Parsons 5kw turbogenerator set model, c1880

THE DYNAMISM OF CA PARSONS

Charles Algernon Parsons spent a lot of time in his father’s workshop (3rd Earl of Rosse, astronomer) listening to the many scientists who visited and observing his father’s work. He studied maths at Cambridge University.

In 1884 he went to work for Clarke, Chapman, and Company, manufacturers of electric dynamos. Realising that a significant amount of energy was being lost between the engine and the dynamo, Parsons set about designing a machine that would directly use the steam’s energy.

Parson’s steam turbines consisted of a rotor in which several wheels were attached to a shaft. Steam entered and expanded, causing the shaft wheels to rotate. Stationary blades forced the steam against the rotating blades, maximising energy efficiency. The steam then continued until it encountered another set of turbine blades, designed to work at a slightly lower pressure.

Steam turbine blades from an early sketch by Sir Charles Parsons
Steam turbine blades from an early sketch by Sir Charles Parsons

His turbine achieved a speed of 18,000rpm. Having foresaw their potential to power ships, he set up the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company in 1893. Parsons had an experimental vessel, Turbinia, built. The Admiralty was kept informed of developments.

Turbinia turned up unannounced at the Navy Review for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, 26th Jun 1897. The Prince of Wales, Lords of the Admiralty and dignitaries all witnessed to the spectacle it created; easily evading a Navy picket boat that tried to pursue her.

Parsons soon saw his steam turbine widely used for both commercial and military ships. He arguably invented the most convenient, useful and efficient means of converting power into motion with his turbine.

Archives, Institution of Mechanical Engineers

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