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Skip Navigation LinksEskom Heritage>DR HENDRIK VAN DER BIJL - CHAIRMAN OF ESCOM 1923 -1948
                               Dr H J van der Bijl, the first Chairman of ESCOM, was also one of the first truly great South African Scientists                                                                                                  

Hendrik Johannes van der Bijl, the second son of Pieter Gerhard van der Bijl was born on 23rd November 1887 in Pretoria, some 33 years after Scottish missionary David Livingstone first set eyes on the "The Smoke That Thunders" (the Victoria Falls). His parents were typical burghers of the Zuid Afrikaansche (i.e. Boer) Republic of the Transvaal. His father Pieter Gerhard van der Bijl was the seventh generation of the original Dutch van der Bijl family to be born in South Africa. The family had moved to Pretoria a few months before Hendrik was born. Pieter build up a successful business as a produce merchant and property investor. He became quite influential, counting among his many friends such well-known South African politicians and future Prime Ministers as Louis Botha, Jan Smuts, and Barry Hertzog.
Young Hendrik’s education was disrupted because of the Anglo-Boer War. He attended the Staatsch Model School in Pretoria, but the school was closed down and converted to a prisoner-of-war camp. (It was this camp from which young war correspondent Winston Churchill made his much-publicised escape during the early days of the war, just one day before he was to be released anyway.) After the fall of Pretoria in 1900, the family moved to Gordon's Bay and Hendrik was sent to Boys' High School at Franschhoek, from where he matriculated. The boy was interested in music and literature, and philosophy interested him deeply, but it was the exactness and logic of science that gave him great satisfaction, the application of which he held in even greater esteem. The boy did well at school and continued his studies at the Victoria College (today the University of Stellenbosch).

At Victoria College he excelled at physics, but in 1908, when he graduated it was with distinctions in mathematics and chemistry as well. He was also awarded a prize as best student in mathematics and physics.

In those days opportunities for a man of his talents were somewhat limited. He could either become a lecturer and later a professor of physics or join the Department of Agriculture.

 On the other hand, he could further his studies in Europe. This he decided to do and as the German universities were considered leaders in the field of experimental physics, he went to Germany. Up to that stage his father had paid all his education fees, but stated clearly that further expenses were to be looked upon as a loan.
Van der Bijl first studied at Halle, later at the University of Leipzig and although the language was strange to him, it in no way hindered his academic achievements. Within two years, van der Bijl completed his thesis to prove an electron carried the same fundamental charge in ionised liquids as in gases. Impressed by his talent and dedication, his supervisor recommended him highly and he was offered the post of Assistant in Physics at the Royal School of Technology at Dresden. At the beginning of 1912, the 24 year-old van der Bijl took up his new duties, having left Leipzig with the degrees of Masters of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy.

The head of the Department of Physics at Dresden was Professor Hallwachs, the discoverer of the photoelectric effect. Hallwachs had observed that when ultra-violet light struck the surface of a metallic plate, some of the electrons were dislodged at high velocities. If Einstein's and Planck’s new quantum theories were correct, the wavelength of the light should be proportional to the maximum velocity of the electrons. However, several attempts to demonstrate this had so far proved fruitless. Hallwachs brought this perplexing problem to van der Bijl’s attention and suggested that he look into it. This led to van der Bijl’s paper entitled "Zur Bestimmung der Erstenergien lichtelektrisch ausgeslöster Elektronen" [The Determination of the Initial Energies of Photoelectrically Liberated Electrons] being published in April 1913.
Just before the publication of his paper, van der Bijl met Robert Millikan, the eminent American physicist. Millikan was impressed with the young van der Bijl and recommended the young scientist to the Western Electric Company. Van der Bijl accepted their job offer and set out for New York.

His research at this company on the thermionic valve, which was developed by Dr Lee de Forest, led to his treatise entitled The Thermionic Vacuum Tube and Its Applications. It became the standard textbook on the subject for more than 20 years. This research led to the use of these tubes in radio communication. The first successful transmission of speech by radio was made in 1915. Later that year speech was transmitted by radio over a distance of more than 8 000 km. Van der Bijl managed to get the amplifiers to work to the precise tolerances required over this very long distance.

He married an American girl and during the First World War was approached by the American government to assist them with the defence system of the country. He was also associated with the Bell Telephone Laboratories and by 1917 had made significant contributions to the development of the photo-electric cell and by this means also to television. A book which he later published, remained a standard textbook on the subject for some 45 years. Hendrik van der Bijl was extensively honoured for his many scientific achievements.
General J C Smuts had assumed the reigns of government in South Africa. Smuts thought that a scientific adviser would be an asset to his Cabinet, and as van der Bijl’s fame had spread to the country of his birth, he was Smuts’ first choice.

Van der Bijl was persuaded to return to South Africa and in 1920 he left the United States. He was formally appointed as Scientific and Technical Adviser to the Department of Mines and Industries, but was directly responsible to the Prime Minister. At first his work was unrelated to electricity, but soon he started with plans for a public utility to provide the industries with cheap electricity.

The United States had given him plenty of opportunity of acquainting himself with this type of concern. "South Africa", he said, "cannot afford to be unmindful of the very great changes that are taking place in other countries. Once cannot help being impressed with the enormous industrial potentialities of this country".

Van der Bijl wanted to combine the advantage of a state-controlled undertaking with those of a public concern. The capital would be provided by the State and the company would be run on commercial lines. These ideas had already occurred to van der Bijl while in the United States.

In 1923 the Electricity Supply Commission (ESCOM) was founded. As Chairman, van der Bijl borrowed R16 million from the State and began putting his plans into action. From the outset the undertaking was success and within 10 years van der Bijl was able to pay back to the State loan.

Under his expert guidance ESCOM progressed form strength to strength and within a short period of time van der Bijl was able to fulfil his promise: South Africa was assured of sufficient inexpensive power for its fast-growing industries.

Hendrik van der Bijl had originally shaped the Office of the Chairman of ESCOM as an executive chairmanship. It was only while he ran the supplies directorate during World War II that George Harding and Percy Furness handled much of the day-to-day management of ESCOM. Towards the end of the war, van der Bijl resumed control when the expropriation of the Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Company Limited (VFP) was raised, and he only appointed Harding and Furness joint General Managers (that is, executive officers) of ESCOM in 1948.

With ESCOM progressing so well, this far-sighted scientist was able to direct his attention to the steel industry. Before long ESCOM had an industrial twin, namely Iscor (the South African Iron and Steel Corporation). In this instance the promise was to provide inexpensive steel for South Africa. In 1934 the first steel was produced.


During the Second World War, van der Bijl became Director-General of War Supplies and later Director of Supplies, appointments that afforded him the status of a Minister.

It was also during this period that he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, an honour he considered to be the greatest afforded him.
By the end of the war in 1945, Dr Hendrik van der Bijl could look back on 25 years devoted to serving his country. During this period he had been responsible for the founding of dynamic undertakings such as ESCOM, Iscor, Amcor, Vecor and the development of Vanderbijlpark. In this time he had been responsible for the rapid advance of his country along the paths of progress and prosperity. He was a man of vision and forcefulness who planned magnificently. The benefits of these attributes are being reaped in South Africa today.
He had relinquished a most promising career in the United States to be of service to the land of his birth.


Dr Hendrik van der Bijl, a truly great South African, passed away in 1948 while still in the prime of his life.


The sources of this material are:

A Symphony of Power – The Eskom Story, and ESCOM Golden Jubilee 1923 - 1973.

"The Remarkable Dr Hendrik van der Bijl" Dirk J Vermeulen, SAIEE Historical Interest Group, The Proceedings of the IEEE vol 86 no 12, December 1998


"I was born in Pretoria, South Africa, on November 23rd 1887, the fifth child of a family of four sons and four daughters.  I am a direct descendant of  Pieter Gerrit van der Bijl who settled in the Cape of Good Hope in 1665.

The van der Bijl family was founded in Holland in the year 1205 when the name and family crest were granted.

