Finding Number (Click this to view full catalogue structure)US24
TitleUniversity of Birmingham Staff Papers: Papers of Gisbert Kapp
Extent2 boxes
Thumbnail (Click this image to open a larger image)


DescriptionPapers primarily consist of correspondence to Gisbert Kapp, with some copy replies, covering the period 1887 to 1920, some of which is in German, though the majority is in English. There are also a small number of letters in Italian and French. The majority of this correspondence discusses matters relating to electrical engineering, and to Kapp's role as General Secretary of the Association of German Electrical Engineers and consultant to various industrial businesses. There is also some correspondence relating to his time as Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Birmingham, including a sequence of letters from Oliver Lodge. The correspondence includes a few letters sent to Kapp's wife, Teresa, and son, Reginald. Some of this correspondence dates from 1923-1932 (after Kapp's death). Other papers comprise fragment of Kapp's autobiography; ephemera including souvenir programmes and menus; electrical engineering notebook dating from the 1870s and 1880s; a commemorative photograph album presented to Gisbert Kapp's wife containing photographs of his friends, 1894; and obituaries mostly in the form of newspaper cuttings. The collection also includes a copy of a pamphlet biography of Kapp by D. G. Tucker, and a programme for the naming ceremony of the Gisbert Kapp Electronic and Electrical Engineering building at the University of Birmingham in 1973.
NotesThe finding number for the photograph displayed at Fonds level is US24/7/14
ArrangementThe collection is arranged chronologically.
Access ConditionsOpen. Access to all registered researchers.
Finding AidsA catalogue of this collection is available on the online archive catalogue. Click on the Finding Number to display the summary contents list of the catalogue and to view the full catalogue, or view the catalogue as a PDF file by clicking in the document field below.
DocumentUS24 (March 2021).pdf
Access StatusOpen
Administrative HistoryGisbert Kapp was born in Mauer near Vienna on 2 September 1852. His father, Gisbert Sebastian Kapp, was of Austrian nationality and was a civil servant in charge of the administration of the docks at Trieste. His mother was Louisa Young, who was of Scottish heritage. Kapp's father died when he was five, leaving his mother with him and his sister Leopoldina. His mother began to develop a career as a singer in the name of Luisa Cappiani, and travelled widely, singing, teaching, lecturing and writing. Gisbert Kapp attended school in Vienna until 1863, and then in Prague until 1869. He went to the Federal Polytechnic in Zurich to study mechanical engineering in 1871 and then worked as a ship's engineer, and at a machine factory in Augsburg, and spent two years in the Austrian Navy.

He arrived in England in 1875 and took a post as chief pump draughtsman with Messrs Gwynne and Co. of Hammersmith, London, which specialised in the construction of centrifugal pumps. In 1879 he joined Messrs Hornsby and Sons Ltd, which was based in Grimsby in Lincolnshire and made agricultural implements. In this post he travelled widely in Russia, Switzerland, Italy, Cyprus and North Africa, and worked on the application of steam power to agriculture in this areas. During this time he visited the Paris Exhibition of 1881 and became interested in the possibilities of electrical engineering. He then approached Colonel R. E. Crompton who in 1882 appointed him to become general manager of his works and laboratory at Chelmsford. He made a number of inventions related to the design of dynamos and motors, and methods of measuring currents and voltages during this time, which he patented, and in 1884 set up his own practice as a consulting electrical engineer. He developed a working relationship with W. H. Allen and carried out work which included designing a dynamo for Sebastian Z. de Ferranti. Kapp was London editor of a technical weekly publication called 'Industries' from 1886 to 1889, and in 1891 he joined W. H. Preece as designer for the new electric lighting station and distribution system for Bristol Corporation. Kapp published papers on a variety of electrical topics during his period as a consulting electrical engineer. He was most concerned with the design of multi-polar slow-speed dynamos and the understanding of the 'magnetic circuit'. He published 'Electric Transmission of Energy' in 1886 which put his ideas on dynamo design into the perspective of historical development and of complete electrical power systems. He also spoke on this subject in his Cantor lectures to the Society of Arts in 1891.

He became a naturalized British citizen in 1881 and married Teresa Mary Krall in 1894. They had two sons, Reginald Otto, born in 1885, and Norman Gisbert, born in 1887. Reginald also became an electrical engineer after taking a degree at the University of Birmingham he worked for Messrs Kennedy and Donkin before becoming Professor of Electrical Engineering at University College, London.

In 1894 Kapp was appointed General Sectary of the newly-formed Verband Deutscher Elektrotechniker [Association of German Electrical Engineers], and retained this post for ten years. He was also a designer and advisor in cities across Europe and was lecturer in electrical design at the Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg where he taught on the design and construction of dynamo-machinery and transformers. During this period he published research on a variety of topics, including analysis of the 'booster' system of raising the voltage on electric railway and tramways, and published a book on electromechanical construction which included as examples a number of descriptions of machines produced in different countries.

In 1905 he was appointed to the new Chair of Electrical Engineering at the University of Birmingham. As Professor, Kapp was instrumental in the appointment of an additional lecturer on electrical machine design and re-designed the electrical syllabus, with more emphasis on design. He and his family lived at at 'Pen-y-Coed' on Pritchatts Road, and later at Upland Road, Selly Park. He retired in 1919. He held honorary degrees from the universities of Dresden and Karlsruhe. He was an Honorary Member of the Physical Society of Frankfurt; member of the Council of the Institution of Electrical Engineers from 1891 to 1893, and from 1905 to 1906, then Vice-President 1907-1909, and President 1909-1910. Gisbert Kapp died on 10 August 1922.

Source: 'Gisbert Kapp' biography by D. G. Tucker

For further reading about the University of Birmingham see: Eric Ives, Diane Drummond, Leonard Schwarz The First Civic University: Birmingham 1880-1980 An Introductory History (The University of University of Birmingham Press, 2000).
AcquisitionThis collection was deposited in 1987 by the Kapp family, with an additional deposit in 2021
Related MaterialCadbury Research Library: Special Collections holds further papers of the Kapp family in a general Letters Additional series of autograph letters.

Cadbury Research Library also holds the archives of the University of Birmingham and archives of other former staff, officials and students.