Biography of James J. Wood

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James J. Wood was an electrical engineer, however, his career extends wider than the electrical industry, through such technologies and events as lockmaking, the development of the submarine, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the design of the modern refrigerator. James J. Wood was born in Kinsale, Ireland, in 1856.

As a boy his family left Ireland and settled in Connecticut. Wood came to New York City in 1864. At the age of 11 he began his working career with a lock company at Branford, Connecticut. In 1874 he entered the employ of the Brady Manufacturing Company of Brooklyn, rising swiftly to the posts of superintendent and chief engineer.

John Holland’s submarine

An accomplished electrical engineer, he patented his first invention in 1880, the Arc Light Dynamo. In 1885, he installed the first floodlight system at the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. He designed the electric’s of the internal combustion engine for John Holland’s submarine, and the machine that constructed the cables for the Brooklyn Bridge. Some of his innovations can be found in the A/C generator, electric motors, and transformer.

Concurrently, James J. Wood found time to gain an education, eventually graduating from the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute as a mechanical engineer. He also found himself drawn into electrical design in 1879, with the aim of increasing the output while decreasing the size of arc-light generators. At this he succeeded brilliantly – the machine he designed in 1880 remained a highly successful product for 35 years.

In 1890, the general manager of the Fort Wayne Electric Corporation, R.T. McDonald, purchased Wood’s electrical company, and brought him to work at Fort Wayne. After McDonald’s death in 1898, the company became part of the General Electric Company. Wood became factory manager of the Fort Wayne Works.

James J. Wood continued active at invention and design. His total of 240 patents places him behind only Edison, Elihu Thomson, and E.F.W. Alexanderson on the list of the company’s most prolific inventors. He was also one of the first to recognize the business potential of the household refrigerator. Partly through his influence, Fort Wayne played a major role in the creation of GE’s refrigerator business – a development whose success he was able to see before his death in 1928. In 1902 James J. Wood received a patent for an electric fan.

Edison epitomizes the pioneering era of electricity; Steinmetz epitomizes the era when it became a science and an industry. James J. Wood represents a link between the two epochs. As an electrical pioneer he contributed to the development of electric motors and generators. As a leader of the General Electric Company, he played a major role in the success of the GE works in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Wood’s career extends wider than the electrical industry, through such technologies and events as lockmaking, the development of the submarine, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the design of the modern refrigerator. To these fields he brought his remarkable skills at envisioning new inventions, designing them, building models by hand at the bench, and managing their manufacture and introduction.

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