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Oliver Blackburn Shallenberger

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Oliver Blackburn Shallenberger (1860-1898)


1899 Obituary [1]

OLIVER BLACKBURN SHALLENBERGER was born at Rochester, Pa., U.S.A., on the 7th of May, 1860, his father, Dr. A. T. Shallenberger, being one of the leading physicians of Western Pennsylvania.

He was educated at the Public Schools at Rochester, and at Beaver College, in the neighbourhood of Beaver, Pa., U.S.A.

In 1877 he went up for an examination for a cadetship in the Naval Academy at Anapolis, and came out at the head of the list of 126 candidates. Throughout the first year he was the head of his class; and during the second and third year, in spite of a dislocated wrist and a broken arm, and his eyesight giving way (compelling him to abandon night work), he passed out third of his class.

Shallenberger found the department of physics at Anapolis peculiarly suited to his taste, and he acquired here a systematic training and a thorough knowledge of the fundamentally principles of physics, which stood him in good stead later in his life.

After completing a three years' course at the Naval Academy he was attached to the U.S. Flagship, Lancaster, where he spent the greater portion of his two years' cruise in the Mediterranean, and was present at the bombardment of Alexandria.

It is noticeable that among the contemporaries of Shallenberger at the Naval Academy were Mr. Frank J. Sprague, Dr. Lewis Duncan, Mr. F. W. C. Hasson, and Mr. Gilbert Wilkes, and several others whose names are prominent among the electrical engineers of the present day.

Shallenberger returned to the United States in 1883, and resigned his commission in 1884, devoting his entire attention to the science of electricity.

Mr. George Westinghouse was at that time organising an Electric Light Department for one of his companies, the Union Switch and Signal Company, of Pittsburgh, and Shallenberger became associated with him then. His genius and executive ability were at once recognised, and he very soon took a prominent part in the electrical work which was being done by that company.

On the Westinghouse Electric Company being formed, Mr. Shallenberger was appointed Chief Electrician, and has left his mark on the apparatus which is manufactured by that company and its successor, the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, of Pittsburgh.

In 1891 his failing health compelled him to resign his position as chief electrician, but the company, unwilling to dispense with his services, retained him as consulting electrician. His health gradually gave way, which compelled him to spend the winters in Colorado, and during the evening of January 23, 1898, he passed away from amongst us. During the fourteen years in which he was working at electricity he has made his mark on electrical industry, more particularly in connection with the development of the alternating current system.

Among his numerous contributions to electrical science may be1 mentioned the street lighting system in which lamps are placed in series on a high tension alternating current circuit, and each lamp is shunted by a reaction coil having its winding so proportioned that on any one of the lamps being extinguished a normal current flows through its coil, by reason of the magnetic saturation of its core, so that the remaining lamps are not affected.

Shallenberger also designed a very large number of instruments and accessories connected with alternating current, too numerous to mention. His diligence and grasp of a subject were most marked, and the comprehensive way in which he attacked a problem was a source of much wonder to those associated with him.

The invention which, perhaps, brought his name most prominently forward was the development of the alternating meter that bears his name. This meter suggested itself to him through a small accident which by most men would have been passed unnoticed. While testing an arc lamp which was burning with alternating currents, a small spiral spring happened to fall on the brass head of the coil, which had a core of iron wire. This spring began to revolve. Immediately he grasped the idea, and the applicability to a meter suggested itself to his trained mind. He realised the new phenomenon, and turned all his energies to the problem. Within a month he had completed his experiments, and the meter as we know it to-day was the result.

Mr. Shallenberger was elected a Foreign Member of the Institution on the 31st of May, 1888.


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