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Subject: Saga in Steel and Concrete - 441-449
Date: Tue, 27 May 2003 10:09:40 -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.

Though engineers came to America in fairly large numbers after the 1880's
and though they frequently met together --- at a common table, perhaps,
in a room over some saloon, or at the home of one of their group, and
sometimes even organized clubs of technical men like the Society of
Norwegian Engineers and Architects in New York --- it was not until the
prosperous 1920's that the present influential technical societies were
The graduates of Trondhjem's Technical College living in Chicago
established the custom, in 1912, of celebrating, each November, the
anniversary of the founding of their alma mater. The Novemberfest, as
their gathering was called, was not unlike similar alumni meetings held
everywhere in the United States. About twenty engineers and architects
were regularly in attendance at the get-together, renewing acquaintances
and carrying away pleasant memories of a thoroughly good time. At the
Novemberfest in 1922, however, a significant step was taken; those
present decided to invite all Norwegian engineers in Chicago, regardless
of which school they had attended, to participate in the annual
gathering. At this meeting, too, the Chicago Norwegian Technical Society
was organized; it had a charter membership of 39, and Joachim Giaver was
the first president. Monthly meetings were scheduled, with programs of
lectures and informal entertainment, and around November 1 of each year a
formal banquet and dance took place.
A glance through the minutes of the society reveals some interesting
programs and activities. At the meeting of February 3, 1923, when the
formal organization of the enlarged group was effected, "Our final act
was to eat and drink in modern style, without wine and beer." Lectures on
technical and non-technical subjects were delivered by members and
distinguished guests; it was decided to publish a yearbook; the status of
the engineering profession was discussed; and considerable horseplay
centered about the admission of knights to the order of Den Halvtomte
Flaske (The Half-emptied Bottle). Several noteworthy decisions were made
during the early years of the Chicago society. One was the plan,
inaugurated in 1925, of gathering records of the work of Norwegian
engineers in Illinois; the resulting program, later expanded to cover the
entire country, took on the nature of a major contribution. Certainly, as
the new president, I. H. Faleide, suggested, a study would one day be
made of the careers of the Norwegian technical men in America. In the
spring of 1927 preparations were made for a national congress, in
Chicago, of Norwegian engineers in the United States and Canada, and in
connection with this gathering it was agreed that it would be desirable
to organize a national technical society. In 1926 the Chicago society
also set up a service bureau to assist young engineers in finding
employment, a project that was later expanded to assist experienced men
in obtaining new positions commensurate with their abilities.
Lectures were a worth-while feature of the regular monthly meetings of
the Chicago engineers. Among others, during the years 1928-33 Thomas
Pihlfeldt discussed "The Straightening of the Chicago River"; Alfred
Alsaker analyzed "The Economic Equation"; Sigurd E. Naess described
"Chicago's New Post Office"; and a guest speaker from the University of
Chicago lectured on "Technocracy." In the dark years after 1929 there was
a growing demand for lectures on economic and social problems; technical
subjects, however, never ceased to dominate the program. As for social
life, two events crowned the season -the Novemberfest and the annual
dinner dance in the spring. A novel and significant educational feature
was introduced during the winter months of 1928-29, consisting of courses
in plan reading and estimating for craftsmen in the building and
construction field. The educational program, like the employment service,
was supervised by Thomas Pettersen, and the classes, which were free,
were held in the rooms of the Crane Technical Evening School.
During the years 1923-29 the Chicago society grew in numbers and organic
strength. From 39 the membership jumped to 150, the work of collecting
biographical data progressed slowly, and before the financial crash of
1929 the members were dreaming of building a Norway House; Viehe Naess
and Bagge were drawing plans for a 20-story structure that would house
all Norwegian organizations in Chicago. Needless to say, the closing
months of 1929 drew a curtain on such optimism, and membership rapidly
declined. For a time the society held meetings at the Masonic Building in
Logan Square; later the headquarters were moved back to the club, which
is still the center of activities." {11}
Elsewhere, similar groups had taken form. At Schenectady, where the
General Electric Company and the metal industry offered excellent
opportunities for employment and practical experience, a Norwegian
Technical Society flourished in the days before and after World War I.
Schenectady lies on the route of the immigrant journey (New
York-Albany-Buffalo-Chicago), and as a result the membership of its
society has fluctuated with the ups and downs of immigration. {12}
The success of the Chicago society served as an inspiration to the young
engineers of the New York area to organize a new club. A small group of
men, accustomed to gathering of an evening in the apartment of John
Litell and Sv. Steen Sandal, decided to effect a more formal
organization; this was done on January 26, 1925. The Norwegian Engineers'
Society of New York was started at the clubhouse of the Bergen
Association; about 40 engineers became members and Ola Sater was chosen
as the first president. Early meetings were held in the rooms of the
Norske Selskap on Columbia Heights, and the programs did not differ
materially from those of the Chicago engineers.
