History of Electric Induction Heating

Table of Contents

This Chapter

By James Farol Metcalf

Originally copied from the paperback "The Man Who Tamed Lightning".

It is out of print.

The Story of : The little man who lit up the world {1865-1923}


"It is amazing that 9 out of 10 Electrical Engineers have not heard of Steinmetz, unless they are from Union College or GE Research Labs.

In fact more physicists have heard of him than engineers.

It is sad that the history of the engineering profession is not being taught in schools."

*The Electrical Genius of Liberty Hall*

*The Man Who Tamed Lightning*

"The Modern Jove"

The life of Charles Proteus Steinmetz was a true Horatio Alger story. He was born a frail hunchback to parents in the most meager of circumstances. His mother died while he was still a child and he had to face life without the love and protection he so badly needed. Yet, against these odds, he became a great scientist, a benefactor of mankind, and he was revered and honored throughout the world.

Charles Proteus Steinmetz was born in Germany and came to the USA in 1889.

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

These words, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, greeted twenty-four-year-old Karl August Rudolf Steinmetz with particular aptness in the spring of 1889. Few men who sought a new start in the New World were as tempest-tossed as he.

True, Steinmetz had never looked worse than on that June day when the steerage passengers of the French ship La Champagne were finally herded ashore after two days' wait at anchor while the upper-class passengers were being processed. He had caught a bad cold during the trip over and his face was swollen badly to make him look even less presentable than usual. As he stepped before his interrogator he drew himself up in a pitiful attempt at dignity.

"Your name?" snapped the official.

"Karl August Rudolf Steinmetz."

The official made a laborious job of writing it down, thus emphasizing its foreignness. Finally he was ready to bark his second question: "Profession?"

"Mathematiker und Forscher."

The official frowned in annoyance. He understood German but he didn't approve of anyone's speaking it. "Do you have money?" he demanded.

Steinmetz stood silent. He guessed it was damning to be without funds, and his pockets were absolutely empty. He didn't wish to lie this first day of his new start, and his silence told the truth. The official made a note to the effect that he was without funds.

"You speak English?" was the next question.

"A few," came the hesitant answer.

"No English," the official commented, writing it on a form.

Then he demanded, "Do you have a job in America?"

Steinmetz didn't understand this question and the official angrily repeated it in German.

"Nein," Steinmetz finally replied.

The official walked over to his superior, pointed out the forlorn Steinmetz and said, "He can't speak English, he hasn't got any money, he hasn't got a job, he's sick, and he's a hunchback!"

The superior nodded. "He can't come in."

The official waved Steinmetz out of the line and pointed toward a door over which was a huge sign that bellowed, in a dozen languages, DETENTION PEN.

What the immigration officials did not know - nor would they have altered their ruling if they had - was that among all his other problems this young man was a political refugee. To return home to Germany meant his immediate arrest and imprisonment.

Steinmetz's involvement with Bismarck's police came about in this way:

He had been born in 1865 in a brick apartment house on the outskirts of Breslau, a neighborhood that was mostly middle class. Protestant in religion, conservative in politics. The developing political climate and the circumstances of Steinmetz's life combined to place him in eventual opposition to the arrogant and aristocratic "Iron Chancellor".

The day of his birth was an emotional one in the apartment. His father paced nervously in the living room while the mother was attended by a midwife. After some hours the child was born, wrapped in flannel, and carried into the living room. The father noted the child was lying in an awkward position and demanded, "Is . . . is he healthy?"

"Oh yes," the midwife assured him. "The left leg isn't quite straight and there is a small hump on the back, but he'll live all right."

The father closed his eyes in pain and turned to walk away. As he walked he dragged his left leg slightly and there was a hump on his back . . . just as there had been on his father's before him.

Within a very few years it became apparent that if nature had given this child an imperfect body, it had compensated by giving a mind that was more than first-rate. When he was eight and a half years old he entered a classical gymnasium (the equivalent of an American high school) and immersed himself in Latin and mathematics. In his second year he had studied logic and French; in his third Greek and philosophy, Polish and dialectics and Hebrew. He learned his Horace and Homer so thoroughly that for the rest of his life he could recite long passages from the ancient poets. He became a linguist, proficient in five languages but not, ironically, in the one he was so desperately to need on Ellis Island when he was twenty-four.

At seventeen years of age Steinmetz graduated from the gymnasium with such high marks that he was excused from the traditional ordeal of an oral examination. That fall he enrolled in the University of Breslau.

His choice of a university was what shaped his future career, for Breslau was one of the very few schools that bothered to include the study of electricity in its course of physics. No school in all of Germany had a course in electrical engineering, and few students even attended the electrical lectures in the Breslau physics course. Yet, that was the field to which Steinmetz gravitated with single-minded enthusiasm. He didn't then dream he could have a career in a science so insignificant; he only knew that it fascinated him beyond all power to turn aside to more popular studies.

Three years earlier Thomas A. Edison had brought out his incandescent electric lamp, and Nikola Tesla, twenty-six, was now beginning research that was to lead to a radical new motor and a system for transmitting electricity over great distances. The world was on the doorstep of the electrical age. Steinmetz appeared at the right moment in history.

German undergraduate life was gay and lusty. Great emphasis was placed upon physical prowess and there were clubs dedicated to mountain-climbing, swimming, rowing and, of course, dueling. A saber wound on a young man's face was a badge of honor proclaiming that his courage had been tested.

The deformed young man who hitched himself shyly about the campus the first days of the term was obviously not a candidate for any of these clubs, but he was determined not to be cheated out of all social life. He met all eyes with a tentative but ingratiating smile and after the first shock of his appearance had worn off, he received smiles in return. He even received an invitation to join a student club, the mathematical society.

The members of this society had a deep interest in mathematics; being young, they were also dedicated to beer-drinking and revelry. One night each week they met in the back room of a restaurant at eight o'clock and for two hours drank beer and held learned discussions about their academic specialty. At the end of two hours, songs replaced discussion. By midnight the society had dwindled considerably, and by two a.m. only a handful remained. This small group usually adjourned to one of the "Vienna cafes" to drink coffee until morning. Steinmetz was one of the few always to greet the dawn.

It was not only to win acceptance that Steinmetz stayed with the revelers; he enjoyed every minute of it. His ordered and intense mind needed relaxation in frivolity, and within his frail body there was a lustiness of spirit that won the respect of his fellows. Before the first college year was half over he knew he had carved himself a place in campus life. It may not have been a position of complete equality, but it certainly was one of special affection. He learned the terms of his acceptance during a ritual meeting called by his society for the purpose of giving each member a nickname.

It was the tradition that the senior members of the society give the first-year men a nickname by which they were to be called for the duration of college. Often the name stuck for a lifetime. Steinmetz set out for the meeting with some misgivings, for he had heard that frequently the names were not tender.

The first-year men were lined up before the society and one by one called forward to be named. Steinmetz was third in line and much too nervous to hear what the first two were named. When his turn came he stepped three paces forward, clicked his heels, and came to attention. His twisted little body made a parody of Prussian formality.

The chairman looked at him, smiled and raised his stein.

"Half a glass to Proteus," he intoned. "Proteus the versatile, the everchanging, who knows economics, classics, and mathematics, who can answer questions on every subject."

"To Proteus!" the assembly echoed and lifted their steins.

Steinmetz bowed and sat down, determined to keep all emotion from his face. Flattering words had accompanied the name, but he knew the Odyssey from beginning to end. According to Homer, Proteus was a prophetic old man of the sea who was full of wisdom and could discourse on all things past, present, and future. He lived in a cave on the island of Pharos, near the mouth of the Nile, and he could change himself into many shapes; now a lion, now a serpent, a leopard, a tree, even fire and water. But his human body, to which he always returned, was that of an old hunchback!

For better or worse, Steinmetz was to be called Proteus for the rest of his college years. Perhaps there was some cruelty in the nickname, but there was truth in it too. It was a truth he could not escape, a truth he carried on his back for all to see, a truth he had to live with, preferably with good grace.

For the rest of the evening young Proteus answered quickly and easily to his new name and told a great number of jokes.

In the 1880's Germany was making a rapid change from a feudally organized agricultural country to a modern industrial state, and the transition was accompanied by harsh political coercion. The "Iron Chancellor" Bismarck had little use for democracy and all opposition was met by columns of goose-stepping soldiers and prison sentences. The country seethed with resentment and revolt, much of it centering among the faculties and students of the universities. Steinmetz, preoccupied with mathematics, remained naively unaware of the ferment until his second year.

Introduction to the underground opposition came to him from a most unforeseen quarter. One of his close friends was a student named Henry Lux, nicknamed Hinz. Hinz was a member of the mathematical society and a part of the small group that visited the Vienna cafes after the meetings. He was the gayest of companions, singing in a fine baritone voice and having a great supply of quips and jokes. He was thought to be slightly superficial, perhaps, but a diverting companion and always welcome.

It was after one of the all-night rounds of the cafes that Steinmetz discovered how he had misjudged Hinz. They were walking slowly back to their rooming houses in the early dawn, walking slowly because Steinmetz could not walk fast, and Hinz was suddenly quiet and apparently deep in thought. Several times Steinmetz was aware of receiving a long and measuring look from his companion and at last the silence was broken.

"Karl," Hinz said, refraining from the Proteus nickname that had been used during the evening. "Have you given much thought to politics?"

"No," Steinmetz admitted, "I haven't."

Hinz slowed his step and glanced behind. The streets were empty in all directions, yet the young man went through the ritual of avoiding eavesdroppers. When he spoke again his voice was low, conspiratorial. "We have a Socialist club in town, a study group, and I think you would find it most interesting. Some remarkable people belong and I've been talking to them about you and everyone has agreed to invite you to our next meeting. You'll hear some challenging ideas, Karl."

Steinmetz was not only flattered at the thought of people discussing him, he was also eager for "challenging ideas." He accepted the invitation.

Two nights later he and Hinz set out for a middle-class residential section of town and again there was the ritual of avoiding non-existent eavesdroppers, spies, and agents provocateurs. It was quite melodramatic and by the time they arrived at their destination and Hinz rapped a special signal on the house door, Steinmetz's pulse was fast with excitement.

The door was opened first a crack, then wide. They stepped inside. Eight people, divided equally among college students and townspeople, were drinking tea in the small parlor and Steinmetz received a flatteringly warm reception. He knew the students by sight on campus. Despite their various and prosaic backgrounds, they were all welded together by an ideal that lifted them out of themselves, made them appear wiser than they were, braver than they were, stronger than they were.

Theirs was not the harsh, class-war dogma of Karl Marx, but the old-fashioned socialism that visualized a brave new world in which there would be no war, no poverty, no exploitation of man, no hate. That night Steinmetz became a Socialist. He was nineteen years old.

