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Oral-History:Earl Masterson

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Contents

About Earl Masterson

Earl Masterson was born in Kokomo, Indiana on April 19, 1916. His childhood interest in technical hobbies like amateur radio and photography led him to work in a radio factory after graduating high school. Then he joined RCA in Indianapolis. From 1941 to 1951 he worked in a group developing sound-on-film recording, and which moved to Camden after the end of World War II. Masterson worked on 16 mm sound-on-film projectors, automatic sound recording pick-ups, the 45-rpm record, and magnetic wire recording. This led to work on experimental tapes to record both sound and video, which in turn contributed to the home movie industry before the days of videotape. Masterson then began developing magnetic recording for digital information storage. In 1951 he moved from RCA to Univac, where he helped build computer printers. Twelve years after joining Univac, he moved to Honeywell, where he worked on peripheral equipment for computers. In 1977 he retired and began his own consulting company.

The interview spans Masterson's career, beginning with his days at RCA. Masterson discusses his work developing sound-on-film for the movie industry, the 45 rpm record, recording pick-ups, and magnetic wire recording. He explains why later camcorders succeeded with individual consumers where he own 8 mm home recording system did not. Masterson recalls working with the 3M Corporation on recording with both 35 and 16 mm film, as well as working with recording live programs for the television industry. He also discusses other matters, such as his work developing computer-related equipment for Univac and Honeywell, and his decision to retire and start his own consulting company. The interview concludes with Masterson's explanations of early videocassette recorder problems.


About the Interview

EARL MASTERSON: An Interview Conducted by David Morton, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, February 28, 1996

Interview #261 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, 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:

Earl Masterson, an oral history conducted in 1996 by David Morton, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

INTERVIEW: EARL MASTERSON
INTERVIEWED BY: DAVID MORTON
PLACE: OVER THE TELEPHONE
DATE: FEBRUARY 28, 1996

[Ray Warner was also present]

Background

Morton:

Earl, why don't you start off by telling me some sort of basic biographical information?

Masterson:

I was born in Kokomo, Indiana on April 19, 1916. I was always interested in technical hobbies like photography and amateur radio and so forth, model airplanes. I worked in a radio factory right after high school. I went to RCA in Indianapolis. From 1941 to 1951 I worked in a group with fifteen or sixteen engineers that originally started at General Electric to develop sound-on-film recording. It turned out to be a very difficult engineering job, because defects with sound-on-film turn out to be very annoying to the ear. It's a very complicated process. One of the major problems is called "image spread,” resulting from the generation of positive prints from an original negative. This has to be very carefully controlled to keep distortion down. Frequency response is not too much of a problem. The film runs at eighteen inches a second, and so they can get out well over ten kilohertz; all the way up to around fifteen, I guess. So the main problem was distortion.

Morton:

So you became part of that work. RCA's Camden Lab is better known. Why don't you tell me about how they ended up in Indiana?

Masterson:

When World War II started, there was concern about being too near the seashore, so they moved some things to Indianapolis. One of the labs was the one I was in, so I joined the group in Indianapolis and after the war we all moved back east to the Camden facility. So the work I did on magnetic recording I guess was both places.

Sound on Film

Morton:

RCA had been working on sound-on-film for quite a while. You joined that work in the 1940s?

Masterson:

Right.

Morton:

What specifically were you working on in connection with that?

Masterson:

Well one of the things was to see if I could develop a way to treat the film so that it didn't scratch so easily. So I did a lot of work on surface treatments. RCA produced test films for people to line up their optical systems. These are very precise soundtracks to be used for a reference. RCA produced sixteen-millimeter (16 mm) sound-on-film projectors, and I did some work on that. Later I designed a kit to give you an option to either play an optical sound track (16 mm) or a magnetic soundtrack. That worked out fine technically, but it was a marketing failure because our marketing people said, "Well, the optical soundtrack worked so why should we change?" So that was the end of that.

Morton:

What were the main markets for 16 mm projectors?

Masterson:

For RCA it was primarily schools, colleges and so forth.

Recording Discs

Morton:

You also did some work on disc recording, is that right?

Masterson:

During the war, the disc was about the only thing that you could use for recording sound. So my boss was really the keystone of the disc recording business and I worked on that. I worked on a recorder that was more rugged in the field, was transportable and operated at various degrees of temperature and humidity and so forth. So I did a lot of work in that area. Then I got interested in pick-ups. Somebody had developed a magnetic pick-up that had some good characteristics but did not do very well in accommodating the vertical motion of the tip, so I redesigned it to give it lots of compliance in the vertical direction. It was a great improvement and this became a product, again I don't know how successful it was. The group that I was in was considered to be the advanced development group and following our work was a product design group. Anything that left our group, I sort of lost track of it. They did the pick-up towards the end of production, but I don't know how many were made.

Morton:

How close a coordination was there between the design people downstream and you guys?

Masterson:

Looking back on it, it was pitiful.

Morton:

Did people not realize that at the time? Did it not matter?

Masterson:

It was a new experience for me working in a big corporation. So I didn't know how things were supposed to work. In fact, I don't think many people in the group should know how things work anyhow. So there was a tendency to do an experimental model and sort of hand it to somebody that you never saw again. You crossed your fingers and hoped that it worked out.

45 RPM Records

Masterson:

Someone got the idea that 78-rpm records were too big and too distortion-prone. A group was started which I became part of, whose work resulted in the birth of the 45 rpm record. The objectives there were to make a smaller record with a larger hole, which makes a changer design much easier. The primary interest was in reducing the distortion that typically occurs at the inside tracks of a 78-rpm record. To achieve the 45 we used a smaller pick-up style, a smaller groove and sort of had a compromise on speed between 331/3 and 78. As you know, this was a fairly successful product introduction.

The designer staff tried to see if Columbia would go along with this and instead they said no and went with the micro groove records, which were a lot more time. But the inside track, in our estimation, was running too slow. Also during this 45-rpm development, I designed and built an experimental pick-up system using linear tracking. It had a lot of advantages technically because it moved across the record in a straight line. I eliminated friction by having a slowly rotating smooth rod with a pick-up carriage right on the rod. So it was not a lead screw, it did not drive the pick-up, it let the pick-up move with the stylus in the record groove.

Morton:

In the development of the 45 rpm, it seems like Columbia was thinking in terms of albums, whereas the 45 was obviously a “singles” format. Was there any discussion of that issue at the time? Whether RCA development should be a single comparable to the 78? Was anyone thinking in terms of albums?

Masterson:

Yes. The hope was that we could make a record changer that can change so fast, that it wouldn't really make much of an interruption on a long symphony — something like that. But I guess it was partially successful and who knows, I guess in the long run Columbia was on the right track, from a customer viewpoint.

Morton:

Were you guys working mainly on the record itself or the changer mechanism?

Masterson:

Mostly the record. The changer was the responsibility of another group in Camden that designed all the changers for RCA. Of course, we worked pretty closely with them to make sure that the record design was optimized for them too.

Morton:

Was that before 1945, when this was going on?

Masterson:

Yes. We moved from Indianapolis to Camden, actually in 1946, I guess. So what I just explained was done in Camden, so that would be 1946 or 1947.

Magnetic Wire Recording

Morton:

So a few years before that, 1943 I think it is, you had gotten involved in the magnetic wire recording? How did that happen?

Masterson:

My boss knew that the Poulsen Company had some patents on wire recording, and that was about all anyone knew. If you took a piece of magnetic wire and ran it over a head you could get a recording, and that's all about we knew. I bought a pound of, I think, .003-spring wire, designed a laboratory transport and started experimenting with how to make heads. We knew that somebody had used high frequency bias. We found that if you get the right amount of high frequency bias you can get the least of the distortion that normally occurs with magnetic recording and we found that we had to run about five feet a second to get a frequency response to near ten kilohertz. Maybe it was only six or eight. I’m not sure. We then got to wondering if we could make a reel-to-reel recorder that the public could use. The more we worked with it, the more we decided it was impossible because the spring wire was very hard to handle without it getting tangled up. So a fellow who worked in the design department got interested in the problem and proposed that we make a cartridge type wire recorder. So he did most of the work on that, and I did the work on the erase, record, and pick-up heads and the circuitry. This became a product, but I don't really know how successful it was. I don't even know how many were made. There were obviously a few around: I have one, you have one and Pavek Museum has one.

