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Subject: Saga in Steel and Concrete - 266-277
Date: Sat, 10 May 2003 08:51:20 -0700


The following selection is taken from "Saga in Steel and Concrete:
Norwegian Engineers in America" by Kenneth Bjork published by the
Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA) in 1947. The volume is
still available from NAHA at where you will
also find the first 33 volumes of Studies and Records online. This
chapter is published with the kind permission of NAHA. The book this
selection is drawn from is under copyright and permission has been
granted for educational purposes and it is not to be used in any way for
commercial purposes.

In 1927 Grønningsæter became consulting metallurgist for Falconbridge
Nickel Mines, Limited, of Toronto, the firm with which he is still
associated. This company in 1929 bought the refinery at Christiansand,
largely on the advice of its new engineer. It may seem strange that they
should have made an investment in Norway; in fact, for some time
Falconbridge had contemplated building a refinery in Canada. After
reflection, however, it was decided to acquire, remodel, and enlarge the
Christiansand plant. After years of careful study and application, the
newly acquired plant was made to produce nearly one tenth of the world's
supply of nickel. From 2,500 tons annual output in 1929, production
gradually climbed to 10,000 tons.
Falconbridge bought only the Christiansand refinery, the mines and
smelter remaining with the Norwegian company. The refinery was planned
for a novel system of production which drew from mines on both sides of
the Atlantic, since Norwegian ores alone did not permit the economies of
large-scale production. Up to the time of the Nazi invasion of Norway,
Canada supplied the Christiansand refinery with many times the amount of
raw material that Norway did. In the reorganization and management of
this refinery Grønningsæter was the leading figure, and under his
direction began an interesting experiment in co-operation between the Old
World and the New. {42}
Grønningsæter's metallurgical work in Norway centered in perfecting
production techniques and getting a steadily improved quality of nickel.
These two objectives have remained with him to the present in his work on
both sides of the Atlantic.
Production in Norway presented the problem common to all small countries
with limited resources. Unable to compete with the mass-production
methods of countries like the United States, they must concentrate on
quality. A good example of this is the iron and steel industry of Sweden.
{43} Nickel production offered the same difficulties. Grønningsæter's
success in meeting these difficulties is described by another Norwegian
engineer. Writing in Teknisk ukeblad, Reidar Lund explains that, "Mr.
Grønningsæter . . . saw that with the help of cheap Norwegian water power
and skilled Norwegian workers and staff he could turn out nickel cheaper
in Norway than in Canada. . . . Expansion and modernization were
immediately undertaken at the Christiansand plant . . . and the results
were so encouraging that new enlargements were introduced in 1932-33."
This rapid development was also accompanied by steady improvement in the
quality of nickel. "Not so long ago, one struggled with impurities
determined and specified in the order of one tenth to one hundredth of
one per cent. Today only pure metal is acceptable, that is to say, high
quality products, where impurities are determined and specified in the
order of thousandths of one per cent. . . . Mr. Grønningsæter's work is
of the finest and most notable that has been accomplished in Norwegian
industry in recent years and it deserves to be generally known and
esteemed." {44} In recognition of his work the Norwegian Polytechnic
Society in 1937 awarded him its highly valued Sam. Eyde prize, and in the
same year he was elected to Videnskapsselskapet in Oslo, a learned
scientific group.
If it may be said that Grønningsæter introduced American production
techniques in Norway, it is also true that he carried with him to the New
World the point of view of the Old. His contribution to the metallurgy of
nickel includes the lowering of metal losses.
The need for this would seem to require little emphasis today, but
Grønningsæter recently found it necessary to remind the Sudbury branch of
the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy that "ores do not grow
within historical periods although our forefathers thought so. No matter
how great the supply of mineral wealth in Canada now seems to be, it is
certainly not inexhaustible. In the older countries, where mining is an
important industry, this fact has been realized for many years, and steps
have been taken to conserve supplies. The same must be done here." {45}
Speaking to the seniors in mining and metallurgy at the University of
Toronto, he said: "Lessening of waste has been an important factor . . .
during the period I have been considering. . . . Lower grade ores have
been mined. But there is room for much more improvement in this line and
I wish to stress the importance of this. I think we old country people,
who have been raised in old, more worked out countries, have a stronger
feeling of the importance of this, than you who have been raised on this
continent, where you yet, to a considerable extent are occupied with
skimming the cream. Sooner than imagined you will come down to the blue
milk. . . . I think the time has now come that in the metal business the
principle should be to save everything that can be saved at a profit, be
this profit ever so small." {46}
The pertinence of these words becomes apparent when it is recalled that
most of the world's nickel is obtained from the Sudbury field. The ores
are copper-nickel sulphides containing cobalt, iron, and precious metals;
they are smelted to low-grade mattes which are then blown in basic
converters of the Peirce-Smith type for the removal of iron. The product
of the converters --- Bessemer matte --- is shipped to nickel refineries
where the process employed is a combined thermal and electrolytic one.