In 1926 two rooms were rented as headquarters at 418 Fifty-fourth Street,
in Bay Ridge, within easy distance of the homes of most of the members.
During the second year of its life the organization, in co-operation with
the Swedish Engineers' Club, began a vigorous effort to secure suitable
positions for young technicians and, under the presidency of O. L.
Riegels, took a stronger interest than before in social life. More
adequate quarters were then found at 561 Fifty-second Street; these rooms
were open to members every evening and the evidence points to an enlarged
membership and a generally increased interest in the activities of the
society. In December of 1927 the group joined the Norwegian-American
Technical Society. Regular meetings drew an average attendance of 30, and
the bachelors, in particular, were happy to use the club's rooms as a
substitute for ordinary home life. Interesting, too, was the society's
determination to support all worthy Norwegian-American movements and at
the same time to foster its own professional and social needs. {13}
It is significant that by 1928, if not earlier, the interests of the New
York society were extending beyond the purely technical and social
fields. Lectures on such subjects as "F. W. Taylor, His System and Its
Influence on World Industry," "Our City Government," and similar topics
of a political and economic nature must have left their impress on the
members. In 1931 a forum for the discussion of social problems was
inaugurated under the sponsorship of S. J. Stockfleth. Frequent
references in the programs to readings, such as excerpts from the Norse
sagas recited by Dr. Frithjof Zwilgmeyer, indicate that literature was
not ignored; and music, much of it of Norwegian origin, was a constant
feature of the meetings.
Of special interest was the establishment, in the spring of 1928, of a
free evening trade school for carpenters, bricklayers, and the like,
similar to the one in Chicago. The idea originated with E. J. Oland and
the purpose was to give complete courses in blueprint reading,
estimating, and construction. Such was the enthusiasm of the tradesmen
that almost overnight 120 men had applied for admission. Of this group
only two classes of 25 members in each could be accommodated in the
clubrooms. Nothing daunted, the teachers consulted with the local board
of education and secured the use of classrooms in a public school
Three classes were taught during the fall of 1928 and the spring of 1929.
Ola Sater, who had had teaching experience in Norway, was the principal
instructor; he was assisted by O. Lowzow, B. Paulsen, F. Oyen, and S. S.
Sandal. In 1928-29 two special courses in structural design for engineers
were also conducted by the society. The school was unable to continue its
program in the fall of 1929 and the depression that followed no doubt
discouraged further educational ventures.
The need for larger quarters became so great by the spring of 1929 that
new rooms were rented at 515 Ovington Avenue, in Bay Ridge. The location
was not ideal, but many bachelors moved nearer to the clubrooms and the
doors were open every day. Regular meetings were held on Friday nights
and informal dances were usually scheduled for Saturdays. A capable
steward served excellent four-course Norwegian dinners every evening as
well as sandwiches and beverages. The building was in an unfinished
condition, so the clubrooms were partitioned off and decorated at the
expense of the society, with the understanding that the financial outlay
thus involved would be deducted from the rent. Unfortunately the owner of
the building was soon declared bankrupt, the members lost their personal
investment, and a painful interval followed. The society was forced to
sublet its rooms and in 1931 it wisely incorporated. During the same year
less expensive headquarters were rented at 530 Eighty-sixth Street, where
the society still meets. After the worst of the depression, during which
engineers in considerable numbers resigned and some even returned to
Norway, there was renewed interest and an increase in membership, which
in 1935 totaled more than 80.
The Norwegian Engineers' Society possesses excellent clubrooms. In them
are held the annual høstfest (fall party) in September, a social
gathering each month, a herrefest (men's banquet) in December, a
children's Christmas party, a New Year's party, and a Seventeenth of May
celebration. There is talk of a new clubhouse, and a fund was started in
1938 toward the realization of this objective. Corporate feeling was
enhanced in the same year with the publication of the first issue of the
N. E. S. Bulletin, which like the Journal of the national engineers'
organization contains biographical material, in addition to news of local
interest. After the invasion of Norway in 1940, the engineers in the East
took a special interest in Norwegian fliers and seamen, raised funds for
the benefit of the Seamen's Church in Brooklyn and the engineers on
Norwegian ships, and, like Norwegian-American groups in other places,
gave assistance wherever possible to the cause of freedom and
reconstruction in the homeland.