Morton:

Mine plays pretty well, by the way. It is a nice sounding machine. The head designs you came up with were very interesting. Could you tell me something about them?

Masterson:

Well I took strips of thin transformer iron, I think around three or four thousandth’s thick and made a loop out of it, bound the loop with a coil, put a brass magnetic spacer between the two tips, and soldered the whole thing into a V-shaped piece of brass, which guided the wire across it. That's the way the erase head and the recording were made. Because playback is a result of rate of change we found there was a very low output at low frequencies. Of course, today that is flattened out by electrical compensation but I decided to try to do the same thing magnetically. I found that if you take a straight piece of transformer iron about quarter of an inch long and wound the coil around it and let one end ride on the wire, that actually you get a better low frequency response. That's the way the pick-up was made. We bought our wire for this machine from the Brush Development Corporation in Cleveland, and it was a much better magnetic property because it was plated phosphorus bronze wire, and were able to run this at two feet per second instead of five, it had about the same frequency response.

Morton:

So was that the wire that was ultimately used in the commercial version of this?

Masterson:

That's right.

Morton:

Someone once mentioned in passing that plated-wire Brush made had problems with brittleness. Did you ever run across that?

Masterson:

As far as I know if you treat it in a respectable way it obviously lasts for quite a few years.

Morton:

I just heard that once.

Masterson:

It is probably not as strong as spring wire but if you know bend it too sharp a corner I guess it lasts OK.

German Technology and Magnetic Tape

Morton:

So shortly there after or maybe at the same time you came in contact with the German technology. How did that happen?

Masterson:

Right. Well, after the war, the United States sent a team of technical people over to Germany to see what else they could find that was going on over there. And to their amazement they found that the Germans developed a very nice quarter inch hi-fi recording system, and we all assumed that the reason we didn't know about it because it was not classified as secret. Anyhow I think in our Spectrum article it describes that fact that someone heard very fine classical music in the middle of the night, they were sure that it was not live. We sat down and found that they were using a quarter inch — the recorder that I think had a tape that ran thirty inches a second. One of the members of the team that went over there was Colonel Ranger, who was a friend of my boss, and when he came back he gave us some heads and some tape.

Morton:

Sorry to interrupt. What was your boss's name?

Masterson:

Ed Roys. He has written a very nice book on disc recording reproduction. In fact, I have a copy right here on the bookshelf. After I had the tape and the heads, I built a transport and found that way I could get pretty good response at fifteen inches a second. The thing that really bothered us was that you made a disc of a constant tone recording and played it back and looked at it in the oscilloscope, you could see very drastic amplitude variations. So we tried to see what we could do about that, to try to get a better contact between the tape and the head and so forth. It didn't accomplish very much and finally, after I think it was two or three weeks, we said, "Well, what the heck? Let's make a recording of some music and some voice and see how it sounds." And to our amazement it sounded great, which I guess proves that the human ear is not very sensitive to severe amplitude changes. Of course, since our group had been working with the sound-on-film, which took all kinds of extreme care to make it work at all, everybody was amazed to think that you could throw together a wire setup like this and get the quality sounding voice and music in a matter of few days. Then we started working with the 3M Company in Indianapolis, and they supplied us with experimental tape to see what the results were. So we worked quite a bit with 3M as they developed better and better tapes.

Morton:

How were their tapes initially as compared to the German product?

Masterson:

They were very similar. The tapes in those days were really lousy compared to what you have today. I mean, today a video recorder with a linear track runs about half an inch a second. We were struggling to get a decent response at fifteen inches a second. Most of that was the tape, though; of course the heads have improved too. I still have some of that original tape and it is still lousy.

Morton:

Did you ever get a chance to hear one of the magneto-phones or did you guys have to work from the machines you constructed there, using the heads and so forth?

Masterson:

No, I never heard any other tape recording.

Warner:

Pavek Museum has magneto-phone that Mullin used and some of the original Bing Crosby magnetic tapes and it sounds fabulous.

Morton:

I never had the chance to hear one. Getting back to the work with 3M. What came out of that?

Masterson:

I designed what you call an experimental tape drive that could be rack mounted and it worked quite well. At that time the tape and heads had improved enough that we ran seven and one half inches a second. The product design group took over the design and the picture of the product is shown in our article in IEEE Spectrum.

Morton:

Just to clarify that's the quarter-inch tape type RT3A, the RCA recorder.

Masterson:

That was the same mechanism that I built in a rack-mounted machine.

Magnetic Sound on Film

Masterson:

Along there somewhere we got interested in whether we could record on 35 mm and 16 mm film and again 3M supplied both of those. So in 1948, I think it was, I went to Hollywood for three months, I worked with a designer out there, and we developed a conversion kit for the RCA sound-on-film recorder, so that you could choose either to record optically or magnetically. This film was coated over an entire surface, it was not a track it was the entire coating — around eighteen inches a second was the standard for Hollywood.

Morton:

So this was essentially a sort of sprocketed magnetic film, or something like that to be used in special purpose sound-only sort of machines. This wasn't the “striped” photographic film, but this was special purpose stuff for making the original recordings not for projectors or anything like that?

Masterson:

Right. In Hollywood the cameras did not record sound, they record picture only. So typically in another building, maybe a half of a mile away, they have sound-on-film recorders and these were run in synchronism with the cameras that have a start up system where it starts from scratch and accelerates up to the full speed in total synchronism. So that's the way Hollywood worked, so I designed the conversion kit and demonstrated it. Everybody was amazed at how good it was and I came back to Camden and that's the last thing I knew about that. I guess I don't look back very much.

Morton:

Well that sounds like that wasn't your job.

Masterson:

Then we did get striped film from 3M, just a magnetic stripe along the edge. I designed a conversion kit for the RCA 16mm projector where you could flip a little lever and swing an optical system into place to play optical sound-on-film or swing a magnetic head into place and play a magnetic soundtrack.

Morton:

That's interesting because you had exactly the same electronics with either head?

Masterson:

Yes, basically the same. That was demonstrated to our marketing department and they sat and watched our demonstration and they looked at each other and said, "Well, the optical system still works, so let's stick with that." That was the end of that.

Morton:

Have magnetic sound systems for 16mm have ever become popular?

Masterson:

They have been developed on even the 8 mm width. Of course the Camcorders swamped everything so that was the end of that.

Morton:

Tell me about how you got into the video recording field?

Warner:

Before we get into that, may I slip in a statement here?

Morton:

Certainly.

Warner:

On the thing that we were just discussing, Kodak offered a home movie system using magnetic soundtrack, but I think as Earl said it was only on the market for a couple of years before the video camera pushed it aside. Jumping back farther, my recollection from about 1948 when I first started buying 45 rpm records is that the primary emphasis originally was on a quasi-album. You would get a box of discs. My impression is — I don't know this for a fact — the emphasis on singles really came later.

Morton:

Really, that is interesting.

Masterson:

I think that is right.

Morton:

Getting back to your point about the 8mm film, the Camcorders seem to be doing very well; can you speculate on why the 8mm sound-on-film didn't apparently do as well as a consumer product?

Masterson:

Well, at that time I don't think that the magnetic recording was nearly as good as the magnetic recording tape for camcorders. There are various ways of recording audio on Camcorders. Sometimes it is multiplexed.

Video Recording & Recording Head Patent

Morton:

Well why don't we move on to video recording. How did that come about?

Masterson:

Well, in our group one of the fellows I worked with, his name was Rex Isom. In the early days of television everything had to be live, and actors didn't like to have that pressure put on because that meant it if anything went wrong you couldn't go out and grab it, it was gone forever. But they wanted some way of storing programs on some kind of a playback system so some people developed a system where they would photograph a picture tube on 16mm film. You lose an awful a lot of quality when this was done, because you don't play back line for line, you playback whatever comes off a TV screen. So Rex Isom did some work on our lab to try to get the very best playback possible with that technique. It was a very complex system. You have to go from a television system which produces thirty frames a second to a motion picture system that produces twenty-four frames second. So that is a bit of a trick right there.

