Boelter, Llewellyn (1898-1966) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections
Llewellyn Michael Kraus Boelter was born in Winona, Minnesota, on August 7, 1898. He received his early education in Minnesota and in the State of Washington. In 1917 he received the Baccalaureate degree from the College of Mechanics of the University of California at Berkeley. As recipient of the John W. Mackay, Jr., Fellowship in Electrical Engineering he continued his studies and in 1918 was awarded the degree Master of Science in Electrical Engineering.
Dean Boelter began his long career in teaching with his appointment in 1919 as instructor in Electrical Engineering at his alma mater, and his initial interest was directed toward the development of the heat-power laboratory and the upgrading of instruction in the field of internal-combustion engines. In 1923 he was advanced to Assistant Professor of Experimental Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, in 1927 to Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and in 1934 to a Full Professorship.
The College of Mechanics and later the College of Engineering grew with Professor Boelter. He was active in Departmental and College matters early in his career and rapidly branched out into service on University administrative committees. He was appointed Associate Dean of Engineering at Berkeley in 1943 and was selected to organize the College of Engineering at the University of California at Los Angeles, which was started under his deanship in 1944. In this position he was able to put his theories into practice and establish a Department of Engineering without specialties, imbuing his students with the concept that the several fields of engineering are inseparable from the basic knowledge of the Science of Engineering.
In the field of heat transfer, he gained renown in the 1920's through the well-known Dittus-Boelter equation. Later his laboratory extended to the Agricultural Experiment Station at Davis. In the early 1930's the problem of orchard heating grew to such proportions that the groves of the citrus experiment station in Riverside were included in this study. Boelter's interest in Agricultural Engineering was much broader than orchard heating, however, and in 1944 he accepted the additional appointment of Agricultural Engineer at the Experiment Station at Davis, an assignment which he was to retain in a consulting capacity throughout his life.
The development of his theories of basic engineering education had evoked much attention at universities throughout the United States, and in 1952 he was appointed Visiting Professor at the School of Engineering at Purdue University.
Dean Boelter was a tireless worker and his extracurricular activities were numerous and time-consuming. From 1919 to 1944 he directed the testing agency for the State of California Division of Motor Vehicles, a service primarily interested in the approval of motor vehicle headlights, taillights, and signaling devices. In this capacity he developed ingenious devices for accurate tests of equipment life and performance characteristics. His results and interpretations within the letter of the law were often questioned by industry, but never challenged, and he was soon as prominent in Sacramento and Detroit as he was on the Berkeley campus.
Only a few other highlights of his service on 22 professional, 15 state, 24 national, and numerous municipal committees and bodies can be mentioned. From 1947 to 1960 he was a member of the California State Board of Registration for Civil and Professional Engineers, representing Chemical Engineering. Between 1954 and 1962 he gave distinguished service as member, Vice President, and President of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission. Dean Boelter was a Governor of the Scientific Research Society of America, a founder of the Los Angeles Technical Societies Council, and a Trustee of the California Museum Foundation.
Dean Boelter was honored through the conferral of many awards and distinctions, among them the Lamme Award of the American Society for Engineering Education, the degree of Doctor of Engineering (honorary) by Purdue University, the Gold Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Max Jacob Memorial Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. His reputation as Dean of Engineering grew nationally and, as he was well known in Washington, D.C., his opinion was actively sought, often on an informal telephone basis.
But it is as a teacher that Dean Boelter reaped his greatest glory in the admiration of his many students. He was revered by those who had the privilege of attending his lectures, which were informal and evoked challenge for further study and research. He inspired his students and confreres to contribute to such diverse fields as heat transfer, fluid mechanics, mass transfer, illumination, instrumentation, thermodynamics, city planning, transportation, nuclear technology, safety, community health, air pollution control, sewage disposal, water resources, prosthetics, biotechnology, engineering design, and engineering education, but his approach always remained the same--to set his students on the quest for excellence, in whatever field they chose to work.
Dean Boelter's own belief in the purpose and goal of education is perhaps best summarized in his welcome to a new freshman class, in which he quoted the words of Benjamin Ide Wheeler: "[Education] proposes to rescue men from slavery and make them free, in case they want to be free. It proposes in the second place to make them free from the bondage of prejudice, routine, and the rule of thumb. A free man is a man who can initiate, who has sufficient control over his walks and ways to do as his reason and outlook tell him is right and best. A man who acts on prejudice, or drives his wagon in any other rut, is a slave, no matter how much he may pride himself on his prejudices and loyal adherences".
Another side of Boelter endeared him to his associates. We refer to his compassion, his way of treading softly to avoid hurting even those who had fought against his ideas, his willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. These uncommon characteristics must be recorded here for the benefit of those who, less fortunate than we, could not be touched by them directly. We treasure these qualities, for they give life its meaning.
The final honor, for which his students stood in tribute, came when Dean Boelter was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, at the 1966 Commencement.
Llewellyn M. K. Boelter died on July 27, 1966, in Los Angeles at the age of 67.