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Oral-History:Clarence Nichols Hickman

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About Clarence Nichols Hickman

Clarence Hickman was an early associate and long-time friend of rocket inventor Frank Goddard. Hickman met Goddard while attending graduate school at Clark University and they worked together during WWI at Mt. Lowell Observatory, and later at Clark's Industrial Research Laboratory during the early 1920s. Hickman also held positions at the National Bureau of Standards and the American Piano Company. He joined Bell Laboratories in 1930, retiring in 1950. During WWII, Hickman headed Section H of the NDRC. He made important contributions in the design of bazookas during the war and magnetic recording after the war.

The interview begins with Hickman's reminiscences of his first meeting with Goddard at Clark University. Hickman goes on to discuss his early work with Goddard on multiple-charge, solid-fuel rockets. During WWI, Hickman and Goddard shifted their research to single-charge rockets for military use. Throughout the interview, Hickman offers personal anecdotes about Goddard, of whom he was quite fond. The interview continues with a discussion of the Industrial Research Laboratory and MOSA Products Company. Hickman mentions Goddard's early research into liquid-fuel rockets and his own role in securing a Navy contract for Goddard during WWII.

The remainder of the interview focuses on Hickman's work independent of Goddard. He discusses his work for the Stoddard Piano Company, particularly his development of a sound-intensity measuring system. Hickman then touches upon his work on magnetic recording for Bell Laboratories, including his contributions to magnetic wire recording. The interview concludes with a discussion of Hickman's work with Rudy Molina and Herman Malosh on the wrap joint project, and the development of a fast-tech camera.

About the Interview

CLARENCE NICHOLS HICKMAN: An Interview Conducted by Julian Tebo/Frank Polkinghorn, IEEE History Center, October 12, 1973

Interview # 014 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program,  39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Clarence Nichols Hickman, an oral history conducted in 1973 by Julian Tebo/Frank Polkinghorn, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Clarence Nichols Hickman INTERVIEWED BY: Julian Tebo/Frank Polkinghorn DATE: October 12, 1973

Work with Frank Goddard

Clark University

Polkinghorn:

This is an interview with Clarence Nichols Hickman. At one time he was with Bell Telephone Laboratories and was early connected with Mr. Goddard of rocket fame. The interviewers are Julian Tebo and Frank Polkinghorn. The date is October 12, 1973.

Tebo:

What we would like to do, Dr. Hickman, is get some of your reminiscences concerning your early days with Dr. Goddard on rocket development, because it appears that you are one of about only three people who worked with Dr. Goddard who are still living. Is that right?

Hickman:

Yes. I would say that is about correct. There may be four or five.

Tebo:

I believe that you were in graduate school at Clark University at the time you first met Dr. Goddard.

Hickman:

Yes, that’s right. It might be interesting to know why I went there. I was going to a small school up at Wynona Lake, Indiana, and the president was Dr. Johnathan Rigman. He was quite a grammarian, in fact he was president of Central Monmouth College for a number of years, and they organized this new school up there. I was at the opening of it. I was very fond of Dr. Rigman and he was very fond of me. After I got my A.B. degree there in physics and mathematics, I made arrangements to go to Chicago University for graduate work. Dr. Rigman wrote me and told me that he would like for me to go to Clark University. He had attended the psychology program of some kind there. Dr. G. Stanley Hall was the original president of Clark, and he was very fond of Dr. Hall. Also, Dr. Rigman had know that I was interested in physics and mathematics and he wanted me to study under Dr. Arthur Gordon Webster, who was head of the physics department. I took his advice and went there. First let me tell you a little something about the school itself. A man by the name of Johannes Clark had made a lot of money there in Worcester, Massachusetts in industrial work of some kind. He wanted to found a school for young people to get an education, which, he had never really had an opportunity to have himself. I don’t remember the details as to how they got Dr. G. Stanley Hall — of course he was a noted psychologist — but anyhow Hall made all the arrangements. After the school was in operation, Clark found to his surprise and horror that he had founded a graduate school, not a regular college for young men. He was very unhappy about that and there wasn’t anything much he could do about it because Hall wanted the graduate school.

Tebo:

What year was it founded?

Hickman:

I can’t tell you exactly, but I can give it to you a little later on, because I have a book that I am pretty sure could give it to you. But he put another endowment in to make a college, so when I went there we had both a university graduate school and a college. Webster was head of the physics department in the university and Dr. Goddard was head of the physics department in the college itself.

Meeting Dr. Goddard

Hickman:

That’s the way the thing was started. I guess it must have been in fall 1917 that I went there. Early in 1918, Dr. Goddard asked to have an interview with me. By the way, I should have said that Dr. Alte Thompson was Dr. Webster’s assistant in the physics department. I knew him very well, and there will be lots more to say about him later on. He is still living, by the way. But Dr. Goddard wanted to have an interview. When he did, he said that he understood from Dr. Webster and Dr. Hall that I came to this school with a tremendous reputation for mechanical ability. He was having a tremendous amount of trouble working on a multiple-charge rocket. He had a man by the name of Hagaas who was trying to do this, and he wanted to get my opinion of how I would do it if I were doing the thing. He was using solid fuel propellant and he fit it in like in a gun with a breechblock. The breechblock would open up and another charge would go in; you would use the same combustion chamber all the way through for reaching extremely high altitudes. When he told me what he was trying to do, I said, “Well, Dr. Goddard, far be it from me to ever say that anything is impossible, but it just seems to me that you picked something just about as nearly impossible as possibly be. You would have trouble with a solid propellant because the breech block wouldn’t open up.”

He said, “That’s just the trouble we are having. We have to open it up with a pipe wrench.” So he was a little disgusted. He said, “Give it a little thought, will you,” and I said, “Yes, I will do that.” So, I went back home. My wife and I had three rooms in the top floor of one of those three-decker houses that they had in Worcester and were very popular there. I did conscientiously think about the thing, but I just didn’t see any solution, not at all. Finally I chucked it and went to work on my own studies in connection with my work and went to bed. I had one of the most vivid dreams that I have ever had in my life and the dream was a solution to his problem of feeding those charges in. Knowing how you never remember dreams very long, I thought it was so important that I slipped out of bed and went into the other room and started making sketches so I wouldn’t lose it. My wife came out and wondered if I were ill and I said, “No, I just had a dream of the solution to Dr. Goddard's problem and I wanted to put it down on paper.” She said, “You may not be ill, but you are certainly crazy.” When I reported to him the next day, he was just literally thrilled, for the solution was very simple. Instead of feeding the charge in through a breech block, I proposed that he use faster burning powder and throw it in through the nozzle with a firing pin up in front to explode it and then a means for putting repeated shots in there.

Polkinghorn:

This left the whole breechblock area open to the atmosphere.

