Employment at General Electric

What, however, decided his future was the study of a book. It was written by Charles Proteus Steinmetz and the English title was “Theory and Calculation of Alternating Current Phenomena.” Steinmetz had already, in 1893, developed a mathematical method, the “symbolic method,” with which he grasped and comfortably dealt with alternating current problems without using differential equations. The method is based on the use of complex quantities, which today are used extensively in electrical literature. Furthermore, his hysteresis investigations in magnetism are classic.

Steinmetz had emigrated in 1889 from Germany to the USA and taken employment at the electrical company of Eickemeyer and Osterheld. Engineer Ernst Danielson, who with Jonas Wenström had successfully developed the new three phase system at ASEA for motor operation, had previously, in 1890-92, been employed at General Electric in Schenectady. Danielson drew the attention of their Chief Engineer, E.W. Rice, to the “brilliant Steinmetz,” whom he recommented for employment. Steinmetz, however, stayed with Eickemeyer until the year 1892, when GE acquired the Company. In this way, Steinmetz came to work for GE.

Ernst Alexanderson had, as had so many other Swedish engineers at the turn of the century, plans for traveling to the country of “big possibilities.” This, as well as curiosity about Steinmetz and his activities at GE, helped to make up his mind to travel. Together with a friend from the same course, who had earlier been in the USA, he started his journey, first to England, and then from Liverpool in the ocean steamer Campania. On the first of September in 1901 he arrived in New York and, after some weeks of searching for employment, he got a job as draftsman at C&C Electric Company in Westfield, NJ.

Alexanderson’s curiosity concerning the author of Theory and Calculation of Alternating Current Phenomena became so great that he decided to travel to Schenectady and call on Steinmetz.

Alexanderson had, of course, a picture of Steinmetz the person in his mind, based on his writings.

How this picture differed from the reality, he related to his daughter, Edith Nordlander:

“After a while Steinmetz came into the room dressed in a two-piece black bathing suit, and with his humped back and his beard he looked like a monkey, and differed entirely from that impressive person I expected to meet. He steadied his elbows against the desk in his characteristic way and began to speak. Here now stood the great and incomparable Charles Proteus Steinmetz in person.”

The first meeting was fairly short. Alexanderson got instructions on where to go in order to get a job at General Electric and Steinmetz promised to recommend him for employment in the drafting department.

On Steinmetz’s recommendation, Alexanderson was employed as draftsman and began to work for GE on February 23, 1902. In the summer of 1903, he was relocated to the test department.