Paul, Robert William

Paul, Robert William
[br]
b. 3 October 1869 Highbury, London, England
d. 28 March 1943 London, England
[br]
English scientific instrument maker, inventor of the Unipivot electrical measuring instrument, and pioneer of cinematography.
[br]
Paul was educated at the City of London School and Finsbury Technical College. He worked first for a short time in the Bell Telephone Works in Antwerp, Belgium, and then in the electrical instrument shop of Elliott Brothers in the Strand until 1891, when he opened an instrument-making business at 44 Hatton Garden, London. He specialized in the design and manufacture of electrical instruments, including the Ayrton Mather galvanometer. In 1902, with a purpose-built factory, he began large batch production of his instruments. He also opened a factory in New York, where uncalibrated instruments from England were calibrated for American customers. In 1903 Paul introduced the Unipivot galvanometer, in which the coil was supported at the centre of gravity of the moving system on a single pivot. The pivotal friction was less than in a conventional instrument and could be used without accurate levelling, the sensitivity being far beyond that of any pivoted galvanometer then in existence.
In 1894 Paul was asked by two entrepreneurs to make copies of Edison's kinetoscope, the pioneering peep-show moving-picture viewer, which had just arrived in London. Discovering that Edison had omitted to patent the machine in England, and observing that there was considerable demand for the machine from show-people, he began production, making six before the end of the year. Altogether, he made about sixty-six units, some of which were exported. Although Edison's machine was not patented, his films were certainly copyrighted, so Paul now needed a cinematographic camera to make new subjects for his customers. Early in 1895 he came into contact with Birt Acres, who was also working on the design of a movie camera. Acres's design was somewhat impractical, but Paul constructed a working model with which Acres filmed the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race on 30 March, and the Derby at Epsom on 29 May. Paul was unhappy with the inefficient design, and developed a new intermittent mechanism based on the principle of the Maltese cross. Despite having signed a ten-year agreement with Paul, Acres split with him on 12 July 1895, after having unilaterally patented their original camera design on 27 May. By the early weeks of 1896, Paul had developed a projector mechanism that also used the Maltese cross and which he demonstrated at the Finsbury Technical College on 20 February 1896. His Theatrograph was intended for sale, and was shown in a number of venues in London during March, notably at the Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square. There the renamed Animatographe was used to show, among other subjects, the Derby of 1896, which was won by the Prince of Wales's horse "Persimmon" and the film of which was shown the next day to enthusiastic crowds. The production of films turned out to be quite profitable: in the first year of the business, from March 1896, Paul made a net profit of £12,838 on a capital outlay of about £1,000. By the end of the year there were at least five shows running in London that were using Paul's projectors and screening films made by him or his staff.
Paul played a major part in establishing the film business in England through his readiness to sell apparatus at a time when most of his rivals reserved their equipment for sole exploitation. He went on to become a leading producer of films, specializing in trick effects, many of which he pioneered. He was affectionately known in the trade as "Daddy Paul", truly considered to be the "father" of the British film industry. He continued to appreciate fully the possibilities of cinematography for scientific work, and in collaboration with Professor Silvanus P.Thompson films were made to illustrate various phenomena to students.
Paul ended his involvement with film making in 1910 to concentrate on his instrument business; on his retirement in 1920, this was amalgamated with the Cambridge Instrument Company. In his will he left shares valued at over £100,000 to form the R.W.Paul Instrument Fund, to be administered by the Institution of Electrical Engineers, of which he had been a member since 1887. The fund was to provide instruments of an unusual nature to assist physical research.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Fellow of the Physical Society 1920. Institution of Electrical Engineers Duddell Medal 1938.
Bibliography
17 March 1903, British patent no. 6,113 (the Unipivot instrument).
1931, "Some electrical instruments at the Faraday Centenary Exhibition 1931", Journal of Scientific Instruments 8:337–48.
Further Reading
Obituary, 1943, Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers 90(1):540–1. P.Dunsheath, 1962, A History of Electrical Engineering, London: Faber \& Faber, pp.
308–9 (for a brief account of the Unipivot instrument).
John Barnes, 1976, The Beginnings of Cinema in Britain, London. Brian Coe, 1981, The History of Movie Photography, London.
BC / GW

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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