top of page

Melvin Pass

(1908 - 2004) Pass was an adept production line equipment engineer with a distinguished career improving the manufacture of munitions and their effective recovery and disposal. He was employed as an industrial engineer from 1943 to 1955 at the U. S. Ordinance Corporation, Twin Cities Arsenal, a government owned plant for the production of small arms ammunition and artillery shells. He was recognized for his "breakthrough thinking" and many creative solutions. He was granted several patents, but most of his inventions were not patented. He was working in a war time environment. There was no need for patents, but there was a need for swift, pragmatic solutions to numerous "bottleneck" problems.

Pass was recognized by the Department of the Army for his keen analytical mind, coupled with a splendid engineering background. a government ordnance engineer.


During World War II, Pass designed a method and equipment to eliminate a hazardous manufacturing problem. The then established procedure was to insert primers into the case after they were dry, at which time they were extremely sensitive. Frequent explosions occurred with injuries and even a death. He developed a method and the equipment to insert the primer while still wet and inert, and then immediately drying the primer in special drying ovens. The hazard from explosions was completely eliminated.

After World War II, Pass was largely responsible for developing machinery used in the salvage of both serviceable and unserviceable ammunition. He designed production equipment for safely deactivating thousands of tons of unserviceable and hazardous ammunition returned from combat. This operation, involving handling of some 400 million rounds of small arms ammunition. Pass laid out a complete, automated production line, designed and built special high speed machines to separate the cartridges into their original metallic components. He designed a completely original machine to separate live rounds from links, separating it into basic clean metal components, thereby obtaining prices several times in excess of that obtained for conglomerated scrap metal generated by previous demilitarization methods. These machines were fast, rugged, and rarely stopped or jammed, and required a minimum of maintenance. This deactivation process continued from 1946 until mid-1951, recovering millions of dollars in metals, powder, and training ammunition. The value of the materials salvaged and recycled with this process and the equipment developed by Pass was well in excess of $100 million dollars. While his innovations are credited with saving the U.S. government millions of dollars, more importantly, they saved untold hours of production time when the products from the arsenal were sorely needed in areas of combat.

He devised equipment and developed systems for "mothballing" production machinery after that war and for reactivation and use during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. After the second World War, many machine tools were put on a "standby" basis, and were coated with specially developed petroleum-based compounds which provided a tough, elastic, protective coating over its metal surface. Excellent protection was obtained, but getting the stuff off when the military wanted to use those machines again for the Korean Conflict was a problem. The major problem was the amount of time and manpower required to remove these protective coatings. Hand removal of preservatives required "elbow grease" and specially designed solvents, and crews of two and three men working for hours, even days, on a single machine. On large equipment several thousands of gallons of hot solvent were required to completely clean the machine. This problem was solved by Mr. Pass and Leslie Cox, an engineer at the Lake City arsenal in Independence, Missouri. They exchanged ideas; and came up with an invention that looked like a cross between a steam cleaner and a shower bath and, in action its operations resembled those of a combination dry cleaning plant and an automatic car wash.

With this Portable Mechanical Degreaser, the protective coating, which used to take days to remove, could be melted off in three to seven minutes. This invention greatly speeded preservative removal from installed production lines for reactivation during the Korean War (and later the Vietnam War). The production lines at the Twin Cities Arsenal consisted of approximately 500 machines. On August 14, 1950, the chief of ordinance gave the arms plant 120 days to get back into production. In 12 days, Pass and his men cleaned the 500 machines needed to start making ammunition. The first cartridges started coming off the plant’s assembly line months ahead of schedule.

Many of his inventions and processes were adapted by Department of Defense for use by the Army, Navy, and Air Force and were used throughout the entire United States in hundreds of arsenals and military installations. The methods developed by him for degreasing and reactivating production line equipment have been adopted as a Military Standard and have been incorporated into Ml-Std-107, a Department of Defense publication. The entire manual was prepared from an original illustrated manual personally written by Pass. His recommendations regarding manufacturing techniques and processes were so respected throughout the entire small arms ammunition manufacturing industry that almost all of his inventions and processes were adopted by that industry.

Later in life, while working with the Small Business Administration, he assisted hundreds of small companies and inventors in obtaining and using new and advanced technologies.

bottom of page