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Subject: Saga in Steel and Concrete - 360-371
Date: Mon, 19 May 2003 10:09:54 -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.

Martinius Stixrud became city engineer of Seattle in 1890. He apparently
"did not give satisfaction to the politicians, who were unable to use him
and his office as they pleased. He was most shamefully treated, and
although ousted from office, was completely exonerated, And came through
this blackmailing process victorious." Before this unpleasant experience,
he had worked with J. E. Ericson (later city engineer in Chicago) in
preparing plans for the water and sewage systems in Seattle. After his
ouster, Stixrud practiced as a consulting engineer in partnership with a
C. Næsten. He carried on the most diverse kind of engineering. During the
winter of 1892-93 he was in California and Mexico with a plan for
irrigating 600,000 acres of desert land in the Colorado River basin. His
proposed intake was on the river at Hanlon's Ferry, near Yuma. The
business side of the project failed and Stixrud returned to the state of
Washington, where he became engineer for the board of tideland appraisers
in King County.
[He made] a very extensive survey of Seattle and Ballard Harbors,
establishing harbor lines and waterways, and plotted the tideland areas
at Seattle, Ballard and part of Tacoma Harbors. Especially for Seattle
this was a work of great importance, as it dealt with the future plans of
Seattle Harbor, railway terminals and manufacturing districts. Mr.
Stixrud did not succeed in getting his general plan of the main part of
Seattle Harbor accepted. Captain T. W. Symons . . . representing strong
interests, had a revised plan, which was accepted. Mr. Stixrud's plan was
one with tidal basins, the rise of the tide being 16 ft. Captain Symons'
plan was for open waterways, which appeared to suit the immediate or near
A note of frustration runs through the brilliant career of young Stixrud,
which is climaxed by his premature death in 1901. {43}
In Texas, Hans Helland supplemented his pioneer railroad work by serving
as city engineer of San Antonio from 1913 to 1921, during the city's
"first struggle" toward municipal improvement. "It is noteworthy," we
read, "that, after approximately thirty-two years of active building and
improvement of railroads in Texas, Mr. Helland should then take up the
work of enlarging a pioneer city to one of metropolitan proportions."
{44} After 1921 Helland engaged in private practice at San Antonio. {45}
The most colorful municipal figure is Anton L. Pettersen, a graduate of
Bergen's Technical College. Following a brief period with the Lehigh
Valley Railroad, Pettersen went to Passaic, New Jersey, in 1889.
Interested in politics, he became a member of the state legislature,
started an engineering firm of his own, and later became director of the
city's communications. He has also served in many another municipal
capacity --- in the sanitary division, on the board of freeholders, and,
for five years, as city engineer {46}
Of the younger men, one of the most promising is Erling A. Normann,
engineer-examiner in Chicago for the federal government. A graduate of
Trondhjem's Technical College, he came to America in the twenties and was
put in charge of engineering in office and field for the Blue Bell
Construction Company. In 1935 he became designing engineer with the
sanitary district of Chicago during the construction of its $70,000,000
improvement project, which included the largest sewage treatment plant in
the world. Later he was put in charge of the structural design of the
major sections of the Chicago River Controlling Works. Since 1938 he has
been employed by the United States government {47}
In villages, towns, and counties the country over, Norwegian engineers
have served in one official capacity or another, and practically every
city of importance has employed others in positions both large and small.
Chicago and Minneapolis have drawn most heavily on the supply of
available men. {48} There have been times when the conversation in the
Minneapolis city drafting rooms has been an effortless Norwegian.
Representative of the city engineer group is a Trondhjem man, John
Stedje, structural engineer in the Chicago department of public works,
who had a significant part in the building of the vast Union Station of
that city, of Wacker Drive, and of at least a half-dozen bascule bridges.
In the West, O. S. Willumsen, of Seattle, is a good example of the state
employee; in 1930 he made an early report for the federal government on
the Grand Coulee Dam project; he has also been employed in the national
forest service. Willumsen is a graduate of Christiania's Technical
The young engineer always carried the hope of becoming chief engineer;
and despite the tendency of some owners to favor native Americans for
this position, a surprising number of immigrants achieved their goal.
