Grondal, Bror Leonard, 1889-1974Variant names
Bror Leonard Grondal was born in Round Rock, Texas, in 1889. He was raised in the Swedish community of Lindsborg, Kansas, where his father, Bror G. Grondal, had a photography studio. After graduating from Bethany College in 1908, Grondal came to the University of Washington to pursue his graduate studies. He received his graduate degrees and became a faculty member.
A professor of forestry at the University of Washington from 1913-1959, Grondal was one of the founders of the modern wood products research field. He lectured at the Crown Zellerbach Paper School between 1945-1958 and was a consultant to various lumber companies. He was an early associate of the University of Washington College of Forestry (later called the College of Forest Resources), and he founded the National Forest Products Research Society. As the director of the Forest Products laboratory at the University of Washington, he shepherded a great many students who did vital studies in the early days of the forest industry, including one who became a UW president, Dr. Henry Schmitz.
Grondal's pioneering work in the forest products industry led to important innovation and expansion in this growing and vital part of the Pacific Northwest economy. His research on uses of the west coast hemlock, once thought of as a "weed tree," enhanced the paper pulp market. In the 1950s he became the technical director of the Seattle office of Pittsburgh Testing Laboratory, which tested wood products.
Having majored in chemistry as an undergraduate, Prof. Grondal was interested in the various glues and nails that might work best in plywood, and as a result of his research, the plywood industry developed and prospered. He worked as a consulting engineer doing product and marketing research for the red shingle industry, and developed and carried through programs to improve methods for kiln-drying lumber. This was a crucial factor in the use of hemlock, which was later specified for use in airplane construction during World War II.
Grondal was also an early expert in ultraviolet microphotography. In 1923 he used it to examine the grain of various wood fibers to determine the amount of space between them and the amount of moisture they held. These experiments on the cellular properties of wood fiber were vital in determining the types of wood best suited for paper pulp and lumber production, both booming industries in the Pacific Northwest.
In 1933 Grondal developed a number of experimental machines that exerted pressure on wood in different ways. These "beam smashers" would determine the amount of pressure (applied either directly or by giant "hammers") a wood beam could take before it splintered. He used these machines on every type of beam wood produced, including those used for bridge work and other major construction. This research created a broad fund of knowledge for the timber and construction industry.
During World War II, Prof. Grondal helped develop methods and machines for separating cork content from the bark of Douglas fir, thereby averting a cork shortage early in the war. Before the war, the United States was dependent on foreign sources for cork; Grondal's research enabled the development of a domestic cork industry through the use of Douglas fir bark that would otherwise have have been discarded. The introduction of resins and ammonia expanded the bark and created an excellent cork product. American cork was lighter and more resilient than the overseas product, and was used in life preservers and packing cases for medicine and other glass bottles.
In 1951 Grondal discoved and patented a new process for separating lignan and pulp components in wood using triethylene glycol (T.E.G). The new use of lignan, comprising almost 50% of all wood pulp and previously considered a waste product, enabled further expansion of the wood pulp industry. He also developed uses for wood chips.
Prof. Grondal was active in several professional organizations, including Associated Forest Products Technologists, the Cedar River Watershed Commission, and the Society of American Foresters. He won a prestigious membership in the Swedish Society of Foresters. He also served as an expert witness at court trials.
Grondal married Florence Armstrong in 1912. They had two children, Eloise and Bror Philip. She was an astronomer and photographer, and wrote a popular astronomy book, The Music of the Spheres: A Nature Lover's Astronomy, which was illustrated with her own photographs. The manuscript and proofs of this book are in the Florence Armstrong Grondal collection in the repository (accession number 044-1). In 1932, Mrs. Grondal attempted to catalog all the books that had been written by authors in the Pacific Northwest. She died in 1977.
From the guide to the Bror Leonard Grondal Papers, 1908-1974, 1945-1974, (University of Washington Libraries Special Collections)
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