Hickman:

No, no. It just left it closed. You know what a rocket looks like, with a tail on it. That tail, by the way, utilized the expansion of the gases as they went out and this propellant charge — in fact, later on I will cover that part because that’s how I lost my finger — would go in, percussion cap on the front of that charge would hit a spike or a firing pin up in the front of the nozzle and it would explode. When it exploded, the gases would rush out through the nozzle and then the charges themselves — well- shielded of course — were trailing along behind attached to the rocket and another would go in, and fire these at the rate of about one every second or so. He was thrilled with it and so he kept in touch with me and took me up to the place. He had a shop up at Worcester Polytechnic School. He took me up there in this private little house. I think it was a guardhouse at one time or other, but it was made very nice for him. Hagaas was there and Goddard showed me everything. Then very suddenly he wanted to know if I would work for him that coming summer after I got my degree. That's where the Smithsonian Institution comes in. He had had a small grant from the Smithsonian for studying high-altitude research and Dr. Abbot proposed that instead of working on this, we would work on something for the war.

Mt. Wilson Observatory and Multiple-Charge Rockets

Polkinghorn:

That was in 1918.

Hickman:

That was 1918. The war was going full-blast. So Abbot arranged with the Mount Wilson Observatory group to make use of their shops because the war was so intense during those days that they had more or less given up any work on the telescopes. They were glad to have something to give their shop men something to work on. So it was arranged that we would go to Pasadena and work in the Mount Wilson Observatory shops, which were down in Pasadena. Of course, the telescope was up on top of Mount Wilson. On July 3, I arrived in Pasadena and got in touch with Dr. Goddard. I got a room at the YMCA. My wife didn't come with me right away; she came later. That evening I had dinner with Dr. Goddard and Henry Parker, who was one of the men working with him while I was out. Also I met his mother. His mother had been living out there, but I don't remember just where Parker normally lived. He had been at Worcester while I was there; I knew him quite well at that time. During the course of the evening I asked Mrs. Parker how she liked the weather out there, and she just loved it. I said, "You know, there's one thing that I know is going to appeal to me; I understand that they never have thunderstorms out here and lightning." She said, "I have lived here for three years and I have never seen lightning or ever heard a thunderstorm." And I said, "I lived in a community in Morton County, Indiana where it just thundered and reverberated for it seemed like minutes, and I am going to enjoy this because I don't like thundering and lightning." That night came the most fantastic lightning storm that you ever saw. The next morning the papers were full of wonderful pictures that had been taken by the Mount Wilson gang and whomever, just a thunder and lightning story. I got a nice little cottage in Rheinway Court and arranged for my wife to join me. It was within walking distance of the Mount Wilson Observatory shops.

As I said, I arrived on July 3. On July 4 the men weren't working, and Dr. Goddard and I went over and we started making drawings of this multiple-charge rocket that I had proposed. We got the drawings finished and they had plenty of mechanics there. In about one week, we had one of those things firing more than one successive shot. As a matter of fact, in the first test, three of these propellant charges were thrown in. Then I had a wooden dummy to go in after that. That landed in the rocket and of course stayed there; it didn't explode. This was not a rocket that was actually going up in the air. It was a ballistic pendulum so we could....

Tebo:

You could measure the thrust.

Hickman:

That's right. That ballistic pendulum was made primarily for that purpose. We couldn't afford to set up and lose it every time because our funds were more or less preventative. Dr. Goddard was single at that time; he wasn't married. He was such a lovely man. All the time that I ever worked with him I never heard him utter an oath or even a cross word. He was one of the most kindly men that I have ever met in all my life. He could take disappointments, and a lot of tests frequently didn't come out too good. But it just didn't bother him at all. He could go back to the drawing board again and do some more work. We would invite him for dinner. My wife was a pretty good cook and he was such wonderful company. Later I will discourse on his health. He would come sometimes and eat a lot of pancakes. He had the most wonderful appetite, more than any other man I ever knew. But as time went on it became apparent that having five or six of these we should fire six successive charges. Of course, six successive charges wouldn't take the rocket very far. It became apparent that we weren't going to be able to develop that rocket for use in World War I.

Tebo:

You mention these multiple charges. What was the thrust for each particular charge? What kind of explosives were you using?

Hickman:

We were using nitroglycerin powder, solid fuel powder. Nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin. The British used that in all their big guns. They called it cordite.

Tebo:

How much thrust did you get?

Hickman:

I don't know whether I can remember the thrusts for each one of these cartridges. But each charge that went in weighed about thirty grams or something like that. Not very large. We were handicapped. We were not able to get the type of powder, for we had no way of extruding it. We had to take just what we could get, and what we were using in that particular charge was an eighth of an inch in diameter and solid. No hole in the inside of the powder.

Single-Charge Rockets and Recoilless Guns

Hickman:

We realized that we weren't going to be able to do anything for the war with that. We decided to concentrate on a solid fuel, single-charged rocket for taking place of the motors they were using in those days. The motors were terrible things. Later on, when I went to Aberdeen, I saw them demonstrated. They were being used for experimental purposes, and they all tumbled. The shell tumbled; it didn't sail like an arrow, like our rockets would. So we decided to concentrate on that. The only powder that we could get for that rocket was a half of an inch in diameter. Right over there are examples of our fueled rockets we had at that time. Those were actually taken to Aberdeen and fired. They were recovered and then I saved two of them.

Tebo:

You made lamps out of them.

Hickman:

That's right. We made three of those and we took them out, fired them on the range. We had a range not too far from Pasadena. It just went so darn fast and so far that we had no idea what had happened.

Tebo:

Are these the sizes?

Hickman:

That's the size we had done.

Polkinghorn:

These are about fourteen inches long, I would say.

Hickman:

That's right.

Polkinghorn:

Efficient diameter at the top.

Hickman:

Yes. It carried a charge on the inside, which was only half an inch in diameter. Then we thought we would fire another one and we did. Neither one of us saw it or knew where it went. So we said, "We have to find out how far this goes." We made arrangements with the army balloon camp not too far from there for us to go there and fire these. We made some more of them to fire. Then we had their soldiers spread out in the line to see where the thing landed. We were absolutely amazed to find that it was the last soldier in the line where we had strung them along for quite some distance. It was the last soldier who recovered it. Then when we realized what we had, that we had something that was pretty good. We proceeded to develop what we call a recoilless gun. That recoilless gun consisted of just a shelby tubing with a firing mechanism on it. We actually used a battery to fire them. You could use it like a bazooka across your shoulder if you were firing point blank, or you could use it under your arm for getting long range with it.

Tebo:

Firing trajectory.

Hickman:

That's right. Firing trajectory. I even designed the sight. I think that a picture of it may be here. I know I had this book. I have never had time to read this; I haven't had these very long.

Tebo:

Now that is put out by the Guggenheim Foundation?

Hickman:

Yes.

Polkinghorn:

They were responsible for putting up some of the money after he went to New Mexico.

Hickman:

Oh, yes. They did. Of course, he had a deal with them. I think it was a million dollars they got from the government after the war was over. But of course, that was a great deal more than Guggenheim had spent on it.

Tebo:

What metal is put on?

Hickman:

Nickel steel. That was the best metal we could get at that time. Oh, we had several different kinds. Incidentally, after the summer was pretty well over, they decided they wanted us to go to Aberdeen to demonstrate what we could do with these rockets. We had other rockets, too. We had the three-inch diameter rockets that were fired. We never had to use any vanes or anything of the kind because the tail gave enough direction.

Tebo:

It was like a vane itself.