The idea of a national organization had gestated for years in the minds
of some of the engineers. Consequently when the Chicago Norske Klub,
under the presidency of Birger Osland, sponsored a convention of
Norwegian engineers and architects in 1917, the gathering that followed
was a notable success, despite the clouds of World War I. A committee
appointed by the Norske Klub and composed of Giaver, Pihlfeldt, and Viehe
Naess in Chicago had sent out invitations before America's entry into the
war; having done this, they were determined that the convention should be
held. During the last three days of September about 80 technical men from
outside Chicago mingled with approximately the same number of local
members. Among those who attended were F. W. Cappelen of Minneapolis,
Soren Munch Kielland of Buffalo, Magnus Swenson of Madison, Hans Helland
of San Antonio, Olaf Hoff of New York, and many others who have figured
prominently in this story. A strong patriotic spirit, which was expressed
in a resolution of loyalty to the government of the United States,
naturally pervaded this first gathering of Norwegian engineers in
America. On the last day of the convention a formal organization was
effected, with Joachim Giaver as president. {14}
Almost exactly ten years later a second convention was held at the Norske
Klub. Jointly sponsored by the club and the Chicago Norwegian Technical
Society, this gathering was planned by a committee under the chairmanship
of Thomas G. Pihlfeldt. About 125 men responded to the invitation and the
convention sat from September 22 to 24, 1927. Judged by the official
report, the social side of the meeting as well as the technical was a
complete success. From the historical point of view, however, the most
significant result was the formation of the Norwegian-American Technical
Society. A constitution, with bylaws, was prepared by C. F. Berg and A.
H. Nesheim; it was submitted on the closing day of the convention and
approved. The scheme proposed was one of direct memberships for technical
men residing in cities where no branch group could be formed, and for
branch organizations in the more important engineering centers.{15}
C. F. Berg and A. H. Nesheim; it was submitted on the closing day of the
convention and approved. The scheme proposed was one of direct
memberships for technical men residing in cities where no branch group
could be formed, and for branch organizations in the more important
engineering centers."
Directors’ Meeting, 1929, Chicago Norwegian Technical Society, in Chicago
Norsk Club
(E. M. Fasting, Alf Selrod, Erling Normann, Thomas Petterson, A. H.
Peter Sandven, Roar Knudtzon Ivar Viehe Naess, Chr. U. Bagge)
A major purpose of the new organization, we read in the constitution, was
"to keep records of their [the engineers' and architects'] progress and
achievements"; the bylaws list as one of the duties of the board of
directors the publication of a journal to appear at least four times a
year. It was also decided at the Chicago convention that one of the two
branch societies should be named to carry on the work of the national
organization between conventions. This task has been assumed by the
Chicago group.
The next convention was likewise held at Chicago --- during the Century
of Progress Exposition, from June 22 to 24, 1933 --- and again the Norske
Klub was the scene of activities. The exposition naturally offered a
variety of exhibits of interest to engineers; among them was one
displaying the Tinius Olsen testing machines. At a business meeting it
was disclosed that, despite the depression, the national organization had
a total membership of 330. Otto Clausen, secretary of the organization,
announced that twelve issues of the society's Journal, which he had
edited, had been mailed to members, libraries, and educational centers.
The fourth convention was held in New York, September 2-5, 1939, during
the World's Fair in that city. This time the eastern society sponsored
the gathering; a committee headed by S. J. Stockfleth made it a notable
one. At the opening session the present writer explained to the members
of the society the tentative plan of the Norwegian-American Historical
Association to study the engineer group and in due course to publish in
book form an analysis of its contributions to American life and growth.
The plan as outlined was wholeheartedly endorsed. {17}
Convention Issue, Norwegian-American Technical Journal
The task of publishing such a book has been made immeasurably easier by
the material appearing regularly in the Norwegian-American Technical
Journal. No less than twenty issues in all have been published and these
contain, in addition to news of the society and its branches, invaluable
biographies of outstanding engineers and articles dealing with specific
technical projects. That much information has thus been saved for the
historian is the result of the combined efforts of the members of the
society, but a special word of praise is due the men who edited the
beautifully illustrated Journal. Otto Clausen, who is a musician, not an
engineer, has nevertheless edited fifteen numbers; {18} S. J. Stockfleth,
Petter Moinichen, and C. F. Berg each was responsible for one issue; and
Magnus Bjørndal was editor of two successive Journals. C. F. Berg in
Chicago and Magnus Bjørndal in New York have been particularly active in
collecting biographical material.
In another closely related way the national organization of engineers and
architects has added to historical knowledge. The leaders had in mind the
collection of data pertaining to their own group, and the first issues of
the Journal, beginning in February, 1928, contained valuable information.
