Godrey Propeller Adjusting

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In 1931 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 12 Aug. 1931, pg. 17, published the following regarding Godfrey Propeller Adjusting, "Bert O. Godfrey is a specialist with no competitors. He diagnoses and doctors the ills of propellers. Working in an unpretentious, one-story, red-brick building at 158 25th St., a half block from the waterfront, his name is known to salts in every corner of the seven seas. It can be said that the marine world has beaten a path to his door. Straightening and adjusting the bronze whirligigs which give life to most modern vessels used to be largely a matter of guesswork. Godfrey uses a complicated machine for which he has patents in the United States and Canada. 'You put the propeller between these two cones, adjust the arm,' he says, 'put the foot of the pitchometer on the propeller blade, and then look at the figure on the pitchometer table. There you have the pitch or tilt of any spot on any blade in just the time it takes to tell about it.' The process seemed simple, but perhaps it was more complicated than it sounded. Mr. Godfrey pointed out that his measuring machine noted differences in dimension less than the thickness of paper. Only a small proportion of the work is in straightening propellers which have been banged up in a collision with a piece of driftwood. Most of the jobs are from speedboat racers who must get the maximum power out of their boat, or from yacht owners who want to eliminate vibration. Concerning himself Mr. Godfrey is modest. He is 47. A native of New Zealand, he arrived at San Francisco at 5. His father and elder brothers were boat builders. Mr. Godfrey as a boy of 8 helped a brother make and operate the electric boat Prosperity, first of its kind on the Pacific coast. After he got out of his teens he started making boat engines. 'With the early Diesel engines twist was most important,' he said today. 'The engines would not operate unless at the exact load. They would smoke and break down otherwise. That's how I got interested in propellers. 'After I had proved the need for a specialist in propellers I came East, where there are more boats, six years ago. I located here in Brooklyn because I figured it was the most central location.'"

A similar story appeared in Popular Science, December, 1931, beginning "Working long hours in a building near the water front of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a specialist who has no counterpart in the rest of the country. Bert O. Godfrey is an expert diagnostician and doctor of the ills of ships propellers." This article is available on google books. It includes a photo of Godfrey using his pitchometer.

A photo of Bert O. Godfrey with one of his propellers, appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 17 Nov. 1934, pg. 13. With the photo is a brief story that includes "Godfrey is a man of 50. A native of New Zealand, he came to the West Coast as a youth and began building boat engines. He got into propeller work when he found that the early Diesel engines would not operate unless at the exact load, and he came East a few years ago because he thought the field would be more lucrative here."

Bert Otto Godfrey (1884-1964) was born Otto C. Niedergesaess in Wellington, New Zealand, August 1884. The family changed their name to Godfrey in the 1910s. (Godfrey was one the middle names of Otto's brother, Wilhelm J G.) A Find-A-Grave entry for Bert Godfrey includes his brother, Wilhelm Julius Godfrey Niedergesaess (1876-1952).

Godfrey appears in several Seattle city directories as Otto C. Niedergesaess from 1901 to 1915. Then in 1921 he was Bert O. Godfrey, president of the N & S Engine Co. N & S Engines manufactured marine engines. In the 1925 directory there is a Godfrey Propeller Works. In the 1900 U. S. Census he was Otto C. 15 years old, son of Robert Niedergesaess. In 1910 he was Otto C. Niedergesaess, age 25, born New Zealand, machinist. In 1918 he registered for the World War I draft, Bert Otto Godfrey, age 34, born 25 August 1884, machine foreman N & S Engine Co., Seattle. In 1920 he was 35 born New Zealand, but the census has occupation: None. In 1930 he lived in Brooklyn on Ocean Ave., age 45, president, propeller company.

An Illustrated History of the State of Washington, by Rev. H. K. Hines, D.D., The Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, IL., 1893, includes this on Bert Godfrey's father, "ROBERT NIEDERGESAESS, general manager of the Seattle Brick and Tile Company, was born in Germany in 1846. He was carefully educated in the Von Crousaz Institute in Silesia. Later he devoted his attention to mechanical engineering, and especial attention was paid to the brick manufacture. In 1866 he began the practical part of brick-making in his father's little brick-yard near Glogau, Silesia, and there developed and built up a very successful business, which is still continued by his brother Julius, and annually pays very handsome dividends. In that year our subject constructed the first brick machine in that part of the country. The impetus given to trade after the Franco-German war enabled him to engage largely in building operations in various provinces and to spend his spare time in traveling. In 1874 he went to Gleiwitz, accepting the management of a large manufacturing establishment, which he soon placed upon a sound financial basis. He was married in Stow-Bedon, England, in 1875, to Miss Caroline P.R. Godfrey, and resided near Gleiwitz until 1877; then removed with his family to Wellington, New Zealand, and started a small brick-yard, and later engaged in mining and building kilns, brick and pipe machinery, remaining until 1887, when he decided that the country was insufficiently developed to give proper scope to his progressive ideas, and he would visit America. Upon arriving in the United States he was quick to see the opportunities which the country offered, and, learning of the difficulties attending the manufacture of brick in the free flow of clay from the machine, his inventive genius evolved the "lubricating die," which remedied the evil, and is now in general use throughout the United States. Applying to the Frye, Sheckler Company of Bucyrus, Ohio, Mr. Niedergesaess sold them his patent and found ready employment in the adjustment of brick machines throughout the interior, creating a large demand for his improved machine and in making for himself a wide reputation. In the fall of 1887 he went to Germany on a visit, returning to America in the spring of 1888. He then came to the Pacific Northwest in the interests of Frye, Sheckler & Co., and after improving their trade at Portland he came to Seattle and found the brick business in an undeveloped condition, owing to the inability to work the clay to advantage. With his invention and experience he set the machinery running for the Seattle Brick and Tile Company, and was then offered an interest in the business, which he readily accepted, as he could foresee the great possibilities in that line of manufacture. He was made general manager for the company, the yard being situated on Smith's cove, and rapidly increased the business. After the fire of 1889 they started the yard in South Seattle, where they have valuable property and extensive works. To meet the increased demand for superior brick in 1891 Mr. Niedergesaess erected a continuous kiln after his own invention, which has been steadily running for years. In July, 1892, Mr. Niedergesaess was one of the organizers of the Everett Electric Brick Company, and was made treasurer of the company and manager of the manufactory. The latest of the many inventions of Mr. Niedergesaess is an elevator, which for practicability and usefulness is a great labor-saving machine. Thus has scientific knowledge and practical work developed and built up one of Seattle's manufacturing interests, which is self-sustaining and prosperous, - one which opens employment to many men, and one which has been built up to its present standard by business thrift, integrity and enterprise. Mr. and Mrs. Niedergesaess have five children, three sons and two daughters. They are all receiving a practical education, and the boys are developing inventive ideas which are being fostered and characterized under their father's watchful guidance, their chief aim being the perfection of steam engines and other motors by the direct application of heat for obtaining the nearest approach to its equivalent, i.e., power either by the agency of steam, gas or electricity."

In 2005 Frank Jump, Fading Ads, visited the Godfrey location in Brooklyn, and wrote, "In April of 2005, I went to take pictures of the Godfrey Sign with my digital camera and I saw the garage was opened for the first (and apparently last) time. Formerly at 155 25th Street in Sunset Park Brooklyn across the street from the waterfront (and under the Gowanus Expressway) they have since moved to Staten Island. Another Brooklyn Industry bites the dust." The internet indicates that as of Nov. 2019 they are still in business on Staten Island.

Copyright © 2001 Walter Grutchfield