Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin, Ph.D., LL.D. (Serbian Cyrillic: Михајло Идворски Пупин, pronounced [miˈxǎjlo ˈîdʋoɾski ˈpǔpin]; 4 October 1858 – 12 March 1935), also known as Michael I. Pupin was a Serbian American 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 a founding member of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) on 3 March 1915, which later became NASA. In 1924, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography. Pupin was elected president or vice-president of the highest scientific and technical institutions, such as the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, the New York Academy of Sciences, the Radio Institute of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was also a honorary consul of Serbia in the USA from 1912 to 1920.
Mihajlo Pupin was born on 4 October (22 September, OS) 1858 in the village of Idvor (in the modern-day municipality of Kovačica, Serbia) in Banat, in the Military Frontier in the Austrian Empire. He always remembered the words of his mother and cited her in his autobiography, From Immigrant to Inventor (1925):
|“||My boy, If you wish to go out into the world about which you hear so much at the neighborhood gatherings, you must provide yourself with another pair of eyes; the eyes of reading and writing. There is so much wonderful knowledge and learning in the world which you cannot get unless you can read and write. Knowledge is the golden ladder over which we climb to heaven; knowledge is the light which illuminates our path through this life and leads to a future life of everlasting glory.||”|
Pupin went to elementary school in his birthplace, to Serbian Orthodox school, and later to German elementary school in Perlez. He enrolled in high school in Pančevo, and later in the Real Gymnasium. He was one of the best students there; a local archpriest saw his enormous potential and talent, and influenced the authorities to give Pupin a scholarship.
Because of his activity in the "Serbian Youth" movement, which at that time had many problems with Austro-Hungarian police authorities, Pupin had to leave Pančevo. In 1872, he went to Prague, where he continued the sixth and first half of the seventh year. After his father died in March 1874, the sixteen-year-old Pupin decided to cancel his education in Prague due to financial problems and to move to the United States.
|“||When I landed at Castle Garden, forty-eight years ago, I had only five cents in my pocket. Had I brought five hundred dollars, instead of five cents, my immediate career in the new, and to me perfectly strange, land would have been the same. A young immigrant such as I was then does not begin his career until he has spent all the money which he has brought with him. I brought five cents, and immediately spent it upon a piece of prune pie, which turned out to be a bogus prune pie. It contained nothing but pits of prunes. If I had brought five hundred dollars, it would have taken me a little longer to spend it, mostly upon bogus things, but the struggle which awaited me would have been the same in each case. It is no handicap to a boy immigrant to land here penniless; it is not a handicap to any boy to be penniless when he strikes out for an independent career, provided that he has the stamina to stand the hardships that may be in store for him.||”|
For the next five years in the United States, Pupin worked as a manual laborer (most notably at the biscuit factory on Cortlandt Street in Manhattan) while he learned English, Greek and Latin. He also gave private lectures. After three years of various courses, in the autumn of 1879 he successfully finished his tests and entered Columbia College, where he became known as an exceptional athlete and scholar. A friend of Pupin's predicted that his physique would make him a splendid oarsman, and that Columbia would do anything for a good oarsman. A popular student, he was elected president of his class in his Junior year. He graduated with honors in 1883 and became an American citizen at the same time.
After Pupin completed his studies, with emphasis in the fields of physics and mathematics, he returned to Europe, initially the United Kingdom (1883–1885), where he continued his schooling at the University of Cambridge. 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.
He was an early investigator into X-ray imaging, but his claim to have made the first X-ray image in the United States is incorrect. He learned of Röntgen's discovery of unknown rays passing through wood, paper, insulators, and thin metals leaving traces on a photographic plate, and attempted this himself. Using a vacuum tube, which he had previously used to study the passage of electricity through rarefied gases, he made successful images on 2 January 1896. Edison provided Pupin with a calcium tungstate fluoroscopic screen which, when placed in front of the film, shortened the exposure time by twenty times, from one hour to a few minutes. Based on the results of experiments, Pupin concluded that the impact of primary X-rays generated secondary X-rays. With his work in the field of X-rays, Pupin gave a lecture at the New York Academy of Sciences. He was the first person to use a fluorescent screen to enhance X-rays for medical purposes. A New York surgeon, Dr. Bull, sent Pupin a patient to obtain an X-ray image of his left hand prior to an operation to remove lead shot from a shotgun injury. The first attempt at imaging failed because the patient, a well-known lawyer, was "too weak and nervous to be stood still nearly an hour" which is the time it took to get an X-ray photo at the time. In another attempt, the Edison fluorescent screen was placed on a photographic plate and the patient's hand on the screen. X-rays passed through the patients hand and caused the screen to fluoresce, which then exposed the photographic plate. A fairly good image was obtained with an exposure of only a few seconds and showed the shot as if "drawn with pen and ink." Dr. Bull was able to take out all of the lead balls in a very short time.
