He was born in Jamestown, New York, the son on John J. and Agnes (nee Reynolds) Whitney. In 1890, he achieved a bachelor of science degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he then worked as Assistant Instructor of Chemistry until 1892. After that, he studied at the University of Leipzig, Germany, under Wilhelm Ostwald, where in 1896, he achieved a Ph.D. title.
Since 1900, Whitney had been working part-time as an advisor at the newly founded research lab of General Electric. He eventually moved away from the MIT and into a full job at the GE labs. In 1915, he had about 250 staff members, Irving Langmuir and William David Coolidge among them. They worked on vacuum- and gas-filled lamps, the wireless telegraph, and X-ray technology.
Whitney stepped down from his position in 1932, to be succeeded by William David Coolidge as director of the General Electric Research Laboratory.
He died at Schenectady, New York in 1958.
Whitney was member of:
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