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BRIDGEPORT SUNDAY POST
SECTION B BRIDGEPORT SUNDAY POST, NOVEMBER 23, 1958
His Inventions Expanded World’s Economy
By ANN V. MASTERS
The saga of John Van Nostrand Dorr, 86—an inventive genius who founded a multi-million dollar business and whose inventions have affected the economy of the world—leads back to gold.
“I'm not a mining engineer,” said Dr. Dorr, correcting a common impression. A distinguished-looking and impressive man who wears a goatee, he talked in his home in Westport. “I'm a metallurgical engineer.”
"One takes the rocks out of the mines," he explained, with what is characteristic humor. “The other takes the rocks after they are out and makes money out of it."
Started Half Century Ago
In 1955, the Dorr company merged with Oliver United Filters to form Dorr-Oliver, Inc. The world-wide organization began 50 years ago with the invention of several basic machines for processing gold ores. The two one-man companies marketed the inventions of their founders, Dr. Dorr and the late Edwin Letts Oliver.
A two and a half million dollar headquarters has just been built at Stamford where the Dorr company has been since 1949 when it moved its main offices from New York.
The Westport Mill Laboratories — the brain child of Dr. Dorr - were built back in 1917 in an era when research laboratories for an industry were a new departure. Picturesquely it stands on the site of an old mill, a small river running beside it. Close by is the 100-acre estate of Dr. Dorr. Several houses there in the early days housed some of the engineers in a family-communal-professional relationship.
The Dorr-Oliver company today has seven overseas subsidiary companies, two manufacturing plants and a network of offices throughout the United States and representatives in 20 countries.
Stands High in Class
Dr. Dorr is considered one of the great metallurgical and industrial engineers of his time. "I'm sometimes called "the man who made money taking mud out of water," he said with a smile.
Unique in the world and one of the most amazing engineering feats is the All American Desilting plant built in the 1930's at the point where Imperial Dam harnesses the Colorado river, 250 miles below Boulder Dam, diverting water into the canal.
“They didn't know how to take the silt out of the Colorado river. We showed them how,” said Dr. Dorr, seated in a chair by the fireplace. “I got the idea and the boys collaborated,” he said, speaking of his engineers. "Nobody has ever done anything else like it."
The silt is removed with 72 Dorr Classifiers, each 125 feet in diameter and six settling basins. Each day, 70,000 tons of silt is discharged, the equivalent of a daily train of 1,400 loaded freight cars, 11.4 miles in length. “It's the biggest thing I ever did,” said Dr. Dorr with quiet pride. He still gets a bang out of flying over this huge installation.
It was in the Black Hills of South Dakota that Dr. Dorr conceived the three basic inventions, the classifier in 1904, the thickener in 1906 and the agitator in 1907.
These inventions, along with the continuous vacuum filter developed by Mr. Oliver in 1907, are the foundation of the Dorr-Oliver company today. Originally used for gold ore, the principle was expended for other industries and the equipment is in wide use for mammoth sewage installations, in the production of sugar, chemicals, base metals, paper pulp and in the treatment of industrial wastes.
The four developments have made a profound impact in these fields.
Indicative of the scope of his accomplishments is the Modern Pioneers Award of the National Association of Manufacturers presented to Dr. Dorr in 1940 for "inventions which have improved the metallurgical, industrial, chemical and sanitational processes in every civilized country."
Influenced by Edison
Dr. Dorr was born in Newark N.J. With a twinkle in his eye he said, I went to a private school -- the Mrs. J. V. N. Dorr's School for Young Ladies." He remained
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Dr. Dorr's Inventions Expanded World Economy
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at his mother's school until he was 16.
Thomas A. Edison then exerted an important and dominant influence on his life. Young Dorr worked for the Edison Laboratory in Orange, N.J. until he was 18, the second year directly with the famed genius. "My exposure as a lad of 17 to Thomas Edison when I worked directly under him has controlled my life and still does," says Dr. Dorr.
