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Oral-History:Russell D. O'Neal

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About Russell D. O'Neal

O’Neal received his PhD from the University of Illinois in 1941 and got a job there as a physics instructor. Despite the fact that he specialized in nuclear physics, he was recruited by Prof. Loomis in Spring 1942 to work for the Rad Lab. There he worked for the test equipment group under Frank Gaffney. He redesigned an X-band radar for easier use; it got into production within a year. He also helped develop special oscilloscopes to put into aircraft to check radars in the field, and developed microwave corner reflectors, to make life boats, etc., visible to radar. For the oscilloscopes he collaborated with Jim Gaines of Bell Labs; the Rad Lab also collaborate with GE, Sperry, and RCA. After the war there was a bit of a scramble for patent rights for work, often collaborative, done at the Rad Lab. The Rad Lab had a general influence on later research, by means of its written notes, and of the experience and connections gained of Rad Lab participants, but direct influences are hard to make out. After the war, O’Neal worked at the University of Michigan for guided missiles, then worked at Eastman Kodak and Bendix. At the time of the interview he was vice chairman of the Environmental Research Association of Michigan.


About the Interview

RUSSELL D. O'NEAL: An Interview Conducted by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, 10 June 1991

Interview # 070 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:

Russell D. O’Neal, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

Interview: Russell D. O’Neal
Interviewer: Andrew Goldstein
Date: 10 June 1991
Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Recruitment to Rad Lab

Goldstein:

This is Andy Goldstein speaking with Dr. Russell O'Neal on June 10, 1991 at the Haines Convention Center in Boston as part of the Rad Lab Oral History Project. Dr. O'Neal, thank you for coming to speak with me. Could you start by telling me something about your background, your education, and employment background before your work at the Rad Lab?

O'Neal:

Yes. I was out at the University of Illinois and did my graduate work there. I completed my Ph.D. in '41 and became an instructor in the physics department there. I was doing a lot of research in nuclear physics and enjoying it greatly. In late '41 some of the people began moving away to Cambridge, and those of us who were younger knew very little about what was going on. Then in the spring of '42, Professor Loomis, who was an associate director of the Radiation Laboratory, came back to recruit a number of us. I went up to him at the end of the session and asked him if it had anything to do with nuclear physics, and he said, "no." I said, "Well, I'm not interested." [Chuckling] He said, "Young man, you'll learn there are other things in life than nuclear physics. And what we're doing can have a profound influence on the outcome of the war." I didn't sleep very well that night. I went back the next morning and said, "I'll come." The word "radar" was classified, and he couldn't tell me anything about what was going on. But I knew a lot of important people had gone there. That's how I got involved.

Goldstein:

That was in '42. Did Dr. Loomis come from the University of Illinois?

O'Neal:

Yes. He had been head of the University of Illinois physics department. He said to me, "If you really want to stay in nuclear physics, I'll get you a job, probably at the University of Chicago." (Where the initial nuclear pile was built.) "But," he said, "I'd like you to come to MIT, if you would." And I went. [Chuckling]

Goldstein:

Did he come with an offer to any interested personnel?

O'Neal:

Yes. There were quite a few of us.

Goldstein:

In physics only?

O'Neal:

There may have been some in electrical engineering, but the people I knew were in the physics department. About half a dozen of us who had gotten our degrees the year before went. So did two or three people who had just gotten their master's. A very good friend of mine who worked with me had just gotten his master's degree in physics, and he came. It was at the time when the Laboratory was growing rapidly.

Goldstein:

You said that people had been migrating off to Cambridge under mysterious circumstances. Was there any awareness of the existence of the Rad Lab?

O'Neal:

We knew that something was going on in Cambridge but nothing about the details.

Goldstein:

When you got to the Rad Lab, what was your assignment?

X-Band Radar

O'Neal:

I was assigned to the test equipment group in the Division 5. That was an interesting assignment because it got me involved in lots of different things having to do with radar development.

Goldstein:

Who were you working under? What systems were you working on?

