Cowper, Edward Alfred

SUBJECT AREA: Metallurgy
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b. 10 December 1819 London, England
d. 9 May 1893 Weybridge, Surrey, England
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English inventor of the hot-blast stove used in ironmaking.
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Cowper was apprenticed in 1834 to John Braithwaite of London and in 1846 obtained employment at the engineers Fox \& Henderson in Birmingham. In 1851 he was engaged in the contract drawings for the Crystal Palace housing the Great Exhibition, and in the same year he set up in London as a consulting engineer. Cowper designed the 211 ft (64.3 m) span roof of Birmingham railway station, the first large-span station roof to be constructed. Cowper had an inventive turn of mind. While still an apprentice, he devised the well-known railway fog-signal and, at Fox \& Henderson, he invented an improved method of casting railway chairs. Other inventions included a compound steam-engine with receiver, patented in 1857; a bicycle wheel with steel spokes and rubber tyre (1868); and an electric writing telegraph (1879). Cowper's most important invention by far was the hot-blast stove, the first application of C.W. Siemens's regenerative principle to ironmaking, patented in 1857. Waste gases from the blast furnace were burnt in an iron chamber lined with a honeycomb of firebricks. When they were hot, the gas was directed to a second similar chamber while the incoming air blast for the blast furnace was heated by passing it through the first chamber. The stoves alternatively received and gave up heat and the heated blast, introduced by J.B. Neilson, led to considerable fuel economies in blast-furnace operation; the system is still in use. Cowper played an active part in the engineering institutions of his time, becoming President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1880–1. He was commissioned by the Science and Art Department to catalogue the collections of machinery and inventions at the South Kensington Museum, whose science collections now form the Science Museum, London.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
President, Institution of Mechanical Engineers 1880–1.
Further Reading
Obituary, 1893, Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute : 172–3, London.
W.K.V.Gale, 1969, Iron and Steel, London: Longmans, pp. 42, 75 (describes his hot-blast stoves).
LRD

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

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