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Oral-History:Ernst Lederer

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About Ernst Lederer

Ernst A. Lederer was an electrical engineer who worked for RCA, and National Union Vacuum Tube Company and Westinghouse. Lederer was born in Bohemia, developed a passion for technology early in life, and counted Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison among his heroes. After an unsuccessful foray into independent inventing, he served in World War I as an educator. After the War, Lederer accepted an offer from Westinghouse to work on lamp filament research. He later became one of the company's leading researchers in vacuum tubes. After working briefly for National Union, he took a job in the vacuum tube research department of Radio Corporation of America. Lederer contributed substantially to the design and manufacture of special tubes for British and American radar systems. During World War II, he traveled in Britain as a consultant to vacuum tube manufacturers and returned after 1945 to accept a position at Westinghouse. There, he worked on the development of television tubes.

About The Interview

ERNST LEDERER: An Interview Conducted by Frank A. Polkinghorn, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, February 6, 1973

Interview #004 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, 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:

Ernst Lederer, an oral history conducted in 1973 by Frank A. Polkinghorn, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Ernst Lederer

Interviewed By: Frank A. Polkinghorn

Date: February 6, 1973

Birth and Early Years

Polkinghorn:

This is a tape recording of an interview on February 6, 1973 with Dr. Ernst Anton Lederer, former engineer for Westinghouse, RCA, and National Union Vacuum Tube Company, a long-time resident of Essex Fells, New Jersey. The interview was conducted by Frank A. Polkinghorn and Ralph Lamar operated the recorder. You were born in Bohemia, of what was a long time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Then it was taken over by the Germans. In more recent times it became Czechoslovakia.

Lederer:

That is correct, yes.

Polkinghorn:

Your mother was the daughter of Ernst Mach, perhaps best known in this country for defining air speed in terms of the ratio of actual air speed to the sound of the same position in space.

Lederer:

Yes. She was the only daughter of Ernst Mach.

Polkinghorn:

What was your father's profession?

Lederer:

My father was intensely interested in chemistry. In order to earn some money, he became a pharmacist, but after some time he got tired of mixing ointments and selling pills because my grandfather influenced him. My father moved to Vienna and did some postgraduate work at the University and studied Chemistry under Professor Lieben.

Polkinghorn:

Didn't you tell me he had some connection with how a vacuum tube works or a light works, I guess it was?

Lederer:

Well, after father finished his studies, he got in a position with Wellsbach through a connection with Professor Lieben. Her father moved to Corinthia, where Wellsbach had some sort of a research laboratory and his assignment was to develop the osmium lamp. Wellsbach was the inventor of the so called "Wellsbach mantle" and he had the ambition to improve the electric light and he thought that the carbon filament lamp as devised by Edison was not efficient enough. And Wellsbach felt that a metal filament lamp would be very much better. He knew that osmium belonged to the platinum group of elements, with a high enough melting point so that the efficiency of the lamp could be improved. He had to invent a method of making osmium filaments which he couldn't make from the untreated material because it was very brittle. His method was fairly simple. He had reduced osmium oxide and got the very fine powder mixed with a sort of a binder, extruded it through a fine orifice in a diamond or sapphire, heated it in a gas atmosphere, cut the binder off and sintered it by the passage of electric current. This made very nice filaments, although they were very brittle. Father tried to perfect this.

Education

Polkinghorn:

I see. Well tell us about your education.

Lederer:

I was educated in Austria and after grammar school I had the choice of either going to the gymnasium or the real school as they call it over there. Now what's the difference? In a gymnasium, the education is mostly in arts and history and very little math, mostly Greek and Latin. That, of course, prepares the student for career in law or medicine or what have you. The real school is the opposite, much mathematics, geometry and French and English. At eleven years of age I had to make the choice. I wanted to become a medical doctor but at that time, when I was 11 years old, I had to make the choice. I knew that I was color blind so I figured out it wouldn't be very good to become a doctor who couldn't distinguish between blood and other substances. So, I thought I would study chemistry or something like that. So I went to real school and studied math, geometry, French and English.

Polkinghorn:

Then, you went on to the university.

