Charles Proteus Steinmetz and his great contributions to the study of electricity.

(Breslau, 1865 - Schenectady, 1923) German mathematician and electrical engineer (nationalized American) whose studies on alternating current facilitated the use of this type of energy in the second stage of the Industrial Revolution.

Born Karl August Rudolf Steinmetz, a physical deformity - he was hunched over - caused him to turn to textbooks in his youth, where he displayed unusual ability in mathematics, physics and classical literature. After graduating with full honors from his local Gymnasium, Charles P. Steinmetz entered the University of Breslau in 1883, where he became politically active in a socialist student club that later became associated with the German Social Democratic Party.

When a raid was carried out in which several of his comrades were captured, he took over the management of the party's newspaper, La Voz del Pueblo, whose editorials were described as incendiary by the authorities and irritated the police to the point where Steinmetz he was forced to leave the country.

After a brief stay in Zürich, he emigrated to the United States as a stowaway on a freighter, and shortly after arriving he obtained a job in a small electrical company, owned by his compatriot Rudolf Eickemeyer and located in Yonkers, in the state of New York. Upon attaining US citizenship, he Americanized his surname and introduced as his middle name the war name of his socialist times (Proteus), with which he signed the caustic editorials.

In this company, and with the blessing of his employer, Charles Steinmetz set up a small laboratory in which he made most of his discoveries, among which is the study of the phenomenon of hysteresis in electromagnets (1892), a phenomenon that gives rise to to energy losses in the form of heat. His study allowed electrical engineers to properly design each electromagnet knowing in advance what its energy losses were, a remarkable advance if one considers that previously it was only possible to measure the losses once the device had been built.

A year later, when the company was taken over by the General Electric Co., he managed to gain respect for his position and his laboratory, and developed a mathematical theory that allowed calculations in alternating current circuits, which made it easy to switch networks. formerly existing direct current power plants for the much cheaper and easily drivable alternating current.

That same year he published a theory about the so-called transient currents, electrical currents that appear in the devices once they have been disconnected and that very often cause irreparable damage to the machines. These phenomena are often accompanied by the emission of light. After designing and building a generator capable of providing discharges of 10,000 amps at 100,000 volts for one hundred thousandth of a second, true artificial lightning with which to study this type of phenomenon, he published a work on the transmission of waves in the air that has remained, like almost everything he published, like a classic.

These works, due to the aridity of their rigorous mathematical treatment, were understood by very few of the members of the congresses he attended, although no one was unaware of their importance as a theoretical tool for prediction in electrical designs. All this led him to simplify the mathematical language of his articles, often using a simple symbolic notation, divide them into more easily digestible chapters and publish a mathematics book aimed at electrical engineers, so that his calculation methods were generalized throughout the world. guild.

A famous anecdote relates that Henry Ford called Charles Proteus Steinmetz to investigate what was happening to a generator in his factory that was not working properly. After spending two days examining its operation, Steinmetz called for a ladder and some chalk, climbed up on the generator and made a mark on it, and had sixteen turns of the coil removed from exactly that spot. After making the repair and verifying that it worked correctly, Steinmetz wrote a bill for ten thousand dollars to Mr. Ford. When he asked to itemize the bill, he wrote on a piece of paper: “Chalk mark: $1. Knowing where to put it: $9,999."

Steinmetz was president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, a fellow of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an honorary doctorate from Union College in Schenectady. His works include General lectures on electrical engineering (1909), Theory and calculation of alternating current phenomena (1909), Theory and calculation of transient electric phenomena (1909), Radiation light and illumination (1911), Elementary lectures on electric discharges waves and impulses (1912), Theory and calculation of electrical apparatus (1917), Theory and calculation of electric circuits (1917), and Engineering mathematics (1917).