Hopkinson, John

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b. 27 July 1849 Manchester, England
d. 27 August 1898 Petite Dent de Veisivi, Switzerland
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English mathematician and electrical engineer who laid the foundations of electrical machine design.
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After attending Owens College, Manchester, Hopkinson was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1867 to read for the Mathematical Tripos. An appointment in 1872 with the lighthouse department of the Chance Optical Works in Birmingham directed his attention to electrical engineering. His most noteworthy contribution to lighthouse engineering was an optical system to produce flashing lights that distinguished between individual beacons. His extensive researches on the dielectric properties of glass were recognized when he was elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society at the age of 29. Moving to London in 1877 he became established as a consulting engineer at a time when electricity supply was about to begin on a commercial scale. During the remainder of his life, Hopkinson's researches resulted in fundamental contributions to electrical engineering practice, dynamo design and alternating current machine theory. In making a critical study of the Edison dynamo he developed the principle of the magnetic circuit, a concept also arrived at by Gisbert Kapp around the same time. Hopkinson's improvement of the Edison dynamo by reducing the length of the field magnets almost doubled its output. In 1890, in addition to-his consulting practice, Hopkinson accepted a post as the first Professor of Electrical Engineering and Head of the Siemens laboratory recently established at King's College, London. Although he was not involved in lecturing, the position gave him the necessary facilities and staff and student assistance to continue his researches. Hopkinson was consulted on many proposals for electric traction and electricity supply, including schemes in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. He also advised Mather and Platt when they were acting as contractors for the locomotives and generating plant for the City and South London tube railway. As early as 1882 he considered that an ideal method of charging for the supply of electricity should be based on a two-part tariff, with a charge related to maximum demand together with a charge for energy supplied. Hopkinson was one the foremost expert witnesses of his day in patent actions and was himself the patentee of over forty inventions, of which the three-wire system of distribution and the series-parallel connection of traction motors were his most successful. Jointly with his brother Edward, John Hopkinson communicated the outcome of his investigations to the Royal Society in a paper entitled "Dynamo Electric Machinery" in 1886. In this he also described the later widely used "back to back" test for determining the characteristics of two identical machines. His interest in electrical machines led him to more fundamental research on magnetic materials, including the phenomenon of recalescence and the disappearance of magnetism at a well-defined temperature. For his work on the magnetic properties of iron, in 1890 he was awarded the Royal Society Royal Medal. He was a member of the Alpine Club and a pioneer of rock climbing in Britain; he died, together with three of his children, in a climbing accident.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
FRS 1878. Royal Society Royal Medal 1890. President, Institution of Electrical Engineers 1890 and 1896.
Bibliography
7 July 1881, British patent no. 2,989 (series-parallel control of traction motors). 27 July 1882, British patent no. 3,576 (three-wire distribution).
1901, Original Papers by the Late J.Hopkinson, with a Memoir, ed. B.Hopkinson, 2 vols, Cambridge.
Further Reading
J.Greig, 1970, John Hopkinson Electrical Engineer, London: Science Museum and HMSO (an authoritative account).
—1950, "John Hopkinson 1849–1898", Engineering 169:34–7, 62–4.
GW

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

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