Lederer:

Then, I went to the university. Strictly speaking, I should have gone to the technical high school, as they call it over there. But circumstances were not very conclusive at that time, there were much better lectures at the university, so I went to the university and I liked it and I started out with chemistry. And I took enough physics besides, so I could make the switch whenever necessary later on.

World War I

Polkinghorn:

What did you do after you graduated from the university?

Lederer:

I got interrupted in my studies by World War I. After about six or seven semesters I was called into the army. Now there were only two choices: either join the army or be shot to death. I preferred the first one. At least I had a better chance and so I entered the army at the age of about twenty. It was March, 1915, and I came to the artillery and first of all I had to go to officer's school which lasted about half a year. Near the end of that time, I was instructing the young recruits and some very old gentlemen. Because manpower made itself felt in Austria; I was instructing businessmen of forty-five or fifty-five years of age and I had to start from scratch and began with some trigonometry and then some basic physics and finally, I could give them some ballistics. They appreciated it and I had a lot of fun. Then after that, because of my technical background I was called to serve in the automobile corps. After another half of a year of training and then I was sent down to the Italian frontier and stayed there with some interruptions until the end of the war.

Emigration to US

Polkinghorn:

I see. When did you come to the United States?

Lederer:

In 1923, in fulfillment of a boyhood dream.

Polkinghorn:

Tell us about that.

Lederer:

It is a long story but I'll make it very short. When I was about 10 years old, I got a copy of Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island. The hero of the story is an American engineer, whose name is Cyrus Smith. While he didn't have much formal education he could help himself in any circumstances. He knew so much about mining, chemistry, everything, so I really admired it and I hoped at some time, later on in life, I would match his knowledge. That was the beginning, an American engineer. He was of course from the north and he was captured by the southern army and escaped. Now, that made me read up on Lincoln and Lincoln became my second American hero. Then my grandfather thought that if I went to the United States at some early time in my life I would escape the necessity of serving in the Austrian army, which Grandfather didn't have much liking for. He didn't object, but he thought that the army's militaristic enterprises were distasteful and not very conducive to peace. So, I kept that in mind and then I got a copy of Edison's biography and I liked it immensely. My desire to come to the United States was fixed at that time. That was when I was thirteen or fourteen years of age.

Polkinghorn:

I see you were determined to become an engineer at an early age.

Lederer:

Oh yes! Of course, I was very much interested in engineering, I was a heavy reader, and I read anything about technology I could get hold of. Maybe sometimes I made a nuisance of myself because I also had to experiment and made all kinds of smells and small explosions and what have you. But nevertheless, it belongs to growing up.

Polkinghorn:

What did you like to make in 1923, before you immigrated?

Lederer:

I got out of the army in 1918 and immediately went back to the university and studied. I graduated in 1920. In order to come to the United States, I had to have some money. Besides, I had another dream. I was working for many years on a talking film. So the first thing to come was the money. I had to earn some money so I got the job with Westinghouse in Vienna, which was running at that time a lamp factory, incandescent lamps. And the talking film was a private enterprise of my own. I experimented and I had a lot of fun with it. Then, after I left Westinghouse at the beginning of 1922, I worked for a few months on the talking film, got it to work and then made the preparations to come over here. Incidentally, here are some samples of the talking film. Of course, these samples are over fifty years old and there are several samples, but essentially I had several methods of doing it. Varied density, which you have here in your hand, and also other methods and all of them worked in a fashion. While I was there in Austria I couldn't find anybody who would spend a nickel on it. They thought it would be superfluous and would interfere with the theater business. I was disappointed and finally in July of 1923 came to this country and I was delighted.

Polkinghorn:

How much money did you have in your pocket when you arrived?

Lederer:

When I came to this country I had fifty dollars in my pocket. I came exempt of quota because I was a scientist. The immigration inspector asked me all kinds of questions and he was very friendly and then when I told him I had fifty dollars, he said, "Well I am going to put down three hundred and God bless you!" So, I think this was a wonderful way of coming in here.

Polkinghorn:

You were in.

Lederer:

I was certainly very much impressed with everything that I could see.

Westinghouse

Lamp Filaments

Polkinghorn:

Well, you went immediately to work for Westinghouse, did you?

