Category Archives: Schenectady

The Lancaster School System in Schenectady

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After the establishment of the Schenectady Academy, there came another type of public school, known as a Lancaster School. George Rogers Howell, again in his History of the County of Schenectady, N.Y. from 1662 to 1886, gives some of the background of Lancaster schools, which were developed in England by Joseph Lancaster, and relied heavily on the “monitor” system, by which students that have learned material are then tasked with passing it on to another pupil:

The seats and tables were arranged in the center of the school-room, leaving a passage clear around the outside; on the walls hung stiff cards or pasteboards containing the lessons, so that the class, standing in a semicircle, could learn to read and spell from the same card. The tables were divided into partitions, or shallow boxes, filled with sand, and occupying the spaces in front of each scholar. The child was taught the letters and how to make them by drawing them in the sand with a stick, cut sharp at one end and flat at the other, so that light and heavy lines could be made without having to retrace them. The sand was smoothed over with a rule of exactly the same width as the partition, and the lines to rule the sand were made by little pegs in the ruler, on the other side, which was used after the sand had been smoothed. After learning to trace the letters in the sand, the scholars were given slates and pencils, afterward pens and ink. Monitors from the higher classes were assigned classes to teach, being changed frequently, so that teaching might not occupy too much of their time to the detriment of their own studies.

Lancaster wrote Improvements in Education in 1803 and came to the United States to lecture on his ideas, beginning a model school in Philadelphia in 1818 to train teachers who would implement his system. For a while, Lancasterian schools were all the rage, and Schenectady was ahead of the curve, with an act to incorporate the Schenectady Lancaster School Society having passed in November 1816. The act provided, according to Howell, that the school could be established in the “compact parts of the first and second wards of the city,” and that thirteen trustees were to be appointed to receive moneys due to common schools; in other words, there was public funding, which came from the superintendent of common schools, resulting from real and personal estate taxes. The Lancaster School received an equal share as any other common school districts that would be organized.

The trustees were initially named in the act and then were to be elected annually by the citizens. Those first trustees, perhaps not surprisingly, were like a who’s who of Schenectady names: Maus Schermerhorn, Henry Yates Jr., Jacob Van Vechten, Hooper Cumming, Isaac Riggs, Elisha Taylor, Eliphalet Nott, James Bailey, David Boyd, Abraham S. Groot, Charles Kane and James C. Duane. Duane was made president, and the board had to sort out the cost of building a school-house. In December 1817, a committee reported that they had “obtained for the benefit of the Lancaster School Society, from the corporation of this city, seventy acres of land on the hill opposite Jacob Lyons’,” situated on the northeast side of the Albany and Schenectady turnpike, meaning somewhere on State Street. They expected to receive from taxes on the two inner wards of the city $213.72, and just about the same amount from the State, and they had $90 in hand for about $500 total. They apparently expected to receive sufficient additional tuition, because the board resolved to set the teacher’s salary at $750 yearly, “provided enough money was received to make that amount; if not, then the salary was to be all above the current expenses of the year.” Nicholas Van Vranken was selected as the school’s first teacher. The school-house was reported as complete on July 24, 1818, at a total cost of $809.95, and tuition was set at one dollar a quarter, paid in advance. (Prior to that, the school met briefly in a building later occupied by the Union School Primary Department on Union Street.)

Van Vranken presented his first Teacher’s Report to the Board in March, 1820. He reported:

The whole number of scholars admitted into the school since the 1st March, 1819, is 267. The school is divided into 8 reading classes; from the first to the second of these there have been 27 promotions; to the third, 28; to the fourth, 26; to the fifth, 44; to the sixth, 31; to the seventh, 39; and to the eighth, 36. . . . When it is taken into consideration that none are permitted to write on paper but those who write a fair and handsome hand on the slate, and that 154 out of 267 have done this, the excellence of the place . . . must stand unquestioned.

In 1824, tuition was reduced to twenty-five cents, and the teacher’s salary reduced to $500. At the same time it was resolved that “poor scholars, not exceeding forty, be admitted into the school gratuitously.”

In 1833, Van Vranken stepped down from teaching after 15 years, to be replaced by Ezekiel Sexton, who was very soon replaced by James Slater. Shortly thereafter, it was resolved to sell the school-house to Dr. Nott for $225, and that a lot on College street would be purchased from Gov. Yates to build a new school-house, which after some complications was first occupied in July of 1834.

On April 1, 1836, the city undertook the issue of education for the African American population. It was resolved “that this corporation feel themselves obliged to appropriate, for the purposes of the education of the colored children of this city, such proportion of the public money as may hereafter be collected on the enumeration of such children.” In June 1837, $25 was set aside to pay for a teacher in the “African Lancaster School Society.”

Soon, more schools would be necessary, and the Lancaster School Society wanted to maintain control. The Board, in 1839, adopted a resolution:

Whereas, Doubts have been expressed whether any other mode of instruction than what is called the ‘Lancaster System,’ can be used in the schools of this Society; Resolved, that this Board request our members of Assembly and the Senate . . . to procure a law to remove such doubts, and leave this Board the power of causing all the branches of education taught in any of the common schools of this State to be taught in the schools of this Society, and in any approved mode that this Society may deem expedient to adopt.

At the same time James Slater saw his salary increase but was assigned to employ at his own expense a female teacher for the female department. State money was used to pay for a school district library, and the Board appropriated $200 to establish a school or schools in the first ward and $300 for schools in the third or fourth wards or both. The Board proposed to continue using some parts of the Lancaster system “(such as the mode of teaching the names and mode of forming figures and letters) in the first or primary school, and in the other schools in the wards for beginners, but to depend upon instruction from the teachers personally so soon as the scholar has made progress beyond the first elements of literature.” William Cockran and a Miss Stiles were engaged as teachers for the Lancaster School, Martin C. Hall for the Ferry Street School, and Harvey Moore for the Liberty Street School; the latter two opened May 4, 1840.

In 1840, $1396.88 was received, of which $279.37 was paid for books, $48 to the African School, and the balance of $1069.51 for wages of teachers, who also received the tuition fees of about $450. There were 360 children in the schools run by the Lancaster Society board, out of about 1,065 children within the districts.

In 1846, the “gradual introduction of uniform text-books” was recommended. These included: Webster’s Spelling Book, Hazen’s Speller and Definer, Sanders’ First, Second and Third Reader, Hale’s History of the United States, Porter’s Rhetorical Reader, New Testament, Smith’s Grammar, Mitchell’s Geography, First and Second, Crittenden’s Arithmetic, Parley’s History, Davies’ Algebra, Olmstead’s Philosophy, Marsh’s Bookkeeping (Single Entry), Crittenden’s Bookkeeping (Double Entry). Music was also added to the curriculum, and in the next few years additional, and more advanced, texts were added.

The Lancaster system continued to prevail in Schenectady, but the State Legislature passed an act in 1849 establishing free public schools in New York State, and the Board reorganized into the Schenectady Free School System in 1854. The first free school was established in the West College building of Union College, and was called the Union School.

