Edmund Schweitzer will claim a spot in prestigious company when he’s inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame during a May ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Other inductees have included Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Nikola Tesla, who designed the alternating-current electric system.
“I’m humbled by this incredible honor,” Schweitzer, president of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman, said in a statement. “So many of the inventors recognized by the National Inventors Hall of Fame are heroes of mine.”
Schweitzer, 71, is being recognized for his invention of the microprocessor-based digital relay, a breakthrough technology for electrical power grids.
The Illinois native invented the relay while he was a doctoral student at Washington State University in the late 1970s. He founded SEL in 1982 and began manufacturing and selling the new product out of the basement of his house in Pullman.
The company’s products prevent power outages from spreading by detecting and isolating problems on the grid.
Virtually every electric utility in the United States uses the company’s products, and they can be found in more than 160 countries worldwide. Large power consumers, such as hospitals and factories, also use SEL’s products.
Schweitzer brought the first microprocessor-based digital protective relay to market, “revolutionizing the performance of electric power systems with computer-based protection and control equipment,” according to a National Inventors Hall of Fame news release. Before then, utilities relied on bulky relays made of springs, magnets and coils. “Schweitzer’s more precise, more reliable digital relay was one-eighth the size, one-tenth the weight and one-third the price of previous mechanical relays,” the release said.
Schweitzer’s work made the electrical grid safer and more reliable, said Jonathan Sykes, senior manager of system protection at Pacific Gas and Electric.
Schweitzer “embarked on a journey that changed the industry,” Sykes said. “Now, there are generations of engineers who do not remember an industry without microprocessors.”
Schweitzer credits his father for encouraging his interest in innovation. His dad – Edmund O. Schweitzer Jr. – dropped out of Northwestern University to start his own company and held nearly 100 patents.
Since he founded SEL, Schweitzer has continued to invent new technologies and products. He will be awarded his 200th patent on Tuesday.
The National Inventors Hall of Fame works in partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to honor the legacy of visionary patent holders and advance innovation. Schweitzer is among 19 U.S. inventors who will be inducted into the hall this year.
This story was updated to clarify the type of relay Ed Schweitzer invented.
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