IEEE Schenectady Section History

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History of the Schenectady Section of the AIEE from 1915

The text below is adapted from a 1915 publication of AIEE Section Histories

The Schenectady Section of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers grew from a small engineering club fostered by the General Electric Company and limited to its employees.  Thus was the General Electric Engineering Society organized in the summer of 1898 at a meeting of engineers at which Mr. W. J. Clark, presided.

Mr. W.H. Buck was elected President of the new society and Mr. J. H. Jenkins as Secretary. Succeeding Mr. Buck two years later, Mr. Jenkins held the office of President for the next two years, and during his term of office the Society had grown to such size that it was necessary to secure new quarters for its monthly lectures.

A constitution and set of by-laws were adopted on June 1, 1898. A copy to those is still extant.

The Club’s activities were not limited to the electrical field but embraced subjects of general interest. Electrical subjects, however, were naturally given most attention, and the following list of speakers and subjects may be taken as representative: Mr. E. W. Rice, Jr., Problems of Modern Central Station Design; Prof. Elihu Thompson, Lightning and Lightning Arresters; Dr. W. R. Whitney, Electrical Chemistry; Mr. W.J. Foster, Design of Alternators; Mr. A. H. Armstrong, Current Railway Problems.

The General Electric Engineering Club soon recognized the advantages to be derived by merging with the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and on January 26, 1903 it became known as the Schenectady Section of the AIEE. Dr. C.P. Steinmetz officiated for three successive years and was followed by Mr. D.B. Rushmore who held the office for two years. The following members in the order named have held the Chairmanship for one year: Mr. E.J. Berg, Mr. M.O. Troy, Mr. E.A. Baldwin, Mr. E.B. Merriam, Mr. J.B. Taylor, Mr. G.H. Hill, Mr. H.M. Hobart.

In the season of 1913-14 the Section was fortunate to be able to establish permanent and commodious headquarters in the building just then completed for the Edison Club. The auditorium of this building has a seating capacity of 500. The Eidson Club has also placed at the disposal of the Section an office in the building for the purpose of committee meetings. This also serves as the Secretary’s office.

The Schenectady Section was the ninth to be recognized by the Institute. In 1915, the Schenectady Section had 791 members and held 18 meetings. At the time, it was the largest and most active of the AIEE’s section groups.

The Schenectady Section has been exceptionally fortunate in being able to secure for its meetings speackers of authority in their respective spheres. That this has been the rule from the inception of the organization is in some measure an indication of the influential position which the Section occupies. The frequency of the meetings has varied somewhat in different years but even during the 1915 season, when an unprecedentedly large number of meeting were held, no difficulty was experienced in securing the desired speaker for each of the eighteen meetings. The season’s activities are varied by occasional meetings of a purely social nature, two of these in the form of smokers have been held last year. The season is usually ended by a dinner.

History of the Schenectady Section of the AIEE from 1945

The text below is adapted from the "A History of the Schenectady Section of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers" pamphlet, printed in 1945. A link to a pdf of the entire document is in the Further Reading Section below. 

In the beginning – “The General Electric Engineering Society”

The first spark of an organized engineering society in Schenectady, New York, was kindled in the parlor of the old Edison Hotel, Monday evening, May 23, 1898. It was here that Mr. N. A. Thompson swung the gavel for the first time, calling to order the group of twenty-seven men assembled. Mr. Thompson proposed the names of Mr. H. W. Buck and Mr. J. H. Jenkins as temporary chairman and secretary respectively. No objections were raised and Mr. Buck took the chair.

The object and purpose of the proposed society were explained by the chairman and it was decided that the society be strictly engineering in nature, as opposed to a social club. Membership was limited to technical men employed by the General Electric Company.

A committee was appointed to draw up a constitution and bylaws and report its findings at the next meeting. In all three were three preliminary meetings during which time a room in the Arcade Building was fitted with furniture and stocked with the latest publications for member’s use. The room was lighted by electricity, heated by a stove, and equipped with janitor service. A running budget of $350 per year was set up which covered the expenses of rent, light, heat, janitor, and stenographic service, which was to be paid by the annual dues of $5 per member. The furniture, including desks, chairs, reading tables, and bookcase, were to be written off by an initiation fee of $2 per member. Thus the General Electric Engineering Society was born.

On June 7, 1898, Mr. Buck was officially elected president of the society, with M. Oudin, Vice President, J.H. Jenkins, Secretary; and R.D. McCarter, Treasurer. President Buck called the first regular meeting to order in Yates Boat House on June 14, 1898. It was here announced that the reading room in the Arcade Building had been given up for a similar room in Room 9 of the Fuller Building, which had been fitted up with magazines and other engineering publications. As there was no business, Mr. Buck introduced the first speaker to appear before the newly organized society. Mr. C. P. Steinmetz lectured on “The Rotary Converter.”

For the remainder of the year 1898, meetings were held in Yates Boat House. An average attendance of 80 persons per meeting was attained and the discussion was centered around the central station, a subject of prime interest in that day.

Mr. Buck was again elected president at the first annual meeting, February 6 1899, and he remained president until the end of the year 1900. During the year 1900 the first “Smoke Talk” was inaugurated. These were informal “smokers” held in the clubroom at the Fuller Building. The first “Smoke Talk” was held March 28, 1900, and the subject discussed was “The Switch-board of the Metropolitan Station recently developed for New York City.” The “Smoke Talks” became very popular and were held once a month.

At the third annual meeting, held January 29, 1901. J.H. Jenkins was elected chairman of the General Electric Engineering Society. In April of this year, it was proposed that the members of the Lynn Engineering Society be extended the privileges of the Schenectady Society without paying dues both societies, if they transferred in the middle of the year. A reciprocity agreement also stood forth, in that Schenectady people be extended the privileges of the Lynn facilities. This was brought about due to the fact that both societies had the same aims and objectives. A change in the by-laws was proposed and passed in June of 1901.

Mr. C.L. prince took the gavel January 21, 1902, at the fourth annual meeting. The General Electric Engineering Society operated successfully this year, holding a total of seven meetings during which papers of technical nature were presented and discussed.

In 1903, Mr. W.I. Slitcher was elected chairman of the local group. The meeting place of the Society was moved from Yates Boat house to the Chapel of the Union College Campus. It was during Mr. Slitcher’s administration, that action was taken to coordinate the general Electric Engineering Society with the American Institute for Electrical Engineers. The Institute had recently installed a Chapter in Schenectady and the G.E.E.S. thought that one society under the name of AIEE would be much more effective that two societies with similar ideas in one community. The Executive Committee of the General Electric Society first began negotiations by meeting with Charles P. Steinmetz, then chairman of the AIEE. After several meetings between committees chosen by both societies, the GEES at the 41st regular meetings held at Union College Chapel, October 27, 1903, resolved to combine with the AIEE.

At a combined meeting of the GEES and the AIEE, December 15, 1903, the merger was concluded. Hence the GEES went out of existence.

The Founding to the Schenectady Section

Charter members of the AIEE Schenectady Section: A.E. Averrett, E.W. Rice, Jr., Isaac F. Badeau, A.H. Rice, John T.H. Dempster, Hewlett Scudder, Jr., Edgar D. Dickinson, Charles P. Steinmetz, Willian G. Ely, Jr., H. Sudlow, H.P. Freund, A.P. Tanks, A.S. Kappella, R. Neil Williams, N/L. Rea, R. Neil Williams, N.L. Rea, H.G. Reist.

Early meetings of the chapter were devoted primarily to the presentation of technical papers on subjects concerning current developments in the electrical industry. From the records of these meetings we learn that as many of six papers were given in one evening, each followed by a lively discussion period. In subsequent years, however, as the membership rapidly increased the difficulties of carrying on interesting technical discussion meetings with a large group lead to a policy of scheduling several talks each year on topics of more general interest. Although recognizing the purpose of the Electrical Engineering, it was the general opinion that the engineers’ interest in social, economic, and cultural subjects should also be encouraged. Particularly in the last twenty-five years, meetings OF the Schenectady Section have been approximately equally divided between subjects of technical and of non-technical nature.

