Hampson, William

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Hampson, William

(b. Bebington, Cheshire, England, ca. 1854; d. London, England, 1 January 1926)

chemical engineering.

Hampson was educated at Manchester Grammar School and Trinity College, Oxford, graduating M.A. in 1881. He went to the Inner Temple, evidently with the intention of becoming a barrister; but he does not appear in any Law List, and his activities are unknown until 1895, when he patented a machine for making liquid air. Independently of and slightly earlier than Carl von Linde and Georges Claude. Hampson applied the “cascade” principle: air cooled by the Joule-Thomson effect was used to precool incoming air before its expansion. This simple device transformed liquid air, and liquid gases in general, from laboratory curiosities to articles of commerce. The invention was taken up by Brin’s Oxygen Company of Westminster (later the British Oxygen Company), with Hampson acting as consultant. He worked closely with William Ramsay and his colleagues at University College, London, who were then engaged in their classic work on the inert gases; the ample supplies of liquid air provided by Hampson proved invaluable and, indeed, led directly to the discovery of neon. He had the misfortune, however, to cross the path of the ungenerous James Dewar regarding priority over the liquefaction of hydrogen, and a pointless and unedifying controversy arose between them.

After taking out a few more patents modifying his invention, Hampson again disappeared into obscurity, except as the author of two books on popular science, Paradoxes of Science (1904) and The Explanation of Radium (1906), and an unnoticed political tract, Modern Thraldom (1907), in which he ascribed all the ills of the age to the institution of credit. He later qualified as a medical practitioner, worked in various London hospitals on the medical applications of electricity and X rays, and invented some devices of no lasting importance.


Hampson described his machine for liquefying air in a lecture, “Self-Intensive Refrigeration of Gases: Liquid Air and Oxygen,” reprinted in Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry,17 (1898), 411—the lecture ended in an angry argument with Dewar, Their controversy was carried on in Nature, 55 (1897), 485, and 58 (1898), 77, 174, 246, 292. of his medicoelectrical contributions probably the most important is “A Method of Reducing Excessive Frequency of the Heart Beat by Means of Rhythmical Muscle-Contractions Electrically Provoked,” in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, Electrotherapy Sec., 5 (1912), 119.

No biography of Hampson has previously been written; the only sources are reference books and his own publications. His part in the discovery of the inert gases is described in M. W. Travers, The Discovery of the Rare Gases (London, 1928), pp. 89, 94, 98, 115; and A Life of Sir-William Ramsay (London, 1956), pp. 172–176, 180.


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