PEOPLE'S FRIEND [Der Volksfreund] Obituary and Biography of Dr. Karl Kellner

PEOPLE'S FRIEND [Der Volksfreund]

Obituary and Biography of Dr. Karl Kellner

On the 7th of June last Dr. Karl Kellner, the well-known inventor and industrialist, died suddenly at the age of 54. His unexpectedly sudden departure caused considerable and widespread grief; obituary tributes were printed not just in the Vienna newspapers, but also the provincial press. The "Volksfreund" likewise paid warm tribute to the world-famous citizen of Hallein. Today from the pens of some of his colleagues we present a more detailed portrait of this most vigorous man's work. Dr. Karl Kellner was born on the 1st of September 1851, the son of a distinguished Viennese citizen. His education was conducted in Vienna and Paris. While still of tender years he had devoted himself to experimentation, and undertook practical work at a private laboratory in Vienna. Here, when barely two-and-twenty years of age, he invented the "Sulphite-Cellulose Process" of such primary, indeed, ail-but revolutionary importance to the paper and textile industries. Today the production of cellulose is vitally important to the making of paper, and it is worthy of mention that the entire modern cellulose industry would have been impossible but for the work of two men: Dr. Kellner and Professor Mitscherlich.

It was in 1876 that the nobleman Baron Hector von Ritter-Zahony employed Dr. Kellner at his factory near Gorz. Here Dr. Kellner made the discoveries, initially trade secrets of the factory, whixh perfected the process originally patented by Professor Mitscherlich, which was later registered as the "Ritter-Kellner System". Dr. Kellner had the foresight to see that his discovery would quickly supplant Professor Mitscherlich's process, and it was but a short time before at least fifty cellulose plants adopted the above system, among them the largest factory of its type in the world, the Waldhof plant near Mannheim. Later at Baron Ritter's factory many new industrial processes were inaugurated, such as: paper-making; cellulose manufacture; spinning, bleaching and weaving cotton, synthetic-silk spinning, &c. &c. In his long years of work at this industrial centre, Dr. Kellner did not stint in applying his discoveries to widespread use in many spheres.

Hand in hand with the technical perfecting of the sulphite process, there were numerous discoveries and innovations in developing the machines and apparatus used in the system, matters in which Dr. Kellner showed an almost inexhaustible richness of ideas and a quite astonishing spirit of inventiveness.

Today the old sodium method has been almost completely superseded: of all paper-production only about 25% is made with it, the remaining 75% being produced by the sulphite process-a comparison which requires no further comment.

During his employment at Gorz Dr. Kellner also developed an electrical process for making wood-cellulose, the forerunner of today's newest industrial methods for producing paper-goods from plant-fibres.

This technique worked easily and simply with other vegetable raw materials: wood, straw, esparto, cloth-grass, etc. - many more than hitherto possible. The different fibres thus obtained were obviously each useful in their own way to the paper or textile industries. The main advantage of the process lies in the fact that the organic bodies binding the fibres together, which may be subsumed under the title of 'incrusting substances', are transformed into water-soluble compounds without the use of high temperatures - in point of fact by an oxidation process followed by alkali treatment. Clearly this eliminates the need for the large steam-engines, boiling-vessels, &c, which have hitherto taken up the major part of such manufactures. The chief agent of this process is electrical energy as its driving force. Although Dr. Kellner had been working on this process since 1885, he could not make it a practical proposition while the electrotechnical equipment then available needed such frequent repairs and so many spare parts, until these problems were removed by his introduction of some highly ingenious chemical processes.

In the meantime, through Dr. Kellner's activities in the area of applied electrochemistry he was able to so perfect the aforementioned apparatus, as a result of combining processes, that it now works faultlessly and with minimal maintenance costs. At the same time Dr. Kellner also busied himself designing the apparatus and processes for bleaching the cellulose he had manufactured. This bleaching technique made it possible to remove all colours for a minimal expenditure of energy and reagents (such as brine) with the aid of electric current. Dr. Kellner was apparently first inspired with the idea of using electricity for the easy manufacture of particular chemical products after a visit to the Electrical Exhibition at Paris in 1881. His equipment and systems for bleaching with electricity (as much in the paper and cellulose industries as in textiles) are as follows:

  1. Innovations in bleaching fibres with electicity.
  2. Innovations in processes and equipment for bleaching vegetable fibres.
  3. Apparatus for the electrolytic preparation of liquid bleach.
  4. System and device for electrochemical preparation of bleaching powder.
  5. Device for electrolytic reduction of brines.
  6. Process for electrolytic preparation of liquid bleach with a high active chlorine content.