{47} The method of extracting nickel and other metals from the ore had
not escaped criticism. Robert E. Vivian said some years ago, "Although
improvements have been made, the accepted processes so far have all
slagged off and wasted the iron, comprising 90% of the metal content of
the ore; they have lost 10-15% of the copper and nickel, and higher
percentages of the precious metals, and have made use of crude processes
for the separation of the copper from the nickel in the matte produced."
The need for waste elimination increases with the normal increase in
demand for nickel. Once used mainly for armor plate and ordnance,
nickel's chief use today normally has nothing to do with war. Because it
lends great strength, hardness, and resistance to corrosion, it is an
important ingredient in ferrous alloys. Most stainless steels and irons
contain considerable nickel. It is also used in Monel metal, coins, and
many other alloys. Such industrial products as motor vehicles, railroad
equipment, farm implements, common machinery, chromium plating, sheets,
wires, radio tubes, and a host of other items use nickel. Because of the
increasing strains and stresses of modern industrial life, the demand is
constant for a higher quality nickel. {49}
The development of a better grade of nickel has taken place without any
rise in metal price, thanks to improved metallurgical and other
processes. According to Grønningsæter: "It is to be expected that the
present trend of demanding purer and purer metals will continue. . . . As
the physical testing methods continue to improve, the demands for purity
will keep step and become stricter and stricter. . . . It is probable
that many of the consumers will only be satisfied with almost chemically
pure metals, even if the impurities for many purposes may be harmless, or
even useful alloying elements. . . . Accurate determinations of
impurities down to 0.001% in metals and as low as 0.1 milligrams per
liter in solutions is now regular laboratory routine. . . . We can
perhaps say that the change that has taken place in the laboratory since
the turn of the century is that the demand for accuracy has been moved
one decimal point. . . . We now talk in figures instead of in trends, we
work on a quantitative instead of a qualitative basis." {50}
Throughout this entire development in the metallurgy of nickel
Grønningsæter has been a leader. It is difficult at any time to place a
finger on precise scientific contributions, many of which never
materialize in patented processes. But a glance at Grønningsæter's
American letters patent tells a part of the story of his work. One
describes a process for treating nickelcopper solutions to remove iron.
Another has to do with the reduction of oxygenous nickel or nickel-copper
compounds. A third and a fourth tell of methods for the electrolytic
deposition of nickel from nickel-salt solutions. Still another describes
a method for the production of malleable and annealable nickel direct by
electrolysis, thus eliminating the resmelting common to electrolytic
metal refining. A sixth "relates to the treatment of nickel cathodes
obtained by electrolytic deposition and has for its object certain
improvements in the method of treating the electrolytically deposited
cathodes whereby their solubility characteristics particularly are so
greatly improved that the cathodes may be directly used as anodes in
nickel plating baths." In all he has eight patents in this country and
more in Canada and Europe. Pending in the United States are two
applications, one for the purification of nickel electrolytes and another
for malleable and annealable nickel. He plans to file at least one more
application. A paper read before the Canadian Institute of Mining and
Metallurgy brings out the "possibilities of obtaining appreciable
economic advantages by using the converter as a smelting machine. When
all factors entering into converter operations are studied, understood
and given proper consideration, I believe that it will be found that
there is more flexibility possible in operation to meet varying
conditions than generally has been assumed." {51} As he himself has
modestly put it, Grønningsæter has "made a number of improvements of
details in the metallurgy of nickel."
During World War II Grønningsæter lived in Canada and New York. Though
prevented by the German invasion of Norway from taking part in the work
of the Falconbridge plant at Christiansand, until World War II he spent
much time in that city. It was his conviction in 1936 that this nickel
refinery would soon turn out 10 per cent of the world's supply. {52} The
Nazi seizure of the plant, so largely the product of Grønningsæter's
planning, naturally came as a great shock and disappointment to a man who
might truly be called an internationalist, both in his personal life and
in his professional attitudes. Since 1929 he has sailed back and forth
across the Atlantic no less than 53 times. A citizen of the United
States, he is married to a Canadian and has always felt most at home in
Norway. Sensing the futility and stupidity of nationalism in economic
life, he deplored the trend toward national self-sufficiency in the
post-World War I period. {53} Like Cappelen Smith, he is engaged in a
work requiring international co-operation and good faith among nations.
The number of engineers specializing in metallurgy in recent times has
been considerable, and of the graduates from Norway's technical schools
many have made solid contributions to American industry. Among the
earliest to arrive in this country was Eystein Berg, on a special mission
to erect a synthetic nitrogen plant --- the first of its kind in America
--- in South Carolina. Berg, a close associate of Sam. Eyde in Norway,
was also credited with planning the American Nitrogen Products Company at
Seattle. {54} Otto H. Lorange, who came to the United States in 1901,
made a specialty of manufacturing ferro alloys with the Primus Chemical
Company: ferro-tungsten, ferro-vanadium, and ferro-molybdenum. Later he
became superintendent of the United States Vanadium Corporation in Ohio.
{55} Trygve Yensen, another to migrate in the early years of the present
century, introduced a novel method of processing electrolytically-refined
iron and thus influenced the production of steel. {56}
Of more recent importance has been the work of Haakon Styri, who at
present is director of research for the SKF Industries at Philadelphia, a
part of the great Swedish ball-bearing cartel. In 1910 Styri spent a year
studying at the Carnegie Institute of Technology under the auspices of
the American-Scandinavian Foundation. He came to the United States to
stay in 1916, after having served as chemist at the Notodden saltpeter
plant in Norway and as instructor in the Institute of Technology at
Trondhjem. Educated at Christiania's Technical College, the Technical
Institute at Aachen, and the Sorbonne in Paris, Styri has also traveled
extensively in France, Germany, Belgium, and Sweden, studying
metallurgical practices.
Styri planned to contribute to the growing iron industry in Norway, but
with the entrance of the United States into the First World War, he
remained in America, served on the faculty of the Carnegie Institute, and
worked as a metallurgist for a Pennsylvania steel company. In 1919 he was
invited to become laboratory chief of SKF Industries, and since 1927 he
has been director of all research for them. Author of several
improvements in the refining of steel for tools and ball bearings, he
also has patents on special steels and on the heat treatment of steel
that have improved the quality of SKF products, though he modestly
insists that his contributions are "of minor importance." Perhaps his
most significant work has been directing research on the properties of
anti-friction bearings and their uses in industry. His papers and
discussions appear frequently in the publications of the British Iron and
Steel Institute, the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical
Engineers, the Society for Testing Materials, and other similar
Axel G. H. Andersen, metallurgical engineer with the research laboratory
of the Phelps Dodge Corporation in New York State, has done significant
work on strategic alloys, and has published a part and withheld other
parts of the results of his investigations. Educated at the Copenhagen
Polytechnic Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Andersen has conducted special research studies at Columbia University
for Union Carbide. Most of his contributions to the Transactions of the
American Society of Metals, the American Institute of Mining and
Metallurgical Engineers, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers
have been jointly written with Professor Erick R. Jette of Columbia
University. In 1937 the two men received Henry Marion Howe medals for
their paper "X-Ray Investigation of the Iron-Chromium-Silicon Phase
Diagram," presented before the American Society of Metals. {58}
Among others whose work has attracted the attention of engineers and
businessmen is Birger H. Strøm, a graduate of the Norwegian Institute of
Technology at Trondhjem. Leaving the nickel refinery at Christiansand in
1919, Strøm went to Ottawa, Canada, to take a position with the British
America Nickel Corporation. When this company closed down, he left to
hold various positions in the States. While employed by the Anaconda
Copper Mining Company at Great Falls, Montana, he collaborated in a
number of improvements in the commercial process of electrolyzing zinc,
helped work out the first commercially applied process for the recovery
and electrolysis of cadmium in the United States, and also took the first
steps in the discovery and removal of germanium in zinc solutions. During
this period he participated in the development and design of zinc plants
abroad --- at Eitrheim in Norway, Cotrone in Italy, and Katowitz in
Poland. In 1929 Strøm became assistant editor of the Engineering and
Mining Journal and Chemical-Metallurgical Engineering at McGraw-Hill
Publishing Company in New York. At present he is technical editor in the
publicity department of the Bethlehem Steel Company.
