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THOMPSON, Silvanus Philips (1851-1916)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0108 SC MSS 003
Held at: Institution of Engineering and Technology
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Full title: THOMPSON, Silvanus Philips (1851-1916)
Date(s): 1825-1915
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 7 boxes
Name of creator(s): Thompson | Silvanus | Philips | 1851- 1816 | Physicist, electrical engineer and educationalist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born 1851, York, to a Quaker family. His father was a schoolmaster at Bootham School; Thompson attended his father's classes before moving on to the Flounders Institute, a training school for teachers at Ackworth, where he took the London BA degree in 1869. Appointed science master at Bootham 1870-1875; gained a scholarship to the London School of Mines and took the London BSc degree in 1875. Went to Heidelberg where he attended lectures by Robert Bunsen and Georg Hermann Quincke 1876; appointed to the Chair of Physics at University College Bristol 1876-1885. Married Jane S Henderson of Glasgow 1881; published 'Elementary Lessons in Electricity and Magnetism', 1881; selected a Member of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians 1882; published 'Dynamo-Electric Machinery: a Manual for Students of Electrotechnics' 1884; Principal and Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering in the City and Guilds of London Technical College 1885 -1916; elected a member of the Royal Insitution 1886; delivered the Cantor Lectures to the Society of Arts on the subject of the electromagnet and electromagnetic mechanisms 1890 and again on the subject of the Arc Light 1895; honorary Vice Presidents of the Electrical Exhibition in Frankfurt 1891; elected a Fellow of the Royal Society 1891; member of the British Delegation to the Electrical Congress in Chicago 1893; first President of the Rontgen Society 1897; President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers 1899; elected to the Senate of London University 1900; gave the first Kelvin Lecture at the Institution of Electrical Engineers on the life of Lord Kelvin 1908; delivered the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on Sound 1910-1911; honorary Vice President of the Electrotechnical Congress at Turin 1911; wrote a paper on the development of compass cards for the Proceedings of the British Academy 1914; Thompson was one of the pioneers of ocean telephony and his ideas attracted world wide attention. He is also famous for designing rotatory (now rotary ) converters. Wrote biographies of Michael Faraday and Lord Kelvin and was interested in optics, musical harmony and harmonic analysis. He was convinced of the need for the closest co-operation between science and industry. He was also a keen advocate of technical education and apprenticeship teaching at the City and Guilds of London Technical College. He was an accomplished artist and had some of his paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy. Died 13 June 1916.


Scope and content/abstract:

Material collected by Thompson, 1825-1915, and removed from books within the S P Thompson Rare Books collection housed within IET Library. It comprises correspondence (1890-1915) from contemporary physicists and mathematicians such as David James Blaikley, Sir William Henry Blagg, Sir Charles Tilston Bright, Hugh Longbourne Callendar, Henry Smith Carhart, Sir John Ambrose Fleming, Sir Richard Tetley Glazebrook, Oliver Heaviside, Gisbert Kapp, Phillip Kelland, Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir William Henry Preece, Albion T. Snell, Sir William Spottiswoode, and William Thompson, Baron Kelvin; and press cuttings, photographs, engravings, autographs and letters (1870-1916) relating to eminent scientists including Sir Cristopher Wren, Sir Isaac Newton, James Watt, William Herschel, Sir John Flamsteed, Alexander Von Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, Sir Charles Lyell, William Gilbert, Otto von Guericke, Robert Boyle, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley, Alessandro Volta, Sir Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday, Sir Charles Wheatstone, James Clerk Maxwell, Josiah Latimer Clark, Werner von Siemens, Alexander Graham Bell, Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti, and many others.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The collection has been arranged into two series. Series A consists of correspondence found in and removed from the collection of Thompson's books in the IET Library and catalogued alphabetically. Series B consists of the material found in the autograph albums.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

Refer to IET Archivist

Finding aids:

Online item level catalogue.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Purchased from Thompson's widow in 1917.

Allied Materials

Related material:

IET Archives Silvanus Philips Thompson Helen G Thompson Collection reference GB 0108 SC MSS 004. The IET Library houses the S P Thompson Rare Books collection of books on magnetism and electricity. Many are rare editions and nearly 900 items are pre-1825 and many are special copies, owned by famous scientists and annotated by them. The IET Library also holds 'Silvanus Phillips Thompson: his life and letters', by J S Thompson, published 1920 and S P Thompson's own work, 'Lectures delivered at the Society of Arts, 1879 to 1906', published 1906.

Archive material related to Thompson also held at Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives; Imperial College Archives and Corporate Records Unit; London University: Senate House Library; London University: University College London (UCL) Special Collections; Religious Society of Friends Library; Royal Astronomical Society Library; Sussex University Library Special Collections.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:

Date(s) of descriptions:
19 September 2008

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