Apart from the chief engineer's importance in the technical life of this
country, he was also --- as we have indicated --- a pole of attraction in
the immigration story. If he chanced to be Norwegian, it was certain that
he would draw young countrymen by the dozen.
Gustav Benson, who like Schaefer worked in the Stavanger shipyards and
attended the local evening technical school, came to Pittsburgh in the
early 1890's. He became associated with the Westinghouse Electric
Company, and in the hard years after 1893 was a friendly counselor to
graduates of the schools of his homeland, employing a considerable number
of them. {49} Though few have enjoyed Benson's popularity, many have held
similar posts. Otto Julius Andreason, who was responsible for projects in
Canada, Mexico, and Cuba, as well as in the United States, was recently
chief engineer for the famous New York firm of William Barclay Parsons.
{50} Axel Wallem, a graduate of Bergen's Technical College, for a time
made his living by playing the piano. He became chief engineer and
superintendent of the Harrison Safety Boiler Works of Philadelphia, now
the Cochrane Corporation. He was also secretary, vice-president, and
general works manager of this company, which specializes in steam
power-plant products; his many executive duties did not prevent him from
inventing a number of items, among them the famous Cochrane multiport
relief valve. {51}
In Chicago, I. H. Faleide, who was also educated at Bergen, is now
vice-president of the McKenzie-Hauge Company. He was chief engineer of
the Folwell Engineering Company for twenty-four years and thus had charge
of designing and supervising the construction of grain elevators, flour
and feed mills, industrial plants, concrete bridges, and the like. {52}
Thomas Pettersen, an 1896 graduate of Christiania, was a popular chief
engineer for the Peabody Coal Company. For a time he operated an
automobile company of his own, and before his death he became chief
engineer for the MacDonald Engineering Company, in the last capacity
supervising the construction of cement plants in Moscow, Russia. {53} A
Trondhjem graduate, Ludwig Skog, was vice-president and chief engineer
for Sargent and Lundy, Inc., before becoming a partner in this large and
significant firm. {54}
About the country Norwegian engineers have held and still hold leading
positions in an amazing number of industries and technical undertakings.
Sverre Trumpy, trained at Berlin, was in charge of the engineering
department and drafting room of the Gisholt Machine Company of Madison,
Wisconsin. {55} Hans Nickolias Halversen was mechanical head of the
Kimble Glass Company, Vineland, New Jersey, and before 1910 had a varied
career in the type and automobile industries. {56} Sverre Lund, from
Trondhjem, was chief engineer of the Eastern Bridge and Structural
Company of Worcester, Massachusetts. Finn Mathiesen, who studied at
Horten and Christiania, held a similar position for a time with the great
architect, D. H. Burnham of Chicago. John Mosby, a Trondhjem graduate,
was head of the mechanical engineering department and superintendent of
the gas compressing station and the gasoline absorption plants of the
People's National Gas Company, the Reserve Gas Company, and the Hope
Natural Gas Company in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
At Detroit Carl J. Oxford, who received his technical education at the
University of Michigan, is chief engineer of the National Twist Drill and
Tool Company and author of many inventions in metal-cutting tools; Einar
Almdale is factory manager of the Midland Steel Products Company, and was
the inventor, among other things, of a commonly used welded nut. Alf
Jørgen Stromsted, a graduate of Norway's Institute of Technology and
co-engineer for the electrical design of the Wards Island sewage
treatment works for New York City, is chief electrical engineer with
George G. Sharp of the same city. Sigurd Neatwait, who was also trained
at Norway's Institute, is chief engineer of the Republic Fireproofing
Company in New York. Oscar Wilhelm Lilliedahl, representing Porsgrund,
holds the same position with the Logan Engineering Company in Chicago.
Einar A. Johnson was chief mechanical engineer for the American Gas and
Electric Company. Carl Stenbol, inventor of a wind alarm for the
protection of ore and coal bridges, is chief engineer of the Algoma Steel
Corporation at Sault Ste. Marie, while Otto Holm Anderson holds a similar
position with the National Steel Car Corporation, Limited, of Hamilton,
Ontario. And O. J. Skawden, a graduate of the Institute, is chief
engineer of the Sutton Engineering Company of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.