The university of Breslau required six years of study for a degree. For five and a half years Steinmetz did brilliant academic work and his professors prepared to graduate him with highest honors. Throughout this time he continued to work with the Socialists, speaking and studying - and for a time even editing their local newspaper, The People's Voice. Membership had grown slowly but enough so that the college students were able to form their own club, independent of the townspeople's association.

In Steinmetz's final year the club did something that revealed that, for all their secret passwords and secret knocks and whispered conversations, they were not really revolutionary Socialists at all, but college boys playing at it. Included in the club were two medical students who were leaving Breslau to complete their studies in a large hospital. A farewell meeting was to be held and it was decided to commemorate the occasion by having a group photograph taken. They made an appointment at the studio of a commercial photographer and upon arrival two members were carrying a large and very heavy package. They removed the wrappings to reveal a marble bust of Ferdinand Lassalle, the deceased founder of the German Socialist Party.

"He's a member of our club, isn't he?" demanded one of the students.

"Of course he is!" came a chorused reply.

"Then he should be in the picture, shouldn't he?"

Again there was enthusiastic agreement. There were nine members of the club and when they grouped for the picture, five sat in the front row on chairs, and four in the back with Lassalle's bust in the middle.

A print of the picture went to each club member and then the photographer asked to display it in his shop window. The club granted permission.

This bravado did not escape the vigilance of the Imperial Government. The police knew that Lassalle was the founder of the Socialist Party, and they naturally concluded that the young students grouped around the marble bust had embraced the outlawed doctrine. The photograph was confiscated and a relentless drive undertaken to identify and find grounds for the arrest of every man in the picture.

The young hunchback was perhaps the easiest of all to identify, and suddenly Steinmetz discovered he was being shadowed. The police questioned his friends and associates. They studied The People's Voice to clip and study the articles that came from his pen. Slowly and carefully they put together evidence that would imprison him. In February 1888 they had their case and were ready to move.

Just as they were on the point of arresting him, Steinmetz's friends learned of the plan and dashed to warn him. They told him that he had to leave the country, or most certainly face a long prison term if he stayed. He was on the threshold of completing a notable university career and about to receive the highest honors with his degree. To flee now was to surrender all he had worked so long and hard to achieve. It was a bitter choice, made no more palatable by the sudden knowledge that he didn't really want to be a politician at all. He was, in heart and mind, a scientist and he wished to be left in peace to study. But it was now too late to alter the course of events he had set in motion.

His mother was dead but his father still lived in the old apartment, quietly going about his work and bearing the pain of his own deformity in silence and dignity. Steinmetz went to him before dawn, sat on the edge of the bed and gently woke him.

"Father, I'm going out of town."

The little man sat up quickly, blinking the sleep from his eyes. "Is anything wrong, Karl?"

"No, nothing at all. I'm simply going to visit some college friends and I have to catch an early train."

"How long will you be gone?" The father was not entirely reassured.

"Only a few days. I'm sorry I woke you up but I didn't want you to worry."

"All right, Karl, I won't worry," the father promised. "But take care of yourself."

They embraced and then the young man quickly left. He walked quickly and jerkily to the railroad station and stepped aboard a train headed for the Austrian border.

He spent a miserable, poverty-stricken year in Zurich, Switzerland, eking out a living by tutoring the children of wealthy families and writing occasional scientific articles. He made friends with a Dane by the name of Oscar Asmussen, and when that young man decided to go to America in the spring of 1889 he had little difficulty convincing Steinmetz he should go along. Surely, Steinmetz thought, the New World would not be so harsh a place as the Old.

But he didn't reckon with the officialdom of Ellis Island.

The Immigration official pointed toward the detention pen and barked, "In there to await deportation as an undesirable alien."

Steinmetz didn't understand all the words, but the gesture was unmistakable and so was the significance of the room to which he was being sent. Deportation to Germany, to Bismarck's police, to prison, and all because nine high-spirited young men had posed for a photograph with a marble statue.

During this dialogue, Oscar Asmussen had been busy with another official some yards away. Now that he had been cleared for entry, he turned to look for his friend and found him shuffling dejectedly toward the Detention Pen.

"Karl . . . Karl, where are you going?" he cried.

"I am to be deported as an undesirable alien," Steinmetz said dolorously.

"Ha!" Asmussen snorted. "We'll see about that."

Asmussen was no older than Steinmetz but he was a world traveler and more sophisticated in the ways of petty bureaucracy. Assuming an arrogant and patronizing manner, he said to the immigration official, "Mr. Steinmetz is one of the most distinguished mathematicians in Europe and is here to consult with certain American concerns about various electrical phenomena." At this point he removed a large roll of bills from his pocket. "I am carrying his money for him. We have several appointments in New York, so please approve his admission promptly."

The admission was approved and as the two friends walked out of the building and toward the ferry that would take them across the harbor the Manhattan, Steinmetz exclaimed, "Oscar, what did you say in there? What magic words did you use to get them to change their minds?"

"I said you were a rich and distinguished scientist."

"Ach," said Steinmetz, "I have no money at all. I do not even know where I shall sleep tonight."

"I have relatives in Brooklyn. We'll move in with them for awhile."

"You think they will welcome me, a stranger?"

Asmussen threw his arm around his friend's narrow back and laughed. "Didn't you know that all Danes are crazy?"

The relatives in Brooklyn welcomed Steinmetz just as if he too were a Dane. They not only sheltered and fed him during the first weeks but gave him English lessons so that he might be better equipped to look for a job.

His first application was to the Edison Machine Works, where he was promptly turned down.

"It seems to me there is a regular epidemic of electricians coming to America," the plant superintendent grumped. A few years later the General Electric Company, offspring of Edison's manufacturing companies, was to bring some of its most difficult problems to Steinmetz, but now the young man was turned from the door.

Steinmetz burst into the apartment one evening to announce a significant event to his friend.

"Oscar . . . Oscar! I'm going to become an American citizen."

"Congratulations!" his friend exclaimed.

"I just decided this afternoon. If I'm going to make my living in America I think I should be an American."

"I know your new country will be very proud of you," Oscar said.

"Let's hope you're right. But one thing I know already, I'm proud of my new country." He smiled wryly. "There are no Bismarck police here."

The following month he appeared before the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization to take out his first papers. He was given a form to fill in and the very first blank was for his name. He thought that over for a long time, his pen poised. Karl August Rudolf Steinmetz was his name, but he didn't write it down. It sounded so German and he was becoming an American. He would keep his last name, of course, but he decided to anglicize Karl, and for his first name he wrote down Charles. What about a middle name? Suddenly, without consciously willing it, he saw the pen form the word Proteus. He looked at the name and smiled with wry and affectionate memory.

Proteus, the old man who could assume many forms but who was a hunchback most of the time by choice. He let the name stand and, with a flourish, completed his signature.

Not in all America could there have been a better job for Steinmetz than the one he got in Yonkers, New York, at Mr. Rudolf Eickemeyer's small manufacturing firm. Not only was he propelled into that branch of electrical science that was to lead him to his great success of later years, but he found in Rudolf Eickemeyer an understanding friend.

Many projects were undertaken by Steinmetz, and he bent over his drawing board to grapple with problems such as the design for a motor intended to operate a "vertical trolley", or an "elevator". This was at the request of Norton P. Otis, who was eventually to organize the Otis Elevator Company. The motor that Steinmetz drew and Eickemeyer designed was shunt-wound, the first of its type ever produced.

But of all the projects undertaken, the one that intrigued Eickemeyer most was that of designing ironclad dynamos and motors of sufficient size and power to propel a trolley car. This was a wildly radical idea at the time, for the public was firmly convinced that a horse hitched to the front of the car was more reliable than anything Eickemeyer and Steinmetz could produce with wires and iron.

And the public was almost right.

Eventually three electric streetcars were equipped with the motors built in Eickemeyer's Yonkers factory. They were operated in Sunday trial runs on the Steinway Road in Brooklyn.

Gradually, Steinmetz solved the problems turned up by each Sunday's trial run - all but one, the basic one that had plagued electrical manufacturers for years, the motor itself. Each motor was built and, if it overheated, was torn apart and rebuilt. Mass production of large motors was impossible under these conditions.

All Steinmetz had been asked to do was make a drawing of a motor already designed, but he was a man aflame with scientific enthusiasm and he threw himself at the basic problem. Eichemeyer, to his everlasting credit, recognized genius and relieved the little man of his drafting chores and gave him a small electrical research laboratory of his own. It was here that Steinmetz made his first revolutionary discovery in electrical engineering and called it the "Law of Hysteresis". This discovery produced the first murmurs of his later thundering fame.

In the AIEE meeting scheduled for January 19, 1892, the attendance was light, for there was no indication that anything out of the ordinary was to happen.

A strange-looking little man was scheduled to give a paper on "hysteresis", but no one had ever heard of the man or guessed the import of his paper. And things looked even less promising when Steinmetz took the stage.

His unpressed suit was ill-fitting, he had forgotten to remove an enormous pair of overshoes, and his pants were caught in the tops of them. When he began to read his paper, his voice was high in pitch, singsong in expression and overlaid with a heavy German accent. He was difficult to listen to, but what he said began to take hold of that meeting and electrify it. Every engineer present began to feel a personal excitement as he realized that the funny-looking little man on the platform was giving him a new tool to work with.

"In most electrical apparatus, magnetism is used. Sometimes the magnetism remains constant, as in the fields of direct current machines (DC); sometimes the magnetism alternates, as in transformers.

When the magnetism alternates, it consumes power. Such power consumption means loss of efficiency and results in heating. It is therefore of importance to the builder of electrical apparatus to make the designs so that this loss of power by alternating magnetism (called "hysteresis") is as small as possible. However, the laws of this power loss were entirely unknown at this time, and many engineers even doubted its existence . . . . I had to calculate and design an alternating current commutator motor (AC) . . . I knew there would be a loss of power in the alternating magnetism of the motor, and I wished to calculate this "hysteresis loss", to get the efficiency of the motor . . . . I derived mathematically a law, the "law of hysteresis" showing how the hysteresis loss increases with the increase of magnetization . . . "

When the meeting ended there was loud applause and everyone crowded around Steinmetz to congratulate him. But the little man wasted no time basking in praise. The following day he returned to work on a second paper giving complete data on the magnetic characteristics of all magnetic materials then known.

One winter day an engineer from another concern came to consult Steinmetz about a problem and when he had climbed the three flights of stairs and entered the research laboratory, he was amazed to find the pot-bellied stove without fire and the little scientist working in an overcoat, heavy cap, and boots. His hands were blue with cold and from time to time he rubbed them briskly to return flexibility to his fingers so that he could manipulate a pencil.

They discussed the visitor's problem and Steinmetz made some suggestions that seemed to solve it. As the man was about to leave, he couldn't help asking the question that had bothered him all during the visit.