Anyhow, so we all got interested in this basic problem: is there some way to store live programs for later playback? Initially, it was a very wild idea that [you] could possibly record on magnetic tape. My boss, who had differing opinions — and that was actually my boss's boss — flat out said that we can never be able to record video on magnetic tape. Period. On about that time the RCA Princeton Labs research group in Princeton, New Jersey started working on this. They wanted to record video on magnetic tape and the approaches were basically to run tape very fast and multiplex — break the spectrum into pieces and record different parts of the spectrum on different heads on different tracks and play it back. I think in our article it says that one of the demonstrations used 17-inch diameter reels of magnetic tape that lasted four minutes with fair quality.

Anyhow, one day in our lab, I don't know what I was there for, I saw a machine that was designed for the military to record twenty-four hour audio. I was impressed with it; it was a clever design. In this case they were using 35 mm wide film with no sprocket holes. The film ran from one reel around a mandrel in a spiral shape and wound up on the other reel. The whole business rotated at a fairly slow speed and it had a hill-and-dale embossing head that recorded the track. Whenever the joint between the two wraps came around it momentarily squelched the sound in such a short dropout you would never notice it. So that stuck in mind. The problem in video recording is how do you get the very high-speed relationship between head and the tape without running the tape at ungodly speeds. I got the idea that maybe you could use the same principle: instead of rotating a mandrel, and everything passed the head, split the mandrel in two pieces and rotate a head on the space between the two cylinders while the tape is wrapped on a spiral on the cylinders. That became a patent.

And, incidentally, our group was constantly being watched by the patent department to see if it was doing something that could be patented. It turns out that at time RCA made a lot of money in licensing other people to use RCA patents. This was all kinds of equipment from disc players to radios to anything. So naturally it was easy to get the patent filed. I was at RCA for ten years and I think got somewhere between twenty or thirty patents filed. RCA, in a very generous move, gave you one hundred dollars every time a patent was filed. These royalties from patents were used to support the Princeton Lab. It was a very profitable business; they seemed to watch it very carefully. As you know, certainly after I left RCA in 1951 — the Univac had got head over heels into the computer peripheral business — and never looked back to see what was happening, and it turned out that nothing was happening. As best I can tell, RCA did not do a thing about licensing, and in fact, I think to their embarrassment, they even bought a license from Ampex doing that and other things. I don't know what it involved.

What got us really started on this article was Ray’s interest in the fact that Sarnoff, who was the head of RCA, a very good technical man, made a speech saying that he would like for a certain anniversary to have three technical “presents,” one of which would be a way to record video on tapes so that it could be played back later. Of course knowing that they were working on it at the Princeton Lab, he fully expected Princeton Labs to come through. It turned out that my patent was filed before the speech.

Warner:

About ten months before!

Masterson:

And nobody told him. We think that it could have saved the day for him. My boss and the people we had some kind contact with in the Princeton Labs never told him. It turned out that right in-house he had the solution to the problem, and he never knew it.

Morton:

Do you think there was some resistance to using that patent? Were there other ideas about how video recording should be done or do you think that it was just overlooked?

Masterson:

I hate to say it, but there was resistance from the Princeton Labs to accept hardly anything that we did in Camden.

Morton:

I see. Why was that?

Masterson:

Their staff was staffed with Ph.D.s and we were staffed with engineers.

Morton:

I see. We know how those Ph.D.s are.

Masterson:

That is just my feeling; I don't know whether it was true or not.

Warner:

This kind of thing has happened in every big company I have ever worked for, David — four or five of them. It seems to be a very normal state of affairs.

Morton:

That is interesting. I guess the logic of a rational design that works isn’t enough to overcome these sort of political issues.

Warner:

There's a factory called NIH — Not Invented Here.

