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Both, Edward Thomas (Ted) (1908–1987)

by Pauline Payne

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Edward Thomas (Ted) Both (1908-1987), inventor, was born on 26 April 1908 at Caltowie, South Australia, eldest of five children of South Australian-born parents James Alexander Both, miller, and his wife Lucy Victoria, née Thomas. He was educated at Caltowie Public and Jamestown High schools. A very able student, he became a technical assistant to (Sir) Kerr Grant, professor of physics at the University of Adelaide.

In 1932 Both built an electrocardiograph which attracted attention from leading Adelaide physicians. Grant, impressed with Both’s abilities, set up a small medical equipment development and production facility, using rooms in the old mounted police barracks adjoining the university. That year Both’s younger brother Donald joined the enterprise; together they were to produce a wide range of scientific instruments, including several versions of the electrocardiograph. Generating exceptionally accurate recordings, the machines allowed instant diagnosis and until 1942 were the only direct-wiring models marketed in the world. On 16 September 1937 at Christ Church, Essendon, Melbourne, Ted married with Anglican rites Lily Eileen Maud Naughton, a schoolteacher.

During the 1937-38 poliomyelitis epidemic Both designed a simple inexpensive respirator to replace an American `iron lung’ prototype, which was cumbersome and costly. Working day and night for a week he produced a portable model of laminated wood, known as a cabinet respirator, and the brothers began manufacturing. Machines were sometimes used by patients within an hour of production. Visiting England in 1938-39 during another poliomyelitis epidemic, Both produced some respirators in London and attracted the attention of Lord Nuffield, who financed the assembly of 1700 machines at the Morris car factory, Cowley, and donated them to hospitals throughout the British Empire. Appointed OBE in 1941, Both gained the popular title of `Australia’s Edison’. That year the brothers established Both Electrics Ltd.

In World War II Both worked on projects supported by the Army Inventions Directorate, producing medical equipment for the armed forces, and inventing instruments for the production and testing of armaments, including an electromicrometer (used to check the bore of a gun), cloth-cutting machines for army uniforms, and three-wheeled battery-operated vehicles. He helped with research into guided torpedoes, and designed and patented the `visitel’, an instrument that could transmit designs or drawings over long distances by wire or radio. It was a forerunner of the facsimile machine.

After the war Both moved to Sydney, where he set up a branch of the business (Both Equipment Ltd from 1952) and worked in association with Automatic Totalisators Ltd. The Boths designed an electric tennis scoreboard for use at the Davis Cup competition, held in Adelaide in 1952. Their scoreboards were subsequently used for the Melbourne Olympic Games (1956) and other major events. Other types of equipment developed were an automatic pen recorder, a humidicrib, foetal heart monitors and an electroencephalograph. In 1966 the brothers sold their firm to Drug Houses of Australia Ltd; they worked in DHA’s Anax division until retiring in 1974. A quiet-living man, `ET’ Both was known for his total preoccupation with design problems and his exhausting capacity for work. He was a sports enthusiast who enjoyed swimming and playing tennis. Survived by his wife, he died on 18 November 1987 at Mount Beauty, Victoria, and was cremated. The couple had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • M. J. Both (compiler), The Both Family Story (1981)
  • Australian Journal of Instrumentation and Control, Aug 1986, p 14, Dec 1988, p 15
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 24 Nov 1987, p 15
  • private information.

Citation details

Pauline Payne, 'Both, Edward Thomas (Ted) (1908–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/both-edward-thomas-ted-12234/text21945, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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