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Subject: Saga in Steel and Concrete - 313-321
Date: Wed, 14 May 2003 09:32:03 -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.

Apart from metallurgy, engineers in Norway have recently made some of
their most notable technical advances in electricity and the production
of wood derivatives. It was natural that in such fields, on this side of
the Atlantic as well as on the other, Norwegian engineers would assume
an. important role. Because of the part played by the sea in the life of
the Scandinavian peoples, the same generalization also applies to
engineering in the world of ships. One looks for concrete instances of
the transfer of Norwegian techniques to the American scene. The influence
of the immigrant engineers proves to be considerable, especially in the
paper industry, despite the relatively slight educational emphasis given
everywhere --- until recently --- to applied chemistry; and despite the
rapid hydroelectrical developments in Norway since about 1905, which have
attracted many of the graduates of the engineering colleges. The
recentness of much of the work of Norwegian engineers in American paper
production and electricity, however, makes for extreme difficulty in
viewing it in proper perspective at present.
Though the early engineers who migrated to America had no strong
tradition in the field of electricity, they nevertheless included one
pioneer in the development of radio. Anders H. Bull invented a tuning
system for radio signals in 1899, before Marconi had succeeded in
developing selective transmission. Bull, eager to make his discovery
known, described it in an English periodical. The young inventor declared
that, if his system were used, "The possibility of messages being
intercepted by stations for which they were not intended will be almost
precluded, and independent signalling may be carried out between a
considerable number of stations lying within the sphere of influence of
each other's waves, while several despatches can be transmitted
simultaneously without their being affected the one by the other."
Bull went on to explain:
For this purpose the signals are conveyed from the transmitters to their
corresponding receivers exclusively by the aid of series of impulses,
each series consisting of a certain number of short wave impulses
following each other at predetermined intervals of time. By suitable
choice of these intervals the impulses can be arranged in series of
different form. Now it is possible to tune each transmitting and
receiving pair for its own special form of series in such a way that the
transmitter only dispatches series of this special form, and the
corresponding receiver only responds to series of the same form.
It made no difference where the various transmitters and receivers were
placed, whether they were together or separate. The apparatus of each was
entirely independent of the others. "Any station is, therefore, capable
of sending several different messages as well as of receiving some and
sending others, at the same time." {1}
Bull, after his graduation from Christiania's Technical College in 1895,
had gone to Germany; he found work there, and took a supplementary course
in electrical engineering in the famous engineering school at Hanover.
Returning to Norway, he had instruments prepared by the Elektrisk Byraa
at Christiania. In 1903 he set out for England to demonstrate his tuning
system before representatives of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company.
In response to a request by the editor of Electrician, he described the
experiments, which had been conducted with a view to "proving the
possibility of secretly communicating between stations and of the further
possibility of sending messages by means of selective telegraphy to
several independent receivers at the same time." His system was tested
over longer distances than had been attempted up to that time. After some
alterations, good results were obtained, in spite of unsatisfactory
conditions and primitive equipment, and it "was possible to transmit
telegrams quite faultlessly." Messages were taken by both Bull's and the
ordinary Marconi receiver; the speed of transmission was the same in both
cases. Bull's conclusion, based on the experiments, was that his system
was "applicable for all practical purposes where it is desirable to
prevent outsiders from tapping messages." {2} His conviction remains to
this day unshaken.
Bull came to America in 1904 to demonstrate his radio system before the
United States Navy. Had he succeeded in exploiting the invention, in all
probability he would have returned to Norway or Germany. The tests were
undertaken between government stations at the Highlands of Navesink, New
Jersey, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a distance of over 30 miles, and were
described by the inventor. "The field is considered a rather difficult
one for experimental work, as the waves have to pass the greater part of
Brooklyn; moreover, the stations are very much troubled by interference
from several other wireless installations in the neighbourhood, the
interference lasting sometimes without interruption for hours." Regular
service between the two points was performed by means of the Slaby-Arco
system, which had been provisionally adopted by the navy.
