George W. Patterson

1905–1915 | Chair of Electrical Engineering
George W. Patterson Enlarge
George W. Patterson.

George Washington Patterson III (1864-1930) was the first instructor in electrical engineering, the first full professor in EE, and the first chair of the department in 1905. He began his instructor position in 1889, just a year after the first course in the subject had been offered. Patterson oversaw the initial growth of the department at a time when Electrical Engineering as a field was still being defined.

Patterson was the grandson of a New York state representative and lieutenant governor. He studied at Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning his bachelor’s degree from the former in mathematics in 1884, and his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from MIT in 1887. Later he would receive a PhD from the University of Munich.

In 1889, after studying law for a year at Harvard, he was offered the position of Instructor of Physics at Michigan; the Department of Electrical Engineering had not yet been established. His research specialty was electrical measurement, and frequent reference was made at the time to his work in the measurement of insulation resistance.

Patterson worked closely with Henry S. Carhart, a Physics professor who taught one of the first courses in what would be the new department of Electrical Engineering. They were co-authors in the journal Electrical Measurements in 1895. Patterson also published articles in Industrial Photometry, Revolving Vectors, and several other scientific journals of the time.

Carhart wrote the following in a portrait of his colleague:

“Professor Patterson is an unusually clear thinker, is quick to detect flaws in reasoning applied to the demonstration of physical laws, is inventive in applying new methods to the investigation of physical problems, and devotes himself with great urbanity and skill to the solution of the difficulties encountered by students in physics. It gives the head of the [physics] department much pleasure to acknowledge his indebtedness to him for the efficient aid, which he has rendered in developing the department, including Electrical Engineering, during the past five years.”

Patterson was chair until 1915, and then appointed Head of the Department of Engineering Mechanics. In 1922 he was appointed Assistant Dean of Engineering and in 1928 Associate Dean of the Colleges of Engineering and Architecture.

References and Further Reading

George Patterson: U-M Faculty History Project