C.P. Steinmetz (LOC)
Originally uploaded by The Library of Congress
No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions. --Charles Proteus Steinmetz
New in the Flickr Commons this week, a fine portrait of Charles Proteus Steinmetz (1865-1923), a Prussian-born mathematician. He was just 23 when he finished his doctoral work at Breslau; soon after, he immigrated into the United States. As a dwarf with a hunched back and no money, he was nearly refused entry at Ellis Island; but he was traveling with someone who was able to convince the inspectors that he was actually brilliant and rich scientist. He went to work as an electrical engineer, designing motors and power systems.
Two years after coming to America, Steinmetz patented a means of transmitting alternating current (A/C). It was the first of his 200+ patents in the US., most of them bought by the General Electric Company. Steinmetz, a committed socialist, was also president of the Board of Education in Schenectady NY, and presided over the city council as well. He was an officer in the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. He also studied lightning at a campsite he built on the Mohawk River, and published a book of essays on science and religion. He was even responsible for ensuring that every orphan in Schenectady received a present at Christmas.
From 1902 to 1913, Steinmetz was head of the School of Electrical Engineering at Union College. Today, the annual Steinmetz Symposium at Union College is an undergraduate research expo; there is also a Steinmetz Hall at Union College. A short recording of his speech, with film clips and stills, is on YouTube (with subtitles for his accented English). The IEEE has a Steinmetz Award for advancements in electrical and electronics engineering.
Floyd Miller, The Electrical Genius of Liberty Hall: Charles Proteus Steinmetz (McGraw Hill 1962).
Ronald Kline, Steinmetz: Engineer and Socialist (Johns Hopkins University Press 1998).