IEEE Chicago Section History
Meeting of the AIEE Western Members at Chicago, Inaugural Meeting of the Chicago Section
The Chicago Section holds the distinction of being the first AIEE section formed outside New York and has been given an organizational date of 1893. However, the first meeting did not occur in 1893 nor was it a section meeting. (The concept of sections was not developed until later.) In March 1894, at the Armour Institute, the first authorized local meeting was held outside Institute headquarters in New York. Following recently developed Institute rules, Chicago area AIEE members petitioned New York for permission to hold local meetings. Permission was granted and a meeting was scheduled for March 21, 1894. This became the first Meeting of the Western Members of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers but it is better remembered as the inaugural meeting of the Chicago Section.
The wisdom of holding local meetings, for the benefit of AIEE members residing outside of New York, was debated by the Institute for some time. A group of Chicago members expressed interest during a meeting at the World’s Columbian Exposition with Institute officials who were visiting the fair. Ralph W. Pope presented a very thorough paper on the subject at the Institute’s October 1893 meeting and a committee was formed that reported on its findings in November of that year. The committee favored the holding of local meetings and submitted a plan. The 1893 plan stated:
- No less than twenty members can request in writing their desire to hold a local meeting. A Local Honorary Secretary will be nominated by the group and serve as the channel of communication between the Council and the local group.
- Local meetings shall be for the purpose of reading and discussing papers accepted by the Institute only. No paper can be read at the local meeting before being read at the Institute meeting.
- The local members will appoint a chairman for the meeting. The Honorary Secretary will report on the discussions that transpired at the local meeting.
- The expense of the meetings will be borne by the local members.
The concept of local sections was not raised. The concern at the time was that if Chicago was made a section, what would New York become? New York felt that they were the “Institute” and not another section. The concept of sections was not formally introduced until several years later but the seed was planted with the allowance of local meetings. It is obvious that the Institute was concerned about the quality of papers and did not want to relinquish control. Papers from local members would first be submitted to the Institute for acceptance and even after that, the paper would first be presented before the Institute in New York. However, simultaneous readings with a local group were acceptable and this was the course chosen by the western members who were the first group to avail themselves of the new rules. All that remained was to request a meeting.
This was done on February 20, 1894 when Edward Caldwell submitted a petition signed by 21 Chicago area members to the Institute Council seeking the authority to hold local meetings. The Council was the governing body of the AIEE. The group appointed Edward Caldwell as Honorary Secretary, a post he held for the next several meetings.
The first meeting of the western members was held on March 21, 1894 in Professor Wilbur M. Stine’s lecture room at the new Armour Institute. ( Armour Institute had just opened its doors to students in the fall of 1893 and Professor Stine had offered the use of the Armour facilities during meetings he attended at the World’s Columbian Exposition. He was on the jury of electrical awards at the fair and, in addition, he may have been conducting a shopping trip at the time. Electrical equipment was purchased by the Armour Institute from the fair after its closing. Other items not purchased directly were granted to the school by benefactors. As head of the Department of Electrical Engineering, one of Professor Stine’s duties was to power the school.)
This meeting, attended by 45 members and guests, was held simultaneously with the 85th meeting of the Institute held in New York. A phone connection was installed thereby effectively allowing the holding of a joint meeting. The topic of the two meetings was a reading of the paper by Prof. William A. Anthony of Cornell University entitled “On the Effect of Heavy Gases in the Chamber of an Incandescent Lamp.” The author asked that his paper be presented in Chicago by Prof. Dugald C. Jackson of the University of Wisconsin. The paper discussed the new Novak lamp that was introduced at the World’s Columbian Exposition claiming to be “the only incandescent lamp that retains to the last its original candle power.”
Before the meeting was called to order, attendees took advantage of the telephonic connection established between the Institute rooms in New York and an adjoining room to Stine’s lecture room in Chicago to exchange greetings. Mr. Angus S. Hibbard, General Manager of the Chicago Telephone Company arranged for the complimentary connection. A total of 40 receivers were at the disposal of the attendees…an impressive feat for its day.
The meeting was called to order by Mr. Caldwell and he read the new Institute rule allowing such a meeting. He stated that the required 20 member signatures were affixed to the petition sent to the Institute Secretary and the Secretary issued a call for the holding of the meeting. A chairman for the meeting had to be appointed and, by a motion initiated by Mr. Bion J. Arnold, Mr. Angus Hibbard was appointed chairman. Mr. Hibbard took the chair and read the following communication:
CHICAGO TELEPHONE CO.
Chicago, Ills., March 21st, 1894.
Edward Caldwell, Esq.,
Local Honorary Secretary, American Institute of Elec. Engrs.,
1432 Monadnock Block, Chicago.
Dear Sir: The use of the Long Distance telephone lines between Chicago and New York has been extended to the Institute for this evening by the Vice-President and General Manager, Mr. Edward J. Hall, of New York. Telephones have been placed in an adjacent room, and maybe used by the members present in Chicago in communicating with members who are present at the New York Meeting.
A. S. Hibbard
The Chairman then called upon Professor Jackson to read the Anthony paper. Prof. Jackson had done two years of postgraduate study at Cornell University and was on the jury of electrical awards during the World’s Columbian Exposition. Prof. Jackson later went on to become the 1910 – 1911 AIEE president and was awarded the Edison Medal by the AIEE in 1938.
Prof. Anthony, who was considered an innovator, came to Cornell in 1872. With his assistant, Anthony built a Gramme ring-armature dynamo that was the prized exhibit at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. It was used to power arc lamps that lighted the Cornell campus. Prof. Anthony was AIEE president during the 1890 – 1891 term and certainly respected by his peers.
The Anthony paper was very long and detailed and dealt with the objectionable blackening of incandescent bulbs being experienced at the time. The presentation and spirited discussion afterward dragged the New York meeting past midnight. Even after the meeting, attendees sent in their comments that became part of the transactions of the meeting. This is what happens when you have several experts on the subject in the same room with differing scientific and commercial interests. There was no less energy spent at the Chicago meeting.
Thomas A. Edison did not invent the incandescent lamp. What he did was develop a practical lamp and an industry to go with it. Not only did he design a lamp that would last for 600 hours, but dynamos and a distribution system to power his lamps. He first started his research in 1877 with platinum lamps and quickly patented a few versions. One of the problems with platinum was that its filament presented a low resistance requiring the lamps to be connected in series. Edison realized that although a series connection was acceptable for street lamps it was impractical for industrial and commercial use since individual lamps needed to be tuned on and off at will without affecting other connected lamps. He needed to operate the lamps in parallel which required a higher resistance filament and he was having limited success with platinum. Although he initially rejected carbon, he returned to it since it offered the best opportunity for increasing resistance. He knew about carbon characteristics since he used carbon in his telephone receiver. After much development, Edison received a patent in 1880 for a particular incandescent lamp with four characteristics:
- A high resistance carbon filament
- A chamber made of glass and closed at all points by fusion of the glass
- A high vacuum within the chamber
- Platinum lead-in wires
Unlike many of Edison’s other patents, this patent lead to a viable commercial business. However, the lamp was not without problems.
Carbon filament lamps would blacken after limited use reducing the overall brightness. It was generally agreed to at the time that the black coating on the inside of incandescent bulbs was due to the transfer of the carbon from the filament. This blackening caused a reduction in candle power, efficiency and limited the usefulness of the bulb. Why it was happening was of contention. Some felt that trace amounts of gases left in the chamber after air removal allowed for the movement of gas molecules around the filament, called “air washing,” disintegrating the filament. The other theory was that a chemical or electrical action was occurring that provided this disintegration. Others felt it was simple evaporation of the filament. The obvious solution was to have a higher quality vacuum within the bulb. However, obtaining this was quite difficult and it was expected that the burning filament would give off gases anyway. Instead, Anthony proposed adding a small amount of a heavy gas in the form of bromine that was found to yield less blackening and higher efficiencies. This was what was being done with the new Novak lamp being produced by the Waring Electric Lamp Company, a competitor to the Edison Electric Light Company.
There was a commercial backdrop to this whole discussion and that involved the Edison patent on incandescent bulbs that was granted in 1880. Usually patents are given a 17-year protection, however, if a patent were granted in a foreign country with an earlier expiration date, the US patent would follow suit. Since Edison had a Canadian patent as well, this was the case. The valuable Edison patent was to expire later in 1894. In the meantime, Edison aggressively protected its patents since there were numerous companies trying to have access to the lucrative lighting market. Edison had virtually a monopoly at the time. One of those companies was the Waring Company that had recently received a patent for the Novak lamp in 1893. The Novak lamp had a small amount of bromine added to the vacated bulb that reduced the blackening or converted the blackening to a more greenish tone. Edison was in litigation with this company as with others at the time. The Edison patent claimed among other things, an all-glass envelope and a high vacuum so that the carbon would not disintegrate. The Novak lamp was claimed to be gas-filled, but the trace amount of bromine was ruled insufficient to consider the lamp as a non-vacuum lamp.
Once the Edison patent expired, companies went back to vacuum style lamps. The Novak lamp was never a success and its inventor John Waring meet an untimely death during an explosion and subsequent fire at his plant in 1901. Mr. Waring entered the burning building to save two female employees and died later from the effects of the fire.
The Anthony paper began by stating the conventional wisdom that the wearing away of the carbon filament was due to air washing and that electrical effects were carrying the carbon to the walls of the chamber. Improved carbons have resulted in increased efficiency but with age, a gradual loss in candle power occurs due to blackening. The author defined the ideal lamp as one that would give good efficiency, good life and would die by a ruptured filament while doing its best work. He presented the work of John Waring where he introduced a sufficient amount of bromine gas into the chamber yielding a lamp with high efficiency, a decrease in filament erosion, no blackening and no loss of candle power over the useful life of the lamp. He provided several tables comparing bromine lamps with that of vacuum lamps to prove his point. The vacuum lamp output fell by one-third over time while the bromine lamp dropped by only five-percent. However, he needed to admit that two of the bromine lamps ruptured during testing. Anthony’s position was that although vacuum lamps failed to rupture, they were for all practical purposes dead anyway since the blackening had greatly reduced their output. If the gas-filled lamps indeed maintain their candle power, how was this accomplished? Prof. Anthony went on to a detailed explanation of all the effects inside the chamber.
Much of the rebuttal to the Anthony paper came from John W. Howell. He was an Edison man and in 1927 co-authored what is still considered an authoritative book entitled History of the Incandescent Lamp. Later in his career, he was also awarded the Edison Medal by the AIEE for his contributions to the profession. He held numerous positions with the Edison Lamp Company, forerunner to the General Electric Company, and was active in patent litigation cases. In fact, The Electrical World reported that Howell’s arguments against the Anthony paper and that of Howell’s colleague Mr. Doane, were an extension of the same arguments used in the patent litigation suit against the Novak lamp brought by the same gentlemen. Their arguments were echoed in Chicago by Mr. Francis E. Jackson of the General Electric Company who made the long trip from Harrison, New Jersey to plead the company’s case.
The contents of the Anthony paper must have been previously known since two written correspondences were read in New York during the discussion phase of the presentation. These comments were from respected engineers Prof. Elihu Thomson and Edward P. Thompson. Also as a rebuttal to Prof. Anthony, Mr. John W. Howell showed samples of darken bulbs with discoloring in areas contrary to predictions in the Anthony paper. He also prepared three figures depicting test data that were shown in the discussion phase. Copies of these same presentation slides used by Howell and Doane were shown in Chicago by Mr. Francis Jackson.
During the discussion phase, AIEE president Houston excused himself in order to telephone the Chicago meeting. When he returned he reported to the New York audience that he had the pleasure of sending the following message to Chicago:
“As President of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers I desire to send hearty congratulations on the success of our first dual meeting. It gives me great pleasure to address at once two meetings, over 1,000 miles apart, and to know that that has been rendered possible by the advances in that branch of engineering which it is the privilege of our society to represent.”
“The Institute has agreed, provisionally, to adopt the name ‘gauss,’ ‘weber,’ ‘oersted,’ and ‘gilbert’ for the magnetic units of flux density, magnetic flux, magnetomotive force and reluctance.”
The Chicago group sent this message back to president Houston:
“The Chicago meeting sends congratulations to the New York meeting, and trusts that the intercommunication thus, for the first time, inaugurated by means of the telephone will not be the last. It believes that considerable advance will be made in the electrical science by the idea of holding simultaneous meetings in different parts of the country. It also sends word that Professor Anthony’s paper has been read and is now being discussed.”
The Chicago meeting continued with much the same objections and comments heard in New York. Professor Stine submitted his own lengthy paper basically supporting much of what Anthony said. The conclusion was that the Anthony paper was still a very good document even if it did not convince all in attendance the true effects of bulb blackening. However, it was all agreed that the first Chicago meeting was a grand success and future meetings should be held.
The editors of The Electrical World certainly were satisfied. They called the Chicago inaugural meeting a “brilliant success.” The usefulness of local meetings will aid the Institute in its growth and prestige. However, they did point out that only about one-third of the attendees in Chicago were Institute members. This had more to do with the restrictive nature of Institute membership and the editors encouraged the Institute to adopt some policy of allowing students and other interested parties to become part of the Institute in an auxiliary capacity. The other issue that required addressing was the funding of local meetings and the editors suggested that the Chicago members take the initiative and propose a method of funding during the Institute annual meeting.
The Chicago meeting did conclude with the appointment of a committee consisting of Professor Stine, B. J. Arnold and Edward Caldwell to devise means to pay local expenses and to arrange from time to time for the holding of meetings. Those are the same tasks charged today’s Chicago Section Executive Committee so the executive committee can now trace its roots back to these three gentlemen.
With that bit of administrative action, the inaugural meeting of the AIEE western members in Chicago was adjourned.