Hickman:

That's right. For the larger ones we put wire around them. We took the music wire and wound it around them to give them more strength because they would once in a while split open. I never had more than one of these split open, and it split open hard. I was firing it myself. In that particular instance I was firing for range, and I had it under my arm instead of over my shoulder. I didn't hear or feel a thing, but I had made up my program for the Aberdeen demonstration, and I went to get it to see the next thing I was going to test. The rocket had gone all right as far as I could tell. I reached my hands into my coat pocket and found that it had a hole in it. It had gone through there and to my typewritten notes. It had split, and that forced it out of the tube, but the push on the rocket was sufficient to keep it going and even though it wasn't in the tube it went through my pocket.

Tebo:

It was out of the firing tube when it...

Hickman:

Out of the firing tube. I hadn't noticed it on the tube; I didn't notice that the tube was damaged until a little later on.

Struggle for Funding

Hickman:

There is one thing that I had forgotten in the initial part of this interview, which will show what a wonderful man Dr. Goddard was. Before this money became available from the Smithsonian Institution, he was looking around for someone to sponsor the thing. Of course, he would give them a part of the profits if they ever had any from the work. He finally got a hold of a fellow. This fellow said, "A rocket won't work when you get it up where there is no air for it to push against." Dr. Goddard tried to explain the question of momentum that the velocity of the gas multiplied by the mass of the charge is equal to the velocity of the rocket times its mass. But he wasn't an educated man and he didn't believe Goddard. Dr. Goddard said, "Well, if you get some well-known physicist to talk to you about it, maybe he can convince you." I just cannot remember the name of the physicist he got; he was pretty well known and worked at a university. I don't remember the details. But that fellow told that man that it wouldn't work. I had seen before I ever met Dr. Goddard a huge tank down in the shop — in the basement. I asked Dr. Thompson what that was. He told me that they wouldn't believe Goddard and so he had to fire one of those things in a tank. Actually, I don't think that man ever did put up the money because Goddard got it from some other place. But the idea of having to do that! I gave a talk to the American Rocket Society shortly after the war was over. The next day I got a call from a man by the name of Clark. He was inventing a typewriter that would respond to the voice. Did you ever know that?

Tebo:

I've heard of some scheme of taking the voice and having it...

Hickman:

That's what he was doing. At that time Clark was retired; I knew him pretty well. He wanted to come see me. What he wanted to tell me was that the rocket won't work since it will get up where there is no air. Of course, he wasn't a physicist; he was probably a clever mechanic of some kind. I just don't know what I would have done if I had been in Goddard's place and had been told that the rocket wouldn't work in outer space. But he was patient enough. Incidentally, he had some system. I don't remember now what he was using, but he could measure the gas velocity from the rocket. The gas velocity from the rocket was a little bit more in the tank than on the outside, as you might expect.

Tebo:

This is something like the controversy over the ether theory.

Hickman:

Yes.

Tebo:

You have to have something to push the electromagnetic waves through.

Hickman:

That's right.

Polkinghorn:

I think there is a difference there. My high-school physics professor in 1916 had to explain this to me and I had a little difficulty understanding. He understood it thoroughly.

Hickman:

Later on I'll cover another phase of that same thing to show the patience that he had and the lack of patience on my part.

Goddard Gets Lost Hiking

Hickman:

Now I just want to mention a few things that occurred. Mount Lowell is a twin mountain out there. They had a cable car that went well toward the top of the mountain, but not all the way. They had a little hotel there and a restaurant. Goddard appeared one evening. It wasn't dark yet and he had dinner in this dining room. As I say, he wasn't married and he liked the girls. He was talking to the waitress, and she found that he was going to walk from Mount Lowell over to Mount Wilson that night. She said, "Oh no! Don't try to do that. You will just lose the path as soon as you're foot high." He didn't think he would. "Well," she said, "have you got any matches?" He didn't have any matches, he didn't smoke. So she gave him some matches and she said, "If you do get off the path, don't try to find the path because you will just lose yourself and it may be weeks before we find you." Well, he did; he got lost all right. He got off and built himself a fire and waited to the next morning. Then the next morning he picked up the trail and went. That shows what sort of a fellow he was; he was remarkable. Later on, after my wife was there, we, Parker, Dr. Goddard, and one or two others made that walk, but we made it in the daytime. Once we all went to Catalina Highland on a boat and the pictures were very, very nice. I mention these things merely because he was such jolly company.

Accident with Blasting Cap

Hickman:

I haven't said anything about the accident that I had. My wife was already out there at that time. This was, you might say, stupidity on my part. I fired this recoilless gun on the ballistic pendulum. I think only two shots fired, and there were supposed to be six fired. When I opened up the rocket, there was the charge. It had hit that firing pin right smack in the center. I thought to myself, "Well, gee-wiz. I forgot to put in a percussion cap." The percussion cap was made of ground glass and some other chemicals that were...

Tebo:

Of mercury?

Hickman:

Not that severe, but that spot was in the ignition charge to ignite the rocket. There was some mercury fulminate and TNT. In order to hold this, actually do you know anything about blasting caps used in..?

Tebo:

I can't say that I do.

Hickman:

They are a little tube-like thing, and they have TNT in the bottom and mercury fulminate. In order to use this cap, they push the dynamite fuse into that cap, that ignites the mercury fulminate, and then the full thing gets closed. In order to use those caps, we put them in a lathe with a cutting tube and cut it off flush with the mercury fulminate. It was just a little barrel of mercury fulminate. Of course we knew that was a dangerous thing to do. So we had the lathe fixed up; it had a shield.

Tebo:

Shielded.

Hickman:

That's right. Everything was shielded. I must have cut hundreds of those and never did any of them go off. As I say, the mercury fulminate was not sensitive enough. It could easily happen, but it was not sensitive enough to go off. So we took these crystal caps and put them in front of the mercury fulminate blasting cap in order to hold it in. Actually, we took a bundle of these eight-inch rods of powder, tied them together, and wrapped them. Then we took a drill and drilled a hole in there big enough to carry that blasting cap. In order to hold the blasting cap in we put this toy pistol cap in front and then another piece of gun paper on the front of that to keep the whole thing from spilling out. When I got back to the laboratory I figured that I just forgot to put the percussion cap on there — that is the toy pistol cap. I had a pair of tweezers and I went to pull the paper in front off. Apparently it had rattled that charge in the toy pistol around to the point where it was peeling that paper off, and it just went off. That was a number eight blasting cap, a pretty severe thing. How fortunate I was, because my whole chest was littered. I had on a shop coat. The shop coat was littered, my shirt was littered, my underwear was littered. I don't believe that there is a place on my face that you could have a laid a nickel without having had shreds of nitroglycerin powder blown into the skin. Some of that would work out a year later. Apparently it isn't harmful to the human body.

Tebo:

Glasses on?

Hickman:

No glasses. I remember very distinctly looking down on this hand. All the flesh and the bones showed bad. I was absolutely sure that they would cut the hand off. All I saw was bones. Very fortunately, the resident surgeon at the hospital was not available, but they got a man who works for the railroad company. To them every joint of the fingers is worth so much money, you know. He just took that and wrapped it around here. For years, if I touched the front part of my finger I felt like I was touching the back part. That is how that accident occurred. The surgeon who did the job, a wonderful job, told me that my recovery from it was absolutely miraculous. As a matter of fact, I only missed one day of work. They got another man to work under my direction.

