Walter Kistler

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Walter P. Kistler
Walter Kistler.jpg
DiedNovember 2, 2015
Alma materUniversity of Geneva, ETH Zurich
Known forMultiple inventions, Kistler Group
AwardsAlbert F. Sperry Award (issued by the ISA)
Aerospace Pioneer Award from the AIAA)
Scientific career
InstitutionsSwiss Locomotive and Machine Works, Bell Aircraft

Walter P. Kistler (1918 – November 2, 2015) was a physicist, inventor, and philanthropist, born in Biel, Switzerland. Kistler is a life member of the Swiss Physical Society and a member of AIAA and ISA, which presented him the Life Achievement Award in 2000. He held patents on more than 50 inventions in the scientific and industrial instrumentation fields, and had published a number of papers in scientific and trade journals.

Education and first inventions[edit]

Kistler studied sciences at the University of Geneva and earned a master's degree in physics from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. While subsequently head of the Instrumentation Lab at the Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works, Winterthur, he pioneered a new measurement technology using Piezo-electric quartz crystals as the transduction element in accelerometers, load cells, and pressure gauges. This new technology was made possible by Kistler’s invention of a charge amplifier that could handle the very high impedance signals obtained from such sensors. For these achievements, he would in 1980 receive the prestigious Albert F. Sperry Award from the Instrument Society of America (ISA).[1]


In 1951, Kistler moved to the United States and joined Bell Aircraft, Buffalo, New York. At Bell, he invented and developed a pulse constraint servo-accelerometer that was later used in the guidance of the Agena space rocket. For this work, he received the 1968 Aerospace Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), recognizing “his pioneering effort in the development of high-performance aerospace instrumentation.” In 1954, Kistler founded Kistler Instrument Company in order to further pursue his work in quartz instrumentation. The company was incorporated in 1957. Under Kistler's supervision, his company made several major innovations, some of which would be put to use in the Apollo manned spaceflights, and became a world leader in the development of quartz sensors.

Kistler sold the company, which currently is known as Kistler Group, in 1968 and moved to Seattle, Washington. In 1974, he founded with his partner Charles Morse the Kistler-Morse Corporation. Kistler supervised and designed a number of innovations in sensors while at this company, and in 1982 he was named an ISA Fellow for his contributions in the field of sensor development. In the 1960s, Kistler developed a shorthand writing system that he called Steno, and initiated a project called The Steno Trust in 1997 to teach the system for applications in education, industry, and law. In Kistler's view, the greatest application of Steno is in the writing of journals.

Later life and the Foundation For the Future[edit]

In his later life, Kistler played a central role as Director or Chairman in the startup of several high-technology companies. These companies include Kistler Products, SRS, ICI, Interpoint, Paroscientific, and SPACEHAB, Inc. In 1993 he co-founded Kistler Aerospace Corporation “to pursue his life-long dream of designing and building the world's first totally reusable space vehicle,” hoping to reduce the cost of access to space by 80 to 90%.

Though Kistler’s life was predominantly spent in science and engineering, he was always concerned about where humanity was headed, and in 1996 he co-founded (with Bob Citron) the Foundation For the Future. The Foundation’s original goal was to “increase knowledge about the factors that may have a major impact on the long-term future of humanity.”

Foundation For the Future programs included awarding the annual Kistler Prize; awarding of other Walter P. Kistler prizes to recognize book authors, film producers, or teachers who promote scientific knowledge and understanding related to the long-term future of humanity; funding research grants (up to US $25,000) to support scholars undertaking research directly related to better understanding the factors affecting the long-term future of humanity; hosting/sponsoring conferences to bring together scientists and scholars from multiple disciplines and various parts of the world for discussions focused on the thousand-year future of our species and our planet; and undertaking public awareness concerning the long-term future of the human species. The Walter P. Kistler Lecture Series was established in 2009 to "bring to the public, free of charge, direct access to expert information on urgent issues facing humanity today and into the future."


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-03-26. Retrieved 2014-03-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

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