We should mention here that while Dr. Kellner was engaged in research at Gorz on silk and cotton-spinning, he also took the opportunity of trying to spin drawn cellulose, at first having to use some very primitive apparatus. After some ten years he had developed this idea to an industrial scale. Later the successors to the founder of the Baron Ritter factory themselves expressed their wish that Dr. Kellner supervise the sale of the business to them. At this time there also occurred the establishment of "Kellner & Co. Ltd." in England.

Soon after the foundation of this company, the Doctor visited one of the best-known paper industrialists in England, Captain Edward Partington, and proposed forming a large cellulose manufacturing concern, in which Kellner & Co. Ltd. would be absorbed. This came to pass with the founding of the "Kellner-Partington Paper Pulp Co. Ltd." with a capital of £680,000 in shares and £250,000 in debentures - £930,000 in total - or eighteen-and-a-half million marks.

They built cellulose factories at Barrow-in-Furness (England), Bor-regaard near Sarpsborg (Norway), and Hallein near Salzburg (Austria).

At every stage fertility of ideas led to valuable discoveries in the areas of alkali-electrolysis technology, eapecially in splitting salt into its component elements, sodium and chlorine with the aid of electric current, using mercury as a cathode. The derived patents brought Dr. Kellner into association with Messrs. Solvay & Co. in Brussels, resulting in the building of a factory at Osternienburg Later they established two more concerns: one at Jenteppe in Belgium and one in Russia (the Lyubintoff-Solvay factory at Moscow). In England, too, a company was established to exploit Dr. Kellner's mercury-cathode process by the "Castner-Kellner Alkali Co." at Runcorn (Liverpool), where the largest chlor-alkali plant in the world was then built. In a parallel attempt to set up an electrochemical plant in Austria, Dr. Kellner founded a research establishment at Golling near Salzburg; sadly, however he received no assistance from the Austrian government, mainly because his efforts to render his homeland the dominant power in the general area of electrochemistry were so little known in Austria. The constuction, equipping, start-ing-up, introduction of products, etc., at the Kellner-Partington company's factories, as well as the work in the water-mill and research-plant at Golling took up so much of Dr. Kellner's schedule that it was not always possible for him to devote enough time or attention to the commercial exploitation of his numerous inventions. Since the work of the deceased was so diverse, these discoveries were made in many spheres (to mention but a few): photography, synthetic gemstones, glow-lamps, medicinal preparations, &c, &c. So that these innovations should not languish unused, Dr. Kellner founded the "Dr. Kellner Syndicate", a company with the stated aim of using the whole range of his discoveries and inventions. This "Syndicate" duly set up a large laboratory at No. 42 Lichtenstein-strasse, Vienna IX, though its first concern was the establishment of an electrochemical works at Jacje in Bosnia, for the production of chloralkali and caustic soda by Dr. Kellner's mercury process. This factory performed faultlessly from its inception and indeed yielded very considerable profits. At the same period negotiations were started with a group of Italian financiers, which led to the rapid construction of a big electrochemical plant at Brescia near Milan, which started production only this year; its design and equipment were overseen by the late Doctor's technical office.

It was through his syndicate that in 1899, Dr. Kellner set about making his idea of spinning cellulose into thread a practical reality by starting an experimental plant at Altdamm near Stettin; here through use of Kellner-Turk machines and processes, thread and fabric were manufactured from cellulose and other short-fibred raw materials.

The German rights to this experimental method were later purchased by the Waldhof cellulose factory, where a huge production-line using this system was built. It proved highly profitable, with orders flowing in so fast that Waldhof was barely able to keep up with them.

Besides this, the Vienna laboratory at Lichtensteinstrasse, under Dr. Kellner's leadership, with the assistance of Professor Dr. Paweck, engineer Lescovic, and Dr. Robit-sek, was busy with varied work, of which we have room to mention only the following:

