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Oral-History:Royal P. Allaire

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About Royal P. Allaire

Allaire got his BA in Math from the University of Massachusetts in 1938 and his MA in nuclear physics from the University of Notre Dame in 1940. He got recruited for the Rad Lab in 1942, via his Notre Dame professor George Collins, and his fellow graduate students Joe Feldmeier and Ralph Caston. At the Rad Lab he worked on transforming magnetron, cathode, etc. tubes, from design to production readiness. This involved a lot of purely mechanical work, metallurgy and chemistry as much as anything, working for example to lengthen operating life of magnetron tubes. He worked at the Rad Lab at this job till November 1945; afterwards he went to Raytheon, heading a preproduction unit that, very similarly, transformed tubes from lab design stage to production stage. There was indeed a skew towards physicists in the leadership at the Rad Lab, says Allaire.


About the Interview

ROYAL P. ALLAIRE: An Interview Conducted by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, 11 June 1991

Interview # 075 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:

Royal P. Allaire, Electrical Engineer, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

Interview: Royal P. Allaire Interviewer: Andrew Goldstein Date: 11 June 1991 Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Educational Background

Goldstein:

Let me start by asking you to briefly discuss your background. Please describe your education and what got you interested in physics.

Allaire:

My professional background consists of a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Massachusetts, a master's degree in nuclear physics from the University of Notre Dame, a master's degree in business from Northeastern University, and a Ph.D. in business from Walden University.

Goldstein:

What years did you receive those degrees?

Allaire:

The years were '38, '40, '54, and '81. I think the interesting part of my professional education would be my physics training. I studied nuclear physics under Dr. George Collins. Shortly after Radiation Lab was formed, he was requested to join the organization. After Dr. Collins was there, he invited his graduate students to join him at Radiation Laboratory. That is how I got involved with the Laboratory. I had a master's degree in physics at that time.

Magnetrons

Allaire:

I became involved in the technology aspect of the work in the Laboratory as opposed to the theoretical or the experimental. The technology aspect consisted of building magnetrons which were being designed by the theoretical people. They designed S-band, C-band, and X-band magnetrons. It was my responsibility to see that they were properly assembled and prepared for testing. Along with that magnetron work, there was also a Dr. Germeshausen at MIT who was having tubes built in the tube laboratory at the time. I am sure you have heard of EG&G (Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier). Germeshausen was working on thyratrons. Edgerton is the one who invented flash photography, and Germeshausen was the one working with him producing hydrogen thyratrons, I assume to go along with his work. So we built those tubes in the laboratory, too. They required an entirely different type of technology to build because they were gas-filled tubes as opposed to the evacuated magnetron tubes.

Goldstein:

Were the two assignments related to the magnetron assembly or were they separate?

Allaire:

No, they were completely separate. They were separate functions. The work in the laboratory was primarily that of constructing magnetrons. When we say constructing, we mean, first taking the drawings, machining all the parts, soldering together, making the cathodes for them, and ultimately sealing together, exhausting them, and then delivering them to the designer.

Goldstein:

Would you assemble the prototype based on the design?

Allaire:

Yes. We would assemble the prototype based on design.

Goldstein:

Were you responsible for testing?

Allaire:

No, I never got involved in testing. We did get involved a little bit in what was called cold testing or predicting the operating frequency. What that means is the internal cavities would be modified so the precise frequency that the designer wanted would be obtained. Then they would be used in systems work.

Goldstein:

What made Dr. Collins feel that you would be well suited for this work? What caused him to recruit you for this?

Allaire:

Well, I spent two years studying under George. I was at Notre Dame on a fellowship and one of my responsibilities there was setting up all the demonstrations that were used in all the physics lectures. Whether it was an undergraduate or a graduate class, it was my function not only to set them up but many times to make up some of the demonstrating equipment. It was based on that, that he felt I would be qualified to participate in the technology aspect of the laboratory. There were two other students, Joe Feldmeier and Ralph Caston, who came east also at the same time. They had earned their Ph.D.s and they got involved in the theoretical aspect of the laboratory work.

