William Stanley, Jr.

The name of William Stanley, Jr. (1858-1916) is one that rings loud in the history of electrical engineering. He is remembered as one who was responsible for the development of a transformer that increased the distance over which power could be sent over small wires from a half-mile to several hundred miles. He also contributed to the development of an alternating current induction motor. As a result of his early work experiences he also contributed in the lamp and lighting areas. It is in this regard that he is considered here.

Stanley was born in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of 17 he entered the 1881 class at Yale College. However, after attendance for three months he decided that college life was not for him and he left for New York. After spending a year or more in the nickel-plating business he became research assistant to Hiram S. Maxim at the United States Electric Lighting Company; this was about 1880. When that company purchased the Weston Electric Light Company Stanley became assistant to Edward Weston.

After a few months in the employ with Weston, Stanley decided to pack his bags again and venture off on his own. He worked as engineer and superintendent at the American Electric Light Company from the fall of 1880 to the summer of 1881. By 1882 Stanley was in Boston working for the Swan Electric Light Company. This led to his first electric lamp patent in that year; the patent involved a method of exhausting incandescent lamps. The existence of the Boston firm of Swan was short lived but Stanley had drawn the attention of George Westinghouse. Stanley installed, at the Lawrenceville Works of the Union Switch & Signal Company in Pittsburgh, a company owned by Westinghouse, a factory fully equipped for the production of incandescent lamps.

In 1890 Stanley established the Stanley Laboratory Company and the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The latter company was formed with C. C. Chesney and J. F. Kelly for the purpose of manufacturing transformers. The Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company was absorbed by the General Electric Company in 1905.

Returning now to the subject of incandescence, lamps were submitted to the Franklin Institute for comparison testing with competitor lamps in 1885. These lamps, known as Stanley-Thompson, were pictured at the beginning of this website. William Stanley, Jr. and Edward P. Thompson were granted a patent on July 28, 1885 for a lamp with a carbonized silk filament; that patent number is U.S. 323,372. Lamps tested in Philadelphia at that time are shown below.

William Stanley was granted 130 patents. Some of those that dealt with aspects of the incandescent lamp are:


Patent No. Issue Date Description
244,331 Jul 12, 1881 Circuit-closer for incandescent lamps
269,132 Dec 12, 1882 Electric lamp
316,302 Apr 21, 1885 Filament for incandescent electric lamps
322,496 Jul 21, 1885 Multiple incandescent electric lamp
323,372 Jul 28, 1885 Carbon for incandescent lamps
324,894 Aug 25, 1885 Socket for incandescent electric lamp
330,269 Nov 10, 1885 Holder for incandescent electric lamp
333,028 Dec 22, 1885 Globe for incandescent electric lamp
333,564 Jan 5, 1886 System of electric lighting
349,613 Sep 21, 1886 Automatic cut-out for electric-lighting circuits
349,614 Sep 21, 1886 Automatic cut-out for electric-lighting circuit
363,559 May 24, 1887 Incandescent electric lamp

The lamp shown above has a Thomson-Houston base with red fiber insulation. The label states: STANLEY, Manufactured for Pittsfield Electrical Supply Co., Pittsfield, Mass., 16 C.P., 52 Volts.

General References
The Electrical Engineer, Vol XV, No 249, Feb 8, 1893, pg 151.
"William Stanley Dies", New York Times, May 15, 1916, pg 9, col 5.
A Life of George Westinghouse, Henry G. Prout, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, New York, 1921.
"William Stanley" (Nov.22, 1858-May 14, 1916), Dictionary of American Biography, Vol XVII, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1935, pg 514.
"William Stanley", The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol XXIV, James T. White & Co., New York, 1935, pg 394.
William Stanley (1858-1916) His Life and Work, Laurence A. Hawkins, The Newcomen Society in North America, New York, 1951.
The Electrical Manufacturers (1875-1900) A Study in Competition, Entrepreneurship, Technical Change, and Economic Growth, Harold C. Passer, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1953.
The General Electric Story (1876-1986), A Photo History, A Hall of History Publication, Schenectady, New York, 1989. The photograph of William Stanley shown above was scanned from this book.