The most casual reading of the publications of the Norwegian technical
schools is sufficient to demonstrate how incomplete is the list given
above. We find that Johannes Fredrik Devold (Trondhjem) was chief
engineer with the Williams Engine Works and the Webster Manufacturing
Company of Chicago; Berthel Michael Krohn (Bergen) with the Phoenix
Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania; Ole Oftedal (Horten) with
the American Shipbuilding Company of Buffalo; Matheus Iversen Funder
(Trondhjem) with the Diamond Alkali Company of Painesville, Ohio;
Reinhardt Daae (Bergen) with the Marchall Foundry Company at Pittsburgh;
Einar Martin Arentzen (Trondhjem) with the Joy Manufacturing Company of
Franklin, Pennsylvania; Thomas Edward Kulo (Trondhjem) with the Lion
Manufacturing Company of Chicago; and Finn Berger Hudson (Trondhjem) with
the Chent Motor Company of Ottawa, Illinois. Our task, happily, is not to
exhaust the list but merely to illustrate the extent to which the
immigrant engineers of Norway's schools climbed to the top engineering
positions in an infinite variety of American industries and thus figured
both in the flow of immigration and in the technical story of production.
It is frequently but a short step from the practice of engineering to the
operation of a business. The Norwegian engineers as a group, however,
have proved to be far less able as businessmen than as technicians,
despite several outstanding exceptions of the Tinius Olsen, Edwin Ruud,
and Frederic Schaefer type. The reader will have observed that many of
the men under consideration in this volume quit engineering positions to
exploit inventions or otherwise to assume the risks of business. Most of
them later returned to resume former or similar engineering positions.
Some of the exceptions will be discussed here. Most of the modern
buildings in New York and in other cities are supplied with brass
fire-extinguishing equipment produced by Albert E. Hansen, president of
the Elkhart Brass Manufacturing Company of Elkhart, Indiana. Hansen's
patented fire department nozzles will be found in Radio City, the
Minneapolis Foshay Tower and the Auditorium, the St. Paul post office,
and 27 of the new federal buildings in Washington, D. C., to mention only
a few modern structures. Hansen, a graduate of the Christiania Technical
Evening School, came to the United States in 1889, and continued his
studies at a Chicago evening school. For a while he served as foreman of
a bicycle firm. In 1901 he founded his present company. {57}
A most interesting firm is an airbrush company established by Jens A.
Paasche of Chicago. Paasche received his first technical training under a
Trondhjem gunmaker and then worked in the Kongsberg gun factory. Coming
to Chicago in 1900, he was soon part owner of the Wold Airbrush Company.
Realizing that he had found the line that interested him most, Paasche in
1904 sold his interests in the Wold firm and founded the Paasche Brothers
Airbrush Company, together with a brother who left the firm shortly after
the business was started. The company at first repaired old brushes-and
business was good. Paasche watched his plant grow until about 140 persons
were employed and he had some 40 branches and offices in the United
States and Canada. His clients were everywhere. Paasche's many
inventions, about 60 of which are patented, are incorporated in the
airbrushes, the most modern of their kind, that he now produces in great
quantities. The brush holder looks like a revolver; various types of
brushes may be inserted into it. The airbrush is used to paint
automobiles, airplanes, houses, bridges, machines, china, furniture,
cheap industrial products, and the steel skeletons of skyscrapers. It is
claimed that a painter can do an ordinary week's work in two days with
one of the airbrushes.
The full importance of the airbrush, in the development of which Paasche
has had a major part, has been emphasized in the Journal of the
Norwegian-American Technical Society. For example, the brush is so
accurately controlled that in art work the veins in the human eyeball,
even on a miniature portrait, can be easily reproduced. The brush also
makes possible realistic freehand air drawings; exceptionally fine detail
and delicate light and shadow effects result. In general, according to
the Journal, the most accurate reproduction of art works requires air to
give life to the copy, some authorities even arguing that the
masterpieces of the future must be "air processed" if they are to be
realistically reproduced. {58}
Paasche had to develop many airbrushes before his present universal
convertible, multi-head brush was perfected. It can be used with any
material, from the lightest paints to asphalt and rubber cement; it will
also paint anything from the finest line to a band 52 inches wide, and it
operates on high or low pressure. Paasche's equipment is now standard for
all finishing and coating operations in factories the world over. Surveys
conducted among a hundred of the leading industrial concerns using his
equipment show an average yearly saving of 77.83 per cent over previous
painting methods. It was found that many decorative effects could be
achieved with the airbrush -veiling, tinting, and stenciling, for
example. In industry, the product to be coated may be placed on a
turntable or a chain conveyor moving toward a coating station; here one,
two, three, or even four colors may be applied at one time with perfect
uniformity. The speed of the painting process is regulated only by the
loading and unloading capacity of the conveyor operators. Paasche also
developed portable machines for use by master painters, contractors, and
decorators for air painting and coating houses, hospitals, and other
buildings, both exterior and interior. {59}
When one considers the prominence of Norwegian chemical engineers in the
cellulose field, it is not surprising to find a New York firm, G. D.
