Gano Dunn

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Gano Dunn
Plaque honoring Gano Dunn at Cooper Union
Born(1870-10-18)October 18, 1870
DiedApril 10, 1953(1953-04-10) (aged 82)
Alma materCity College of New York[2]:6 Columbia University
Julia Thurston Gardiner Gayley
(m. 1920; her death 1937)
AwardsIEEE Edison Medal (1937)[2]:5
Hoover Medal (1940)
Scientific career
InstitutionsJ. G. White Engineering Corporation[5]

Gano Dunn (October 18, 1870[6] – April 10, 1953[7]) was President of Cooper Union, and an early Chairman and CEO of the United States National Research Council.[2]:8[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Son of Civil War veteran General N. Gano Dunn and Amelia Sillick,[9][10] Gano Dunn was born in Yorkville, New York. With a prospering law practice, General Dunn raised Gano and his younger brother Harris, across from Central Park, as befitted one of the "best-known lawyers in the city".[11] Inspired by his paternal grandfather, schoolteacher and inventor Nathaniel Dunn, young Gano was encouraged in both scholarship and practical invention.[1]:31[12]

In 1883, when Gano was twelve, he accompanied the former Mrs. Maria G. Robins Caswell to Europe. They were there met by General Dunn. With the General and Maria masquerading as man and wife, Gano traveled Europe for a year and half. By 1886, General Dunn's whereabouts were unknown to his wife Amelia and New York Society.[13]

At the age of fifteen, while attending City College of New York, Gano began to work for as an operator for the Western Union Telegraph Company. During this period, in March 1887, Mrs. Maria Robins filed a lawsuit against Gano's mother, Mrs. Amelia S. Dunn, over a deed to a New York City property. In 1884, under pressure from her "runaway husband", Mrs. Dunn had been forced to transfer the property, then valued at $18,000, to General Dunn's office clerk, Henry G. Hunt for a single dollar. Hunt then transferred the deed to Mrs. Robins. Attempting to maintain her interests, Mrs. Dunn gave a second deed to her sister-in-law, who then transferred this second deed to Mrs. Dunn's sister. With affidavits filed by her estranged husband from Canada, and testimony from Mrs. Robins, the case stretched until November 1887. Mrs. Amelia Dunn finally won the lawsuit and the Hunt/Robins deed to the property was invalidated.[11][14]

As a young college student, Dunn visited the laboratory of Thomas A. Edison.

Out of an almost infinite kindness for young men who were struggling, Mr. Edison received me in the midst of some laboratory work he was doing in the coating of laminated armature plates. Seeming to be interested in the questions I asked him, he drew me out in turn, and spent an hour personally showing me over his lamp works. .. . At the end of the visit, he offered me a job.

— Gano Dunn, Edison Medalist, 1937 : Presentation Ceremonies at Winter Convention, American Institute of Electrical Engineers, New York, N. Y.". 26

Dunn declined Edison's job offer and continued pursuing his college degree.[2]:6 In 1889, the nineteen-year-old earned a Bachelor of Science degree while graduating Phi Beta Kappa.[2]:6 Continuing his education at Columbia University, Dunn's life was changed by assisting Nikola Tesla.[15]

Tesla solved the greatest problem in electrical engineering of his time. . . . My contact as [Tesla’s] assistant at the historic Columbia University high frequency lecture afterward, has left an indelible impression and an inspiration which has influenced my life.

— Gano Dunn, Letter dated July, 1931

Electronic and radio pioneers Gano Dunn and Columbia Professor Edwin Howard Armstrong both served as pallbearers at Tesla's funeral.[15]:7

In 1891, Dunn received the first degree in Electrical engineering granted by Columbia University.

