Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

Eugene Starr Papers, 1911-1988

Biographical Note

Dr. Eugene Starr enjoyed a widespread reputation as a distinguished scientist, brilliant engineer, and a dedicated public servant. He achieved both national and international recognition for his attainments in the fields of electrical engineering and nuclear physics, and was a pioneer in many areas of high-voltage transmission science, including the development of series and shunt capacitor applications and tests, generator characteristics, circuit breaker advances, and high-voltage transformer and cable problems.

A 1923 graduate of Oregon State University, Starr returned to teach Electrical Engineering from 1927 to 1954. From 1939 to 1954 he also served as consultant to the Bonneville Power Administration, and was its Chief Engineer from 1954 to 1961. In that position he demonstrated outstanding managerial ability and leadership during an era of rapid expansion and technological change. For his professional competence, administrative excellence and dedicated public service, Starr was granted the Department of the Interior's highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, in 1958.

From the beginning of the Government's program with nuclear fission, Dr. Starr demonstrated a keen professional interest in the field. During World War II he served as consultant to the National Defense Research Committee of the Office of Scientific Research and Development as an official investigator, coordinator and supervisor of important defense projects. In 1946 he was a Civilian Scientific Observer at the Bikini atom bomb tests. Subsequently Mr. Starr was heavily involved in applying nuclear concepts to the generation of electric energy and to correlating such developments with the requirements of the Federal power system in the Pacific Northwest. Beginning in 1961 he served the Bonneville Power Administration as Consulting Engineer specializing in extra-high-voltage AC- DC transmission and in nuclear power development. He later won several prizes for his research papers in the field of high-voltage engineering and aircraft radio coordination. In 1965 he was named Engineer of the Year for Oregon.

Timeline for Eugene Starr

1901 Eugene Carl Starr is born on August 6 in Falls City, Oregon, where his family farms potatoes.
As a boy Starr works as a logger and in lumber mills, while also developing a life-long passion for hunting.
1915 Starr successfully builds a small wireless telegraphy set out of discarded batteries and electrical equipment given to him by acquaintances at the Falls City telephone and electric company.
1923 Starr graduates with high honors from Oregon Agricultural College, where he completes his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. As a college student, Starr also distinguishes himself as an expert marksman - he graduates as the College's rifle and pistol champion.
Immediately following the completion of his undergraduate studies, Starr enrolls in the General Electric Test Course.
1924 Starr completes the General Electric Test Course and is hired as a research engineer in the General Electric High-Voltage Test Laboratory. His supervisor is Frank W. Peek.
1927 At age 26, Starr leaves General Electric for a position as instructor of electrical engineering at Oregon Agricultural College.
1931 Starr is awarded the American Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers National Best Paper Prize in Theory and Research. He'll earn the award a second time in 1941.
1938 Starr completes a professional degree in Electrical Engineering from what is now known as Oregon State College.
1939 Twelve years after his hiring as an instructor, Starr is promoted to the rank of full professor by Oregon State College.
Starr is hired as a consultant by the Bonneville Power Administration and tasked with using a high-voltage, direct-current power line to transmit surplus electricity from the Pacific Northwest to the city of Chicago. A paper that results from this work, "Series Capacitors for Transmission Circuits," (1942) proves to be hugely influential and leads to technologies that allow for the transmission of electric power over distances some four-times longer than had previously been the case. Starr will later apply these principles in overseeing the construction of a high-voltage power line stretching over nine-hundred miles from The Dalles, Oregon to Los Angeles, California.
1941 Starr is elected a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is also honored for his research on weather-related static electricity interference as it pertained to radio communications in aircraft.
On October 19, while hunting with a group on Steens Mountain in Southeast Oregon, Starr is indirectly struck by lightning. In recounting the event, he writes "I feel particularly fortunate in having escaped a direct stroke, or a critically severe induced stroke. However, from a professional angle, now that the experience is over, I should regret having missed it."
1942 As a result of his aircraft studies, Starr is enlisted by the Manhattan Project to solve the problem of static electricity build-up in uranium-producing cyclotrons. During the war years, Starr also consults for the United States Office of Scientific Research and Development.
1946 Beginning in June, Starr serves as a Civilian Scientific Observer at the first atomic bomb tests conducted at Bikini Atoll. In later years he continues this line of consultation with the Reactor Development Division of the Atomic Energy Commission.
1950 On September 11, Starr marries Oma Mae Herald of Pittsburg, Kansas.
1953 The American Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers honors Starr and E. J. Harrington's paper "Shunt Capacitors in Large Transmission Networks" with their Northwest District first prize.
1954 Starr retires from Oregon State College in favor of a position as Chief Engineer of the Bonneville Power Administration. During his seven years as Chief Engineer, Starr helps develop the Pacific Northwest-Pacific Southwest Intertie and argues staunchly in support of nuclear power as a means for producing electricity.
1957 Starr is selected to attend the International World Power Conference in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, representing the United States as part of its official delegation.
1958 The United States Department of the Interior bestows upon Starr its highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award.
1959 For five weeks Starr serves as Consultant to the United Nations on assignment in India, where he reviews a power research grant request issued by the Indian government.
1960 In June Starr travels to Paris to attend a convention of the International Conference on Large High-Voltage Electric Systems (C. I. G. R. E.). His paper "Power Circuit Breaker Testing in the Field," co-authored with E. J. Harrington, is one of eight allotted U.S. papers presented at the event. In later years, Starr will serve C. I. G. R. E. in a number of capacities.
While in Europe, Starr inspects power plants in six countries, including the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant then under construction in England.
1961 Starr retires from the position of Chief Engineer, but continues on with the B. P. A. as Consulting Engineer for the remainder of his life. In this capacity he conducts a large volume of research on nuclear energy and on high-voltage AC and DC transmission.
1965 The state of Oregon names Starr Engineer of the Year.
1968 The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers honors Starr with its William M. Habirshaw Award "for outstanding contributions to the development of more economical and reliable a-c and d-c transmission."
1976 Oregon State University honors Starr with its highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Award.
1977 The National Academy of Engineering inducts Starr as a member.
1980 Starr is awarded the Benjamin Garver Lamme Medal by the I. E. E. E. for "outstanding contributions in the field of long-distance high-voltage electric power transmission systems." He is the first B. P. A. employee to receive the award.
1987 Oma Mae Starr dies at the age of 70.
1988 On February 5, at the age of 86, Starr succumbs to a short illness at his home in Portland, Oregon. One obituary author writes that Starr "pioneered in many fields of electrical engineering including the research and development of shunt capacitor applications, field testing, generator characteristics, circuit breaker advances, high-voltage transformer and cable problems, insulation coordination, and the application of nuclear energy to power generation and transmission networks." Over the course of his career, Starr published more than forty papers.

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