Lederer:

Not immediately, because when I was over in Vienna working for Westinghouse, they told me, "Well if you should ever come to the United States," and I told them I have the intent to do so, "then come and see us." I went and saw Walter Cleary, the vice president in charge of the lamp works. He was in New York and he sent me to Bloomfield. After a very thorough examination, I was grilled for about three or four days, they offered me a job in the research department and I was delighted. I saw so much and I had so much fun and I was just floating on cloud nine.

Polkinghorn:

What was your first assignment at Westinghouse?

Lederer:

The first assignment was to make a single crystal wire. I had some experience previously making tungsten ingots and tungsten wire. The feeling was at that time that single crystal wire might offer some advantages as an electron emitter in radio tubes, so I started out from scratch. I couldn't use the tungsten powder made in the factory, not even the tungsten powder that they made especially for me, so I made my own tungsten power by induction in hydrogen. I squirted filaments, ran it through a pinch furnace which I had to design and build and finally got a single crystal iron. Then we tried out in the radio tubes, and the result was disastrous. Now, it took many years before we understood why. The reason for the malfunction of single crystal wire radio tubes was supplied years later by the Philips Company in Holland.

Polkinghorn:

What was that explanation?

Lederer:

The explanation was simply this. Ordinary fine crystalline tungsten wire used in radio tubes contains thorium. The thorium oxide is reduced by the presence of tungsten at the high temperature and the thorium metal diffuses through the grain boundaries and forms a model layer of thorium metal on the surface of the tungsten wire. In a single crystal the situation is different; the thorium oxide is distributed throughout the single crystal but is fixed in position. It may be reduced by the presence of tungsten but it doesn't have a chance to migrate to the surface except in very, very small quantities. So a single crystal wire was much inferior to that of a polycrystalline wire.

Polkinghorn:

As I recall thorium was used first to get ductility in the tungsten, a later development was found that it increased the emission.

Lederer:

My father was responsible for the introduction of thorium oxide into tungsten. When he perfected the tungsten filament after he saw that osmium was much too expensive and cumbersome to use, he had the problem of getting approximately three feet of wire, which was of course extruded filament into a relatively small bulb. He looked for a method of increasing the resistance of the tungsten wire. He thought if he put a little bit of thorium oxide in it, it might work, so he did it. It did reduce the length somewhat but not sufficiently. While he had thorium filaments or thoriated wire for a long time, he didn't realize the effect on electron emission until very much later, just about the same time when Langmuir found out that thoriated filament can make a good electron emitter.

UV199 Vacuum Tubes

Polkinghorn:

You originally started out at the lamp works then got into the vacuum tubes.

Lederer:

Yes. This may be a little bit funny. I started out in lamp work. I made the single crystal wire, then I made some point to plate gaseous rectifiers for b-eliminators and learned my own glass-blowing in a very modest way. I could help myself and I would always look toward getting very good vacuum. So, one nice day, Dr. Renchler who was my boss, running the research laboratory, said, "Well, we would like to borrow you. You know vacuum very well. We would like to borrow you for two weeks because we have some problems towards the UV 199 tube. And could you come in the radio laboratory that was run at that time by Dr. Shackleford and exhaust some tubes? We will tell you step by step what we want to do and what we want to try out." So, I said, "Fine. I will try it." Well, after two weeks, postponements for another two weeks and another month and another month, I finally spent 34 years with radio tubes which was quite a long time.

Polkinghorn:

That is a long time. It certainly is. What were the problems that you were encountering in those days?

Lederer:

Well, the main problem was that the life of the UV 199 was miserable. One has to realize that the UV 199 used a 3.3 volt 60 milliamp filament. The filament was only slightly less than one mil in diameter. The amount of thorium on the surface of such a wire is very small, and poor vacuum and all kinds of other impurities in the tube might limit the life of the tubes. We had a life test of maybe about a few hours and then the tube was inoperative. So, my job was, later, to find out what was going on. We started with the vacuum. I worked together with Dr. Renchler and then some people from the second floor department worked with me on filaments. We aged tubes all kinds of ways but there was one thing which was outstanding: tubes made for Cunningham. I don't know exactly who made them, but these Cunningham tubes contained a little bit of phosphorous. These tubes were much better for the maintenance of life then the tubes made by anyone else, including Westinghouse. Then I started to experiment with phosphorous and found out, sure enough, tubes with phosphorous were better. I devised all kinds of phosphorous getters but I wasn't satisfied, I wanted to find out what made the difference. After many tests I decided there must be a poisoning effect and there was. If I tied the plate and the grid together and had the full electron emission impinging upon the grid and plate I could see that the emission decreased very rapidly. Well to make the long story short, I found out that the difficulty was that hard metals are covered with a monolayer of oxide. This oxide was not removed during the processing of the tube because the metals were exposed to the air and so the monolayer formed. Then I had to devise a way of getting rid of the oxide. Phosphorous did it, but I wanted to have something cleaner. I finally ended up with number 73 metal to make the plate form. Now 73 metal was our trade name for ordinary nickel silver or German silver, an alloy of about 40% copper, 20% zinc and 40% nickel. If that alloy is heated up during high frequency bombardment, zinc evaporates. Zinc vapor is a quick reducing agent and everything else in the tube is hot. The reducing agent from volatile zinc oxide, settles on the coolest part of the tube, and everything is nice and cleaned up. It was phenomenal, we had tubes with very good life.

Cesium Filaments for Vacuum Tubes

Polkinghorn:

Then you had gotten interested in cesium about that time, didn't you?

Lederer:

Yes. That was the next problem. Together with Dr. Martin, we were given the assignment of developing the cesium tube. Now what is a cesium tube? Let's go back to the background. Langmuir and Kim investigated the electron emission of cesium on tungsten and cesium in oxygen on tungsten. They were not interested in building any tubes, but we were. We opted the assignment, made a good tube out of that. We started from scratch and we found out that we could get some electron emission, not much to write home about. The life was very poor. So, step by step we investigated and as I said before the best emission could be had by having a monolayer of cesium on a monolayer of oxygen and resting on the tungsten wire. And if the oxygen on the tungsten wire is disturbed in some way, for example by the presence of a reducing agent like a hydrocarbon left in the tube as an impurity, the emission goes down very rapidly. It is just the opposite of the thoriated filament of the thoriated tungsten emitter. In a cesiated emitter, one has to have the layer of oxygen to hold the cesium. By baking the tube mouth before it was sealed in air, to oxidize everything very slightly and drive off the hydrocarbons and oils and so forth, we could get very much better life. The life was then phenomenal. We got very good electron emission, but there was another difficulty with the tube. The best emission can be obtained if there is equilibrium on the surface of the filament between the incoming cesium atoms. Cesium of course is a monatomic vapor, and the cesium evaporates, so there must be an equilibrium so we have a monolayer. If the room temperature is higher then there is more cesium vapor present because more deposits on the filament and therefore the electro emission comes down. To counteract this one had to increase both the heating current and the temperature of the filament in order to maintain equilibrium. It meant simply that in a cold room the cesium tubes couldn't work very well because you had to work at such a low filament temperature. Conversely, in a warm room, you had to jiggle with resistance all the time and so it wasn't very practical. We worked a lot and finally the management decided to quit and do something more lucrative.

Quick-heating, Alternating Current Tube

Polkinghorn:

What was your next assignment?

Lederer:

The next assignment was the quick heating, alternating current tube. It was a trial, later called the "227." The background was this: we had such tubes, they were made in small quantities, I think McCallough on the Pacific coast had some on the market. We tried to make those tubes. We had the hairpin filament and threaded it into a double bore [inaudible] tube made from porcelain, and that in turn was inserted in the oxide coated cathode, a uni-potential cathode, of course. The life of these tubes was miserable because in processing the tube we had to heat the filament to a fairly high temperature at which it often got stuck to the porcelain and in a very short time the tube burned out. We figured out that we could eliminate the porcelain completely and make a quick heater by having a coil carefully centered inside the indirectly heated cathode. We did this and made some tubes. Everything was fine but we still we had a lot of trouble because the whole arrangement was complicated. There was sagging of the filament, bending of the cathodes and whatnot. But this was really child's play in comparison to the next assignment, which was the "224", a tetrode with a preheating, indirectly heated cathode. It required approximately one year to debug that tube. It still wasn't a very good tube but from the life standpoint it worked all right, electrically. I learned very much about tube making and tube processing and am very grateful that I did.

All-Electronic Television System

Polkinghorn:

You were still with Westinghouse when this happened?

