Thomson, Elihu

Thomson, Elihu

(1853–1937) electrical engineer, inventor; born in Manchester, England. He emigrated to America with his family at age 5 and attended Philadelphia schools. With the support of Edwin J. Houston (1847–1914), a teacher at a Philadelphia high school where Thomson also taught (1870–76), Thomson began experimenting with electricity. Thomson and Houston together invented an arc street-lighting system (patented 1881) and established a company to manufacture this and other innovations. Thomson stayed on as a consultant when in 1892 the firm merged with the Edison General Electric Co. to become General Electric Co. He became a lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1894 and was acting president at MIT from 1920–22. In a long and industrious life he patented some 700 inventions and designs. He was the inventor of electric welding and a centrifugal cream separator, among many other devices, and he helped to develop stereoscopic x-ray pictures.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.