Can you see the ‘Otter Controls’ gates nearby? This site was once occupied by this company who were founded in Buxton in 1946. They produced bimetal cutouts and thermostats for a range of applications including the automotive industry and household appliances such as kettles.
We take it for granted that our kettle will turn off automatically when it boils. The device that does this, a small snap-action blade no bigger than a 50p coin, has been made in the millions here in Buxton. In fact, it’s estimated that Otter Controls may have produced up to one billion of them.
Otter Controls still have premises in Fairfield, Buxton.
Technology for water ‘otters
The story of Otter Controls goes back to Buxtonian Eric Hardman Taylor. Eric spent the Second World War developing electrically heating flight suits. Existing thermostats could interfere with radio transmissions – so he invented a bimetal control to stop suits over heating.
After the war, Eric founded Otters with friends John Fletcher and Charles Faulkner. The company name allegedly came from a conversion with John who, in reference to the use of bimetal blades in hot water systems, exclaimed, “Oh! – You mean a ‘water ‘otter!”
Eric’s son, Dr John C Taylor OBE, became a prolific inventor in his own right. In the 1970s he invented the small, snap-action blade that still turns off our kettles today. John’s inventions have been celebrated the world over, and even featured on a series of Isle of Man postage stamps, where John now lives.
What is bimetal?
Bimetal products work by exploiting the conductive differences between two metals. Two strips are attached together, made from different metals. On strip conducts heat more readily and therefore expands and contracts at a different rate. This causes the strip to bend, or in the case of John’s bimetal blade, cause a sudden snap-action that’s capable of switching off your kettle at just the right time.