Tebo:

You were in sick.

Hickman:

I was back at the end of a weekend, so I had another man work with me on Monday. We gave up the recoilless gun idea for the time being and went to this single-charge rocket.

The Music Stand Demonstration

Hickman:

When we got to Aberdeen, I did demonstrate the multiple charge, but with just a few charges in it, try to go as far as it would. To demonstrate those rockets, which you see over, there, I devised a scheme, which Dr. Abbot was just thrilled with. I have heard him talk about it years and years after. It was a music stand demonstration. I bought two music stands and put rings on the rod to slide up and down to carry this shelter tubing. I did three things. I fired the rockets from there through sacks of sand and finally a box of sand. When I would fire, the tube just stayed right in the music stand rings and never moved. Then I decided that I could add a little velocity to the rocket by actually using a little constriction in the back of the rocket and I demonstrated that. In other words, I just put a little smaller hole in the shelter tubing on the rear. The firing tube sailed out of the rings and the rocket went all right. These Aberdeen graphs measured the velocity. That showed you could increase the velocity of the rocket, but of course you wouldn't be able to hold the tube, if you had very much constriction. I screwed the nozzle on the back end of the shelter tubing to counteract the expansion of the gases going through this metal, to counteract the constriction. I didn't quite have a full way of testing. We didn't have time to get all of these tests out. When I fired this one, the shelter tubing just moved back out of the first ring and then laid down on the tail end on the ground. It was perfectly obvious that a soldier could hold that in his hand with the amount of recoil much less than that of the shotgun. Dr. Abbot was just thrilled with that.

Our other tests at Aberdeen were on the three-inch rocket. They had a man from what was called the Army Air Force. They were interested in firing these rockets from airplanes. We explained that we would have to go through a four-inch rocket instead of the three-inch, which we had been using, because you just didn't have enough room to put in the explosive detonating material in the three-inch rocket. So Dr. Goddard and I went to Washington D.C.; we had rooms at the old National Hotel. I suppose you have seen it?

Tebo:

I have been there many times.

Hickman:

At that time it had been a notorious hotel. Some princess of some kind had stayed there. We made drawings of this four-inch rocket; and right in the midst of this the armistice was signed. Of course, then everything was dead as far as continued work was concerned.

Bureau of Standards and Return to Clark

Hickman:

I was going to go back to school teaching, but these people said that they could get the funds for the research on the airplane rocket. So Dr. Goddard went to the Bureau of Standards and made arrangements with Dr. Stratton for me to come and work at the Bureau of Standards, for which I would be paid as much as I would get teaching school. They would release me whenever Goddard got the funds from this, but he never got the funds. As a consequence I stayed on until the fall of the next year. In the fall of the next year, Dr. Thompson, who was Dr. Webster's assistant at the laboratory there, had an idea of organizing of what they call the Industrial Research Laboratory for doing research for industrial concerns. I was put in as a director, Goddard was a director, Dr. Thompson was a director, and a very clever Swedish mechanic was also a director of this. We worked for the Winchester Repeating Iron Company and did oodles and oodles of work for them on shot gun materials, choke barrels, or one thing or other. I made what I thought was the most wonderful invention and got bawled out from them to beat the band because I made an attachment that you put on the muzzle of the shotgun to get any choke you wanted. You could have different sizes of attachments, and they didn't want to have any part of that because they sold two to three guns for every sportsman. They said it would hurt their business.

Tebo:

They now make those parts.

Hickman:

Oh, yes, they make them now. And they work quite beautifully. We worked for the LaFont's Fire Engine Company here in New York. They could get a nice flow of water in the initial fire but it would peter out. We looked into ways of improving that. Then we had another organization in which we were all directors, which we called MOSA Products Company — Manufacturers of Scientific Applications. We had several things that we were working on. In the fall of that year, in 1921, I was studying for my doctorate degree the whole time I was there. It was extra work, but I did most of the experimental work with the Winchester Company. There were several other companies that we got business from. But the Depression occurred, and it just killed both of those things. I went back to the Bureau of Standards. They had liked the work that I was doing in the Inductance and Capacitance Laboratory under Dr. Curtis. In the meantime I took courses at the Bureau of Standards toward my doctorate degree, and eventually I went to Clark and got my tests and had to take the last test in French and German.

Goddard Develops Liquid Fuel Rockets

Hickman:

Every time I would go up there, Goddard was still going ahead with his work, and he was working for a year or two on this multiple charge. The first one he built would carry a hundred charges, but he just had trouble after trouble and I told him, "I just think mechanically to get enough charges, to get extremely high altitudes, this is going to be a long, drawn-out thing." He finally decided the same thing and the next time I went up to Clark he had decided to go to liquid fuel. He wanted to know what I thought about that. I was 100% for it, but there had been a lot of people trying to use liquid fuel. They had just burned up the rocket, but of course that was the difference between his research and the research of some of those other people. They would lose a rocket; they wanted to fire it to see it go in the air, you know. They didn't know that the liquid fuel could just burn the rocket right out.

Tebo:

Was what Goddard did then to use smaller quantities of liquid fuel?

Hickman:

He had a very clever scheme. I can't remember, but he had a name for it. He fed in an excess of gasoline and that excess of gasoline was fed in around the periphery.

Tebo:

Oh, I see. It acted as an insulator.

Hickman:

That's it; it acted as an insulator.

Tebo:

It protected the shell.

Hickman:

That's right, and that was successful. The Germans were the first to use it. Of course, they had his papers on it.

Tebo:

Did the Germans do that before Goddard?

Hickman:

No. They did it after they read his reports. They admit that now, but in the beginning they wouldn't.

Polkinghorn:

Was that before they had established Penamundi?

Hickman:

It was before that. What's the name of that fellow down here?

Polkinghorn:

Werner Von Braun.

Hickman:

Von Braun was really sort of the headman on that thing.

Tebo:

Von Braun, I think, was one of the founders of the German Rocket Society.

Hickman:

That's right.

Tebo:

As I understand it, it started at Penamundi.

Hickman:

No, that was before then. When Hitler decided that it was worth doing something with, then quite a number of members of the Rocket Society went to Penamundi.

Tebo:

I think they broke up the German Rocket Society and put them all in the military.

Hickman:

That's right. But in the early days von Braun hated to admit that they got a lot of ideas from us. Later on, he did; and I think you'll find letters in his books which admit it.

Tebo:

So Goddard was not only the instigator of solid fuels, but of liquid fuels as well?

Hickman:

That's right. As I go on, you will find out how extremely fond he was of that. He carried on his work at Worcester and had successful flights, but the people in that vicinity objected to it. Finally they froze him out and they said, "You can't make tests here anymore."

Tebo:

Was it the noise or fear of rockets falling on the house?

Goddard Goes to New Mexico

Hickman:

Yes, fear of one going wild or something like that because he didn't have too big a space to do it in. That's when they decided to send him to Roswell, New Mexico. Harry Guggenheim, of course, who was handling the funds of the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation, had been paying for all of this. They were successful in getting a ranch house out there. In the meantime, Goddard had married this secretary, so he took her out there with him. Incidentally, during all this, my wife and I were living in Washington D.C. I had gone back to the Bureau of Standards and then I was transferred down to the Navy yard. They were working on the submarine mines.