The West College building had passed back and forth between the City and Union College until its final establishment as the Union School. It had an addition that accommodated the Lancaster School, as well. The Encyclopedia of Union College History has this to say:

“About 1816, soon after the City bought Stone [West] College, a Lancasterian school – a precursor of the public school system – was built in the rear. A brick building, one full storey with a second storey under a steep roof, it stood between Stone College and Long College on North College Street. The school sold it to Eliphalet Nott in 1834 and erected a new wooden building on the west side of North College Street. In 1840 the library was moved from North College [on the current campus] and installed in a room in West College that was used for trustee meetings, while the Museum was moved to the brick building, thereafter called Geological Hall.

In 1854, over the objections of Mayor Mordecai Myers, who resigned in protest, the City again purchased West College, this time for $6,000. The structure became Schenectady’s first public school, called the Union School. Razed in 1890, it was replaced with a red brick building called The Union Street School, which was in turn razed in the 1940s. The site is now partially occupied by the parking lot of the Van Dyck restaurant.”


Schenectady’s first school

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The Schenectady Academy, Union and Ferry streets

The Schenectady Academy, Union and Ferry streets

Our discussion of just where George Westinghouse went to school in Schenectady made us curious about the history of the Electric City’s early schools. Happily, George Rogers Howell was also curious and gave us some of the story in his “History of the County of Schenectady, from 1662 to 1886.” There were, as in all cities at the time, numerous independent teachers running what could loosely be called schools, but not organized and community supported institutions. The first attention to an organized school system in Schenectady dated back to the Revolution, but it was the coming of Dominie Dirck Romeyn as minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1784 that served as the inspiration of the Schenectady Academy in the following year. That Academy eventually grew into Union College, in a sense, and the early history of education in Schenectady saw the college and the academy tightly tied until the middle of the 19th century.

Through [Romeyn’s] influence the church was induced to erect a commodious building, the citizens agreeing to give it their patronage and furnish it with a library. The church contemplated constructing a house of two stories, with two rooms on each story, upon the lot of ground upon which the old guard-house now stands, at the junction of Church and State streets. Three rooms were to be assigned for the use of the school and academy. On account of the great cost of the Academy-house to the church, it was ‘resolved, that said church shall receive four shillings from every scholar taught in said house, and if said academy or Illustre School shall become changed into a college, then the presidents of such college, as well as the rector of said school, shall be a member of the Dutch Church and minister of this church; and the said four shillings for each scholar shall be bestowed upon such poor scholars as the church shall name.’

In 1785 it was determined to build the Academy instead at the north corner of Union and Ferry streets. A committee of citizens and the church consistory worked toward its completion; Howell writes that their names were cut into an oval stone which was, at the time of his writing, in the Union College Museum (and it would be great to know if the college still possesses it).

The Academy flourished from the start, enrolling 100 students within a year and continuing at that level for a decade, until Union’s founding in 1795. At that time, the College began conducting classes on the upper floor, and the grammar school continued on the lower floor. The growth and overcrowding led to the plans for a new building to be built on the edge of the city. The new West College was occupied in 1804, at the corner of Union and College streets. It may have been designed by Philip Hooker, who may have based it on the College of New Jersey’s (Princeton’s) Nassau Hall.

Howell was a bit of a plagiarist and not much of an editor, so his timelines could be confusing; he would lift materials from separate sources and not bother to integrate them. So it is with that warning that we repeat what Howell said, which he lifted from Pearson: in 1793, the Dutch Church “made the building over to the trustees of the academy; and on September 24, 1796, it was made over to the trustees of Union College, to be sold and the money put into a more commodious building. The proceeds of this sale were finally merged in the building fund of the present Union School edifice.”

The academy building was of brick, two stories in height, about 50 x 30 feet on the ground, and cost about $3,000. It was used by Union College until 1804. This school was opened in 1793 under the care of Col. John Taylor, of New Jersey. This school appears to have been conducted with much ability, and being well sustained by the community in which it was planted, became the germ of the college.
An academic school, in connection with Union College, was established by President Nott immediately after his election in 1804. The teachers of this school were appointed by him, and the principal was recognized by the laws of the college as a member of the faculty. This academic school became popular and extensively useful for many years.
On the 7th of April, 1818, an act was passed authorizing the revival and reorganization of the Schenectady Academy, which was done by the election of a Board of Trustees on the 1st day of April, 1819. The academic department of Union College was merged into this school . . . The academy continued until the reorganization of the schools of the city in 1854.


That other George Westinghouse of Schenectady

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George Westinghouse at an early age in 1884.

George Westinghouse at an early age in 1884.

It’s possible that the name of  Westinghouse would be a dimly remembered one, one of the legions of upstate New York manufacturers who rose and fell in the industrial boom that accompanied the Erie Canal. George Westinghouse Sr. started as a simple farmer who showed flourishes of mechanical genius and built an agricultural implements business in Schenectady on land that would later be swallowed up by an even greater industrial giant, General Electric. We covered all that yesterday. But that George Westinghouse had a son named George, and that son turned his own mechanical brilliance into a business that rivaled his hometown giant. In the end, he didn’t build it in his hometown, but in the western boomtown of Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, George Westinghouse Jr. was very much a product of what wasn’t yet the Electric City.

He was born Oct. 6, 1846, when his family was still living in Central Bridge, far enough out of the mainstream that it became a problem when his father decided to expand the business; for that, they needed to move closer to where metal could be worked, in Schenectady, so the family moved there in 1856. Leupp (in his George Westinghouse: His Life and Achievements) wrote that young George,

though he waked up more after the removal to Schenectady, did not expand mentally in the direction his father had hoped. He was sent to school, but took only a languid interest in his studies, though he profited somewhat by his more enlivening companionship. Of this, however, he could not reap the fullest advantage, as his father was able to see little virtue in play, regarding it simply as a form of idleness, and preferring that George should come into the shop every day after school hours and learn how tools were used by skilled hands … To stand at the elbow of a mature man for an hour and watch the plying of saw and plane, the boring of holes, and the driving of screws was a dreary occupation for him. When for a change he was shifted over to the neighborhood of his brother John, and looked on at the latter’s handling of the metal parts, he felt more at liberty to criticize, and before five minutes had elapsed the two lads would be in a heated controversy, in which the temper of each would occasionally break bounds. If, on the other hand, he was taken away from all the rest of the workers and set at a bench by himself, with a pattern before him and the material and tools at hand for making a duplicate of it, his attention would soon wander from his fixed task and he would become immersed in some mechanism of his own contriving – a little engine, or a miniature water wheel with fanciful connections, or what not.

