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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Otto Blathy, an Extraordinary Man

     Otto Titusz Blathy (August 11, 1860 – September 26, 1939) was a Hungarian electrical engineer who was the co-inventor of the modern electric transformer, the tension regulator, the AC watt-hour meter, motor capacitor for the single-phase AC electric motor, the turbo generator and the high-efficiency turbo generator. 
     Born in Tata, Blathy was educated in Hungary and Vienna. He received his diploma of mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Vienna in 1882. Between 1881 and 1883 he worked at the machinery workshop of the Hungarian Railways. He began working at the Ganz factory as a mechanical engineer in 1883 and his activities tied him to the factory for the remainder of his life. 
     A remarkably talented man, Blathy quickly recognized problems and his intellect was characterized by an exceptionally long memory as well as a command of languages. 
     He was the first to outline the practical application of Ohm's law of magnetism. Attracted by the successes of Karoly Zipernowsky, he joined his team on 1 July 1883. 
     Blathy admitted he had learned nothing about electro-technics at the university, so he started to learn about the theory himself. Using the Maxwell equations he invented a practical approach of sizing magnetic coils. 
First high efficiency transformer
     His most important invention was the transformer, developed jointly with Zipernowsky and Deri in 1885. On Blathy's recommendation, the transformers were produced with a closed iron core. Their joint effort resulted in one of the most important electronic inventions of that period. He had more than one hundred patents, mostly relating to electric machinery. 
     From 1887 he experimented with alternating current generators connected in parallel, an arrangement which was implemented one year later at an Italian power station. It was a worldwide sensational event that he connected a thermal plant with a hydroelectric power station for the first time. 
     In 1889 he designed the kilowatt hour meter named after him. Many similar devices had been known, but only Blathy's proved reliable and in 1912, he even improved on his original model. The kilowatt hour meters used today operate on the same principle as his original invention. 
     Among other distinctions, Blathy was an honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences from 1927, held honorary PhD degrees from the Technical Universities of Budapest and Vienna. 
     Blathy's contributions were important because the development of the electrical industry was hindered by the fact that the dynamo could only supply electricity trouble-free only over short distances; over longer distances a large portion of electric energy got "lost" through overheated cables. Blathy was the first to investigate the heat dissipation problems of electric motors, and at that time the connection between current density and heat was determined. Electrical engineers of the period were aware that cheap transmission of electricity could only be achieved by increasing the voltage, but experiments with direct current constantly ended in failure. 
     Between 1884 and 1885 three of them, working at the Ganz factory, developed a new current distribution system based on the use of a transformer. Based on their invention, it became possible to provide economical and cheap lighting for industry and households. Even the name "transformer" was created by Blathy. He also invented the electric meter which was first introduced to the market in 1889. 
     Besides his scientific work, Bláthy is well known as an author of chess problems. He specialized in the field known as long-movers and grotesque problems. Grotesque problems feature a particularly unlikely initial position, especially one in which white has a very small number of pieces against a much larger number of black pieces; they are generally intended to be humorous. Most famous is probably his 292 move problem although it should be noted that the position is not legal. You can read about this problem HERE and HERE. Here is a problem he composed and placed on Christmas cards he sent out in 1938.

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