Tebo:

What year was that?

Hickman:

I was there until 1924. In 1923 and 1924 I was at the Navy and prior to that I was at the Bureau of Standards. Whenever Goddard came down to Washington, he came to our apartment for dinner. He always got an invitation to dinner because he loved to eat. When we were in Pasadena we would go to lunch together and all you could get in the way of meat was mutton. He didn't care much for mutton — I love it, but he didn't care for it. On our way back, after we sold everything, and were on the way to Aberdeen, we had to change trains at Chicago. My wife suggested that we go to Marshall Field and have dinner. When we got there, on the menu was a huge T-bone steak with a garnish of stuffed peppers. He ordered that and he ate the whole thing, peppers and all. I never saw such an appetite, it's true. When he went to Roswell, we corresponded; and all that correspondence, I am sure, is in these books.

Tebo:

You didn't go to Roswell?

Hickman:

No, but he wanted me to come. Those letters would tell you that he wanted me to come, but all he could afford to pay me was five thousand dollars a year. Of course, I was getting more than that. Back when I was getting ten thousand, I took quite a cut when I came down to Bell Laboratories. I just couldn't afford to give that up to go out and work with him, but he still corresponded with me and all that correspondence is available.

Tebo:

You maintained close contact with him. Was your contact mostly social contact?

Section H and Naval Research

Hickman:

Mostly social. Sometimes he would discuss problems with us, but his wife was with him. He was a little bit sick about his work, but I don't think he ever showed that with me. This correspondence went on for several years. When the war came on, I was perturbed because he hadn't told me that he wasn't doing anything on solid fuel rockets at all. I thought that for war purposes a solid fuel rocket was the thing that you ought to be using rather than a liquid fuel. I wrote and asked him if they were doing anything. I got this letter back from him saying that he and Harry Guggenheim had been down to Washington and they just got "No, no, no," from all of the military. They weren't interested, not even the least bit. So I wrote and told him, "I have a sort of an entrè to this business. Would you object if I try to pull a few strings myself?" He wrote, "Go see Hank Guggenheim and see if you get his approval." Guggenheim is really part of the business deal between the two. I went to see Harry Guggenheim and he had no objection at all. He was a little disgusted with the military anyhow; so then I went to see Dr. Jewett.

I took reports, which I had written for the Aberdeen demonstrations. I pointed out all the different applications that rockets could have, if you used solid fuel. He was tremendously impressed and he immediately classified everything that I had. He sent it down to Vannevar Bush and Dr. Toulman, who was head of the NDRC. They asked me to come down and see Toulman about the possibilities. The Navy was interested in one little thing, an armor-piercing bomb for piercing the deck of a battleship. If they dropped this bomb from a high-enough altitude, it would actually pierce the deck, but in bad weather they just couldn't. They kept this not a shear from high altitude. Furthermore, if they had cloud coverage, they wanted to come out of the clouds. What they wanted to do was to drop this and then accelerate it with the rocket. The first thing you know, I had no idea of getting tied up with this myself, but they organized Section H down there and put me at the head of Section H of the NDRC, primarily to do that. So we did a little extra work; we went back with this recoilless gun for use with a preferable charge, which they later called the bazooka.

Tebo:

You were in Washington in 1940?

Hickman:

That's right.

Tebo:

You went to see Jewett prior to 1940?

Hickman:

I had seen Jewett...

Tebo:

You had come from the American Piano Company to the laboratories in the 1930s?

Hickman:

That's right. I think 1930. I went to see Jewett before the middle of 1940. I know they wanted to make me head of the Eastern Archer Association for the permits that they held, and I couldn't do it because I knew I was going to get tied up in this other work. This was before July of 1940 that I had seen Jewett and also Dr. Toulman. First I started out there one day a week and we did our testing at Aberdeen. They were getting tied up. Eventually they turned over the whole testing ground that they had at Indian Head, Maryland, where they used to test the guns. They turned all that over to me and we got George Washington University to handle the contract because I couldn't handle the money myself. I had to have a contract, of course. Later I had contracts with Bell Laboratories.

Tebo:

You were with NRL, the Naval Research Laboratory?

Hickman:

Years before that. I was Section H in the NDRC.

Tebo:

The H is for Hickman.

Hickman:

We started in on this and we did a little bootlegging. Dr. Toulman knew we were doing this on the recoilless gun. This went on for some time. When I was made chairman of Section H, I had had the right to appoint consultants, and Dr. Goddard was one of the men that I appointed. He did not want to give up his liquid fuel. He agreed that the solid-fuel rocket was the best thing for war missiles, but he wanted to stay with it. Finally, I was able to get a contract for him with the Navy to do research on using liquid fuel. He used to come to Washington. I used to stay at the London Park Hotel and would have dinner with him there. Several times I had problems and I would write to him about them. He was always ready and very prompt in suggesting ways of solving them. Years prior to that they had asked him to do the same thing that they were asking me to do. When he wanted to use nitroglycerin powder, they said, "No. We don't want to have anything to do with that." So he did his own work on that; that was years before. He just didn't get anywhere with it all. When they told me the same thing, I said, "You just forget about that. I just don't think that it could be done without that powder." They gave in, but I guess I was more independent; I didn't give a damn whether they did it or not. I certainly wasn't going to try to do something, which I knew he had failed at, so I went with the nitroglycerin powder, and that's the way the thing went off. When he got his contract with the Navy he came to Washington, and I drove up to see him.

Goddard's Tuberculosis

Hickman:

Coming back now to his health, he had got his doctorate degree under Dr. Webster but he had gone to Princeton, and that's when he had this brainstorm for the rockets with high-altitude research. Then he contracted TB, a very severe case of TB, and no one expected him to live. While I was there in 1920 or 1921, whichever it was, I had a severe case of the flu. His doctor, who waited on me, and I got a lot of information from him. They wanted Goddard to go out and live in a tent and he wouldn't do it. This doctor said that there was only one man who could believe that he would ever get well and that was Goddard himself. No one expected him to live at all, but he did. But he had a whispering type of voice, he couldn't shout. This went on for years and years. He had a fellow working for him that was hard of hearing. He had to shout still more and his wife thinks that had something to do with his final disaster because he had gotten so bad that they went to the hospital and they found that he had cancer of the throat. They decided to operate and take out his vocal cords, which they did. He was only alive for a few days and the surgeon claims that his whole system was filled with tubercular germs.

Dreams of a Moon Rocket

Hickman:

In the early days, Goddard had quite an imagination too. While you never could get Dr. Walcott to believe that he had ever had any idea of sending a rocket to the moon, he certainly did. The reason that Dr. Walcott wouldn't believe that was that in the early days, newspaper people would come interviewing, and invariably that's what they wanted to talk about — going to the moon. It created an unfavorable impression in the university. I know Dr. Webster was very angry about it, but he was looked upon as a nut. He just did not command the respect of other scientific people because they thought it was absurd sending a rocket to the moon. This much I do know because he told me that himself. He went so far as to go to a mountain not far from Worcester and touch off flash powder. It was five miles or ten miles; I have forgotten how far it was. He figured out how much flash powder it would take to show up if you landed a rocket on the moon. He was not talking about sending persons to the moon but he was talking about sending a rocket there. To find out whether he could hit it or not, he had his flash powder. So that is direct proof that he had that in mind. When he worked for the Smithsonian he was cautioned about letting any of that come in. It was purely high-altitude research that he was interested in then. When he talked to Dr. Abbot, there was nothing but high-altitude research. That's why Abbot wouldn't believe that he ever had any ideas about the moon.

