Valerie Alfred Flynn, 1870-1929

Publication Year: 1930.

(Read and adopted at the Annual Meeting January 11, 1930.)


Valere Alfred Fynn, one of the leading authorities on alternating current motors in the world, was born in Krasno, Russia, April 11th, 1870, son of Alfred R. Fynn and Catherine Avalon Fynn. His father was a native of County Galway, Ireland. He was a civil engineer and employed in a professional capacity by the Imperial Government on various important railroads in Russia and other foreign countries. The boy was educated in Switzerland, where he was sent at the age of nine to be with his Grandmother who had a villa in Geneva. He was graduated from the Swiss Federal Polytechnic, Zurich, in 1891. After graduation he remained at this institution for a year making a special study of electrotechnic and took higher courses at Heidelberg.

During 1895-’98 he was associated with the famous electrical engineering firm of Brown, Boveri & Co., of Baden, Switzerland, in testing, designing and erecting work and was entrusted with some of the firm’s most important work at that time, including the erection of power plants at Gerlafingen, Aaran and Frankfort, Germany. After that he was chief electrical engineer to Easton, Anderson & Goolden of Erith, England, redesigning all the firm’s direct current motors, introducing the slotted instead of smooth-core armature and developing a line of alternating current motors. Then he became chief engineer to Rosling & Appleby of Bradford, England, and was soon given a partnership.

Four years later, he withdrew from the manufacturing field and established himself in London as consulting engineer. In this capacity he was engaged with some of the leading English, French and Swiss firms. In 1909 he came to America as consulting engineer to the Wagner Electric Co. of St. Louis. He was numbered among the most eminent electrical engineers in the world. His engaging personality and wide interests soon won him many friends. His inventions were protected by over three hundred patents granted to him in nine different countries. He spoke and wrote in six languages and was a prolific writer on technical matters. Most of these writings dealt especially with phases of engineering applied to the field in which he was so well versed. Many technical papers were presented before the British and American technical societies. At the time of his death there were many patents pending of machine design and control which, when placed in common practice, will be acclaimed as outstanding contributions to the electrical industry.

His mountaineering began in Switzerland when he was about fourteen years old, his first climb being a nine thousand foot peak in that country. Strength came abundantly and such was his youthful enthusiasm that he acted occasionally as porter with certain friendly guides in order to gain experience. He scaled all the most important and difficult peaks of the Swiss Alps in record time, nearly all of them without guides—among them the Aiguille Verte from the Glacier d’Argentiere and the Finsteraarhorn by the northeast face. His newer climbs in Switzerland numbered over fifty. He was an inspiration in helping and stimulating others to climb. He understood the mountains to a remarkable degree and had won various athletic honors in Europe. His outstanding abilities as a mountaineer, although recognized in Europe, became known on this side of the water by his climbs in the Canadian Rockies. According to Dr. Hickson, the outstanding ones are his first guideless ascent of Mt. Hungabee, first ascents guideless of Mt. Ringrose and Glacier Peak from Lake O’Hara in 1909, the first traverse of the whole ridge of Mt. Victoria in 1918, and the first ascent of King George in 1919, the highest of the Royal Group.

Although suffering from the after effects of a cold and sinus infection contracted on a hunt for Kodiak bear in Alaska, he made in 1922 a spectacular ascent of Mt. Victoria from the northeast, i.e., Lake Louise face with his friend, Rudolph Aemmer. “Among his latest feats, the ascent of Sir Donald at Glacier by the west face, 1923, and the guideless first ascent of Mt. Geikie in Tonquin Valley, near Jasper (after several unsuccessful attempts by others to climb the peak), and on which he took the lead throughout, are the most remarkable.”1 Steady and powerful on rock and having knowledge and good judgment of ice and snow he was an exemplar of his own saying, that the thing is not merely to climb but to climb with security. No mere recital of his climbs can do him justice. While hunting and photography rounded out his love for the outdoors, as stated, languages and a good knowledge of mathematics rounded out his general culture.

Many years ago when our acquaintance was new, the writer, about to climb Sir Donald, asked who was to be the guide. His eye lit up with amusement as in an even and re-assuring voice he said that he thought he knew the route, having a good memory for such things.

Lack of proper vacations, overwork on new patents and lengthy litigation on old ones, coupled with his old sinus trouble contributed to a run-down condition that led to carbuncles and eventually blood- poisoning. Learning that he was seriously ill, his friend and companion of many climbs, Rudolph, wired him—“Get well old-timer and together we will climb the mountains,” but it was too late—the last great climb was over, doubtless bravely done like the rest. We who felt the spell of his enthusiasm are grateful and his memory shall abide fresh in many hearts.

Besides being a member of The American Alpine Club, he belonged to Alpine Clubs of Switzerland, France, Italy, England and Canada.

E. Mallinckrodt, Jr.

*Canadian Alpine Journal, Vol. XVII, p. 73.

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