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 seven 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 and especially submarine ones.
When the United States joined the First World War in 1917, Pupin was working at Columbia University, organizing a research group for submarine detection techniques. Together with his colleagues, professors Wils and Morcroft, he performed numerous researches with the aim of discovering submarines at Key West and New London. He also conducted research in the field of establishing telecommunications between places. During the war Pupin was a member of the state council for research and state advisory board for aeronautics. For his work he received a laudative from president Warren G. Harding, which was published on page 386 of his autobiography.
In 1912, the Kingdom of Serbia named Pupin an honorary consul in the United States. Pupin performed his duties until 1920. During the First World War, Pupin met with Cecil Spring Rice, the British ambassador to the United States, in an attempt to aid Austro-Hungarian Slavs in Canadian custody. Canada had incarcerated some 8,600 so-called Austrians and Hungarians who were deemed to be a threat to national security and were sent to internment camps across the country. The majority, however, turned out to be Ukrainian, but among them were hundreds of Austro-Hungarian Slavs, including Serbs. The British ambassador agreed to allow Pupin to send delegates to visit Canadian internment camps and accept their recommendation of release. Pupin went on to make great contributions to the establishment of international and social relations between the Kingdom of Serbia, and later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the United States.
After World War I, Pupin was already a well-known and acclaimed scientist, as well as a politically influential figure in America. He influenced the final decisions of the Paris peace conference when the borders of the future kingdom (of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians) were drawn. Pupin stayed in Paris for two months during the peace talk (April–May 1919) on the insistence of the government.
|“||My home town is Idvor, but this fact says little because Idvor can’t be found on the map. That is a small village which is found near the main road in Banat, which belonged to Austro-Hungary, and now is an important part of Serbs, Croatians and Slovenians Kingdom. This province on the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, was requested by the Romanians, but their request was invalid. They could not negate the fact that the majority of the inhabitants were Serbs, especially in the Idvor area. President Wilson and Mr. Lancing knew me personally and when found out that I was originally from Banat, Romanian reasons lost its weight.||”|
According to the London agreement from 1915. it was planned that Italy should get Dalmatia. After the secret London agreement France, England and Russia asked from Serbia some territorial concessions to Romania and Bulgaria. Romania should have gotten Banat and Bulgaria should have gotten a part of Macedonia all the way to Skoplje.
In a difficult situation during the negotiations on the borders of Yugoslavia, Pupin personally wrote a memorandum on 19 March 1919 to American president Woodrow Wilson, who, based on the data received from Pupin about the historical and ethnic characteristics of the border areas of Dalmatia, Slovenia, Istria, Banat, Međimurje, Baranja and Macedonia, stated that he did not recognize the London agreement signed between the allies and Italy.
In 1914, Pupin formed "Fund Pijade Aleksić-Pupin" within the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts to commemorate his mother Olimpijada for all the support she gave him through life. Fund assets were used for helping schools in old Serbia and Macedonia, and scholarships were awarded every year on the Saint Sava day. One street in Ohrid was named after Mihajlo Pupin in 1930 to honour his efforts. He also established a separate "Mihajlo Pupin fund" which he funded from his own property in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which he later gave to "Privrednik" for schooling of young people and for prizes in "exceptional achievements in agriculture", as well as for Idvor for giving prizes to pupils and to help the church district.
Thanks to Pupin’s donations, the library in Idvor got a reading room, schooling of young people for agriculture sciences was founded, as well as the electrification and waterplant in Idvor. Pupin established a foundation in the museum of Natural History and Arts in Belgrade. The funds of the foundation were used to purchase artistic works of Serbian artists for the museum and for the printing of certain publications. Pupin invested a million dollars in the funds of the foundation.
In 1909, he established one of the oldest Serbian emigrant organizations in the United States called "Union of Serbs - Sloga." The organization had a mission to gather Serbs in immigration and offer help, as well as keeping ethnic and cultural values. This organization later merged with three other immigrant societies.
