CARSON VALLEY, Nev.--(Don possessed a titanic intellect and an astute business mind. His small business, Bently Scientific Company, began operating out of his garage in Berkeley, California, in 1956, and from these humble beginnings he would create a new global industry as well as an entirely new field of engineering.)--
Don was born in Muscatine, Iowa on October 18, 1924 and served in World War II as a Seabee, making four major amphibious landings during WW II. He attended the University of Iowa to receive a BSEE in 1949, followed by an MSEE in 1950.
Don did graduate-level coursework at UC Berkeley and UCLA while working for North American Aviation/Rocketdyne, and during this time he was exposed to electronic sensing technologies for aircraft control systems. Don had the first industry insight that this technology showed commercial promise elsewhere, and received permission to use it in his own endeavors. In 1956 Don left his employer, and formed the Bently Scientific Company, which made and sold eddy-current products via mail order from his garage in Berkeley, California.
Don moved his fledging company to Minden, NV in October 1961 and re-named it Bently Nevada Corporation.
Here he began to experiment with eddy-current sensors for measuring vibration on turbines, compressors, pumps, electric motors, and other turbomachinery. This innovation was successful, allowing machinery operators a practical method of observing actual shaft vibratory motion for the first time. Soon after, Don augmented his sensors with monitoring instrumentation that accepted his sensors as inputs and provided simple visual indication of the amount of vibration. Users could set alarm levels for alert and machine shutdown purposes when vibration levels became excessive. From that time forward, Bently began to focus his company's efforts almost exclusively on instrumentation for rotating machinery condition measurements.
Don’s unique ability to bridge the gap between laboratory success and commercial success resulted in substantial growth of the business. By the time he sold Bently Nevada to GE Energy in 2002, the company had 2000 employees worldwide and operated from more than 100 offices in 42 countries.
Don authored more than 140 papers and articles dealing with rotordynamics and condition monitoring technologies. In 2002 he co-authored a textbook, Fundamentals of Rotating Machinery Diagnostics, which educated the new rotating machinery diagnostics industry. It is considered a keystone of the industry today.
Don was proud to have been awarded an honorary Doctorate in Engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno, (1987), an honorary A.A. degree from Western Nevada Community College (1988), an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the Institute of World Politics, Washington, D.C., (2003) and an honorary Doctor of Science degree from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (2007) where he established the Donald E. Bently Center for Engineering Innovation.
Don founded many other successful Nevada businesses, including Bently Pressurized Bearing Company, Bently Tribology Services, Bently Agrowdynamics, Bently Biofuels, Gibson Tool & Supply, and RoMaDyn, a mechanical engineering services and diagnostics company.
In each of these endeavors, Don stressed a core business value that he dubbed the "enlightened use of resources." This ethical standard entails the efficient use of renewable resources, avoiding the waste of natural resources, and the conservative use of corporate resources to provide the best overall win for customers, company, employees, and the environment. In Don's own words, "It has been said that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. That is how it is with principles. Early in my career I decided that I would be absolutely true to my principles. In the end, I have never regretted adhering as closely as I know how to a set of timeless principles." These maxims remain true for all of Don's companies, and are an invaluable part of his long-lasting legacy.
Don was a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a Foreign Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Engineering in Russia (1992) and a Visiting Scholar of Tsinghua University in Beijing, China (1992). He was a trustee of the Institute of World Politics, and a member of the ASME Industrial Advisory Board. Donald was honored as Nevada’s outstanding inventor for 1983. In 1992, Mr. Bently was selected to be the first person to receive the Vibration Institute’s DECADE Award.
Don was a well-known philanthropist, working to preserve the natural beauty of Nevada's Carson Valley region via his love of agriculture and ranching. To the end of his days Don was a forward-thinking individual who tirelessly labored to innovate green technologies and to conserve the natural beauty of Nevada's Carson Valley. Further, in addition to countless local programs, Don gave to multiple schools, and contributed generously to the U. S. Navy Seabee Museum at Port Hueneme, CA.
Don will be remembered not only as an engineer who helped shape the global rotating machinery industry, but also as an ethical and environmentally conscientious businessman who helped change the face of the American West.
Don’s legacy and entrepreneurial spirit will continue through the leadership of his son, Christopher P. Bently. The Owner and CEO of Bently Enterprises, Christopher manages all of the Bently entities.
Bently Enterprises seeks to improve the renewable energy, real estate, and engineering industries. Learn more at http://bentlyenterprises.com.