General Electric and Union College

Steinmetz Portrait

Image from the Picture file (SCA-1026), Courtesy of Special Collections, Schaffer Library, Union College.

Charles Proteus Steinmetz, "the Wizard of Schenectady"


An important factor in Union’s revitalization emerged when General Electric established its Schenectady headquarters in 1892. In response, the College created its first electrical engineering course in 1895.

From 1903 to 1941, two prominent General Electric engineers headed the Electrical Engineering Department at the College: Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Chief Consulting Engineer, who, from 1903-1913, worked as an engineer at GE while teaching electrical engineering at Union College. His protégé, Ernst J. Berg, later headed the department between 1913 -1941. GE not only oversaw the appointment of Union’s electrical engineering department chair, it also partnered with the College to fund the department and provide college instructors who were also professional engineers.

Junior Engineering Students

Image from the Picture file (SCA-1026), Courtesy of Special Collections, Schaffer Library, Union College. Copyright, miSci- Museum of Innovation and Science.

Engineering students from Union College visit GE, Schenectady Works


GE was highly influential in establishing courses aimed at training new engineers in accordance with their corporate structure. An arrangement between GE and Union College included three main areas: financial/material support, the hiring of company engineers as Union College instructors, and cooperative education programs designed to benefit both parties. Union College benefited from its partnership with GE to fund the engineering program and GE benefited from the newly matriculated engineers then went on to have long careers at GE.

In 1905, GE donated funds for a new engineering building on campus. In addition, Andrew Carnegie promised $100,000 to equip the facility using an endowed funding match. With these funds secured from GE and Carnegie in 1909, Union constructed a state of the art and thoroughly modern electrical engineering laboratory and classroom building.[1]

Steam Turbine Department Visit

Image from the Picture file (SCA-1026), Courtesy of Special Collections, Schaffer Library, Union College.

Union College students and faculty visit the Large Steam Turbine Department at GE in 1959


Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, GE maintained its close working relationship with Union College. In 1993 (and later in 2001), the GE Fund awarded substantial grants for Union to develop a new engineering curriculum to address rapid changes in technology, particularly on a global scale.[2]

For more information about the remarkable engineers featured in this exhibit, please visit the Special Collections and Archives department of Schaffer Library to view the papers of many leading GE engineers and scientists, whose stories are intertwined with the history of engineering at Union.

[1] Kline, R.R. “The General Electric Professorship at Union College, 1903-41.” IEEE Transactions on Education, vol. 31, no. 3, 1988, pp. 141–147., doi:10.1109/13.2303.
[2] "Union College Received $25,000 Grant from General Electric.” Union College News Archive. (accessed March 3, 2020).
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