The name of the tiny village of Rosport on the Sûre is associated with the mineral water bottled in Luxembourg. However, the 650 inhabitants are equally proud of another brand name: Henri Owen Tudor; the man who improved and produced the first car battery.
Henri Tudor was born in 1859, to Welshman John Thomas Tudor, across the Sûre, in what was then known as Prussia. John Thomas married Marie Loser, daughter of Hubert Loser, MP and mayor of Rosport. Their second son, Robert, later became mayor there as well, while Hubert, the eldest was a vintner and supported Henri with his inventions.
In 1878 the family moved to Newcastle for one year, where the father came into a considerable inheritance which determined Henri’s success as an inventor.
The outstanding person of Rosport
Tudor spent his childhood in Prussia, then followed his father to Belgium where he went to high school.
He wanted to study law, but finally enrolled at the “École Polytechnique” in Brussels in 1879. He graduated as civil engineer in 1883 since electrical engineering studies did not yet exist.
Through their father, the three brothers received a good upbringing, proficiency in languages and connections to Prussian, French, Belgian and Luxembourgish entrepreneurial and political families.
Henri married Madeleine Pescatore, daughter of a businessman, politician and banker and built a luxurious “castle”. Their marriage brought forth three children, and together with numerous servants, they lived above Rosport.
1859 was an important milestone for the “technical revolution” and transportation. Oil was found in Pennsylvania, works started on the Suez Channel and the Luxembourg railway was inaugurated. French physicist Gaston Planté invented the lead-acid battery, the invention that determined Tudor’s life, and, sadly, caused his death in 1928.
Lead acid cell
The lead-acid cell was the first rechargeable battery. Despite having a low energy-to-weight and energy-to-volume ratio, its ability to supply high surge currents meant that the cells maintained a relatively large power-to-weight ratio.
These features, along with their low cost, made them attractive in motor vehicles to provide the high current required by automobile starter motors.
The battery has two extreme positions: charged or discharged. When starting the engine, it is being discharged, otherwise it charges. It was relatively simple for Tudor to improve Planté’s invention and mass produce the first model.
Having returned to Rosport from university, Henri Tudor established his first factory in the village. He worked together with brother Hubert and cousin Nikolas Schalkenbach from Trier.
Four years after the production of the first viable lamp, three years before the Rothschild’s castle in Ferrieres and seven years before the royal castle of Windsor, the Tudor family benefited from a complete electrical lighting installation, providing light round the clock. The old manor of Rosport was one of the first private houses in Europe to have a complete hydro-electrical power station working continuously.
In 1884 Tudor developed the energy car, a battery-motor for mobile use: engine power and light for military camps, isolated farms and circuses.
Production remained modest in Rosport. In 1887, Tudor supplied the lighting installation for the cough drop and chocolate factory of Stollwerk in Cologne, which, in the same year set up the first of 15,000 chocolate vending machines.
In 1886, Echternach changef the entire public lighting from gas to electricity. A contract was signed to supply electricity for 19 years.
Tudor batteries around the globe
In 1890, more than 1,200 Tudor storage batteries were being used around the world.
In 1901, Belgium was supplied from the plant in Florival, situated beyond the borders of the German Customs Union (of which Luxembourg was a member of until 1919). A part of Tudor’s skilled workers went to that factory, sealing the fate of the company in Rosport. The end came in 1908.
A small factory in a remote village was no longer profitable. High customs made production expensive and increased prices. By selling his licence to German businessman Adolph Müller, Tudor gave up half of his market.
Müller was a naturally talented salesman who founded the “Akkumulatoren Fabrik Aktiengesellschaft Berlin-Hagen” in 1890, which was, for the next 100 years, the industrial group called VARTA.
Tudor set up several production plants in Western Europe. These companies introduced healthcare plans to protect workers: working hours were short, the companies would wash their work clothes, lavatories and canteens were at their disposal, as well as half a litre of milk a day. A company doctor examined the workers weekly. All these regulations were of no use for Henri Tudor, however. He contracted severe lead poisoning, which saw him confined to a wheel chair at the end of his life. He died in 1928.
Please touch everything!
The house that was entwined with his entire life, became a museum in 2009. Panels guide through Tudor’s works, interactive displays help to understand the basics of electricity. In this house it is not forbidden to touch the objects – on the contrary: you should play with them.
The museum is open from April until June, Wednesdays to Sundays from 2pm to 6pm, and then in July and August, all week from 10am to 6pm. English leaflets (to be returned on exit) are available.
Entrance costs just 4 euros. For more info (in French and German) visit www.musee-tudor.lu