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Francis Robbins Upton

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Peabody, Massachusetts, USA

10 March 1921

Orange, New Jersey, USA

Francis Upton studied at Bowdoin College, Brunswick and then he went to Berlin where he studied under Helmholtz .

He returned to the USA and studied at Princeton University. He became the very first student to officially earn, by examination, a graduate degree from Princeton. He received the degree of Master of Science from Princeton in 1877 after being instructed by Cyrus Fogg Brackett. It was Brackett who, in 1889, founded at Princeton the first school of electrical engineering in the United States.

After obtaining his Master's degree Upton worked with Thomas Edison on mathematical problems associated with devices such as the incandescent lamp, the watt-hour meter and large dynamos. Although Edison was a genius as an inventor he had no formal education so was unable to translate his intuition into mathematics. For this he relied on Upton who produced mathematical formulations of Edison's ideas.

Upton went to live in Menlo Park, New Jersey, since he worked there in the laboratory that Edison had set up in that village in 1876. The laboratory was a remarkable research environment for Upton to undertake his reseach in. Better equiped than most of the leading university laboratories, it possessed the finest equipment available. Galvanometers, storage batteries, induction coils, wire chemicals, photographic equipment and a forge were available. It also had a research library where scientific publications were held. About twenty skilled machinists, in addition to the mathematical physicist Upton, staffed what was the first ever industrial research laboratory.

In 1879 the design of the electric light bulb was perfected. Despite several eminent scientists predicting that electric light bulbs in a circuit would never work, a lamp powered by current produced by dynamos was demonstrated on 21 October 1879. It was Upton's home in Menlo Park which was the first private house in the world to be lit by electricty, the lamps being powered by a station in Menlo Park capable of lighting 30 bulbs.

Upton became a partner and the general manager of the Edison Lamp Works which was established in 1880. The became part of the General Electric Company in 1892.

Princeton now has the Francis Robbins Upton Fellowships named his memory.

Source:School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland