Welding Co. Catalog, ca. 1890
Elihu Thomson Papers, 1874-1909 (MC 402)
Elihu Thomson (1853-1937), scientist, inventor, and electrical manufacturer, was fascinated with all things mechanical and electrical from a very young age. One of his passions, and the area in which he made his greatest contributions, was finding ways to apply discoveries in electricity to industry. Catalogs of the companies he founded or worked with are filled with testimonials to the commercial benefits of the products he had a hand in creating.
A prolific inventor, Thomson held over 700 patents, many of which were central to the development of the electrical industry. Among his discoveries and inventions (not all electrical) were the transmission of alternating currents by transformers, the three coil dynamo, improvements in arc lighting, a magnetically operated lightning arrestor, processes of electrical welding, the continuous centrifugal cream separator, the “uniflow” steam engine, the induction motor, the development of the electric meter, improvements in the design of x-ray tubes, and improved methods for grinding and polishing glass mirrors such as those used in telescopes.
In 1892 the Thomson-Houston Company merged with its rival, the Edison Company of Schenectady, to form the General Electric Company. He continued his work there first as director of engineering and research, later as a consultant. Thomson joined the staff of MIT as a lecturer in electrical engineering in 1894. A life member of the MIT Corporation, he served as acting president of MIT in the early 1920s.
Karl Compton, MIT president from 1930 to 1948, wrote that Thomson was “one of the first in America to recognize the importance of research, both fundamental and practical, to our industrial progress. This was a contribution that may transcend any of his scientific discoveries.”
The papers of Elihu Thomson (MC 402) in the Institute Archives and Special Collections include catalogs, patent information, articles about electrical devices, and instructions on the installation and use of machinery. There are papers relating to his work at the American Electric Company, the Thomson-Houston Company, the Thomson Electric Welding Company, and the General Electric Company.
Object of the Month: May 2003