: We bring you some more of Howard Skolnik’s collection of electrical and electronic devices, but this time we use some of his collection that will look at how Weston meters helped in the growth of the electricity distribution business.
These devices and so many more are available in Skolnik’s collection. See EDN article on some of his collection just from the 1950s.
Skolnik has been searching for a proper institution to maintain his collection which took 50 years to acquire. He is hoping to find a home for these classic devices to help preserve some of the history of electrical/electronic devices. Please comment below if you have any ideas to help in this effort. Now let’s get on with our history lesson:
Edward Weston, founder of the Weston Electrical Instrument Company, introduced the first portable and direct-reading current and voltage meters during the period 1888-1893. His inventions which made these meters possible included: the first truly permanent magnets; temperature-insensitive conductors; low-resistance and non-magnetic springs; metal coil frames where induced eddy currents provided pointer damping (1887); the electric shunt (1893) for the measurement of large currents; and multiple current ranges in a single meter1 .
Please click on the image below which will take you on a journey in the late 19th century as we see the advent of electrical distribution come to life.
Weston DC Millivoltmeter Model 1, S/N 45910, first introduced in 1888
In the late 1800s, electricity began to find many applications. Electric power companies were beginning to emerge and create distribution system networks to bring power to locations where industrial and consumer uses were abounding. The electric lightbulb slowly began to replace gas lamps. The power companies needed to measure the electricity usage by their customers in order to bill them. In 1879, Thomas Edison began his electric power and light industries which had multiple power generators that needed accurate measurements of wattage, voltage and amperage. Edison started out with billing on a per-lamp rate. He moved on to a better system comprised of a jar-based chemical device with two zinc plates connected across a shunt in the customer’s circuit. The jars were weighed monthly to determine what the customer would pay according to the weight gained from the month before.
Along came Weston after being hired as a consultant to come up with a way to measure the efficiency of a generator, which took him about a week. This effort led Weston to begin the inventions of equipment that would be more stable, robust, portable and calibrated. Prior such designs suffered changes due to the Earth’s magnetic field and the absence of permanent magnets. These previous designs by others were very sensitive to resistive heating during measurement and were not very accurate and repeatable. Weston’s inventions took care of these problems and ultimately became the international standard of measurement which facilitated the spread and growth of electricity usage.