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CHAD O’CONNOR
Chadwell (Chad) O’Connor, founder of OConnor Engineering,
was an inventor, steam engine enthusiast, and is most
remembered as the inventor of the fluid-damped camera
head, an achievement for which he won an Academy Award
in 1992. OConnor Engineering continues to produce camera
support equipment to this day.
O’Connor’s early home environment in his native Boston
likely contributed to his active mind. Johnson O’Connor, his
father, was a well-known psychometrician and pioneer in the
study of aptitude testing. His mother died while he was young,
and his father remarried MIT-trained architect and educator
Eleanor Manning. The young O’Connor acquired his interest in
engineering during frequent trips to the Lynn, Massachusetts
factory of his father’s employer, General Electric. O’Connor
attended the Stevens Institute of Technology and California
Institute of Technology where he earned a degree in
mechanical engineering. World War II broke out shortly after
his college graduation, and O’Connor joined Douglas Aircraft
where he was put in charge of expediting aircraft production
and repair.
O’Connor joined Pasadena Power and Light in California after
the war as chief engineer. He had been interested in steam
engines since he was a boy, and he applied this knowledge
at the power company to improve power production and
incineration. In 1974, he used this experience to develop the
O’Connor Rotary Combustor that burned municipal garbage
to create steam for power generation. The first pilot plant
was built in Japan. In 1980 a production facility was built in
Gallatin, Tennessee that burned 200 tons of municipal waste
a day. This technology was spun out of O’Connor’s company,
O’Connor Engineering to a separate company that was later
purchased by Westinghouse.
O’Connor’s life-long fascination with steam locomotives,
which he realized were a dying breed, continued as a hobby.
He became involved in the refurbishment and reproduction
of classic steam locomotives, recreating the drawings and
producing copies of the 119 and Jupiter locomotives that met
for the driving of the first transcontinental railroad’s Golden
spike at Promontory Summit, Utah. He also tried his hand at
photographing steam engines in motion, which led to his best
known invention.
As he tried photographing moving trains, he became annoyed
by the jerkiness of the pictures. To solve this problem he
developed a silicon-filled platform that interfaced between
the tripod and the camera to allow smooth panning and tilting
of the camera. He had invented the fluid-damped camera
head, a technology still utilized by top-of-the-line camera
support makers worldwide.