A small ceremony was held in downtown Schenectady on Friday, May 22, for the unveiling of statues of Charles Steinmetz and Thomas Edison. President Stephen C. Ainlay spoke at the event, and he and his wife arrived at the 11 a.m. ceremony in the Steinmetz electric car, which is usually on display at Union.
In an email addressed to the campus community, Frank Wicks, a professor in Union’s Mechanical Engineering Department, encouraged students to attend the event. “Although our Electric Age is not much more than a century old, it is hard to imagine life without electricity,” Wicks stated.
He continued, “Most recognizable of the electrical pioneers are Thomas Edison whose electric light bulb dramatized the future and brought electric manufacturing to Schenectady and Dr. Charles Steinmetz who was globally recognized as the Electric Wizard of Schenectady and Union College.”
Edison and Steinmetz each played major roles in the development of Schenectady, and they were at the forefront of the movement that led Schenectady to become the Electric City, as it is still known today.
Edison was one of the four founders of General Electric in Schenectady in 1892, and GE had huge impacts on the growth and industrialization of the city.
While the headquarters are now located in Fairfield, Conn., there is still a branch of GE located in Schenectady. In addition, one of their many Research and Development Centers is located in nearby Niskayuna.
In his speech, Ainlay explained that after founding GE, Edison, who was known as the Wizard of Menlo Park, brought Steinmetz in to work at GE.
Ainlay also stated that in addition to working at GE, Steinmetz founded Union’s Electrical Engineering Department, headed the Parks Department of Schenectady and was involved in the city’s school boards.
Steinmetz was buried in Vale Cemetery upon his death in 1923.
The annual Steinmetz symposium was named in his honor, as is a small public park in Schenectady.
Ainlay thanked Brian Mirriam, a Schenectady resident who organized the project, as well as Chuck Steiner, head of the Schenectady Chamber whom supported it. He also commented that, “the statue affirms our relationship with the City and our relationship with General Electric.” He went on to say that, “this statue was not just about a storied past for a great city; it was equally about the future.”
Ainlay finished his speech by stating, “the statues should serve as an inspiration to students—from Schenectady public schools to Union College—to imagine the possibilities and the opportunities in the city of Schenectady.”
Ainlay was driven down to the ceremony in the Steinmetz car. Charles Steinmetz was the original owner of this electric car in 1914, and he was frequently seen being driven around town by his chauffer.
In 1917, he founded the Steinmetz Electric Car Company due to his love for the vehicle.
The car was found abandoned in a field in 1971, 48 years after Steinmetz’s death. It was purchased by Union, and after 10 years of extensive renovations by both faculty and students, it was finally returned to its former glory in 1981.
“Although it is 101 years old, the car runs well and looks beautiful,” said John Spinelli, a professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Departments. “This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the car’s current driver and mechanic, Gene Davison, as well as to the fine quality of the restoration work that was done on the car by engineering students and faculty from 1971-1981.”
Spinelli expressed the importance of the Steinmetz car. “The car connects us with an important part of our past since it was owned by Steinmetz, but it also points us toward the future as electric cars are enjoying a renewed interest.”
The two bronze statues are located at the intersection of Erie Boulevard and South Ferry Street, not far from GE’s downtown Schenectady branch.