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Oral-History:Ernst Weber (1991)

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'''Weber:'''<br>Well, for IRE I gave a lecture tour, which means giving lectures to sections every time that a section invited me to visit them. I visited 55 sections, which was quite a record at the time. Now my wife, who was interested in physics, was also very much interested in physical fitness. Under Eisenhower, there was a President's council for physical fitness. She was on that Council. That made her then, for the ladies, a very desirable lecturer. So when we traveled, she talked to the ladies, and I talked to the men.  
 
'''Weber:'''<br>Well, for IRE I gave a lecture tour, which means giving lectures to sections every time that a section invited me to visit them. I visited 55 sections, which was quite a record at the time. Now my wife, who was interested in physics, was also very much interested in physical fitness. Under Eisenhower, there was a President's council for physical fitness. She was on that Council. That made her then, for the ladies, a very desirable lecturer. So when we traveled, she talked to the ladies, and I talked to the men.  
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The main concern then was space--because of Sputnik. And I had to argue that sure, the Russians did it first because probably they valued the new idea of space travel. While similar experiments had been run at IRE, particularly Naval Research Laboratory down in Washington.<br>  
 
The main concern then was space--because of Sputnik. And I had to argue that sure, the Russians did it first because probably they valued the new idea of space travel. While similar experiments had been run at IRE, particularly Naval Research Laboratory down in Washington.<br>  
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'''Weber:'''<br>Yes, but I was much more for unmanned space exploration, using instrumentation as far as possible. To have a man in space is good news--it certainly fills the newspapers--but what does it contribute? There's some value in it for medical research, of course<br>  
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'''Weber:'''<br>Yes, but I was much more for unmanned space exploration, using instrumentation as far as possible. To have a man in space is good news--it certainly fills the newspapers--but what does it contribute? There's some value in it for medical research, of course<br>
  
 
=== Administrative positions at Polytechnic  ===
 
=== Administrative positions at Polytechnic  ===

Revision as of 17:27, 2 October 2008

Contents

About Ernst Weber

Ernst Weber was born in Vienna, Austria in 1901. The impact of his family influenced him greatly in learning about and later choosing a career in the sciences. After graduating from college and earning his engineering diploma in 1924, he began to work for the Siemens Corporation. Here he worked on a series of projects including conformal mapping and solving problems within the mining industry. At this time he continued with his education and received a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1927. His dissertation topic was to find why deviations in electronic charges occur and resolving the discrepancy between Ehrenhafts' experiments and Millikan's theory.


Weber eventually left Germany because of the rise of Nazism and came to the U.S. Here he became an educator along with being a scientist. His interest in the educational systems and specifically the differences between an American approach from a European design led him to teach and prepare future engineers in new ways. His work in this area eventually led to his being named President of the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. Though his impact on education was considerable--he helped train a generation of Americans at Polytechnic--he continued to do research, notably on efforts involved with radar. During World War II he was chairman of the Basic Science Group of AlEE and later joined MIT's Rad Lab. Since this time he has worked closely with his graduate students on a series of American corporations on developing radar and related projects, including Airborne Instrument Laboratories, Corning Glass, Sperry, Harris-Intertype, Hewlett-Packard. He also established he Polytechnic Research Development Corporation, later sold to Harris-Intertype in 1959.


In 1952 he organized the Microwave symposia and became President of IRE in 1959. He resigned as President of Polytechnic in 1969. He joined the Advisory Committee for the Division of Engineering of the National Research Council and later became its chairman. He worked here until 1978. He was also involved in centralizing the engineering societies in the U.S. After Polytechnic he began to study and work with organizations concerned with such diverse topics as limiting automobile pollution and predicting earthquakes. Weber continued to work as a volunteer for IEEE through the 1970s and 1980s.

About the Interview

An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, 11-12 April 1991


Interview # 155 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics 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, Rutgers - the State University, 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:
Ernst Weber, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Ernst Weber
Interviewer: Frederik Nebeker
Place: Ernst Weber's home in Tryon, North Carolina
Date: 11 & 12 April 1991

Childhood and family background

Nebeker:
You were born in Vienna and grew up there?


Weber:
I was born in Vienna in September 1901, moved away at age one, and then moved back to Vienna at about age six. An early, quite vivid memory is of my bringing home a chicken, a live chicken from the market, which she first of all had to kill. Of course I didn't then want to eat any of it. [Laughter]


Nebeker:
May I ask about your parents? What your father did?


Weber:
My father was an employee of the railway system. When in 1914 the war came, since I was always good with figures, I helped in figuring up the amount that the various countries owed for having some of the cars of the Austrian Railway in use. It was a system where books are kept on how many hours and so forth.


Nebeker:
Was he some sort of accountant for the railroad?


Weber:
We might call it accountant. I don't know that it needed any special preparation. It was just getting the reports of where the cars were, and then keeping track of how long they were in any one place.


Nebeker:
Right. You may know that doing exactly that was, in fact, one of the first applications of punched-card machines, beginning at about the turn of the century.


Weber:
Yes. It was related also to the recognition of the cars. They had little--tags that gave the numbers. And apparently--and this, of course, wasn't electronic--they could read it eventually, so that the whole thing was automated.


Nebeker:
I see. Your mother?


Weber:
She was just a housewife. Actually I was born in 1901; in 1902 a sister was born. And '04, another one; in '07, a third one. And the youngest sister was born in 1915, during the war. That was an interesting experience because in 1915 the First World War was in full force.


Nebeker:
Were you living in Vienna at the time?


Weber:
Yes. It happened to be on the same street there was a school. So that I could walk to school. I did not get any of the children's sicknesses, the usual ones that they get. All my sisters got them.


Nebeker:
The youngest sister was born in 1915?


Weber:
Correct. And I had to, of course, learn to take care of a little child.


Nebeker:
Was this an upper middle-class family?


Weber:
I would say just middle class.


Nebeker:
Of course Vienna at that time was a cultural capital of the world. Did you feel that in your youth?


Weber:
Absolutely! At that time we had already moved from the place near the grandparents, where my family moved to when I had to go to school in order to make certain that I wouldn't miss school. We lived in one of these old apartment houses--tremendous walls and so on. And actually we had a big court. And the doors were not normal house doors, tremendous but two-wing doors so that cars could drive in. But with all that, no running water. And no bath facilities generally.


Nebeker:
And toilet facilities?


Weber:
Toilet facilities, none. It was a very old, large apartment house. I think we had to use a toilet facility outside with another family. Vienna was really somewhat backward in this regard compared with England and Germany. Germany was then very largely rebuilding after the Franco-Prussian War. That was 1870. But it was backward like France. France was also very backward in plumbing matters. Because they were large cities built in the 1800s and earlier. And obviously in those years people kept their apartments from family to family. There was no such moving every month or so as when I came here.


Education and World War I

Nebeker:
But you say you sensed the cultural atmosphere of Vienna.


Weber:
In the first few classes we had French. After the elementary school, five years, I went to a middle school. And inasmuch as war was on the horizon, I selected in the gymnasium not the humanistic line but the one that prepared for science and technical study.


Nebeker:
And that had less language study, I would imagine?


Weber:
Well, it had French and English. French starting in the second year for six years.


Nebeker:
Starting in the second year of middle school?


Weber:
Middle school, yes. I must have been twelve at that time. In fact, I had apparently the ability to learn languages well. So the French professor asked me then to help, for payment, one of my classmates in French. Particularly irregular verbs, which is always the difficult part in French. And I could learn it very easily. And this is when the mother of my classmate gave me one gold crown for the first lesson.


Nebeker:
That was nice.


Weber:
A crown was then valuable within the country, but internationally it was of the order of about a fifth of a pound. And she gave me a gold crown because gold was then still used as currency.


Nebeker:
I see.


Weber:
It was in 1912--or something like it--the general feeling was war would come. Germany was growing too fast for British interests, and the British at one time had the German products marked "Made in Germany" in order to deprecate. Because "Made in England" was then the mark of quality.


Nebeker:
So they insisted that the German products be so marked.


Weber:
Yes. And the Germans, of course, in a way resented it, but they put it on because at that time actually Germany had no colony. I think the Southwest Africa was the first colony that they ever acquired in competition with the British. But the British were the world power.


Nebeker:
So you say that you selected the science/technical line because you saw the war coming?


Weber:
Well, because I felt that eventually I had to earn money. And the normal course, leading to philosophy degrees, had little prospect of earning reasonable money. One could go into teaching mostly. Most of these people who graduated eventually then went into teaching.


Nebeker:
So when you started middle school, you selected that line?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
And you say you started French the second year and English when?


Weber:
The fifth year. Total three years of English. English has many similarities with German.


Nebeker:
Now this must have taken you into the war years.


Weber:
Yes. In 1914 the war broke out. And I was in my third class. After about one year so many wounded soldiers had to be cared for that our school building was transformed into a lazaret, one of the war hospitals. And we had to walk then to our school about half an hour more, a much longer distance.


Nebeker:
How else did the war affect your daily life? Were there shortages of any kind?


Weber:
Oh, sure. In the last two years we really went hungry. And we went out into the woods, the Vienna Woods, anything green, which could be used as a salad or in soup, we just collected. I am happy that we didn't get really sick. [Chuckle]


Nebeker:
Those were difficult years.


Weber:
Very. Then in 1918, I think, all Vienna was impoverished, except a few who could deal under the table.


Nebeker:
The black market. But generally people were very hungry?


Weber:
Yes. I remember so well. In 1918 the war ended. And in 1919 I was just starting technical university. The American field kitchens came which served hot chocolate--or cocoa--and buns. And I stood in line to get them because it was a "delicatessen."


Nebeker:
Did your family get through the war okay?


Weber:
Yes. The youngest--born in 1915--never had known normal bread. So when that first became available, she refused to eat it. She was only accustomed to black bread.


Nebeker:
So you didn't have white bread.


Weber:
Absolutely not!


Nebeker:
How did the war years change your ideas about your future?


Weber:
In the very first few weeks of the war, I tried to keep up with the reports in the papers about how many people were killed and wounded and so on. But pretty soon, of course, it became impossible. But the newspapers brought the lists all the time. But the Viennese had no war since the 'sixties--'66 was the last war, in fact, with Germany about some of the provinces on the border. And therefore the Austrian Army was well clothed. The officers were all spic-and-span. Absolute! But no real war experience. And I recall one of my uncles was a colonel in the infantry, and in the first war days he rode out at the head of the regiment, aching to go out to fight. He was killed.


Nebeker:
In the First World War it was not clear how things were going to work out until the very end. It may well have looked like the Germans and Austro-Hungarian forces would triumph until fairly late. Do you remember the ups and downs of those war years?


Weber:
I remember very well the German advance through Belgium because it was a violation of their neutrality.


Nebeker:
Do you remember the Russian collapse and then the transfer of troops to the Western Front?


Weber:
Yes. And of course we had Kerensky, was it? Whom the U.S. supported against the Bolsheviks.


Nebeker:
And you were following events?


Weber:
Oh, yes. You see, I read practically the whole library. The public libraries had special library dispensaries in all the different neighborhoods. I became interested very early in philosophy, so I read all of Schopenhauer and so on. All Nietzsche, et cetera. It was then quite common that young men, particularly, would read philosophical books.


University education

Nebeker:
Did you regret not having taken a humanistic line in your studies? Were you sort of compensating for that by reading on your own?


Weber:
Eventually, since when I went to the technical university there was no language requirement. For the humanistic university, there was a requirement of Latin. The first few years, Latin, and eventually Greek for secondary school. I know my cousins took that. I got interested in Latin to some extent, but never really learned it. I then went to the humanistic university.


Nebeker:
You took classes both at the technical university and the regular university?


Weber:
Yes. In fact, I preferred running to the humanistic university. They were about half an hour's walk apart along the major boulevard in Vienna--the Ringstrasse. But the technical university was close to the fourth arrondissement or district. And the university was on a rim of the first district. So I could easily walk along the Ringstrasse directly from technical university to the humanistic.


Nebeker:
Was that difficult to arrange, going to both universities?


Weber:
No. You see, when you graduate from middle school, you get a certificate of maturity. It's called "Maturität" certificate. That means you are mature. You can choose your life. No more regulated class attendance. You can go to the university; you can take any courses you like. There is no check on attendance.


Nebeker:
Were grades given for classes?


Weber:
The only thing was oral examinations. And the oral examinations you had to pass, whether you attended or not. And being early interested in philosophy, I took most of my courses at the humanistic university. I listened to some of Schlick, one of the very well known philosophers. He was in his last year. And several others. And the technical university to me was more boring because of the emphasis on technical things. But I learned enough to pass all the examinations well.


Nebeker:
I see. You told me that you learned shorthand. Was that for taking notes in classes?


Weber:
Yes, I learned that in the middle school. Probably it must have been '15, something like it. Quite a few classmates did it.


Nebeker:
Did you continue to use that after university years?


Weber:
I used it in all the university lectures.


Nebeker:
Did you use it after your university years at all?


Weber:
No. I never learned typing, and I regretted that very much. But the shorthand substituted for that.


Nebeker:
So you continued, of course, the work at the technical university, and in 1924 got your engineering diploma.


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
And was it immediately after that that you started work with Siemens?


Weber:
Yes. I went to examination with the electrical machine design professor, who was one of my main professors. He taught electrical engineering. At that time, the first two years of technical university study was entirely mechanical engineering.


Nebeker:
So there were not separate engineering lines?


Weber:
The electrical engineering line was just initiated at that time. I selected it immediately because it was new and more interesting.


Early interest in science, radio

Nebeker:
As a youth, were you interested in science or in gadgets or machines?


Weber:
Never in gadgets.


Nebeker:
You had more a philosophic interest in science.


Weber:
I remember my parents gave me one year a, let's say, building block assembly, so I could build houses, buildings of various kinds, palaces and so on.


Nebeker:
Are these small wooden blocks?


Weber:
They were a special material. Not wood, somewhat heavier. But exactly formed, sharp corners and so on. There were a number of sheets, which indicated how to do it. And I then many times built things on my own.


Nebeker:
What was this system called, this set of blocks?


Weber:
It was called "stone" because it wasn't wood, a kind of mixture. Stone building blocks, "Steinbaukasten". "Kasten" means a box. And I went through quite a few years of it.


Nebeker:
What about electrical gadgets?


Weber:
No. You see, there were none electronic.


Nebeker:
Right, but I imagined boys might have played with telegraph sets.


Weber:
Yes. I built my own receiver in--I think it was--1918, 1919, when the first radio station was built, and I could hear it. And therefore built my little receiver with crystal detector and so on.


Nebeker:
So was there broadcasting that early?


Weber:
Yes. And built it for my family, too, with earphones, a coil, condenser, and so on.


Nebeker:
Was this built from some kit that was sold for that purpose?


Weber:
Yes. You could buy coils, condensers, and so on, collect them.


Nebeker:
I suppose it was youngsters in the 'Twenties who would be playing with radio sets, crystal-radio sets.


Weber:
Yes. You see, I graduated in '19 and then went to the technical university. At age 18, I graduated from the middle school and then took up electrical things, collection of coils, condensers and so on.


