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

Early Years
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 abroad.

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.

With Thomas Edison
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

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

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.

Ponce de Leon Hotel
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,
Henry 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.

Cincinnati Centennial Exposition
Also in 1888 he was appointed Edison's representative to the Cincinnati 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 meteorological instruments were used. They did
continuous 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.

Independent Consultant
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, wireless,
cold light,
florescence, 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.

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

Work with Radium
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
Aero 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, 1909.

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
Major William J. Hammer
William J Hammer and Wilbur Wright
Thomas Edison 1878 - Library of Congress
Edison Effect - Penn State
Queens Borough Public Library
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