Leupp tells further tales of George’s youth, in the style of biographies of the time, and it’s impossible to tell whether they bear any resemblance to events that actually happened. He says that George became a great tinkerer, and that he attended school at the corner of Union and College streets, which I believe would have been the first free school in Schenectady, the former West College building of Union College, which the city acquired and opened in 1852 (though it is possible it refers to the Delavan building, at the same intersection). “A few of his schoolfellows of this period are still living in Schenectady,” Leupp wrote in 1919 , “and remember George as a rather inept pupil. It was not that his mind was dull; but the books he was required to study failed as a rule to stir his imagination, and he had only an indifferent gift of self-expression … This puzzled most of his teachers, because his logical faculties, when applied to something which had captured his fancy, struck them as considerably above the average. He was also keen as to everything mathematical, and in free-hand drawing he excelled all competitors with circles that were round, and lines that were straight, and angles that measured the required number of degrees.”

The Civil War came and George, “though only fourteen years of age, was smitten with the prevalent martial fever.” His brothers Albert and John enlisted, and Leupp writes that George attempted to leave town by train to enlist as well, but was caught by his father. (Other sources say he enlisted in the New York National Guard and served until his parents convinced him to return home. But the war continued, and in 1863 he joined Company M, 16th NY Cavalry and rose to corporal. In December 1864 he resigned from the Army to join the Navy (or perhaps was transferred, following the death of brother Albert in battle), and was Acting Third Assistant Engineer on the USS Muscoota until the end of the war. As we’ve mentioned before, the Smithsonian has a webpage featuring one of the letters from George Sr. to his son, written toward the close of the war in 1865, two months after Lee’s surrender.

Schenectady, June 11th 1865
My Dear Son
Your letters of 23 & 25th last was rec’d on Thursday last, both were verry welcome letters. We had one from John on Monday dated at Havanna 29th, he is well. I am pleased to hear that you have sent in your resignation, as I think it will be much better for you to be home. I hope you will continue to retain good health as that is the greatest blessing that can attend any one. John has not said any thing about resigning so I do not know whether he will or not. If he don’t they will discharge him unless he shall get some strong recommend to remain. If he wanted to follow the business it would be better for him to remain in the Gov’t service than to go in the Merchant service.
We are having some demand for our machines and keep to work about as usual. I have hopes that we shall come out better at the end of this year than we have for the past two years but we can’t tell yet.
Jay and [Brant?] has gone to Port Jervis and will be back tomorrow or next day. Your mother is feeling rather better than when I last wrote.
Write often as we always like to hear from you.
I wrote to you when I last wrote that your patent was ordered to issue when the balance of the Gov’t fee was paid: $20.
Yours Truly
G. Westinghouse

The patent referred to (No. 50,759) was for a rotary steam engine, which was granted Oct. 31, 1865. “Be it known that I, George Westinghouse, Jr., of the city and county of Schenectady, and State of New York, have invented a new and useful improvement in Rotary Engines.” It would not be his last. Wikipedia lists 31 significant patents (actually, 32, but the first is his father’s, for a grain winnower), and there were many, many more.

Prout’s A Life of George Westinghouse says that on returning from the war, not yet nineteen years old, George entered Union College in the scientific department as a sophomore, but only lasted for a single term. “His father was able and willing to send him through college, but George preferred active work.” He went back to his father’s shop. Somehow he became interested in railroads, and here, too, the stories of why are probably apocryphal, all having to do with some chance meeting or the witnessing of a crash. The likely reality is that Westinghouse liked to solve problems, and the rapidly growing railroad industry had a local presence (in the Schenectady Locomotive Works) and no shortage of problems. While still working in Schenectady, George was issued patents for a car re-placing (re-railing) device and for railroad frogs (the crossing point of two rails). He is said to have witnessed a collision on the Schenectady to Troy line in which the engineers saw the impending tragedy, but were unable to stop in time because brakes had to be applied manually from the top of each car, leading him to devise a compressed air braking system that allowed the engineer to brake cars simultaneously. That development, in 1869, sealed his future.

He met his future wife on a train, appropriately enough, while traveling home from New Jersey where some of his devices were to be manufactured. He became smitten with Miss Marguerite Erskine Walker of Roxbury, New York. After two visits to Kingston, where she had relatives, and three to Roxbury (if Leupp is to be believed), they were engaged to be married in 1867. (All the sources say they made their first home in Pittsburgh, but they also say that he was still in Schenectady in 1869, so the timeline isn’t clear; it appears George departed for Pittsburgh shortly after the marriage, and called for his young bride shortly thereafter.)

It’s natural to wonder why Westinghouse didn’t set up shop in his hometown, where there were railroad companies and, not too far away, steel-making. He was traveling to some major cities to sell his frogs and car-replacer, and to tout the possibilities of his air brakes, and this certainly put him in touch with key figures in Pniladelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Some of the answer may be in a falling-out he is said to have had with his business partners, who when business was falling off demanded that he buy them out, which he was not in a position to do, or to simply let them have his patent, which he refused to do. This, again according to Leupp, pushed him to consider a deal with a steel-making plant in Pittsburgh, Anderson and Cook, that could make his car-replacement apparatus much more cheaply than it could be made in the Capital District, and which was willing to cast the equipment at their own expense and hire George on to sell them. (Whether his former partners considered the matter thus settled, we haven’t learned.) He departed for Pittsburgh, bringing his bride along in the autumn of 1868, and there built a tremendous industry. While his parents and family remained in Schenectady the rest of their days, George’s business was built in the steel city. It wasn’t long before he delved into the electrical world, where the Westinghouse companies made a name developing (in part from patents of Tesla) alternating current transmission and motors, ultimately winning the War of the Currents.

There is a lot of detail about Westinghouse’s life after that air brake patent in the various biographies, and a lot of it may be just as fanciful as we suspect Leupp’s and Prout’s accounts were. (Leupp’s was far from the worst of the biographies we found; Levine’s 1962 “Inventive Wizard George Westinghouse” reports pages of conversation as fact without the slightest attribution.) All this filler and questionable events (for instance, one account says that the family left Central Bridge after a series of fires, something not mentioned in the more contemporary biographies) are likely the result of Westinghouse’s reticence to speak publicly, give interviews, or do anything other than work and invent. While quite a few of the lies about Edison’s life came straight from his own mouth because he loved regaling reporters, and while Tesla had some of the leading technology writers of the day not only following him around but advising him, Westinghouse seems to have kept the press at a distance. He never wrote or dictated an autobiography. So in the end, we know very little about his life in Schenectady.

His birthplace in Central Bridge still stands (so apparently wasn’t consumed by fire) and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Of the family home on State Street, there of course has been no trace for decades. A home that George built for his mother, originally intended as something of a country home because it was so far out of the city at the time, still stands, although legend has it that she rarely if ever went there. Today it is the venerable Bond Funeral Home.

We’ve barely touched on the importance of George Jr.’s accomplishments – the air brake alone was transformative. There’s a good summary of all that he did at this site.