The family that grew in South Africa were mostly of farming stock, but my father, although maintaining his interest in farming during his life, settled in Pretoria in 1886 where he built up a business as produce merchant and miller.
 My schooling was badly interfered with by the Anglo-Boer War, which broke out when I was eleven years old.  But I resumed my studies in the Cape Colony where after matriculating.  I went to the Victoria College, Stellenbosch, and there obtained in 1908 my B.A. degree with honour in Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry.
In May 1909 I continued my studies in Germany, applying myself to the study of Chemistry at the University of Halle for one semester and thereafter studied Physics, Mechanics, Mathematics and Physical Chemistry at the University of Leipzig where I obtained the degree of Ph.D. in March 1912.
My principal teachers at Leipzig were Professors Weiner, des Coudres, le Blanc and Dr J G Jaffe.  Prof Weiner who had made his name by vectors in light rays was the head of Physics department.  He seemed to take a liking to me possibly also because he was a great admirer of the English and especially of English sport, possibly also because we had a few interest in common.  One was Aeronautics in which I read extensively and in which he had a very keen interest.  We both believed in what was then referred to as the "heavier-than-air" machine.  This was quite contrary to the then prevailing opinion in Germany that the future of aviation lay in the "lighter-than-air" craft, such as the Zeppelin.  We were also both interested in music and I remember him a an accomplished pianist.
Prof Weiner was responsible for my being offered the position of lecturer at the Royal School of Technology in Dresden even a few weeks before I sat for my final oral examination for Ph.D.  It was quite unusual for a foreigner to be appointed to a German Government institution.  Although I did not know the German language at all when I first went to Halle I had learned to speak it quite fluently.  I therefore accepted the position on the understanding that it must be regarded as temporary as I had no intention if remaining in Germany for good.

What happened in Dresden had a marked influence on my career.

The research work I did in Leipzig for my doctorate under the direction and encouragement of Dr G Jaffe, was directed toward ascertaining in how far the theory of the conduction of electricity through gases, which was developed by Sir J J Thomson and his brilliant school of pupils, Rutherford, O.W. Richardson, Mc Lelland etc., was applicable to pure liquids.  I conducted my experiments with Hexane, carbon tetracholride and carbon bisulphide, as these liquids allowed themselves to be freed from conducting impurities more easily than some others.  One of the principal difficulties was to obtain the necessary high degree of purity, since impurities infinitely more minute than can be detected by chemical analysis, completely vitiated the effects to be observed.

​​​​​​​​​​​​Some physicists assumed that the laws determined by the Thomson school could further investigation be applied to pure liquids, while others felt that it required substantiation, and it was therefore regarded as necessary to settle the question beyond doubt.

My research proved definitely that Thomson's theory of the conduction of electricity through dense gases applied to pure liquids as well.  Among other quantities such as the masses and diameters of the ions, I determined the elementary ionic charge and found this to be the same for positive and negative ions and equal to the elementary electronic charge.  The subject matter of this research formed my dissertation for the degree of Ph.D.  It was also published in abridged form in the "Annalen der Physik....................................................1912.

While teaching at the Royal School of  Technology in Dresden I had ample time at my disposal for doing research and I decided to make an attempt at determining the maximum velocities of emission of electrons from metallic surfaces under the influence of ultra-violet light.  I was interested in making this attempt because up to then nobody had succeeded in determining these velocities and their determination would make an important contribution towards proving or disproving the Quantum Theory.
​​​​I was also encouraged by Prof Hallwachs, then head of the Department of Physics, who was the discoverer of the Photo-electric Effect.​

By merely using a metallic plate under illumination by ultra-violet light and an anode there was so much reflection and diffusion of electrons that the measurement of those reaching the anode became extremely difficult.  Consequently it became the habit in such experiments to interpose a wire grid between the illuminated plate and the anode and to apply a considerable potential difference between the grid and anode. The idea was that once the electros released from the illuminated plate reach the grid they would be dragged on to the anode.

I followed the same method but discovered that I could by making the potential difference high enough, record emission velocities up to as much as forty volts and more, whereas according to the Quantum Theory the velocities should be in the neighbourhood of two volts.

It then occurred to me that the grid did not form an electric shield as it was commonly believed to be with a Faraday cage, but that the potential difference between anode and the grid caused an electric field to be established through the grid into the space between the grid and the illuminated plate.

Further experiment proved this to be the case and I discovered that the strength of this field,, which I called the "stray-field" bore a linear relation to the potential difference between the grid and anode, and by measuring the apparent emission velocities as a function of the potential difference between grid and plate and extrapolating the curve to cut the axis at zero potential difference, the true emission velocity could be determined.  The velocity so determined agreed with what was to be expected from the Quantum Theory of light emission.

