Bell Telephone Laboratories: The Battle of the Atoms
April 1948 Radio News

April 1948 Radio News

April 1948 Radio & Television News Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Life is a constant battle on all fronts, be it in health, personal relationships, business, medicine, careers, education, technology, or any other realm. Scientists, engineers, and technicians at the former Bell Telephone Laboratories are affected by that maxim as well as any group of people. The company, known to many as Bell Labs, invested a huge amount of funds and personnel effort into fighting the problems which constantly cropped up both during research and development and while servicing their massive installed base of equipment and transmission lines. Bell Labs regularly ran full-page ads in magazines (including technical and others like Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Woman's Day, etc.) informing the paying public of the extents they went to in order to bring new products to market and to keep existing systems providing excellent quality communications (the best in the world). This example for a 1948 issue of Radio News magazine tells of the unexpected chemistry issues solved by their crack teams of employees.

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Bell Telephone Laboratories, April 1948 Radio News - RF CafeThe Battle of the Atoms

Telephone equipment is constantly at war against invisible forces of nature which seek to take it apart, atom by atom. On all fronts, Bell Laboratories chemists must fight corrosion - an enemy able to make a telephone circuit noisy or perhaps to sever it altogether.

An example: for years lead cable had lain protected in wooden ducts. Then in certain areas something began to eat the sheath, exposing wires to moisture. Corrosion chemists of the Laboratories were called in. The corrosion, they found, came from acetic acid generated in the wood during the preservative treatment then in use. They pumped in neutralizing ammonia. Corrosion stopped. Now telephone duct wood is controlled for acidity.

In a large city, smoke-polluted air was coating the silver surfaces of contacts with sulphide. Noisy circuits resulted. Chemists discovered minute traces of sulphur vapor in the air. They filtered incoming air with activated charcoal. Today, the latest telephone contacts are of palladium - not affected by sulphur.

Corrosion in metals is only one type of deterioration which engages Bell chemists against hostile forces. Plastics, paper, metals, rubber, textiles, coils, waxes and woods all have enemies. But knowledge, and persistence, are steadily winning out - to the benefit of the telephone user.

A Bell Laboratories corrosion engineer examining samples during an exposure test on corrosion-resistant finishes and alloys.

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