His father's whereabouts remained unknown, until in August 1892, reporters appeared at the Dunn home with dispatches from Denver. Without money and thought to be insane, the former lawyer had shot himself and died. Gano quickly telegraphed Denver authorities to hold the body. With the intention to bring the body back home, Gano expressed to reporters the "sorrow that the scandal has dragged the family name through mire should now be revived by suicide".[13]

Gano Dunn put his father's scandals behind him. Vannevar Bush's biography of Gano simply states: "Dunn's father died before Gano had finished his education;".[1]:31

Returning to CCNY, Dunn was one of two 1897 Master of Science graduates, alongside Stephen P. Duggan.[16]

Dunn was president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers from 1911 to 1912. Gano Dunn served as treasurer and later Chairman of Trustees of the Simplified Spelling Board.[17]

Refugee ship Principe di Undine[edit]

Gano Dunn, the President of J. G. White Engineering since 1913, was in Italy at the outbreak of World War I. Americans stranded in Europe had fled from Austria, France, Spain, Switzerland and Serbia to Italy, trying to book passage back to the United States.[18] With banks refusing to cash personal checks, Americans were short on funds. In Italy, a bank moratorium had been declared, with banks paying only "limited and small amounts daily".[19]:5

A Committee of Guarantors with Dunn, as treasurer, pledged 500,000 francs, gold to secure the charter of the ship Principe di Undine from Genoa to New York City. Using their personal fortunes, aided by American Express's Genoa office and National City Bank of New York, made the initial 10% payment five minutes before the charter option expired. Within two days, 400 anxious Americans booked passage, with Gano Dunn collecting cash or confirming evidence of credit. Only 60,000 francs were available in cash, the rest being credit, with payment guaranteed by the Committee.[19]

Dr. Butler, before sailing, had obtained permission from Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty to pass Gibraltar.[20] Challenged there by an English torpedo boat destroyer, the Principe di Undine was allowed to proceed into the Atlantic. 700 miles from New York, the ship was commanded to stop by an English warship. After verifying her cargo and passengers, the ship was allowed to proceed.

During the voyage, a series of lectures on various topics were organized, with Mr Gano Dunn speaking on wireless telegraphy.[19]:56 Each morning, Dunn posted the bulletins from the wireless on the progress of the war.

Concerned about their compatriots still stranded in Europe, the passengers voted to appoint a committee to inform public opinion and the United States Government of the conditions abroad. Arriving in New York on August 23, 1914,[21] Gano Dunn and the rest of the committee met with an assistant to the Secretary of State on Tuesday, August 25 and officially expressed to him their satisfaction with the steps the Government had taken at that time.[19]:59


Among his fellow refugees aboard ship were Mrs. Julia Gardiner Gayley and her daughter Miss Florence Gayley of New York City.[19]:73 In 1920, upon the death of her first husband, James Gayley,[22] Julia Thurston Gardiner Gayley married Gano Dunn.[3] The couple moved to her home at 20 Washington Square North.[23]


Gano Dunn invented and patented many electronic and mechanical devices.

  • US patent 797271, "Electric Switch"  A Drum Sequencer Controller
  • CA patent 103309, "Machine for Bending Metal Strips Edgewise" 
  • GB 190409874, "Improvements in Electric Switches" 
  • GB patent 190413779, "Improvements in Electrical Distribution particularly applicable for Controlling Electric Motors" 
  • GB patent 190403919, "Improvements in System of Speed Regulation for Electro-motor Driven Machinery." 
  • GB patent 190626193, "Improvements in Machines for Bending Metal Strips Edgewise" 
  • US patent 493375, "Balanced Armature for Dynamo Electric Machines or Electric Motors and Method of Balancing Same" 
  • "US design patent D0027098 : Frame for Dynamo".
  • US patent 654142, "Automatic Electromagnetic Brake" 
  • US patent 792762, "Improvements in Dynamo Electric Machines" 
  • "US Patents by Inventor Gano S Dunn". Retrieved 1 August 2014.


