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Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin

Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin
Born October 4, 1858(1858-10-04)
Idvor, Serbia
Died March 12, 1935 (aged 76)
Nationality Serbian
Fields Physics
Alma mater Columbia College
Known for long-distance telephone communication
Notable awards IEEE Medal of Honor
Edison Medal
1924 Pulitzer Prize

Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin, Ph.D, LL.D. (4 October 1858[1] – 12 March 1935; Serbian Cyrillic: Михајло Идворски Пупин), also known as Michael I. Pupin, was a Serbian physicist and physical chemist. Pupin is best known for his numerous patents, including a means of greatly extending the range of long-distance telephone communication by placing loading coils (of wire) at predetermined intervals along the transmitting wire (known as "pupinization").



Pupin was born in the village of Idvor near Pančevo (in Banat, then part of the Austrian Empire, today in Serbia).

After the sudden death of his father, Pupin emigrated to the United States of America in 1874. Pupin says, "I bless the stars that the immigration laws were different then than they are now ... My admission by a special favor of the examiners was a puzzle and a disappointment to me.[2]" After a short time as a farm laborer in Delaware, he spent the next few years in a series of menial jobs in New York City (most notably, the biscuit factory on Cortlandt Street in Manhattan), learning English and American ways; the library and lectures at Cooper Union were an important resource for him.

He entered Columbia College in 1879, where he became known as an exceptional athlete and scholar. A friend of Pupins predicted that his physique would make him a splendid oarsman, and that Columbia would do anything for a good oarsman.[3] A popular student, he was elected president of his class in his Junior year. He graduated with honors in 1883 at Columbia College, New York and became an American citizen at the same time. He obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Berlin under Hermann von Helmholtz and in 1889, he returned to Columbia University to become a lecturer of mathematical physics in the newly formed Department of Electrical Engineering. Pupin's research pioneered carrier wave detection and current analysis.

Pupin's 1899 patent for loading coils, archaically called "Pupin coils", followed closely on the pioneering work of the English physicist and mathematician Oliver Heaviside, which predates Pupin's patent by some 7 years. The importance of the patent was made clear when the American rights to it were acquired by American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T), making him wealthy. Although AT&T bought Pupin's patent, they made little use of it, as they already had their own development in hand led by George Campbell and had up to this point been challenging Pupin with Campbell's own patent. AT&T were afraid they would lose control of an invention which was immensely valuable due to its ability to greatly extend the range of long distance telephones.

Pupin was among the first to replicate Roentgen's production of x-rays in the United States. He in 1896 invented the method of placing a sheet of paper impregnated with fluorescent dyes next to the photographic plate, thereby permitting an exposure of only a few seconds, rather than that of an hour or more. He also carried out one of the first medically-oriented studies of the utility of x-rays in the United States. Shortly afterwards, in April 1896, he contracted pneumonia, and nearly died. His wife, who nursed him, also contracted it, and died. He never returned to his studies of x-rays.

In 1901, he became a professor, and, in 1931, a professor emeritus of Columbia University. Professor Pupin was a resident of New York, New York and Norfolk, Connecticut, where he built a Serbian-style manor house on his estate, Hemlock Hill Farm.

The grave of Michael Pupin in Woodlawn Cemetery

In 1911 Pupin became a consul of Kingdom of Serbia in New York. In his speech to Congress on January 8, 1918, known as the Fourteen Points speech, U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, inspired by his conversations with Pupin, insisted on the restoration of Serbia and Montenegro, as well as autonomy for the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

Michael Pupin's autobiography, "From Immigrant to Inventor", won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924. He also wrote "The New Reformation" (1927) and "Romance of the Machine" (1930), as well as many technical papers. In his many popular writings, Pupin advanced the view that modern science supported and enhanced belief in God. Pupin was active with the Serb émigré societies in the USA, he was the first president and founder of the Serbian National Defense Council of America. In 1918, professor Pupin edited a book on Serbian monuments, under the title "Serbian Orthodox Church".

Honors and tributes

Pupin was president of the Institute of Radio Engineers in 1917 and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) in 1925-1926. Pupin was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the New York Academy of Sciences, member of the French Academy of Science, and the Serbian Academy of Science.

In 1920, he received AIEE's Edison Medal For his work in mathematical physics and its application to the electric transmission of intelligence. Columbia University's Pupin Hall, the site of Pupin Physics Laboratories, is a building completed in 1927 and named after him in 1935. A small crater on the Moon was named in his honor. The Mihajlo Pupin Institute, an engineering and technological research institution, was founded in 1946 in Belgrade.



  1. ^ Although Pupin's birth year is sometimes given as 1854 (and Serbia and Montenegro issued a postage stamp in 2004 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his birth), peer-reviewed sources list his birth year as 1858. See:
  2. ^ From Immigrant to Inventor, M. Pupin
  3. ^ From Immigrant to Inventor, M. Pupin

Further reading

  • Edward Davis, "Michael Idvorsky Pupin: Cosmic Beauty, Created Order, and the Divine Word." In Eminent Lives in Twentieth-Century Science & Religion, ed. Nicolaas Rupke (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2007), pp. 197-217.
  • Michael Pupin, "From Immigrant to Inventor" (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1924)

See also

External links



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