Click Here to Return to Index

Click Here to Return to Booklet Index


A Memorial


Reprinted for the The Transactions of teh American Institute of Electrical Engineers

Vol. XV, 1898

OLIVER BLACKBURN SHALLENBERGER was born at Rochester, Pennsylvania, May 7tb, 1860. His father, Dr. A. T. Shallenberger, is one of the leading physicians of western Pennsylvania, and a brother of the Hon. W. S. Shallenberger, formerly a member of Congress and now Second Assistant Postmaster General. Upon his mother's side he descended from the Bonbright family of Youngstown, Penna.

He received his early education at the public schools of Rochester, and at Beaver College in the neighboring City of Beaver. In 1877 he entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis, as cadet engineer. Out of the one hundred and twenty-six candidates examined, twenty-five were admitted and young Shallenberger entered at the head of his class. He held this position throughout the year. The work of his second and third years was seriously interfered with, first by au accident resulting in a broken arm and a dislocated wrist, and afterward by impaired eye-sight which compelled him to abandon night study. Notwithstanding these disabilities, he held third position in his class at the end of his course.

The department of physics at Annapolis occupied a prominent position in the curriculum at the time of Mr. Shallenberger's entrance, and particular attention was given to electricity. Mr. Shallenberger found in this line of work a field peculiarly congenial to his tastes, and was enabled to indulge his natural inclinations toward original experimental investigations. The systematic training and thorough knowledge of the fundamental principles of physics which he was thus able to acquire, formed the basis of his subsequent careful work, and enabled him to readily and accurately shape the directions of his investigations along lines in which he was always surprisingly free from erroneous conclusions and those deviations and vagaries which are characteristic of many inventive minds. After completing the three years' course at Annapolis, he took the customary two years' cruise upon a government vessel. He was assigned to the U. S. flag-ship " Lancaster," and the greater portion of the time was spent in the Mediterranean. The most notable experience of these two years was that of witnessing the magnificent spectacle of the bombardment of Alexandria. The vivid pictures of different scenes of this event which Mr. Shallenberger's clear, concise style and remarkable command of language enabled him to give, were always full of fascinating interest to his friends. Among his contemporaries at the Naval Academy were Mr. Frank J. Sprague, Dr. Louis Duncan, Mr. W. F. C. Hasson, Mr. Gilbert Wilkes, and several others whose names are prominent among electricians.

In 1883 he returned to the United States, and in 1884 resigned from the naval service and thereafter devoted his entire attention to the science of electricity. The Union Switch and Signal Company, of Pittsburg, under the management of Mr. George Westinghouse, was at that time organizing an electric light department, and Mr. Shallenberger became associated with that work. His genius and executive ability were at once recognized, and he was selected to take charge of the experiments made the following summer and fall with the Gaulard and Gibbs alternating current apparatus which Mr. Westinghouse imported from Europe. During this period Mr. Shallenberger was associated with Mr. William Stanley and Mr. Reginald Belfield in the commercial development of the alternating current system. The results of the investigation, made by the Union Switch and Signal Company led Mr. Westinghouse to organize the Westinghouse Electric Company, and Mr. Shallenberger was appointed Chief Electrician of that company and later of its successor, the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. He was elected an associate member of the INSTITUTE September 7tb, 1888, and was transferred to membership December 4tb 1888.

In 1889 he went abroad and spent a considerable time in visit ing the central stations in many of the larger European cities. In 1891 failing health compelled him to resign his position as Chief Electrician, but the Westinghonse company, inwilling to part with his services, retained him as Consulting Electrician. The succeeding winters he was compelled to spend in Colorado, but the summer months were spent at his home in Rochester, where he continued his work at a well equipped laboratory near his residence.

In 1897 he organized the Colorado Electric Power Company, of which he was President at the time of his death. He returned to Colorado in October of 1897, accompanied by his wife, Mary Woolslair Shallenberger, whom he married November 27, 1889, and their two children, a son and a daughter. His strength gradually waned, and during the evening of January 23rd, I898, he passed peacefully from among us.

