Celebrating William E. Gifford on Founders Day

After the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, a push for engineering in education occurred in the United States. Many universities began expanding their Engineering Departments and hiring new Professors to support this endeavor. It was during this time that William E. Gifford was hired on at Syracuse University as a Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He taught at the University from 1961 until 1978.  A native of Cleveland, he earned his bachelors in Mechanical Engineering at Cornell University and his Masters at Catholic University. While finishing his Masters he also worked with the National Bureau of Standards on a Simon-type hydrogen liquefier.

Before becoming a Professor, Bill first worked for the Atomic Energy Commission in Richland, WA. (1951-53). While there he developed safer and more cost-efficient methods for dealing with waste water leftover from nuclear reactors.  In 1953, he returned to working in cryogenics at Cambridge Corp. where he tested hydrogen liquefiers and dewar containers. Then in 1955, he was hired by A.D. Little where he worked as a cryogenics consultant and development engineer. It was here that he (in collaboration with Dr. Howard O. McMahon) invented the Gifford-McMahon (GM) Cycle Cryocooler in 1957. This made research at very low temperatures much more accessible to the science and research community.

Prior to this invention, it was often the case that a lab would put together their own units to work at cryogenic temperatures. The new GM Cryocooler was affordable, easier to work with, and much more reliable than the “home grown” inventions. He began receiving requests from fellow scientists for a GM Cryocooler for their own labs. To fulfill these requests Bill Gifford founded Cryomech, Inc. in 1963.

Cryomech continued to grow as a business and when he wasn’t teaching Bill could often be found working on new products and offering advice. He enjoyed meeting and teaching new employees and encouraged them to further their education. Bill Gifford was a passionate educator. He enjoyed sharing his knowledge and teaching others how to come up with innovative solutions to engineering problems. If he saw a problem he always took it as an opportunity to create something new to make life easier.  His goal, no matter what he was working on, was to keep it simple and make it work. Over the course of his life he filed for 15 American and Foreign patents and published 33 papers.

Those who knew him well describe Bill as a very social and likeable person. Although occasionally he could be stern and suffered no nonsense, his generosity was an attribute he would be remembered for the most. These social qualities allowed him to assemble a talented team both at the University and at Cryomech. While the work could be complex and occasionally intense, Bill also loved a reason to relax. Any reason to celebrate was a good one! He was known for hosting gatherings for his coworkers at his family’s lake house and especially loved buying and serving clams for everyone in large quantities. The tradition of celebrations continued at Cryomech and company picnics were a common occurrence.

After Bill passed in 1980, Peter Gifford (who assumed leadership of the company) decided a celebration in his honor would be an excellent way to commemorate Cryomech’s founder. Every year around the third week of June (Bill’s Birthday was June 20th) the company takes the afternoon to enjoy a picnic together and celebrate our history.

This year the Cryomech team enjoyed eating BBQ while raising money for the Make-A-Wish foundation by getting a chance to dunk one of our brave board members!