Today, a great engineer escapes the Holocaust. The
Universty of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
In 1937 Max Jakob and his
family got on the steamer Berengaria in Cherbourg,
France, to make a stormy six-day crossing to New
York. He was leaving his German homeland for good.
He limped slightly as he walked up the gangway --
the result of a wound on the Russian front in WW-I.
He was now 58 years old and a prominent German
expert in the field of heat transfer.
For 31 years -- ever since he'd finished his
doctorate in Munich in 1906 -- Jakob had worked on
the central questions of the thermal sciences, and
he'd been involved with the greatest scientific
minds of his era. His daughter Elizabeth shows us
correspondence. Here's a postcard from Einstein,
who was born and died within months of Jakob.
Einstein thanks him for setting a critic straight
on relativity. There's a letter from Max Planck,
thanking Jakob for correcting an error in his
But now he's boarding a boat to America. Four years
before, German troops went through Berlin painting
the word JEW in large white letters on store
windows, and Jakob wrote in his diary,
I never valued my Jewishness as much; but today
I'm happy not to be on the side of those who
First, he'd sent his daughter off to
college in Paris. Now he and his wife were also
leaving what had seemed the intellectual and cultural
center of the universe. They were moving to the land
of gangsters and Al Capone -- to Chicago, whose
climate he'd been told was murderous. They were each
allowed to take $4.00 out of Germany.
Jakob's move proved to be terribly important for
us. America was far behind Germany in its
understanding of heat flow, and we were working
hard to make up ground. Jakob gave us the first
direct conduit to that knowledge.
And America was a pleasant surprise for Jakob. The
first photographs show him smiling and inhaling the
fresh air of a new land. Once here, he discovered
-- and took pleasure in -- civilization of a
different form, but civilization nevertheless. He
found youthful excitement in the intellectual
climate, and he became a part of it. He gave us
every bit as good as he got. Many of today's elder
statesmen in the field were his students, and
everyone in the field knows his work.
His daughter finds a diary entry the week before
his death in 1954. He'd just been to hear the great
Black contralto, Marian Anderson. He was strongly
moved by her singing of, and I quote,
the magnificent Negro spirituals, especially
'Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen' and 'He's got
the Whole World in His Hands.'
By then America had become the world
leader in heat transfer. And Jakob, who'd helped us
so much to get there, was one of the great American
engineers and educators.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds