Frank D. Werner Sr. grew up on a Kansas farm, but he didn’t care much for farm life — except for machinery repair.
His love of tinkering bloomed as he matured, and eventually he became a serial inventor, creating businesses that today account for more than 3,500 Twin Cities jobs.
Werner co-founded Rosemount Engineering in the 1950s, developing temperature- and pressure-measuring sensors for jet airplanes and the U.S. space program.
When he died last month at age 94 in Jackson, Wyo., he held 86 patents on things ranging from ski boots to golf clubs.
“His mind was just active,” said Lowell Kleven of Eden Prairie, who worked at Rosemount and at a company Werner later founded called Origin. “He was always trying to improve something. He solved problems.”
Born in Junction City, Kan., Werner got a bachelor’s degree in physics at Kansas State University.
He worked a few years in a lab at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland before landing a job in 1947 at the University of Minnesota’s Rosemount Aeronautical Lab. He also enrolled as a graduate student at the U, earning a Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering.
Werner was doing research at the U’s aeronautical lab when the U.S. Air Force asked him to make sensors for high-speed aircraft. So in 1956, Werner, Vernon Heath and Robert Keppel founded Rosemount Engineering in a converted chicken coop not far from the Rosemount lab.
Rosemount Engineering grew in the 1950s and the 1960s, its sensors becoming standard equipment on jet aircraft. The company’s sensors also were used in missiles and by NASA.
Spacesuits worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin — the first astronauts on the moon — were studded with Rosemount sensors, including ones that monitored oxygen flow. A Rosemount sensor was planted 6 feet into the moon’s surface to measure temperatures long after the astronauts left.
In 1965, Rosemount tried something totally different: ski boots. The avid skier was dissatisfied with leather ski footwear, so he invented one of the first molded plastic ski boots. Bootmaking, however, didn’t prove a core competency; Rosemount sold its ski boot division in 1968.
In the late 1960s, Rosemount diversified into a field that would prove much more promising: industrial-pressure and temperature-measurement systems, chiefly for pipes and pipelines used in the oil and chemical industries.
But by the end of 1970, Werner left Rosemount to focus on inventing, starting his own engineering company and moving to Wyoming. In the early 1970s, he created a technology for fixing windshield cracks. He engineered solar panels. And Werner — a golf enthusiast — developed new drivers and putters and wrote three books on golf club design.
Publicly traded Rosemount was purchased in 1976 by St. Louis-based Emerson Electric. In 1993, Emerson sold Rosemount’s aerospace division to BF Goodrich, retaining the industrial sensor business.
Connecticut-based United Technologies bought Goodrich in 2011 and today employs around 1,550 in Burnsville. Emerson employs about 2,000 at operations in Shakopee, Eden Prairie and Chanhassen.
Werner was preceded in death by his wife, Alice. He is survived by two sons, David and Robert, both of Teton Village, Wyo.; a daughter, JoAnn Blomberg, also of Teton Village; eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. A memorial is planned in July in Wyoming.