"It was decided to try our selective instruments in connection with the
existing installation . . . . The voltage used . . . is 80 and 110 volts
. . . . Our transmitter was only constructed for low voltage and small
power.... In order to get good communication we had only one way
left-viz., to make the receiving arrangement very sensitive." As a result
the receiver was more subject to disturbances than before. The
experiments were conducted, however, chiefly with an eye to the secrecy
of the correspondence. A message, Bull wrote, which could not be read "in
spite of its being repeated some four or five times with the Slaby
instruments was easily deciphered when sent once by ours." {3}
The reasons for Bull's failure to exploit his ingenious device are
suggested in the comments written by authorities on the wireless. J. A.
Fleming, while praising the effectiveness of Bull's instruments,
maintains that they were "exceedingly complicated and can only be
understood by reference to very detailed diagrams." {4} Dr. J. Zenneck
maintains that they gave almost perfect protection against the "picking
up" of messages and atmospheric disturbances but "their complication
limits these apparatus to certain special work." {5} Marconi, writing to
Bull on January 12, 1933, said, "My opinion was that the coherer receiver
then in general use at the time of the tests was not capable of a
sufficiently high speed of reception to allow of the employment of your
apparatus with any advantage."
Bull's method, as we have seen, was based upon transmitting each signal
not as a single discharge but as a series of periodic discharges that
came at certain fixed regular intervals. This system was later worked out
successfully by Adam Paulsen, in Copenhagen, who used different wave
lengths and continuous wave tuning. Bull himself now feels that he should
have continued with work in radio, because of its tremendous importance
today. Marconi, whom he knew well, offered him a position in London at
the time of the first tests, but this offer, together with another for
the invention itself, was rejected. Writing much later, Marconi summed up
Bull's work in these words, "Your apparatus was an interesting and
ingenious contribution to the problem of obtaining secrecy in wireless
communication, and worthy of being preserved in the Museum." {6} The
museum referred to is the Science Museum at South Kensington, England,
where Bull's original sender is now preserved. The receiver is in the
Norsk Teknisk Museum at Oslo.
In the several years that followed Bull's attempt to interest the navy in
his radio, he remained in this country, working part of the time in the
navy yard at Brooklyn. During 1907-08 he assisted, in Norway, Professor
Kristian Birkeland, co-inventor of the process for producing synthetic
nitrates, and consultant for Norsk Hydro, which exploited Birkeland's
discovery. When Bull returned to America, he was, as we have seen,
destined for a new career in the development of subway and tunnel
Another of Bull's contributions in electricity that is worthy of mention
was his fog signal system, invented in 1918, by which it is possible
accurately to determine the compass direction from which signals are
coming. The direction is obtained from the pitch-four rising and four
falling pitches, for example, being due east. Bull's equipment was
intended for small craft which could not afford expensive apparatus, and
the one requirement of the listener was that he have an accurate sense of
In this case, as with the wireless, Bull was his own champion. Writing in
the London Engineer in 1921, he explained that usually the direction of
sound is determined by comparing the intensity of the sensations in each
of the listener's ears. Our sense of intensity, however, is extremely
crude, while the differences to be judged are often very slight, and
secondary effects are produced that may throw the balance to the wrong
side. Bull got around this defect in aerial fog signaling by applying an
acoustic principle, "the salient feature of which is that the direction
of the signals is determined from their pitch, a quality entirely apart
from their intensity, and governed only by the rapidity of the sound
vibrations.... The author's device may be worked with any of the sound
sources in use at present, such as whistles, horns, sirens or bells,
without shortening their range. No receiving instrument is used, and no
code has to be consulted for the interpretation of the signals, the rules
being simple and easily memorized."