  1. Preparation of sugar, specifically from alcohol.
  2. Preparation of paper-pulp from wood, while simultaneously extracting products of dry distillation.
  3. Processing zinc-bearing gravels.
  4. Extraction of copper from poor-quality ores and oxides.
  5. Alloying at an elemental level, by using molten metal as a cathode during electrolysis, over which a molten salt is passed, from which the electric current separates catalysed metallic ions, which alloy with the molten metal in the cathode.
  6. Acetylene lighting for railways and tramcars: namely an acetylene apparatus for lighting coaches by mixing the reagent solution that decomposes the carbide with a buffering liquid, by means of a cylinder surrounding the gas-extraction pipe, containing eccentric to its axis a carbide plug inside protective walls containing the carbide-decomposing liquid.
  7. Incandescent materials and glow-lamps. Early in 1892, well before Nernst and Auer, Dr. Kell-ner was looking into producing an incandescent material capable of converting a greater part of conducted electrical energy into radiant energy (light). To this end two elements which had only recently been isolated were used, namely Thorium and Titanium in metallic form.
  8. Electric light. While working on the aforementioned incandescent materials, Dr. Kellner came up with the idea that instead of using metallic filaments and elements, vapours might be made to glow brightly when a current was passed through them - such a lamp effectively being "ever-lasting". The initial difficulties in construction were so completely overcome, that early last year Dr. Kellner was able to exhibit a complete mercury-lamp installation in his study, which worked perfectly every time. The basic idea was developed by Dr. Kellner well before such figures as Hewitt and Heraus (the so-called Heraus Lamp appeared in 1903; a short time later Dr. Kellner was staying in Hanau, and was able to advise Heraus on the use of quartz-glass in his lamps!), only Aarons with his vapour-lamp can be said to have anticipated Dr. Kellner. A host of similar types (among them Dr. Paweck's Rotating Lamp) have since been devised, and through further research brought into general use.
  9. Extraction of spun fibres. As a cellulose technologist, as the de facto "father of the cellulose industry", the late Doctor was far better acquainted with most of cellulose's properties than those hitherto engaged in the manufacture of synthetic spun fibres. He succeeded in finding a process which made it possible to extract plant-cellulose much more easily and simply than was previously possible. This had immense value for the textile industry, when it became plain that instead of needing enormous estates and factories to get cellulose in the form Nature gives it to us - namely cotton - by contrast, with Dr. Kellner's process, it was a matter of the utmost simplicity to make cellulose synthetically from all cell-rich plant-parts (stalks, etc.) by chemical methods. As a result this process was used on a major scale in England, and similar undertakings are in the process of being introduced in Austria, Germany, France, Russia, Italy and Spain.

In 1902 the deceased gave an illustrated lecture on this phenomenon at the Congress of the German Bunsen Society at Wiirz-burg, which we are told excited the liveliest interest among an audience containing some of the most influential chemists and scholars in the world.

One testament to this man's ingenuity and industriousness, born of his scientific and progressive spirit, is that by 1902 the number of patents granted to him in various countries for his various processes and devices had reached a total ol almost 400 - a figure of which any inventor might be justifiably proud - even more so since the majority of these patents, being in the area of mainstream industry, contributed to the general good. Partial evidence of the services Dr. Kellner rendered to public welfare, science and industry was his membership of the Salzburg Chamber of Trade and Industry, the Lower Austrian Trade Association, his associate membership of the Industrial Council and his being honoured with the freedom of the city of Hallein. Although Dr. Kellner was, as we have seen, so energetic in so many different spheres of science, his untiring spirit was not limited by the demands of his work, and sought to travel all the roads of both human knowledge and pure philosophy. He was intrigued by the greatest problems, yet but rarely expressed an opinion on them. When however he vouchsafed the slightest hint of his innermost thoughts to anyone - and this he did only to a favoured few, or to put it better, to such persons as he was sure would understand him - one would be dazzled by the shining richness of his - one might almost say supernatural - wisdom, and be left astonished at what great treasures lay hidden in the depths of this unfathomable soul. Whoever was lucky enough to be granted one of these glimpses felt richly rewarded for the rest of their life.

Dr. Kellner also knew about giving: how to give, what to give, and whom to give of his inexhaustible riches; he knew exactly the worth of everything and everyone. More he could not give. He also knew the limits of giving, even though his gifts were given with such pleasure and joie de vivre. And when he did give, as much as the receiver could take, then he certainly gave something extra: the feeling that the giving was the least of things, and to know more of need directly.

A further characteristic of the Doctor's - fundamentally linked to his philosophical studies - was his lively interest in the concrete results of psychological research: the human soul and the world-soul: these opposites concerned him powerfully. It is understandable to find that he became deeply immersed - compare with Sho-penhauer - in Indian philosophy, which searches through untrod dark regions to resolve antitheses. But therein Dr. Kellner's eminently scientific (but never pedantic) spirit certainly did not lose itself in empty speculation: anything in which he interested himself was firmly grounded and always harmonised with his sharp eye for reality. The unity of Nature's powers, which modern science is just beginning to fathom, will unveil measureless further expanses to such eyes. Here we are not only thinking of his epoch-making experiment in transferring one element into another. He loved such research in the same "alchemistical" sense, so to speak as the facts which the good old chemists hid beneath their extravagant doctrines, many of which seem anticipations of the most modern advances of electrochemistry and general energetics. Dr. Kellner was a particular connoisseur of these peculiar old fellows, and knew what secrets they were hiding under their splendid old costumes.

