Updated 13-III-2021

Dr. John Norman Aldington

John Norman Aldington10

John Norman Aldington was born on 2nd March 1905 at Preston, UK1, and from an early stage in his career became involved in the lamp industry of his home city, at the Strand Road Lampworks. There are conflicting dates regarding the start of his employment. Otten3 states that he was originally recruited for the Brittania Lamp Works - by which the Strand Road factory was known at the time it was founded by Dick, Kerr & Company in 1911. That company was absorbed into Siemens & English Electric Lamps in 1919, and it seems doubtful that Aldington may have been employed there at just fourteen years of age. Meanwhile Scott2 implies that Aldington was already employed at Siemens in 1923, and Marquis1 puts the date at 1926.

The Siemens works included an impressive laboratory, which provided a tremendous opportunity for both the academic and processional career of the young scientist. From the outset he worked alongside fellow lamp scientist Percy D. Oakley, who had been charged by W.H. Lemaréchal, the manager of the former Siemens lampworks at Dalston, to establish world-class lamp research laboratories upon which the future of the company could be built. Those laboratories as well as Oakley and Lemaréchal were transferred to Preston following the closure of the Dalston works in 1923, and Aldington was immediately absorbed into their activities.

Aldington continued his education alongside his employment at the lampworks, and in 1928 graduated from the University of London with a B.Sc. (hons) in Chemistry. In 1944 he was awarded a Ph.D. based on his academic research carried out at Siemens on high pressure electrical discharges1. Key to the success and expansion of the Preston operations was the recruitment of additional scientists and engineers, and to this end Aldington established a close relationship with the Harris Technical College of Preston. For ten years he taught evening classes there, and all of the new young engineers joining Siemens were hand-picked by Aldington and drawn from The Harris. Many of them also went on to become part-time teachers, and Aldington became a familiar face on the international arena thanks to his impressive skills in the delivery of academic and public lectures on all aspects of light and lighting.2

His methods in extracting the maximum technical and commercial prosperity from the minimum of human and practical resources were remarkable, especially considering that the Preston lampworks had entered the British Siemens corporation almost by accident alongside its primary businesses in heavy electrical engineering. It must be remembered that the company had no policy for the development of lamps, no programme of research for lamps, no money to spare for research & development in lamps, little interest in, and indeed not even much knowledge of what was being done at Preston. The organisation was at best only semi-official - tolerated rather than approved - and approved only so long as it remained self-supporting. There was no provision of financing from the group headquarters, and R&D efforts had to be funded entirely from factory cost savings. Preston was run on enthusiasm rather than company policy, and the young engineers devised their own strategy of vigorous attack. The need to generate their own budget for research by factory cost savings made them not only leaders in light source technologies, but also in the development of improved methods of manufacturing.2

It is evident that the Preston crew had little contact with the senior management of the group, and it is perhaps because of this freedom to build the business in the way they saw fit, without external influence of senior managers who often understand little about the products and technologies that fund their salaries, that the small group could achieve such tremendous results. Despite their tiny proportions, Aldington's laboratory emerged into a leading position alongside global competition from other companies having many tens of times greater resources. He alone was granted no fewer than 88 British patents during his time as a research scientist.

During the following years, Aldington progressively extended his influence in the factory, and from 1933 onwards his work attracted significant international attention because of his groundbreaking developments in new and improved light sources. He is widely accepted as inventor of the xenon arc lamp, and pioneered countless improvements in mercury discharge lamps along with their manufacturing methods. Aldington's exceptional skills not only in extracting maximum commercial benefits from a sound understanding of the science and technology of his company's products, but also his expertise in public speaking saw him gradually assume a more commercial role. This took him to the pinnacle of not only the lighting business, but to the leadership of great swathes of the entire British electrical industry as illustrated by the chronology of his career summarised below:1, 4, 5

