Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
My civilian career began at Westinghouse's Oceanic Division in Annapolis,
Maryland. It was long ago bought out by Northrop Grumman and re-named
Undersea Systems. Their
AQS-24 towed sonar system looks outwardly very much like the
AQS-14 that I worked on while there in the 1980s. Our parent
organization was the Westinghouse Electronics Systems Division in
Baltimore, MD, adjacent to the Baltimore-Washington
International Airport (BWI)
tarmac so that military aircraft could fly in and out to be retrofitted
with radar systems. Headquarters for Westinghouse was (and still
is) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where progenitor George W. founded
it. Having had its roots in locomotive air braking systems, Westinghouse
became a major defense electronics contractor during World War II
and thereafter. Both military and commercial electronics were designed,
developed, and produced at the various locations around the country,
but as with most founding American companies has slowly petered
out over the last few decades.
Radio and Electronic Devices Are Westinghouse War Weapons
A battery of high-powered radio transmitting tubes is
checked for shipment to Navy.
New aircraft-tube spot-welding method prevents oxidation.
This new electronic device uses a photocell to measure
powder grains as small as 1/25,000 of an inch thick. /p>
Wartime developments in the communications field will exert a
vast , influence on design and construction of post-war radio apparatus.
Lessons learned in production of special radio equipment developed
for military purposes will probably find many important applications
in homes and industry.
This is the prediction of Walter C. Evans, vice-president of
the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, as he surveys
activities of his company's Radio Division in the war effort. The
number of Westinghouse employees engaged in turning out radio apparatus
has more than doubled in the past year, he reports, and production
has been expanded from one plant to three.
"Just as the first World War ushered in the present era of commercial
radio broadcasting, the radio industry is certain to gain after
this war by the utilization of a number of new principles and techniques
which have been developed for war requirements," the executive said.
Radio research men today are working on developments which will
prove as startling when peace returns as the telephone and electric
light were in an earlier generation, according to Dr. W. H. McCurdy,
manager of radio engineering for the Westinghouse Lamp Division.
"Now enlisted for the duration, these devices, like the telephone
and electric light, may some day change the mode of living for millions
of Americans," he said.
Westinghouse has been able to improve production of precision
sets called for in Government requirements. All such sets are built
with extreme accuracies and strength, because they must operate
in all kinds of weather and over a wide range of altitudes. When
on sea duty they are exposed to corrosion by salt air and must be
protected accordingly. They must be strong enough to stand up under
the severe service they get when vessels roll and pitch in storms
and when subjected to concussion of gunfire.
While the full productive capacity of the Westinghouse Radio
Division is turned to the war - on a 24-hour basis - in a small
corner of one plant a five-kilowatt transmitter, contracted for
before the war, is being completed for station WABI, Bangor, Me.
It is of the type developed in 1941, equipped with metal rectifiers,
all air-cooled tubes, stabilized feedback in audio system, variable
compressed gas condensers and complete fuseless overload protection.
Similar transmitters were installed at WINS, New York, N. Y.; WNBF,
Binghamton, N. Y.; WCSH, Portland, Me.; WCAO, Baltimore, Md.; and
KGDM, Stockton, Calif.
Electronic Method Speeds War Work
By combining a number of simple parts familiar to all radio experimenters,
engineers have been able to produce new devices or "tools" to control
or speed up production.
Using only a glass tube, a photocell, a light source, and a milliammeter,
P. R. Kalischer, Westinghouse research metallurgist, can determine
grain sizes of metallic powders as small as 1/25,000 inch in about
1/30 the time usually required for such an analysis. Since the quality
of a metal part produced by powder molding is dependent on the uniformity
of the metal grains, this determination of particle-size distribution
is especially important.
Photocell and light source are mounted on opposite side of the
glass tube, and the output of the photocell is read by the milliammeter.
To analyze a powder specimen, Kalischer mixes 1 gram of it in the
tube with 100 cubic centimeters of acetone, to which a small amount
of a wetting agent (isopropyl xanthate is one of the best) is added.
The tube then is clamped between the photocell and the light source.
As the particles settle, the liquid clears and transmits more light
to the cell.
From timed readings of cell current a time-opacity curve is plotted
for that specimen. By comparing this curve with similar curves for
standard powders of known particle size, Kalicher can determine
both average particle size and relative quantities of particle of
different sizes in the test specimen.
The usual method of measuring particle size is to float the powder
in glycerine and measure the settling time. Such a test requires
about 8 hours, and doe not give accurate information about relative
quantities of grains of different sizes. The simplified Kalischer
method takes only 15 minutes.
Use of a wetting agent is important, because it helps the acetone
to surround each metal grain completely. Without it, the settling
rate might be affected by tiny air bubbles surrounding the grains.
To increase production and safeguard quality of steels treated in
atmosphere furnaces, an electronic tube developed by Westinghouse
electronic research engineers provides a continuous check on the
purity of the hydrogen gas flowing over the metal. (See July issue
of Radio-Craft, page 649). Such scientific control is especially
important where the dew point of the treating gas must be maintained
in the critical region of -40° C to -70° C, or for precise
furnace conditions such as required for bright annealing, and for
chemical processes, using purified dry hydrogen or similar controlled
To give the metal proper characteristics, steel is often heated
in an atmosphere of highly purified hydrogen that is practically
free of moisture and oxygen. Ordinarily, to measure moisture in
the gas where dew points are less than 0° C, a cooled and polished
metal plate is inserted in the gas stream and the temperature noted
when condensation of moisture first occurs. However, below -40°
C this method becomes largely guesswork and even skilled testers
disagree on values of the same gas. The electronic method, insures
reliable and accurate determination of moisture and oxygen content
in hydrogen (or disassociated ammonia) gas.
In operation, the gas flows through a 2-element tube containing
a tungsten filament and plate. Electrons flying from the hot filament
to the plate continually bombard the gas. If the gas is pure dry
hydrogen all the electrons reach the plate. But any oxygen or water
vapor in the gas, immediately picks up some of the electrons and
forms negative ions, thereby reducing the electron current. This
change of current in the plate circuit indicates the degree of impurity
in the gas (see diagram).
Advance of Electronic Devices
Wartime research is speeding up the arrival of an Age of Electronics,
a new era in which man will harness the power of electrons to run
great industries, eradicate diseases and create new wonders in transportation
The new Age of Electronics had dawned in research laboratories
long before the start of World War II. It is fully under way now,
advanced perhaps half a century by the determination of American
engineers to build the weapons that will win the war. Today the
products of electronics research are being turned against the Axis.
Tomorrow they will multiply their usefulness to combat ignorance,
poverty and drudgery.
Engineers have put the invisible electrons to work at such widely
separated tasks as killing germs, smashing atoms, X-raying high-speed
bullets in flight, generating new sources of light, and improving
radio and controlling industrial machinery.
New Eyes and Hands
Some electronic tubes, the photo-electric cells, serve as eyes
and hands for industry. Faster than any human reflex, they can count
objects at the rate of 50,000 a minute. They can sort a ten-center
cigar from a nickel one, automatically pick out a good poker hand
or nab a thief in the act of cracking a safe. Such tubes are masters
at the art of detection and their jobs range from locating icebergs
at sea to providing damning evidence that a motorist has exceeded
the lawful speed limit. /p>
Other jobs electronics research has made possible are the production
of magnesium from sea water, doubling the speed of aluminum production,
X-raying bullets as they crash through armor plate and providing
a gentle barrier around a baby's crib to prevent the attack of deadly
germs. Radio, television and the transmission of photographs by
electricity are familiar applications of electronic devices. Both
"black light" and the cold fluorescent lamps depend on electronic
principles for operation, as do the pliotron, or artificial fever
tube, the kenotron, which permits the precipitation of smoke and
dust, and the Sterilamp, used to destroy bacteria and mold spores.
All these electronic devices are operated by the use of glass or
metal tubes which create and control a stream of electrons - infinitesimal,
negatively charged particles of matter. A radio tube is the most
familiar electronic tube, but there are hundreds of others, devised
to perform myriad functions.
Circuit connections of electron-tube moisture indicator.
The milliammeter in the plate circuit shows when moisture
or oxygen flows through the detector tube. The unit can
be made automatic in control.
Quality is as much an American demand as mass production - but
maintaining quality under the pressure of high-speed production
poses many problems of manufacturing control that Westinghouse electronics
research is helping to solve.
