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Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner

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== About Jerome B. Wiesner  ==
 
== About Jerome B. Wiesner  ==
  
Wiesner got his BS in engineering from the University of Michigan in 1937, and his MS in 1938. While working on his PhD from there, he also spent some time doing radio-station work, for the University, for Archibald MacLeish, and for the forerunner of the Voice of America. He was recruited into the Rad Lab in May 1942. He first worked to make a transmit-receive switch for X-band; then tried to figure out why crystals were malfunctioning; then became project engineer for System Cadillac, the anti-kamikaze radar that was a precursor, ultimately, to the AWACS. After World War II he continued to work on air defense; Wiesner was the one who first suggested that a digital computer, like Whirlwind, should be used to coordinate air defense. This became the [[SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment)|SAGE]] computer. He also helped figure out “scattered communication”, by relying on scintillation in the atmosphere.  
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[[Jerome B. Wiesner|Wiesner]] got his BS in engineering from the University of Michigan in 1937, and his MS in 1938. While working on his PhD from there, he also spent some time doing radio-station work, for the University, for Archibald MacLeish, and for the forerunner of the Voice of America. He was recruited into the [[Milestones:MIT Radiation Laboratory, 1940-1945|Rad Lab]] in May 1942. He first worked to make a transmit-receive switch for X-band; then tried to figure out why crystals were malfunctioning; then became project engineer for System Cadillac, the anti-kamikaze radar that was a precursor, ultimately, to the AWACS. After World War II he continued to work on air defense; Wiesner was the one who first suggested that a digital computer, like Whirlwind, should be used to coordinate air defense. This became the [[SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment)|SAGE]] computer. He also helped figure out “scattered communication”, by relying on scintillation in the atmosphere.  
 
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For additional biographical information, see [[Jerome B. Wiesner|Jerome&nbsp; B. Wiesner biography]].
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== About the Interview  ==
 
== About the Interview  ==
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Jerome B. Wiesner, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
 
Jerome B. Wiesner, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
 
<br>
 
  
 
== Interview  ==
 
== Interview  ==
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Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts  
 
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts  
 
<br>
 
  
 
=== Education and Recruitment to Rad Lab  ===
 
=== Education and Recruitment to Rad Lab  ===
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'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
  
Certainly. I see that you have a bachelor's degree in engineering from 1937 and a master's degree the following year from the University of Michigan. What did you do from 1938 until you joined Rad Lab?  
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Certainly. I see that you have a bachelor's degree in engineering from 1937 and a master's degree the following year from the University of Michigan. What did you do from 1938 until you joined [[Milestones:MIT Radiation Laboratory, 1940-1945|Rad Lab]]?  
  
 
'''Wiesner:'''  
 
'''Wiesner:'''  
  
I was still at Michigan. Until 1940 I was working on my Ph.D., and I was doing a variety of other things. For example, I ran the U. of Michigan broadcasting service, which was actually a satellite from WJR in Detroit. At first I ran the technical things. Mostly I built the equipment. But I was also chief associate director of the center, and I had some teaching duties about radio. I did a number of other things at the same time. I helped with some research on speech, we built an experimental FM station, and we had a very small television transmitter. This was quite early.  
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I was still at Michigan. Until 1940 I was working on my Ph.D., and I was doing a variety of other things. For example, I ran the U. of Michigan broadcasting service, which was actually a satellite from WJR in Detroit. At first I ran the technical things. Mostly I built the equipment. But I was also chief associate director of the center, and I had some teaching duties about [[Radio|radio]]. I did a number of other things at the same time. I helped with some research on speech, we built an experimental [[FM Radio|FM station]], and we had a very small [[Television|television transmitter]]. This was quite early.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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Then I had a very lucky break because they were just starting to make X-band, components, and the experimental research group run by Ed Purcell was doing the work. Zacharias suggested that I go work with them until I understood what they were doing and could be the transfer man to take all this stuff to his Group 53, which was the components group. For about three or four months I worked there learning about X-band waveguides, saw them make a new magnetron for X-band, and was given the job of making the TR switch, the transmit-receive switch, for the X-band. I didn't know anything about it, but there were two lovely people who took me under their wing and taught me a lot about the very high frequency cavities. At those frequencies were distributed circuits. In about two months I was able to make a switch by making distributed circuits on a cavity, and I discovered that I could use to change the frequencies. Three or four months later, I took all these things that they'd developed for the passive and the active circuits and put them into the hands of a fellow named Jules Simmonds, who was Zacharias's procurement fellow. We got a lot of these local industries to make things. But we had a lot of trouble with the gas tubes that I had made because they wouldn't protect crystals.  
 
Then I had a very lucky break because they were just starting to make X-band, components, and the experimental research group run by Ed Purcell was doing the work. Zacharias suggested that I go work with them until I understood what they were doing and could be the transfer man to take all this stuff to his Group 53, which was the components group. For about three or four months I worked there learning about X-band waveguides, saw them make a new magnetron for X-band, and was given the job of making the TR switch, the transmit-receive switch, for the X-band. I didn't know anything about it, but there were two lovely people who took me under their wing and taught me a lot about the very high frequency cavities. At those frequencies were distributed circuits. In about two months I was able to make a switch by making distributed circuits on a cavity, and I discovered that I could use to change the frequencies. Three or four months later, I took all these things that they'd developed for the passive and the active circuits and put them into the hands of a fellow named Jules Simmonds, who was Zacharias's procurement fellow. We got a lot of these local industries to make things. But we had a lot of trouble with the gas tubes that I had made because they wouldn't protect crystals.  
  
There was a very nice fellow named Nat Rochester, who was trying to make X-band crystals. In fact, Rochester and I have been friends all our lives because he went to IBM, and I consulted for them. So we still see each other. But my thing didn't work with it very well, so we got something from Bell Labs, and they had the same trouble. They'd last a few hours, and then their sensitivity would drop very fast. We couldn't see why because the switches seemed to work. This got me started on a job that took me about a year, to figure out why these things wouldn't really protect the crystals. It was the most fascinating thing I had done up to then because it was a kind of detective job. Eventually I found out, and actually I wrote a thesis about it. At the end of the war I didn't feel like going back to the old subject, I had done this wonderful detective work finding that for the nanosecond before these waveforms left the tube, there was a very small, but sharp pulse of power, then it would work, and you couldn't see that with any oscilloscope. It took me a while, and pretty soon I was taking nanosecond observations on a special oscilloscope that I had made, using long lines to control the length of a pulse. It was big and strong enough, so I could see it on the scope without amplifiers. It was very wide band. This was my first real piece of research.  
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There was a very nice fellow named Nat Rochester, who was trying to make X-band crystals. In fact, Rochester and I have been friends all our lives because he went to IBM, and I consulted for them. So we still see each other. But my thing didn't work with it very well, so we got something from [[Bell Labs]], and they had the same trouble. They'd last a few hours, and then their sensitivity would drop very fast. We couldn't see why because the switches seemed to work. This got me started on a job that took me about a year, to figure out why these things wouldn't really protect the crystals. It was the most fascinating thing I had done up to then because it was a kind of detective job. Eventually I found out, and actually I wrote a thesis about it. At the end of the war I didn't feel like going back to the old subject, I had done this wonderful detective work finding that for the nanosecond before these waveforms left the tube, there was a very small, but sharp pulse of power, then it would work, and you couldn't see that with any oscilloscope. It took me a while, and pretty soon I was taking nanosecond observations on a special oscilloscope that I had made, using long lines to control the length of a pulse. It was big and strong enough, so I could see it on the scope without amplifiers. It was very wide band. This was my first real piece of research.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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'''Wiesner:'''  
 
'''Wiesner:'''  
  
Yes. Well, you know what it was? It was a large, S-band radar that first was put in a fighter plane, something called a PBS, I think a carrier-based plane. There was an 8-foot diameter antenna on a very small plane that was able to land and take off from a carrier. The reason they built it was because of something that a man named [Lloyd] Berkner, who worked for the Navy and asked us to do. Our Navy, our ships, in the Pacific were being killed by the ''kamikaze'' with Zeroes because they'd come in so low that the radars couldn't see them until it was too late. It was obvious that you couldn't make a tall enough mast on the ship to see them far enough away. So I guess I got involved in Cadillac first because I was put in charge of working with CVS Laboratories in Connecticut on the relay transmitter. The signals from the radar were put onto the relay and then down to the ship. The ship was then able to see the ''kamikazes'' and kill them. This was a very rush job and we worked around the clock. Back to your question, it was tested on a mountain in Maine called Cadillac. What they did was put it on the edge of the mountain and, like many Maine mountains, it drops off. So fighter aircraft can come in simulating attacks.  
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Yes. Well, you know what it was? It was a large, S-band radar that first was put in a fighter plane, something called a PBS, I think a carrier-based plane. There was an 8-foot diameter antenna on a very small plane that was able to land and take off from a carrier. The reason they built it was because of something that a man named [[Lloyd V. Berkner|[Lloyd] Berkner]], who worked for the Navy and asked us to do. Our Navy, our ships, in the Pacific were being killed by the [[World War II Aircraft|''kamikaze'' with Zeroes]] because they'd come in so low that the radars couldn't see them until it was too late. It was obvious that you couldn't make a tall enough mast on the ship to see them far enough away. So I guess I got involved in Cadillac first because I was put in charge of working with CVS Laboratories in Connecticut on the relay transmitter. The signals from the radar were put onto the relay and then down to the ship. The ship was then able to see the ''kamikazes'' and kill them. This was a very rush job and we worked around the clock. Back to your question, it was tested on a mountain in Maine called Cadillac. What they did was put it on the edge of the mountain and, like many Maine mountains, it drops off. So fighter aircraft can come in simulating attacks.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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'''Wiesner:'''  
 
'''Wiesner:'''  
  
Yes. I didn't go to sea. I went with the trials. But I came back because we had another job to do very fast. Three or four months later that carrier came back into port, and I went to see it. I said, "This is working a lot better than it was when I left you." He said, "It was easy to do." I said, "How?" He said, "We got rid of all those MIT-trained technicians who were always trying to make it better by fooling with the knobs." [Laughter] "When we got it going, we've used it all over." [Laughter] At about the same time, what's the name of the company that used to exploit university patents, they gave us money to build a prototype place for our subs, and six or ten or 12 million dollars was raised fast. I got back and found that we'd been committed to another job, which was making the same thing work in B-17s. But in addition to having a radar, we were going to put the control system and the three controllers and all their scopes in the same thing. It was being built for the invasion of Japan. Once again we had an enormously tight schedule and had just about got it built when the bomb was dropped. [Chuckling]  
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Yes. I didn't go to sea. I went with the trials. But I came back because we had another job to do very fast. Three or four months later that carrier came back into port, and I went to see it. I said, "This is working a lot better than it was when I left you." He said, "It was easy to do." I said, "How?" He said, "We got rid of all those MIT-trained technicians who were always trying to make it better by fooling with the knobs." [Laughter] "When we got it going, we've used it all over." [Laughter] At about the same time, what's the name of the company that used to exploit university patents, they gave us money to build a prototype place for our subs, and six or ten or 12 million dollars was raised fast. I got back and found that we'd been committed to another job, which was making the same thing work in B-17s. But in addition to having a radar, we were going to put the control system and the three controllers and all their scopes in the same thing. It was being built for the invasion of Japan. Once again we had an enormously tight schedule and had just about got it built when [[Nuclear Bombs|the bomb]] was dropped. [Chuckling]  
  
 
=== Rad Lab and Los Alamos  ===
 
=== Rad Lab and Los Alamos  ===
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'''Wiesner:'''  
 
'''Wiesner:'''  
  
Yes. In the middle of the war a lot of our friends went. While we didn't know quite where they went or why, it was rumored that they were doing something with attempts to make nuclear explosions. At the end of the war I went to Los Alamos. By then there was enough in the papers that I really had no surprises when I saw. When it was dropped, I didn't have anything but the vaguest understanding. But we did know they were trying to do something.  
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Yes. In the middle of the war a lot of our friends went. While we didn't know quite where they went or why, it was rumored that they were doing something with attempts to make nuclear explosions. At the end of the war I went to [[First-Hand:Adventures at Wartime Los Alamos|Los Alamos]]. By then there was enough in the papers that I really had no surprises when I saw. When it was dropped, I didn't have anything but the vaguest understanding. But we did know they were trying to do something.  
  
