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Saturday, 18 February 2017

Recognition for an Ancestor - Alan Dower Blumlein

In October 2013, I published a post about  my cousin's distant connection with the 20th century scientist and engineer Alan Dower Blumlein.   

This week, articles in the press announced that Alan was to receive a posthumous Grammy Award for inventing stereo sound and transforming the way we listen to music.  Discussions are also in hand to feature his life on film.    

** A Grammy Award (originally called Gramophone Award), or Grammy, is an honour awarded by The Recording Academy to recognize outstanding achievement in the mainly English-language music industry. They are presented annually n a glittering Los Angeles ceremony. 

Read Alan Blumlein's story below in my original post. 

You can stumble across some amazing stories when you start to delve into sidelines of your family history.  

Such was the experience of my cousin, Stuart Smith  who discovered that he was related to a man described as "possibly the greatest electronic engineer of the 20th century" - Alan Dower Blumlein.

Stuart's  great grandmother was Isabel Edward from Banchory, Aberdeenshire.  and Isabel's sister Jesse married  the Rev. William Dower in 1865.  William was appointed by the London Missionary Society as a Wesleyan Missionary in South Africa and he and his new wife Jesse set sail there  in 1865. 

  Isabella Edward  and her husband John Ingram Smith (on the right)
with William  Dower and  Isabella's sister Jesse Edward  (left)

William and Jesse had  family of eight - four daughters and four sons.   

Daughter Jesse  Edward Dower married a German mining engineer Semmy Joseph Blumlein of Jewish descent. They settled in Britain, with Semmy taking  out citizenship in 1903, a year after the birth of their son Alan Dower Blumlein.  

Alan Dower Blumlein  (1902-1942)   was to make an impact on our life as we know it today.   He  invented stereo sound and the modern TV system while working for EMI during the 1930s and made major contributions in the field  of telecommunications, electrical measurements,  radar, and electronics generally. He was a remarkably versatile and prolific engineer who produced 128 patents in a working lifetime of just eighteen years.   

Alan Blumlein's  death in 1942 at the young age of 38,  was shrouded in secrecy.  He was killed  during the secret trial of an airborne radar system, then under development. when the Halifax bomber he was on crashed in Hertfordshire, with no survivors.  Wartime security meant his death  was not made public for another three years - no obituary appeared in the press and no tributes were made.

It was not until 1999 that Robert Charles Alexander wrote a definitive biography of Alan Dower Blumlein, to redress the balance and recognise the achievements of a  man  "overlooked by history

In 2008 BBC Radio 4 acknowledged this unassuming scientist in "The Man Who Invented Stereo".

With grateful thanks to Stuart for providing these photographs.

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