Peter Cooper Hewitt

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Peter Cooper Hewitt
Peter Cooper Hewitt holding his mercury vapor rectifier
Born(1861-05-05)May 5, 1861
DiedAugust 25, 1921(1921-08-25) (aged 60)
Alma materStevens Institute of Technology
Columbia University
Known forArc discharge lamp, mercury-arc valve
AwardsElliott 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 color qualities which eventually found widespread industrial use.[1]

Early life[edit]

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]


Cooper Hewitt's mercury vapor lamp, the forerunner of the fluorescent lamp

In 1901, Hewitt invented and patented a mercury-vapor lamp that was the forerunner of the fluorescent lamp. A gas-discharge lamp, Hewitt's invention 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.[5] The two together provided a more acceptable color while retaining some efficiency advantages.

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, Columbia University awarded Hewitt the degree of Honorary Doctorate of Science in recognition of his work.[6]

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.

Personal life[edit]

Portrait of Mrs. Peter Cooper Hewitt (1911-13), by Giovanni Boldini.

Hewitt's first wife was Lucy Bond Work.[7][8] Work was the daughter of Franklin H. Work (1819–1911), a well-known stockbroker and protégé of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and his wife, Ellen Wood (1831–1877),[9] who was the sister of Frances Ellen Work.[10] Thus he was an uncle of Maurice Roche, 4th Baron Fermoy, the maternal grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales. Cooper Hewitt and his first wife had no children and divorced in December 1918.[11]

While married to Work, Hewitt had an extramarital relationship with Marion (aka Maryon) Jeanne Andrews[12] that resulted in the birth of Ann Cooper Hewitt in 1914. Hewitt later married Andrews in 1918, right after his divorce to Work, and formally adopted Ann.

External image
image icon Ann Cooper Hewitt

Prior to Hewitt, Andrews was married in 1902 to Dr. Peder Sather Bruguiere (brother of American photographer Francis Bruguière, brother-in-law of heiress Margaret Post Van Alen and grandson of banker Peder Sather)[13] and in 1907 to wealthy New York broker Alexander Turner Stewart Denning.[14][15]

After Hewitt, Andrews married in 1922 to Baron Robert Frederic Emile Regis D'Erlanger[16] and in 1926 to George William Childs McCarter[17] (grandson of American author Hannah Mary Bouvier Peterson, great-grandson of Judge John Bouvier and nephew-in-law of American publisher George William Childs).

Ann Cooper Hewitt[edit]

Cooper Hewitt lights used in film production (1916).[18]

Peter Cooper Hewitt died in 1921. His will left two-thirds of his estate to Ann and one-third to her mother Marion; but Ann's portion would revert to her mother if Ann (Gay Bradstreet)[14] died childless.[19]

In 1935, just before Ann's 21st birthday when she would have attained legal majority, she was hospitalized for appendicitis. Ann's mother[14] told the surgeons that Ann was "feebleminded" and paid them to sterilize her while performing her appendectomy.[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33] Ann retaliated by suing her mother in San Francisco court and telling the press about Maryon's gambling and alcohol addictions. The mother-daughter dispute riveted the public; and the unconventional use of sterilization (it occurred in private practice, not a public asylum) forced a public debate of eugenics.[34]


