Charles Proteus Steinmetz (April 9, 1865 – October 26, 1923) was a German-American mathematician and electrical engineer. He fostered the development of alternating current that made possible the expansion of the electric power industry in the United States, formulating mathematical theories for engineers. He made ground-breaking discoveries in the understanding of hysteresis that enabled engineers to design better electric motors for use in industry.
Steinmetz was born as Carl August Rudolph Steinmetz to Carl Heinrich Steinmetz in Breslau, Province of Silesia. Steinmetz suffered from dwarfism, hunchback, and hip dysplasia, as did his father and grandfather. Steinmetz attended Johannes Gymnasium and astonished his teachers with his proficiency in mathematics and physics.
Following the Gymnasium Steinmetz went on to the University of Breslau to begin work on his undergraduate degree in 1883. He was on the verge of finishing his Doctorate in 1888 when he came under investigation by the German police for activities on behalf of a socialist university group and articles he had written for a local socialist newspaper.
As socialist meetings and press had been banned in Germany, Steinmetz fled to Zürich in 1888 to escape possible arrest. Faced with an expiring visa, he emigrated to the United States in 1889.
Cornell University Professor Ronald R. Kline, the author of Steinmetz: Engineer and Socialist, contends that other factors were more directly involved in Steinmetz's decision to leave his homeland, such as the fact that he was in arrears with his tuition at the University of Breslau and that life at home with his father, stepmother, and their daughters was full of tension.
Despite his earlier efforts and interest in socialism, by 1922 Steinmetz concluded that socialism would never work in the United States because the country lacked a "powerful, centralized government of competent men, remaining continuously in office" and because "only a small percentage of Americans accept this viewpoint today."
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