This stray-field relation was the foundation of the theory of operation of the wireless valve which I propounded a year later in New York.

Just after I had completed describing these investigations for publication (Verh.d.D.Phys.GeS. Vol 15, p338, 1913) Prof R A Millikan of Chicago University paid me a visit.  In discussing our research problems he told me that he, who happened to be studing the same problem, had actually succeeded in recording emission velocities up sixty volts which meant that some of our fundamental concepts of Physics required revision.  He was considerably relieved but also very disappointed when I told him of my discovery of the stray-field action which fully explained these apparently high emission velocities.

Millikan was at that time, besides being professor of Physics at Chicago University, also technical adviser to the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. and its subsidiary the Western Electric Co., which later was then considering building up a research department.  Almost immediately after Millikan's return to the United States of America I received an invitation to proceed to America and this resulted in my joining the staff of the Western Electric research department in September 1913.

As soon a I got established my new chief, Mr E H Colpitts showed me a small electric bulb containing a filament, a grid and a plate.  It was a de Forrest Audion, the patent rights of which were about to be acquired by the Western Electric Co.

I was told that this "gadget" was alleged to be capable of amplifying weak alternating current and also of generating continuous electric waves, but that it was not known why or how and that it would by my job to find out if the claims made for it were true and if so why.

Needless to say, I recognized in it the identical arrangement I had worked with in Dresden, except that while my tube in Dreden emitted electrons from a metallic plate under the influence of ultra-violet light, the Audion or "valve" emitted electrons from a heated filament.

I constructed many more of these "gadgets" and experimented with them for some time to get acquainted with their behaviour, which in those early days was somewhat erratic.  I found that the claims made for this tube were correct and also found that the fundamental action was the same "stray-field" effect I had discovered in Dresden and that my linear stray-field relation (vide Verh. d. D.Phys, Ges. Vol 15, P.338, 1913) applied also in this tube or audion (now known as the wireless valve.)

This stray-field relation was the foundation of the theory of operation of the valve which I propounded in 1914 and which has ever since been the accepted theory and which explained why the valve can amplify weak alternating currents, generate continuous oscillations and act as a much more sensitive detector of radio waves than was possible with a two element valve or a crystal.

During these investigations I also found in May 1914 that on account of its non-linear current-voltage characteristic, the valve could also be made to modulate high frequency waves in such a manner that their amplitude ould vary in accordance with low frequency currents (such as telephone currents) impressed either on the cathode-grid or on the cathode-anode circuit.

These four properties of the valve, viz. amplified rectification, (radio detection) amplification of alternating currents, oscillation generation and modulation supplied all that was necessary for radio telephony, while at the same time improving radio telegraphy which was of course a much simpler operation.

Soon a number of physicists and engineers were busy designing and building equipment based on the use of the valve which resulted in telephoning in 195 by radio from New York to Honolulu, a distance of 5 000 miles.

The fundamental equation of the valve which I established in 1914, made it possible to design valves with different impendances and degrees of amplification.  This made it possible to sue the valve as an amplifier (or repeater) on long distance telephone lines.  In 1914 I designed a valve with the necessary degree of amplification and with an impedance which matched the impedance of existing long distance telephone lines in America.

The first tubes with these characteristics of amplification and impedance were installed in the first successful attempt at land line telephone communication between New York and San Francisco, a distance of 3 400 miles.

This design of Repeater tube then came into general use on all the long distance lines of the United States and remained so until 1934, when the number of valves in use became so large that it was necessary to design one which consumer much less current consumption.

Most of my research in New York during the years 1913-1920 is described in a book I published in 1920: "The Thermionic Vacuum Tube and its Applications". (Mc Graw-Hill Publishing Co., New York).

On account of the need for secrecy required by an industrial corporation, it was not possible at the time of publication of the above-mentioned book to describe all of my work.  Copies of the original manuscripts of two papers are forwarded with my publication.  The one describes the method of transmitting several telephone and telegraph messages simultaneously from the same aerial, which until then (1917) had not been done before although it is now in 1945 "as old as the hills".

The other describes a method of transforming speech frequencies to the inaudible range or of reversing the frequencies to the inaudible range or of revering the frequencies in the audible range, so that in the first case radio speech would  be inaudible and in the second case unintelligible except to those operating the receiving set capable of putting the jig-saw puzzle back again.

