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Subject: Saga in Steel and Concrete - 330-338
Date: Fri, 16 May 2003 09:31:52 -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.

As important in the pulp industry as chemical processes is the
preparation of logs after they have come downstream or by rail to the
pulp and cellulose mills. Some years ago rotary knives were employed to
remove the bark. Today practically all mills use the barking drum, which
was invented by a graduate of Christiania's Technical College, H. W.
Guettler. He designed and installed his first drum for the Escanaba Pulp
and Paper Company in Michigan; this was based upon an original invention
of 1915, which he patented jointly with O. L. Berger. The action of the
drum is relatively simple. Logs are fed automatically into one end and
the drum revolves, producing friction between them. The water that is
present in the drum causes the bark to peel off easily, and instead of
being washed away, it is reclaimed. The logs, discharged at the opposite
end, are sent back if they are not entirely free of bark.
Later perfected by additional improvements, the Guettler barking drum
came into universal use in this country and elsewhere. Besides removing a
serious bottleneck in the pulp industry, it saved about 10 per cent of
the wood formerly lost, as well as a tremendous amount of labor. The
American Barking Drum Company was formed in Chicago in 1915. A year later
Guettler, together with Berger and others, organized Fibre Making
Processes, Inc., which, entirely owned by Guettler since 1919, also
handles other machinery of Scandinavian and American origin. But its
chief product has been the U-Bar Barking Drum, now made in all sizes.
One of the best known engineers in the cellulose field today is Dr. Carl
Busch Thorne, vice-president of the Canadian International Paper Company
and head of the famous Kipawa Mill in Quebec. After receiving a thorough
technical education in the Hanover and Dresden schools, Thorne worked for
a time with Drewsen, but from 1903 was engaged by the Riordon Pulp and
Paper Company (later the Canadian International Paper Company) at
Hawkesbury and Merritton, Ontario. At first chief engineer and sulphite
expert, he was later made manager of manufacturing; since 1910 he has
been technical director of this company. At the Ontario mills he produces
both paper and sulphite pulp, bleached and unbleached. In 1918-19, Thorne
planned and built in the wilderness of Quebec the town of Temiskaming,
with a population of 3,000, and the Kipawa Mill, with an annual capacity
of 120,000 tons of rayon sulphite.
In the paper and rayon industries few have had a greater all-round
influence than Thorne. His patents in the United States alone comprise a
barker, a mixing machine, a fiber loss indicator, a fiber recovery
system, and other mechanical devices; they also include a sulphite
cooking process and innovations in bleaching. His chief study has been
the bleaching of cellulose and it was he who introduced the bleaching
process in his mills. According to Skandinaven, 1,000,000 tons of
cellulose were bleached each year in the 1930's by the Thorne method,
which is now used in Europe as well as in America. {27} His inventions
have contributed notably, too, to the improvement of cellulose quality.
At the time the Kipawa Mill was set up, Thorne organized a research unit
to discover the most satisfactory methods of producing cellulose; one of
the most modern of its kind, this organization is vital in Canada's
industrial life. Kipawa cellulose is regarded today by rayon factories as
among the world's finest. {28}
Norwegian engineers naturally gravitated toward paper production centers
in the New World. J. N. Bodtker, a graduate of Christiania's Technical
College, recently became plant engineer of the Lake St. John Power and
Paper Company at Dolbeau in Quebec. J. K. A. Henning, a product of
Porsgrund and Horten, was engineer and chemist with the Cushing Pulp
Company of St. John, New Brunswick. Petter J. Murer, a graduate of
Christiania, is superintendent of the Kipawa cellulose plant at
Temiskaming; and Sigmund Wang, who studied in Christiania and Darmstadt,
is manager of the same company's laboratories at Hawkesbury, having been
associated with the development of wood cellulose for rayon, transparent
paper, and plastics. J. B. Jensen, a graduate of the Trondhjem college,
was chief engineer for the Riordon paper mills from 1907 to1910, but
returned to Norway. Dr. Bjarne Johnsen has been in charge of a cellulose
and paper factory at Erie, Pennsylvania, for years. Hans P. G. Norstrand,
a Bergen graduate, after first serving as manager of a paper mill at
Greenwich, New York, became president of the Saranac Pulp and Paper
Company, the Saranac River Power Corporation, and the Norstrand
Manufacturing Company, all of Plattsburg, New York. He has become known
for the manufacture of paper dishes, pie plates, and similar products
made of molded ground paper. Finally, though by no means exhausting the
list, is C. Bache Wiig, a graduate of Christiania's Technical College.
