accomplishments and life of Harold Chestnut, 1917-2001
Harold Chestnut was
known for his contributions to the field of automatic control, systems
engineering, community work and promotion of international cooperation
within the realm of engineering. He helped form the IEEE in 1963,
the International Federation of Automatic Control in the 1950's, and
Centennial Medal 1984, Honda Prize 1981
Schools: MIT, Case Institute of Technology,
Villanova University Publications: Systems Engineering Tools, Servomechanisms and
Regulating System Design, and many articles for Automatica, IEEE Publications
On August 29, 2001, Harold Chestnut died at
the age of 83 in Schenectady, NY, the town in which he spent essentially
all of his long and productive life. He earned BS and MS degrees in
electrical engineering from MIT in 1939 and 1940 and received Honorary
Doctorates in engineering from Case Institute of Technology in 1966
and Villanova University in 1972.
He began a life-long career in the control
field with the General Electric Company in 1940. During the Second
World War he was both a student and instructor in GE's well-known
Advanced Engineering Program.
Hal Chestnut designed the
dynamotors that convert DC power for use around the aircraft as well
as gyro instrumentation for navigation. Some of his work is still
used in aircraft today.
He also designed the mechanical computers with Ted Brown which controlled
the automatically controlled turrets. Before this turrets had to be
turned, controlled, and aimed by a man, as in the B-17.
See the video below as to
why the B-29's turrets were designed to replace the B-17 system:
Chestnut's early control work
concerned stability issues in electric power systems. The design and
manufacturing of electric power system components - generators, transformers,
motors, etc. - was a major part of GE's activity then and now. During
the Second World War he moved into the aeronautics and ordinance divisions
of the company and remained there until 1956. In 1951 he co-authored
Servomechanisms and Regulating Systems Design, Vol. 1 with R. W. Mayer,
which was the leading text in the field for many years. He later wrote
Volume 2 of that book, as well as System Engineering Tools, and System
Dr. Chestnut was active in the
formation of the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC),
which grew out of discussions started in 1956 among representatives
from West Germany, the USSR, France, the United Kingdom, Poland and
the USA. He served as IFAC's first president from 1957 through 1959
in a cold-war compromise that gave the USA the first president and
the USSR the first International Congress in Moscow in 1960.
In 1961 Dr. Chestnut served as
co-chairman of the Honorary Editorial Advisory Board of a commercial
control journal, AUTOMATICA, The International Journal on Automatic
Control and Automation. This Pergamon Press journal later became the
official journal of IFAC. He also was editor of a John Wiley book
series on systems engineering and analysis.
Below is a video explaining
what is automatic control, and it's history:
Brief history of automatic control technologies
Hall worked on systems that run
jet engines like the GE-90 seen here
Dr. Chestnut continued with the General
Electric Company until retirement in 1983. Major assignments
included serving as manager of the Systems Engineering and
Analysis Branch of the Advanced Technology Laboratory working
on a wide variety of technical problems including reliability
issues in rapid transit and the Apollo mission to the moon.
Even later in his career he returned to the field of electric
power. This time the focus was power systems automation. Hal
worked with Kishan Baheti on General Electric's jet engine
Following retirement he concentrated on one
of his long time passions in the control field - the potential for
control concepts to provide insight into problems of international
stability. It seems that his dedication to the use of control concepts
in societal problems arose from his success in working with wary representatives
from many countries to set up IFAC and with proud representatives
from various US engineering societies to set up the AACC. Two years
before his retirement, Dr. Chestnut received the prestigious Honda
Prize for ecotechnology and with it a substantial financial award.
After retirement he used this fund to create the "SWIIS Foundation",
a private foundation devoted to identifying and implementing "supplemental
ways to improve international stability". He devoted the last
productive years of his life in the 1980s and 1990s to this effort.
Hal Chestnut had many interests such as swimming,
travel, hiking, sailing, and community work. His wife Erma Ruth Chestnut
helped form the Schenectady Community College in order to help low
income families recieve education. He helped get the Schenectady Country
Public Library formed in its present downtown location. Hal enjoyed
time at his camp in Lake Lurzerne, NY in the Adirondacks. He was a
family man and a social person.
Hal Chestnut's community
work and camp at Lake Luzerne, NY in the Adirondack Mountains
On the personal level, Harold
Chestnut is remembered as a quiet but persistent man. Once he determined
something ought to be done, he worked until he found a way to make
it happen. He viewed life as one large control system that needed
to be nudged from time to time to keep it running smoothly and on
course. He was a devoted family man who enjoyed hiking and sailing
with his family, especially at their cottage on Schroon Lake in the
Harold Chestnut will be long remembered
for his technical contributions to the field of systems and control,
for his leadership in getting people from divers backgrounds to work
together, and for setting up institutions that foster ongoing cooperation
for the solution of engineering and societal problems.
[These remarks are based, with
permission of the editor, on a notice prepared by Stephen Kahne for
publication in Automatica, with additional contributions from Gene
Franklin, William R. Perkins, Leonard Shaw and Austin Spang.]
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Wizard's of Schenectady Hal
Chestnut Short Promo (YouTube Video):
with coworkers of Harold Chestnut
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