Lauren Wolfer, Associate Curator of Special Collections & Archives
To make a long story short, after a series of medical emergencies, my mom, aunt, and I recently moved my grandpa from Cincinnati up to a Fort Wayne retirement home. We began cleaning up his condo and removing family belongings. I remembered seeing glimpses of the engine designs on visits, but they were in his office on the third floor where we rarely went. As soon as we began cleaning, however, I asked my grandpa if I could have them and he agreed. I have always known he worked as an engineer for General Electric, but it wasn’t until we started digging through documents that I realized how extensive it was! He was even stationed at the Fort Wayne campus for a couple of days to start!
My grandpa, Hans Mehr, was born in Redvers, Saskatchewan, Canada to Danish Pastor Ludvig and his wife, Maria Mehr, who were stationed at a church there. Ludvig immigrated to the US, served in the US Army, and then attended Grandview College and Seminary at Des Moines, IA. He and his family left for Canada in the winter of 1929. The following year, Hans Peter Mehr was born during their stay in Canada, thus obtaining dual citizenship. In 1933, following the Great Depression and economic turmoil, the Mehr family returned to Denmark. Upon turning 18, Hans went to the US Embassy and formally declared his citizenship to the United States. He had worked as a machine operator for several shops in Copenhagen, but knew that if he wanted to further his education America was where he needed to go. He attended Dana College, Nebraska before transferring to Iowa State University and graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He applied to work at General Electric, and after passing background checks (this was at the time of the Cold War and anxieties about international spies) he was offered a job and began right here in Fort Wayne! He worked at several plants before settling down in Cincinnati, OH.
In 1955, he was hired as an Engineering Trainee, working on electrical controls in Bloomington, IL; large steam turbines in Schenectady, NY; and in the large jet engine department in Cincinnati, OH. The following year, he was promoted to the Aerodynamic group as Exhaust Nozzle Mechanical Designer, where he assisted a senior designer in testing a nozzle used on the B-58 Supersonic Bomber. Then in 1957, he was promoted to Exhaust Nozzle Aero-Thermo Design Engineer and, as listed on his resume, he discussed his job duties: “During the past year I was instrumental in proving to the Air Force testing agency (AEDC) that their J-1 facility had an inaccurate thrust measuring system and consequently it could not, without modifications, be used for establishing the performance of the J-93 engine. If it had not been for my contribution in this area, it is possible the Air Force would have come to erroneous conclusions regarding the performance of the J-93 engine.” His accomplishments helped in furthering plane engine technology, which was a benefit to the United States Air Force.
As an art and art history major, the engineering aspect goes over my head, but the design and history of our family’s story intrigues me. Though many would not consider the framed engine designs a “fine art” like a painting or a drawing is, the work of designing and creating that engineers do taps into a different kind of creativity. Both artists and engineers are searching for something new and inventive in their field, while one is humanitarian and the other is practical. A good comparison that reflects both these ideas would be the work of architects. Architects want to create structures that are visually stunning while also being a practical, logical use of space. Remember the exhibit of Louis Kahn’s blueprints? Did you go on a tour to compare the blueprints and the resulting Arts United Center? It’s really cool to see the planning of the building and how it all came to fruition!
Finding out the (minor) connection to Fort Wayne and military advances were an interesting and profound discovery to our family’s history! Does anyone else have a connection to the Fort Wayne GE plant? Please share your story with us!