Charles Proteus Steinmetz

Charles Proteus Steinmetz (born Karl August Rudolph Steinmetz, April 9, 1865 – October 26, 1923) was a German-born American mathematician and electrical engineer and professor at Union College. 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 electromagnetic apparatus equipment, especially electric motors for use in industry.[1][2][a]

Charles Proteus Steinmetz
Karl August Rudolph Steinmetz

(1865-04-09)April 9, 1865
DiedOctober 26, 1923(1923-10-26) (aged 58)
Schenectady, New York, United States
Resting placeVale Cemetery
OccupationMathematician and electrical engineer
Known for
AwardsElliott Cresson Medal (1913)

At the time of his death, Steinmetz held over 200 patents.[3] A genius in both mathematics and electronics, he did work that earned him the nicknames "Forger of Thunderbolts"[4] and "The Wizard of Schenectady".[5] Steinmetz's equation, Steinmetz solids, Steinmetz curves, and Steinmetz equivalent circuit theory are all named after him, as are numerous honors and scholarships, including the IEEE Charles Proteus Steinmetz Award, one of the highest technical recognitions given by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers professional society.

Early life and educationEdit

Steinmetz maintained a small cabin overlooking the Mohawk River near Schenectady, New York.

Steinmetz was born Karl August Rudolph Steinmetz on April 9, 1865 in Breslau, Province of Silesia, Prussia (now Wrocław, Poland) the son of Caroline (Neubert) and Karl Heinrich Steinmetz.[6][7] He was baptized a Lutheran into the Evangelical Church of Prussia.[8][9] Steinmetz, who stood only four feet tall as an adult,[5] suffered from dwarfism,[7] hunchback,[7] and hip dysplasia, as did his father and grandfather. Steinmetz attended Johannes Gymnasium and astonished his teachers with his proficiency in mathematics and physics.

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.

Socialism and technocracyEdit

As socialist meetings and press had been banned in Germany, Steinmetz fled to Zürich in 1888 to escape possible arrest. Cornell University Professor Ronald R. Kline, author of Steinmetz: Engineer and Socialist,[10] contended that other factors were more directly involved in Steinmetz's decision to leave his homeland such as being in arrears with his tuition at the University and life at home with his father, stepmother and their daughters being tension-filled.[citation needed]

Faced with an expiring visa, he emigrated to the United States in 1889. He changed his first name to "Charles" in order to sound more American, and chose the middle name "Proteus", a wise hunchbacked character from the Odyssey who knew many secrets, after a childhood epithet given by classmates Steinmetz felt suited him.[11]

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".[12]

A member of the original Technical Alliance, which also included Thorstein Veblen and Leland Olds, Steinmetz had great faith in the ability of machines to eliminate human toil and create abundance for all. He put it this way: "Some day we make the good things of life for everybody".[13]

Engineering wizardEdit

Steinmetz circa 1915

Steinmetz is known for his contribution in three major fields of alternating current (AC) systems theory: hysteresis, steady-state analysis, and transients.[14]

AC hysteresis theoryEdit

Shortly after arriving in the United States, Steinmetz went to work for Rudolf Eickemeyer in Yonkers, New York, and published in the field of magnetic hysteresis, earning worldwide professional recognition.[15] 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 its patents and designs, was bought by the newly formed General Electric Company, where Steinmetz quickly became known as the engineering wizard in GE's engineering community.[15]

AC steady state circuit theoryEdit

Steinmetz's work revolutionized AC circuit theory and analysis, which had been carried out using complicated, time-consuming calculus-based methods. In the groundbreaking paper, "Complex Quantities and Their Use in Electrical Engineering", presented at a July 1893 meeting published in the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE), Steinmetz simplified these complicated methods to "a simple problem of algebra". He systematized the use of complex number phasor representation in electrical engineering education texts, whereby the lower-case letter "j" is used to designate the 90-degree rotation operator in AC system analysis.[2][16] His seminal books and many other AIEE papers "taught a whole generation of engineers how to deal with AC phenomena".[2][17]

AC transient theoryEdit

Steinmetz also greatly advanced the understanding of lightning. His systematic experiments resulted in the first laboratory created "man-made lightning", earning him the nickname the "Forger of Thunderbolts".[4] These were conducted in a football field-sized laboratory at General Electric, using 120,000 volt generators. He also erected a lightning tower to attract natural lightning to study its patterns and effects, which resulted in several theories.[18]

