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Svéd, George (1910–1994)

by P. A. Howell

This article was published online in 2020

George Svéd (1910–1994), engineer and academic, was born on 30 May 1910 in Budapest, eldest of three children of Jewish parents Imre Schossberger, stockbroker, and his wife Elsa, née Grünhut. György (the birth-name he used until the 1930s) was educated at Bolyai high school, matriculating in 1928. In that year he won the Eötvös national mathematics competition and proceeded to the Royal Joseph University (Technical University of Budapest, from 1949). Following a four-year course, he was awarded a diploma in mechanical engineering with the highest honours.

After the collapse of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, notions that all Jews were communists had become common in Hungary. In turn, anti-Semitism was progressively embedded in policy and law, restricting access to higher education and limiting participation in the economy and liberal professions. By 1932 György had changed his surname from Schossberger to the Hungarian-sounding Svéd. With few job opportunities after compulsory military service, he became works engineer in a flax-spinning mill. In July 1935 he married Márta Wachsberger, a mathematician and teacher, who was also of Jewish descent. Immediately following the incorporation of Austria into the German Reich by the Anschluss of March 1938, the couple made plans to leave Hungary as they anticipated further erosion of Jewish rights and the outbreak of war.

In early 1939 the Svéds fled to Australia, chosen because it was an English-speaking country, and ‘a true democracy, the people easy going, and friendly’ (Sved 2006, 221). Lack of recognition of continental European degrees made it difficult for George to find appropriate work at first. By year’s end he was employed at the Woodville plant of General Motors-Holden’s Ltd in Adelaide, mainly on equipment design. His knowledge became valued as the company’s focus turned from producing car-bodies to manufacturing marine craft, guns, and torpedoes for the armed forces in World War II. Seeking an academic post, he was advised that his Hungarian degree could be recognised if he passed the University of Adelaide’s final year examinations in mechanical and electrical engineering. He did so in 1941 without the benefit of attending lectures and was eventually accorded the status of bachelor of engineering ad eundem gradum (1968).

Much of the instruction for the university’s degrees in engineering was entrusted to the South Australian School of Mines and Industry. There Svéd’s examination performance attracted the attention of Walter Schneider, a lecturer in mechanical engineering. In 1943 Schneider invited Svéd to undertake a six-month secondment working with him on a project for the Army Inventions Directorate. Svéd was naturalised in 1945 and the next year he secured a lectureship at the school of mines. In 1950 he transferred to an appointment as senior lecturer at the university. Promoted to reader in civil engineering in 1958, he later served as head of department (1967–68, 1972–74) and dean of the faculty (1969–70). Meanwhile Márta gained employment, teaching mathematics and physics at the inner-suburban Wilderness School from 1942 until 1958. She then became a tutor in mathematics at the University of Adelaide (BSc, 1956; MSc, 1965; PhD, 1985).

George’s research output was widely acclaimed. He promoted the use of computers in solving engineering problems and did much laboratory work, carrying out investigations for industry or government instrumentalities, especially on the behaviour of materials under stress. His abilities in mathematical analysis became legendary, and he was invited to speak at many national and international conferences. Twelve of his published papers identified him as sole author. He persuaded research students or colleagues in Australia or abroad to join him in producing many more. Following the collapse of Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge in 1970, he assisted in its reconstruction, through model testing, and in preparing plans for successfully completing the bridge.

In 1975, the year of his retirement, Svéd was chosen by the Institution of Engineers, Australia, to chair its national committee on metal structures. From 1976 until his death, he remained an honorary visiting research fellow at the University of Adelaide and in 1979 was admitted to the honorary degree of doctor of the university. In 1983 the Technical University of Budapest awarded him its gold diploma. On the occasion of his eightieth birthday the University of Adelaide further honoured him by compiling a volume of thirty-two invited papers and holding a symposium. He was appointed AM in 1991.

The Svéds made good friends in Australia and enjoyed Adelaide, with its freedoms, beaches, concerts, and plays. Survived by Márta (d. 2005) and their son and daughter, he died on 1 November 1994 at Glen Osmond and was cremated, his ashes interred in Centennial Park cemetery. At the university a prize in civil engineering and a laboratory were named after him.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Barr Smith Library, University of Adelaide. MSS 0056, George Sved (1910–1994) and Marta Sved (1911?–2005), Papers, 1937–1995
  • Casse, Ray. Personal communication
  • Fargher, Philip. ‘Strength Researcher Was Force to be Reckoned With.’ Australian, 11 November 1994, 17
  • National Archives of Australia. A435, 1945/4/1153
  • National Archives of Australia. A1068, IC47/18/13
  • Simpson, Angus R., and Michael C. Griffith, eds. Proceedings of the University of Adelaide Special Symposium on the Occasion of George Sved’s 80th Birthday. Adelaide: Department of Civil Engineering, the University, 1990
  • Sved, Marta. Two Lives and a Bonus. Norwood, SA: Peacock Publications, 2006.

Additional Resources

Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'Svéd, George (1910–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 6 July 2020.

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