Early life and studies
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.
Memberships and positions
Whitney was member of:
- the American Institute of Electrical Engineers
- the American Electrochemical Society and president (1911–1912)
- the National Academy of Sciences
- the Institute of Metals
- the National Research Council
- the Advisory Committee to the National Bureau of Standards
- the Naval Consulting Board
- the Chemical Society and president (1909)
- Director of the Albany Medical College
- the Board of Governors of Union College
- Associate Editor of the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry
Awards and titles
- honorary Doctor of chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh (1919)
- Doctor of Science from Union College (1919)
- Willard Gibbs Medal (1916)
- Perkin Medal (1921)
- Gold Medal of the National Institute of Social Sciences (1928)
- Franklin Medal of the Franklin Institute (1931)
- Edison Medal "for his contributions to electrical science, his pioneer inventions, and his inspiring leadership in research" (1934)
- Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences, (1937)
- First recipient of the IRI Medal from the Industrial Research Institute (1946)