ASME History and Heritage Meeting
By Gerald Hillenbrand, P.E.
That meeting was held on Thursday, April 15, 2010 at the Ukrainian Restaurant on Second Avenue in Manhattan’s East Village. The attendees included a large number of Mechanical Engineering students attracted by Metropolitan Section’s new policy of offering students free admission to all section technical meetings in an effort to stimulate their interest in Mechanical Engineering and ASME. Historically, Metropolitan Section has sponsored annual meetings on the subject of the History and Heritage traditions evolving from the accomplishments of Mechanical Engineers and their contributions to modern society. As usual, the featured speaker at this annual meeting was the eminent historian Conrad Milster, Chief Engineer of the Pratt Institute Power Plant, an ASME Historic Landmark facility located in downtown Brooklyn.
The evening’s program was introduced by Met Section’s programs chair, Edward G Ecock, P.E., who called the audience’s attention to the ASME’s district leaders conference at headquarters on the weekend of May 7th and 8th. All active members are invited to attend. There is a $50 registration fee for this event, but many members are eligible for refunds of this fee. Consult your section representatives for details of the fee reimbursement policy. Metropolitan Section will be the host section for this conference. A summary of the results of this meeting is available. Contact Metropolitan Section executive committee for a copy of this summary material.
Mr. Milster’s presentation featured a series of historic movies depicting technical developments in the earliest years of the 20th century. Prominent among these was films from the library of congress archives dating form 1904. In the transportation sector, films showed the enormous amount of river traffic existing around Manhattan with emphasis on frequent ferry traffic on the Hudson River. At the turn of the century access to Manhattan from New Jersey was only by Ferry. All railroads terminated on the Jersey shore, necessitating ferry transfer to Manhattan. Both shorelines were crowded with piers, most of which have been allowed to decay and collapse into the water. The Ferries were powered by the reciprocating steam engines, the most advanced of, which were 4 cylinder, double compounded with hard coal burning boilers. The Jersey Central Railroad was the last operator of this Ferry service, which ended in 1966. The last ferry employed was the “Elizabeth” which was retired in good operating condition after 70 years of service.
Next shown was ferry service on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. The vessels involved are all steam engine driven, and include a ferry built in 1906 by the Schiller organization, and a paddle wheel steamer built in 1910. These vessels still operate today. Also shown was an electric generator driven by a water wheel and pioneering electric locomotive dating from 1920, all of which are still in good operating condition.
Mechanical Engineers have also made enormous contributions in the materials handling sphere. Shown was a mining operation in Poland utilizing steam engine driven and included a Ferry built in 1906 by the Schiller Organization in the newly developing electric power industry. Mr. Milster showed archival films of material handling procedures employed in Westinghouse factories. Molten metal equipment for foundry operations was primarily manually manipulated and controlled as was metal forming, forging, hammering, and welding operations. Steam powered hammers were used to initially form large metal billets, but subsequent forming operations were actuated manually with manpower. With all this vigorous manual effort, it is easy to see why the American male population has become overweight, although working in a much safer environment. Located in one Westinghouse factory was a belt driven lathe with the capacity of machining metals up to 90 inches in diameter and 15 feet long. This lathe, built in 1904 and one the largest in the world, was still operating up to five years ago.
The Westinghouse company was also one of the first industrial organizations to employ large numbers of women who proved to be more productive in areas such as electric cable manufacture and soldering operations. Westinghouse also pioneered in mass production of electric motors. To move motor components to various assembly locations, narrow gauge railroads were built inside the factories, thus easing transport of such large elements as motor housings. Factory power was provided by stationary steam engines, some of which dated from 1880. Skilled operators who performed high-quality monitoring of engine performance with minimum instrumentation directly controlled these engines.
The movies next moved to European efforts to preserve historic mechanical engineering developments. In England, a steam locomotive dating from 1832 was reconstructed, lubricated, and transported a period passenger train achieving speeds of 40 to 50 miles per hour with obvious efficiency. This historic locomotive was rated at 3600 horsepower and periodically runs fan trips for interested transportation enthusiasts. Similar preservation efforts are routinely performed in countries like Germany, Holland, Switzerland and various Eastern European nations. Particular emphasis is given to steam engine propelled lake and river vessels which, although approximately 100 years old, still operate with beauty and grace.
Mr. Milster emphasized that the successful and efficient operation of all this steam engine driven equipment was largely dependent on the dedication and skill of the Operating Engineers and Firemen, and the diligence of the control personnel. Of course, all these efforts were very labor intensive and subject to replacement by cost-cutting innovations, but that does not diminish the high quality of the efforts of these personnel. For example, the success and safety of complex railroad operations was dependent on the efforts of control tower operators who manually operated track switching equipment remotely with lever and cable systems coordinated with accurate signal replication of track status. Similarly, signal replication of track status. Similarly, coal burning steam boilers in power plants, locomotives, and ships required skilled firemen to manipulate the ash and clinkers resulting from the combustion of “Soft” Bituminous Coal widely used for commercial steam power applications. Proper manipulation and removal of these combustion products greatly increased the efficiency of steam operations everywhere.
Mr. Milster concluded his memorable lecture with the announcement that he has developed DVD programs recording historic mechanical engineering development such as those depicted. These DVD’s can be obtained by contacting Mr. Milster at Pratt Institute. Great Job Conrad, as usual!