Thomas Parker (1843–1915)

A pioneer of the British electrical industry, Thomas Parker was described by Lord Kelvin as the "Edison of Europe". He was ahead of his time — a great inventor and entrepreneur. He worked on the development of public and private electric lighting systems, and he gave us electrically-powered public transport, cheap matches (by revolutionising the production of phosphorus), smokeless fuel ... and much more that changed peoples' lives for the better.

He started from humble beginnings, working alongside his father at the iron foundry run by the Coalbrookdale Company. Highly regarded by his fellow workers, Parker rose through the ranks, recognised for his achievements, such as the Kyrle open grate, in which anthracite coal could be burnt.

Whilst in the electroplating department, he worked on improvements to the electrical accumulator (storage battery). He eventually set up his own business with Paul Bedford Elwell to make accumulators in a factory in Commercial Road, Wolverhampton.

The company's greatest success with this technology was in public transport. By 1890, Parker's battery-powered trams were running in Birmingham, and his electric trams had been operating on the Blackpool Promenade tramway for five years. The company electrified the Liverpool Overhead railway and by 1894 Thomas was presented with the George Stephenson medal by the Institute of Civil Engineers for his efforts in the project.

Later, he would consult on London's Metropolitan Railway, helping introduce electric underground trains and influencing the choice of electric locomotives for above-ground services. Parker built an electric car as early as 1884 and before the decade was out, he was commuting to work in it — Wolverhampton's first motorist.

He was always willing to develop technologies further. Improvements to the dynamo he designed enabled the development of large-scale public lighting schemes. He also suggested improvements for the manufacture of aluminium bronze and the purification of copper.

Among Parker and his wife Jane's nine surviving children was Charles Parker, who established the Low Temperature Carbonisation Company to produce the smokeless fuel Coalite, an invention patented by Parker senior in later life for which he was posthumously awarded a gold medal by the Smoke Abatement Society in 1936.