Parsons, Sir Charles Algernon

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b. 13 June 1854 London, England
d. 11 February 1931 on board Duchess of Richmond, Kingston, Jamaica
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English eingineer, inventor of the steam turbine and developer of the high-speed electric generator.
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The youngest son of the Earl of Rosse, he came from a family well known in scientific circles, the six boys growing up in an intellectual atmosphere at Birr Castle, the ancestral home in Ireland, where a forge and large workshop were available to them. Charles, like his brothers, did not go to school but was educated by private tutors of the character of Sir Robert Ball, this type of education being interspersed with overseas holiday trips to France, Holland, Belgium and Spain in the family yacht. In 1871, at the age of 17, he went to Trinity College, Dublin, and after two years he went on to St John's College, Cambridge. This was before the Engineering School had opened, and Parsons studied mechanics and mathematics.
In 1877 he was apprenticed to W.G.Armstrong \& Co. of Elswick, where he stayed for four years, developing an epicycloidal engine that he had designed while at Cambridge. He then moved to Kitson \& Co. of Leeds, where he went half shares in a small experimental shop working on rocket propulsion for torpedoes.
In 1887 he married Katherine Bethell, who contracted rheumatic fever from early-morning outdoor vigils with her husband to watch his torpedo experiments while on their honeymoon! He then moved to a partnership in Clarke, Chapman \& Co. at Gateshead. There he joined the electrical department, initially working on the development of a small, steam-driven marine lighting set. This involved the development of either a low-speed dynamo, for direct coupling to a reciprocating engine, or a high-speed engine, and it was this requirement that started Parsons on the track of the steam turbine. This entailed many problems such as the running of shafts at speeds of up to 40,000 rpm and the design of a DC generator for 18,000 rpm. He took out patents for both the turbine and the generator on 23 April 1884. In 1888 he dissolved his partnership with Clarke, Chapman \& Co. to set up his own firm in Newcastle, leaving his patents with the company's owners. This denied him the use of the axial-flow turbine, so Parsons then designed a radial-flow layout; he later bought back his patents from Clarke, Chapman \& Co. His original patent had included the use of the steam turbine as a means of marine propulsion, and Parsons now set about realizing this possibility. He experimented with 2 ft (61 cm) and 6 ft (183 cm) long models, towed with a fishing line or, later, driven by a twisted rubber cord, through a single-reduction set of spiral gearing.
The first trials of the Turbinia took place in 1894 but were disappointing due to cavitation, a little-understood phenomenon at the time. He used an axial-flow turbine of 2,000 shp running at 2,000 rpm. His work resulted in a far greater understanding of the phenomenon of cavitation than had hitherto existed. Land turbines of up to 350 kW (470 hp) had meanwhile been built. Experiments with the Turbinia culminated in a demonstration which took place at the great Naval Review of 1897 at Spithead, held to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Here, the little Turbinia darted in and out of the lines of heavy warships and destroyers, attaining the unheard of speed of 34.5 knots. The following year the Admiralty placed their first order for a turbine-driven ship, and passenger vessels started operation soon after, the first in 1901. By 1906 the Admiralty had moved over to use turbines exclusively. These early turbines had almost all been direct-coupled to the ship's propeller shaft. For optimum performance of both turbine and propeller, Parsons realized that some form of reduction gearing was necessary, which would have to be extremely accurate because of the speeds involved. Parsons's Creep Mechanism of 1912 ensured that any errors in the master wheel would be distributed evenly around the wheel being cut.
Parsons was also involved in optical work and had a controlling interest in the firm of Ross Ltd of London and, later, in Sir Howard Grubb \& Sons. He he was an enlightened employer, originating share schemes and other benefits for his employees.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Knighted. Order of Merit 1927.
Further Reading
A.T.Bowden, 1966, "Charles Parsons: Purveyor of power", in E.G.Semler (ed.), The Great Masters. Engineering Heritage, Vol. II, London: Institution of Mechanical Engineers/Heinemann.
IMcN

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

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  • Parsons, Sir Charles Algernon — born June 13, 1854, London, Eng. died Feb. 11, 1931, Kingston Harbour, Jam. British mechanical engineer. He began work at the Armstrong engineering works in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1877 and formed his own company to manufacture turbines and other… …   Universalium

  • Parsons, sir Charles Algernon — ► (1854 1931) Ingeniero británico. Inventó la turbina de vapor de su nombre. * * * (13 jun. 1854, Londres, Inglaterra–11 feb. 1931, Kingston, Jamaica). Ingeniero mecánico británico. Comenzó trabajando en los talleres de ingeniería Armstrong, en… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Charles Algernon Parsons — Born 13 June 1854 London, England, United Kingdom …   Wikipedia

  • Charles Algernon Parsons — Charles Parsons Nacimiento 13 de junio de 1854 Londres, Inglaterra …   Wikipedia Español

  • Charles Algernon Parsons — Sir Charles Parsons Charles Algernon Parsons OM (* 13. Juni 1854 in London; † 11. Februar 1931 an Bord der Duchess of Richmond im Kingston Harbour, Jamaika) war ein britischer Maschinenbauer. Parsons war der jüngste von sechs Söhnen des 3. Earl… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Parsons — Parsons, Talcott Parsons, sir Charles Algernon * * * (as used in expressions) Burkitt, Denis P(arsons) Parsons, Elsie Clews Parsons, Sir Charles Algernon Parsons, Talcott Rosse, William Parsons, 3 conde de …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Charles — Charles, Ray * * * (as used in expressions) Adams, Charles Francis Addams, Charles (Samuel) Atlas, Charles Babbage, Charles Barkley, Charles (Wade) Charles Daly Barnet Bartlett, Sir Frederic C(harles) Baudelaire, Charles (Pierre) Charles Edward… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Charles — /chahrlz/, n. 1. (Prince of Edinburgh and of Wales) born 1948, heir apparent to the throne of Great Britain (son of Elizabeth II). 2. Ray (Ray Charles Robinson), born 1930, U.S. blues singer and pianist. 3. Cape, a cape in E Virginia, N of the… …   Universalium

  • sir — /serr/, n. 1. a respectful or formal term of address used to a man: No, sir. 2. (cap.) the distinctive title of a knight or baronet: Sir Walter Scott. 3. (cap.) a title of respect for some notable personage of ancient times: Sir Pandarus of Troy …   Universalium

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