Happy 151st Birthday, Charles Proteus Steinmetz— April 9, 1865 – October 26, 1923

I’m long overdue in posting a new blog because I’ve been busy working— gotta pay them bills! #Flossin  I’ve been away performing on the road, opening for my friend and mentor, Margaret Cho.  I do not bring my computer on the road because I pride myself in being the most compact of compact travelers and so my blog suffers.  I’m proud to say that I only bring one bag small enough to fit under the airplane seat in front of me.  I pack nothing but my phone, two changes of clothes, lipstick, sunglasses and edibles.  I’ve made my living as a traveling entertainer for at least 15 years, and let me tell you, airport culture only gets more hideous with time so I’ve traded-in glamour for simplicity, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made, but I digress.  Today’s blog is dedicated to Charles Proteus Steinmetz, in honor of his upcoming 151st birthday this weekend.  I know, you’re like, “Who the heck is Charles Steinmetz?”  Unless, you’re an engineering enthusiast #geek or genuinely interested in the contributions little people have made towards your modern-day quality of life, you’d have no way of knowing about Charles Proteus Steinmetz.

Charles Proteus Steinmetz was born on April 9, 1865 in Germany and later immigrated to America.  Steinmetz was a mathematician and electrical engineer who stood at just four feet tall and suffered from dwarfism, hunchback, and hip dysplasia, just like me, minus the hunchback (phew!).  Steinmetz’s mathematic and scientific discoveries should make him a household name, like his contemporaries Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.  Nevertheless, little people are invisible to society.  We weren’t educated on Steinmetz in grade school the way we were taught about his peers Einstein, Tesla or Edison, so I’m blogging about Charles Steinmetz because among his many brilliant discoveries is one that helps all our daily lives and we owe him a big fat thank you!

On March of 1922, Steinmetz demonstrated his greatest discovery, a 120,000-volt lightning generator, creating manmade lightening in his lab to design the efficient use of electric power!  Before Steinmetz, America’s industries were powered by electrical current that behaved in unpredictable ways.  Steinmetz formulated the law of magnetic behavior; he made possible the invention of efficient and dependable electric motors, devising a formula to measure the forces of alternating current.  As you read this blog with your electrically charged computer, microwave zapped coffee, or charged Vape pen, please take a moment to thank Charles Proteus Steinmetz for the daily conveniences his genius has provided us all.

The good news is that there is no shortage (pun intended) of information about Steinmetz on the internet but you’d have to be an engineering enthusiast motivated to search out stories and information about the life and accomplishments of Charles Steinmetz.  To be fair, there is an actual K-8 text book about Steinmetz available on Amazon, but of course, no one has purchased nor reviewed it, and Amazon hasn’t even bothered to post an Editorial Review!  If the spirit moves you, “Charles Proteus Steinmetz,: Wizard of electricity,” by Erick Berry.

There is so much I want to share about this brilliant fascinating man named, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, but there is simply too much to get into on my humble blog.  I’ll leave you with a list of Charles Steinmetz facts I found most fascinating in my research, and conclude with an infamous story that depicts Steinmetz’s clever sense of humor.

  • 1865— Steinmetz nearly finished a Ph. D. degree in mathematics at the University of Breslau (formerly German territory), when he hurriedly left Germany to avoid being arrested for his socialist activities.
  • 1888— Steinmetz arrived at Ellis Island, and was nearly turned away because he was a dwarf, but an American friend whom Steinmetz was traveling with convinced immigration officials that the young German Ph.D. was a genius whose presence would someday benefit all of America.  A century later, faces are still cracking.  I, being an immigrant from Mexico, remain grateful that wasn’t the case with me.  My talents are smoking weed and watching TV, I would’ve been turned away in an instant!
  • Steinmetz endured deep emotional challenges, “as children scurried away upon seeing him—frightened, he believed, by the ‘queer, gnome-like figure’ with the German accent. Such occurrences were all the more painful for Steinmetz.” I have personally experienced the same reactions from children more times than I can count.  I’m not resentful towards children, for they are innocent, I blame the parents.  Raise your kids right, for God’s sake!
  • Steinmetz adopted his adult lab assistant, Joseph LeRoy Hayden, in order to create a family.  Hayden and his wife moved into Steinmetz’s sprawling mansion where they raised their children and Steinmetz was a cherished and beloved grandfather to the children.
  • In 1894— Steinmetz designed a “flying machine” that actually got off the ground, only six photos were taken to document the brief flight.
  • Steinmetz was fascinated with anything that was lethal, and he gathered alligators, rattlesnakes and black widow spiders. #Goth
  • Steinmetz served as president of the Schenectady Board of Education and was instrumental in implementing longer school hours, school meals, school nurses, special classes for children of immigrants and the distribution of free textbooks.

 

“Ford, whose electrical engineers couldn’t solve some problems they were having with a gigantic generator, called Steinmetz in to the plant. Upon arriving, Steinmetz rejected all assistance and asked only for a notebook, pencil and cot. According to Scott, Steinmetz listened to the generator and scribbled computations on the notepad for two straight days and nights. On the second night, he asked for a ladder, climbed up the generator and made a chalk mark on its side. Then he told Ford’s skeptical engineers to remove a plate at the mark and replace sixteen windings from the field coil. They did, and the generator performed to perfection.

Henry Ford was thrilled until he got an invoice from General Electric in the amount of $10,000. Ford acknowledged Steinmetz’s success but balked at the figure. He asked for an itemized bill.

Steinmetz, Scott wrote, responded personally to Ford’s request with the following:

Making chalk mark on generator    $1.

Knowing where to make mark         $9,999.

Ford paid the bill.”— Gilbert King, Smithsonian Magazine, August 16, 2011