Charles Proteus Steinmetz
_,, READERS' SERVICE
ALLEN COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARV
900 Webster Street RY
> mJ&' Box 2270
wt Wayne, IN 46801
A Paper Presented to the Fort Wayne Quest Club
on February 21, 1986 by Richard C. Menge
It was the Spring of 1889 when 24 year old Karl August Rudolph Steinmetz
arrived in New York's harbor as a steerage passenger aboard a French ship.
He was finally herded ashore after a two-day wait at anchor while the
upper-class passengers were being processed. Standing before the immigration
officials, he was less than five feet tall and was severely deformed. His thin
legs supported a thick torso with a hump that protruded from his right
shoulder. His overlarge head was covered with disheveled hair and his face
with a bristly beard.
The officer quickly discovered his profession was that of mathematician, that he
had no money, no job, spoke only a few words of English, was ill and obviously
a hunchback. Steinmetz was waived out of line and pointed toward a door
marked Detention Pen, written in a dozen languages. What the immigration
authorities didn't know — nor would their ruling be altered if they had — was
that among all his other problems, this young man was a political refugee. To
return him to Germany meant his immediate arrest and imprisonment.
Steinmetz was born in the German town of Breslau in 1865. His mother died a
year after his birth, and he was brought up by his grandmother. His father
was a lithographer and they lived in a middle-class neighborhood. Both his
father and grandfather were hunchbacked, a congenital deformity that ran
through the male side of the family. At the age of 17, Steinmetz graduated
from the St. John's Gymnasium at the head of his class, having taken a
classical university preparatory course with emphasis on philosophy and
He went on to the University of Breslau where he stood out as a remarkably
talented student. In addition to being a brilliant and conscientious scholar, he
joined a number of activities of the University.
Through a close friend, he became interested in the ideals and principles of
Socialism and joined the secret Breslau Socialist Club. This was a dangerous
act in the Germany of the 1880's when Bismarck was in power. The Socialists
published a little paper called The People's Voice to which Steinmetz contributed
articles on the right of self-expression. The secret police suspected that he
was the author but without proof did not arrest him. He kept on with his work
at the University, and wrote his doctoral thesis, which had a most formidable
title: On Involuntary Self-Reciprocal Correspondence in Space Which is Defined
by a Three Dimensional Linear System of Surfaces of the nth Order.
Steinmetz would have received his degree and probably a professorship at a
university if he had stopped his political activity at this point. However, he
continued to work on The People's Voice and lost any chance to achieve his
In May of 1888, he learned that the police finally had enough evidence to make
an arrest, so he took a train across the border to Zurich. There he studied
Members of the Quest Club authorize the Allen County Public Library to digitize and publish past, present and future Quest Club papers for dissemination on the Allen County Public Library website (Board of Directors of Quest Club, Inc., Resolution of May 2010).