When he died suddenly at the height of his fame in 1923, his face was as familiar to Americans as that of Babe Ruth, Henry Ford, Jack Dempsey, or Warren G. Harding. Newspapers quoted his views on religion, politics (he was a Socialist), science, and future technological wonders. All were intrigued by the Horatio Alger tale of the penniless, hunchbacked German immigrant who rose to fame as the Wizard of Science, chief engineer at General Electric, and symbol of the new breed of scientists who daily surpassed the feats of Thomas A. Edison.
In Steinmetz: Engineer and Socialist Ronald R. Kline presents the intellectual biography of Charles Proteus Steinmetz (1865-1923). Educated in Germany, Steinmetz came to America in 1889 and soon found work with a Yonkers electrical firm. After General Electric purchased the company in 1893, Steinmetz rose to the position of chief consulting engineer. Obtaining nearly two hundred patents, he made his most important contributions in electrical energy loss (or hysteresis), the understanding and wider use of alternating current, and high-voltage power transmission.
The General Electric corporation, Kline explains, became Steinmetz's home, his identity, and a platform from which he stepped onto the wider stage of world affairs. As leader of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Socialist councilman in Schenectady, and part-time professor of political economy at Union College, Steinmetz attempted to "engineer" society in the direction of a technocratic utopia by promoting welfare capitalism, Lenin's electrification of the Soviet Union, and other schemes--all with limited success.
According to Kline, the legend of Steinmetz illustrates a shift in hero worship from inventors to scientists after World War I. It also encouraged the powerful (and paradoxical) American myth that a rugged individualist could make his mark in a bureaucracy. In a life filled with contrasts--here was a prominent Socialist serving as chief engineer of a major corporation--possibly even Steinmetz, Kline argues, was not always able to separate the myth from the man.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - brewbooks - LibraryThing
A well researched book about a fascinating figure in the development of American technology. Steinmetz was a researcher and inventor who also promulgated one of the first code of engineering ethics. Read full review
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