Updated 23-XII-2018

Dr. William E. Forsythe

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.

Dr. William E. Forsythe

William Elmer Forsythe (22 Aug 1881 - 30 Jun 1969) did much of the determination of the physical characteristics of tungsten wire as used in incandescent lamps. In addition, he, with coauthor Dr. E. Q. Adams, published the definitive book on the fluorescent lamp; he also published a book on radiant energy. His technical publications were invaluable to lamp engineers.

Forsythe was born in Muskingham County, Ohio and obtained his undergraduate education at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. He earned the master's and Ph. D. degrees from the University of Wisconsin. On Oct 9, 1926 Forsythe was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science by Kenyon College.

Employment with the Nela Research Laboratory at Nela Park in Cleveland began Jul 1, 1913. He worked as a physicist until Jul 11, 1924, when he became Director of the Research Laboratory.

During World War I Forsythe worked on light-signalling units for use in the daytime, helped to develop the original sample of an illuminated bead-sight, and was a member of the Committee on Pyrometry. During World War II he was associated with the Office of Scientific Research for Defense as well as the National Defense Research Council.

William Forsythe worked in several fields, including optics and radiant energy. He retired in 1946 and was the first person to be elected simultaneously to Member Emeritus and Fellow Grade in the Illuminating Engineering Society.

After retirement Dr. Forsythe spent several years as compiler and editor of the Smithsonian Physical Tables (9th ed., Smithsonian Institution, 1954)1.

William Forsythe and wife, Mabel, had three daughters and two sons. Two daughters passed away in childhood and one son, Richard, who was a medical doctor, was killed during World War II. The surviving daughter is Jean and the son, William, is a retired medical doctor. Jean and William are 88 and 92 years, respectively, as of this update (August 15, 2005)2. William Elmer Forsythe was interred in Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland.

Note: The picture of Dr. Forsythe was scanned from the Book of the Incas, 1928.

  1. "Makers of National - The Spirit and People of an Industrial Organization", E.J.Covington, NELA Press, GE Lighting, Cleveland, Ohio, 1997.
  2. Richard Dye, grandson of William E. Forsythe.