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Dr. George Stern Leaves a Legacy of Pallet Research
Pallet Salute: The pallet industry loses a retired leader and valuable friend with the passing of Dr. George Stern; prolific researcher founded the William H. Sardo Jr. Pallet and Container Laboratory at Virginia Tech.
By Dr. Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 5/1/2001
I missed seeing Dr. George Stern at this year’s annual NWPCA meeting. He had rarely, if ever, missed an association annual convention. Even though George retired from Virginia Tech in 1979, he continued his active work and pursuit of truth for the wooden pallet industry that he loved and served so faithfully.
Our industry lost a truly dedicated servant when Dr. George Stern, 88 years old, passed away in his sleep on March 19. While I was aware of many of his pallet industry achievements, I did not know that George is said to be the inventor of particleboard and that he held a patent for an improved metal plate for end-plating railroad ties.
George initiated the Stern Fastener and Pallet Research Laboratory and pioneered the wood sciences program at Virginia Tech. He standardized industry definitions of nails, staples, and pallets. He spent ten years developing national standards for railings and staircases and was in the process of internationalizing them.
Few people knew George any better than Bill Sardo, executive vice president emeritus of the NWPCA. Bill said, "Dr. E. George Stern was truly an extraordinary and remarkable man! His reputation as a knowledgeable scientist in the field of material fastenings was known worldwide. George contributed materially to the success of the pallet industry. His efforts on pallet matters were responsible for many successes of the U.S. pallet industry in the area of standards in both the International Standard Organization (ISO) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The entire pallet world owes him a huge debt that could not possibly be repaid. In his lifetime, he was honored to be included in the five Pallet Immortals as defined by the NWPCA Board of Directors."
I, too, appreciate the many sacrifices and accomplishments that George registered for his friends in the pallet industry. It is difficult to list the many things that this prolific researcher accomplished. Many pallet people were not fortunate enough to know him, but our industry is much better off for his efforts. While most retired faculty may make an occasional appearance at the university, George maintained an office. One might have not have realized that he was retired because he could so often be seen doing research at Virginia Tech.
George was instrumental in establishing the William H. Sardo Jr. Pallet and Container Research Laboratory at Virginia Tech in 1976, where he served as director until his official retirement in 1979.
Dr. Geza Ifju, recently retired chairman of the Forest Products Department at Virginia Tech, said, "George was especially known throughout the world for designing fasteners, nails, and screws, and as the pioneer in pallet design and construction." George was involved in research efforts that laid the foundation that eventually resulted in the Pallet Design System that has been so widely used for designing pallets for more than the last 15 years.
Of all his accomplishments, George is probably best known for his extensive work with mechanical fasteners. He was one of the world’s foremost researchers with nails and staples. He was so prominent that he was sometimes affectionately called "Mr. Nail."
Dr. Stern is the first individual to receive two Pallet Salutes from the Pallet Enterprise magazine. We often recognize important people to our industry while they are still alive, typically in the later years of their careers. George was the second person we ever saluted (February 1996). His accomplishments are so noteworthy that we are honoring him as our first double salute recipient.
George was born in Wuerzburg, Germany in 1912. Before immigrating to the U.S., he earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in architecture from Technical University in Munich, Germany. He came to the U.S. and attended graduate school at Penn State, earning M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in architectural engineering. The dean of the school helped George land his first job by recommending him to friends at Virginia Tech.
Stern moved to Blacksburg, VA in 1941 where he lived with his wife Marianne. The couple lived in a home built on behalf of the industry that served as a demonstration house to test new construction ideas and wood fasteners. He is survived by Marianne, two sons, and a daughter. George had nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Although Stern enjoyed much success in his career, he admitted that he experienced difficulties in speaking English. George said, "People have to get use to my pronunciation. I went through a speech clinic at Penn State, but they gave up on me. This is one of the things which, in a way, was a handicap." To compensate, George wrote continuously, amassing about 900 publications in more than 150 domestic and foreign periodicals, bulletin series and books. His material appeared a number of times in the Enterprise.
George blazed a trail developing the knowledge base on wooden pallets. Everybody in the pallet industry owes him a debt we cannot repay. Thanks George for serving the pallet industry so faithfully.