Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Can anyone enlighten us on Helensburgh born inventor Charles Johnson?


I never cease to be amazed by some of the gems that come to light as regards Scottish invention, and our friends at Helensburgh Heritage have come up with yet another.

The original piece is short, and in the form of an appeal, so I’ll quote it in full…

MYSTERY surrounds a Helensburgh man who is credited with having invented the electric gramophone pickup.

Burgh-born Charles Johnson sold the patent for the pickup to record giants HMV in 1929.

He moved to London in the 1900s and worked for Kelvin Bottomley and Baird in 1908, joining Dent clockmakers in 1911 the year before they moved to Linwood in Renfrewshire.

As well as producing record players, Dent and Company were engineers and makers of scientific instruments until they closed in 1960.

The building they used was demolished in 1966 as it was considered radioactive from making compasses and luminous dials for military and civilian use.

Charles died in hospital in Paisley in 1945, when a local paper described him as a well-known local inventor.

The Heritage Trust would be delighted to hear from anyone with information about the inventor and the company.

Details of inventor wanted

All I could come up with was confirmation of the factory and business, and that they made a compass which seems to have been used in World War I military boats.

While I wasn’t able to come up with any of their audio products, I did find a number of their compasses have appeared in auctions, and can be found for sale online.

As for Charles Johnson, nothing seen, not even in some of the more obscure industrial history sites I dig around in. The company name of ‘Dent and Co and Johnson’ is referred to, as is its location of Linwood, Paisley, but it is only referred to as a maker of scientific instruments, and”The Linwood” (Johnson’s Patent) Compass.

For what it’s worth, I had a look at some sources claiming to tell the history of the record, or gramophone, pickup.

While they did provide some reasonable technical background on the evolution of this device, and its variations (electromagnetic and crystal), they all failed to give any reference to the inventors behind them, and concentrated mainly on the principles involved, and the mechanical aspects of the needles used (seems they used the same needles as mechanical pickups), and their development from steel towards more wear resistant (and less damaging to the record surface) materials.

Those early devices had a hard life, as records generally went around at 78 rpm then, and could wear out a steel needle in as few as three plays.

So, does anybody know anything?

Please let us know in the Comment area below, or contact the trust.

‘The Linwood’ label courtesy of Helensburgh Heritage.

02/08/2019 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian, Lost | , , , , | Leave a comment


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