Lederer:

Oh yes. I was with Westinghouse and I enjoyed it very much. I always liked to work eight extra hours during the day. Working in the laboratory wasn't enough for me, I was trying to have a sixteen-hour day. I always worked on something. So, I speculated on an old dream and tried to perfect at least on paper an all-electronic TV system. Most of the theoretical difficulty I had was with the pick-up tube. Finally I thought that with a target consisting of very small selenium drops, very similar to what Zworykin had, in the form of the Iconoscope, a pick-up tube could be built. Then I had to inform myself a little bit more about electron optics, so I made some very good cathode tubes and found out that it could be controlled. Then with all this ammunition I went to Dr. Renchler and asked him for permission to work on this television system and perfect it. He looked at me for a long time and then said, "Well, television will never amount to anything. Now you have your job cut out, keep on working on what you have to do and forget television. After all, I have got to tell you, we have one of these guys working on television in East Pittsburgh in the research laboratory and one such guy per company is more than enough."

National Union Radio Company

Polkinghorn:

The stock crash must have come along about this time?

Lederer:

Yeah. But before that I was aiming for a visit to Europe, and so spent the summer vacation during the shutdown of the company in the laboratory trying to inform myself what was good and bad for oxide coated cathodes. I simplified testing procedures and tried empirically and qualitatively various additives to the barium-strontium-carbonate mixture. I found that almost everything that I added to it would lower the emission level. I did this on my own because I was so interested in the oxide coated cathode. I realized the usefulness of the cathode. Then I discussed it with Renchler and Martin and others, and they said, "Well, this is very fine. Now we know a little bit more about it." I said, "How about publishing it?" They said, "Don't publish it because if you did then you will just help the 'bootleggers'." By that they meant those people making radio tubes without having a proper license from RCA. Soon after that, the 1929 crash came. The stock market dropped and soon after that our experimentation. I was still in the radio laboratory and partially in the research laboratory of Westinghouse in Bloomfield. Our experimentation was curtailed. We couldn't run any tests in the factory anymore, and we were all baffled. I just didn't know what was going on until later, when we were told that RCA had procured all the equipment and would negotiate to acquire the personnel, engineers and everything lock, stock and barrel. It was time to talk to RCA, but several things interfered. Westinghouse wanted to keep me and as I was temperamental in earlier years, and left the company following an invitation of Dr. R.E. Myers, who used to be the chief engineer of Westinghouse. He knew me and he knew that I could do some work, and he invited me to become chief engineer of National Union Radio. So, I went with him. He was the vice-president and I had mostly administrative work. I was very interested in tube technology and kept it up and did some designing and investigation. One thing that was very important for us at that time was to know how to minimize grid emission. It was an empirical study again; I ran quite a number of tubes with all kinds of grid wires, a life test and found out that platinum and gold grid wires would be satisfactory from the viewpoint of emission. In other words, no barium oxide would deposit or stay on the platinum or gold filament. I speculated but I hated to say anything, because we were then at the depths of the Depression if I would have suggested to make grids out of gold or of platinum they would have certainly would have put me in a nuthouse. I did not want to do that, but then by studying and mostly redesigning I was able to reduce grid emission in the "224" to very low values. I applied it to other tubes where we had some difficulties. With this tube designing I got very interested in other tubes. I designed two high frequency pentodes. We didn't have pentodes at that time in this country, but I read about it and these pentodes, the forerunners of the type "57" and "58", were of interest to RCA. RCA was also trying to design some pentodes. Well, they took my design because it pertained to greater nation in other things. Gene Ritter of RCA asked me one nice day, "Now look. You are working here for a small company, National Union, and they are in financial difficulties. Why don't you come to us and you can work on pre-processing."

RCA

Oxide-coated Cathodes

Polkinghorn:

So you went to RCA?