Polkinghorn:

It was the same situation with Nikola Tesla. Everybody considered him crazy.

Hickman:

That's right. But he was not a nut at all. Books will tell you things about where he even had code messages and he had a different name for it. These were given to people to hold in case he died or something of the kind and not to be opened until after he died. Some of those have to do with sending a rocket to the moon. The only fault that man had was he was so terrifically secretive about his work that he got a bad reputation at the California Institute of Technology. They sent someone up, I think it was Frank Molina, and he just didn't get anything from him at all. He gave a pretty bad report of him. It was purely because Goddard was so afraid that someone would try to take over. He had a little reason for believing that because when he fired this fellow Hagaas who had worked on this breech block that wouldn't work, Hagaas went to another industry in Worcester, Massachusetts to go ahead and do research on their own. This fellow went into it and by some hook or crook, I don't know just how they did it, they managed to kill that. I think the Smithsonian probably had something to with that. Goddard was afraid that someone was going to steal his thunder, so he was just terrifically secretive — but I never met a nicer man in my life.

About his appetite, there is one other item I wanted to mention. My brother and I used to go down to Cape Charles and fish for the large fish — channel bass, and bonita and things of that kind. We were catching a lot of small shark, and we just caught them and threw them back in the water. Every time we did that, the boat-captain said, "Boys, you are throwing the best meat away. The shark is much better than bonita or channel bass." Once I caught a hammerhead shark, a very nice shark, and he was going to send me up a bonita and a channel bass. In those days they shipped it on ice. He said, "Look, let me put this hammerhead shark in." So, I said, "All right." I arranged a big fish party here for dinner; Mr. Goddard was one of the guests and his wife. When I served them I said, "I am going to try an experiment. I am going to serve each one of you a small piece of three kinds of fish, and I want you to tell me which one you want for dinner." Everyone at that dinner party picked the shark, except Goddard picked the bonita.

Tebo:

That probably covers the Goddard story. Perhaps you could tell us something. How did you happen to go with the American Piano Company?

American Piano Company

Measuring Intensity of the Piano

Hickman:

Well that's an interesting story too. I was at the Navy yard, and Mr. Stoddard, who was the inventor of the player piano, wanted to establish a research laboratory. I don't think he even graduated from high school, so he was just not competent to take in a lot of technical things. He went down to the Bureau of Standards. Stratton was still headman at the Bureau of Standards, and he had an assistant, Dr. F.C. Brown. Brown was the man he saw, and he wanted him to recommend someone to come and work in the research laboratory in New York. Stoddard told me that Brown said, "There is just one man that I know who would be an excellent man for that job, if you can get him. It was C.N. Hickman." I was working for the Navy, and they asked me to come up for an interview and I did. They offered me six thousand dollars a year, while I was getting forty-two hundred at the Navy yard. Neither my wife or I ever had much use for New York City. After the interview I was going out to my father's and mothers golden wedding anniversary. When I was on the train I called in a stenographer and I wrote a letter to Stoddard declining the offer. Well, they didn't stop there; they called me and had me come up again. I met one of the vice- presidents, and he offered me seventy-five hundred, which I finally decided to accept. We figured we would come to New York and save our money and then get out of the place. When I got here, I made quite a hit with Stoddard. At the end of the second year, they raised my salary to ten thousand and made it retroactive for the year before, so that I got an extra twenty-five hundred dollars.

He was a remarkable man, so different from Goddard — there was no similarity whatsoever. He wasn't a kindly man, although he never crossed me. One time he said, "You know, Doctor — he always called me Doctor — you are the only man that ever worked with me that didn't hate me." To give you an example, remember when they had the total eclipse here? It was not going to be total in the city, but I was living up in the Bronx where it would be total. He wanted to come up to my place to see the total eclipse, and of course I was happy to have him. Some of the men at the laboratory wanted to know if they were going to get off for the eclipse. I said I assumed so, and so someone said to Mr. Stoddard, "Are the men going to be off for the eclipse?" "Who would propose a thing like that," he asked? I got word of this, so I told Mr. Stoddard, "Now see here. This is something that doesn't happen in the lifetime of a lot of people. I think it is perfectly ridiculous that these people aren't permitted to go wherever they wish so they can see a total eclipse of the sun." He immediately called the gang together and told them that he was doing this, but if I hadn't intervened, that wouldn't have happened. I have a pretty even temper; it takes an awful lot to rattle me, but I never had one as good as Goddard. I developed his system of measuring the intensity of the piano. They had not done that before. They recorded when he pressed the keys and the pedals. A musician would sit and listen and try to remember how loud the hardest plate had been. They would put these expressions on the side of the music roll to play it the same way that the artist did. Well, that is just impossible. I can take any roll and have several of these editors, so there was a lot of work involved. We had several of these editors, and I could tell you which one of those editors had prepared the roll without ever knowing who had done it at all.

Tebo:

Could you measure and determine intensity?

Hickman:

That's right.

Tebo:

And vary it on the clarity?

Hickman:

Oh, sure! They were varying intensity long before I came with them. But they didn't have any way of knowing.

Polkinghorn:

Were you able to bring in sound measuring devices in that venture?

Hickman:

It was much simpler than that. All I did was put on the hammer shank a little silver contact, and it would go up and make contact with two wires that were sticking out just a tiny bit before it hit the string. These two contacts were made and they differed. It struck one wire and then it would go on and strike the other wire, and that was recorded like a spark chronograph. All I did was to measure the velocity of the hammer. If you know the velocity of the hammer, you end up doing the same thing with the athical. All you had to do then was to put in the intensity of the air pressure in the piano that would give that velocity and you knew exactly what atmosphere was needed.

Polkinghorn:

This was long before the decibel meter and things like that.

Hickman:

Yes, that's right. Even then, you have got so many notes inside the piano. This way with every hammer you measured the velocity. We had girls with measuring sticks who would measure the distance. That was, I thought a pretty clever scheme on my part, the method of recording this. I used a great big cylinder about a foot in diameter with a wire spiraled around. This cylinder was turning, and then paper was being fed through. The paper was almost a yard wide. In order to measure all the hammers we had to have quite a number of those segments. If one spark occurred, this would spiral around, the next spark would occur, and so on. They used this at the Bell Laboratory later on, but they never gave me any credit.

Tebo:

Was that used in the frequency standard?

Hickman:

I have forgotten now how it was used.

Polkinghorn:

I had a spark chronograph used in the frequency standard there in Murray Hill.

Hickman:

No, no. This was long before Murray Hill existed.

Tebo:

This was probably used at West Street earlier.

Hickman:

Anyhow, this helical was my invention. I thought they had mentioned that, but they didn't. What was the name of the author, who published the record book on...