Morton:

Well, it is ironic that it would happen internally or nearly internally like that, since theoretically you would think the Princeton Labs wouldn't consider something from Camden to be as NIH as something from Bell Labs, like something completely from outside the system. It is sort of unexpected.

Masterson:

It can happen from one room down the hall to another room down the hall. In this case Princeton was sixty miles north of Camden or whatever it was.

Status Issues and Career Success

Morton:

That sort of naturally leads us into the next question that I mentioned earlier that I wanted to ask. It is interesting that you had a very successful engineering career in a time when most engineers were engineering university graduates. Do you have any reflections on why you were able to succeed in that way or what it was like to work with in an atmosphere like that?

Masterson:

I always wondered myself, because it was so unusual. Of course there were two ways that I could play it: one was to keep it secret, and another way was to make it wide open. I chose to make it wide open. Whenever I changed companies I would let it be known immediately, I was not a degreed person, but I had a string of patents and I had a string of ideas that were successful. Then I would just get to work.

Morton:

Maybe you could give me a list of the job titles that you had a various times, so that it could give me an idea where you stood at RCA in those years.

Masterson:

Well the head of the department was Patrick Kellogg who had 150 patents or so. He was a very creative man who wrote many, many papers. He was the one who interviewed me, and until this day I don’t know just why he gave me this very nice position. I am very thankful for it. I worked there about 10 years basically for him. I never felt that the other members of the group had anything against me, and they gave me all the freedom and respect that I could ask for. In my last year at RCA my immediate boss, Ed Roys, told me about computer systems and new things that he heard about. I got into a little bit and started making magnetic heads for the purpose of recording digital information.

Univac

Masterson:

So I went from Camden on a trip to Chicago, where Bell Telephone had a paper tape system using not punched holes but embossed bumps that did their billing; it was a relay computer. I was amazed at the size of it and how well it worked. I guess it was a sort of the beginning of digital computers, all mechanical in this case or electro-mechanical. Shortly after that I discovered that there was a company across the river in Philadelphia called Univac. It was building a giant vacuum tube computer, 5500 vacuum tubes in it. It turned out that the chief engineer was an old friend of mine from RCA in Indianapolis. He very easily got me an interview — the interview is written up in the article. I moved in from RCA to Univac. I stayed there for twelve years.

Morton:

What was the atmosphere like there? Did you run into any of the same kind of status issues regarding your lack of a degree kind of stuff there? Or was it as friendly a place that you found RCA?

Masterson:

Again I was totally accepted and much of the time I worked for Presper Eckert, who has now become famous for the development of the Univac system. He was at the University of Pennsylvania, the Morse School, where they did the Eniac that is now celebrating its 50th Anniversary. He was just a superb engineer and a great teacher. I feel like if I don’t have a degree I should, just from working with him. Because he knew engineering, and how to do successful engineering so well, how to apply tolerances and nature factors and so forth to make things work. The Univac, I think, is a prime example, because of so many things that made it seem like it didn’t want to work. The first time I saw the Univac I thought, “Gee, how many vacuum tube TV sets does this represent!” Vacuum tube TV sets did not have a very good reputation. Vacuum tube TV sets in those days had about thirty vacuum tubes in them; here was this monster with 5,500. My reaction was, “How in the world do they expect this to work?” Well, again the reason it did work and worked quite well was because of Eckert’s insistence on allowing tolerances on everything. It had extreme tolerances and still worked, and he was very successful at it.

Anyway, when I joined Univac, the first machine was delivered to Census Bureau, and they got orders for more Univacs. After that the whole sales thing stopped because everyone wanted a printer. The Univac was very useful if you just wanted to massage a bunch of numbers and come out with the numbers, but if you wanted to print premium notices or paychecks or something like that you needed a very fast printer. So Eckert and I started thinking about various ways that we could build a printer. We toured some of the companies that had been advertised as working on printers, and came back and decided that we had to do it ourselves. So we got working on printer prototypes that we built with a cylinder rotating around with the characters out and individual hammers that would bang the paper against the cylinder which was running at high speed. We produced printers; in fact, quite a few of them printed ten lines a second, or 600 lines a minute. One time the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company had seven of them working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, printing all the paper that they needed to produce. After that I got a responsive role of back peripherals, punch card machines, thick tape and document transports.

