On Thursday, February 1, The University of Pennsylvania lost an emeritus professor who was a true pioneer and a brilliant scholar. Ezra S. Krendel passed away peacefully at his home in Swarthmore, surrounded by family and friends. He was 92.
His parents were Joseph Krendel, an artist and architect, and his wife Tamara. They fled Russia by boat in 1913, and their son and only child, Ezra Simon Krendel, was born in the Bronx in 1925.
Ezra Krendel attended Townsend Harris High School and earned a B.A. in physics from Brooklyn College in 1945. He went on to earn Master’s degrees in Physics from MIT in 1947 and in Social Relations from Harvard University in 1949.
More by happenstance than by career planning, Ezra Krendel became an active participant in the development of the field variously known as: human factors, ergonomics, engineering psychology, and human engineering.
His first job in 1949 was at the Franklin Institute Research Laboratories in Philadelphia. These laboratories emerged in early 1942 in response to our pressing requirements for military research and development facilities. Ezra Krendel’s unusual combination of graduate work in physics at MIT and in social relations at Harvard provided the combination of skills which was needed for an Army project underway at the laboratories with both human engineering and systems engineering components.
Within a year, he was heavily involved in a major Air Force study whose purpose was to develop useful engineering models to describe the way pilots few aircraft. Over the years, this project grew and became the basis for many of his major career contributions to the emerging discipline which was then called engineering psychology. In 1959, he and Duane T. McRuer, president of Systems Technology, Inc., published their extensive joint research on pilot models in the Journal of The Franklin Institute, which is the second oldest scientific journal in the United States, and were recipients of the Louis E. Levy Gold Medal awarded, when merited in a given year for the best contribution to the journal. Other past recipients had been Marconi and Vannevar Bush.
In 1966 he accepted an appointment as professor of Operations Research and Statistics at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He was shortly given a secondary appointment in the Moore School of Electrical Engineering, soon to be incorporated into the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and he taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in Human Factors Engineering, which he created. Although an emeritus professor, he continued to teach one semester a year in the engineering school at Penn.
While a professor at The Wharton School, he was the director of the Management Science Center where he contributed to and directed a variety of projects relating to productivity in a variety of industries. He also maintained a consulting practice in which he contributed to post office procedures, the measurement of the effects of alcohol on driving skills and behavior, criminal justice procedures, aviation safety, air traffic control procedures, the sources of human error, and other human factors related problems.
In 1975 he became interested in labor management policies and was engaged by the Office of Naval Research to examine the implications of the evolving unions in the uniformed services of Sweden, Norway, Austria, Holland and Germany and in the U.S. Armed Forces. This resulted in a book published by The University of Pennsylvania Press, and in Professor Krendel becoming an occasional arbitrator in labor management disputes on the panels of both the American Arbitration Association and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. When acting as an arbitrator, he would request site visits wherever appropriate so as to become fully familiar with the workplace procedures enabling him to bring his background in human factors engineering to bear on labor management disputes.
In 1982 his services as an expert witness and advisor in litigation were first requested. By 1992 he had been called in 70 cases by a variety of lawyers — by the plaintiff’s attorney, 34 times and by the defense, 36 times.
He has been honored with the rank of Fellow in the following societies: The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, The Association for Psychological Science, The American Psychological Society, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His biography is in American and Women of Science and Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Science and Engineering, Who’s Who in Finance and Business and Who’s Who in American Education.
He founded the Engineering Laboratory and the Operations Research Division at the Franklin Institute. While working on or directing a large number of research projects for the Departments of Defense and of Transportation, Krendel made contributions to many other aspects of this emerging discipline. A partial list includes: visual search, electroencephalograms, communications, vehicle design and safety, human capability for physical work, training techniques, and visual display design and evaluation. He has been a consultant to the United States Department of: Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force, Commerce, Justice and Transportation as well as to NATO, and to industry. He was a member of various U.S. Government committees including several Highway Research Boards and the NASA Research Advisory Committee on Control, Guidance and Navigation. He contributed many articles to scientific and engineering journals and chapters to engineering reference books reflecting his extensive experience in human engineering problems.
Professor Krendel was as devoted to his family as he was to his academic career. He was predeceased by his wife Elizabeth, with whom he had three children, David (Alice) Krendel of Atlanta, Ga., Tamara (David) Krendel Clark of Hanover, Mass., and Jennifer (David) Hall of Swarthmore. He is survived by his children; his wife Janet Krendel; and seven grandchildren, Carl Spencer Krendel, Mary Elizabeth Krendel, James Ezra Krendel Clark, Conrad Spencer Krendel Clark, Richard Ezra Hall, Elizabeth Ann Hall and Rebecca Patricia Hall.
Ezra Krendel was also an avid nature lover and mountain climber with many impressive badges on his well-worn Kelty pack; including one for having climbed the hundred highest peaks in the U.S., and one for all the desert peaks. He took his family on many memorable hikes and camping trips in various mountain ranges and, in the course of two summers, tenting in all the National Parks, beginning in Pennsylvania and ending in the Sierra Nevadas.
He loved to read and continued right up until two weeks before he died, having never lost any of his mental facilities. He was interested in everything. In addition to his many fields of expertise he had a passion for history, art, literature and the natural world. He traveled extensively, interested in experiencing other cultures and how they evolved singularly and in their relation to one another with their varying myths, religions and history, and the particular landscapes that formed and transformed their cultures.
He was a gifted photographer, as is attested by the stunning photographs which adorn his home, taken all over the world. His passion for photography began when he was quite young, winning prizes for photos he took and developed — memorably for an arresting photo of a group of young boys varyingly crouched, huddled and standing near a smoking fire — warming themselves after skinny dipping beneath the Washington Bridge — its arc stretching high above into another world. The photographs he took of his children as they were growing up are remarkable — particularly a series from the summers he spent with another family in a rural farmhouse in West Townshend, Vermont, black and white enlargements of which are now in the permanent collection of the town of Jamaica.
He had a delightful and whimsical sense of humor, apparent to all who got to know him. He was a loyal and devoted friend, who loved good food and good conversation — and his erudition covered a wide range of topics. He loved all animals, but especially his standard poodles — so much so that when the last one died he adamantly refused to get another — as he couldn’t stand to go through losing another.
As was his wish, Ezra Krendel passed away in his own home of 60 years, and, as was also his wish, he didn’t die alone; on the contrary, he was continually attended to and visited by loving and devoted family and friends — his bed beside a wall of picture windows overlooking his backyard with its magnificent “champion” beech tree — a home-made bird feeder hoisted high over one of its silvery branches — endlessly alive with birds.
A memorial is tentatively planned for the weekend of April 15, 2018 at the Swarthmore Friends Meeting House on the Swarthmore College campus.
— Tamara Krendel