In 1955, James A. Healy and Harris A. Dunn, in memory of Harris' late brother Gano, presented Colby College Library with a rare copy of the 1491 Nuremberg Chronicle.[24]:78


  1. ^ a b c Bush, Vannevar (1954). Gano Sillick Dunn, 1870—1953 : A Biographical Memoir (PDF). Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2015-02-14.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Gano Dunn : Edison Medalist, 1937 : Presentation Ceremonies at Winter Convention, American Institute of Electrical Engineers, New York, N. Y." (PDF). 26 January 1938. Retrieved 1 August 2014 – via IEEE Global History Network : Archives : Papers of Gano Dunn. I am overwhelmed by this honor, which has more meaning for me than anyone can ever know, for Thomas Alva Edison was one of the gods of my boyhood and from then on he has been one of the profoundest inspirations of my life.[...] I still cherish two of the first one-candlepower lamps that were ever made which Mr. Edison picked from a box and handed me as a present when I left. He did not complain that I did not take his job, and he afterward said I was right.
  3. ^ a b "MRS. JULIA GAYLEY WED TO GANO DUNN; Daughter of the Late Curtis Crane Gardiner a Bride in Grace Church" (PDF). 1920-08-27. Mrs. Julia Gardiner Gayley of 20 Washington Square North, daughter of the late Curtis Crane Gardiner of Gardiner's Island, was married to Gano Dunn of 117 West Fifty-eighth Street in Grace Church yesterday afternoon by the Rev. Dr. Charles Lewis Slattery, who came to this city from Lenox, Mass., for the occasion.
  4. ^ "MRS. GANO DUNN;Wife of President of J. G. White Engineering Corporation" (PDF). 1937-05-13. Mrs. Julia Gardiner Dunn, wife of Gano Dunn, president of the J. G. White Engineering Corporation, died yesterday at her home 500 Park Avenue, after a long illness.
  5. ^ "DUNN TO GET HOOVER MEDAL" (PDF). New York Sun. 4 October 1939. p. 10, col. 2-3. Retrieved 1 August 2014 – via IEEE Global History Network : Archives : Papers of Gano Dunn. He was born in New York city[sic] and has been President of J. G. White Engineering Corporation since 1913.
  6. ^ "Extended History: Chronology 1859-1876". Archived from the original on 10 July 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 1870 [...] Oct. 18: Birth of Gano Dunn.
  7. ^ "Gano Dunn". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  8. ^ "GANO DUNN AWARD" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-02-24. Gano Dunn devoted a quarter-century of service to The Cooper Union. For fifteen of those twenty-five years, 1935-1951, he served as the President of the school while continuing to serve on the Board of Trustees. From 1948-1953 he served as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
  9. ^ "MARRIED" (PDF). New York Tribune. New York, N.Y. 1867-10-31. p. 5, col. 5. DUNN—SILLTCK—On Wednesday, Oct 30. at the Eighty-sixth-st. M.E. Church, by the Rev. John E. Gorse, N. Gano Dunn to Amelia S., youngest daughter of the late Rev. John A. Sillick.
  10. ^ Motter, H.L. (1912). Who's Who in the World. Brooklyn, New York: William G. Hewitt Press. p. 407. OCLC 83798487. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  11. ^ a b "N. Gano Dunn's Wife: THE HISTORY BROUGHT OUT IN A SUIT ABOUT A TITLE" (PDF). The New York Times. March 30, 1887. Retrieved June 7, 2010. Judge Ingraham, in the Special Term of the Supreme Court, yesterday, listened to a very graphic description of a period in the life of Gen. N. Gano Dunn, who left this city for Colorado about a year ago.