O'Neal:

I was working under Frank Gaffney, who was a very good engineer, a very bright fellow with a lot of common sense. He had the good sense to send me out into the field with the first test set I built. I learned so much in a half hour in ten degree weather down at Quonset Point, trying to operate that test set to test the radar in a Navy airplane. As a result of that, I decided to completely redesign the test set and come out with another test set that would be much easier for people to use. I also decided that you just had to have a better way of coupling into the radar than by placing a microwave horn in the breezes out in front of a radome. So I developed directional couplers and things like that. And I made up my mind: I'm going to make sure that every radar has a directional coupler if I possibly can before the end of this war, just to make it easier for the soldiers in the field. That's something that this fellow Gaffney taught me. Ever since then, I've tried to get other people to do it. Very hard to get people, engineers, out into the field to really work with the equipment so that they then know firsthand how difficult it is to use and what's really required in order to have something that works under operational conditions.

Goldstein:

Was his awareness of those issues a result of his being an engineer?

O'Neal:

He was an engineer, and he had worked some in industry. He didn't have the scientist's approach, he had an engineer's approach. I learned a lot from him.

Goldstein:

Did the physicists think in terms of engineers, or as engineers?

O'Neal:

There were more physicists — scientists — than there were engineers there. They worked very closely together. It was a mutual kind of thing. I think physicists are closest to engineering. Take the physicists who had been building equipment in nuclear physics. They were pretty well trained to build things and to work on things that were difficult to build. There were also a lot of little things about working with industry that were important. I recall the first test set that I built. I came to Gaffney a few days after we had released it to a small company down in New York to manufacture. I said to Gaffney, "You know, we really need another position on that rotary switch." "My God!" he said, "It's been released to production. You can't do that!" To me that didn't matter. I'd found a better way of doing something. So we learned a lot. I was very young at the time. I was only 26 or so. So I had had no experience with manufacturing. We had to learn a lot of things in a hurry.

Goldstein:

What was the function of the particular radar set that you designed under Gaffney?

O'Neal:

It was a test set to test X-band radars. This was the first test set to test X-band radars.

Goldstein:

Was the project well developed when you joined on board?

O'Neal:

There wasn't anything. [Chuckling] Another fellow, who was equally inexperienced, and I built it together. We developed it together with a couple of technicians. Things went very rapidly in those days. You didn't know that you couldn't do a lot of things, but somehow you got it done. And you worked night and day.

Goldstein:

What did you take as your model, where did you go to learn how to begin?

O'Neal:

We started at the beginning.

Goldstein:

From scratch on the drawing board?

O'Neal:

There was actually an engineer who was building an S-band test set, and I talked with him about what he was doing. Pretty quickly I knew the fundamentals of what had to be accomplished. There were components available for doing various things, and I assembled those components and put together a test set. It was not easy to use. It was not what we now call "user-friendly." But I saw them around for years after the war in various laboratories. But as a result of the field experience that Gaffney forced me to have I came up with a new design. I had a lot of arguments with people in the Laboratory about the fact that this new approach wasn't the best way to test a radar. They'd say, "Well, you're not checking the video portion of the receiver." And I'd say, "Yeah, that's right. But that's not where the problems are. The problems are normally in the front end of the receiver. We're going to catch 95-99 percent of the problems with this new approach." And we finally got it into production. It was much easier to use, and it was used. It was an FM rather than a pulsed test set, the TS-13 that I had designed at first.

Goldstein:

How long had you worked on it between the time you started and the time it was ready for production?

O'Neal:

That's a good question. I hadn't thought about that. But I think that thing started into production about six to twelve months after I arrived at the Radiation Laboratory. Now that I think back about it, that's kind of amazing. [Chuckling] But that was what was happening in those days. People were designing radars in short periods of time and getting them into production. We got very good cooperation from technicians.

Goldstein:

That's a question I had. In order to design, did you use components off the shelf, or did you issue specifications for components that were then created?

O'Neal:

Well, there were components, but they were being developed at the same time. I was able to use those components. I could get a Sperry klystron, a small klystron. I could get waveguides, loads, dummy loads, cavities, and things like that, which the components groups had been developing. They had gotten people to manufacture those. So that I could put those together, and then the manufacturing organizations would buy it from these people and then they'd set up to run. But that was all done very quickly without a lot of detailed specifications. I didn't write detailed specifications. We did have to put together drawings. There were what we called "present day specifications," but they were nothing like the specifications. Although I'm formally retired, I'm still semi-active at least, and I know what you have to go through today in designing and getting something built today. It was nothing like that. But it worked.