Goldstein:

Was that the extent of Dr. Collins' entourage, the three of you?

Allaire:

Yes, that was his whole class at the time I was there.

Goldstein:

Did your training in nuclear physics help you in any way with your particular assignment?

Allaire:

In a sense, but it was more of a mechanical type of job; seeing that the parts were properly assembled, seeing that the parts were made according to the precision that was required, and supervising all the people who performed this work. They had certain specifications for cleaning the materials, for soldering them, for activating cathodes.

Configuration of Cathodes

Allaire:

I also did work with another professor who was from Notre Dame, Dr. Edward Coomes, who was doing cathode emission studies.

Goldstein:

Was this while you were at Notre Dame?

Allaire:

No. It was not at Notre Dame but at Rad Lab. He came over to Rad Lab also, and his function was developing cathodes. I spent a great deal of time with him making up different configurations of cathodes with different specifications, and then testing them for their emission characteristics, which we denoted in amperes per square inch.

Theory and Design of Magnetrons

Goldstein:

I recall looking at one of the volumes on magnetrons in the Rad Lab series. There are different chapters on the theory and the design and the construction. It sounds from what you are telling me that, indeed, those skills were very specialized.

Allaire:

They were specialized. I would say because of the urgency of the Rad Lab project, it would be most difficult for somebody to do all three phases. Due to the theoretical aspect, the design aspect, and the construction aspect, a team of people working together was required to get out the product.

Goldstein:

What was the communication like between the different stages of the process?

Allaire:

Oh, excellent. Many of us knew one another. There were others we didn't know but we soon got acquainted with, and it was just one of the nicest arrangements I have experienced.

Goldstein:

Was there any tension between designs that weren't feasible?

Allaire:

Well, if it looked like a design wasn't practical to make, we discussed it with the designer and made suggestions. There would be compromises and ultimately we arrived at what was satisfactory for the designer. But in most cases, I would say, there was very little of that.

Goldstein:

The designs must have been pretty good.

Allaire:

Very sufficient, because they could be made by us.

Goldstein:

Being in the technological end, were you following the theory?

Allaire:

Well, as much as I could. We were so busy making as many magnetrons as we possibly could. There was little if any free time. I kept up, as much as possible, with the design aspect, but not as much as I would like to have.

Goldstein:

Were you ever in a position to recommend improvement?

Allaire:

Yes, from the mechanical, technological and materials point of view that were specified. For example, some materials in a fabrication process, would "wet" others. In other words, they would solder together. If you were working with tungsten, you could not solder certain materials to it. You would soon learn that and you would learn what to use. Copper and nickel would wet tungsten very nicely whereas other materials would not.

Fabricating Tubes

Goldstein:

I want to understand a little better what your position in the Rad Lab was. You said that you were brought there by Dr. Collins and you worked under him in the magnetron group, but then you had this other responsibility in the tube group. Is that right?

Allaire:

That was the whole tube group. When you say the tube group, you are referring to the hydrogen thyratron group?

Goldstein:

Right.

Allaire:

This was a laboratory for building tubes, which means one could build almost any kind of a tube. It wouldn't have to be a magnetron. I think Dr. Germeshausen had some sort of agreement to use some of the equipment, primarily the exhaust systems, which had to be specialized so that you could evacuate the tube and then readmit hydrogen. It had to be admitted up to a certain pressure. So one had a technique for doing that. But that was a minor aspect of the work in the tube laboratory. The work was, I would say, 90 percent magnetrons.

WA:

Who was supervising that work?

Allaire:

Dr. Germeshausen would supervise his own work. I think he was originally at MIT full time.

Goldstein:

But your work with Dr. Collins was on the magnetrons?