Twenty-four years devoted to education, and fourteen years spent in giving to the world the fruits of his splendid intellect, span the brief period of his life, but each year of that short life witnessed the cultivation of a most lovable character, the development of a masterly mind, and lasting benefits to his fellowmen.

It would be interesting, indeed, to review many of Mr. Shallenberger's important contributions to the electrical art and to trace back to his engineering skill many of the essential features which are utilized in the modern systems of electrical distribution. He invented the street lighting system in which each of a series of incandescent lamps is shunted by a reactive coil having its winding so proportioned to the mass of iron in its core that upon the interruption of the current through any lamp, a normal current is allowed to flow through the corresponding coil to the remaining lamps by reason of the consequent high magnetic saturation of its core. The construction of converters with primary and secondary coils separately wound and insulated was originated by him. He also was the first, in this country at least, to connect alternating current generators in parallel circuit, and he devised ingenious methods and apparatus for that purpose. The compensating indicators for showing at the central station the condition of the consumption circuit were worked out by him. His latest work was in producing a series of alternating current recording and indicating wattmeters for accurately measuring the energy consumed upon inductive as well as non-inductive circuits, and compensating for variations in temperature and rates of alternation. But of all his inventions, the development of the current meter bearing his name is surrounded with the greatest interest, not alone because of its intrinsic value and importance, but because it illustrates the character and mental aptitude of the man. He was original in his conceptions, comprehensive in his grasp of ideas, conscientiously thorough in developing them, accurate in his conclusions, and complete in his final expression ; these characteristics were abundantly evident in his development of the meter. While testing an experimental arc lamp upon an alternating current circuit, his attention was attracted by the rotation of a small spiral spring, which, dislodged from its position in the lamp, had fallen upon the brass head of the magnet-spool adjacent to a projecting core of iron wires. Tile motion was so slow as to be scarcely perceptible, but it did not escape his quick observation. He realized at once that he was in the presence of a new phenomenon. All his energies were immediately devoted to ascertaining the cause. Experiment followed experiment in rapid succession. Before he left the laboratory that night he developed from this accidental suggestion the complete conception of the alternating current meter, an object for which he, as well as many others, bad for many months sought in vain. He pursued his further experiments with such zeal and good judgment that within a month he had produced a complete working meter, in essentially the same form that it is now manufactured after nearly ten years of extended use.

It is a curious but well recognized fact that important inventions and brilliant discoveries are often independently made by different people in widely separated localities, and the history of the production of the rotary field motor, an essential part of the Shallenberger meter, contains a striking instance of this plienomenoa. While Mr. Shallenberger was producing his meter in Pittsburg, Mr. Tesla in New York was preparing to make public the wonderful discoveries which he had made in alternating current motors. Professor Ferraris, at Turin, contemplating with the delight of a profound scientist the beauty of a mathematical theory successfully demonstrated by the workings of physical apparatus, had prepared a paper descriptive of the theory of operation of a small motor which he had previously constructed, and suggesting its applicability to electric meters. Mr. Shallenberger's discovery was made during the week ending April 20th, 1888. Mr. Tesla presented to this INSTITUTE his memorable paper regarding his work on the evening of May 1st, 1888, the same day that his patents were issued. Professor Ferraris' article appeared in a journal which, while bearing a somewhat earlier nominal date, was actually published during either the last week of April or the early part of May. The results of the work of each of these three brilliant inventors was characteristic of their respective mental attributes, and while neither might have arrived at the special utilization of the others, they independently discovered the fundamental theory of the rotating field, one through an inventor's intuitive process of reasoning, another through pure mathematical calculations, and the third through a quick perception and intelligent appreciation of the presence of an unusual phenomenon.

