FTL Design
History of Technology

Weston Electrical Instrument Corporation

In December 1887, the American magazine The Manufacturer and Builder ran a feature article on Edward Weston's laboratory in Newark, New Jersey.  The text and illustrations of the original article are reproduced here.

The illustrations in the text are linked to higher resolution images.

The Experimental and Research Laboratory of Edward Weston
from The Manufacturer and Builder, December 1887

The name of Edward Weston is spoken with the utmost respect by the electricians of this country, and, it might be truly said, of the world, as that of one of the ablest and most ingenious investigators and inventors in the field of electrics; and in the popular estimation he is associated with the half dozen, or thereabout, of successful inventors whose names are always spoken when the progress of the art of electricity is the theme of conversation. It is not always that the popular estimate of a man coincides with the estimate of his professional peers, for even in our day "hero worship" is as common a weakness as in ancient times, but for once it is right. Mr. Weston is an inventor in the best sense of the term - not a haphazard experimenter, but a man of science who applies the careful, thorough, laborious methods of science to the problems that he sets before himself to solve, and solves them by dint of hard work intelligently directed, and we know of no one who is more deserving of the fame and fortune that have fallen to his share.

We have taken advantage of the opportunity Mr. Weston has afforded us to give our readers an account of the new laboratory for experimental investigation which he has just completed in Newark, N.J., where he resides, and the excellent views which appear in connection with this article will serve to illustrate our introductory comments better than the most lengthy description. They exhibit an establishment thoroughly equipped with the most modern machines and instruments of precision for conducting the most elaborate researches and applying the most sensitive tests. Nothing less than this will satisfy the requirements of modern invention in the field which Mr. Weston has cultivated with such signal success. The laboratory embraces, therefore, a constructive department, supplied with a selection of tools and machinery for doing the finest and most accurate mechanical work. In addition, it provides electric testing and experimental apparatus, and a chemical laboratory supplied with all the most recent appliances; and in other portions of the establishment there are contained numberless devices and conveniences which may be found useful in assisting the inventor in putting his ideas into practical form.

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The laboratory, which is situated in the rear of Mr. Weston's residence on High Street, Newark, consists of two large buildings, between which is situated the boiler room. The latter contains a small, compact steam plant with the most approved arrangements, and will supply steam for power as well as for heating the buildings. On the first floor is located the experimental department, one side of which is devoted to the private offices of Mr. Weston and his principal assistant. In this room, adjoining the boiler room, is placed the main engine of the establishment - one of the best products of Armington & Sims. This floor, likewise, is devoted to photometric work, for which purpose a photometer room is provided, for the work of testing the candle-power of incandescent lamps.

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This is a much more elaborate and difficult operation than that of determining the illuminating power of a gas jet, for the reason that they do not throw out light equally in all directions. On this account it becomes necessary to mount them upon a stand or holder, on which they may be so adjusted as to be viewed in every desired position. The result of a number of observations of this kind gives the average illuminating power of the lamp. This plan was followed, we believe, in the tests conducted at the Philadelphia Electrical Exhibition of 1884, and the committee having that work in charge, called the average thus obtained "the spherical illuminating power." Mr. Weston follows this general plan, but has improved upon it in details, having determined by experiment the position of a number of critical points, from the observation of which a correct average of the spherical intensity will be obtained.

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The machine shop is on the second floor. It is supplied with a number of fine machine tools of Brown & Sharpe make, including a universal grinder, lathes, shapers, planers, drills and milling machines. To facilitate the turning out of work with the greatest accuracy, there are provided here a full set of gauges, proof planes, straight edges, steel rules, inside and outside vernier calipers and gauges for depth and for screw-cutting, both male and female, are comprised among these mechanical standards, besides several of special interest, such as a dial calibrating machine, by which uniform pressure between the contact surfaces is assured by the ingenious employment of spring pressure, so that such yielding substances as hairs, vegetable fibers, etc., may be accurately gauged without fear of want of accuracy by introducing the element of personal error. Here, also, are provided a number of special cutting tools of interest to the engineer.

