Clarence M. Asbill, Jr.

1902 – 1987
Machine Deisgn, School of Textiles, NC State

Clarence M. Asbill, Jr. Born April 21, 1902 and died April 12,1987
Years of Service NCSU Textiles 1946 – 1967

 

Asbill was born April 21, 1902 in Columbia, S.C. to Clarence M. and Beatrice Watson Asbill. He graduated from Clemson College in 1925 with a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering and was initiated into Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society. He had some studies at Cornell but times were tough and he left for industry.  He went to work for Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co., Broad River Power Company of South Carolina from 1925­ – 1927. Following the request of his father, he joined the family Asbill Motor Co., dealer for Dodge and Plymouth automobiles in Columbia. Teaching people how to drive their new cars was not his cup of tea, so he joined the faculty of Clemson as Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering from 1929­ – 1935. He married Benet Katherine Godfrey of Columbia on June 8, 1929. They raised two children, Betty and C.M.A. III (Buddy).

Following the lead of a good friend he met at Clemson, Malcolm Campbell, he became assistant textile engineer with the Bureau of Agricultural Economics of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1935 – ­1941. He joined the Southern Regional Research Laboratory, New Orleans, Louisiana, as a cotton technologist from 1941 – ­43. One of his projects resulted in US patent 2,365,793, for a Cotton Working Machine. He then left to join the Callaway Institute, Inc., LaGrange, Georgia, the research arm of the famous Callaway textile group. There he was research Engineer and instructed in engineering from 1943­ – 1946. He was in charge of improvement and design of textile machinery for the mills. (5) One of his projects there resulted in US Patent 2,432,270, for a Loom Beam.

Clarence M. Asbill, Jr. 1946
Courtesy Textile Forum (5)

In 1946, he was pursued to leave industrial research and join with Dean Malcolm Campbell at North Carolina State College. Clarence sincerely enjoyed working with students and missed his years at Clemson. Campbell was assembling a group of faculty to meet the onslaught of returning GIs who flooded onto campus after WWII. He was appointed to head up machine development. It was obvious his fit would be perfect. Campbell had a pile of inherited laboratory and production scale equipment that he described as “new, used, and junk.” Asbill got to work improving machines for opening and cleaning cotton and assigned him to simplify knitting machinery and to apply electronic devices to textile processes and equipment. (5)

Carding research, Asbill on far right

Asbill worked with Professor Jack Bogdan to study cotton carding and waste reduction. Improved quality in industrial production led to national publicity in Textile World magazine. They collaborated on the development of a Nepotometer in 1954 that allowed companies to sample and determine cotton quality in four minutes. (3, page 89­ – 90)

Asbill with the Nepotometer he designed working with Jack Bogdan.

Clarence was professor of Machine Design and aided many researchers in creating the equipment needed to further their students’ research. (1) He also stood by to assist the dean in whatever was needed. “What could television do to promote on­campus programs to the people back home?” This was the question in the early 1950s. In 1953, the State of North Carolina was assigned eight channels for educational television – UNC­TV was formed. (3)

Dean Malcolm Campbell and the UNC­TV producers decided to produce a 15­minute show that would answer the question, “What is a spindle?” For many years the number of spindles in place or operating in textile mills was the measure of textile progress. You could not haul a full­size spinning frame to the TV studio in Chapel Hill or move a recording studio to a plant floor or to the labs in the School of Textiles. The producers decided to ask resident engineering genius and inventor, Clarence Asbill, to build a one­spindle, portable spinning frame – in three days. Campbell wrote, “He is one of those people who can do the impossible in three days; and we were not surprised when out of his shop came a perfect little machine, painted a beautiful green.” (2)

Knit/weaving machine

Dishcloth Fabrics made on Knit Weaving machine

Machine shop Instrumentation classroom

Shedtester used to evaluate the quality of the warp protection given by size

Included in his inventions, was a knit weaving machine used to dramatically speed up the production of dishcloths. In support of other researchers including Charles Livengood, he developed a “shed­tester” to test the efficiency of new sizing materials. One of the faculty who later became dean was Dame S. Hamby, who was quoted: “He was a strong member of our research team. If we needed a machine built or manufactured, he was the one who did it.” He also said: “Asbill left private industry because he liked students and because he preferred the freedom of academia more than building machines to a company’s specifications.” (4)

Instrumentation Classroom

Asbill Visiting Peruvian Textile firms, 1955

A Peru Project was begun in 1955 to interact with the Peruvian textile industry. Asbill departed for Peru in early May and set up a textile instrumentation laboratory and gave lectures on instrumentation. (3, page 109 – ­110)

In 1968, Dr. Robert W. Work, Director of Textile Research, and Asbill, now a retired textile machine design professor, designed and constructed the only university­built dry fiber­spinning machine in the country.

Professors John A. Cuculo and T. Waller George used this equipment to develop a very successful graduate research program to develop high strength fibers. (3, page 128)

He was a member of Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Xi and others.

Following retirement, he was elected professor emeritus. Asbill died Palm Sunday April 12, 1987 in Raleigh.

Selected US patents:

  1. 2,365,793 issued December 26, 1944 “Cotton Working Machine” assigned to USDA.
  2. 2,432,270 issued December 9, 1947 “Loom Beam” assigned to Callaway Mills, LaGrange, Georgia
  3. 2,471,055 issued May 24, 1949 “Dispensing Apparatus” assigned to NC State College
  4. 2 698 538, issued Jan 4 1955 “Nep Potential Meter,” John F. Bogdan and Clarence M. Asbill, Jr. , Filed Dec 29, 1953.

 

Sources:

  1. Anderson, Betty Asbill, Personal communication, December 31, 2011.
  2. Campbell, Malcolm, “From the Dean’s Desk,” Textile Forum, Vol. 10, No. 1, Feb. 1953, p25­ – 26.
  3. Mock, Gary N., A Century of Progress: The Textile Program North Carolina State University 1899­ – 1999, North Carolina Textile Foundation, Raleigh, 2001.
  4. Obituary “Funeral set for Clarence Asbill, Raleigh News & Observer, April 14, 1987.
  5. “New Textile School Faculty Members,” Textile Forum, Fall 1946, page 35­ – 36.
  6. Asbill, C.F., “What Does Automation Mean?,” Textile Forum, February 1956, pages 8­9, 35.
  7. C.M. Asbill, Jr., “A Logical Approach to Textile Automation,” Textile Forum, October 1961, pages 12­ – 14, 19­ – 21.