The first George Westinghouse of Schenectady

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Emmaline and George Westinghouse, Sr.Somehow we’ve never talked much about George Westinghouse. One of the all-time industrial greats, the man who did more than anyone to achieve the modern electrical transmission system (after having invented a way for locomotives to stop reliably), Westinghouse was also a private man who didn’t invite publicity, unlike his ally Nikola Tesla and his rival Thomas Edison, both of whom couldn’t get enough press. Perhaps that’s why we know so little about his life, which began in Schenectady.

First, let’s talk about his father, George Westinghouse Sr., the grandson of a Westphalian immigrant. Biographer George Prout offered this backhanded compliment: “Three generations in the flanks of the Vermont mountains could hardly evolve as complete a Yankee as six generations, but in this case the product was reasonably satisfactory.” He was born in 1809 in Pownal, Vermont, one of twelve children; after marrying Emmaline (sometimes Emaline or other spellings) Vedder in 1831, he took his bride to the wild west, to farm on the banks of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. They apparently didn’t care for it, and came back east, first to Minaville in Montgomery County. It was there, according to “George Westinghouse; His Life and Achievements” by Francis Leupp, that George Sr. saw a neighbor’s new threshing machine, and started thinking of ways to improve it. His wife encouraged him to change occupations and become a maker of machinery, but they found Minaville wanting as a proper factory location and decided to relocate to Central Bridge, a now obscure location that was then notable for its access to roads and relative proximity to Schenectady, which was beginning to boom. Leupp writes that

 …a patent he had taken out had begun to bring returns, he made over most of his farm work to hired hands and spent his days at the bench. His mechanical operations gradually outgrew the original shop, and an extension had to be added. This, in its turn, meant more capital and more help, both of which were forthcoming from the neighborhood, where the people had come to recognize in him a man of more than ordinary ability. His inventions included improvements not only in threshing machines, but in winnowing appliances, endless-chain horse powers, and several allied devices, as well as a seed-scraper for broom corn, which attracted notice by its ingenuity.

Increased domestic expenses, together with a business competition which was already making itself felt, led Mr. Westinghouse to consider means of reducing the cost of his machines. Though he could make the wooden parts in his shop and do the assembling there, he had to buy all his metal castings in Schenectady and haul them over by wagon – a tedious and expensive process when the roads were out of repair. When, therefore, his business had sufficiently expanded, he decided to remove both factory and family to Schenectady, and in 1856 the change was made. Two partners named Clute having joined him, the firm bought a building formerly used as a cement mill, on the south bank of the Erie Canal near the junction of Washington Avenue and the River Road, and turned it into a shop. The main part of this is still standing, though almost hidden by the pretentious structures which have grown up around it; and one can trace from a neighboring elevation what the elements have left of the old sign, ‘G. Westinghouse & Co.,’ painted in black letters on the rough limestone surface of the eastern gable end.

Eventually, in 1856, George Sr. established a shop for making agricultural machinery, mill machinery, and small steam engines in Schenectady. He held at least seven patents for “horsepowers, winnowers, thrashing machines, and a sawing machine.” The works of G. Westinghouse & Co. “long stood at the gate of the great works of the General Electric Company.” They were along the canal at the south end of Washington Avenue, then Rotterdam Street. One of Larry Hart’s books shows former Westinghouse buildings in 1919, before they were torn down to make room for International General Electric Building 36. He also apparently had a building at Dock Street, nearer to the canal and State Street.

Home of George Westinghouse Sr.

The home of George Westinghouse, Sr., at 16 State Street. Hotel Van Curler behind to the left, and the YMCA across the street. Currently Liberty Park.

The family lived in three homes, finally settling at 16 State Street, which is now Liberty Park across from the old YMCA building. Each of the family’s sons was brought into the business in some way. Eldest son Jay attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and was found to be a manager more than a mechanical man: “he had executive ability and a wise discernment, including a bent for managing men without friction . . . and before long he was transferred to a desk in the office, where he met customers, engaged workmen, and kept the accounts.”

The next son, John, had a strong mechanical bent, favored metal-working over carpentry, and devoted spare time to “what we should now call ‘social work’ among the less favored elements in the community. He was particularly successful in rescuing ‘gang’ boys from a life of crime and starting them on paths toward useful citizenship.”

Third son Albert “showed from the outset less taste for mechanics, his chief natural inclinations being toward books. He enjoyed good literature, and argued ingeniously any question which arose in the domestic circle. In the opinion of family friends, he might have had a brilliant career if educated for the bar.”

Leupp’s account includes some stories that are probably fanciful, including a lengthy story about how George Sr. was so taken up with an invention that he didn’t realize his wife was about to give birth to George Jr., and was informed of the birth by a neighbor when he got home from solving a problem at the shop.

Of George Sr.’s once-thriving company, it’s safe to say that his son’s accomplishments, first with railroad air brakes and later in the field of electricity, thoroughly overshadowed his father’s, to the point that trying to research the father’s work online is almost futile. Ardrey’s 1894 “American Agricultural Implements,” which takes the interesting approach of outlining pioneer manufacturing centers by city, describes Westinghouse’s works as “A Pioneer Thresher House:”

The Westinghouse Company, of Schenectady, N.Y., is one of the oldest thresher houses in America, having been established in 1836 [in Central Bridge] by the late Geo. Westinghouse. The first product consisted of tread-powers, “ground-hog” threshers and fanning-mills. Various improvements were made, and in time “separators” were built, and other implements were also manufactured. The business was conducted by Geo. Westinghouse individually until 1851, and from 1851 to 1883 by G. Westinghouse & Co., his sons joining in the business as partners. In 1883 the house incorporated as the Westinghouse Company, the surviving sons remaining as principals. Various styles of threshing machinery are manufactured for grain, beans and peas and other crops, and also a rye thresher, with binding attachment for the straw.

We don’t find much more than this about George Westinghouse Sr. or George Jr.’s brothers. John, Albert and George all served in the Civil War. John was an engineer officer in the Navy. Albert served in the Army, was captured and exchanged, then returned as a 2d lieutenant with the 2d New York Veteran Volunteer Cavalry; he was killed leading a cavalry charge in December 1864. George Jr. also served, although he held back for at least a couple of years at his father’s insistence because he was so young when the war began (Prout says he ran away to enlist at 15, when war broke out, but that his father prevented this). He became an engineer in the Navy, and was already working toward his future, having patented a rotary steam engine. A touching letter from father to son during the war is posted at the Smithsonian’s site.

Then there was that other George Westinghouse.

Erie Canal in Schenectady, 1834

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1834 Erie Canal Schenectady

These maps of the Erie Canal from 1834 are so beautiful, we couldn’t resist sharing another one from the NYS Archives Digital Collection. Click on it to see it much larger.  The path of the canal through downtown Schenectady should be familiar to anyone who knows Erie Boulevard and, conveniently, most of the street names remain the same. State Street to the east of the canal was the Schenectady and Albany Turnpike.

State and Erie

This was once the crossroads of Schenectady – what is now the intersection of State Street and Erie Boulevard. At this time, it was still a sleepy little town making its living on broom corn and hops.

