The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Pearson, Frederick Stark
PEARSON, Frederick Stark, electrical engineer, b. in Lowell, Mass., 3 July, 1861; d. at sea 7 May, 1915, son of Ambrose and Hannah (Edgerly) Pearson. He was graduated at Tufts College in 1883 with the degree of A.M.B., and received the degree of A.M.M. the year following. Previously, for one year (1879-80) he was instructor in chemistry in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; later (1883-86), he was instructor in mathematics and applied mechanics at Tufts College. With a notable combination of scholarly and executive talents he was instrumental in greatly enlarging the usefulness and efficiency of this course of study. Then for two years (1887-88) he was engaged as a mining engineer in the United States and Brazil. After a short term as manager of the Somerville (Mass.) Electric Light Company, he became chief engineer of the West End Street Railway, Boston, in 1889, then being equipped with electricity, and among the problems he solved were those of adequate insulation, better track construction and bonding, better engines and larger generators, improved switchboard equipment, and the prevention of electrolysis in underground pipes and cables. He found in the electrification of this road the crude beginnings of an experiment; he left it with two large power houses well advanced in construction, with 1,000 cars in operation, and with a reputation as the best equipped electric railway at that time in the country. He was consulting engineer for the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, while it was changing its motive power to electricity, and designed its Eastern District power station, the first large direct-connected plant in street railway service in America. He invented a number of important electrical devices at this period because they were not to be had of the manufacturers. In 1893, in association with Henry M. Whitney, of Boston, he organized the New England Gas and Coke Company and the Massachusetts Pipe Company, and soon after organized the Dominion Coal Company, of which he was chief engineer in charge of the reconstruction of its shipping piers at Sydney and Louisburg, the coal-handling apparatus at Montreal, and the operation and equipment of the company's mines at Cape Breton. Upon returning to New York he became chief engineer of the Metropolitan Street Railway, supervising the electrical equipment of the system and the construction of the Columbus Avenue and Lexington Avenue Lines, and designing the electric power station at Ninety-sixth Street and the East River. He also designed the system of underground electrical conduit construction to meet the existing conditions in New York. With commendable foresight Dr. Pearson early recognized the business possibilities and opportunities in the South American countries. In 1898 he visited South America in behalf of Canadian capitalists interested in the development of a railway, light, and power plant at Sao Paulo, Brazil. The outcome was the organization of the Sao Paulo Tramway, Light and Power Company, which was developed by Dr. Pearson to the same high standard that he had reached in Boston, Brooklyn, and New York previously. Later, in association with capitalists of London, he organized the Rio de Janeiro Tramway, Light and Power Company, which was consolidated with the former company, the Sao Paulo Electric Company, the Société Anonyme du Gaz de Rio de Janeiro, and the Rio de Janeiro Telephone Company, into the Brazilian Traction, Light and Power Company, with a capital of $120,000,000, of which he was president until his death. In 1902 the Mexican Light and Power Company, Ltd., was organized by Dr. Pearson, and for this company there was erected a large hydro-electric plant at the falls of the Necaxa River, in Hidalgo State, and a distribution system in Mexico City and suburbs at a total outlay of $46,000,000 His fame as an American engineer and his success with Spanish-American railroads attracted the attention of British and Canadian financiers, and during the thirty years of his professional work he was called upon to advise regarding most of the large enterprises for the improvement of railway construction and operation in the chief cities of the United States, Mexico, South America, and Europe. He was chief consulting engineer for the Electrical Development Company of Ontario at Niagara Falls, and consulting engineer for the street railways of Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, St. John, and Halifax, and of the Montreal and St. Lawrence Light and Power Company. In 1907 he took over the control of the tramways in Mexico City, and, in 1909, his company leased the Mexican Light and Power Company. In 1909 he organized the Mexico North Western Railway, consisting of the two lines, one running south from El Paso about 150 miles, and another running west and north from Chihuahua, Mexico, the ends being joined to form a through line of about 500 miles from El Paso to Chihuahua through a very rich mining, lumber, and cattle country. The company also holds through subsidiaries 4,000,000 acres of pine lands at Madera on its line, and does a general lumber business in addition to its railroad. In 1910 he became interested in irrigation and organized the San Antonio Land and Irrigation Company, which purchased 50,000 acres of land near San Antonio, Tex., and constructed reservoirs and works for irrigating this land. In 1913 he organized the Texas Prairie Lands, Ltd., which purchased 60,000 acres near Plainview, Tex., also for irrigation purposes. Dr. Pearson's last great work was the organization and the development of the Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company, organized in 1911. This company is building extensive hydro-electric installations and distributing systems in and around Barcelona, Spain. The company expended over $50,000,000 on these works up to 1915. Dr. Pearson was president and director of the Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company, Ltd.; of the Mexico Tramways Company; Mexican Light and Power Company, Ltd.; of the Mexico North Western Railway; and of the Rio de Janeiro Tramway, Light and Power Company. He was director in the Sao Paulo Tramway, Light and Power Company, Ltd.; the Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad. Dr. Pearson's name will rank among the greatest practical engineers of the world. He was a man of brilliant mental attainments, possessing unusual executive ability and a prodigious capacity for work and heroic courage. He was withal of a kindly and hospitable disposition, generous to his employees and public-spirited. Those who worked under him felt the highest reverence for his zeal, his almost unequaied ability, his amiability, and all the manly virtues that adorn a leader. He was an innovator in industry, always eager to encourage new enterprises, and impatient of those who expressed doubt of the ability of Americans to produce anything and everything required by the inhabitants of the growing country. Combined with his indomitable energy and versatility of intellect, he possessed a wonderful power of imagination, not merely the susceptive imagination of the poet or the artist, but the constructive, the creative imagination of the scientist. One of the qualities that most endeared him to others was his simple, kindly manner, and entire absence of ostentation. He was always ready to receive a suggestion and if that suggestion seemed to him to possess merit he was ready to adopt it. In addition to this kindly disposition was an almost too ready confidence in the faith, good intentions, and ability of others. This confidence was generally well bestowed. Like a thread of gold through a fabric of silver there ran a keen sense of Yankee humor, which sometimes in the midst of grave and mighty transactions would be appreciated. His humor, however, was never low, never vicious; it left no sting. To Dr. Pearson's untiring energy and impartial appreciation, to his tremendous grasp of principles and mastery of details, to his wonderful memory and vivid imagination, to his versatility, his kindly disposition and his faith in others were due the immediate source of his successes, the unswerving loyalty and devotion without which it would have been impossible for any man to have conducted in such great and widely scattered enterprises. Throughout his career Dr. Pearson kept himself thoroughly conversant with every phase of railway development, and his work showed the highest degree of scientific accuracy. No greater eulogy can be written of him than that he was a gentleman of high character, who had his struggles and his vicissitudes, and through it all strove to do his duty. He maintained residences at Great Barrington, Mass., where he had an estate of 13,000 acres; in Surrey, England, and in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, the American Institute of Mining Engineers, the Society of Naval Engineers, and the London Institute of Civil Engineers; also of the Engineers', Railroad, University, New York Yacht, and Metropolitan Clubs of New York City. He married 5 Jan., 1887, Mabel, daughter of William H. Ward, of Lowell, Mass. They had three children: Ward Edgerly, treasurer of the Pearson Engineering Company; and Natalie and Frederick Ambrose Pearson. While en route to London with his wife he lost his life on the steamship “Lusitania,” which was torpedoed by a German submarine.