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== About Kathryn Fowler and Charles Fowler  ==
 
== About Kathryn Fowler and Charles Fowler  ==
  
Kathryn Foster graduated from the University of Illinois in 1943 with a degree in economics and history. She married Charles and followed him first to Gilfillan (in California) and then to Boston. She got a job at the [[MIT Radiation Laboratory Oral History Project|MIT Rad Lab]] in the Spring of 1944, first on an hourly basis and then as full-time staff. She worked for Paul Samuelson and Ralph Phillips, theoretical mathematicians in Division 8. She was one of 4 ladies calculating errors for the fire control in the 584 and Mark 56. She worked on Marchand mechanical calculating machines, drew graphs, and generally helped mathematicians. She ventured fairly little outside her job niche. She was essentially a homemaker after the war.  
+
Kathryn Foster graduated from the University of Illinois in 1943 with a degree in economics and history. She married Charles and followed him first to Gilfillan (in California) and then to Boston. She got a job at the [[MIT Rad Lab|MIT Rad Lab]] in the Spring of 1944, first on an hourly basis and then as full-time staff. She worked for Paul Samuelson and Ralph Phillips, theoretical mathematicians in Division 8. She was one of 4 ladies calculating errors for the fire control in the 584 and Mark 56. She worked on Marchand mechanical calculating machines, drew graphs, and generally helped mathematicians. She ventured fairly little outside her job niche. She was essentially a homemaker after the war.  
  
Charles Fowler graduated from the University of Illinois in 1942 with a BS in engineering physics. He was dragooned by Wheeler Loomis into the Rad Lab, and began to work for them in June 1942. He worked on the Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) system under Luis Alvarez, Johnston, and later George Comstock. He was a junior engineer, trying to get the basic systems (already worked out by Alvarez and Johnston) to function properly. He took a great many trips—for demonstration tests, to Gilfillan and Bendix to get the GCA in proper production, to England twice (1943, 1944-45) for field trials and installations of actual production units. Towards the end of the war he got interested in air-traffic control radars, and became project engineer for that project until the Air Force took it over at the end of 1945. He went to work at Airborne Instruments Lab after the war.  
+
Charles Fowler graduated from the University of Illinois in 1942 with a BS in engineering physics. He was dragooned by Wheeler Loomis into the Rad Lab, and began to work for them in June 1942. He worked on the Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) system under [[Luis Walter Alvarez|Luis Alvarez]], [[Oral-History:Lawrence Johnston|Johnston]], and later George Comstock. He was a junior engineer, trying to get the basic systems (already worked out by Alvarez and Johnston) to function properly. He took a great many trips—for demonstration tests, to Gilfillan and Bendix to get the GCA in proper production, to England twice (1943, 1944-45) for field trials and installations of actual production units. Towards the end of the war he got interested in air-traffic control radars, and became project engineer for that project until the Air Force took it over at the end of 1945. He went to work at Airborne Instruments Lab after the war.  
 
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== About the Interview  ==
 
== About the Interview  ==
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Kathryn Fowler and Charles "Bert" Fowler, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
 
Kathryn Fowler and Charles "Bert" Fowler, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
 
<br>
 
  
 
== Interview  ==
 
== Interview  ==
  
Interview: Kathryn Fowler and Charles "Bert" Fowler <br>Interviewer: Andrew Goldstein <br>Date: 14 June 1991 <br>Location: Boston, Massachusetts<br>
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Interview: Kathryn Fowler and Charles "Bert" Fowler  
 +
 
 +
Interviewer: Andrew Goldstein  
 +
 
 +
Date: 14 June 1991  
 +
 
 +
Location: Boston, Massachusetts  
  
 
=== Educational Backgrounds  ===
 
=== Educational Backgrounds  ===
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'''C. Fowler:'''  
 
'''C. Fowler:'''  
  
I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1942 in engineering physics, which is a marvelous curriculum because if you're in a conversation with some engineers and you don't understand, you can always claim you're a physicist, and vice versa. I put that to good use in my long and undistinguished career. I had signed an agreement to go to work for Rohm &amp; Haas in Philadelphia. They make Plexiglass. I was going to be one of their resident physicists. The chairman of the department of physics at the University of Illinois was F. Wheeler Loomis, who was also an associate director of MIT Radiation Lab. I happened to see him about three days after I had accepted the offer at Rohm &amp; Haas. I don't know whether all academics are the same, but most of them I've dealt with call you by your last name if you're a student. He said, "Fowler, come into the office." I go in there, and he says, "You're going to the MIT Radiation Lab. Well, I can't." I said, "I've just accepted the job at Rohm &amp; Haas." He said, "Who the hell are they?" I told him, and he said, "No, you're not going there. You're going to Radiation Lab." I said, "Dr. Loomis, I sent a letter of acceptance two days ago." He said, "Don't worry about that. What's the name of the company again? I'll take care of that. You're going to Radiation Lab." So I and a fellow named Norman Colby agreed to room together, and we came here the first of June in 1942, both skipping graduation. He'd just got his master's, and I'd just got my B.S. As soon as we arrived here, we went two months to radar school, and then I went with the GCA program.  
+
I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1942 in engineering physics, which is a marvelous curriculum because if you're in a conversation with some engineers and you don't understand, you can always claim you're a physicist, and vice versa. I put that to good use in my long and undistinguished career. I had signed an agreement to go to work for Rohm &amp; Haas in Philadelphia. They make Plexiglass. I was going to be one of their resident physicists. The chairman of the department of physics at the University of Illinois was F. Wheeler Loomis, who was also an associate director of [[MIT Rad Lab|MIT Radiation Lab]]. I happened to see him about three days after I had accepted the offer at Rohm &amp; Haas. I don't know whether all academics are the same, but most of them I've dealt with call you by your last name if you're a student. He said, "Fowler, come into the office." I go in there, and he says, "You're going to the MIT Radiation Lab. Well, I can't." I said, "I've just accepted the job at Rohm &amp; Haas." He said, "Who the hell are they?" I told him, and he said, "No, you're not going there. You're going to Radiation Lab." I said, "Dr. Loomis, I sent a letter of acceptance two days ago." He said, "Don't worry about that. What's the name of the company again? I'll take care of that. You're going to Radiation Lab." So I and a fellow named Norman Colby agreed to room together, and we came here the first of June in 1942, both skipping graduation. He'd just got his master's, and I'd just got my B.S. As soon as we arrived here, we went two months to radar school, and then I went with the GCA program.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''C. Fowler:'''  
 
'''C. Fowler:'''  
  
Well, not really. Engineering physics had three parts to it: it could either be electrical, geophysical, or something else. But I had chosen electrical so I was taking courses in electrical engineering as well as all the physics courses that were part of the curriculum. The last year they introduced a number of new courses aimed at microwaves. They were playing around with little homemade magnetrons, and crystal detectors.  
+
Well, not really. Engineering physics had three parts to it: it could either be electrical, geophysical, or something else. But I had chosen electrical so I was taking courses in electrical engineering as well as all the physics courses that were part of the curriculum. The last year they introduced a number of new courses aimed at microwaves. They were playing around with little homemade [[Cavity Magnetron|magnetrons]], and crystal detectors.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''C. Fowler:'''  
 
'''C. Fowler:'''  
  
That was in early '43. Alvarez went over a week ahead of us, and the rest of us went over in a Pan Am Clipper. Bob Hope and Francis Langford were on it and provided entertainment. I have lots of stories about that. When we landed in Ireland, they called out our names as special people, and we were put on a plane and rushed over to England. The rest of them waited around for a while, and Hope wrote in his book about these mysterious young men who looked like the back field of a losing football team. I was the last of the group to come back. Luis came first, and a couple of the guys that had babies on the way went home. And then George Comstock. He became our boss after Alvarez and Johnston went off to work on the atomic bomb. So I was the surviving one; of the RLers. By the way, that's where I first met Arthur Clarke. He's been a long-time correspondent and friend.  
+
That was in early '43. Alvarez went over a week ahead of us, and the rest of us went over in a Pan Am Clipper. Bob Hope and Francis Langford were on it and provided entertainment. I have lots of stories about that. When we landed in Ireland, they called out our names as special people, and we were put on a plane and rushed over to England. The rest of them waited around for a while, and Hope wrote in his book about these mysterious young men who looked like the back field of a losing football team. I was the last of the group to come back. Luis came first, and a couple of the guys that had babies on the way went home. And then George Comstock. He became our boss after Alvarez and Johnston went off to work on the atomic bomb. So I was the surviving one; of the RLers. By the way, that's where I first met [[Arthur C. Clarke|Arthur Clarke]]. He's been a long-time correspondent and friend.  
  
