This section of the Inventors Association (Ottawa) website is devoted to honouring Successful Ottawa Inventors of the past and present. We are hoping to educate Ottawans as to the importance of local inventors and their contributions to the betterment of Ottawa, Canada and the World. We will begin with a few early Successful Ottawa Inventors and then pay tribute to more recent Successful Ottawa Inventors whose innovative contributions may be less obvious to their contemporaries. This section of the website is a work in progress, so please return often to see who is added next. Perhaps it could be you, or someone you know?
Ahearn, Thomas -- Thomas Ahearn, born in Ottawa in 1855, was not only a productive inventor with 15 patented inventions in Canada (CIPO) such as the electric oven, electric heater, electric flat iron -- earning him the title of '"Canada's Edison" -- but he was also an innovator and entrepreneur contributing greatly to Ottawa's early development in terms of lighting its streets electrically and supplying it with clean hydroelectricity. He (along with his partner Warren Soper) established an electrically operated streetcar system, replacing a more primitive horse-drawn carriage system. These ventures laid the foundation for current day Ottawa Hydro, and OC Transpo, respectively.
Mr Ahearn also modernized the Federal government of the time by creating its first telephone system. As well, Mr Ahearn established a cross-Canada telegraph system, and was instrumental in producing the first coast to coast radio broadcast, which the Governor General of the time said created a national spirit more than anything else had. Mr Ahearn had previously established the first long-distance telephone system by connecting Ottawa to Pembroke via telegraph lines. Later, in his career, Mr Ahearn helped to establish the first transatlantic telephone link between Canada and Great Britain.
Mr Ahearn is credited with personally financing the building of the Champlain Bridge linking Ottawa and Hull, Quebec. He also was appointed chairman of the forerunner of the National Capital Commission. In that position, Mr Ahearn is credited with establishing Ottawa's parkway system and generally beautifying the Nations Capital.
Among his numerous firsts, Mr Ahearn was the first person to drive an electric automobile in Ottawa in 1899. Mr Ahearn cooked the first meal in his electric oven, and delivered it by street car to guests at the Ottawa Windsor Hotel, thereby inventing "Delivery!" Based on his entrepreneurial accomplishments, Mr Ahearn appears to have been the stimulus behind Ottawa's current day strength in the telecommunications hi-tech area, and was Ottawa's first "techie.".
We could continue with other accomplishments of Mr Ahearn, but instead would like to invite you to search the web for original articles about the life and contributions of Mr Thomas ("electricity") Ahearn.
Ironically, there is only one small plaque in Ottawa honouring Thomas Ahearn, one of its greatest citizen! Have you ever seen it? E-mail us if you know where it is.
He was President of:
Ottawa Electric Company
Ottawa Electric Railway Company
Ottawa Gas Company
Ottawa Investment Company
Ottawa Land Association.
He was a director of other firms:
Bell Telephone Company
Bank of Montreal
Canadian Westinghouse Company
Northern Electric Company
Royal Trust Company.
More on Thomas Ahearn (see the web articles below):
The Ottawa Electric Railway
Ahearn & Soper Company History
From Cigar Boxes to Streetcars
Obituary of Thomas Ahearn
Ottawa Library Collection
National Archives of Canada
Wilson, Thomas Leopold Born in 1860, in Woodstock, Ontario, Thomas at the age of 20 created his first invention, an electro dynamo, with a local blacksmith. Their electro dynamo produced enough electricity to light the streets of Hamilton with electric arc lamps. At the age of 22, Thomas left for New York city where he pursued his interests in the developing field of electrical engineering. Thomas' interests in electricity were practical. He developed the electric arc furnace, which he hoped to use to process aluminium ore. In this pursuit, Thomas found a financial backer , James Turner Morehead, in North Carolina who had operated a factory powered by hydroelectricity. Because his previous operation went out of business, Morehead gladly accepted Thomas Wilson and his patented process to produce aluminium in an electric arc furnace in his unused hydroelectric-powered factory.
In 1892, in an attempt to improve the aluminium smelting process, Thomas Wilson accidentally discover how to make calcium carbide economically. He mixed lime and coal tar, and heated it in his electric arc furnace. When his waste product (calcium carbide) was cleaned out of the furnace and thrown in to the river, the resulting gas produced a very bright, hot flame when ignited. Although both calcium carbide and acetylene were previously produced in limited quantities in the laboratory, Thomas realized that he had discovered a commercially viable process for mass producing both, and filed a patent on his process. Although at that time there were no commercial uses for calcium carbide and acetylene, Thomas Wilson and his partner, concentrated their efforts on practical applications for both. Their first application was in the area of lighting for street lamps, homes, bicycles, mine and factory lighting, etc. Acetylene was also used to light the way at night for early automobiles. Thomas eventually invented acetylene-lighted buoys for marine use, and founded his International Marine Signal Company in Ottawa to manufacture and distribute his Wilson Buoys and Beacons worldwide.
While still in the States, Thomas discovered that if pure oxygen was burned with acetylene gas instead of air, a more brilliant, hotter flame resulted. These observations and experimentation led to the development of the oxy-acetylene torch which is used worldwide in steel construction still to this day. This application of acetylene was the stimulus for the commercial production of oxygen, which also made it available for medical use -- saving many lives since that time.
Shortly after these developments, Thomas and his partner decided to sell the calcium carbide process patent in the US to Union Carbide. Thomas Wilson then went back to New York city where he worked in a laboratory on further applications of acetylene gas in the production of other hydrocarbons. Again, Thomas patented his processes which later resulted in the commercial production of solvents, plastics, and artificial rubber.
Having retained the carbide and acetylene process patent rights for Canada, Thomas Wilson, in 1895, returned to Canada to become one of its richest citizens, starting a carbide production facility fuelled by hydroelectricity in the Niagara region. In 1900, Thomas Wilson invested in the Ottawa Carbide Company, with which he was involved in until 1911. He established another Carbide production facility in the Gatineau Hills near Meech Lake. There, Thomas Wilson built a magnificent summer home on Meech Lake, which was later the meeting place for the signing of the "Meech Lake Accord" among the provinces in 1987.
Although Thomas Leopold Wilson, was a prolific inventor with 60 to 70 patents in his name, he is best known for his invention of the commercial calcium carbide and acetylene gas process, which was the stimulus for the North American chemical industry leading to the development of plastics, artificial rubber, and artificial fibres -- modern materials that we regularly use today, such as neoprene and acrylic.
Despite Thomas L. Wilson's great contributions to our modern world in terms of our use of artificial fibers, rubber, plastics and his torch that still builds trains, tanks, ships, bridges and skyscrapers, etc., there is only one small plaque honouring his presence and contributions in Ottawa. If you know where this small plaque to "Carbide" Wilson is in Ottawa, please e-mail us with the location.