Anderson & Munro

Electrical engineers

B/W image of Anderson and Munro invoice, 1904

Anderson & Munro were established in 1840 as manufacturers of 'every Description of Window Blind', but of the named proprietors, only engineer Donald Munro appears in the Post Office directories. The firm started in Gordon Street, Glasgow, and retained retail premises in the commercial city centre, remaining in Bothwell Street from the 1850s to the 1920s.

Around 1858, the firm had begun making wire gauze, sash Venetian and sprung roller blinds, and in 1860, they 'extended very considerably their workshop and warehouse', which enabled them to fully display their wares. 1 Their hand-made ranges of 1862 were advertised as 'greatly superior in quality to those made by steam machinery', but three years later they were seeking a 'mechanic' to make blinds, new production methods apparently having proved irresistible. 2 They went on to devise their own technology, advertising themselves in 1868 as 'inventors, patentees and sole proprietors of the newest and most improved machinery for painting and varnishing' blinds. 3

By 1880, they had expanded into electrical engineering and the sale of telephones and fire alarms, both of which used metal wire, which the firm had been manufacturing for blind fittings and metal gauze screens since the late 1850s. 4 Donald's son John Munro erected the first practical overhead telephone line in Glasgow, in Bothwell Street in 1877, and soon began installing domestic lines. 5 The firm began supplying temporary electric lighting to public art exhibitions from 1881, as well as to events such as the British Medical Association conference in 1888. 6 This gave 'the masses ... an opportunity of witnessing this powerful illuminating agency'. 7 In 1881, Lord Kelvin visited Munro's works to see their electric dynamos powering another scientist's new glow lamps, and the same year, they installed lighting in Kelvin's house at Glasgow University. 8 Kelvin claimed this as 'the first house on the planet in which the whole lighting was done by electricity'. 9

By the mid 1880s, the firm was a prominent electrical contractor, both to St Enoch and the Caledonian Railway Stations and Hotels (1885), and to over 50 'mansion houses, places of business ... mills, [and] factories'. 10 At the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888 they showed portable electric lamps which allowed 'with safety, the commonly forbidden pleasure of reading in bed'. 11 In 1886, they were prosecuted for failing to comply with the requirements of the Factory Act in their employment of young boys. 12

Domestic demand in the wealthy West End was sufficient for the Kelvinside Electricity [Generating] Works to open in 1893. 13 They had been designed by John Munro, a professionally-qualified and highly innovative electrical engineer. He advised on the lighting of Christiania (now Oslo), Norway in 1892, and was nominated to the Royal Society in Edinburgh by Lord Kelvin. In 1904, Anderson & Munro were the electrical contractors for the new Scotsman newspaper buildings in Edinburgh. 14

In 1910, John Munro retired, and his partner Thomas Wright became sole proprietor of the branches in Randolph Place, Edinburgh, Dumfries and Glasgow, which continued trading into the 1920s. 15 Munro continued working as a private consultant, and on his death in 1925 he was hailed as 'An Electricity Pioneer', for his invention of systems for use on ships and in mines, along with many other patents. 16

Notes:

1: Glasgow Herald, 9 January 1861, p. 1.

2: Glasgow Herald, 28 April 1862, p. 2; 22 September 1865, p. 1.

3: Glasgow Herald, 16 June 1868, p. 1.

4: Glasgow Herald, 18 February 1880, p. 1.

5: Scotsman, 31 December 1925, p. 5; Glasgow Herald, 25 February 1881, p. 1.

6: Glasgow Herald, 30 March 1881, p. 7; 7 August 1888, p. 5.

7: Glasgow Herald, 30 March 1881, p. 7.

8: Scotsman, 31 December 1925, p. 5.

9: Silvanus P. Thompson, The Life of Lord Kelvin, (originally: The Life of William Thomson, Baron Kelvin of Largs), 1910, repr. 1976,, p. 1193, n. 1.

10: Glasgow Herald, 19 February 1885, p. 4; 2 November 1886, p. 1.

11: Glasgow Herald, 3 November 1888, p. 8.

12: Glasgow Herald, 4 September 1886, p. 4.

13: Glasgow Herald, 29 August 1893, p. 2.

14: Scotsman, 20 December 1904, p. 7.

15: Edinburgh Gazette, 6 September 1910, p. 941.

16: Scotsman, 31 December 1925, p. 5.