Professional lifeEdit

Steinmetz acted in the following professional capacities:

He was granted an honorary degree from Harvard University in 1901[19] and a doctorate from Union College in 1903.[19]

Steinmetz wrote 13 books and 60 articles, not exclusively about engineering.[further explanation needed] He was a member and adviser to the fraternity Phi Gamma Delta at Union College, whose chapter house was one of the first electrified residences.[21]

While serving as president of the Schenectady Board of Education, Steinmetz introduced numerous progressive reforms, including extended school hours, school meals, school nurses, special classes for the children of immigrants, and the distribution of free textbooks.[11]

Personal lifeEdit

In spite of his love for children and family life, Steinmetz remained unmarried, to prevent the spinal deformity afflicting himself, his father, and grandfather from being passed to any offspring.[11]

When Joseph LeRoy Hayden, a loyal and hardworking lab assistant, announced that he would marry and look for his own living quarters, Steinmetz made the unusual proposal of opening his large home, complete with research lab, greenhouse, and office to the Haydens and their prospective family. Hayden favored the idea, but his future wife was wary of the unorthodox arrangement. She agreed after Steinmetz's assurance that she could run the house as she saw fit.[11]

After an uneasy start, the arrangement worked well for all parties, especially after three Hayden children were born. Steinmetz legally adopted Joseph Hayden as his son, becoming grandfather to the youngsters, entertaining them with fantastic stories and spectacular scientific demonstrations. The unusual, harmonious living arrangement lasted for the rest of Steinmetz's life.[11]

Steinmetz founded America's first glider club, but none of its prototypes "could be dignified with the term 'flight'".[22][23][b]

Steinmetz was a lifelong agnostic.[24][c] He died on October 26, 1923, and was buried in Vale Cemetery in Schenectady.


Group being given a tour of the Marconi Wireless Station in Somerset, New Jersey in 1921, Steinmetz (center), Albert Einstein (to his right)

The "Forger of Thunderbolts"[4] and "Wizard of Schenectady"[5] earned wide recognition among the scientific community and numerous awards and honors both during his life and posthumously.

"Steinmetz's equation", derived from his experiments, defines the approximate heat energy due to magnetic hysteresis released, per cycle per unit volume of magnetic material.[d][25] A Steinmetz solid is the solid body generated by the intersection of two or three cylinders of equal radius at right angles. Steinmetz equivalent circuit theory is still widely used for the design and testing of induction motors.[26][27]

One of the highest technical recognitions given by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the IEEE Charles Proteus Steinmetz Award, is given for major contributions to standardization within the field of electrical and electronics engineering. Other awards include the Certificate of Merit of Franklin Institute, 1908; the Elliott Cresson Medal, 1913; and the Cedergren Medal, 1914.[28]

The Charles P. Steinmetz Memorial Lecture series was begun in his honor in 1925,[29] sponsored by the Schenectady branch of the IEEE.[30] Through 2017 seventy-three gatherings have taken place, held almost exclusively at Union College, featuring notable figures such as Nobel laureate experimental physicist Robert A. Millikan, helicopter inventor Igor Sikorsky, nuclear submarine pioneer Admiral Hyman G. Rickover (1963), Nobel-winning semiconductor inventor William Shockley, and Internet 'founding father' Leonard Kleinrock.[31] The Charles P. Steinmetz Scholarship is awarded annually by the college,[32] underwritten since its inception in 1923 by the General Electric Company.[30]

The Charles P. Steinmetz Memorial Scholarship was established at Union by Marjorie Hayden, daughter of Joseph and Corrine Hayden, and is awarded to students majoring in engineering or physics.[33]

Steinmetz's connection to Union is further celebrated with the annual Steinmetz Symposium,[34] 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 television anthology series, The Joseph Cotten Show. The episode focused on his socialist activities in Germany.[35]

A Chicago public high school, Steinmetz College Prep, is named for him.[36]

A public park in north Schenectady, New York was named for him in 1931.[37]

In popular cultureEdit

Steinmetz is featured in John Dos Passos' U.S.A. trilogy in one of the biographies.[38] He also serves as a major character in Starling Lawrence's The Lightning Keeper.[39]

Steinmetz is a major character in the novel Electric City by Elizabeth Rosner.

