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William Stanley Jr. collection

Identifier: SCA-0319

Content Description

This collection (formerly the historical collection of the General Electric Company's William Stanley Library in Pittsfield, Massachusetts) consists of the papers of William Stanley Jr. (1858-1916) and records of the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company and its successor, General Electric Pittsfield Works. Files include research notes, laboratory notebooks, sketches, scrapbooks, publications, photographs, and correspondence.


  • 1848 - 1970


Conditions Governing Access

Open for research.

Biographical / Historical

William Stanley Jr. (1858-1916) was an inventor and engineer who held 129 patents. He is responsible for pioneering the development and use of alternating current for electric light and power. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he attended private schools before enrolling at Yale University. He began to study law at age 21 but left school to look for a job in the emerging field of electricity. While in New York, he was employed in various roles before accepting a post with Edison rival, Hiram Maxim. In 1884, he went into a business venture with George Westinghouse of the Westinghouse Electrical Company in Pittsburgh which would prove tumultuous. Suffering from tuberculosis, he moved back to Great Barrington, Massachusetts for his health. Here he rented out a rubber factory to continue electrical experiments, of which, he considered outside of his scope of work for Westinghouse. In 1885, he developed the first practical transformer which spurred the development of AC power. The transformer design became the prototype for all future transformers, and his AC distribution system formed the basis of modern electrical power distribution. In 1890, Stanley joined with John Kelley and Cummings C. Chesney to form the Stanley Manufacturing Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts with the purpose of manufacturing electrical products. The company quickly developed all components required to make an electrical system including the alternator, transformer, motor, watt-hour meter, and lights. Their products were sold as part of an S.K.C. system. The business was purchased by General Electric in 1903. His other inventions include the thermos bottle. Stanley died prematurely of tuberculosis in 1916.


12.24 Cubic Feet

19 Boxes

Language of Materials



The collection consists of 12.24 cubic feet and dates from 1848 to 1970. It includes the personal papers of William Stanley Jr., a pioneer of alternating current, demonstrating his laboratory work with power transformers and business ventures. Also included are general materials on the history of General Electric, Pittsfield Works.


The collection is arranged as six series, two of which are further arranged as subseries:

Series 1: Laboratory Notebooks and Letter Books, 1882-1897.

Series 2: Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company, 1848-1975.

Subseries 1: Printed Materials, 1888-1912.

Subseries 2: General, 1893-1938.

Subseries 3: Patents and Litigation, 1848-1975.

Series 3: Biographical Materials and Writings, 1887-1974.

Series 4: Historical Files, 1889-1970.

Subseries 1: American Institute of Electrical Engineers, 1911-1968.

Subseries 2: General Electric, 1889-1970.

Series 5: Scrapbooks, 1916-1928.

Series 6: Miscellaneous, 1890-1951.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the General Electric Company, October 1984.

William Stanley Jr. collection
Matthew Golebiewski
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and Archives Repository

Union College
807 Union Street
Schenectady NY 12308 United States