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George Alexander Orrok

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George Alexander Orrok (1867-1944)

1945 Obituary [1]

GEORGE ALEXANDER ORROK. When his friends heard that George Orrok was seriously ill it came as a surprise because, although well advanced in years, he gave no indication of his age in his physical or mental activities. When shortly afterwards it was heard that, on 6th April 1944, he had passed on, a great sense of loss was left by many. Those who had met him were well aware of the keenness of his intellect, and the very catholic range of his knowledge in all matters appertaining to engineering.

He was born in 1867 near Boston, Mass. His father was a mechanic of considerable ingenuity and attainments, and judging by the manner in which George Orrok was trained in his early years his father must have had great foresight and advanced ideas and ambitions.

Although I only met George Orrok during the past twenty years, I have seen him several times during that period on both sides of the Atlantic. He frequently referred to the varied experiences through which he had passed before he found a niche for which he appeared to be very well equipped - the work of power station design. Like all good engineers, he was a craftsman, well able to make with his own hands models embodying his own ideas. One of his earliest products was an astronomical instrument, the design of which would doubtless puzzle many engineers generally regarded as competent.

His varied experiences included some time spent with an organ builder, and he told me on one occasion that this experience had proved very useful when he was called upon to advise on troublesome vibrations of a factory steel chimney. His experience enabled him to rectify it without delay.

For a considerable time in his early years George Orrok worked as a carpenter, but he had trouble with the trade unions. He refused to join, and lost his job almost every day, but was generally able to get another one the following day. He also had considerable experience as a teacher and lecturer on engineering subjects, and jointly with a friend he wrote a book on power station engineering which proved very successful, and was adopted as a textbook by a large number of American universities and technical colleges.

Perhaps his activity which was best known in the United Kingdom was the interest which he took in the International Steam Tables Conference. He realized that turbine designers were rapidly reaching the limit of the existing steam tables, and that, furthermore, as regards the upper portions of those tables there was considerable doubt as to the accuracy. In the United States there was no body corresponding to the British Electrical and Allied Industries Research Association, and George Orrok set to work himself to interest the builders of very large turbines in the United States. In this effort he was extremely successful and raised such a guarantee fund that they were able to undertake a very comprehensive scheme of research.

The work was divided out between the Massachusetts Institution of Technology, Boston, Harvard University, and the Bureau of Standards Washington. As the named institutions did not completely cover the work, an offer was made from this side of the Atlantic to co-operate; and out of that offer grew the International Steam Tables Conference.

George Orrok attended the conferences not as a physicist or experienced laboratory investigator, but as what might be termed the "layman" of the American party. During the three conferences (London 1929, Berlin 1930, and New York 1934) his aim was always the production of results in a form which would be most useful to turbine designers and power station operators. This was perhaps the last large job which George Orrok undertook, and by it he will be long remembered by British engineers. To the American investigators he was always known as "Uncle George".

He was elected a Member of the Institution in 1924, during his visit to London for the World Power Conference. At that Conference he was generally to be seen with the late Mr. W. H. Patchell, M.I.Mech.E., then President of the Institution, and the late Fred Lowe, then President of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

In New York he lunched regularly at the Engineers' Club where a chair was reserved for him. Conversation at his table never flagged, and he was always inquiring as to what was fresh in the knowledge of any of those whose privilege it was to sit at the same table. I have been present at that luncheon table on one or two occasions, and remember very well the quips and repartee which came so naturally from our deceased friend.

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