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Anonymous donor helps spark spirit of Christmas

Anonymous donor helps spark spirit of Christmas

Even 90 years after his death, Charles Steinmetz, the “Wizard of Schenectady,” remains a source of i

Even 90 years after his death, Charles Steinmetz, the “Wizard of Schenectady,” remains a source of inspiration to officials at the Edison Tech Center.

Thanks to an anonymous donor and a friend of the Edison Tech Center, electric toy cars, all fully assembled, were delivered to the Schenectady Day Nursery and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady on Monday. It was the granting of a Christmas wish that would have been heartily endorsed by Steinmetz, a man whose fascination with electricity was matched only by his love of children and his propensity for gift-giving.

“This is what this season is all about,” said Diane Fisher, executive director at the Schenectady Day Nursery on Lafayette Street. “I guess they contacted one of our board members about a week and a half ago to see if we would be interested, and I thought it was a great idea. They all came assembled by Edison Tech. They wanted to make sure we didn’t have to worry about any necessary parts or putting them all together. It was very nice of them.”

Officials from the Edison Tech Center delivered three of the cars to the Day Nursery Monday at 1:30 p.m., after having earlier in the day deposited four with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady. Fisher, who had 60 children in her care Monday afternoon, said the Day Nursery will keep two of the cars and present the third to a Schenectady family in need.

“I can’t wait to see their faces,” said Fisher, who expected to deliver one of the vehicles to a family Monday night. “They are going to be thrilled, and the cars are going to work well for us here. We have a playground the kids will be able to use them in, and we have a large blacktopped area in the back. They will help us teach the children about taking turns, and it will help them learn to appreciate something like that and how they have to take care of it.”

Officials at the Edison Tech Center, a nonprofit group whose mission includes preserving the memory of Steinmetz and other top GE scientists, were happy to do something of a charitable nature that might also spark some scientific interest in young children.

“When I heard about the donation, I thought that it was an excellent opportunity to get more kids thinking electric,” said Edison Tech Center President Craig Cantello. “We’re hoping to inspire kids to become engineers and to give them experience with electric vehicles.”

The cars, which included models of the Mini-Cooper, a Corvette, a VW Beetle, and a Hummer, are designed for children age 3 and older.

The Edison Tech Center built its own functional electric car earlier this year and participated in a national-level electric car race held in October on the grounds of the 1964 Worlds Fair in Queens. The car had to be built using used parts.

“It was a ‘Frankenstein’ of different things,” Cantello said of the vehicle built by Edison Tech Center volunteers. “I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but we got it up and running about a half-hour before qualifying. Ours was the slowest car there, but it was our first time at the nationals and everyone else had competed before.”

Like Monday’s gift-giving, the electric car race was another idea Steinmetz would have been happy to be a part of. Known for his work with alternating current and the Law of Hysterisis, Steinmetz purchased his own electric car, a Detroit Electric “Duplex Drive Brougham,” in 1914. A few years later, with the help of a group of investors from around the country, the Steinmetz Electrical Car Company was created and based in Baltimore.

“Steinmetz was quite involved in that because anything electrical really interested him,” said Edison Tech Center volunteer Steve Rockwell. “He was an amazing man, drawn in 100 different directions, and while he was an espouser of the electrical car I think the company was hurt by his ill health. That slowed down the pace, he died in 1923 and the company was kaput by 1926.”

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