Mr. Charles P. Steinmetz held the chairmanship of the Local Chapter of the AIEE for a period of three years. He retired for the chair in December of 1905, at which time he was followed by D.B. Rushmore who held office for another two years.

Early Activities (1913-1920)

An attractive feature to membership in the Section arose from arrangements made through the General Electric Company by which the Section provided every local member with a year’s subscription to the “General Electric Review.” Since the annual dues were only $2, this in itself was worth membership. As an innovation special committees on Factory Co-operation, on Apparatus, and on Classes were appointed during 1914-15. The Factory Co-operations Committee issued complimentary tickets for one or more meetings to the Factory Superintendents, Foremen, and other of the General Electric’s Factory Organization with the hope that these men would be interested in securing the advantages of the Section by becoming members.

The Apparatus Committee was assigned the duty of obtaining and installing apparatus needed by lecturers for experimental demonstrations. The Classes Committee was formed to determine whether the Section members desired to organize classes and study subjects of general interest to members. Two classes, one in geology and one in photography, began holding regular meetings during the 1914-15 season. The ninth season under the chairmanship of H.M. Hobart enjoyed considerable success and at this time the section was in flourishing condition in every way.

Following Mr. H. M. Hobart’s successful administration L. T. Robinson held the chairmanship of the Schenectady Section for the season 1915-16 and was followed by C. E. Eveleth in 1916-17. Under these two leaders the Section still flourished with ever increasing popularity.

In 1917-18 war was in the minds and hearts of everyone. It was during this year that W.L. Upson was chairman and war was much in evidence in the programs. The largest meeting this year was held in the Union College Gym with a record attendance of approximately 1100. Simon Lake was the speaker. This meeting occurred just after the German Submarine “Deutschland” had made a spectacular visit to Baltimore and the country was very conscious of the submarine menace. After Chairman Upson introduced Mr. Lake as the inventor of the submarine, he said he thought the audience would rather lynch him than listen to him. Lake showed slides that made a successful meeting.

Despite many protests by those who thought it necessary to conserve food, the annual dinner was held. It was decided that everyone would have to eat somewhere and there might be other gains that should not be missed. H.M. Hobart spoke on the “Urgency of Thinking Internationally.”

In the 1918-19, K.A. Pauly was chairman and during this season the section held one special and 14 regular meetings. Six of these were on electrical subjects, seven on general topics, and one was a smoker. The special meeting held April 23, 1919, was for the purpose of discussing with the Section representative questions taken up by the Committee on Development. Very little interest was taken in the meeting by the membership at large, only about 10% being present. Those who did attend, however, freely discussed the questions brought up. A committee was appointed to confer with the Section representatives from among the local membership of other Engineering Societies to consider and recommend some form of local federation. This committee consisted of C.S. Van Dyke, Chairman; L.T. Robinson; and W.L. Upson. The average attendance at the meetings was 279 and the greatest was 635.

The Section attended, by invitation, a meeting to the Society of Engineers of Eastern New York, held March 22, 1919. The Subject: “War Aviation in Retrospect: Commercial Aviation in Prospect.” The membership increased by 43 national members and 9 local members. The treasurer, by authority of the Executive Committee purchased a $500 Victory Loan Bond, making a total of $2,000 in Bonds held by the Section. The subjects of the speakers again fell among the war topics. Topics of outstanding interest included: “A Democracy at War,” “Immigration After the War,” “Electric Welding with Reference to it Application to Shipbuilding,” “The Sugar Industry,” “Overseas with the 105th,” and “Radio Apparatus for Aircraft and Ground Stations.”

