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Frank N. Waterman, 1865-1948


By the death of Frank N. Waterman on 19 January 1948, the city of Summit, N. J., lost one of its most prominent and honored citizens, for he had been a resident there for almost half a century and during the early years took a leading part in the educational and cultural activities of the community, while, daily, he joined the commuter throng bewteen Summit and New York City, where he maintained a business office for many years.

He was born at Toledo, Ohio, on 30 October 1865. After graduating from the New Britain High School, he entered Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University, but later transferred to Cornell University where he graduated in Electrical Engineering in 1886. Some years later he took his Master of Science degree at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. He was an outstanding student in all his scientific studies, but while at Yale found time to play a good deal of football; and, after the transfer to Cornell, he organized and coached its first varsity football team. It was doubtless this early vigorous athletic exercise that gave him the strength and stamina he needed for his mountaineering campaigns.

Soon after finishing at Cornell, he joined the staff of the Westinghouse Electrical and Manufacturing Company, and for several years was employed by them in the development of electric street railway systems in this country as well as in Italy and Hungary. After this work, he opened his office in New York City as a consulting engineer and later began specializing in electrical and mechanical patents and their infringements, in which he soon established himself as an expert authority. He handled patent application and infringement cases for many electrical and radio corporations up until the time of his retirement from active practice in 1939. Some of his long standing clients were the Gillette Safety Razor Company, Westinghouse Electric Company and General Electric Company; and he was consultant for the Radio Corporation of America. Perhaps his biggest case was when he acted for the Westinghouse Company in the purchase from Nikola Tesla of the polyphase patent which made possible the manufacture of alternating current electric motors and for which the inventor was paid one million dollars. He was the author of many papers on subjects in his field and a member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, the Institute of Radio Engineers, the American Physical Society and the Society of Automotive Engineers.

With all his social and business activities, he still found time for an annual vacation in the mountains. Indeed, when Waterman departed on his final climb to his “Elysian Fields,” the mountaineering world lost one of its most enthusiastic and capable alpine devotees. He was an active member of the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Green Mountain Club, the Alpine Club of Canada and the American Alpine Club; and his mountaineering record shows 65 notable peaks climbed in the United States, Canada and the Swiss Alps.

His presence in camp, on the trail and on the mountainside always brought cheer to his companions for he was true to his declared philosophy that “Mountaineering is a sport undertaken for the pure joy of conquest, for the uplift of the soul and the high reward which it brings in inspiration and as a mental and physical stimulant.” Upon reaching the mountains, he not only felt and lived that philosophy, but radiated it to his companions. I know that upon several memorable climbs I was privileged to take with him all members of our party felt that “joy of conquest” with him.

During all the years of my asociation with Frank in the Canadian Rockies—beginning, I believe, when Mrs. MacCarthy and I induced him in 1917 to attend his first Canadian Alpine Club camp (pitched in Cataract Brook Valley, where he made his qualifying climb on Odaray), and continuing to his last camp in 1938 at the Columbia Ice Fields—upon reaching the mountains, he seemed at once to cast off all thought and connection with his work-a-day world and become absorbed in his alpine surroundings. The only exception that I remember during all those 21 years was once when members at the campfire became confused in their discussion of the troubles encountered with radio reception in mountainous areas. Frank’s thoughts of the high hills were momentarily drawn back to our mundane problems; and, in simple language, he quickly gave us a very clear mental picture of the workings of radio waves and the barriers that occasionally are thrown up against them by the earth’s rugged crust—all of which, he declared, was simply another example of nature’s challenge to man’s genius and efforts to mold the earth and the world to his own convenience and comfort.

Some years later, on a memorable climb with Waterman, Gilmore and Wakefield, our party beheld a tragic demonstration of the unending struggle going on about us between all forms of life and activity and the hampering and destructive forces of nature. We had enjoyed the thrill of a rather exciting traverse of Terrapin, and then a more spectacular and hazardous climb up the Golden Stairs on the back side of Magog, and a final hurried ascent to a small shelter at the summit ridge to screen ourselves from a violent sleet and hailstorm. We arrived there just in time to witness a brilliant flash of lightning: a bolt struck in the center of a magnificent stand of timber not far from the Assiniboine camp, and in a few minutes that beautiful grove was completely destroyed by the hot, greedy flames. Thus was demonstrated the truth of Frank’s remark that “Nature is inexorable and inexplicable.”

Frank Waterman has gone to his final rest; but, unlike the giant trees of the forest, which left no trace of their existence, he leaves behind many recollections of his pleasant smile and hearty laugh, which long will remain in the minds of his many friends, and a record of achievement for the advance of mankind that will endure through the years.

A. H. MacC.