 
=== Working with the Military  ===
 
=== Working with the Military  ===
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'''Wiesner:'''  
 
'''Wiesner:'''  
  
A lot. Almost everything that I did had some connection with the military. Particularly, in our groups, we worked a lot with the Navy. They seemed to be more interested in what we did. Quite a bit [more] than the Air Force, although we did make the bombing radar for the Air Force, but I think this might have been because of this man named Berkner when I talked about. He was a civilian scientist who was also a reserve member of the Navy. In fact, he was an old explorer who had gone to the South Pole with Byrd. He was a very interesting and very imaginative fellow. He always came to us and said, "Can you do this or that or something else?" And so we always said, "yes." So we kept doing things for the Navy.  
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A lot. Almost everything that I did had some connection with the military. Particularly, in our groups, we worked a lot with the Navy. They seemed to be more interested in what we did. Quite a bit [more] than the Air Force, although we did make the bombing radar for the Air Force, but I think this might have been because of this man named [[Lloyd V. Berkner|Berkner]] when I talked about. He was a civilian scientist who was also a reserve member of the Navy. In fact, he was an old explorer who had gone to the South Pole with Byrd. He was a very interesting and very imaginative fellow. He always came to us and said, "Can you do this or that or something else?" And so we always said, "yes." So we kept doing things for the Navy.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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'''Wiesner:'''  
 
'''Wiesner:'''  
  
Only in general. By the time we got an agreement to do something, we knew what we were going to do. We didn't get any of what you might call interference from the military. They were never unreasonable. But, for example, when I put the Cadillac into a very small bomber — fighter (I'm not sure what it was; maybe a fighter — bomber) we had to work very closely with both the manufacturer, Grumman, and the Naval people who were in charge of it. But I didn't have a whole lot to do with that, even though, in a sense, they were working for me. I was much more worried about other things than the installations. I went down and saw when it was first put together. In fact, there was a training station off the coast of Jersey — was it a Naval air station? I can't remember. We would take it down there for flight testing and then bring it back here. So I think we really worked as one group. At some point when my X-band systems were put into fighter planes for the Navy, I was very closely allied with that group. Although I stayed in my own group, I worked with somebody named Herbert Weiss, who was a systems guy making the scanner and all the stuff put together. I think we were working with Sperry to make the radar. I would often go down to Quonset Naval Air Station for the night to see why things didn't work. They usually put four or five airplanes fighters up in the air with these things in them, and somebody had a target and would watch them to see what troubles they got into. As soon as we thought they were good enough to go, we loaded them onto a carrier and sent them off.  
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Only in general. By the time we got an agreement to do something, we knew what we were going to do. We didn't get any of what you might call interference from the military. They were never unreasonable. But, for example, when I put the Cadillac into a very small bomber — fighter (I'm not sure what it was; maybe a fighter — bomber) we had to work very closely with both the manufacturer, Grumman, and the Naval people who were in charge of it. But I didn't have a whole lot to do with that, even though, in a sense, they were working for me. I was much more worried about other things than the installations. I went down and saw when it was first put together. In fact, there was a training station off the coast of Jersey — was it a Naval air station? I can't remember. We would take it down there for flight testing and then bring it back here. So I think we really worked as one group. At some point when my X-band systems were put into fighter planes for the Navy, I was very closely allied with that group. Although I stayed in my own group, I worked with somebody named [[Oral-History:Herbert Weiss|Herbert Weiss]], who was a systems guy making the scanner and all the stuff put together. I think we were working with Sperry to make the radar. I would often go down to Quonset Naval Air Station for the night to see why things didn't work. They usually put four or five airplanes fighters up in the air with these things in them, and somebody had a target and would watch them to see what troubles they got into. As soon as we thought they were good enough to go, we loaded them onto a carrier and sent them off.  
  
 
=== Project Cadillac and AWACS  ===
 
=== Project Cadillac and AWACS  ===
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About 1952, I got involved with people asking about air defense, and for other reasons I had been interested in the Whirlwind computer that Jay Forrester was making here. In fact, the Navy, who was the sponsor, got a lot of flack from people because it was spending a lot of money, and he was promising to do something a lot of people thought was impossible, that is, making real-time simulations of aircraft. He got so much flack from people that he got a man name of Lawrence Marshall, who ran Raytheon, to say that he would look into it. His way of looking into it was asking myself and Zacharias, who was still here, whether we would take a look at it. So we spent a few days talking with Jay.  
 
About 1952, I got involved with people asking about air defense, and for other reasons I had been interested in the Whirlwind computer that Jay Forrester was making here. In fact, the Navy, who was the sponsor, got a lot of flack from people because it was spending a lot of money, and he was promising to do something a lot of people thought was impossible, that is, making real-time simulations of aircraft. He got so much flack from people that he got a man name of Lawrence Marshall, who ran Raytheon, to say that he would look into it. His way of looking into it was asking myself and Zacharias, who was still here, whether we would take a look at it. So we spent a few days talking with Jay.  
  
It was clear that he had some troubles, mostly because they couldn't make memories (in fact, that made him design his own power memory because up to then they were trying to make back-up memories, and they weren't very good). As a consequence of that, I knew a lot about the Whirlwind machine. I also knew that the Navy was not able to fund it at the level that he needed. A fellow named George Elling used to come to talk to me about his ideas of air defense, and he had an idea that he would put a lot of small radars around and use analog computers and send them over lines to a central station. About the fourth time he came to talk to me about this, it occurred to me that I'd written a paper just before about this. Somebody named Ted Voles and Jay Stratton had asked me to think about whether they had any new ideas about air defense. I'd written a paper saying maybe you should use the Whirlwind computer because a digital computer has a lot of capabilities that analog didn't have. So this all ties together. George Elling came to see me, and I said, "Why don't you go and talk to Jay Forrester? He had just the right computer for him." So they got together, and as a consequence, all of us got involved in air defense. The result of all this was the SAGE computer.  
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It was clear that he had some troubles, mostly because they couldn't make memories (in fact, that made him design his own power memory because up to then they were trying to make back-up memories, and they weren't very good). As a consequence of that, I knew a lot about the Whirlwind machine. I also knew that the Navy was not able to fund it at the level that he needed. A fellow named George Elling used to come to talk to me about his ideas of air defense, and he had an idea that he would put a lot of small radars around and use analog computers and send them over lines to a central station. About the fourth time he came to talk to me about this, it occurred to me that I'd written a paper just before about this. Somebody named Ted Voles and Jay Stratton had asked me to think about whether they had any new ideas about air defense. I'd written a paper saying maybe you should use the Whirlwind computer because a digital computer has a lot of capabilities that analog didn't have. So this all ties together. George Elling came to see me, and I said, "Why don't you go and talk to Jay Forrester? He had just the right computer for him." So they got together, and as a consequence, all of us got involved in air defense. The result of all this was the [[SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment)|SAGE computer]].  
  
