Charles Proteus Steinmetz


Charles Proteus Steinmetz (April 9, 1865October 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 better design electric motors for use in industry.


Steinmetz was born as Carl August Rudolph Steinmetz to Carl Heinrich Steinmetz in Breslau, Prussian Silesia, on April 9, 1865. 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. He 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.

Steinmetz drew the attention of the authorities due to his activity in a socialist university group and articles he had written for a local socialist newspaper (socialist meetings and press were outlawed by Otto von Bismarck). He fled to Zürich in 1888 to escape possible arrest and when the time remaining on his permit dwindled, emigrated to the United States. in 1889. Shortly after arriving, he 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. That same year he made one of his greatest contributions to the Electrical Engineering community, a lecture and presentation describing the mathematics of alternating current phenomena which had not previously been explained by earlier engineers. This enabled engineers to move from designing electric motors by trial and error to designing them with the aid of applicable mathematics to create on paper the best possible motor before actually constructing it. In 1894, General Electric moved to Schenectady, New York, and Steinmetz was promoted to head of the calculating department, where his colleagues would bring to him the mathematical problems that were stumbling blocks to their projects. When not freely helping his co-workers, he worked on his own experiments in electrical engineering. 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 also 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 also president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) from 1901 to 1902 and a part-time professor at Union College from 1902 to 1923, while still employed by General Electric Company. Steinmetz had written 13 books and 60 articles. Not all about science. Steinmetz was an honorary member and advisor to the fraternity Phi Gamma Delta at Union (one of the first electrified houses ever was the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity house). He was also a member of the Technical Alliance and contributed to their research on the Energy Survey of North America.

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


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

  • Steinmetz, , "System of distribution by alternating current." January 29, 1895.
  • Steinmetz, , "Inductor dynamo."
  • Steinmetz, , "Three phase induction meter."
  • Steinmetz, , "Inductor dynamo."
  • Steinmetz, , "Induction motor."
  • Steinmetz, , "System of electrical distribution."
  • Steinmetz, , "Induction motor."
  • Steinmetz, , "Means for producing light." May 7, 1912.
  • Steinmetz, , "Induction furnace."
  • Steinmetz, , "Protective device."
  • Steinmetz, , "Inductor dynamo."



  • 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.

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 Steinmetz, maker of lightning;. Dodd, Mead. , Sigmund Lavine, Dodd & Mead, 1955.
  • Modern Jupiter, John Anderson Miller, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1958.
  • Floyd Miller 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.


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

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