  1. ^ a b "Peter Cooper Hewitt". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. ^ "Method of Manufacturing Electric Lamps". United States Patent and Trademark Office.
  3. ^ Shaw, Albert (June 1908). "Leading Articles Of The Month: Peter Cooper Hewitt, Inventor". The American Monthly Review of Reviews. XXVII (6): 724. Retrieved August 7, 2009.
  4. ^ University, Columbia (September 6, 1903). "Commencement Day". Columbia University Quarterly. V (4): 397–398. Retrieved August 7, 2009.
  5. ^ The Boy Electrician by J.W. Simms, M.I.E.E (Page 280)
  6. ^ "Obituary" (PDF). The Engineer: 236. September 2, 1921. Retrieved February 20, 2015.
  7. ^ Guérin, Polly (November 2012). The Cooper-Hewitt Dynasty of New York. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9781614237822. Retrieved August 27, 2022.
  8. ^ "Lucy Bond Hewitt". geni_family_tree. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  9. ^ Williamson, D. (1981) The Ancestry of Lady Diana Spencer In: Genealogist’s Magazine vol. 20 (no. 6) p. 192-199 and vol. 20 (no. 8) pp. 281–282.
  10. ^ "WORK ESTATE ACCOUNTING.; Trustees of $15,000,000 Property Ask Advice on Lackawanna Stock". The New York Times. June 2, 1922. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  11. ^ "HEWITT DIVORCED AND REMARRIED; Former Wife Sails for Europe, Where, It Is Said, She Will Engage in War Work. DIVORCE KEPT FROM PUBLIC Date of Wedding and Whereabouts of Bride and Bridegroom Not Revealed". The New York Times. December 20, 1918. Retrieved January 9, 2022.
  12. ^ "Marion Jeanne Andrews". geni_family_tree. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  13. ^ "Dr. Peder Sather Bruguiere". geni_family_tree. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  14. ^ a b c "Maryon Jeanne Andrews Bruguiere Denning Hewitt d'Erlanger McCarter dies". The San Francisco Examiner. May 1, 1939. p. 1. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  15. ^ "Stewart Denning". geni_family_tree. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  16. ^ "Baron Robert Frederic Emile Regis D'Erlanger". geni_family_tree. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  17. ^ "George William Childs McCarter". geni_family_tree. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  18. ^ "Unique Stunt by Whartons". The Moving Picture World. June 17, 1916. Retrieved November 13, 2013.
  19. ^ "The Curious Case of the Socialite Who Sterilized Her Daughter". July 8, 2019.
  20. ^ Robinson, Jennifer (October 11, 2018). "AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Eugenics Crusade". Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  21. ^ "California Eugenics". Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  22. ^ Currell, Susan, and Christina Cogdell. 2006. Popular Eugenics. Athens: Ohio University Press.
  23. ^ "The sordid story of the once-popular eugenics movement". Washington Post. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  24. ^ Romeo Vitelli. "Sterilizing The Heiress". Providentia. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  25. ^ Wendy, Kline. "A new deal for the child: Ann Cooper Hewitt and sterilization in the 1930s". Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  26. ^ "EUGENICS IN CALIFORNIA, 1896-1945 by Joseph W. Sokolik". Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  27. ^ Kline, Wendy (November 21, 2005). Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom. University of California Press. p. 107. ISBN 9780520246744. Retrieved October 19, 2018 – via Internet Archive. Ann.
  28. ^ "History". University of Cincinnati. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  29. ^ Payne, G.S. (April 2010). "The Curious Case of Ann Cooper Hewitt" (PDF). History Magazine.
  30. ^ Currell, Susan; Cogdell, Christina (October 19, 2018). Popular Eugenics: National Efficiency and American Mass Culture in the 1930s. Ohio University Press. ISBN 9780821416914. Retrieved October 19, 2018 – via Google Books.
  31. ^ "Kirsten Spicer. "A Nation of Imbeciles": The Human Betterment Foundation's Propaganda for Eugenics Practices in California. Chapman University". Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  32. ^ "American Experience The Eugenics Crusade Premieres Tuesday, October 16 on PBS A Cautionary Tale About the Quest for Human Perfection". Archived from the original on October 19, 2018. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  33. ^ Farley, Audrey Clare (July 8, 2019) [First published 2019]. "The Curious Case of the Socialite Who Sterilized Her Daughter". Pocket, from Narratively. Archived from the original on April 10, 2020. Retrieved April 10, 2020. It was January of 1936, and heiress Ann Cooper Hewitt was suing her mother in a San Francisco court for $500,000 (equivalent to about $10,500,000 in 2022). The plaintiff claimed that her mother paid doctors to "unsex" her during an appendectomy in order to deprive her of an inheritance from her millionaire father's estate. The defendant argued that she was merely protecting her daughter — and society — from the consequences of Ann becoming pregnant.
  34. ^ Farley, Audrey Clare (April 2021). The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt. Grand Central.

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