P. Steinmetz The
accomplishments and life of C.P. Steinmetz: April 9, 1865, - October 26,
P. Steinmetz: a legend and pioneer...
C.P. Steinmetz stands with Thomas Edison and Elihu Thomson as
one of the founding fathers of electricity. He was a true engineer's
engineer -earning fame and success through the amazing results
of his work and genius and not by flamboyant personality. Dr.
Steinmetz's tale of escape from Prussia, battle with polio, and
rise to fame is a classic story of survival and success.
AIEE Eliot Cresson Gold Medal,
and many more
of Breslau, Union College Publications: Created many
papers for many journals over his life time. His most famous paper
was on the theory of hystereris. This paper gained the attention
of the AIEE and that led to his success.
-One of the Pioneers of AC Power
-The founder of the GE Research Lab
(now GE Global Research)
-Distinguished Professor at Union College
-Helped many researchers
achieve success on numerous technologies without claiming credit
or collecting many patents for himself
-A believer in socialism as a solution to the problems of the
-Became an icon as the
star engineer of General Electric in the Alternating Current Age
Charles Proteus Steinmetz (April 9, 1865,
- October 26, 1923) was born in Breslau, Prussia (part of Germany
at the time) (now known as Wroclaw, Poland). He developed theories
for alternating current that made possible the expansion of the
electric power industry in the United States.
Steinmetz studied at the University
of Breslau(Uniwersytet Wroclawski or Universität
Breslau) from 1883-1888. After involvement with a socialist
newspaper he was under suspicion by the government, then ruled
by Kaiser Wilhelm II. He fled the country to Zurich. From Zurich
he immigrated to New York City where he first worked for Rudolph
Eickemeyer in Yonkers. They spoke the same dialect of Germany
and got along well from the start. Steinmetz published a paper
on magnetic hysteresis which became noticed by the AIEE
(American Institute of Electrical Engineers). E.W.
Rice Jr. of General Electric noticed Steinmetz as well and
tried to get him to join General Electric.
Dr. Steinmetz and Thomas
Alva Edison 1922
An early AC generator designed by Elihu
Thomson and Steinmetz 1895 (Folsom, CA)
Hysteresis graphed (The
discovery that got him noticed)
Left to Right: Ernst
Julius Berg, S. Benedict, Albert Einstein, guy who looks like
Tesla but is probably not, C.P. Steinmetz, A. N. Goldsmith, A.
Malsin, Irving Langmuir. New Brunswick, NJ 1921
At his camp along the
Mohawk River just outside of Schenectady (towards Rotterdam Junction)
Steinmetz's loyalty to Eickemeyer was strong
and he refused to leave despite being interested in General Electric.
Legend has it that management of GE then bought Eickemeyer's company
in order to get Steinmetz, however GE was also interested in Eickmeyers
transformer patents. He then moved to Lynn, Massachusetts where
he worked with Thomson in 1893. They developed the some of the
world's first 3 phase electrical systems. Steinmetz, Louis Bell
and Thomson developed the first commercial 3 phase AC power
systems. A former Edison employee C.S. Bradley invented the
first 3 phase AC generator, but it was Steinmetz who understood
AC systems mathematically and could improve anything he worked
on. The 3 phase system won out in the end over Westinghouse's
2 phase system.
After Lynn, MA he moved to Schenectady,
New York where a new GE plant had been set up. Steinmetz became
a professor at Union College. He suggested the establishment of
the GE Research Laboratory in
order to be able to compete with the Germans who where trying
to develop a better incandescent bulb than Edison's. The lab quickly
produced many other types of inventions including W.
Coolidge's x-ray and Albert
Hull's Vacuum tube.
Steinmetz taught Electrical Engineering
and Electrophysics at Union College. His academic style was reflected
in his willingness to help any of the other engineers at the lab,
as well as students. He has fewer patents than others but this
is probably due to the fact that he allowed others to get the
final credit and patents. He did not seek fame or power the way
Edison and Tesla did. Edison and Steinmetz may have worked for
the same company, but they were quite different in personality.
Edison stuck to DC while Steinmetz worked on the most difficult
problems of AC power.
Steinmetz worked on the world's first monocyclic
power distribution system in Mechanicville, New York. Click the
link to learn more about it:
Steinmetz and Radio:
At Union College Steinmetz was Chairman
of the Department of Electrical Engineering from 1902-1913. He
was probably involved in the creation of radio station 2XQ in
1913 or 1915. On 10/14/1920 there was a historic broadcast as
students broadcast a concert by "Radio Telephone". Some
claim this was the first scheduled program broadcast for public
entertainment in the US (before KDKA on November 2nd 1920.)
Charles Steinmetz lived on Wendell Rd.
in a house he designed. He had a green house where he kept "ugly"
plants and animals. He would spend a lot of time in his wood cabin
at the banks of the Mohawk River.
Shortly after a trip to California, Steinmetz
died in his home in 1923.