Nebeker:
Did you have more of an interest in that than just building this receiver? Did you continue to work with those kinds of things?


Weber:
Well, it made me, of course, choose electrical engineering.


Nebeker:
There may have been a lot of people who, because of radio's advent, went into electrical engineering in those years.


Weber:
Right. It had more attraction because you didn't know what electricity was. [Chuckle]


Nebeker:
It was magic.


Weber:
I remember so well when we moved from the old apartment house into a modern apartment house. In about 1916, 1917.


Nebeker:
So still during the war.


Weber:
Towards the end of the war. Because I had to walk a long distance to my school. After our local school was converted into a lazaret, I had to walk a much longer distance.


Nebeker:
There was not electricity in the earlier apartment?


Weber:
No, no electricity. In the new apartment for the first time electricity was available. And the amazing thing, you push a button and light comes on. One cannot describe the feeling. [Laughter]


Nebeker:
That was modern in 1918?


Weber:
Very modern.


Employment at Siemens

Nebeker:
I see. So you completed the engineering degree and started work with Siemens.


Weber:
Yes. I asked my professor of machine design. Apparently I had read a lot about it by myself, so that when I went to the oral examination, I could demonstrate to him that I knew much more than usual. So after this examination, he gave me a very good report. I asked him if he could get me a job. [Laughter] And it was 1924. Austria was bankrupt. It had disintegrated into various successor states. And Vienna was saddled with the entire war debt. Impossible, of course. It had to become bankrupt. Since I told him what I'd done, that I'd gone to the other university as well studying physics and mathematics particularly and had written papers for publication, he called the personnel manager of Siemens. He said, "I'll send you Ernst Weber. Maybe you are interested." And I happened to have, at that time, already published a paper in applied mathematics.


Nebeker:
The first on this list is this 1926 paper "Conformal mapping and electrical high-tension problems." 'Twenty-four was the date of your engineering degree.


Weber:
No, I had not published at that time, though I had submitted two papers for publication. But when I went to the man in charge of machine design, whom the personnel man referred me to, I told him that I had studied mathematics and so on. And he had a problem that the large single-phase generators for electrification of the railway--he felt they had losses, the efficiency was lower than expected. Where could these losses be? And I looked through the design and drawings and so on and found that they had at that time--still, and that was '24--made pole shoes of massive iron instead of lamination. And I pointed to that, and in fact it was the explanation of the special losses in a solid pole shoe. And I got the job at Siemens because of it.


Nebeker:
So you began work in 1924 full time?


Weber:
I loved Maxwell's electromagnetic theory! From the very beginning it was to me a marvel that you could, with a few mathematical symbols, describe what goes on.


Nebeker:
And I suppose that much of the electrical engineering knowledge had developed pretty independently, that things weren't generally derived from Maxwell's theory.


Weber:
I give credit to Heaviside who although maligned by mathematicians because of his crude use of mathematics, but he never made a mistake. That means he knew, he had a very keen feeling for, what he could do mathematically and what was beyond, him. He used operational calculus; he introduced that. Which was poison for the normal mathematician who needed the Fourier series, Fourier analysis, Fourier integrals, which were used to prove the relations that you could obtain by operational analysis. You know that book by Paul Nahin on Heaviside?


Nebeker:
Yes.


Weber:
Well, in it is very well described. One of the friends of Heaviside, who was a pure mathematician, did a proof of Heaviside's operational analysis through the Fourier integral method. And that made peace.


Nebeker:
So that when you were working for Siemens you were really making use of your mathematics--and your understanding of Maxwell's theory?


Weber:
Yes. I was fascinated by conformal mapping, which really means potential theory. You can transform problems mathematically through coordinate systems. And the potential differential equation, the 2/x2, 2/y2, 2/z2, that solution can be transformed into other geometries. This was the one in the '27 paper that Lang outlined.


Nebeker:
Now this '26 paper--conformal mapping and high-tension problems--was work done for Siemens?


Weber:
Yes. Published for Archiv für Electrotechnik, which was published by Rokovsky in Germany. And it was one of the leading theoretical electrical publications.


Doctoral studies

Nebeker:
I'd like to hear more about your work for Siemens, but maybe this is the time to ask you about the fact that you continued to take classes apparently both at the technical university and the humanistic university?


Weber:
Yes, yes. After graduation in '24 from the technical university I got then my Ph.D. at the humanistic university.


Nebeker:
According to this, you got a Ph.D. in 'Twenty-six from the humanistic university, and a Doctorate of Science in '27 from the technical university.


Weber:
Correct. Principally using mathematics.


Nebeker:
Was it philosophy or physics or math that you worked on at the humanistic university?


Weber:
Principally mathematics and physics. In Vienna was Professor Thirring, who had been well known internationally, and I took all his courses on heat, on the molecular theory of heat transference and so on.


Nebeker:
Did you write a dissertation?


Weber:
Actually the dissertation came back to the electron's charge. At that time, when I went to the technical university, the professor who taught electromagnetics had just come back from England where the experiments by Millikan on the electron charge had been made with the oil-drop experiments.


Nebeker:
The professor's name was Ehrenhaft?


Weber:
Yes. The professor at the technical university--his name was Sahulka--had come back and reported on it. He wrote many figures on a blackboard showing that they all are eventually rounding out to the electronic charge. But professor Ehrenhaft, my professor in physics at the humanistic university, he had made experiments where he found deviations. He gave me then as dissertation topic to find where the explanation could be. Since you could observe ultramicroscopic particles only by color specks, one needed to relate the color to particle size. And the theory was developed by Mie. It's a classical theory of diffraction of light by sub-microscopic particles. And I used the theory, but I needed to explain color relating to size. And from the electromagnetic field, the Maxwell theory, I could deduce the size and then, in a color triangle, relate the color that appears. And it happened that the color triangle gave a spiral for size and color relations. And that explained that there were two values for the same size.


Nebeker:
Two size values giving the same color?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
This work was entirely theoretical?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
And it explained the discrepancy?


Weber:
Another one of the same group had the assignment to carry on the experimentation. So that we had additional evidence, and it then happened that my theory related to color of the particle.


Nebeker:
But you had no way, directly, to measure size of these ultra-microscopic particles?


Weber:
No.


Nebeker:
But your confidence in your derivation came from the fact that it explained the discrepancy between Ehrenhaft's experiments and Millikan's.


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
That's very interesting. How did you find the time to do this work while working for Siemens?


Weber:
Well, I was young. [Laughter]


Nebeker:
You were working a 40-hour week or so for Siemens?


Weber:
Usually.


Nebeker:
And then working evenings on this. Was that how it worked?


Weber:
Yes. And of course I had to use the slide rule--there was no computer at the time. [Chuckle]


Nebeker:
There was a lot of calculation involved in all this work?


Weber:
Sure. In fact, I had to compute some of the Bessel functions for values that were not in the tables. I had the function tables of Jahnke-Emde--they were my lifesaver!


Nebeker:
Did you have any thoughts at the time about other calculating aids that might be devised?


Weber:
No.


Nebeker:
You just accepted that that was life.


Weber:
I learned a lot about interpolation and so on.


Nebeker:
So in '26 you received your doctorate from the humanistic university for that work. The following year you received a doctor of science from the technical university. What was that work?


Weber:
Well, I had been very much interested in a computation of the field distribution in electrical machines--the slot factor, skin effect, and so on--all that as higher mathematics interested me very much.


Nebeker:
What sort of mathematics was involved in that work?


Weber:
Conformal mapping. And electromagnetic theory in expressing the skin effect in differential equations.


Nebeker:
And what was the nature of this work? Was it theoretical derivation of skin effects?


Weber:
Yes. The first was Fritz Emde, who wrote a paper on skin effect in slots, which is different from the skin effect in round conductors. I studied that carefully.


Nebeker:
Was there experimental work involved in your doctoral work?


Weber:
No, actually not. It was principally magnetic field distributions. I was very much interested also in breakdown--that means critical values of electric field strength.


Nebeker:
It was perhaps a bit earlier than this, but not much, that it first became common to award a doctoral degree in physics for purely theoretical work--that until then it was felt that one had to do experimental work. Was it regarded as special that your Doctor of Science was for essentially theoretical work?


Weber:
No.


Early work at Siemens in Vienna

Nebeker:
Tell me about your work with Siemens in these years.


Weber:
Well, at Siemens because of my first ability to relate electrical losses to the loss of efficiency, I had many of the special problems. For example, in mining, the electrical machines, although it's dc machines, have to develop certain terrific moments. I got interested in computing the starting moment of these motors and how to increase it. In mining operations you always had a tremendous effort in the beginning before you got over friction and everything else.


Nebeker:
So you were studying the design of machines for mining?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
How much of your effort in those years was essentially calculational.


Weber:
A tremendous amount! [Chuckle]


Nebeker:
So it was the case that you had the theoretical tools that told you how to analyze certain problems, but there was a very great effort in actually carrying through the computations.


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
You were using a slide rule mainly?


Weber:
Yes. And tables.


Nebeker:
How did you like the work at Siemens?


Weber:
Very much. In fact, I was at first at Siemens in Vienna, and by '28--about four years after entering Siemens in Vienna--I became restless. Of course I'd read all their publications. The Archiv für Electrotechnik published beautiful tables on the frontier of new mathematical developments. So I asked the boss to get me a job in Berlin for a machine division. He had to go to Berlin to report at their main headquarters to get me a job there.


Work at Siemens in Berlin

Nebeker:
Why did you want a job in Berlin?


Weber:
The headquarters were out there. And in Berlin Rüdenberg had been in charge of their scientific effort. He was the chief scientist. My boss really came back with a job for me in the Design Division in the dc department of Siemens Berlin.


Nebeker:
The DC Machine Division of Siemens?


Weber:
It was I movie to Berlin in January '29, and by 1930, a new look in mathematics engineering had developed. It was particularly higher mathematics applied to engineering problems. And so a number of scientists of Rüdenberg's group--who was the chief scientist--argued that they should organize a symposium on higher mathematics applied to engineering problems. Since I had published on conformal mapping, they invited me to join a lecture group. The mathematician was Rothe, who gave the mathematical background; and then came Schottky and emission of electrons. Then, I think, the next one was Pohlhausen, who used applied mathematics. Then Ollendorf on potential fields. I was on conformal mapping. And the last one was propagation of electromagnetic fields, electric waves, which was then very new. Zeneck had done experiments on the first radio--wireless propagation. Since in fact our lecture series was the first one of its kind, Massachusetts Institute of Technology got hold of it, and the president Karl T. Compton had it translated into English and published by MIT.


Publication and research at Siemens

Nebeker:
"Thirty-five was the English translation. The original German text came out in '32. I wanted to ask you about these preceding 11 papers. You mentioned already the first paper on conformal mapping. These other papers, from '27, '28, '28, '29, '29, and so on--did they come out of your Siemens work?


Weber:
Yes. You see, scientific publications were Siemens' concern. Here again, I had published a paper on the mechanical forces caused by the magnetic fields. And a very broad, technical one on how to differentiate the watt-less component of current that only establishes fields, but does not produce power. This one was a very long publication.


Nebeker:
Now obviously Siemens is encouraging publication of results since many of these are published by Siemens itself. Though not all of them. For example the Elektrotechnikische Zeitschrift. And then a couple in the Archiv für Elektrotechnik. What is that?


Weber:
That was for articles really opening new fields.


Nebeker:
So was this regarded as a normal part of the job that one did publications--or were you special?


Weber:
Well, I never reflected about it. I think it was more special. I had the feeling for applying mathematics to engineering problems. If this symposium is a good example, it was in the air.


Nebeker:
Right. Is it your impression that the German-speaking countries were in the forefront in this area?


Weber:
Yes, very much so.


Nebeker:
Was this fostered by the educational system there?


Weber:
Yes, I think so. The stress on mathematics was always evident.


Nebeker:
Also the fact that people with that kind of background worked, in some cases, in industry, and therefore you get a tie between the mathematics and the practical problems.


Weber:
Yes. At Siemens, in fact, when I joined, I met one man who also was interested in applying mathematics to problems of generator design. And with him I got interested in high-voltage problems: when you have breakdown and so on. And I studied that very much. In fact, in my early years at Polytechnic I organized a course on high-voltage design.


Nebeker:
This was a co-worker at Siemens, you mentioned.


Weber:
A co-worker interested in transformers. And transformers, of course, on the secondary have very high voltages.


Nebeker:
Was that in Berlin or in Vienna that you worked with this fellow?


Weber:
Both. Berlin and Vienna.


Nebeker:
How many people were there with whom you worked at Siemens who shared your interests in this respect?


Weber:
The Scientific Division of Siemens had all people who were interested in applying mathematics. Ollendorf wrote a book on electromagnetic fields--to apply to potential theory solutions for it. A book, fairly substantial, on just that area. He was one of the top men at Siemens in Berlin.


Nebeker:
Of the people who contributed to the book, how many were at Siemens?


Weber:
Well, three of them: Ollendorf, Pohlhausen, and I. Schottky was, I think, employed by the German equivalent of General Electric, which was a competitor to Siemens. That was the Allgemein Elektrische Gesellschaft-AEG-still one of the main competitors.


Nebeker:
What about relations between university people and those of you at Siemens and AEG and elsewhere in industry. Were there good connections?


Weber:
At my time there was little interrelation between academia and industry. However, the lecture series of this conference on higher mathematics applied to engineering problems was a first.


Nebeker:

Could you describe that conference? Was it over several days?


Weber:
Yes. We gave classes, and, I think, without remuneration.


Nebeker:
So these were open to any interested people?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
How well attended were the lectures?


Weber:
Fairly well. I would say on the order of something like 50 people.


Nebeker:
Were these engineers?


Weber:
Yes. It was at the same time that in aerodynamics, people became interested in applying mathematics to engineering problems.


Comparison of Berlin and Vienna

Nebeker:
You moved to Berlin in January 1929. How was Berlin compared to Vienna?


Weber:
Well, Berlin Challotenburg was a technical university, and very close to that was Siemens. In fact, I got the position of a privatdozent at the technical university, at the same time.


Nebeker:
Did you do much teaching?


Weber:
I taught one course, and in 1930 I got my call to the U.S.


Nebeker:
How did the general environment of Berlin compare to Vienna?


Weber:
Berlin was much more up and coming. People were trying to drive forward as they had lost the First World War. And Hitler was already in the background. In fact, in 1930, when I left Siemens to go to U.S., in our Design Group there were two politically-oriented groups of people: one pro-Hitler, and one against. And the pro-Hitler one's active motto was 'There is no way out.' Germany was saddled by the tremendous burden of war debts, by reparations. The situation essentially asked for somebody to step up and call a halt. And in our department at Siemens the two groups practically came to blows.


Nebeker:
Was the group as a whole polarized?


Weber:
There was an absolute polarization.


Nebeker:
And in Vienna you didn't have that kind of thing?


Weber:
No. I remember well when Hitler started in Vienna. And my father had gone to one of the first meetings called by Hitler in Vienna. He came back and said, "Never again! That man is dangerous." How he gauged that, I don't know.


Nebeker:
You didn't ever see Hitler in Vienna or Berlin?


