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Charles Hesterman Merz (5 October 1874 – 14 or 15 October 1940) was a British electrical engineer who pioneered the use of high-voltage three-phase AC power distribution in the United Kingdom, building a system in the North East of England in the early 20th century that became the model for the country's National Grid.
Merz was then eldest son of John Theodore Merz (a Quaker from Germany) and Alice Mary Richardson, the sister of John Wigham Richardson the Tyneside ship builder. He was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and attended Armstrong College in the town. He then entered an apprenticeship at the Newcastle Electric Supply Company (NESCo), which had been founded by his father, the industrial chemist John Theodore Merz, in 1889. In 1898 Merz became the first Secretary and Chief Engineer of the Cork Electric Tramways and Lighting Company in Cork, Ireland. In 1899 Merz set up a consulting firm which, with the arrival of William McLellan in 1902, became Merz & McLellan. Merz and McLellan had first worked together in Cork. His next major project was the Neptune Bank Power Station in Wallsend near Newcastle. It was the first three-phase electricity supply system in Great Britain, and was opened by Lord Kelvin on 18 June 1901. In the same year he toured the USA and Canada. He was known affectionately within the electricity industry as the "Grid King".
He was a consultant to a local tramway company on the electrification of their horse-drawn routes and, subsequently, to the Tyneside local lines of the North Eastern Railway, a pioneer of British mainline railway electrification, whose electric systems were turned on in 1904. As well passenger commuter lines, these included a 0.75 mi (1.21 km) freight line using the ES1 electric locomotive.
In 1905 he first attempted to influence Parliament to unify the variety of voltages and frequencies in the country's electricity supply industry, but it was not until World War I that Parliament began to take this idea seriously, then appointing him head of a Parliamentary Committee to address the problem.
In 1916 Merz pointed out that the UK could use its small size to its advantage, by creating a dense distribution grid to feed its industries efficiently. His findings led to the Williamson Report of 1918, which in turn created the Electricity Supply Bill of 1919. The bill was the first step towards an integrated system. He also sat on the Weir Committee, which produced the more significant Electricity (Supply) Act of 1926, leading to the setting up of the National Grid.
Merz's own system ran at 40 hertz, 20,000 volts, but he was forced to convert it to 50 hertz to match the European system.
The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Cambridge manages a Charles Hesterman Merz Fund.
The School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne is located in a building named Merz Court.
- Tram Tracks Through Cork, Walter McGrath, Tower Books, Cork, 1981
- "The Second Industrial Revolution" on Making the Modern World
- Managing Change - Regional Power Systems, 1910-1930, Thomas Parke Hughes, University of Pennsylvania (PDF) - detailed essay on Metz's contribution to the UK electric supply industry
- Harold Winthrop Clapp and the Melbourne Railway
- John H. Lienhard (2000). "The Age of the Earth". The Engines of Our Ingenuity. Episode 1568. NPR. KUHF-FM Houston. (transcript page contains photo of Merz with George Westinghouse and Lord Kelvin)
- Charles Merz - Lessons from Boston, IEE Archives
- Cambridge fund
- Sinclair Knight Merz - Celebrating 40 years
- Paxman History Pages (TOG 1 tank)
- R. A. S. Redmayne, Merz, Charles Hesterman (1874–1940), rev. Albert Snow, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 11 January 2006
- Newcastle University (UK) Electrical Engineering Building named after Charles Merz
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