Bion J. Arnold

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Bion Joseph Arnold
Bion J Arnold.jpg
Born(1861-08-14)August 14, 1861
Casnovia, Michigan
DiedJanuary 29, 1942(1942-01-29) (aged 80)
Service/branchUnited States Army
Ranklieutenant colonel

Bion Joseph Arnold (August 14, 1861 – January 29, 1942) was an American engineer. He is remembered as "father of the third rail",[1] a pioneer in electrical engineering, and an urban mass transportation expert who helped design New York's Interborough Rapid Transit subway system. He also served as a lieutenant colonel during World War I in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Casnovia, Michigan on August 14, 1861.[2][3]

Civilian career[edit]

After graduating from Hillsdale College in Michigan and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1897, Arnold set up his own company in Chicago at a time when railroads were converting their power sources from steam to electricity. In 1898, Arnold developed a new method of converting alternating current from power plants to direct current in substations for the Chicago & Milwaukee Electric Railway. This innovative electrification system would eventually become a standard in the interurban and street railway industries.[4] Between 1898 and 1912, he assisted the New York Central Railroad and the Hudson River Railroad in conversion of their lines leading into the Grand Central Terminal.[5]

When the IRT opened in 1904, the subway proved to be more popular than envisioned. By 1908, a system designed for a maximum of 600,000 passengers per day was being used by 800,000. Arnold was called upon again to solve the problem. His solution was to place automatic speed control devices on the trains themselves, so that more trains could be run during each hour.[6]

Arnold also assisted in the conversion of electrified railways in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, and the cable car systems in San Francisco. Arnold was president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers from 1903 to 1904.[7]

Military career[edit]

On December 14, 1917, he transferred to the regular Army as a lieutenant colonel in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. He was assigned to aircraft equipment production in Washington, DC. He was honorably discharged on Feb. 6, 1919. He was a colonel in the inactive reserve after 1929.[2]

Personal life[edit]

He lived in Chicago, Illinois.[2]

Death and legacy[edit]

He died on Jan. 29, 1942, and is buried in Ashland Cemetery, in his hometown of Ashland, Nebraska.[2]


  1. ^ Current Biography 1942, p. 33
  2. ^ a b c d Marquis Who's Who (1975), p. 16.
  3. ^ Martin, Thomas Commerford (September 9, 1911). "Bion Joseph Arnold An Engineer Who Is the Right-hand Man of Public Service Commissions". Scientific American.
  4. ^ Tobin, Edward W. (2008). Before the North Shore Line: The Early Years 1894-1916. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfans Association. p. 37. ISBN 0915348411.
  5. ^ "The New York Public Library".
  6. ^ Clifton Hood, "The Impact of the IRT on New York City", Historical American Engineering Record survey number HAER NY-122, pp. 146–147, from, retrieved September 3, 2007
  7. ^ "Bion J. Arnold". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 8 August 2011.


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