Charles Proteus Steinmetz (1865-1923)

Charles Proteus Steinmetz developed theories on alternating current.

Charles Proteus Steinmetz,Charles Proteus Steinmetz,alternating current,
Charles Proteus Steinmetz. LOC
"No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions" - Charles Proteus Steinmetz

Charles Proteus Steinmetz was a giant of a pioneer in the field of electrical engineering, who invented a commercially successful alternating current motor. Only four feet tall in real life, his middle name was Proteus, named after the Greek God Proteus who could take on any shape or size. His name is even more significant considering Steinmetz choose to change his name after emigrating to the United States, his birth name was Karl August Rudolf Steinmetz.


Charles Steinmetz was born in Breslau, Prussia on April 9, 1865. He conducted his studies at the University of Breslau in mathematics and electrical engineering. In 1888, shortly after receiving his Ph.D, Steinmetz was forced to flee Germany after writing an article for the University's socialist newspaper critical of the German government. Steinmetz was an active socialist at University and held strong anti-racist beliefs, many of his classmates that shared his beliefs were arrested and suffered imprisonment.

Almost Turned Away

Charles Steinmetz immigrated to the United States in 1889, However, Steinmetz was almost turned away at Ellis Island because he was a dwarf and the immigration officers considered Steinmetz medically unfit. Luckily, a traveling companion vouched that Steinmetz was a rich mathematical genius.

Law of Hysteresis

After arriving in United States, Steinmetz was hired by a small electrical firm owned by Rudolf Eickemeyer in Yonkers, N.Y.
Eickemeyer saw the brilliance in Steinmetz and tutored him in the practical applications of electrical engineering. Eickemeyer provided Steinmetz with a research laboratory and that was where Steinmetz came up with the law of hysteresis also known as Steinmetz's Law.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "the law of hysteresis deals with the power loss that occurs in all electrical devices when magnetic action is converted to unusable heat.

Until that time the power losses in motors, generators, transformers, and other electrically powered machines could be known only after they were built. Once Steinmetz had found the law governing hysteresis loss, engineers could calculate and minimize losses of electric power due to magnetism in their designs before starting the construction of such machines."

In 1892, Steinmetz presented a paper on the law of hysteresis to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. The paper was well received and at the age of twenty-seven, Charles Steinmetz had become a recognized expert in the field of electrical engineering.

Patenting An Alternating Current Generator

After studying alternating current for a number of years, Charles Steinmetz patented a "system of distribution by alternating current" (A/C power), on January 29, 1895. This was the world's first three phase alternating current generator, a significant invention that helped move forward the electrical power industry in the United States.

Pay the Bill

Steinmetz spent most of his later career working for the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York. In 1902, Steinmetz retired to take a teaching position at Schenectady's Union College. General Electric later called on Steinmetz to return as a consultant by Henry Ford, after a very complex system broke and the General Electric technicians failed to fix it. Steinmetz agreed to return for the consulting work. He examined the broken system, found the malfunctioning part, and marked it with a piece of chalk. Charles Steinmetz submitted a bill to General Electric for $10,000 dollars. Henry Ford was miffed at the bill and asked for an itemized invoice.

Steinmetz sent back the following invoice:

  1. Making chalk mark $1
  2. Knowing where to place it $9,999
Charles Steinmetz died on October 26, 1923 and at the time of his death, held over 200 patents.

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Bellis, Mary. "Charles Proteus Steinmetz (1865-1923)." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, Bellis, Mary. (2017, March 3). Charles Proteus Steinmetz (1865-1923). Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Charles Proteus Steinmetz (1865-1923)." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 23, 2018).