"Mr. Steinmetz," he said, "why don't you build a fire in the stove?"

"Oh, that?" Steinmetz exclaimed, as if aware of the cold for the first time. "A mouse had some babies in there and they are not yet old enough to move."

Three years to the month after his arrival in America an event took place that was to have momentous consequences for both Steinmetz and America - the General Electric Company was organized. This new concern was determined to hire the best brains in the industry and had heard much of the young mathematician who worked for Eickemeyer.

E. W. Rice, who was later to become General Electric president, was dispatched to interview Steinmetz and return an opinion on the advisability of hiring him.

Rice recalls the visit in these words:

"I had read articles by (Steinmetz) which impressed me with his originality and intellectual power, and believed that he would prove a valuable addition to our engineering force.

I shall never forget our first meeting at Eichemeyer's workshop in Yonkers. I was startled, and somewhat disappointed, by the strange sight of a small, frail body, surmounted by a large head, with long hair hanging to the shoulders, clothed in an old cardigan jacket, cigar in mouth, sitting crosslegged on a laboratory work table.

My disappointment was but momentary, and completely disappeared the moment he began to talk. I instantly felt the strange power of his piercing but kindly eyes, and as he continued, his enthusiasm, his earnestness, his clear conceptions and marvelous grasp of engineering problems convinced me that we had indeed made a great find. It needed no prophetic insight to realize that here was a great man, who spoke with authority of accurate profound knowledge, and one who, if given the opportunity, was destined to render great service to our industry."

Steinmetz liked Rice. He was excited by the great plans General Electric had and he saw an opportunity for greater research facilities than he could ever hope for in the tiny building in Yonkers. He agreed to go to work for General Electric if Mr. Eickemeyer had no objections.

But Rudolf Eickemeyer most certainly did have objections. He feared the loss of his young engineer would have disastrous effects upon his business and he strongly opposed the plan. Steinmetz again saw Rice and announced his inability to take the job.

"But why?" demanded Rice. "You were ready to take it last week."

"Mr. Eickemeyer does not wish me to leave," Steinmetz said simply.

"Now look here, Steinmetz, we're ready to bargain. We can raise your starting salary by a couple of thousand. How is that?"

"You're raising my salary?" Steinmetz exclaimed in amazement. "But why? Money has nothing to do with this. If you offered me ten times as much, that would not change the facts."

"What facts?" Rice exclaimed.

"My responsibility to Mr. Eickemeyer. He gave me a job when I needed it badly. If now he needs me, it is my duty to stay with him. I am sorry, Mr. Rice, but those are the facts that money cannot alter."

The following month two other General Electric officials arrived in Yonkers to examine the Eickemeyer books and analyze his patents. They were not overly enthusiastic about either the sales record or the electrical patents held, but one asset tipped the balance sheet overwhelmingly into the black - Steinmetz, the genius whose work had impressed them so, was an Eickemeyer employee.

General Electric bought the Eickemeyer firm and thus Steinmetz became a General Electric employee.

The Upper New York state town of Schenectady was peaceful and slumbering until General Electric was founded and arrived in 1892.

Young engineers, speaking a variety of languages, marched energetically through the previously tranquil streets. None was more alien to Schenectady, however, than the hunchback with the large head, bristly beard, and spindly legs. People turned to stare at him with cruel curiosity, but Steinmetz always continued on his way, puffing his cigar, giving no indication that he was aware of the glances. He was aware, of course, and acutely sensitive to the effect of his appearance. The only defense he put up was the unique one undertaken in his home, which he named Liberty Hall.

By surrounding himself with alligators and cacti and Gila monsters and crows, he declared himself on the side of nature's outcasts. He said to the town, in effect, "You may think us ugly but we know that surface appearance means nothing. We have the same reactions and needs as the rest of nature, and we can give the same love. If no one else will have our love, we'll give it to one another."

A story within a story:

The police desk sergeant answered the phone in a weary voice. He was long past being surprised by any folly man could devise. He listened to a flood of excited words, then said, "Madam, there are no alligators in Schenectady."

Again came a torrent of words and he held the receiver slightly away from his ear to ease the impact. "In the Erie Canal!" he finally exclaimed. "Now, how would alligators get into the Erie Canal? You probably saw some floating logs." He rolled his eyes heavenward, apparently seeking some source of patience beyond his own. Finally, picking up a pencil, he said, "All right, Madam, all right. We'll investigate. Now, just where in the canal did you see them? I'll send some men."

After he hung up he stared a moment at his notes, then turned to a lieutenant standing nearby. "Liberty and College Streets - isn't that where that nut Steinmetz lives?"

"That genius Steinmetz lives," the lieutenant corrected gently.

"Nut . . . genius! There's a difference? The point is, I've heard he has some weird animals for pets. Suppose some of them escaped? There may really be alligators in the Erie Canal!"

When the police arrived at Liberty Street they found the entire neighborhood had turned out to lean over the bridge that spanned the Erie Canal and connected the old downtown section of the city with the newer uptown part. In the normally placid canal water there were occasional turbulences, and flashes of scaly bodies; along one shore there floated a rough snout and a pair of protuberant eyes that stared with stony interest at the human beings on the bridge above. Undeniably, these were alligators.

Information and advice came from all sides. The alligators belonged to Steinmetz, all right, and the neighborhood had long been apprehensive about just such an escape as this. One woman, pointing to the large, brick Victorian house with heavily bracketed eaves and a series of bay windows, exclaimed, "Strange things go on in that Steinmetz house."

"What sort of things?" the sergeant asked.

"Well, he lives with animals, and believe me, these alligators aren't the worst by any means. And at night strange noises come out of that house, and weird lights appear in the windows. They say he's an inventor, but what I want to know is what's he inventing? He's a foreigner and maybe it's something that will blow us all up."

Poles and nets were produced and a half dozen policemen now began the hazardous job of urging the stubborn alligators into captivity. After some minutes of intense and fruitless activity a stir suddenly went through the crowd of spectators and word was passed: "Steinmetz is coming." The south side of the canal was lined with warehouses and in front of them was Dock Street, which led a mile away to the gaunt and gloomy buildings of the General Electric Company where Charles Steinmetz was employed.

Now approaching up Dock Street was a small ball of a man hunched over the handlebars of a bicycle, pedaling hard. The crowd parted for him and he dropped to the ground in front of the policemen with the nets. He was a familiar sight in the neighborhood, having moved into the large house the year before, 1897; even so, his appearance remained something of a shock, and was sometimes a little disturbing to small children.

They were too young to see the gentleness and the pain in his blue eyes behind the thick pince-nez glasses.

Steinmetz leaned over the bridge railing and looked at his alligators. He shook his head, partly to himself and partly to the policeman beside him, and murmured, "Ach, they wanted a swim. The wind must have carried the smell of the canal water to them and so they do what is in their nature to do."

"Well, they sure can't swim in the Erie Canal," the sergeant exclaimed.

Steinmetz smiled. "No, I do not suppose that would be considered proper. If you will catch them in your net I will take them home and make certain they do not swim again. But please do not hurt them."

"Me hurt them! Mister, that's not the problem."

After considerable maneuvering one of the alligators was netted and lifted from the water. It came up snorting and thrashing; the crowd of spectators gasped and retreated from the bridge. Several policemen unholstered their guns.

Steinmetz darted forward to lift the beast out of the netting and cradle it in his arms. He murmured soothingly, rubbed its belly, and immediately the thrashing ceased. Whether or not an alligator's leathery face can assume an expression is certainly debatable, but there were those in the crowd who claimed to see a beatific smile. As the crowd parted to allow the two to pass, there were some whispered and cruel jokes about the matching ugliness of man and beast.

Seven alligators were removed from the canal and tenderly returned to their pen by Steinmetz. The menagerie in the yard just outside the greenhouse was surrounded by a brick-and-iron-fence. Here lived not only the alligators but also a Gila monster. The Gila monster was a sluggish but dangerous beast from the Arizona desert. When it flicked open a scaly eyelid, its glance seemed full of torpid evil. Its saliva was pure poison. Yet, when Steinmetz scratched its neck, as he did now for the police who observed from outside the menagerie wall, the Gila monster stretched and yawned and showed every evidence of pleasure and gentle gratitude.

At this moment two crows, outcasts of the bird world, descended from the sky to perch on Steinmetz's shoulders. The little man introduced them to the policemen as John and Mary. The birds cawed raucously in his ear and he murmured back to them. Then, with a mischievous smile, he said to the sergeant, "Anyone can understand the language of crows if he takes the time. I always know when John and Mary are hungry, or when they're upset about something."

"Yeah?" said a policeman, "and what are they sayin' now?"

"They are rather angry over so many strangers being here. Please, you must forgive their bad manners."

Forgiving or not, the police soon left and the little hunchback went into the house, the two crows still clinging to his shoulders and talking vehemently. Thus was written another chapter in the neighborhood's growing legend of Steinmetz.

At this stage no one could foresee that Steinmetz, more than any other single man, was to be responsible for the growth of the General Electric Company into one of America's industrial giants. No one could guess that he was to bring prosperity, fame, and a parade of the world's great men to the city of Schenectady. The neighbors only knew they lived next to an eccentric who surrounded himself with ugliness. They saw that the more thorns, prickles, fangs, scales, and claws an animal or plant had, the better he seemed to like it, the more tenderly he cared for it.

His menagerie was his way of saying that all God's creatures need love, and if some of them are considered ugly, then they must love one another.

Nothing that came under Steinmetz's eye was viewed for just its surface appearance. He always probed into structure and cause and significance. In truth, the whole world was his laboratory.

Having Liberty Hall and its weird occupants for neighbors was part of the price the good burghers of Schenectady had to pay for progress, for making their town an industrial giant. And there were many who claimed the price was too high.

If Steinmetz was rejected and even taunted by the town, things were just the opposite within G.E.

He became the keystone of a brilliant engineering staff; he was the flame that ignited enthusiasm, inspired that final effort to achieve what appeared to be the unachievable. He accomplished this, not alone by his undeniable intellectual supremacy over all others, but also because of his great generosity in placing his talents at the service of any man and his problem. Steinmetz's laboratory door was always open and he would put aside his own exacting work to assist a visitor. The problems were not always strictly scientific.

One day a new employee, a young newspaperman named Clyde Wagoner, presented himself at Steinmetz's door. He had heard the little man's reputation for giving sympathetic help to all callers, and he badly needed help. The scientist was in his usual position, standing with one knee on a stool, hunched over his desk, and he looked up to say, "Hello. Come in. What's new?"

"Mr. Steinmetz, I'm in trouble."

"Ah, so?" Steinmetz put down his pencil and shoved aside the figures he was working on. "Tell me what the problem is and maybe we can solve it."