During 1920, H.R. Summerhayes was chairman and this year the Section was fortunate in having a number of interesting meetings with rather prominent speakers. Calvert Townley, at that time President of the National AIEE, was among the more prominent and interesting speakers. It is interesting to note that his talk contained a prediction of the severe industrial depression which occurred in 1929, although Mr. Townley did not prophesy the exact date. During this year an understanding with the Pittsfield Section was inaugurated. It was decided to have meetings in Pittsfield and Schenectady on consecutive days at certain times during the year, so that when a prominent speaker came from some distance to address one of the sections he could also address the other section on the next day. Another mater of interest was a proposal by C.M. Ripley to start a movement to build a Schenectady Civic Center with a large hall in which conventions and meetings could be held. This received approval of our Executive Committee at the time but the Civic Center never became a reality. The average attendance at the 16 meetings during the season was 217, the lowest begin 120 and the highest being 435.

The Steinmetz Memorial Lecture and the Steinmetz Memorial Fellowship

During the year 1922, when C.M. Davis was chairman of the Section, the outstanding meeting was one addressed by Dr. Millikan. At that time most of the physicists felt that they knew enough about electrons so that they could begin telling the engineering world something about their dimensions, weights, and so on, and Drs. Millikan and Compton were quite in demand as speakers before various engineering groups. Mr. Davis felt quite honored at the opportunity of introducing Dr. Millikan to the Schenectady Section and prepared what he thought were suitable introductory remarks. Everything went well and Dr. Millikan gave a very able and complete dissertation on electrons, explained in terms which most everyone thought he understood, concerning the structure of atoms, the weight, electric charge, size, and speed. In short he painted a very definite picture of the whole electron theory. During his presentation, and wishing to get the discussion that was to follow off to a good start, Mr. Davis was constantly on the lookout for an appropriate way to open the discussion. Just as Dr. Millikan closed his address Mr. Davis thought he had a brilliant idea and said somewhat as follows: “Dr. Millikan has given us a very clear and comprehensive picture of electrons. He has told us their speed, their weight, and their number, but he has neglected to tell us of their color.” Mr. Davis thought he had the doctor there and, in fact, was favored by a few smiles from the audience. Dr. Millikan, however, was more that equal to the situation and as he arose to reply he turned to Davis and said: “Young man, I have just spent the last three-quarters of an hour describing the characteristics of electrons which would define their color if they were visible.” This comeback broke the ice for an otherwise formal discussion and got a laugh from the audience and the questions came thick and fast.

Probably the most important single project that got underway during the year 1923, when R.C. Muir was chairman, was the Steinmetz Memorial. The first thought was to establish a Steinmetz Memorial Fellowship, for which funds would be raised from external sources by the local Section, but which would be administered by the National AIEE. The National Group appointed a committee of which Mr. Faccioli and Mr. Muir were members, but at the first and only meeting it developed that, in order for the National AIEE to sponsor such a scheme, local chapters would have to support Bell, Lamme, etc., memorials. This appeared too far-reaching and the Schenectady Section decided to establish a memorial under its own administration. This was carried out in the following year, when Mr. Craighead was chairman of the Local Section, in the form of the Steinmetz Memorial Lecture. However, the Section was able to interest Mr. E. W. Rice, Jr., in the fellowship idea and he in turn for the General Electric Company’s support to establish the Steinmetz Scholarships and the other sponsored entirely by the Schenectady Section, in the form of the Steinmetz Memorial Lectures. They have been a tradition since their founding. Each lecture is delivered in Schenectady and is open to the public. Each is printed in bracket form for free distribution.

Another important contribution of the Schenectady Section in the year 1923 was the questioning of the then current method of nominating national officers for AIEE. It was the custom for a few in New York, whom we chose to call the “Kitchen Cabinet,” to act together and make these nominations for the President of the Institute. The Schenectady Section had a candidate whom we felt merited the position, but it was given little or no consideration. As a result, the officers of the Schenectady Section appointed John B. Taylor and R.C. Muir, a committee of two, to go to New York and argue the case. The result was that for that year neither the candidate that Schenectady wished to place for nomination, received the nomination. As a matter of fact, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Muir sat in with the “Kitchen Cabinet” and agreed to nominate Michael Pupin, by Taylor and Muir protested very violently against the method of nomination. Mr. Muir felt that this episode had a bearing on working out the present nominating system which followed shortly thereafter. As a matter of record therefore, the Schenectady Section was influential in changing the old system of nominating officers of the AIEE and in assisting to establish the present method.

