A Career As An Electrician
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
This has often been called the age of electricity, and the many wonderful developments along the lines of electrical invention fully justify the name. Edison, Steinmetz and men of equal genius have brought electricity so far under human control that it is utilized in a thousand different ways. Electricity lights and heats buildings; supplies the power necessary to run huge machines, street cars and small household devices; enables us to speak to people at a distance by means of the telephone, to mount to the top of a skyscraper in a few moments by means of the electrically propelled elevator and to do hundreds of other things in ways which, even forty years ago, were practically unknown.
Electricity has for most people a great fascination. It is a force, of the nature of which practically nothing is known—even the greatest man in the field cannot offer a satisfactory definition of electricity. And it is, besides, a force which, though so far conquered by man, has still unlimited possibilities of commercial exploitation. Its further utilization and adaptation to our needs will probably extend over a period of many generations to come. And so it offers a large and interesting field of work for many different types of men.
Electrical devices are invented and improved upon by the electrical engineer. But these devices must be properly installed where needed, and repaired when necessary, and this work, not of an inventive nature, but nevertheless exceedingly necessary, is undertaken by the practical electrician. Thousands of electrical workers are employed by such public service corporations as the large electric light, heat and power companies, the electric rail-way and the telephone companies. Thousands of others are independent journeymen contractors, or are employed by some comparatively small firms.
The work of wiring buildings for light and power, and for the installation of various signaling devices, is one of the most important duties of the electrician. Signal wiring for door bells and alarms is generally not very difficult work, especially if under-taken while the building is under construction. Wiring for heat and power requires more skill on the part of the workman. In this work, he deals with wires of high voltage; and their improper installation may result in short circuiting and consequent fire. The fact that there is such danger in improper wiring has led to the formulation of what is known as the "National Electrical Code." This code prescribes the proper methods of installing wiring, and is in force in practically every community.
The wiring of finished buildings offers the electrician a number of problems. He must exercise a certain amount of ingenuity in planning the routes of the conductors throughout the buildings, so that the flooring and walls will not have to be disturbed more than is absolutely necessary.
Before electricity can be made available in buildings, it must, however, in some way be conveyed from the power house to the house wires. This is done by means of "lines," either overhead or underground, which bring the electrical energy from the generating station to the consumer. The work of "building" these lines, like that of wiring a house, requires on the part of the workman a knowledge of electricity, mechanical skill and great carefulness.
The power house, in which electricity is converted into usable form, is in charge of a "station operator." His chief duty is the operation of the switchboard, from which the many machines which constitute the equipment of the station are controlled. Such a switchboard is usually of very elaborate construction, for it affords connection and interconnection not only with the apparatus in the plant but also with the outgoing lines supplying electrical current to consumers. The operator must know the switchboard perfectly, and must also be thoroughly familiar with the use and operation of the machines in the plant.
Very often electric wires or machines require repair. For the work of locating trouble, large public service corporations employ "trouble shooters." These men must be able quickly to deter-mine what is causing the trouble, and then either make or specify the necessary repairs. Independent electricians usually combine with their work of wiring buildings and installing electrical devices the repairing of faults in wiring and machines.
In order to become a good electrician, one should be interested in electricity, and have a liking for mechanical work. One should by nature be careful and reliable, and accurate in all the work one does. Electricity is a force which allows of no indecision or carelessness. The electrician must know what to do and how to do it properly, and must always exercise the greatest care in his work, for otherwise the element of danger to himself and to others will be ever present. Bodily strength and endurance are necessary for the man who does work in buildings under construction, where he is exposed to the weather; and the lineman, too, must be robust and of a strong constitution.
If the electrician wishes to become an independent contractor, he must combine with the above qualifications sound business sense. Many excellent electricians who start in business for themselves fail to succeed because they have not a sufficient amount of business ability to keep a set of books or know how to sell their services to the best advantage.
Every electrical worker should know something of the theory of electricity, and should have as much general practical knowledge of electricity as possible. In his own special field, he should be especially well informed. A good knowledge of mathematics, chemistry, physics and mechanical drawing will be of great use to him. Instruction in these subjects may be obtained in the public high schools or evening high schools. There are numerous institutions in which one can acquire a good general and technical education combined. There are, in every city, public high and trade schools, where free instruction is given. Many large corporations maintain schools where employees are given thorough technical training. Many of the large universities, especially state universities, offer electrical courses in their engineering and extension departments, through which the electrician who is of an inventive nature, and who is willing to devote his spare time to study, can in time qualify as an electrical engineer. In very many cases the electrician can obtain his training free of charge and, if he should be obliged to pay tuition fees, they would not, as a rule, be high.
Practical experience in electrical work is just as essential as theoretical knowledge. Some young men are employed as "helpers" to electricians. For such a position, practically no technical knowledge is required. While he is a helper, the young man can learn much through actual experience, and can, by studying in the evening, soon advance to a more advanced position. The local Board of Education will be glad to furnish a list of public high and trade schools which offer courses in electricity; and other schools will give applicants full information as to the courses they offer.
The demand for well trained, thoroughly efficient electricians is a steady one. The electrical industry is so large, and continues to grow so rapidly, that it offers splendid chances for secure employment in interesting work, at good wages. The element of danger in electrical work can be rendered practically non-existent if the electrician is sufficiently careful in going about his tasks. The earnings of electricians vary according to the type of work they do. Helpers may earn between $12 and $25 a week. Linemen and wiremen earn between $75 and $175 a month, trouble shooters to about $175, and chief electricians in power houses to $300 or more. The independent journeyman contractor's earnings are determined by the neighborhood in which he works, by the quality of his work and by his business ability.
The electrician's work is altogether very satisfactory, since it is steady, offers some variety, good financial returns and numerous opportunities for advancement. It is a very necessary work, contributing directly to the comfort and welfare of the public.
"Electrical Employment with Utility Companies," U. S. Federal Board for Vocational Education, Vocational Rehabilitation Series No. 14, Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1919.
"Electrical Construction, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations," U. S. Federal Board for Vocational Education, Vocational Rehabilitation Series No. 15, Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1919.
CROFT, TERRELL: "Practical Electricity," McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, 1923.
— "American Electricians' Handbook," McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, 1921.
"How to `he Prepared' for Merit Badge Examinations: Electricity," Boy Scouts of America, New York, 1919.
MARTIN, THOMAS C.: "The Story of Electricity," Story of Electricity Co., New York, 1919.
MILLIKAN, ROBERT A.: "Practical Lessons in Electricity," American Technical Soc., Chicago, 1914.
POPPE, T. W.: "House Wiring," The Norman W. Henley Publishing Co., New York, 1920.
SLOANE, THOMAS O'C.: "Electricity Simplified," The Norman W. Henley Publishing Co., New York, 1911.
Electrical Experimenter, Science and Invention, Experimenter Publishing Co., New York.
Electric Journal, A. H. McIntire, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Electrical World, McGraw-Hill Co., Inc., New York.
Popular Science Monthly, Modern Publishing Co., New York. Public Service, Utilities Publication Co., Chicago.