Allaire:

That's right. Except Dr. Collins was the head of the lab and he had people under him who designed the tubes, so I worked with them. There were a couple of people that I worked with. Dr. Joe Feldmeier and Dr. Bob Young were two of the designers. Dr. Bob Young designed high power, ten centimeter tubes. Whoever the designers were, if they wanted something built, we would build them. We had a whole staff of people who did this sort of work, besides having the facilities for fabricating, assembling, and soldering all these various devices. We had a technical staff there as well who dealt with the technical aspects of the materials being used. An interesting aspect is that you had to use what was called oxygen-free high conductivity copper. Why was that copper being used? If you took normal grade copper, it had a lot of oxide in it, and if you ran that through a hydrogen oven, the oxide would be reduced and leave a lot of pores in the copper, and you couldn't create a vacuum. These tubes, you see, were built with an outer case of copper. You have a copper cylinder, and you put inside the cylinder all the elements of a magnetron, but if you didn't have the right kind of copper, you would never get a vacuum. Also, you had to be sure you had the right nickel. Again, nickel was used primarily for cathodes. If you didn't have electronic grade nickel, you would not get the emission from the cathode that you should get. These are two examples of the technology of the materials used in the manufacture of magnetrons.

Goldstein:

Were these problems unique to the tubes you were developing at the Rad Lab or were these problems faced by tube manufacturers in private industry before the war?

Allaire:

Well, certainly they were faced with the proper nickel. I would assume they were also faced with the copper, particularly after they started making magnetrons. Raytheon Company was working in conjunction with Rad Lab during the war making tubes in volume so they would have had the same problems. Generally, a laboratory would have a chemist and a metallurgist. All materials that came in would have to be tested by them before they were used in tube making. If they didn't pass their grade, or level of purity, you couldn't make tubes out of them. So you had to be sure the materials were certified for tube manufacturing.

Raytheon

Goldstein:

Did you have much interaction with industrial-based tube manufacturers, either for guidance in preparing the materials properly, or perhaps in negotiating your contracts for large-scale manufacturing?

Allaire:

I didn't get into that aspect, but I did have some contacts with some of the engineers at Raytheon Company who were building tubes following Rad Lab design. They would come into the technology area and see how we were doing things so they could carry as much information back as possible.

Goldstein:

Was this after Raytheon received the contract to manufacture magnetrons?

Allaire:

That's right.

Goldstein:

Did they have any input into the design or the manufacturing process?

Allaire:

I would say they had very little at that point in time.

Goldstein:

What time are we talking about?

Allaire:

I guess around '43. But eventually Raytheon introduced a lot of new techniques. For example, it would take practically all day to take a solid chunk of copper and machine it out, bore it out to make the cavities and to make the input holes for the filaments and the output holes. Percy Spencer, who was running the microwave tube division at the time, came up with a process whereby one could make thousands of copper anodes in a short period of time. How did he do that? Instead of a machinist taking a big chunk of copper and spending all day long boring and drilling, Percy Spencer took thin sheets of copper and with a die just stamp out laminations. Then the laminations would be thoroughly cleaned, stacked on a fixture with layers of soldering between, which would then also be stamped out so you would have the exact configuration. Then run them through a hydrogen furnace. The furnace would melt the solder and bond the copper laminations together. That's the way production was dramatically increased.

Goldstein:

What was his position?

Allaire:

He was manager of the microwave and power tube division of Raytheon Company. Over the years I have wondered how he happened to come up with that idea. I really don't know. However, Raytheon had a division that was building transformers from steel laminations. Perhaps Percy Spencer carried that manufacturing technology over to the manufacture of magnetrons. Percy Spencer is deceased so I cannot check on whether or not that was his rationale. In any event, it was a remarkable way to do it. It worked really well. Working with copper was entirely different from working with steel that goes into a transformer. Steel is hard, whereas copper is very soft and malleable. It's a similar technique, but it had to be applied differently.

Goldstein:

Were there any manufacturing techniques that you or your colleagues developed at the Rad Lab that were passed on to Raytheon?

Allaire:

I don't know whether we did or not. Rad Lab was going before I got there. I got there in 1942, and it started in 1940. When I got there the tube laboratory was all set up. It was running and they needed additional people to staff it. I would suspect that they probably had talked with Raytheon and people at Bell Labs because they also built tubes.

Recruitment to Rad Lab

Goldstein:

Did you work in the same capacity the whole time you were at Rad Lab?

Allaire:

Yes. I got there in June or July of '42 and was there until it was closed down in November of '45. I worked in the same capacity.

Goldstein:

Was that immediately after getting your masters in physics?

Allaire:

No, it was two years after getting my masters. I got my masters in 1940, and then I taught physics and calculus at St. Bede junior college for two years. Then the war started and the Rad Lab started looking for people.

Goldstein:

Did Dr. Collins come to find you?

Allaire:

I think maybe I wrote to him because two of my friends that I mentioned earlier, Feldmeier and Caston, had gone to Rad Lab shortly after George Collins went and I was in communication with them. I was teaching at a school about 100 miles away, so I was in communication with them all the time. When I learned they went to Rad Lab, I thought, Gee, maybe I can have the opportunity to go, so I contacted George. They were scouring the country and taking in all the physics and math people that they could.

Goldstein:

Were you aware of the Rad Lab project, or radar in general before the contact with your friends?

Allaire:

No, it was the contact with my friends that I learned of Rad Lab. All I knew was it was named Rad Lab, and I didn't know what they did, but I knew they were using people with physics backgrounds so I ended up there.

Goldstein:

You say they were looking for physicists. Were the people you were closest with trained in physics or some other discipline?

Allaire:

Oh, they were trained in physics. Ralph Caston was trained in rubber, strange as it may be. He did his Ph.D. in the expansion and contraction of rubber, but he played a very important part at MIT Rad Lab. He got involved in the SCR 584 equipment and he learned how to operate it. Then he was shipped out to the Pacific to operate the equipment. Joe Feldmeier was trained in nuclear physics and he was a designer of magnetrons. Then during Rad Lab's final closing stages, he was one of the primary authors of the book on magnetrons in the series of twenty books.

Goldstein:

Was there much of a screening procedure when you contacted Dr. Collins and expressed an interest in coming to work at the Rad Lab?

Allaire:

As I recall, I wrote to George, and he wrote back and shortly afterwards I had an offer to come to MIT from F.W. Loomis who was the administrator at the time. I accepted the offer and came. It was very informal. F.W. Loomis must have accepted George Collins's recommendation.

Magnetron and Cathode Tubes

Goldstein:

I'm interested in the development of magnetrons. By the time you got there in 1942, was the model still the original British magnetron or had the Rad Lab modified it significantly? What was the training procedure they put you through to acquaint you with the technology?

Allaire:

One of the first things that George Collins did was show me the original English magnetron. From that point we discussed how they were made and then he gave me a tour of the laboratory and all the facilities that were used. Then he put me on my own. He put me in with a staff of people.

Goldstein:

Were you encouraged to follow the theoretical development going on in the design group or was the extent to which you did that based on your own initiatives?

Allaire:

No, I was hired for the opening in the technology area. He had the opening in that area, and I think that's how I ended up in that area. But I think it may have been because perhaps I didn't have enough theoretical background to be one of the designers. He had everybody with a Ph.D. in physics in that area. I had certainly more than enough background for the technology area.

Goldstein:

What was the degree of improvement in the magnetrons between successive prototypes that you would construct? Would they work for long periods and release a significantly revised design?

Allaire:

Well, one of the problems was getting the tubes to have more life; by that I mean operating hours. It was a continuous process of developing and working with materials, working with processes so that you would obtain a cathode in the magnetron that would give you a long life. Now the cathode at that time was very easy to poison. By that I mean it would stop emitting, so we would have to be very careful of the processing. When I say processing, I mean, when you exhaust the tube, get all the gas out of it. One of the steps in the process is to get as good a vacuum as the system would deliver. Then you put an oven over the exhaust magnetrons, and heat it up. Now you only heat it up to a certain temperature to drive out as much gas that's in that cavity as possible. If you overheat it, then you could destroy the cathode. You could only take it up to a certain level, get all the gases out that you possibly could, then you let it cool off, and then you would activate the cathode. At that particular time, we were using carbonate cathodes. There was a barium carbonate solution that was painted on the nickel, and inside the nickel sleeve, was the heater. To activate the cathode you would heat up the heater, and you would go through a very careful processing schedule where you would take it up slowly so the gas would evolve from the emitting material and you would convert the carbonate to an oxide. Once you got up to that level, when it is all converted, then you would start putting an electrical voltage between the cathode and the anode to see what kind of emission resulted.

Goldstein:

Was that a quality test?

Allaire:

It was a quality test, and if it was satisfactory, then you would seal the tube off. The tube was sealed onto a glass pump, and we would call a glass blower over and he would seal it off.

Goldstein:

You are telling me that some of the work you would do, would be to improve and refine the procedures in tube manufacturing to give the tube longer life and higher quality, not simply constructing in group designs that came out of the design groups.

Allaire:

That's right.

Goldstein:

Do you have any sense of how much of your work was devoted to one or the other?

Allaire:

Not really. Our main job was to follow the specifications just as carefully as we could. If there was a failure, we would make suggestions as to what needed to be changed.

Goldstein:

How was the track record in terms of improving tube life?

Allaire:

I spent a great bit of time with Dr. Coomes I mentioned earlier. I would make the cathodes for him, and process them, and then run what we called an emission test. I would put them on a modulator, which would apply a very high voltage pulse across the anode to the cathode. We were trying to see how high an electrical field one could apply before it would start arcing. If it would start arcing, you could destroy the cathode.

Goldstein:

Would an electric spark jump between two elements?

Allaire:

Yes, between the anode and the cathode. They were both within a glass tube. This work was a study of the cathode characteristics only.

Goldstein:

Did the work that you were doing on the hydrogen tube provide any insight to your work on the magnetrons?

Allaire:

Not really. That was an entirely different problem. In magnetrons, we were striving for the best vacuums that one could obtain. In the hydrogen thyratrons, we would get the best vacuum we could get. But then we would back fill the tube with hydrogen. You would have to have pure hydrogen, and you would have to have some kind of pressure gauge on the system, a manometer, to measure the amount of hydrogen you had in there. Because, again, if you would set up a gas discharge, that was one of the variations. I believe that was what Dr. Germeshausen was studying. Thyratrons had a tremendously short life and he was trying to improve them, and I know he did.

Information and Security

Goldstein:

Did you make a point of attending the weekly seminars on Monday afternoon?

Allaire:

We always attended any seminar or any lecture that we were welcomed or invited to. We always went. That improved our understanding of what was going on. When you were working in a laboratory, you would know what's going on there but you may not get an overall picture. At the seminars you would get a broader viewpoint and you would know what you were doing as far as the whole is concerned as opposed to one little unit.

Goldstein:

How did that formal information distribution system compare to informal discussions you may have had with people in the hallways?

Allaire:

Frankly, we didn't have time for that. We were so busy building tubes, we were concentrating primarily on what we had to do in the lab. Outside, we didn't talk about it at all for security reasons. We didn't talk to anybody. Even the workers we didn't talk to.

Goldstein:

Do you think it within the security guidelines for your friends to write you and tell you about the work?

Allaire:

Oh, they didn't tell me about the work. They just told me they were going to work at Rad Lab at MIT. That's all they told me. They told me no more than that. I turned around and wrote George Collins.

Significance of Work at Rad Lab

Goldstein:

Let me ask you of the different assignments you were doing, what do you regard as the most important work that you did at Rad Lab?

Allaire:

Well, I guess the most important work was to build a reliable tube so that they could be used in a system, because the microwave tubes were being used in the SCR 584. In other projects that they were working on, if the tubes failed, it held up their work. So I would say we were very keen on doing the best job we possibly could so that these tubes would have enough life so that they could get the experimental data that they were working for.

