Charles Algernon Parsons

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Sir Charles Algernon Parsons
OM KCB FRS
Charles Algernon Parsons.jpg
Born 13 June 1854
London, England, United Kingdom
Died 11 February 1931
Kingston Harbour, Jamaica,
Nationality British
Fields Engineering
Institutions Heaton, Newcastle
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin
St. John's College, Cambridge
Known for Steam turbine
Notable awards Rumford Medal (1902)
Albert Medal (1911)
Franklin Medal (1920)
Faraday Medal (1923)
Copley Medal (1928)

Sir Charles Algernon Parsons OM KCB FRS (13 June 1854 – 11 February 1931) was a British engineer, best known for his invention of the steam turbine.[1] He worked as an engineer on dynamo and turbine design, and power generation, with great influence on the naval and electrical engineering fields. He also developed optical equipment, for searchlights and telescopes.

Biography[edit]

Charles Parsons was born into a famous Irish family (with Anglo-Irish heritage) of Scientists and Engineers. The family seat is Birr Castle, County Offaly, Ireland. The town of Birr was previously called Parsonstown, after the family. Born in London, Parsons was the youngest son of the famous astronomer William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse.

Parsons and his three brothers were educated at home in Ireland by private tutors,[2] all of whom were well versed in the sciences and acted also as practical assistants to their father in his astronomical work. One of them later became, as Sir Robert Ball, Astronomer Royal for Ireland. Parsons then read mathematics at Trinity College, Dublin and St. John's College, Cambridge, graduating from the latter in 1877 with a first-class honours degree.[3] He joined the Newcastle-based engineering firm of W.G. Armstrong as an apprentice, an unusual step for the son of an earl; then moved to Kitsons in Leeds where he worked on rocket-powered torpedoes; and then in 1884 moved to Clarke, Chapman and Co., ship engine manufacturers near Newcastle, where he was head of their electrical equipment development. He developed a turbine engine there in 1884 and immediately utilized the new engine to drive an electrical generator, which he also designed. Parsons' steam turbine made cheap and plentiful electricity possible and revolutionised marine transport and naval warfare – the world would never be the same again.[4]

First compound steam turbine, built by Parsons in 1887

The best steam turbine at the time, invented by Gustaf de Laval, was an impulse design that subjected the mechanism to huge centrifugal forces and so had limited output due to the weakness of the materials available. Parsons explained that his appreciation of the scaling issue led to his 1884 breakthrough on the compound steam turbine in his 1911 Rede Lecture:

"It seemed to me that moderate surface velocities and speeds of rotation were essential if the turbine motor was to receive general acceptance as a prime mover. I therefore decided to split up the fall in pressure of the steam into small fractional expansions over a large number of turbines in series, so that the velocity of the steam nowhere should be great...I was also anxious to avoid the well-known cutting action on metal of steam at high velocity."[5]

Parsons' first 1MW turbogenerator built for Elberfeld, Germany in 1899. It produced single phase electricity at 4kV.

In 1889, he founded C. A. Parsons and Company in Newcastle to produce turbo generators to his design.[6] In the same year he set up the Newcastle and District Electric Lighting Company (DisCO). In 1890, DisCo opened Forth Banks Power Station, the first power station in the world to generate electricity using turbo generators.[7] In 1894 he regained certain patent rights from Clarke Chapman. Although his first turbine was only 1.6% efficient and generated a mere 7.5 kilowatts, rapid incremental improvements in a few years led to his first megawatt turbine built in 1899 for a generating plant at Elberfeld, Germany.[5]

Parsons was also interested in marine applications and founded the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company in Newcastle. Famously, in June 1897, his turbine-powered yacht, Turbinia, was exhibited moving at speed at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review off Portsmouth, to demonstrate the great potential of the new technology. The Turbinia moved at 34 knots. The fastest Royal Navy ships using other technologies reached 27 knots. Part of the speed improvement was attributable to the slender hull of the Turbinia.[8]

Dreadnought. In 1906, it was the first modern battleship and was fastest in the world due to Parsons' steam turbines.

Within two years, the destroyers HMS Viper and Cobra were launched with Parsons' turbines, soon followed by the first turbine powered passenger ship, Clyde steamer TS King Edward in 1901; the first turbine transatlantic liners RMS Victorian and Virginian in 1905, and the first turbine powered battleship, HMS Dreadnought in 1906, all of which were driven by Parsons' turbine engines.[6] Today, Turbinia is housed in a purpose-built gallery at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle.[9]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 1898 and received their Rumford Medal in 1902, their Copley Medal in 1928 and delivered their Bakerian Lecture in 1918.[10] He was knighted in 1911 and made a member of the Order of Merit in 1927.

The Parsons turbine company survives in the Heaton area of Newcastle and is now part of Siemens, a German conglomerate. Sometimes referred to as Siemens Parsons, the company recently completed a major redevelopment programme, reducing the size of its site by around three quarters and installing the latest manufacturing technology. In 1925 Charles Parsons acquired the Grubb Telescope Company and renamed it Grubb Parsons. That company survived in the Newcastle area until 1985.

Parsons was also known for inventing the Auxetophone, an early compressed air gramophone.[11]

Parsons' ancestral home at Birr Castle in Ireland houses a museum detailing the contribution the Parsons family have made to the fields of science and engineering, with part of the museum given over to marine engineering work of Charles Parsons.

Parsons died on 11 February 1931 on board the steamship Duchess of Richmond while on a cruise with his wife, it followed a collapse from an attack of neuritis.[12] A memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey on 3 March 1931.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/444719/Sir-Charles-Algernon-Parsons
  2. ^ http://www.tcd.ie/Secretary/FellowsScholars/discourses/discourses/1968_Lord%20Rosse%20on%20W.%20Parsons.pdf
  3. ^ "Parsons, the Hon. Charles Algernon (PRSS873CA)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  4. ^ http://www.universityscience.ie/pages/scientists/sci_charles_parsons.php
  5. ^ a b Vaclav Smil (2005), Creating the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations of 1867-1914 and Their Lasting Impact, Oxford University Press, p. 62, ISBN 0-19-516874-7, retrieved 2009-01-03 
  6. ^ a b Chronology of Charles Parsons, Birr Castle Scientific and Heritage Foundation, retrieved 2009-01-03 [dead link]
  7. ^ Parsons, R.H. (1939). "X". The Early Days of the Power Station Industry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 171. 
  8. ^ Charles Algernon Parsons, University of Cambridge Department of Engineering, retrieved 2009-01-03 
  9. ^ http://www.twmuseums.org.uk/discovery/collections.html
  10. ^ "Lists of Royal Society Fellows 1660-2007". London: The Royal Society. Retrieved 15 July 2010. [dead link]
  11. ^ Reiss, Eric (2007). The compleat talking machine: a collector's guide to antique phonographs. Chandler, Ariz: Sonoran Pub. p. 217. ISBN 1886606226. 
  12. ^ "Sir Charles Parsons and Sir Arthurt Dorman" (Obituaries). The Times (London). Friday, 13 February 1931. (45746), col B, p. 14.

Published Works Online and other works of interest[edit]

External links[edit]