Wagoner had a problem that threatened to get him fired from a job he had held less than a month. In his youthful enthusiasm he had declared, "Hire me and I'll get you a lot of front-page news stories."

Now the time had come for him to produce what he had promised. "Mr. Steinmetz," he explained, "yesterday my boss called me in and announced he had a terrific front-page story for me to send out. The story was that we've just sold a sixty-thousand-kilowatt turbine generator to Commonwealth Edison in Chicago. Well, golly, this may sound like big news to us, but not to the public. The story will get maybe a paragraph on the financial pages, that's all."

"Hmmmm," said Steinmetz. "The problem is to get the story on page one and thereby save your job. Right?"

"Yes, sir," Wagoner said bleakly. "But there's nothing dramatic about a generator."

"Nothing dramatic? Well, let's see." Steinmetz picked up a pencil and began to figure rapidly on a fresh sheet of paper, talking to himself as he did so. He murmured, "A sixty-thousand-kilowatt turbine generator produces the energy of eighty thousand horsepower. Each horsepower is equal to the muscle work of twenty-two and a half men; therefore, eighty thousand horsepower equals one million eight hundred thousand men. However, men cannot work twenty-four hours a day, while our generator does. Therefore, we multiply the generator manpower by three eight-hour shifts and we find it produces as much energy as five million, four hundred thousand men.

Now then, the slave population in 1860 was four million seven hundred thousand. Ha!"

He threw down his pencil and turned to the disconsolate young man. "I suggest you send out a story that says we are building a single machine that, through the miracle of electricity, will each day do more work than the combined slave population of the nation at the time of the Civil War."

In these dramatic terms, the giant turbine generator did make the front pages of all the newspapers in the nation and Wagoner kept his job and later went on to build for General Electric a news bureau that brilliantly pioneered industrial reporting.

As Steinmetz's reputation for helpful and cheerful accessibility grew within the company, there were many men who offered friendship. But he was shy about such relationships; his deformity was something always before him and he had built his own protection with alligators and cacti. He made it clear to himself, and to his associates, that he did not help men with their problems to buy friendship. But slowly he dared to let himself see that he had a circle of friends despite his attempted rejection of them. He discovered that a group of young scientists had come to him, not because he was the most brilliant of them, not to receive, but to give of themselves. They liked him!

Now that his wall of loneliness had been breached, he experienced a flood of emotion he little knew how to express. The old habits of shyness and self-protection could not be altered at once, if at all, and he could not clap a man on the back and speak gratefully of comradeship. All he was able to do at first was to respond in a burst of rather juvenile horseplay and practical jokes.

When Steinmetz came to work for General Electric he was deep in his research on the nature and behavior of alternating current, and his new employer gave him the time and equipment and the encouragement to continue.

Up until this time most electrical generating systems, including that of Thomas Edison, had used direct current. Direct current flows continuously in one direction; it can be measured in amperes, and its characteristics are constant and easily controlled. There was one drawback to it (and a BIG one!). By means of knowledge and equipment then available, direct current could not be transmitted economically for a distance of more than three miles. The nation could never be electrified if a generator had to be installed every three miles from coast to coast.

Steinmetz - along with a handful of engineers such as George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, and Elihu Thomson - was convinced that alternating current would solve the problem.

One major trouble with alternating current, however, was the difficulty of calculating its intensity and effects. It does not flow continuously in one direction; instead, flowing first in one direction and then reversing itself and flowing in the opposite direction. To measure alternating current, and to design generators, motors, transformers, and power lines that could use it, resulted in complicated and time-consuming calculations, which involved not only the direction and intensity of the current but also the element of time.

It was to simplify these tantalizing and often seemingly insoluble problems that Steinmetz now bent all his efforts. He was not an inventor like Edison, but a mathematician. Edison and his associates had invented a working light bulb, but they could not grapple with the problems of alternating current. Steinmetz's tools were a flat tin box full of sharp pencils, reams of paper, and his own mind that could perform the most amazing calculations, often without even the use of his two other tools.

At last he announced that he had solved these problems by means of mathematics which substituted symbols of his own invention for complicated conventional formulas. Because his method was completely new, he first had to teach his fellow engineers how to use it.

The mathematical logic that Steinmetz employed to achieve practical production and distribution of alternating current was so subtle that few engineers could understand it, even after hearing a lecture on the subject. To explain his theories, to enlighten new generations of electrical engineers, Steinmetz decided to write a book. The book, packed with close and involved reasoning, eventually grew to three, and these were only the forerunners of a whole series of scientific writings by the little genius.

Such influential electrical pioneers as Edison and Lord Kelvin fought bitterly for the continued use of direct current and against the introduction of alternating current, but the decision made by the Cataract Construction Company in 1893, to use alternating current for the first large-scale harnessing of Niagara Falls in Canada, soon ended the battle.

Within three years, power was for the first time transmitted thousands of miles across the continent. The electrification of the nation had begun.

Every time a man rode a streetcar, or took an elevator, every time a housewife's tired arms were spared by the willing motor in her washing machine, every time a farmer's well was pumped and his fields irrigated, every time a great industry built factories and created a future for men, women, and children, it was with the assistance of alternating current. Electricity became the burden bearer of the race.

And modest Charles Steinmetz, a man pathetically eager for acceptance as a human being, had played a brilliant part in bringing this about.

Under the impetus of Steinmetz's discoveries, General Electric expanded and Schenectady prospered. The citizens were not unaware of the identity of their benefactor and now when they turned to look at him in the streets it was with respect and gratitude.

Along with Edison and Marconi and Einstein, the nation's newspapers were making him a celebrity, and the townspeople proudly pointed him out as "our Steinmetz."

A grateful employer increased his salary many fold, which was gratifying but essentially unimportant to Steinmetz. He had little interest in money for its own sake, and it could buy little that he really wanted. His real reward from General Electric was the freedom to conduct any research he chose, to do it in his own way and in his own time. The company supplied him with all the equipment he desired, both for his office and his home laboratories, and all the assistants he needed. "Lab boys," young men doing apprentice work at the plant before receiving responsible positions, were eager to assist Steinmetz and the brighter ones were given the privilege.

Steinmetz became idolized by his lab boys, not only because of what they learned from him, not only because he was gentle and considerate in personal relations, but in addition because he was their champion before management.

E.W. Rice, by now president of the company, learned this one day shortly after he had decreed another raise in salary for Steinmetz. His secretary put her head in his office door and said, "Mr. Steinmetz would like to speak to you for a moment."

"Send him in," Rice said with a wave of his hand. He was going to be thanked, he knew, and it is always pleasurable for a man to hear such words. "Ah, Steinmetz," he exclaimed when his door opened again, "come in, come in."

The little man entered the office, dressed as he always was for work - a turtleneck sweater, a pair of baggy pants and a long cigar. He came directly to the point. "You have given me a raise in salary."

Rice smiled deprecatingly. "Yes, we have."

"I have not earned it."

"Indeed you have, Steinmetz, every penny."

"No, no!" He shook his shaggy head. "Since the last raise I have done less work, not more. It is the lab boys who deserve the raise. I want you to take this money and divide it among them."

"That's quite impossible," Rice said.


Rice struggled to frame a diplomatic answer. What he wanted to say was that it was nobody's business what the company paid its employees, but he didn't say that. He managed with, "It's our opinion that the lab boys are adequately compensated for the work they do."

"You are wrong," Steinmetz said.

This impasse held for several moments while the two men looked at each other across the broad desk. Steinmetz finally shrugged his thin, crooked shoulders and said, "I will accept no more increases in salary until the lab boys receive one." Then he hitched himself out of the office.

Such an ultimatum from an employee would be laughed at by most large companies, but not in this instance. Anything that happened to Steinmetz was a headline. The last thing the company wanted now was to get into a front-page controversy with their famous and most valuable asset. Steinmetz must be kept happy, even if it meant letting him dictate salaries for other employees.

The following week the raises were announced. No one could prove it, but the lab boys were convinced that Steinmetz was the man who had somehow wangled it for them.

Who else, they reasoned, cared about them?

Among the lab boys assigned to Steinmetz was a lanky young man with a shock of blond hair that kept falling over his forehead, a quiet, unruffled, earnest manner, and the name of Joseph LeRoy Hayden. The young man had a quality that endeared him to the older: he was a good listener. Everyone listened when Steinmetz spoke about scientific matters, but Hayden listened when the little man spoke of personal things, when he reminisced about Germany. He saw the loneliness in Steinmetz and responded with sympathy and interest. He, of all the associates and friends, guessed what it was like to live a hunchback. No word about physical deformity was passed between them, but this was not necessary. There was an empathy that let them communicate without words.

The relationship became close very slowly, for Steinmetz distrusted intimacy. To give bits of himself to another human was to make himself vulnerable and dependent, and that was frightening. This particular friendship developed almost despite Steinmetz.

Over the next several years, the two men often worked together through the night when Steinmetz researched and developed the first-ever magnetite arc lamps, which were later installed on many street corners in many cities.

Several years of research were required to develop this light, and eventually Steinmetz suggested to Hayden that they place two cots on the second floor of his lab and sleep there nights. He volunteered to do the cooking, thus eliminating the necessity of leaving the lab at all. It was agreed.

Steinmetz then pushed forward the construction of his long-delayed house. He had only rented Liberty Hall and once the bohemian life had palled a bit, he wanted a home of his own. He went over the plans with LeRoy Hayden, asking his advice and agreement. The building was to be a large, three-story structure, in Elizabethan style. There was to be a menagerie and a greenhouse, all of it attached to the already constructed laboratory.

As the building began to take shape and the two men supervised every step of the construction, Steinmetz admitted to himself that he had come to look upon Hayden as the son he had never hoped to have. He had denied himself the right to think about such a relationship, but here it had crept in upon him and absorbed him with a wonderful warmth and trust and security. Truly, for the first time since childhood, he did not feel alone. He dared not yet reveal these thoughts to the young man; he could only express them in an exuberance of work. Never had Steinmetz been as happy as this fall and winter.

A great blow came to Steinmetz on a rainy day of the following spring. It was staggering, not so much because it was a surprise as because it was not. It was the thing he had secretly feared might happen, something he had tried to brace himself to meet.

During a coffee break Hayden said with a forced casualness, "I'm going to get married."

After a long moment Steinmetz was able to form the word and repeat it. "Married?"

"Next month, if it's all right with you."

"Married," Steinmetz said again.

"You've met her. Corinne Rost."

"Oh yes, yes, of course."

"I don't want to disrupt our work any more than necessary and I told Corinne she'd have to find us an apartment near the lab."

"You'll be moving out of here? Yes, of course."

"We don't plan a very long honeymoon, a week at the most."

"Take as long as you wish," Steinmetz said in a faraway voice.

Hayden leaned over and touched the little man on the arm and said gently, "This won't affect our work together."

