Hermann Aron's electricity meters: Physics and invention in late nineteenth-century Germany

Shaul Katzir*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines how Hermann Aron, a well-trained physicist, exploited his multilayered knowledge of science for technological innovations, innovations upon which he built a successful industrial company with more than 1,000 employees. In his academic training, research, and teaching, Aron gained expertise in electromagnetic theory and experimentation, which he later put to use to invent a new electricity meter for the emerging electric power industry of the 1880s. While Aron employed established physical laws and data, particular methods and techniques were central to his development of technology. Moreover, these and the scientific ethos of precision, which he adopted from his training in the Neumann School, were crucial to his invention of a pendulum electricity meter. Contrary to a recent claim about the lack of a scientific basis to the electrical industry, Aron's case shows a direct transformation of knowledge from physics to technology. Still, his work also displays the influence of technology on many topics of scientific research. The relevance of Aron's particular scientific expertise to the technological questions he examined was a central factor in his unusual move from academic physics to his own industrial firm. The move also benefited from sharing ideas, methods, and interests between scientists and engineers. Berlin, in particular, provided a nexus for such an interchange. On the other hand, Aron's poor prospects for a professorship in physics (further reduced by being Jewish), made him more receptive to opportunities outside the academy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)444-481
Number of pages38
JournalHistorical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Electric industry
  • Electricity meters
  • Hermann Aron
  • Measuring instruments
  • Neumann school
  • Pendulum
  • Precision
  • Science-technology relations


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