Charles Proteus Steinmetz

Charles Proteus Steinmetz
Charles Proteus Steinmetz
Born Carl August Rudolph Steinmetz
April 9, 1865(1865-04-09)
Breslau, Province of Silesia, Prussia
Died October 26, 1923(1923-10-26) (aged 58)
Schenectady, NY, USA
Occupation Mathematician and electrical engineer
Parents Carl Heinrich Steinmetz
Marconi Wireless Station in Somerset, New Jersey in 1921. Steinmetz is at centre; he died two years later.
Steinmetz maintained a small cabin overlooking the Mohawk River near Schenectady, New York.
Steinmetz circa 1915

Charles Proteus Steinmetz (April 9, 1865 – October 26, 1923) was a German-American mathematician and electrical engineer. He fostered the development of alternating current that made possible the expansion of the electric power industry in the United States, formulating mathematical theories for engineers. He made ground-breaking discoveries in the understanding of hysteresis that enabled engineers to design better electric motors for use in industry.[1]


Early life

Steinmetz was born as Carl August Rudolph Steinmetz to Carl Heinrich Steinmetz in Breslau, Province of Silesia. Steinmetz suffered from dwarfism, hunchback, and hip dysplasia, as did his father and grandfather. Steinmetz attended Johannes Gymnasium and astonished his teachers with his proficiency in mathematics and physics.

Socialist activities

Following the Gymnasium Steinmetz went on to the University of Breslau to begin work on his undergraduate degree in 1883. He was on the verge of finishing his Doctorate in 1888 when he came under investigation by the German police for activities on behalf of a socialist university group and articles he had written for a local socialist newspaper.

As socialist meetings and press had been banned in Germany, Steinmetz fled to Zürich in 1888 to escape possible arrest. Faced with an expiring visa, he emigrated to the United States in 1889.

Cornell University Professor Ronald R. Kline, the author of Steinmetz: Engineer and Socialist, contends that other factors were more directly involved in Steinmetz's decision to leave his homeland, such as the fact that he was in arrears with his tuition at the University of Breslau and that life at home with his father, stepmother, and their daughters was full of tension.

Despite his earlier efforts and interest in socialism, by 1922 Steinmetz concluded that socialism would never work in the United States because the country lacked a "powerful, centralized government of competent men, remaining continuously in office" and because "only a small percentage of Americans accept this viewpoint today."[2]

Career in science

Shortly after arriving in the US, Steinmetz went to work for Rudolf Eickemeyer in Yonkers, New York, and published in the field of magnetic hysteresis. Eickemeyer's firm developed transformers for use in the transmission of electrical power among many other mechanical and electrical devices. In 1893 Eickemeyer's company, along with all of his patents and designs, was bought by the newly formed General Electric Company.

Forger of thunderbolts

One of Steinmetz's great research projects was centered with the phenomena of lightning. He undertook a systematic study of it, resulting in experiments of man-made lightning in the laboratory; this work was published. Steinmetz was called the "forger of thunderbolts", being the first to create artificial lightning in his GE football field-sized laboratory and high towers, using 120,000 volt generators. He erected a lightning tower to attract lightning and studied the patterns and effects of lightning hits on tree bark and in a broken mirror—resulting in several theories and ideas (like the effect of lightning on plant growth and ac electric poles).

Later years

Steinmetz served as president of the Board of Education of Schenectady, and as president of the Schenectady city council. He was president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) from 1901 to 1902,[3] as well as the first vice-president of the International Association of Municipal Electricians (IAME)—which later became the International Municipal Signal Association (IMSA)—from 1913 until his death. Steinmetz wrote 13 books and 60 articles, not all about science. He was an honorary member and advisor to the fraternity Phi Gamma Delta at Union (whose chapter house there was one of the first electrified houses ever).

Steinmetz died on October 26, 1923 and was buried in Vale Cemetery, Schenectady.


His connection to Union College is celebrated with the annual Steinmetz Symposium,[4] a day-long event in which Union undergraduates give presentations on research they have done. Steinmetz Hall, which houses the Union College computer center, is named after him.

Steinmetz was portrayed in 1959 by the actor Rod Steiger in the CBS anthology series, The Joseph Cotten Show. The episode centered on his socialist activities in Germany.


At the time of his death, Steinmetz held over 200 patents:[5]

In popular culture

Steinmetz is featured in John Dos Passos' USA Trilogy in one of the biographies.[6] He also serves as a major character in Starling Lawrence's The Lightning Keeper.[7]

His name is used several times during certain episodes of The Simpsons by industrialist Mr. Burns as an expletive ("Come on, Steinmetz, while we're still young!") whenever he feels people are taking longer than he would like.


  • Certificate of Merit of The Franklin Institute (1908).
  • Elliott Cresson Medal (1913).
  • Cedergren Medal (1914).


