A. M. Low

Archibald Low

Early life

Low was born in Purley, London, the second son of John and Gertrude Low. His father was an engineer and Low's interest in all things mechanical and scientific was fired by visits to his father's place of work. The family moved to Erith in the London Borough of Bexley when Low was still a baby. He was sent to Preparatory school at Colet Court when his family had to visit Australia. A few years later he also got to visit Sydney Australia with his family. He recalls being amazed to find that telephones were fitted in every house. As a young boy Low was forever experimenting at home, building homemade steam turbines or conducting chemical experiments that brought havoc to his local neighbourhood and caused his parents to receive many complaints about the bangs, smells and gases created by young Archie.
At the age of 11 he was enrolled into St Paul's School, an institution where he didn't fit in, being as he put it "too much of an individual". One of his classmates for several years was Bernard Law Montgomery, whom Low recalled as being "rather dull".

Aged 16 Low entered the Central Technical College, an institution far more to his liking, here his abilities really started to show. Under the guidance of his mentor Professor Ashcroft, Low's mercurial mind was given free rein over many of the scientific disciplines, this lack of structured guidance though probably didn't help him in later life. During his time at the CTC Low designed a drawing device which he called "The Low flexible and adjustable curve". This device along with a dotted line pen and a self filling draughtsman's pen were marketed by Thornton's, a renowned instrument maker based in Manchester. He also spent a year devising and making a selector mechanism which allowed a lever when moved to fall into a pre-selected slot. It wasn't until 32 years later that pre-selected gears came in, long after Low had originally thought of them.

Early career

Low joined his uncle, Edward Low's engineering firm, "The Low Accessories and Ignition Company", which at the time was the second oldest engineering firm in the City of London. Unfortunately the company was in a constant struggle for solvency. Edward Low did what he could financially to help get his nephew's ideas off the ground, but what was really needed was a rich investor. During this pre-war period Low was constantly coming up with big new ideas, such as his Forced induction Engine, or gadgets like the whistling egg-boiler which he christened "The Chanticleer". It went on to sell very well, earning him some much-needed money. He also experimented with gas turbines, but the alloys available at that time wouldn't stand up to the required heat.

In May 1914 Low gave the first demonstration of what was to become television, he called it . This demonstration was given to the and was entitled "Seeing By Wireless". Low's invention was crude and under-developed but the idea was there. The main deficiency was the Selenium cell used for converting light waves into electric impulses, which responded too slowly thus spoiling the effect.
The demonstration certainly garnered a lot of media interest with The Times reporting on May 30;

An inventor, Dr. A. M. Low, has discovered a means of transmitting visual images by wire. If all goes well with this invention, we shall soon be able, it seems, to see people at a distance.

On May 29 The Daily Chronicle reported;

Dr. Low gave a demonstration for the first time in public, with a new apparatus that he has invented, for seeing, he claims by electricity, by which it is possible for persons using a telephone to see each other at the same time.

Low, of course failed to follow up this early promising work, due in part to his temperamental failings and also of course the outbreak of World War I later that year.

The Great War

Inter-war years

Not long after the war Low started the Low Engineering Company Ltd in association with the Hon. C. N. Bruce (later Lord Aberdare). The company offices were on Kensington High Street, and Low spent much of his time trying to bring his inventions to fruition. As usual though he was easily distracted by gadgets that he devised, taking his attention away from the more important work. One of the better gadgets was a motor scooter that Low invented and manufactured in conjunction with Sir Henry Norman.
Despite his best efforts, business wasn't his strong point. An example of this is the magazine he started up with his friend Lord Brabazon and others. It was entitled Armchair Science, Low helped edit it, and at one point the sales figures were 80,000 a month, yet it never seemed to make a profit and was sold off. Another of Low's delights was speed, especially racing cars or motorbikes. He was a regular attendee at Brooklands and at one point invented a rocket propelled bike and numerous other gadgets and improvements for the internal combustion engine. An example of Low's prescience is that he was worried about the number of road traffic accidents that were occurring and believed speed in cities should be restricted to 25 mph using modern radio methods to enforce it. One of Low's peeves was excess noise, to this end he invented an audiometer to measure and record noise in a visual form. He conducted experiments on the London Underground and achieved some success in pinpointing trouble spots and reducing their impact by use of shields over the wheels and padding of the interior panels.
In 1938 Low had lunch with a gentleman called William Joyce. Joyce wanted Low to contribute an article to a paper he helped run. Low declined the offer being too busy; it was only a couple of years later that Joyce gained infamy as Lord Haw-Haw.

A few of Low's inventions from this period are:

Second World War and later

At the outbreak of the Second World War Low initially joined the Air Ministry in a civil capacity. His job was to examine captured German aircraft and prepare reports for British pilots to enable them to identify the weak points of the enemy aircraft. Later on he joined the Royal Pioneer Corps and was promoted to Major. Between experiments in his back garden laboratory, he gave frequent talks to service personnel on scientific matters. Low was frequently in bad health from the late 1930s onwards, having never fully recovered from a bout of pneumonia he suffered a few years earlier. Although nothing that he experimented with during the war ultimately came to fruition, he did work on some interesting projects:


The telephone may develop to a stage where it is unnecessary to enter a special call-box. We shall think no more of telephoning to our office from our cars or railway-carriages than we do today of telephoning from our homes (1937)

The second stage in the development of space-ships could be the launching of what have been called 'space-platforms'...The rocket or space-station will travel round the earth in twenty four hours at most. The value of such stations might be very great; they might enable world-wide television broadcasts to be made; they would transmit data about cosmic rays; or solar radiation; and they might have incalculable military value (1950)

No team ever invents anything, they only develop one man's flash of genius

I always say that the greatest discovery is that we know practically nothing about anything

Later life

Low died at his London home in 1956 aged 68. Cause of death was a malignant tumour on his lung. He is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.

In 1976 Low was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame [1]


Low was a prolific author of science books. He aimed several of his books at the layman to try to nurture interest in science and engineering. Quite a few of his books contained predictions on scientific advancements.

As well as these non-fiction books he wrote four science fiction novels for the younger reader.






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