Tebo:

Well, Finley was the one who...

Hickman:

Finley. I asked him, "How come you didn't mention that?" I had come down to the laboratory and given a lecture on this method of measuring the velocity of the hammers and demonstrated the whole business there. I thought they should have given me a little credit for the rest of the future. But they didn't.

Tebo:

I used that spiral wire thing for a recorder for radio field strength. We were sweeping at an angle with an antenna once a second and when they got the signal we would make a dot.

Aberdeen Chronograph

Hickman:

Well, that was another thing. The Aberdeen chronograph was developed in World War I. My friend Dr. Klopsig, who was president of the Central Scientific Company, was there. So was another man by the name of Loomis. They developed this Aberdeen chronograph for measuring the velocity of bullets. That was a spark proposition, and they would take a piece of paper about so long and feed it into the inside of this drum. Then the keys would go down and sparks would occur, and they would take a measuring stick and measure it. You would get an accuracy of one percent or something like that, which was pretty good. Better than anything they had at that time. They used to have what they called a dropping pendulum of some kind. I used to remember the name of it. But this Aberdeen chronograph was very good, so that was what I proposed to use. Right away Stoddard wanted to. Incidentally, what we had was colored paper with a coating of paraffin on it, so it looks white. When a spark occurs it burns the paraffin and a blue spot shows. They didn't make this paper anymore in large quantities like we had to have it, and it was quite expensive. But that's what he wanted to rush in to do. It occurred to me that if you take glazed paper, coated on one side and waterproofed on the other, and run it over a roller that is wet with dye, it actually makes a hole in the paper. This dye will seep through that hole and make a little dot. The other members said, "Oh, it's a lot cheaper than having to go to paraffin that coats the paper."

Tebo:

You were at the American Piano Company for how long?

Hickman:

Spring of 1924 to January 1, 1930.

Bell Laboratories

Magnetic Recording

Tebo:

Then you went to Bell Laboratories. The Laboratories had been working on you to come there?

Hickman:

They had not done that. Mr. Stoddard was really fond of me and he wanted to see that I could take a good position. He went down and talked to Mike Long. Mike was in the...

Polkinghorn:

He was educational director.

Tebo:

He was the one who hired me.

Hickman:

In a way he hired me too. Of course George Thomas...

Tebo:

He was personnel director.

Hickman:

Yes, that's right. Anyhow Stoddard went down and had a chat with Mike. Mike said, "Don't you worry about it," because they had seen my lecture. He said, "Don't worry about it at all. He's got a job right now." That was the beginning of the Depression. There were three different departments that interviewed me for research. I think Fletcher was responsible for putting on the pressure to get me hired. I heard Mike tell someone else years later that all three of them wanted me. One was outside of the plant when Walls was head of that. I have forgotten what the other one was, but Fletcher had pretty good weight at that time, and he's the one who got me in. Of course, I liked working in the research laboratory.

Polkinghorn:

But what were you doing at the Laboratories? I remember it was about in 1936 or so that you had been with Mike.

Hickman:

That was after they transferred me over to this new development group. I began work in magnetic recording.

Tebo:

That must have been under Halsey M. Frederick. When Halsey Frederick had been put in charge of new operators.

Hickman:

That's when I went there.

Polkinghorn:

Did you have anything to do with Joseph Maxfield?

Hickman:

Not in connection with any of his work. But I knew all about him.

Tebo:

I just interviewed him in April in Escobedo, California.

Hickman:

I first worked on magnetic recording. Here's a funny thing. You remember a fellow by the name of Curtis?

Polkinghorn:

A.M. Curtis?

Hickman:

Yes. He had one of these old telegraphones, nothing more than piano wire. They just kept getting inquiry after inquiry whether it was anything to make magnetic recording on. Apparently they decided they ought to at least give it a throw and see what it sounds like.

Polkinghorn:

Would that be magnetic wire recording?

Hickman:

Yes, that is just plain carbon steel wire. Whole pieces were offset. You had to run the thing about three feet a second in order to get much out of it. Anyway, they gave me this telegraphone to play with. I soon decided you shouldn't use wire; you ought to use a ribbon. I was playing with this thing, Curtis came out, and I didn't know who he was. I thought he was the vice president or something. He wanted to know how the thing was doing.

Polkinghorn: Curtis and Cole worked up the rapid-record oscillograph.

Hickman:

Yes.

Polkinghorn:

Paper tape, photographic paper recorded the motions, the electrical and mechanical effects.

Hickman:

I didn't know.

Polkinghorn:

Curtis had worked on that.

Hickman:

When I told him what I was doing, I said that they wanted to get an answer. He said, "I played with that years ago and all you are going to get is a bunch of squeaks and squawks and broken wire." Of course, they were running at a terrific speed and he said, "What in the hell are they going to spend money on next?" Later on I found that he wasn't as high up as I had thought he was. But very soon, in a very short period of time, I had him using a one thousand inch tape about an eighth of an inch wide. This was developed for the beaters on leading the change. That was very fine tape; I still have some of it. The difference was just fantastic, and I cut the whole pieces directly opposite of each other. In other words, I had no offset.

Polkinghorn:

This must have been a high-calicity force steel you were using?

Hickman:

Plain carbon steel. Cluxburn steel. Of course, that's what comes next. When we found out, I was working under Winter. He was a wonderful fellow to work with, he gave me full cooperation.

Polkinghorn:

He just died recently.

Piano Inventions

Hickman:

Here's an interesting thing that happened with Winter's friend, J.B. Johnson. We corresponded, and he would give me a report. I wrote the letters time and again. It wasn't because he wasn't competent; he would try to answer the letters. But the thing that we had in common was, I invented a completely new counter action for grand pianos. I spent hours with that. We made several of them and J.B. Johnson bought one of those pianos. He wanted to know if I had any literature on the thing, so I copied down the story I had written about it, and sent it to him. Lo and behold, I found out years and years later that those patents had been issued. I sent the patent number to him, and that's why we did a lot of corresponding.

Tebo:

You did this invention after you were at the Laboratories?

Hickman:

No, no. I went down to different factories to show them how to do the thing. I went down to Baldwin, which was in Baltimore back then. I couldn't sit around and have someone else do the work. I have to do it to. I asked for a drill; I wanted to drill some holes in the wood. They brought me an Epitable drill. I said, "Haven't you got a hand drill with a crank?" "Oh, no we wouldn't have one of those things used on a piano, you just spore the tone of the piano."

Tebo:

You mean you drill a hole with a borer. That's a primitive way.

Hickman:

Well, I had some interesting times with those piano people. Did you know that the first even stress on the string, the first piano ever built that way, was done through consulting Helmholtz the great physicist?

Tebo:

No, I didn't know that.

Hickman:

When they used to build a piano the frame was wood. They didn't have cast iron frames in those days. They would take a string for one note and try to leave a little factor of safety, and then they would change the length of the string and eventually get to the point that they...

Tebo:

Got a tension?