Steinmetz smiled a little crookedly and said, "Of course not. It won't change a thing. Not a thing."

The construction of the big Elizabethan house continued and each day Steinmetz wandered among the carpenters and masons and plumbers without the bird-quick interest he had previously shown, without searching questions about craft and quality of material. It was as if he were walking through a house ghost-haunted even before its completion. Steinmetz's associates, as well as his new neighbors, speculated on the house. Why had a bachelor built such a structure? He couldn't occupy all the bedrooms. The vast center hall, the dining room, the parlor, the library, the butler's pantry, and the greenhouse were of dimensions that would allow no single person comfort. It was a house that had to be populated to be useful, or even endurable.

During the last week of May 1903 LeRoy Hayden married Corrine Rost and took her on a short honeymoon trip. When they returned to Schenectady they moved into a small apartment on Park Avenue near Steinmetz's property on Wendell Avenue. Steinmetz observed their coming (he had spent a good part of each afternoon watching the apartment) and quickly returned to his laboratory to await Hayden. But apparently the young groom had decided his honeymoon was not ended until the following morning. Steinmetz found he could not wait the final few hours, and after some fidgeting, he walked to the small apartment and knocked on the door.

Hayden's face broke into a warm grin of welcome and he turned to call over his shoulder, "Honey, guess who's here?"

"Mr. Steinmetz," came the reply, and if there was a slightly acid tone in the bride's voice, the groom did not notice it.

"Come in . . . come in," he boomed. "Golly, I've been wondering how things are going at the lab. Did you finish charting that last arc phase?"

"Some remarkable characteristics were revealed," Steinmetz said. "I've been anxious to discuss them with you."

The two men sat down, lighted cigars and filled the tiny living room with smoke and talk. Immersed in the technicalities of their work they lost all track of time and as it grew dusk, the bride finally interrupted them to say briskly, "It's suppertime."

During dinner the two men resumed their earnest conversation without directing a single word to her, just as she knew they would. And after that, Steinmetz had supper with them every evening.

Corinne Rost Hayden, a handsome, well-built woman of French-Canadian stock, possessed a clear, no-nonsense view of life. She knew from the first that Steinmetz was going to be a problem in her marriage. She was willing to share her husband with his work but not to the degree that Steinmetz seemed to demand. She saw, much before her husband did, that the lonely little man was trying to live in them, through them, trying to create a family for himself. She watched the big house rise and knew that would be the bait. She did not dislike Steinmetz. He was too giving of affection for her not to give some in return. Nevertheless she was determined not to have her life and her family absorbed by an outsider.

The day the house was completed Steinmetz took LeRoy and Corinne Hayden on a tour of the rooms. The third floor held a series of small rooms for servants, the second floor a horseshoe of grand bedrooms, the first floor the imposing entrance hall with its sweep of stairs, the parlor and dining room, the library, the attached greenhouse and office; all of it was empty and full of echoes as they marched through the rooms.

Finally Steinmetz turned and spoke to Corinne. "Why don't you come and live with me?"

"No," she said. "Thank you, but no."

He gestured about the vast establishment. "There's so much room here. It would be pleasant for everybody."

"Our apartment is adequate for us. It is kind of you, but no."

She turned and walked away and there was no more discussion that day. It was not the end of the subject, however. Steinmetz did not again state his case, but her husband did. There was some rough logic to it. The house was large, and the two men did work late at night and how convenient it would be to live in the same building with the laboratory. They could never afford to live in such a grand scale on their own - why not take advantage of the generous offer?

"He is a German!" Corinne snapped at her husband during one of the arguments.

"What in the world do you mean by that?" he demanded.

"I mean simply that he has a German point of view about women. In his eyes we are sufficient for bearing children and cleaning the house, but that is all. He does not consider our feelings because he seems to think we have none. We are not worthy of serious conversation because we have no intellect either. In his eyes all women are servants. Well, I won't be his!"

Corinne could not win against the two men, but when she saw surrender was inevitable she determined to obtain the best possible terms. She went to Steinmetz and said bluntly, "If we move in with you I must run the house as I see fit."

Struggling to conceal his elation, Steinmetz said, "Of course, my dear."

"You'll give me an allowance for your share of the food and I'll shop and prepare the meals I consider proper and nourishing."


"The meals will be served on time. You and Roy will leave the laboratory when they are ready."


"There will be a strictly business arrangement about money. You will pay your share of everything, but nothing more."

"Whatever you say."

She could think of no more demands and turned about to march back to her small apartment and pack.

After she was gone, Steinmetz allowed himself a triumphant smile. At last he had a family! To be sure, it was one with some built-in stress and strains, but what family is without them?

Steinmetz didn't keep his promises. He meant to, but some of them were simply beyond his ability. He couldn't stop in a middle of an experiment just because it happened to be time for a meal. He just couldn't do it. Nor could he always tear himself away from his magnificent new greenhouse when Corinne announced that the food was on the table. There were times, in her frustration, when she went and got him by the arm and led him into the dining room. He'd come, uncomplaining and with a sheepish smile.

He was absent-minded about almost everything not immediately touching on his work in progress. He'd forget appointments with prominent people, he'd forget to take a bath, to change his clothes, to get a haircut. Corinne found herself taking on the duties of secretary, nurse and mother.

Then there was the problem of money, and that was the most difficult of all for her to deal with. Her stiff pride demanded that she and her husband pay two thirds of the household expenses, but this was almost impossible of achievement. Steinmetz found a hundred little ways to give luxuries and increase their standard of living. One day she was in the kitchen when he marched in with that combination of bravado and guilt which told her that he had bought something.

"Surprise!" he exclaimed.

"What now?" she demanded, wiping her hands on her apron.

"Come outside and see."

He ushered her outside and with a comic-opera bow, pointed to a most impressive sight - an object made of cut-glass vases holding artificial rosebuds, of plush upholstery, of silk curtain shades dripping with tassels. It stood tall and square and ponderous with dignity - an electric automobile. Corinne was impressed despite herself and clapped her hands together. Steinmetz grinned happily.

"Who is the car for?" she demanded sternly after recovering herself.

"Oh, I thought we . . ." he paused and changed the sentence. "I thought that I needed one."

"But you don't drive."

He waved his hand. "Someone will."

She stood speechless, completely unable to cope with this sort of indirection, and finally shrugged her shoulders and went in.

Steinmetz's attitude toward money was that of a man who was completely immersed in an exciting life's work, doing what he would do even if he were not paid for it. To Steinmetz it was amazing that he should receive so much money for doing research that was its own reward. Since his own wants were minimal, he used the money to bring happiness to others. What else was it good for? It took Corinne some time to realize that the gifts forced upon her and Roy were not bribes but the acts of a generous and loving heart.

Steinmetz's largess was not confined to the family but was showered upon any man with a hard-luck story. Hardly a day passed without some such person presenting himself at Wendell Avenue. Corinne tried to protect Steinmetz and whenever she answered the door she sent them flying, but they soon learned to take their transparent tales of woe around to the laboratory door. The little scientist never failed to answer their knocks, never sent them away empty-handed.

Furious, one day Corinne turned on Steinmetz and cried, "That story about the sick child was ridiculous. He's taking that money right downtown and drinking it up. How can you be so blind? Don't you realize that you're aiding and abetting that sort of irresponsibility by giving handouts to every man who comes here with a hard-luck story?"

Steinmetz was contrite, yet unyielding. He nodded his head and said, "You're right, of course. Absolutely right. And yet, don't you see, my dear, that there may be one man who comes to my door who really needs the money? I can't run the risk of turning him away."

Slowly the young wife came to understand that she had in her keeping a truly unusual human being. Seeking nothing for himself, he was generous, he was loving, he easily accepted other men's faults - that is, if they were not scientific - and he was unfailingly cheerful. Never did he bring a bad mood to the table; never did he speak a word in impatience or anger. He was a sunny companion who occasionally still indulged in a practical joke, although there was perhaps a bit more subtlety in his jokes now than before.

The relationship between Steinmetz and Corinne improved steadily, not because he changed but she did. She laughed at his jokes and was patient with his absent-mindedness and tried to be forbearing about his extravagances. She became less and less self-conscious about her anomalous position in the household. She saw that Steinmetz and her husband shared a world she could never enter, and she ceased being resentful of her exclusion. And also, about now something happened that made the outer world seem a little unreal and certainly not very important. A baby was born.

The baby lay beside his mother in the upstairs bedroom, but his wails were music to her ears and to her visitor's. Steinmetz admired the lung power, marveled over the mechanism of the tiny fists, commented on his resemblance to ancestors, though surely there was none in such a squinting, angry face. Then, just as suddenly as he had started, the baby stopped crying.

The silence hung in the room several moments while Steinmetz squirmed in his chair. He had something to say.

"Mousie," he finally said. This was his affectionate name for her. He started again and this time completed the sentence. "Mousie, I want to adopt LeRoy as my son, legally."

Corinne was not surprised, for she and her husband had discussed this development the night before. But now she was too full of inarticulate emotion.

Steinmetz could not bring himself to plead his case; he merely said, "I . . . I've talked to LeRoy and it's all right with him, but I won't do it unless you approve."

She looked up from her son and smiled at the anxious little man. Then she held out his hand to Steinmetz and said gently, "I approve, Grandpa." A trio of scientific greats:

Albert Einstein,

Nikola Tesla,

and Charles Steinmetz,

as they appeared in 1921 in a visit to the RCA transoceanic station at New Brunswick, NJ.


Einstein - 42

Tesla - 65

Steinmetz - 56

To be a child is to believe in belief. It is to turn pumpkins into coaches and mice into horses: it is to know the secret woods where elves speak; it is to make of nothingness everything; it is to be surrounded by overwhelming adults who do not believe.

The three Hayden children - Joe, Midge, and Billy - were not entirely surrounded, for there was an adult in their family who did believe - their grandfather, "Daddy" Steinmetz. Of course, there was a time when they were not certain he really was an adult. He was no taller than Joe at nine years, and when they sat down to dinner, with Mother and Father at the head and foot of the table, four heads barely cleared the plates. The fact that one of them wore a beard didn't seem to make him any less childlike.

However, the mere fact of having a body of small dimensions does not let one automatically penetrate the illusive but defended boundary of childhood. Even seeing and believing is not enough. The primary credential is enthusiasm. Steinmetz had that in abundance.

Whether it was a game, a hike, some building project, a swim in the Mohawk River, or just sitting under a tree and imagining, Steinmetz enthusiasm matched the children's own inexhaustible supply. And at a birthday party he topped them. He'd be up at dawn to decorate the house and hide prizes, and when the guests arrived he'd plunge into the middle of the squealing, milling crowd of children, laughing with them and urging them on to new exuberances.

And at some time during each party a moppet would cry out, "Daddy, show us some magic."