Weber:
No. I wasn't politically interested at all. You see, in 1918 we had communism practically running over Europe. Hungary became completely communist. Austria had a few days of communist regime. Because everything looked absolutely gone. Nothing to hold. Nothing to give assurance that things could go on properly.


Nebeker:
But, by the late 'Twenties, how were things in Vienna? Was it fairly stable politically?


Weber:
In Vienna we had to pay reparations. In fact, the man who saved Vienna by getting a loan to save the currency, changing from crown--which was the original currency--to shilling, was a Catholic priest, Seipel. Through the League of Nations Austria could get a loan because Seipel, as a Catholic priest, was absolutely conservative. He could, apparently through his own personality, inspire enough confidence, and the loan--$100 million dollars at the time saved Austrian currency. It was during the summers of 23 and 24, I think. I worked during the summer on electrification of Austria, laying out some of the large hydroelectric power plants.


Nebeker:
Was this for Siemens?


Weber:
No. It was before I worked for Siemens. The last two or three years-- '23, '24--of my study at the technical university, I had a summer job. During that one summer, we had to get paid every second day; otherwise the money wouldn't be worth anything. It was terrible! And this was when Seipel then succeeded in the loan.


Religious and family life

Nebeker:
Were you close to your family in those years in Vienna?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
Helping out with the family?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
Did you have your own apartment?


Weber:
Yes. I married at that time, 'Twenty-five, probably. My wife's mother was a Hungarian citizen and lived in Vienna.


Nebeker:
I wanted to ask earlier if you had a religious upbringing. Did your family attended church?


Weber:
Of course Austria was, during the regime of Franz Joseph, the last emperor, completely Roman Catholic. During the first two or three years of middle school I was even serving in a Catholic Church. I was very strongly committed to Catholicism. But then we had in the Austrian monarchy, still, religious instruction. We had to go to Mass on Sunday. Even in secondary school. And in the third year, with Franz Joseph's death in 1916, the strong tie to Roman Catholicism vanished. His successor was still in the same family, but the whole atmosphere had changed. Anti-dogma. And I could get from my father a letter that I didn't need to attend Sunday service. And when I gave this to the priest, who was the religious instructor, he just got white. Because I was the best student in class.


Nebeker:
That was regarded as almost apostasy.


Weber:
Yes. And when I married, I married under the Helvetian Confession, which comes from Zwingli. I had to go to a special church in central Vienna, which had one representative of the Zwingli Church. I have a note in fact saying that I was leaving Catholicism. I disregarded Calvinism because it was far too strict. I found the most liberal explanation of Bible and all its adornments was the Helvetian Confession of Zwingli.


Nebeker:
Was this your own inquiry? It didn't come from your family?


Weber:
Yes. It must have been completely on my own. I must have gone to that church in the center of Vienna. Both my young wife and I became Zwingli because it had absolutely no dogmatic restrictions.


Nebeker:
Something like the Unitarian Church in this country.


Weber:
Something like it, yes.


Nebeker:
And then you moved to Berlin in January of '29. Did you get an apartment?


Weber:
Yes. In Pichelsdorf, one of the new little towns near Siemenstadt. It was a new development, small, but nice, apartment house.


Politics in Berlin

Nebeker:
You said that you weren't especially, interested in politics. Did you become more so when you were in Berlin?


Weber:
Yes. I saw that politics in fact can so easily become so excessive that even within a family people would become antagonistic.


Nebeker:
How does one understand why it is that certain environments polarize people so that it's hard to maintain a middle position?


Weber:
I heard Hitler talk only here, when I was young. And he had a manner of mass psychosis that's amazing. And this is something that we need to still learn more about. How a single person, through his personality, can incite a strong motivation to act.


Nebeker:
You said that there were two camps within Siemens--so evidently highly educated and intelligent people were impressed.


Weber:
To me--inexplicable!


Nebeker:
And you said that there were very bad feelings.


Weber:
Absolutely! Practically coming to blows.


Nebeker:
Were you therefore ready to go elsewhere for work before this opportunity came up for going to the United States?


Weber:
No, I just kept away from people that were this aggressive.


Nebeker:
It didn't cause any problems in daily life otherwise?


Professional organizations

Weber:
No, no. At that time I had strong relation to the leading group of electrical engineers generally. I became associated with the Ausschuss für Einheiten und Formelgrössen, AEF. A commission on units and formulas. How you designate ampere, a, and so on. I became very active in it. And many of the leading people--Richter, who wrote these tremendous books on electromagnetic machinery--were in it. And Fritz Emde, too. I met his whole family. He was one of the leading theoreticians in the early days.


Nebeker:
Already in 1923, you joined the Oestereichischer Verband für Elektrotechnik. Were you active in that organization?


Weber:
Yes, I attended meetings, took part in discussions, and gave lectures.


Nebeker:
What was it that attracted you to that organization?


Weber:
It was the only group in electrical engineering that published the journal--a journal, EMN--Elektrotechnik und Maschinenbau.


Nebeker:
This group, AEF, was a special group for units within the German electrical engineering society?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
Did you join that German engineering society?


Weber:
Yes. I became a member of that commission for designation of units and standards. It was also important because it separated a unit from a relationship, what we call dimensional analysis. It essentially was dimensional analysis. Mass, time and so on.


Nebeker:
And I understand that you continued such work in this country.


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
What impressions do you have of the Austrian and the German professional societies? How well they functioned? What shortcomings they had?


Weber:
Southern Germany, like Bavaria and regions along the Rhine, has an entirely different way of life and way of conceiving life than the northern part of Germany. The northern part is Prussian. They easily fall into regimentation. The southern people, no. The southerner is more like the Austrians, easy-going and absolutely no regimentation.


Nebeker:
Was that evident in these two professional societies?


Weber:
Yes, definitely. There were many sayings that illustrate that. A Prussian might say: "This is absolutely hopeless!" And an Austrian would say: "It's hopeless but not impossible."


Nebeker:
In Denmark, was is probably more like northern Germany, you hear "Der skal være orden i sagerne", "There has to be order in things."


Weber:
Very much so. This is why the regimentation is so typically north German.


Publication on magnetic leakage, decision to move to the U.S.

Nebeker:
Well, you were saying that in your life there seemed to be events that appeared prearranged.


Weber:
For example, my whole going to Berlin is that way. That I had asked my boss to get me a job, and just to be sure, I phoned him up in Berlin. And he got me a job. And this was then with the group in the Scientific Division, Wissenschaftliche Abteilung, of Siemens, where Rüdenberg was the leader. I should possibly relate it to my coming to the U.S.


Nebeker:
Yes.


Weber:
Well, in any case, when I had come to Berlin, I was asked to give a lecture in Vienna on magnetic leakage. I had just published on it. I went to the professor of physics, Ehrenhaft, with whom I had written my dissertation. He said, "Have you met the new professor in communications at the technical university?" He knew that I had been going to the technical university too. So I said, "How could I know him? Who is he?". Ehrenhaft said, "You must visit him!" He picked up the phone and made arrangements. "It's in one of the outskirts of Vienna, go meet the man." He had been with Felten-Guillaume, one of the German cable companies and was a new professor of electro-communication in Vienna. He knew about Siemens, so I talked about my work at Siemens at the time. And he had made a trip through America in order to keep up with newest developments, particularly communication cable design. We had a lovely time talking about also philosophy of life and so on. And three or four months later I got a letter from him--Would I like to go to America?


Nebeker:
How long did you spend with him in Vienna?


Weber:
An hour and a half--something like it. I've had three or four such incidences that are just as unbelievable.


Nebeker:
You said that there were two publications of yours that you wrote while you were with Siemens.


Weber:
This probably made my relation to them more firm. [Chuckle] One I actually wrote when I was on my way to Berlin.


Nebeker:
You mean in the train?


Weber:
Yes, primarily in the train.


Nebeker:
But most of these publications, here up to No. 12, were written in those years. Were they written after you ceased working for Siemens?


Weber:
No. This was the one that made me go back to Vienna to give a talk on magnetic leakage. And this was a publication printed in Berlin.


Nebeker:
I didn't understand the significance of the two you mentioned that strengthened your connection with Siemens.


Weber:
Well, because I was working essentially in the same area in which my job was assigned.


Nebeker:
I see.


Weber:
I wasn't paid by them to write it: I wrote it because I wanted to publish.


Nebeker:
Right. And that was exactly what you were working on for them.


Weber:
Yes, and at that time it was very important. At the turn of the century the design of electrical machinery in terms of magnetic circuit became important. It was [John] Hopkinson who in 1897 first defined the magnetic circuit in a machine, which links with the electric windings.


Nebeker:
But was this fairly new in the design of electrical machines?


Weber:
Absolutely new! This is what amazes me. How recently, really, the whole electrical design was put on a firm basis.


Nebeker:
And that was in the late 'Twenties.


Weber:
Yes. It was for these large single-phase, synchronous generators for the electrification of Alberg railway over the Alberg pass in Austria. Really, electrical engineering as engineering design stems from the turn of the century.


Nebeker:
Were you not saying there was a delay in the application of the theory to machines?


Weber:
It all started at that time. I mean, the concept of the magnetic circuit--linking with electric windings--should be the very first thing, and it came last. We are spoiled because of our historical background. But the people were fumbling for many, many years.


Nebeker:
The way one now approaches it, learning the physical principles and then seeing how they're applied, was not how it was done then.


Weber:
Absolutely not! The only physical principle was that if you move a conductor in a magnetic field, it generates electricity. The efficiency of those first machines could have been minus.


Visiting professorship at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn

Nebeker:
Earlier you told how you made the acquaintance of this new professor at the technical university and how he wrote to you in Berlin, saying that there was a visiting professorship. How was that visiting professorship set up?


Weber:
Let me give a little historical background. Karl T. Compton, president of M.I.T., became president in 1930. His younger brother, Arthur Holly, had the Compton Effect named after him. Karl T. Compton was the one who decided that M.I.T. should become a graduate school of engineering and should also enter into research, which was then a new concept. I came to Polytechnic in September 1930, at the same time essentially, to teach graduate courses. Now in '29 there was at Polytechnic a Professor Haig of Scotland--Edinburgh--who taught about ac bridge circuits. He had a book on it, too. He had written this book, which brought him the appointment to teach electromagnetic theory and circuit theory.


Nebeker:
Was this a visiting professorship?


Weber:
Visiting professorship. He couldn't wait for commencement to get back to Edinburgh, and I tell you why. Brooklyn at that time--particularly around the City Hall--was a yard for all elevated trains in Brooklyn. They were stacked up there. [Laughter] So no wonder he felt in an entirely strange country. And I really saw it still. Fantastic! Maybe in Brooklyn because it's flat there were principally all elevated lines with-- The Fourth Avenue subway of Manhattan was the only one that continued somewhat into Brooklyn, but not very far. But Polytechnic had done something else. When tuitions went up--ridiculously low in comparison with today, they were a few hundred dollars a semester; but even then many of the immigrants from Europe who came in large numbers around the turn of the century could not afford them. The students all were anxious to learn but couldn't afford full time study. So Polytechnic originated an evening program for study, fully equivalent to the day program. Not one of these associate programs, but completely identical courses and identical faculty--good faculty. They could call upon the Edison people who worked in Brooklyn Edison Company--good electrical engineering backgrounds. They had even a research department at that time, which has gone now. (Brooklyn Edison was a separate group from the New York Edison Company; it had its own administration and I think, even its own board.) And Polytechnic established the evening undergraduate school, which was tremendously successful. There were hundreds of students who studied evenings and at home, and during the day they worked. In order to accommodate the full program in the evenings, it meant a minimum of at least twice, but usually two and a half to three times, four years. Many students did it because it was the way into profession.


Nebeker:
And most of the students at Polytechnic--what professions were they training for?


Weber:
Mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering mostly. The largest group was mechanical engineers. Civil engineers were, I think, second there. And electrical was third because it was the youngest one. Many of the EE students went to Con Edison, Brooklyn Edison, and so on. And Sperry was down there.


Nebeker:
And Polytechnic then was bringing in European professors for this visiting professorship, or was it just the two that you've named who were European?


Weber:
Well, American electrical engineering was all power engineering, and for power one doesn't learn about Maxwell's theory. I remember that we tolerated, sort of, one professor for radio engineering, Canavaciol, who had made a name as a pioneer in radio engineering. The wireless came now around 1900. The turn of the century was so important: quantum theory, the wireless, with Marconi and others, relativity. Viewing light as quanta was a terrific change from viewing light as a continuous wave.


Nebeker:
Of course these developments that you've been mentioning were largely European developments.


Weber:
All, yes.


Nebeker:
I'm curious whether Polytechnic was reaching out toward the European professionals.


Weber:
Well, the president of Polytechnic at that time was Park Rexford Kolbe. He studied literature of the Middle High German before the present High German. He was well educated. He had come from Akron as president to Polytechnic--I'm not quite certain--maybe five or ten years earlier. But he had been trained in Heidelberg.


Nebeker:
He was German himself?


Weber:
No, but he spoke German beautifully. Perhaps, because of his German training he realized that electrical engineering was advanced there. Many scientists studied in Germany. The main scientists of General Electric studied in Germany.


Nebeker:
Steinmetz, for one.


Weber:
Breslau was his university.


Nebeker:
Was it through the connection with the Viennese professor that this president of Polytechnic, Kolbe, learned about you?


Weber:
It happened that the Viennese professor of communications, who was new and whom I met then, had made a trip through America to get up to date. And his last stop was the Polytechnic. Since Kolbe spoke German well, he could communicate well with the visitor. Probably he told him, "If you know of somebody, we just lost this other professor, who wanted to get back. Maybe we can get someone younger." They had made the minimum age 30. And I was just about past 28. So I didn't feel I had any chance. But this professor had sent me the material from Polytechnic, both giving the requirements. They even said that I would get a salary of $5,000 the first year if I came. And actually--being a member of the Siemens family--I had to get a leave-of-absence, and I did that because it was for one-year guest professorship.


Nebeker:
It was intended simply as a one-year appointment?


Weber:
Yes. Just like Haig before me. I was newly married at the time, and we fortunately decided, both, to accept. Well, I sent in all the forms filled in. And to my amazement, I immediately got answered to--they made me the direct offer. So we then had to immediately start learning English--conversational English especially. And they sent me a ticket for the boat there was no flying at the time.


Nebeker:
Except on the Zeppelin, perhaps.


Weber:
Yes. The boat trip was ten days from Bremen to New York. We had to have these steamer trunks.


Nebeker:
Of course you'd studied English of course earlier. Had you made use of English for reading the scientific literature?


Weber:
I read English. I kept up reasonably well with American literature.


Nebeker:
Was there enough of importance being published in the U.S. at that time?


Weber:
The, U.S. was completely under AIEE--American Institute of Electrical Engineers. A very stuffy group who had after each paper a discussion period. Everything so formal, worse than the British. And at Polytechnic only power courses were taught except for one course in radio. I know so well how the General Electric people, for example, felt. Their turbines--their generators--were really substantial pieces of equipment. They felt that that was what counted. These little radio things....


Nebeker:
...were toys.


Weber:
...were "peu d'importance." [Laughter]


Nebeker:
Were you expected to teach particular courses as a visiting professor?


