Over the years the Edison Tech Center has made many videos which mentioned Charles P. Steinmetz. Many of you have only recently heard about this dwarf pioneer who revolutionized our world with his work on AC power. Not only Steinmetz’s direct work advanced technology, but his mathematics work which is still used today. Here are a list of the online videos we have published on Charles P. Steinmetz:
Steinmetz’s life before he joined General Electric and his career launch:
Steinmetz is hired in the US for the first time and founds the General Electric Research Lab with E.W. Rice Jr.:
Steinmetz’s pastimes: his 1914 Detroit Electric Car and his Canoe at the Edison Tech Center.
General video of photos and film of pioneers including Steinmetz:
The Metal Halide Lamp, found in almost every town and city in the world, developed by C.P. Steinmetz in 1912:
Old film Steinmetz: the Man Who Made Lightning (From the Schenectady Museum Archives)
Thanks for watching! Subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep in touch with our stream of videos.
It was 9 years ago when the Edison Tech Center launched the Wizards of Schenectady Series. The series was the brainchild of renown local television personality Ernie Tetrault and others at the Edison. The idea was to launch a full-scale biographic documentary on each of the amazing inventors and leaders at General Electric. There were so many incredible untold stories that it made total sense to package this history into a format that everyone is familiar with. The name “Wizards” came from the historic description of Charles Proteus Steinmetz which was described as the “Wizard of Schenectady” by national newspapers.
As the producer of the series one of the things I find most fascinating about the biographies was how each one touched on key events in US history. From the formation of RCA to the Cold War each person we covered played a role. The series is great in that it shows how great technical advances in US history were made thanks to people, people with families, hobbies and real lives that you can connect with. While the national media loves to grasp onto larger-than-life personas like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, the reality was that innovations mostly happened from those where not flamboyant and self-promoting. The Wizards of Schenectady Series is about ordinary people in special circumstances, and thanks to educational institutions and companies with strong infrastructure they were empowered to create, and given all the tools and people they needed to make it happen.
The first in the series we worked on in 2007 was C. Guy Suits and his Flying Machine. The story is more about his engineering and leadership skills than a ‘flying machine’, but his float plane hobby is certainly covered in the show. Ernie Tetrault and Jack Aernecke lent their skills in television production while local people who worked with Suits told the story. Suits ran the GE Research Lab during the exciting post war period as innovations of the modern world changed our lives. Suits, like many engineers had a knack for not just physics, but physical crafts like wood working, oriental rug repair, boomerang construction and the outdoors. Suits was respected by the legendary engineers working under him as a leader. His leadership and management experience during a transition period helped found the GE Global Research Center as we know it today. The Wizards of Schenectady: C. Guy Suits and his Flying Machine was shown at the Electric City Film Fest where it won first place in the documentary category.
The second piece in our series highlighted another engineer from a very different time in history. Carl H. Rosner’s story is one that includes two parts, the first being his survival of the Holocaust, and the second part being of his work at General Electric and founding Intermagnetics General Corporation. Rosner’s story is one which is inspiring for engineers as it shows how persistence and innovation lead to life-saving technology. Rosner and his various teams over the years specialized in superconducting technology which is a really fascinating area! The Edison Tech Center’s production Wizards of Schenectady: Carl H. Rosner Pioneer in Superconductors has been shown many times to future generations of children thanks to the talks organized by Mr. Rosner himself and the Holocaust Survivors and Friends Education Center.
This documentary has been shown at the Electric City Film Festival and the Ballston Spa Film Festival. Parts of this documentary have been published and viewed by hundreds of thousands.
