The third child, and second son, of George and Jane Gowlland, born at 31 Ashburton Grove in East Islington on 7th February 1865 - click here for the certificate.. He was educated at Highbury Wesleyan School.
He went to work at Henry Crouch with his father. He became their [lens] computer and later went to Ross's where he was taught more advanced computing by a Dr Schrödinger. He specialised in oil-immersed microscope objectives, and became a foreman. Ross's was then at North Side, Clapham Common, where they were still located in the 1940s.
It was at that time that he met his wife, a Mrs. Mary Ann Brown who was landlady of a nearby pub. She had already five children, and was thirteen years older than he. (Her late husband, Mr. Brown, had been a rather unsuccessful solicitor, given to drink). Henry and Mary Ann were married on 20th February 1892 in Battersea Parish Church, he (aged 27) describing himself as "optician" and she (aged 40) as widow.
Mary Ann Gowlland, formerly Brown, nee Holder - about 1900
One of Mrs Brown's children was a daughter, Gertrude (half-sister to Gladys and George), who died in Canada at 86 years of age: she was married to Peter John Riber Mathieson, for whose biography click here.
He lived for a while at "The Poplars", just north of the centre of Selsea, Sussex. Then at "The Elms", Sidlesham Common, and finally, for rather longer, at "The Homestead". His father George worked with him at "The Poplars". The red brick annexe was still there in 1955. At "The Homestead", lens work was done in the brick coach house.
Click here for details of the above microscope, and here for details of the above oil immersion objective, both made by him around the turn of the century. [Both these were bought on eBay - the former from Wales, and the latter from Canada].
Another microscope made by him turned up in February 2013 - for more details click here for the entry in the Glossary.
In 1906 he was clearly still manufacturing microscope lenses in Selsea - as per British Medical Journal 17th November 1906
MEDICAL AND SURGICAL APPLIANCES.
A Cheap Oil-immersion Lens.- We have received from Mr.Henry Gowlland, optician, Selsey [sic], Sussex , a 1½ in. oil immersion lens, which he sells at the unusually low price of 55s [£2.75]. Mr. Gowlland claims that it is capable of doing the most critical work, and is equal in quality to lenses which are sold for £5.
We have examined the sample he has sent us, and find that it gives good definition, and is.certainly useful for ordinary work. We do not consider it as good as Zeiss's I inch. lens, which costs £8; but obviously the test of comparison with a lens which is so much more expensive is exceptionally severe. We cannot make any general statement as to whether Mr. Gowlland's lenses are as good as lenses usually sold at £5, because lenses produced by different makers, or even by the same maker, are not always identical in quality. We note that Mr. Gowlland offers to send his lens for comparison with any other make; that is a very fair offer, of which manv persons will probably avail themselves before making their final selection.
He invented and patented special types of grinding and polishing machines for [illegible] and was an early manufacturer of multi-focal lenses. [Everything on this subject has been accumulated at the end of this biography - click here].
He wrote two books under the name of Henry Orford, "Modern optical instruments" and "Lens work for amateurs". [The former went through many editions, and was still in print in the 1980s: both of these books can still be found through second-hand dealers. Gladys Gowlland in her war-time correspondence with Geoffrey Gowlland thanked him for having obtained for her a second-hand copy of the former book, and gave him some information about Gertrude's having written the manuscript out for her father by hand when living at Selsea - click here for the details] In 2015 the British Library held three copies of "Lens Work for Amateurs", the first two dated 1895 and 1916, and the third dated to 1931 described as "Fifth Edition - Revised by A Lockett), They also held a single copy, dated 1896 of "Modern Optical Instruments and their Construction".
In 1892 ( at the age of twenty-seven) he had evidently already moved to Selsey in Sussex, for his descendants shared with us the agreement shown below, where he and a neighbour agreed to collaborate in the use of optical instruments in "Balloons Kites and Flying Machines": the text of the agreement (about which nothing further is known and which it is to be presumed did not lead to anything tangible) is:-
Henry Coxwell aeronaut[?} of Sandford House Blatchington Selsey Sussex, and Henry Gowlland optician of Cypess Lodge in the same parish agree to take no steps individually without the sanction of both mentioned as regards the following undertaking:-
The said Henry Coxwell has introduced to Henry Gowlland an invention by the first named gentleman for Aerial Photography with Balloons Kites and Flying Machines which the said Henry Gowlland approves of and each of the above mentioned gentlemen agree to experiment with together in the development of this scheme - That is Henry Coxwell agrees to supply balloons and other appliances for the . . . . . [?} of the aforesaid invention and Henry Gowlland agrees to supply and employ the Optical Instruments appertaining to this system for the necessary experiments at the cost of each specialist - any further arrangements to be properly and legally entered into, this being a provisional arrangement simply to define the general understanding.
