February 1943 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL
for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Did you know that the Hallicrafters line
of radios is named after founder Bill Halligan (W9WZE)? Hallicrafters, founded in
1932, was a major manufacturer of amateur radio gear. During the years of WWII they
ruggedized some of their products to survive the harsh environments of battle. Hallicrafters
was sold to Northrop Corporation in 1966, at which time the product line essentially
ceased. Their gear is still very collectible by aficionados of vintage Ham equipment.
This story from the February 1943 QST provided an inside look at the production
floor at Hallicrafters. Having cut my figurative electronics teeth on radar and
radio equipment built with tubes and point-to-point wiring while in the USAF, and
then later as an assembly/test technician at Westinghouse Electric building sonar
equipment for the Navy which included wiring chassis and building large complex
cable harnesses, I can personally relate to the photos accompanying the article.
When, for readers in the U.S., is the last time you saw a company touting its "expert
American craftsmen" on an assembly line? The W9WZE.net website is dedicated
An Avocation Becomes a Vocation
The Amateur Makes a Vital Contribution in the Manufacture of Military
By Herbert W. Hamilton,* W9MRQ
It would be difficult to find another peace-time hobby that could be converted
to all-out war production in a way to compare with amateur radio. The very fact
that our American backlog of trained radio personnel was found ready and able during
past emergencies has set the stage for our present critical situation. Once again
the amateur has been given the opportunity to serve a cause, not only in the Signal
Corps and the other services but, equally important, as part of the group whose
job it is to supply our fighting forces with the finest radio communications equipment
that can be produced.
Transmitters by mass production. On the assembly line at the
left individual units are carefully tested for continuity of wiring and correct
cabling by skilled girl operators. After testing, all necessary adjustments are
completed before the chassis units are mounted in the transmitter cabinets. At the
right is a row of complete transmitters. fully assembled. tested and ready for shipment
to our armed forces. Note the final inspection tags attached to the front panel.
These sturdy metal chassis will support parts of highest quality
and will be wired by expert American craftsmen - many of them amateur radio operators.
All holes must be free from burrs or rough edges that could cause damage to the
Insulated wires of various colors are wound about headless nails.
They designate the exact position where a connection will be made. Later they are
carefully laced together with heavy waxed cord. Each "breadboard" is marked with
an identifying number.
This YL is putting the finishing touches on a transmitter cable.
Inspectors examine each completed unit and check to determine whether or not the
cable will meet government specifications. The spools of wire on the rack in the
foreground show why copper is so badly needed!
Heavy transmitter chassis are held at a convenient angle for
wiring on special wood frames. Each operator is responsible for completing a designated
series of connections in a prescribed order. This steps up production and prevents
mistakes due to complicated circuits.
Transmitters being assembled on one of the many assembly lines.
Heavy tables support the tremendous weight of the units. Girls as well as men play
an important role in production. Many of them will be among tomorrow's hams.
Transmitters are placed on dollies to facilitate being moved
along the assembly lines. The YL in the foreground is inserting transmitting tubes
in a completed unit. After continuity tests are made it will be sent along to the
inspectors and testers.
A familiar model is this receiver, here seen undergoing a series
of tests in the Hallicrafters laboratory. Military sets of similar design successfully
withstand terrific punishment when used on our battlefronts.
Each transmitter receives its "baptism of fire" before being
packed for shipping. Precision equipment is used for these important tests and actual
testing must be executed by skilled radiomen. Many are licensed amateurs.
Shielded test booths are an important part of a modern radio
plant. Outside QRN cannot be tolerated while critical adjustments are being made.
Grounded copper screen completely encloses each test room.
Thousands of amateurs are now in the armed services, carrying out their missions
with traditional fortitude. Their long experience in peace-time emergencies has
given them pre-training in the art of handling traffic and in the maintenance of
equipment so that there will be no interruption in the transmission or reception
of vital messages.
