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Louis Sterne International Man of Mystery.

At the start of the Civil War a young railroad engineer from Philadelphia volunteered with the 7th Regiment of the New York State Militia. The engineer, Louis Sterne, first came to Abraham Lincoln's attention when he sailed a steamboat up the Potomac River to the Washington Navy Yard with 170 troops and supplies for the regiment on board. Sterne had cleverly disguised the boat as a gunship by installing half kegs down both sides, painted to look like gun barrels.

This "sham gunboat" appealed to Lincoln's sense of humor and he remembered Sterne two years later when the engineer sought a position on the President's diplomatic staff, having been wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Sterne was sent to Europe as a Secret Service agent in Sweden and Denmark to prevent ships being equipped as blockade runners for the Confederate army. As the war drew to a close in 1865, Lincoln invited Sterne to return to America, with the offer of a "more profitable but perhaps not so agreeable" appointment. Sterne was in London on his journey home when he received news of the assassination. As Lincoln had never disclosed the details of his proposal, Sterne had no job to return to. He was fortunate to meet Cyrus Field in London, and Field arranged for Sterne to be employed in his endeavor to lay the transatlantic telegraph cable. This high-profile project enabled him to establish himself in London as an enterprising and resourceful engineer. His early experience on American railroads led him in 1874 into a business venture with William Sparks Thomson who had a business in Great Britain manufacturing spiral springs for railroad bumpers. The business was called Thomson, Sterne and Co and the headquarters were in London, but the manufacturing plant was the Crown Iron Works on the northwest side of Glasgow, center of the railroad locomotive manufacturing business in Britain. When Thomson retired in 1882, James Beale was appointed as chairman and the company was renamed "L Sterne and Co." To augment the spring manufacture, Sterne introduced a line of emery grinding wheels and he made frequent trips back to the U.S. looking for other business opportunities. This resulted, in 1887, in an agreement between L Sterne and Co and the De La Vergne Co of New York City, manufacturer of a steam-powered ammonia compressor. Within three years the sales figures for ammonia compressors exceeded those of emery wheels and springs combined, and L Sterne and Co was established as one of the leading refrigeration firms in Great Britain.

Sterne described himself as an inventive engineer with a string of patented inventions to his credit. However Sir Samuel Beale, James' son who served as managing director and chairman of L Sterne and Co from 1905 to 1936, wrote that Sterne's "geese were always swans," meaning that he tended to over-sell his accomplishments, and added of Sterne's long list of patents "I am afraid that none of these ever left any great mark on the world." In 1925 Sir Samuel's nephew, Peter Brown, was appointed general manager, and in 1936 Steve Pearson joined the company as assistant works manager. In time their sons, Anthony and Forbes, also joined Sterne's, leaving in 1970 to form their own company, Star Refrigeration Ltd. It was Anthony, the great-grandson of James Beale, who offered me my job with Star in 1986, and that's how I came to be doing refrigeration in Glasgow.

Andy Pearson, Ph.D., C.Eng., is group managing director at Star Refrigeration in Glasgow, UK.

Caption: Louis Sterne: shaken, not stirred.
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Author:Pearson, Andy
Publication:ASHRAE Journal
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 1, 2017
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