Honeywell

Masterson:

After twelve years there I left and went with Honeywell in the Boston area.

Warner:

Earl, before you leave there, who was the person who got you the interview with electronic controls?

Masterson:

Jim Wiener. One of the people with Eckert at Eniac, Shu Wan Chu, was Chinese. Eckert persuaded him to leave the Moore School and come with Univac. He essentially turned him over to me to introduce him to the company and get him interested in it. He went on there, and we started the joke that I hired him. The reason I bring it up is that he eventually hired me from Univac to Honeywell. In fact, I worked for him until after retirement. He started a company up in New Hampshire to build dot matrix printers.

Anyhow, at Honeywell they were in an embarrassing position of having to rent IBM equipment to round out their peripheral needs. When I got there Chu told me that I essentially had a blank check to, as quickly as possible, develop a line of peripherals. So that was in 1963. In 1969 we had a room full of peripherals in production that was from disk drives to punch card equipment, to printers to document transports to tape drives.

Then in the Boston area, it turned out in 1969 that there was a shortage of engineers. So some companies were stealing engineers from England — “brain drain” — and so one day Mr. Chu came to me and said, “Think of a name of somebody who could head up a startup group in England.” So the next morning I said, “How about Earl Masterson.” He said, “Good idea. Why don’t you do that?” So I went to England in 1969 with a blank check. I had to find the building, I had to find people and I had to propose computer peripheral projects to work on, which got approved. After about a year and a half there, Honeywell bought the GE computer division. I say bought, but if you were on the inside it looked like GE bought us. All the people from GE magically took over everything. So I had to close down the operation in England.

I had about forty people, but it was about working the American way. It turns out that in England, a managing director — that is a title that everybody wants — never speaks to his employees. That is the low end. The caste system, at least in 1969-1970, was alive and well. So you only eat lunch with people of your own rank and so forth. Anyhow, when I treated people like people and gave them interesting work to do, they couldn’t just do enough for me. That was such a blow to tell them that I had to shut down the operation and go back to the States.

It turned out that my wife at that time developed a brain tumor so we came back to the Mayo Clinic here in Minneapolis. She didn’t make it and so after she passed away I worked as a consultant in various divisions of Honeywell here in Minneapolis and I decided that I liked to be here. The last job at Honeywell was to start a medical group that we developed such an automated microscope for white blood cells studies. This operation got transferred to Denver and I decided that at time I had enough. I took early retirement in 1977 and I started my own consulting company. This is probably more than you want to know.

Problems with Ampex Recording Head

Morton:

Well it sounds like you had a really varied career moving from technology to technology. It is an interesting story. I really have one question about this fateful patent on the recording head for the video tape recorder. If we could back up a little bit: I have been reading some of the stuff about the development work at Ampex, one of the central problems that they had in working — as I recall — in working on their similar design was dealing with the friction between the head and the tape. Were you guys able to overcome that with this design or was that still a problem when you filed the patent?

Masterson:

The patent was a paper patent. I never built a prototype. But I don’t know that friction was much of a problem. I don’t understand why they brought it up.

Morton:

I don’t know. It came up a couple of times that the tape just couldn’t take it.

Masterson:

Well on their quad machine, which was a different animal, the tape took a terrible beating, because there were four heads and drum. Do you know the configuration of that?

Morton:

Yes.

Masterson:

The tape was cupped into an arc, and then the drum system had its axis parallel to the length of the tape. It rotated and there was a vacuum system to pull the tape against the heads, four heads that were sticking just above the service of the drum. When they hit the edge of the tape it tended to chip off pieces of the tape.

Morton:

Maybe that was what they were talking about.

Masterson:

In fact, Pavek Museum has one of those recorders, and they found the same problem that it would chip pieces of tape all over the machine. It’s no way to treat tape. The helix system approach of the head to the tape comes at a very low angle; it’s just not a problem.

Morton:

I think I am going to cut it off there.