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Our Founder—IGTI's R. Tom Sawyer PUBLIC ACCESS

[+] Author Notes
Lee S. Langston

Emeritus, Mechanical Engineering, University of Connecticut

Mechanical Engineering 137(09), 78-79 (Sep 01, 2015) (2 pages) Paper No: ME-15-SEP-12; doi: 10.1115/1.2015-Sep-12

This article presents thoughts and experiences of R. Tom Sawyer, founder of International Gas Turbine Institute’s (IGTI) Turbo Expo. Sawyer founded gas turbine technical institute, and set its course for its first four decades, during which time the gas turbine itself, became one of the world’s most useful energy converters. Sawyer joined the American Locomotive Company where he was involved with both diesel and gas turbine projects from 1930 to 1956. R. He served as first chairman of the ASME Gas Turbine Power Division or Gas Turbine Division (GTD). Sawyer was a key organizer, helping to make the exhibit a successful revenue-producing part of the conference. R. Tom Sawyer was involved with IGTI to the end of his life in 1986.

Anniversaries provide the occasion to look back, and perhaps to better understand what is going on now. This year is the 60th anniversary of International Gas Turbine Institute's Turbo Expo, IGTI's preeminent gas turbine conference. We just had our 60th gathering in Montreal, on June 15-19, 2015.

One way to understand IGTI today, is to know something about its founder, R. Tom Sawyer (1901-1986). “Mr. Gas Turbine,” as he was known to many, founded our gas turbine technical institute, and set its course for its first four decades, during which time the gas turbine itself, became one of the world's most useful energy converters. In 1972, IGTI memorialized his work and his name with the establishment of the annual R. Tom Sawyer Award. I had the honor of receiving this year's award in Montreal, to be added to the list of awardees which started with Sawyer and includes Hans von Ohain and Frank Whittle, inventors of the jet engine.

Robert Thomas Sawyer was born June 20, 1901 in Schenectady, NY. He got an undergraduate electrical engineering degree at Ohio State University in 1923. Sawyer then joined the General Electric Company, designing and developing early diesel powered locomotives. In 1929, he visited Alfred Büchi, the Swiss inventor of supercharging, and saw his first gas turbine, sans combustor, in the form of a Büchi diesel supercharger [1], (Remember the first electric power industrial gas turbine was the Neuchatel 4 MW machine, built and tested by Brown Boveri in 1939. [2]).

Sawyer then joined the American Locomotive Company where he was involved with both diesel and gas turbine projects from l930 to 1956. In l944 he applied for one of the first gas turbine powered locomotive patents, which was awarded in 1948 [3]. He was the author of The Modern Gas Turbine [4], a text that was first published in 1945. At the time, it was an authoritative text, giving a well-informed historical account of gas turbines and their applications. (It has a very readable account of initial testing of the 4 MW Brown Boveri gas turbine in 1939 by Professor A. Stodola of ETH.)

As I reported in an earlier column [5], Sawyer was instrumental in organizing the presentation of the very first ASME gas turbine technical papers. On May 8-10, 1944, ASME's 17th National Oil and Gas Power Conference was held mid-continent (wartime) at the Mayo Hotel in Tulsa, OK. The technical program consisted of four sessions (a total of ten technical papers); three on diesel engine technology and one (two papers) on the newly emerging gas turbine. As Mechanical Engineering magazine reported: “Demonstrating the technical interest aroused by the gas turbine, first new prime mover in 50 years, a capacity crowd of approximately 250 attended the first technical session which was devoted to that subject.” In anticipation of this intense interest in new gas turbine technology, on May 7, 1944, the Executive Committee of the Oil and Gas Power Division voted to form a ten member Gas Turbine Coordinating Committee (GTCC) to provide “...coordination and dissemination of new technical information on the gas turbine through periodic meetings and the presentation of technical papers.” This newly formed GTCC with R. Tom Sawyer of the American Locomotive Company as its Chairman, was the start of IGTI.

As the number of gas turbine members and papers increased, the ASME Gas Turbine Power Division was formed in 1947, later to be called simply the Gas Turbine Division (GTD). R. Tom Sawyer served as its first chairman. In l986, GTD grew into the International Gas Turbine Institute.

The IGTI First Annual Gas Turbine Conference and Exhibit was held April 16-18, 1956 at the Hotel Statler in Washington, DC. This very first ASME all gas turbine meeting had 25 exhibitors, six technical sessions, a total of 17 papers and an attendance of about 750. This was the start of IGTI's Turbo Expo, 60 years ago. Sawyer was a key organizer, helping to make the exhibit a successful revenue-producing part of the conference.

R. Tom Sawyer was involved with IGTI to the end of his life in 1986. I first met him at the 1984 TURBO EXPO in Amsterdam when he was 82.

His home was close to New York City in the singularly named New Jersey town of Ho- Ho-Kus (a contraction of a Delaware Indian name, “the red cedar”). Early in our IGTI history, R. Tom went to a jeweler in the City, and had a die made, to cast a miniature multibladed, axial-flow turbine “wheel” lapel pin. Over the years, the resulting gold turbine wheels have been presented to many IGTI volunteers in recognition of their efforts and accomplishments.

In 1964 R. Tom ventured to Broadway, and had ASCAP songwriter Arthur Kent (famous as a composer of hit songs such as “The End of the World”) compose IGTI's song, “Onward and Upward with GasTurbines”. Many of you will recognize the song, since we play it at the start and ending of our Turbo Expos. It has recently been updated by a Nashville lyricist.

Author Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer is a famous fictional character, who in one story, pretending alacrity, enticed village boys to whitewash Aunt Polly's fence. Unlike Twain's Tom who gets others to do a task, IGTI's Tom Sawyer was both a motivator and a true achiever, founding and helping to shape our very successful institute. He truly was “Mr. Gas Turbine”.

Hawthorne, W.R., 1994, “Reflections on United Kingdom Aircraft Gas Turbine History”, ASME Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines and Power, July Vol. 116, pp. 495– 510. [CrossRef]
Langston, L.S., 2010, “Visiting the Museum of the World's First Gas Turbine Powerplant”, Global Gas Turbine News, April, p. 3.
Sawyer, R.T., 1948, “Rotary Engine Power Plant”, United States Patent Office, No. 2,445,973.
Sawyer, R.T., 1945, The Modern Gas Turbine, Prentice-Hall.
Langston, L.S., 2012, “Some IGTI History”, Global Gas Turbine World, February, p. 49.
Copyright © 2015 by ASME
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References

Hawthorne, W.R., 1994, “Reflections on United Kingdom Aircraft Gas Turbine History”, ASME Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines and Power, July Vol. 116, pp. 495– 510. [CrossRef]
Langston, L.S., 2010, “Visiting the Museum of the World's First Gas Turbine Powerplant”, Global Gas Turbine News, April, p. 3.
Sawyer, R.T., 1948, “Rotary Engine Power Plant”, United States Patent Office, No. 2,445,973.
Sawyer, R.T., 1945, The Modern Gas Turbine, Prentice-Hall.
Langston, L.S., 2012, “Some IGTI History”, Global Gas Turbine World, February, p. 49.

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