Eighty five years ago this month, Lewis B. Stillwell, an eminent consulting engineer, spoke on the subject of “electricity and the conservation of energy” at a joint meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) and three other national engineering societies. According to Stillwell, conservation meant “utilization without unnecessary waste” and, more broadly, it meant the development of natural resources, such as water, in such a way as to enhance or increase the resource. For example, he pointed out that renewal of forests produced beneficial effects on stream flow. He suggested that steps should be taken to turn the nation away from “reckless waste … to a policy of wise conservation, having due regard to the common interest now and in the future.” Stillwell urged the professional engineering societies to take an active role, not only in conservation of resources, but also in influencing public opinion “along lines that will result in the enactment of just and wise laws.” He continued that the “economic utilization of our natural resources is the fundamental problem of all engineering.” He concluded that every engineer ought to strive to prevent mistakes in policy which might result “from actions based upon insufficient and inaccurate knowledge.”
Stillwell was born in Scranton, PA, in 1863 and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from Lehigh University in 1885. He then joined the engineering staff of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in Pittsburgh, where he and a small group of outstanding young engineers, including Charles F. Scott, Otto Shallenberger, and Benjamin G. Lamme, worked to develop an alternating-current power system. Stillwell became Chief Electrical Engineer at Westinghouse in 1890, and the first hydroelectric generating plant at Niagara Falls was designed and installed under his leadership. The Niagara Falls plant began operation in August 1895, and, in 1897, Stillwell left Westinghouse to become the electrical director of the Niagara Falls Power Company. In 1900, Stillwell became director of the Rapid Transit Subway Company in New York City. For the rest of his career he developed a successful engineering practice with clients including the Manhattan Elevated Railway Company, the New Haven Railroad, and the Port of New York Authority.
Stillwell was quite active in the AIEE, serving on its committee on standardization in 1898 and as the AIEE President for 1909-1910. During his tenure as President, he created a committee to formulate a code of ethics for electrical engineers. In 1933 he received the AIEE Lamme Medal (named for his former colleague at Westinghouse) and, two years later, the Edison Medal in recognition of his many contributions to the field of electric power. He is credited with a number of inventions including the Stillwell regulator and a time-limit circuit breaker. Stillwell died in January 1941 at age 77.
James E. Brittain
School of History, Technology, and Society, Georgia Institute of Technology
Submitted by Dick Reiman, Historian
Copyright 1994 IEEE. Reprinted with permission from the IEEE publication, “Scanning the Past” which covers a reprint of an article appearing in the Proceedings of the IEEE Vol. 82, No.3, March 1994.