Obituary: Jerome "Jerry" Apt Jr. / Mechanical engineer who held seven patents
Jerome "Jerry" Apt Jr., whose 65 years as a mechanical engineer benefited consumers and employees as well as the companies for which he worked, died of multisystem organ failure Sunday at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Oakland. He was 87.
A graduate of the former Carnegie Institute of Technology, Mr. Apt held seven patents, including one for a leak-detection system for a nuclear reactor and another for a remote-control coal-mining system that could go where miners couldn't.
"Mechanical engineers are the folks that make things. Innovation is part of their training," said his son, former astronaut Jay Apt of the East End. "Dad felt that being a mechanical engineer was one of the highest and most interesting callings of his time, and he pursued it with gusto through two-thirds of a century."
Mr. Apt was born in Wilkinsburg, but the family moved to the Philadelphia area when he was young. He returned to Pittsburgh to attend Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he joined the ROTC and trained as a pilot in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he volunteered for the Army Air Forces, but because of the demand for engineers with college training, he saw service as an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers until 1946. His last assignment was as the island engineer of Okinawa, overseeing the start of construction of the permanent military base there.
Upon his return to civilian life, Mr. Apt accepted a position as maintenance and construction engineer for Monsanto Chemical Co., plastics division, in Springfield, Mass. But he maintained his connection with Pittsburgh and in 1949, he, his wife, Joan Frank Apt, and their family moved to the East End, where he became chief engineer for Mechanical Industries, a company that designed, built and installed air-control equipment for asbestos, cement, steel and mining industries. Mr. Apt was the designer and co-inventor of the first fume-control system for an electric steel furnace, which used a vacuum to collect fumes.
"He always felt strongly about clear air," his son said. "He always remembered when he was a student at Carnegie Tech in the early 1940s, he couldn't wear the same shirt to dinner that he'd worn during the day because of the soot in the air. That made a strong impression on him."
In the 1950s, Mr. Apt founded his own company, Industrial Gases Inc., specializing in the use and distribution of liquefied gas for use as a nonpolluting fuel and a substitute for acetylene gas in the metal-working industry. His company also developed equipment so gasoline- and diesel-fueled engines could use liquefied gas, as well as a method of preventing explosions in wildcat gas wells.
Mr. Apt sold the company in 1966 and formed Industrial Engineering, a consultant for companies in the energy industry. As a consultant to Duquesne Light, for example, he put into place a system to track construction and quality-assurance for Beaver Valley No. 1 Nuclear Power Station. He analyzed Gulf Oil operations in England and Italy, and he designed plans and cleaning plants for coal mines throughout Appalachia.
"Mechanical engineers, if they have good training, can apply their knowledge to lots of different things," said Jay Apt. "He designed most of the mechanical systems in the home when my parents built it 59 years ago. He understood how all of the new systems worked and he maintained them."
From 1991 to 2001, Mr. Apt was senior mechanical engineer and corporate secretary with Concept Engineering Group, where he designed, built and tested nondestructive trenching techniques.
After he retired, he remained an expert witness and consultant to attorneys and insurance companies for both plaintiffs and defendants in legal actions involved in his areas of expertise. He also continued to come up with ideas, whether it was drawing up air systems for shopping centers or figuring out why boilers exploded in houses.
"He was a wizard at fixing things as well as designing them," Jay Apt said. "And he had a better computer on his desk than most people at the universities have. The computer that is on his desk at the moment is from 2009. He kept up with everything, even in his late 80s."
Jay Apt, who earned his degree in physics, said that upon returning from his four flights into space, he and his father would enjoy technical discussions about the work he had done.
"He loved it. He thought it was great," Jay Apt said. "He would sit with his grandchildren and he loved figuring out with them how the world worked."
A registered professional engineer in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, Mr. Apt was a member of the Boiler Advisory Board to the Industrial Board, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, for 25 years, and served as chairman of the board for 12 years. He also was a member of the Board and the Executive Committee of the University of Pittsburgh's medical malpractice reinsurance companies from 1976 until 2000.
Survivors include his wife and son, a sister, Marjorie A. Loeffler of Minneapolis; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. A daughter, Judy, died in 2000.
Visitation will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland, followed by a service at 2 p.m. Burial in Homewood Cemetery will be private. Rapp Funeral Home on Frankstown Road in Penn Hills is handling arrangements.
Donations may be made to the Electricity Industry Center at Carnegie Mellon University, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Public Theater or a charity of choice.
First Published June 21, 2010 12:00 am