The story of Harold Chestnut is one that touches on everything from early mechanical computers to broad political policy. We find the subject of systems engineering to be amazing as this area which “Hal” Chestnut contributed to is applicable in everything in our lives. As a control and systems engineer Mr Chestnut advanced many technologies from jet engines to the NASA moon efforts in the 60s. He was not just a great engineer but a natural leader. Chestnut helped with organization of the IEEE, IFAC and other groups. For this video we interviewed the world’s leading control engineers for their commentary on the life and times of Mr. Chestnut. From Seoul to Moscow to Schenectady we investigated the impact Hal Chestnut had on engineering. The Wizards of Schenectady: Harold Chestnut Pioneer in Automation has been shown to engineers around the globe and a rare biography for someone working his field.
Wizards of Schenectady: The Rice Legacy covers three major figures in recent technological history. The documentary starts off with E.W. Rice Jr. who was not only a contributor to early electric power history, but an important leader in General Electric at a critical time. E.W. Rice’s life is interlinked with many important people his age including Elihu Thomson, Thomas Edison and C.P. Steinmetz. What’s great about this episode is that you learn a lot about the early history of electricity. Expert Wise helps tell the story of Rice and the times. Chester W. Rice was an innovator who worked at the GE Research Lab along side other legends like Langmuir and Steinmetz. C.W. Rice is known for contributions in the areas of acoustics and mechanical engineering. Martin Rice was a figure on the publicity side of the industry, working for GE’s broadcast arm of the business. The Rice documentary took a few years to research and produce and paints a unique picture of the fascinating era of the early 20th century.
One engineer and innovator who stuck out above the rest is Nancy D. Fitzroy. We decided to cover her life in the Wizard’s series in 2009 after an interview conducted by Ernie Tetrault. Nancy is a mechanical engineer specializing in heat transfer. Her specialty was fun because it was applied to many diverse types of projects including the heat tiles on the space shuttle and the first nuclear submarines. Nancy was the first woman president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and has been a role model to other women. This documentary features commentary from well-known engineers and physicists.
One great documentary which is not part of the Wizard’s series but predated the series is Langmuir’s World. This show does a great job of condensing the life of legendary engineer and physicist Irving Langmuir. Irving Langmuir was a driving force in the GE Research Lab and an important part of the world’s physics community. This story covers the many contributions of Langmuir including the invention of a much more efficient light bulb, and it covers his personal life and hobbies.
Excerpts from the Wizards of Schenectady Series have been published online and reached over a million viewers. The full episodes are available from the Edison Tech Center on DVD. Contact us and make a tax deductible payment of $30 to our Paypal account and we will send you an episode of your choosing. Proceeds go to support historical preservation of artifacts and production of educational media which reaches many young people each day.
When we started our AC Power History pages a few years ago there was one figure who seems to be the “inventor” of AC power but little information was available about him.
Hippolyte Pixii was the first of the founding fathers of the electrical age (this includes Faraday, Henry, Volta, Davenport and Ampere) to focus on alternating current. Sure, others also “discovered it” but they viewed it as an annoyance because their focus was on direct current. Pixii built a commutator and was able to produce DC current.
For the next 40 years this pioneer’s work was largely out of focus. It was in the 1870s that interest in AC power came alive again in Europe. The Ganz Company in Budapest began to use AC power and develop crude systems of delivery. This work caught the attention of Elihu Thomson in the US and Walter Baily in London.
By 1882 there were scattered groups of talented engineers working on AC power including Ferranti, Lord Kelvin and others. Contrary to popular myth, Nikola Tesla had nothing to do with AC power development this early, his main contributions came in later in the 1880s while there was already many others racing forward to develop systems.
In the last couple years we’ve seen more pages, videos and information come out of the dusty archives on Pixii which is great. Below we’ve posted some of our pictures of Pixii’s machine. We urge you to check out the electrical history section of the Smithsonian Museum of American History which has lots of cool old replicas and artifacts from 1800s. You can see a replica of Pixii’s machine there. I have also seen some replicas of Pixii’s work at the Deutches Museum in Munich.
Having recently seen the film “Bridge of Spies” by Steven Spielberg was a reminder of one of our recent documentaries on the great story of Harold (Hal) Chestnut and the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC).
