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Stanley William Stanley, inventor of the induction coil, or what is known today as a transformer, was born on November 28, 1858 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents sent him to private schools when he was young, and he later enrolled at Yale University with plans to become a lawyer, like his father.

Stanley abandoned these plans at the age of 21 when he decided his real passion was invention, particularly in electrical areas. Electricity was an emerging field then, full of promise and excitement. He took a job as an electrician with one of the early manufacturers of telegraph keys and fire alarms. Later he began working for a metal-plating company, and then he got his "big break," accepting a position working with Hiram Maxim, inventor of the machine gun and an electrical industry trailblazer.

As Maxim's assistant, Stanley was presented with a number of opportunities that allowed him to learn and exercise his engineering abilities. He worked with Maxim to direct, for example, one of the country's first electrical installations in a store on Fifth Avenue in New York. Soon, Stanley had a distinguished reputation of his own within the electrical industry and inventor George Westinghouse hired him as his chief engineer at his Pittsburgh factory.

In the 1880s electricity distribution systems used direct current (DC) only, which was impractical for long distances. Transmitting at low voltage required thick wires, but transmitting at high voltage was dangerous and could not be reduced for consumer uses such as lighting. Engineers knew that alternating current, or AC, voltage could be varied by use of induction coils. But so far, no usable system was available. While working for Westinghouse, Stanley began working on ideas that would eventually lead to the creation of the device that would change everything: the transformer. In 1885, however, he became ill and had to move to Great Barrington, Massachusetts for health reasons. There, amid relative peace and quiet, he was able to develop some of his transformer ideas further, and by spring of 1886 he had a prototype.

On March 20, 1886, Stanley demonstrated a system of high voltage transmission via a "parallel connected transformer." The device, combined with high-voltage transmission lines, made it possible to spread electric service over a wide area and allowed alternating current to be available at different voltages. He demonstrated his AC system by lighting stores along Great Barrington's main street. Stanleys transformer design became the prototype for all future transformers.

In 1890, he founded his own company, the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He planned to make transformers, auxiliary electrical equipment and electrical appliances. He joined forces with John J. Kelley, an accomplished designer of motors, and Cummings C. Chesney, a former laboratory worker. The trio worked together to come up with the "SKC" system, which won several early transmission contracts. When the developers of the Blue Falls project in California proposed a 200-mile, 60,000 volt transmission line, it was a version of the SKC system that did the job.

In 1893, General Electric bought Stanley Electric. In 1906, its facilities were renamed the GE Pittsfield Works. GE credits the effort which Stanley began as having formed a basis for the company’s current dominance in the field of power transition. During his lifetime Stanley was granted 129 patents covering a wide range of electric devices including the tranformer, of course, as well as the alternating-current watt-hour meter, which made it possible to measure electricity accurately. He died on May 14, 1916.

[March 2002]

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