 
=== "Scattered Communication"  ===
 
=== "Scattered Communication"  ===
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'''Wiesner:'''  
 
'''Wiesner:'''  
  
I didn't work that much on the computer. I did worry about the radar, and I helped design. By accident, I made a invention that made scattered communication possible. I don't know if you know about that. Before satellites, you couldn't broadcast or send signals at high frequencies because they were not reflected by the ionosphere. I'd been trying to about the same time, maybe a little bit earlier, and we were all worrying about defending the country. I didn't like these radars on airplanes. I thought they were terrible. So I tried to see whether I couldn't make a low-frequency, vertical, polarized radar that would follow around the bend of the earth because the vertical polarization did not attenuate very fast. I went over to England and saw Robert Watson-Watt to see whether they had any data about what way they had sent their signals, and see their first radars. We went around the country looking at the old radars that had been used by the RAF to win the Battle of Britain.  
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I didn't work that much on the computer. I did worry about the [[Radar|radar]], and I helped design. By accident, I made a invention that made scattered communication possible. I don't know if you know about that. Before satellites, you couldn't broadcast or send signals at high frequencies because they were not reflected by the ionosphere. I'd been trying to about the same time, maybe a little bit earlier, and we were all worrying about defending the country. I didn't like these radars on airplanes. I thought they were terrible. So I tried to see whether I couldn't make a low-frequency, vertical, polarized radar that would follow around the bend of the earth because the vertical polarization did not attenuate very fast. I went over to England and saw Robert Watson-Watt to see whether they had any data about what way they had sent their signals, and see their first radars. We went around the country looking at the old radars that had been used by the RAF to win the Battle of Britain.  
  
The only one that was working was in Scotland, so we went up there. A man who worked at the Stalham Radio Observation Center in Stalham, England, came with us, and he said, "These things are not quite what you think they are. For example, I've been trying to make measurements of the way these things fall off, and after a certain point they just quit falling off." I said, "That doesn't seem to make much sense." He said, "No, not to me either. But I have a very funny idea that maybe it's because of scintillation, because these are very weak signals, and scintillation from the atmosphere, which will scatter in all directions, is not very distance-sensitive." So I came back, and I was telling this to Berkner and Ed Purcell, and we made some calculations. We decided that there were probably two effects: The one that my friend (whose name I can't remember) was talking about was an atmospheric scattering. But we decided in about three days of thinking about it that there should be a similar effect from the ionosphere, and we did some observations. In fact, for the atmosphere I got Major Armstrong, who had a transmitter. He'd been trying to make a FM radar. I don't know what you know about that. He had a big radar station in Palisades. He also had a broadcasting transmitter. I got him to turn his antenna toward Round Hill. We put a receiver there, and sure enough, you could detect his transmissions, 150 miles or so away. Then we did the same thing for the ionosphere. When we wanted to make a Distant Early Warning line, people said you can't because you can't afford the cost of the connecting systems. Because they thought we'd have to use a cable or something.  
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The only one that was working was in Scotland, so we went up there. A man who worked at the Stalham Radio Observation Center in Stalham, England, came with us, and he said, "These things are not quite what you think they are. For example, I've been trying to make measurements of the way these things fall off, and after a certain point they just quit falling off." I said, "That doesn't seem to make much sense." He said, "No, not to me either. But I have a very funny idea that maybe it's because of scintillation, because these are very weak signals, and scintillation from the atmosphere, which will scatter in all directions, is not very distance-sensitive." So I came back, and I was telling this to [[Lloyd V. Berkner|Berkner]] and [[Oral-History:Edward Purcell|Ed Purcell]], and we made some calculations. We decided that there were probably two effects: The one that my friend (whose name I can't remember) was talking about was an atmospheric scattering. But we decided in about three days of thinking about it that there should be a similar effect from the ionosphere, and we did some observations. In fact, for the atmosphere I got Major Armstrong, who had a transmitter. He'd been trying to make a FM radar. I don't know what you know about that. He had a big radar station in Palisades. He also had a broadcasting transmitter. I got him to turn his antenna toward Round Hill. We put a receiver there, and sure enough, you could detect his transmissions, 150 miles or so away. Then we did the same thing for the ionosphere. When we wanted to make a Distant Early Warning line, people said you can't because you can't afford the cost of the connecting systems. Because they thought we'd have to use a cable or something.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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'''Wiesner:'''  
 
'''Wiesner:'''  
  
The only industries I knew at that time were Bell Labs and GE. Bell Labs was really almost an academic environment, and it was very much like ours. We worked harder than they did, because they had been doing it for a long time. GE was not very good in my view. One time I had to go down and see something for the Navy at RCA, and I was appalled at the quality of equipment and research there. My view of industrial research at that time was that there was Bell Labs and all these other bad places. [Chuckling] Then I got to know IBM, and that was an industrial lab, too, but that was started after the war.  
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The only industries I knew at that time were [[Bell Labs]] and [[General Electric (GE)|GE]]. Bell Labs was really almost an academic environment, and it was very much like ours. We worked harder than they did, because they had been doing it for a long time. GE was not very good in my view. One time I had to go down and see something for the Navy at [[RCA (Radio Corporation of America)|RCA]], and I was appalled at the quality of equipment and research there. My view of industrial research at that time was that there was Bell Labs and all these other bad places. [Chuckling] Then I got to know IBM, and that was an industrial lab, too, but that was started after the war.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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Well, thank you very much.  
 
Well, thank you very much.  
  
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[[Category:People_and_organizations|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:Engineers|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:Inventors|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:Research_and_development_labs|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:Culture_and_society|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:Defense_&_security|Category:Defense_&amp;_security]] [[Category:Signals|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:Signal_detection|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:Radar_detection|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:Environment,_geoscience_&_remote_sensing|Category:Environment,_geoscience_&amp;_remote_sensing]] [[Category:Radar|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:Computers_and_information_processing|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:Computer_applications|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:Military_computing|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:Workplace|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]] [[Category:News|Oral-History:Jerome Wiesner]]

Revision as of 18:40, 28 September 2009

Contents

About Jerome B. Wiesner

Wiesner got his BS in engineering from the University of Michigan in 1937, and his MS in 1938. While working on his PhD from there, he also spent some time doing radio-station work, for the University, for Archibald MacLeish, and for the forerunner of the Voice of America. He was recruited into the Rad Lab in May 1942. He first worked to make a transmit-receive switch for X-band; then tried to figure out why crystals were malfunctioning; then became project engineer for System Cadillac, the anti-kamikaze radar that was a precursor, ultimately, to the AWACS. After World War II he continued to work on air defense; Wiesner was the one who first suggested that a digital computer, like Whirlwind, should be used to coordinate air defense. This became the SAGE computer. He also helped figure out “scattered communication”, by relying on scintillation in the atmosphere.

About the Interview

JEROME B. WIESNER: An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, 12 June 1991

Interview # 084 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:

Jerome B. Wiesner, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Jerome B. Wiesner

Interviewer: Frederik Nebeker

Date: 12 June 1991

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Education and Recruitment to Rad Lab

Nebeker:

I'm talking with Jerome Wiesner at his office at MIT on the 12th of June 1991. This is Rik Nebeker.