Weber:
Two courses. Maxwell's theory--that means electromagnetic theory--and circuit theory. At that time operational analysis was very current here. In fact, Julius Berg, who wrote one of the early books on operational analysis, had gone back to England to visit Heaviside, had talked to him personally, and then had written a book on Heaviside's calculus. I had studied that for some time already. Maxwell's theory I had through the technical university as well as the humanistic university. I had both, practical as well as theoretical.


Nebeker:
Why were you interested in taking this visiting professorship?


Weber:
Already as a young boy I wanted always to get to America.


Nebeker:
Why is that?


Weber:
I read all the American stories by Karl May. He was one of the German authors who really had never traveled, but had studied English literature, particularly some of the characters such as a Winatoo Indian chief. I practically ate up that literature. I had all of Karl May's works.


Nebeker:
Your thoughts were that you would spend a year there almost as an adventure?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
Did you have a particular mission at Polytechnic?


Weber:
Well, one thing. Polytechnic had a year or two before started evening graduate courses, and in electrical engineering it was the second year. The first year Haig was there as visiting professor.


Nebeker:
This was for a Master's Degree in electrical engineering?


Weber:
Yes. And a Master's Degree at that time really required a strong program in mathematics, essentially the mathematics for Maxwell's theory.


Nebeker:
How common was that in 1934? For engineers to get a Master's Degree?


Weber:
Not at all common.


Weber:
M.I.T. was interested at the same time. Karl T. Compton in 1930 moved quickly to establish a graduate school of science and engineering that would place M.I.T. prominently before the public. It was to be a place where postgraduate studies could be cultivated and the first graduate school of engineering.


Nebeker:
There were no graduate degrees in electrical engineering before then in the United States?


Weber:
There were isolated degrees but no concerted program.


Nebeker:
I see. But Polytechnic had started such a program in '29.


Weber:
Yes. Again, completely evening an program, because it was for people who were employed during the day. For people who wanted to learn more about their field. Evening courses, at two hours each, from 8 to 10, for example, would be the right thing. Of course, everybody argued that people will sleep. And I saw that in some of my courses occasionally somebody would just fall asleep. But the motivation was absolute. And that was the most important part. These students really wanted to learn, and I had most of my students from Bell Labs, which actually was downtown on West Street.


Nebeker:
Now what are the forces behind that? Is it the professional engineers themselves who saw that developments were so rapid that they needed more mathematics or more theory?


Weber:
Well, I learned a lot from my students who were, of course, in practice. They had to build. And at that time high frequency was of the order of maybe 30 kilocycles. Something what we now almost call low frequency. Their audio range was up to about 10 kc. And then 20 kc is already audio. I remember so well how the first at 50,000 cycles had radiation phenomena. Very little, but cross talk. And we were wondering how come. No connection. And radiation at that time was not that well understood. So to many of my students I had to simply explain Maxwell's theory--it works! [Laughter]


Nebeker:
So the moving to higher frequencies made it essential to understand that.


Weber:
Absolutely! And it's amazing how rapidly the frequencies then went up. For example, Bell Labs introduced then the coaxial system--coaxial because it shields.


Nebeker:
Now these engineers, they're not, I take it, principally interested in the Master's Degree as a degree. They're interested in further education to deal with these problems that were coming up.


Weber:
Yes. But slowly then the industry--particularly Bell Labs--supported the main part of the tuition. Because management also felt that the engineers needed to know more.


Nebeker:
Was that particularly with respect to Polytechnic or quite general?


Weber:
General. Polytechnic's graduate evening school was by far the strongest support of the whole program.


Nebeker:
So the two courses you were expected to teach were in the graduate program?


Weber:
Yes, required for the Master's Degree. In the second term--there were two semesters--I gave a course on high voltage design because I had done some studying myself on that topic. Many of the field explorations were towards high voltage. It's interesting that high voltage transmission-therefore global transmission of electricity--came at about the same time. In the early days, 5,000 volts was high voltage. But quickly it became 50,000, and then 75,000, and 100,000 volts as the distances became longer.

Research professorship at Polytechnic

Nebeker:
So your intention when you took this leave-of-absence was to teach one year and then return to Siemens.


Weber:
Yes. One year, two courses. But in, I think it was, February [1931](I have a letter to that effect), Dr. Kolbe called me in and offered me a research professorship, one of the first ones in the whole country. They felt that maybe we should extend the graduate program into doctoral programs, and they actually did that in 1935. I had my first doctoral student. I was in charge of all the doctoral students, which was an unusual opportunity.


Nebeker:
With the research professorship, how much teaching was expected?


Weber:
I worked as much as I possibly could because I was interested. With a dissertation we had to make sure that the man really worked on it. So we made arrangements that I would visit his company and talk to his supervisor to make sure that he did the work himself.


U.S. and New York culture

Nebeker:
How was it adjusting to the United States when you arrived in 1930?


Weber:
One thing, it was Prohibition time, and everywhere I got alcohol. In Europe I drank wine but never whiskey, so I had to really get accustomed to take a little bit of whiskey. [Laughter]


Nebeker:
It was served wherever you went?


Weber:
Yes. It was shameless, really!


Nebeker:
Of course those were the last years of Prohibition.


Weber:
There were many clubs, and at Polytechnic the chemists fabricated their own alcohol. They did that in all the universities


Nebeker:
Did you get an apartment in Brooklyn?


Weber:
I was married so I got assigned to a hotel in Brooklyn, which doesn't exist anymore. It was downtown, 20-stories tall. I arrived in September--which is when it gets cool in Europe generally and Berlin is already cold--it was 90 degrees and more. I was sick! I didn't know what had happened to me. [Laughter]


Nebeker:
There was no air-conditioning, I take it.


Weber:
It didn't exist at the time. But I stuck it out.


Nebeker:
How did New York City or Brooklyn strike you? How was it, living there compared to Vienna and Berlin?


Weber:
I couldn't, of course, get around too much because I had to really learn English with all its subtleties. And I wanted to be sure that I could follow the students and help them. Actually, years later when I met one of my students, he had the very first class notes still in his possession. So I must have not done too badly. My style of teaching seemed to be much more conceptually oriented than the students were used to--I was not teaching just mathematical manipulations.


Nebeker:
Is that true of European or Austrian education in the engineering line, that it's more conceptually oriented?


Weber:
I think so. Generally the European mind is more philosophically inclined anyway. It's part of the "tradition." It's in the atmosphere. We've got all the philosophers--German, some French. English are psychologists.


Nebeker:
So your teaching was obviously well received at Polytechnic, and you accepted this offer to continue there?


Weber:
Yes. Because they immediately raised my salary by $1,000. Six thousand dollars was fairly nice, and there were the first signs of the Depression.


Nebeker:
In early '31, certainly.


Weber:
So in '33, I think, my salary was cut back $1,000.


Teaching

Nebeker:
What were your thoughts then? Had you decided when you accepted this research professorship that you would move to the United States?


Weber:
No, I didn't in the beginning. But I was much impressed with the students and their receptiveness. Of course, Bell Labs is a special organization, featuring all the very best achievement. That interested me to no end. To a teacher this is the greatest compensation that the students like what they do and want to learn.


Nebeker:
You'd done some teaching in Berlin.


Weber:
Yes, I had been there a privatdozent. I had just a handful of students because it wasn't a required course.


Nebeker:
You just found it very rewarding to teach?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
When you accepted the research professorship, did you then have to give up your position at Siemens?


Weber:
Yes. I wrote back, that I had the offer to remain at Polytechnic. And those people who felt Hitler coming, which I had already evidence for, said, "By all means, stay."


Nebeker:
Were your thoughts at that point that you'd do it for a few years or did you decide then that you wanted to stay permanently?


Weber:
No, I wasn't consciously deciding it. But the position was interesting enough, and I had a very good assistant to help me who also was of sort of German origin-- Hanstein, Dutch name. He was assistant professor, and I was full professor. He assisted me in the laboratory, which we ran for interest's sake.


Research at Polytechnic, obtaining American citizenship

Nebeker:
I wanted to ask you about your research at Polytechnic. Did you immediately start some research there that first year?


Weber:
Not the first year. But in the second year I became interested in conduction and losses due to the skin effect. With direct current the current distribution is uniform, but, at the same time, there is a force within conductors. And I built up--in fact I had a photograph of some of the equipment-- I just went through the old book, 1930 to '34, which my wife--


I have to digress. In '34 I got divorced from my first wife because she wasn't up to my drive to learn, or because I spent too much time on my own interests. We had moved into the country, and she perchance got to know a family where the young man had a good job and was a normal, well-satisfied young man. So she married him. At that time I became aware at a benefit of Zwingli's church marriage is not a sacrament.


Nebeker:
So you didn't need an annulment to end the marriage.


Weber:
And I need to mention one thing, quite personal, but important: I had to go back in '31 for my entry visa into the U.S. to become a citizen.


Nebeker:
You had to leave the United States in order to get that?


Weber:
Yes, and I had to get proof that I had no police record.


Nebeker:
So you had decided at that point that you would stay and get American citizenship?


Weber:
Yes. Again I visited my old professor who had first recommended me for the job, and he immediately said, "You have to see Professor Kann." Now Kann was a personnel manager when I went to Siemens first. In the meantime he had become professor at the technical university; of course, he knew electrical engineering quite well--power engineering. He was in the country somewhere during vacation period. I visited him, and practically his first question was: "Do you know the family Eisenmenger?" Well, how could I? [Laughter] This I have met so many times: the assumption that among billions of people--I might know a particular one. Professor Kann immediately gave me the home address and telephone number of the man, who was a former classmate of his at the technical university.


Nebeker:
What was the purpose of this?


Weber:
Just to meet him. Professor Kann had recommended me, and the other one was a classmate of his in the early times, so why not get together? In the meantime my decision to divorce my wife had crystallized. So in December or so--I had gone back in September 1931--I called up that telephone number. A lady answers and says that she has a few Austrian friends, coming over the following Sunday. If I would like to join, I would be welcome. This then became my second wife.


Nebeker:
I remember reading in your book about what happened subsequently. That's another one of these amazing happenstances in your life.


To return to Polytechnic in those years I take it the graduate program did well?

Growth of Polytechnic graduate program

Weber:
Terrifically! It grew by leaps and bounds. And it was in the middle 'thirties that a program of courses in engineering science, technology, and management was planned. A program to give background in electromagnetic theory principally, because in U.S. at the time the main emphasis was on power. Communication engineering was very much subordinated. At Polytechnic there was one professor permitted to teach it. I say "permitted" because everybody else was concerned with power engineering and looked down on that playing about with little things.


I found I learned an awful lot from my students. Of course I knew general electrical theory; I knew magnetic circuits and electric circuits and so on well enough to realize what problems they had. Although I had started with generator design and so on, so was also biased, I immediately became interested in propagation, partly because Maxwell's theory was an idol of mine. It was a remarkable synthesis of all electromagnetism. So along with the students I learned communication theory.


Nebeker:
What do you mean by communication theory?


Weber:
The study of higher frequencies into the kilocycle range, then megacycle range. I gave courses in high-frequency analysis and so on. In fact, I laid out for Polytechnic a whole program of engineering science, technology, and management courses, with emphasis on ultra-high frequency. That helped me in staying at Polytechnic during World War II in spite of Radiation Laboratory trying to get everybody up to M.I.T. And in keeping my research group on ultra-high frequency and eventually radar.


Nebeker:
In those years you were looking at higher and higher frequencies?


Weber:
Yes. I wrote some papers on antenna design and so on.


Nebeker:
So you were both doing research in these higher frequencies and teaching courses?


Weber:
Yes.

Radar, microwave, and radio communication research

Nebeker:
What was the practical application of this kind of electromagnetic theory at the time?


Weber:
Radar! We were in high frequency measurements. Actually my group designed the microwave attenuator.


Nebeker:
Already in the 'Thirties?


Weber:
Well, in '41 we started on it. My first contract with M.I.T. Radiation Laboratory was on measurement devices, because in the whole microwave field there was no standard. In fact, we delivered a microwave standard, an attenuation standard, to Bureau of Standards because they had not kept up with the development?


Nebeker:
By 1940 it was clear that radar was a very important technique. But I take it that earlier you were interested in the frequencies in this part of the spectrum, which hadn't been much used.


Weber:
I ran experiments out in New Jersey--New Jersey because it's flat, especially the region around Somerville--on antenna design.


Nebeker:
And your motivation for looking at a part of the spectrum that hadn't been much investigated was radio communication?


Weber:
Yes. I had friends at RCA. Dr. Browder Thompson, who was one of their leading research scientists, was a very good friend of mine. I worked down to shorter and shorter wavelengths--50 to 60 centimeter wavelength. Radar concentrated on 10 centimeters. So we were fairly close to that. All we needed were tubes that could produce high enough and strong enough oscillations to use for measurements. And this is when M.I.T. came in, because they had requisitioned everything. [Chuckle] I had to get from them some of the high-frequency oscillators for use in my measurement group.


Nebeker:
To return to the mid 'Thirties, were you working on measurement devices for this part of the spectrum?


Weber:
Attenuators, wave meters, and frequency meters. I had also a number of publications that were not directly related: mapping of fields, transients in finer artificial lines. These were all partly because of the interests of students whose dissertation research I was directing.


Nebeker:
These were mainly master's dissertations?


Weber:
And some of them doctoral.


Nebeker:
When was a doctoral program started at Polytechnic?


Weber:
In '36 we gave the first Doctoral Degree. It was on electric tests on films of shellac varnish. It was published in '39, but it was the dissertation really. I wrote for Wiley Handbook "Physical Units and Standards," Traveling waves on transmission lines, principles of short-wave radiation-- This is then '43.


Nebeker:
How would you have characterized your work before radar? Say, '37 or so?


Weber:
An answer is provided by several lecture series that we gave in New York. In fact, I was chairman of the Basic Science Group of AIEE. And our meetings were at that time in New York at the 39th Street engineering center. For example, mapping of fields, No. 12, educational series of articles. These were articles by AIEE who sponsored programs, lecture programs, on basic science because first of all, people forget easily some of the basic ideas. And in preparation for eventually the war--in middle 'thirties, '35, '36--already we were putting emphasis on higher frequency on the one hand, and applications. Many of the articles kind of came through one of the dissertations. Since my department was then called Graduate Study and Research, practically all the doctoral students had to report to me.


Doctoral program at Polytechnic

Nebeker:
These doctoral students were working full time, typically?


Weber:
Yes.


Weber:
At Bell Labs, RCA, and other companies that had headquarters in New York.


Nebeker:
How many doctoral students did you have before the war, before '41?


Weber:
I normally had at least half a dozen doctoral students.


Nebeker:
That was, then quite a rapid growth of the graduate program.


Weber:
At times we had one of the largest full-time graduate programs, particularly immediately after World War II.


World War II

Nebeker:
What were your thoughts when war broke out in Europe in September of '39? Did you think that that would change what you were doing?


Weber:
Well, no. Of course it was really an anti-Hitler war.


Nebeker:
Were you in favor of U.S. entry into the war?


Weber:
Yes. Many of my family were in Austria, and I couldn't correspond with them, of course.


Nebeker:
Were your parents and sisters living in Vienna?