Other emigrant organizations in to one large Serbian national foundation, and Pupin was one of its founders and a longtime president (1909–1926)).
He also organized "Kolo srpskih sestara" (English: Circle of Serbian sisters) who gathered help for the Serbian Red Cross, and he also helped the gathering of volunteers to travel to Serbia during the First World War with the help of the Serbian patriotic organization called the "Serbian National Defense Council" which he founded and led. Later, at the start of the Second World War this organization was rehabilitated by Jovan Dučić and worked with the same goal. Pupin guaranteed the delivery of food supplies to Serbia with his own resources, and he also was the head of the committee that provided help to the victims of war. He also founded the Serbian society for helping children which provided medicine, clothes and shelter for war orphans.
Besides his patents he published several dozen scientific disputes, articles, reviews and a 396-page autobiography under the name Michael Pupin, From Immigrant to Inventor (Scribner's, 1923). He won the annual Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. It was published in Serbian in 1929 under the title From pastures to scientist (Od pašnjaka do naučenjaka). Beside this he also published:
Columbia University's Physical Laboratories building, built in 1927, is named Pupin Hall in his honor. It houses the physics and astronomy departments of the university. During Pupin's tenure, Harold C. Urey, in his work with the hydrogen isotope deuterium demonstrated the existence of heavy water, the first major scientific breakthrough in the newly founded laboratories (1931). In 1934 Urey was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the work he performed in Pupin Hall related to his discovery of "heavy hydrogen".
|Number of patent||Date|
|U.S. Patent 519,346 Apparatus for telegraphic or telephonic transmission||8 May 1894|
|U.S. Patent 519,347 Transformer for telegraphic, telephonic or other electrical systems||8 May 1894|
|U.S. Patent 640,515 Art of distributing electrical energy by alternating currents||2 January 1900|
|U.S. Patent 640,516 Electrical transmission by resonance circuits||2 January 1900|
|U.S. Patent 652,230 Art of reducing attenuation of electrical waves and apparatus therefore||19 June 1900|
|U.S. Patent 652,231 Method of reducing attenuation of electrical waves and apparatus therefore||19 June 1900|
|U.S. Patent 697,660 Winding-machine||15 April 1902|
|U.S. Patent 707,007 Multiple telegraphy||12 August 1902|
|U.S. Patent 707,008 Multiple telegraphy||12 August 1902|
|U.S. Patent 713,044 Producing asymmetrical currents from symmetrical alternating electromotive process||4 November 1902|
|U.S. Patent 768,301 Wireless electrical signalling||23 August 1904|
|U.S. Patent 761,995 Apparatus for reducing attenuation of electric waves||7 June 1904|
|U.S. Patent 1,334,165 Electric wave transmission||16 March 1920|
|U.S. Patent 1,336,378 Antenna with distributed positive resistance||6 April 1920|
|U.S. Patent 1,388,877 Sound generator||3 December 1921|
|U.S. Patent 1,388,441 Multiple antenna for electrical wave transmission||23 December 1921|
|U.S. Patent 1,415,845 Selective opposing impedance to received electrical oscillation||9 May 1922|
|U.S. Patent 1,416,061 Radio receiving system having high selectivity||10 May 1922|
|U.S. Patent 1,456,909 Wave conductor||29 May 1922|
|U.S. Patent 1,452,833 Selective amplifying apparatus||24 April 1923|
|U.S. Patent 1,446,769 Aperiodic pilot conductor||23 February 1923|
|U.S. Patent 1,488,514 Selective amplifying apparatus||1 April 1923|
|U.S. Patent 1,494,803 Electrical tuning||29 May 1923|
|U.S. Patent 1,503,875 Tone producing radio receiver||29 April 1923|
After going to America, he changed his name to Michael Idvorsky Pupin, stressing his origin. His father was named Constantine and mother Olimpijada and Pupin had four brothers and five sisters. In 1888 he married American Sarah Catharine Jackson from New York, with whom he had a daughter named Barbara. They were married only for eight years, because she died from pneumonia.
Pupin had a reputation not only as a great scientist but also a great person. He was known for his manners, great knowledge, love of his homeland and availability to everyone. Pupin was a great philanthropist and patron of the arts. He was a devoted Orthodox Christian and a prominent Freemason.
Mihajlo Pupin died in New York City in 1935 at age 76 and was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx.
He is included in The 100 most prominent Serbs.
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