Wiesner:

I have had a stroke, so I can't always say the words that I want to say. Or sometimes it takes me a little while to think of them. So you'll have to be especially patient.

Nebeker:

Certainly. I see that you have a bachelor's degree in engineering from 1937 and a master's degree the following year from the University of Michigan. What did you do from 1938 until you joined Rad Lab?

Wiesner:

I was still at Michigan. Until 1940 I was working on my Ph.D., and I was doing a variety of other things. For example, I ran the U. of Michigan broadcasting service, which was actually a satellite from WJR in Detroit. At first I ran the technical things. Mostly I built the equipment. But I was also chief associate director of the center, and I had some teaching duties about radio. I did a number of other things at the same time. I helped with some research on speech, we built an experimental FM station, and we had a very small television transmitter. This was quite early.

Nebeker:

Yes.

Wiesner:

So I did all these things in addition to my research for my thesis, which was on radiation not the kind of radiation that we think about nowadays, but antenna radiation. In the summers I used to go to the National Music Camp in Interlochen, where I also ran the broadcasting service. We used to have weekly broadcasts over NBC, and I got to know the people from NBC, particularly a woman named Judith Wahler, who was then their educational director. Archibald MacLeish asked her if she knew anybody who might come and help him work to build up a new broadcast and recording studio. She recommended me. I thought it was not a sensible thing, but I went down and was interviewed by MacLeish. I found him fascinating. So I left school (I was not very excited about antenna work anyway) in 1940 and went to work for him, building up a recording studio. I went around the country with a Bellar-X, recording folk music. In those days you couldn't carry one of those things. It'd take a person as well as a phone cord to make it a good team. At the time, I worked a little bit on the new forms of books for the blind. So I did a number of other things until I came here in May of 1942. Incidentally, I had worked with MacLeish and had helped him set up the Office of Facts and Figures, which was the forerunner of the Voice of America, and I was buying transmitters, and so forth. I got a letter from a professor that I knew at Michigan, Sam Buhlenbach, asking me if I wouldn't like to come to Radiation Lab.

Nebeker:

He's a physicist?

Wiesner:

Yes. But at Michigan I had studied physics and mathematics as well as EE, so I knew him. He didn't say very much about what was done. I wrote him a letter saying, I'd love to come, Sam, but I'm too busy. I have too many things going on here. I went home that night, and told my wife about it. She said, "You're crazy," and I said, "Why?" She said, "You're getting tired of this administrative stuff and you want to go back into engineering. Now you're given a chance, and you turn it down." So the next morning I put that letter aside and sent a letter to Sam saying I was interested. "Could you tell me more about what is going on?" So I got another letter from him saying he couldn't say except it was very important war research. But he said, "Take my word for it, you'll enjoy it." So I took his word for it, and I sent him a letter saying we'd come. I've learned since that another Michigan man, named Louis Stallen, who is on the faculty here actually now, suggested to Sam that he try to recruit me. I didn't know that at the time. I didn't know where he'd gotten my name.

Nebeker:

I can see here it was in May of '42?

Wiesner:

That's correct. What time in May I don't remember exactly.

Nebeker:

Can you tell me what you remember of your arrival and first days at the Rad Lab?

Wiesner:

I remember that. We drove from Washington, so it took a couple of days to get there. We got here on a Sunday, and we wandered around the campus. Of course it wasn't this big campus. In fact, the originals Building 22 is no longer there, and this one was not yet built. I couldn't see anybody or anything, but we got a feeling for the campus. Actually we went to see Smullin, who was a college friend from Michigan, for the evening, and then we stayed in a hotel. On Monday morning I came here and was interviewed by Wheeler Loomis, who told me all about radar.

X-band, K-band, and S-band Radars

Nebeker:

You hadn't heard of that device before?

Wiesner:

I don't think so. He spent about 45 minutes with me, and he said, "What do you suppose you can do?" And I said, "I've never worked on microwaves. I've worked on longer wavelength things, I've done a lot of work on acoustical transmission, and I have a feeling that they're not all that different waveguides and acoustical waves." Then he said, "suppose you go see Zacharias, who runs the components division, and see if he has a place for you." I went and saw Zacharias, and we talked for a few hours. He turned me over to Al Hill, who was his deputy, and he found me a little place in Building 4 on the second floor of the building, where there was a balcony and big high ceilings. I worked there for a few days, just reading.

Then I had a very lucky break because they were just starting to make X-band, components, and the experimental research group run by Ed Purcell was doing the work. Zacharias suggested that I go work with them until I understood what they were doing and could be the transfer man to take all this stuff to his Group 53, which was the components group. For about three or four months I worked there learning about X-band waveguides, saw them make a new magnetron for X-band, and was given the job of making the TR switch, the transmit-receive switch, for the X-band. I didn't know anything about it, but there were two lovely people who took me under their wing and taught me a lot about the very high frequency cavities. At those frequencies were distributed circuits. In about two months I was able to make a switch by making distributed circuits on a cavity, and I discovered that I could use to change the frequencies. Three or four months later, I took all these things that they'd developed for the passive and the active circuits and put them into the hands of a fellow named Jules Simmonds, who was Zacharias's procurement fellow. We got a lot of these local industries to make things. But we had a lot of trouble with the gas tubes that I had made because they wouldn't protect crystals.

There was a very nice fellow named Nat Rochester, who was trying to make X-band crystals. In fact, Rochester and I have been friends all our lives because he went to IBM, and I consulted for them. So we still see each other. But my thing didn't work with it very well, so we got something from Bell Labs, and they had the same trouble. They'd last a few hours, and then their sensitivity would drop very fast. We couldn't see why because the switches seemed to work. This got me started on a job that took me about a year, to figure out why these things wouldn't really protect the crystals. It was the most fascinating thing I had done up to then because it was a kind of detective job. Eventually I found out, and actually I wrote a thesis about it. At the end of the war I didn't feel like going back to the old subject, I had done this wonderful detective work finding that for the nanosecond before these waveforms left the tube, there was a very small, but sharp pulse of power, then it would work, and you couldn't see that with any oscilloscope. It took me a while, and pretty soon I was taking nanosecond observations on a special oscilloscope that I had made, using long lines to control the length of a pulse. It was big and strong enough, so I could see it on the scope without amplifiers. It was very wide band. This was my first real piece of research.

Nebeker:

You were working on your own pretty much on that problem?

Wiesner:

Yes.

Nebeker:

This was part of Group 53?