Weber:
My father had died before I went to Berlin. Just a year before. My mother died during the war.


Nebeker:
But your sisters were still in Austria?


Weber:
Yes. So in a way I thought that I'm literally against my own family. But on the other hand, I am sure my whole family was against Hitler. However, I was, on principle, not happy with the indiscriminate bombing that we practiced at one time. I was in Europe shortly after the war, in '49 and saw some of the terrific destruction. It was shocking!


Nebeker:
Was that your first trip to Europe after the war?


Weber:
Yes. In '49 I went back to Tirol, simply because it was under British hegemony, and Vienna was under Russian.


Nebeker:
It was quite late that the treaty was signed leading to the removal of the Occupation Forces in Austria, wasn't it?


Weber:
I think something like '55. Before that I was advised not to go into Vienna, not to go into the territories occupied by Russia.


Nebeker:
What was the danger?


Weber:
[Chuckle] One of my students brought me a book that I had written on operational analysis and LaPlace transforms, which was translated into Russian.


Nebeker:
So the Russians might be interested in you as someone to grace one of their institutions?


Weber:
Well, I was advised not to go to Vienna.


Nebeker:
To return to 1939 or thereabouts: did you think, as so many physicists and engineers did, that your work should be directed toward war research? Your work already was very practical. So you didn't think this would change the direction of your research?


Weber:
No.


Nebeker:
Did it become clear in '39 or at some point that you would contribute toward the radar research effort, specifically that device?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
Were you working on an attenuator at that point?


Weber:
Not on the attenuators at that point. That came in '41. But on higher frequencies. The tendency generally is to go to higher and higher frequencies for even local communication, TV and so on.


Nebeker:
What specifically were you working on?


Weber:
Mostly with students on their dissertations.


Nebeker:
Various topics in that area?


Weber:
Yes.


Rad Lab at MIT

Nebeker:
You were invited to join MIT's Rad Lab, were you not?


Weber:
Yes, that must have been in late '41. I got a telephone call to the effect that people from Rad Lab wanted to visit my laboratory, in which I had for several years had ultra-frequency apparatus set up. Professor Rabi of Columbia University was the leader of the group. They selected a Sunday afternoon. I had my staff there, 10 or 12 people, who had been working on the ultra-high frequency experiments.


Nebeker:
Were these mainly graduate students?


Weber:
Graduate students and research faculty that I had recruited. Rabi and people from M.I.T. proper said they wanted to take me up to Rad Lab because they had required most of the researchers who had done work in very high frequency. I remonstrated because I had my program in ultra-high frequency, taught courses in ultra-high frequencies, had contact at Sperry, and so on. I emphasized that there would be nobody in New York left because the Columbia group had moved out on Long Island. (They concentrated on very high frequency in the centimeter range, one centimeter and less and that group later became Airborne Instrument Laboratories, a company that was quite prosperous.) The Rad Lab representatives agreed I should stay in New York with my group and that I would immediately get a contract from Washington on high-frequency instrumentation.


Nebeker:
You had already been working on such instruments. Did you work specifically to meet the needs of Rad Lab?


Weber:
Yes, in connection with the attenuator. I was out visiting with Sperry, particularly Webster and the people who came from California to join Sperry at the time. I visited Hanson, who had great difficulty measuring power. You see, in radar you send out a tremendous pulse of power and receive a very small return. He was interested in measuring the amount of power that he could absorb. He had simply painted some carbon with Aquadag. But no real proper measurement.


Nebeker:
Of the power actually put out by some device?


Weber:
Yes. Of course, you couldn't measure the tremendous power, but you can measure a small amount of that power and reconstruct what the total power should be. This meant that you needed precision attenuators. One of the requirements was to make it a coaxial attenuator to make it sturdy enough that it could fall to the ground and not break. He could easily break because we had metalized glass in the center. For precision purposes you would need really measurable attenuation, which of course we could do by having standards and then measure the absorption.


I got the idea to use metalized glass. First paint onto it a film of platinum palladium alloy I think it was. And then we automatized it by evaporating the metal film. And having a sample on which we could measure the resistance so that we could practically calibrate an operation. And then I took the first coaxial attenuator--that was made by Tony Giordano--threw it on the floor and it didn't break, even with the glass insert. We spent a lot of time developing it properly. And I took it up to Zacharias, a professor at M.I.T. He was a professor at M.I.T. Showed it to him, and he said, "All right. Is it sturdy enough?" So I said, "Well, throw it on the floor." It didn't break. So immediately then and there he said, "Can we get a thousand?"


He wanted it for the troops to use to calibrate plane distance. Radar measures the very small reflections, of course. When I got to Polytechnic I told Dr. Rogers, who was president at that time, that Zacharias wants about a thousand of these. Zacharias then phoned and said, "No, we need ten thousand." [Laughter] Well, we had to build a new company. In wartime, of course, it was very difficult. We had to enlist the help of Corning Glass to make some special runs of Pyrex. And then they built a metalizing factory, and we delivered quite a few thousands out to the troops.


Nebeker:
Could I go back a step when you were arguing that it would be better to stay at Polytechnic than to go to the Rad Lab, that was to continue the teaching and to continue being a resource for the electronics work going on in the area?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
Your own research could conceivably have been transferred to Rad Lab, but these things would have been lost.


Weber:
Yes. Ginzton was with the Sperry group and I had close contact with the Varian brothers.


Nebeker:
You told me earlier that you were the last person Rad Lab hired?


Weber:
Yes. The problem was to collect all the evidence for the book that McGraw-Hill wanted to get out. I was asked to write up material about the attenuation measurements and so on. In order to be able to do that and charge it to that effort, I needed to be employed by Rad Lab.


Nebeker:
When did that happen?


Weber:
In the last days of Rad Lab, essentially.


Nebeker:
Rad Lab existed half a year or so beyond the war. This was after the end of the war?


Weber:
Yes.


Microwave Research Institute

Nebeker:
Would you tell me about the beginnings of Microwave Research Institute?


Weber:
Well, Dr. Rogers was president of Poly, and he had been very supportive of my microwave research effort. Of course he saw the results we were acting. [Chuckle] And he then proposed to call the Microwave Research Group the Microwave Research Laboratory and make me head of the Department of Graduate Electrical Engineering.


Nebeker:
So in 1945 you became Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Director of the Microwave Research Institute. In a sense the Microwave Research Institute existed earlier, but it was called the Microwave Research Group.


Weber:
Yes. It was out on Long Island. It had some activities in Brooklyn, but principally was out on Long Island. We had at that time a large graduate enrollment--full-time enrollment--in Long Island. So we ran a full program out in Farmingdale.


Nebeker:
When did that start?


Weber:
In '61 I think.


Nebeker:
The Microwave Research Institute was, you said, formally established in '45. What was its legal status?


Weber:
It was part of Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.


Nebeker:
And what did it consist of?


Weber:
The Microwave Research Institute always was academic. We had also the Polytechnic Research & Development Company, which originally had the same people. But this included all the physics and mechanical engineering people and so on--all got under that umbrella.


Nebeker:
The Polytechnic Research & Development Company became larger?


Weber:
Yes. It was sold in '59 to the Harris-Intertype Company.


Nebeker:
So the Microwave Research Institute was just a way of recognizing that this is a very large part of Polytechnic's operations, but it didn't involve product or development or production?


Weber:
No, it was entirely academic.


IRE, physics in communication technology

Nebeker:
You became more and more active in IRE during the 1940s and '50s? One would suppose that you had enough to do in these postwar years at Polytechnic and at PRD and so on. So you must have found IRE very valuable for you to give so much of your time to these different activities.


Weber:
Yes. IRE has a special place in my memory because when they started publications, they essentially were a physics group. And to me physics is the basis of science. Their first publications were all physics-oriented, and therefore IRE publications immediately became known in Europe. Europe didn't have anything like it.


Nebeker:
There was no comparable society in Europe?


Weber:
No. And it was called, therefore, simply Institute of Radio Engineers--not American Institute.


Nebeker:
Did it have a large European membership in those years, in the 'Forties and 'Fifties?


Weber:
Not large, no, but its publications were substantial, and they were leading journals, particularly on the vacuum tube theory, which started at about that time--1912.


I might give an example of the value of physics. Harold Beverage, who invented the Beverage antenna for transcontinental and transatlantic reception had a receiver station at Rock Island, out at the very end of Long Island. The Beverage antenna was a very long-wave antenna, because for long-distance transmission at the time, only low frequencies were useful. The wavelengths were of the order of a kilometer. Inasmuch as this was propagation over long distances involving the ionosphere, it brought in matters that were essentially physics.


Nebeker:
So in this kind of communications technology, physics was more immediately useful than in areas such as power generation and transmission?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
So for you it was an attraction to IRE that it was a more physics-oriented society.


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
I take it that you feel that it's very important for engineers to learn physics.


Weber:
Absolutely!

This is a digression, but relevant. My wife's grandfather was professor of physics in Innsbruck. He was born about 1850. He wrote in a book, Physics of Daily Life, Physik des täglichen Lebens. And it became one of the very well known references, but, written so a housewife could understand it.


My wife learned physics through her grandfather. He shifted from Innsbruck to Graz, and Graz is on a fault line coming all through Austria over the mountainous region down into Graz. He had the first seismograph in Europe, stationed in Graz because it is on a fault line, running north south. And apparently my wife, as a girl, was very much interested in physics. He appeared to be able to explain things very well, and this is what led him to write Physics of Daily Life. Which appeared in 3 editions.


Nebeker:
It's your view that for engineers it's not just because it's interesting to understand these phenomena from first principles, but that it's important and useful to know the physics and mathematics.


Weber:
Absolutely! This is a very general question. In the medical profession, for example, is a discussion: Should the medical people really have more physics? And more and more the answer becomes "Yes." We need more physics to understand what is going on.


Nebeker:
And that's also a field that is advancing rapidly. Do you think that the more rapid the increase of knowledge, the more important to understand the basic science of it.


Weber:
Yes.


World War II, Cold War, and security

Nebeker:
During World War II did your Austrian background ever give rise to any problem getting security clearances?


Weber:
No. The only problem I had was because I attended a meeting of a group considered Russian-friendly. With Harlow Shapley, who was very much internationally oriented, I attended a meeting of the Soviet-American society and participated in the discussion. And then, a year or two later, I was called in by a security agency is to explain why I had attended that meeting.


Nebeker:
That was in the McCarthy period?


Weber:
Yes. I spent a summer at Aberdeen Proving Grounds working on a tank drive. The experience was very interesting.


Nebeker:
This was entirely separate from your other work?


Consultant experience in commercial aviation

Weber:
Yes. I had another interesting experience as a consultant. In the early years of aviation--for commercial purposes as well as for military--the planes were not yet well enough designed to carry heavy loads. We used dc motors for starting the propeller motors. It was of course, before the jet. I was asked by the Eclipse Company in New Jersey whether I could design ac system for the starting motor. And I designed such a motor. Obviously the machines could then be very much lighter.


Nebeker:
Why is that?


Weber:
The dc motor would be a standard motor essentially. But if you went to a high frequency ac motor something like 800 cycles, it could be made very much smaller. I delivered it to Eclipse and tested it, and they felt very satisfied with it. But then the planes were built so much larger and heavier so that the motor part played no more important role.


Nebeker:
So then they didn't want to carry on the development of the ac motor?


Weber:
No also because a dc motor is so much more flexible.


Nebeker:
That was before the war as well?


Weber:
Yes, in the late 'thirties. A report on this, "The Electrogear-A New Electromechanical Vehicle Drive", was presented to the IEEE Winter Convention in Philadelphia in 1941 and published in Transactions of the AIEE, the same year. It was published because the Mack Company was ready to go ahead with it. But then of course competition with particularly General Motors automatic shifting brought the cost down.


Nebeker:
This was a fork in the road of technological development.


Weber:
Yes, the Mack Company was really very interested.


Nebeker:
Was this work for Eclipse, a case of someone approaching you, asking if you would do such a design?


Weber:
Yes. At the beginning of the war, a number of the people in Germany left Siemens and came to this country. Siemens had had an exchange program with Westinghouse, so that the Westinghouse people were well aware of the capabilities of Siemens. The man who was in charge of ac development, Liwschitz--Prussian and Jewish--had to then leave Siemens. He came to my office first of all since I had worked with Siemens.


Collaboration with former Siemens colleagues and with German scientists

Nebeker:
Had you kept in touch with your earlier colleagues at Siemens?


Weber:
Yes. They all knew me because of that symposium, and apparently I was much better known then I had realized at that time. So he came to my office in probably '40. Since he was German and the Germans used the metric system, it was difficult for me to tell him that he first needed to learn the American system of measures--inches and so on. Because I felt he could be a very fine person for electrical machine design, I told him frankly. I asked that under the existing exchange agreement that he arrange to stay with Westinghouse for, let's say, a year or two to learn the complete English system. And he did. Then I made him professor of electrical engineering for machine design, and it brought students galore because he was an excellent teacher.


Rüdenberg, the chief scientist, also came to me, but he had friends also at Harvard University. I told him I could not, in my small Polytechnic Institute, accommodate a man who was chief scientist.


Nebeker:
These people, who left, at that point, were they for the most part Jewish?


Weber:
Yes. Rüdenberg was Jewish, of course. The son of Rüdenberg became a good friend of mine. Also, a whole group of the mathematicians came to me.


Nebeker:
German mathematicians?


Weber:
Yes. There must have been some communication among the German groups because many of these people came to my office first of all looking for help. Courant, his whole group--Stoker and Friedrichs and Courant--came and wanted to get to my place. Of course applied mathematicians craved leading groups. But it just was impossible for a very small department to engage several professors. So they went to New York University, and Courant told me Dean Saville, who was then Dean of Engineering at NYU, accepted them because Courant had already been in touch with a Jewish friend who would eventually give him money to establish a department of applied mathematics. Stoker was not Jewish, and Friedrichs wasn't Jewish. But Friedrichs' wife was. So I could have built up a mathematics department unequaled any place.


Nebeker:
I've worked a bit on the history of the Princeton mathematics community. There many of the immigrants came in the early 'thirties, but it was much the same story, with many of the leading mathematicians from Germany coming to this country. Of course it raised the level of mathematics in this country greatly.


Weber:
Yes, particularly applied mathematics. Courant was very strong on applications. His book is a bible, practically, for applied mathematics, although it is written in a mathematician's style. I used it as reference for many years.


Nebeker:
So you were a first contact for many of these German scientists coming to this country?


Weber:
Yes, and if I had had at that time real money, I could have built up a faculty unequaled anywhere.


Polytechnic Research Development Company

Nebeker:
What about the Polytechnic Research & Development Company? You told about the attenuator and then being asked by Rad Lab to make first 1,000 and then 10,000 of them.


Weber:
So I went to Dr. Rogers, the president of Polytechnic, and asked: "How can we do that?" We needed to organize our own company because it was impossible during the war to get additional people. We had shopped around, but we found that anyone who had experience in metalwork, which we needed for the coaxial containers, was so loaded that there was no question of any additional work. So I told Dr. Rogers we needed to organize some effort.


