Moritz Immisch ~ Victorian Inventor & Pioneer
MORITZ IMMISCH ~ Victorian Inventor & Pioneer

MORITZ IMMISCH ~ 1838-1903 ~


. "The World has lost one of the earliest Pioneers in the development of Electric power. A born Inventor; his mind teemed with ideas. Ahead of his time" ~ As stated in one of the obituaries (Electrical Review, 25th September 1903) about MORITZ IMMISCH (Inventor & Pioneer) Engineer, Manufacturer and Company Managing Director.

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Moritz Immisch was born 'Karl Moritz Immisch' on 12th March 1838 in Niederschmon (near Querfurt, Germany) - the son of August Christian Von Immisch (& Anna Regina), of Thuringia, Germany. After graduating from university he moved to London/England in the early 1860s, and later married a young English lady Emma Welch at St John's Church, Marylebone, London, England, in 1876.

It is in connection with the "Immisch" motor and the early development of electric power that his name is chiefly remembered, although records of the patent offices of Europe and America show he had thought out (more or less) thoroughly a considerable number of practical problems. As a prolific inventor he filed over forty patents between 1881-90.

Originally he had started by making his name among the chief watch and clock manufacturers, and in 1872 had won the baroness Burdett-Coutts's prize for a thesis on the isochronism of the balance spring. Entitled "The Balance Spring" the thesis was subsequently published in book form. Moritz Immisch's talented mind, however, was neither fully occupied nor stretched in this limited work. Like others with great skill in instrument making, he became enthused by the opportunities presented by the new discoveries in electricity. It was thus his experiments in electricity, magnetism and general physics which soon attracted friends and capital.

About 1880 he entered into a business partnership with fellow-countryman Fritz Hubel, along with several British backers who found the necessary capital to extend the scope of his experiments. A small electrical works were opened at Malden Crescent, Kentish Town, and the "Immisch Motor" was gradually evolved, and won medals at the Inventions Exhibition of 1885, the Antwerp International Exposition of the same year, and at various subsequent exhibitions. From thence to 1891 the firm seemed on the high road to success. The works were full of pioneer orders for dynamos and motors for use in running plant machinery for electric light, power transmission, pumping and hauling in mines, electric trams, electric launches, electric cars, etc.

At this point it should be mentioned that Immisch's increasing reputation led to numerous people seeking his advice. Among those were Magnus Volk and the future Earl of Albermarle. [It is perhaps interesting to note: while Immisch, Hubel and Volk were originally from Germany, Viscount Bury's (Van Keppel) family were originally Dutch, arriving in England in 1688.]

Magnus Volk sought Immisch's views and advice over experiments to create an electric horseless carriage. A three-wheeled prototype was then built in 1888, powered by a 0.5hp Immisch motor. This was followed by a four-wheeled electric car specially made for and sold to the Sultan of Turkey. Built of walnut on an enamelled steel chassis, the fittings were all silver-plated and the upholstery was embroided with the Turkish Imperial crest. Immisch supplied the 20 amp 48 volt 1hp motor incorporating new designs he had patented. The Sultan was suitably impressed and promptly ordered another electric car, as well as an electric launch [See 'electric launches' below]. The creation and sale of the world's first electric cars manufactured by Volk with Immisch motors naturally brought both men international recognition. However, despite the publicity no other orders were received. As a result Immisch agreed to take over the Sultan's contract, allowing Volk to turn his attention to putting his troubled railway business back on its feet (~ earlier in 1883 Volk had received acclaim for building an electric railway along the sea front at Brighton). For a period Volk also assisted in the management of the Immisch & Company electric launch business on the Thames (see below).

Viscount Bury, son and heir of the 7th Earl of Albemarle, contacted Immisch over experiments with electric trams and launches. Bury had for some time been interested in electric powered trams, trains, and underground trains in London, and had discussed the possibilities with Thomas Edison in the 1870s while in the US. On his return to England he formed the Westminster Electric Traction Company and became involved in the Electric Traction Syndicate. The Syndicate's initial project involved converting Brighton & District Tramways to electric operation (and later other tram lines were also converted). In doing this they were supplied with Immisch Motors, which a few years later led to the Syndicate and Immisch's business being formed into one company named 'The General Electric Power & Traction Company" (in 1890).