Bjørn Andersen, now technical director of the Celluloid Corporation of
Newark, New Jersey, also received his technical education at the
Norwegian Institute of Technology, where he remained for a time as chief
chemist in the testing department. Setting out for America in 1924, he
found employment with Guggenheim Brothers as assistant manager of their
research laboratory; while associated with Smith, Andersen was
responsible for a new process of recovering tin from Bolivian tin
concentrates, another for the recovery of bismuth from South American
ores, and a new electrolytic process for recovering tin from reduced tin
ores. Transferring to the Celluloid Corporation in 1928, he progressed
from research chemist to assistant technical director, to director of
research, and finally to his present position as technical director. He
holds a couple of dozen patents for new processes in the production of
cellulosic plastics, a field which he has made a specialty.
A third graduate of Norway's Institute, Arne J. Myhren, came to the
United States in 1924 to obtain industrial experience, and remained to
hold several positions, among them one as research chemist in the
Guggenheim laboratories. At present he is chief of the chemical
engineering section of the New Jersey Zinc Company at Palmerton,
Pennsylvania, and he has patented some of his many contributions in
hydrometallurgy and chemical engineering. Odd Lowzow, after completing
the metallurgical engineering course at Trondhjem, served for a year in
the offices of an Oslo firm and then joined the police force of the
League of Nations at Vilna. Finding himself without a job in 1921, he
came to America and eventually became construction engineer with the
Chemical Construction Corporation of New York City.
Representative of a number of engineers who have contributed to
metallurgy, although their training has been primarily in other lines, is
Torleif K. Holmen. Educated in the technical schools of Porsgrund and
Mittweida and associated in America with such firms as the American Sugar
Refinery Company and the Brooklyn Edison Company, Holmen is credited with
the invention of a process by which magnesium is produced by the waste
heat in nitrogen production. It is believed that his process will have
special significance in Norway, where abundant and cheap water power is
utilized in the production of nitrates.
Our story of the younger metallurgists closes with the brilliant career
of Robert Lepsoe, director of electrochemical research with the
Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada, at Trail, British
Columbia. A product of both Bergen's Technical College and Norway's
Institute of Technology, Lepsoe came to the United States as a fellow of
the American-Scandinavian Foundation in 1920, with a technical background
acquired in Norway's budding metallurgical industry. He came for the
specific purpose of studying the electrolytic zinc process which had just
been successfully developed in the New World; in 1921 he also visited
metallurgical plants in France, Belgium, and Germany. Upon his return to
Norway, Lepsoe advocated the use of the, new process as the basis of the
zinc industry in his homeland, but the firm with which he became
associated could not finance the undertaking alone. {59} Although Lepsoe
was awarded a medal by the Norwegian Polytechnic Society in 1923 for a
thesis on the zinc industry, and also received the backing of the
Institute of Technology, which offered the financial means to demonstrate
the new method, he was unable to interest the leading industrialists and
bankers of the country. So when he was invited to join the Consolidated
Mining and Smelting Company, which has one of the world's largest
nonferrous smelters, he accepted and left for Canada in 1925.
As research engineer in British Columbia, Lepsoe blazed a remarkable
technical trail. His patents, beginning as early as 1916, include such
items as a process for ferro alloys, the electric smelting of copper, the
production of zinc oxide, the production of zinc and zinc dust, the
recovery of zinc, lead, silver, and iron from waste residues, the
production of elemental sulphur and ammonium sulphate or sulphuric acid
from smelter gases, the production of catalytic material and of magnesium
from magnesite or dolomite. All of his processes found their way into
commercial or semi-commercial use. Thus far perhaps the most important
group of patents have been those dealing with the fixation of noxious
sulphurous gases. Such gases are liberated into the air from
metallurgical and power plants and are highly toxic to vegetation. In the
past they have caused many litigations, among which the trial U.S.A. (in
behalf of Stevens County, Washington) vs. Canada (Consolidated Mining and
Smelting Company) was the most noteworthy. Apart from the elimination of
smoke nuisance, Lepsoe's researches led to the recovery of large
quantities of useful products such as sulphur, sulphuric acid, and
ammonium sulphate.