I had already approved of people who had worked on the early attenuators, which were samples. I had a large machine shop at Polytechnic itself. We had moved that work from my little laboratory to a large, complete machine shop establishment--in Tillary Street, a street parallel to the one on which Polytechnic was located. I organized there a small company, a machining company particularly. The metalizing we did ourselves in our research group because it was an exact problem. Fortunately, I could use the whole Physics Department, practically, and the Mechanical Engineering Department at Poly to work at the machine shop; I was transferring the machine shop essentially to that group. We had a manager for that small company.


Nebeker:
You were setting up as a company at that point?


Weber:
Yes. Actually, Dr. Rogers gave $10,000 and got two of the trustees of Polytechnic each to give $10,000, so $30,000 was the initial capital. You couldn't really buy much, because for everything you needed you had to have requisitions and orders. Everything was organized for secret operation. It was not difficult because, fortunately, on Tillary Street we had a separate set-up. We eventually had two floors of a large machine shop area.


Nebeker:
Did you formally establish this as a separate company?


Weber:
Yes. We organized it as Polytechnic Research Development Company, and with the $30,000 we could at least get the usual expenses of running a shop covered.


Nebeker:
Did you have a contract at this point with Rad Lab?


Weber:
No. We had contracts with all the services. It developed into a real major operation.


Nebeker:
Always building these attenuators?


Weber:
Initially, yes. Then subsequently, when we called it PRD Company, we also built wave meters and other kinds of measurement instruments. I had a whole catalog of them. We were the single supplier for the Signal Corps.


Nebeker:
It was during the war that you branched out into all these instruments?


Weber:
Yes. And PRD Company was practically an equal to Hewlett Packard when they started. Because ours was war work, even though we had patents to protect the designs, the Army insisted we give all our drawings also to Hewlett Packard.


Nebeker:
What was your formal position in PRD?


Weber:
Dr. Rogers was the president, and I was vice president and became president, I think, in '59 when it was sold.


Nebeker:
Did Dr. Rogers have much to do with the operation?


Weber:
Yes. He was president of it, and there were three board members: Dr. Rogers, I and Harry Willnus and John McKean. McKean was president of Pfizer, which developed the antibiotic penicillin. They eventually mass-produced penicillin. So he was a very strong supporter of our work.


Nebeker:
So this must have taken much or most of your time in the war years.


Weber:
Sure.


Nebeker:
How many people were employed by PRD?


Weber:
Well, easily 50 technically trained people. Most of them we trained ourselves, of course, because there was no other possibility.


Nebeker:
And there was, I'm sure, a large involvement of Polytechnic faculty.


Weber:
Yes. We then made Polytechnic a stock company. The three board members who gave each $10,000, eventually one donated his stock to the Polytechnic, to the university. And I bought some stock, of course, when we made it a stock company.


Nebeker:
When was that?


Weber:
In January '44.


Nebeker:
Was that to acquire more capital?


Weber:
Yes. People could buy stock then.


Nebeker:
Did you get the capital that you'd hoped for?


Weber:
Yes, we had to get capital. I think about $500,000 we got. We had generated our own capital, of course, too, because we sold. It was a real commercial operation.


I was involved also in what is now Esso--Exxon, Humble Oil. That was because the precision instruments that we needed required also precision manufacturing. And the only company that had some, let's say, flexibility was Humble Oil. So they built our slotted sections for high frequency-measurement of standing-wave ratio of matching sections, etc.


Nebeker:
Did you do a lot of working with other companies?


Weber:
Yes, particularly then with Corning Glass. Corning Glass made a separate division for metalized glass out of which they made metalized resistors, film resistors. They built a new factory in Pennsylvania, just across the border from New York State. It was a real large-scale operation.


Nebeker:
And how did it go after the war with PRD?


Weber:
Well, Dr. Rogers, unfortunately, died in '57, just about before commencement--in early June. I was then elected president of Polytechnic at the end of '57.


Nebeker:
Did PRD continue to grow after the war?

Sale of Polytechnic Research Development Company to Harris-Intertype

Weber:
Very much. We sold it in 1959 to the Harris-Intertype, corp. and the Harris-Intertype used it to build up its military-related business. They used to be a company for printing machinery and they transformed eventually into a very large corporation, now called Harris Corporation. It's listed on the stock exchange.


Nebeker:
Who made the decision to sell?


Weber:
Well, it was really up to me as president of the company.


Nebeker:
I know that in 1952 you were named both president and director of PRD. But why sell? Things were going so well.


Weber:
Well, my heart was in teaching, and I realized that this decision comes for many people: Should they go industry or should they go academic? My heart was really in academic life. The other one was a transient phenomenon.


Nebeker:
You'd been doing that for quite a few years.


Weber:
Well, I started off with Siemens, so I had a kind of business indoctrination.


Nebeker:
But you worked many years with PRD, from the early war years all the way to '59. Was it getting to be a strain running PRD, teaching, being a college administrator, and doing research simultaneously?


Weber:
Oh, yes. Because I had to project for the company money to operate. When they sold the company, I think we had a business volume of $5 million.


Nebeker:
Annual sales?


Weber:
Yes. Because eventually we had a monopoly. Hewlett Packard only came into that with the War Department giving them all our drawings. This is why Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard are very good friends, still.


Nebeker:
Is that how you made their acquaintance?


Weber:
In fact, we made our acquaintance through Scientific Instruments Manufacturers' Association. They were members, and I was a member for PRD. And we generally felt very strongly that U.S. must have its own capability and should not depend upon German optics, which always had been so predominant. We always argued that the U.S. must have its own capability.


Nebeker:
I could certainly understand that it was too much to be running a very large company with all your other duties, and of course in '57 you became president of Polytechnic. But why then didn't you just relinquish the presidency of PRD and have PRD continue as a company?


Weber:
Because the company was still owned by Polytechnic University, and we wanted to be sure to not lose control.


Nebeker:
So you felt it had to be a Polytechnic person running the company.


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
And when there wasn't someone else ready to do that, you decided, "Okay, we'll just sell the company as a whole."


Weber:
Our negotiations with Harris were interesting in a way. They, of course, immediately asked the questions that a company acquiring another company is fully interested in, all the details. They kept me as president for a while, and it was becoming difficult in terms of amount of time spent.


Nebeker:
I'm sure the sale of the company must have benefited Polytechnic.


Weber:
Yes. When they sold it, it was a rather substantial benefit to Poly, the first real endowment that it had. I think about $2 million that we could put into the endowment.


Nebeker:
So at that point there were no longer any connections; it was part of Harris-Intertype then.


Weber:
Yes. I was continued as consultant, and one of the men who became then vice president in charge of that branch of Harris--since "president" meant president of main company--was a man from Sperry Corporation with whom I had worked for many years and who conceived for PRD the automatic measurement devices, making all the measurements with automatic electronic controls. And the Navy was the first one who completely, with PRD, operated the company and made it a main supplier for electronic automatic measurement equipment. There was so much business that the company eventually got up to $100 million.


Nebeker:
So that branch of Harris got up to $100 in million sales? Have you since then regretted that you didn't take the other line, to become a company president?


Weber:
In a way, yes. But then I realized that for real success in business you have to change your personality, and that I couldn't do.


Nebeker:
You were an academic at heart. You don't regret now that you chose as you did?


Weber:
Not in the least. No. I was never out for money in terms of having power. I realize it's nice, as I compare notes with Dave Packard. I realize that this would be a lovely position to be in, having $2 billion in foundation.


Academics at Polytechnic after WWII

Nebeker:
I would like to ask you now about the academic side at Polytechnic in the immediate postwar period up to when you became president? How did things go for the graduate program and for electrical engineering generally?


Weber:
In fact, the war made real opportunities for Polytechnic in that sense. The Japanese had been prohibited to do any microwave work after the war. Until '53. And in '53 the Japanese became aware of the possibilities. I had a visit by a Japanese visitor who had been at M.I.T., at Harvard, and so on. He visited us because we had organized after the war the Microwave Research Institute, which had the largest faculty in high-frequency operations. And for me that was an operation I liked, running symposia. I organized in '52 a series of what we called Microwave Symposia. The first one in '52, and we published Proceedings of it. Since I had always-good connections with the Bell Laboratories, I was able to get my chairman of the Mathematics Department from Bell Labs during the latter part of the war. Through many committees I already knew practically everybody in Bell Labs, from president down. And this is why I liked my position and preferred it to being president of a company. I could talk to anybody without being accused of special interests.


I organized the '52 symposium, called, I think, "Circuit Theory: From Audio Through Microwaves." And I got the Navy to co-sponsor that first symposium in '52. And they provided transportation and complete support for a man from Phillips Company at Eindhoven, and one from French Postal Service, which is a general communications service. There was also Professor Cherry from Great Britain. I had visited the British microwave establishment. In fact, they had people from there that had visited my group here during the last part of the war. And I think the second year then I had somebody from Japan also. And then eventually all three services co-sponsored these symposia.


Nebeker:
They took place at Poly?


Weber:
No, we conducted them in Manhattan, in one of the mid-town hotels, and had always the three military services represented by top people who made the first-day meeting presentations.


Nebeker:
Who sponsored the symposia?


Weber:
Polytechnic (the Microwave Research Institute), the three military services, and the Institute of Radio Engineers. First the IRE professional group on circuit theory, and different ones as we went along. The military sponsors were the Office of Naval Research, Office of Scientific Research of the Air Force, and the Signal Corps of the Army.


Nebeker:
You said the first symposium was co-sponsored by the Navy?


Weber:
Yes. The very first one was co-sponsored by the Navy. I think it says it in here.... 'Fifty-two. Sponsored by Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, Microwave Research Institute, and Office of Naval Research.


President Rogers always greeted the people as they came and said a few general words; but I normally gave the introduction to the symposium. These symposia became very influential--I found the proceedings volumes practically any place I went in the world.


Nebeker:
So this was an occasion of summing up important recent work in various areas.


Weber:
Yes. And it reemphasized the academic interests of mine as being principal. And these volumes really are, from the first volume on, a compendium of all modern development. One of the early ones is in solid state. And all the people that had high standing in the field participated in these symposia.


Nebeker:
How long did you continue as organizer of the symposia?


Weber:
Until '69 when I retired from Polytechnic. I still then participated in the meetings, but Tony Giordano and others became the prime organizers.


Nebeker:
After World War II you received the Presidential Certificate of Merit after the war. Was that for your work with the attenuator?


Weber:
Yes, and for the work on microwave instrumentation generally. The American Physical Society has recently published an account of World War II scientific and physics research. In it they say that there were only a few institutions that had special contracts with the Microwave Research Division 14 of the NDRC, National Defense Research Council. Among the few institutions that had separate contracts was Polytechnic for microwave instrumentation. A man at Purdue, Larkhorwitz, who was a principal investigator of solid state in the early days. And the result eventually was the invention of the transistor, foreshadowed, essentially, by Larkhorwitz's work on solid state. But he didn't get to that. It was then Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley who got the reward at Bell Laboratories. I knew them all very well.


Participation in IRE and AIEE

Nebeker:
I would like to ask about your involvement with professional societies, especially the IRE and the AIEE.


Weber:
I joined AIEE immediately when I had come here in '31 and actually became Fellow in '31.


Nebeker:
I know you joined IRE in '41, and were extremely active in IRE.


Weber:
Yes. In AIEE I had been active on the Research Committee and Circuit Theory.


Nebeker:
You were also on the AIEE Board of Examiners from '54 to '62. How would you characterize those two societies immediately after the war?


Weber:
Well, members of AIEE for a long time regarded IRE engineers as dealing with little things, things of no importance. AT&T didn't mean much to them, although the AIEE officers always had a separate dinner meeting with the leaders of AT&T. This is how I met Kelly and all these other people who were presidents--Buckley and the first one.


Nebeker:
I've seen the figures of regular membership and student membership of those societies after the war. IRE grew much more rapidly. This was understandable, given the areas of principal interest of those societies.


Weber:
But GE kept to themselves. Walter Baker was Vice President of GE for Electronics. They made vacuum tubes. But they never felt that IRE concerns amounted to much because the bigger money was the generation equipment for power.


It's amazing the global aspect of electrical engineering. It was George Westinghouse who really initiated it. One of the first companies that he organized was Telluride, about 9,000 feet high in the Rockies. A place where there was no possibility of generating electricity except through waterpower. So he used waterpower to generate electrical current, and he was the first to use a high-voltage line--I think, of 10,000 volts--to transmit the power of the little generating station. But he got the patents on the transformer. There are French and British men together who invented and reinvented the transformer. They felt that the only way that you can, with real efficiency, transmit electric power is high voltage.


It's interesting that Cornell and Stanford came in. Cornell first. Cornell had one man who became interested in high voltage. He went out to Stanford University and created there the first high-voltage laboratory, an academic laboratory. And within a ten-year period high voltage went from 50,000 to 110,000 to 220,000, which made possible long-distance transmission of electric power. And it was George Westinghouse really who initiated it. He bought the patents from the French and British, the two people who had applied for the first patents. And when the Niagara Falls station was built--which had tremendous power capability, of course--it was the Swiss who were called in by the consortium to help in deciding which system of transmission to use. And it was the first 3-phase system, which needed the invention of "Dreistrom," that means 3-phase. It was Edison who committed this country to 110-volt, low-voltage, because he couldn't understand ac. He had no capability to follow ac impedance concept. He only could use resistance for dc.


Nebeker:
You believe that Westinghouse helped bring about an international community of electrical engineers?


Weber:
Yes, Westinghouse realized that high-voltage transmission is the only thing for global electrical supply. Of course, the development of high voltage led to many problems and the Stanford University group was the major contributor to their solution.


Nebeker:
Of course all this development was done by the kind of electrical engineer that AIEE represented. And when you came in '30,AIEE was the larger than IRE.


Weber:
IRE wasn't organized until 1912, and even then at my time Bill Baker always complained he didn't get much attention at General Electric because he presented "little things."


Nebeker:
I'm curious about your relationship to these societies, what it was that you thought valuable and why you gave some of your time to these societies.


Weber:
Well, when I came to this country, AIEE was the society. Everybody who was anybody belonged to AIEE. IRE dealt essentially with communications, crystal detectors, and little circuits. There was no money in it; nothing that people would pay attention to.


Nebeker:
Even though radio was a big industry, IRE was still seen as a small or focused society?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
In the period just after the war, what was it that you found valuable in these societies, AIEE and IRE?


Weber:
IRE was high-class scientific. Many of the people of IRE were originally physicists. In fact, many of my former students came from physics into electrical engineering communication. Whereas the American Institute of Electrical Engineers was principally power oriented. Feedback had been invented by Harold Black; it was on a ferry that he invented feedback to control the stability of communication circuits. If you had too much feedback, it made for oscillation, but the right amount of feedback could be extremely effective control. You could use slight feedback to monitor the amount of power going into certain uses. During the war when servomechanisms were much developed, AIEE engineers reinvented feedback because for servomechanisms you need that control. With a slight tap of current you could control then the major flow of energy.


Nebeker:
And that was independent of Black's work?


Weber:
Essentially. Truxall was one of the early men in servomechanisms. He came from M.I.T. I got Truxall to Polytechnic in competition with Terman. What helped was that the wife of Truxall was a New Englander.


