Brighton Pavilion in place of gas.
By 1883 Volk had moved house. He had kept the dynamo and gas engine used to light his previous house, and he also had available an electric motor from a cancelled order. After approaching the town clerk of Brighton, he was given permission for a limited period to build and operate a 2 ft (61 cm) gauge electric railway along the foreshore. Using the electrical equipment he already had, Volk built the line, a quarter of a mile (400 m) long, in eight weeks. The car was built by a local coachbuilder, with the motor under the seat; electric current at 50 volts was drawn from one running rail and returned through the other.
The railway was opened on 4 August 1883. It operated regularly for several months and then, permission to run it having been renewed, it was rebuilt for the 1884 season to 2 ft 9 in. (84 cm) gauge, with improved equipment. Despite storm damage from time to time, Volk's Electric Railway, extended in length, has become an enduring feature of Brighton's sea front. In 1887 Volk made an electric dogcart, and an electric van which he built for the Sultan of Turkey was probably the first motor vehicle built in Britain for export. In 1896 he opened the Brighton \& Rottingdean Seashore Electric Tramroad, with very wide-gauge track laid between the high-and low-tide lines, and a long-legged, multi-wheel car to run upon it, through the water if necessary. This lasted only until 1901, however. Volk subsequently became an early enthusiast for aircraft.
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Further Reading
C.Volk, 1971, Magnus Volk of Brighton, Chichester: Phillimore (his life and career as described by his son).
C.E.Lee, 1979, "The birth of electric traction", Railway Magazine (May).
PJGR

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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