Recent articles in QST have given us a picture of the
part that these amateurs are playing on the fighting front. What about those on
the home industrial front?
The combination of manufacturers and homebuilders has been of tremendous importance
in the job of turning out military equipment to "get the message through." If it
were not for the fact that American radio manufacturers had been producing transmitters
and receivers for amateur radio operators throughout the world, the job of setting
up plants and the training of personnel for the vast requirements of war would have
been most difficult. Radio men are not made overnight. Like the family doctor, a
certain amount of basic training is essential. Furthermore, a radio man does not
become skilled in mechanical and electrical operations simply by reading a textbook.
He must acquire a technique whereby he can use his common sense and ability to diagnose
minor troubles by the simple process of "sight" or "smell."
Amateur radio having been in existence for many years, there are among its thousands
of participants a large number of "deferred essentials" and III-A men who can devote
their time to the construction, design and other duties associated with the production
of military radio equipment. Hundreds of them are engaged as engineers, purchasing
agents, servicemen, phasers, testers, shop foremen and in executive capacities.
It was fortunate for the nation that these men understood the requirements for
continuous duty on the field of battle and were able to undertake the construction
of new military sets and build them to government specifications. The amateur has
been an important factor in making our war production of radio materiel what it
Radio Production Converted to War Needs
of radio equipment for public consumption was ordered to cease last April. Little
time was lost in converting manufacturing plants to all-out production of equipment
for our growing military machine. It is a matter of record that many of these factories
are now flying the Army-Navy "E" flags high above their plants.
Overnight these plants increased their production capacity many times. New tools
and machinery replaced older machines not suited to the arduous task of day and
night operations. New methods were adopted which save valuable hours in turning
out an elaborate transmitter or receiver. Better parts and tubes made it possible
to standardize so there is no needless waste and so that replacement of a damaged
part will be made easier - particularly on the fighting fronts, where speed is essential
in the maintenance of communications equipment. There can be no failures when lives
are at stake.
That is why Uncle Sam has placed so much confidence in American radio manufacturers.
They are doing an outstanding job.
Perhaps the best way to see how this job is being done is to go on a tour around
one of these plants and take a look at the actual processes of manufacture. A logical
choice for such an inspection trip is the Hallicrafters plant in Chicago - logical
not only because before the war it was one of the world's largest manufacturers
of amateur communications equipment, but because it is now producing such a large
volume of military equipment based on these amateur designs.
right there lies one of the major contributions flowing from amateur radio to the
war effort. The Hallicrafters make much special equipment based on new developments
for military needs, of course, but the greatest part of their production is in transmitters
and receivers the basic design of which was originally created to meet amateur needs.
It is significant that this "amateur" gear - some of it designed as long as four
or five years ago - is now given top rating by the armed services for military needs.
The fact that this amateur-type equipment has been selected by the
military, often in competition with the best of the specialized commercial designs,
is a striking commentary on the discrimination and technical achievements of the
American amateur fraternity. It will be a strong chapter in our record when the
war is over and the details can be told.
Mass Production of Military Radio Equipment
accompanying photographs are illustrative of the many tasks performed in the 24-hour
a day production of military radio equipment in the Hallicrafters plant.
The various mechanical and electrical operations in building a transmitter or receiver
are most interesting to the observer. Large metal chassis are carefully drilled
to close tolerance. Any burrs left on the chassis must be removed during this operation
in order that wires will not be cut. Every chassis must be protected against rust
or corrosion; this becomes most necessary when units are sent to damp climates or
for operation on naval vessels. Many improved formulae have been developed for plating
and otherwise protecting the metal surfaces. Electrical conductivity has been improved,
eliminating many of the older set noises.
Small parts such as terminal strips are riveted in place. Nameplates are attached
and stamped with the model number and other information required. The larger parts,
such as transformers. condensers and inductances, are then bolted or otherwise fastened
in place, and the assembly is ready for wiring.
