Sir Charles Algernon Parsons, O.M. (13 June 1854 – 11 February 1931) was a British engineer, best known for his invention of the steam turbine. He worked as an engineer on dynamo and turbine design, and power generation, with great influence on the naval and electrical engineering fields. He also developed optical equipment, for searchlights and telescopes.
Born in London, Parsons was the youngest son of the famous astronomer William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse. He attended Trinity College, Dublin and St. John's College, Cambridge, graduating from the latter in 1877 with a first-class honours degree in mathematics. He then joined the Newcastle-based engineering firm of W.G. Armstrong as an apprentice, an unusual step for the son of an earl; then moved to Kitsons in Yorkshire where he worked on rocket powered torpedoes; and then in 1884 moved to Clarke, Chapman and Co., ship engine manufacturers near Newcastle, where he was head of their electrical equipment development. He developed a turbine engine there in 1884 and immediately utilised the new engine to drive an electrical generator, which he also designed.
In 1889, he founded C. A. Parsons and Company in Newcastle to produce turbo-generators to his design. In 1894 he regained certain patent rights from Clarke Chapman. He subsequently founded the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company in Newcastle.
Famously in June 1897 his turbine powered yacht, Turbinia, was exhibited moving at speed in a Royal Navy fleet review off Portsmouth, to demonstrate the great potential of the new technology. The Turbinia moved at 34 knots. The fastest Royal Navy ships using other technologies reached 27 knots. Part of the speed improvement was attributable to the slender hull of the Turbinia. Today, Turbinia is housed in a purpose-built gallery at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle.
The Parsons turbine company survives in the Heaton area of Newcastle and is now part of Siemens, a German conglomerate. Sometimes referred to as Siemens Parsons, the company recently completed a major redevelopment programme, reducing the size of its site by around three quarters and installing the latest manufacturing technology. In 1925 Charles Parsons acquired the Grubb Telescope Company and renamed it Grubb Parsons. That company survived in the Newcastle area until 1985.
Parsons' ancestral home at Birr Castle in Ireland houses a museum detailing the contribution the Parsons family have made to the fields of science and engineering, with part of the museum given over to marine engineering work of Charles Parsons.
Making the most of local expertise ; Visiting South African scientist, Kit Vaughan, assesses the state of scientific research in Ireland at the end of a 12-month sabbatical in the country
Dec 04, 2003; It has been my good fortune to spend 2003 doing research here in Ireland. Along with Prof Mark O'Malley, of the Department of...