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Oral-History:Harold Rosen

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About Harold Rosen

In February 2003 the National Inventors Hall of Fame Committee inducted Harold Rosen into their prestigious club for the Spin Stabilized Synchronous Communications Satellite. Born in New Orleans, March 20, 1926, this dentist’s son demonstrated a penchant for the technical and electronics at an early age. By age fourteen, Rosen was not only a member of his high school’s radio club, but an amateur in the industry. Rosen recalls himself being a precocious child, and his academic record more than corroborates this assertion. He graduated high school at the age of fifteen and would have completed college before eighteen had it not been for World War II against Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Italy’s Benito Mussolini and Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. The young, patriotic Rosen delayed his studies at Tulane University, and his job as a radio station transmitter engineer, to enter the Navy at age seventeen.



Rosen saw no action as a combat soldier, but military officials quickly put his educational talents to use. He became an educator in the very training school that was supposed to prepare him for physical warfare. After the war, like most veterans of the war against fascism, Rosen used the newly passed GI Bill to complete his undergraduate degree in general electrical engineering at Tulane—where he worked with Noble Prize winner Carl D. Anderson—and to support his young wife. While working with the Navy Rosen worked in the Lark program, a response the Japanese Kamikaze attacks. In addition, he worked in the Navy’s electronics program and its focus on radars, sonars and radios.



After completing his service in the Navy and finishing his degree at Tulane, Rosen moved the California to attend the California Institute of technology for graduate school, where he worked part-time for Raytheon. Rosen continued to labor on the front lines of technology, working on anti-aircraft guided missiles and radars. In 1956 Rosen completed his PhD and left Raytheon because they wanted to relocate him out east to Massachusetts. He had attended Caltech over Harvard due to the differences in weather. Now wanting to move back to New England, Rosen got a job a Hughes Aircraft who was expanding and because he had personal ties and connections from his days at Caltech.



When the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957 Rosen found himself in the thick of the Cold War’s space race. In addition to working side-by-side with American scientist, he also worked closely with German minds who had defected from the Russians before the end of WWII. He became involved in the Geosynchronous Communication Satellite Program, a career that lasted from 1959, until his retirement 1993



The government cancelled the radar program he was working on because Russians were not working on developing bombers, as had been previously suspected. Rosen recalls that he enjoyed his time with the government but was always more interested in commercial markets. However, early in its history, the technological industry was one afraid to take risks. For example, in spring 1960 Rosen retired from Hughes because could not find a partner for his communication satellite venture. A former colleague and friend from Raytheon Tom Phillips agreed to fund project under the condition that Rosen move back out east. This time he complied. As he was putting in his resignation Hughes’ management invested $300,000 in the project, and so he decided to stay. Satellites were a hard sell in the U.S. so he went to Europe to demonstrate their commercial appeal, completing one successfully at the Eiffel Tower.



In retirement Rosen started private company named Volacom with Brother Ben, creator of Compaq and its first chairman and CEO. He is also doing some consulting with Boeing, and is in the process of trying to create an electrically powered airplane that will be used for communications, most notably internet connections. Such airplanes do not yet exist, but Rosen feels this is the most economical and practical way to go. Planes would fly, unmanned, at 60,000 feet, and they would be able to provide service even to areas with low population density.