The history of the first decade of the Westinghouse company's existence is full of the personality of Shallenberger. His ability to fashion apparatus in its simplest, most efficient form, was one of his prominent characteristics. The words of Prof. Tyndall, used in reference to another inventor, are peculiarly applicable to Mr. Shallenberger: " He had an inventor's power, and an inventor's delight in its exercise. Such minds resemble a liquid on the point of crystallization. Stirred by a hint, crystals of constructive thought immediately shoot through them. He had the penetration to seize the relationship of facts and principles, and the art to reduce them to novel and concrete combinations."

His lovable character, strong Christian manliness and capacity for warm friendship, endeared him to those who knew him best. The many who knew him by his works only, will gain some conception of the value of these qualities through the letters from some of his friends which it is my privilege to present with this brief tribute to his memory :


Mr. Shallenberger was one of the most lovable men I ever know. He had a singularly sweet and cheerful temper, a rare unselfishness and a sincere honesty of character that made friends of all who knew him. I do not think he ever had an enemy. His unfailing courtesy, his thoughtful consideration for the rights and feelings of others, in small things as well as great, his keen sense of humor, and a certain playfulness of imagination and quaintness of expression in his ordinary intercourse with his friends and associates, made him a most delightful companion for us who knew him well. His amiability did not, as is often the case, come from weakness, for he was a man of strong convictions, and when any question of right and wrong was involved, nothing could divert him from the strict line of duty. His cheerfulness of temper came largely from an abiding faith that " somehow good shall be the final end of all," and also in large measure, I think, from a certain clearsightedness as to the facts of his environment and an uncomplaining acquiesence in what was inevitable.

Others will probably be able to speak from more direct knowledge with regard to his work as an engineer and as one of the executive officers of a great industrial organization, but I had an opportunity to see a good deal of his work as an expert and as an inventor. We worked together in a good many patent cases, some of which were very intricate and difficult, and I soon came to regard him as the strongest and most reliable electrical expert that I knew. His knowledge of the physical laws relating to electricity and magnetism was very thorough and practical, his powers of observation were acute and highly trained, he was an ingenious and careful experimenter, and he was, above all, a singularly clear thinker and close reasoner. In consultation he was especially helpful. Plausible fallacies and untenable positions that had at first more or less attraction for most of us did not detain his attention long. His mind seemed instinctively to reject any proposition that led to an illogical conclusion, and he did not take a position until he had worked out all the logical consequences of it. He was a very strong witness. His language was simple and direct, but clear and forcible, because he was a clear thinker. On cross-examination he never gave me any anxiety. He might amplify or explain on crossexamination the views he had expressed in his direct testimony, but he had no occasion to modify them because he had already thought the matter out fully and told the truth as he understood it.

Although he was severely practical in his work, he had a vivid imagination, and was fond of speculative discussion when more serious work was not pressing. I have spent many delightful hours with him in the intervals of our work, and later when we both had a good deal of leisure here, in discussing the unsolved problems of science and the greater problems of the supernatural world. It is one of the great sorrows of my life that there are to be no more such hours for me.

I have touched on a few points that especially impressed me in Shallenberger's character, but I feel that I can give no adequate expression to what he was to me and to others who were so fortunate as to know him well.

COLORADO SPRINGS, March 7th, 1898.




Though it was not my fortune to meet Mr. Shallenberger frequently, I obtained at the outset a high appreciation of his fine character and genial disposition. To meet him was to admire and trust him. It is one of the great sorrows of life that such friends are so soon taken from us.

Mr. Shallenberger's electrical work is so well known and so highly valued as to need no praise from me. He held a high place among electrical engineers. The discovery of the principles of alternating current induction, upon which, in his hands, his beautiful induction meter and measuring instruments were founded, is sufficient evidence of his great ability and technical skill.

His work has left a lasting impression upon alternating current science and industry, and we cannot escape the conviction that had his life and health been spared he would have continued his successful work and would have won many fresh laurels.

Swamport, Mass., March 8th, 1898



Mr. Shallenberger's life and character, his abilities and accomplishments, merit special record, the more so because of his own gentleness and modesty. His old naval associates feel a special pride in his work, much of which has become standard, and had his life and health been spared, it would have been still more for the lasting benefit of electrical science.