Wiesner:

Yes. I had to convince a lot of people. First of all, there was old Zacharias himself and Al Hill. But Louis Smullin was part of that group. If you know about him, he ended up being a specialist in gas switches. Because it was a bottleneck in the X-band work, it was a very high-priority thing. But for some reason — I guess this was the nature of the Radiation Lab — we didn't have big groups. But for some reason people thought I was competent to do this. So I stayed with it until I found the solution to it.

Nebeker:

What did you work on then?

Wiesner:

What I did next was almost the same job again, but on K-band. But by then we didn't have quite as much trouble because when you went from S-band to X-band, the move from S-band was mostly coaxial because except for a few special things, for example, waveguides were too big. They were 4 inches across. X-band they were about 1 inch. It turned out to be the optimum. The K-band which was 1.2 centimeters, was much smaller. But it was almost the same. We didn't have to learn about waveguides. Everything worked well, and I went from working on components to building K-band sets of magnetron, klystron, transmitters, receivers, and so on, and worked with a group at our Bedford place who were trying to put them into airborne systems. Then we hit the same kinds of problems and ran into trouble. We started working on it with the snow in late winter, and we could see that it was a big high-definition bombing radar. We could see Boston. We could see about 30 or 40 miles away. When summer came on, the damned thing stopped working as well. For a while I thought maybe we had another problem with TR, and we thought maybe the magnetrons were the trouble.

It was more and more puzzling until somebody remembered something that I should have remembered because at Michigan there was a man named Hoolenbeck, who was a theorist who had been working on resonance lines. He saw that there was ammonia [absorption]. And also one in the water line. It turned out that nobody had thought about this, and we had put the K-band system arbitrarily right on the peak of the upper line. As summer came on, the humidity went up, and the radar range went way down. But it was another interesting problem. I spent some time doing miscellaneous things. I became one of the associate or assistant group leaders of Group 53. At some point I was put in charge of a special project, called Cadillac, which was started by somebody else who got sick. Suddenly somebody else had to run it. By then I'd demonstrated that I was capable of working by myself and managing others, too.

Nebeker:

Can you explain the name? Why that project was called Cadillac?

Wiesner:

Yes. Well, you know what it was? It was a large, S-band radar that first was put in a fighter plane, something called a PBS, I think a carrier-based plane. There was an 8-foot diameter antenna on a very small plane that was able to land and take off from a carrier. The reason they built it was because of something that a man named [Lloyd] Berkner, who worked for the Navy and asked us to do. Our Navy, our ships, in the Pacific were being killed by the kamikaze with Zeroes because they'd come in so low that the radars couldn't see them until it was too late. It was obvious that you couldn't make a tall enough mast on the ship to see them far enough away. So I guess I got involved in Cadillac first because I was put in charge of working with CVS Laboratories in Connecticut on the relay transmitter. The signals from the radar were put onto the relay and then down to the ship. The ship was then able to see the kamikazes and kill them. This was a very rush job and we worked around the clock. Back to your question, it was tested on a mountain in Maine called Cadillac. What they did was put it on the edge of the mountain and, like many Maine mountains, it drops off. So fighter aircraft can come in simulating attacks.

Nebeker:

I see.

Wiesner:

We could tell whether this was working or not.

Nebeker:

How did that work go?

Wiesner:

It worked pretty well. Actually, I was involved in putting it on the first carrier on the West Coast. The carrier's name I can't remember, I should.

Nebeker:

So you went out with installation of the radar?

Wiesner:

Yes. I didn't go to sea. I went with the trials. But I came back because we had another job to do very fast. Three or four months later that carrier came back into port, and I went to see it. I said, "This is working a lot better than it was when I left you." He said, "It was easy to do." I said, "How?" He said, "We got rid of all those MIT-trained technicians who were always trying to make it better by fooling with the knobs." [Laughter] "When we got it going, we've used it all over." [Laughter] At about the same time, what's the name of the company that used to exploit university patents, they gave us money to build a prototype place for our subs, and six or ten or 12 million dollars was raised fast. I got back and found that we'd been committed to another job, which was making the same thing work in B-17s. But in addition to having a radar, we were going to put the control system and the three controllers and all their scopes in the same thing. It was being built for the invasion of Japan. Once again we had an enormously tight schedule and had just about got it built when the bomb was dropped. [Chuckling]

Rad Lab and Los Alamos

Nebeker:

You had no inkling of the atomic bomb?

Wiesner:

The Radiation Lab was infested with physicists, and they all knew each other. In fact, many people like Rabi, for example, worked at both places.

Nebeker:

Luis Alvarez?

Wiesner:

Yes. In the middle of the war a lot of our friends went. While we didn't know quite where they went or why, it was rumored that they were doing something with attempts to make nuclear explosions. At the end of the war I went to Los Alamos. By then there was enough in the papers that I really had no surprises when I saw. When it was dropped, I didn't have anything but the vaguest understanding. But we did know they were trying to do something.

Working with the Military

Nebeker:

On these projects Cadillac and the subsequent one how much were you working with military?

Wiesner:

A lot. Almost everything that I did had some connection with the military. Particularly, in our groups, we worked a lot with the Navy. They seemed to be more interested in what we did. Quite a bit [more] than the Air Force, although we did make the bombing radar for the Air Force, but I think this might have been because of this man named Berkner when I talked about. He was a civilian scientist who was also a reserve member of the Navy. In fact, he was an old explorer who had gone to the South Pole with Byrd. He was a very interesting and very imaginative fellow. He always came to us and said, "Can you do this or that or something else?" And so we always said, "yes." So we kept doing things for the Navy.

Nebeker:

What about in the actual development of Cadillac and the other system? Were you getting input from the military?

Wiesner:

Only in general. By the time we got an agreement to do something, we knew what we were going to do. We didn't get any of what you might call interference from the military. They were never unreasonable. But, for example, when I put the Cadillac into a very small bomber — fighter (I'm not sure what it was; maybe a fighter — bomber) we had to work very closely with both the manufacturer, Grumman, and the Naval people who were in charge of it. But I didn't have a whole lot to do with that, even though, in a sense, they were working for me. I was much more worried about other things than the installations. I went down and saw when it was first put together. In fact, there was a training station off the coast of Jersey — was it a Naval air station? I can't remember. We would take it down there for flight testing and then bring it back here. So I think we really worked as one group. At some point when my X-band systems were put into fighter planes for the Navy, I was very closely allied with that group. Although I stayed in my own group, I worked with somebody named Herbert Weiss, who was a systems guy making the scanner and all the stuff put together. I think we were working with Sperry to make the radar. I would often go down to Quonset Naval Air Station for the night to see why things didn't work. They usually put four or five airplanes fighters up in the air with these things in them, and somebody had a target and would watch them to see what troubles they got into. As soon as we thought they were good enough to go, we loaded them onto a carrier and sent them off.