Jenssen and Company, specializing in the production of reinforced
concrete acid towers and the special machinery used in cellulose plants.
Two Norwegian engineers, G. D. Jenssen and O. I. Berger, graduates
respectively of Trondhjem and Christiania, co-operated in this project,
which resulted in a wide manufacturing and consulting business. {60}
There are three Milwaukee factories that are unique in that they have no
competitors; all of them have resulted from the initiative of a Norwegian
engineer, Haakon T. Olsen. The first is the Arto Engineering Company,
which turns out machines used in various industries, but chiefly in the
production of automobiles and radios. His Pulp Reproduction Company makes
cellulose articles, and the Counter and Control Company produces control
machines used in all mass production. Olsen studied at Christiania and
Karlsruhe. {61}
An engineer might, after having acquired a technical reputation, organize
a consulting office; this was a common practice, especially among the
earlier arrivals. Thus, though engaged in business, the engineer remains
an engineer, having merely decided to strike out alone in hopes of
attaining greater independence or increased financial gain. Men like Olaf
Hoff, Henrik von Zernikow Loss, and other Norwegians did some of their
best work in America while serving as consulting engineers. It is also
true that many, perhaps most, returned to the greater security and the
concentration on purely technical problems that go with working for
An outstanding example of a successful consulting engineer was Nathan T.
Ronneberg of Chicago, a graduate of Bergen and Darmstadt. In 1901
Ronneberg and S. C. Anker Holth opened the engineering office of Holth
and Ronneberg, which lasted only a short time before Holth was called
away on special experimental work. Ronneberg next went into partnership
with O. J. Westcott, who was formerly chief engineer for the Illinois
Steel Company. During the nine years that they were together, they did
the engineering work for more than 50 theaters, numerous office and
factory buildings, hotels, and bridges. In 1910 Ronneberg sold his
interest in the firm to Westcott and returned to Norway for a rest. One
year later he was back in America, starting a new business with one of
his former draftsmen, R. G. Pierce. They maintained offices in the Otis
Building in Chicago for seventeen years, during which they planned and
financed over 60 laundries and Ronneberg became one of the foremost
authorities on modern laundry construction. When in 1928 Pierce left the
company, Ronneberg took his son, Earl F., into the business and adopted
the firm name of N. Ronneberg, Inc. From then until his death in 1939 he
was active in planning and financing modern hotels, apartment hotels, and
large apartment projects, as well as in straight industrial engineering
work. {62}
Not infrequently engineers are enticed by the possibilities in the
construction field and enter into contracting, where their technical
knowledge naturally proves of inestimable value. Harold A. Boedtker, of
Trondhjem's Technical College, for example, abandoned railroad
engineering to become a railroad construction contractor; after 1890 he
was a partner in the Heidenreich Company, which specialized in grain
elevator construction. This company then branched out into general
construction and built, among other things, two sections of the Chicago
sanitary district drainage canal and the government locks on the Hennepin
Canal, the last under Boedtker's direct supervision. In 1895 he organized
H. A. Boedtker and Company and obtained several large railroad
construction contracts, finishing this work in 1903. He then contracted
with the state of New York to build a part of the revived Erie Canal; he
had been engaged for further construction on the canal when he died in
1905. {63}
A leading Norwegian contractor who has an engineering background is J. A.
