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Edward G. Acheson

Edward G. AchesonAKA Edward Goodrich Acheson

Born: 9-Mar-1856
Birthplace: Washington, PA
Died: 6-Jul-1931
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Illness

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Inventor, Chemist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Discovered silicon carbide

Edward G. Acheson was raised in Pennsylvania coal country, and quit school at 16, to work and help support his family after his father's death. He labored on the railroad, but spent his after-work hours studying science and electricity, and conducting his own homemade experiments. In 1880 he was hired by Thomas Edison as a draftsman and technician at Edison's Menlo Park laboratories. He later worked for Edison subsidiaries in Europe, where he oversaw the first installation of electric lighting in Belgium, Holland, and Italy. In 1885, after returning to America, he invented an anti-induction telephone wire, and sold the patent to Edison's arch-rival George Westinghouse, which ended his time in Edison's employ.

Acheson made his most famous discovery and invention, silicon carbide (trade name Carborundum), in 1891. He fused a mixture of clay and powdered coke with the application of electrical current, hoping to create artificial diamonds, and instead created silicon carbide. It was the hardest known artificial substance, making it a very efficient and effective abrasive. Acheson founded The Carborundum Company to market the material for use in dental products, gem polishing, grinding wheels, knife sharpeners, and whetting stones. In 1897 he patented an improved electrical furnace for firing silicon carbide, leading to construction of the world's largest industrial furnace at his factory.

His discovery of silicon carbide has been called one of the most important discoveries in modern industry, but Acheson was a better chemist and inventor than businessman, and he was fired from the presidency of his Carborundum Company in 1901. The firm has been sold several times since then, and is now part of the Saint-Gobain/Norton Industrial conglomerate. He was responsible for numerous other chemical discoveries, including Aquadag, a graphite-based coating used in cathode ray tubes; Oildag, a lubricant additive based on colloidal graphite in oil; and an improved method for making graphite. Acheson, who died in 1931, is the namesake of the Electrochemical Society's Edward G. Acheson Medal, and the means for making silicon carbide is still referred to as the Acheson process.

Father: William Acheson (blacksmith, b. 1818, d. 1873)
Mother: Sara Diana Ruple Acheson
Wife: Margaret Mahar Weber Acheson (m. 16-Dec-1884, seven children)
Son: Edward Goodrich Acheson, Jr. (b. 25-Jan-1887, d. 5-Jan-1962)
Son: George Wilson Acheson
Son: Howard Archibald Acheson (executive with Acheson Industries, b. 1900, d. 1975)
Daughter: Jean Ellen Acheson Jarvis
Son: John Huyler Acheson
Daughter: Margaret Irene Acheson
Daughter: Sarah Ruth Acheson Bleakley

    High School: Bellefonte Academy, Bellefonte, PA (attended, 1870-72)

    The Carborundum Company Founder & President (1891-1901)
    Standard Underground Cable Co. Electrician (1886-89)
    Consolidated Lamp Company of Brooklyn Superintendent (1885-86)
    General Electric Electrician, Edison Electric Light Company (1884-85)
    General Electric Supervising Technician, Edison's European subsidiaries (1881-84)
    General Electric Technician, Edison Labs (1880-81)
    Franklin Institute's John Scott Medal 1894
    Franklin Institute's John Scott Medal 1901
    Rumford Prize 1907
    SCI Sir William H. Perkin Medal 1910
    National Inventors Hall of Fame 1997
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Ceramic Society
    American Institute of Electrical Engineers
    Irish Ancestry
    Risk Factors: Smoking

Author of books:
A Pathfinder: Discovery, Invention and Industry (1910)

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