Hickman:

They would have too much tension for the string, so they would have to go to a smaller string. They did this by guessing. Helmholtz arranged it so that the normal tension on every string in the piano was about 150 pounds. You see the trouble when they did it the other way, one part of the piano would have much more higher tension than the other: it would warp the piano out of shape. From that time on they took the Helmholtz scale and extrapolated either up or down, according to whether they had a longer or a shorter piano. That's what they were using when I came to them. No other scale had ever been devised. We had quite a number of factories. Nice and Chickering were both made in Boston. I saw a fellow doing something, and I just did this out of curiosity. I didn't know that I was going to get the kind of answer I did, but I knew maybe at some time or other there was a reason for doing that. I wondered what he was doing and I said, "Why do you do that?" "Well," he said, "I don't really know but that's the way my [inaudible]."

Tebo:

So it was like the man who was Siren the job of tapping the railroad car wheels. He didn't know why he was doing it but had done it before.

Hickman:

Another incident. Once at the Chickering factory they had an accident. The people who worked on the paint and dye were on the floor above where they stored the sounding boards. Some of this dye leaked down through the floor and went on the tails of these sounding boards. It would be a shame to lose all those sounding boards. The foreman decided to turn it into an experiment. He took those tails down so they were thinner than normal. He put them in the room where they stored the pianos, and they had a person who was supposed to have very good judgment of tone. That's quite common; a music teacher would want to get a piano for some person. She would pick out the piano. She tried two pianos and they were the finest that she'd ever heard, and one of them was the experimental kind. From that time on they changed the shape of the sounding boards.

Polkinghorn:

Simple things can make a big change.

Hickman:

This shaving was all handwork. The contour of the frame where the sounding board gets screwed down was all done by hand. If you screw it down and put stress in the sounding board, you are not going to get as good a tone as you would if it was free of external stress. They conceived the idea of doing that by a machine. The foreman wouldn't agree to that, and they got one of the workmen who volunteered to do that. The foreman wouldn't even speak to him, and they made fifty pianos that way, which were all good. This business of having some sound better than others disappeared.

Tebo:

All made a uniform sound.

Hickman:

All made a uniform sound. Of course, that's true with violins. One of the reasons these old violins are so good is that any stress set up at the time of manufacturing has long since been gone. It took the piano people a long time to see this. Take the Wurlitzer people. They had an expert. He would buy the violins, and say whether they were good. They would bring them back to this country and varnish them, and they would look good. Some fellow devised a coating of some kind that makes it impossible for the varnish to sink in, and they were talking about doing that on the piano at the time I left the company.

Polkinghorn:

John Shelling did research on that and has written up a number of articles. I don't know if you knew him or not, he was in video research. John Shelling was at Holmdale and had the triangular building there.

Hickman:

No. He was in charge of Deal in the 1920s; he may have moved to Holmdale.

Tebo:

I think that's what he did. I never got to Deal, but I remember you going down to see Shelling. In fact we used to work together on some definitions. During the war you were spending most of the time in Washington.

Hickman:

Yes.

Return to Bell After War

Washburn Relays and Wrap Joints

Tebo:

How many of you came back to the Laboratories in 1946?

Hickman:

I was still in the same group. You see, Sigmund was my supervisor at the time. It was through him that I made the contract with the Laboratory. They did an awful lot of work for us.

Tebo:

When did you retire?

Hickman:

January of 1950.

Tebo:

1950. So you were only there for a few years after the war.

Hickman:

Yes, that's right. A total of twenty years.

Tebo:

What were you doing there?

Hickman:

Mostly work on the Washburn relay.

Tebo:

With Harrison?

Hickman:

That's right.

Tebo:

That developed into quite a big project.

Hickman:

I was in on this wrap joint business too.

Tebo:

Molina was doing a lot of work. He had [Frank] Reck working for him. Herman Malosh was the one who came up with the idea.

Hickman:

The original idea came from Malosh.

Tebo:

Did you and Molina develop that original idea?

Hickman:

I don't remember just what Malosh's tool was, but I went to Reck and had him build this pistol type thing.

Polkinghorn:

Before the pistol, Herman Malosh took a little radio knob and put a rod in it and put a hole in the center and then another hole just offset. He put the terminal in the big hole and the wrapping wire in the small hole. He just twisted that knob, and it would wrap the connection there. That is what he started with. Then, I guess, he, you, and Molina must have gotten together in developing the tools for doing this.

Hickman:

He contributed. The idea of making a pistol type was my idea, but Reck executed it. In the same way, he built a whole high-speed camera, an eight-millimeter high-speed camera out of pretty crude drawings. He's a very clever fellow.

High-Speed and Ribbon-Frame Cameras

Tebo:

Was that the improvement over the fast-tech camera.

Hickman:

This was a fast tech camera. I am most interested in archery. I wanted to take high-speed pictures, but it just cost too damn much money to buy sixteen-millimeter film. So I wanted to make them eight millimeter. I made mine with six sides.

Tebo:

On the prisms.

Hickman:

So I could get six thousand frames.

Tebo:

Well, you got up to nine or ten thousand.

Hickman:

The Laboratory later built one, but the first one, which I built, was six thousand frames. Reck practically did all of it. Another thing, I went off to California. They had a pretty clever fellow there, but he had built what he called a ribbon-frame camera.

Tebo:

You have a series of pictures of this frame.

Hickman:

That's right. His design was a monstrous thing. Coming back on the train, I made sketches of how that could be done much simpler and with no massive weight to carry around at any given time. Just a funny little camera.

Tebo:

I was wondering who got this credit? Evidently, you deserve the credit for this.

Hickman:

But Reck was such a good man that they did something for him that they would never do for anyone else. They gave him permission to put his name on the article that appeared in the record, on the ribbon-frame camera. I thought he deserved it.

Tebo:

Well, he certainly did. Reck also made something out of the page turner idea. He built that.

Hickman:

That's right.

Tebo:

And of course, Rudy Molina gets a lot of credit for that. But I think that Reck deserves equal credit.

Hickman:

This high-speed camera was just ideal for taking pictures of rockets, to see what was going on. I went up to Aberdeen with it one time, and I apparently hadn't screwed the camera on the tripod securely enough. I had it over my shoulder and it dropped off and broke. I called up and wanted Reck to make another one. As a matter of fact, when he made that camera for me, he had two castings made. I guess he figured that he made a little slip on one but he didn't. Then he took that other casting and did that all in two days. In two days he had that camera ready for me to take back to Aberdeen.

Tebo:

I always had a great deal of respect for Reck because of his ability to put ideas into physical formats.

Hickman:

Simply marvelous. I think we had a fight over it. They said, "We don't let people in his rank sign papers," but they did.

Tebo:

This has always been something that I abhorred when I was editor. We couldn't get more of the people who didn't have the NTS rating and get their names on the...

Hickman:

Reck was rather fond of me because I think he felt that I was pretty clever mechanically. He would just do almost anything for me.

Tebo:

Well, you could speak each other's language.

Hickman:

I think I was out in New Mexico, on this marriage with Tommy Boy guided missiles. You remember Randy Thomas? He owned an apartment here. In fact, I sold him the one that I had; I had an extra one. I was letting him use my shop all the time I was gone. Reck came over to see us about something, and he saw my shop. He said, "You know, they've got a very nice lathe down there." It was all nicked up and they laid tubes on it and scratched up the bed, but to Randy he complimented me on the way I kept the tubes.