Spring 1998

People of the Century

Powering the Nation

WPI graduates have been involved in all aspects of power generation and distribution.

T he University has produced many graduates who, through their inventions and insights, have helped shape the electric power industry. One of the earliest was Charles S. Cook, Class of 1885, who in 1892 laid out and sold the first long-distance electric transmission system in the country - a 28-mile, 10,000-volt line connecting Pomona and San Bernardino, Calif. The following year he designed the power plant for the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago for George Westinghouse. He ultimately became manager of Westinghouse's Railway and Lighting Department in East Pittsburgh, before leaving in 1917 to direct the Duquesne Light Co. in Pittsburgh.

The Charles A. Coffin Award is the highest honor General Electric bestows on its employees. Arvid E. Anderson '20 won the honor in 1941 for his "unusual foresight in anticipating new and distinctive trends in design." As a longtime designer in the GE Swichgear Department, he was active in the design of high-voltage switches and relays used in electric transmission stations and lines, protective systems, power switchgear, capacitor banks and manufacturing methods. As manager of General Electric's metallurgical laboratory for many years, Weston Morrill '23 was credited with dramatically reducing the cost of producing and transmitting electric power. An internationally known chemist and engineer, he played a key role in developing metals used in the cores of large GE transformers.

The public power movement in the United States began in the late 19th century to promote the electrification of rural areas. Its pioneers included Francis H. King '28, who served as president of the American Public Power Association in the 1960s and was instrumental in the formation of public power organizations in New England. He was an advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and to many U.S. senators and congressmen. Upon his retirement after 46 years as manager of the Holyoke, Mass., Gas and Electric Department, it was said, "he ranks as perhaps the single most distinguished figure in the history of public power."

Halbert E. Pierce Jr. '29, another electric power pioneer based in New England, was an expert on the reliability of interconnected power systems. As the first director of NEPLAN, the planning arm of the New England Power Pool, he studied reliability issues associated with linking power systems in New England and New York. After his retirement in 1972, he served on the National Electric Reliability Commission for five years, running reliability studies for the entire nation.

James A. Lane '36 was one of the first power engineers in the United States to recognize the commercial potential of nuclear energy. A design engineer with the Manhattan Project, he became a top staff member at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and was largely responsible for establishing the lab as a center for nuclear research after the war. For a time, he was chief of the reactor evaluation staff at the Atomic Energy Commission. He returned to Oak Ridge in 1953 as director of the Reactor Experimental Engineering Division and led teams that developed nuclear programs in Brazil, Egypt, Israel and Pakistan.

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Last Modified: Thu June 10 11:52:53 EDT 1999