During the year 1923, Schenectady had a very active branch, largely due to the fine work of the earlier administrations which had brought into the Institute a great many young members and had obtained their interest through offering a series a very fine meetings. Throughout the year the meetings were well attended due to their fine character, and these proved of interest and assistance to its members.

In 1926, under the leadership of R.E. Doherty, the Schenectady Section sought to further interest the young members in the field of engineering work and activities of the Institute. During the season twelve meetings were held. Three of the these were joint meetings with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The average attendance attained was 250 per meeting. It is interesting to note that the largest attendance was 500 and the subject was “Talking Motion Pictures” by C.W. Stone. A total of 400 attended C.F. Kettering’s address on “Research Work in Automobile Building.”

Under the leadership of E.S. Lee in 1928, in addition to holding regular meetings, it was found that the officers represented in section in many affairs that ultimately were for the advancement of the section. Among the extra curricular activities of the Section were the following: A committee was appointed from the Section on Symbols and Abbreviations and it was felt that the results would be of value to the electrical industry and a welcome contribution from the Schenectady Section. The Schenectady Section acted as host to 225 students in attendance at the Student convention, District No. 1, held in Troy, NY, in May of 1929. The Local Section arranged for the entertainment of the students on the Saturday of the convention period.

The Local Section did what it could to help Radio Station WGY in its fight for recognition by sending a letter to Dr. J.H. Dellinger, Chief Engineer Federal Radio Commission, explaining the technical phases of the matter and bringing out the contribution of WGY to the art of radio broadcasting. The Schenectady Section was asked and did suggest the names of several engineers to act on the State Licensing Board to the place of H.G. Reist who resigned.

The Local Section was also active in helping prevent the passage of Senate Bill No, 1140 relative to the licensing of engineers. This would mean that every engineer and machinist in the State of New York would be required to be licensed before he could practice his profession. The Institute felt the provisions of the bill was much too far reaching. Incidentally the bill failed to pass.

Following the excellent administration of E.S. Lee, Robert Treat became Chairmen in 1929 and it was during his term of office that het Executive Committee decided upon a change in what might be termed the “policy and philosophy of section management.” This change came as a suggestion from E.S. Lee the previous year. At the time the Section Constitution provided for one chairman and six vice-chairmen. Apparently it had been the practice of the Nominating Committee to select for chairman a prominent member of the Section which usually, although not inevitably, meant a prominent member of the General Electric Company, and not much attention was paid to whether or not the nominee had taken particular interest or activity in Section affairs theretofore. Vice-chairmen were also apparently selected on somewhat the same basis. Since the Constitution provided that the Chairman could not succeed himself, this meant that each year the Section had a new Chairman who probably had not had much to do with running the Section and knew very little about it. Many prior chairmen had taken the job as somewhat of an honor not requiring much effort on their part. Those who had conceived of the job as a responsibility as well as an honor became sufficiently familiar with their duties and with the Section affairs to be reasonable proficient about the time of their term of office expired.

The Executive Committee decided that this was not a very good policy and that the Section should strive for more continuity in Section management in the future. It was felt that it would be desirable that Secretaries should be chosen with the understanding that they would be willing to succeed themselves; in other words serve two years, although elected for one year at a time. The same for Treasurer, and in addition a new Treasurer and a new Secretary should be chosen on alternate years so that a Treasurer would work with a Secretary who had the prior year’s experience and vice versa. It was felt that there was no need for six Vice-Chairmen, that there should really be one and that preferably the out-going Secretary or Treasurer, as the case may be, should be made Vice-Chairman to serve for one year, the following year becoming Chairman. Thus, when a man became Chairman, he would have had three years’ prior experience on the Executive Committee and thus be quite familiar with Section affairs. This also implied that each man nominated for Secretary of Treasurer should be selected on the basis that ultimately he expected to become Vice-Chairman and Chairman of the Schenectady Section.

