William Hampson

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William Hampson
Born(1854-03-14)14 March 1854
Died1 January 1926(1926-01-01) (aged 71)
Alma materTrinity College, Oxford
Known forFirst patent for liquifying air
SpouseAmy Bolton

William Hampson (1854–1926) was the first person to patent a process for liquifying air.

Early life[edit]

William Hampson was born on 14 March 1854, the second son of William Hampson of Puddington, Cheshire, England.[1] He was educated at Liverpool College, Manchester Grammar School and Trinity College, Oxford, where he matriculated in October 1874.[1] He studied classics, graduating with a second class degree. He then joined the Inner Temple in London to qualify as a barrister.[2]

There is no record of Hampson's enrolment in a course of physics or engineering; he therefore seems to have educated himself in science and engineering.[3]

Liquefaction of air[edit]

In 1895, Hampson filed a preliminary patent for an apparatus to liquify air.[4] His apparatus was simple:[5] A compressor raised the pressure of a quantity of air to 87–150 atmospheres. The high-pressure air was then passed through cylinders that contained material which removed water and carbon dioxide from the air. The dried air then passed through a copper coil and exited through a nozzle at the end of the coil, which reduced the air's pressure to one atmosphere. After expanding through the nozzle, the air's temperature would drop greatly (due to the Joule-Thomson effect). The cold air then flowed back over the coil, chilling the air that was flowing through the coil. As a result, within 20–25 minutes, the apparatus would begin to produce liquified air. The apparatus typically measured approximately one cubic metre.[6][7]

Hampson made a preliminary filing for a patent on his liquefaction process on 23 May 1895; Carl von Linde, a German engineer, filed for a similar patent on 5 June 1895.[8][9]

Hampson's method of liquifying gases was adopted by Brin's Oxygen Company of Westminster, London, England (renamed the "British Oxygen Company" in 1906).[10] In 1905, the company acquired Hampson's three patents on the liquefaction and separation of atmospheric gases.[11]

From Brin's Oxygen Company, which retained Hampson as a consultant, Hampson provided William Ramsay with the liquid air that allowed Ramsay to discover neon, krypton, and xenon, for which Ramsay received the Nobel Prize in chemistry of 1904.[12]

Other pursuits[edit]

In 1900–1901, Hampson also conducted adult education courses; specifically, a series of lectures at the University College in London. From these lectures came two books: Radium Explained (1905) provided a lay audience with an account of recent developments in research on radioactivity, while Paradoxes of Nature and of Science (1906) presented scientific curiosities that were contrary to common experience; e.g., how ice could be used as a source of heat.[13][14]

Hampson also became interested in medical science. He became a licensed apothecary in 1896, and by 1910 he was practising in several London hospitals. In 1912, he published his research on a crude pacemaker.[15] The system electrically stimulated large muscles of the body to contract regularly; pulses of blood were thus forced towards the heart and these pulses would then cause the heart to synchronise with the external electrical stimulator. Hampson also made a minor improvement to X-ray tubes.[16]

Hampson also ventured into economics. He published a book on the subject: Modern Thraldom: A New Social Gospel (1907).[17] Hampson regarded credit—broadly interpreted as debt or borrowing in any form—as responsible for many of an economy's ills. He prescribed a world in which there would be no credit, interest, mortgages, or rents. All sales would be in cash; debts would not be legally recognised; factories would be run as a cooperative of their workers. The national government would be funded by a sales tax, and the national economy would be sheltered from foreign competition.

He married Amy Bolton.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Who Was Who, Published by A&C Black Limited. Online edition, 2020
  2. ^ Davies (1989), pp. 63–64.
  3. ^ Davies (2009), p. 64.
  4. ^ W. Hampson, "Improvements relating to the progressive refrigerating of gases", British patent 10,165, preliminary filing: 23 May 1895, patented: 25 March 1896.
  5. ^ Thomas O'Conor Sloane, Liquid Air and the Liquefaction of Gases (London, England: Sampson, Low, Marston, and Co., Ltd., 1899). The third edition (New York City: Norman W. Henley Publishing Co., 1920) is available on-line at Google Books. For a description and diagrams of Hampson's apparatus, see: pages 320–324.
  6. ^ See:
  7. ^ Hampson filed for patents on other refrigerative processes:
    • William Hampson, "Apparatus for separating mixed gases by refrigeration, especially applicable to separation of oxygen from air," U.S. patent no. 620,312 (filed: 10 October 1896 ; issued: 28 February 1899). (See also: British patent 7,559 of 1896.)
    • William Hampson, "Improvements in the process and apparatus for the self-intensive refrigeration of gases by expansion and counter-current interchange," British patent no. 7,773 (filed: 1 April 1898 ; issued: 21 March 1899). A brief description of this patent appears in: "Refrigeration of gases … ," Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry, 18 : 355–356 (29 April 1899).
    • U.S. patent for refrigerator using ammonia vapor: William Hampson, "Refrigerating apparatus," U.S. patent no. 607,849 (filed: 10 October 1896 ; issued: 26 July 1898).
  8. ^ Linde, Carl, "Verfahren zur Verflüssigung atmosphärischer Luft oder anderer Gase" (Method for the liquefaction of atmospheric air or other gases), Deutsches Reichspatent 88824, filed: 5 June 1895.
  9. ^ See also: C. von Linde (1899) "Zur Geschichte der Maschinen für der Herstellung flüssiger Luft" (On the history of machines for the production of liquid air), Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft, 32 : 925–927. In this article, von Linde disputes Hampson's priority.
  10. ^ Brin's Oxygen Company was founded by brothers Arthur and Leon Brin. Their plant was located on Horseferry Road in Westminster, London, England.
  11. ^ Davies (2009), p. 66.
  12. ^ See:
    • Davies (2009), p. 65.
    • Morris William Travers, The Discovery of the Rare Gases (London, England: Edward Arnold and Co., 1928), pages 89, 93–94, 98, 115.
    • Morris William Travers, A Life of Sir William Ramsay (London, England: Edward Arnold and Co., 1956), pages 172–176.
  13. ^ W. Hampson, Radium Explained: A popular account of the relations of radium to the natural world, to scientific thought, and to human life (London, England: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1905).
  14. ^ W. Hampson, Paradoxes of Nature and Science: Things which appear to contradict general experience or scientific principles, with popular explanations of the how and why (London, England: Cassell and Co., 1906)
  15. ^ W. Hampson (1912) "A method of reducing excessive frequency of the heart-beat by means of rhythmical muscle contractions electrically provoked," Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 5 : 119–124.
  16. ^ "The Bauer valve," Roentgen Society's Journal, 5 : 32–33 (March 1909).
  17. ^ William Hampson, Modern Thraldom: A New Social Gospel (London, England: Wells Gardner & Co., 1907).

Further reading[edit]

  • Mansel Davies (2009) "William Hampson (1854–1926): A Note," British Journal for the History of Science, 22 (1) : 63–73.
  • Encyclopedia.com: Hampson, William
  • "Hampson, William" in: Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Charles C. Gillispie, ed. (New York City: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1972), vol. 6, page 93.