Philip Sporn


Philip Sporn
Philip Sporn
Folotwin, Austria
Death date
Associated organizations
American Gas and Electric Co
Fields of study
AIEE Edison Medal


Philip Sporn was born in Folotwin, Austria, 25 November 1896, son of Isak and Rachel (Kolker) Sporn. He came to the United States in 1907, after his father had settled in New York City. Sporn received his preliminary education at public schools in New York City and was graduated E.E. at Columbia University in 1918.

In 1920 he joined the American Gas and Electric Co. (after 1958 the American Electric Power Co.), where he became chief electrical engineer in 1927. From 1933 to 1947 he was chief engineer of the company and its subsidiaries. He became vice-president in charge of engineering activities in 1934, was elected a director in 1943, became executive vice-president in 1945, and in 1947 succeeded George N. Tidd as president and chief executive officer of the company and its operating subsidiaries providing electric service in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee. Sporn retired as president in 1961, but remained as a director until 1969, was on the board of directors' executive committee, and was a consultant and adviser to the directors and officers of the company. In addition, from 1961 to 1966 he was chairman of the board of directors' System Development Committee.

The American Gas and Electric Co. was organized in New York in 1906 to acquire the properties of the Electric Company of America in Philadelphia, Pa., properties that included power facilities and distribution systems in Wheeling, W.Va., Canton and Bridgeport, Ohio, and Marion and Muncie, Ind., and other localities. The first internal transmission interconnection, between Marion and Muncie, was completed in 1912. In 1917 the Windsor plant on the Ohio River was completed and began delivering energy to Canton, fifty-five miles distant, via the first high-voltage transmission line (138,000 volts) in the east-central United States. During much of his forty-eight-year career with the company, Sporn sought ways to improve the integration of its energy system. By 1930 he had formulated a concept of large power generating stations located at key points throughout the system and tied together by transmission lines to form a large energy pool, and at the same time he was advocating interconnection of the company's system with its utility neighbors. In 1947 he assisted in development of the company's 345,000-kilowatt high-voltage transmission lines. When Sporn became president of American Gas and Electric Co. in 1947 the company served 950,000 customers in a population of 3.7 million in nearly 2000 communities. By 1961, when he retired, there were 1.4 million customers in a population of over 5 million in over 2000 communities.

Sporn pioneered in development of advanced energy technology and successfully exploited that technology for the purpose of making a more efficient and beneficial supply of electric energy available. In 1952 he helped found the Ohio Valley Electric Corp. (OVEC) and served as its president and as a director until 1967. Sponsored by fifteen Ohio Valley utility companies to meet the electric energy needs of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commissions' uranium-diffusion complex in Pike County, Ohio, OVEC had a total generating capacity of 2 million kilowatts of electricity divided between two giant power plants, the design and construction of which Sporn directed, and which went into operation in 1955. In 1953 he organized the Nuclear Power Group, Inc., a multi-company nonprofit atomic power research and development partnership that worked with the Commonwealth Edison Co. in planning and constructing a 180,000-kilowatt boiling-water reactor at the Dresden (III) nuclear plant, one of the first nuclear generating stations. Sporn became president of the Nuclear Power Group in 1955. In addition, he was instrumental in the formation in 1957 of the East Central Nuclear Group and was chairman until 1967 of its research committee, investigating advanced power reactors, including gas and steam-cooled breeder reactors. Sporn also played a key role in 1956 in persuading Kaiser Aluminum to locate at Ravenswood, W.Va., and the Ormet Corp. at Clarington, Ohio, guaranteeing that American Gas and Electric's coal-fired generating plants could supply the 600,000 kilowatts around the clock that those energy-intensive aluminum plants required. He also aided in working out a partnership between the investor-owned utilities and the member-owned electric cooperatives in Ohio. In 1966, following the November 1965 power blackout in the northeastern United States, Sporn took initiatives leading to formation of the East Central Reliability Coordination Agreement (ECAR) the purpose of which was to achieve maximum reliability in the bulk power supply of its twenty-six electric utility members.

Sporn served with many national and foreign, international, and regional groups dealing with energy questions, among them the War Production Board (1944-45), the Oak Ridge Project of the Monsanto Chemical Co. (1947), the electric power committee of the National Security Resources Board (1947-1958), the visiting committee for the nuclear engineering and reactor departments of Brookhaven (N.Y.) National Laboratory (1953-1957), the Sea Water Conversion Commission of the government of Israel (1959-1973), and the Federal Power Commission national power survey (1962-1965). He was delegate to the first international conference on the peaceful uses of atomic energy in Geneva, Switzerland (1955). In 1964, at the request of the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, he evaluated the current status of nuclear electric generation. At various times he was associated with the Committee on Economic Development research and policy subcommittee, and he became chairman in 1954 of the U.S. national committee of the Conference Internationale des Grands Roseaux Electriques (CIGRE), an international organization of engineers and other technical personnel and administrators dedicated to the promotion of and exchange of information on technical and economic developments in power generation and transmission.

Sporn was a prolific writer. He wrote some 200 papers and articles printed in scientific and technical publications, and many books, among them The Integrated Power System (1950); Foundations of Energy (1964); Fresh Water from Saline Waters (1966); Technology, Engineering and Economics (1969); The Social Organization of Electric Power Supply in Modern Societies (1971); and Energy in an Age of Limited Availability and Delimited Applicability (1976). He received many honors, including the American Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Edison Medal (1945) "For his contributions to the art of economical and dependable power generation and transmission", Columbia University's Medal for Excellence (1948); John Fritz Medal (1956); the American Society of Mechanical Engineers medal (1962). He was a fellow and honorary member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Nuclear Society, and an honorary fellow of Great Britain's Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He was a member of the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering, the Franklin Institute, Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi, and Eta Kappa Nu.

Sporn enjoyed symphonic music, and he was a prodigious reader. He was married in New York City, 10 September 1923, to Sadie Posner, and had three children: Deborah, Arthur David, and Michael Benjamin. Philip Sporn died in New York City, 23 January 1978.