Next in importance was his magnesium process, developed recently on a
semi-commercial scale pending an increased demand for the metal. When
Lepsoe developed the process there was only one producer of magnesium in
North America --- the Dow Chemical Company of Midland, Michigan, which
had exacted a monopoly. The Dow process was not only expensive but its
raw material, brine, is limited. When the demand for magnesium grows to a
point greater than can be supplied from the Midland brine well, other
sources, notably magnesite, of which there are large deposits in
Washington and British Columbia, will be utilized. The Lepsoe method was
developed specifically for this eventuality, and it was anticipated that
production costs would be less than at Midland, possibly less than for
aluminum. The recent war called for extensive utilization of Lepsoe's
process. {60} Canada has shown its gratitude for the contributions of the
Norwegian engineer; the Royal Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
in 1938 awarded him a medal for "distinguished service to Canadian
industry." {61}
Thus the younger metallurgists, most of them graduates of Norway's
Institute of Technology, are supplementing the work of men like Cappelen
Smith and Grønningsæter. Coming from a small country vitally conscious of
the value of its mineral resources and skilled in exploiting them, these
men have concentrated on the utilization of mineral wastes; at the same
time their careers have demonstrated the international nature of
technology and industry. They have learned much in the New World and have
used this information to promote the metallurgy of the homeland. But they
have also taught priceless lessons to America and applied their skills to
a development whose full significance is not yet fully evident.

<42> This section is based largely on the exceedingly competent review of
Grønningsæter's career in Fædrelandsvennen, October 20, 1939, and on
information obtained from Grønningsæter.
<43> See Grønningsæter, "En oversikt over elektrometallurgiens nuværende
stilling med spesielt henblikk på norske forhold," in Teknisk ukeblad,
no. 10, p. 3 (1936).
<44> Teknisk ukeblad, no. 9, p. 139 (March 1, 1934).
<45> Sudbury (Ontario) Daily Star, March 4, 1941.
<46> From a lecture delivered in 1911; a copy was put at the writer's
disposal by Grønningsæter.
<47> C. L. Mantel], Industrial Electrochemistry, 259-267 (New York,
<48> A Chemical Engineering Study of Sudbury Ore Processes, 9 (New York,
<49> Vivian, Sudbury Ore Processes, 7. See also Robert C. Stanley,
Nickel, Past and Present (Toronto, 1934), a reprint of a speech by the
president of the International Nickel Company of Canada.
<50> From a speech, "Some Features in the Progress of Metallurgy from the
Beginning of the Century," before Norske Videnskaps-Akademie (Oslo),
September, 1938. A copy of this speech was put at the writers disposal by
<51>Anton Grønningsæter and Peter R. Drummond, "Notes on the Operation of
the Basic Copper (and Copper-Nickel) Converter," in Canadian Institute of
Mining and Metallurgy, Transactions, 45:99-139 (1942).
<52> Teknisk ukeblad, no. 10, p. 3 (1936): "En oversikt over
electrometallurgiens nuværende stilling med spesielt henblikk på norske
<53> Teknisk ukeblad, no. 10, p. 6; see also his article "Teknisk
gjestfrihet," in Teknisk ukeblad, 84:162 (April 1, 1937).
<54> Washington Posten (Seattle), December 1, 1916.
<55> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 3, no. 2, p. 10 (August,
<56> Ugens nyt (Christiania), January 22, 1916.
<57> Most of this information was supplied by Styri. See Who's Who in
America, 17: 2221 (Chicago, 1932-33).
<58> American Society of Metals, Transactions, 24:375-418 (1936). See
also Nordisk tidende, October 26, 1939.
<59> Norway already had a zinc industry. A large smelter, for example,
had been in operation at Sarpsborg since early in the First World War.
<60> The writer has recently discovered that from 1941 Lepsoe's firm
successfully produced magnesium powder for the Canadian and Allied
governments, including the United States. The "atomized" magnesium which
Lepsoe assisted in perfecting is made at surprisingly low cost by a new
process; it was used in flares and tracers. As for Lepsoe's earlier
magnesium process, this too was put to good use in the war years when
shortages of magnesium metal and fluxes called for rapid production. The
process employed at Trail was studied by American engineers during the
period of expanded output in the United States.
<61> See Nordmanns-forbundet, 30:46 (1937) and 31:162 (1938). The
discussion above was based chiefly on materials supplied by Lepsoe.

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