Before his death in 1922 he directed a plant at Canton, North Carolina,
that really made paper of wheat straw and cornstalks, in accordance with
Drewsen's formula. {29} It would be necessary to add to these a small
army of draftsmen and mechanical and electrical engineers to get anything
like a complete picture of the work of Norwegians in this branch of
engineering, the importance of which is steadily increasing.
Apart from Lysholm and the Fougners, the number of Norwegian engineers
who made significant contributions in the world of ships is relatively
small, despite a strong native tradition in this field; and of those who
must be considered, several acquired their technical education on the job
or in American educational institutions.
In shipbuilding circles the name of Haakon Norbom is a familiar one. A
graduate of Horten's Technical School, Norbom came to America in 1887.
Once chief engineer and superintendent of the George V. Cresson Company
in Philadelphia, he started his own firm in 1907, the Norbom Engineering
Company. This company was soon the largest of its kind in the production
of hydraulic dredging machines. Norbom organized the Pennsylvania
Shipbuilding Company in 1915 and served for several years as its
president; he was also managing director of the Pusey-Jones Shipbuilding
Company at Wilmington, Delaware, 1916-18, while it was in the hands of
Hannevig. {30} On the Pacific coast, Nils A. Christoff, who was
apparently self-taught, organized in 1911, with J. F. Duthie, a
shipbuilding firm in Seattle. Beginning with simple machine shops and
concentrating on small boats, the company grew in size and was soon
putting out steel ships at Harbor Island. As vice-president and chief
engineer of machinery, Christoff was technical director until his death
in 1920. {31}
Among naval architects a prominent figure is John Trumpy, president of
John Trumpy and Sons at Camden, New Jersey. Educated at Bergen and
Charlottenburg, Trumpy founded the Mathis Yachtbuilding Company in 1909
as part owner. Since then he has been busy designing and building yachts
and motorboats, acting as naval architect and general manager until
recently, when he became president. The firm name Trumpy was adopted in
1941. Before the recent war he produced, among other craft, about 30
speedy pursuit and patrol boats for the federal government and a number
of 220-foot cruisers specially designed for Florida waters. During the
war he built at least 30 submarine chasers and was engaged in the
construction of many patrol boats as well as other craft. Grandson of a
famous Bergen shipbuilder, Trumpy learned about ships, especially wooden
ships, in his native Hansa city; and his preference for wooden craft,
such as his grandfather had produced at Bergen, is shown by the fact that
as shipbuilder he concentrated on cruising yachts, with motors, ranging
in length from 60 to 120 feet. No less than 250 yachts, which are famous
along the east coast, came from his plant, among these being the
presidential yachts for Harding, Coolidge, and Roosevelt. It was Trumpy's
eager hope that after the war he might return to building his favorite
type of ship. He was awarded the Navy E as a recognition of the
efficiency of his war work. {32}
Three men among many on the west coast ---Toralf Østbye, Axel
Wærenskjold, and Jens Heyerdahl Hansen --- have names prominent among
shipowners. Østbye, a graduate of Trondhjem's Technical College, served
on the engineering staff of the Seattle Construction and Drydock Company
and the Todd Dry Docks, and set up his own business in Seattle, in 1916,
as marine surveyor and consulting engineer. He was also surveyor for Det
Norske Veritas and after 1917 average surveyor for the Norwegian and
Swedish Marine Underwriters in the Washington-Oregon-British Columbia
district. During 1919-23 he was engaged in the salmon canning and other
fishing industries in Alaska and the state of Washington. {33}
Axel Wærenskjold, who is vice-president of the Norwegian-American
Historical Association, studied machines and machine designing in Chicago
after leaving Norway in 1883. He made a reputation in the San Francisco
area, first as chief engineer with the Hercules Gas Engine Company, then
as directing genius of his own firm-the Atlas Gas Engine Company after
1904. When his plant burned at the time of the San Francisco earthquake
in 1906, he moved his business to Oakland and soon made it known the
world over. In 1916 he combined Atlas with the Imperial Engine Company to
form the Atlas Imperial Engine Company; in the same year he began to