The signals in Bull's system were produced in groups of four or eight,
the signals of a group following each other at equal time intervals and
being all of the same duration. "To an observer listening to such a
group, the individual signals will, as a rule, be partly of rising and
partly of falling pitch. By counting the number of either kind he will be
able to determine in what direction of the compass the signalling party
is situated. This result is accomplished by means of what may be called a
polarisation of the signals, the latter being endowed with properties
depending altogether on their direction." Tests were made in a suburb of
Chicago during the winter of 1920-21; in the inventor's mind they were
successful. {7}
Bull successfully demonstrated his system to the United States Coast
Survey and Lighthouse Service in 1922, but it was not adopted. He
maintains that the coastal protective system had no proper means to
experiment satisfactorily at the time of the test, and he is of the
opinion that directive fog signaling by means of polarized sound would be
satisfactory today. {8}
Some of the electrical and mechanical engineers who preceded Anders Bull
in America also made lasting contributions in the electrical field. Georg
Gustavsen, a Horten graduate, invented special machines used in the mass
production of radio and movie sound apparatus. {9} Charles W. Borgmann,
who came in 1900, after graduating from Christiania's Technical College,
has been in charge of the development of manual equipment with the Bell
Telephone Laboratories. In 1930 he was one of five engineers sent to
Europe to study communication as it is practiced there. {10} Andrew H.
Bakken, another Horten graduate, joined the Westinghouse Company in 1902
and was responsible for innumerable electrical developments, recently
receiving the Westinghouse silver medal for outstanding work. {11}
Jacob K. O. Anthonisen had a varied career in the New World, but his
chief work was in hydroelectric and water-power developments. A graduate
of Trondhjem's Technical College, he was associated with Halfred Hoyem in
the design of several hydroelectric stations for the Montana Power
Company. From 1922 until his death in 1938, Anthonisen was associated
with the St. Anthony Falls Water Power Company in Minneapolis, a concern
that furnishes power to the flour mills and the Twin City streetcar
system. {12}
Theodor Schou, following a technical education received at Christiania
and Dresden, left for the United States in 1903, as did Anthonisen. After
working as engineer with several leading electrical concerns, he became
consultant for Fairbanks, Morse, and Company at Beloit, Wisconsin. Schou
has been a prolific author of technical papers and has a notable record
in connection with flywheel recommendations for direct-connected
synchronous motors to compressors, flywheel recommendations for
successful parallel operation of direct-connected alternators to Diesel
engines, and the successful development of two-core synchronous
indicator-type frequency changers.
Several Norwegian engineers have won the Coffin award of the General
Electric Company. Ludvig S. Walle of Schenectady, a graduate of Bergen
who also studied at Dresden, was thus honored in 1924 after service with
the company dating back to 1904. Of special interest among his many
inventions were those in the field of automatic power stations. Andrew
Halvorsen was awarded the same prize in 1936. {13}
Thorleif Bjerke Paulson, designing engineer with Chas. C. Moore and
Company of San Francisco, won a reputation on the Pacific coast designing
and testing steam electric power and pumping stations. Among his more
important projects were the power plants of the Long Bell Lumber Company
of Longview, Washington; the Power River Company in British Columbia; the
Consolidated Mining Company of Trail, British Columbia; and mining
companies of Arizona and New Mexico. Paulson came to America a year after
completing his training in mechanical engineering at the Christiania
college in 1905. {14}
Torleif Sverre Norbom, an able mechanical engineer from Horten, did his
work in the East. As chief designer with the S. Morgan Smith Company of
York, Pennsylvania, he was responsible for planning considerable
hydroelectric equipment. His outstanding job, perhaps, was the water
turbines used in the Bonneville Dam project, which was hailed as the
largest of its kind in the world. North of the American boundary, Sven
Svenningson, after a successful career in the States, became chief
engineer of the Shawinigen Water and Power Company of Montreal in 1919. A
graduate of Christiania's Technical College, Svenningson came to America
in 1909. His premature death in 1934 deprived Canada of one of its
leading hydroelectricians. {15}
The Latter-day Saints have a colorful figure in Marthinius A. Strand of
Salt Lake City, owner and manager of the Strand Electric Service. Strand
not only has done much of the lighting for Mormon buildings in Utah, but
he also took out the basic patent on the automatic stop for phonographs,
which he sold to the Edison Company; the invention is now widely used. He
was the inventor of long-line and other testing equipment that has been
adopted and used by the Bell Telephone System everywhere, and of a
remote-control switch adopted and manufactured by the Cutler-Hammer
Company. In the course of his regular work, he did the electrical
engineering and installation for the naval ammunition depot at Hawthorne,
Nevada, and at Boulder Dam; and the installation of substations and
transmission lines for the Southern Nevada Electric Company, to mention
only several of his many technical undertakings. Strand is interested in
winter sports; he introduced skiing in Utah and the surrounding states.
