The Smithsonian's "Past Imperfect" blog has a post about Charles Steinmetz -- the "Wizard of Schenectady" -- this week is that is completely jammed full of awesome. A clip:
He stood just four feet tall, his body contorted by a hump in his back and a crooked gait, and his stunted torso gave the illusion that his head, hands and feet were too big. But he was a giant among scientific thinkers, counting Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison as friends, and his contributions to mathematics and electrical engineering made him one of the most beloved and instantly recognizable men of his time.
In the early 20th century, Charles Steinmetz could be seen peddling his bicycle down the streets of Schenectady, New York, in a suit and top hat, or floating down the Mohawk River in a canoe, kneeling over a makeshift desktop, where he passed hours scribbling notes and equations on papers that sometimes blew into the water. With a Blackstone panatela cigar seemingly glued to his lips, Steinmetz cringed as children scurried away upon seeing him--frightened, he believed, by the "queer, gnome-like figure" with the German accent. Such occurrences were all the more painful for Steinmetz, as it was a family and children that he longed for most in his life. But knowing that his deformity was congenital (both his father and grandfather were afflicted with kyphosis, an abnormal curvature of the upper spine), Steinmetz chose not to marry, fearful of passing on his deformity.
The post was written by Gilbert King and it's a good, quick read of Steinmetz's story. It includes a bunch of great little stories, including one of our favorites, about Steinmetz and Henry Ford (as the story goes, Steinmentz sent Ford what may be the greatest invoice in the history of consulting (or perhaps it was GE, the story has a lot of variations)).
The term genius gets thrown around a lot -- but Steinmetz really was one. And a total character.
Tangent: There needs to be a comic/graphic novel/TV series/something in which Steinmetz's genius scientist/engineer identity is a cover for being some sort of superhero.
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