Moe refers to Curly as a "Steinmetz" in the 1944 Three Stooges short Busy Buddies.[40]

A famous anecdote about Steinmetz concerns a troubleshooting consultation at Henry Ford's River Rouge Plant. A humorous aspect of the story is the "itemized bill" he submitted for the work performed.[11]



At the time of his death, Steinmetz held over 200 patents:[3]


See alsoEdit

Explanatory notesEdit

  1. ^ Quoting from Alger, "Steinmetz was truly the patron saint of the GE motor business."[2]
  2. ^ He founded the Mohawk Aerial Navigation Company, Ltd.[22] Steinmetz also partnered with others to establish the Mohawk River Aerial Navigation, Transportation, and Exploration Company, Unlimited.[23]
  3. ^ Quoting from Hammond, "This has placed him before the public as an atheist.* The title he did not deny. The writer put him down as a confirmed agnostic, for an atheist is a person who knows there is no God, and Steinmetz was not of that..."[24]
  4. ^  , where η is hysteresis coefficient, βmax is maximum flux density and k is an empirical exponent.


  1. ^ Charles Proteus Steinmetz. Invent Now, Inc. Hall of Fame profile. Invent Now, Inc. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved May 25, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Alger & Arnold 1976, pp. 1380–1383
  3. ^ a b "C. P. Steinmetz". Becklaser.
  4. ^ a b c Steinmetz, Forger of Thunderbolts; Charles Proteus Steinmetz: A Biography by John Winthrop Hammond
  5. ^ a b c King, Gilbert. "Charles Proteus Steinmetz, the Wizard of Schenectady".
  6. ^ Clemens, Nora; Greenberger, Robert (August 15, 2011). Discovering the Nature of Energy (1st ed.). New York: Rosen Publishing Group. p. 78. ISBN 978-1448847020.
  7. ^ a b c Kline 2014.
  8. ^ Garlin 1977
  9. ^ Credo: Unitarians and Universalists of Yesteryear Talk about Their Lives and Motivations. Eric Cherry. September 25, 2018. ISBN 9780970549907 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ Ronald R. Klein, Steinmetz: Engineer and Socialist (Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology), 1992 ISBN 978-0801842986,
  11. ^ a b c d e f King, Gilbert. "Charles Proteus Steinmetz, the Wizard of Schenectady". Smithsonian. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  12. ^ "Charles Steinmetz: Union's Electrical Wizard". Union College Magazine. November 1, 1998. Archived from the original on August 5, 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2009.
  13. ^ – Charles Proteus Steinmetz. Retrieved November 2, 2014.
  14. ^ See also IEC Electropedia's: hysteresis, steady state of a system, complex number and transient behaviour.
  15. ^ a b "The Magnetic Force of Charles Proteus Steinmetz". IEEE Power Engineering Review. 16 (9): 7. February 1996. doi:10.1109/MPER.1996.535476. S2CID 44921529.
  16. ^ Bedell, Frederick (1942). "History of A-C Wave Form, Its Determination and Standardization". Transactions of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. 61 (12): 865. doi:10.1109/T-AIEE.1942.5058456. S2CID 51658522.
  17. ^ "Steinmetz, Putting it in Perspective - R, L, and C Elements and the Impedance Concept" (PDF). Zabreb School of Engineering. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 5, 2014. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
  18. ^ "Charles Proteus Steinmetz (1865-1923)". Open Tesla Research. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  19. ^ a b c d e f website, "Charles Steinmetz"
  20. ^ "Charles Proteus Steinmetz". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  21. ^ "Union Magazine Winter 2019". Issuu. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  22. ^ a b Crouch, Tom D. (February 7, 2002). A Dream of Wings: Americans and the Airplane, 1875–1905, pp. 171–172.
  23. ^ a b Froehlich, Fritz; Kent, Allen (editors, 1990). 'The Froehlich/Kent Encyclopedia of Telecommunications: Volume 15, p. 467
  24. ^ a b Hammond 1924, p. 447
  25. ^ Knowlton 1949, pp. 49 (§2.67), 323 (§4.280)
  26. ^ Knowlton 1949, p. 711 (§7.207)
  27. ^ Steinmetz & Berg 1897
  28. ^ Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Pioneer of Alternating Current
  29. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 15, 2018. Retrieved July 22, 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  30. ^ a b "IEEE Schenectady Section History – Engineering and Technology History Wiki".
  31. ^ "Dr. Charles Proteus Steinmetz memorial lecture series".
  32. ^ "Charles P. Steinmetz Scholarship (Union College-NY) – Scholarship Library". Archived from the original on July 23, 2018. Retrieved July 22, 2018.
  33. ^ "Union College, Endowed Scholarships" (PDF).
  34. ^ "Steinmetz Symposium: Celebrating 25 years of student research". Union College. May 9, 2015.
  35. ^ On Trial (The Joseph Cotten Show) at IMDb
  36. ^ "Who was Charles Steinmetz?". Steinmetz College Prep. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  37. ^ Steinmetz Park Association (2006). "Steinmetz Park Master Plan" (PDF). Schenectady, N.Y. p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 20, 2011. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  38. ^ The 42nd Parallel, p. 335.
  39. ^ Smith, Dinitia (May 13, 2006). "Starling Lawrence Writes a Novel About the Early Days of G.E". The New York Times.
  40. ^ "Charles Proteus Steinmetz". Retrieved July 26, 2019.