Goldstein:

Did the progress that you and your group made in the tube manufacture keep pace with the development of the other groups?

Allaire:

I don't know that I could answer that one.

Goldstein:

Was one group ever making demands of another group that could not necessarily be met?

Allaire:

All I know is some of these tubes that we made didn't live up to the expectations of some of the equipment people, but we were doing the best that we could with the technology allowed us at that point in time. But as we went along, we learned how to handle the materials better, and I am sure they got better.

Postwar Career

Goldstein:

You said that you left Rad Lab when it closed down at the end of '45. Where did you go?

Allaire:

Bill Brown from Raytheon Company came over and interviewed two or three of us to join Raytheon. The division he was working with was the microwave division, which made magnetrons, so it was a natural transition from having spent a couple of years at Rad Lab building magnetrons to go right on to Raytheon and build magnetrons out there. So I was made an offer, which I accepted, and I was assigned the responsibility of setting up a unit that we called a preproduction unit. We had an engineering lab that would design the tubes, but instead of going directly into production, one had to transform the tube and its assembly procedure from a laboratory procedure to a manufacturing procedure. That was my function to transfer the laboratory model into a manufacturing model from the preproduction model. I spent a number of years in that capacity.

Goldstein:

So did Raytheon come recruiting as the activities in the lab were winding down?

Allaire:

Absolutely. They recruited and shortly after Dr. Getting was at Raytheon, too. Dr. Getting came to Raytheon as Vice President in charge of engineering and research. He reported directly to the president. I believe several other Rad Lab people joined Raytheon.

Goldstein:

It sounds like your work at the Rad Lab launched you in a career direction toward manufacturing, and the technology associated with manufacturing.

Allaire:

Yes, it did.

Goldstein:

Do you think that was in line with your training in physics? When you were at Notre Dame, it sounded like you were handy and responsible for practical demonstrations. Had that always been an inclination of yours?

Allaire:

I was probably more on the mechanical side even though I did take theoretical physics and advanced mathematics. I think I was more inclined towards the technological aspect so it was kind of natural to just progress into the Raytheon job.

Goldstein:

Do you think Rad Lab was influential in shaping your career?

Allaire:

Well, it did help shape my career, absolutely. It was a management job that I had. Eventually there were a lot of manufacturing techniques that were developed under my direction and were moved into production at Raytheon. I didn't abandon physics 100 percent, but I did do design. It was designing certain equipment that would permit more rapid manufacturing procedures.

Goldstein:

Did you see Guerlac's book on the history of the Rad Lab?

Allaire:

I probably have. I haven't seen it lately.

Goldstein:

In there, he said that the Rad Lab was a physicist's world run for and as completely as possible by physicists.

Allaire:

Well, I think it was. There were physicists in every level of the organization starting from the top down. I think Getting touched on it in his talk this morning. Everybody from the president of the organization to the group leaders, on down to all the technology people, they were all physicists. That's unusual. I don't think there are any business people in there per se. I don't even know if the treasurer was a business man or not, but F.W. Loomis who was also an administrator was executive vice-president. He was a physicist from Springfield, Illinois. So there were physics people from top to bottom.

Goldstein:

Was it a challenge to any of the physicists to wear the hat of an engineer?

Allaire:

I don't think so because everyone eventually reached their own level. I'd say the most capable ones were at the top, and the less capable ones were at the bottom, from a pure physics point of view.

Goldstein:

You mentioned that the Rad Lab work on magnetrons was going on at Raytheon. Were you aware of work on magnetrons going on elsewhere? What degree of communication was there about development?

Allaire:

Not really at the time. I didn't know much about it. Once I got at Rad Lab and was assigned to the magnetron development laboratory, I didn't know what was going on anywhere else until the Raytheon people started coming in and seeking information. They were allowed in the Rad Lab. I knew that the magnetron did come from England, but I wasn't familiar with that field at all. It was a brand new field.