Charles Proteus Steinmetz, German-American electrical engineer and inventor, was
a pioneer in the field of electrical engineering, who invented a commercially
successful alternating current motor. He himself considered his three most
important accomplishments to be: (1) his work in the field of electromagnetism, (2)
the development of a practical, simplified method of managing and calculating
values for alternating current using complex numbers, and (3) his research on
lightning phenomena. Steinmetz also invented the three-phase electrical circuit. His
work made possible the expansion of the electric power industry in the United
States. Among his many inventions is the metallic electrode arc lamp. Charles P.
Steinmetz was considered the leading electrical engineer in the United States.
Originally named Karl August Rudolf Steinmetz, he was born in
Breslau, Germany, the son of a railroad lithographer, Karl Heinrich Steinmetz (who was
also a cripple) and his wife Caroline
Neubert. (Breslau is in the region known as
Niederschlesien, Lower Silesia, which has been part of Bohemia, Austria and Prussia.
Today the city is Wroclaw, Poland.) At birth Steinmetz was afflicted with a physical
deformity, hunchback. Steinmetz’ early school performance was poor and at the age of
eight he was having trouble with multiplication tables. However, by the time he was ten,
he had made a turnaround and was one of the school’s brightest pupils. He showed an
unusual capability in mathematics, physics, and classical literature. On graduating from
the gymnasium with honours, he entered the University of Breslau in 1883, where he
devoured books on every subject from mathematics and economics to literature and
medicine. An example of his mind and memory was his memorization of the logarithmic
tables which he could manipulate mentally to solve problems in a few seconds. He was
fascinated with the study of electricity, but the courses in Breslau were short on detail and
completely lacking in the applied and practical. He did not see a transformer until he
came to America.
He fled to Switzerland without being able to tell his family. Later, when the Kaiser