To read a longer biography
see the lower part of this webpage.
vs. Tesla, an ongoing debate:
In their day, Steinmetz and Nikola Tesla
were two of the most famous people in the world. Tesla was more
flamboyant and more often gave public demonstrations of his wizardry,
which prompted more biographies than was the case for Steinmetz.
That has continued to this day, whereas recollection and retelling
of the work of Steinmetz became somewhat rare, to the point where
he is no longer widely known to average lay person. In Schenectady
and some electrical engineering circles Steinmetz's contributions
are well known. He now remains a gem yet to be discovered by mainstream
-by the Edison Tech Center For Sources see the bottom
of this page
Videos below will
appear blank if your internet server has blocked YouTube. GE and
other companies have blocked YouTube.
C.P. Steinmetz the Man Who Made Lightning (YouTube Video)
About C.P. Steinmetz
before General Electric
Steinmetz as a consultant:
Here's an interesting anecdote,
probably apochrophal, as told by Charles M. Vest, President of
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, during commencement
on June 4th, 1999. (http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/nr/1999/vestspeech.html)
In the early years of this century, Steinmetz
was brought to GE's facilities in Schenectady, New York. GE had
encountered a performance problem with one of their huge electrical
generators and had been absolutely unable to correct it. Steinmetz,
a genius in his understanding of electromagnetic phenomena, was
brought in as a consultant -- not a very common occurrence in
those days, as it would be now.
Steinmetz also found the problem difficult to diagnose, but for
some days he closeted himself with the generator, its engineering
drawings, paper and pencil. At the end of this period, he emerged,
confident that he knew how to correct the problem.
After he departed, GE's engineers found a large "X"
marked with chalk on the side of the generator casing. There also
was a note instructing them to cut the casing open at that location
and remove so many turns of wire from the stator. The generator
would then function properly.
And indeed it did.
Steinmetz was asked what his fee would be. Having no idea in the
world what was appropriate, he replied with the absolutely unheard
of answer that his fee was $1000.
Stunned, the GE bureaucracy then required him to submit a formally
They soon received it. It included two items:
1. Marking chalk "X" on side of generator: $1.
2. Knowing where to mark chalk "X": $999.
The first 3-phase AC
powerhouse in North America used GE generators designed with Steinmetz's
expertise. (Redlands, California 1893)
Steinmetz and young Einstein
This photo was altered to exclude the other 21 people in the photo.
AUDIO FILES: Click the link to listen
Henry Ford and
Steinmetz:Henry Ford Visits Steinmetz and is made
to wait until he finishes reading his adopted children a book,
story is told by Kolin Hagar, interview by Larry Hart. Kolin Hager
is the first U.S. newscaster at WGY Radio Station.
Above: Steinmetz and Thomas
Edison examine materials and insulators after artificial lightning
strikes. 1922. Steinmetz and Edison did not regularly work together.
Above: Breslau, Prussia (Wroclaw,
Poland) where Steinmetz was born and raised. In the 1940s almost all
of the residents of Germanic (Prussian) decent had fled, were executed,
or sent to the Gulag. Over 100,000 ethnic Poles were brought in from
Lviv (Lwow), Ukraine to fill the empty city. If Prussia existed today
Steinmetz would be a national hero.
Above: Steinmetz's metal
halide lamp patent, the arc path is illustrated with the mercury vapor
shown by the cool colored plasma.
the metal halide lamp in 1912. This lamp is now used in almost
every town and city on the planet. Steinmetz's prototype had problems
with maintaining a constant temperature, so it shifted randomly in
color from cool blues to warm whites. It wasn't until the 1960's that
the lamp became reliable when it was produced in a high pressure form.
Learn more about the Metal Halide Lamp
1904 - Steinmetz with Corinne Hayden and
an unidentified couple on his porch at Wendell Ave. (next to Union
The following is from
"MEN OF GENERAL ELECTRIC,
Biographical Sketches of Some Outstanding General Electric Men"
Charles Proteus Steinmetz, mathematician and
electrical engineer was born in Breslau, Germany, where his father
was employed as a lithographer in the railroad office. His given name,
which he used for about the first twenty-five years of his life, was
Karl August Rudolf, bit in his application for American citizenship
he Anglicized his first name to Charles and substituted for the other
two the name Proteus, a nickname given him when he joined the student
mathematical society in Breslau. Although deformed from birth, he
was a normally inquisitive, mischievous boy but badly spoiled by his
grandmother, who mothered the family after the death of Charles' mother
when he was a year old.
It was evident early in his school career
that he had a keen mind, and when he had completed the course in the
gymnasium his father willingly sent him to the University of Breslau
instead of apprenticing him to a trade. He entered the university
in 1883. He was decidedly versatile and had an astonishing capacity
for study. During his six years at the university he never missed
a class, took a prodigious number of notes, and even undertook independent
investigations at home. From the very first he selected difficult
technical subjects. Beginning with mathematics and astronomy he expanded
his studies so that in his sixth year he was taking theoretical physics,
chemistry, electrical engineering, specialized work in higher mathematics
and medicine. In addition, he was a student of economics and kept
up his reading of the classics.