But to return to Indian philosophy, Dr. Kellner was by no means exclusively reliant on speculation -this would hardly have satisfied such a practical man. He was much more concerned with an ongoing study of Indian Yoga, a psycho-physical system of knowledge whose goal is hard to describe, but - if one were pressed for an explanation - roughly equates with uniting an individual consciousness with universal consciousness. Modern researchers with opposing views of Indian philosophy often bicker over the yoga system, but it appears nonetheless that most of them have only arrived at the most superficial (if not actually incorrect) conclusions on the matter. Dr. Kellner wrote a most noteworthy book on the concrete side of this Yoga, combining practical exercises with psychological elements, which he dedicated to the Third International Congress for Psychology. He called the small pamphlet a 'sketch', but in fact it was a description in broad strokes, or one might say plain words, of practical yoga as a special kind of auto-hypnosis, where through the use of specific controls certain desired physiological and physical changes might be brought about. The Doctor was not averse to experiment in these studies (among others with an Indian from Lahore called Bheema Sena Pratapa). We have already said that Dr. Kellner knew to a nicety how much to give to others; with such hindsight it may be seen that this small volume is a masterpiece.

It is a shame that this interesting booklet has been out of print for so long; a greater shame that Dr. Kellner never published another volume on the philosophical portion of the Yoga system, since near the end he did talk of such a book; he had been working on the project for some time and had written down certain parts of it, but failed to finish them. It remains to be seen if a worthwhile work may yet be reconstructed from the numerous remaining fragments. The higher insight of Dr. Kellner may be ascribed to an all too rarely-encountered perception, one that is possibly least commonly found amongst scholars: a readiness to deem anything worthy of proof that does not contain its own contradiction. He was free of the prejudice that familiarity with a thing will perforce signify a lack of knowledge and understanding. What has not been done before, what is deemed as impossible, that is surely always the new. And can we not still find inner resolutions to what seems contradictory? With marvellous intuition - but always free of preconceptions - he often followed threads that seemed to vanish into impossibility. This fitted in with the way he tried to answer the questions that he put to himself. Whenever he embarked on an enquiry, he did not begin (like others) by burying his nose in the literature; free of preconcieved notions, he kept clear of the constrictions of established laws. Thus unencumbered, he started right at the core of his question; and even if he then discovered that he was following a path already trodden by others, he took pleasure in nearly always finding he had overcome certain obstacles in a different or better way than his predecessors, or even got a bit further than them by using existing methodologies. From this as a whole came Dr. Kellner's main achievements. Socially, Dr. Kellner had a fascinating personality, and was well-known for it. His openness, combined with his considerable wealth, his inherent and unhypo-critical sociability with all and sundry, and his cheerfully unstuffy disposition won him innumerable enthusiastic adherents. The more someone knew him, the more estimable characteristics revealed themselves; most prominent among these being his all-inclusive altruism, which surrounded all his activitities - be it his charity to the needy, comforting those who suffer, rescuing the destitute, or simply through speading his inherent joie-de-vivre. He never abused anyone - mockery was the worst weapon he used in arguments.

His cheerfulness matched the high opinion he had of all kinds of physical exercise and sports. In his younger years he was an enthusiastic gymnast, rider and fencer. For many years Jagendorfer, the well-know Viennese strongman, was the full-time athletic instructor at the Doctor's villa on the Hohen Warte. Under his gymnastic and athletic tutelage Dr. Kellner's youngsters were brought up in a genuinely sporting manner. Dr. Kellner was also particularly devoted to hunting, for which his estates at Hallein gave him marvellous opportunities. Due to Dr. Kellner's sudden demise much has been lost to the grave: splendid growths are stillborn ere they have flowered for us.

He still had so much to give that will not now see the light of day. Because he ever strode forward, in advance of his time, he shone a light far and wide into the darkness - far further than we could see. He inexorably illuminated the inner workings of Nature - and perhaps it is more than poetic licence to add that inexorable Nature, as jealous guardian of her own secrets - Nature it was that carried him off, since she could never hide herself from him.

Der Volksfreund, June 1905.
Translated by Mark Parry-Maddocks.

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