Peter Cooper Hewitt

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Peter Cooper Hewitt
Peter Cooper Hewitt.jpg
Peter Cooper Hewitt holding his mercury vapor rectifier
Born (1861-05-05)May 5, 1861
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died August 25, 1921(1921-08-25) (aged 60)
Paris, France
Nationality American
Alma mater Columbia University School of Mines
Known for Arc discharge lamp, mercury-arc valve
Notable awards Elliott Cresson Medal (1910)

Peter Cooper Hewitt (May 5, 1861 – August 25, 1921) was an American electrical engineer and inventor, who invented the first mercury-vapor lamp in 1901.[1] Hewitt was issued U.S. Patent 682,692 on September 17, 1901.[2] In 1903, Hewitt created an improved version that possessed higher colour qualities which eventually found widespread industrial use.[1]

Early life

Hewitt was born in New York City, the son of New York City Mayor Abram Hewitt and the grandson of industrialist Peter Cooper. He was educated at the Stevens Institute of Technology and the Columbia University School of Mines.[3][4]


A new stunt based on the use of Cooper Hewitt lights (1916).[5]

In 1901 he invented and patented a mercury-vapor lamp; a gas-discharge lamp that used mercury vapor produced by passing current through liquid mercury. His first lamps had to be started by tilting the tube to make contact between the two electrodes and the liquid mercury; later he developed the inductive electrical ballast to start the tube. The efficiency was much higher than that of incandescent lamps, but the emitted light was of a bluish-green unpleasant color, which limited its practical use to specific professional areas, like photography, where the color was not an issue at a time where films were black and white. For space lighting use, the lamp was frequently augmented by a standard incandescent lamp.[6] The two together provided a more acceptable color. Later. in the 1930s. a fluorescent coating (phosphor) was added to the inside of the tube at General Electric, which produced more pleasing white light when it absorbed the ultraviolet light from the mercury. This was the fluorescent lamp, which is now one of the most widely used lamps in the world.

In 1902 Hewitt developed the mercury arc rectifier, the first rectifier that could convert alternating current power to direct current without mechanical means. It was widely used in electric railways, industry, electroplating, and high-voltage direct current (HVDC) power transmission. Although it was largely replaced by power semiconductor devices in the 1970s and 1980s, it is still used in some high power applications. In 1903, the degree of Honorary Doctorate of Science was conferred upon him by the Columbia University in recognition of his work. [7]

File:Early Cooper Hewitt mercury vapor lamp.jpg
Cooper Hewitt's mercury vapor lamp, the forerunner of the fluorescent lamp.

In 1907 he developed and tested an early hydrofoil. In 1916, Hewitt joined Elmer Sperry to develop the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, one of the first successful precursors of the cruise missile.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Peter Cooper Hewitt". Encyclopædia Britannica.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Method of Manufacturing Electric Lamps". United States Patent and Trademark Office.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Shaw, Albert (June 1908). "Leading Articles Of The Month: Peter Cooper Hewitt, Inventor". The American Monthly Review of Reviews. XXVII (6): 724. Retrieved 2009-08-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. University, Columbia (September 6, 1903). "Commencement Day". Columbia University Quarterly. V (4): 397–398. Retrieved 2009-08-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Unique Stunt by Whartons". The Moving Picture World. June 17, 1916. Retrieved November 13, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. The Boy Electrician by J.W. Simms, M.I.E.E (Page 280)
  7. "Obituary" (PDF). The Engineer: 236. 2 September 1921. Retrieved 20 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links