Wikipedia has this to say about Coxwell:-
Henry Tracey Coxwell (2 March 1819, Wouldham, Kent - 5 January 1900, Lewes, Sussex, England), was an English aeronaut. He was the son of a naval officer, educated for the army, but became a dentist. From a boy he had been greatly interested in ballooning, then in its infancy, but his own first ascent was not made until 1844. In 1848 he became a professional aeronaut, making numerous public ascents in the chief continental cities. Returning to London, he gave exhibitions from the Cremorne Gardens and subsequently from the Surrey Gardens. By 1861 he had made over 400 ascents. In 1862 in company with Dr James Glaisher, he attained the greatest height on record, about 11,887 m (39,000 ft). His companion became insensible, and he himself, unable to use his frostbitten hands, opened the gas-valve with his teeth, and made an extremely rapid but safe descent. The result of this and other aerial voyages by Coxwell and Glaisher was the making of some important contributions to the science of meteorology. Coxwell was most pertinacious in urging the practical utility of employing balloons in time of war. He says:
More information can be found in http://fly.historicwings.com/2012/09/coxwell-and-glaisher and it is interesting that in 1892, when the agreement with Henry was signed, Coxwell was already seventy-three years old. Was he really proposing to go up in a balloon again?
By his wife Henry had two children, George (1894 - click here for his birth certificate) and Gladys (1896). In the 1901 census (click here) he is shown living in Selsey with his wife and these two children, and four of his step-children, Gertrude (23), Lilian (17), Clarence (14) and Herbert (13). Interestingly on that census return he gives his age as 46, whereas in fact he was only 36 - a mere thirteen years older than his oldest step-daughter. And, by way of another discrepancy, he shows his place of birth as "Llandudno, Wales": all other records, and especially his birth certificate, indicate his birthplace as Highbury, Islington, London.
He had taken to making 1/12th immersion objectives for microscopes on his own account, but a dispute arose over trade names (it was alleged that he marked his own products with the names of far better known and more prestigious manufacturers), and he went several times to North America, with his wife and Gertrude, finally settling there in the early 1900s. He was still based in Selsey when, on 17th November 1906, the "British Medical Journal" carried a brief article relating to his oil-immersion lenses - for an extract click here.
We have a record of his landing alone in New York in 1895 (here), destined for Philadelphia and accompanied by three pieces of baggage, on the SS "Paris" (here), having travelled in Steerage Class. His obituary (below) states that he worked for Queen and Company, a large and diversified Philadelphia company (for a profile of them in 1888, click here).
Our American informant comments:-
We can prove that Queen and Co. made a whole array of Ophthalmic lenses and instruments, microsopes included, in Philadelphia (they were also into the new field of electronics). But we're unlikely to find paycheck stubs. It was all Henry's expertise though, so it makes a lot of sense. We know Henry was in Philadelphia when he filed his patent in 1909. His obituary stated he worked for Queen and Co. to 1910. So it's fairly good linking evidence. Since the products match Henry's expertise, there is no reason yet to question the validity. It may be one reason he filed his patent under the Orford name: he wanted to fly under the radar. They didn't have intellectual property rights like they do today, but since he worked there another year, he may have wanted to avoid controversy. Of course that is still all speculation. .So it does help to fill in Henry's background, and link him in two ways to Philedelphia; and it does further strengthen the claim that Henry Orford and H.O.Gowlland were one and the same person. .His obituary does state he retired 3 years before his death, so that puts a possible end date on his optical manufacturing at1925. Which boxes in his production a little. Did he sell some of his business to Spencer, and some to AO? But a year narrows the looking a little.
We also have a later sailing on SS "New England", arriving in Boston on 28th May 1903 (click here) where his name is wrongly spelt as "Gowland". He is described, on arrival in Boston, in the List or Manifest of Aliens, as "Henry Gowland - 37 - Male - Married - Optician - able to read and write - last residence Chichester - final destination illegible (possibly New York) - possessing not less than $30 - last visit to USA to Philadelphia two years before - not residing with a relative in the US". The corresponding entry (click here), earlier prepared on embarkation, is more fanciful, recording his occupation as "farmer", the marital status as "single" and the age simply as "a" - presumably errors by the clerk, or perhaps disinformation on Henry's part. We have a later record in the name of Gawland (see "Loose Ends") and possibly therefore this entry, whose spelling is uncertain, may relate to the same person, not Henry Orford Gowlland.
An even more intriguing record from 1909 (click here), shows an arrival at Plymouth from New York of "Harry Gowlland - adult, single or not accompanied by wife - clerk" and "George Gowlland - adult, single or not accompanied by wife- labourer" . Was this our Henry? If so, is his companion either his father or his brother? One remembers Egbert Gowlland reporting that in 1912 Henry and George had evidently quarrelled.
There is a further record of his landing on 15th June 1910 on the SS "Royal Edward".
Gladys (aged seven) arrived on 16th July 1908 also on the SS "Royal Edward", and then Mary (aged fifty) and Gladys (aged fourteen) arriving on 7th September 1910, also on the SS "Royal Edward". Evidently one or other age shown for Gladys is incorrect. Gladys, confusingly, was born in the United States.
There is a record (click here) of the 1906 arrival in Quebec of a "Miss M Gowlland - age 30 - single - male - grocer". An age of thirty implies a birth year of 1876. The passenger (occupation “grocer – unmarried”) is described as both “Miss” and “Male” – one or other must be wrong. This might be Gertrude, Henry Orford Gowlland’s oldest step-daughter, who we know was born in about 1876.
Also we have a record (click here) of his son George Orford, aged seventeen, leaving Bristol for Quebec on 7th July 1910 on the SS "Royal Edward"
Henry Orford Gowlland - about 1900
In 1915 he formed in Canada "The Gowlland Optical Company Limited" - details from the Canadian Archives in Ottawa used to be available by clicking here.but regrettably in 2013 the entire archive is being reorganised. .A description of the company registration, but without providing any details or copies, can be found by clicking on the link below -
A contemporary reference to it in "The Iron Age Vol 96 1915 vol 791 states of this formation that "Gowlland Optical Company Limited of Montreal has been incorporated with a capital stock of $1,000,000 by Joseph A Ewing, George M McFadden, Richard B Procter, and others, to manufacture scientific instruments, lenses etc"
A mention in the Commercial Intelligence Journal 1919 (page 293) occurs of the new company in 1919 - possibly the war caused a four-year delay in the announcement. A capital of C$1 Million implies a very substantial investment. But the figure of 47 for the number of patents held strongly indicates exaggeration on Henry's part, and the same may apply to the initial capital.
The Department of the Secretary of State, Companies Act, 1923 page 289 shows the company, but with a more realistic share capital:
We understand that in Canada he worked for Magill University and was appointed their instrument maker. The business he built up was bought by the American Optical Co. and subsequently became the famous Spencer Lens Co. In June 2007 a microscope objective (see below) bearing his name appeared on eBay and was bought by John Gowlland. The vendor explained:-
I will certainly keep an eye out for anything else Gowlland, but acquiring that objective was a one time event. In the 1980s I was a professor in the Microbiology and Immunology Dep't. at McGill University in Montreal. An old technician had just retired and the new one was throwing out all the parts from older microscopes-a whole drawer-full, which I rescued from the dust-bin. In the 19th and 20th centuries McGill had many close ties with the large British med. schools, and I suspect that is how the lens ended up over here.
In the 1920's his son George was ill with tubercular glands and his parents were advised to take him for a cure in the Laurentian Mountains in Easter Canada. Henry built a house, dammed a river to create a lake, and built a model factory, equipped for making multi-focal lenses – a pet project of his.
He died in 1928 and was buried in Mount Royal Cemetary, Montreal, Canada. For his obituary, See below or click here
Illustrated below are Henry's son George and George's wife Muriel née Huckle in later life.
