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Agricultural Engineering Visionary Dies

July 9, 1997

Hjalmar D. (Ham) Bruhn, emeritus professor of agricultural engineering, died July 1 at his summer cottage on Black Oak Lake near Land O’Lakes, Wis. He was 89 years old.

During his 44-year career at UW–Madison, Bruhn and his graduate students were noted for machinery-design work. A tree planter that Bruhn designed during World War II is still in use, and its design is incorporated into planters sold today. His other equipment designs include a portable rotary sprinkler irrigator, a self-propelled cherry harvester, harvesters for lake weeds, and snowmobile trail levelers.

Bruhn worked extensively on forage handling and processing equipment. His paper on forage mower-conditioners won the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE) outstanding paper award in 1956; today, the machines are used on virtually every forage-producing farm in the United States and Europe.

Bruhn is also noted for a low-tech protein extraction system he designed and built to combat malnutrition in Mexico. The system produces a protein-rich paste from local alfalfa crops; villagers eat this “alfalfa butter” with red bean paste on tortillas. Under the sponsorship of several charitable organizations, this project continues in Mexico and elsewhere.

Bruhn received the Polygon Outstanding Instructor Award from the ASAE in 1970. In 1992, he was awarded the McCormick-Case Gold Medal in honor of his engineering achievements and his professional influences on his students.

Bruhn grew up on a dairy farm near Spring Green, Wis. He earned bachelor’s degrees in agricultural engineering and mechanical engineering from the UW–Madison, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bruhn began his career at UW–Madison in 1933 as a research assistant. He retired in 1978, but continued his design work at the department, as well as lecturing on the dangers of spontaneous combustion in stored forages, and working with the sponsors of the Mexican alfalfa-juice project.

Bruhn is survived by his wife, Janet Weber Bruhn; his daughter, Janet Bruhn Jeffcott; his brother-in-law, Walter F. Weber and his family; and many nieces and nephews.