Joe, Midge, and Billy Hayden called their father "Father" and called Steinmetz Daddy. All the neighborhood children called him the same name, and the cry would be taken up by everyone at the party - "Daddy, Daddy, show us some magic."

"Sure, sure. I got some special magic," Steinmetz would cry happily. "Just follow me."

A bent and tuneless Pied Piper, he led the happy, dancing children out of the parlor and down the long corridor that ended at the laboratory. The mere entrance into this great room left them awed, excited, frightened, and full of desperate bravado. On all sides were reports, test tubes, beakers, Bunsen burners, vials of chemicals, coils of copper wire leading to massive electrical equipment, and over all a slightly acrid smell.

Steinmetz turned to his audience and affected a conspiratorial air that sent new shivers down the young backs. He selected a large beaker of crystal-clear glass, filled it with a colorless fluid. Then he added a second colorless fluid and it all turned an amazing yellow; when a third fluid was added it turned a deep purple; and a final fluid returned it to amber. Ohs and ahs came from the upturned faces, and Steinmetz, who knew all the logic of the chemical reactions, at this moment found it no less magical than his audience.

"I'll make you a knight on horseback!" Steinmetz cried.

"Yes . . . yes, a knight on horseback!"

He filled a bucket with water and placed it on the floor. Then he placed a ladle over a Bunsen burner and dropped a chunk of lead into it. When the lead had melted and swam shimmeringly in the ladle, he put on an asbestos glove, lifted the ladle and poured a single drop into the bucket of water. There was a violent hissing and sputtering as the hot lead spread and froze into a fantastic shape. All the children looked down into the bucket and a boy cried, "That's not a knight! It's a battleship."

"Perhaps you're right," Steinmetz said thoughtfully. "Let me try again."

A second drop of lead, a second spitting and sizzling, then a child cried, "It's a goblin . . . a goblin!"

Drop after drop of lead formed all the things the children could imagine - dragons and princes and castles and mountains and wolves - and they vied with each other to be first to name the object.

"How about some fireworks?" Steinmetz cried.

"Fireworks!" they echoed shrilly.

From a jar in the supply cabinet he took a lump of silvery metallic substance, cut off a few small pieces, and sprinkled them into a pail of water. As soon as the sodium came in contact with the water, hydrogen was released in wild explosive bubbles that burst into colored flame. Never were fireworks so spectacular.

At the end of the long party day LeRoy Hayden and his wife might be understandably tired of their offspring and wish them early to bed and out of sight, but not Steinmetz. Even the most strenuous day did not suspend the routine of his telling a long bedtime story. No man or event was allowed to alter this.

One time Henry Ford, then at the first flush of his fame as creator of the Model T Ford, came to Steinmetz with a problem. His automobiles had headlights that ran from a magneto, and this source of power was reliable enough when the engine was racing but faded away to nothing when the motor idled. For all his mechanical genius, Ford had been unable to lick this and sought Steinmetz's advice. The famous man was invited to have dinner with the family and afterward he and Steinmetz retired to the office in the rear of the house. They were deep in the problem, their heads together, when the door burst open and in tripped Midge in her pajamas.

"It's time for a bedtime story, Daddy," she said brightly.

Steinmetz nodded, stood up and said to Ford, "It's time for a bedtime story. I'll return in half an hour."

Ford was shocked. He was not a man who tolerated interruptions, especially from small children, and he immediately revised his estimate of Steinmetz downward. If there had been a train out of town at that moment he would have taken it, but instead he walked the streets of Schenectady for half an hour and reluctantly returned to the Wendell Avenue house. It was fortunate for him that he did, because when Steinmetz came down from the bedtime story he quickly sketched on a pad of paper the solution he had devised for the lighting problem.

Now content and secure, Steinmetz divided his waking hours between two worlds. Part of the time he was deep in mathematical calculations so complex that few other living souls (save Einstein) could conceive of them. During the remainder of each day he plunged into the simple, sunny, uncomplicated world of childhood. The intermediate world where most adults had to dwell, a world that included envy, greed, and selfish ambition, was as alien to him as if he had come from another planet.

Fame came inevitably to Steinmetz. He did not court it, and when it arrived he did not accomodate it. He did not change his manner of dress or thought; he remained the gentle, eccentric, simple man who happened to be a genius. And yet he could not entirely resist the pressure of his fame; it became the fulcrum on which he was pried out of his isolation.

He was elected president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. He received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Harvard, and during the ceremonies President Eliot said,

"You, sir, are the foremost expert in applied electricity of this country and therefore of the world."

And from Union College in Schenectady he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy. He had been robbed of his college degree in Germany by Bismarck's police; now at last he had received it in America.

Henceforth he was Dr. Steinmetz.

One by-product of his fame intrigued him very much, however. He received a number of invitations to teach. There had been no engineering course in Union College, a small institution only a few blocks from his Wendell Avenue home. Establishing this new department there meant he would not have to leave his family and his laboratory; he would not be altering his life, merely expanding it.

The day approached when Steinmetz was to teach his first class. Excitement ran through the campus, for both faculty and students were well aware of the honor being bestowed upon their school. Fifty students had enrolled for the new engineering degree and they crowded the classroom to capacity as Herr Professor entered briskly on his spindly legs, and took his place at the blackboard.

For a few minutes there was confusion among the students, then disbelief, and finally dismay. Steinmetz had plunged into a complicated mass of figures like a diver disappearing into a whirlpool. From time to time he may have come up for air, but if he did, the students missed it. His rapid, high-pitched voice dealt with concepts the students had never heard of , and all the time he furiously scribbled symbols on the blackboard in a size too small for anyone beyond the first row to see. The cascade of meaningless words never stopped.

The students became numb.

When Steinmetz's back was turned some of the bolder students slipped out the door; a few went out the window. Minute by minute the class shrank without the professor appearing to realize the fact. Actually, his attitude was the old German one that a teacher taught and a student learned if he wanted to. There was no question of duress.

In the months ahead Steinmetz tried to slow and simplify his mind to undergraduate level, but he was never completely successful. Only the most brilliant students could understand more than a fraction of what he taught. And yet he was a great success. He was that rarest of teachers, one who inspires. No student was able to watch the little man on the platform, bursting with enthusiasm and performing chalk miracles and leavening it all with shafts of humor, without becoming infected with the desire to know, the ambition to become.

Too, they saw a reflection of themselves in him. Just as he was a child with his grandchildren, he was in many ways an undergraduate on the campus. He shared his students' enthusiasms, he never missed an athletic game, his humor was on their level, and most unifying of all was the fact he was a nonconformist.

Steinmetz was far and away the most popular man ever to have joined the faculty and the students devised many ways of displaying their regard and affection. One day after class a committee of four called upon the little professor. At first he thought they desired some assistance with their studies but then he saw that none of them was an engineering student. Also, there was a solemnity about them that indicated their mission related to something more important than their studies.

Steinmetz gave a little bow and said, "Gentlemen."

"Professor Steinmetz," the spokesman said, "we are the pledge committee of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity."

"Ah yes, quite so."

"We would like you to join, sir."

Steinmetz looked up in quick surprise, wondering if he had heard correctly. "You . . . you want me to pledge Phi Gam?"

"Oh no, sir, not pledge. We held a special meeting and voted you in."

For several moments the little man was speechless, for he knew the import of this. No faculty member ever became a member of a fraternity unless he had joined in his undergraduate days.

At last he said, "There was no opposition . . . no blackball?" The question was half in jest, but through it peeked his old feeling of inferiority, his fear of ridicule.

"The vote was unanimous, sir. We have been instructed to call upon you and ask you to become a brother."

"A brother," he murmured. He removed his glasses and polished them, he looked at the ceiling, he studied the floor. When he was at last able to speak in a controlled voice, he said, "I am honored. I accept you invitation."

Brother Steiny, as he became known to all Phi Gams, was inducted into the fraternity by grave and secret ritual and henceforth became one of the most active members of the house. He seldom missed a meeting, either social or business, and during the more outlandish hijinks he would sit quietly with his cigar, a gentle smile of nostalgia on his face.

Breslau and Schenectady were not too different after all.

Men who achieve eminence in one field are often considered by the public to be authorities in a great many other areas entirely unrelated to their specialty. And, quite humanly, such men often consider the public correct. Steinmetz was deluged by correspondence and visitors seeking his views on issues and problems far removed from mathematics and electricity, and he gave each enquiry careful, sober attention.

In one week's time he informed Edison on the property of insulators that would withstand high voltage (this was in his field), gave Henry Ford his views on the rehabilitation of criminals, advised a dean of Columbia University on the proper courses in history, criticized fire-prevention methods, opposed electricity as a "humane" way of killing animals, lectured opthalmologists on eyesight, denounced politicians for graft, opposed the diverting of mountain lands and streams to any but public use, declared that war was an "insanity", advised a young man on the selection of a publisher for his book, endorsed two young scientists for admission to the American Institute of Electrical Engineering, endorsed an educator for the presidency of a Midwestern college, revealed his favorite recipe for camping life, entered into an extensive correspondence with a tropical-fish importer as he ordered twenty-two varieties for his aquarium and ended the letter with the stern admonition, "Send me only those fish who live together happily without eating each other."

And through all this he continued his research into all phases of electrical engineering. He had by now a total of 195 patents in his name, forty of them relating to alternating current and its distribution. The mountain of work that he undertook was never allowed to come between him and an inquiring mind of another man. Engineers and students, in particular, could always find cheerful help when they went to Steinmetz.

Charles Wood, a newspaperman, told of one such visit:

Dr. Steinmetz had worked himself to the very top of the electrical engineering profession when I first came in contact with him. It was not as a newspaperman that I first met him. I was brought to his laboratory by a machinist who wanted to ask him a question about mechanical principles which were too deep for a mere newspaperman to understand.

I ventured a few questions about the schools of Schenectady and was surprised at the simple way he answered me. I discovered that I had been afraid of him; I was afraid of his knowledge, afraid of the big head which had solved a thousand mysteries and which must look with contempt, I thought, at the rank and file of cheerful idiots about him. I said something, in fact, concerning a hope that he would not consider my questions foolish.

"There are no foolish questions," he said, with an engaging grin. "No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions. The science of education is the science of helping people find out what they want to know."

Which is one of the reasons why I call Charles Steinmetz the greatest man I ever met. He was so much more than a specialist, although he was so much of a specialist he wrote textbooks which only the most highly trained specialists in his particular line could read. Yet he denied he was a "wizard" and had no desire to play the role. What he had learned about electricity, he pointed out, was due to his being curious about it. He simply asked questions, and one question led to another, and there he was.

His family and associates tried to shield him from public intrusion but it was almost impossible because he so enjoyed meeting people. No man presented himself at Steinmetz's door, whether for a handout or advice, without receiving what he asked for. However, he finally had to admit it was interfering with his work.