It was only 4 years before Gary Powers plane was shot down that IFAC formed out of an effort to connect engineers on both sides of the iron curtain. It was amazing enough to imagine that political forces would allow any form of communication between people working on war technology, and yet even more amazing when they allowed the first IFAC congress to continue to meet just shortly after the Powers incident.
From from an insulated modern-day perspective, the first congress in Moscow doesn’t seem too unlikely, however when you watch the first half of “Bridge of Spies” you will get a better idea of the level of suspicion and espionage going on in both countries during the same period. In the Chestnut documentary when Bernard Widrow describes the extraordinary and “film-like” moment of accidentally seeing what is perhaps rows of bugging equipment in the tallest hotel in Europe (Hotel Ukraina) it seems unlikely. This description suddenly seems very likely and even almost certain once you begin to examine the life and times.
The Spielberg film is centered on the human story of Powers and Rudolf Abel (Вильям Генрихович Фишер) as well as political stresses of the time. The film does a wonderful job of illustrating the period technology and cityscapes of New York and Berlin. Tom Hanks is cast in a position he is well suited for as an insurance agent. His simple yet smart character makes the film approachable to that average US viewer in a way that “Spy Game” (2001) failed to do. I was impressed at Mark Rylance’s performance which may not have a lot of dialogue, but his command of nonverbal communication patterns of Eastern Europeans was accurate.
If you haven’t already seen the Harold Chestnut film I recommend it as it tells the incredible true story of high level engineers working on various projects during a special time in history. If you like systems or control engineering I’d say the doc is a must as it talks about the origins and influence of systems theory on society. Today systems theory is practiced heavily in software engineering and is used by the architects of management systems that almost every engineer works within. Even artists and Hollywood processes for creating large films depend on principles of systems theory laid out by Harold Chestnut. Because the Chestnut documentary must move quickly to cover many decades of his life in just one hour, is a good idea to see “Bridge of Spies” beforehand in order to get a better understanding of context.
The International Federation of Automatic Control helps foster international cooperation, exchange of good ideas and friendships. It provides a nucleus that unifies a specialized but extremely important sub-community of the engineering world. They hold classes and conferences in cities around the globe and if you work in control and would like to know more you can visit their website here.
The Edison Tech Center has outtakes from the Chestnut documentary on its YouTube channel including American Bernard Widrow talking about the invention of RAM and modern Russian pioneers Polyak and Rutkovsky talking about Soyuz, Tspkin and other topics.
IFAC has published both full length episodes of the Harold Chestnut documentary on YouTube:
According to some of us Charles Proteus Steinmetz is arguably the greatest unsung hero of the electrical age. Steinmetz represents the major step from trial-and-error methods of electrical invention to the modern age of engineers where math and science are necessary for innovation.
During the 1890s and 1910s Steinmetz was respected as one of the greatest inventors of the age. He attended important scientific conferences and his inventions and opinions guided the largest of companies. Embarrassingly for Westinghouse, Steinmetz was the only one who could solve problems Ben Lamme and Tesla couldn’t figure out at Niagara Falls. Steinmetz’s mathematics drive the very heart of AC power systems design even today. So why have most people never heard of this distinct and spunky cigar-smoking dwarf?
We were pleased to hear of the new documentary by WMHT (PBS) on Steinmetz. The path to proper publicity starts with a solid documentary and hopefully we’ll see more about him soon.
Here at the Edison Tech Center we have published several basic videos on Steinmetz and included him as part of other biographic documentaries such as Harold Chestnut, Pioneer of Automation. Our webpage on Steinmetz is one of the top when you search for him, and figures indicate thousands of people have used it to learn about his odd fellow.
The fact is we have a lot more to tell about Steinmetz that we have not published yet, so you can expect more to come from our side in the future. For now you can enjoy these free online videos from the “Divine Discontent” documentary:
Mountain Lake PBS 28 minute extension:
And here is the full 1 hour documentary on WMHT’s site: