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Oral-History:Robert Friedel

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About Robert Friedel

Robert Friedel was born in 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. He studied the history of science and technology at Brown University, and for grad school decided to focus on the history of technology and its social relevance, starting a master’s at Imperial College London in 1971. Friedel began his doctorate at Northwestern, but after a year switched to a program at Johns Hopkins. He worked at the NASA summer history seminar in Washington, DC, and he also participated in a pre-doctoral fellowship program at the Smithsonian, where he researched his dissertation on the history of plastics – he received his doctorate from Hopkins in 1977. After graduating, Friedel became the first archivist at the Smithsonian’s Museum of History and Technology, where he created exhibits on themes like maritime history and Edison’s Electric Light. Friedel then taught briefly at what is now Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York before interviewing with the IEEE as the first director of the IEEE History Center, which began in August 1980. While director of the History Center, Friedel was a part of early major projects such as the Faraday/Maxwell traveling exhibit which started at Electro 1981, A Century of Electricals which was part of the IEEE Centennial celebrations, as well as the beginning of the History Center newsletter, Milestone program and the archival directions chosen for the Center. While at the IEEE, Friedel also taught part time at Cooper Union, and in 1984 Friedel left IEEE for a position as a historian of technology at the University of Maryland. Friedel has also been active in the Joint Committee on the Archives of Science and Technology (JCAST) and Society for the History of Technology (SHOT).

In this interview, Friedel talks about his education and career in the history of technology, although much of his discussion centers upon his time at the IEEE History Center. His early difficulty finding a program on the history of technology, leading him to Imperial College London for his master’s and later to Johns Hopkins self-directed program, as well as his fellowship at the Smithsonian, are all discussed. Friedel’s years at the Museum of History and Technology are covered, particularly his learning about exhibition building, especially with subjects he was not particularly familiar. He also talks about his reasons for interviewing with the IEEE, his interest in the position, and the importance of determining the History Center’s function. Friedel emphasizes the support from the History Committee and staff members, the seriousness with which the History Center project was taken, and the professionalism demanded of him by the Institute. The importance of models such as the AIP Center for History of Physics, as well as working with other important archives like MIT and the Smithsonian, are also discussed. Friedel also emphasized the importance of bringing in IEEE technical societies, sections, etc to work with the History Center for important projects, as well as providing help with the 1984 Centennial. The archive itself is also talked about as Friedel notes the important difference between an archive of a profession as a whole rather than of an organization, as well as the History Center’s decision to act as an archive broker instead of gathering materials itself. He also briefly discusses his decision to join the University of Maryland faculty, but emphasizes the importance his time at the IEEE has had on his career since. Friedel mentions various colleagues he had from his years at the IEEE including Bernard Finn, Eric Herz, Woody Gannett, Nancy Pearlman, Jack Ryder, Bob Casey, Joyce Bedi and Harold Chestnut.

About the Interview

ROBERT FRIEDEL: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, 11 November, 2010

Interview #562 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Inc. and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

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:

Robert Friedel, an oral history conducted in 2010 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Robert Friedel

Interviewer: Sheldon Hochheiser

Date: 11 November 2010

Location: Ashton, Maryland

Background and College

Hochheiser:

This is Sheldon Hochheiser of the IEEE History Center. It is November the 11th, 2010. I am here in Ashton, Maryland, with Robert Friedel, Professor at the University of Maryland and the first director of the History Center. Good morning.

Friedel:

Good morning.

Hochheiser:

If we could start with a little background. Where were you born and raised?

Friedel:

I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama - born in 1950 - and from a family that lived in Birmingham. My mother was an English teacher, my father was a salesman. And I went off to college, to Brown, and that's what sent me out of the south. Never really quite turned back after that. That's not an uncommon story. At Brown, well for some reason I caught the fever very early on to study the history of science and technology. This was the late 60's, so we're sort of in an undergraduate challenging mode there and Brown claimed to be accommodating to undergraduates who wanted to do things. So I sort of challenged them - I want to do history of science, because I like history. I've always liked history, but I learned in high school that I liked science and I wasn't that bad at it and so if I could, sort of do it without giving up one or the other. And so they said, well, sure, okay. We'll put something together and actually interestingly toward the end of that period, the end of the 60's, early 70's, I actually started moving toward technology because I was very interested in social relevance, very interested in what really makes a difference in society and how do I understand why the modern world is the way it is. So I started moving towards history of technology.

Graduate School, Smithsonian

And I decided to go to graduate school in history of technology. This would have been 1971. Not a whole lot of options out there on the table.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Friedel:

So I took a master's degree at Imperial College London, because you could, in fact, study the history of technology. Not just science and technology, you could actually focus on technology. That also has the virtue of having been my first exposure to science museums, which became an important part of my professional life.

Hochheiser:

Did you study under anyone in particular at Imperial?

Friedel:

I studied under Rupert and Marie Hall at Imperial. That was another part of the attraction - they had a pretty fine couple of people there. It was just a wonderful experience doing that. But I picked up the message fairly early on that if I was serious about an American academic career, at least the general wisdom was then, was that you did not take a British doctorate - you came back. And so I looked for a PhD program in the United States that would again allow me to sort of self-direct movement toward technology and again that was tough. I considered two or three, and the one that I chose was in some ways unfortunate, because it didn't work out, but it sent me in the direction that did work and that is I went to Northwestern for one year, where they had a program, an interdisciplinary program, very explicitly directed toward crossing the disciplines. But as often happened with interdisciplinary programs as I've discovered since then, it turned out that it was well funded by the NSF, but there was no real institutional foundation for it. So I ended up following one of the professors that had been recruited to Northwestern, when it was decided that wasn't going to work for a variety of reasons, to Johns Hopkins.

Hochheiser:

And who was that professor?

Friedel:

That was Bill Coleman, who interestingly enough was actually a historian in biology.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Friedel:

But Bill was perfectly happy. He could see I was a bit of a self-starter and said, okay, basically my job is to keep you honest and make sure that the standards are upheld. They had no history of technology at Hopkins, but Hopkins was the kind of place where that didn't bother them if it didn't bother me. It’s very interesting how that works. So that allowed me to pursue that within, again, a very self-directed sort of context that allowed me to pursue that direction without too much inhibition. And then Hopkins, being where it's located - when I had to figure out how to fund my PhD - I headed on down to the Smithsonian because they had a very fine pre-doctoral fellowship program. Even before I did that though, I had some exposure to Washington because in those days - and you may be familiar with this too - the NASA history office had what they called the NASA summer history seminar. And it wasn't really a seminar in any real sense, it was basically hiring PhDs, typically in history of science - I mean not PhDs, but graduate students.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Friedel:

In history of science, bringing them to Washington, paying them nice GS scale salaries for three months, on which I lived very royally for the next nine. When I did it, they basically said we want you to pursue whatever interesting project that had any relationship with aeronautics or space history. We're not going to tell you what to do, which I found initially dismaying, because I had nothing relating to air and space. This was part of their intention, and in a very indirect way that actually helped lay the groundwork for my doctoral research. When I headed down to the Smithsonian, I had some ideas about the history of new materials and materials innovation. So I went to the curator of chemistry, John Eklund, [at] that time, and I said, John, I have this idea and John basically said well, you know, that really doesn't relate to our collection very well. It's an interesting idea conceptually, but we have this other collection over here having to do with plastics and if you would rewrite your proposal with that in mind, we might be able to get somewhere. I said I can be bought. I have no pride here. That's what brought me down to the Smithsonian, which is an important part of this story, because it can explain how I ended up where I ended up without having that filled in. When I finished my dissertation research and writing, which I did pretty quickly in about 10 months, I was, like any sensible person looking for a job.

Hochheiser:

Now did you do your dissertation under Bill Coleman?

Friedel:

I did, curiously enough. And that again didn't bother him, didn't bother me. And a few years later by the way Bill moved on to the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Hochheiser:

I know. He arrived towards the end of my student days at Wisconsin. So I got to know him.

