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Peter Emil Huber

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Peter Emil Huber (1836-1915) of Oerlikon

1916 Obituary [1]

PETER EMIL HUBER was born in 1836 in the town of Zurich. He died in Zurich on the 4th October, 1915.

Amongst electrical engineers he was best known as the managing director, and founder, of the Oerlikon Machine Works; though his direction of that great establishment was but a part of his claim to their regard.

From a memorial pamphlet issued by his family, containing details of his education and career, we learn the following particulars. He was schooled at Lausanne, and in 1855 on the foundation of the celebrated Federal Polytechnicum at Zurich he entered as one of its first students in the engineering side. Leaving the Polytechnicum he gained practical experience in the famous establishments of Sulzer in Winterthur and of Escher Wyss in Zurich. He sought to improve his training by professional sojourn in England and in Belgium.

In 1867 with some of his friends he founded at Oerlikon in the outskirts of Zurich a mechanical engineering establishment under the style of P. E. Huber and Company. This undertaking after various turns of fortune was in 1876 reconstructed and merged in the great establishment now known as the Oerlikon Machine Works. Until 1885 these works were chiefly occupied in the manufacture of machine tools and heavy milling machinery; but from that date onwards the development of electrical machinery became the principal occupation of the undertaking. Huber was managing director until the end of 1894, and was President of the body of Directors down to 1911.

How ably and unweariedly he worked for the success of the firm, how heartily he threw himself into efforts for the promotion of the progress and welfare of his native city and of his country, his fellow-citizens and fellow countrymen have testified in glowing terms. He had a penchant for architecture, and was much trusted for advice respecting public buildings. For a short period he was connected with the management of the Industrial Museum in Zurich. For many years he was an active member of the district board which controls the public works of Zurich, and took the leading part in the improvement of the public quays, the introduction of tramways, and the provision of public lighting.

He will be remembered to all time for the part which he took in the organization, at the Frankfort Electrical Exhibition of 1891, of the now historical demonstration of the transmission of power from Lauffen on the Neckar (near Heilbronn) to Frankfort. This project, originated by Engineer Oskar von Miller of Munich, was to prove that it was possible economically to transmit 100 horse-power to a distance of 100 miles. This was a demonstration on a much greater scale than anything previously attempted. Upon its success or failure hung the projects for the harnessing of Niagara and other transmission propositions. Huber threw himself into the matter with characteristic energy, and in co-operation with Director Rathenau of the Allgemeine Elektricitats Gesellschaft of Berlin, the great experiment was carried to a successful issue. Incidentally, the demonstration also established the successful operation, for long-distance transmission projects, of the 3-phase system of alternating currents. The machinery and transformers were supplied in part by the Oerlikon Company, and in part by the A.E.G. In the sequel this demonstration brought much business to the Oerlikon Works, which became a chief seat for the development of power plant and electric traction plant, and played an important role in equipping the tramways and electric railways of Switzerland and other countries.

Another undertaking which owes much of its development to the genius of Huber is the aluminium works of Neuhausen. In 1887 he became head of a preliminary company to exploit the Heroult patents, and in 1888 he founded with others the Aluminium Industry Company which successively created the aluminium works of Neuhausen, Rheinfelden, Land-Gastein, and lastly of Chippis in the Canton Valais. In this last undertaking he took, as President, an intense interest. One of the latest acts of his life was to visit these great works on their completion, and with his youngest grandchild to climb up to Riffel-alp.

He was one of the founders of the Society known as the Verein Schweitzer Maschinen-Industrieller, a body which has done much to consolidate the interests of the engineering concerns in Switzerland, and he was its president from its foundation until his death. In 1864 he married Anna Maria Werdmiiller, who predeceased him by four years. He was made a Colonel and Brigade Commander in the Swiss Artillery, and a member of the Artillery Commission. Executive, capable, essentially upright in all his dealings, he commanded universal respect. Personal ambitions and pride of influence were conspicuously absent from his character. Jealous of no man, he trusted his friends and was trusted by them.

He was elected a Foreign Member of the Institution in 1889, and a Member in 1911.

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