Story: Reid, Alexander Walker

Page 1 - Reid, Alexander Walker

Reid, Alexander Walker

1853–1938

Farmer, inventor

This biography was written by Mary Donald and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

The son of a carter, Alexander Walker Reid was born in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, on 14 September 1853. His parents, Helen Reid and her husband, Alexander Reid, emigrated to New Zealand with young Alexander in 1860. They arrived at Lyttelton aboard the William Miles on 21 August, and took up farming at Southbridge. On 28 June 1876, at Christchurch, Alexander Walker Reid married Janet Whyte. The couple moved to Taranaki in 1882, where they farmed at Ngaire (Ngaere). From about 1898 they lived in Stratford.

Alexander Reid took an active part in public affairs, serving as a justice of the peace and as a member of the Ngaire Road Board and the Stratford County Council. He was involved in the formation of a co-operative dairy packing company and the opening of the Waitara Freezing Works. As a Freemason he was the first master of the Stratford lodge and a grand lodge officer.

Reid is better remembered, however, as an inventor and entrepreneur. In Canterbury he had gone into partnership operating a threshing machine, which he had modified. When the Stratford Town Board was considering the installation of gas or electric lighting Reid arranged a demonstration of electric lighting and cooking. The board accepted his proposal to supply electricity to the town, and after arranging financial backing he formed the Stratford Electrical Supply Company in 1898. A special act of Parliament was required to allow a private enterprise to supply electricity for either private or public use. Stratford thus became the third town in New Zealand (after Reefton in 1887 and Wellington in 1888) to be supplied with electric street lighting.

The company built its hydroelectric station on a U-bend on the Patea River. It consisted of a wooden dam and a tunnel approximately 100 yards long complete with a surge chamber. Two penstocks led water to turbines driving alternators which had been imported from England. The plant produced single-phase alternating current at 40 cycles and 2,000 volts, and had a capacity of 90 kilowatts. In town the voltage was reduced to 110 volts ready for domestic consumption.

Reid next turned his attention to self-propelled vehicles. Between 1903 and 1906 he produced three steam-driven cars. The engines and boilers were imported from America, with modifications and bodywork completed in Stratford. The cars were two-cylinder, chain-driven and powered by kerosene, and had a rating of about four horsepower. Before general vehicle registration was introduced Reid's personal car carried the number plate SD1 (Stratford District 1).

While experimenting with cars, A. W. R., as Reid was known, was also developing a mechanical milking machine. Among numerous innovations were a variable-speed pulsator and rubber cups with reinforced sections which simulated the natural sucking action of a calf. One of the main criticisms of mechanical milkers was the difficulty of cleaning the units and thus the danger of contaminated milk; the AWR Milking Machine was designed with ease of cleaning in mind.

In 1918 Janet Reid died, a victim of the influenza epidemic. On 26 March 1926, at Wharehuia near Stratford, Alexander Reid married a widow, Ellen Anne Richmond (née Read); they had no children. He died at Stratford on 21 November 1938, survived by Ellen Reid and seven children of his first marriage.