1926-1930 Analytical Chemist
1930-1935 Research Physicist
1936-1947 Head of Research Laboratory
1948-1955 Director of Research and Works Manager
1955-1958 Managing Director of Siemens Edison Swan Ltd.
1955-19?? Director of Associated Electrical Industries Ltd.
1957-1964 Chairman of Submarine Cables Ltd.
1957-19?? Chairman & Director S.G.E. Signals Ltd. (Siemens & General Electric Railway Signal Co. Ltd.)
1960-19?? Chairman of London Electric Wire Co., and Smiths Ltd.
1960-19?? Group Managing Director of Associated Electrical Industries Ltd., Woolwich
1965-19?? Vice-Chairman of Associated Electrical Industries Ltd.
Recognition of Aldington's countless achievements was widespread, Not only was he a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, he was also named as a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chemistry, and Fellow of the Illuminating Engineering Society. As an acknowledged expert in his field, immediately following the end of the second world war he along with several other lamp engineers were sent by the British Intelligence Operations Sub-Committee to Germany, to investigate the state of the remaining lamp research operations and identify any technologies or facilities that could be of strategic importance to Allied interests. One of these concerned the supply of krypton and xenon gases to British corporations.8

Although the early part of Aldington's life was based in Preston, developments in the electrical industry eventually drew him southwards. In 1954 his employer, Siemens Brothers Ltd., was merged with Associated Electrical Industries (AEI), which owned several other lampmakers including Edison-Swan. It was a logical step that Siemens and Ediswan should also combine their operations within the group, and the Lighting division became Siemens-Edison-Swan Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of AEI. By this time the research of both Aldington's group at Preston and the Ediswan group at Brimsdown had migrated from pure lamp science towards the allied fields of electronic valves and semiconductor developments. Both sites had thoroughly outgrown their original premises, and the amalgamation provided a unique opportunity to combine their strengths. A new laboratory was constructed under Aldington at Harlow New Town in Essex in 1958, and he along with much of his team moved to the new location. His increasing leadership of the British electrical industry naturally drew him still further south, eventually residing in Kent and with his office at the prestigious Grosvenor Place headquarters of AEI at London SW1.

Little is known of Aldington's personal life, aside from his marriage to Edna Entwistle and that they had one son, Peter.1 John Aldington's death was registered in June 1987 at Milton Keynes, England.11 Many of his personal letters and research works were preserved by his family, and are now housed at the Archives of the Institute of Engineering and Technology at Savoy Place, London.6

1948 with Arc Lamp9 1958 NPG Image10 c.1955-587 Later Life

Examples of Lamps Developed by Aldington
Sieray MAT Mercury Sieray Coloured MA Sieray Coloured MA Sieray QH Mercury Sieray MBT Mercury ME Short Arc Mercury

  1. The Discharge of Electricity through Gases, Engineering Supplement to Siemens Magazine No.92, Jan. 1933, p.4
  2. Some Further Aspects of the Electrical Discharge in Gases and Vapours, Engineering Supplement to Siemens Magazine No.131, Apr. 1936, pp.49-66
  3. The Electric Discharge Lamp - A Survey of Development, Engineering Supplement to Siemens Magazine No.138, May 1936
  4. The Electric Discharge Lamp - A Survey of Development, Light & Lighting, 1936
  5. The Electric Discharge Lamp - A Survey of Development, Public Lighting no.4 v.1, Dec. 1936, pp.95-100 & 105-107
  6. Low Wattage Mercury Vapour Discharge Lamps, The Modulation of Their Light Emission by Luminescence, Engineering Supplement to Siemens Magazine No.144, May 1937
  7. The Radiation from Artificial Illuminants, Association of Public Lighting Engineers, Sep.1938
  8. The Electric Discharge Lamp, The School Science Review, Dec. 1938, p.14
  9. Some Developments in the Production of Light by the Electric Discharge through Mercury Vapour, Engineering Supplement to Siemens Magazine No.178, Mar. 1940
  10. Technical Developments and Research at Preston Lamp Works, Engineering Supplement to Siemens Magazine No.201, Feb. 1942
  11. Fluorescent Light Sources and their Applications, read before the Illuminating Engineering Society of London, Apr. 1942
  12. Fluorescent Light Sources and their Applications, Lighting Research & Technology v.7 pp.57-73, Apr. 1942
  13. Bright Light Sources Part 1, read before the Illuminating Engineering Society of London, Nov. 1944
  14. Bright Light Sources Part 2, read before the Illuminating Engineering Society of London, Dec. 1945
  15. Electric Lamps and Kindred Devices, Siemens Engineering Bulletins No's.232-236, Dec. 1948
  16. The Flash Tube and Its Applications, read before the Institution of Electrical Engineers, 1947
  17. The High Intensity Flash Discharge Tube, Endeavour v.7 no.25, 1948
  18. Lamps for Public Lighting, Electrical Review, Nov. 1949
  19. The Gas Arc: A New Light Source, Transactions of the Illuminating Engineering Society v.14 no.2, 1949, pp.19-51
  20. Some Recent Developments in Rare-Gas Discharge Lamps, Endeavour v.5 no.9, Oct. 1950
  21. Radiation, Light and Illumination, British Medical Journal v.16 no.1, Jun. 1951, pp.1353-1357
  22. Electric Lamps - a Decade of Progress, Light & Lighting v.44 no.9, Aug. 1951
  23. Ramsay and the Electric Lamp (discovery of the Noble Gases), Light & Lighting v.54, Dec. 1952
  24. Lamps and Lighting - A Vision of the Future, Illuminating Engineering v.47 no.2, Feb. 1953, pp.82-90
  25. The Influence of Good Lighting on Health and Safety, J.R. Sanit. Inst. v.72 no.2, Mar. 1953, pp.86-91
  26. Lamps and Their Uses, Transactions of the Illuminating Engineering Society v.19 no.10 1954, pp.319-340
  27. Radiation Effects on Recombination in Germanium, Journal of Applied Physics v.30, 1959, p.1174

