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Henry Alexis (Harry) Kauper (1888–1942)

by Jean P. Fielding

This article was published:

Henry Alexis (Harry) Kauper (1888-1942), aviation and radio engineer and inventor, was born on 12 March 1888 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, son of Charles Henry Kauper, carpenter and later orchardist, and his wife Rosa Victoria, née Francis. Harry's father, an Estonian seaman, landed at Port Melbourne in 1877.

After education in state schools Kauper entered the motor engineering trade, specializing in electrical and ignition systems. In 1910 he was a chauffeur at Willaura but in May 1911, with his mechanic friends H. G. Hawker and Harry Busteed (they were known as 'The Three Harrys'), Kauper went to England to study aviation. After working in the Sunbeam and other engineering works he became a mechanic in June 1912 with T. O. M. Sopwith who was building his first aeroplane at Brooklands, Surrey. Through Kauper's influence Hawker was also employed and when the Sopwith Aviation Co. was formed in 1913 at Kingston-upon-Thames, Kauper became foreman of works and Hawker chief test pilot.

On 25 August Kauper, as engineer-mechanic, accompanied Hawker, the only entrant in the £5000 Daily Mail seaplane flight around the British coast. Hawker brought Kauper, as chief mechanic, to Melbourne in January 1914 to demonstrate to the Defence Department the new Sopwith Tabloid biplane. Both men had contributed significantly to the design of this plane, the prototype of the Sopwith war-plane, the 'Pup'. They returned to England in June and, with the outbreak of war, Kauper became works manager for Sopwiths, in charge of 3800 employees turning out 45 planes a week. An inventive genius, he is best known for the patented Sopwith-Kauper interrupter gear which synchronized the firing of a machine-gun through a rotating aeroplane propeller. First used in April 1916, 3950 were fitted to Sopwith planes during the war.

Kauper joined the Royal Air Force on 25 October 1918 as a second lieutenant (administration) engaged in experimental research. On 12 May 1919, at All Saints Anglican Church, Kingston-upon-Thames, he married Beatrice Minnie Hooper who had also worked at Sopwiths. With the two planes of Captain H. J. Butler Kauper reached Adelaide next July and in August they flew to Minlaton, carrying the first air mail over water in South Australia. In October they formed the Harry J. Butler & Kauper Aviation Co. Ltd which pioneered commercial aviation in South Australia but went into voluntary liquidation in 1921.

Kauper had turned to radio. Under experimental licence S643 (1919) he established station 5BG at Dulwich in 1920. In 1922 he participated in the first radio telephony tests in South Australia, gave helpful advice to crystal set enthusiasts on his popular 'Dulwich Calling' broadcasts, and addressed radio clubs and the Wireless Institute of Australia. As an experimenter he was important in developing radio for broadcasting. He was a partner in the Adelaide Radio Co., manufacturing radio equipment, and was a part-time operator from 12 June 1924 when the company, under contract, loaned its call sign 5DN and equipment to Edward James Hume's experimental station at Parkside.

Kauper's station was one of the earliest low-powered, crystal-controlled transmitters in Australia; in November 1925 his signals were picked up in New York and California—a world record. In June Kauper and George Towns, an invalid soldier, built the first compact radio for Rev. John Flynn. Operated by a generator off the rear wheel of Flynn's truck, it proved an outstanding success but Flynn wanted a set workable under all outback conditions. In 1926 Kauper introduced Flynn to Alfred Traeger who ultimately developed the pedal wireless used by the Flying Doctor Service of Australia.

On 7 June 1926 Kauper was appointed chief engineer of 5CL, Adelaide (Central Broadcasters Ltd). When in January 1930 5CL was taken over by the National Broadcasting Service, he did not transfer but became chief engineer for 5AD (The Advertiser Broadcasting Network Pty Ltd), designing the transmitter and establishing the station. In 1931, after a world tour, he became consulting engineer to 3DB, Melbourne.

At the invitation of the director, Group Captain Eric Harrison, Kauper accepted appointment, as a civilian, to the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate in 1940, in charge of the radio electrical and instrument section. Responsible for inspection of equipment being manufactured or repaired for the Royal Australian Air Force by civilian contractors, although in ill health he contributed greatly in those formative years of the directorate, particularly in his specialist field of radio. He died suddenly at his Richmond home on 22 April 1942 of coronary vascular disease and was cremated. He had no children and his wife later returned to England.

Kauper was a modest man with deep-set, thoughtful blue eyes, rugged features and sandy hair. 'He went out as quietly as he had lived', but his death lost to radio and aviation 'another of the pioneering spirits' whose constructive work so advanced rapid development in these fields. 'Nothing mechanical held any problems for him and, in all things pertaining to radio, he stood alone'.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps (Syd, 1923)
  • H. C. Miller, Early Birds (Adel, 1968)
  • R. J. Gibson, Australia and Australians in Civil Aviation, an Index to Events 1823 to 1920 (Syd, 1971)
  • G. R. Copley, Australians in the Air (Adel, 1976)
  • J. F. Ross, A History of Radio in South Australia, 1897-1977 (Adel, 1978)
  • Aviation History Society of Australia, Journal, 4 (1963), no 4
  • Institute of Radio Engineers, Australia, I.R.E. Bulletin, Feb 1943
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 May 1911, 23 Apr 1942
  • Argus (Melbourne), 26-30 Aug 1913, 14 Jan–6 May 1914, 23 Apr 1942
  • Observer (Adelaide), 9 Aug 1919, 11 Sept 1920
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 4 Sept 1920, 27 Apr 1942
  • Register (Adelaide), 4 Sept 1920, 4 Oct 1924
  • Herald (Melbourne), 23 Apr 1942
  • papers held by author
  • C. H. Kauper papers (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jean P. Fielding, 'Kauper, Henry Alexis (Harry) (1888–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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