Procurement of Components

Goldstein:

Something you said sparked a question in my mind. Was there any formal system for bringing to the attention of you and your group the work of the components group? How were you made aware of what was available for you to work with?

O'Neal:

It was just working with the people. Frank would tell me to go down there, and they'd be able to get that for me. I remember there were one or two people in our group that were pretty good at ferreting out where you could buy things, where you could get things. If we needed a particular resistor or condenser or something, these fellows were very good at finding it, whether they had to go to some store or whether they got it from some other group. So we did have a lot of help that way.

Goldstein:

Now these two people were in your group?

O'Neal:

In our group.

Goldstein:

Was there a procurement office?

O'Neal:

In Gaffney's group. He had organized it that way.

Goldstein:

At the Lab was there a procurement office?

O'Neal:

Yes, I think there was, but I didn't get involved with that much. This other fellow would be involved in that, the fellow who was getting things for us. So many of us were scientists, and we weren't very good at administration. [Chuckling] We had to pick that up, and we would depend upon other people to get things done. It was a very good cooperative effort.

Goldstein:

Were you involved in the contract side of manufacturing?

O'Neal:

No. I really wasn't involved in that. Another group of people took care of that sort of thing. That was good because they were people that were working directly with industry and purchasing and buying things. Young scientists like myself would probably have screwed it up pretty badly.

Goldstein:

Tell me if I have an accurate picture of what was going on. You would work out an idea with the materials that were either on hand or that you knew that you could get. People had an awareness of what was available. The design would be built and tested, and all of this is done so far without too much interaction with industry.

O'Neal:

But then when you had a model, then the industry would be brought in, and they would be asked, "can you build this sort of thing"?

Goldstein:

Did they have a chance to offer input at that point about the way it should be designed in order to manufacture it?

O'Neal:

I think from the point of view of some of the externals, yes. But they didn't modify things too much. Because they weren't familiar with microwave. Microwave was very new. There just weren't microwave engineers around. So they pretty much did things the way they were told to do them. But they packaged it, in terms of where the knobs went and things like that. Still we'd give a little advice as to where we thought things ought to be to make it easier to use. They weren't very experienced at that.

Goldstein:

Was there much communication at that stage? Were different industrial representatives brought in?

O'Neal:

They were pretty much left alone to do the job once they were told. There were people from the Radiation Lab that went down and checked on this. By the time that we got involved in that stage, I was off on developing the next set. So I didn't get involved too much in working with them. There were other people who were more manufacturing-engineering oriented.

Work with Bell Labs

Goldstein:

Were these people who worked in your group?

O'Neal:

I'm a little hazy on that. My recollection is that Frank took care of that. Too bad he's not here. I don't think he's here for this event. He would remember that because that would have been very much on his mind. My recollection is that about the time that the first test set, the pulsed TS-13, began to be delivered from the manufacturer, and after the first prototype of the second design, i.e. the FM test set, had been built two things happened. First the responsibility for putting the FM test set into production was given to another section under Rudy Greisheimer, and secondly I was asked to head an applications section which was aimed at seeing just how we could help insure that test equipment was effectively used to make the radar in the field operate more nearly in accordance with the performance that they had been designed to achieve. During this time I was getting very involved with Bell Laboratories. There was a very close relationship between the Radiation Lab and Bell Laboratories, and I was going to New York very frequently, sometimes every week or every other week, but usually at least once a month, working with them on analyzing the various radars that were going to require test sets.

We worked on test equipment, we got into echo boxes, and then we got into the development of a special oscilloscope. During all of this time we were also working closely with the services. The development of the special oscilloscope happened close to the end of the war, but it got started about a year and a half before the war ended. There was a fellow by the name of Karl Hillerman, who was in the Navy, and he said, "We've got to get an oscilloscope that we can get into an aircraft so that maintenance people can use it in checking our radars in the field." This was a joint development of MIT and Bell Laboratories. I think it was called the TS-239 test set. It was quite advanced in that it had very fast sweep so you could study microsecond pulses very well. There was a fellow by the name of Jim Gaines, I remember, at Bell Laboratories, and we would meet at least every two weeks. He'd bring in his designs and we would criticize it. Then he'd go back to the drawing board. I think it was a successful development of design by committee. [Chuckling] Normally you can't do it that way, but there weren't too many people. Maybe half a dozen people were involved.