City Mill Creek under Canal

Just a little further down the canal, the City Mill Creek was diverted under or through the canal; it’s not clear. You can see that two buildings sat above the creek, likely mills using water power. The J.C. Yates whose property is marked adjoining the canal is most likely Joseph Christopher Yates, seventh governor of New York (1823-24), trustee of Union College and president of Schenectady Savings Bank.

Main blocks of State Street

On what we now think of as downtown Schenectady, the stretch of State Street between Erie Boulevard and Jay Street was residential. Cowhorn’s Mill Creek (also sometimes Coehorn, among other spellings) crossed State just above Jay.

Union College and City Hall

To the north, the old locations of Union College (appropriately on College Street), which had already been around for nearly 40 years,  and one of several locations of City Hall. Today the location of the “West College” is noted by an historical marker:
West College

19th Century Railroads: Unsafe at Any Speed

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Rairoad train heading west  just past northern boulevard albany ny c 1900

In 1865, every railroad in the state made a report to the railroad commissioners of the State of New York. There are lots of facts and figures about capital stock, funded debt, length of road laid, numbers of passenger cars and snow plows, etc. They even give the average rate of speed and the average weight of full size cars. Fascinating. But what’s really interesting are the detailed descriptions of the dozens of ways that passengers, employees, and ordinary citizens trying to cross the tracks were parted from life and limb, quite literally. Here are just a few examples from Albany area railroads, that don’t even begin to touch on the dozens of horrific ways people were killed or maimed by the iron horse that year.

Albany Railway
1864. Sept. 14. John T. Siegmann, of New York, in leaving the front platform of car No. 2, descending State street, opposite Tweddle Hall, without proper notice to the conductor or driver, was thrown down and his right arm so injured as to require amputation. The conductor and driver were exonerated from blame.
Oct. 21. John Mooney was injured in a drain excavation in the Bowery [renamed Central Avenue in 1867] by the falling of the horses of a car. No fatal result occurred.

Albany and Susquehanna
April 26, 1865. John Van De Bogart, a brakeman, while standing on the steps of a passenger car, was struck by the bridge near Guilderland, and instantly killed.

Albany and West Stockbridge
1865. Feb. 19. A boy by the name of John Kildan, in trying to get upon a stock train at Chatham fell between the cars, was run over and killed.
Aug. 30. A man by the name of John Kiley, in trying to get upon a freight train at Greenbush, fell between the cars, was run over and killed.
Sept. 22. A man by the name of Michael Behan, of Pittsfield, in trying to cross the track at Shaker’s Village, in front of a train, was truck by the engine and killed.

Hudson and Boston
1865. Sept. 9. Jacob M. Rivenburgh was struck by the morning train from Chatham while driving his cattle from the track in Ghent; being aware that a train was coming, and supposing at the time that it was a Harlem train until it was too late for him to escape, the engine struck him, injuring him fatally; he lived about five hours, perfectly rational, blaming no one but himself for the accident.

Hudson River Railroad
1864. Oct. 2. John Bowman jumped from the cars near Troy, and was run over and severely injured.
1865. January 31. Anson Norcutt, brakeman, stepped from his train, near Castleton, on to the opposite track, and was struck by a down train and killed.
March 9. An express train, going south, was thrown from the track near Stuyvesant, and a brakeman, named O. Jenkins, had one of his legs broken.
March 15. George Comstock, while walking on the track near Castleton, was struck by an express train, and so severely injured as to cause his death.
May 29. Patrick Kennedy, employe, while riding on a hand car between Catskill and Hudson, came in collision with a locomotive and was seriously injured.
[Many other accidents up and down the Hudson were recorded.]
Most of the accidents which have occurred are attributable to the carelessness of the persons injured, particularly to their walking on the track.

New York Central
1864. Nov. 5. Christian Shilling, a laborer, in attempting to pass from a car of a wood train to the engine, while the train was in motion near West Albany, fell upon the track, was run over and killed.
Dec. 16. John Rahill, an employe, while shoveling snow from the north track in the rock cut east of West Albany, in order to avoid a gravel train moving west, passed over to the south track just in front of the Buffalo express train moving east, was run over and killed.
1865. Feb. 25. Andrew Smith, a brakeman, was killed by striking against the Johnstown and Fultonville bridge, under which his train was passing.
March 30. Thomas Merritt, an employee, got off an engine on the north track at West Albany, and while passing across the south track, was run over, by an engine backing, and killed.
April 3. Mathew Kennedy, an employe, jumped from a moving engine at West Albany car shops, fell upon the track, was run over and injured in the leg so as to render amputation necessary.
April 14. Timothy Dewelly, a brakeman, fell from a freight train moving east, about five miles west of Albany, and was killed.
May 13. Joseph Myers, while walking on the track, about a mile west of Schenectady, was struck by the engine of a moving freight train, and had one of his legs broken.
July 5. Stephen Bush was found dead on the track near Crescent Station. It is supposed he was run over the night previous by the New York mail train moving west, blood having been found upon the pilot to the engine of that train.
August 24. Baltus Flesh, a boy aged six years, got upon the tender of an engine backing, in Railroad avenue, in Albany, and while attempting to get off, fell upon the track, was run over and killed.
September 2. Matthew Smith, a baggageman, was killed near Centre, between Albany and Schenectady, by the baggage car being thrown from the track by the breaking of an axle.
September 3. Ferdinand Netterman, was found dead near the track west of Schenectady. It is supposed he fell off the Cleveland express train moving east.
September 21. Patrick Dollan stepped upon the track at Schenectady, in front of a baggage car that was being slowly moved in making up a train, was run over and killed.

Rensselaer and Saratoga
1865. Sept. 3. A lad, name unknown, at play in the rear of a freight train at Schenectady, was squeezed against the bumper post and instantly killed.
Sept. 23. Charles Lambert, an employe of the Company, while at work on a car on the track at Green Island, was so seriously injured by a train backing against the car on which he was at work, that he died in a few hours.

Troy and Boston
1865. March 21. A woman named Kulchan walked on to the track at Walloomsac Station just as the up express train was passing, was struck by the engine and instantly killed.
July 6. Roddy Godfrey, while intoxicated, fell from platform of accommodation train up, when near Schaghticoke, and was so seriously injured that he lived but a few hours.
Aug. 11. William H. Stephens, a freight conductor, fell from his train near Hoosick Junction, receiving injuries from which he died the 21st of same month.
Aug. 19. John Kent, a man known to have been drunk an hour before the accident, was run over by a freight train near Eagle Bridge; when first seen by the engineer he was lying across the track.

What Lord Kelvin Saw in Schenectady

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LordKelvininSchenectadyhigherres.jpgYesterday we tried to identify the many, many scientific, engineering and industrial luminaries pictured in this photograph, taken at the Schenectady General Electric Works. So, what were they all up to?

In September of 1897, Lord and Lady Kelvin were the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Trask “at their country seat on Union avenue, Saratoga,” according to “Electricity, a Popular Electrical Journal.” A reception was given at their home, the day after which a large party descended upon the General Electric Works at Schenectady for a tour.

