A tribute to a brilliant engineer, whose 
inventions greatly improved people's lives

Thomas Parker

This is the story of an inventive genius, who was once a well known figure, but has now been almost forgotten.

In his day, his inventions greatly changed people’s lives for the better. He gave us electric lighting in the streets and in our homes, he brought us electrically powered public transport, in the form of trams and trains; cheap matches by revolutionising the production of phosphorus; smokeless fuel with his invention of “Coalite”, and much more.

Electrically powered cars are still in their infancy today, yet in 1890 Thomas Parker’s battery- powered trams were carrying passengers around Birmingham, and his electrically-operated trams had been carrying passengers around Blackpool for 5 years.

We still eagerly embrace technology, just as we did in Thomas Parker’s time, and life would be very different without it. In his day, engineers were respected and often became public figures, which is fitting, considering the way technology improved people’s lives. Today in the U.K., engineering is no longer fashionable, and engineers are looked down on. We tend to forget how much we rely on engineering, and how much poorer we would be without it.

Every time you get in your car and start the engine, think of Thomas Parker. Although he didn’t invent the car battery (accumulator), he greatly improved it, so that it can hold a much larger charge, enabling a small-sized battery to power the starter motor. In fact Thomas was probably Wolverhampton's first motorist. He claimed to have built an electrically powered car as early as 1884, and before the decade was over he was travelling daily to and from work in his cars.

I would like to thank Peter Parker and Gail Tudor for all of their help and access to the family archives, Margaret and Maurice Darlington, who run the Ironbridge George Community Archive, Rodney Benjamin for information on E. Goodwyn Lewis, the staff at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum archives and Stephen Howard, Curator at the Black Country Living Museum for allowing me to examine and photograph their Parker dynamo.

If anyone has any further information on Thomas Parker, or any of his products, please email me, I would love to hear from you.

Return to the Engineering Hall Return to Lives of Local People Proceed to Early Years