John W. Howell


John W. Howell
New Brunswick, NJ, USA
Death date
Associated organizations
Edison Works
Fields of study


John White Howell was born on 22 December 1857 in New Brunswick, New Jersey to Martin Armstrong and Abigail Lucetta. Howell attended the City College of New York from 1874 to 1876, after which he attended Rutgers College from 1876-1878. Howell also attended Stevens Institute of Technology from 1878 until 1881 where he earned an engineering degree. Given all the education that Howell received, it came as hardly a surprise that during his final years at Stevens Institute of Technology that he penned a thesis on electric lighting by incandescence, a work of originality and innovation, which was published in 1882.

As a result of his thesis, Howell took up a position as the employee of Thomas Edison in Menlo Park, New Jersey in 1881. He worked in the engineering department preparing and testing equipment, and developing methods and procedures for the commercial manufacture of incandescent lamps. While at work for Edison Works, Howell invented the first reliable electric current pressure indicator, known as the Howell voltmeter, which was the standard for central station switchboards until the development of the Weston voltmeter in 1890. Alongside inventing, he improved existing devices and originated much new apparatus used in the manufacture of electric lamps, and left a permanent mark on the development of electric lighting for decades. Additionally, he was closely associated with inventions which increased lamp manufacturing from an initial rate of 35,000 lamps a year to 3,000 lamps a minute.

In recognition of his contributions to the development of the incandescent lamp, he was awarded the Edison Medal by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1924. He retired in December 1931.Apart from his scholarly publications, in 1930 Howell published his memoirs, "Stories for My Children," Howell was given an honorary E.E. degree by Stevens Institute of Technology in 1899, and an honorary Sc.D. degree by Rutgers University in 1925 and Stevens Institute of Technology in 1932. When he passed away at 79 years old on 28 July1937, he was survived by sons, John White II and Robert Gilchrist, as well as three daughters, Jane Augusta, Margaret C., and Frederica Burckle.

Further Reading

John W. Howell, "A New Carbon Filament," Electrical Review, Vol 47, 8 Jul 1905, pp 46-47.

John White Howell, "Lamp Developments in America," Electrical World, Vol 85, 21 Feb 1925, pp 395-396.

John W. Howell and Henry Schroeder, History of the Incandescent Lamp, The Maqua Company, Schenectady, New York, 1927.

John W. Howell, Stories for My Children, Ransdell, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1930.

Obituary, "John W. Howell, Edison Assistant," The New York Times, 29 Jul 1937, pg 19, col 3.

"John White Howell," The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol 27, 1939, pp 22-23.

"John White Howell," Who Was Who in America, Marquis Publications, Chicago, 1966, pg 597.