"Mousie," he said to his daughter-in-law, "I've got to get away from all these interruptions."

She spread her hands. "We try to keep people out but,"

"I know, I know. It's my fault. But I have a solution to it. I'm going to build a cabin on the creek."

Some years before Steinmetz had acquired several acres of land on Viele's Creek that fed into the Mohawk River northwest of Schenectady. Here was where he and his cronies picnicked and camped and swam.

"I'll be completely isolated out there," he continued excitedly. "I won't even put in a telephone. I can get an enormous amount of work done."

"I think it's a wonderful idea," Mousie said.

"I'll get some carpenters right at it and it should be done in time for the children and me to spend the summer there."

"The children!" You don't plan on taking them with you!"

"Oh, of course. There's so much for them to learn there in the woods - nature lore and wild life. And they can learn to swim in the creek. It will be good for them. And I'll take good care of them, Mousie, you don't have to worry."

"But the whole idea is for you to work without interruptions!"

"The children don't interrupt me."

This was such a patent lie that the two of them broke into laughter. Mousie had done her level best to keep the children out of their grandfather's laboratory during his working hours, but had been thwarted at every turn. Steinmetz always put his work down cheerfully at the first appearance of a grandchild. Sometimes they would even bring friends and ask him to demonstrate various pieces of equipment or settle a dispute or even tell them a story. He never failed them.

The camp at Viele's Creek was named Camp Mohawk, and it provided a series of long, idyllic summers for Steinmetz and his grandchildren, plus their visiting friends.

Nighttime was still story-telling time. Steinmetz had brought the Book of Knowledge to camp and often read aloud from it, but his own stories were even better. When he told what made the stars twinkle and the wind blow, he spoke sound science but with such imagery that the children were spellbound. There came a time, however when he decided that the children were old enough to receive some sterner fare. On a stormy night he launched into the telling of "Dracula".

What moans of delicious terror! What cruel dilemmas between wanting to hear more and not daring to!

The story was such a success that Steinmetz had to tell it night after night, improvising as he went along. There were young guests for the night during one of the tellings, and in the middle of the tale eight-year-old Edgar, a friend of Billy's, got out of bed and edged toward the door.

"Where are you going?" Steinmetz asked.

"I . . . I'm gonna get into a canoe and go to the island. I'm gonna stay all night on the island."

"But why, Edgar?"

"Vampires can't fly over running water. You said so yourself."

With some difficulty the guest was reinstalled in bed, but that was not the end of it. Upon returning home Edgar revealed the camp story to his mother, who in turn made a call upon Mrs. Hayden. And Mousie closed the circle by going out to camp for a discussion with Steinmetz.

"Daddy," she said sternly, "what kind of stories have you been telling the children?"

Steinmetz dissembled, though a poor and obvious thing it was. He frowned thoughtfully, pulled at his beard, finally said, "Well, Mousie, I've been reading to them from the Book of Knowledge."

"That's not what I mean, and you know it."

"No?" he said, wide-eyed with spurious innocence.

"You've been telling them blood-curdling stories about bats and vampires and all sorts of terrible things."

"Oh, that!" he said dismissively.

"Yes, that! Edgar's mother tells me he had nightmares for a week after hearing your stories. Now, Daddy, you just have to stop scaring the children."

He nodded in agreement. "I guess Edgar is a bit delicate for Dracula. I won't tell it again when he's around."

"It's not just Edgar. I don't want you to tell those stories to Joe and Midge and Billy."

"They don't get nightmares."

"Nevertheless I don't want them exposed to such things. Now you must promise me."

Meekly, "All right, Mousie."

That night when Steinmetz and his grandchildren were alone again, the call came from the bedroom, "Daddy, tell us a story."

He sighed, picked up a volume of the Book of Knowledge, and entered the bedroom to find three eager young faces peering from behind the sheets. At the sight of the book, however, their faces fell.

"We want to hear about Dracula," they chorused.

"Mousie says those stories scare you too much."

"They do not," Billy cried. "I don't get scared, hardly at all."

"Edgar did," Steinmetz said.

They giggled. "He wanted to sleep on the island," Midge said.

"We shouldn't scare Edgar." Steinmetz said.

"But he's not here," Joe exclaimed. "He's all the way back in Schenectady."

"I know, I know," said Steinmetz, "but sometimes the stories ride through the night winds. Sometimes, no matter how softly you speak, your words are snatched up and carried off to scare someone who is miles and miles away."

Midge sat straight up in bed, her face bright with excitement. She said, "Let's scare Edgar."

"Yes . . . " chorused her brothers. "Tell the story, Daddy, and scare Edgar."

Steinmetz dropped his voice to a whisper. "You mustn't tell Mousie."

"Noooo!" they whispered back.

He put down the Book of Knowledge and pulled up a chair. Henceforth, the secret code between them all was "Let's scare Edgar."

Steinmetz eventually made his most spectacular electrical discovery, one for which the world press dubbed him "The Modern Jove."

The nation's power industry, employing the alternating current in which Steinmetz was so interested, now had many thousands of miles of high-tension lines stretching across the country. However, there was an implacable enemy that struck without warning and caused great damage - lightning.

This phenomenon of nature would melt power lines, burn out transformers, and in some instances even travel back to the generators to melt vital parts. Because of lightning damage it was impossible to maintain the steady and constant supply of power needed by industry if it was to grow. Every storm meant a breakdown in current supply somewhere in the nation and it was sometimes a matter of weeks before sufficient repairs could be made to resume service.

Steinmetz plunged himself into this, determined to evolve a way for the power systems to absorb harmlessly the tremendous thrust of electricity from a thunderbolt. But the great handicap he faced was nature's reluctance to cooperate in his research; the lightning never struck when he was present.

North of Schenectady was a hill scarred by lightning over the years, and one summer Steinmetz had a tower erected there and attached to the tower all sorts of meters and other instruments. He manned the tower around the clock with scientists, to read the meters and interpret the instruments. Lightning never came near the hill all summer long.

It was in the springtime when great, dark clouds rolled up the Mohawk valley to bring rain to the fresh-planted earth, and to accompany the largess with angry thunder and the savagery of lightning. On Friday afternoon young Emil Remscheid, the lab assistant, was to drive Steinmetz out to camp for the weekend, but when a torrential storm broke the trip was delayed until the following day. On a sunny Saturday morning the electric car moved at a stately pace out of the Wendell Avenue driveway and headed for Camp Mohawk.

Upon arrival at Viele's Creek, Remscheid parked the car and ran on ahead to open up the cabin. Steinmetz came more slowly down the steep path. When he arrived at camp the young man, white-faced, met him.

"My gosh, Doctor," he exclaimed, "vandals have been here and wrecked everything."

Within the cabin there was indeed the senseless pattern of destruction which comes from vandals. The front-porch window on the right-hand side had been broken, apparently to admit entry. Steinmetz's work table beside it had been upended and split in half. The electric wires that traveled the ceiling beams on white insulators had been cut in a dozen places. In the kitchen, the zinc-lined icebox had been thrown on its side and its legs shattered, and in the opposite wing of the cabin, in the dormitory bedroom, a large mirror that hung on the back wall had been broken and scattered over the floor.

Steinmetz stepped into the cabin, took one look around and cried excitedly, "We've had a visitor, Emil, but it was lightning! Lightning!" He danced from room to room, crying as he went, "Wonderful . . . oh, this is wonderful! That the lightning should have chosen our camp . . . how lucky we are! Oh . . . wonderful!"

At the end of the tour he turned to Emil an ordered, "Take the electric and go back to town and get the camera. I want to photograph every detail. Now hurry, my boy . . . top speed! This is a great day for us and we mustn't waste a moment of it."

By the time Emil had returned with camera, Steinmetz had been able to reconstruct the event. A bolt of lightning had struck the tall tree just outside the front porch by Steinmetz's worktable. It traveled down the tree, shattered the window to hit the metal lamp on the table. Traveling through the wiring system, melting the wires as it went, it discharged on the zinc icebox in one wing, and in the other wing it entered a long outside extension cord that was draped along the building behind the dormitory. The cord was hung on a wooden peg, wound in a dozen loops, and when the lightning got to this point the loops acted as a condenser to increase the voltage many times and finally discharged it through the side of the cabin and onto the silvered back of the mirror within.

Steinmetz stood at the door of the dormitory and looked down almost lovingly at the mess of scattered glass. "Emil, that mirror is our most important clue. Don't come in here until I finish putting it back together."

For the rest of the weekend Steinmetz was on hands and knees to search out the tiniest slivers of glass and meticulously put them back together like a great jigsaw puzzle. When at last it was done, he placed the reconstructed mirror between two large plates of clear glass and sealed the edges with tape. On the silvered back was burned the bold pattern of the bolt.

"Look here, Emil! The picture of a bolt of lightning. See where it struck? And see the melted ribbons where it ran to the edges. We will now be able to calculate the potential of lightning by measuring the distance from the point of impact to the end of the melted streamers. Load this in the car and let's get back to the laboratory and to work!"

Things now began to happen in the fifth-floor Steinmetz laboratory at General Electric's Building 28. Men and materials converged to create a strange-looking apparatus, only to tear it down, to calculate endlessly on sheets of white paper, only to throw them in the wastebasket. Something big was afoot - the entire city was aware of it - but exactly what it was, no one seemed to know. The scientists assigned to Steinmetz were given research projects in a variety of directions without any clear indication of the end goals. Even Steinmetz himself did not really seem to know; he was searching, searching. And all this elaborate, complicated, expensive quest originated from the most prosaic of objects, a shattered mirror

At an ever-accelerating pace the research continued for weeks into months and months into a year. Steinmetz drove himself, spending all day and most of every night at the laboratory. Whenever the search was blocked in one avenue, he turned to another. He could not, would not, conceive defeat. Finally the city learned what he was up to; word seeped out that he was trying to create lightning!

He was determined to produce it at will, and to control it, to direct it against whatever object he chose!

The city reacted variously to this news. The fundamentalist preachers cried from their pulpits that the creation of lightning was God's province and woe to the man who presumed to encroach upon it! The city fathers wondered if Steinmetz was not creating a terrible hazard to life and property. Other men, some of them scientists, questioned the usefulness of man-made lightning. But no one entertained a doubt that Steinmetz would do what he planned to do.

He was a genius, they all agreed, wicked or wise depending on one's point of view, but undeniably a genius.

In the winter of 1922 there came from Steinmetz's laboratory a series of violent explosions. At first the town thought the little man had blown himself up, but he appeared smiling and unhurt to announce a press conference and demonstration in his laboratory for the following week.

On the appointed day the newspaper reporters and photographers and high company officials were admitted to the laboratory to find a monstrous strange machine - a lightning machine! It towered two stories high, carrying rack on rack of large glass plates covered with foil. They were to serve as condensers to build the electrical energy to extremely high current. The source of the energy was from the local power system. The voltage of the local system was stepped up through high-voltage transformers, then rectified through glass vacuum tubes known as "kenotrons" which in turn charged the glass-plate condensers. Two ominous-looking brass domes, called "sphere gaps", were to carry the bolt of lightning when it exploded. The plan was to turn the current loose in the condensers and let it build and build in power and force until all the condensers would discharge simultaneously.

The press and notables, including Thomas Edison, stood behind a protective wire screen to view the machine with awe and speculation. The hum of conversation suddenly ceased for into the room came the machine's master - Steinmetz.

"Good morning, good morning," he said briskly to the crowd, then conferred in low tones with his associates. When he was satisfied that all was ready, he turned to the row of newspaper photographers to ask how they proposed to record the lightning on their photographic plates. They told him in some detail and when they had finished, he suggested that they alter their lens openings and shutter speeds. Immediately every professional photographer set his camera exactly to Steinmetz's figures.

There was an additional bit of drama now introduced. A model village, complete with church steeple and tree-lined streets, was placed between the sphere gaps. It was to be struck by lightning.

At last everything was ready and a hush fell on the assembly. Steinmetz gave a small nod of his head and an assistant threw a switch. All was silent - No, there was a small hum as the condensers began to gather their charge of electricity. The hum grew no louder except in the tense imagination of the spectators. Some of them placed their hands over their ears; all braced themselves.

Then it came - a blazing flash of lightning, followed by a thunderous crash of sound that shook the room. The air filled with dust and a sulphurous odor. As soon as the reporters recovered their breath they looked for the model village. It was gone . . . vanished . . . atomized!

Steinmetz began speaking in a matter-of-fact voice. "The characteristic of lightning is high voltage, backed by very large power, lasting for a very short time only, and so giving explosive effects. In certain of the high-frequency experiments of Professor Thomson, Tesla, and others, the voltage is very high but with little power back of it. In our lightning generator we get a discharge of ten thousand amperes, at over a hundred thousand volts; that is, a power of over a million horsepower, lasting for a hundred-thousandth of a second. This gives us the explosive, tearing and shattering effect of real lightning.

That night the newspapers around the world carried big headlines reading, MODERN JOVE SITS ON THRONE AND HURLS THUNDERBOLTS AT WILL.

Now that Steinmetz could create lightning at will, he could use it to build and test lightning-proof generators and transformers and transmission wires. He soon developed the lightning arrester, the sentinel of the whole power system, the guardian of the powerhouse. It operated with a swiftness equaled only by lightning itself.

What it did was to automatically open a path by which the vast voltage of a lightning bolt could jump harmlessly to the ground instead of entering the power system and melting the equipment. It was as simple as that, but as in many simple things, a genius was required to conceive it.

Steinmetz, who had done so much to help make possible nationwide electrification in the first place, had now succeeded in protecting it against the power caprice of nature.

A sign of America's coming industrial greatness had been created.

After the two years of concentrated work on lightning, Steinmetz was tired, dry of ideas, and he sought refreshment, as always, in his grandchildren. Joe, seventeen, Midge, fourteen, and Billy, twelve, looked at their grandfather and realized he was both larger and smaller than they had once thought. They now knew the extent of his wisdom and his fame and this made them proud and possessive; they also saw he was a frail little hunchback and this made them protective.

It was Midge who discovered that there was one thing none of them could do for Steinmetz: they could not protect him from his own secret hurt. She learned this one afternoon when the two of them took a walk together and wandered off into a slum area of the city. Steinmetz was not a familiar figure in these squalid blocks, and the people who spent all their waking hours in a fierce struggle for life's essentials could not know or care for another man's renown.

These two aliens walked along, deep in conversation and oblivious to their surroundings. The girl walked with coltish grace; the man, a head shorter, hitched himself rapidly along on his spindly legs, a motion that strangely did not detract from his dignity.

Then suddenly a mocking laugh brought them out of themselves. Midge looked across the street in the direction of the sound and saw a cluster of slum-cruel boys. With mounting horror she saw they were pretending to be hunchbacked! They limped, they staggered, they clawed the air and gave out guttural cries.

"I'm d' missin' link! I'm d' missin' link!" one of them shouted over and over, capering monkeylike.

It was unreal, a nightmare. She glanced quickly at her grandfather but he was looking straight ahead, his face expressionless.

"I'm d' missin' link!" came the shrill, taunting voice.

She paused, not knowing what to do, whether to fly at the tormentors or to scream back at them, but unable to endure things as they were. A hand took her firmly by the arm and moved her forward again. Her grandfather's hand was neither commanding nor pleading; it was a comradely grip that said We were out for a walk, weren't we? Well, then, let's walk.

He neither hastened his steps nor slowed them, and he resumed the conversation that had been briefly interrupted. She had often wondered if he faced this sort of thing, wondered how he would handle it. She had not guessed he would be so calm and brave. Tears stung her eyes, tears of love and pride and anger.

"I'm d' missin' link," came the voice.

"Oh, you - you -" chokingly she called the boy a name Steinmetz had never heard her use.

Soon they were in the business district and their tormentors dropped away. No reference was made to their experience when they arrived home, and she didn't even tell her brothers about it. It was a precious sort of pain and she didn't want to share it. It made her love her grandfather in a way she never had before.

Two days later when they were alone together in the greenhouse, her grandfather said, "Midgie, you must never call anyone that kind of name."

She was startled, for she had no idea she'd said the word aloud.

He continued, "You must never call anyone a name that means their race or nationality is not as good as any other. Those are cruel words. And they're untrue words. There is goodness in all men and we must respect that goodness even if we can't see it at the moment." He smiled at her, "Okay?"

She grinned back. "Okay."

The American Institute of Electrical Engineers was to hold its annual convention in Del Monte, California, in October, 1923, and invited the nation's most famous scientist to address it.

"What do you think, Mousie?" Steinmetz asked his daughter. "Should we go?"


"I wouldn't want to go without the family. It would be a chance to see the country. We'll make it a big vacation."

"The children will be in school, Daddy."

He dismissed that objection with a wave of the hand. "The Great Plains, the Rockies, the deserts, Grand Canyon, Hollywood . . . we'll do the works. That will be educational, don't you think so? Come on, Mousie."

She sighed and said, "If I know you, you've already told the children and I'm outvoted."

The trip west, made by Pullman, turned out to be a triumphal tour. Crowds appeared at every stop to gaze at the "wizard", and invitations to speak began pouring in from every city on the itinerary. Steinmetz accepted several, the first one in Denver, and the auditoriums were always packed. William Jennings Byran joined his train to discuss religion: mayors and governors jostled each other to be photographed with the "Modern Jove", and in Hollywood he was entertained by the reigning royalty, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

The men and women who came to hear him speak were aware that they were looking at one of the great men of their era and they wanted no only the memory of his presence but they hoped he might give them some wisdom they could apply to their own lives. Steinmetz did not disappoint them. More and more over the recent years he had been thinking and writing in philosophical terms. By now he was the author of thirteen books and more than sixty articles, only a small percentage of them dealing with electricity. He had thought deeply on life; he had suffered and he had triumphed, and acquired wisdom.

He had advice for the youth:

"If a young man goes at his work as a means of making money only, I am not interested in him. However, I am interested if he seems to do his work for work's sake, for the satisfaction he gets out of doing it. If I were to bequeath to every young man one virtue, I would give him the spirit of divine discontent, for without it the world would stand still. The man hard to satisfy moves forward. The man satisfied with what he has done moves backward."

Though he had been an agnostic, Steinmetz had by now achieved a greater wisdom, and he said,

"Spiritual power is a force which history clearly teaches has been the greatest force in the development of men. Yet we have been merely playing with it and have never really studied it as we have the physical forces.

Some day people will learn that material things do not bring happiness and are of little use in making people creative and powerful. Then the scientists of the world will turn their laboratories over to the study of spiritual forces which have hardly been scratched."

On October 12 the train rolled out of the West and into familiar Schenectady, and within a half-hour he was home on Wendell Avenue. The "vacation" had lasted six weeks.

"Mousie, I'm tired," he said. Then, fearing that sounded like a complaint, he said, "The trip was worthwhile, I think. And certainly good for the children."

"It was a wonderful trip, Daddy," she said.

He nodded soberly, then gave her his sly smile. "Next year we'll take a cruise to the Mediterranean. Won't be so much walking."

Then he went to bed.

The next day he was still tired and a doctor was summoned. General exhaustion, the doctor said; nothing to be alarmed about, but he should stay in bed for a complete rest. Steinmetz grumbled but complied. On the morning of October 26, 1923, young Billy went to his grandfather's room with the breakfast tray to find him dead.

His face was serene, without a trace of pain or worry. His heart had run down and stopped as easily as an electric motor deprived of current. He was fifty-nine years old.

In his lifetime Steinmetz had had an ample opportunity to accumulate riches but his estate was surprisingly small. He left a trust fund for his sister Clara, and to his adopted family went the Wendell Avenue house and a modest amount of cash.

Yet his legacy was great - it was to the world of science, to the users of electricity, to the students of Union College, to the neighborhood children who adored him, the lab boys who revered him, to the millions of ordinary people who had never met him but came to depend upon his gentle wisdom.

As news of his death flashed out, cablegrams of praise and sorrow poured into Schenectady from all over the world.

When his body was carried to the cemetery it was accompanied by the nation's leaders in science, industry, and government. They had come to honor a man who had not only helped make America strong, but who was first among them in patience and generosity.

Steinmetz's entire life had been an avowal of love, and he was loved in return.

No man can earn a greater epitaph.

Two true stories of Charles P. Steinmetz (1865-1923)

Charles Proteus Steinmetz, an electrical engineer whose genius lived up to his middle name, worked at General Electric for many years.

One morning he arrived at his office to find there had been a change in policy overnight. On his desk, someone had posted a tidy cardboard sign saying, "No Smoking." Steinmetz took out his pen, relettered the sign so that it now read,

"No Smoking --- No Steinmetz," and departed.

The policy was changed.

One day a whole roomful of General Electric's most expensive machinery went out of order. By this time Steinmetz had retired, but the company's baffled engineers called him back as a consultant.

Steinmetz ambled from machine to machine, taking a measurement here, scribbling something in his notebook there. After about an hour, he took out a large piece of chalk and marked a large 'X' on the casing of one machine. Workers pried off the casing and found the problem at once. But when the company executives got Steinmetz's bill for $1,000, they were reluctant to pay it.

"This seems a bit excessive for one chalk mark," Steinmetz was told. "Perhaps you'd better itemize your charges."

Within a few days, they received the following itemized bill:

Making one chalk mark


Knowing where to make one chalk mark