By this time Immisch and Viscount Bury had already turned their attention to developing battery electric motor boats and launches. Immisch had built and was running a fleet of electric launches on the Thames, and among his fleet he had commissioned the building of the largest passenger electric launch in the world (run with an Immisch Motor) named "Viscountess Bury". [The launch remained in use for over a century - Current owner is the Viscount Bury Trust].

By 1889 the fleet of seven electric launches and five electric-recharging stations on the Thames were in great demand and profitable. At the same time Immisch's company had in one year doubled the output of electrical plant for lighting and power transmission. Also it was supplying pumping and hauling plant to collieries in various parts of the country, and was responsible for the trams on Barking-Canning Town route being converted from horse to electric power.

As already mentioned Moritz was a prolific inventor, filing over forty patents between 1881 and 1890, five of them covering designs for propellers and shafts. He was making motors for all kinds of application and won medals. His advertisement in the 1889 Electric Directory (Blue Book) mentions "Motors for Locomotives, Tramcars, Launches, Fans, Lifts, Cranes, etc., wound to any tension" and proudly states "Only medal ever awarded for Electrical Haulage, Newcastle, 1887".

Sadly for Immisch's company the costly attempts to foster electric traction led to financial difficulties. The firm was ahead of the times, and after suffering various vicissitudes of fortune the Malden Works were closed, and Moritz retired from manufacturing work. Afterwards he would appear publicly only as a director of the Immisch Electric Launch Company, of which he was the founder - The first eletric hire boat company in the world. His fleet of electric launches had continued to grow, and his company continued establishing a network of hire facilities and re-charging stations - 20 by the time of his death - later reaching 100 between Oxford and Teddington.

In the Electrical Review's obituary it concluded - 'As an employer, his decease will be regretted by the many men who passed through the Malden Works, and who - scattered all over the world - will think kindly of this large-hearted burly man, unapproachable today, yet ready tomorrow to appreciate merit'...'The World has lost one of the earliest Pioneers in the development of Electric power. A born Inventor; his mind teemed with ideas... He was ahead of his time'.

Although Moritz Immisch was originally German and raised in the German church, his English wife Emma was an Anglican and their children (who were born in England) were British subjects and members of the Church of England. It thus came as no surprise that Moritz himself became eventually a British subject after being officially naturalised in 1896. [Moritz's brother Bernhard Theodore Immisch also came to England - marrying and settling in Hull - and was an engineer.]




A - Clock/watch making : Moritz Immisch found opportunities to apply his watch-making 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 & Son/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 . [The Prize was jointly awarded to Moritz Immisch and to Henry Phillips Palmer for both of their essays, published in the Horological Journal from April 1873. See Vol.XV, pp.85-88, 97-107, and 114-119; and also pp.133-141, and 145-151]. Immisch's prize essay was published in small book form - a work which remained in print for many years.


B - Instrument making : In 1881 Moritz Immisch patented a remarkably small watch-shaped thermometer, functioning on the variable expansive properties of fluid in a Bourdon tube. [See. - US Patent for the Immisch Thermometer, from Google Patents]. This instrument was designed to be more robust than contemporary glass thermometers filled with (element)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. [See for example the British Medical Journal, Provincial Medical Journal, The Lancet in 1885 and 1886. 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. 'Comparison between mercurial and avitreous thermometers', N.Y. Med. J., Vol.50, 21 September 1889, pp.309-313.]


C - Electrical work : Pioneer in Electric Motors : Moritz 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 Electrical resistance, voltage, and Electric 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. [See his letters to the Electrical Review published 23 December 1882, Vol.XI, pp.498-499; 6 January 1883, 20 January 1883 and 27 January 1883, Vol.XII, pp.14-15, 49, 64-65]. In 1882 he patented 'An improved electro-motor' [ref. GB patent (1882) 4665] 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. [ref. Berly's Universal Electrical Directory, 1884, and the Electrical Trades Directory c.1889-1894.]