  • Theory and calculation of alternating current phenomena", with the assistance of Ernst J. Berg, 1897. Information from this book has been reprinted in many subsequent engineering texts.
  • The Natural Period of a Transmission Line and the Frequency of lightning Discharge Therefrom, The Electrical World, August 27, 1898. Pg. 203 - 205.
  • Theoretical elements of electrical engineering, McGraw, 1902.
  • Future of Electricity, Transcript of lecture to the New York Electrical Trade School, 1908.
  • General lectures on electrical engineering, edited by Joseph Le Roy Hayden, Robson & Adee, 1908.
  • Radiation, light and illumination : a series of engineering lectures delivered at Union college, ed. by Joseph Le Roy Hayden, McGraw-Hill, 1909
  • Elementary lectures on electric discharges, waves and impulses, and other transients, 1911.
  • Theory and calculation of transient electric phenomena and oscillations, McGraw publishing company, 1911.
  • America and the new epoch, Harper, c. 1916.
  • Engineering mathematics; a series of lectures delivered at Union College, 1917.
  • Theory and calculation of electric apparatus, 1917.
  • Essay on Science and Religion at Project Gutenberg. Homer Heath Nugent, 1922.
  • Four lectures on relativity and space, McGraw-Hill book co. inc., 1923.


Note on the law of hysteresis. The Electrician. Jan 2. 1891 pp. 261–262.

Further reading

  • Charles Proteus Steinmetz: A Biography, John Winthrop Hammond, New York Century Co., 1924.
  • Steinmetz and his discoverer, John Thomas Broderick, 1924.
  • Loki: The Life of Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Jonathan Norton Leonard, Doubleday, 1929.
  • The Little Giant Of Schenectady, Dorothy Markey, Aladdin Books, 1936.
  • Sigmund A Lavine (1955). Steinmetz, maker of lightning;. Dodd, Mead. , Sigmund Lavine, Dodd & Mead, 1955.
  • Modern Jupiter, John Anderson Miller, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1958.
  • Floyd Miller (1962). The electrical genius of Liberty Hall: Charles Proteus Steinmetz. McGraw-Hill.  (aka The Man Who Tamed Lightning), Floyd Miller, McGraw-Hill, 1962.
  • Steinmetz the Philosopher, Ernest Caldecott, Philip Alger, 1965.
  • Charles Steinmetz: Scientist and Socialist (1865–1923) Including the complete Steinmetz-Lenin correspondence, Sender Garlin, American Institute for Marxist Studies, 1977 (reprinted in Sender Garlin's 1991 Three Radicals).
  • Recollections of Steinmetz - A Visit to the Workshops of Dr. Charles Proteus Steinmetz,Emil J. Remscheid, General Electric Hall of History Foundation, 1977.
  • Steinmetz in Schenectady - A Picture History of Three Memorable Decades, Larry Hart, Old Dorp Books, 1978.
  • Steinmetz: Engineer and Socialist, Ronald Kline, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
  • Goodrich, Arthur (June 1904). "Charles P. Steinmetz, Electrician". The World's Work: A History of Our Time VIII: 4867–4869. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Charles Proteus Steinmetz — Charles P. Steinmetz. Charles Proteus Steinmetz (* 9. April 1865 in Breslau; † 26. Oktober 1923) war ein deutsch amerikanischer Elektroingenieur. Er entwickelte Theorien zum Wechselstrom, die das Wachstum der Stromindustrie ermöglichten …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Charles Proteus Steinmetz — (1865 1923). Su nacionalidad es problemática, aunque las fuentes mas creíbles dicen que nació en Breslau, Silesia, Alemania, lo que actualmente conocemos como Polonia. Su verdadero nombre era Karl August Rudolf Steinmetz, hijo de un empleado… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Charles Proteus Steinmetz — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Steinmetz. Charles Proteus Steinmetz Charles Proteus Steinmetz, né Carl August Rudolph Steinmetz le 9 avril …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Charles Proteus Steinmetz — (1865 1923). Su nacionalidad es problemática, aunque las fuentes más creíbles dicen que nació en Breslau, Silesia, Alemania, lo que actualmente conocemos como Polonia. Su verdadero nombre era Karl August Rudolf Steinmetz, hijo de un empleado… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Charles Proteus Steinmetz — noun United States electrical engineer and inventor (born in Germany) (1865 1923) • Syn: ↑Steinmetz • Instance Hypernyms: ↑electrical engineer, ↑inventor, ↑discoverer, ↑artificer …   Useful english dictionary

  • IEEE Charles Proteus Steinmetz Award — The IEEE Charles Proteus Steinmetz Award is given to an individual who has made major contributions to the development of standards in the field of electrical and electronics engineering.Recipients* 2006 Steven Mark Halpin * 2005 Wallace S. Read… …   Wikipedia

  • Charles P. Steinmetz — Charles P. Steinmetz. Charles Proteus Steinmetz, geboren als Karl August Rudolph Steinmetz, (* 9. April 1865 in Breslau, heutiges Polen; † 26. Oktober 1923 in Schenectady) war ein Elektroingenieur und entwickelte Theorien zum Wechselstrom …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Charles P. Steinmetz Academic Centre — Principal Dr. Eunice Madon Students Over 2,200 Grades 9–12 Location …   Wikipedia

  • Steinmetz, Charles Proteus — orig. Karl August Rudolf Steinmetz born April 9, 1865, Breslau, Prussia died Oct. 26, 1923, Schenectady, N.Y., U.S. German born U.S. electrical engineer. Forced to leave Germany because of his socialist activities, he emigrated to the U.S. in… …   Universalium

  • Steinmetz, Charles Proteus — ► (1865 1923) Electrotécnico alemán. Inventó el sistema monocíclico de un triple conductor para corriente alterna. * * * orig. Karl August Rudolf Steinmetz (9 abr. 1865, Breslau, Prusia–26 oct. 1923, Schenectady, N.Y., EE.UU.). Ingeniero… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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