This system came into commercial use on radio phone circuits in the early thirties.

On the conclusion of the First World War thing happened in South Africa which completely changed my career.  General Smuts, Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, felt that his country should be guided along the lines of industrial development on sound lines and needs a "Technical Adviser on Industrial Development".  He was instrumental in mu accepting that position which resulted in my relinquishing for good scientific research work.

After investigating the industrial position in South Africa, I came to the conclusion that industrialization on sound lines could not be expected until two fundamental necessities, which were lacking, were first established.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The first was the need for organizing the country's electric power supply so as to make possible the extensive use of electricity at low cost.​

The other was the need for establishing an iron and steel industry on a national scale and I recommended accordingly.

The first resulted in an Act of Parliament inn 1922 providing for the establishment of the "Electricity Supply Commission" (ESCOM) with wide statutory powers to acquire and/or establish power generation and suspply undertakings wherever necessary or desirable.  It was a fundamental condition that the Commission (which is now commonly known  "ESCOM") must sell electricity at cost.

My contract to remain as Technical Adviser was for three years and as I was longing to get back to scientific research work, I planned to return to the United States at the conclusion of that period.  But in February 1923 General Smuts prevailed on me to accept the Chairmanship of the Electricity Supply Commission which was duly established in March 1923.

Initially the Government advanced the required capital to ESCOM.  The total so advanced amounted to £24.250.000 has been raised in South Africa by public subscription.

 ​​​ESCOM has now grown into one of the largest power supply concerns in the world.  It owns six large electric power generating stations with a total capacity of over one million kW (installed or under construction) and a number of small ones,2 643 route miles of transmission lines ranging from 88 kV down to low tension lines.  The output from its generating stations totals 4 544 million units per year.​

The establishment and building up of ESCOM and the low prices at which it sells electricity has had a profound influence on the development of South African industries.

The establishment of and iron and steel industry on a national scale took much longer to come to fruition.  In 1922 I recommended to General Smuts the promulgation of a bounty act to encourage the establishment of the iron and steel industry by private enterprise.  This he promptly did but it was a failure.  The capital required for the initial iron and steel works was over £5 000.000 and this was too large a sum for private enterprise especially as the view was generally held that such a venture could not possible succeed.

 ​​​​Eventually in 1928 the South African Iron and Steel Industrial Corporation Limited was established by Act of Parliament, which empowered the Government to participate financially in the Under taking with control vested in the Government.  The opposition to this bill was so strong that it required a joint sitting of the Senate and the House of Assembly to pass the bill.​

The Government then asked me to accept the Chairmanship of the South African Iron and Steel Industrial Corporation Limited (now commonly known as "Iscor") and at the same time to remain Chairman of the Electricity Supply Commission.
The establishment of Iscor proved to be an extremely difficult task.  There was no one in South Africa who knew anything about the manufacture of steel.  This difficulty I overcame by appointing in in London a committee of international iron and steel experts comprising two British, one American, one German and one Swede, and before placing the contracts for the iron and steel plant I insisted that each contractor arrange with steelworks in Britain, Germany, Holland, Sweden, USA and Canada to train two dozen young South Africans all of whom had obtained their B.Sc. degrees in engineering.

This scheme worked exceedingly well.  It ensured my obtaining the advantage of the best steelworks practice in the countries mentioned.  The young men nearly all became heads of departments and sections.  Only one let me down.  A few years later when Iscor was successfully established I heard these young men factiously being referred to in England as "van der Bijl's forty thieves".
The initial Iscor works which entered the production stage in 1934 were designed for an output of only 170.000 tons of steel per year.  The works were continually being extended largely out of profits until 1940 when the capital was increased to £10.4 million.  The output is now close on to half-a-million tons per year.

At present I am planning an entirely new Iscor works with an eventual output of a million tons of steel per year.  The first unit, a heavy plant mill, is already in operation.  The new works will be on what is now bare veld and consequently a new town is being laid out.  As the new works can naturally be expected to attract other industries an area of ground 25.000 acres in extend has been acquired and a town is being planned on most modern lines to accommodate a population of about a quarter of a million.  It is my desire that the utmost consideration be given in the planning and building of this town to providing clean, healthy and pleasant conditions of living for those who will live and work there. 