Holmboe, retired, of Oklahoma City. Holmboe, following graduation from
Christiania's Technical College, worked up from draftsman and, like so
many others, did a great deal of estimating and drafting for a number of
buildings at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. He was destined, however,
to spend his best years in the South; he worked for the Louisville Bridge
and Iron Company during a boom period and later branched out as a
consulting engineer, undertaking building and bridge designs and carrying
on a general engineering practice. While thus employed he became
estimator in the field of construction for a large southern contracting
firm. This contact, the discovery of his chief interest --- contracting
--- and his financial ambitions shaped his later life. But before
entering the contracting business independently, he served as
vice-president and chief engineer for the Sneed Architectural Iron
Company of Louisville and was employed as consulting engineer in the
building of the first phosphate plant in Florida, made entirely of
reinforced concrete. In the summer of 1909 he moved to Oklahoma City and
thereafter engaged continuously in building construction, chiefly in
Oklahoma and Texas. He executed about $15,000,000 in contracts and earned
a reputation for quality workmanship and great integrity. {64}
Mention will be made of a few others who engaged as consulting engineers
or building contractors. F. C. H. Arentz, of Trondhjem, was engineer and
contractor for steel construction at Joliet, Illinois, from 1908 until
shortly before his death in 1939. {65} Olaf Otto from Porsgrund and
Strelitz, after serving in the drafting department of the Tennessee Coal
and Iron Company, in 1911 went into business in Savannah as a civil
engineer and general contractor. His most important work was the
construction of the Savannah Bridge for the state highway departments of
Georgia and South Carolina. The bridge is about five miles long and
crosses three large rivers and several creeks. {66} Edward Mørch Fasting,
a graduate of Bergen's Technical College, is the owner of the E. M.
Fasting Construction Company of Chicago. On the west coast Peter H.
Hostmark, a graduate of the Institute of Technology at Trondhjem, has
been doing engineering work on a contract basis in Seattle since 1931;
his projects include the North Beach sewage and drainage system of
Seattle and the Howe Sound Ore Mill at Chelan, Washington. Before World
War II Hostmark was one of the most vigorous promoters of the ski sport
in the Seattle area, and during the war he was ground rescue officer of
the American First Arctic Search and Rescue Squadron in Greenland {67}.

<43> S. T. M. B. Kielland, in American Society of Civil Engineers,
Transactions, 51:463-465 (1903).
<44> American Society of Civil Engineers, Transactions, 93:1844 (1949).
<45> Alstad, Trondhjemsteknikernes matrikel, 6; Norwegian-American
Technical Journal, vol. 1, no. 4, p. 3 (May, 1948).
<46> Minneapolis tidende, October 3, 1924; Nordisk tidende, September 25,
<47> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 11, no. 1, p. 9
(February, 1938).
<48> See, for example, Carl G. O. Hansen, in Skandinaven, September 11,
1936; this article is one of a series entitled "Tvillingbyernes norske
<49> Stavanger aftenblad, September 28, 1929.
<50> Skandinaven, December 10, 1926.
<51> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 10, no. 1, p. 6
(February, 1937).
<52> Wong, Norske utvandrere, 204; Norwegian-American Technical Journal,
vol. 1, no. 3, p. 5 (September, 1928).
<53> Skandinaven, October 19, 1934; Scandia, October 18, 1934; and
Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 10, no. 1, p. 5 (February,
<54> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 5, no. 1, p. 10 (January,
<55> American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Transactions, 39:1, 241
<56> American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Transactions, vol. 66,
record and index, p. 20 (1934).
<57> Skandinaven, February 1, 1935.
<58> Volume 5, no. 1, p. 4, 11 (January, 1952).
<59> See also Skandinaven, November 22, 1935, and July 12, 1940;
Nordmands-forbundet, 21:123 (1928); and Wong, Norske utvandrere, 211.
<60> Wong, Norske utvandrere, 75.
<61> Magnus Bjørndal, in Nordmanns-forbundet, 12:397 (1939).
<62> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 3, no. 1, p. 5 (February,
1930); Stavanger aftenblad, February 1, 1930; Festskrift ved Bergens
tekniske skoles 25-aars jubilæum, 60.
<63> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, p. 15 (March,
1929); Alstad, Trondhjemsteknikernes matrikel, 43.
<64> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 5, no. 1, p. 6 (January,
<65> Alstad, Trondhjemsteknikernes matrikel, 35; materials in Chicago
archives of Norwegian-American Technical Society.
<66> Materials in Chicago archives of Norwegian-American Technical
<67> Washington posten, June 23, 1944.

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