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British Industrial History

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Harvey Nathaniel Davis

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Harvey Nathaniel Davis (c1881-1952)

1953 Obituary [1]

Dr. HARVEY NATHANIEL DAVIS, President Emeritus of Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey, and for twenty-three years its President until his retirement in 1951, died on 3rd December 1952, at the age of seventy-one. An engineer, teacher, and scientist, Dr. Davis applied his talent on and off the campus. In both world wars he made outstanding contributions through research, teaching, and training. In the 1914-18 war he did research work on helium gas for the Army, Navy, and the Bureau of Mines. Dr. Davis in 1942 headed the Office of Production Research and Development, a technical advisory group to the War Production Board. Scientists and engineers were brought together by this body to develop new processes to speed war production.

In 1943 Dr. Davis led a mission to London to establish closer liaison with British research and production authorities. Soon after, as a token of the success of this mission, he was made an honorary member of the Institution, the fourth American to be so honoured.

Dr. Davis's principal field of research was thermodynamics, particularly relating to steam tables. His early work and joint authorship with Lionel S. Marks in computing and publishing their famous "Tables and Diagrams of the Thermal Properties of Saturated and Superheated Steam" remains an outstanding contribution. With N. H. Black, he was the author of "Practical Physics" and "New Practical Physics". He also wrote a chapter of Beard's "Toward Civilization"; and textbooks and various scientific papers on thermodynamics. His inventions included an improvement in steam turbines and processes for air liquification and rectification.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Dr. Davis was the son of Nathaniel French Davis, for forty-one years a teacher of mathematics at Brown University, and Lydia Martin Bellows Davis. He grew up on the Brown campus and was graduated from the University in 1901. From Brown he went to Harvard, where he received the degree of M.A. in 1903 and of Ph.D. in 1906. He taught physics at Harvard and was later made professor of mechanical engineering. Meanwhile, he had held positions in several private concerns including the General Electric Company, the Franklin Railway Supply Company, and the Air Reduction Company. He was called to Stevens to serve as its third President in 1928. Through the years of depression his ingenuity was needed to keep the Institute solvent.

The 1939-45 war brought the college other problems, including adaption to the Navy's V-12 programme which brought thousands to the campus for speeded-up engineering training. A War Industries Training School was also set up on the campus. Students of Stevens were required to spend several weeks each year in war-time industries. Under Dr. Davis's direction there were three graduating classes a year instead of one.

From his first days at Stevens Dr. Davis was an advocate of basic, but unspecialized, training in engineering. He felt that fundamentals should come first and specialization later. The training he prescribed was to provide a liberal education for a lifetime, one that would qualify a person for the highest administrative responsibilities of business and industry. He was responsible for developments such as the establishment of an evening graduate school, research laboratories related to the design of ship hulls, the instrumental use of powdered metals, the phenomena of sound, and aptitude testing.

Dr. Davis became a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1920, a Fellow in 1936, and Honorary Membership was conferred upon him in 1947. In 1938 he served as President of the Society. He was honoured by membership and served with distinction in the prominent scientific, engineering, and learned societies in the United States and Europe. He held honorary degrees from seven leading American universities.

(E. Sydney Newman)

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