Santa Monica has a plethora of pioneers of industry within its borders. Actors, producers, directors, tech bros, all shaping culture, the city, and how we live. One longtime resident’s innovations reached far beyond the city, the country and even the planet, but don’t butter him up too much– for titanium savant Russell Gordon Sherman, he was just doing his job.
Sherman’s claim to fame is his research and development concerning alloys and heat-treating protocols for the titanium industry, expanding upon the usability of the metal during the formative years of the titanium industry.
These advancements recently landed Sherman, 92, a lifetime achievement award from the International Titanium Association.
Sherman’s research helped pioneer the high-volume production of titanium aerospace fasteners (the stuff that keeps airplanes and other air and spaceborne vehicles held tightly together), at a critical juncture in the United States’ history– during the Cold War years of the 1950s, when the United States and the Soviet Union were fighting for space supremacy.
“We were in a space race with the Russians,” Sherman, 92, said in a phone call with the Daily Press. “I went to work with a company that made the first vehicle that ever landed on the moon, it was called Surveyor. I was hired because one of the major parts of that vehicle was titanium. Hughes (Howard Hughes’ aerospace company) was a bit nervous about it, so they hired me to work on that project due to my research. That thing landed on the moon long before Apollo and Neil Armstrong.”
Sherman was born in Baltimore and bounced around the country, living in Virginia and Philadelphia. He served in the Army during World War II and the Korean War before being honorably discharged in 1953. After a stint at a manufacturing company in Connecticut, Sherman headed west.
“I got fired and I needed a job,” Sherman said, with a laugh. “I interviewed out here and got hired. It was exciting because no one knew anything about titanium. I was the first metallurgist to do research on it.”
He made fasteners for aircrafts, providing major companies such as Boeing with titanium parts that were lightweight, but most importantly, kept the planes in one piece.
“At the time the air force was the only purchaser of titanium. One day, they reported parts were cracking and breaking. So that was really a bad time, the military wouldn’t be doing so well if the titanium kept cracking. But we worked hard and found out what was happening with it and cured it.”
These days, after helping keep airplanes and space exploration skybound, Sherman still consults in the titanium industry, even lending a helping hand in automotive parts for “the good ol’ boys down South.”
If you’re lucky, you might spot the Titanium Man out in Santa Monica, relaxing after a much-accomplished life.
“I can’t imagine why anyone would want to live someplace else. Santa Monica is a delightful place. It’s growing a bit too fast, maybe. But I like the Huntley (luxury hotel). It’s a beautiful view up there. Make sure to take the elevator straight to the cocktail lounge.”