Radio equipment made for continuous service must be wired by skilled hands. The
adoption of color-coded cabling is an important contribution to simplicity in wiring
or servicing complicated circuits with their maze of connections. Large boards,
slightly bigger than the chassis, are used breadboard style for the preparation
of these multi-wire cables. Nails with heads removed are driven into the boards
at the spot where a turn is to be made or where a socket or other part is to be
connected. Various colors indicate the particular classification of circuit, such
as filament, plate, cathodes, etc. Most grid circuits are omitted from the cable
- for obvious reasons. Cable boards are marked for identification.
amazing to watch the women who do this work prepare an elaborate cable in a few
moments' time. They become highly skilled and rarely make a mistake. Inspectors
examine each cable after it has been completed, before it goes to the wirers.
There is a right and wrong way to wire a radio receiver. Each operator must follow
a prescribed procedure in order to avoid confusion with the balance of the assembly
line. Special racks are constructed to hold the working chassis at a convenient
angle for good visibility during the wiring procedure. Each operator has a designated
series of wires to connect. The number of operations on the assembly line is dependent
upon the complexity of the set. Techniques are developed to do the job in the shortest
possible time and with the most consistent wiring finesse.
Amateurs on the Assembly Line
Many of the experts employed in the construction of this equipment hold amateur
licenses and have had plenty of experience in the construction of their own gear.
When they return to the air it is certain that their equipment will not break down
due to faulty wiring or mechanical failures. We predict that many of them will contribute
in no small measure to the new radio art that is to follow the war. The radio bug
has also bitten many of those engaged in the produc-tion of equipment who have never
had any part in amateur radio. Their training will aid them greatly to get on the
air when amateur operation is resumed.
Women are playing an increasingly
important part in supplying the military with radio units. Delicate operations are
executed in quick time by their nimble fingers. With the adoption of ultra-compact
sets, we expect many of these YLs to design and develop highly efficient gear for
their own stations after the war.
The activity of amateur personnel is not limited to the construction of receivers.
We find many of them on the transmitter assembly lines. One of the photographs shows
a group of employees busy assembling high-powered units for service where several
frequencies must be available at a moment's notice. Modern engineering has resulted
in tremendous improvements in this type of transmitter. After hostilities, the amateur
will be given the opportunity to take full advantage of these late developments.
New methods for switching tank coils, new and improved means for neutralizing,
smaller and better components, stabilized crystal oscillators, economical tube operation
and many other features are most intriguing. These must remain a secret until final
victory is won. The men and women who are in contact with these late developments
will be among the first to enjoy the new equipment at their stations.
Many hams have in the past been a bit careless in constructing their own rigs.
The American manufacturer has been responsible in many ways for changing the entire
technique in assembly, layout and wiring of units. Bad habits have been corrected.
Building a large transmitter, for example, is done by following a carefully-planned
system. Heavy tables equipped with steel rails permit these bulky units to be moved
along the assembly lines in orderly fashion. Each operation is conducted with precision
by men and women especially trained to do their job in as short a time as possible.
Experience has shown that the radio amateur is particularly well-suited to almost
any operation that may be assigned to him.
In making these large transmitters each assembly line is charged with the responsibility
for turning out individual sections. A portion of one of these lines is shown in
one of the photos. These units, after receiving final tests and inspections, will
later be placed into their steel cabinets.
Final tests are conducted with extreme care. Actual on-the-air conditions must
be simulated in order to observe the conduct of the transmitter under full operating
conditions. Tubes must be carefully checked and tested with overloads to insure
that they will not fail while in service. Amateurs selected for these responsible
jobs have the ability to detect any fault in operation by a glance at the various
indicating instruments. Here is where experienced operators must be employed. Students
having completed a short-cut radio course cannot possibly have gained enough background
to be able to assume responsibility for so important a job.
The United States was fortunate in possessing the great majority of the world's
radio amateurs and skilled radio technicians. These men and women were accustomed
to the tedious tasks met in the design and construction of complicated sets. They
had learned that patience was a virtue, and that the pace set by the American ham
was the envy of the entire amateur world. If it were not for these 'phone and c.w.
hounds, we would not have the radio equipment we now possess.
Up to a few years ago most amateurs assembled and wired their own receivers.
Some of them were very efficient and reliable; others were not. The American manufacturers
of communications equipment undertook to design highly-efficient sets that could
be offered to the amateur at little more than the cost of a homemade unit. Bugs
were eliminated and many improvements added that could not be handled in the average
shack. The result was a trend to purchase ready-made sets in preference to others.
We hams will never be satisfied with a mediocre receiver in our shacks. We would
rather layout a few extra bucks now and then in order to acquire the latest sets
that are more selective, equipped with better crystal filters and possess all of
the other refinements needed to combat the heavy QRM that existed on our crowded
bands prior to the QRT order.
That trend toward manufactured equipment has paid huge dividends in our war effort.
Thousands of sets were available from jobbers and operators for military use that
would not have been on hand were it not for this trend. Not so long ago an urgent
plea was sent out by the Signal Corps and other services asking owners of standard
manufactured sets to offer these to the government at a fair purchase price, to
be used in our training centers. Only those sets having diagrams and instruction
books were included. It would have been sheer folly to accept units that were not
duplicates of others or lacked pertinent information that could be used to insure
continuous duty. Thousands of hams responded by giving up their cherished sets.
Today the old set is giving yeoman service where it will do the most good.
Thousands have been shipped abroad, and many of them appear in photos received from
our fighting fronts.
The demands of the military have resulted in new designs and innovations. These
will be incorporated in the new sets that will find their way into thousands of
radio shacks after the war. Some of these late developments are most revolutionary.
The panoramic technique alone offers unlimited possibilities for accurate tuning
of DX stations. One manufacturer is even now keeping pace with the military sets
by incorporating many of the new ideas into experimental sets designed for post-war
amateur radio. This foresight should offer much encouragement to those who are wondering
how long it will take to return to "normal" when the last shot has been fired.
Hams in the Labs
The typical American radio laboratory staff includes many hams. In times of peace
they are charged in designing new equipment for one of the greatest hobbies known.
The testing, alignment and other operations were performed by amateur radio operators
in hundreds of laboratories. These men had learned the importance attached to the
manufacture of sets for use in peace-times and it was comparatively easy for them
to take over the responsibility of making precision adjustments on sets tagged for
Uncle Sam's forces.
A visit to one of these radio plants puts us in contact with many hams that you
have talked to on the air. At the Hallicrafters, for example, we find Bill Halligan,
W9WZE, one of radio's old-timers, president of The Hallicrafters. When bombs fell
on Pearl Harbor, his company, like many others, possessed a large group of skilled
craftsmen engaged in building transmitting and receiving equipment of many types.
Among them are Herb Hartley, W9WNG; Cletus Wiot, W9TDF; Donald Wilbur, W9BRT; Clarence
Zorn, W9TAL; Wallace Burandt, W9PTD; Fred Connor, W9CUK; Jack Cappels, W9EPB; Ray
Polkingham, W9IAV, and Jack Pekasovich, W9LOL - to mention only a few. All are applying
their technical and executive knowledge to the war effort. They realize that the
further pursuit of their radio hobby can only be guaranteed by a final and complete
Yes, an avocation has become a vocation to thousands of men and women. They are
turning out the finest radio equipment that can be made. Army and Navy inspectors
- also including many amateurs - are seeing to it that there will be a steady supply
of transmitters, receivers and other special equipment reaching our fighting men
wherever they may go. They also know that the future of their hobby depends entirely
upon ultimate victory for the Allies. Without that victory, there can never be a
return of our avocation.
Posted August 6, 2019
(updated from original post on 11/6/2012)