​​​A far cry from pure scientific research.  I remember that shortly after I had started building the Electricity Supply Commission, Rutherford told me in London h never though that I would be "such a fool" as to relinquish my scientific research work to live permanently in South Africa, and I was then still inclined to agree with him.

It is true that it meant a marked change in my career, but \i found the work I did in South Africa extremely interesting.  It meant moving first from pure scientific research to engineering, then to company executive and industrial organisation in which financing on a large scale is playing an increasingly important part.  The group under my direction now comprises a dozen companies with total capital assets exceeding £60.000.00.

When war broke out in 1939, General Smuts asked me to organise the country for the production of war supplies.  At first this did not appear to be a particularly formidable undertaking as I expected to obtain large quantities of war material from Britain and America.  But with the dreadful collapse in Europe in 1940 and the Axis seriously threatening Africa, things changed in South Africa much for the worse.  Neither Britain nor America could supply us with the necessary equipment for our army which, though voluntary was growing at a surprising rate.

My position as Director-General of Supplies was created by special war measure with Ministerial rank and with extremely wide powers.

I called upon the leading engineers, scientists, business executives, financial experts, labour leaders etc., and they all rallied to my call in a most heartening manner.  The work was so colossal and had to be done at such speed that I can only claim having enthused thee men and told them what I wanted.  Having once outlined the general organisation I left each of the principal men to carry out his work, holding myself available at all times for almost constant consultation and bringing them together once a week for a meeting of the "Management Board" at which matters of  policy and general problems were being discussed and decided.

The Supplies Organisation soon had close on to a thousand factories throughout the country producing was supplies.  A number of people employed in these factories on war production was over sixty thousand.

A wide variety of war materials were manufactured under my direction, materials which had never been manufactured in South Africa before.  They include hundreds of howitzer and anti-tank guns, 8 000 armoured cars, close on to 40 000 army vehicles with imported engines and chassis parts,, shells, bombs, small arms cartridges, hand grenades, aircraft practice bombs, bayonets, airrcraft hangars, engineering stores such as pumps, rock crushers, boring machines, bridges, barges invasion beaching boats, boots, clothing, canned and dehydrated foods etc.,

When supplies of commodities for civilian requirements became so short in 1940 as to threaten the maintenance of our national economy, I was asked by the government also to organise the supply and control of civilian requirements, with full powers to control import and export of all materials and control of distribution in South Africa.

This meant the establishment of a very extensive national organisation.  Now what the war in Europe has come to an end, I am arranging for the gradual dissolution of the whole supplies organisation.  What portions of it must remain for some time yet will then be handed over to the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Economic Development".


​The take-over of the VFP by ESCOM on 1 July 1948, was the culmination of 25 years of dedicated work on the part of Dr van der Bijl.  The success was a just reward for his endeavours to establish an electricity supply system which could provide an adequate supply of electriity, at a reaonable price wherever it might be required. 

However Dr van der Bijl did not live to see the seond principal phase in the development of the electricity supply industry in South Africa.  The enormous demands made upon him, particularly during the war had exhausted his strength and vitality.  All around him new monuments were still arising to his vision and energy: the Vanderbijlpark steel complex and South Africa's new commercial fleet.  Even shortly before hisdeath he could sttill write: "It has been my pride and privilege for 25 years to be chairman of the Electricity Supply Commission: to have the satisfaction of seeing it grow from the embryo  of 1923 to the lusty adult of 1948; and with my colleagues, to have borne the responsibility for its growth and development".

"Our inspiration was derived from faith in the future of our country.  Still a young and vigorous land in a world grown old and perhaps weary, South Africa possesses abundant resources which her virile people will not leave undeveloped.....

South African industry is developing apace, but the steps that have been taken will be as the steps of infancy when compared with the strides of future years...  As the days of the Voortrekkers appear to us, so will present times appear to South African citizens of the not too distant future.
"There lies before the Electricity Supply Commission a great task and a great opportunity.  It will be our endeavour to play our part not as those who follow where others lead, but as pioneers".

Right up to his death Dr van der Bijl remained a pioneer, just as he had pioneered research on the hot-cathode tube.  But the gigantic task which fate had placed upon his shoulders took its toll, and on 2 December 1948 he died at the age of 61.