The Legend of Charles Proteus Steinmetz

The LegendCharles Proteus Steinmetz was born Karl August Rudolph Steinmetz, in Breslau, Germany, April 9, 1865. Steinmetz was educated at the University of Breslau, from 1883 until 1885. He was to receive his degree from the university but had to flee Germany because of his socialist activities. In 1889 Steinmetz immigrated to the United States where he immediately found employment with an electrical engineer by the name of Rudolph Eickemeyer. While working with Eickemeyer, Steinmetz applied for his citizenship, learned English and joined professional societies. This already was an amazing feat due to the fact that Steinmetz was almost deported because he was seen as an indigent alien due to his dwarf size.

Steinmetz was known as a genius of electrical energy when he discovered the law of hysteresis, which made it possible to calculate the loss of electric power due to magnetism. This discovery also made possible the design and construction of more efficient transformers, generators and motors. In 1893, Steinmetz joined the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York, and he was soon made consulting engineer, a position he held until his death.

In the late 1890’s Steinmetz was studying AC (alternating current) when it was not understood by many scientists. He continued his research at General Electric, patenting more than 100 inventions. Over a twenty-five year period Steinmetz developed and refined a mathematical method for making AC calculations. Because of Steinmetz’s teaching and instructions most electrical engineers of the day were able to understand the theory of alternating current.

Steinmetz’s later investigations into “transient electrical phenomena” led to techniques for protecting high power transmission lines from lightning. He studied the effect by actually producing lightning in his laboratory during 1921.

During the “Battle of the Currents” between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, Steinmetz developed an acceptable alternative to Nikola Tesla’s alternating current system. Steinmetz’s system was called “The Monocycle System” and helped Edison’s General Electric Company compete with Westinghouse Electric Company.

Still teaching and inventing, Charles Steinmetz died on October 26, 1923, in Schenectady, New York. Steinmetz’s accomplishments only mirror the wonderful inventions and research being done by a group of dedicated, industrious geniuses of this era.

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