Elmer L. Hann (1901 – 1990)

During the September 1992 Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineer’s Ship Production Symposium in New Orleans, the first annual Elmer L. Hann Award was given for the best paper presented the year before. I suspect that some people, including some of the Award recipients, wonder, “Who was Elmer Hann?”

That question is answered best by the following extracts from the eulogy that was presented at Elmer Hann’s memorial service by a friend and colleague:

“Born in California into a family of modest means, Elmer had a reasonably normal childhood in a family of active boys, living in a rural environment. Elmer had only a limited formal education; but that did not deter him in the least. While he started his working life at an early age using his hands, it was his mind that developed into the keen instrument by which he achieved success.

“His early working days at Craig Shipyards in Long Beach, California were only a preparation for later success at the Kaiser Shipyards in Swan Island, Oregon where he became General Production Manager. This Master Shipbuilder and Production Genius performed miracles in masterminding the construction of T-2 Tankers and Liberty Ships in a short time at low cost at a critical period for the United States in World War II.

“After the Great War, Elmer remained with the Kaiser Group as a Manager of the Kaiser Industrial Plant in Bristol, Pennsylvania. While there, he sustained a severe heart attack, but during recovery he exercised the self-discipline that so characterized his entire life. After recovery from his heart attack, Elmer joined D.K. Ludwig’s National Bulk Carriers as General Manager of Mr. Ludwig’s Welding Shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia. From Norfolk, Elmer traveled to Kure, Japan in 1951 where he established the Kure Shipyards Division of National Bulk Carriers, Inc.

“It was at Kure that Elmer went on to his greatest business success and it was there that he became a legendary figure in shipbuilding of worldwide reputation. In recognition of his introduction of pioneering methods, techniques and systems of welded ship construction of large ships and overall contributions to shipbuilding in Japan, including the training of hundreds of younger future supervisors and managers of other shipyards in Japan, the Emperor of Japan awarded him the distinct honor of The Third Order of the Sacred Treasure of Japan. He was only the second non-Japanese to receive this prestigious award.

“The superb combination of creative engineer and sagacious businessman permitted him to excel in management of enterprises other than shipbuilding including the transportation, marketing and distribution of salt from Mexico; coal mining in Australia and the JARI Forest Products Project in Brazil. Elmer Hann could and would accept any assignment and succeed with it if that assignment was doable.

“Elmer did much to promote understanding between Japan (and its people) and America – both in business and social life. He respected and liked the Japanese and they in turn reciprocated.

“Elmer possessed a most remarkable and admirable character in addition to a keen and observant mind. Elmer was creative, determined, thorough, loyal, thoughtful and considerate of others, respected the dignity of his fellow man – and had a priceless sense of humor. Elmer never forgot his humble origin. Many times he showed his concern for those who performed the more menial tasks of life, such as the maids at a hotel, restaurant waiters and waitresses, and the cleaners in his office. A kind word of encouragement meant a great deal to these people and Elmer was generous in his praise.

“One of Elmer’s more praiseworthy characteristics was his scrupulous honesty – both in business and personal life. Although his senior executive position might have provided an opportunity for personal advantage, he never took that opportunity. His business expense accounts were models of honesty and clarity.

“Elmer provided sage advice and good counsel to those who sought it and there were many who did so. He was truly a giant among men. I have no hesitation in saying he was one-of-a-kind whose like we shall not see again. I am grateful for having had the opportunity of knowing and working with Elmer.”

Frank Joyce
Executive Vice President
National Bulk Carriers
16 March 1990


Elmer Hann

Hann-portraitI met Elmer Hann in Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries’ shipyard in Kure, Japan; he was then the Vice President, Far East Operations for National Bulk Carriers. In subsequent correspondence he supplemented his appreciation of the work performed by the Society’s Ship Production Committee Panel SP-2 with sage advice, for example in a 7 January 1983 letter to me he wrote: “Your ‘Line Heating’ is by far, the best publication on the subject matter, that has come to my attention. It should be in the hands of all shipbuilders and steel fabricators, whose managers should be made aware, that a practiced eye in viewing welded components for further assembly, can immediately determine the quality of their finished products by the conditions of such components. If such weldments are not neat, without weld distortion, further problems will persist and cost control will be difficult.”

That is typical of how Elmer Hann complimented, encouraged and instructed.

Louis D. Chirillo

1 thought on “Elmer L. Hann (1901 – 1990)”

  1. Ralph Caswell wrote:
    It was our privelege to be friends with Mr. and Mrs. Hahn and their daughter. He invited us to the launching of Petrokure. A Japanese princess was there and Japanese dancing and music afterwards. He was a really wonderful person.
    posted at 00:42:01 on 07/16/06

    Lou wrote:
    Elmer Hann was most gracious when he received my 14 April 1977 inquiry about his “unique role as one of Japan’s phenomenal shipbuilders.” His 17 May 1977 response was written during a period when he was very busy. Thus I wholeheartedly agree with Ralph Caswell. Elmer Hann “was a really wonderful person.”

    The pertinent correspondence is in this PDF file: http://www.nsnet.com/media/

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