  12. ^ "Cut silhouette portrait of Nathaniel Dunn, Bowdoin Class of 1825". College Persons and Groups : Class of 1825. Bowdoin College Library Archives Image Gallery : GEORGE J. MITCHELL DEPARTMENT OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS & ARCHIVES. Retrieved 2015-02-14.
  13. ^ a b "DEATH OF N. GANO DUNN; A ONCE PROMINENT NEW-YORKER COMMITS SUICIDE. HE WAS WITHOUT MONEY AND DESPONDENT IN DENVER -- WOULD MAKE NO STATEMENT REGARDING THE CAUSE FOR THE RASH ACT -- THE STORY OF HIS CAREER" (PDF). The New York Times. August 14, 1892. Retrieved 2015-02-14. Gen. N. Gano Dunn, formerly of New-York City, shot himself in the head last night and died this afternoon at St. Luke's Hospital. The cause of his act still remains a mystery, as the General refused to make any statement before dying. He left a few lines in a note addressed to "Fanny B.," in which he talks of disappointed love, "Fanny B.'s " identity cannot be established.
  14. ^ Social Register, New York, 1911. XXV. Bowling Green, 29 Broadway, New York City: Social Register Association. November 1910. pp. 181–182. Retrieved 2015-02-15. Dunn, Mrs. N. Gano ... Miss Esther H. Sillick | 319 W 94
  15. ^ a b Kenneth L. Corum and James F. Corum, Ph.D. "Tesla's Connection to Columbia University" (PDF). p. 7. Retrieved 2015-02-15.
  16. ^ "City College Graduates : Many Degrees Conferred at the Commencement Exercises Held at Carnegie Hall : Mayor and Faculty Cheered" (PDF). New York Times. New York, N.Y. 1897-06-25. Retrieved 2015-02-14. The degrees were conferred as follows: Master of Sciences-Gano S. Dunn, Stephen P. Duggan
  17. ^ "Simplified Spelling Board Moves May 1 to Harvard". New York Tribune. New York, N.Y. 10 April 1921. p. 7, col. 4. Retrieved 1 August 2014 – via Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. Mr. Paine was elected treasurer, succeeding Gano Dunn, who was elected chairman of trustees.
  18. ^ "TOURISTS NEAR BY HELD UP BY WAR; 600 Americans in Bermuda Who Can't Get Home from Colony Now Under Martial Law. ABOUT THOSE IN EUROPE Some Making Their Way to London and Paris, but Others Find It Impossible to Travel" (PDF). New York Times. August 11, 1914. Retrieved 2018-12-21. Reports from the Americans abroad indicate that most of them are now collected in a few large cities, where they are in comparative safety.
  19. ^ a b c d e Benhke, Arno (1914). The sailing of a refugee ship; a little record of the voyage of the Principe di Udine from Genoa to New York in August, nineteen fourteen, during the first days of the European conflict. New York. Retrieved 2015-02-15. Dedication: To The Committee of Guarantors: MR R.A.C. SMITH, DR NICHOLAS MURRAY BUTLER, MR GANO DUNN, MR FREDERICK W VANDERBILT whose noble self sacrifice and steadfast patriotism made possible the refugee voyage of the Principe di Udine from Genoa August 12, 1914
  20. ^ "ON BOARD THE STEAMER PRINCIPE DI UDINE, (by wireless via Cadiz, Spain.) Aug. 15. -- The steamship Principe di Udine with more than 400 Americans from Genoa passed Gibraltar at 7:30 tonight" (PDF). The New York Times. August 17, 1914.
  21. ^ "REFUGEES ON ITALIAN LINER;Dr. Butler and Vanderbilts Among Those on the Principe Di Undine" (PDF). New York Times. August 23, 1914.
  22. ^ "MRS. GAYLEY ALSO SUES" (PDF). New York Times. February 24, 1910.
  23. ^ Tom Miller. "The First House on the Square -- No. 20 Washington Square North".
  24. ^ Humphry, James III (November 1955). "The Nuremberg Chronicle". Colby Library Quarterly. 4 (4): 78–80. Retrieved 2015-02-14.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
President of Cooper Union
1935 — 1951
Succeeded by
Edwin S. Burdell