Project Cadillac and AWACS

Nebeker:

Let me ask about Cadillac. Your group works out the design, you test it?

Wiesner:

It was one of these things that was a laboratory-wide effort. We had special antennas from the antenna group, and special controls from someone else. Probably 15 different groups in the Lab were contributing. One of my most important jobs was to make sure everybody did what they wanted to do in the group, and also that they fit together.

Nebeker:

You were project engineer for system Cadillac?

Wiesner:

Yes.

Nebeker:

You built what? A prototype?

Wiesner:

I suppose we built about five or six of them.

Nebeker:

Was this the RCC that produced them?

Wiesner:

That's it. That was the name I couldn't remember. Research Corporation.

Nebeker:

Yes. I can't remember what it stands for, but, yes. So they produced a small number of sets, they're tested, they're satisfactory, and then is it Grumman that gets the contract?

Wiesner:

I think so. That was for the first set. The second for the B-17, I don't remember who put them together. I think RCC did the same thing, but I have no recollection at all about who was the general coordinator for the B-17s. The war got stopped before we came that far.

Nebeker:

What I wondered is how much design change was made in going from these relatively small numbers of proof of a system to the production systems?

Wiesner:

I didn't know anything about the production beyond the numbers that were built by RCC, and that was a collaborative effort. They didn't have to change anything after we'd agreed on it. I lost track of the system until about 1952, when I started working on air defense, and we had a problem of coastal defense. We got the same set of ideas but put them into, B-29s, I think. So it had another generation, and what we now call AWACS is a direct descendant.

SAGE Computer

Wiesner:

About 1952, I got involved with people asking about air defense, and for other reasons I had been interested in the Whirlwind computer that Jay Forrester was making here. In fact, the Navy, who was the sponsor, got a lot of flack from people because it was spending a lot of money, and he was promising to do something a lot of people thought was impossible, that is, making real-time simulations of aircraft. He got so much flack from people that he got a man name of Lawrence Marshall, who ran Raytheon, to say that he would look into it. His way of looking into it was asking myself and Zacharias, who was still here, whether we would take a look at it. So we spent a few days talking with Jay.

It was clear that he had some troubles, mostly because they couldn't make memories (in fact, that made him design his own power memory because up to then they were trying to make back-up memories, and they weren't very good). As a consequence of that, I knew a lot about the Whirlwind machine. I also knew that the Navy was not able to fund it at the level that he needed. A fellow named George Elling used to come to talk to me about his ideas of air defense, and he had an idea that he would put a lot of small radars around and use analog computers and send them over lines to a central station. About the fourth time he came to talk to me about this, it occurred to me that I'd written a paper just before about this. Somebody named Ted Voles and Jay Stratton had asked me to think about whether they had any new ideas about air defense. I'd written a paper saying maybe you should use the Whirlwind computer because a digital computer has a lot of capabilities that analog didn't have. So this all ties together. George Elling came to see me, and I said, "Why don't you go and talk to Jay Forrester? He had just the right computer for him." So they got together, and as a consequence, all of us got involved in air defense. The result of all this was the SAGE computer.

"Scattered Communication"

Wiesner:

I didn't work that much on the computer. I did worry about the radar, and I helped design. By accident, I made a invention that made scattered communication possible. I don't know if you know about that. Before satellites, you couldn't broadcast or send signals at high frequencies because they were not reflected by the ionosphere. I'd been trying to about the same time, maybe a little bit earlier, and we were all worrying about defending the country. I didn't like these radars on airplanes. I thought they were terrible. So I tried to see whether I couldn't make a low-frequency, vertical, polarized radar that would follow around the bend of the earth because the vertical polarization did not attenuate very fast. I went over to England and saw Robert Watson-Watt to see whether they had any data about what way they had sent their signals, and see their first radars. We went around the country looking at the old radars that had been used by the RAF to win the Battle of Britain.

The only one that was working was in Scotland, so we went up there. A man who worked at the Stalham Radio Observation Center in Stalham, England, came with us, and he said, "These things are not quite what you think they are. For example, I've been trying to make measurements of the way these things fall off, and after a certain point they just quit falling off." I said, "That doesn't seem to make much sense." He said, "No, not to me either. But I have a very funny idea that maybe it's because of scintillation, because these are very weak signals, and scintillation from the atmosphere, which will scatter in all directions, is not very distance-sensitive." So I came back, and I was telling this to Berkner and Ed Purcell, and we made some calculations. We decided that there were probably two effects: The one that my friend (whose name I can't remember) was talking about was an atmospheric scattering. But we decided in about three days of thinking about it that there should be a similar effect from the ionosphere, and we did some observations. In fact, for the atmosphere I got Major Armstrong, who had a transmitter. He'd been trying to make a FM radar. I don't know what you know about that. He had a big radar station in Palisades. He also had a broadcasting transmitter. I got him to turn his antenna toward Round Hill. We put a receiver there, and sure enough, you could detect his transmissions, 150 miles or so away. Then we did the same thing for the ionosphere. When we wanted to make a Distant Early Warning line, people said you can't because you can't afford the cost of the connecting systems. Because they thought we'd have to use a cable or something.

Nebeker:

That goes partly to explain one of my other questions, which was how your years at the Rad Lab affected your subsequent career, and I can see that's partly with Whirlwind and SAGE.

Wiesner:

Oh, yes. Everything I have done came from the Rad Lab in some sense. If I hadn't been here at MIT and working on that, I wouldn't have known about the problems of air defense. I wouldn't have made the inventions that I did for that. It got me involved with the Air Force and the Navy, and, for example, that got me involved with missile systems because of the von Neumann Committee. Then I worked for von Neumann when Sputnik happened. I worked with Killian at the Science Advisor's Office. So my whole career was the result of the happy accident of coming to Rad Lab.

Work Atmosphere

Nebeker:

To return to the early days, do you recall how the work atmosphere at Rad Lab struck you? Did it seem comparable to an academic setting like you'd known at Michigan?

Wiesner:

No. Michigan was not a very good research place, at least not in the engineering department. It's different now, but then it was much more a teaching than a research institution. Rad Lab came to MIT because of the work that had been going on here in microwaves. But this was not really MIT because people from all over the country came. They were a highly technical people. There were 4,000 people altogether, probably 4,000 in engineering and science mostly. Most of them were physicists, but not all by any means. There were a lot of engineers, a lot of biologists, and all kinds of scientists. It had none of the feeling of a big institution because each group had its own things. Everyone was working hard. Everybody wanted to cooperate. There was no feeling of jealousy of who did what first. It didn't last long, after all. It started in '41 and ended in '45. But everybody, I think, just loved the environment.