With realization of the need to himself with technical education, Dr. Dorr entered Rutgers university in 1890, majoring in chemistry.
In 1895, after graduation from Rutgers, the young engineer went to the Black Hills of South Dakota, famed as a mining region. He began work as a chemist for
a smelting company at Deadwood. The next ten years found him working for several gold mining companies. He went up in the hills, testing, left Deadwood to go to Colorado, then returned to launch a bold venture with two the summers of partners operating a cyanide mill in Fan Tail Gulch near Terry,
Develops 3 Solutions
“One thing was very wrong,” said Dr, Dorr of this venture. "We were losing money right along."
"The problem in the mechanical process then in use was the separation of slimes from the sands in the crushed ore. “I was fortunate enough to invent the Dorr classifier,” said Dr. Door, “to separate sand and mud. I had to.”
A difficulty still was settling slime and shortly after the engineer-inventor developed the Dorr thickener which solved this problem. A year later came the Dorr agitator which mixes liquids and solids in chemical treatment.
As the fame of these inventions spread, their originator forsook mining to undertake equipment manufacture. New York headquarters were established in 1916 and associated companies established all over the world.
“I had an awful lot of luck,��� said Dr. Dorr. "Somebody else might have invented them."
But it was John Van Nostrand L Dorr who did.
World's Economy Changed
“They have made a big difference in the whole economy of the World," said Dr. Dorr quietly, "It's a mistake not to say you've a done a good thing. I guess I have done several good things,"
Today, 26 of his own inventions, supplemented by those of his staff, have been applied successfully to over 100 processing Industries.
He has been honored may times for his scientific achievements by the metallurgical, mining and chemistry professions. In 1916, he was awarded the John Scott Medal of the Franklin Institute; in 1930, the James Douglas Medal of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers; and the Perkin Medal in 1940 as the unanimous choice of the five great chemical societies of America.
Honorary doctorates have been bestowed upon Dr. Dorr by Rutgers university, the South Dakota School of Mines, Michigan College of Mining and Technology and Columbia university.
He established the Dorr Foundation, which promoted the highway safety idea of the outer edge white guide line credited with saving many lives and adopted bv seven state highways.
The Pre-College Science center was conducted by the Dorr Foundation at Loomis school during the summers of 1957 and 1958.
Strives for Perfection
A man of great personal charm and warm friendliness, Dr. Dorr has retained throughout his life, the initiative individuality and instinct for human relationship developed during the early and hard mining camp years. Chief among his attributes has been his perfectionism. He also has a genius for attracting and inspiring young engineers.
Now chairman of the board of Dorr-Oliver company, Dr. Dorr maintains a home in Westport close to the laboratory he personally directs. He also has a home in Washington in the Berkshire Hills and an apartment in New York. With him lives his wife, Nell Dorr, well-known photographer who has published two books and is working on a third.
Is there any secret to success as an inventor? “Find something everybody is looking for and recognize its value,” said Dr. Dorr bluntly. That - and luck. Of his own achievements, he said, “I had a certain resourcefulness that enabled me to put things together."
Sunday Post photos_Schulze
FAMED INVENTOR — John Van Nostrand Dorr, inventor and famed metallurgical engineer, sits in the garden of his Westport home. He is a founder of a multi-million dollar company with branches all over the world – Dorr- Oliver, Inc. His inventions have had an impact on the economy of the world.
GOLD MINING DAYS—Dr. Dorr stands beside a portrait in the Westport Mill laboratory which captures the spirit of the inventor in his earlier mining camp days.
BIGGEST PROJECT—At the laboratory the inventor looks at chart of the All-American Canal Desilting Plant - his biggest project - which removes silt from the Colorado river.
PIONEER—Strong, rugged face of gold mining pioneer stands out as he relaxes in his favorite chair in his Westport home.
WESTPORT HOME—The famed inventor stands with his wife, Nell, well-known photographer, in the fields of his Westport 100-acre estate.
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Devereaux Library. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.