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
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,
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 gases.
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
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 and communication.
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 parts.
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. /p>
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
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