Lederer:

I went to RCA. After some little battles I got out of National Union and went to RCA. Then I was part of the research department, I was the research engineer. My assignment was to develop a method of pre-processing oxide coated cathodes. The idea was simply this: oxide coated cathodes were temperamental. Sometimes they worked but often they didn't work. So, they wanted to have a method of processing an oxide-coated cathode in some envelope and then transfer it after it has been processed and tested into the tube where it is to be used. This was a tall order, and I started from scratch. I had a wonderful time. It lasted three years. I had pretty good results. I transferred cathodes into other tubes but the processing was rather cumbersome and expensive. And then as it so often happens, I was asked to help out with troubles in the factory. So, I had to leave pre-processing and went into the factory and tried to help out because, they were making metal tubes at that time. The shrinkage was very, very high. What I found out rather quickly various things. They used oil and unclean conditions. In addition to that they used a getter consisting of a little dab of magnesium or magnesium barium alloy spot by a UV metal envelope. After the tube had been exhausted it had a pointed frame directed onto that portion of the envelope behind which the getter was fastened and so that was the getter flash and then the tube was sealed off. It was full of gas, because at this high temperature at which the getter was flashed, the iron was permeable to hydrogen. A lot of hydrogen came in while the getter was being flashed.

I saw this wouldn't work and I then devised another getter which could be flashed electrically by just heating a small wire which was coated with barium strontium carbonate. Well, it was a tantalum wire, because I knew that tantalum would reduce the barium strontium oxide and form pure barium metal. Because it is barium and tantalum, I call it the "barium getter." Now, this was a howling success, and the shrinkage dropped way down. Then there were other things that had to be rectified, and finally we came down to very low shrinkage figures by the application of good common sense and the help of many of my co-workers. Another version of the barium getter I devised about a year later, because it was cumbersome to de-gas and decompose the barium strontium carbonate on the tantalum wire into the oxide. The oxide had to be reduced by the tantalum. I was looking for a compound that would yield barium as a result of the reduction; then through study and perseverance I ended up with barium belliate, a compound that had not been described up to that time. I figured out from the properties of beryllium that beryllium oxide should form a compound with barium oxide. It did and again I had a lot of fun trying to get this into production. It saved the company a lot of money and I got a pat on the back.

Television Tubes

Polkinghorn:

This was about the time of the TV was beginning to show up, wasn't it?

Lederer:

Yes. TV was just around the corner, as we say. I was then asked to be the coordinator of the TV tube activity in Harrison and was also responsible for designing the biggest metal TV tube then in existence. It was sixteen inches in diameter, it was round. Now, why did we use a metal tube? For the very simple reason that we had to have a second anode. Previously, when we used glass tubes, the second anode, which was a metal coating on the backboard was hard to make. The English had some very tedious ways of doing it and we tried it by smearing some silver paste in there which was a mechanical process. We never got the hydrocarbons out completely, but making metal tubes when we had lots of experience making metal receiving tubes was the given thing to do. So, we got metal envelopes, we put a window on there. We had a very good engineer. He was working for me, and he was doing the glassing work. He did a remarkable job in joining the glass to the chrome iron. We had chrome iron envelopes. That worked very well, so we went into the metal tube business. As soon we had that perfected and were hoping to make them in quantities (that was 1940), the work was stopped by order of General Sarnoff. We had to make receiving tubes and power tubes for the English because they were in dire straits at that time. So, we put the TV aside and started to make not only tubes for the English but also radar tubes that were hush-hush. Of course, nothing could be kept too secret.

There was a smaller power tube that the English needed in large quantities. I know it was one of their radar tubes and we tried to make it in Harrison in large quantities. It was a triode. One nice day Dr. Ory, who was the chief of the power tube manufacture there, came to me and said, "Well, look. We can make power tubes but we can’t get rid of the grid emission. Do you have any idea of what to do?" So, I said, "Well, yes. I know but you won't like it." He said, "Why wouldn't we like it, if you can rid of grid emission?" I said, "Well, the cost is too high, platinum grids or gold grids." He said, "Price doesn't make any difference. We have a war on and we have got to win it. Now what is it? What do you want?" So we may some tubes and they worked out very well. Because platinum is soft and gold is soft, we stayed with platinum because it was conducive to the processing. We could use higher temperatures. We looked for a method of plating platinum onto molybdenum, which was the carrier material, and that didn't work very well. I got the very best chemist from Engleheart to help us and it was still a marginal process; sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. Then my patience gave out and I knew we were under pressure, so I asked power line department, "Make me some platinum-clad molybdenum. Sweep molybdenum around, center its ground in a platinum tube which I will get you and then draw the whole thing and it give it to me." Well, it worked very well and we made tubes and I think the English were satisfied. Soon that business developed into a billion dollar a year business. Westinghouse bought it. Here is one of these grids that Dr. Monsiff used. This is a platinum molygrid and it came out of a defective tube. Dr. Monsiff designed this tube and something similar was used in the first radar experiments. I don't know the number of this tube but it doesn't make any difference.