General sourcesEdit

  • Alger, P.L.; Arnold, R.E. (1976). "The History of Induction Motors in America". Proceedings of the IEEE. 64 (9): 1380–1383. doi:10.1109/PROC.1976.10329. S2CID 42191157.
  • Broderick, John Thomas (1924). Steinmetz and His Discoveries. Robson & Adee.
  • Caldecott, Ernest; Alger, Philip Langdon (1965). Steinmetz the Philosopher. Schenectady, NY: Mohawk Development Service.
  • Garlin, Sender (1977). "Charles Steinmetz: Scientist and Socialist (1865–1923): Including the Complete Steinmetz-Lenin Correspondence". Three Radicals. New York: American Institute for Marxist Studies.
  • Gilbert, James B. (Winter 1974). "Collectivism and Charles Steinmetz". Business History Review. 48 (4): 520–540. doi:10.2307/3113539. JSTOR 3113539.
  • Goodrich, Arthur (June 1904). "Charles P. Steinmetz, Electrician". The World's Work. issue 8. pp. 4867–4869.
  • Hart, Larry (1978). Steinmetz in Schenectady: A Picture History of Three Memorable Decades. Old Dorp Books.
  • Hammond, John Winthrop (1924). Charles Proteus Steinmetz: A Biography. New York: The Century & Co.
  • "Charles Proteus Steinmetz". IEEE Engineering Management Review. IEEE. 44 (2): 7–9. 2016. doi:10.1109/EMR.2016.2568678.
  • Kline, Ronald R. (1992). Steinmetz: Engineer and Socialist. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Kline, Ronald (2014). "Steinmetz, Charles". In Slotten, Hugh Richard (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the History of American Science, Medicine, and Technology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199766666.
  • Knowlton, A. E. (1949). Standard Electrical of Electrical Engineers. McGraw-Hill. p. 49 (§2.67), 323 (§4.280).
  • Lavine, Sigmund A. (1955). Steinmetz, Maker of Lightning. Dodd, Mead & Co.
  • Leonard, Jonathan Norton (1929). Loki: The Life of Charles Proteus Steinmetz. New York: Doubleday.
  • Miller, Floyd (1962). The Electrical Genius of Liberty Hall: Charles Proteus Steinmetz. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Miller, John Anderson; Steinmetz, Charles Proteus (1958). Modern Jupiter: The Story of Charles Proteus Steinmetz. American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
  • Remscheid, Emil J.; Charves, Virginia Remscheid (1977). Recollections of Steinmetz: A Visit to the Workshops of Dr. Charles Proteus Steinmetz. General Electric Company, Research and Development.
  • Whitehead, John B., Jr. (1901). "Book Review: Alternating Current Phenomena" (PDF). Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society. 7 (9): 399–408. doi:10.1090/S0002-9904-1901-00825-7.

External linksEdit