Charles Proteus Steinmetz, the mathematical wizard of the early electrical industry, was born in Breslau, Germany, in 1865. After studying a variety of subjects at the University of Breslau for six years, he fled Germany in 1888 to avoid arrest for his membership in a student Socialist group. He spent a year in Switzerland and then sailed for the U.S. in 1889.
Steinmetz found employment as a draftsman for Eickemeyer and Osterheld, a Yonkers-based electrical manufacturer, and was soon established in an experimental laboratory of his own. At the time, electrical engineers were concerned with reducing the losses of efficiency in electrical apparatus due to alternating magnetism. The laws of this power loss were entirely unknown, and many engineers doubted its existence. Steinmetz, however, having been given the task of calculating and designing an alternating-current commutator motor, and wishing to calculate the hysteresis loss, derived the law of hysteresis mathematically from existing data. He followed this with an elaborate series of tests on any and every sample of iron obtainable to prove the law and simplify its application, and in 1892 read two papers on the subject
before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.
In 1892, the newly-created General Electric Company purchased the Eickemeyer and Osterheld plant, and Steinmetz began his 31-year GE career. He initially joined the staff of the Calculating Department and went first to Lynn, Massachusetts, and then to Schenectady. At the end of his second GE year, he was made consulting engineer, a position he held for the rest of his life.
While engaged in his studies of magnetism at Yonkers, Steinmetz studied alternating current phenomena, which were then little understood and most complex. Through the application of pure mathematics, he found a mathematical method of reducing alternating-current theory to a basis of practical calculation, and outlined the new method to the International Electrical Congress in session at Chicago, Illinois, in 1893. He found himself in an unapproachable intellectual solitude, however, for practically no one could understand his theory or use his method. Through the publication of several textbooks, he ultimately brought about a clear understanding of his symbolic method, which is now universally used in alternating-current calculation.
His third and last greatest research undertaking had to do with phenomena centered in lightning. In an effort to learn more about lightning, Steinmetz began a systematic study of it, publishing the results periodically from 1907 onward. This work culminated in 1921 with dramatic experiments yielding man-made lightning in the laboratory.
In addition to his consulting work and his writing, Steinmetz was a professor of electrical engineering (1902 - 1913) and professor of electrophysics (1913 - 1923) at Union University in Schenectady and lectured on electrical subjects throughout the country. At his death in 1923, he held more than 200 patents.
from History of GE