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Who was Alexander Muirhead?

Alexander Muirhead founded Messrs Muirhead and Company in 1894. Muirhead established the technological supremacy of the company in the fields of telegraphy and was the first man to make a recording of a human heartbeat. Muirhead and Co. went on to supply the first X-rays to Beckenham Hospital at the turn of the century.

Alexander was a highly skilled electrical engineer, and his laboratory in Downe had an international reputation for the design and construction of telegraphic instruments of the very highest quality.

The collection of all Muirhead`s electrical instruments from the Elmers End electrical works was acquired by the Science Museum in 1989.

Alexander lived in Bromley Kent from 1893 - 1920.

Early Company History

The company was formed in 1904 to take control over the electrical instrument business founded by Alexander Muirhead, D.Sc., F.R.S. and carried on by him in partnership with his brother.

During the latter part of the 19th century Dr. Muirhead was working on developments in Submarine Cable Telegraphy notably duplex methods. In 1894 an association with Sir Oliver Lodge on wireless telegraphy was begun, and in 1900 the Lodge-Muirhead Wireless Syndicate was founded. The association between Lodge and Muirhead produced many historical experiments in wireless telegraphy.

Prior to the First World War and during the interval between the two wars the Company specialised in the development and manufacture of terminal equipment for submarine cable stations, and in addition it produced a wide range of electrical and scientific instruments. By the 1930's the submarine telegraph section of the communications industry was in decline but by that time the Company had acquired considerable reputation for the precision and accuracy of its electrical and mechanical products.

Knowledge of this reputation led to the first order in 1935 for Magslip Receivers, which had been developed by the Admiralty Research Laboratories. The applications of these and other similar rotating components became so important in the control of guns, searchlights, predictors, analogue computers and such like, that during the second world war the Company's production rate of these devices rose to many thousands per month. The Company also played an important part in assisting to set up a number of shadow factories in different parts of the country.

Production of Magslips for the Admiralty started in 1935 and the varieties and quantities grew to vast numbers in the war years. Though many are still in use they have been superseded by synchros, which Muirhead have designed, developed and supplied to military services throughout the world. The present range of synchros, motors, permanent magnet alternators and optical encoders is comprehensive. The acquisitions of Vactric Control Equipment Ltd. in 1972 made  Muirhead Aerospace the largest Manufacturer in Europe of these products. 

After the war both the Magslip and its U.S.A. counterpart, the Synchro were removed from the Secret List and became open to commercial development. As a result, many new types were evolved and today the Motion Technology side of the Company is one of the leading suppliers of these devices in the U.K. and a position it has maintained for many years. It was in connection with this area of activities that the Company's Environmental Testing laboratory was built and considerable expertise in this work acquired.

When John Bell became Muirhead's Chief Research Engineer in 1946, he had invented the system of ship stabilisation control and with Muirhead, produced the system used by more than half the world's stabiliser control system using microprocessor based and solid state electronics brought new technological advances.

Muirhead successfully pioneered Precision R.C. Oscillators, Wave Analysers and other laboratory measuring and test equipment and due to excellence in design and production, a range of voltage standards cells were still being made after more than a century.

Due to the continual cross fertilisation in new technology and commercial ideas, the forward growth of products and expertise has lead Muirhead Aerospace confidently into the electromechanical actuator market.

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Muirhead Aerospace

Oakfield Road, Penge, London, SE20 8EW, England, UK.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8659 9090
Fax: +44 (0) 20 8659 9906

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