There's a sequel to all this. After World War II was over, I went to Rochester to Eastman Kodak, and I got involved in some in the early days of digital computer development. I couldn't find the kind of oscilloscope that I needed. Dumont, a company existing at the time, was making some but they weren't fast enough to do what I wanted to do. I called Jim Gaines and asked him if he could furnish me one of those scopes. He said, "Well, we have a company called Graybar who will build things like this." It took six months to get a quote. The quote was for it about $100,000 for two oscilloscopes, which was ridiculous in those days or even now. I was getting very discouraged, but a technical representative came in one day and showed me an oscilloscope that was much bigger than the TS-239. It was maybe five times larger than the miniaturized one that Bell had produced for the services. But it had all the same electrical characteristics. I couldn't believe it! I found out later that two or three engineers who knew about this scope decided to produce it commercially. That was the beginning of Tektronics, which is now a very major company. [Laughter]

Patent Rights and Secrecy

Goldstein:

I wonder about that, and I hope we get a chance to talk about that: how technologies that were developed by you and your colleagues at the Rad Lab, how that technology seeped into the industrial world, and the degree to which Rad Lab maintained intellectual property rights of the work done there.

O'Neal:

That's a good question, about the intellectual property rights.

Goldstein:

Was that discussed?

O'Neal:

Now in that particular case, I don't know of any discussion of intellectual property rights. That was a joint effort between MIT and Bell Laboratories, the Navy. That's a good question. I suspect that the fellows made enough changes in it that maybe — I don't think it was even questioned, to my knowledge. But I can tell you about things that were of concern. We did try to write down as many patent disclosures as we could right after the war work had been done.

Goldstein:

Were these for yourself?

O'Neal:

No. For MIT. I recall a Tuesday night seminar (and this again shows you the informality of things, and how the various people sparked ideas) where Hans Bethe was giving a lecture on waveguide theory. He said, "I noticed that if I have an X-band guide and I put another guide on top of it and have a hole between the two of them, the energy that leaks out of this hole, all of it comes back in the opposite direction." I looked across the room at a fellow named Bill Preston. He knew I was interested in trying to get directional coupling. I was so excited, I went home that night and I couldn't sleep. I went back to the lab about midnight. By morning I had built a "one hole coupler" and tested it and found that it would work. [Chuckling] Now actually Bethe had turned in the idea for patent application, but later on RCA put in a claim for something like that. I don't know whether there was litigation or not, but there was a lot of discussion. I had to go back in my notebook and reproduce pages of my notebook for work I did, and how I proved, and when it was that I used it in practice. I had my notebooks, with the dates of when I had done the experiments. That was used as evidence. How it came out, I don't know. I just furnished the information. So there was an attempt at protection of intellectual information.

Goldstein:

Do you know how RCA got wind of this technique?

O'Neal:

I think it was just something they were doing independently. I ran across something last Saturday that gave me a little insight into the interaction between Rad Lab and industry fifty years ago. The Coast Guard Auxiliary had asked me to talk with them about radar and Loran systems and various forms of navigation. I'm a sailor, and these guys are sailors. I mentioned Radiation Lab and that I was coming to a 50th anniversary. One of the fellows had to leave early to inspect a boat. He called me in the middle of the afternoon, and he said, "I didn't know that you were at Radiation Laboratory. That really made me think back. I was at Allegheny Ludlum, and I was chief of research for Allegheny Ludlum. I went to the Radiation Lab quite a number of times because I was building the materials for the pulse transformers. I was developing the materials, and we got the characteristics that they needed. I was chairman of a committee that was working on this. I would go into a room, and I'd never have the foggiest idea of what this material development was for. These people at the Radiation Laboratory were very good at telling me what the characteristics were that were necessary without ever disclosing what it might be used for." [Chuckling] Fifty years later I get an idea of how it looked from the outside to an element of industry you might never have thought about. But, to develop these pulse transformers, you had to have materials. And here was a materials manufacturer, a head of research, working with MIT on it.

Goldstein:

Do you think that was deliberate, or were you cautioned against giving out too much information?

O'Neal:

Oh, exactly.

Goldstein:

What sort of warnings were you given?