But it was not until the spring of 1934 that the branch societies in New
York, Chicago, and the Twin Cities were asked to designate committees
specifically charged with the duty of gathering source materials. The
committees compiled lists of engineers and architects, and prepared
questionnaires, asking the usual questions about one's life and work,
that were sent to these men. The results were at first disappointing, but
gradually, in response to various pressures, an impressive collection of
data was accumulated from both sides of the Atlantic. {19} Some, but far
from all of the information thus obtained was utilized in preparing the
interesting biographies published in the Journal. The archives of the
Norwegian-American Technical Society are kept at the headquarters of the
Chicago branch.
Branches of the national society were soon to be organized in the Twin
City and Philadelphia areas. M. S. Grytbak, a member and director of the
national organization, gathered old associates at his home early in 1929,
and the outcome of the discussion that followed was the Northwest Branch.
In February of the same year some twelve men became members and Grytbak,
city bridge engineer of St. Paul, was elected president. There have been
regular meetings, largely social in nature, with "Boston" and bridge
games, occasionally interrupted by lectures on technocracy and specific
engineering projects.
At the New York convention of the national society, in 1939, the question
of additional branches was discussed. Philadelphia was the first city to
act. Dr. Haakon Styri, of ball-bearing fame, aroused enthusiasm among
local engineers late in 1941 for a Norwegian-American Technical Society
of Philadelphia. The organization was realized in May, 1942; the 34
members chose Styri as their first president.
One example of another type of local technical organization, to which
many Norwegian engineers belonged, will be mentioned. This is the Swedish
Engineers' Society, a member of the Associated Technical Societies of
Detroit. It was common, especially in the nineteenth century, for
Americans of Scandinavian birth to gather in organizations of all kinds,
and engineers were no exception. The number of Scandinavian engineering
societies, informal and formal combined, that sprang up in the cities and
industrial sections of this country must have been considerable, since
reference to this or that group, usually long since extinct, appears in
many biographical accounts of the Norwegian engineers. But in the
twentieth century the trend in such cities as Chicago and New York was
distinctly toward separate Swedish and Norwegian societies. Together with
a friendly rivalry between the national groups went considerable
co-operation and an occasional exchange of visits --- a practice that
extended also to the German societies.
In Detroit, however, the Swedish Engineers' Society was the common
Scandinavian technical organization of the 1920's, and it prided itself
on being the "youngest and liveliest of the Scandinavian engineering
societies in the world." Its monthly Bulletins for 1924 show that the
directors were chosen to represent not only the Swedes but also Finns,
Danes, and Norwegians; acting for the Norwegians were Sigmund Janson and
N. H. F. Olsen. Olsen also served as chairman of the editorial
committee. In its most ambitious period the society planned a convention
of Scandinavian engineers at Detroit; this, however, was never realized.

<11> A good brief history of the Chicago Norwegian Technical Society
appeared in Scandia, April 7, 1938; Thorleif B. Jorgensen has reviewed
its early years in Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. l, no. l,
p. 6 (February, 1948); other accounts may be found in subsequent issues
of the same periodical, and such papers as Scandia and Skandinaven
faithfully reported all meetings.
<12> See Nordmands-forbundet, 6:144 (1913) and 11:471-473 (1918).
<13> See an article by John Litell, corresponding secretary, in
Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, p. 9 (February,
1948); an able ten-year review of the society's history was written by
John Litell and Sv. Steen Sandal and published in the Journal, vol. 8,
no. 1, p. 5, 40 (November, 1935).
<14> See Osland, A Long Pull from Stavanger, 45; F. S. H. Sartz, "Det
norske teknikermote i Chicago," in Nordmands-forbundet, 10:463-467
<15> See G. A. Viker's account of the convention in Norwegian-American
Technical Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, p. 4-6 (February, 1948). The
constitution and bylaws are printed in vol. 1, no. 4, p. 14 (May, 1948).
<16> See Supplement to Norwegian-American Technical Journal, August,
1933, p. 3.
<17> See N. E. S. Bulletin., no. 4, p. 5 (December, 1939). An article by
H. Sundby-Hansen in Nordisk tidende, September 7, 1939, and another by
Carl Matre in Skandinaven, September 15, 1939, give detailed records of
this convention.
<18> For an account of this interesting singer and choral director, see
Skandinaven, July 18, 1934.
<19> See "Wanted: The Records of Our Engineers and Architects," by C. F.
Berg, in Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, p. 7
(November, 1935).
<20> Klubnytt, October, 1929.

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