The Iron Age reported that on Sept. 23, Lord Kelvin and the group were conducted through the works, starting at Building No. 9, where heavy machinery was constructed. “This building was crowded with dynamo parts in all stages of completion . . . This building contains some very large planers, and the largest boring mill ever built.” They then toured the testing room. “Connected to this building and forming part of it is the machine shop and shipping department, a total length of 1330 feet, all under one roof, with electric traveling cranes running from end to end carrying the unfinished parts to their respective assembling points, and the finished machines finally to the shipping department end. They viewed electrical generators and railway generators destined for the NYC Fourth and Sixth Avenue lines and Boston’s transit, and transformers headed to Niagara Falls.

In Building 15, they saw how armature coils were wound and no doubt some of the advances developed by Charles Proteus Steinmetz, looking at long distance transmission equipment. “An interesting experiment in high voltage currents was then made by C.P. Steinmetz. An arc was sprung between two metallic points, some 15 inches apart, with the current at a pressure of 180,000 to 200,000 volts, and drawn out to a length of about 5 feet, until it could no longer hold.” This was the artificial lightning for which Steinmetz was well known.” Electrical Engineer was a bit more effusive in its description, raising the pressure to 250,000 volts, explaining that at the first test, the brass points broke down, but “the second resulted in a splendid arc, which before it snapped away twisted and coiled till it could not have been less than 30 inches in length. Tests were also shown of breaking with new fuses and Thomson magnetic blowout currents of 750 h.p. and upward, with no more fuss than is made by an ordinary arc lamp when a hard bit of carbon sticks in its crop.” And we all now how little fuss that is.

Then they viewed the railway motors, going to Building 23 to see the new surface contact system. “The overhead trolley wire is superseded by a series of small cast iron disks set in the pavement in parallel rows between the rails of the track, each disk convexed to about 1 inch above the surface, at distances of about 4 feet. The disk near to one rail is the positive disk, that near the other the negative disk. In this system only those disks immediately under the car are alive; all the others are without current. The current is brought to the positive disks by an automatic magnetic switch, which is set with a number of others in a manhole, instead of being buried in the street near its own disk. The car is provided with a small storage battery and with two long shoes suspended beneath it, touching always one or two disks.”

“After witnessing the operation of this system, the party mounted the search light tower, whence a splendid bird’s-eye view of the entire works was had. Descending this the party was grouped at the base and photographed.”

After seeing how to start a streetcar, they saw a new way to stop them, with a demonstration of the electric brake on car No. 9 of the Schenectady Street Railway. “The moment the car is stopped and no current is flowing from the controller the motors become very powerful dynamos, which turn their current into the coil of that one of the disks which is attached to the motor. It then becomes a very powerful electromagnet with a strong power of attraction…”

Electrical Engineer gave a detailed description of what was shown to Lord Kelvin, saying that among the demonstrations, “none possessed more interest to the electrical railway engineer than the acceleration test made upon the experimental track which runs along the heel path of the Erie Canal for a distance of nearly two miles.” The demonstration was on a car intended for use on elevated railways, which were required to deal with quick stops and quick starts. “Quick stopping is . . . well taken care of by both air and electric brakes, leaving rapid acceleration as the point needing attention. Realizing this, the General Electric Company has been experimenting for the past several months with the idea of determining at what rate of acceleration the passengers would be annoyed.”

Asked to express an opinion on his visit, Lord Kelvin said: ‘I am enjoying myself very much and learning enormously. There are no shops in the world like these; they are among the great wonders of America.'”

More than 20 years later, R.R. Bowker  made a casual mention of the event in the minutes of a meeting of the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies, of which Lord Kelvin was an honorary member,

“whom we elders saw more or less of, both in New York and at his English home. Scotchmen always have a little bit of dialect . . . and Lord Kelvin had this also, and he was absolutely simple and modest. I suppose, really, he carried about in his head more knowledge than any man of his time, perhaps any man of any time, because he had not only the practical equipment which is so marked in Edison, but he also had the highest degree of scientific and technical educated training. Nevertheless, he was the most modest of men. I remember going with him once from New York to Saratoga, where we stayed with Spencer Trask, and then went on to the works of the General Electric Company at Schenectady, in the early days of the electric railway development. While he was at Saratoga for a time, he went out on the place and was talking with one of the farm hands, and that farm hand then had the most wonderful appreciation for this interesting gentleman. What happened was that Lord Kelvin, who was always asking questions was letting this man talk, for he had the faculty of always exacting from any an whom he met some information, which he, who knew most of all, could still utilize.

“We went on to Schenectady, and I have a mental picture of going into that old trolley car which some of you may remember at Schenectady, and Kelvin insisted that the floor should be torn up, so that he could get down on his knees and watch the operation of the motor under the car.

“It certainly is an honor to this Association that it can count that great man on its list of honorary members.”


A Meeting of the Minds in Schenectady

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LordKelvininSchenectadyhigherres.jpgThis picture of Schenectady’s industrial past pops up from time to time, usually vaguely captioned as “Lord Kelvin visits the General Electric works.” That Spencer Trask is in the picture is sometimes mentioned. (The New York Public Library has one decent source for the photograph.)  That the captions rarely identify the highly notable Charles Steinmetz or any of the other notables in the picture is odd. So, what’s going on here?

Lord Kelvin was William Thomson, born in Belfast in 1824. He became one of the most noted scientists of his age, developing important mathematical analysis of electricity and thermodynamics and helping to develop modern physics, while also developing telegraphy. He was knighted by Queen Victoria for his work on a transatlantic telegraph. He also found the correct value of absolute zero temperature, now named in his honor. He served as a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow. Science-wise, he was a huge deal. In the photograph, he is center in the light suit and hat. The lady is the Lady Kelvin, his wife.

Spencer Trask was a financier and venture capitalist who routinely backed inventors, particularly Thomas Edison. Trask served as president of the New York Edison Company (later known as Consolidated Edison) and chairman of the New York Times. Around these parts, he’s a hero because his Saratoga Springs estate became the artist colony Yaddo, which wasn’t created until a dozen years after his death in a train wreck at Croton. Trask here is to the left of Lord Kelvin in front, wearing the bowler and with a walking stick.

In September 1897, Lord Kelvin came to our area after having attended meetings of the British Association in Toronto. “The Iron Age” of October 7, 1897 reported on the visit to the Schenectady General Electric Company  on September 23; so did “The Western Electrician,” which ran nearly the identical article. They reported that “Lord Kelvin, accompanied by Lady Kelvin, Count di Brazza-Savorgnan, Spencer Trask, Alanson Trask, R.R. Bowker and Professor Elihu Thomson, visited the works of the General Electric company on September 23d. He was met by Captain Eugene Griffin, Joseph P. Ord and E.W. Rice, Jr., the three vice-presidents of the company, and S. Dana Greene, manager of the lighting department. In addition there were present W.F. Merrill, vice-president and general manager of the Erie railroad, Dr. Louis Duncan, Dr. Cary T. Hutchinson, Frank J. Sprague, T.C. Martin, Chas. W. Price, H.G. Prout, C.T. Childs, J.J. Swan, W.J. Clark, W.B. Potter. A.H. Rohrer, C.P. Steinmetz and others.”

