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Elihu Thomson

Born: 29-Mar-1853
Birthplace: Manchester, England
Died: 13-Mar-1937
Location of death: Swampscott, MA
Cause of death: Illness
Remains: Buried, Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, MA

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Inventor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Electric welding and A/C motors

After graduating from Philadelphia's Central High School, Elihu Thomson was hired to teach chemistry and physics there. In his spare time he constructed electric machinery which generated electromagnetic pulses that passed through walls and floors -- about ten years before Heinrich Hertz discovered radio waves. Working with Edwin J. Houston, another teacher at Central High, Thomson constructed an arc street-lighting system, with each light pole having its own dynamo, since there was no electric infrastructure to plug into. The two teachers went into business in 1879 as the Thomson-Houston Electric Company, and eventually offered electric dynamos, motors, and even locomotives. In 1892, millionaire J. Pierpont Morgan engineered Thomson-Houston's merger with Thomas Edison's company, and the combined enterprise was named General Electric. After the merger and for the rest of his life, Thomson was in charge of research at General Electric, and taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He collected 696 patents, including an alternating current repulsion motor that helped establish AC as a reliable power source. His first invention, as a boy, was an electric friction generator built from a wine bottle, and his first invention of note, in 1876, was a centrifugal separator for fluids. His inventions and innovations span a breathtaking array of early electronics, including the first electric-powered welders, the power meter that measures use of electricity, a constant-current transformer, and improvements to high-frequency dynamos, the internal combustion engine, lightning rods, steam engines and turbines, telescopic lenses, and x-ray technology.

Father: Daniel Thomson
Mother: Mary Ann Rhodes Thomson
Wife: Mary Louise Peck Thomson (m. 1-May-1884, d. 1916, four children)
Son: Donald Thurston Thomson
Son: Malcolm Thomson
Son: Roland Davis Thomson
Son: Stuart Thomson (captain, d. 1919)
Wife: Clarissa Honey Thomson (m. 1923)

    High School: Central High School, Philadelphia, PA (1870)
    Teacher: Chemistry, Central High School, Philadelphia, PA (1870-80)
    Professor: Electrical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1894-1922)
    Administrator: Acting President, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1920-21)
    Administrator: Acting President, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1921-22)

    Benjamin Franklin Medal 1925 (by the Franklin Institute)
    Hughes Medal 1916
    IEEE Edison Medal 1910
    Rumford Prize 1901
    French Legion of Honor 1889
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Chemical Society
    American Institute of Electrical Engineers
    American Philosophical Society
    American Physical Society
    Institute of Radio Engineers
    Franklin Institute
    National Academy of Sciences
    General Electric Co-Founder of Thomson-Houston Electric Co. (1879)
    General Electric Engineer (1892-1937)
    Naturalized US Citizen
    English Ancestry (maternal)
    Scottish Ancestry (paternal)

Author of books:
Selections from the Scientific Correspondence of Elihu Thomson (1971, posthumous)


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