Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Harry Fred Lee Orcutt

From Graces Guide

Harry Fred Lee Orcutt (1861-1942), founder of the Gear Grinding Co

1861 Born in Elsworth, Maine, USA

1942 Obituary [1]

BY the death at his home at Rowington, Warwickshire, on May 17th, 1942, of Mr. Harry Fred Lee Orcutt, the engineering, automobile, and aircraft industry has lost a very charming personality. His later life was devoted to the development of gear tooth grinding by the well-known process known by his name and now widely in use in various avenues of war production.

Orcutt was born at Elsworth, Maine, U.S.A., in 1861, and spent his earlier years of industrial activity in his native country, with eminent firms, amongst them Pratt and Whitney.

In 1889 he went to Germany to join the firm of Ludwig, Loewe and Co., Berlin, and during his connection with this firm he did much to popularise in this country what was then an innovation, viz., a system of prescribed limits and fits for engineering production, together with the gauges to operate the system.

In 1904 he came to England, where he worked for Clayton and Shuttleworth at Lincoln until l909, when he was appointed general manager of the Birmingham Small Arms Company. It was soon after this period that he became interested in earlier developments of gear tooth grinding, and studied the progress at that date, both in the United States and Germany.

After several years of development work, with little encouragement from the industries themselves, he evolved the system and process now well known and accepted in practically all industries associated with transmission to-day.

In 1939 the Gear Grinding Company, of which Mr. Orcutt was founder and chairman, moved to new works near Birmingham, which are managed by his two sons, Mr. Arthur H. Orcutt and Mr. Ralph H. Orcutt.

Mr. Orcutt was a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Institution of Automobile Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the American Society of Automotive Engineers.

Orcutt had lived so many years in England that his outlook had become that of the Englishman, but he never lost his affection and admiration for the country of his birth. His success, achieved after a long struggle, was in part due to characteristics which were in his American blood and in part due to a very attractive personality. He had opponents, but we doubt if he made in his long life a single enemy. He did great work for the transmission of power, particularly in the motor-car industry, but he will be remembered by many an engineer as much for his lovable nature as for his technical achievements.

1943 Obituary [2]

HARRY FRED LEE ORCUTT was born at Ellsworth, Maine, U.S.A., on 12th June 1861. After graduating from the High School at Atholl, Mass., he was apprenticed to Mr. F. H. Richards, of Springfield, Mass., and later was employed by the Pratt and Whitney Company, Hartford, Conn., with whom he remained until 1889. Coming to England in 1890 as mechanical expert in connection with the automatic envelope making machine, Mr. Orcutt became associated, in 1891, with Ludwig Loewe A.G., of Berlin, accepting the position of manager of their machine tool and small tool business in England. During this period of his career, Mr. Orcutt did much to popularize the use, in Great Britain, of prescribed limits and fits for engineering production, and the gauges requisite in operating the system.

In 1896 he undertook, in collaboration with the late Julius Pajeken, the planning and equipment of the Loewe machine tool and small tool factories at Moabit, Berlin, in which were embodied the then most advanced practice in the design and production, in quantity, of machine tools. The organization of the new works was marked by a degree of provision for the welfare and training of the factory personnel which at that date appeared revolutionary. When the works were completed and in operation, Mr. Orcutt returned to London where he continued to represent the Loewe interests and devoted himself to production engineering in general and the machine tool and small tool industry in particular. After a further period spent in Berlin as technical director of the Loewe works, he severed his connection with that Company on being invited to accept the position of managing director of Messrs. Clayton and Shuttleworth, Ltd., Lincoln. The reorganization of the manufacturing methods of this firm occupied him until 1910, when he joined the Birmingham Small Arms Company as general manager.

It was in 1912 that Mr. Orcutt became interested in the technique of gear tooth finishing, a branch of precision engineering which was to occupy the remaining thirty years of his life. After studying the early attempts in the United States and in Germany, he founded the Gear Grinding Company, Ltd., Birmingham, and developed the process now known by his name. The work was hard and for some years he received little encouragement from manufacturers. For a man of his sagacity and temperament the task was, however, congenial, and he lived to see his system widely adopted in the automotive, aircraft, and other industries.

He became a Member of the Institution in 1899, and two papers by him are to be found in the Transactions, one in January 1902 ("Modern Machine Methods"), the other in November 1925 ("Characteristics and Uses of Ground Gears"). He was also a contributor to the discussions on many papers published by the Institution. Active to the last he died very suddenly on 17th May 1942 at his home at Rowington, Warwickshire, being then in his eighty-first year.

Mr. Orcutt's business life was devoted to the ceaseless pursuit of manufacturing efficiency, notably in respect of that accuracy which was with him a passion. Though conscious of the difficulty of reaching it, he always aimed at perfection, and he had a singular degree of prescience in perceiving the lines along which high-quality engineering products required in quantities could best be arrived at. Once his mind had become fixed on what he felt to be the best solution, he did not falter and cheerfully persisted until, often after very hard digging, he arrived at his objective. One of the major lessons of his life—as he once told the compiler of this memoir—was learned from study of the experience of the United States Federal Government during the American Civil War. The need for rifles was evident, and it was equally evident that there should be absolute interchangeability of components. The problem was solved largely due to the methods developed by Samuel Colt, of the Colt Fire Arms Company, whose work for the advancement of manufacturing methods Mr. Orcutt held in great admiration.

Away from his technical work and in the quiet of his home in Warwickshire, Mr. Orcutt was a delightful host, and nothing gave him more pleasure than to entertain his friends, who were many, and to show them the development of his ideas as to how an old manor house and grounds could be made a model of comfort without sacrificing the beauty which came from another century. He was just as practical in converting an old barn into a Badminton court as he was in revolutionizing a grinding machine. His extensive library was one of his joys, and what he read he never forgot. No young engineer ever went to him without receiving encouragement such as he was not likely to forget. He had long been a British subject, but he retained that shrewd and unconventional outlook on men and institutions which was part of his New England heritage. A ready wit, he was never unkind, and throughout a long life of incessant activity he had preserved an interest in anything new which kept him young to the last.

1941/42 Obituary [3]

Harry Fred Lee Orcutt was born in 1861 and educated in the U.S.A.

Following his apprenticeship he worked for Pratt and Whitney, of Connecticut, for two years and then went to Germany, where he planned and equipped the Machine Tools Works of Loewe and Co., of Berlin.

In 1904 he returned to England as Managing Director of Clayton and Shuttleworth, Lincoln.

Following three years as Manager of B.S.A., he became Managing Director of the Gear Grinding Co., Ltd., in which capacity he was well known throughout the industry.

He died in May, 1942, at the age of 81.

He was elected a Member in 1921.

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