British Patents
  1. GB273046 - 16.04.1926 - Improvements in or relating to the frosting of glass - with P.D.Oakley
  2. GB378877 - 17.04.1931 - Improved hydrogen barretter having auxiliary bulb
  3. GB378876 - 17.04.1931 - Improved hydrogen barretter having tungsten coiled filament - with P.D.Oakley
  4. GB405640 - 04.06.1932 - Improved neon-mercury discharge device for protection of telephone circuits - with P.D.Oakley
  5. GB410558 - 06.01.1933 - Mercury MA-type lamp having improved auxiliary electrodes
  6. GB410581 - 25.02.1933 - Neon Glow tubular containing illuminated letters - with P.D.Oakley
  7. GB418845 - 01.07.1933 - Neon Glow lamp with moving discharge
  8. GB426808 - 18.10.1933 - Neon Glow lamp for illuminating purposes with reduced ballast losses
  9. GB431382 - 06.12.1933 - Mercury MA-type lamp having additions of cadmium and zinc for improved colour rendering
  10. GB429638 - 07.02.1934 - Mercury MA-type lamp having reduced cold spot and increased vapour pressure
  11. GB432928 - 31.05.1934 - Mercury MA-type lamp having incandescent filament for red contribution and to cause definite end-of-life failure
  12. GB431810 - 31.05.1934 - Mercury MA-type lamp having additions of zinc, and improved tantalum electrodes - with P.D.Oakley
  13. GB448624 - 08.12.1934 - Mercury MA-type lamp for horizontal operation
  14. GB447428 - 08.12.1934 - Mercury MAT-type lamp having internal tungsten ballast filament - with W.H.Lemarechal
  15. GB448891 - 22.01.1935 - Mercury MA-type lamp having bi-metal device for connection of auxiliary ignition electrodes
  16. GB448280 - 22.01.1935 - Mercury MAT-type lamp capable of providing light immediately after a power interruption
  17. GB456760 - 14.05.1935 - Incandescent lamp having triple-coil filament of reduced dimensions
  18. GB464297 - 23.10.1935 - Mercury MA-type lamp having triangular arc tube support mechanism - with J.E.Askew
  19. GB472275 - 20.03.1936 - Mercury MA-type lamp having quartz internal tube with end diaphragms
  20. GB473347 - 09.04.1936 - Mercury MBT-type lamp having low wattage quartz arc tube and internal tungsten ballast filament
  21. GB472183 - 09.04.1936 - Improved mercury rectifier device - with P.D.Oakley
  22. GB474394 - 30.04.1936 - Quartz-to-metal seal comprising molybdenum wire flattened and etched
  23. GB474632 - 19.05.1936 - Electrodes for MA & MB-type mercury lamps having improved functionality during the anode phase
  24. GB476818 - 29.06.1936 - High pressure mercury lamp having multiple large-area arcs within the same discharge tube
  25. GB473918 - 29.06.1936 - A self-flashing high pressure mercury lamp
  26. GB476190 - 13.07.1936 - Mercury MD-type lamp having improved electrode construction
  27. GB480020 - 21.08.1936 - Mercury MB-type lamp having quartz diaphragms to reduce deflection of the arc
  28. GB485877 - 08.12.1936 - Mercury MB-type lamp having incandescent body heated by the arc to improve colour rendering
  29. GB480979 - 08.12.1936 - Mercury MD-type lamp having improved cooling arrangements
  30. GB482625 - 24.12.1936 - Mercury MD-type lamp having hydrogen-filled cooling outer jacket
  31. GB489051 - 23.03.1937 - Mercury MD-type lamp having non-linear discharge tube and improved end cooling - with A.J.Meadowcroft
  32. GB493634 - 27.04.1937 - Circuit arrangements for flashing a high pressure metal vapour electric discharge lamp
  33. GB503082 - 28.09.1937 - Incandescent lamp having fluorescent coating on bulb envelope