About 1884 he joined the student Socialist
group and in the course of the succeeding four years became most active
serving for a time as ghost editor of the People's Voice, published
by the Socialists at Breslau. This proved his undoing, for as a result
of a most daring editorial published in 1888, he had to flee from
Germany to avoid arrest and imprisonment just as he had completed
his university work and his thesis for his doctor's degree, which
was never conferred upon him. Fleeing to Switzerland, where he lived
a year in Zurich in straitened circumstances, he spent six months
in attendance at the Polytechnic School and occasionally wrote an
article on some phase of electrical engineering for a German technical
In the late spring of 1889, on the spur of
the moment, he sailed to the United States financed by a student friend
who accompanied him. He landed in New York on June 1 and within two
weeks found employment as a draftsman for Rudolph Eickemeyer at Yonkers,
New York, to whom he had gone with a letter of introduction. Eickemeyer,
who was then engaged in research and in the development of electrical
machinery, established him in an experimental laboratory of his own.
Here he applied himself earnestly not only to the electrical problems
given him but also in characteristic fashion, to the problems of Americanizing
himself. He mastered the language, applied for citizenship and even
joined the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and the New
York (later American) Mathematical Society.
At the time, electrical engineers were concerned
with reducing the losses of efficiency in electrical apparatus due
to alternating magnetism (hysteresis). The laws of this power loss
were entirely unknown and many engineers doubted its existence. Steinmetz,
however, having been given the task of calculating and designing an
alternating-current commutator motor and wishing to calculate the
hysteresis loss, derived the law of hysteresis mathematically from
existing data. He followed this with an elaborate series of tests
on any and every sample of iron obtainable to prove the law and simplify
its application and in 1892 read two papers on the subject before
the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.
Shortly after the organization of the General
Electric Company in 1892 he joined the staff of the Calculating Department
and went first to Lynn, Massachusetts and then to Schenectady, New
York. After completing his second year with the Company he was made
consulting engineer, a position he held throughout the rest of his
While he was engaged in his studies of magnetism
at Yonkers he had begun studies of alternating electric current phenomena,
which were then little understood and most complex. Through the application
of pure mathematics involving a degree of intricate work bewildering
to the layman, he found a mathematical method of reducing the alternating-current
theory to a basis pf practical calculation, and presented a rather
complicated outline of the new method to the International Electrical
Congress in session at Chicago, Illinois, in 1893. He found himself
in unapproachable intellectual solitude however, for practically no
one could understand his theory or use his method. Gradually however,
through the publication of several textbooks he brought about a clear
understanding of his symbolic method, which is now universally used
in alternating-current calculations.
His third and last great research undertaking
had to do with the phenomena which are centered in lightning. In an
effort to learn more about lightning, Steinmetz began a systematic
study of it, publishing the dramatic experiments yielding man-made
lightning in the laboratory.
In addition to his consulting work and his
writing, he was professor of electrical engineering, 1902-1913 and
professor of electrophysics, 1913 to 1923 at Union University, Schenectady,
New York, and lectured on electrical subjects throughout the country.
He served on the Board of Education of Schenectady, of which he was
president for two terms, and on the Common Council. The numerous honors
conferred on him included the presidency of the American Institute
of Electrical Engineers, 1901 to 1902, the award of the Elliott Cresson
Gold Medal, made by the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia and membership
in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical
Society. He patented a large number of inventions, many of them basic,
and wrote several books, among them Theory and Calculation of Transient
Electric Phenomena and Oscillations (1909); General Lectures on Electrical
Engineering (copyright 1908), compiled and edited by J. L. Hayden;
Radiation, Light and Illumination (1909); and Elementary Lectures
on Electric Discharges, Waves and Impulses, and Other Transients (1911),
all of which went through several editions.
He never married but legally adopted as his
son and heir Joseph Le Roy Hayden, who survived him.
Below: video of Steinmetz's
1914 electric car:
Books on Steinmetz:
"Steinmetz in Schenectady"
by Larry Hart(we sell this, Contact Us)
"The Life of Steinmetz" by Jonathan Leonard (out of
"The Man Who Tamed Lightning" by Floyd Miller (out
"Men and Volts the Story of General Electric" by
John Winthrop Hammond (out of print)
"Workshop of Engineers" by Floyd Miller (out of print)
Electrical Engineering Library:
Visit the Edison Tech Center to see our collection of out-of-print
books on Steinmetz
and Volts" by John Hammond
"Workshop of Engineers" by John Miller
"Interview with George Wise" - video interview with historian
George Wise. Edison Tech Center
Company (various photographers unknown),
Edison Tech Center
Hawkins Electrical Guide 1912
The Schenectady Museum
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