His technical education was received at Porsgrund, at an evening school
in Christiania, and at the institute in Darmstadt. He came to the United
States in 1910.
Johannes Bernt, who is estimating engineer for the New York office of the
General Electric Company, has estimated the electrical requirements of
such buildings as the Radio City Theater, Banker's Trust, the Biltmore,
the Woolworth, the Empire State, the Municipal, and the Metropolitan
Square Theater. Bernt is a graduate of the Mechanical Trade School at
Porsgrund and the Mittweida Polytechnicum in Germany; he came to America
in 1902. Returning to Norway in 1914, he became manager of a factory at
Skien that supplied his homeland with vital electrical equipment during
the First World War. He returned to the United States in 1925. {16}
Among the many electrical engineers who were born and partially educated
in Norway was Svend E. Johannesen, a pioneer in the development of
transformer engineering. A graduate of the Rose Polytechnic Institute of
Terre Haute, Indiana, Johannesen became associated in 1902 with the
Westinghouse Electric Manufacturing Company in Pittsburgh, where he
designed transformer equipment for the New York interborough subway and
the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. He joined the General
Electric Company in 1906 and lived until his death in 1944 at Pittsfield,
Massachusetts. In 1926 he was awarded General Electric's Coffin medal for
his work in developing the distribution transformer. {17}

<1> Anders Bull, "A Tuning System for Wireless Telegraphy," in
Electrician (London), 46:573-575 (February 8, 1901). In a later issue of
the same journal, vol. 50, p. 418-422 (January 2, 1903), Bull elaborated
on his "Experiments on Selective Wireless Telegraphy." He describes two
ways of "rendering messages unintelligible to those unconcerned."
<2> Electrician, 61: 963 (October 2, 1903).
<3> Bull, in Electrician, 54:142 (November 11, 1904).
<4> "Telegraph," in Encyclpædia Britannica, 28:538 (eleventh edition,
<5> J. Zenneck, Wireless Telegraphy, 332 (New York, 1915). This work was
translated by A. E. Seelig.
<6> Marconi to Bull, January 12, 1938, a letter in the possession of
Anders Bull.
<7> Anders Bull, "Fog Signalling by Means of Polarised Sound," in
Engineer (London), 132:505 (November 11, 1921).
<8> Interview, May 21, 1941. For more information about Anders Bull, see
Who's Who in Engineering, 180 (New York, 1937), and an article by Magnus
Bjørndal, in Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, p. 11
(November, 1935).
<9> 75 års biografisk jubileums-festskrift, Hortens tekniske skole, 176.
<10> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, p. 21
(November, 1935).
<11> Nordisk tidende, June 25, 1942.
<12> Norwegian American Technical Journal, vol. 3, no. 2, p. 13 (August,
1930) and vol. 12, no. 1, p. 19 (July, 1939); Decorah-Posten, February
22, 1938.
<13> Nordmanns-forbundet, 29:156 (1936).
<14> American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Transactions, vol. 54,
record and index, p. 73 (1932); Minneapolis tidende, November 10, 1932.
<15> Skandinaven, September 7, 1934; Minneapolis tidende, August 30,
<16> Magnus Bjørndal, in Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 13,
no. 1, p. 12 (December, 1940).
<17> New York Times, December 23, 1944.

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