William Murdoch



GREAT was the amazement of all England when, at the close of the last century, William Murdoch discovered the use of combustible air, or gas, for illuminating purposes. So little was the invention understood and believed in by those who had never seen it in use, that even great and wise men laughed at the idea. "How could there be light without a wick?" said a member of Parliament, when the subject was brought before the House. Even Sir Humphrey Davy ridiculed the idea of lighting towns with gas, and asked one of the projectors if they meant to take the dome of St. Paul's as a gas meter. Sir Walter Scott, too, made himself merry over the idea of illuminating London by smoke; though he was glad enough, not long after, to make his own house at Abbotsford light and cheerful on winter nights by the use of that very smoke.

When the House of Commons was lighted by gas, the architect imagined that the gas ran on fire through the pipes, and he therefore insisted on their being placed several inches from the wall, for fear of the building taking fire; and members might be observed carefully touching the pipes with their gloved hands, and wondering that they did not feel warm. The first shop lighted by the new method was Mr. Ackerman's, of the Strand, in 1810; and one lady of rank was so delighted with the brilliancy of the gas-lamp on the counter that she asked to be allowed to take it home in her carriage.

Mr. Murdoch was too busy with his other pursuits to study the uses of gas, and though he was undoubtedly the first to apply it to practical purposes, many others laid claim to the honor, and other people quickly reaped the benefit of his cleverness and ingenuity. In this he shared the general fate of inventors.