George Gowlland - about 1930 Muriel Gowlland née Huckle - about 1950
Multifocal ophthalmic lenses
All information on this topic has been combined in this final section, rather than being included in Henry's biography in the correct chronology.
In 2013 it became clear that Henry's work on these multifocal/varifocal lenses had been largely forgotten or, at least, ignored: our attention was called to this by a lecturer and historian in Seattle, who explained that he writes on Continuing Education for Opticians and Optometrists on "Progressive Lenses prior to 1960", and who very kindly pursued this subject, with some interesting results.
Henry and his brothers hated each other, and there was scarcely ever any contact between them. So all Egbert (my grandfather) and Geoff (my father) knew was what Gladys (Henry's daughter and Geoff's cousin) had mentioned in her letters. Thus:
(28th April 1941 - Gladys to Geoff) My father was somewhat the same – very clever, but his business senses was nil. In spite of that he was well on the way to building up a splendid business in Canada but ditched it all to work on the Multifocal. Did I tell you that the American Optical Company are now manufacturing this lens?
(8th May 1941 - Gladys to Geoff) Have to dash up to the Laurentians on Saturday with a possible buyer for the property there. When I mentioned that George [Henry's son and her brother] had built the houses there, I omitted to mention that he also built a substantial factory for Father, and equipped it with motors, machines and what not for making the multifocal lenses. He is a wizard with machines. Invented some special machines for toric lenses, and similar things. But inventions take time and money.
(27th May 1941 - Geoff to Gladys) Father [Egbert] had never said that your father was interested in ophthalmic lenses: I had always understood he did microscope objectives only
At some point, also, Geoff had been told that Henry had sold his business to the Spencer Lens Company.
His role in the development of varifocal lenses is largely forgotten in the UK but, as the extract below from a Spanish language article of 2001 makes clear, his name is not forgotten overseas.
It was in a Venezuelan journal that this article was first located, but in November 2007 Professor José Alonso of the University Computense in Madrid, Spain, very kindly wrote as follows:
I was addressed to your amazing family web page when looking for information about the “Ultifo” lens, designed by Mr. Henry Orford Gowland.
This mail is just to warn you about an error in your references. It is not from a Venezuelan journal (it may be possible you can find it there), but from a Spanish textbook on ophthalmic lenses edited by the Universidad Politecnica de Cataluña.
This book was written by many authors from different Spanish universities, and in particular, the chapter 14 was written by Prof. José Ramón Flores, from Universidad de Santiago de Compostela. The complete citation for this textbook is:
“Tecnología Óptica. Lentes oftálmicas, diseño y adaptación”. J. Salvadó, M. Fransoy, ed., Ediciones UPC, 1997.
As professor at the University Complutense, Madrid, I teach on optics and ophthalmic lenses; and I cite every year the developments of Mr. Henry Orford Gowlland.
The translation of the relevant first two paragraphs are as follows:-
A "progressive" lens is a multifocus single lens especially configured so as to compensate for the effects of presbyopia [the loss of accommodation between distant and close vision which occurs in ageing adults as a result of loss of elasticity of the ocular lens] in which the power of the lens varies smoothly between that required for long vision and that required for reading, as indicated in figures 14.1. [The column of numbers on the left indicates the positive dioptric power of the lens as it increases the further the sightline moves away from the axis].
The first such progressive lens recorded is found in the 1907 patent of Owen Aves, in England. He manufactured some prototypes, but the available technology was very rudimentary and the design correspondingly inadequate, for which reason he failed to bring them into production. A little later, in 1914, Gowlland patented what proved to be the first progressive lens to be produced commercially, albeit without success. There were most attempts; but it was not until 1951 when Maitenaz began the development of what became the first acceptable progressive lens, the "Varilux 1".
The Owen Aves patent of 1907, taken out in Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, is very interesting and may be viewed by clicking on the link below. Near the top, just left of centre, is a box stating "1/16 Bibloiography Description", clicking on which gives access to all the other pages of the original submission.
Aves had clearly devoted a great deal of time and, presumably, money to trying to produce the lens, but undoubtedly the technical problems defeated him. [On a technical note - his lens contained progressive cross-cylinder surfaces on both front and back: the trouble with using both surfaces to induce progressive power shift is that it's impossible at the same time to add spherical or cylindrical correction - it's just a plano solution].
