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Parsons, Sir Charles Algernon

engineer steam turbines devised

(1854–1931) British engineer and inventor: designed the first effective steam turbine.

Some of Parsons’s talents can be seen in his parents; his mother was a talented modeller and photographer and his father (the Earl of Rosse) was an astronomer who made and used some outstanding telescopes (his 65 in (1.65 m) reflector at Parsonstown in Ireland was without rival, and he used it to discover much about nebulae) and was president of the Royal Society.

Charles studied in Dublin and Cambridge, did well and then became an engineering apprentice. His firm had interests in electric lighting and he saw the need for a high-speed engine to drive dynamos. For this he devised the multistage steam turbine, which he patented in 1884; it used high pressure steam and ran at up to 20 000 rpm. Parsons set up his own company to make turbo-generators, and from the early 1890s developed his turbines also for marine use. For this he devised reduction gearing, and he also studied the cavitation due to propeller blades and improved their design. At the 1897 Naval Review on the Solent to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee, his 48 m Turbinia , with Parsons at the wheel, created a sensation; its 2000 hp moved it at an unheard-of 34½ knots. By 1906 his turbines were fitted in the warship HMS Dreadnought , and soon the great Cunarders followed suit; some of his turbines generated 70 000 hp.

He went on to design searchlights for naval use, and large telescopes. The company of Grubb Parsons have retained their special position in this field. Parsons used his scientific and mathematical skill to stride ahead of existing engineering practice and to become a leading engineer of his time, the first to join the Order of Merit and the most original British engineer since . Power generation and marine propulsion were never to be the same after his work.

Partners in Crime [next] [back] Parsons, Richard(1948–) - Corporate executive, Excels in Academics, Career Develops, Becomes CEO of Dime Savings Bank, Chronology

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