Radar Tubes

Polkinghorn:

I think the radar was called "the SCR 270" if I recall correctly.

Lederer:

I was asked to put it into a patent disclosure and this was immediately marked secret. I took my co-worker in on it. The patent never was granted because in the meantime somebody else had got a patent on something rather obscure. But it mentioned platinum on a grid, so I didn't get the patent on it, but it doesn't make any difference. It did the job and it gave me a lot of satisfaction having helped a little bit.

Polkinghorn:

You were connected to some of the standards of materials during the war?

Lederer:

As another sideline. We had some troubles. We didn't get enough nickel. We had to nickel plate the steel by electroplating and by rolling and drawing and so forth. We didn't have enough copper, even for the lead wire on the outside of the tube. Upon my insistence the purchasing department bought about a ton of old trolley car wire. I had trolley car wire. Well that was copper all right, but it was so stiff and so brittle we couldn't draw it down. We finally settled on a wire, which had a steel core with a copper coating on the outside. So there was lots of excitement. Work was with practically everybody in Harrison and also in Camden. At that time somebody suggested I should join the War Production Board, and I was on the tungsten division because even tungsten was rather scarce. In the course of this we also had to work on cathodes. Now, sometimes seamless drawn cathodes worked very well and sometimes they didn't. We started quite an investigation sponsored by the joint industry. I was drawn into this and became a member of ASTM. We devised methods in order to test the material. I think some of this work is still going on, but its importance has very much diminished because radio tubes are on the way out.

War Assignment to England

Polkinghorn:

Towards the end of the war you went to England, didn't you?

Lederer:

Yes. The Signal Corps brought me from RCA and sent me to England and lent me to His Majesty's service. I was in the ministry of air production in England, my job was to go from one tube manufacture to the other, to see how they could do it better. This was really a wonderful opportunity for me, because as an employee of any company I couldn't have gotten into anyone except one or two of the English companies. I really saw a lot. I made a lot of friends, but of course had to promise that I would not carry tales from one company to the other. For me it was a most liberal education and it was a glorious time.

Return to Westinghouse

Polkinghorn:

Sometime after the war you went back to Westinghouse, I believe?

Lederer:

Yes. The war ended and then came a time when things were going very slowly and progress was not to my liking. I got an invitation then from Westinghouse. Westinghouse by the consent decree after at about 1930 had to stay out of the receiving tube business. But by 1950, they could make receiving tubes again. Westinghouse wanted to make not only receiving tubes but more power tubes, cathode tubes, pick-up tubes and what have you — the whole shebang! So I accepted the job and became chief engineer of the newly created Westinghouse tube division. I had a marvelous time because I always wanted to build something from scratch. I hand-picked the engineers, I built up a patent department for the tube division and so forth. It was wonderful. We started to work first in Bloomfield and then the location was changed to El Mira in New York State, where they built a new factory. After several years the aims of the company changed. The management in East Pittsburgh had different ideas. There was a slump of business, and I thought of leaving the company. I got an early retirement that was accepted, and I was free. Then I looked around. I had a few offers, but RCA invited me and discussed things with me and I felt inasmuch as I knew RCA and most of the personnel very well I would be more effective there than if I would go somewhere else and start from scratch. So I became a consultant for RCA, worked on semiconductors on germanium, silicon, on methods of making transistors. I had a grand glorious time.

Polkinghorn:

Well you had a quite a time with the vacuum tubes, in trying to bring it into transistors and that sort of thing. I am sure that this is a very interesting story that you have told and I thank you very much for taking the time and trouble.

Lederer:

Can I say one more thing? If I look back then I would have to live my life all over again, I think I would do about the same thing, except I would try to eliminate monumental blunders which I made in my life. I made many friends and I made some enemies. Well, if we neglect the enemies I wish at this time to thank all of my friends who worked with me and encouraged me.

Polkinghorn:

I thank you.

Lederer:

Yes, sir.