Jan 11, 2017

Frederick S. Mackintosh...


1025 Gillespie Street today (Courtesy of Google Maps)
Both my grandfathers died before I reached the age of four.  My grandfather McLaughlin died when I was 2 and grandfather Mead died when I was 3 years old.  I barely remember either one.  But fortunately for me, there was a remarkable old man who lived across the street from the house where I grew up who became my perfect surrogate grandfather.  His name was Frederick Sewall Mackintosh.

I first spent time with "Mr. Mackintosh" in about 1944.  I was four years old and had learned to cross the street unescorted.  He was then in his 80's.  Our acquaintance was brief but very important during my formative years.  His influence on me was profound.  He died in November of 1955 when I was in the 10th grade.  I have missed him ever since.  I find myself often asking, "How would Mr. Mackintosh approach this job?"

Frederick S. Mackintosh was born around 1860.  He was originally from the Boston area.  He attended M.I.T. and graduated as a mechanical engineer around 1882.  Soon thereafter, he went to work for Thomas Edison at the Edison Machine Works in New York City.  This was a company established to supply jumbo dynamos (generators) for the original Pearl Street Station as well as dynamos of various sizes for the different types of electric light installations Edison was offering customers. The Machine Works was incorporated in 1884, employing about 800 workers.  In 1886 the Machine Works, along with 200 of its workers, were moved to two unfinished factory buildings on a 10-acre site in Schenectady, NY, intended to have been the McQueen Locomotive Works.  That is the move that determined that "Papa" Mackintosh and I would be neighbors more than 50 years later. 

Edison Machine Works continued as a separate company until 1889, when all of Edison’s electric related companies were merged to form Edison General Electric. The plant expanded rapidly and 1892 saw the merger of Edison General Electric and the Thomson-Houston Electric Company of Lynn, Massachusetts to form General Electric with the Schenectady location used as GE's headquarters for many years thereafter.

Fred Mackintosh was in good company as a young engineer working in the blossoming electrical industry.  A few of his colleagues at the Schenectady operation included:
  • Justus Bulkley Entz (June 16, 1867, New York City – June 8, 1947, New Rochelle, New York) was an American electrical engineer and inventor.  He invented the electromagnetic transmission, introduced in the Owen Magnetic of 1915, and was a pioneer in the early automobile industry.
  • Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (October 6, 1866 – July 22, 1932) was a Canadian inventor who performed pioneering experiments in radio, including the use of continuous waves and the early—and possibly the first—radio transmissions of voice and music. In his later career he received hundreds of patents for devices in fields such as high-powered transmitting, sonar, and television.
  • Kunihiko Iwadare (August 15, 1857 - December 20, 1941) was a Japanese businessman.  A graduate of the Imperial College of Engineering (Kobu Daigaku) in Tokyo, he worked as a telegraph engineer for the Japanese government.  He left Japan in 1886 and traveled to New York.  He was introduced to Charles Batchelor, an assistant of Thomas Edison.  Iwadare was hired to work in an Edison facility in Manhattan at Goerck Street.  Iwadare was transferred to Edison Machine Works in Schenectady, New York in January 1887.  Iwadare returned to Japan, hoping to participate in building the electrical industry in Japan. He first joined Osaka Dento (Osaka Electric Lamp Company) as an electrical engineer, and after eight years resigned from his post to start his own business as a general sales agent in Japan for General Electric and Western Electric companies.  In 1895 Western Electric wished to expand their telephone equipment sales business in Japan and proposed a limited partnership with Iwadare.  Iwadare accepted the proposal and a new firm was created in August, 1898.  In 1899, changes to treaties between Japan and Western countries went into effect.  The limited partnership created in 1898 was restructured into the joint stock company, Nippon Electric Co. Ltd.  Iwadare was named Managing Director of what is now known as NEC Corporation.  He became Chairman of the Board in 1926.
  • John William Lieb (February 12, 1860 in Newark, New Jersey – November 1, 1929 in New Rochelle, New York) was a renowned American electrical engineer for the Edison Electric Light Company.  Lieb was president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers from 1904 to 1905. He received the IEEE Edison Medal for "the development and operation of electric central stations for illumination and power."
  • Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist who is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.
Fred Mackintosh would go on to work in later years with both Irving Langmuir, the recipient of the 1932 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Charles P. Steinmetz, the Prussian-born American mathematician and electrical engineer and professor at Union College.  Steinmetz fostered the development of alternating current that made possible the expansion of the electric power industry in the United States, formulating mathematical theories for engineers.  He also made ground-breaking discoveries in the understanding of hysteresis that enabled engineers to design better electromagnetic apparatus equipment including especially electric motors for use in industry.

In this heady atmosphere of creativity, I always had the impression from talking to Mr. Mackintosh that he was the practical implementer of some of the ideas produced by the "thinkers."  He told me that as one of the first mechanical engineers hired by Edison, he held a number of patents on the mechanisms of electrical switch-gear. 


