Dr. Bronson's St. Augustine History
William J. Hammer (1858-1934)

William Joseph Hammer was born to William (1827-1895) and Martha
Augusta Beck Hammer (1827-1861) in Cressona, Pennsylvania, February
26, 1858. He attended private and public schools in Newark, New Jersey.
His education was extended by university and technical school lectures

In 1878 Hammer became an assistant to
Edward Weston of the Weston
Malleable Nickel Company. He made solution for the Weston Company.
This was Hammer's start with dynamos and arc lighting. Between 1875 to
1884 Weston received 139 U. S. patents.

In December 1879 he became lab assistant to
Thomas Edison at Menlo
Park, New Jersey.  By 1880 he was Chief Engineer of the Edison Lamp
works.  He experimented on the telephone,
phonograph, and electric
railway, is known primarily for work on lights.

Under Edison and
Francis J. Upton he prepared the plans for the
underground conductor system of the Pearl Street station of the New York
Electrical Company.

Hammer was in charge of testing early light globes in 1880-81 and noted a
blue glow around the positive pole in a vacuum bulb and a blackening of
the wire and the bulb at the negative pole. The unknown phenomenon was
first called "Hammer's Phantom Shadow," but when Edison patented the
bulb in 1883 it became known as the "
Edison Effect." This discovery
became the basis of electron tube theory, which was the foundation for the
entire electronics industry.

In 1880 he designed a system of signaling from war balloons using electric

In 1881, Hammer went to London as chief engineer for the English Electric
Light Company and built a 3,000 incandescent lamp,
Holborn Viaduct
Central Electric Light Station. This was the first central station ever
constructed for incandescent electric lighting. It operated long enough for
the idea of central station to take hold over isolated plants. While in Europe
he built the first electrical sign at the Crystal Palace Exposition and he built
a plant containing twelve Edison dynamos in 1882 at the
Crystal Palace
Electric Exposition in Paris.

In 1883 Hammer became Chief Engineer for the German Edison Company
(Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft), later known as Allegemeine Elektricitaets
Gesellschaft. Hammer laid out and supervised the installations of all Edison
plants in Germany. In Germany Hammer built the first electrical flashing
sign that said "Edison" letter by letter and then as a whole at Berlin's Heath
Exposition. This created the basis for all flashing signs today.

Returning to the United States, Hammer worked on exhibits for the
International Electric Exhibition and in 1884 he became the chief inspector
of central stations for the Edison Electric Light Company. Hammer installed
an all-electric house at Newark, New Jersey in 1884. He devised a system
to control streetlights automatically by using a
selenium cell in 1886.

In 1885 he became the incorporator, trustee and first secretary of the
Sprague Electric Railroad.

As an independent engineer in 1888, he was placed in charge of
completing the 8,000-light plant of the
Ponce de Leon Hotel with William
Kennish. Not only was the plant at the Ponce de Leon the largest isolated
incandescent light structure made up to that date; it was also the first
electrical plant that operated from the power of artesian well water driving a
turbine and  a dynamo. It worked 65 16 candle-power lamps day and night.
He was only thirty years old when he supervised the final construction in
St. Augustine. He was also in charge of the extensive electrical work in
connection with
Grover Cleveland’s visit, which included adding four
hundred extra lights.  Hammer also took President Cleveland,
Flagler, and Seavey on a tour of the artesian well with the generator
producing electricity. He produced as many light shows as possible during
the initial 1888 season even down to the small detail of making a baton for
the conductor Thomas H. Joyce with a electric light on the tip. (It was
connected to a battery in his pocket). His title for the year was the electrical
expert for the Edison Company.

William Hammer: “I think that it would be interesting to hear of an
experiment tried in 1888 in Florida, this being I believe the first experiment
made in using water flowing direct from an artesian well for power
purposes. I had the pleasure in connection with Mr. John Kennish of putting
in a hydraulic plant in which a turbine was placed directly over an artesian
well and which drove a belt-driven dynamo. There was no governor
whatsoever  placed on the turbine and the power was so steady that the
candle-power of the incandescent lamps scarcely varied in the slightest
degree, and while this was but a small plant supplying as I recollect it, 88
16 c.p. lamps., it had some interesting features. The entire wiring system  
of the hotel which supplied about 8,000 16-c.p. lamps was connected to
this dynamo at times and as this hotel was not supplied with any gas or
other illuminate, during the following summer when the hotel was practically
closed up, and in the hands of watchmen and caretakers, lamps could be
turned on anywhere in this  entire system and supplied from this water
power plant. The plant was also used for supplying a large garden fete held
in the grounds of the Ponce de Leon hotel shortly after its  erection…..at
the time it was installed it was stated to be an impossibility by various
engineers whose opinions had been asked. “    Transactions of the
American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Vol 16.