  34. GB512941 - 14.03.1938 - Quartz-to-metal seal comprising molybdenum wire rolled laterally and etched - with A.J.Meadowcroft
  35. GB513321 - 01.04.1938 - Mercury ME-type lamp having improved electrode construction to reduce sputtering during run-up - with A.J.Meadowcroft
  36. GB512974 - 22.04.1938 - Quartz-to-metal seal comprising multiple molybdenum foils to increase current-carrying capacity - with A.J.Meadowcroft
  37. GB502042 - 13.09.1938 - Incandescent lamp of high efficacy having filling of high pressure mercury vapour
  38. GB522917 - 21.12.1938 - Mercury lamp having parallel-connected filament to provide light after a power interruption - with W.H.Lemarechal
  39. GB569651 - 27.01.1939 - Mercury ME-type lamp having improved electrodes of thoriated tungsten - with W.G.Creasy
  40. GB526401 - 15.03.1939 - Mercury ME-type lamp having high velocity stream of high density mercury vapour
  41. GB529123 - 22.05.1939 - Mercury MA-type lamp having improved auxiliary ignition electrode arrangements
  42. GB530459 - 23.06.1939 - Mercury MB-type long arc lamp having novel method of arc tube support - with A.J.Meadowcroft
  43. GB533016 - 04.07.1939 - Control gear for high pressure mercury lamps with high voltage ignition pulse - with J.E.Askew
  44. GB578150 - 21.11.1939 - Mercury glow lamp for operation on low voltage DC circuits
  45. GB537717 - 18.01.1940 - Incandescent high wattage lamp having compact filament and non-obstructing supports - with H.A.E.Eason
  46. GB541208 - 15.02.1940 - Quartz-to-metal seal comprising single molybdenum foil of increased current-carrying capacity - with A.J.Meadowcroft
  47. GB537936 - 14.03.1940 - Krypton-Mercury high pressure fluorescent lamp having substantially UV radiation from the arc
  48. GB573141 - 12.11.1940 - Mercury ME-type lamp having auxiliary ignition electrode and reduced run-up duration - with A.J.Meadowcroft
  49. GB548353 - 01.04.1941 - Partially-aluminised glass envelopes achieved by shielding or by caustic soda partial removal - with A.J.Meadowcroft
  50. GB570583 - 20.05.1941 - Mercury ME-type lamp having magnetic deflection to permit non-vertical operation
  51. GB547542 - 30.05.1941 - Incandescent projection lamp having collector for evaporated tungsten of heated nickel plate
  52. GB551136 - 14.11.1941 - Quartz-to-metal seal comprising molybdenum foil of unusually great thickness and width - with A.J.Meadowcroft
  53. GB570921 - 06.01.1942 - Mercury ME-type lamp and apparatus optimised for non-vertical operation
  54. GB555545 - 06.05.1942 - Quartz-to-metal seal with flexible connection to electrodes for discharge lamps - with A.J.Meadowcroft
  55. GB559093 - 17.08.1942 - Mercury ME-type DC lamp having graphite anode
  56. GB559315 - 27.08.1942 - Mercury ME-type lamp having improved electrode shape for increased light extraction - with A.J.Meadowcroft
  57. GB559318 - 30.09.1942 - Mercury ME-type lamp having electrodes at right angles for increased light extraction
  58. GB561282 - 24.11.1942 - Mercury ME-type lamp having reduced run-up duration by addition of tungsten powder
  59. GB561281 - 24.11.1942 - Mercury ME-type lamp and improved method of manufacturing - with A.J.Meadowcroft
  60. GB565689 - 11.06.1943 - Mercury MB-type electrodes of improved construction for containment of emitter pellet
  61. GB567442 - 23.07.1943 - Incandescent lamp having multiple parallel filaments of improved construction
  62. GB569267 - 21.08.1943 - Very high current density fluorescent flashtube
  63. GB568810 - 21.08.1943 - Improvement gas discharge flashlamp and operating means
