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Immisch & Co

Moritz Immisch was an Electrical engineer, watchmaker and inventor.

Early life

Karl Moritz Immisch was born on 12 March 1838 in Niederschmon, near Querfurt in Germany and died 20 September 1903 in London.

Always known as 'Moritz Immisch', he was the eldest son of August Christian Immisch (a watchmaker by profession). He received a technical education in the state of Thuringia, graduating from university in his native country, before leaving Germany around 1860 to seek opportunities in England, particularly in London. He migrated with one of his younger brothers, Bernhardt Theodore Immisch, also trained as a watchmaker. Both men married and settled in England; Moritz marrying in 1876 an English lady (Emma Elizabeth Welch) at St John's Church, Marylebone, London. Twenty years later Moritz became a naturalised British citizen.


Immisch found opportunities to apply his watchmaking skills, developing precision clockwork mechanisms, improving practical details and considering the further applications of the physical processes involved. From 1863 he was employed as foreman to the noted firm Le Roy & Fils at their premises on Regent St. In 1872, when already a Council Member of the British Horological Institute, he submitted an essay on 'The balance spring and its isochronal adjustments' which was awarded the Institute's Baroness Burdett Coutts Prize. Immisch's prize essay was published in small book form - a work which remained in print for many years.

Instrument making

In 1881 Immisch patented a remarkably small watch-shaped thermometer, functioning on the variable expansive properties of fluid in a Bourdon tube. This metallic instrument was designed to be more robust than contemporary glass thermometers filled with mercury - for this reason it was first branded as an 'avitreous', or metallic thermometer. The speed of the temperature-expansion and the calibration of the watch-dial indicator allowed very accurate readings to be taken, and its handy size made it highly portable as a clinical instrument.

Hundreds of Immisch thermometers were tested for accuracy at the Kew Observatory every year after its launch. It was awarded a Silver Medal at the International Medical Congress of 1881 and received awards at the Inventions Exhibition of 1885 in London, as well as the Exposition Universelle in Antwerp and the Gewerbe und Industrie Ausstellung in Görlitz, also in 1885.

Its small size made the device very popular and it was referred to in many medical journals throughout the 1880s both in England and in the US.
Immisch himself later wrote an article comparing the merits of his thermometer with others then in use for the New York Medical Journal in 1889.

Electrical work

Immisch had long been interested in the science of electricity and magnetism; as far back as the 1860s he understood the basic principles and measurements of resistance, voltage, and current. In applying his mechanical skills and practical scientific approach to electro-magnetism, he entered into the design and construction of electric motors, of 'electro-motors' as they were then known. By 1880, his experiments in small dynamo-electric machines had led him to step away from watchwork and explore the new opportunities in the nascent electrical engineering industry. In 1882 he patented 'An improved electro-motor' and, together with a small number of friends and colleagues, he established a small company 'Messrs M. Immisch & Co.' with works in Kentish Town, first at Perry Road and then much more substantially at the larger premises at 19 Malden Crescent.

Messrs Immisch & Co.

The company was composed of a number of fellow enthusiasts, local businessmen and supporters. Foremost amongst them was a friend and partner, Frederick William John Hubel, who was himself formerly involved in watchwork and who became in his own description an 'electrician' in the development of the company's electrical undertakings.

Immisch & Co were established in 1882 and spent many years quietly improving the existing design of direct current motors, and finding new fields in which to apply their developing machine. They had notable success in the application of motors to mining work, and the Immisch name also came to be associated with some of the earliest electric road vehicles produced - Immisch motors, geared with chains made by Hans Renold were fitted to a series of electrical carriages and dogcarts in 1887, 1888, 1889, 1890 and 1896. This work was carried out in association with Magnus Volk, himself a very early electrical experimenter and engineer. News and illustrations of the 3 and 4-wheel vehicles constructed for the Sultan of Turkey, and of the award the Sultan gave to Volk brought both men to international notice.

Immisch also employed Volk as a manager in the development of the first public fleet of storage battery electric launches and charging stations available for hire on the river Thames with its headquarters at Platt's Eyot. After 12 months of experimental work starting in 1888 with a randan skiff, the firm commissioned the construction of hulls which they equipped with electrical apparatus. From 1889 until just before the First World War the boating season and regattas saw the silent electric boats plying their way up and downstream.

Electric Traction

Like his contemporary and fellow electric launch pioneer, Anthony Reckenzaun, Immisch became interested in the development of electric traction for urban transport. Both men had designed and built electric motors to be fitted to tramcars for the public and light railways for industrial purposes.

Immisch motors were noted for their strong mechanical construction and light weight for the power produced.

In 1890, with hopes of a large scale expansion of electric traction on the existing horse-drawn tramways, Immisch's Company, together with the Electric Traction Company chaired by Viscount Bury, sold itself to the General Electric Power and Traction Company Limited. This new company soon foundered however due to its reliance on accumulator traction.

At the end of 1888 and during 1889 the Electric Traction Company, employing Immisch machinery and expertise, had instigated a trial of accumulator tramcars on the Barking Road section of the North Metropolitan Tramways Company's network. This small mile-long single-line track from Plaistow to Canning Town was chosen to prove the economy and reliability of the electric system. The 52 seat tramcars, 6 in total (4 on the road at any one time), ran daily from June 1889 until August 1892. Despite the North Metropolitan Tramways Company having obtained a Private Act in 1890 to employ such electric tramcars throughout the network, the ultimate approval remained with the local authorities through whose areas the trams ran. In a time of growing municipal powers, the old contracting leases of the Tramways Act of 1870 were expiring and local authorities in the UK looked to buy out old lines from the tramway companies, to develop services of their own.

These obstacles, together with the high costs of maintaining the accumulators on such a small installation were the end of the system, and it was evident that the General Electric Power and Traction Company had, in the circumstances, been overcapitalised. It was wound-up in 1894.

Immisch continued to be involved in manufacturing work for a couple of years in the Acme Immisch Electric Works Company Ltd, but afterwards he retained an interest only as a director in the Immisch Electric Launch Company until his resignation in 1901. Having suffered from heart problems from a number of years, he died two years later.

Obituaries on Moritz Immisch appeared in numerous publications, including the Electrical Review, Vol.53. No.1348, September 25, 1903: quote -"..The world has lost one of the earliest pioneers in the development of electric power. A born inventor; his mind teemed with ideas".


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