His friends will long miss a good fellow and a loyal companion of most lovable character, especially endeared to them by the pathetic ending of his career. Among those friends, I am more than glad to have been one.

NEW YORK, March 17th, 1898.



I am glad that your letter gives me an opportunity to express how deeply I have regretted the death of Shallenberger. The electro-technical profession has lost in him one of its most gifted members. Many a bright idea is recorded in his numerous patents, and much of his work is embodied in the splendid machinery which, during a number of years, he has helped to develop. Although stricken down in the prime of life, he leaves a brilliant record in the profession.

Shallenberger has also made a record as an original discoverer ; for, although at a later date, he independently observed some rotations in a magnetic field, his merit is all the greater, as he did not stop at a laboratory experiment, but quickly applied the principle practically and produced his beautiful measuring instruments.

Shall we content ourselves to merely honorably mention the name of a man who has done so much? I will not presume to make a suggestion in my capacity as one of his co-workers, but Shallenberger was a friend whom I have liked and esteemed highly, and particularly in this quality I would feel very gratified to see his name more fitly commemorated.

NEW YORK, March 17th, 1898.



Oliver Shallenberger was a delightful man to know-frank, fearless and positive, he possessed in an eminent degree that clear-headedness which made him sure of every step in his scientific work.

When he first began his practical alternating current work there was little available information on the subject. No alternating machinery had been costructed in this country, and the laws governing alternating current phenomena were but vaguely understood. In fact, the machinery for the transmission and transformation of energy by alternating currents was devised and put in practical use before the laws governing such machinery had been digested by engineers. Into this chaotic condition of affairs Shallenberger threw his whole strength. He quickly separated the logical and useful information from the unscientific and uncertain ; he made clear and simple many vexing and misty problems, and he probably did more than any engineer of the time in perfecting the so-called alternating system.

But, while Sliallenberger's value as an engineer was known to many who came in contact with him, it was the privilege of but comparatively few to know him as I knew him; to know his charming personality and his high character. And while his inventions and engineering work have created a prominent place for his name in the development of practical electricity, his personality created friendships which his untimely death can but cause his friends to cherish the more.

PITTSFIELD, MASS., March 12th, 1898.



It was lily good fortune to be associated with Mr. Shallenberger as far back as 1887. I soon learned with others to admire his clear mind and wonderfully good judgment, but it was not so much these characteristics, together with his great inventions and the rapid progress he made in the science of electricity, which attracted my attention-there is not such a great lack of brilliant men in
the world-wliat drew me to him more than anything else was his beautifully refined character. It was a real pleasure to greet him after a week's absence. I shall never forget his generous hand-shake and his always cheerful and pleasant "good mornings;" and he was just the same to all-everybody loved him.

I remember so well when Mr. Shallenberger first went to Colorado. It seemed as though the light and life of the laboratory had gone out and as though we really could not get along without him. But now that he has gone from us, not to return, it is not so much his great inventions or his loss as a scientist that is talked about among his associates, but rather some phase of his character. The loss which we all feel is "0. B." Those who knew him will at once recognize what I mean and nothing else can possibly express it.

PITTSBURG, PA., March 9th, 1898.



The history of the alternating current in this country must always include Mr. Shallenberger's early work, for he not only did much to introduce the system for practical purposes, but was one of the first to address himself to the difficult problem of measuring that current. His success, in the beautiful instruments that bear his name, is a matter of record. It must not be forgotten that Mr. Shallenberger did his best work, in this direction, at a time when the alternating current was hardly known, harshly criticised and bitterly opposed; and hence he is entitled to double credit for the foresight and courage which led him to advocate its many solid claims to consideration.

