Charles Proteus Steinmetz was every bit the electrical genius of Thomas Edison or Nicolas Tesla, but without the ego.
That’s the opinion of Joe Hayden, the adopted great-grandson of the man often called the Wizard of Schenectady when he worked as an electrical engineer at General Electric back in the first two decades of the 20th century.
Hayden, whose full name is Joseph Steinmetz Hayden II, will return to his native Schenectady at 2 p.m. Friday to participate in an unveiling of a bronze bust of Steinmetz to be placed at the site of his former home on Wendell Avenue by the Schenectady County Chamber Foundation’s Edison-Steinmetz Statuary Committee.
Steinmetz Bronze Bust Unveiling
WHERE: 1221 Wendell Ave., Schenectady
WHEN: 2 p.m. Friday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: Schenectady County Chamber Foundation, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
“I don’t think he can help but be overlooked by the likes of Edison and Tesla, but some observers, and I’m not the first one to suggest this, noted that both of those men were, maybe not self-aggrandizing, but certainly self proponents,” said Hayden, 77, who has lived in Candia, New Hampshire since 1969 when he became Director of the New Hampshire Bar Association. “Charles Steinmetz was a very modest man and didn’t care for the limelight. If he’s less well know, that’s part of the reason, along with the fact that he was a German immigrant, and perhaps his ties to socialism.”
Steinmetz, who suffered from dwarfism, hunchback, and hip dysplasia, left Europe in 1889 and began working at GE in Schenectady in 1893. When he died in 1923 at the age of 58, he left behind a legacy that included the Law of Hysteresis and several patents relating to the field of electricity.
“He’s not someone who invented a device that you can hold in your hand or light your house with, but in the world of science he is remembered, particularly in the alternating current world,” said Hayden. “He has patents, so he is an inventor, and in 1977, when he was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame, my sister and I went to Washington, D.C., and were thrilled. It’s great to see people continuing to remember him.”
Steinmetz also left behind a family he had legally adopted in 1905. Hayden’s grandfather, Joseph Leroy Hayden, who had grown close to the scientist while working as his assistant, was legally adopted by Steinmetz and moved into his home on Wendell Avenue with his wife, Corinne. Their first child, Joseph Steinmetz Hayden, was born a year later in 1906.
“People used to always ask me why a German immigrant would adopt an American, a 24-year-old adult,” said Hayden. “But he did, and my grandfather’s family lived there until Steinmetz died in 1923. My father was born in 1906, and he would always talk more about Steinmetz to us than his own father, but I guess that can be expected. Everything you’ve heard about Steinmetz loving children was true. He was always playing with the kids.”
Hayden also heard the stories from his aunt, Midge Hayden, who lived in the Schenectady area her entire life and passed away in 2006 at the age of 97. She was the lone remaining adoptee that actually knew Steinmetz.
“She was my only aunt, and I can remember spending a lot of time when I was a kid at her farm in Vischer Ferry,” remembered Hayden, whose grandfather passed away in 1951 and father in 1990. “Everybody loved Midge.”
Joe Hayden grew up on Nott Street in Schenectady and attended Nott Terrace High School before spending his senior year at the Peddie School, a prep school in Hightstown, New Jersey.
“I wasn’t getting good enough grades to get into a good school,” remarked Hayden, who added that he and his father didn’t have the engineering gene so evident in Joseph Leroy Hayden or Steinmetz. “I majored in American Literature at Brown University, graduated in 1962, and got a job at an ad agency.”
Hayden and his wife, Sue, however, did produce two engineers. Their oldest son, Joseph III, got a degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Ph.D from the University of Michigan, while Adam attended Cornell University and the University of Michigan and works for ConforMIS, a medical technology company dealing with the design and manufacture of customized joint replacement implants.
Friday’s unveiling ceremony is being held in conjunction with the 26th annual Steinmetz Symposium, hosted every year by Union College, where Steinmetz spent some time as an engineering professor. The bust was made by Penn Yan artist Dexter Benedict, who also created the two life-size statues of Edison and Steinmetz that were placed on the west side of Erie Boulevard not far from the GE plant back in May of 2015. When Benedict offered to provide Schenectady with another bust of Steinmetz free of charge, Brian Merriam, chair of the County Chamber’s statuary committee, wasn’t about to say no.
“He was so impressed with what we were doing, when we were done unveiling the statues he asked me, ‘how do you feel about me donating a bust of Steinmetz?’ ” said Merriam. “He liked our community and our committee, and felt great to be a part of what we were doing.
“Every town in Europe has a marble or bronze statue that tells a story about that community. We don’t want to lose our history. We here in Schenectady have a wonderful history, and we need to continue to tell that story.”