O'Neal:

We knew that we had to keep things secret. There's a story that may be of a little interest. It has nothing to do with the emphasis you're talking about, but we wanted to keep everything just as tightly as we possibly could. It was thought that when an aircraft carrying the first X-band radar went down in a pasture in Germany, that automatically the Germans would know what we had done, and how to build such a radar. About 20 years later I was at Bendix Corporation, and Bendix and Telefunken, a German company, were trying to put together a joint venture in Germany. One of the individuals from Telefunken was talking with a friend of mine who was working with me at Bendix and had also been at the Radiation Lab with me. They got to talking about that particular incident, and this engineer was the one who had dissected and diagnosed that particular X-band radar after it was captured. But then he asked a question about the magnetron, and all of a sudden my friend recognized that the Germans had never caught on to the secret of what made it successful. [Chuckling]

Another example of how technologies or products got developed is the following. One day a fellow by the name of Roy Spencer, who was in the antenna group, got to talking. He said, "I remember seeing some corner reflectors that could be put on the highway to reflect light back to an automobile. We ought to be able to make a corner reflector for microwave energy." We both agreed that it ought to work. I said, "Why don't you work out the equations and the patterns that we might get. I'm going to build one." And I built one. It was about a foot and a half on a side. I remember Ed Purcell came and looked at it and said, "Hey! What's that? Boy, that's really interesting." So as soon as I could get a junior engineer to work with me, within about a week, we worked all night on the roof over at Building 22, and by the next morning we had the patterns worked out. When we checked it with Roy, it looked pretty much the way theory said it should. You find those reflectors around now in lots of places. I have one on my sailboat because it makes my sailboat look like a big boat. You can look in any kind of a yachting catalog and find them for sale. Collapsible ones were put into life rafts for downed air crew late in the war. Quite a few crews who were in the bombing battle against Japan, i.e. the bombing runs against Japan, went down. Those who had corner reflectors in their raft could be seen by the radars in other aircraft. A lot of guys were saved as a result of that.

Goldstein:

What was the bandwidth of the reflective features of this?

O'Neal:

It was wide band. X-band radar was being used against it on the aircraft. It's not a narrow band device.

Goldstein:

I want to explore the relationship you said the Rad Lab had with Bell Labs. You said that you were working on the same project simultaneously.

O'Neal:

On one project, yes. Another project we were working together, and we'd have people there from the Navy and sometimes from the Army, analyzing the kinds of things that ought to be done. That was helping both what we did at MIT and their work. I remember that after each of the coordination meetings we would hold that we would spend 10 or 15 minutes with Don Quarles, who was head of this particular branch at Bell Laboratories. Later Don Quarles became Secretary of Defense. [Chuckling] It was very interesting working with him then. He was always supportive, never got into the details. [Laughter]

Goldstein:

Was he an engineer or a manager?

O'Neal:

He was an engineer, but by that time he had become an executive.

Goldstein:

Did the Rad Lab approach Bell Labs for assistance, or did the military approach both the Rad Lab and Bell Labs?

O'Neal:

I don't know. That was above my pay grade then. [Chuckling]

Goldstein:

You simply received the assignment to go?

O'Neal:

That's right.

Goldstein:

Were there any security concerns with Bell Labs? Were you concealing certain details?

O'Neal:

No. No, that was opened up so we could talk with Bell Laboratories quite freely. They had the same security clearances we did, and we were very careful about it.

Goldstein:

For this project only, or generally?

O'Neal:

Well, for this. I think it was part of a bigger project, but you'd have to ask somebody else. Yes, I was told that this was part of a bigger understanding between the two organizations. But at my level, I was interested in only the test equipment end of it. I remember we put down the characteristics of all the radars, and we had it on just two or three big huge rolls of paper. I was very concerned about, taking them down. I guarded them with my life. [Chuckling] But we had to do things like that in order to have an understanding between ourselves.

Goldstein:

So you were working on the test equipment for X-band radar. You had a working prototype very quickly — in six months.

O'Neal:

I believe it was a year. I don't remember now. It's a long time ago.

Goldstein:

Did you move on to a different project?

O'Neal:

I think there were two other test sets for which I had initial responsibility, but we did a lot of things, including a lot of field work. We were concerned, very concerned, with how the services were using the test equipment. For instance among other things we would actually bring people in for a quick four-day course.

