Inventive vision built an empire but biodiesel fuels operations |

Inventive vision built an empire but biodiesel fuels operations

Pat Patera

Don Bently’s inventive streak took hold at the age of 3. He recalls how he and a brother took apart an alarm clock to see how it worked, then spent three weeks figuring out how to get the parts back together again.

That curiosity and tenacity is a sure recipe for success. And Bently has brewed up batches of it.

Locally, his name is most associated with Bently Nevada, now owned by GE Power, a General Electric company. That sale, Don Bently fondly recalls, netted him $500 million.

But Bently started small.

“When I was young, I made a lot of foolish things,” he says.

At 17, he took his first invention to completion: a replacement surger to stop fluorescent lights from flickering.

But he remains most proud of a 1924 invention: the accelerometer, which measures acceleration of motion.

Yet Bently Nevada was built on the proximiter, a device that measures to the thousandths of millionths of an inch to ensure that the motion of machinery is smooth and not vibrating.

“We practically wrote the rules on position measurement,” he says.

Bently is a globally recognized authority on rotor dynamics as well as vibration monitoring and diagnostics. He has more than 140 papers and a book on these subjects and holds two patents. He’s been honored as Nevada’s outstanding inventor by the Nevada Innovation and Technology Council.

Bently received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Iowa and did graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley. The University of Nevada, Reno, awarded him an honorary doctorate in engineering. He is also a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering.

Bently moved to Minden in 1961, drawn by Nevada’s business friendly climate. His brother Oliver Bently, an accountant, was company treasurer and controller. His son, Christopher Bently, lives in San Francisco and manages the company’s commercial buildings.

Bently holdings

Pressurized Bearing Company (

Innovative externally pressurized bearing technology

National Tribology Services, Inc. (

Laboratory analysis of lubricants and hydraulic fluids

Bently Agrowdynamics (

Progressive and sustainable agricultural practices

Gibson Tool & Supply (

Distributor of industrial and metalworking tools

Bently Holdings California, LP (

Real estate holdings and commercial office facilities

Bently is best known as founder of Bently Nevada Corporation, a leading supplier of condition monitoring instrumentation and services, sold to GE Power Systems in 2002.

Bently Nevada employed close to 1,000 before its sale, and most of the employees stayed on under new ownership.


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