At the side of this room where the best light is afforded, is a drawing table, where drawings required in the work carried on are executed. As an evidence of Mr. Weston's activity, we are informed that for the past five years one sheet of drawings per day has been averaged, each of which represented either some new invention or improvement.

Adjoining this apartment is the weighing room, provided with an assortment of Becker's finest assay and analytical balances. Adjoining this is a large, well-lighted apartment, fitted up with all the appliances and conveniences of a modern chemical laboratory. It will interest our chemical readers to know that each working table in this gem of a laboratory is furnished with gas, steam, compressed air, hydrogen, electricity and exhaust; each supplied by an independent pipe or lead, and "on tap" at the command of the experimenter. Such conveniences were scarcely even dreamed of a few years ago, nor do we know of any other establishment where such liberal provision is made.

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By consulting the picture representing this room, it will be noticed that Mr. Weston has carried out the plan of overhead heating. The steam coils are carried about the room, about three feet from the ceiling. The heated air is forced to rise to the ceiling, then to pass down the sides of the room, which is said to be warmed in a most satisfactory manner, keeping the apartment at an equable temperature without unpleasant draughts.

The chemical branch of his work has yielded Mr. Weston some of his most valuable results, which of themselves would suffice to earn him a high reputation as a most skillful and ingenious experimenter, and an inventor of wonderfully fertile resources. It is worth noting in this connection that it was Mr. Weston who conceived the happy idea of remedying the defect of the unequal brilliancy of the incandescent lamp, which was a serious fault of the earliest lamps, by heating the filament to a high temperature in am atmosphere of a hydrocarbon vapor, by which artifice the thinner, and therefore most highly heated, portions of the filament were strengthened by the deposition of carbon from the decomposition of the vapor. Thus, the equal brilliancy of the whole filament is insured, and its durability decidedly improved. This plan, we believe, is universally used. It was Mr. Weston, also, who conceived the idea of using an unorganized filament for the incandescent lamp, which is now known as the "tamadine" filament. This is made by dissolving pyroxylin in a mixture of alcohol and ether, evaporating this so as to get a film of collodion - a hard, horn-like substance, entirely structureless and amorphous - and then subjecting this to the action of a reducing agent, such as sulphide of ammonium, to convert the film to the stable, non-explosive condition of cellulose. From these sheets of cellulose, the filament for the incandescent lamps are cut, with cutters which regulate their width to the thousandth of an inch. They are then carbonized in the usual manner, and constitute the "tamadine" filament used in the incandescent lamp.

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The physical department is underneath the chemical laboratory, and is naturally devoted largely to the work of electric measurements and testing, and, for this work, is provided with a large number of the most delicate and improved forms of electrical measuring and testing instruments. Among these are resistance coils, made by Ellicot, of London, and other makers; galvanometers, reflecting and quadrant, of which a detailed description would be tedious to the non-professional reader. For experimental work in electricity, several leads of wire furnish current as it is needed. Here, also, is to be seen an extensive and admirable miscellaneous collection of general physical apparatus, suited for lectures or for general uses, such as microscopes, spectroscopes, photographic apparatus, magic lanterns, etc.

Mr. Weston's method of conducting the work of his laboratory is characteristic of his earnestness of purpose. The method of recording the work done in each branch of the establishment is perfect and strictly business-like. A system of card cataloguing is in use, by which all the work done is recorded, indexed in a suitable record book, and filed away. By this method of records, not only is the work systematized so as to save much time and needless labor, but a complete history of the work of the laboratory is made and preserved for reference.

An extensive and valuable collection of books, comprising the best works in general literature and science, is one of the attractions of the place, which the student will be sure to find of the greatest interest. In forming this collection, Mr. Weston's aim has been to secure a generally useful library for his many lines of work. It numbers about 10,000 volumes, and includes not only all the well-known modern works, but is rich in many treasures of ancient lore.

Mr. Weston is still a comparatively young man, who has, in fact, scarcely reached the prime of life, and, judging from the intellectual activity which he has displayed in the past, we may hope that, with the admirable facilities with which he has now surrounded himself, the achievements of his maturer years may be even more fruitful.

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Last revised: 11 December 2001

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