Another article in The Electrical Engineer adds even more names from GE, including S.M. Hamill, Jr., J.R. Lovejoy, J. Conover, J. McGhie, F. Shepard, J. Kruesi and others, and sayd that Mr. H.r. Bacon of the Canal & Claiborne Railroad in New Orleans was also in the party.

For anyone familiar with the early history of electricity, that is nothing short than an assemblage of the gods. The story of what they saw is posted here; below are brief biographies of the luminaries on this factory tour.

Count Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (the article didn’t get his name quite right) was an Italian-born explorer who, on behalf of his adopted France, led the colonization of Central Africa. The capital of the Republic of the Congo, Brazzaville, was named for him. In 1887, he had just been dismissed as governor-general of the French Congo. It’s just possible he’s pictured third from the right in a bowler, though that bears a resemblance to only one photo of de Brazza that we’ve seen; in others, he is quite the looker and it seems like he would stand out in this photo.  He appears to have been associated with Spencer Trask, who had an interest in the di Brazza Postal Device and Lock Company, which in a later year held a patent assignment from Detalmo di Brazza Savorgnan family in Rome. When an earthquake devastated Calabria in 1905, Spencer Trask served as a collector for funds raised to be sent to Countess Cora di Brazzà-Savorgnan, wife of Detalmo and relative of Pierre.

Elihu Thomson was an electrical inventor and founder of the Thomson-Houston Electric Company, and as much as General Electric has preferred to trace its legacy to Thomas Edison, the truth is that it was Thomson’s company that really formed the basis for the modern corporate behemoth. Its merger with Edison General Electric formed the new General Electric Company in 1892. He is likely to be the gent to Steinmetz’s immediate left, next to Lady Kelvin in the front row.

Alanson Trask was Spencer Trask’s son, only perhaps two years old at this time; he would die by the age of five. All four of the Trask children died in infancy or childhood. He does not appear to be in this photograph.

Richard Rogers Bowker was the editor of Publisher’s Weekly and Harper’s Magazine, and the first president of the New York Library Club. In 1896, the year before this picture was taken, he became manager of The New York Times, thus his association with Trask. I suspect he is two heads to the right of Trask, from our viewpoint.

Edwin Wilbur Rice, Jr. was considered one of the fathers of GE (along with Elihu Thomson and Charles Coffin). He was a student of Elihu Thomson when Elihu taught in Philadelphia, and joined him in the electrical industry, growing the Lynn, Massachusetts factory of Thomson-Houston into an industrial powerhouse with 4000 employees.  At the time of this picture, he was GE’s vice president of manufacturing and engineering, and is slightly honored in Schenectady through the naming of Rice Road. Eventually Rice became President of General Electric. Rice is the fellow in the round-rimmed glasses and light-colored hat just behind Lady Kelvin’s right shoulder.

“Captain” Eugene Griffin would later be General Eugene Griffin, who at the time of his death in 1907 was first vice-president and manager of the sales department at GE. An 1875 West Point graduate, he entered the Engineering Corps, rising to captain. In 1889, according to “Electrical West,” he resigned the army to take up electrical engineering work, joining Thomson Houston. After the consolidation, he became first vice president of GE, and became president of the Thomson Houston International Electric Company. On the outbreak of war with Spain, shortly after this photograph was taken, he organized and commanded the First Regiment United States Volunteer Engineers during the Spanish-American war and was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. His is the sole clean-shaven face, immediately to Lady Kelvin’s left. 

Joseph Pacificus Ord, another of the GE vice presidents. He came from an auditor’s position with the West Shore Railroad, and was selected to serve as comptroller of Edison General Electric in 1890. The “General Electric Review” said that Ord “was not a trained accountant, nor did he make any pretensions to skill in finance; but this experience in the auditing department and a natural talent for the construction of forms and office routine, together with the ability to say ‘No’ and to stick to it . . . enabled him to render important service….” Though he left GE in 1902, he remained a director of the corporation until his death in 1913. (interestingly for the time, when he died at the age of 60 years, he left behind a daughter, his only offspring, aged 5.)

Samuel Dana Greene, general manager of the lighting department of General Electric, was also a military man. He was the son of Commander Samuel Dana Greene, second in command of the Monitor when it fought the Merrimac (most would say the Virginia). S.D. junior graduated top of his class from the Naval Academy in 1883, but only served until 1888, when he left for the allure of electricity, became chief engineer of Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company and then became associated with Thomas Edison. He also went off to war in 1891, then became commanding officer of the New York Naval Militia and joined Governor Theodore Roosevelt’s staff. Tragically, he and his wife died just a couple of years after this, on Jan. 8, 1900, when they were out skating on the Mohawk River near Freeman’s Bridge after dark, fell into a cut in the ice and drowned in the river. The funeral at St. George’s in the Stockade was reported as the largest ever held in Schenectady; Gov. Roosevelt and his military staff attended, along with 200 officials of GE and men who served under him during the Spanish-American War. I don’t find a picture of this S.D. Greene, but if he looked like his father, he could easily be mistaken for the gent immediately to Steinmetz’s right, but he could also be the fellow on the very far right of the group.

William Fessenden Merrill was a civil engineer and railroad man who had served with railroads all over the Midwest. He was the general manager of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad out west before coming back east to serve as second vice president of the Erie Railroad, which he was when this picture was taken.  He may have been here because the party saw a demonstration of a new brake for electric railways. I had thought he was the fellow farthest to the left, with the bowler and umbrella, but now I think it more likely that’s Frank Sprague.

Dr. Louis Duncan was another naval man who graduated the Academy in 1880 but who went to Johns Hopkins University to do graduate study in physics and electricity, where the “Electrical Review and Western Electrician” says he determined the unit of electrical resistance. (It was not the only time that the ohm, as it is known, was determined; it doesn’t have an absolute value.) A professor at Johns Hopkins, Duncan helped form a battalion of engineers in the Spanish-American War, and was ranked a major. He was president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers when this picture was made, and was involved in pretty much every other scientific institute of the age. He was known as an electrical traction expert and was the consulting engineer in the electrification of the transit systems in New York City, but also worked on telephone systems. He could be the slightly blurry chap second from the left.

Dr. Cary Talcott Hutchinson would also, in 1901, serve as a consulting engineer along with Dr. Duncan in the electrification of NYC’s rapid transit. He also went to Johns Hopkins, then formed the firm of Sprague, Duncan and Hutchinson; he was connected with Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company and the Edison GE at Schenectady, and was at one point vice president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. The sole picture I can find of him doesn’t give much to go on in picking him out of this crowd.

