Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Edmondson, Thomas

EDMONDSON, THOMAS (1792–1851), inventor, born at Lancaster, 30 June 1792, of a quaker family, was a brother of George Edmondson [q. v.] In his youth he displayed great aptitude for mechanical invention; and his mother, seeing that he could never be kept out of mischief, taught him knitting to keep him quiet and useful. He afterwards became a journeyman cabinet-maker with the firm of Gillows & Co. in Lancaster. While there he made several improvements in cabinet-making implements, and contrived a mechanical arrangement by which a busy housewife could churn the butter and rock the cradle at the same time. Thoroughness in manufacture, completeness in detail, and adaptability to the work required, were points on which he was conscientiously particular. In due course he entered into business; though a Friend he was not successful. He entered into partnership in Carlisle; the firm became bankrupt. He nevertheless paid all his creditors when means came to him. He became a railway clerk at a small station at Milton, afterwards called Brampton, about fourteen miles from Carlisle, on the Newcastle and Carlisle railway. Having to fill up paper tickets for each passenger, he found the writing irksome as well as delaying. It occurred to him in 1837 that the work might be done by a machine, and tickets be printed on one uniform system. When he afterwards showed his family the spot in a Northumberland field where his invention occurred to him, he used to say that it came into his mind complete in its whole scope and all its details. Out of it grew the railway clearing house, which has been of inestimable advantage in saving time and trouble. The checking machine was his invention, as well as the dating press. Blaylock, a Dublin watchmaker, helped to carry out Edmondson's idea. The first machine used at the Dublin office did not require five shillings' worth of repair in five years, and never needed more until the sheer wearing away of the brasswork necessitated replacement. The Manchester and Leeds railway first adopted Edmondson's invention, and employed him at Oldham Road for a time. This machine was subsequently greatly improved, and while the original feature of printing one ticket at once has always been maintained, its general completeness and efficiency have been materially increased by the ingenuity of Mr. James Carson. Edmondson took out a patent, and let it out on profitable terms, ten shillings per mile per annum, a railway thirty miles long paying 15l. a year for a license to print their tickets. He died on 22 June 1851. He worked out his invention with skill and patience, enjoyed its honours with modesty, and dispensed its fruits with generosity.

[Our Railway Ticket System, by Harriet Martineau, Household Words, vol. vi. 1852; John B. Edmondson's To whom are we indebted for the Railway Ticket System?; Mrs. Davis Benson's From the Lune to the Neva.]

G. J. H.