Nebeker:

The Rad Lab environment, is it, judging by your subsequent experience as well, closer to an academic research environment or an industry research environment?

Wiesner:

The only industries I knew at that time were Bell Labs and GE. Bell Labs was really almost an academic environment, and it was very much like ours. We worked harder than they did, because they had been doing it for a long time. GE was not very good in my view. One time I had to go down and see something for the Navy at RCA, and I was appalled at the quality of equipment and research there. My view of industrial research at that time was that there was Bell Labs and all these other bad places. [Chuckling] Then I got to know IBM, and that was an industrial lab, too, but that was started after the war.

Nebeker:

How about the way you felt working at Rad Lab? Did you feel that you could make decisions yourself about what line to pursue generally?

Wiesner:

I think they were usually collective decisions. I don't think anybody ever told us what to do, but, for example, Berkner would say, "Can we do this?" If we decided it made sense, we'd get the Navy to ask us to do it, the steering committee would endorse it, and we'd do it. Nobody ever told me I should do the research on TR boxes that I told you about. But I'm sure that if they had not liked it, somebody would have told me that; or, it was obviously the thing to do.

Nebeker:

One possible analogy is I've talked to quite a few physicists who've worked on these very large experiments in high-energy physics, and they'll say, very rarely is it the case that there's one director parceling out tasks.

Wiesner:

Yes. They all were. I had this John Freund who for a long time worked on large experiments, and he didn't like it because there was too much constriction compared to Radiation Lab. You couldn't go your own way. Also, the time consonants were longer; nowadays an experiment may take ten years, and it's hard to keep your enthusiasm for a little piece of something for ten years.

Nebeker:

Did you feel that your input was always properly evaluated? Did you have a say in the decisions that affected you?

Wiesner:

Oh, sure. I may have been lucky in my relationships with the people who ran our group. Eventually, as I worked on Cadillac, I was part of the steering committee, so I was part of the top management. I never felt that I was not appreciated. In fact, I was always amazed at how much rope I was given, considering that I regarded myself as a fellow who didn't know what he wanted to do. I didn't have any background for this place, but I always felt at least appreciated, maybe more than was adequate.

Steering Committee

Nebeker:

You served on the steering committee?

Wiesner:

When I ran Project Cadillac, yes.

Nebeker:

What do you recall of the functioning of the steering committee?

Wiesner:

I mostly recall that Jim Killian sat in the background and never said a word. [Chuckling] That's my strongest memory. I don't ever recall him saying anything, but he was always there. DuBridge ran it very efficiently. We'd take up projects and talk about them. Unlike most places, we didn't have to worry about money.

Nebeker:

I wondered about the relationship between the steering committee and DuBridge. Was it advisory?

Wiesner:

No, it wasn't.

Nebeker:

Did it function as an advisor or as a decision-making group?

Wiesner:

I think it was much more a decision-making system group. I don't know what Lee would say, but that was my impression.

Nebeker:

That was your feeling. DuBridge must have had a certain amount of autonomy for day-to-day decisions between meetings of the steering committee.

Wiesner:

Well, true. But each member of the steering committee ran a division. So they had their own autonomy, too.

Nebeker:

But your recollection was that it was very definitely a place where decisions were made?

Wiesner:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Week by week.

Wiesner:

Big decisions. Not small decisions.

Nebeker:

Do you remember if there were agendas for the steering committee meetings?

Wiesner:

I don't remember at all. I assume so, but I couldn't prove it.

Nebeker:

Someone told me that they met Saturday afternoons, which seems strange to me.

Wiesner:

I don't remember that.

Nebeker:

It may have changed from time to time for the steering committee.

Wiesner:

I think it was during the week a lot of times. Of course my tenure was toward the end because as long as I worked in Group 53, Zacharias was our member of the steering committee. But Project Cadillac was a whole Rad Lab project, and so I had a kind of autonomy. I didn't ask to be on the steering committee. Somebody thought I ought to be. It was one of our important projects at that time.

Communications with the Military

Nebeker:

I wonder about your just general evaluation of how communications with the military worked? Was there was sufficient awareness of the real military needs by Rad Lab people? How difficult it was to sell the military on new devices?

Wiesner:

I don't think you can generalize. In general, as I said before, my strongest ties were to the Navy. I always felt the Navy itself, the people in the Navy, were given more freedom than their counterparts in the other services. I even had a theory about it, that once you're at sea on a ship, you're the boss. I soon realized that if the Navy lieutenant commander came, and we decided something, it would be done. But somebody from the Signal Corps would come here with higher rank, then it would be talked about and maybe overridden.

Nebeker:

I see. Did you have much dealings with the Army?

Wiesner:

Just a little. Not a lot. But I think that we did understand a lot of the problems of the Navy, and even some of the simulated Navy people like Berkner, who was always pushing us to do new things. He went to the Pacific for three months, and when he came back, all he wanted to talk about was reliable connectors.

Nebeker:

I know that there were a lot of Rad Lab people out in the field.

Wiesner:

Yes. I think we got on very famously with the military. I never thought about it much — but afterwards that was one of the things we always remembered fondly.

Nebeker:

The generalization has been made that World War II and Rad Lab taught academic scientists, industry scientists, and the military that they could work together effectively.

Wiesner:

Yes, I think so. I think Radiation Lab did much more of that than Los Alamos, although they also had a lot of it. They had a bigger and surer project. Actually they had several labs. We had only one. They had one in Chicago, one in Oak Ridge, and one in Los Alamos. They were more dispersed.

Disagreements

Nebeker:

Do you remember, from your time on the steering committee or at other times, any major disagreements about what directions to be taken? Whether a project should be killed?

Wiesner:

No. Before I was involved in the steering committee, there was obviously a very bad fight between some of the people, not necessarily all on the steering committee, over what kinds of things to do, what kind of bombing radar, for example. But I was not involved with it, and I don't know that much about it. There even got to be some argument between Bell Labs and people in the Radiation Lab, but I had no part in that.

Nebeker:

Did there seem to be factions in the steering committee when you served?

Wiesner:

No. I don't think so.

Nebeker:

Is there anything you'd care to comment on about your years at Rad Lab?

Wiesner:

No.

Nebeker:

I gather that you look back on those years fondly?

Wiesner:

Oh, yes. I think everything we've talked about was part of this from my point of view. I was very lucky in being put to work with Zacharias. We became fast friends and worked together all our lives. He had a style of working that I liked. He let me alone, but not too much. He always found a way of talking about what you were doing. He always was a very thorough examiner. He wouldn't let anything go past not understood, which was good for me. Al Hill was also a good boss. So I've always felt I was just very, very lucky in where I landed.

Nebeker:

Well, thank you very much.