Goldstein:

Military soldiers?

O'Neal:

No, these would be officers, who we'd train to appreciate what was needed in order to really test the radar. Let me give you an example. We went up and down the coast, two or three of my fellows, and they measured the radars on ships, submarines, aircraft, and fixed installations. They found on the average that they were down about 15 dB. That's about half the range of what they should be getting. Then we went to Radiation Lab and found the radars we had operating internally were probably about that far off in performance unless properly tested and maintained. That proved to us how important it was to be able to get the people to use test equipment to test and correct radars in the field. In order to use the radars, we had to install the directional couplers into the radar. One thing we did do for submarines was a little arrangement with the people at New London. When a submarine would come in for resupply, some of my people would go down and put in a dummy load so that they could fire that radar up before they'd surface. We also installed an echo (box which is a very simple test set) and a directional coupler. We had quite a few letters from submariners who said that because of this they were able to have their radar working, and they saw the enemy before the enemy saw them. They killed the enemy and survived.

Microwave Corner Reflectors

O'Neal:

I can give you another experience. We published the results of our field measurements in the Radiation series, and discussed how radars did tend to deteriorate if they weren't maintained properly. In the early the 'fifties, I was at the University of Michigan Aeronautical Research Center, and we were working closely with Boeing. The Air Force had asked the two of us to come up with a new air defense missile system, which became BOMARC. What we conceived track-while-scan at that time was using (track-while scan) radars. In the process of the proposal review, I was presenting it to a major, a very bright major. He said, "That system won't work." I said, "Why not?" He said, "Well, you won't get enough range. Radars are always down 15 dB." I said, "What makes you think that would be right?" He said, "Why, it's in the Radiation Lab book." I said, "I wrote that chapter." [Chuckling] "That's when radar are not given proper maintenance." So it was important for us to get out into the field with the users as well as with the industry people. I think that we probably did that a lot more than the industry people did because industry people tend not to do that kind of thing. We at Radiation Laboratory tended to get out and into the field and work with the equipment.

Influence of Rad Lab

Goldstein:

You said that Bell Labs was working cooperatively with the Rad Lab. Can you think of any other corporations that might have been in a position where they should have been out in the field? What other industrial-based research projects were you aware of that were working in parallel with the Rad Lab effort?

O'Neal:

There was a lot of work with GE in their research lab because I remember going over there fairly frequently. I remember going to Sperry out on Long Island; it's now part of UNISYS. Certainly RCA. There were major things going on with a lot of companies. There was also a very wide range of suppliers. I did not get involved. The radar development people are the people who were in the divisions — the airborne division, the shipboard division, and so forth. The 584 was one of the examples of a very successful program which started here and was then manufactured. A guy like Ivan Getting, who I'm sure is going to be interviewed, could tell you in detail how he worked with industry in developing the 584 radar. Toward the end of the war there were basic programs like the APS-20, as I recall. The APS airborne radar was a huge project that sucked up a lot of people throughout the organization. I wanted more people in order to do the training that I thought was necessary. I was told: "We were going to take some people away from you, but now this training is important. So we won't take anybody away from you. You do that as well as the other things you have to do." [Chuckling] I've used that technique since in industry. [Laughter]

Goldstein:

You mentioned the 28 volumes, set of notes, from the Rad Lab. Do you have any sense of how it important they were? What was the legacy of the Rad Lab in industry?

O'Neal:

Those books were very widely used. I guess I must have talked with hundreds of people who read them and thought highly of them.

Goldstein:

How about the particular device that you were working on, the test set? Did that develop any technologies or techniques that found industrial applications or were manufactured subsequent to the war?

O'Neal:

Not directly. I saw them used in a lot of laboratories, but they were being used just as a piece of equipment. Testing has evolved so much since then. I got involved in the Research & Development Board in the early 'fifties, which was set up in the early days of guided missiles. I had a committee on test equipment and testing training. Because of the experience I'd had in Radiation Lab and knowing the importance of building the right kind of equipment, doing the right kind of testing, I got involved, and we made a lot of recommendations. I remember one individual when we were looking at one particular guided-missile program and all the problems they were having, and he said, "My God! The missile that I'm building has the same problems. I'm going back, and I'm going to fix that." There was a lot of that. That's informal. You can't trace any specific item because there was a lot of a philosophy that was developed here that did get translated into success in guided missiles.

