Historical Articles

November, 1952 issue of Plating


The following article is a text of the address presented by Mr. James Zeder at the Chicago Convention of the American Electroplaters’ Society, In view of the impact of Mr. Heussner in the affairs of the Society and the importance of the award named after him, the address is reproduced in full.

Presentation Address

Carl E. Heussner Memorial Award

JAMES C. ZEDER, Vice-President, Director of Engineering and Research, Chrysler Corporation

Mr. Chairman; ladies and gentlemen of the American Electroplaters’ Society; and guests:

When I learned that the American Electroplaters’ Society had established an annual award in the memory of Carl E. Heussner, I was moved and grateful. My feelings were not only those of one who, like so many of you here, remembers with respect the ability and .work of a distinguished chemist, but also of one who counts himself fortunate to have enjoyed his friendship.

I am grateful to the Society, and to Mr. Glenn Friedt who has endowed the award, because, in establishing the Carl E. Heussner Memorial Award, they express a kind of appreciation too little shown these days. It may be that all of us, understandably perhaps, in the bustle of modern life, tend to take for granted the countless blessings we enjoy because of the genius and the hard work of those who make such blessings possible.

The life of Americans is rich. We enjoy many comforts, aids, and safeguards for better living. Ours is the highest material standard of living in the world. This life is the sum of uncounted millions of efforts, great and small. They have been made by individuals or by groups of people, working always to do things better, to make things finer, to add to the sum of better living, which is our American way.

Of course, we cannot fully recognize each of these efforts. But the works of some men are of such importance that we would be remiss if we took silently and for granted the things they have done for the betterment of our lives. I have often noted, in travelling, about the country, a memorial here or a plaque there commemorating some minor historical incident or an effort by one of our ancestors. Perhaps a small military action is memorialized; possibly the works of an early pioneer are recalled. It is right and proper that this be so. We should remember those who built our great country. Indeed, we probably could do a great deal more than we do to strengthen awareness of our heritage.

But when we turn to the works of Americans who labored for the betterment of their fellowmen in fields outside the political or the military, or the spiritual, there seems to be a tendency to forget. I would not want to set myself up as a judge of the relative values of the contributions men have made for the good of us all. After all, each work that is for the benefit of men is worthy of our gratitude and respect. But I would suggest that there are Americans whose truly great contributions in behalf of their people are too quickly forgotten.

We have paid fitting honor to military achievement, but how many men of medicine are properly remembered? Is the genius and labor that gives future generations hope for greater health and longer, more useful life less worthy of our recollection? We take proper note of political accomplishment. But shall we accept in passing the achievement of the scientist or the technician who devised a tool that made a great political or military objective possible?

If it rested with men like Carl Heussner themselves, their works would move into the public realm and they, for their part, would find all the reward they sought in their accomplishments alone. Your Society is not content to let the great work of Carl Heussner stand without your recognition. Through the Carl E. Heussner Memorial Award, you have given a tangible and worthy form to your expression of appreciation.

I spoke of the scientist who may, through his effort, place great tools of accomplishment in the hands of the military or political leaders. Sometimes those tools are vital to reaching a military or political end. There is no stronger example than that of the atomic bomb, a vast attainment, scientifically, with political and military meaning we have not yet fathomed. Yet, as Mr. K. T. Keller has often pointed out, had it not been for Carl Heussner, the atomic bomb project might not have been accomplished when it was.

Carl Heussner came into the picture when it was learned that the government scientists were specifying solid nickel or nickel-clad steel diffusers in a gaseous diffusion process connected with the bomb project. Apparently it did not upset the project scientists that to make such devices of solid nickel would have taken all the nickel mined throughout the world by the International Nickel Company for two years.

I remember sitting in the meeting when Carl Heussner declared’ that the job could be done by electroplating nickel directly on steel. His plan would require only four per cent as much nickel as nickel-clad steel or only about one-hundredth as much as solid nickel.

I also remember that the experts told Carl his plating idea just wouldn’t work. Carl thought otherwise and he knew that he would have to prove his claim.

The next time I saw Carl was in our Highland Park Plant. There he stood in a’ plating pit, clad in a black raincoat, sou’wester and boots, sweat pouring down his face, as he prepared to nickel-plate boiler plate to prove his point. Carl’s plating worked. In fact, it worked better, because he knew, as every plater knows, that in electroplating purer nickel is deposited than can be obtained in commercial forms of so-called pure nickel.

This tremendous contribution was not as easily done as relating it might seem. It took knowledge, faith, determination, and practical comprehension to put it across. Time will tell what nuclear fission will mean to the world’s history. But Carl Heussner’s contribution to making the atomic bomb possible in the time it was achieved is a matter for no debate.

This is an example of a specific contribution he made to an undertaking. It was one of many instances in which Carl Heussner was able to produce a solution to a big problem by combining his scientific background with his broad, practical knowledge.

That was the sort of scientist he was. A perfectionist, but broad-gauge in his outlook and application. A scholar, but a worker who applied theory to practice.

Electro-plating was his great interest. I think it can be said that few men did more than Carl Heussner to change plating from an individual art to a science. Carl Heussner was one of those chemists who wanted to help bring plating to the high standards it now enjoys. He had the scientific background, he had the academic degrees running up to his Ph.D., but he also acquired for himself a practical knowledge of plating. When he talked plating, he talked platers’ language. But behind what he said was also the thinking of a great chemist.

In ten years, between 1930 and 1940, his persistence made changes in plating standards and adherence to quality that was recognized in our industry. His achievement was a clear example of what can be done when a scientist is willing and able to roll up his sleeves and find out the practical side of a problem.

Carl Heussner never was content only with his immediate undertakings, however great many of them were. He was also a guiding spirit in his profession. You all know of the important work he did following the war in reorganizing the work of the American Electroplaters’ Society Research Committee. Moreover, he was active in the American Society for Testing Materials, the Detroit Engineering Society, the American Ceramic Society, the Electrodepositors’ Technical Society, and many others. He was a member of 17 committees of the Society of Automotive Engineers alone.

I have talked about Carl Heussner, the scientist with rolled-up sleeves. And that is not just a figure of speech, as you know. As a matter of fact, when Carl was really in the midst of a problem he fairly: bristled. The last thing he cared about was how he looked or what else happened, so complete was his: concentration. In that intense, fine mind of his, all was order and precision. When someone talks about a dedicated scientist, I think of Carl Heussner.

His last years were difficult ones. We who worked with him tried very hard to slow him down; to husband his weakening resources. There were many times in those years when he kept going by will power alone. While his mind grappled with the problems he sought to solve, his spirit fought the inroads of his illness. He was determined, to the end, to keep going. And he did.

As I look back, I can recall few men whose opinions and decisions carried such tremendous weight. This was true in all levels of the Chrysler Corporation. It was true in industry and professional groups outside, where Carl’s counsel was constantly sought. This tremendous prestige and respect was fully earned.

When Carl Heussner was asked a question at a meeting, for example, he never gave a general sort of answer. He replied so clearly, 80 specifically, so completely, that there was no debate when he finished; there were seldom even questions to be asked. When Carl had a course of action to recommend in our company, he didn’t have to sell his idea first. All he had to do was state it. We accepted it as law. That was because Carl Heussner had proved, time after time, that he didn’t speak unless he knew what he was talking about. He was a man of complete integrity, personally and professionally.

And there was another, wonderful side to this man. It was his great heart and his kindness. He was deeply devoted to his church. All his life he and his wife set aside ten per cent of his earnings for his church. They both had a deep attention for children, but were not destined to have their own. So they translated their love for children into help for unfortunate youngsters. Quietly they “adopted” many needy families and war orphans in Europe after the war. Every week packages of food and clothing went from the Heussners to help bring a little comfort and reassurance to innocent victims of war.

Carl Heussner also helped a number of youngsters through school. We know that he helped some all the way through college. But we were never able to pry details about such generosity from this modest, kindly man.

At such holiday times as Thanksgiving and Christmas there were strange but welcome faces at the Heussner table. Carl always went downtown and found a needy person or two. He would bring them home to share the holiday feast.

We also noticed that almost always there was someone, often more than one person, living in the Heussner household. They were not relatives; they paid neither rent nor fee; they were just people in need. The Heussners took them in.

During the war Carl Heussner worked day and night, driving himself without mercy. His good wife was not content to sit at home, nor even to do the usual kind of work for a person in her station. Instead, she went to work in a factory, running a machine. And she worked the night shift. Every cent she received, she turned over to charity.

This was Carl Heussner and his wife.

Even if I had a great deal more time to speak than I have, I could only begin to cite all the accomplishments of Carl Heussner. I could never reflect his great spirit in mere words. But this audience is well aware of Carl Heussner’s qualities and achievements. That is why you, of the American Electroplaters’ Society, have honored his memory and works by establishing the Carl E. Heussner Memorial Award. And this is why Mr. Friedt endowed the memorial.

As a friend, associate, and admirer of Carl Heussner, I want to thank the American Electroplaters’ Society for the privilege of participating in this meeting. And I want also to thank the Society for what they have done in extending recognition to the works and the memory of a gentleman, a scientist, and an American, in the beet meanings of those words.



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