Frank J. Sprague was another Annapolis graduate, class of 1878, who dabbled in electricity, inventing a new type of dynamo while still in the service (a dynamo is a DC generator). He came to the attention of Edison and was lured to Menlo Park and is legendary for having brought some actual method (mathematics, for example) to the madness that the Wizard there favored. He left Edison to form the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company, which created an important non-sparking railway motor and regenerative braking, and vastly improved streetcars and, later, elevators. It appears he may be the gent farthest to the left, but I am far from certain.

Thomas Commerford Martin was also an electrical engineer whose father worked with Lord Kelvin, and TC spent time laying submarine telegraph cables. When he came to the United States in 1877, he became associated with Thomas Edison, but soon morphed into a role something like being the first evangelist of electricity: it was Martin, as a writer and editor, who fanned the flames of publicity that made men like Edison and Tesla media superstars of their day. He was editor of Electrical World from 1883 to 1909, and a founding member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. I believe he is the gent standing directly behind Steinmetz.

Charles W. Price was an editor and publisher from Chicago who published Electrical Review, a rival of Martin’s Electrical World, though he took that position in 1891, so it is possible he was among this group in another capacity.

Col. Henry Goslee Prout was the editor of the Railroad Gazette for 16 years, until 1903, and so likely was on this visit in that capacity.  He was a Civil War veteran who became a civil engineer, put himself through college by working on railroad surveys and then War Department surveys of the west. According to Railway Age, he entered the ervice of the Khédive of Egypt as a major of engineers, rising to colonel, performing geodetic and topographical engineering, studies for a hospital and military prison, repairs of fortifications, and more. On his return to America he became a switch engineer, and became editor of the Railroad Gazette in 1887. Best guess for him in this picture: fourth from the right in the light hat.

C.T. Childs is noted in several early electrical journals, and wrote a book called “How and Why of Electricity.” More than that I haven’t found.  

J.J. Swan at this time also appears to be a bit of an enigma, but appears to have held several positions with GE; In 1922 he was noted as presenting at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers on the topic of standardization of graphics.

W.J. Clark was the manager of the traction department of GE, and may have previously worked for Sprague. His job appears to have been to get GE’s motors into Sprague’s railways.

W.B. Potter was another traction man at GE, serving as chief engineer of the railway and traction department.

A.H. Rohrer would at some point become superintendent of the electrical works at Schenectady GE.

Charles Proteus Steinmetz, the dwarf fourth from the left, was one of the most brilliant minds in electrical history, an important figure in Schenectady politics and education, the developer of GE’s approach to research and professional development, and generally an inspiration. If you don’t know about him, you should.

It’s NOT 40 Miles from Schenectady to Troy

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FortyMiles2.pngAmong the greatest songs of Gustave Kerker (No. 14 on the Honor Roll of Popular Songwriters, according to Billboard magazine, back in 1949) was a tune he wrote, with lyrics by Hugh Morton, for an 1896 show called “In Gay New York” that was featured at the Casino Theater in New York City. Even in 1949, Billboard noted that Kerker was one of Tin Pan Alley’s forgotten men. Among the songs in that show was the inexplicably titled “It’s Forty Miles from Schenectady to Troy” (preserved for us by the New York Public Library).

“I’m going on the stage,” said the pale-faced youth,
“I’m going on the stage, and I’ll be another Booth.”
“Before you go,” said the second old man,
“You want to get the thickest pair of boots that you can
For it’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy
You want to keep “tab” on that, my boy;
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk
To the gay Rialto in New York.”

It’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy
you want to keep tab on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto of New York.

“The art of the stage is a very high art”
Said the youth as he placed his hand upon his heart
The old man said, with tears in his eyes,
“You’ll find it isn’t higher than the railroad ties!
For it’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy,
You want to keep “tab” on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto in New York.”

It’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy
you want to keep tab on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto of New York.

“The actor-man is a being most rare,”
The pale-faced youth then proceeded to declare.
The old man said, “Undoubtedly he’s sweet,
But he ought to be born with an extra pair of feet,
For it’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy,
You want to keep “tab” on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto in New York.”

It’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy
You want to keep tab on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto of New York.

Of course, it isn’t 40 miles from Schenectady to Troy, even if you walk it, and The Schenectady and Troy Railroad begn running in 1841, making fairly short work of the 21 miles between the Electric City and the Collar City (though at that time Schenectady was still stronger in the broom department, and Troy was pumping iron).

The Great Western Gateway Exposition

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Greatwesterngatewaybridge.pngThe grand opening of the Great Western Gateway Bridge, a decade in the planning, was a very big deal indeed. The bridge itself opened in December of 1925, but of course December in Schenectady is not a propitious time for celebrating, so it was some months before the great Gateway Exposition took place.

In June of 1926, there was a 9-day celebration with 50 major events, “and every day will see plenty of activity from morning until late at night,” the Schenectady Gazette wrote. “The event is without doubt the biggest civic demonstration ever undertaken in Schenectady and gives promise of being a celebration that in magnitude will surpass anything ever staged by a city of this size in the Eastern part of the United States.

“Parades, conventions, commencement exercises, dedication of the bridge and historical tablets, athletic events of all descriptions, fraternal and patriotic ceremonies, band concerts, special church services, an Indian demonstration, together with a huge display of fireworks and special illumination will be some of the outstanding features of the great celebration.”

There was a “mammoth” industrial and transportation exhibition on Erie Boulevard, representing business and commercial interests in Schenectady together with civic, service and fraternal organizations. The General Electric exhibit alone covered 8,800 square feet of “things made and things doing.” To accommodate the industrial exhibit was a tent more than a quarter mile long on the north side of Erie Boulevard (72,000 square feet of canvas). The Gateway parade featured thousands of marchers. Athletic events include a lacrosse game between Union College and St. Regis Indians, a cricket match between Schenectady and Staten Island, and a soccer match between “the famous Cosmopolitans and Clan MacRae of Schenectady.”

The Schenectada (yes, that’s how they spelled it) Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution would be going on a plaque spree, placing a tablet on the approach to the Great Western Gateway and a marker at the Mabie house.

There would be band concerts, expositions of broadcasting by WGY, singing by the Cambrian Male Chorus, the Turnverein Society and a police trio, as well as a Charleston contest and the Van Curler orchestra.

Schenectady in 1926 wasn’t just celebrating a bridge. They were celebrating their explosion into an industrial powerhouse and their dreams of developing into a world-class city. Already, some of the most prominent scientists and industrialists in the world came to visit Edison’s works, and finally the city had a new hotel, the Hotel Van Curler,  which Mayor Alexander T. Blessing wrote “is a pride to the city; Erie boulevard and Washington avenue have been changed from eyesores to two of the best boulevards in the country, a plaza will soon beautify the lower part of State street and the dyke part will be part of the waterfront. This is not all for plans have been completed for a new Y.M.C.A. and the relocation of the River road in this same section of the city. This represents the confidence which the people of the city have in its future.”