Wilmer Linwood Wilbern, son of Edwin V. and Benna Walters Wilbern, was born at Blount Point in Warwick County, Virginia. He lived in Warwick County, now Newport News until he was twenty-seven. Before coming to Lehigh for a bachelors degree in industrial engineering, Wilbern served in the Army Air Corps. in WWII.
A Career in Metals
Once he graduated from Lehigh, Wilbern went to work as a metallurgist and production engineer for The Electro Metallurgical Company, a division of Union Carbide Corporation, in Marietta, Ohio. In 1955 he was promoted to Assistant to Superintendent at the Titanium plant in Ashtabula, Ohio and then to Assistant Superintendent, Alloys Division at the same plant. Wilbern moved to Alabama when he was appointed Assistant Plant Manager at the Sheffield location in 1962. He moved to Niagra Falls, New York in 1963 as a Long-range Design Engineer. When his division of Union Carbide was sold to Elkem Metals Company in 1981, Wilbern moved to its plant in Kristiansand, Norway for the year of 1982. He retired from Elkem in 1983 as manager of computer technology, but continued to do consultant work until 1988.
A Leader in His Field
Beginning in 1966, Wilbern led the group that was the first to successfully apply new technology for computer control of large electric smelting furnaces. The group was granted a patent in the U.S. and in several other countries for their work. As a result of this development, he became known throughout the industrialized world as "the father of process computer control of electric smelting furnaces" and traveled extensively in the promotion and installation of the process.
Wilbern's mastery of six different languages proved to be very useful as he spent seventeen years traveling to plants to install this application. His job took him across the globe including all over the United States, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Brazil, and Tazmania. He also did business in over twenty other countries from Russia to Zimbabwe and most of Europe.
Apart from his plant work, Wilbern delivered technical papers at six different annual Electric Furnace Conferences of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) in the United States and Brazil. He won the Charles W. Briggs Award for the outstanding paper at the 1980 AIME conference. The Charles W. Briggs Award, given by the Association for Iron and Steel Technology (AIST), is presented to the author of the best technical paper submitted to and judged by the Electric Steelmaking Technology Committee.
Outside of the Classroom
Wilbern was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity at Lehigh. Up until his death, he remained a trustee of the House Corporation of the Beta Lambda chapter. After retiring, he spent some time in Niagra Falls, New York before returning to Newport News, Virginia where he was a charter member for the Optimist Club and a charter member and past Commander of Warwick Post 225 of the American Legion. In his free time, Wilbern was an ardent golfer and gourmet cook.