produce Diesel engines for ships. Whole fleets of west coast ships were
equipped with engines at his plants, and branch offices were maintained
the world over. Recently he sold his business interests. {34}
Heyerdahl Hansen, a graduate of the Technical Institute at
Charlottenburg, was chief engineer with the Pelton Water Wheel Company of
San Francisco before becoming president and general manager of the
Pacific Diesel Engine Company of Oakland, a firm which he founded in 1915
and with which he was associated until 1927. Hansen won a gold medal at
the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 for the design and
construction of a 20,000-horsepower turbine exhibited by the Pelton Water
Wheel Company; he further identified himself with west coast shipping
through the Diesel engines produced by his own firm. {35}
Perhaps the greatest name among Norwegian-American naval engineers is
that of Rear Admiral Peter C. Asserson. When he was sixteen he shipped as
a cabin boy on a bark leaving Stavanger and sailed to the Mediterranean
and Black seas. He soon became captain of merchant ships sailing from
German, English, and Scandinavian ports, and in 1859, at the age of
twenty, he arrived in America, intending to make his home in this
country. Employed by the United States Coast Survey and Lighthouse
Service, he was assigned to the Gulf of Mexico, where he participated in
a hydrographic survey and assisted in erecting a large screw-pile
lighthouse, Shoal Light, the first high-power lighthouse ever to be built
on a shoal in the ocean as far as 15 miles from shore.
Asserson apparently planned to go up the Mississippi to settle in the
Northwest Territory sought out by the Scandinavian immigrants, but the
Civil War prevented him from so doing. Faced with the alternatives of a
quick escape from New Orleans or joining up with the Confederate forces,
Asserson found himself in sympathy with the North. Hoping to leave the
South, he offered to take a merchant ship, loaded in the afterhold, to
consignees in Spain. He safely delivered the ship and its cargo in spite
of unequal ballast and the necessity of running the blockade that Union
ships had already set up in southern waters. He returned at once to the
United States and prepared for service in the navy by taking special
courses in navigation, astronomy, and engineering at Cooper Union in New
York City and from private tutors. Successfully passing the examinations
in May, 1862, he was appointed master's mate and thereafter engaged in
many of the naval campaigns of the Civil War. He was promoted to the rank
of ensign, served as navigator, and was finally appointed to the civil
engineer corps of the navy. From 1866 to 1868, Asserson was assigned to
duty at the Norfolk Navy Yard; from 1868 to 1869 he was on coast survey
duty; and in 1869 he was honorably discharged from the navy.
Asserson's first important engineering job after his Civil War service
consisted of raising wrecked ships and clearing other obstructions from
the Elizabeth, Potomac, Rappahannock, and James rivers. No less than four
battleships, two frigates, and several river craft were brought to the
surface, among them the "Merrimac" ("Virginia"), the "Cumberland" (the
first federal ship to be sunk by the "Merrimac"), and the "Pennsylvania."
In raising these vessels, Asserson "performed some of the most difficult
feats known to marine engineering." An interesting detail of this work
was the recovery, intact, of the figurehead of the Indian chief Tecumseh
from the "Delaware." In the early 1870's Tecumseh was presented to the
Naval Academy, where midshipmen dubbed him "The God of 2.5" (the passing
grade in their studies) and still implore his favor before examinations.
In 1873 Asserson was appointed superintendent of improvements at the
Norfolk Navy Yard. He also served as assistant in charge of the
reconstruction of the yards, which had been all but ruined in 1865.
During the next year he was commissioned as civil engineer and was put in
full charge of the Norfolk reconstruction work. In ten years he
transformed the mined yards into an efficient station. "Long stretches of
substantially built wharves and quays replaced the old wooden ones; the
dry dock was rebuilt; wet docks were built to receive timber needed for
the ships of that date; and the workshops and storehouses that covered
many acres of ground were erected. The streets were well paved, and
up-to-date sewerage and drainage systems were constructed." Among the
many other unique features of his work was a salt-water fire system,
which was the first of its kind in America and is said to have been a
great success.