Friedel:

Bill picked up the phone, I think it was right after I moved to the IEEE. He picked up the phone and said, okay, now it's time to get your dissertation into print. Enough shilly-shallying around. I've just become a member of the University of Wisconsin Press Board. So I handed it in. But in any case, I did the dissertation on the history of plastics at the Smithsonian.

Museum of History and Technology: Archives and Exhibits

I was looking for a job and I actually got, a miracle of miracles when I think back on it, one or two academic job offers. But wanting to stay in Washington, I was very much attracted to what Washington had to offer. So I actually talked, what was then still the Museum of History and Technology - Brooke Hindle, a very fine historian of American science and technology, was the director. The deputy director was another very unconventional historian of science and technology, Silvio Bedini

Hochheiser:

Right.

Friedel:

And I managed to talk them - I never figured out how in retrospect - to hire me as the first archivist of the Museum of History and Technology. I discovered in working on my dissertation, plastic was a really good subject, because it sent me into about six or eight or more divisions of that Museum, because they're everywhere. And what the Museum had divided into wood stuff over here and glass stuff over here and plastic stuff over there, it divided much differently. So the plastic things were everywhere. In the course of doing that research I discovered that there are archives of historical documents scattered throughout the Museum in every collection. I said, some kind of intellectual control is needed for this. Well, because of certain institutional politics - which I had blissfully been largely ignorant of - and one of [the] things you may not really want to know, they actually had the funds and they could hire me to do this, even though they did not really know what it is they wanted me to do. I spent about four or five months canvassing the Museum to figure out what they had. Although even that was sort of short-circuited by the fact that the Smithsonian archives was alerted to the fact - oh, this is interesting, you've got documents, so we're going to send a professional archivist over to find out what you've got. So I say, okay, now what do I do? So that's sort of where we are at the point when the Museum, not for the last time, decided that it was in trouble on an exhibit project and it needed to hire somebody, this is probably more than you want to know.

Hochheiser:

No, it's fine.

Friedel:

They needed to hire some bright young people that could make do [with] things for an exhibit on maritime history. Now here is another pattern that you will detect - I knew nothing about maritime history. But once again, okay, just show me what it is and I'll figure it out. So we had about a year and a half, I guess, where we had to put together a really major exhibit on maritime history. I worked with a number of other people. The best known of these people would be Bob Post. He actually headed up the team and when the exhibit finished and it wound down, that's when Barney Finn, curator of electricity, finds that he has indeed gotten the funding to do an exhibit on the centennial of Edison's Electric Light. And he's looking around saying, oh, no, now I've got the money, what do I do now? The main thing I need to do is to find somebody to help me, and that's when Barney approached me. And once again I say electricity? I'm not sure I know an ohm from a volt, but again I probably didn't actually tell him that.

Hochheiser:

Well sure. [Laughter]

Friedel:

Although I suspect that he figured it out soon enough. But again, we threw ourselves into this project. It was actually quite amazing when I think about it, because we had about four or five months to do a fairly sizeable traveling exhibit on this topic. And we did it, actually ended up with four copies of that traveling exhibit, which were circulated around the country, on Edison and the invention of the electric light. And then there was a major museum exhibit that was done and then I fooled myself into that and that was my learning experience with electrical history. That would have been 1978/79. That project was drawing to a close in the summer of '79. The exhibit opened in early September.

Clarkson University

And I was again sort of loose, trying to figure out what I was going to do. I then had a little bit of interruption so to speak in that I was hired for an academic position, at what is now Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. They needed a historian of technology - they needed one urgently, since their former one was incapacitated permanently. So I went up to Potsdam. I got married in the middle of all that. And that brings us to 1980 and basically deciding Potsdam is just someplace too isolated for me.

Hochheiser:

You're not the only person I know who ended up someplace and reached that kind of conclusion.

Friedel:

Right, exactly. That's what put me back out on the job market.

Hochheiser:

Because you concluded not too long after you arrived at Potsdam that this was not where you wanted to be for the long term.

Friedel:

Well it's one of those places where not long after I arrived in September, winter begins. And it sticks around for a long time.

Hochheiser:

But there's a difference between spending a long and bitter winter in Minneapolis, like I did, than spending a winter in an isolated small town like Potsdam.

Friedel:

Right. That's it. Well I knew there was a problem when I came up for the interview and I said, well, okay, how do I get there? And he said, well, okay, from Washington, fly to Syracuse, rent a car and drive three hours. I figured well this is going to be an experience.

Going to IEEE

So that's when the opportunity came up at the IEEE.

Hochheiser:

And how did you first learn of the opportunity?

Friedel:

Barney. Barney gave me a call at some point and, probably sometime in mid or late winter, and because in Potsdam late winter means May, so I'm sure it was before then. But he gave me a call and said you should know that the funding has been approved. We've been talking about this for a long, long time. And your name came up, because they're trying to figure out who to recruit for the first director. I was completely at sea as to what this might actually mean, but it was certainly intriguing. I went for an interview which I don't remember at all quite frankly.

Hochheiser:

In New York?

Friedel:

Right. I'm pretty sure I met Jim Brittain and Jack Ryder at that time, and then possibly in a separate interview, Eric Herz. This was all very intriguing, but it was all also pretty ill-defined. It was a little overwhelming to go from a town like Potsdam to find yourself in midtown Manhattan and think about what kind of a transition - I knew I wanted a transition, but that was pretty extreme. I could have stayed at Clarkson. I actually had another academic offer, but there was something just so intriguing about the IEEE.

And then there were personal reasons - I was married to another academic. It was very difficult for her to find a place to get employed. There was nothing in Potsdam, needless to say. The New York area would seem to offer a better opportunity. So that's when I agreed to go to the IEEE.

Starting the History Center

Hochheiser:

One thing I find intriguing is your saying that it was ill-defined.

Friedel:

That's an understatement. As I can recall it now they were basically saying, we want to set up a center not unlike that two blocks down the street at the AIP, the Physics History Center. It was also pointed out that part of the impetus for this came from the upcoming centennial of the IEEE in '84. But, it was curious and it was part of the ambiguity that I was dealing with - I was assured by and large that the centennial per se was in the hands of others. Michal McMahon was given a contract to write a centennial history.

Hochheiser:

He already had been given this contract?

Friedel:

Right, I believe so, at that point. And there was a Centennial Committee, which was quite distinct from the History Committee. There were already one or two history activities that the History Committee had been sponsoring. Certainly the fellowship, the pre-doctoral fellowship, and I'm not sure, but I think also the life member prize for best article that’s given by SHOT was also in place at that point. That was another point, which was that the life members were clearly engaged in this and in the promotion of history as having a more prominent place in the IEEE. But other than that there was astonishingly little guidance on exactly what a History Center would constitute and what functions it would actually perform.

Hochheiser:

Can I assume this was a full-time position?

Friedel:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

It may seem a strange question but in the documents from the 70's, there were discussions of whether this going to be a full-time position or a three-quarter position.

Friedel:

Well, one of [the] things that's actually quite remarkable and I became aware of this relatively early on - although as I look back on it, many of us look back on what happened when we were 30 years old - I was astonishingly naïve and ignorant about things. But I think I did pick up on this and that is that when the IEEE decided to do this, they decided we're not going to do this in half measures. Not only was I hired full-time, but one of the first things that I was told by either by Executive Director Eric Herz or possibly by Woody Gannett, who was head of publications and to whom I reported directly, was that I had money to hire a secretary. And I'm thinking to myself, a secretary, what would I do with a secretary? I had seen secretaries working at the Smithsonian and I knew that they were very useful people, but I also knew that they could be more work than otherwise, but that's a separate story. I'll get to that in a moment, but the point is that they said, no, this is not going to be half measures. You're going to have an office. You're going to have a staff, such as it is. You're going to have help. You let us know what you need. I was very struck by the commitment that was there. Eric Herz made a point of saying, you come here, we're not testing you out. We're going to do this. We've decided to do this. Now in retrospect he could say he's not testing me out, but I certainly felt, not by anything he said or did, but just simply by the circumstances, that this was a new initiative. There was very little precedent to work from. Very modest, to put it mildly, as far as a specific agenda. But as I said, all that aside they wanted it done right.

I guess I can expand on that, because that's a key theme here. As a young person coming in here, one of the central lessons that I learned in setting up the Center and in working within the IEEE, something that nothing in my academic experience or my museum experience has really spoken to, was what it meant to be a professional. I realize that as an organization of professional engineers, the values of professionalization were very deep within the organization and that's why as young and unwashed as I was, they wanted a professional historian. And they were going to give that professional historian both the autonomy and the tools that they would accord any professional in their functioning. That was a remarkable kind of experience for me, because I had never been in a situation like that. And subsequently I realized when you go into a university that's not what happens. It's a very different kind of treatment, particularly of the more junior people. And that idea that you are a professional, I mean there's some things that are implicit even in the way that a university worked, in the way that functioned, but it was not implicit at the IEEE, it was explicit. The fact that I had a blank slate was not purely because they didn't know what they wanted, although I think that's part of it, but it was also because they hired me with the expectation that I would be the one to fill in that blank slate. That I was not the hired help.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Friedel:

That, as I said, was the very formative kind of thing in itself and a great testimony to this day to the IEEE as an organization.

Hochheiser:

So how did you figure out what to do?

Friedel:

Believe me, I've been asking myself that question. I really have. First of all, I have to give you a word picture of what was going on because I don't know whether anybody else has been able to do this, but it's very much part of the story. We are operating in the United Engineering Center on First Avenue at 47th in Manhattan, right across from the U.N., lovely location. And all of the major engineering societies, of course, are located in that building, each of them having several floors depending on their ranking and depending on their size and status. Also located there and, as I recall correctly now, an important part of the story, at least at the outset, was the Engineering Societies Library, which had an extraordinary historical collection which were much neglected and little known by certainly the community of historians by and large and by the larger community. I think that there was implicitly a notion that a history center located in any of the constituent societies would have a relationship with the Engineering Societies Library and would perhaps be a way in which that library took on more salience. The IEEE, and I was trying to remember exactly which floors they occupied, I want to say the 10th and 11th, along with a lower floor, which was primarily occupied by IEEE Spectrum, but I think it may have only been the 10th and 11th floors. And the 10th floor was, if I recall correctly, occupied by the administrative offices, Eric Herz's office, the financial affairs, the basic management offices and the like. And the 11th floor was occupied by the publishing division, which anybody who knows IEEE realizes that that’s a very sizeable portion of what you have. Well, when I moved in the 11th floor was basically abandoned. It was going to be totally renovated. The publishing people had been moved down to some rented space down Second Avenue a couple of blocks away. And I was moved into the one still existing office space on the 11th floor. Now I am moving into this place with a desk, a typewriter, some empty bookshelves and surrounded by a sea of construction, basically with nothing but a flimsy partition wall to separate me from that construction space. I felt intellectually isolated anyway, and here I was now basically physically isolated and that was a bit disconcerting. But on the other hand, I was supposed to be working independently and this allowed me to sit in my office trying to think of what I was supposed to do without anybody looking at me, I suppose.

Archives

Well, one of the first things I was expected to do was to hire somebody, so I ended up hiring not a secretary but an archivist. And even to this day I wouldn't be too surprised if you snoop around what exists of the IEEE archives and you see some fairly funny scrawled little index cards in the handwriting of Nancy Pearlman.

Hochheiser:

In my office there are a number of files left behind by Nancy.

Friedel:

Right, right. She was a New York native, older than I. She had gone back to school after raising her family and was a product of the archives program at NYU. I believe, in fact, that I had called up the program and said I need to hire somebody can you put a notice out? And she shows up pretty quickly thereafter.

Her job was to take the papers of the organization, such as we had them, and to make some sense of them. She knew exactly what to do in that connection. I mean that in the positive sense, but I also, I might add, mean that in a negative sense, which is to say she had essentially learned what archivists do and that's what she did. And if it didn't conform to what she had learned in archives school, well then it would be made to conform to what she learned in archives school. So she ordered the Hollinger boxes and the rest of the equipment. Again, this is pre-computer days, so we're keeping track of things with index cards and things of that ilk. And she proceeds to set up the archives of the IEEE such as they were, which was not voluminous papers, not an organized organizational archive by any means, but sort of a random disparate set of records. As I learned later, well actually not much later, was that what most of these organizations thought of as their archives consisted of bound copies of the minutes of the board of directors meetings or the executive committee meetings or whatever it might happen to be. Nancy had a little bit more to work with than that. We had odds and ends, some interesting little documents, even a few precious little manuscript items from I believe as far back as the 1880's. That was task number one that I could manage and it meant I didn't have to worry about a secretary. I mean that in a very real sense, that by hiring somebody like her, she was a self-starter. She sort of knew what to do and that's what she did. It turned out that if you wanted help in anything else, she wasn't a terribly good person to go to for that because she had her particular strengths and that's what she did and she defined herself in that way. I think that put that in good order. And so in terms of the first year of the Center, that's probably the major accomplishment, getting that put in order so that we knew what records we had. We knew the records of the organization.

Hochheiser:

And did you have a room in the building to keep the records?

Friedel:

There was hardly enough space to matter. I'm trying to remember now the sequence of this and I can't fully. The rest of the 11th floor was taken care of and then we were given some space, very precious Manhattan office space, I might add. We were actually given an archives room, a little adjunct room with good sturdy metal shelving and that sort of thing that allowed us then by the end of that year to house that in some proper fashion. That's the way that worked. And that was again a commitment on the part of the organization, because that space was quite precious. They said, if that's what you feel that you need, then we'll make that work.

Centennial, Newsletter

In terms of figuring out what else to do, gee whiz, I wish I could remember. The History Committee itself had certain agendas, certain things that it set out. The IEEE centennial was impending, so that shaped our agenda to a certain extent. Although, even when I was hired and subsequently I was reassured that specific centennial related projects such as the history of the organization, the working out of various activities related to how the various technical societies would participate, that was largely in the hands of a Centennial Committee and a historian that had been given the contract for the history. I, of course, had to be mindful of that and try to respond to odds and ends that might come up, but, that was not the agenda that drove us. I should mention, and when I talk about the archives of the organization, there had been a certain amount of oral history that had been done.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Friedel:

Sort of hit and miss. So we tried to organize that to a certain extent, tried to figure out how do we make this stuff accessible to people. Again, this is pre-computer and pre-internet days. So, exactly how one does that was not completely clear. At a certain point, but I think probably not until the second year, and we were shifting into a rather different mode [in] that we begin issuing our newsletter and that became an important means -

Hochheiser:

I think the first issue is early '82.

Friedel:

That sounds right.

Faraday/Maxwell Exhibit

The Center begins in August of 1980. I said that sort of general organizational activities take a bit of our time, getting the archives in shape. I guess it's probably as early as December of 1980 - I do one of the rasher things that I have ever done in my life. Fortunately I didn't know how rash it was, so I got away with it. I was doing some basic reading about electrical history and it occurred to me that 1981 will be kind of an interesting anniversary. The one that probably I noted first was the fact that Michael Faraday had discovered electromagnetic induction in 1831 and that this was an anniversary [of] a pretty fundamental kind of finding for electricity. But then what really got me thinking was I stumbled across the fact that the same year James Clerk Maxwell was born. That stirred into me some thinking that really drew on my Smithsonian experience and some of the ways in which I realize now I had come to think. So I thought, wouldn't it be great if the History Center in a sense came out by celebrating something really fundamental to the history of electrical engineering? In addition, maybe I'm not intimidated, it's too strong a word, but I was challenged by the incredible range of technology and of technological interest that the IEEE encompassed from power engineering and old fashioned telecommunications, if you will, to the latest in electronics and computers and the like. So I'm desperately trying to think of something that might have a unifying effect and as it turned out, I think I was more lucky than prescient here, Faraday and Maxwell had shown a way, a darn good way, to do it.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Friedel:

There is hardly any electrical engineering that can't draw on that in some way. So the rash act was to approach, with Eric Herz's blessing, the Executive Committee of the IEEE with a cheeky request for I'm pretty sure it was $50,000 to do a traveling exhibit on Faraday and Maxwell. And I swear to this day, I cannot understand why they would have entrusted a wet behind the ears 30 year-old with $50,000 of their money to do this. Part of it, I think, was probably because Barney Finn had assured me the cooperation of the Smithsonian in the effort. And part of it was just basically taking a dive, in a sense. Here is this History Center - I can imagine Eric coming in and say[ing], okay, we've got the History Center, we want to make it work, they obviously have to have things that they can do and present to the membership. This strikes me as a good a thing as any. We proposed that we would have it available for Electro in 1981.

Hochheiser:

The biggest IEEE conference.

Friedel:


Right. Which would make it broadly available. And so I went through the whole process of hiring a designer, somebody who would work with the graphics. Making contacts. One of my thrills was, again, cheeky - I wrote the director of the Cavendish in Cambridge, where Maxwell had been, and said I notice in reading about Maxwell, and there was no authoritative biography of Maxwell at that time, but I noticed that he used kinetoscope strips of moving images, to illustrate how he saw electromagnetic energy moving through the ether. Would you have any of these to lend me? Six weeks later I get a shoebox in the mail with three of Maxwell's kinetoscope strips. I borrowed some artifacts from the Smithsonian. We put the exhibit together. We had some lovely graphics, actually a very attractive design, put it on display at Electro. Again, Electro, this big show with chaotic - I hadn't realized, in fact, that every square foot that I used of exhibit space in Electro was also a part of what had to be budgeted to this. In fact, we had designed it so that it would then be circulated around the country by the Association of Science Technology Centers, ASTC. And ASTC was thrilled because they had very little in technology at all and electrical stuff in particular. The museums lapped it up. It had some little demonstration devices, fairly modest.

The one thing I had learned at the Smithsonian was how to write text that was proper label quality that was reasonably accessible. We published the text in a little booklet, which you will find because they're probably in the collection. Again, I would say pretty handsomely done. We had some posters done. It gave a kind of public presence to the Center in a way that I would imagine none of the principals like Jack Ryder and Jim Britain would have imagined would be what we would do. But I think people were generally pleased with the result. As I said, it provided us a public outlet and it provided me, as I look back on it, with a sense that, oh, I actually do know some things that are relevant to this job. Because I basically did that from scratch. It prepared me for some additional exhibit efforts that once we shifted into the sort of pre-centennial mode, which we did from late '81 and '82 on, and I hired some people who were more oriented toward that. Then, in fact, we were able to move on a number of related fronts that way.

History Committee, Jack Ryder, Smithsonian

Hochheiser:

You mentioned in this exhibit using your Smithsonian connections. How much contact did you have with Barney or with other people on the History Committee?

Friedel:

On the History Committee per se. One of our jobs, of course, was to prepare for the meeting for the History Committee.

Hochheiser:

Right, which was once a year.

Friedel:

Right. And Jack Ryder was the head of it. Only slowly did I quite learn how important Jack Ryder was as an individual, as an engineer, and as a member of the IRE. I was again pretty naïve. He was just the head of the History Committee. That he was a major, major figure in all of this and I'm convinced - and I'm sure Jim Britain and others can tell you more authoritatively - that his voice in support of history was truly instrumental in moving all this. He was a very, very supportive man. He was a man with standards. He expected this to be done professionally. But as long as I didn't screw up, it was good with him. Very, very important was the support of Barney. I knew I could always pick up the phone. He would check in with me. If I came up with something like this exhibit idea, he was all for it. He would make the initial contact with ASTC to see about circulating the exhibit. No problem with borrowing objects that could be circulated and that role continued throughout; without Barney and his support, the Center would have floundered very, very badly, I think, in those first years. That was very important. And it's not only Barney personally, which was very, very important, but also, I think, the imprimatur of the Smithsonian. This is something that had real worth and that gave some credibility to what I was doing to me and to the Center itself. Barney was always ready to let me know that whatever needed to be done to make that credibility visible and that association with the Smithsonian real and visible, he was ready to do that. That was very important.

Staff Support

Hochheiser:

The other side is how closely did you work with Eric Herz and other members of the IEEE staff?

Friedel: The staff - in particular Eric Herz and Woody Gannett, and then one of Woody's key associates Reed Crone, both of them in the publishing division - they were as supportive as anybody could be in terms of letting me know that they were behind the ideas I came up with. But their support was in many ways largely the support of telling me, you're the historian, you figure it out, kind of support and of knowing that if I did that, you know, in a reasonably intelligent way that they would back me. That was the key thing. I can only imagine what kind of challenges Eric might have run into in terms of skeptical members of the Executive Committee or the Board, and people worrying about budgets and that sort of thing. Even within the four years that I was there, there were budgetary ups and downs, but Eric was very good about saying, we didn't get into this just to do it while it was convenient. The work was close in the sense that they were always supportive, but their support was, as I said, the support of people who said we're not going to tell you what to do and if you don't know what to do, we're also not going to tell you that. We're not going to bail you out in other words. But when we need to speak up for what you're doing and for the commitment that we've made, we'll do it. And I was convinced that they did that. I only slowly came to understand the extent to which Woody Gannett's position, as head of the publishing arm of the organization, gave me a bit of cushion in some ways, because publishing was such a big part of the organization. Its finances were solid. They were very sound. They carried their weight. So if it was this other thing over here that clearly wasn't bringing in money, but which was done because you thought it was the right thing to do, then Woody in a sense was in a position to establish that that was something they would support.

Beginning the Newsletter, Bob Casey

Hochheiser:

Can you give me a little more detail on the beginnings of the newsletter?

Friedel:

Well, as I recall it now - and you've looked at the records and I haven't, I confess. In terms of the chronology, after about a year and the archives were in pretty good shape, we came to an agreement that the personnel of the Center needed to be changed. Nancy had finished her task and that was what Nancy was comfortable at doing. If we wanted to shift into other things then Nancy wasn't the person to do that. So I put out the call for someone else, preferably now somebody with a little bit of a technical history background, but willing to work in a junior capacity on this. I was as lucky as lucky could be in that recently graduating from the Hagley program at Delaware was a former mechanical engineer. Actually, he had practiced mechanical engineering I want to say for Westinghouse because it was out of Baltimore. No, it was not Westinghouse. It was Bethlehem Steel out of Baltimore. It was Bob Casey. And Casey had gotten a master's degree at the Hagley Museum Program at Delaware and was not interested in an academic position. He wanted a museum position and museum positions are pretty hard to come by.

Hochheiser:

Though, of course, he eventually found a very good one.

Friedel:

Right. Eventually he found the perfect one.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Friedel:

Well, that suggests one of his great virtues was patience. Bob was willing to take the plunge, move on up to New York City - and his wife also exercising enormous patience in that - and so he came in as the, I'm trying to remember. I can't even remember quite what title we gave him. At some point it might have even been something like deputy director. You'll have to check the records.

Hochheiser:

Yes, that's certainly in the records. [Note: Casey’s original title was Assistant Historian]

Friedel:

I could clearly tell that we had somebody who could take a lot of independence and take a lot of responsibility for what we're doing. One of the first things that I wanted to do at that point was to establish a newsletter that would get our word out, figure out what we could do, use it as a way of reporting both what we're doing and what other news we could come up with. Also, one of the indispensible aspects of this first iteration of a newsletter - and I'm drawing a blank on the name, but I'm sure you would be able to supply it - there was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin who was the most book oriented person I have ever encountered, who ran a kind of book column. He put together what was being published in the history of electrical engineering and associated fields. That gave us a kind of an interesting little sort of critical mass in our newsletter that was a good reference source. It was something that you would take a look at, basically [a] kind of critical bibliography that would come out every time the newsletter came out. And I want to say Higgins was his name. [Note: Thomas Higgins]

Hochheiser:

Yes. As soon as you mentioned the name it rang a bell.

Friedel:

Higgins, that's right. That's right. Remarkable kind of fellow, and he was pleased as punch to have this outlet. We were pleased as punch to have the material, because it was high quality material. It was good stuff. It gave us a kind of utility that when you're a new organ like this and you don't have a lot of hard news to report, that's really, really valuable.

AIP Center, Technical Societies

Our model for this, of course, was the newsletter of the AIP Center for History of Physics and something I haven't mentioned, though this is a good time to mention it, is how important the model of that Center was.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Friedel:

It was located two blocks away. I'm not even sure I would have taken the job if I hadn't known that that was there because I knew that there was a place I could go and Spencer Weart was the director. Joan Warnow was the archivist. They had the Neils Bohr Library, were a well-established organization. They had already a track record of contract history work, oral histories, special subject contracts. In fact, one of the things that we got engaged in relatively early on, I believe, was helping to put together a history project jointly with them on the history of lasers where Joan Bromberg was eventually hired to write a book. The Quantum Electronics Society was four-square in there. And again, that suggested a model for how we would work; we would try to find particular areas of interest among the technical societies where they could identify some funding, would be willing to back us, provide expertise if some kind of steering committee was called for, that sort of thing. That was a model that meant a lot to us.

Again, the AIP Center suggested that as an important direction to go in. Their newsletter was a well-established organ at that time and a little intimidating actually in term[s] of its scale and scope at that point, but you have to start somewhere. It gave us a model to emulate and to suggest that there would, in fact, be a readership. I confess I can't quite figure out how we began to create a mailing list for that, but that obviously became pretty important to us. I think it started with the History Committee itself and other kinds of outreach effort that had been done. I should point out that even before the Center began, the History Committee and the Life Members Fund had sponsored projects, typically with the help of the Smithsonian, again, one of them surveying important archival collections, electrical history, and another so very important museum and artifact collections in history. These have typically been done by advanced graduate students, people like that, who had published things. Typically this is a model that some of the other engineering societies have followed as well. They would be put out by the Smithsonian actually. They would do a lot of the physical work.

Other Engineering Societies, Milestones

While I'm talking about the AIP Center I should also mention that another part of the context that I was trying to get a hold of here was that provided by the other engineering societies. In particular, the civil engineers and the mechanical engineers both had a long heritage of supporting history through history committees. In addition, they had a heritage, I guess you can call it that, of landmarks. This was a question that came up relatively early in the History Center. For these societies, the civils and the mechanicals, the designating of landmarks actually often constituted the single most important thing that their history efforts did. The IEEE had by that time cooperated on a couple, maybe three at most , landmark designations.

Hochheiser:

Jointly with one of the other societies.

Friedel:

Right, right. They had been approached typically and they said this is a power plant, surely, the IEEE would like to join in and help pay for a plaque or that sort of thing, get your local section or chapter involved. Then the real question was whether we wanted to do that on our own. And here I confronted the problem with the fact that in electrical engineering, the physical landmark that is so easy to spot in the case of civil engineering and is sometimes not quite so easy, but often relatively easy to spot even for mechanical engineering, is not so easy for electrical engineering particularly, once you get outside of the realm of power station transmission, that sort of thing. So that's where the Milestones program came up and I think I just simply needed another term that didn't suggest to me some big hulking physical thing, but had an intellectual aspect to it that might be even more important than the physical artifact itself. The History Committee, I think, was very happy at that initiative. Again, something that would get sections involved was always a desirable thing, something that we struggled with at the beginning. But once we started that program it actually gave us something that I think was very effective, not to mention it gave us something to talk about in the newsletter.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

[End of tape 1, start of tape 2]

Hochheiser:

You were talking about the milestone program.

Friedel:


I mentioned the milestone program mainly in the context of talking about how we related to the other historical efforts of the engineering societies. I was actually very anxious at the outset to see if I could encourage greater efforts on the part of the civils and the mechanicals in particular, but not neglecting the chemicals especially, and then there were a myriad of other smaller engineering societies in the building some of which were quite sizeable actually. But the fact is I didn't get very far in that connection. I tried to figure out where they were coming from. I learned a good bit, but it caused me to appreciate even more what the IEEE was doing and the commitment it was making, because in those societies, basically history was seen as a part of public relations. They were happy to have it, again, as a part of public relations and public image, but they clearly did not see it as having much to do with their central mission or even with how they defined themselves as professional engineers, which I, even to this day, still find a source of some dismay and disappointment. I actually was a member for about a half dozen years of the History and Heritage Committee of the Mechanical Engineers, quite a bit later. I saw the boundaries that they placed around what they did. That's the way they operated. That gave me even greater respect for what the IEEE was doing in terms of this. In particular, it gave me respect for the fact that the IEEE, when it said it wanted a serious professional history center, it meant it. It was not just PR to them. In fact, we actually had a little rocky relationship sometimes with the PR people. It was interesting - you learned that within the IEEE the PR people were not very powerful. They were not a tail that wagged that dog. They were clearly subservient to publishing, to standards, to the real core of the organization. And, as I said, I can't characterize the other engineering societies, but you could sort of see that there was a somewhat different attitude certainly in terms of the way history was treated, I think even with the landmarks program, to get back to that point.

When we set up the milestones, I think it allowed it to take a slightly more intellectual track with what we were doing. We're not just looking for pretty things or big things or old things. We're looking for things that will actually tell us something and tell the community at large something about the profession itself and about electrical engineering and about its place within society. You can find those things in the other programs, but it was so central to what the IEEE was doing. That carried on too, when I think about it, with the way that we related to such portions of the organization as the sections. Again, you got a sense that the IEEE sections were more influenced by the high intellectual status of the profession than you found elsewhere.

Technical Societies and Professionalism

And that, of course, moves me into something else, which is not my area of expertise, but, again, it's part of the environment in which we're working, which is that you learn, at least it was my observation - I may be hitting difficult political territory here, I can't even remember very well. But if you looked at the respective influence within the organization of the sections and the - I can't even remember the terminology anymore - what used to be governed under the Regional Activity Board of the IEEE.

Hochheiser:

Right, the sections and regions.

Friedel:


Right, that's right. If you looked at that and that respective influence compared to the technical societies, it was night and day. This was an organization that was very much driven by the technology itself, by the feeling that this is the profession that is organizing and managing the most important technology of the late twentieth century and we're the guys who are making the future. This basically was the attitude and that's kind of breathtaking to watch up close. I think one of the reasons why the History Center has succeeded in the long run is a respect for that and a willing[ness] to work effectively within that sense that this is the profession that is making the world and is shaping things and does so at the highest professional level. All of the engineering societies' organizations are important of course and they all do their appointed things, but I do think that that dominance of the technical societies within the IEEE gives it a rather special flavor which I think has been very much to the advantage of the independence, the longevity, the professional standing of the History Center itself. I think that that's why, even after 30 years, it is the only engineering society that has a history center, because it has that kind of - that sense - of professionalism within it.

Joyce Bedi, A Century of Electricals

Hochheiser:

You talked a bit about Bob Casey coming to work at the center. The other person you hired was Joyce Bedi.

Friedel:

Joyce Bedi came in. Initially, Joyce had been working part-time. She had recently come back from getting her master's degree in museums from Australia, James Cook University if I recall correctly. She was a native of central New Jersey.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Friedel:

She was doing some work off and on for the Edison Papers and my wife at the time was working for the Edison Papers. I think it was a case where we needed some extra help part-time, here's somebody who was looking for extra work part-time and she shows up and says I'll do what needs to be done. I love museum stuff, if there are exhibits, if there's stuff like that. She really helped to make that newsletter go, put all that together. Then part of what was happening, you'll have to check the dates, because I'm not going to be any good at it. Are we in '82 already or are we still in '81 when she's hired?

Hochheiser:

I don't have the exact date. But I think it's '82.

Friedel:

Part of what's happening is that they were getting closer to '84 and the centennial. While the burdens of the centennial were not shaping our agenda entirely, they were nonetheless part of what was coming to be on our plate and we were having to think about how we can engage the various parts of the IEEE in the centennial. I think that's what gave us the additional resources to bring Joyce on board. For example, one of the things - if we move into '83 - that we begin to think about is our own version of a centennial exhibit. We wanted to put out something that the varied units of the IEEE could use to make them feel that they were part of all this, but we didn't want yet another book. There's already a centennial history that’s being made. We also wanted to take advantage of our own special capabilities. And that's when we came up with a traveling exhibit, although one of a rather different character tha[n] eventually came out under the title of A Century of Electricals. I presume that there are copies still around.

Hochheiser:

There is one set in the archives, and Barney said there are some at the Smithsonian.

Friedel:

I can't remember the total number that we had printed, a fair number.

Hochheiser:

I believe it was about 500.

Friedel:

And we tried to get all the chapters to have them. I remember, in fact, when I started at Maryland -

[Phone ringing, break in audio]

Hochheiser:

You were talking about the centennial exhibit.

Friedel:

We put together A Century of Electricals. The idea was to give the chapters, the sections, whoever, something that they could use to represent the experience. When I came to Maryland in the fall of '84, I remember, I think it was probably a year or so later, I was actually passing by where the student chapter for IEEE had its offices, and sure enough there were some of the posters of the Century of Electricals up on the wall, which is exactly what we had wanted.

Hochheiser:

I found that very interesting, the idea of doing an exhibit as multiple posters. You did the Lines and Waves and that's one set of things.

Friedel:

Right. Well actually, Lines and Waves had at least two copies. Well, what I learned - this actually goes back to my first experience with traveling exhibits. When Barney Finn and I worked on an exhibit on Edison and the electric light, we actually did four copies of that exhibit, two with artifacts and two basically flat. What we discovered - what I had learned anyway - was that there were institutions that really wanted flat exhibit material. They wanted to tell stories. They didn't have the security, for example, to have artifacts around that might have some problems or trafficked area that needed monitoring and yet they wanted good visuals, good stories, exhibit-type labels that could go along with graphics. So I was very struck by how successful that was and how, in fact, you could charge people money to just borrow that sort of stuff. In those cases they're mounted. When we did the Faraday and Maxwell exhibit, I don't remember the details, but I'm pretty sure again we had multiple, at least one more, a flat copy or at least a low security copy.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Friedel:

I've never seen anything quite like A Century of Electricals, in terms of turning it out that way, but it seemed to make sense to the IEEE as a way again of engaging as many people as possible on that particular level. We were very pleased with the physical result. We had a wonderful designer who came in and worked very closely with us. I think this was a fellow down in Richmond, although I'm not completely sure offhand. It was a lot of work. It really took a lot of the energy of the Center. I think I, in particular, realize now that the Faraday and Maxwell exhibit had taught me lessons about some of the things that would work. For example, I had forgotten this. I have a copy around somewhere. I was startled to get in the mail, some year or so after that exhibit, a large format publication about so big that was the Faraday and Maxwell exhibit translated into Dutch. And the whole thing had been done and it was reproduced in Dutch in this slightly smaller poster format, because that had been done too with the idea that if you didn't have the artifact it was okay. You could still put them up. But that's what gave us the idea of doing that. I was really struck by how people related to it.

The title is interesting. Electricals was a term that goes back to the nineteenth century, but it continued to be used certainly within the engineering society organizations where you talk about the civils meeting with the mechanicals, the electricals, but it also related to terminology from the nineteenth century itself. The point is that we wanted to focus on people - we wanted to make it understood that this was a profession of practitioners and while we have this fantastic technology and we're all engaged in documenting that technology and what it does, we really want also, particularly in this occasion of the centennial, to focus attention on the people history of the organization, and not just the great figures. That was done too as you undoubtedly have in your archives, just the fact that it's made up of thousands and thousands of people doing a great variety of tasks. But that took ,now that I think about it, a lot of energy and effort through 1983 and on into early '84.

Other Centennial Activities, Research

Hochheiser:

What other tasks beyond the exhibit did the Center get involved with for the centennial? Because there were some things that were clearly centennial task force.

Friedel:

Right. Well I remember there were some things - I should explain. I'm not sure how clear the records are on this, but for personal reasons I actually moved from where I lived in New Jersey in the middle of 1983 back down to Washington, DC, where I had been. Eric Herz was okay with this. Again, I look back on it and with some amazement, because what I was proposing and what Barney Finn again helped out with indispensably, was that I would have office space at the Smithsonian that I would use three days a week and I would have the office space at the Center in New York two days out of the week. This turned out to be physically exhausting as you might guess.

Hochheiser:

I bet.

Friedel:

But it was also testimony to the fact that by then I knew I had a staff in Bob Casey and Joyce Bedi that could do this and I could direct it in whatever needed to be done. A very early, pre-computer, certainly pre-internet, version of telecommuting I suppose to a certain extent. I had a desk and I had a federal long distance telephone line, which in those days was valuable. I could also gather together material particularly for things like A Century of Electricals and other exhibit items at the Smithsonian. We're talking there graphics, primarily. So, in terms of many of the day to day items that related to the centennial, I know that Bob and Joyce had to do a good bit. Particularly as they moved up towards September of '84, they had to do a good bit related to some of the banquets that were being held, some of the specific public events. There were publications that were desired to provide testimonial to the contributions of individuals within the organization itself. I have never been one very keen on organizational history. It's just not the kind of historical thing that appeals to me, but I was certainly aware that as the History Center of the IEEE, we had some obligations in that regard. And the IEEE for its part was never pushy in that connection. They said we need certain things and I and my staff made sure that those things were provided. But we were never expected to tailor the Center's overall agenda towards institutional history [at] the expense of things that might have a larger significance.

One of the things that the Institute was very responsive to, which, again, I don't take for granted, was [that] they understood that professional historians do research. They do original research. I, for example, all during certainly the first couple of years of the Center's history, I was on the side writing a history of Edison's invention of the electric light. I had hired Paul Israel straight out of graduate school to do the research in the archives back in early 1980 before I got to the IEEE. So he was continuing to work away. Then when I said I need some time to put all this stuff together into a narrative, the administration of the IEEE said well just tell us what you need in terms of time and make sure that your office is doing what it needs to do. But if you make sure of that then we have no trouble with your saying I'm going to spend Fridays at home working on my manuscript. They allowed me to do that. I actually had basically two books published during the course of the time that I was at the IEEE.

Hochheiser:

Right. One was on plastics from your dissertation.

Friedel:

Right. And the other one was not out by the time I left the IEEE, but basically in complete manuscript form.

Cooper Union, Centennial Slide Show and Theatre

Hochheiser:

Another side activity I know you had was that you taught part time at Cooper Union while you were there.

Friedel:

Oh, yes. Now that was purely evening work. Again, I think the institution was very happy at this. I could not have asked for a more wonderful kind of teaching experience than Cooper Union. I mean, that was extraordinary students and a very, very supportive kind of institutional environment, which was a very important lesson to me, because, of course, Cooper Union is in many ways the archetypal pre-professional school. That taught me that a pre-professional school could still support history, whereas the earlier lesson that I picked up at Potsdam might have suggested otherwise. Yes, I did do that and that turned out to be very useful for me.

Hochheiser:

A couple other centennial activities that I found in the archives - the answer to these may be that these were largely things that Bob and Joyce did. One I know, there was a slide show.

Friedel:

That sounds like Joyce.

Hochheiser:

Yes, I figured. When we were looking to put together a package of historical photos for the 125th we started with those slides which were very nicely done.

Friedel:

Again, as I said, they had a number of things that they had to do that related to banquets and other kinds of specific activities, particularly moving into the late summer and fall of '84 and that's just the kind of thing Joyce would have done

Hochheiser:

At one of the big centennial get togethers they had a theatrical performance.

Friedel:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

People dressed up as -

Friedel:

Oh, yes, oh my God. [Laughter] I was spared that. But, yes, I remember hearing stories about that. It was funny because as they were moving towards all of this, the History Center was constantly being used, as was appropriate, as a resource for the people actually responsible for things like theatrical performances and the making of special medals and having appropriate brochures and handouts. They would come to us. And we were able to respond to them. That was something, too, that was very good for the Center - there was an understanding by that time that there were these professional capabilities that the Institute had. That we weren't just another PR wing, but when it was needed -

Spectrum, Pearl Street Anniversary

Another thing that we did, it didn't have a lot of specific output that I can think of, but we tried to make it clear to Spectrum that we were always available, and there were a couple of Spectrum writers who would come and who would chat and talk and ask for guidance and that sort of thing. But as you know - I imagine this hasn't changed a great deal - Spectrum was incredibly independent, sort of we know what we're doing.

Hochheiser:

It certainly still is, especially in relation to several other publications who we work more closely with.

Friedel:

Right, exactly. So Spectrum was Spectrum and you learned pretty quickly basically that they will come to you. We talked sometimes. I think I remember Don Christiansen had some idea that during the centennial maybe we will have monthly little items that will be a part of that and I think we did that. But they never ever wanted to lose total control over their content, as is appropriate, but we tried to be helpful where we could.

Actually, I should also point out that one other thing related to that was that when there were occasions when I - I remember in particular the Power Engineering Society. For example, when 1982 came around - now realize this is still fairly early in our history - that was a centennial year that I was particularly aware of, the Edison first Central Station at Pearl Street, and sure enough the Power Engineering Society wanted to commemorate that. And so, I wrote a little booklet which we found the illustrations for that was built around the Pearl Street anniversary. I remember at the time we wanted to do that as a kind of model, the sort of thing that we can do and if we have the capability of doing it, if we have the time, then we'll do it. And if we don't have the time then you can pay us something for whatever extra help we might need to do it. But I wanted it to be established that we were the facility that any of the societies could come to for something like that. Not the same thing, but it's not unrelated to what we were trying to do with the Quantum Electronics people on the laser anniversary and the like. We wanted to be the outfit that you would turn to for that sort of thing.

Working with History Committee

Hochheiser:

About midway through your tenure Harold Chestnut succeeded Barney as head of the History Committee.

Friedel:

No, he succeeded Jack Ryder as head of the History Committee. That was a trick question, I recognized it, right.

Hochheiser:

No, no, it wasn't a trick question. It was my getting something wrong.

Friedel:

But right, right.

Hochheiser:

You talked quite a bit about how you worked with Barney.

Friedel:

Right.

Hochheiser:

What can you tell me about how you worked with Jack and/or Harold?

Friedel:

Much less closely. The History Committee was [a] source of real support and also a place to bounce off certain ideas or questions of priority. For example, what's more important or going to be more responsive to our agenda within the organization? But I will say this, I think Jack established this at the outset and Hal followed up. So in my experience, and I can imagine how over the years it might have varied a bit more, the History Committee again very much supported the idea that the History Center was a professional organization, a professional arm, a little bit like the fact that the technical societies did not tell publications how to do their job. They would provide the material and if questions about priorities or questions about new initiatives would come up, then, of course, they were crucial. But in terms of the day to day operations, in terms of actually filling out the agendas, the History Committee was there, but it was very much in an advisory capacity. I think that really was a consciouschoice on the part of Jack and I think picked up by Hal that we're here to help them and if we have certain concerns then, of course, we'll bring them up. And in looking back on it, I think also that, given the stature of those members and naïve me - I was only vaguely aware of their true stature, I confess. So with looking back on it, they acted as a kind of protection for the Center, particularly in the tender young years, when you're asking yourself what were they thinking, you know, kind of question. They really were the protectors of this initiative. But in terms of day to day work, certainly in my own work, it was not a key part of the way we functioned.

Archive of Profession, JCAST

Hochheiser:

Another exhibit that you did again with Barney while you were at the History Center was one on microelectronics.

Friedel:

Oh my goodness I had forgotten that one entirely.

Hochheiser:

Well it showed up in the newsletter.

Friedel:

Did it really? My goodness. I wonder what form that took. Gosh. I don't recall it at all as a matter of fact. What I do remember though, I will tell you this because I think it very germane to trying to figure out how the Center is trying to shape its mission here, an issue that came up early on and is inescapable for any initiative like this is how does a Center like this relate to the archival records of the profession as a whole as opposed to the records of the organization. And because there is a model out there of Center as collector, and down the street at the AIP they did have the Niels Bohr Library.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Friedel:

And I'm sure that there were discussions early on, even before I arrived, about whether having a History Center meant that you were committing yourself to something like that, a historical collection. I think that's one of the reasons why the Engineering Societies Library presence was important in that it was thought that as far as library resources, including fabulous historical material related to the very earliest history of electricity and going on well into the early twentieth century, the Engineering Societies Library was taking care of that, but that does not address the more crucial question of what happened to archives and records. So I became a member, I can't remember exactly when, probably right about this time, of an organization, even calling it an organization isn't quite right - it was called the Joint Committee on the Archives of Science and Technology. We referred to it [as] JCAST. I don't know if you've ever heard reference to this or seen it.

Hochheiser:

Yes, I have.

Friedel:

Okay. And I was the Society for the History of Technology, the SHOT, representative for JCAST. I guess when at the Smithsonian I had in fact headed up the Archives Committee of SHOT, I think maybe we changed the name to the Document Committee. But in any case, this question that I had been dealing with since fairly early in my professional career - how do we make sure that the archival materials, the documents, the manuscripts that we have in the History of Technology are preserved.

Archive Broker, Milwaukee Road

So I saw that as a central charge of a history center, but we did not have the resources nor particularly the desire to actually collect materials.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Friedel:

And I did not want us to get into that business because I already knew enough or may have known enough that, that was an endless pit. So what do you do? Well I tried to establish early on, and I know I was trying to do this in the newsletter, and [other] indirect methods that I can't even recall, to get the word out that we were there and we wanted to hear if there were archival collections out there, because I wanted us to act as a kind of broker, kind of emergency operation where if there were records that were in danger of being destroyed or some company going out of business or selling itself that we would in fact be able to respond in some way and we did do that. I remember, probably the most spectacular case - it pleased me no end - was when the Milwaukee Road Railroad might have been going into bankruptcy or it might have been just reorganizing in some fashion, but it had voluminous collections related to the electrification all the way from Lake Michigan to Tacoma. I mean the most astounding electrification effort ever undertaken by a railroad, certainly in North America. And this was a lot of stuff. So I remember calling up Art Norberg, who at that time was at Minnesota.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Friedel:

And the nearest person I could think of who could look at the stuff and say, could you take a look at it, and see what kind of eyeball assessment you can make of it. He would come back and say, well, yeah, obviously this is really good. This really covers a pretty important project. Then we called up the Wisconsin Historical Society, bless them, which blanched no doubt at the size, but said, we know how to do this, we can do this. And I said, yes, that is what we want to be able to do. And there were a number of cases.

Silicon Valley, Raising Archive Awareness

Now the reason I think about this when you raise a question about microelectronics and exhibits was that this is the real beginnings of Silicon Valley, well not the real beginnings as we know, but the time when Silicon Valley was beginning to be visible as a cultural element that people can now identify. And I was despairing at the fact that there appeared to be no place that was paying attention to all of this. And I remember having correspondence with and a couple of phone calls with the archivist at Stanford, sort of pleading with her, you know, this is important, can't we do something about this? And you guys are the guys that are right there. I'm pretty sure this was some time later, eventually they basically said, yes, we could do this. Now as you may know even before then, I think her name was Robin Rider, was at Berkley.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Friedel:

And Berkley already had put together its effort for the documentation of science and some technology in California. That kind of campaign was something that I believe very strongly fit within the charge of the Center, if kind of indirect[ly]. Working on the Joint Committee on Archives of Science and Technology brought me in close contact with Helen Samuels, who had a different name at that time - I can't remember it at the moment - but she was the archivist at MIT.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Friedel:

Again, this got us into the mode of trying to think about how we cooperate with these important institutional archives and think about how we can save records and see that we a find home for them, and then move into the mode - and this is one of the things we started doing with the newsletter - of trying to feature important collections to let people know about them. And I will say our model for this very much was the AIP Center because while, you know, there was the Niels Bohr Library and a few specific collections, they too, of course, very early on recognized that they couldn't become a major repository for this material. They had to be very selective, so they took on the job of encouraging archivists, providing them with intellectual resources if you need some help in the appraisal of materials and that sort of thing. We tried to do whatever we could to set up that role for us.

Transistor Research

But I do not remember an exhibit on microelectronics. I do know that I was very, very aware of microelectronics as something that we were watching in front of our eye[s] changing our world. And I did undertake a little bit of a research project at the time on the transistor. I was interested in particular on how – well, one way to phrase it would be, how did the transistor effect electrical engineers? And nobody had ever quite asked the question that way before. And it turned out to be a very, very interesting question. And as somebody who worked at Bell Labs, you'll be very aware of some of the ways in which that question would come up.

Hochheiser:

Yes, and it's come up in a lot of the oral histories I've done because a lot of them are people, engineers, who went through that transition in their professional lives.

Friedel:

Well, it was really interesting. I actually wrote a piece not long after I left the IEEE. I started writing some popular pieces. When American Heritage of Invention and Technology started publishing I was one of their editorial board members and one of the first pieces I wrote for them was a piece - I loved the title, I'm pretty sure they came up with the title - SIC Transit Transistor.

Hochheiser:

[Laughter]

Friedel:

Because it was about the fact that the transistor - my argument was that the transistor was actually a temporary technology, kind of a stop gap technology between the vacuum tube and the integrated circuit. The discreet transistor was, while we think of it as a great revolutionary device, which it was, but it's also quite interesting that it's actual lifetime - in the technological world -was incredibly short compared to the technology that came before and after.

Hochheiser:

Yes, that makes sense.

Post-Centennial Planning, Established Center

Did you get involved at all with the selection of the IEEE pre-doctoral fellow or was that exclusive -

Friedel:

We administered that. But it was something that the History Committee took onto itself in cooperation with the Life Members. But I do remember administering it and making people like Ron Kline and Bob Rosenberg very happy.

Hochheiser:

Yes. Did you give any thought to what the History Center would be doing after the centennial?

Friedel:

Oh, yes, I did. But I think there was a degree to which I had been thinking about that from the beginning. And that’s one of the reasons that I did not want to tether us too closely to the centennial. We wanted to be of service, we always wanted to be of service. I feel like Uriah Heep here. We were ever so humble, but, on the other hand, the IEEE gave us the latitude to put the centennial over on the side in a sense. The centennial was an important event, we're going to do what we can. When we were able to hire Joyce Bedi that was a little bit of icing on the cake. I think there was an anticipation that, well very easily - no promises were made to Joyce. Once the centennial had gone away then who knows how we will need to configure the staffing and when Ron took over that was kind of an open question. But I think I was mindful of the fact that we were in the business of establishing ourselves as a permanent expected part of what the IEEE did.

I think if I have to look back on anything as a mark of success, it is that by the time I left, which was four years to the day after I had been hired, that people didn't really question the fact. We were already past the middle of ‘84 at that time and there didn't really seem to be that much question that, oh, yes, of course, the History Center is part of what we do. They have their offices. That sort of thing. I feel a great feeling of accomplishment.

How I did that, that's another question. I'm looking back on it, but I think part of it was the strategic thinking that was very much encouraged by people like Jack and Hal and Barney and Jim Britain, that you are what you are. And again the model of the physicists was - I think there was a psychological significance there too for the IEEE. Of all the engineering societies, of course, the IEEE would see itself very much as having something of the same cultural and intellectual status as modern physics. People in the middle decades of the twentieth century, of course, became very aware of physics as a shaper of the world and the creator of great and important new things. Similarly, I think the electrical engineers and especially the electronics engineers wanted very much to have the same kind of cultural status and I think it was seen that what the Center was doing was an affirmation and a support for that status.

University of Maryland and IEEE

Hochheiser:

What led to your decision to leave the IEEE and move on in 1984?

Friedel:

Exhaustion. And it was more or less the exhaustion of the work. I could not ask for a better job. I would wake up and I sa[y] my God, this is incredible what I get to do. As I said for personal reasons I moved to Washington. So I had this commute and when a job opened up inside the Beltway - It's actually very funny. I actually inquired because I knew I was going to have to make the move to Washington. I did not like the idea of leaving earlier, but I had inquired because Maryland had, in fact, started a search for a historian of technology a year earlier and I got nowhere. I'm not even sure I ever got a response to my initial inquiry. I tried to figure that out. But the year of commuting was very difficult physically. I don't want to swear anything about the timing on this, but I found that Ron Kline was available. He was finishing up his dissertation.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Friedel:

I couldn't think of anyone on Earth that I would rather have in that role given his own professional background. I think quite possibly I might not have left if I hadn't been quite so sure that we were going to be able to - it would have been a terrible dilemma for me, but as it was I left feeling quite secure that we had done the centennial job. We had done the things that I thought I was strong at: exhibits, some public outreach, some public interpretation. It was good for the Center to change directions, to have a somewhat different kind of intellectual centering. And as I said, I was thrilled and liberated by the fact that it was doing that. But that's the reason, it was purely that, because I could not imagine a more amazing way to sort of explore the creative possibilities of what we do as historians than at the IEEE.

Hochheiser:

In what ways has your years at IEEE informed your subsequent career at Maryland?

Friedel:

Oh my. Well it taught me some really important lessons. How they show themselves in my career may not even be for me to say. If there was any theme that you should have picked up, I want to reiterate it, and that is the role of professionalism, of setting standards, of giving people the tool or the tools to carry out the things that are represented by those high standards. And then of disciplining yourself by those standards. The IEEE taught me those things and I think they've stood me in good stead in ways that it would be difficult for me to describe specifically. But I can hardly imagine a more important lesson to pick up, which is that the way the world really works or the way you want it to work is to have people that are intelligent and informed and have ingested, if you will, imbued a set of standards that they are then willing to set for themselves and to convey to others. And as a university teacher that’s sometimes difficult because, especially [for] the undergraduates, but even the graduate students where you know it's crucial, it's a very difficult lesson to convey to them, because it requires a level of independence, a level of self-starting and initiative that one teacher cannot do. But it has become so central to my way of thinking that I suspect in some ways it makes me a less effective teacher than I might be otherwise. Because they're like “what is this?” But the students who do catch on think they pick up a great deal from it.

Hochheiser:

We have gone through everything that I had thought to ask you. So at this point if there's anything you would like to add, if there's anything I didn't think to ask you or think to cover, here's your chance to do so.

Friedel:

I can't think of anything really. It's been very interesting thinking back thirty years. And to think that I was only 30 at the time.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Friedel:

I do want to suggest, and I guess I've covered this, that looking back on it, I do marvel at the trust that people like Eric Herz and Jack and Hal and Barney placed in me and placed in the Center. It was an extraordinary thing and, you realize looking back on it, the combination of a burden and a liberation, in the sense that that kind of trust you have to respond to, you're now responsible. You have an obligation. And you've got to feel that at some level as a burden, as something that weighs on you that you have to be mindful of. On the other hand, of course, it is an incredible liberation. It is, you're saying, okay, guys, you call the shot, you tell us what history actually involves. You tell us what's important and what's not. And talk about growing up fast. I guess that's what you have to do.

Hochheiser:

Well I think we're done.

Friedel:

Okay. Good.

Hochheiser:

Thank you very much.

Friedel:

Oh, my pleasure, Sheldon.