This brings us to the first of Henry's patents, filed on 30th January 1909 in the name of Henry Orford - click on the link below
Taken out in his first names, with no mention of "Gowlland"; and with one-half assigned to an American Samuel J Taylor, this is his first description of a lens with one spherical surface and one parabolic. There is no indication of how he proposes the moulded surfaces be ground, smoothed and polished - presumably he had not reached that stage. Note that throughout he uses, and signs, the name "Henry Orford". At the time he was working for the well-known Philadelphia firm Queen & Company and it may be speculated that he took the patent out in this false name to ensure they were not aware of his activities - for notes on this, click here
Over the following years he took out ten further patents in his true name of Henry Orford Gowlland - one in 1913, two in 1914, three in 1915, two in 1916 and two in 1917 (ignoring French and German patents which simply duplicate some of these). They will be found listed and described in a special section (as yet unfinished) dealing with Gowlland patents - click here.
Sporadic mentions of Henry's company appear in the years following the first patent, amongst them the following from the Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 184, Permagon Press, 1917, page 716:-
The Gowlland Multifocal Spectacle Lens. H. O. Gowlland. (Gowlland Optical Company, Limited, Montreal, Canada.) — Bifocal spectacle lenses for near and distant vision have been known and used since the time of Franklin, and within recent years, particularly since the introduction of "invisible " bifocals, their use has become widespread. Although these lenses obviate the need of two pairs of glasses, the wearer often experiences the discomfort of the "blind zone," or an area within which the distance part of the lens is of too long focus and the near part of too short focus for satisfactory vision. If this blind zone is to be eliminated, a compromise must be made in the powers of the two lenses and the user must be content with less than the maximum possible clearness of vision. A lens of continuously varying curvature within the required limits would evidently provide the necessary conditions for distinct vision at all distances. Such a lens, not having a spherical surface, entails a departure from the usual methods employed in the production of spectacle lenses. The Multifocal lens embodies this continuous variation of focal length, the difficulties incident to a departure from a truly spherical surface having been successfully overcome. In the manufacture of these lenses the usual system of working has been reversed. The master tool first grinds the curve to a certain degree of fineness, and after that the lens surface itself controls the smoothing and polishing, the surface retaining its ground curve. The finished lens is a clear piece of glass with constantly changing curvature, whose rate of change is governed by the extreme values of the curvature. While the line of contact between the distance and near parts in the so-called invisible bifocals is quite discernible, the Multifocal lens is free from this characteristic. It is undoubtedly true that the field of view at any given focal value is theoretically limited to points equally distant from the vertex of the curve, but practically, with the relatively small curvatures of spectacle lenses, vision is clear over a considerable zone and an adequate field of view is obtained. The user is thus provided with a lens that responds to the varying requirements of close work and is free from the disconcerting visual jar of an accidental use of the wrong power of the bifocal lens when moving about in an uncertain light.
In "System of Ophthalmology, Ophthalmic Optics and Refraction, 1970 - Volume V", edited by Sir Stewart Duke-Elder and David Abrams, under a sub-heading in the chapter on Spectacle Optics is "Multifocal Lenses - one of the first was the "Ultiflo" introduced by Gowland of Montreal in 1922". This is the only reference we have found to "Ultiflo" which he had obviously chosen as the trade name. As "Gowland" was the spelling indicated by Dr Estelle Glancy (see below) it may be that Henry was using it himself at this time.
[Note that Sir Stewart Duke-Elder was one of the most outstanding ophthalmologists of his generation and founded the Institute of Ophthalmology in London. He was also editor of the 14 volume System of Ophthalmology].
Gladys confirmed to Geoff that Henry had sold his company to American Optical. Our Seattle informant called our attention towhat was described as the "Gowland Lens" [sic] which appears in the American Optical biography of Dr Estelle Glancy - click here. Our attention was drawn to this in July 2013 - we had no prior knowledge of this lady. Hypothetically, there would seem to have been a collaboration between her and Henry: presumably she was the theorist, and Henry was the practical man struggling with how to manufacture such lenses.
The drawing shows a lens of power +0.25 dioptres (for a mildly long-sighted individual) with the lower section increased by +1.25 to +1.50 for reading.