It was also felt that it was desirable that the management of the Section should be place on the shoulders of the younger members rather than the older members of the Institute, particularly in the case of the Chairman, since the older members of the Section, as mentioned above, had attained prominence usually in fields other than Section activities.

Obviously, the Executive Committee was not in a position to tie the hands of future Section managements and Nominating Committees by legislation, by the above philosophy was evolved and was passed from one Section management to the next. The on thing which could be changed by legislation was the number of Vice-Chairmen. At the time the Constitution provided for six Vice-Chairmen and therefore had to be amended in order to change to one Vice-Chairman. This amendment, which incidentally was passed, brought out a funny story which follows:

The Constitutions provided that it could be amended by letter ballot. For an amendment to carry it was necessary that half of the members of the Section vote and that, of the votes cast, two thirds must be favorable to the amendment. Thus, one third of the membership could amend the Constitution. When the letter ballot was sent out for the change in the number of Vice-Chairmen only one third of the membership bothered to send in their ballots and all of those sent in were favorable. Thus, enough favorable ballots were received to pass the amendment, but because one sixth of the membership refrained from voting at all the amendment failed to pass. (Note: If one sixth of the membership had bothered to vote against the amendment it would have carried!) Since they didn’t another ballot was sent out with urgent pleas to return the same and then it was found that just enough votes came in to carry the amendment.

The Schenectady Section finances had always been in very good shape. Between receipts from local membership dues and what could be called from the National Institute there was always plenty of money for the Section’s needs. In fact, it seemed to have been the custom during prior years to spend about $200 less than income so that the Section had a very nice nest egg. To the Executive Committee this attitude toward finances did not seem right. While the Committee highly favored the principle of “saving up for a rainy day” on the part of an individual or commercial concern, it could not see any particular reason why the Schenectady Section should be interested in saving money for its old age of for posterity. It was decided that the Section would demand from National Headquarters, not the maximum, nut only enough to keep the Section on even keel and out of the “red.”

AIEE Schenectady Section Officers 1903-1945
1903-05 C.P. Steinmentz
1906-08 D.B. Rushmore
1908-09 E.J. Berg
1909-10 M.O. Troy
1910-11 E.A. Baldwin
1911-12 E.B. Merriam
1912-13 J.B. Taylor
1913-14 G.H. HIll
1914-15 H.M. Hobart
1915-16 L.T. Robinson
1916-17 C.E. Eveleth
1917-18 W.L. Upson
1918-19 K.A. Pauly
1919-20 C.S. VanDyke
1920-21 H.R. Summerhayes
1921-22 S.H. Blake
1922-23 C.M. Davis
1923-24 R.C. Muir
1924-25 J.R. Craighead
1925-26 W.J. Davis
1926-27 R.E. Doherty
1927-28 T.A. Worcester
1928-29 E.S. Lee
1929-30 R. Treat
1930-31 E.S. Henningsen
1931 R.A. Beekman
1932-33 E.E. Johnson
1933-34 D.W. McLenegan
1934-35 F.A. Hamilton
1935-36 H.H. Race
1936-37 C.M. Foust
1937-38 S.A. Holme
1938-39 C.E. Kilbourne
1939-40 C.W. LaPierre
1940-41 E.M. Hunter
1941-42 D.E. Chambers
1942-43 T.M. Linville
1943-44 O.C. Rutledge
1944-45 L.A. Umansky

Further Reading 

Link to Section Homepage

IEEE Geographic Unit Organizing Document - Schenectady

AIEE Schenectady Section History 1945

Links to Recent Issues of the Schenectady Section Newsletter 2002 - 2012