Nebeker:
It appears that you became especially active in IRE in the 1950s. For example, you were involved with organizations both on measurements and instrumentation.


Weber:
Yes. On that point let me mention Frederick Terman. Terman kept a very close control of all his correspondence. I found, in the correspondence that he and I had, a number of interesting points: Terman first was also in AIEE, but switched early on to IRE because of his interests in higher frequencies. I had organized in New York City a basic science group within AIEE in the late 'thirties and early 'forties.


Nebeker:
What was the purpose of that group?


Weber:
To give lectures at meetings of the society. This was at the beginning of real attention to higher-frequency communication. My first paper on skin effect, which dealt particularly with higher frequencies up to microwaves, was censored. The article was pulled out of all copies of the journals, which had already been printed. It was for the New York Section. The New York Section of AIEE was far closer to science than the IRE at the time. Well, you see, we could made an impression upon people to learn more about basic science. Physics, essentially.


Nebeker:
But you said earlier that IRE had more of a physics orientation.


Weber:
Very definitely.


Nebeker:
And this was an effort to give AIEE that orientation.


Weber:
Well, in response to this, Terman wrote a letter to the President of IRE at the time: Why doesn't IRE do that? Now, of course, AIEE was strongly oriented towards power, particularly, General Electric and, of course, Westinghouse. But Westinghouse was not as aggressive in this as General Electric.


Nebeker:
You organized this Basic Science Group to stimulate interest in physics among AIEE members. Was that well received?


Weber:
Oh, yes. We had one lecture on beam formation, for vacuum tubes, particularly. With RCA people.


Nebeker:
Was there any response to Terman's letter to the IRE president that IRE might do a similar thing?


Weber:
Well, all they could say is that they were the first ones to become aware of the need for both scientific organizations.


Nebeker:
But wasn't Terman proposing that IRE do a similar thing, have lectures and so on? And did that happen?


Weber:
Well, not in New York. It might have happened in Silicon Valley. [Laughter]


Nebeker:
You were president of IRE in 1959.


Weber:
Yes. Actually, after the war I had been very much involved with the radar activities; our own research, of course; reporting on that research; and in participating in many of the discussions that followed.


Corporations and dissertation research

Weber:

I would like to make one point: When we had students employed by a company working on a dissertation, we always had to check with a company that they know about it, Number 1, and Number 2, that they have no objection to being involved in a dissertation. We never had any problem with this because I would visit the company and talk to the supervisors, so that the company knew exactly, more or less, what I knew about the company work of this man. And even with all the patent aspects that could be troublesome, we never had any problem.


Nebeker:
And why is that?


Weber:
Because we freely talked about it, and I didn't rush out to take out a patent on some things that I heard about.


Nebeker:
So that if something patentable came out of the dissertation research, the company or the individual would get the patent?


Weber:
Well, this is just the point. The company could feel that the idea--because he worked for the company--came out of the company knowledge. And that made it critical not to specifically discuss something that the man worked on for the company.


Nebeker:
And you made sure that this was the individual's own work and not something others in the company were working on.


Weber:
Yes. I think that personality plays a role. If a person gives the impression of being reasonable, above-board in every respect, then probably no problem arises. But a problem could easily arise.


Nebeker:
How often was it the case that the dissertation research was essentially what the person was working on for the company?


Weber:
For example, one student was working for RCA, and in fact I became consultant to RCA in connection with one of the patents that the British had claimed interference with RCA. It was a special tube design, and I could for RCA bring the proof that it was a principle and not a specific invention in terms of unexpected results.


Nebeker:
That means that it's not a patentable idea?


Weber:
Well, if it is something that can be predicted, it isn't patentable.


Nebeker:
So that was the importance of the information you provided?


Weber:
Yes. It was a space-charge effect, space-charge tube that broke through at one point. But the man who brought the suit lost.


Nebeker:
I see. Almost all of the Ph.D. students that you had were working in industry?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
Their dissertation research, how often was that exactly what they'd been assigned to do for the company?


Weber:
I would say rather frequently, but we could discuss the physical principles, and the physical principles are not, as such, patentable. So that it couldn't get into real problems.


Nebeker:
The thing I'm curious about is how a person working for industry manages to earn a Ph.D. at the same time. I'm sure there's a lot of group development activity, in which case it would be difficult to use the work you're doing for the company for a Ph.D. dissertation.


Weber:
We would need to exclude, of course, group activities. It has to be something that the man personally works on.


Nebeker:
And was this usually the case with your doctoral students?


Weber:
Yes. I normally talked with the supervisor, and we discussed what we would like to select as a topic for dissertation. I might, of course, have taken some ideas and rushed out to get a patent on it. But this was not in my nature to do. But it could be one of the problems that people have.

Patents

Nebeker:
I gather it wasn't your main interest, by any means, to patent ideas, yet you do have a fair number of patents.


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
Did they come in a particular period?


Weber:
Yes. First of all, the mixture of alloys with which to paint films. Then the methods of doing it, particularly with the control of the depth of deposits of a film. We had all these patents on all of these.


Nebeker:
Were there any patents taken by you individually?


Weber:
Some were by me, some were by me and anyone who had worked with it. Actually we found in our patent search one patent that exactly reproduced what we had patented. But we could show that we were the first ones to do it, and so our patent was upheld. It could be that the person just simply read the literature and then from it deduced that this could be done.


The literature is full of examples of people who rush in patents. The telephone is a good example. The telephone was invented by Bell; within hours, interference was declared simply because of the timing. But Bell's patents really, by two hours, could not have been granted. [Chuckle]


Nebeker:
What's been your attitude toward patents in your career? I know that, of course, you needed to protect the work of Polytechnic Research & Development.


Weber:
Well, fortunately, during the war we could take out patents individually, and obviously we could agree who had really done the work. We assigned the patents to Polytechnic.


Nebeker:
Was it generally the case that Polytechnic owned it?


Weber:
Yes, probably because I set the stage for it with the first basic patent I conceived. When I visited Sperry people, Ginzton and others, who had crudely tried to make resistor material for attenuation measurements, I felt that you needed to be able to make it a precision affair. That meant that you had to have the alloy defined, with maximum resistance, so that you have a good basis for attenuation.


Nebeker:
And with respect to your students, you wanted to see that they received rights to what they had developed?


Weber:
Yes. Since I generally worked with the supervisor also, I never let a student do work which could lead him to trouble.


IRE in the 1950s; serving as IRE President, 1959; merger of IRE and AIEE

Nebeker:
I'd like to return to IRE. How were things going there in the 'fifties? IRE's membership, I know, was growing rapidly.


Weber:
Very rapidly, yes. Also student memberships.


Nebeker:
What were your principal concerns in your year as president?


Weber:
It happened that '59 was shortly after the launching by the Russians of Sputnik.


Nebeker:
That was October '57.


Weber:
Yes, so at the time I was IRE President, everybody wanted to know about science and technology.


Nebeker:
I know there was a big push for science education.


Weber:
Exactly! I knew that Hagen at the Naval Research Laboratory had done some work on satellite communications.


Nebeker:
Of course what attracted most attention was the missile capability, that the Russians were able to put this thing in orbit. Have you worked with satellites in any way?


Weber:
Yes, in fact, already with Echo, which was a passive repeater. I spoke over Echo. I was also involved with Telstar. I addressed the French institute of electrical engineers in Brest, France. They had a meeting there just about the time AIEE and IRE merged into IEEE. The French organization wanted also to merge with their electronic group.


Nebeker:
So they too had two societies.


Weber:
Yes. The British had, too. The British never merged. The French tried to merge, and the societies had negotiations, but I'm not certain that they really did. A society that exists doesn't like to be absorbed. The Japanese had two societies as well.


Nebeker:
Now in 1959 were you already thinking of a possible merger?


Weber:
Yes. Then in, probably, 1961 I was approached by President Linder of AIEE. He asked if I would chair a committee to explore the feeling within AIEE, particularly the electronics group that existed at that time, towards merger?


Nebeker:
He approached you as a member of AIEE?


Weber:
AIEE, yes. And I got a committee together--John Trump and a few others were on it. I, of course, selected a committee that was not absolutely against the merger, but people who might, or actually had already expressed, an interest in a merger. And our report was that there's no sense in having two societies. There was, for example, the area of servomechanisms and electronic applications that came really from the power group. This was electronics engineering in AIEE. But I had made friends in many areas just because I'd been with AIEE for so long. And the people that worked particularly in servomechanisms and power applications, rectifiers and so on, that made for me the transition very much easier. I informed the IRE group that I took on this task for AIEE, and they all thought it was fine.


Nebeker:
Did you feel strongly that the two societies should merge?


Weber:
Absolutely! For one reason, in the field of power electronics, the two societies overlapped completely.


Nebeker:
Is there anything else about IRE in the 1950s you want to comment on?


Weber:
Well, for IRE I gave a lecture tour, which means giving lectures to sections every time that a section invited me to visit them. I visited 55 sections, which was quite a record at the time. Now my wife, who was interested in physics, was also very much interested in physical fitness. Under Eisenhower, there was a President's council for physical fitness. She was on that Council. That made her then, for the ladies, a very desirable lecturer. So when we traveled, she talked to the ladies, and I talked to the men.


The main concern then was space--because of Sputnik. And I had to argue that sure, the Russians did it first because probably they valued the new idea of space travel. While similar experiments had been run at IRE, particularly Naval Research Laboratory down in Washington.


Nebeker:
Were you a proponent of the space program?


Weber:
Yes, but I was much more for unmanned space exploration, using instrumentation as far as possible. To have a man in space is good news--it certainly fills the newspapers--but what does it contribute? There's some value in it for medical research, of course

Administrative positions at Polytechnic

Nebeker:
Maybe we can turn now to your presidency of Poly. You had long been a department head. Did you find that sort of administrative work satisfying?


Weber:
Yes, because I could choose directions, I could plan. What interested me was to point into new directions and to stimulate people to prepare new courses. And I got, for example, Truxal, as I said, against Terman's efforts, to New York. Luckily, his wife was Bostonian so that that helped a lot. But he was in servomechanisms, which was, from the AIEE point of view, the natural connection to communication engineering.

I instituted new courses in servomechanisms, a whole program. And generally I tried to utilize the faculty's abilities and interests as much as possible to broaden the area of electrical engineering. In fact, we had almost half of the graduate school.


Nebeker:
So half of all the graduate students at Polytechnic were in electrical engineering?


Weber:
Practically. Because of our war effort, number one, and the space effort succeeding that.


Nebeker:
Were you worried that by becoming a college president you would then have little time for research or for teaching or for your other activities?


Weber:
Oh, yes. In fact, I kept, at first, my major classes in electromagnetic theory and continued teaching--it was an evening class anyway in the Graduate School. But we even instituted a full-time day graduate program after the war, which worked out well because the student enrollments were usually large enough to populate a full course.


Nebeker:
Would you tell me about the transition to the presidency of Poly?


Weber:
Well, when we had the radar group, I had practically half of Polytechnic under me anyway. At the interment of President Rogers, who had died just before commencement, one of the board members apparently told several of his colleagues here that I would be the successor. They were pointing to me. I didn't realize it immediately, of course, but then the vice president of Poly called a faculty meeting, and at the faculty meeting announced that the board had decided to select me. It was partly because I'd been a faculty member for so long, which made me very much more effective in dealing with faculty. And I could do things that not many people could so easily do. I enjoyed being president though I was depressed in not teaching because teaching was my first interest.


Nebeker:
You said though, you continued to teach in the evening.


Weber:
Yes, one course, but I think for only two years. The second year I already called upon some substitute because I had to travel so much to attend meetings outside and so on.


Nebeker:
So that was certainly a negative aspect of being president.


Weber:
Yes. But I found that I could get faculty to join in moving in new directions, and that was satisfying.


Nebeker:
What happened with Poly as a whole in those 12 years or so that you were president? Did it grow in enrollment or change in any easily described way?


Weber:
We had a graduate center on Long Island, in Farmingdale, which we had built in '61 with help from industry. At that time they could have two parallel, complete, full-time programs in electrical engineering. And the Microwave Institute itself attracted a tremendous number of fellows who could work on their dissertations. It was a really boom period for Polytechnic at that time.


Nebeker:
I know you had a lot of Japanese students.


Weber:
Yes. We had students from all over the world, in fact.


Nebeker:
How do you explain that?


Weber:
Because of our leadership during the war in radar. Also our symposia that started in '52. They helped a tremendous amount.


Nebeker:
How much of your time as president did you spend fund raising for the university?


Weber:
Well, I initiated fund-raising for Poly through the Alumni Fund. Poly had never had any fund-raising really, which was very bad. The board membership of Polytechnic, even at the time of Rogers, was absolutely antique in terms of attitude. They didn't want development. So I had to institute development as an aspect of Polytechnic's normal operations. I had no director of development. I finally had to appoint one, and fortunately one or two of the general faculty members worked with me on it. One was president of A&S--Abraham & Strauss--a very large department store in Brooklyn. He was a real good member of our board of directors.


Nebeker:
How did finances go in those years for Poly?


Weber:
Well, we established that Alumni Fund where alumni contributed rather substantially. It laid the foundation for our alumni drive now.


Nebeker:
And you were able to expand in those years?


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
Of course in those years you were also very active in professional societies, President of IEEE, for example. It must be very natural for someone to say, "Okay, now I just can't continue doing all these different things. I'll have to concentrate my energies."


Weber:
I just felt there are so many opportunities to do something that I wanted to use some of them. I probably shouldn't say this, but a member of the faculty called my period as president, the "Blütezeit", meaning the bloom period. So although I was president of the faculty, I knew them well enough to know both their strengths and their weaknesses. So this gave me greater power.


Nebeker:
To strengthen the faculty?


Weber:
Yes, we got very excellent faculty members at that time.


Nebeker:
And looking back on it, how do you feel about those years as president of Poly?


Weber:
The real problem that led to my retirement was I couldn't get support enough from the board.


Nebeker:
For what, in particular?


Weber:
First of all, to spend some of their own money on Polytechnic. The board had never been asked to work for Poly, to raise money for Poly. And that made my greatest difficulty. I couldn't raise enough more money to do the things that we should have done.

And it still isn't rectified. It's very strange. You see, the moneyed people in Boston who support M.I.T. and so on are not around Polytechnic in New York. There were good men on that board, but not the ones that were able to attract large moneys.


Nebeker:
Of course that is crucial for a university.


Weber:
Absolutely!


Nebeker:
Did you have then sort of a cutting of ties to Poly with your retirement?


Weber:
No. I remained on the board as emeritus member. Which I am even today. Many of the alumni are board members now. And of course they knew me from these times.


Nebeker:
So you continue to try to influence things at Poly?


Weber:
Yes. It's too bad that the difficulty with Polytechnic apparently goes back many years. Polytechnic was founded by a well-off Dutch family on Brooklyn Heights. There is even a Rembrandt Association there. The Polytechnic was originally founded to keep the young people of the Brooklyn families home rather than have them go as far as Harvard and Princeton and so on. It's spelled out in the founding of Polytechnic. But at the same time, around 1906 or so a split occurred in the board. One part of the board wanted to--and did--move out to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, continuing the secondary school, not the college. These people were more interested in the secondary school. And they were the moneyed people. The other part of Polytechnic had less money.


Nebeker:
I know also that Cal Tech originally had a secondary school. They split as well.


Weber:
The interests are different. Technical education is something that isn't too well thought of by moneyed people. Polytechnic is having difficulties now again because the fund-raising effort, which was laid out very well has not been carried through well.

Growth of international engineering community

Nebeker:
I assume that the community of engineers is much more international today than when you started as an engineer.


Weber:
Yes. A substantial part of IEEE membership is outside the United States.


Nebeker:
I'm also thinking of the ease with which someone can move from one country to another and communicate with people in other countries. The Japanese, for example, use, I imagine, the same standards that are used in Europe and the United States, and there's full communication of research results, by and large.


Weber:
Yes.


Nebeker:
How do you see the engineering communities of Europe as compared to American engineering communities?


Weber:
The creation of state university systems through government funds completely changed the set-up of technical education in this country. It was done over a century ago to increase the technical education for agricultural, trade, commerce, and so on. Now practically every city has a state college, or part of a state university. The many branches of the University of California are an example.


Nebeker:
Yet European engineering in many areas has been in advance of engineering in this country.


Weber:
Yes. Well, M.I.T. is certainly comparable to any European university--technical university. But aside from that and a few other institutions, most land-grant colleges are of lower level, and aim more at the general education of the populace.


Nebeker:
In this country more of the very best students go to liberal-arts colleges than go to technical universities.


Weber:
In Europe any university can interchange students with any other university. There are educational standards, which don't exist in this country. That's the greatest difference between Europe and the U.S.

I may exaggerate, but it's almost the case that anyone who puts down $500 and elects a president and vice president and a few board members can found a university. Not in Europe. In Europe the whole educational system is run by government. And, the most important aspect, education--from the very beginning to the doctor's degree and beyond--is almost free. There are two differences. One is the "maturity certificate," which is a standard for acceptance at any university in the whole country. And the other is that the ministry of education is in charge of all education, from the lowest to the doctoral.


Nebeker:
How specifically does that benefit engineering, academic engineering?


Weber:
In 1820 the normal university, which had been humanistically oriented, was supplemented by a technical university. They didn't call it that at that time. They called it "Technische Hochschule," high school. The technical universities had the same rank as the other universities, and in fact professors can be interchanged.

European and American engineering education

Nebeker:
I have the impression that European engineers are generally taught more math and basic science than their American counterparts.


Weber:
Absolutely! A difference of almost two years. In fact, in New York at the New York Board of Education I assisted in an appraisal of foreign diplomas. I found that a graduate of a "Mittelschule", secondary school, who ends up with a "Maturitätsexamen" has an advantage of two years of studying over the graduates of an American high school.


Nebeker:
Did they accept that recommendation?


Weber:
Yes. In 1952 the Dean of Cornell University made a study of the European technical education. I was on his committee at the time and subsequently. He came back with the following statement: "Are our boys all dumbbells? Or what is happening in Europe? These people are so far ahead."


Nebeker:
I've heard that also about European physicists, that they have a lot more mathematics in their background.


Weber:
Absolutely! We differentiate mathematical physics, theoretical physics, experimental physics. We are very well aware of all the efforts to increase interest in mathematics, in learning mathematics. It's for naught because people are not motivated. Unfortunately we are tempted to be a nation of playboys rather than workers. We have right here in Tryon, Isothermal College, which is part of the state college system. They teach all kinds of household things. Sure, it's nice a person can get practically a doctor's degree for doing sewing, but it demeans the whole system.


Nebeker:
In the years after World War II, it became common to allow many more electives in undergraduate education and to introduce new programs in areas that didn't exist before. Did you try to hold to or institute a certain core program for students at Poly?


Weber:
Yes. I'm out now, and I realize there may be some switch even there to less fundamental subjects. But we have study after study after study on how to motivate students to study mathematics and science. It's always been known that science and mathematics are difficult subjects. Unfortunately the high school preparation is by teachers who don't know enough. Our high school system is our greatest problem.


Nebeker:
Did you at Poly expect certain math and physics to be taken by every engineering student?


Weber:
Sure.


Nebeker:
Was that something that you yourself worked on, or was that what Poly had always required?


Weber:
We had always required that. Poly has fortunately had a strong basis in the faculty to demand proper preparation in mathematics and physics. And, in general, it has been upheld.

American Society for Engineering Education

Nebeker:
I wanted to ask you about the American Society for Engineering Education which you joined early in your career, in 1935, and to which you were elected Honorary Member and Fellow. What have been your activities with that organization?


Weber:
Well, specifically for Polytechnic one point was important. In 1947 I published an article "Evening Graduate Programs in Electrical Engineering." Our graduate program at Polytechnic, though an evening program, was one of the strongest programs in the country and equivalent to any full-time program, which generally was considered impossible. In fact, when we had meetings of the Society for Engineering Education many of the institutions like Cal Tech or MIT would say, "Well, evening graduate study is nothing, isn't recognized." When I was in the audience, they always said, "Except at Poly." [Laughter] Because early on we had set the standards so high. And to emphasize that I'm right, this meeting in '47 had Professor Harold Hazen of M.I.T. talk about day graduate programs. And I was asked to talk about evening graduate programs, making them on equal status. People really accepted our graduate courses as absolutely on a par with daytime programs, but it was not generally so.


Nebeker:
So Polytechnic was the leader in establishing evening programs. Is there anything else about the American Society of Engineering Education you care to comment on?


Weber:
Well, one of my students, Tony Giordano, has been president of ASEE. And I'd always worked closely with the presidents of societies like ASEE, ECPD, and ABET. ECPD is the Engineers' Council for Professional Development, which I'd also served on as president.


Collaboration of academic and industrial engineers

Nebeker:
I would like to ask you about academic engineering, specifically, the relation between academic engineering and engineering in industry. Have things changed greatly over your career?


Weber:
There has always been a long discussion about a fifth year in engineering education, because it is obvious that in four years you cannot include courses that normally are taught in graduate programs. So there were discussions about the Master's Degree to be the required degree. I would favor that. And I would equate the Master's Degree with a normal European engineering degree. Two years' difference, essentially. In Europe it takes four years to become a Diploma Engineer.

It's a problem one meets everywhere: people want to get professional titles. The title "Engineer" is very easily given for two to three years' study. But they are not really engineering schools as such.


Nebeker:
One aspect of this relationship between academic engineering and practical engineering is what you've been speaking about: the academic preparation for practical engineering. There's a tendency for some so-called applied fields, such as numerical analysis or operations research, to move off in their own directions, guided, perhaps, by the logical landscape or by what one can prove, rather than being guided by what's useful in the world. And I can imagine that academic engineering and engineering science might move in certain directions that aren't particularly helpful to the practical engineers. Do you see any of this in your experience?


Weber:
The use of computers is, in that sense, dangerous because it gives a facility of computation which need not be really rigorous enough. How would one, say, differentiate between someone who can use a computer but doesn't check whether it's right or not.


Nebeker:
But do you see, in your own experience, any problem of a division between academic engineering science and practical engineering? Or are there so many connections, with consulting and people moving in and out, that there's not a problem?


Weber:
No, I wouldn't say it's a problem. In all the large companies there's absolutely no problem. It's in cases where there is no self-control in organizations where the difficulty arises then. In Europe the first and most important underwriting of position is the Maturity Certificate. The Maturity Certificate is uniform through Europe. And I was very much interested that Bush, for the first time, said what we need in this country is a standard of education. We haven't any. In Europe if you meet a person who has a particular degree, it means one and only one thing.


Higher education standards

Nebeker:
Another great difference, it seems to me, is that the majority of American college students take an absolute hodge-podge of courses in college. They get a degree in history or anthropology by compiling ten or so courses, which amounts to little more than one course a term. Whereas, in Europe if you're in a university program, virtually all of your courses are part of that program.


Weber:
Yes. And, again, in Europe it's only oral examination that counts.


Nebeker:
And you think that's a good thing?


Weber:
Absolutely. These multiple-choice examinations are bunk! But the trouble is--and this goes very deep--that we have a great tendency to bend and break all the corners possible in order for people to get degrees.


Nebeker:
Well, it's financially important to colleges and universities to accommodate as many students as possible.


Weber:
And it is so expensive because the education system is not designed for a standard level of education. It's designed to get a degree. So here you have to ask, "Where did you get your degree?" before you can appreciate what it means.


Nebeker:
I wondered if you had any comments on an apparent lowering of standards in higher education. There seem to be more students in classes, fewer class hours, and less written work. And assistant professors are under pressure to give most of their time to research, while tenured faculty, are in the habit of concentrating on research and that's what's rewarding for them. Do you have any recommendations?


Weber:
No. I do see a recognition that something should be done. But whatever we do, we cannot violate the freedom of the individual. We've made that a fundamental tenet. Today it's up to individuals to keep up standards. We need to have generally recognized standards of performance.


Nebeker:
Often if you're able to measure something, it gives you some degree of control. When you can't measure things, you're just at a loss.


Weber:
Exactly!


Army Scientific Advisory Panel

Nebeker:
I would like to ask about your Service on the Army Scientific Advisory Panel, which started in the 1950s.


Weber:
It was a panel of civilians called upon to assist the Army in evaluating research and in directing research. One example was the evaluation of performance of certain Army practices.


Nebeker:
The evaluation of research was carried out by civilians for the Army?


Weber:
Yes. An example is our consideration of whether the Army should set up new proving grounds in Arizona. We were asked "Would it really test what you want to know?" and "What would be good test methodology?" It was similar to the Army proving grounds in Aberdeen where tanks would perform certain tests.


Nebeker:
As you know, the Navy has supported a great deal of research through the Office of Naval Research. They have, in general, relied on peer review for evaluation of research proposals. Was this something like that?


Weber:
No, at that time it was for the evaluation of a particular project.

Defense Science Board

Nebeker:
You also served on the Defense Science Board, from '63 to '66. What was that?


Weber:
That was an advisory board to the Secretary of Defense. It was called the Defense Advisory Board and dealt with the very unfortunate war, Vietnam. We considered such questions as how you can differentiate between a person that is loyal to the cause and one who is a spy. Our chairman at the time was Fred Seitz.


Nebeker:
I don't see that scientists would have particular expertise in what you've mentioned.


Weber:
Correct. But I raised, at one time, a question: How can you decide that a person can be trusted? It was a principal problem in the Vietnam period. But we advised about a great many other matters, such as whether defoliation efforts were effective. And it was also about the defoliation. This came in there, too.


Nebeker:
So this was a high-level board of scientific advice to the military.


Weber:
Out of which decisions would eventually come.


Committees and consultant positions during retirement

Nebeker:
After your retirement from Poly you certainly kept active in a great many things. But looking back now, how do you characterize those years since your retirement?


Weber:
After retirement from Poly in '69, I was already on the Advisory Committee for the Division of Engineering in the National Research Council. On my retirement from Poly in 1969 I checked with the president of the National Academy of Science, Philip Handler, whether the Division of Engineering of the National Research Council could use me as chairman. I had the feeling that the chairman at that time--Hutchinson, from Westinghouse--was not doing well, not doing what I thought could be done. Handler talked to his top administrative man, and he interviewed me. And they decided to make me chairman of NRC's Division of Engineering, which has very large responsibility with something like $50, $60 million of research going on.

This is where I first got involved with the question of motor vehicle pollution. There one had to be very careful about industrial prejudice. We selected a committee, some with definite opinions, some with particular expertise. Out of it came our report on Honda having the most up-to-date control of combustion. We studied what emissions could be reduced. On that panel were very informed people from industry as well. We discussed extensively the need for really knowing what goes on in the atmosphere, and this eventually led to the many balloons being sent up in the air to check the chemical balances.

We looked at various studies of the combustion process. We had some people who were experts in combustion. There had been experiments to reproduce the combustion within automobile engines, but there were many questions, such as how it would be influenced by the particular vehicle driver. We found that Honda's new engine was the best one in terms of CO2 and nitrogen oxide. The committee went on for three years. We had many discussions, and the report was produced very carefully. Some members of the committees are very outspoken and aggressive; others are very quiet. One needs to be careful to listen properly to everyone.


Nebeker:
That took a lot of your time the first years after retirement from Poly?


Weber:
Yes. I met, of course, many experts in the various fields. It was extremely interesting. There were a whole range of engineering possibilities that had to be examined. Although we have learned a lot, the processes in the atmosphere are far too complicated to know for sure what should be done.


Nebeker:
You worked on other committees for the National Research Council?


Weber:
Yes, there were many projects. One was on prediction of earthquakes. There were some experts who felt they could predict earthquakes. And it happened that the Chinese predicted one earthquake exactly. The next one they didn't. So we were asked: Should this be taken further? We had a committee that studied it, and one of the immediate questions came: Who would be the one to make the prediction? Who will be the one to communicate it to the public and in what form? Because it's a tremendous liability.


Nebeker:
I know that for many years the Weather Bureau did not use the word "tornado" in predictions for fear of a panicked response by the public. They would instead say "storm warnings". So you served on quite a number of such committees?


Weber:
Oh, yes. I was chairman of that whole Engineering Division.


Nebeker:
So anything that came to your division, you would set up a committee to study? And you served on many of these committees yourself?


Weber:
With Philip Handler I would check on the proper composition of each committee, which was a very sensitive matter. This was at the time of the fire in the subway in Washington. We appointed a committee with Herman Mark as chairman. They investigated the inflammability of the cushions in subways and found out that it's not the inflammability itself which is most dangerous, but the chemical gases that are freed.


Nebeker:
So that just rating flammability is not sufficient.


Weber:
A tremendous variety of things are involved.


Nebeker:
From 1969 through 1974 you were chairman of the Division of Engineering.


Weber:
Yes, and I continued to work for the NRC until '78.


Nebeker:
This was a large part of your time in the 'seventies?


Weber:
Yes. I had agreed to serve about 70% of my time. In fact, in '70, I got a lease on an apartment in the Watergate, and so my wife and I stayed in the Watergate for a good half of our time. I served on the Executive Committee of the National Research Council at that time. So I met many of the really leading people in scientific areas.


Nebeker:
I know in the 'eighties you continued IEEE activities.


Weber:
Yes, principally on the Life Members Fund Committee. We have really a large amount contributed by Life Members, and this committee administers the use of the money.


Nebeker:
When did you move to Tryon?


Weber:
In 1971. It was in late March '71. We took a plane from New York to Greenville-Spartanburg, which is the closest airport. But because of very poor weather, we couldn't land in Greenville-Spartanburg, so we put down in Greensboro. A bus took us to the Greenville-Spartanburg airport. There was a terrific snowstorm. Trucks were off the road right and left. Terrific calamity. No place to stay anywhere, everything filled. They had put out mattresses for people in various places along the highway. We had rented a car. When we came to Spartanburg, they said, "Yes, okay, but you can't have the car. It's too dangerous to drive." So we went into a hotel, really third-class hotel, but the only one that had any room available. But the next morning, there was sun. So when we got here, people said, "And you did come, in spite of the snow." [Laughter]