Reckenzaun worked on electric tramcars and electric boats. He is probably best known for applying worm gear drive to tramcars. This was not a great success on full-size vehicles but was later very widely used on electrically powered model railway locomotives.
Early life and education
At an early age he had first-hand opportunities of practical engineering, seeing the operations in the ironworks of his father who carried out large contracts for brewery plants, tanneries, buildings and railway materials - especially for the Hungarian railways. After receiving a practical education at the Technical School in Graz, and with a view to widening his engineering knowledge, he moved to England in 1872.
Life and work in England
He was first employed by Messrs Ravenhill, Miller & Co, the noted steam engine manufacturers and marine engineers of London. When John Richard Ravenhill left the partnership in 1875, the business transferred to the works of his former co-partners, Messrs Easton and Anderson of Erith, Kent - engineers, millwrights, and lead pipe manufacturers, and Reckenzaun followed the firm.
In connection with the Erith ironworks, Reckenzaun established evening classes for the workmen, lecturing in machine construction and drawing, and steam. First, however, he had to qualify himself under the rules of the South Kensington Science and Art Department in these subjects, which he took with first class honours. Afterwards he attended the course of lectures given to qualified science teachers at the Royal School of Mines in 1877 and 1879. Again he obtained first class passes in steam and mechanics.
Electrical engineering work
After visiting the Paris Exposition of 1878, he determined to pursue a career in electrical engineering and attended Professor William Edward Ayrton's lectures at Finsbury Technical College which later became the City and Guilds. At the time of his death he was vice-president of the Old Students' Association of that body.
He returned to Paris for the 1881 exhibition, studying the electrical exhibits at the Palais d'Industrie over three months. When he returned to England, he briefly joined the Faure Electric Accumulator Company before accepting the post of engineer to the Electrical Power Storage Company.
In connection with the E.P.S. company he undertook much original and pioneering work on various forms of electric traction. In 1882 he designed the first significant electric launch driven by storage batteries, named Electricity Soon afterwards he was building an electric tramcar which was exhibited in March 1883 on the West Metropolitan Tramways Company's line in London.
From 1884 onwards Reckenzaun continued his electrical work independently, to build boats, cars and electric motors for various purposes. He conducted numerous investigations into electric traction and patented improvements in secondary batteries, electric motors, electric meters and related devices. He was an early electric motor designer and, paid particular attention to bogie cars and worm-gear in this connection. This was not a great success on full-size vehicles but was later very widely used on electrically powered model railway locomotives.
His storage battery tramcars were tried out on a number of tramlines, in the U.K. but mainly in the US, where his inventions were assigned to the Electric Car Company of America and his brother Frederick Reckenzaun, based in New York developed associated electrical businesses and was his representative there.
His traction motors were applied to the first large scale telpherageage system for the Sussex Portland Cement Company at Glynde in 1885. The telpherage system, had originally been tested on the estate of Mr M.R. Pryor at Weston, Somerset and also a line in Peru by Professor Fleeming Jenkin in association with Professors William Edward Ayrton and John Perry and the Telpherage Company, Limited.
Perhaps one of his most noteworthy developments came in electric launches. On 13 September 1886 the boat Volta made the double voyage from Dover to Calais and back. He also built perhaps the first significant electric boat in the United States, named Magnet.
Professional and scientific societies
He was a member of, and contributor of papers to, various professional and scientific bodies, both English and International. In 1882 he was elected a member of the Society of Arts. On 16 January 1884 he read a paper before that society on 'Electric Launches'. On 20 April 1887 he gave a paper on 'Electric Locomotion'. For this latter paper he received the society's silver medal.
In 1889 he was elected to the Society of Telegraph-Engineers and Electricians now the Institution of Engineering and Technology. In December 1892 the I.E.E. awarded him the Paris Electrical Exhibition Premium for his paper on 'Load diagrams and the cost of electric traction'.
He also gave papers at the British Association, the American National Electric Light Association and the Vienna Electro-Technical Society.
In later years he associated himself with the General Electric Company and Greenwood and Batley and was a regular contributor to the electrical journals of the day. He published a collection of much of his work on electric traction was published in 1892 by Biggs & Co, London, entitled 'Electric traction on railways and tramways'.
- Photograph from Reckenzaun's obituary in Electrical Engineer, Vol.XII (new series), 17 November 1893, p.469 (London: Biggs & Co.)
- There are numerous obituaries in contemporary electrical industry and kindred journals, see: Journal of the Society of Arts, Vol.42, 17 November 1893, p.20.; The Engineer, Vol.76, 17 November 1893, p.468
- The Electrician, Vol.XXXII, 17 November 1893, p.66 (London: The Electrician)
- Illustrated with wood engravings in the Electrical Review, Vol.XI, No.255, 14 October 1882, pp.296 and 297
- Search Reckenzaun US patents via Google Patents
- For a very useful summary of his work over this period, with illustrations of machinery, see [https://archive.org/details/electricmotorits00martrich Thomas Commerford Martin (1892) The electric motor : and its applications (available via the Internet Archive).
- Journal of the Society of Arts, Vol.32, No.1626, 18 January 1884, pp.135-147
- Journal of the Society of Arts, Vol.35, 22 April 1887, pp.556-568
- Journal of the Society of Arts, Vol.35, No.1803, 10 June 1887, p.733
- See Transactions of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Vol.X, 1893, pp.667-668
- chapter 29 of Alfred Rosling Bennett's 1924 work 'London and Londoners in the Eighteen-Fifties and Sixties' - The Victorian Dictionary - compiled by Lee Jackson
- Institution of Engineering and Technology website
- The London Gazette: . 19 January 1894. Probate notice.
- Illustration of Reckenzaun tramcar
- Photo of Reckenzaun worm gear drive
- Mary Gordon Electric Boat