The New York Hippodrome as it appeared in 1905
I once asked him what his proudest achievement was as a General Electric engineer.  He told me that it was the design and installation of the lighting switchboard for New York's Hippodrome Theater.  The Hippodrome Theater, also called the New York Hippodrome, was a theater in New York City from 1905 to 1939, located on Sixth Avenue between West 43rd and West 44th Streets in the Theater District of Midtown Manhattan.  It was called the world's largest theater by its builders and had a seating capacity of 5,300, with a 100 x 200 ft. stage.  The theater had state-of-the-art theatrical technology, including a rising glass water tank.  Mr. Mackintosh told me that it was the first theater to have multi-colored lights with rheostats (dimmers) on the individual colors and regions of the stage.  He was very proud of this design.

One of Frederick Mackintosh's
several patents
His assertions regarding patents are supported by a casual search of the patent data currently available on the World-Wide web.  Patents on such topics as "Safety Device for Circuit Closers" (patent issued April 15, 1902; "Starting Rheostat" (patent issued September 6, 1904); and "Motor Controlling Switch" (patent issued April 4, 1905) are just a few of his dozens of patents.  He was a prolific producer and translator of ideas.

I believe that Fred Mackintosh retired from General Electric in 1936.  He had acquired substantial shares of GE stock during his more than 50-year tenure with the company.  He and his wife, Gertrude, had lived frugally, and were extremely well-heeled during their twilight years.  They had the house at 1025 Gillespie Street in Schenectady that they had built around 1895.  They also had a lovely Victorian lake-house on the eastern shore of Lake George.  They were members of the Mohawk Golf Club, but I know of no other activities that might be considered extravagant.

Several memories reflect snippets of his life that he shared with me when he and I spent our days together:

-  He was a descendant of "Captain" Ebenezer Mackintosh, a colonial firebrand and close associate of Paul Revere during the American Revolution.

-  As a young man, he was a member of a naval militia unit not long after the end of the Civil War.  His unit practiced naval maneuvers in one of the surplus ironclad "Monitors" left over from the war.


An early New York car registration
like the one Fred had from his
early Cadillac
-  His first car was an early (1903-4-5?) Cadillac.  At that time, New York State issued a brass license tag about the size of a silver dollar.  It would be tacked to the wooden dash board of the vehicle in order to be visible.  He had saved that tag and had it on display on the wall of his garage at 1025 Gillespie Street.

-  When he quit using the early Cadillac, he had saved the engine, transmission, and built in air compressor from the car.  They were preserved in a bathtub full of grease and oil upstairs in that same garage.

-  When I got to know him, he was a Ford man, driving a 1940 Ford 4-door sedan.  He was vocal in his admiration for Ford automobiles.  He later, in about 1956, sold that 1940 Ford to my brother for $35.00.  Those days are long past.  Apparently, Fred had been a Ford man for a long time.  In a 1914 State of New York publication called "The Official Automobile Directory of the State of New York, Containing a list of permits issued, numerically arranged, with names and addresses of owners and make of cars" lists the following:

So Fred had been a Ford man with a Ford Model T in 1914!  Also notice that 1025 Gillespie Street had once been 3 Gillespie Street.

Fred's car, the one my brother bought for $35.00, parked
in the driveway during a significant snow  event,
probably in 1945.  The garage and part of the workshop
 are visible in the background.
If you were to look at the Mackintosh property on Gillespie Street, you would observe three buildings, all of simple frame construction with clapboard siding.  There was a two-story house with a shallow front lawn (shown at the top of this blog entry).  To the left of the house was a driveway that descended down a slight incline beyond the house and led to a 1-1/2 story 2-car garage.  And to the right of the garage a few feet stood a two-story workshop with external stairs ascending to the second floor.  

All the machinery was downstairs; the upstairs was used for storage.  Fred told me that when he built this shop, he had a single 1/2-horsepower electric motor that drove an overhead shaft using a wide leather belt.  Each power tool in the shop was driven in turn off of that common shaft, using similar wide belts of leather.  He had gradually evolved to more modern power tools, each one powered by its own motor (He liked Craftsman tools.).

One day, he offered to give me the original motor that had powered his whole shop.  We carefully removed it from its concrete mount, loaded it onto a hand cart, and dragged it across Gillespie Street, and into the basement of my parents'
house at 901 Union Street.  It rested there until my parents sold the house while I was in college.  I had no time to "rescue" the old relic, and so it was lost to history.  The most interesting thing about that motor was that it was huge compared to a contemporary 1/2 horsepower motor.  It probably weighed close to 80 pounds and was over a foot in diameter.  It also had "start" and "run" windings.  You had to use what is known as a double-pole, double-throw switch to operate this ancient motor.  You energized the "start" windings, gave the motor a spin, then shifted over to "run" windings once it got up to a certain speed.

As a small boy, I spent many hours with Papa Mackintosh in that magnificent shop.  We built stuff.  He never changed his methods and I still practice them today.  If we had decided to make a boat for me to play with in the bathtub (a real, remembered event), it went like this.  First, we'd sit down and talk about the requirements.  It should float.  It should look like a boat.  It should be small enough that I could pick it up with my little hands.  We might debate whether it should be painted.  Once we had established the requirements (and everything was written down in a notepad!), we started to discuss the design.  Fred made a very clear distinction between requirements and design.  He might describe three or four possible ways to fulfill a requirement, but some of those ideas simply might not work in a specific application.