Goldstein:

Do you think that was consciously done, or was that simply the same personnel who worked in the Rad Lab went on?

O'Neal:

That was a part of it. There was a certain continuity of people in the service. The fellow who had been in the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics then went over to the test department, and he was executive secretary of the Guided Missile Committee of the Research & Development Board. He's the one who asked me if I would head a committee and help him pick a committee that would try to bring the kind of experience that we had at Radiation Laboratory in terms of the way we had attacked problems into the guided-missile business. He had worked very closely with Radiation Lab when he was in the Navy. As a matter of fact, he was the brightest of the guys we worked with in the services. He got picked to be influential in the early days of the guided missiles. People don't recognize that. It's not anything that you can say specifically that this product resulted from that product. But I know it had an important influence.

Goldstein:

Right. I'm wondering about the influence of the Rad Lab experience, particularly on your life. What were the circumstances of your leaving?

O'Neal:

Well, the Lab closed. [Chuckling]

Post-Lab Career

Goldstein:

You stayed there until the end, and it closed down. And then you went on to work for Eastman Kodak, and then later Bendix.

O'Neal:

Before that I went to the University of Michigan. The reason I went there was because they were doing some very advanced guided-missile work there in the early days of guided missiles. It intrigued me, and it was a real challenge. About that time, Edward Teller said, "Scientists, it's time to get back to your laboratories." [Chuckling] So I decided I'd go to the University of Michigan. We worked together with Boeing. First of all, we had a program with the Air Force. Then the Air Force asked Boeing and the University of Michigan to get together, and we came up with our design of a guided-missile system, which was quite an advanced system at the time. Some of the concepts are still quite advanced. Radar played a very important part in it, both the ground part track-while-radar — and the airborne seeker. In looking over the Radiation Lab names I noted one who went to Boeing, and I worked with him out at Boeing.

Goldstein:

Who was that?

O'Neal:

I think his name was Hagar. Also, at that time Jerry Wiesner was head of the electrical engineering department. I came to MIT and asked Jerry: "Who are your best people? Because I want to hire some." Boeing had been there a couple of weeks before and hired two of them. [Chuckling] I worked with those guys out there, and one of them I brought back to the University of Michigan later. There was a whole network of things happening to various people whose experiences were intertwined.

Goldstein:

You sound like you were unenthusiastic about going to the Rad Lab to work, but maybe Loomis's charisma brought you there. It seems that that was critical in determining your career from that point forward.

O'Neal:

Yes. I would have been a nuclear physicist the rest of my life if it hadn't been for that. But I was very excited about it. Once I got here I was very excited.

Goldstein:

Do you think your experience was common? Did you talk to other scientists?

O'Neal:

I haven't talked with people very much about it.

Goldstein:

At the time was there even much discussion about people's future plans?

O'Neal:

No. I didn't get involved talking with other people about the future. I usually just took things as they came along. I think most people did. At the end, I really had a very difficult choice to make. Would I go back to a university again in nuclear physics, or would I get into something else? I decided to get into the early days of digital computers, of all things. Since then I've gotten into a lot of different things, and I think it was all due to the Radiation Lab. I found that there are so many interesting things in life. [Chuckling] There still are a lot of interesting things in life. I still, even though I'm retired, remain fairly active. As a matter of fact, I'm vice chairman of the Environmental Research Association of Michigan, which followed the organization that worked with Boeing and has since become a separate organization, separate from the university. I spend a lot of time with them because there are a lot of bright young people there, and it's fun working with bright young people.

Goldstein:

Do you have any idea of what made you attracted to Eastman Kodak? Did you apply to them? Did they recruit you?

O'Neal:

No, everybody was trying to recruit people from Radiation Lab at the end.

Goldstein:

Really! Can you think of some of the more desperate firms or rather some of the bigger employers?

O'Neal:

I remember I was tempted to go to AT&T. They were setting up the Sandia Laboratory at the time, and it was a very impressive guy who was setting it up. I was very interested in going there. Most of the fellows that had come from the University of Illinois went to form a small company named GPL, General Precision Laboratories, and I was tempted to go there. And I was tempted to go to Chance-Voight because of an interest in aviation. There were also some university possibilities. I decided to go to Eastman Kodak because it sounded like they were doing some very interesting things. It was a chance to get into a little different field. By that time I'd learned there were so many things that were interesting.

