Monday, October 12, 2009


In 1850 Joseph Wilson Swan began working on a light bulb using carbonized paper filaments in an evacuated glass bulb. By 1860 he was able to demonstrate a working device, and obtained a British patent covering a partial vacuum, carbon filament incandescent lamp. However, the lack of a good vacuum and an adequate electric source resulted in an inefficient bulb with a short lifetime.

Fifteen years later, in 1875, Swan returned to consider the problem of the light bulb with the aid of a better vacuum and a carbonised thread as a filament. The most significant feature of Swan's improved lamp was that there was little residual oxygen in the vacuum tube to ignite the filament, thus allowing the filament to glow almost white-hot without catching fire. However, his filament had low resistance, thus needing heavy copper wires to supply it.

Swan received a British patent for his device in 1878, about a year before Thomas Edison. Swan had reported success to the Newcastle Chemical Society and at a lecture at Sunderland Technical College in February 1879 he demonstrated a working lamp. Starting that year he began installing light bulbs in homes and landmarks in England. His house Underhill on Kells Lane in Low Fell, Gateshead was the first in the world to have working light bulbs installed. In 1881 he had started his own company, The Swan Electric Light Company, and started commercial production.

In America Edison had been working on copies of the original Swan patent, trying to make them more efficient. Though Swan had beaten him to this goal, Edison obtained patents in America for a fairly direct copy of the Swan light, and started an advertising campaign which claimed that he was the real inventor. Swan, who was less interested in making money from the invention, agreed that Edison could sell the lights in America while he retained the rights in Britain.

While searching for a better filament for his light bulb, Swan inadvertently made another advance. In 1881 Swan developed and patented a process for squeezing nitro-cellulose through holes to form fibers. His newly established Swan Electric Company, which by merger was to become the Edison and Swan United Company, used the cellulose filaments, that Swan had invented, in their bulbs.

In 1883 the Edison & Swan United Electric Light Company was established. Known commonly as "Ediswan" the company sold lamps made with a cellulose filament that Swan had invented in 1881. Variations of the cellulose filament became an industry standard, except with the Edison Company. Edison continued using bamboo filaments until the 1892 merger that created General Electric, and that company then shifted to cellulose.

In 1886 Ediswan moved production to a former jute mill at Ponders End, North London. In 1916 Ediswan set up Britain's first radio thermionic valve factory at Ponders End. This area, with nearby Brimsdown subsequently developed as a centre for the manufacture of valves, cathode ray tubes, etc. and nearby parts of Enfield became an important centre of the electronics industry for much of the 20th century.

Ediswan became part of British Thomson-Houston and AEI in the late 1920s.

-submitted by Paul Green

Scottish National Insurance Company

The Union Insurance Company was established on November 20 1824 as the Scottish Union Insurance Company. In 1833, the company obtained a royal charter and was incorporated under an act of parliament on April 9 1847.

The company commenced business on February 1 1825 and, according to its first prospectus, offered: "insurances on property against loss by fire, with power to embrace insurance in lives and survivorship if it shall be so determined."

The company exercised that power with little delay, issuing its first life policy within a month of starting business.

On January 31 1877, the company merged with the Scottish National Insurance Company and changed its name to the Scottish Union and National Insurance Company. The merger had been opposed by the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company and the Edinburgh Life Assurance Company but an act of parliament approving the amalgamation received royal assent in May 1878 and the merger went ahead.

In the following years, the company moved to extend its business both at home and overseas. It established a burglary department in 1905 and, with the acquisition of Lancashire and Yorkshire Accident Insurance Company Ltd, started to transact accident business the following year.

By 1909, the company was offering insurance against all forms of risk, life and endowments, annuities and pensions, leasehold and capital redemptions. By 1927, it had added wireless installations, householders' consolidated, boiler explosion, machinery risks and lift accidents insurance.

The company underwent a number of changes in the following decades. On November 6 1948, it was incorporated as the Scottish Union and National Insurance Company and, in 1959, was acquired by the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society Ltd. By 1991, the company's principal activity was the transaction of short-term insurance business.

On November 27 2002, the company changed its name to Aviva Insurance Ltd and again, two days later, to Aviva Insurance. On August 15 2006, the company was renamed the Union Insurance Company and on September 23 2008 it was put into liquidation.

-submitted by Paul Green

Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation

After the British established Hong Kong as a colony in the aftermath of the Opium Wars, local merchants felt the need for a bank to finance the growing trade between China and Europe. They established the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in 1865.

The founder, a Scotsman named Thomas Sutherland, wanted a bank operating on "sound Scottish banking principles." The original location of the bank was considered crucial and the founders chose Wardley House in Hong Kong since the construction was based on some of the best feng shui in Colonial Hong Kong. The bank initially leased its premises for HKD $500 a month in 1864.

After raising a capital stock of HKD $5 million, the "Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Company Limited" opened its doors on 3 March 1865. It opened a branch in Shanghai during April of that year, and started issuing locally-denominated banknotes in both the Crown Colony and Shanghai soon afterwards. The bank was incorporated in Hong Kong by special dispensation from the British Treasury in 1866, and under the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Ordinance 1866, a new branch in Japan was also established. The bank handled the first public loan in China in 1874.

In 1980, the Bank, now under the chairmanship of Michael Sandberg acquired a 51% stake in Marine Midland Bank of the United States of America, and continued its expansion with the establishment of Hongkong Bank of Canada in 1981 and Hongkong Bank of Australia Limited in 1986. 1987, under the Chairmanship of William Purves, saw the bank's ownership of Marine Midland Bank increased to 100% and the acquisition of a 14.9% share in Midland Bank in the United Kingdom.

In 1991 HSBC Holdings plc was established to act as a parent company to the group; shares are currently traded on the London, Hong Kong, Paris, New York, and Bermuda stock exchanges.

-submitted by Paul Green