D - Messrs Immisch & Co. / Pioneers of earliest Electric Cars (Electric Motor Road Vehicles /Electric Horseless-carriages) and Electric Boats (Electric River Launches) : 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 cars (electric road vehicles) produced. Immisch motors, geared with chains made by Hans Renold, were fitted to a series of electric cars (then referred to as 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. [See contemporary UK and foreign electrical and scientific journals The Electrician, Engineering, Cosmos, Electrical World, Science.] Moritz 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.


E - Electric Traction : Pioneer of earliest Electric Trams : 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.. [See S.P. Thompson's Dynamo-electric Machinery in various editions (English and American) from 1888-1903] In 1890, with hopes of a large scale expansion of electric traction on the existing horse-drawn trams/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, Newham/Plaistow to Canning Town was chosen to prove the economy and reliability of the electric system. The 52 seat trams/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 Local and Personal Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom/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". Also see Journal of the (Royal) Society of Arts, Vol.51, p.892, 1903 ~ Moritz Immisch's obituary.



The IMMISCH MOTOR ~ inventions of (Karl) Moritz Immisch -

The IMMISCH ELECTRIC LAUNCH ~ inventions of (Karl) Moritz Immisch -

The IMMISCH MOTOR in Volk's first Electric Car ~ inventions of (Karl) Moritz Immisch -

The IMMISCH THERMOMETER ~ 1890: Avitreous Medical Thermometer (patented 1881) ~ inventions of (Karl) Moritz Immisch -




'Electric Cars - The Future is Now!' by Arvid Linde, 2010, Veloce Publishing Ltd; ISBN 978-1845843106 :

- ref. Moritz Immisch's pioneering electric cars and electric motors - page 91


'Electric Boats on the Thames 1889-1914' by Edward Hawthorne, 1995 Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd; ISBN 0-7509-1015-1 :

- Whole chapter in book devoted to Immisch ~ Chapter 2: "Moritz Immisch - Pioneer", pages 14-29.

- Another whole chapter about Immisch (on his pioneering electric launch company) ~ Chapter 3: "Immisch Electric Launch Company", pages 30-40.

- Chapter 12: "Propulsion System -Motors, Batteries, Charges", pages 148-150, 166-170; and an illustration of the famous 'Immisch Electric Motor' page 150.

- Also references on page 5 (Introduction),page 13 (chapter 1), page 117; and Appendix: 'The Immisch Fleet' pages 197-199, listing all the launches in Immisch's fleet on the Thames.


The Royal Society of Arts ~ listed as a Fellow/Member in 1884 ~ Obituary appeared in the Journal of the(Royal) Society of Arts, Volume 51 (1902-1903), page 892 - published 1903 : quote - "One of the earliest pioneers in the development of Electric power".


'The Electrical Review' ~ vol.53. no.1348, sept.25, 1903 ~ Obituary. Also between 1880-1903 many articles and reports on his work and inventions, and his published letters.


Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 1904, page 237 ~ Obituary.

'Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers' (journal), 1899, page 394 ~ references.

'The Electrical Engineer', 1893, page 570 ~ references.

'British Biographical Index' [D-I],K.G. Saur 1990, page 985 ~ references.


'The Times' (newspaper), London -

25 Dec 1888 (p.11) - The "Viscountess Bury" largest electric pleasure-boat launched by Mrs Immisch, in the presence of Viscount Bury & Moritz Immisch

29 Nov 1889 (p.3) - Immisch electric motor invented for pumping and hauling in mines.

8 Aug 1889 (p.8) - Immisch system for electric cars and trams.

2 June 1890 (p.14) - The "General Electric Power & Traction Company", directors Viscount Bury and Moritz Immisch (of Moritz Immisch & Co Ltd) 22 Nov 1894 (p.12) - Company business had over capitalised - Winding-up company

15 Mar 1907 - Olympia Motor Exhibition - Immisch Launch & Boat Company engines for motor boats.


'The New York Times'-

13 Dec 1891 (p.17) - "The Electric Launch: a brief sketch of its history and development...", with references to Moritz Immisch's inventions, the 'Immisch motor', and his electric launch company.

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LINKS for Victorian inventor (Karl) MORITZ IMMISCH - link 1

(Karl) Moritz Immisch-Link 2

(Karl) Moritz Immisch-Link 3

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