Goldstein:

Do you feel that companies were after Rad Lab employees for their specific technical knowledge, or perhaps simply their track record of success, having participated?

O'Neal:

Some of both. For instance, I remember Chance-Voight was interested in that. They were really trying to get radar engineers, so I interviewed them. They were interested in radar as applied to their business. But Eastman Kodak was not particularly interested in radar. They were interested just in people who had done good work.

Goldstein:

For the sake of fairness we're trying to ask a set body of questions. This may not apply in your case. What do you regard as your most important work at the Rad Lab? I understand that you worked essentially on a single project.

O'Neal:

No, I didn't work on a single project. I worked on lots of projects. Well, if you mean a single project, I was working in test equipment and the application of test equipment to the testing of radars, and I was trying to carry it through to try to help make sure people were using the equipment. It's hard to say. I guess I felt that coming up with a different concept of testing radars that was very important, something that would be easier for people to use. The directional couplers were extremely important as a way of tying into and getting a fixed loss so you're not waving a horn out in front of an antenna. In a small way, I guess I felt that the corner reflector was important because it saved a lot of lives. I thought some of the things we did in providing things directly to the field, especially in the submarines, have given me very warm feelings because I felt we really saved lives. So it's hard to pinpoint a specific thing that was most important. I know I got an awful lot of thrill out of those particular things. I also know I got a certain technical thrill when I could come up with something and prove that somebody at Bell Laboratories had done something or had made a mistake on something. [Chuckling] Yes, I enjoyed that, the personal, technical rivalry type of thing.

Goldstein:

[Chuckling] Right.

O'Neal:

There was that, too. But it was all done in a very friendly way. We had a common goal.

Goldstein:

Were there any particular firms that you're aware of that the Rad Lab turned to for contract work? I guess I'm looking for broad impressions.

O'Neal:

I felt that the closest relationship we had was with Bell Labs.

Goldstein:

But that was research.

O'Neal:

They were building things, too. We were really very close with Sperry. I remember that the Navy asked me to go down to Sperry and check out how well they were testing their radars on the line and what I would recommend to do. Sperry was building a lot of radar equipment, GE was building a lot of radar equipment. RCA. That was my experience. I'm not listing them all.

Goldstein:

Is there anything you'd like to add? Any particularly strong impressions that you feel ought to be included in the history of the Rad Lab? This can be a personal reaction.

O'Neal:

As far as I was concerned, it was a great personal experience. I learned an awful lot about working with people, and moving things quickly, and getting things done quickly. Getting them out into the field quickly, and checking them to see how well they worked. I don't think there'll ever be another Radiation Laboratory. It was a phenomenon all to itself. There isn't anything like it at this time. Of course the Gulf War was very short. I know about its individual advances and individual efforts, that things could get done in a hurry in this war. But it was very small compared to anything like what was done in WWII. A whole new technology was born. I think that it probably had more to do with winning the war than anything else. The atomic bomb ended the war. But radar won the war as much as any of the technologies.

Goldstein:

I think I've heard somebody say that, and I can't remember if it's Ivan Getting or somebody else.

O'Neal:

Well, he and I are on a board together, and during the early days of the Gulf War. We were talking about how important it would be to recapture some of those things done at Rad Lab. But there wasn't enough time. The Radiation Laboratory was a great experience. An awful lot got accomplished. And it got accomplished by bright young people who many times didn't know that you couldn't do something. [Chuckling] I think I remember an experiment somebody was doing in which they wanted a particular type of gear. They bought a washing machine to find out if it had the needed gear, and sure enough it did. I remember that tale going around. It was that kind of direct approach that often got the job done.

Goldstein:

Resourcefulness.

O'Neal:

Very resourceful. One did not have a lot of the kinds of bureaucratic impediments that you have in large organizations — large industrial organizations or large governmental organizations.

Goldstein:

Now was that in terms of approval of designs, or getting things manufactured?

O'Neal:

All the above. A tremendous experience.

Goldstein:

Okay. Well, thank you very much for talking to me.