HOPKINSON, JOHN (1849-1898), English engineer and physicist, was born in Manchester on the 27th of July 1849. Before he was sixteen he attended lectures at Owens College, and at eighteen he gained a mathematical scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1871 as senior wrangler and first Smith's prizeman, having previously taken the degree of D.Sc. at London University and won a Whitworth scholarship. Although elected a fellow and tutor of his college, he stayed up at Cambridge only for a very short time, preferring to learn practical engineering as a pupil in the works in which his father was a partner. But there his stay was equally short, for in 1872 he undertook the duties of engineering manager in the glass manufactories of Messrs Chance Brothers and Company at Birmingham. Six years later he removed to London, and while continuing to act as scientific adviser to Messrs Chance, established a most successful practice as a consulting engineer. His work was mainly, though not exclusively, electrical, and his services were in great demand as an expert witness in patent cases. In 1890 he was appointed director of the Siemens laboratory at King's College, London, with the title of professor of electrical engineering. His death occurred prematurely on the 27th of August 1898, when he was killed, together with one son and two daughters, by an accident the nature of which was never precisely ascertained, while climbing the Petite Dent de Veisivi, above Evolena. Dr Hopkinson presented a rare combination of practical with theoretical ability, and his achievements in pure scientific research are not less intrinsically notable than the skill with which he applied their results to the solution of concrete engineering problems. His original work is contained in more than sixty papers, all written with a complete mastery both of style and of subject-matter. His name is best known in connexion with electricity and magnetism. On the one hand he worked out the general theory of the magnetic circuit in the dynamo (in conjunction with his brother Edward), and the theory of alternating currents, and conducted a long series of observations on the phenomena attending magnetization in iron, nickel and the curious alloys of the two which can exist both in a magnetic and non-magnetic state at the same temperature. On the other hand, by the application of the principles he thus elucidated he furthered to an immense extent the employment of electricity for the purposes of daily life. As regards the generation of electric energy, by pointing out defects of design in the dynamo as it existed about 1878, and showing how important improvements were to be effected in its construction, he was largely instrumental in converting it from a clumsy and wasteful appliance into one of the most efficient known to the engineer. Again, as regards the distribution of the current, he took a leading part in the development of the three-wire system and the closed-circuit transformer, while electric traction had to thank him for the series-parallel method of working motors. During his residence in Birmingham, Messrs Chance being makers of glass for use in lighthouse lamps, his attention was naturally turned to problems of lighthouse illumination, and he was able to devise improvements in both the catoptric and dioptric methods for concentrating and directing the beam. He was a strong advocate of the groupflashing system as a means of differentiating lights, and invented an arrangement for carrying it into effect optically, his plan being first adopted for the catoptric light of the Royal Sovereign lightship, in the English Channel off Beachy Head. Moreover, his association with glass manufacture led him to study the refractive indices of different kinds of glass ; he further undertook abstruse researches on electrostatic capacity, the phenomena of the residual charge, and other problems arising out of Clerk Maxwell's electro-magnetic theory.
His original papers were collected and published, with a memoir by his son, in 1901.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)