These controls are industry's eyes, ears and fingers-but far
exceeding in keenness and nimbleness even the best of human faculties.
They are the intricate family of electronic phototubes - all the
variations of the "electric eye" that opens doors, protects machine-tool
workers from injury, and delivers a perfectly printed newspaper.
The tubes are used in two general ways. Under one system, such
as counting objects coming off a production line, a beam of light
which activates the tube is interrupted when the assembly line item
gets in its path. This automatically operates a counter. A similar
tube may be used to activate one of many other devices employed
in industrial and mechanical control.
The second system utilizes reflected light on the cathode of
the tube. This method makes possible a continuous, automatic check
on the color of products coming off an assembly line, for example,
because every color and shade of color has a different light reflective
value. It insures absolute uniformity of the color of fabrics from
a loom. It checks the perfect register of colors in color-printing
processes, and sorts cigars for uniformity, and matches enameled
Phototubes also guard the safety of factory workers, by shutting
off machines when a worker's hand comes too close to a moving part.
They open kitchen doors and automatically maintain illumination
levels inside buildings by opening and closing skylights and turning
electric lamps on and off.
Metal Production Speeded
A barrel-sized steel tank that sifts electrical charges through
a pool of mercury is speeding production of two vital war metals
by helping to "rescue" magnesium from the ocean and to extract aluminum
from mineral bauxite. This "electrical alchemist" - known as the
Ignitron - 10 years ago was only a laboratory curiosity, but now
is an important industrial tool for producing the lightweight metals
urgently needed for military aircraft.
Millions of pounds of magnesium are now being extracted from
sea water pumped from the Gulf of Mexico. Magnesium hydrate is precipitated
from the water, converted into magnesium chloride and reduced to
magnesium by an electrolyzing process employing an Ignitron. About
four and a half million tons of this important metal can be "rescued"
from a cubic mile of sea water, metallurgists say. Ignitrons have
been adapted to the spot welding of stainless steel and aluminum,
processes that require precisely measured amounts of electric power.
X-Rays See Through Inch of Steel
The modified rectifier tube being inserted in socket.
The familiar X-Ray, long used for dental examinations, studying
bone fractures, and for disclosure of hidden flaws in industrial
castings and forgings, is now also helping ballistics experts to
study the behavior of bullets in flight. A new high-speed X-ray
tube has been developed that can penetrate an inch of steel in a
millionth of a second, and thus take pictures of actual bullets
in flight through gun barrels. or when crashing in to armor plate.
Using a battery. of high-powered condensers to build up an enormous
electrical charge, this new electronic tube takes a jolt of 300,000
volts at 2,000 amperes, and converts it into a stream of X-radiations.
Although now used only in the study of ballistics, the new tube
promises to be an important tool in the hands of the nation's industrial
engineers after the war. With it, they will be able to study the
inner workings of machines in motion, and thus improve the efficiency
and durability of automobiles, electric power generating equipment,
motors, and other mechanical and electrical devices.
Medicine and surgery will benefit, too, from this electronic
advance, engineers believe, because physicians can study bones and
organs of the body in motion.
Even the nation's dinner table may be better loaded in the future
because of advances in the study of X-radiations; it has been found
that entirely new mutations of plants can be produced by exposing
seed to these electronic rays, Engineers believe this may lead to
entirely new food-plant forms, or greater productivity of farm lands.
Ultra-Violet Fights Disease
Engineers have already developed electronic ultra-violet-ray
tubes that can kill the bacteria of a host of diseases, and are
on the threshold of pitting these ultra-short-wave rays against
the disease viruses, which no man has ever seen.
This germ-killing ultra-violet lamp, whose invisible rays have
the power to sterilize air in a matter of seconds, is called the
Sterilamp. It is a slender glass rod filled with a mixture of inert
gases and mercury vapor. When the tube's electrodes release a stream
of electrons into this mixture, the tube emits ultra-violet radiations
of a wave length that is lethal to 99 per cent of all bacteria which
come within their range.
Special applications of these ultraviolet lamps in combination
with floodlighting over hospital operating tables materially reduce
post-operative infections by sterilizing the air and the open surfaces
of the wound. Barriers of ultraviolet radiations thrown across doors
and corridors in hospital contagious wards check the spread of air-borne