Also in 1888 he was appointed Edison's representative to the
Centennial Exposition. In 1889 he was in charge of Edison's exhibit at the
Paris Exposition with $100,000 and 45 assistants at his disposal. After the
Exposition he chartered a balloon that traveled for 3 1/2 hours. It was one
of the few flights where metrological instruments were used. They did
continous barometer, thermometer, and humidity readings as they
ascended. The balloon was also equipped with photographic equipment
which they used for pictures of clouds, the shadow of the balloon on the
earth and scenic pictures. They devised parachutes to drop a sealed box
with coded phonographic records and added lights so that they could be
found at night. The sealed boxes were sent back to his room in Paris.

In 1890 he became an independent consultant. This was his career through
1925. He did original lab work in connection with selenium, radium, X-rays,
cold light, phosphorescence, florescense, etc. He compiled a
bibliography on selenium. He lectured and helped in patent suits. Hammer
also did important work with selenium, a nonmetallic element that
resembles sulphur and tellurium chemically. It is obtained chiefly as a by-
product in copper refining, and occurs in allotropic forms. A grey stable form
varies in electrical conductivity depending on the intensity of its illumination
and is used in electronic devices. Hammer invented selenium cells and
apparatus, and suggested industrial uses for selenium and other light-
sensitive cells.

In 1892 he traveled on
Sir Hiram Maxim's airship in Baldwins Park,
England. (He was the inventor of the Maxim gun.)

On January 3, 1894, Hammer married Alice Maud White in Cleveland,
Ohio. They had one daughter, Mabel (Mrs. Thomas Cleveland Asheton).
Alice Hammer died in 1906.

In 1896 Hammer was elected president of the National Conference of
Standard Electrical Rules, which prepared and promulgated the "
Electric Code."

In the early 1900s Hammer began to work with radium; he wrote the first
book on radium and used radium to cure a tumor on his hand in 1903. He
took his interest in radium from a visit to
Pierre and Marie Currie in Paris in
1902. He received from them 9 tubes of radium and one tube of Polonium
which he brought back to the United States. By mixing the powder with
Dammar varnish he produced the first radium-luminous paint. He was also
the first person to make colored (and white) luminous materials. He wrote
the first book published on radium,
Radium and other Radioactive
Substances, in 1903. In 1907 he invented and patented a process for
producing colored phosphorescent materials by combining phosphorescent
and fluorescent substances. His work with radium-luminous materials led to
luminous dials for clocks, etc. He used this knowledge for pilots to make
control panels for planes. Hammer gave eighty-eight lectures on the Curies'
work and on radium and radioactive substances. He wrote the first book
published on radium,
Radium and other Radioactive Substances, 1903. He
supplied several hospitals with
radioactive water he had made and
conducted extensive experiments with x-rays,
cathode-rays, radium-rays,
ultraviolet lights, phosphorescence, fluorescence, and cold-light.

In 1901 he was a member of one of the four teams at the finish of the first
long-endurance test of automobiles between New York city and Buffalo.

He was President of the
Franklin Experimental Club; member of the
Franklin Institute, the Agassiz Natural History Society, the Aeronautical
Society of America, the Institute of Radio Engineers and a member of the
Society of Arts and the American Physical Society, the
International Society
of Electricians, the American Electrochemical Society, the Association of
Edison Illuminating Companies, the Mineralogical Society, the National
Electric "Light Association, the Illuminating Engineering Society, the
Club of America and the Engineers' Club. He was awarded the John Scott
legacy medal and premium in 1902 and the Elliott Creasson gold medal in
1906 (for his telephone relay and long-distance sound experiments.)

Was one of the first
owners of an airplane built and sold in the United
States January 1, 1909. The first pilot was
Glenn H. Curtiss on January 26,

In June of 1918 Hammer was commissioned a major in the U. S. Army. He
was assigned to the Inventions Section of the War Plans Division of the
General Staff.

In 1925 Hammer was made
Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French
government. This was done in recognition of his work on the Paris
Exposition from 1889. He should have received it at the Exposition but the
paperwork was lost.

He made his last flight on the dirigible
Los Angeles in 1931. William
Hammer died of pneumonia on March 24, 1934 at his apartment in Shelton,
New York City. His daughter who had married Thomas Assheton survived
him as well as his half-brother Edwin Hammer and half-sister Mary Lawton
Francis. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The William J.
Hammer Scientific collection was donated by IBM to the Smithsonian.
William J. Hammer
by Gil Wilson
Major William J. Hammer
William J Hammer and Wilbur Wright
Thomas Edison 1878 - Library of Congress
Edison Effect - Penn State
Queens Borough Public Library