Yours truly on the porch at 1025 Gillespie St.
In about 1945.  Photo courtesy of Sewall
Mackintosh, Fred's grandson.
I remember the day we sketched out the bathtub boat.  We did full-scale drawings -- top view, front and side elevations, all drawn in pencil on a cross-scaled engineering pad.  Then we had to decide on a material.  What type of wood would be least likely to warp or split?  Then to the method of fabrication.  What tool would we use to cut out the pieces?  How would we fasten them?  Would we paint them before or after we assembled?  Everything was thought through.  Only then did we make a pattern out of paper or cardboard and start to cut wood.  I learned early on that the planning and engineering took far longer than the making of the object.  These were valuable lessons.

The shop itself was a marvel of efficient space usage.  In a building that was probably no more than 24' by 24', there was a metal lathe, a wood lathe, grinder, belt and disk sanders, router table, shaper, table saw, band saw, tall drill press, and planer.  And there was room left over for a variety of work benches and vices.  And finally, there was a cast-iron pot-bellied stove for heat in the wintertime.  Between the studs on the walls were shelves full of old cocoa tins with their tops cut off and small handles soldered on to pull them out of their stored positions.  Each one had a soldered label holder so they could be easily identified.  There were literally hundreds of these neatly-arrayed containers.  Every nut, screw, and washer known to man was represented, along with such gems as, "pool cue chalk," "spark plug parts" from when spark plugs could be dismantled and repaired, "oil for Gertie's clock."  The place was amazing.  And I got to spend most of my free time there as his adopted grandson.   Gertrude had little use for children, but Fred loved me as if I were his own.

One of those hand
made cocoa cans
Every kid needs a man like Fred Mackintosh to teach them some basics.  When we first met, he always walked me to the street when I was leaving to make sure I crossed safely.  As time passed, he taught me how to use power tools, how to sharpen things, how to change tires, how to tune up an engine in the days of points, plugs, and condensers, how to row a canoe, and how to interpret the behavior of materials.  He even taught me a "secret" way to tie shoes so they don't come untied.  He taught me the elements of first aid.  I learned to make coffee from him.  He helped me refurbish a set of war-surplus skis.  He was fanatic about safety and advanced planning.  He always encouraged me.  When he got too old to bend over and pull the rope on his power lawn mower, he and I designed and built a ratcheted-gear foot pedal starter that he could use.  I watched my very first TV image with him on a 9" screen experimental General Electric TV in 1948.  He also taught me manners and civilized behavior in support of my parents.  We hung out together.  We fixed things.  We rode in the '40 Ford to go shopping in parts houses, junkyards, hardware stores, and lumberyards.  And if my dog, Duke, was with me on a particular day, he went with us.  And I don't remember Fred Mackintosh ever "talking down" to me.

The Mackintoshes had one son, Donald, who still lived at home.  He was an electrical engineer and had followed in his father's path working for the General Electric Company.  Don later married, after his mother had passed away.  He and his wife Barbara remained close friends of the Mead family.  I babysat for Don and Barbara's son when he was only a few weeks old.  One of my most treasured possessions is a photograph that includes Papa, Don, Barbara, Clayda (Barbara's daughter), and Sewall (Don and Barbara's son), taken in front of a Christmas tree the year before Fred died.

On a visit to Schenectady in the 1980's, I called Sewall and his wife, Barbara "Petie" Mackintosh, just to say Hi.  It seems that they were in the process of cleaning out the old shop and wondered if I could help identify a few items.  I jumped at the opportunity.  I drove to Gillespie Street and we entered the building that had been such an integral part of my life so many years before.  Everything was as I had remembered it.  The motor-driven shaft that had once powered the shop's machines still hung from the ceiling.  The array of cocoa tins had garnered a few cobwebs, but were still in place.


My treasured picture of Fred
Sewall offered me anything that I might want as a memento.  I said that I'd like three things -- a picture of Fred if we could find one, one of his M.I.T. textbooks, and one of those crazy cocoa tin storage containers.  I went straight to the one that said "Pool Cue Chalk."  Sewall and Petie insisted that I take more than one.  I retrieved a few more of the cocoa tins, a framed photograph of Papa Mackintosh in which he looks about 25 years of age, and a few of his many old textbooks. Those treasures are now on a special memorial shelf in my shop.  Fred is with me in spirit as I work on the projects that he has inspired for over 70 years.

Part of the memorial to Fred that is in my shop
On that same shelf is also a "Home Workshop Encyclopedia," a 1940's publication of the staff of Popular Science magazine.  Inside the front cover, written in a child's wobbly script, is the statement, "Mr. Mackintosh gave me this book Christmas day, 1948.  Bobby."

Papa Mackintosh, know that you are remembered and revered.   RIP

No comments: