The back of the textbook that professor Frank Wicks uses for “Exploring Engineering,” a course for first-year students, lists the 20th century’s most important innovations.
At the top of the list: electricity.
So it makes sense to bring students to where it all began – Schenectady – with a field trip to the Edison Tech Center, “a hands-on workshop to introduce students to the wonders of electricity,” as Wicks describes it. “We’re trying to give them a sense of what happened here.”
The center at 136 Broadway, the former press building for the Schenectady Gazette, is filled with the entire history of electrical innovation, much of it born in Schenectady. On display are the 1914 Detroit Electric Car that belonged to Charles Proteus Steinmetz; dozens of light bulbs, from the earliest versions by Edison, to compact fluorescents used today; and household appliances ranging from irons to microwaves.
In 1894, J. Pierpont Morgan, who considered competition the enemy of profitability in the electrical industry, began a consolidation of manufacturers – including Edison Electric – that would become General Electric.
In 1926, Christian Steenstrup developed a sealed motor and compressor that would be integral to an appliance that would be in half of American households by the end of World War II: the refrigerator.
In the 1940s, Irving Langmuir, a GE scientist and frequent Union lecturer, predicted that the magnetron – the core of radar used in the war – would have another application: the microwave oven.
Guiding the way was John Harnden Jr. ’50, a retired GE engineer with a number of patents to his credit. Harnden, a founder of the center, received an Outstanding Alumni Engineering Award from the College at ReUnion in May.
“GE is the biggest player in the region,” said student Kirk Seaman. “The Global Research Center is the most technologically advanced place in the region.”
“Why do they call it the Electric City?” asked professor Abe Tchako. “It’s not just the light bulb. It’s pioneers like Charles Steinmetz and Thomas Edison.”Read More