Page 1: Biography
Kissel, Frederick Templeton Manheim
Engineer, engineering administrator
This biography, written by F. Nigel Stace, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Frederick Templeton Manheim Kissel was born at Templeton, Canterbury, on 27 March 1881, the son of Catherine Sutherland, a Scotswoman, and her husband, George Phillip Kissel, a German storekeeper. Frederick's stamina and ability became evident at an early age. He was an enthusiastic rugby and tennis player and cycled 18 miles each day to attend Christchurch Boys' High School from 1894 to 1898. He gained a Junior Scholarship there and other scholarships at Canterbury College. In 1905 he graduated BSc in mechanical engineering from the University of New Zealand. After a year's work on construction of the railway line to Arthur's Pass, he became an assistant engineer and made the first survey at Lake Coleridge, Central Canterbury, between 1905 and 1907. He then worked in that region on the railway at Broken Hill and Staircase.
In 1907 Kissel surveyed water-races for Selwyn County Council, Canterbury, and from then until 1909 was engineer for Wairarapa South County Council. On 1 December that year, in Reefton, he married Isabel Hindmarsh Guinness; they were to have five children. Frederick was by this time Selwyn's chief engineer, with river diversion and irrigation responsibilities.
In 1911, after reporting on the hydroelectric power potential of Lake Coleridge, Kissel was appointed there as first resident assistant engineer by the Public Works Department. That year the department's electrical branch was established to build the government's first power station, and he became involved in tunnelling and civil engineering. After the station had been completed in 1915, Kissel was transferred to Wellington. Mangahao, the government's first North Island power station, became his responsibility from 1920 to 1924. Then, following his investigations overseas into the latest hydroelectric technology, he was appointed chief electrical engineer. He held that position until the State Hydro-electric Department was constituted in 1945. Kissel was general manager until his retirement in 1948.
During his 24-year regime, electricity changed from an uncertain source of energy available only to isolated groups to a standard, reliable power supply available to all through a national system. This system attracted such world interest that in 1934 Kissel was invited to London to describe it. However, he was unable to go because his wife was ill. Isabel Kissel died in 1935.
In June 1939, concerned that power shortages would be likely in the North Island from 1941, Kissel submitted a 10-year plan for a series of stations on the Waikato River. But politics, then war, delayed its implementation. As electricity and lighting controller Kissel had to impose drastic rationing and restrictions that he detested. However, despite years of shortages and acrimony he held the respect of colleagues and critics. He had vision, a sense of humour, exercised his authority effectively, and was conscientious almost to a fault.
Kissel was a leader of his profession. From 1932 to 1933 he was president of the New Zealand Society of Civil Engineers, and he was also chairman of its education committee. In 1937 he promoted the change of the society's name to the New Zealand Institution of Engineers; in the 1930s and 1940s he was on its publications committee; and from 1925 to 1958 he was a member of the Engineers Registration Board. He was appointed an ISO in 1948 and, for his 'exceptional and distinguished service', received the institution's first F. W. MacLean Citation in 1954. He was also a director of William Cable Holdings.
On 16 June 1943 at Kilbirnie, Wellington, Frederick Kissel married Thyrza Irene Maria Cornwall. She died in 1948. At Karori, Wellington, on 17 December 1955, he married a widow, Eva Collett (née Kim). He died at Wellington on 15 July 1962, survived by his wife, and three daughters and two sons from his first marriage. Despite the tragedy of his first wife's early death, Kissel's life was full and varied. His family played an important part in it, and he became their admired patriarch.