  64. GB568448 - 17.09.1943 - Quartz-to-metal seal consisting of cylindrical metal tube
  65. GB568167 - 20.10.1943 - Discharge lamp having non-circular section arc
  66. GB570324 - 19.11.1943 - Mercury ME-type lamp having multiple anodes and a single cathode
  67. GB574719 - 03.01.1944 - Incandescent lighthouse lamp having filament within a diffusing screen of Stannosil
  68. GB575175 - 11.02.1944 - Incandescent lamp having solid-source filament
  69. GB574989 - 11.02.1944 - Incandescent infrared reflector lamp having envelope to filter visible light
  70. GB574827 - 11.02.1944 - Incandescent lighthouse lamp having multiple parallel filaments
  71. GB578133 - 01.04.1944 - Improvements relating to starting arrangements for fluorescent tubular lamps - with G.O.Stevens
  72. GB575835 - 01.04.1944 - Improvements relating to starting arrangements for fluorescent tubular lamps
  73. GB579686 - 27.04.1944 - Mercury high pressure lamp for pulsed operation
  74. GB586685 - 20.05.1944 - Mercury high pressure lamp for pulsed operation with high gas pressure filling
  75. GB584442 - 20.05.1944 - High pressure lamp for pulsed operation comprising additional metals to improve colour rendering
  76. GB581199 - 11.08.1944 - Improved starting arrangements for pulsed operation discharge lamps
  77. GB581227 - 14.08.1944 - Improved holders for bi-pin caps of tubular fluorescent lamps
  78. GB592246 - 09.03.1945 - Fluorescent tubular lamp having external metal stripe to facilitate starting
  79. GB589037 - 15.06.1945 - Discharge lamp operated in pulsed mode for the purpose of improved perceived luminous efficacy
  80. GB623650 - 11.12.1946 - Quartz-to-metal seal with extreme high current-carrying capacity
  81. GB665342 - 01.01.1947 - Improved construction of a water-cooled high power gas arc lamp
  82. GB632950 - 14.02.1947 - Fluorescent tubular lamp having compact non-linear discharge tube
  83. GB650585 - 10.03.1948 - An auxiliary external electrode device for facilitating the starting of a tubular fluorescent discharge lamp
  84. GB673637 - 12.04.1948 - Halogenated phosphors for tubular fluorescent discharge lamps - with W.Harrison
  85. GB729819 - 18.12.1951 - Zirconium-doped emissive cathodes for mercury vapour lamps
  86. GB766645 - 16.10.1953 - Improvements relating to electric semi-conductor devices
  87. GB755020 - 16.10.1953 - Improvements relating to electric semi-conductor devices
  88. GB744339 - 01.10.1954 - Improvements relating to electric dry cells

References & Bibliography
  1. Who's Who in Commerce & Industry, 14th Ed., publ. Marquis USA, 1965 USA, p.13.
  2. Siemens Brothers 1858-1958, J.D. Scott, publ. Weidenfeld & Nicolson (UK), 1958, pp.153, 158, 159, 160, 162, 163, 165, 243.
  3. Death of a Lightbulb, John Otten, publ. Blue Ocean Publishing (UK), ISBN 978-1-907527-08-1, 2012.
  4. Anatomy of a Merger, R.Jones & O.Marriott, publ. Pan Books (London), ISBN 0-330-23213-4, 1970, p.304.
  5. Takeover - The Facts and the Myths of the GEC-AEI Battle, Sir Joseph Latham, publ. Iliffe Books (London), 1969, pp.24, 25, 29
  6. The National Archives - John Aldington Correspondence and Papers 1916-1979
  7. The Institute of Engineering & Technology - Aldington's Machine
  8. Engineers at War - Visitation of Aldington British Industrial Intelligence Office to survey remains of German lamp industry after WWII, 1945
  9. Encylcopaedia Britannica - Photograph of Aldington making mercury arc lamps
  10. The National Portrait Gallery, J.N. Aldington
  11. Free BMD UK Genealogy Website