 
=== Job as a "Computer"  ===
 
=== Job as a "Computer"  ===
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'''C. Fowler:'''  
 
'''C. Fowler:'''  
  
You'd have to ask somebody else. Larry Johnston would probably know that.  
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You'd have to ask somebody else. [[Oral-History:Lawrence Johnston|Larry Johnston]] would probably know that.  
  
 
=== Background of GCA  ===
 
=== Background of GCA  ===
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'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 +
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<p><flashmp3>104 - fowler - clip 1.mp3</flashmp3></p>
  
 
Can you think of any of the examples where the military was reluctant to listen to the advice of the Rad Lab?  
 
Can you think of any of the examples where the military was reluctant to listen to the advice of the Rad Lab?  
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'''C. Fowler:'''  
 
'''C. Fowler:'''  
  
For all the Rad Labbers. I would say that most of the ideas for applying radar were from the Rad Lab people themselves and not from the military. As far as the original goals of Rad Lab, I don't know how they came about. It's probably told in Vannevar Bush's books. As far as thinking of applying this to this problem, such as Alvarez and his landing airplanes and so forth, my impression is that most of those come from civilians sitting around thinking.  
+
For all the Rad Labbers. I would say that most of the ideas for applying radar were from the Rad Lab people themselves and not from the military. As far as the original goals of Rad Lab, I don't know how they came about. It's probably told in [[Vannevar Bush|Vannevar Bush's]] books. As far as thinking of applying this to this problem, such as Alvarez and his landing airplanes and so forth, my impression is that most of those come from civilians sitting around thinking.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''C. Fowler:'''  
 
'''C. Fowler:'''  
  
There probably were, but there wasn't a group comparable to this group dealing with fire control. One thing I'd like to add about her group is Volume 25 or 26 or 27, as she mentioned earlier, called computing mechanisms linkages or something like that by this Anton Svoboda. He was an incredibly clever guy. I used to stop by to see her or pick her up, go home, or go out to dinner, so I got acquainted with him. He could design an analog computer with cams, levers, wheels and whatever that could do anything. Its functions were very complex. I know they had all kinds of trigonometric functions, square roots and things like that. If you look at that book, the ultimate of designing the buggy whip or something like that. It was immediately after the war that the first analog vacuum tube computer and then the digital computer came about. But he did this book, and all these great ideas, you know, in it that never came to anything after the MH 56 navy five control system.  
+
There probably were, but there wasn't a group comparable to this group dealing with fire control. One thing I'd like to add about her group is Volume 25 or 26 or 27, as she mentioned earlier, called computing mechanisms linkages or something like that by this [[Antonin Svoboda|Anton Svoboda]]. He was an incredibly clever guy. I used to stop by to see her or pick her up, go home, or go out to dinner, so I got acquainted with him. He could design an analog computer with cams, levers, wheels and whatever that could do anything. Its functions were very complex. I know they had all kinds of trigonometric functions, square roots and things like that. If you look at that book, the ultimate of designing the buggy whip or something like that. It was immediately after the war that the first analog vacuum tube computer and then the digital computer came about. But he did this book, and all these great ideas, you know, in it that never came to anything after the MH 56 navy five control system.  
  
 
There is a story about him. He was from the University of Prague. When Prague was freed, a number of his colleagues trying to reach him sent a message to a postmaster at New York City; they knew he was in this country. Or maybe it was Boston. I'm not sure. But it was addressed to him, and they said to help locate him that he was an authority on levers. It was sent to Lever Brothers. They make soap, you know, but they were down the river from MIT. The story goes that they placed a call to Harvard and then to MIT and located him in a matter of an hour or two. Whether that's true or not, I don't know. I'd love to think so.  
 
There is a story about him. He was from the University of Prague. When Prague was freed, a number of his colleagues trying to reach him sent a message to a postmaster at New York City; they knew he was in this country. Or maybe it was Boston. I'm not sure. But it was addressed to him, and they said to help locate him that he was an authority on levers. It was sent to Lever Brothers. They make soap, you know, but they were down the river from MIT. The story goes that they placed a call to Harvard and then to MIT and located him in a matter of an hour or two. Whether that's true or not, I don't know. I'd love to think so.  
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'''C. Fowler:'''  
 
'''C. Fowler:'''  
  
When I went there, you walked down the hall, and saw people you'd read about and assumed you'd never get anywhere near them. There was Ken Bainbridge walking down the hall, and Hansen (one of the inventors of the [[Klystron|klystron]]), Hans Bethe, Alvarez, and a number of others.  
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When I went there, you walked down the hall, and saw people you'd read about and assumed you'd never get anywhere near them. There was [[Oral-History:Kenneth T. Bainbridge|Ken Bainbridge]] walking down the hall, and Hansen (one of the inventors of the [[Klystron|klystron]]), Hans Bethe, [[Luis Walter Alvarez|Alvarez]], and a number of others.  
  
 
'''K. Fowler:'''  
 
'''K. Fowler:'''  
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'''C. Fowler:'''  
 
'''C. Fowler:'''  
  
I think so. When they passed out the stuff for this Rad Lab reunion, there was an issue of the AES/IEEE magazine that had an biography of John Pierce and of Alvarez. I wrote the introduction to the reprint of the biography that was included on Luis some time ago. They asked me to give a little update. I quote a guy who was a colleague of his, quoting Luis as saying that for every hundred ideas you have, only one is worth thinking about some more. And only one out of that hundred turns out to be something really worthwhile. In his own mind he would rattle off things, so he was used to screening them out himself, and he expected others to screen them, too.  
+
I think so. When they passed out the stuff for this Rad Lab reunion, there was an issue of the AES/IEEE magazine that had an biography of [[John Pierce|John Pierce]] and of Alvarez. I wrote the introduction to the reprint of the biography that was included on Luis some time ago. They asked me to give a little update. I quote a guy who was a colleague of his, quoting Luis as saying that for every hundred ideas you have, only one is worth thinking about some more. And only one out of that hundred turns out to be something really worthwhile. In his own mind he would rattle off things, so he was used to screening them out himself, and he expected others to screen them, too.  
  
 
'''K. Fowler:'''  
 
'''K. Fowler:'''  
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Thank you.  
 
Thank you.  
  
[[Category:People_and_organizations]] [[Category:Engineers]] [[Category:Inventors]] [[Category:Research_and_development_labs]] [[Category:Culture_and_society]] [[Category:Defense_&_security|Category:Defense_&amp;_security]] [[Category:Signals]] [[Category:Signal_detection]] [[Category:Radar_detection]] [[Category:World_War_II]] [[Category:Environment,_geoscience_&_remote_sensing|Category:Environment,_geoscience_&amp;_remote_sensing]] [[Category:Radar]] [[Category:Workplace]] [[Category:Workplace_diversity]] [[Category:Fields,_waves_&_electromagnetics|Category:Fields,_waves_&amp;_electromagnetics]] [[Category:Antennas]] [[Category:Microwave_technology]][[Category:News]]
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[[Category:People and organizations|Fowler]] [[Category:Engineers|Fowler]] [[Category:Inventors|Fowler]] [[Category:Research and development labs|Fowler]] [[Category:Culture and society|Fowler]] [[Category:Defense & security|Fowler]] [[Category:Signals|Fowler]] [[Category:Signal detection|Fowler]] [[Category:Radar detection|Fowler]] [[Category:World War II|Fowler]] [[Category:Environment, geoscience & remote sensing|Fowler]] [[Category:Radar|Fowler]] [[Category:Workplace|Fowler]] [[Category:Workplace diversity|Fowler]] [[Category:Fields, waves & electromagnetics|Fowler]] [[Category:Antennas|Fowler]] [[Category:Microwave technology|Fowler]] [[Category:News|Fowler]]

Revision as of 19:34, 28 March 2012

Contents

About Kathryn Fowler and Charles Fowler

Kathryn Foster graduated from the University of Illinois in 1943 with a degree in economics and history. She married Charles and followed him first to Gilfillan (in California) and then to Boston. She got a job at the MIT Rad Lab in the Spring of 1944, first on an hourly basis and then as full-time staff. She worked for Paul Samuelson and Ralph Phillips, theoretical mathematicians in Division 8. She was one of 4 ladies calculating errors for the fire control in the 584 and Mark 56. She worked on Marchand mechanical calculating machines, drew graphs, and generally helped mathematicians. She ventured fairly little outside her job niche. She was essentially a homemaker after the war.

Charles Fowler graduated from the University of Illinois in 1942 with a BS in engineering physics. He was dragooned by Wheeler Loomis into the Rad Lab, and began to work for them in June 1942. He worked on the Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) system under Luis Alvarez, Johnston, and later George Comstock. He was a junior engineer, trying to get the basic systems (already worked out by Alvarez and Johnston) to function properly. He took a great many trips—for demonstration tests, to Gilfillan and Bendix to get the GCA in proper production, to England twice (1943, 1944-45) for field trials and installations of actual production units. Towards the end of the war he got interested in air-traffic control radars, and became project engineer for that project until the Air Force took it over at the end of 1945. He went to work at Airborne Instruments Lab after the war.

About the Interview

KATHRYN FOWLER and CHARLES "BERT" FOWLER: An Interview Conducted by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, Fill in 14 June 1991

Interview # 104 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:

Kathryn Fowler and Charles "Bert" Fowler, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Kathryn Fowler and Charles "Bert" Fowler

Interviewer: Andrew Goldstein

Date: 14 June 1991

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Educational Backgrounds

Goldstein:

This is Andy Goldstein recording an interview with Charles and Kathryn Fowler at the Haines Convention Center in Boston on June 14, 1991. Let me thank the two of you for coming to speak with me today. I'd like to begin by asking you to describe your backgrounds, your education.

K. Fowler:

I graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in economics and history and was married soon after to Bert. I came here with him in 1943, went to work at the Radiation Lab in March or April of 1944, and was there until the end of November 1945.

C. Fowler:

I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1942 in engineering physics, which is a marvelous curriculum because if you're in a conversation with some engineers and you don't understand, you can always claim you're a physicist, and vice versa. I put that to good use in my long and undistinguished career. I had signed an agreement to go to work for Rohm & Haas in Philadelphia. They make Plexiglass. I was going to be one of their resident physicists. The chairman of the department of physics at the University of Illinois was F. Wheeler Loomis, who was also an associate director of MIT Radiation Lab. I happened to see him about three days after I had accepted the offer at Rohm & Haas. I don't know whether all academics are the same, but most of them I've dealt with call you by your last name if you're a student. He said, "Fowler, come into the office." I go in there, and he says, "You're going to the MIT Radiation Lab. Well, I can't." I said, "I've just accepted the job at Rohm & Haas." He said, "Who the hell are they?" I told him, and he said, "No, you're not going there. You're going to Radiation Lab." I said, "Dr. Loomis, I sent a letter of acceptance two days ago." He said, "Don't worry about that. What's the name of the company again? I'll take care of that. You're going to Radiation Lab." So I and a fellow named Norman Colby agreed to room together, and we came here the first of June in 1942, both skipping graduation. He'd just got his master's, and I'd just got my B.S. As soon as we arrived here, we went two months to radar school, and then I went with the GCA program.

Goldstein:

Was your work at the University of Illinois with Dr. Loomis or in any area that is related to radar?

C. Fowler:

Well, not really. Engineering physics had three parts to it: it could either be electrical, geophysical, or something else. But I had chosen electrical so I was taking courses in electrical engineering as well as all the physics courses that were part of the curriculum. The last year they introduced a number of new courses aimed at microwaves. They were playing around with little homemade magnetrons, and crystal detectors.

Goldstein:

Was that in '42?

C. Fowler:

Yes, starting in the fall of '41 and into the spring of '42. These were courses introduced for the first time that year, and we took them even though, as I say, none of us thought of going to Rad Lab. It was just microwaves, it sounded interesting and different, and a number of us were curious.

Introduction to Rad Lab

Goldstein:

Were you aware of the Rad Lab in '41 or the subject of radar when these courses were offered?

C. Fowler:

No. Not at all. It was called "microwaves," and it sounded new and interesting and different. Loomis was encouraging the batch of us to take those courses. Undoubtedly, he had in mind drafting us for Rad Lab.

Goldstein:

Was that how you became involved with Loomis?

C. Fowler:

Well, he was the head of the department, and I knew him for other reasons.

Goldstein:

And then you say you went to radar school when you arrived at Rad Lab?

C. Fowler:

They sent all the new arrivals two months to a three-month school that they had set up in the Hubbard Building near South Station. All the new Rad Lab staff members were sent there for two months to get an exposure to radar in its various aspects.

Goldstein:

Did you also go to the radar school?

K. Fowler:

No. It's obvious that I went to Rad Lab after we were married. That's the reason I was there. I didn't even know the word "radar." But at first I was an hourly employee. They didn't know for sure where I belonged. I'd had some college math and economics, so they put me with a group of theoretical mathematicians — Paul Samuelson, an economist mathematician, and Ralph Phillips, who was the head of the group that I was in. There were four of us ladies there doing calculations for the errors in the fire control in the 584 and the Mark 56 particularly. We worked on Marchand mechanical calculating machines, would draw the graphs to show them where the errors were, and so on. So we were really the helpers for these mathematicians. After a couple of months I was made a staff member. So I didn't punch a time clock anymore.

Goldstein:

When did you arrive at Rad Lab?

K. Fowler:

In the spring of '44. We were married in '43 in the fall, but he was assigned to go to California with Gilfillan Brothers, where they were working on the production version of the ground-control approach. So we both went to California for a few months, and then we came back. At any rate, I did eventually go to work there. We lived in an apartment on The Fenway in Boston. In those days not only could we not afford a car, but there was no gas to be had. So we bought bicycles, we rode across the bridge to MIT each morning, and I found it just one of the most exciting and invigorating places in the world to be. Everyone was so interested and excited about what they were doing there that no one minded the long hours. We'd get there early and go home late. We just had to worry about trying to get some food with our food stamps. But it was really just fine. I stayed with that group to the end of the war.

Goldstein:

Was there any difficulty finding a position for you when you came here to Massachusetts to be with your husband?

K. Fowler:

Well, I didn't look for any other job. I went there. But, as I say, they didn't know for sure where to put me, so they put me with this group because I'd had some college math. And it worked out fine. I got along very well with the people I worked for and worked with. That was in Division 8, working for Ralph Phillips and the special group of mathematicians called theoretical mathematicians. They were working on the different formulas for the radar.

Goldstein:

How aware were you of Bert's work prior to your arrival at Rad Lab?

K. Fowler:

Not at all. I only knew that he was going overseas — you went overseas for about five months in the beginning? I graduated a year after he did. He was in England, and I had no idea of the GCA.

Ground Control Approach

Goldstein:

You'd been working on GCA from the time you got there?

C. Fowler:

After my two months I was assigned to GCA with Luis Alvarez. We got what was called the Mark I, which was the first system working. We sold the program to the Army Air Corps and the Navy. Then we took it to England for trials with the RAF. A small group headed by Alvarez went to England, and I was one of the five Americans who went over to meet with the RAF to try it out. Then when I came back, we got married, and then I went to Gilfillan who was producing the GCA. They were building 10 pre-production models. One of the things that the Rad Lab did, very wisely, was whenever they developed something, they didn't build just one, they built several. So you find that more than one radar type made the war only because Rad Lab built several copies. For example, there were four or five MEWs all hand-made at Rad Lab. It always takes a while to crank up to produce something. The first production models of the MEW arrived in the Pacific Theater, I believe, a week before or after the war was over.

Anyhow, the GCA Rad Lab had ordered ten pre-production GCAs, and those got a head start on everything for training and the schools, including working out the bugs. They sent us, Rad Lab junior engineers and physicists, out there to help Gilfillan get this thing into production. Looking back on this effort I concluded we never set them back more than six months.

Goldstein:

What sorts of things were you doing? What did the Rad Lab want you to do? What did Gilfillan want you to do?

C. Fowler:

We just helped out wherever we could. There were a lot of things that we had done here that they didn't know too much about. I was involved mainly with the antennas. Once the system was pulled together, the small Rad Lab crew got it all working and ran some approaches and things like that.

Goldstein:

You say you were working on the GCA at Rad Lab until 1943. Then you went overseas and came back.

C. Fowler:

And then went to Gilfillan in early November '43. Then back to Rad Lab about March 4th and in late '44 back to Europe.

Goldstein:

What had you been working on prior to going overseas, before production? Were you designing the antennas?

C. Fowler:

I was working on the GCA, and I was involved in getting the radars going. It had two separate radars. As well as displays and communications. I worked on antennas some and a lot on making the whole system work. I used to say I was the junior engineer who swept the floor and stuff like that.

Goldstein:

Who were you reporting to?

C. Fowler:

Well, it was an interesting organization. Alvarez was the head of the division, which included the GCA, the MEW, and the Eagle.

K. Fowler:

What division number was that?

C. Fowler:

Seven. It was created for Luis Alvarez to contain all his ideas. A very creative individual. If you haven't read his autobiography, you ought to. Remarkable man. A young student of his, Larry Johnston, was the project engineer. So in theory each worked for Larry. But we also had a lot of direct dealings with Alvarez because he was interested in this project. So you could really say most of us were working directly for Luis, at least those of us who were involved in making the whole system pull together. In other words, we'd take the Mark I GCA to various places and try it out, figure out procedure, find bugs and fix them, and change things to make it more usable. So I was involved with that. We started with an old truck we had with a breadboard transmitter/receiver — an antenna that you had to turn by hand crank. This test setup was used to verify that the radar system could see an airplane near the ground as well as far out. We also made changes to improve the system. This was followed by the old Mark I. A complete GCA system with a mechanical scanning antennas which was used in the demos which sold the system. We then put together quickly what we called the Mark II, which was the system that went eventually into production. We were all involved in getting that working. As soon as we got that working and demonstrated it, we identified a lot of the bugs and fixed those, gave the information to Gilfillan, then one part of us took off for England.

Goldstein:

When was that?

C. Fowler:

That was in early '43. Alvarez went over a week ahead of us, and the rest of us went over in a Pan Am Clipper. Bob Hope and Francis Langford were on it and provided entertainment. I have lots of stories about that. When we landed in Ireland, they called out our names as special people, and we were put on a plane and rushed over to England. The rest of them waited around for a while, and Hope wrote in his book about these mysterious young men who looked like the back field of a losing football team. I was the last of the group to come back. Luis came first, and a couple of the guys that had babies on the way went home. And then George Comstock. He became our boss after Alvarez and Johnston went off to work on the atomic bomb. So I was the surviving one; of the RLers. By the way, that's where I first met Arthur Clarke. He's been a long-time correspondent and friend.

Job as a "Computer"

C. Fowler:

Anyhow, when I came back from Europe, Kathryn and I were married and went to Los Angeles to "help" Gilfillan. When we came back, she went to look for a job and talked to Rad Lab. She was really interested in wiring. She thought that would be neat to wire these circuits.

K. Fowler:

I'd seen women working on these little wires.

C. Fowler:

But when they saw her background, they said, "no, you should work with the mathematicians." Then as soon as she worked there a month or two, they made her a staff member.

K. Fowler:

I was called a computer. Bert said I was the only person he's ever known who was literally displaced by a machine.

Interactions with Private Industry

Goldstein:

While you were working on the GCA, before you went to England and before it was sent to Gilfillan, did you have any interactions with industrial suppliers or potential manufacturers?

C. Fowler:

One of the smart things again that Alvarez and the Lab did was they brought in industry early on. So from the time I arrived, we were putting together everything: drawings and experimental stuff. Gilfillan people were there as we put everything together for the Mark I GCA. They had hired a guy named Homer Tasker. I think he was the associate head of Sound at Paramount Pictures. A brilliant engineer, a remarkable man. In fact, it turned out, I read later, that he had invented grid-focusing of cathode ray tubes; he had the original patent on that. They used to focus them by adjusting the filament voltage. Are you familiar with these terms?

Goldstein:

Yes. Feel free to be technical.

C. Fowler:

Okay. When I read about this and asked him — he said, "Yes. Just as you begin to get the beam nice and sharp, you burn out the filament. So then you had to take the tube apart and put in a new filament and a new cathode and so forth." He got concerned about it one day and went through the optics at the electron beam. He figured out if he put a grid in the right place he could accomplish the focussing. Anyhow, he and two or three others from Gilfillan were at Rad Lab working with us, and Homer himself was a major contributor to the GCA, much more so than many of us. He was the chief engineer of Gilfillan, and he brought two or three of the regular Gilfillan engineers that somebody had hired, and they worked hand-in-glove with us. They were with us when we made the final demonstrations at the Washington National Airport.

Goldstein:

Was it already definite that they would be the manufacturer?

C. Fowler:

They had been selected early on to build the ten units that OSRD had ordered. When the demonstrations were successful in Washington in February of '43, the Army Air Corps then placed an order for a hundred production units. Later on the Navy went to Bendix for their production and the Air Corps decided that they needed more than Gilfillan could produce so they also contracted with ITT in New Jersey.

Goldstein:

I just want to be sure I understand the sequence: The Rad Lab had been working on the GCA with the assistance of Gilfillan, and then an order was put in for ten pre-production models? Or did Gilfillan only became involved when a Rad Lab design was ordered for pre-production?

C. Fowler:

You'd have to ask somebody else. Larry Johnston would probably know that.

Background of GCA

K. Fowler:

I have a question. Was the GCA already underway by the time you got there?

C. Fowler:

It has a long history. Alvarez was a pilot. Again, Johnston could tell you much better than I could because he was there during all of this. Luis had the idea that if you could track an airplane to shoot it down, you could track it for landing. So somebody tracked an airplane coming into an airstrip — I don't know whether it was here at Logan or not, with an SCR-584 which has automatic tracking. It tracked it all the way down to the touchdown and even roll. So Luis chose that as the radar for the GCA, called GCL in its early days — for "landing" rather than "approach," and this is the story behind that. But this was before I got there. They had already put together the necessary meters and things like that, and computing for offset. They took it down to Virginia. When they started running tests, they ran into what is called the "Lloyd mirror effect." When the plane got so low that the beam started dragging the ground, you began to see the image of the target in the ground. It actually is worse than just seeing the image separate because you get errors in the signal, very serious errors.

After several attempts, they realized that that radar would never work and that it was kind of a fluke that had tracked that airplane during the flight all the way down. But things like that happen. So Luis then set about to figure out how to do this, and that led to his going to X-band; very narrow beams didn't have that problem. A very tall aperture (14 feet) at X-band gives a half degree beam compared to a 4o beam in the 584. The GCA had 1/2 a degree elevation beam and 1o azimuth beam.

So the basic idea was underway when I arrived here. But they were trying out various pieces of parts. As I said, I and Eric Wallin were at East Boston Airport, having A/C approaches come in to make sure that the precision systems worked that you could see the planes far enough and also near the ground. Then the whole team began to put the Mark I together in two trucks. I was one of the group who figured out how to make it work with a landing system. So I was there after the basic system design had been spelled out by Alvarez and Johnston.

Then there was a small crew of us that took it to various places to try out and see if we could really land airplanes, work out the procedure, and things like that. We also had military involvement with the Navy pilots and Bruce Griffin. There was one squadron in the whole Navy that were noncommissioned officer pilots. When Luis saw that Bruce Griffin was a very skilled pilot, he latched on to him and got him promoted to an ensign. So there was involvement. Bruce was with us all the way through as the pilot. We had other test pilots assigned to us. And Luis himself used to fly.

Somewhere in the early days before I arrived they had picked a company, Gilfillan, and contracted with them to build ten of these pre-production units. So that choice was made early on before the Mark I was even put together.

Goldstein:

Before it was operational?

Mark II and Alvarez Scanners

C. Fowler:

Not only not operational. It hadn't even been assembled. Further, Rad Lab would only build just a quick test of the so-called Mark II, which used two of the Alvarez scanners.

Goldstein:

I'm not familiar with them.

C. Fowler:

The GCA had 2 radars — a search radar on the roof and a precision radar. Mark I had used two mechanical scanning precision antennas, one for azimuth and one for elevation — each scanned a narrow sector. (The search antenna rotated 3600 continuously. One precision antenna, 14-foot long elevation antenna, nodded from plus 7 degrees to minus 1 degrees. The other, 8' long azimuth antenna scanned a total of 20 degrees around the direction of the approach. Both were mechanically scanned in the Mark I and consisted of a cylindrical reflector 2 1/2' x 14' for the elevation antenna and 4'x8' for the azimuth fed by a long linear wave guide array of dipoler.)

The Mark II used variable waveguide width scanners. As the width of the waveguide was changed, wavelength in the guide changed; and this caused the beam that scanned the elevation to have about 150 little dipoles and azimuth 120. That was an Alvarez invention called a variable waveguide width scanner. Randy Robertson and Roger Clapp were heavily involved in the detailed development of these scanners for GCA and the APQ-7 Eagle radar. The decision was made to go to those scanners in the pre-production and the production models, assuming there would be production. Again, that was made by the time I arrived. Work was going along on those scanners and also on a different kind of display.

Goldstein:

Were they working on the Mark II when you arrived?

C. Fowler:

They were working on the antennas. In fact, I got involved in a lot of that work on antennas. That was going on while the Mark I was being assembled. So all kinds of things were being done in parallel. Thank goodness, because we barely made the war as it was with the production units. I think we had eight in Europe, a couple in the Aleutians, and maybe a dozen in the Pacific Theater about the time the war ended.

K. Fowler:

But the ones you took over that were not production models did a good job. I mean, they were used.

C. Fowler:

The Alvarez group that went to England in '43 took the Mark I. The ten pre-production units were not used in the field. The second time I went over with Al Albrecht was with the production units in late '44 and '45.

K. Fowler:

Oh.

C. Fowler:

I did a paper some years later and pointed out that we probably could have had three or four times as many GCA bad-weather days had we used the pre-production units in the theaters. That's why with the MEW, as I mentioned earlier, only the handmade model made it through the war.

Goldstein:

Was it suggested that they be employed in service?

C. Fowler:

I'm sure somebody debated that, but I was not involved. The whole focus was production, lots of units. People were thinking of a longer war.

Goldstein:

Did the team from Gilfillan have any input into the design? Were they actively involved in tinkering with it?

C. Fowler:

Yes, a little bit. Mainly this guy Tasker. He was a great idea man. He had lots of suggestions, ideas, and so forth.

Goldstein:

What sort of things did he suggest?

C. Fowler:

He was certainly a co-inventor. A couple of Rad Lab people and Homer were involved in the new displays that were used in the production units. Then, after the war, Homer came up with a third kind of display, which was even better. That was at least one way he contributed. There were a lot of little ways that I can't specifically identify. For almost every problem or issue that we ran into, Homer was kept informed and seemed to always to give some worthwhile suggestion or idea.

Internal Communication and Seminars

Goldstein:

I'm interested in comparing the two of your experiences in your understanding of the scope of operation of the Rad Lab. You [Katherine] were working with the theoretical math group, and you [Bert] were involved in a design group. I'm aware that there were weekly seminars where people were briefed on the different projects at work. Did you attend these? Did you compare your assignments?

K. Fowler:

I have to tell you I was closeted in that little room with my little machine and the other ladies there. Most of the time I hardly knew any of the other people in the division. Dr. Getting was the head of Division 8 at that time, and Ralph Phillips was the head of our group. We had Paul Samuelson, and we also had a Dr. Herewitz I don't know where he is now. But we had Dr. Anton Svoboda, who wrote the Rad Lab book on linkages. I helped him some in the drafting room with one of the draft tables with lights under it. He was a very exciting character. He was from Czechoslovakia, and as the war progressed, he'd come rushing in in the morning and say that the Russians had done so-and-so, because we were allies, of course, with the Russians. I really didn't go to any of the seminars. I really didn't learn much of anything.

C. Fowler:

You actually did. We went to two or three together of those Monday evening seminars.

K. Fowler:

The things I have forgotten!

C. Fowler:

I used to go to almost all of them.

K. Fowler:

I've forgotten. All I can say is the people in most cases were young, intelligent, and interesting people to be with.

C. Fowler:

She also not only had to pedal her bike back home, but she did the shopping and the cooking and the house cleaning. I was working nights an awful lot. I don't mean just days and evenings.

K. Fowler:

You went overseas again after we were married. My mother came up from Alabama to stay with me in the little apartment. We had, as I say, trouble shopping because there was not much available. You had to have coupons for meat. I remember begging this man at the little delicatessen after it was seven o'clock at night to sell me a couple of pork chops. But my experience at Rad Lab was completely positive.

Goldstein:

So you did go to the seminars?

C. Fowler:

Yes. I particularly went whenever I was in town.

GCA and Air-Traffic Control

C. Fowler:

I was away a good part of the time. Once we got the GCA working, we went to Quonsett, then we went to Charlestown, then we down to Washington to "sell" it, and then to England. Then I was out at Gilfillan. After we came back in March or April of '44, and Kathryn went to work, I got called back to Gilfillan and also went to other places — Bendix for example. We started some redesigns, there were problems that Gilfillan would have, and we would work on them back there. I remember writing a report on how to solve the "pulling problem." In the GCA there are differences in impedances between the azimuth and the elevation antenna plus variations during the scan; the magnetrons "pull" in frequency. So I devised three ways of fixing that problem, and they were incorporated in the production model. I was only one of many people back at Rad Lab who worked on problems that showed up at Gilfillan and Bendix.

Then when the GCA's were going to Europe, Gilfillan sent Al Albrecht. He'd been at Rad Lab, lost his wife, then went to Gilfillan to work. They wanted to send people over to help introduce any new radars into the theater. Al went over with the understanding that I'd join him a month or two later in Europe. I went over the 1st of December of '44 to Europe and was there until the war ended, a couple of weeks after that. While we were there, Albrecht and I kept writing back that the landing system was great but there were service air traffic control problems. All these airplanes would come barreling back at one time, and if the weather was bad, trying to space them evenly to be landed by the precision system was a more serious problem than we'd all thought about. We had a lot of communications back and forth, so when I got back Rad Lab had started an air traffic control radar program. I was the project engineer on that.

Goldstein:

When was that?

C. Fowler:

I got back May '45, after the European war. The ATC system was the first radar system that combined a moving target indicator (MTI) video mapping, and had a whole batch of other features. It was organized to be able to handle a large number of airplanes and space them efficiently and safely onto the final approach to an airport.

Goldstein:

You became project engineer there when you returned. Had the project already been launched?

C. Fowler:

Yes. We were in communications with them; so I wasn't surprised. I knew what it was. They'd ordered parts for ten systems on the basis that these would be the units shipped to the Pacific Theater after we got the design finished. Then we ended. As project engineer I'd signed for all this stuff. We had miles of cable, hundreds of magnetrons, ten big reflector antennas, and so forth. When the property people came to settle up things, they had only one concern. I must have signed for a million dollars' worth of stuff, and in those times a million dollars would be like a hundred million today — at least fifty or so. But I had also signed for a Bolex movie camera, which we used to take scope photographs to analyze the data. Every rotation of the PPI would he exposed as one frame. We'd play it back at 24 frames per second, and we could see everything happening very quickly. It was a great analysis tool. But I remember the property office badgered the hell out of me for this $150 camera. Because that was really useful and had an identifiable peacetime value.

K. Fowler:

What happened to all that stuff?

C. Fowler:

Well, I don't know. It went into surplus undoubtedly. We got the project running and ran a number of tests. Then the Air Force picked it up, and hired a member of our group, Ben Greene, to run the program. Ben was one of the originals of Alvarez's GCA gang. He was hired as a technician but promoted to staff member, as was another extraordinarily good technician Eric Wallin. Let me say that the program moved to the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory. I think it was later CRC — but it was CRL then.

Anyhow, they tried to get me to go with it to pick up the program, and I didn't want to do that. But Ben Greene did agree to go. Ben not only finished that up, but went on to create a number of other air traffic control systems. It's hard to believe, but over 30 years ago he had an automated system that accurately spaced airplanes coming into an airport, and the FAA doesn't have such a capability today.

K. Fowler:

What did they ever do with it? Why don't they resurrect it?

C. Fowler:

Well, you know, it was back to analog computers and all that stuff. Not invented here, etc.

K. Fowler:

You and Al both got involved in air traffic control afterwards.

Contracts with Private Industry

Goldstein:

You mentioned Bendix before. What was Bendix's involvement?

C. Fowler:

The Navy contracted with Bendix to build their GCA.

Goldstein:

Was the Army with Gilfillan?

C. Fowler:

The Army Air Corps had Gilfillan, and then later added ITT. They ordered several hundred.

Goldstein:

Was that considered inefficient?

C. Fowler:

I don't think so. Gilfillan was disappointed that they didn't get them all, but they probably couldn't have handled all of them. Bendix was the Navy, and then, as I say, ITT was added as another source for the Air Force. They were grinding those things out at a furious rate. Within a year after the end of the war, I guess there were several hundred or more of the GCA's available.

Goldstein:

Was the Rad Lab involved in contract negotiations with the Navy and Bendix? Or was that strictly their affair?

C. Fowler:

That was their affair, as far as I know. Rad Lab was clearly involved with Gilfillan, on the OSRD order for 10 systems. The production, however, was between the Air Signal Corps and Gilfillan.

K. Fowler:

Gilfillan is still in existence, isn't it?

C. Fowler:

It's part of ITT now. It's called ITT-Gilfillan.

Goldstein:

All the equipment that you had purchased to prepare the air traffic controlling system, were they from local suppliers?

C. Fowler:

Yes, mainly.

Goldstein:

What was the procedure in procuring that equipment?

C. Fowler:

They had a purchasing department, and once you had the approval of the division director, then the decision to buy ten of these was approved by the front office almost pro forma.

Goldstein:

Really? You didn't have to supply a budget beforehand or indicate who your suppliers would be?

C. Fowler:

We did very little thinking about costs. The whole thing was to get the capability into the field.

I've been an active member of the Defense Science Board for a good many years — and last summer, I and several others proposed and are still pushing to get the Defense Department to move back in the direction of what we called fialdable brass board prototypes instead of the elaborate lengthy step-by-step linked procedures, we use today. The idea is once you've done an experiment to know you can do something, instead of one you might buy half a dozen or two dozen, and then get them out with the forces: into a tank, the artillery, or the infantry; or with an air wing or a ship or two. Then you not only work out the bugs, you make sure it's doing something useful. Sometimes if you just design it in the laboratory to get it out in the field, you find that by changing this a little, it would be much more useful. Or it would do something beyond what you had thought of. Not only that, the operational people evolve new tactics with new capability. So we've been pushing to get the "system" to do that because it's a much more efficient way to achieve new capabilities. When you do that, if you get in a crisis, you very often find those brass boards prototypes are very useful.

We gave our brief out on the last day of July, and in less than a week Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. So they listened to almost everything we said, and the U.S. did deploy a large number of new capabilities the old "Rad Lab way."

Interaction with Military

Goldstein:

Something you said intrigued me just a moment ago. Did the Rad Lab have much input to the military in determining their tactics given the new capabilities they were developing at Rad Lab?

C. Fowler:

Yes.

Goldstein:

Was it explicit? For instance, you mentioned air traffic control, there was a problem of coordination of incoming flights. Did only Rad Lab recognize that problem and seek to address it?

C. Fowler:

I don't want to speak in too great a generality. There were quite a number of the military people in the cases that I knew that were very interested in that interaction with the technical community. So if they saw a problem, they would very often come and talk with Rad Lab people about it. In many cases, the Rad Lab people would make suggestions to them. At least the people I dealt with were very receptive that way. Many of them were very creative. I heard tales about a lot of cases where there was resistance. But by-and-large, if you take the GCA, if you want to talk down an airplane, you've got to arrive at some procedures. You've got to know enough about the airplane and what speed it's coming in at, what its normal landing procedures are, and so forth. Those procedures were started by civilians with the help of this pilot, Bruce Griffin. As it went along, other Navy and Air Corps people came in. Once they realized it was going to go, they then sat down and organized a more bureaucratic but necessary set of procedures to go through because you're going to be dealing in most cases with a pilot who has never heard of the system, let alone landed on it. Most of the emergency landings — probably all but a very few — were made with people that had never even heard of the system.

K. Fowler:

Some were resistant, too, were they not?

C. Fowler:

Oh, gosh, yes. But those were the exceptions. If the guy's up there and in trouble, any old help was more than he had.

Goldstein:

Can you think of any of the examples where the military was reluctant to listen to the advice of the Rad Lab?

C. Fowler:

I guess I really can't. I've just heard people make that comment. Before the GCA's went to Europe, the Army Airways Communications Service (AACS) was there. They had devised an air traffic control system. But it was based on places like Texas, where there was an airport here, and a hundred miles away there's another airport, or something like that. When they got over to England, of course there's an airport about every five miles. The British had worked out how to handle traffic in this density. There was a big fight about how it should be handled. This is hearsay. Something that I heard when I got over there. Instead of adopting the British system, they went to the mat and argued for the U.S., approach. Fortunately they lost. I guess they weren't very gallant in accepting the decision and so they were banned from the continent. When the first GCA arrived there, this was their first chance to get back in the theater of operations in Paris.

Albrecht and I and a captain and three sergeants got assigned to help introduce the new equipment. That was a very good operation. We took the equipment waiting for the crews to the first airfield assigned. The crew was going to be a second lieutenant and 16 men, and AACS assigned a first lieutenant and 17 men to administer this crew. They set up this great big communications post supposedly to help the crew. I remember looking at the traffic. About 90 percent of it was keeping care of their own crew. They never really believed in the GCA. They had tied their fate to what was in those days called the SCS-51. It was a beam landing system. In fact, it's successor a couple of generations updated is what the airlines use commercially now.

K. Fowler:

Arthur Clarke was one of the British involved in all this, but he believed in it, didn't he?

C. Fowler:

Oh, yes. Well, the British were very strongly behind it. And most of the Americans were. But the folks I can think of that were against it were this AACS group in Europe. They were very good in the Pacific. All the GCA's were assigned to them in both theaters.

Goldstein:

Did the military ever show films or give reports on what the situation was on the battlefields in order to stimulate ideas on the part of the Rad Lab staff to develop equipment?

C. Fowler:

Well, the closest I can think of to anything like that is they had a couple of seminars on radar operations that dealt with the environment. I remember a talk by a naval officer. When depth charges go off near to ships, the electronics are subjected to shock. He was pleading for more rugged equipment and testing it for shock, vibration, and things like that. I don't think it was a seminar, but I remember we had discussions that dealt with the miserable conditions our ground troops lived under.

Goldstein:

Was this for all the groups or just yours?

C. Fowler:

For all the Rad Labbers. I would say that most of the ideas for applying radar were from the Rad Lab people themselves and not from the military. As far as the original goals of Rad Lab, I don't know how they came about. It's probably told in Vannevar Bush's books. As far as thinking of applying this to this problem, such as Alvarez and his landing airplanes and so forth, my impression is that most of those come from civilians sitting around thinking.

Goldstein:

But not at the grassroots level? Not by the Rad Lab engineers?

C. Fowler:

By Rad Lab engineers.

Goldstein:

Oh?

C. Fowler:

Yes, like Alvarez, you know. Or like Mike Chaffee when they built the long-range radar. They were the ones that thought of using radar for offensive air and not just defensive. Part of the selling of the MEW, as I understand it, was the decision to control offensive air. Rad Lab people with the 584 converted one or two sets to what was called close-control bombing. They would fly a U.S. airplane, track him, and with a computer calculate the trajectory of the bomb. So if you wanted to bomb close to the vicinity of the troops, you could bomb much more precisely in all weather by controlling with the 584. There was a plotting board that showed exactly where the troops were. Again, my impression is that they lived with the troops, and they noticed there was no close air support when the weather was bad. Then somebody from Rad Lab said, "Gee, we could do that using the 584 and put it in reverse. Instead of tracking enemy aircraft to shoot it down, we could control one of our own, and then tell it when to drop the bomb." To do that you need to know the ballistics of the bomb, a lot of that went on. We used the GCA search radar as an air raid warning radar in several tests.

Goldstein:

Did you ever discuss the strategic usefulness of the things you were working on?

C. Fowler:

In what way do you mean?

Goldstein:

Did you ever take time to consider the value of the system you were developing in terms of his military application?

C. Fowler:

With the GCA, of course, it was obvious, a landing system that handles bad-weather landing. We helped an awful lot on air traffic control. When I left Europe, I had arranged for a couple of civilians, one from Rad Lab and one from Gilfillan. Albrecht and I had been there a long time and had seen that, and we had two others who joined us for these. I had arranged for them to be involved, and work with the Air Forces over there, to run a series of tests in air traffic control. It was set for two reasons. One, we could use the information for follow-up; and two, the commanders over there were looking for something to keep the guys busy and out of trouble, and here was a challenge. They could get up and fly for a reason. Also, there was the challenging problem of trying to do somewhat better — air traffic control with spacing to the GCA prior to the availability of the ATC system that we had just started to develop at the Rad Lab. I don't know if that answers your question.

Women at Rad Lab

Goldstein:

I was thinking of the specific capabilities of a system. I want to turn the conversation over to your work [Kathryn]. What was your involvement with the organizational structure of Rad Lab? Do you have the same reaction to it as your husband? The impression I got was that they were fairly accommodating.

K. Fowler:

Oh, yes. As a woman, there were not that many women staff members there. I don't think there were too many. I don't know if you've talked with any others or not, but we were well treated, and well respected. Certainly I was by my bosses. But a lot of the people in our division hardly even knew us because we were in there all the time working on our little machines.

Goldstein:

Did you have to consult much with your supervisors to understand the calculations you were doing?

K. Fowler:

Yes. They were very good about explaining it. If they didn't explain it enough in the beginning, you could ask them. They were always very good and very helpful. We ended up with groups of numbers, would draw graphs, and make points on the graphs of where this particular error was with the 584. I knew so little about any of this when I got there. I remember saying, "Gee, you never did really hit anything, did you?" But they were always very close, and it was explained to me that they did a lot of damage anyway.

Goldstein:

Did you come to learn a lot about the system?

K. Fowler:

Not too much about the actual 584 or the Mark 56. Just simply the little job that we were doing.

Goldstein:

What were some of the requirements of your system? I understand that you didn't require an awful lot of hardware.

K. Fowler:

No.

Goldstein:

Or contact with manufacturers in some of the other groups. What were the special administrative concerns?

K. Fowler:

Only a machine that worked well. And plenty of graph paper and so on. The men were always there. We sat in one glassed-in room, and it was always very interesting to look in there. All these mathematicians sitting around quietly. Occasionally they would discuss with each other, but they worked on a lot of different basic new ideas. I guess that's what their function was. We seldom saw anybody else in the division except when we went to lunch.

Goldstein:

Were different techniques developed to perform these calculations? I'm wondering if their mathematical work was devoted toward numerical methods at arriving at the results they wanted. Or were they working on something else and asking you to perform calculations?

K. Fowler:

I don't really remember. I didn't understand the mathematics, to be honest with you. They were very good about explaining what they wanted from us, and I don't think any of us really understood the mathematics of it.

Goldstein:

You say you were working with three other women in your section?

K. Fowler:

Right.

Goldstein:

Were there parallel sections working on other theoretical projects?

K. Fowler:

I don't know. I don't think so. I think this was a kind of a unique group.

Goldstein:

Was there just the one squad of you four women working?

K. Fowler:

We had these two rooms, really, where they were and where we were, but it was kind of an open glassed area between us.

C. Fowler:

Division 8 was the only group that worked like that. There wasn't any in Division 7.

K. Fowler:

I don't know about any others.

Goldstein:

You mean no calculators in Division 7?

Anton Svoboda

C. Fowler:

There probably were, but there wasn't a group comparable to this group dealing with fire control. One thing I'd like to add about her group is Volume 25 or 26 or 27, as she mentioned earlier, called computing mechanisms linkages or something like that by this Anton Svoboda. He was an incredibly clever guy. I used to stop by to see her or pick her up, go home, or go out to dinner, so I got acquainted with him. He could design an analog computer with cams, levers, wheels and whatever that could do anything. Its functions were very complex. I know they had all kinds of trigonometric functions, square roots and things like that. If you look at that book, the ultimate of designing the buggy whip or something like that. It was immediately after the war that the first analog vacuum tube computer and then the digital computer came about. But he did this book, and all these great ideas, you know, in it that never came to anything after the MH 56 navy five control system.

There is a story about him. He was from the University of Prague. When Prague was freed, a number of his colleagues trying to reach him sent a message to a postmaster at New York City; they knew he was in this country. Or maybe it was Boston. I'm not sure. But it was addressed to him, and they said to help locate him that he was an authority on levers. It was sent to Lever Brothers. They make soap, you know, but they were down the river from MIT. The story goes that they placed a call to Harvard and then to MIT and located him in a matter of an hour or two. Whether that's true or not, I don't know. I'd love to think so.

K. Fowler:

He went back there after the war, to Czechoslovakia, and then we heard that he came back here. I always kind of wondered, with all the Russians' and the Czechoslovakians' problems. But I've heard that he came back here. Now I don't know where he is.

C. Fowler:

I think I heard he passed away.

K. Fowler:

Oh. You know, this is 48, 50 years ago.

Goldstein:

Right. So you were working on fire control because those were their problems in that?

C. Fowler:

And she did a lot of work on a computer for Svoboda. In fact, he mentions you in his volume, in his thanks to people.

K. Fowler:

He was just a delightful man, and he explained it all to me in this lighted drafting table that we were doing. Beautiful drafting he did.

Goldstein:

You mean that's used for preparing the volume — the drawings?

K. Fowler:

Well, this was part of his work while we were there. I guess it was preparing the volume, too.

C. Fowler:

And you did a large number of his calculations leading to those cams and levers and all that stuff. You ought to look at that volume.

K. Fowler:

Do we have one? We never got one.

End of War

Goldstein:

So when did you leave the Rad Lab? You say that you went off to Europe again in December of '45.

C. Fowler:

The first of December '44, and I came back to Rad Lab in May '45. I worked on the air traffic control system, and we both left the first of December '45. But the war was not on.

K. Fowler:

The war was finished.

Goldstein:

Right. And the Lab was shutting down.

K. Fowler:

Right.

C. Fowler:

The air traffic control project I had was one of three that was maintained until the official end. One of them was the Mark 56. So we were both on projects that were going full tilt to the last minute.

Postwar: Airborne Instruments Lab

Goldstein:

And where did you go after that?

C. Fowler:

To Long Island. I went with a company Airborne Instruments Lab.

K. Fowler:

They were working on landing systems and air traffic control. There was actually a choice we needed to make at that point. It was kind of a hard choice seeing as he got only a bachelor's at Illinois. The question was whether to go back to school for the Ph.D. or go with this new young company with exciting work and start our family. We did go down there and buy a little house and had two daughters.

Goldstein:

How did you become involved with this company? Was it through the Rad Lab?

C. Fowler:

Sort of. Airborne Instruments Lab had been an OSRD laboratory under Columbia Radiation Lab. It worked on magnetic anomaly detectors and some on electronic warfare. The associate director had the idea of forming a group that would become the technical voice of the airline industry. He talked to American Airlines and others, and they were interested. So he set about recruiting some people to stay on from the original AIL, getting some radar people from Rad Lab and the services. And getting some countermeasures people because he wanted to continue with the Navy countermeasures they had asked him to do. It was incorporated in late '45 as a private company. When they approached Rad Lab, one of the groups they went after were those of us that were in air traffic control and landing. So I and my immediate boss George Comstock went there along with about seven others from the Rad Lab. I really don't know how they picked the others.

K. Fowler:

And they went to Harvard's lab.

C. Fowler:

The same thing with the Harvard Radio Research Lab for countermeasures people. We became the technical voice of the airlines, then the airlines all started losing money and couldn't afford to fund us. So we went off and got business mainly in the defense area.

Luis Alvarez and Work Environment

Goldstein:

When you arrived at Rad Lab, you were working on the GCA as a junior-level engineer. But it sounds like you had a much more responsible position when you returned in '45 and began working on the air traffic control. Could you compare your experiences with regard to Rad Lab's management and administration in these two different authoritative positions?

C. Fowler:

Well, actually from the day I arrived I had a lot of responsibility, although I described myself as sweeping the floors. Much more so than industry gives people these days. It sort of grew, but I was not unique. I was just typical. The nature of the business and the way each physicist worked, why, you know, the small laboratories back in those days were where big projects were done. One was given something to do, and he did it. If he suggested something else, he would usually be allowed to go do it.

Goldstein:

Are you saying you had autonomy with regard to your work right from the beginning?

C. Fowler:

Oh, yes. I was given things to do, but very little direction from above. One of my favorite stories... I'm a great admirer of Alvarez. If you read one of those papers I left where I talk about him, we were moderately close over the years. Not real close, but we were always in touch. I was telling somebody that I was at Logan Airport, and we had a problem. We had a major change in the search antenna; the old system that we started off with wasn't adequate. We ran some tests and convinced ourselves we had to have something better. Our first cut wasn't working too well. Luis came out when I was looking at some performance data. He said, "Why don't you do this?" His mind worked in ways different from most mortals. He rattled off several quite interesting things to do. I didn't quite know what to do. So when I went back to MIT the next morning, I talked to one of the more senior guys, and asked him what I should do. He said, "Do you think it's a good idea?" and I said, "No, but who am I?" He said, "You don't think it's a good idea?" I said, "No." He said, "Then don't do it, forget it." He said, "If Luis mentions it a second time and you still don't think it's a good idea, don't do it. But," he said, "you'd better get your thoughts a little bit in order because if he mentions it a third time, you drop everything you're doing and work night and day until you have it finished."

K. Fowler:

I think there was a lot of respect for people, maybe more so than you'd find a lot of places. But people didn't really stand on ceremony or title, the way they might in some companies now.

C. Fowler:

The tone was set by the director, DuBridge. Everything was informal, first name. Anybody could talk to anybody and did. If you look at the Rad Lab series and other reports and assignments, you'll see some of the volumes, reports, by guys right out of school. Major contributions to theory and practice.

Goldstein:

Did you have management responsibilities in the air traffic control project?

C. Fowler:

Yes. I was the project engineer.

Goldstein:

Who were you reporting to?

C. Fowler:

I reported to George Comstock. He'd taken over from Alvarez for that part. Not as a division director, but as a group leader. I reported to him, and I had a half a dozen engineers and a few technicians working directly for me. Then we had pieces and parts being done elsewhere in the Lab. So we had another 30, 40, 50 people involved.

Goldstein:

So at that level in the organization, would the junior engineers ever speak directly to Comstock?

C. Fowler:

Oh, sure. All the way up. I worked for Comstock and worked for Johnston and worked for Alvarez. I had many interactions with Luis directly, as did others because he was interested in my work.

Goldstein:

That determined who you spoke to? Not the hierarchy of the organization, but who had some degree of expertise?

C. Fowler:

Yes. One day he came in when I was working on the bench. I had a microwave plumbing setup and was making some measurements. Luis came by, and he said, "Bert, Come along with me. Shut that down, I want to talk with you about this new TR box idea I've got." I hadn't even heard of it. There were a number of people around. When we were out of earshot, he said, "Actually, we're going to go sailing." [Laughter]

K. Fowler:

He sailed on the Charles in one of those little boats. One of our other favorite stories is one of our great friends from Rad Lab who worked in another division. He was a bachelor at the time and was always out living it up somewhere. He was also one of these guys who could fall asleep at the drop of a hat in the morning, afternoon, or anything. So he could go on all night long and be fit. Anyhow in those days the oscilloscopes had big rubber hoods so you could see the screen.

C. Fowler:

John Gray was his name. He was sitting on the stool, with his head in the hood looking at the scope. His boss came by and said, "How's it going, Gray?" and never got a response. He came back about ten minutes later, and John was in the exact same position. So he reached over and turned the scope off. John never budged. [Laughter] That's a great example of the informality of the environment.

K. Fowler:

We made good friends there, long-lasting friends.

C. Fowler:

We have one minor claim to distinction as a couple. We may be the only couple, with only slight exaggeration, whose first bosses each won the Nobel Prize. She worked for Paul Samuelson, and I worked for Alvarez.

Impact on Postwar Careers

Goldstein:

How would you say your Rad Lab experience affected your subsequent careers?

K. Fowler:

I really didn't have a career after we left here. I raised two daughters and never really worked again until we went to Washington. He was asked to go and be a deputy director of research at the Pentagon. I had a job one of the years we were down there in a bank in the mortgage department learning about mortgages. I've always worked with figures. Later I worked in the bookkeeping department at the Sealtest Corporation. Different jobs like that. But mostly volunteer work for hospitals and Girl Scouts and all that. But most women do that. I'm not doing anything now.

C. Fowler:

I think in my case it set the whole direction. I entered radar and electronics. Had I gone with Rohm & Haas, I would have been a physicist in the research department in something called "chemical materials."

Goldstein:

So the subject area certainly. But also perhaps your work style?

C. Fowler:

Yes. And that had both good and bad parts. AIL was very much the way Rad Lab was: informality, high regard for technical accomplishments, integrity of work, and very little standing on formality. Called the Laboratory, and we referred to it as the Lab, the way we did at Rad Lab.

K. Fowler:

We've several times made the statement that working at Rad Lab kind of spoiled you forever finding a job that good anywhere else.

Goldstein:

Were there really no frustrations in terms of the management of the place?

C. Fowler:

At Rad Lab? Not at our level. I'm sure there were at other levels.

K. Fowler:

There must have been, but I didn't know them.

C. Fowler:

When I went there, you walked down the hall, and saw people you'd read about and assumed you'd never get anywhere near them. There was Ken Bainbridge walking down the hall, and Hansen (one of the inventors of the klystron), Hans Bethe, Alvarez, and a number of others.

K. Fowler:

We were 22 and 23 years old then, right?

C. Fowler:

I went in when I was 21.

K. Fowler:

I was 22.

C. Fowler:

Anyhow, we didn't have any of those frustrations. It was well run in the sense of a set of priorities. Incredible time scales have been associated with a lot of government stuff. And it seems the defense business takes longer and longer with lots of friction as Congress and the Defense Department pile rule on top of rule and regulation on top of regulation.

K. Fowler:

Bureaucracy.

C. Fowler:

We just didn't have any of that. I didn't have any of that with AIL either.

K. Fowler:

Was there no tendency towards anarchy? You think that that would be an unfortunate result of very little supervision. People were well coordinated in their efforts?

C. Fowler:

Everybody was so focused on winning the war and doing right. I will say this: until I came to Rad Lab, I always had this impression, particularly of a scientist, of being very objective, very open-minded, very solicitous of everybody else's ideas, and always trying to get to the truth. You quickly learn that guys have ideas they believe in fervently, and they'll do anything they can to make them work. Like anybody that got in Luis Alvarez's way on the GCA was in for one hell of a fight.

Goldstein:

But then the story you tell there: You were permitted to pursue your own idea about it until he demonstrated that he was, in fact, adamant about it. Was that a peculiarity of his character?

C. Fowler:

I think so. When they passed out the stuff for this Rad Lab reunion, there was an issue of the AES/IEEE magazine that had an biography of John Pierce and of Alvarez. I wrote the introduction to the reprint of the biography that was included on Luis some time ago. They asked me to give a little update. I quote a guy who was a colleague of his, quoting Luis as saying that for every hundred ideas you have, only one is worth thinking about some more. And only one out of that hundred turns out to be something really worthwhile. In his own mind he would rattle off things, so he was used to screening them out himself, and he expected others to screen them, too.

K. Fowler:

He was trying them out on himself really.

C. Fowler:

Yes. He had that approach to things. If you'd dashed off and had done everything that Luis ever thought of, you would never have gotten anything done. Of course he didn't do that himself. So I think he was more that way than most people. There were divisions that were probably managed in a more structured way. But even there, from all I could tell, there was a great deal of informality, freedom of initiative.

K. Fowler:

There must have been some politics in there somewhere. Somebody pushing one thing over another.

C. Fowler:

Well, there were. You know, there was a group that was trying to push K-band instead of Eagle, and stuff like that. But that's a little different.

Relationship between Physicists and Engineers

Goldstein:

Let me open the microphone to you to offer any summations if you feel you'd like to.

K. Fowler:

I think I said it all. I said it was really a wonderful job to have, and I couldn't imagine having one that would be more rewarding than it. I'm sure a lot of it had to do with the fact that this war was something that everyone really felt we should give our all to.

C. Fowler:

I think one thing that stands out to me is the value of a broad technical education, illustrated by the fact that Rad Lab was really run by physicists, not engineers. I think there's a big lesson there. I'm in electronics. The half-life of that stuff is somewhere between five and ten years. That means whatever you know today, half of it, not counting what you forget, is not going to have any real applicability in something like five or ten years. So the importance of the education system is to concentrate on fundamentals and basic science and mathematics. I think that's one reason that the Rad Lab was so successful. Here's a whole new idea, and all these broadguaged physicists there the backbone of the whole operation.

Goldstein:

There's something you said that reminded me of a question I'd meant to ask earlier. As an engineering physicist, you straddled both camps. Did you detect a difference in the work style in the engineers versus the physicists at Rad Lab? Did you have a preference? Did you notice any tension between these traditions?

C. Fowler:

No. They were almost indistinguishable at my level. In fact, most of them were physicists or engineering physicists. Even the young people largely were physicists. It was clear when we went to Gilfillan that they were mostly engineers there. They were much more disciplined in settling on designs, releases, schedules, things like that. Even though we worked to very tight schedules and worked nights and weekends, we didn't have the discipline needed to do the job Gilfillan had to do. I've spent the bulk of my time since then in industry, and you wouldn't want to run an industrial operation the way you ran Rad Lab. You might run the research lab, if you had one, that way. On the other hand, when you're hiring people and bringing them in, you can teach them discipline and those kinds of things — scheduling and cost estimating — I think a lot easier than you can teach them to go back and learn some basic science.

Goldstein:

Thank you.