Steinmetz, Charles Proteus

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Steinmetz, Charles Proteus

(stīn`mĕts), 1865–1923, American electrical engineer, b. Breslau, Germany, studied at the Univ. of Breslau. Forced to flee Germany because of his socialist activities, he came to the United States in 1889. Rudolf Eickemeyer, who had just begun to build electrical apparatus in his factory in Yonkers, N.Y., gave him his start in electrical engineering research. When the General Electric Company bought out Eickemeyer in 1892, Steinmetz joined the new owners. He discovered the law of hysteresis, which made it possible to reduce the loss of efficiency in electrical apparatus resulting from alternating magnetism; developed a practical method of making calculations of alternating current, thus revolutionizing electrical engineering; and did valuable research on transient electrical phenomena (lightning). He built a generator that produced artificial lightning. Professor (1902–23) at Union College, Schenectady, N.Y., Steinmetz wrote many scientific papers and a number of standard texts. He remained a socialist and was president of the Schenectady board of education (1912–23) and of the common council (1916–23).


See biographies by J. W. Hammond (1924) and J. N. Leonard (1929).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Steinmetz, Charles Proteus


(Karl August Rudolf Steinmetz). Born Apr. 9, 1865, in Breslau (now Wroclaw), Poland; died Oct. 26, 1923, in Schenectady, N.Y. American electrical engineer; consulting engineer with the General Electric Company.

Steinmetz studied at the University of Breslau and graduated from the Polytechnic Institute in Zürich. He had fled to Zürich to escape the persecution of the authorities for his participation in the labor movement. In 1889 he emigrated to the USA and settled in Yonkers, N.Y., where he went to work at a small electrical shop. In 1893 he joined the General Electric Company, where he held responsible positions under the title of consulting engineer.

Steinmetz’ main work dealt with the processes in electric machines and devices. He proposed an empirical formula for determining hysteresis loss (1890–92) and, in 1897, developed a symbolic method for calculating alternating current phenomena. He studied aspects of the design and analysis of illumination devices and large electric machines produced at General Electric plants.

Steinmetz was a socialist by conviction. In 1922 he addressed a letter to V. I. Lenin, in which he welcomed the social transformations in Russia.


Theory and Calculation of Alternating Current Phenomena, 5th ed. New York, 1916.
In Russian translation:
Teoreticheskie osnovaniia elektrotekhniki sil’nykh tokov. St. Petersburg, 1905.


Bel’kind, L. D. Charlz Proteus Shteinmets. Moscow, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Steinmetz, (b. Karl August Rudolf) Charles Proteus

(1865–1923) electrical engineer, inventor; born in Breslau, Germany. Deformed from birth, he devoted his energy to school and diverse intellectual interests. After graduating from Zurich Polytechnic, he emigrated to the U.S.A. in 1889. His first major accomplishment was the publication in 1892 of data showing how magnets lose power in the process of generating alternating current. In 1893 he introduced a new formula for calculating alternating current. In that year he started work at General Electric (GE), becoming chief consulting engineer in 1910. GE gave Steinmetz unrestricted latitude in his experiments and an open-ended salary. Steinmetz advanced research by substituting laboratory methods based on mathematical principles for the older practice of developing a theory and building a model to test it. For many years he studied transient electrical phenomena such as lightning, unexpected electrical discharges that can damage circuits, and he became widely known for his demonstrations of man-made lightning. His classes at Union College (Schenectady, N.Y.), many inventions, several books, and numerous honors made him one of the best-known scientists in America in his day.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.