Thomson, Elihu, 1853-1937

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1853-03-29
Death 1937-03-13

Biographical notes:

Electrician, inventor with 700 patents under his name; winner of many honors, prizes, and medals.

From the description of Letter to S[amuel] S[ydney] McClure, 1894 February 3. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 55132441

Thomson joined the staff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering in 1894, served as Acting President of the Institute, 1920-1922, and was a member of the MIT Corporation for many years. He was an inventor who held nearly 700 patents, many of which were central to the development of the electrical industry. He was also director of engineering and research at the General Electric Company.

From the description of Papers. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 78623024

Elihu Thomson was an electrical engineer, inventor, business man, andentrepreneur who figured prominently in the development of early electric light and power systems in the United States. Thomson formed the Thomson-Houston Electric Company in 1882, which merged in 1892 with the Edison Electric Company to form the General Electric Company.

From the description of Papers, 1853-1955. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122624321

Elihu Thomson (1853-1937) was an electrical engineer, inventor, business man, and entrepreneur who figured prominently in the development of early electric light and power systems in the United States. During a long career which spanned the 19th and 20th centuries, Thomson acquired over 700 patents involving dynamos, three-phase generators, repulsion induction motors, electric welding, transformers, meters, lamps, railways, and steam engines. Thomson was responsible for pioneering research in alternating currents and high frequency, as well as the first safety standards for electrical work. Additional studies in astronomy, refracting telescopes, optics, and x-rays enhanced his industrial research. Besides his achievements in early electric technology, Thomson made considerable contributions to the professionalization of engineers through his active involvement in organizations such as the Franklin Institute, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and the International Electrical Congress.

Elihu Thomson was born in Manchester, England on 29 March 1853 to Daniel Thomson and Mary Ann Rhodes Thomson. In 1858, the Thomson family moved to the United States and settled in Philadelphia. At the age of thirteen, Thomson entered Philadelphia's Central High School. Upon graduation in 1870, Thomson was offered a position with the school as an instructor in physics. By 1876, he was honored with the chair in chemistry.

In 1880, Thomson resigned from his professorship to enter the electric industry. He moved to New Britain, Connecticut to accept a position as an electrician with the American Electric Company. While employed with American Electric, Thomson developed his electric lighting system and formed the Thomson-Houston Company in 1882. In 1883, the Thomson-Houston works moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, where the great development of Thomson's electric company took place throughout the 1880s. The Thomson-Houston Electric Company merged with the Edison Electric Company of Schenectady, New York to form the General Electric Company in 1892. Major off-shoots of this company grew in Germany, France, and England and helped spread throughout Europe an electric lighting system based on Thomson's patents. Thomson's work was not restricted to the electric manufacturing business; he acted as president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1920 to 1923.

Thomson married his first wife, Mary Louise Peck, in 1884. They had four children: Stuart, Roland Davis, Malcolm, and Donald Thurston Thomson. His first wife died in 1916, and in 1923 he married Clarissa Hovey. Elihu Thomson died on 13 March 1937 after a long illness at his home in Swampscott, Massachusetts.

From the guide to the Elihu Thomson Papers, 1865-1944, (American Philosophical Society)

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SNAC ID:
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Subjects:

  • Electricity
  • Electric currents, alternating
  • Electric welding
  • Electrical engineering
  • Geology
  • Electrical experiments
  • Telescopes
  • Electric meters
  • Electric transformers
  • Electrical equipment
  • Steam engines
  • Inventors
  • Machinery, Electrical
  • Electric motors, Repulsion-induction
  • X-rays
  • Optics
  • Quartz optics
  • Astronomy
  • Electric power systems

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not available for this record