Updated 17-XI-2018

Dr. Elliot Quincy Adams

This article was written by fellow lamp engineer and collector Edward J. Covington, and originally appeared on his own website of biographical sketches of persons involved in the lamp industry. Following his passing in February 2017, and with kind permission of his family, Ed's words have been preserved here in the hope of maintaining access to his writings for the benefit of subsequent generations.

Elliot Quincy Adams

Elliot Quincy Adams (13 Sep 1888 - 12 Mar 1971) had an extraordinary scientific career that included government, industrial and university settings3. His work career at GE's Nela Park, in Cleveland, Ohio, extended from 1921 to 1949, when he retired. His contributions to the lamp business were of a scientific nature and, as such, were not widely known. Perhaps his most recognized effort was the book, co-authored with W. E. Forsythe, titled 'Fluorescent and Other Gaseous Discharge Lamps'.

E. Q. Adams was the son of Edward Perkins and Etta Medora (Elliot) Adams. He graduated from Medford High School in Medford, Massachusetts. He was a descendant of a John Adams from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who lived about the year 1650.

It should be mentioned that a brief review of Adams' life work was poignantly written by D. S. Tarbell (Journal of Chemical Education, Vol 67, No 1, Jan 1990, pp 7-8). One should consult that reference for a more extensive biographical sketch than what is presented here.

Adams attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering in 1909. His undergraduate thesis was probably done under the direction of Gilbert Newton Lewis (1875 - 1946).

Adams took a position with the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York, where he worked with a future Nobelist, Irving Langmuir, on problems dealing with heat transfer. It was Adams who provided the simple mathematical formula that is used to describe the conduction-convection loss from an incandescent filament operated in a gaseous atmosphere. That formula has been used by lamp engineers since its formulation in 1912. The derivation of this equation was detailed by Langmuir; it can be found in at least two sources.1,2

E. Q. Adams moved to Berkeley, California in 1912 for the purpose of working for a doctorate degree at the University of California. He earned his Ph. D. degree in 1914 under the direction of G. N. Lewis, who had moved there.

In 1917 Adams went to Washington, D. C. to do research in the Color Laboratory in the Department of Agriculture. That research was part of the effort during World War I.

A statement by Tarbell in the quoted paper is worth mentioning. It read: "Lewis (G. N.) is reliably reported to have said that the two most profound scientific minds, among the people he had known, were those of E. Q. Adams and Albert Einstein."

At Nela Park Adams studied a variety of subjects. These ranged from "Fireflies, Phosphorus and Other Cold Lights" to "Physics in the Metal Industry" to descriptions of the fluorescent lamp. Adams published over 40 technical papers.

E. Q. Adams was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Physical Society, Mineralogical Society of America and the Illuminating Engineering Society. He was presented the Silver Beaver Award by the Boy Scouts of America in 1941.

Adams married Jane J. Pidgeon and they had a daughter, Dora. Dr. Adams passed away in the Leonard Hanna House of the University Hospitals, Cleveland.

Note: The slightly altered photograph of Dr. Adams was downloaded from the website of the American Institute of Physics, Emilio Segrè Visual Archives. I appreciate permission to use this photograph.

  1. "Convection and Conduction of Heat in Gases", I.Langmuir, Physical Review Vol 34, Jun 1912, p401.
  2. "The Collected Works of Irving Langmuir, Vol.2", C.G.Suits, Pergamon Press, New York, 1960, p23.
  3. "Makers of National - The Spirit and People of an Industrial Organization", E.J.Covington, NELA Press, GE Lighting, Cleveland, Ohio, 1997.