Asserson was promoted to captain in 1882, partly as a result of a long
fight by him and others for the same privileges of promotion and rank
enjoyed by line officers; three years later he was sent to the naval
station at New York. When he arrived, the yard was "practically without a
dry dock or wharf at which a ship could be tied up. There was only 15 ft.
of water in the Wallabout Channel, the `cob dock' and ordnance docks were
being eaten away by East River tides, many of the streets were unpaved,
and the big granite Dry Dock No. 1 was leaking." Asserson set to work to
save parts of the cob dock by putting up sturdy sea walls in place of the
existing wooden ones. The new wall was "2230 ft. long, built over solid
cribwork of Georgia pine (2 by 12 in.), on which was laid a
superstructure of concrete-the whole being capped with a coping of
granite blocks. This piece of work was examined by experienced engineers
who reported that there was not another like it in the United States."
He also installed a salt-water fire system and automatic sprinkler
systems in the buildings, put up "a mammoth machine shop," new buildings,
miles of railroad lines, an electric lift and power plant, and facilities
for from 10,000,000 to 15,000,000 tons of coal. Two drydocks were rebuilt
of concrete; these were considered remarkable because they were designed,
reconstructed, and enlarged without the assistance of outside
contractors. For the first dock he "built an underground electric pumping
station, at that time the only one of its kind on record."
This was constructed so as to save space and was located at the head of
the dock, built entirely beneath the surface, encased within a caisson or
wall of cement or stone, this insuring the machinery against damage by
cold, heat, or moisture. Centrifugal pumps were installed with a capacity
of throwing 30,000 gal. of water per min. out of the dry dock, thus
enabling the dock to be completely emptied of water in one-third the time
and at one-half the cost of the former method. This also attracted much
attention in the engineering world. Dry Dock No. 3 was built under his
supervision and plans were made for Dry Dock No. 4, the latter, however,
was not undertaken as his retirement from the service was then about due.
Many other services and honors are associated with Asserson's name. He
was called to Washington several times in the 1880's by the bureau of
yards and docks as senior member of boards that were to consider navy
undertakings. He was frequently sought as consultant: the stations at
Mare Island, California; St. John's, Newfoundland; Port Royal and
Charleston, South Carolina; Puget Sound; and Annapolis all benefited from
his skill and experience. He retired in 1903, with the rank of rear
admiral; at that time he was senior member of the corps of civil
engineers and highly respected for his exceptional engineering skill-the
product largely of self-education and experience.
Colonel Hans Christian Heg, who made history during the American Civil
War as leader of the gallant Fifteenth of Wisconsin, is a figure well
known to Norwegian Americans and historians alike. Asserson's name
deserves similar recognition, even though his life was in many respects
less dramatic. His career was one with the progressive technical and
industrial development that followed the Civil War and which, in spinning
out its course, revolutionized the foundations of our daily life. More
specifically, he was a pioneer like John Ericsson, the Swedish inventor;
he made basic contributions when our fleet was emerging from an
assemblage of wood and sail to become what it is today, not only the
greatest striking force in the world but also an intricate mechanism of
steel, dependent as never before upon the engineering group that Asserson
headed. {36}

<26> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 1, no. 2, p. 3 (May,
1928) ; and information received directly from Guettler.
<27> August 14, 1936. His patents totaled 49.
<28> Skandinaven, August 14, 1936; Nordmannsforbundet, 25:127 (1932), and
29:257 (1936).
<29> 75 års biografisk jubileums-festskrift, Hortens tekniske skole, 192;
Nordmannsforbundet, 26:96 (March, 1933), and 15:482 (1922); Alstad,
Trondhjemsteknikernes matrikel, 159; Minneapolis tidende, December 10,
1930; Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 3, no. 2, p. 10 (August,
<30> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 10, no. 1, p. 5
(February, 1937); Minneapolis tidende, April 13, 1933.
<31> Washington posten, June 25, 1920.
<32> Wong, Norske utvandrere, 152; archives of Norwegian-American
Technical Society, Chicago; Nordisk tidende, November 25,1943;
information supplied by Trumpy.
<33> Alstad, Trondhjemsteknikernes matrikel, 193; archives of
Norwegian-American Technical Society, Chicago.
<34> Sønner av Norge, 34:335 (December, 1937); Nordman&-forbundet, 24:219
(1931); interview with Wærenskjold, August, 1940; Nordisk tidende,
December 23, 1943.
<35> Skandinaven, June 10, 1927; interview, August, 1940.
<36> Quotations are from the excellent biography of Asserson in American
Society of Civil Engineers, Transactions, 96:1397-1403 (1932); see also
Minneapolis tidende, December 14, 1906; and an article by the present
writer in Nordisk tidende, March 23, 1944.

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