Tinius Olsen

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Tinius Olsen (December 7, 1845 – October 20, 1932) was a Norwegian-born American engineer and inventor. He was the founder of the Tinius Olsen Material Testing Machine Company, a maker of material testing machines. He was awarded the Elliott Cresson Medal of The Franklin Institute in 1891 for his autographic testing machine.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Tinius Olsen was born in Kongsberg, in the county of Buskerud, Norway. He was one of eight children of Ole Thorstensen (1821–1865) and Helene Marie Hansdatter (1818–1909). His father and grandfather were makers of wooden gun stocks. Olsen graduated from the Horten Technical School (Horten tekniske skole) in 1866.[2] [3][4]

Employment and Immigration[edit]

Olsen first became the foreman of the machine department at a large naval machine shop. Olsen subsequently immigrated to the United States during 1869. Starting in August 1869, Tinius worked as a designer for William Sellers & Co. He was later employed by the firm of Riehlé Brothers, scale and testing-machine manufacturers in Philadelphia. As the firm’s superintendent, Olsen was the principal designer of Riehl’s testing machines during the 1870s.[5]

"Little Giant"[edit]

In 1880, he submitted a patent application for an improved testing machine and the patent was granted the same year, on June 1, 1880. Called the Little Giant it was presented to industrial expositions in Cincinnati and Atlanta during 1881, winning gold medals at both shows. In 1891, Olsen was awarded the Elliott Cresson Medal by the Franklin Institute for his invention.[6]

The Little Giant was a vertical model which could accurately perform tension, transversality, and compressive stress tests with just one instrument housed in a single frame. The device was relatively cheap, compact, and simple to operate. Forces were applied to a test specimen from both above and below. Upper and lower loading cross heads contained grips which held the specimen and crushed it, or pulled it apart as the operator turned a handle attached to a system of gears. In 1880, Olsen started the Tinius Olsen Testing Machine Company to produce the device. [7]

Later years[edit]

Olsen was awarded the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav in 1907. Olsen retired from the company in 1929 and died during 1933 in Philadelphia. Olsen remembered his origin with gifts to his home land including awards to Horten Technical School and Kongsberg Church as well grants to a retirement home in his wife's home town of Helsingborg, Sweden. Since 1928 his bust by local sculptor Trygve Thorberg (1884-1944) has stood in Magasinparken city park in Kongsberg. Tinius Olsens School in Kongsberg was established on August 17, 1959.[8] [9]

Personal life[edit]

In 1874, Olsen married Swedish-born physician, Amalie Charlotte Yhlen (1839–1920). Olsen died during 1932 and his wife during 1920. Both were buried at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. They were the parents of Thorsten Yhlen Olsen (1879- 1957) who succeeded his father as president of the firm.[10]

Selected list of patents[edit]

  • Improvement In Testing Machines – United States Patent # 213,586. Issue date: Mar 1879
  • Testing Machine – United States Patent # 228,214. Issue Date: June 1, 1880
  • Recording Testing-Machine – United States Patent # 445,476. Issue date: Jan 27, 1891

Tinius Olsen Testing Machine Company[edit]

The company founded in 1880 by Tinius Olsen remains a specialist manufacturer and supplier of static tension and/or compression materials testing machines. The Tinius Olsen Testing Machine Company designs and manufactures testing machines for determining the mechanical properties of metals, plastics and composites.[11]

Tinius Olsens School

Tinius Olsens School[edit]

The Tinius Olsens School (Fagskolen Tinius Olsen) is a combined technical vocational college and secondary school in Kongsberg. The school offers courses covering industrial and trade related subjects, as well as a foundation for the study of advanced technology. A section of the school offers advanced subjects, as well as arranging courses on request from the industry in Kongsberg.[12]


  1. ^ Trond Smith-Meyer Tinius Olsen, Ingeniør og Oppfinner (Norsk biografisk leksikon)
  2. ^ Tinius Olsen in Kongsberg (Loftsgard: Nore og Uvdal, volume 5 pages 2249-51. Kåre Sønsterud: Nore og Uvdal Part II volume 3. pages1809-11)
  3. ^ Tinius Olsen (Kongsberg videregående skole)
  4. ^ A Migration of Skills (By Kenneth Bjørk (The Norwegian-American Historical Association. Volume XIV: Page 1)
  5. ^ Riehlé Bros. Philadelphia, PA (Old Woodworking Machines)
  6. ^ About Tinius Olsen (Tinius Olsen Engineering Testing Machine Company)
  7. ^ Tinius Olsen and his Little Giant (The American Society of Mechanical Engineers)
  8. ^ Glenny Alfsen. "Trygve Thorberg". Norsk kunstnerleksikon. Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  9. ^ Skolested Tinius Olsen runder 50 år (Kongsberg videregående skole , Published 7 February 2014, updated 22 October 2014)
  10. ^ Earl A. Ruth. "Tinius Olsen, the Man, his Company, and the Machines Contributing to the History of Mechanical Testing" (PDF). astm.org. Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  11. ^ About Our Company (Tinius Olsen Group)
  12. ^ The industrial founder Tinius Olsen (Go Norway – Kongsberg)

Other sources[edit]

  • Lovoll, Odd Sverre (1999) The Promise of America (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press)
  • Bjork, Kenneth (1947) Saga in Steel and Concrete Norwegian Engineers in America (Northfield, MN: Norwegian-American Historical Association)
  • Tatnall, Francis G. (1925) Evolution of the Testing Machine (Philadelphia: Riehl Brothers Testing Machine Co.)

External links[edit]