Herman the GermanDecember 10, 1989
This paper describes the life and achievements of Gerhard Neuman. Gerhard started working as a mechanic's apprentice in a small garage in Germany. He is now in charge of jet engines at General Electric.
Gerhard Neuman was born in Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany, near the Polish border, in 1917. In early life he was an apprentice mechanic in his home town. His master or Meister was Alfred Schroth, a simple man who never had an apprentice before and did not want help from a journeyman apprentice. After several hours, Gerhard's parents finally convinced Alfred to accept their son as his apprentice. Gerhard's apprenticeship was not easy. His master liked work done his way. In Gerhard's three years working at the garage he learned many lessons that he would use in later life. For example, the knowledge that horse manure stops leaks in coolant systems proved useful later. He used this knowledge to fix a six million dollar General Electric high altitude engine test compressor in 1948. After his apprenticeship, he went to the Practical College of Engineering in Germany.
After college, he took an engineering job in China. When the war started, the German government demanded that all citizens return to Germany. He stayed in China and lost his German citizenship. The American Army picked this talented engineer to be the head mechanic in charge of the Flying Tigers. When they captured a wrecked Japanese Zero, they called Gerhard and his team to put it back together.
After the war was over he went to America and met Clarice, the woman he would marry. He accepted another job in China after their marriage. Then after several years in China, they returned to the U.S. He and his wife returned to America in an unusual way. They drove a jeep across Asia. When they reached Western Europe, they took a plane to the United States. When he returned he was not a citizen of any country. He had lost his German citizenship because he did not return for the war. The congress passed a bill that allowed him to become a U.S. citizen. He started work for General Electric. He was in charge of engineering and testing of the new jet engines. He designed or helped design most of them.
He showed courage when he had typhus, malaria, and yellow jaundice while he was putting together the Japanese Zero. If he would have stayed at the hospital for much longer, he would have prolonged the time before the Allies had valuable information about the Japanese fighter. He could have died from the illnesses while he was directing the repairs. He supervised the reconstruction of the Zero while he was wearing a fur lined flight suit and several blankets.
He showed courage another time when he drove a jeep across Asia with his wife and dog. They went more than two thousand miles through the jungle. They risked many illnesses. Snipers shot at them from high cliffs. Luckily the only shot that came near them became lodged in their portable typewriter.
He decided to pursue mechanical engineering and not become a feather merchant like his father. He decided this easily. He had always liked mechanisms, and wet feathers stunk like high heaven.
His many major decisions altered the evolution of jet engines. One of these was the decision to be in the United States Army and not go into the German Army of his homeland.
He could have gone to the McDonald Douglas Company instead of General Electric. In fact, McDonald Douglas originally offered him a job, but he could not work there because of his citizenship problem. If had not worked at General Electric, he probably would not have achieved the same goals.
Many people view him as a very talented person who has been lucky not to have strayed from his ultimate destination as a head engineer at General Electric. Anna Chennault, the wife of his commanding officer while he was in the Flying Tigers, describes him, "Gerhard Neuman represents that extraordinary blend of varied heritages, cultures and talents that has made America a country not only of the past but definitely of the future."
Most people have never heard of Gerhard Neuman even though he is responsible for a great portion of the development of the variable stator jet engine. This engine is now one of the most common jet fighter engines. Many transport and passenger airplanes use his jet engine designs.
He is a very interesting person with unique experiences. I am glad that I read about him because he has very interesting stories.
BibliographyNeuman, Gerhard, Herman the German, N.Y.,N.Y., William Morrow and Co.,1987
Boyne, Walter J., The Leading Edge, N.Y.,N.Y., Stewart, Tabor, and Chang, 1989, p.180
Gorowitz, Bernard, A Century of Progress, N.Y.,N.Y., Hall of History Foundation, 1981, p.39