What Dr Glancy was trying to achieve was that the progressive correction only would be on the front surface, with the spherical correction on the back surface. Our informant writes "The significance is that Mr. Tillyer (of AO) was working at that time to combine Cyl and Spherical correction on the back surface of a lens, where previously all lenses were made with cyl on the front and sphere on the back. It's fully possible the AO lens could have combined progressive, cyl and spherical surfaces on the same lens, for the first time. I am still looking for more AO information from that era".
Dr Glancy took out the ten patents, between 1922 and 1945, (the first with Mr Tillyer) listed here:-
This first patent was economically described as "Lens" but, as shown below, is clearly a bifocal lens, which has moved on considerably during the two years since Henry's last patent -
After Henry's death
In 1940 this article appeared in The 1940 New York State Optometric Association Yearbook: it specifically states that the writer bought such lenses from Henry Gowlland in Montreal some thirty years earlier - i.e around the time of his first patent; and makes the interesting point that such lenses were less successful with higher-powered corrections. It shows that interest in multifocal lenses had persisted and, interestingly, illustrates various configurations appropriate to various users' needs. Click here.
For a present-day opinion on his work,click here and go to Darryl Meister's posting.
Also for a mention in Reference.com, click here - note that this article implies that Henry was responsible only for the marketing, whereas we believe he was either responsible for, or involved in, the actual manufacture.
A very comprehensive article was published in 1974 and came to light in late August 2013. Henry is credited with being a pioneer, and the writer correctly deduced that Henry Orford Gowlland and Henry Orford were the same. For the article, click here.
And in 1997 an American patent cited Henry's 1917 patent - click here. Interestingly the index/register spelled his second name as "Ortford" rather than "Orford", but this was clearly a transcription error.
[Source - Geoffrey Price Gowlland - 1941, JGG- 2006 and a very helpful gentleman from the USA]
Notes from an American correspondent in August 2013
I was looking at the AO History Website and found that American Optical bought Spencer Lens Co. in the mid-1930’s. Since Henry was retired or deceased long before this, I imagine the possible scenario where he sold parts of his businesses separately, one to AO and the other to Spencer, I would guess before 1920 to AO based on Dr. Glancy’s lensometer readings. No idea on Spencer. Since AO bought Spencer they ended up together again, but this was 12-15 years after Dr. Glancy was working on her Progressives. It’s probable that they knew about Henry Orland’s patent, and they would not have undertaken making a lens without securing Intellectual Property rights first, even if theirs was different. AO was awash with litigation at the time, they wouldn’t have wanted any more.
Also, since Dr. Glancy misspelled “Gowland” on her lensometer readings, and Dr. Tillyer was a control freak, it’s probably her and Henry never met or collaborated directly. It is probable however, that Dr. Tillyer or Mr. Wells (AO’s president) from AO did meet Henry at some point, purchased his Multi-focal, and handed it over to Dr. Glancy (Dr. Tillyer was very busy). What papers/notes it included is completely unknown. Dr. Glancy’s work seems focused on bringing the parabolic curves to the front of the Progressive, where Henry’s were on the back. This makes sense because Dr. Tillyer was working on combining Cyl and Spherical correction on the back of all lenses. Given Dr. Tillyers projects on Base Curve, the Lensometer and Backside Cylinder Optics were all computed by hand, it took until 1926 just to complete those projects. Prior to 1926 cyl was made on the front, sphere on the back, which would leave nothing free for a Progressive surface. Combining Cyl and Sphere on one side left the front free. So AO was working towards a complete solution Progressive, which they were possibly capable of in 1926. After 1926 Dr. Tillyer’s production drops off for some reason, I am trying to learn why. By 1929 the Stock Market crashed, so that could have ended progress, however, those 3 key years remain unresolved.
I also especially wonder whatever happened to Henry’s children and step-children? Your cousins, second cousins, etc? Since some of them came to the US on Henry’s trips, it’s possible they include details of Henry’s business dealings in some letters or post cards. A simple note that H.O. went to Boston and met a Mr. Wells would be enormously valuable. It’s speculation of course, but I imagine Henry’s last trips to the US involved sales discussions to either AO or Spencer, or others. It’s something he wouldn’t have wanted to do via letter. If we could date that last trip to the US or Canada, we would have a better guess of when he sold to AO or Spencer.