Carl Gustaf Patrik de Laval was born on May 9, 1845 in Blosenberg, Sweden to a family of soldiers whose French ancestor had ridden with Gustavus Adolphus. At eighteen he entered the technical department of the University of Upsala, graduating three years later. His first position was as a draftsman at the Stora Kopparberg Company, but his health forced to give up the confining position for something with more opportunities for exercise. He returned to the University of Upsala for further study, graduating in 1872 with Ph.D. in Chemistry.
In 1875 he took a job as an engineer at Klosterverken Iron Works and shortly thereafter he developed a centrifugal device for separating cream. Needing more time to perfect his device he resigned his position at Klosterverken, and after much persistence was able to obtain a small loan that enabled him to manufacture his device. The device proved to be such a success that it was not long before Separator Company, Limited was on secure financial footing. For his invention of this separator device and other labor saving devices for dairy farmers, de Laval has been called "the Edison of dairying".
In search of a method to drive the centrifugal separator, which required high speeds, de Laval developed a steam turbine. The turbine was driven by high pressure steam shooting through a cone shaped nozzle developed by de Laval, that is now used on rocket engines. Able to turn, at what at the time was a frightening speed of 24,000 rpm, the turbine had to be reduced to one-tenth speed to drive the separator and did not prove to be useful for this purpose. However there were many other uses for the turbine and a separate industry developed.
Not content to rest on his laurels de Laval was constantly seeking new inventions, including milking machines and a process for treating low grade Swedish zinc ores, none of which were as successful as his cream separator. During his lifetime he received many honors, including from the King of Sweden, the Cross of Commander of the Order of Wasa and that of Knight in the Order of the North Star and he was made a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1886 and received its gold medal in 1892.
De Laval died on February 2, 1913.
"Karl Gustaf Patrik de Laval" from the Journal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1913) Vol. 35, Issue 1, p 16-18
"Inventor of the Separator Dead" from the Holstein-Friesian Register (1913) Vol.35, Part 1, p.692
Gustaf de Laval, Wikipedia Entry