Of Mr. Shallenberger personally, one can only speak in terms of admiration. He was a conspicious member of that group of naval students who within the last fifteen years have made a deep mark on the electrical art in America; and he had a pleasant, breezy way that is associated in the popular mind with sea life. It was a pleasure to meet with him and talk with him. He not only was generous in his views but had insight into affairs, and ability to express well defined opinions in a clear, incisive manner.

New York, March 16th, 1898.



Mr. Shallenberger's simple, clear, straight-forward way of thinking, impresses me as his preeminent characteristic. His mind was capable and discriminating, and he possessed a remarkable facility for transferring his ideas into physical forms His best known work-that oil alternating current meters, well illustrates his clearness and keenness of thought and the direct and elegant way in which he expressed his thoughts mechanically. The meter work especially exemplifies his refinement and delicacy in both thought and manipulation. There was usually but a single step from the matured idea to the practical commercial form. It is not often that a new piece of apparatus remains unchanged for any considerahle time. This has been especially true in electrical apparatus during the past decade when revolution and evolution have been common ; but the original current meter was invented and developed and in the short period of a few months received a mechanical form which has been duplicated a hundred and thirty thousand times and is still being repeated daily with only minor changes. His recent work on alternating current measuring instruments shows at once a breadth of conception in taking a general survey of the theory of electrical instruments, and the minuteness and precision with which he cared for the minutest details.

It is difficult to realize now how truly work in the alternating current field a dozen years ago was pioneer work. But what was lacking in those early days in knowledge and experience, he made up in keen insight and generous common sense.

Upon meagre data, new types of apparitus, dynamos and transformers, measuring instruments and auxiliary apparatus, must be quickly designed and made ready for service. The success of that work contributed in no small measure to the subsequent extension and development of the alternating current system, and this success was due in no small measure to the clear insight, the sound judgment and the intelligent common sense of 0. B. Shallenberger.

The symmetry of his character was a notable characteristic. In his theoretical study, in his method of experiment, in the apparatus which he produced, in his official relations with those under his direction, in his relations as personal friend and also in his home relations--there runs through all it consistent simplicity, integrity and sameness.

PITTSBURG, PA., March 13th, 1898.



I am very glad to have this opportunity of adding my tribute to the fine character and great ability of my dear old friend, 0. B. Shallenberger, whom I have had the privilege of knowing intimately for over twelve years, and have therefore had very many opportunities of appreciating his worth.

From every point of view Shallenberger was one among a thousand ; he was a true friend. a great electrician, and altogether a type of manhood which is seldom seen. It is difficult, therefore, to confine oneself to any one of his particular attainments, as he was so many-sided that whether you consider his character, ability or work, the temptation is to stray away from that special subject, and contemplate them all.

Shallenberger, when first I knew him, was Electrician to the Union Switch and Signal Company of Pittsburg, Pa. Here, in the very early stages of electricity, his talents and inventive genius were most marked, his grasp of any new matter great, which, with his capacity for bard work and diligence, pointed him out as one of the most brilliant workers of the day in this subject. Even so early as this he had turned his attention to alternating current distributionat that time quite in its infancy-and in the development of this system most of his later work has been devoted. All the earlier machines of the Westinghouse company, transformers, instruments, and the thousand and one other things which go to make up it system, were designed by him, and his fertile brain was never at a loss to work out new pieces of apparatus to overcome difficulties as Soon as they presented themselves.

Despite the enormous amount of work which his position entailed, he was always experimenting, with most satisfactory results, as the Patent Office records amply testify. and the Westinghouse company has lost a most valuable and esteemed man by his early death.

Shallenberger was gifted with a very sound judgment, and he most fully considered all questions from every point before expressing an opinion. His experimental work was also directed with a clearness of perception. a full knowledge of the matter, and an exact idea of what he desired to obtain ; this enabled him to conserve his energies, and was the secret of the immense amount of work he was able to get through during his life. His grasp of a subject was very quick and thorough, and from a small experiment which to an ordinary observer would seem of little or no moment, he was often able to obtain results of great value.

LONDON, ENG., March 16th, 1898