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Ernst Berg

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Biography

A professor of electrical engineering at Union College for 30 years, Ernst Berg was a noteworthy figure in the early history of the General Electric Company and made major contributions to electrical engineering theory. Born in Oestersund, Sweden in 1871, Berg graduated from the Royal Polytechnicum in Stockholm with an M.E. degree. In 1892, he emigrated to the United States and took a job with the newly-formed General Electric Company, which then had its headquarters in Lynn, MA. There he met Charles P. Steinmetz and began a life-long friendship and lengthy technical collaboration with the hunchbacked "electrical wizard".

Berg and Steinmetz moved with GE to Schenectady in 1894. where they completed the classic Theory and Calculation of Alternating Current Phenomena (1897). The title page describes their partnership: Steinmetz, the main author, "with the assistance of Ernst J. Berg". Recent research in the Schenectady archives indicates that Berg was Steinmetz's right-hand man in this and other projects. In 1899, for example, he effectively ran Steinmetz's department at GE, which had responsibility for designing advanced alternating-current machines, approving all design changes to ac equipment. and developing theories of design. The partnership ended in 1909, when Berg left GE to head the electrical engineering department at the University of Illinois. But he returned to Schenectady in 1913, replacing Steinmetz as head of the electrical engineering department at Union College, a post Berg held until his death in 1941.

During those years. Berg kept in close touch with his mentor, Steinmetz, but departed from his teachings in significant ways. The most important of these involved the calculation of alternating-current circuits. Steinmetz was a pioneer in this field, having developed and popularized through numerous papers and books the method of solving ac-circuit problems by means of complex algebra. Although applicable to steady-state conditions, this method could not handle transient phenomena, for which Steinmetz employed classical differential equations. Berg's major accomplishment was to revive the work of Oliver Heaviside, originally published in the late 1880s, and apply his operational calculus to both steady-state and transient conditions. The publication of Heaviside's Operational Calculus by Berg in 1929 established him as one of the new masters of electrical engineering theory.