Disappointing Conditions in Cleveland
CHAPTER 9 - The Cleveland Years
After all the horrific tornadoes and floods in other parts of this country, I feel that I must apologize for complaining about our weather here in New Jersey this past winter and spring. Blizzards and flooding in our area pales in significance compared to the devastation elsewhere that we've all seen reported in the media. It seems as though the earth and weather gods are angry, as are many people in numerous countries around the world. Adding to the depressing news, the May issue of Discover magazine contained frightening articles on the possibilities that a chemical known as BMAA found in some types of seafood might cause Alzheimer's or even ALS and on the possibility that the so-called "fracking" process to get at natural gas may be releasing various toxic chemicals and even radioactive uranium into our environment.
After reading these sobering articles, I found another article by Robert Irion in the April Smithsonian magazine about our Sun and some of the past solar storms that had profound effects on us Earth-based humans. For example, one in 1859 was so intense that sparking wires shut down telegraph networks across Europe and North America. Think of what would happen if such a solar event shut down the GPS satellites and all the apps in those i-devices. I couldn't help thinking that somewhere along the line we're going to experience a reversal of Earth's magnetic field and the possibility that for a time we might not have a magnetic field shielding us from the solar bombardment raining down upon us. At such times of despair, I am comforted by the fact that golf has started here on our par-3 course and I logged my first pitiful round this week.
The amazing final round of the recent Masters, the winner having the seemingly incomplete name of Charl, brought back memories of my very first round of golf. While at NACA in Cleveland, I had a discount coupon book and one coupon was for a free round of golf at a local course. Herb, a fellow worker at NACA, and I took advantage of the coupons. How many of you golfers out there can say that you managed over a hundred stroke improvement over your worst golf score? On that first outing, I counted every stroke and managed to break 200, carding a 198! Years later, here in New Jersey, I carded my best scores of 93 on at least two occasions. Incidentally, I am still in touch with Herb, who lives in Chicago. The last time I saw him was some years ago when he was visiting in New Jersey and stopped by to see us. Appropriately, I was hobbling about on a broken leg, suffered stepping on a wet railroad tie bordering the cart path at the tee on a hole on which I had a hole-in-one earlier. (Longtime readers will know that I take every opportunity to mention my hole-in-one, a beautiful shot witnessed by our editor, Brian Trumbore.)
So much for golf. We left off last month with my marriage to Vicki on January 20, 1951 and a tale of copper and nickel reversing positions in an emf series. We moved into a garden apartment in Knollwood Gardens in Parma after our marriage and it was not long before my wife became pregnant. It was during her pregnancy that she encountered my syncope, a tendency to pass out on occasion. One morning she awakened me, saying she had bumped her head on a kitchen cabinet and would I look at her head to see if it was bleeding. I sleepily got up and started looking when I fainted, my pregnant wife trying to hold me up! She was not bleeding at all! This was the first of about a dozen faints in later years.
Let's jump to February of 1952 and the birth of our first son, Harry. Devotees of StocksandNews will recognize Harry as the Stocksand News cartoonist responsible for Lamb in Command. Harry was a delightful baby but had a major medical problem that required serious surgery and the full time attention of my wife, whose nursing skills were put to the test. With the arrival of a baby, our small apartment was cramped and, when Stan, a true "rocket scientist" at NACA, and his wife Pauline suggested we share a rental house with them, we jumped at the chance. Stan and Pauline would become lifelong friends who later also moved to New Jersey and would again provide us lodging in a period between the sale of a house and moving into another one. Sadly, Pauline passed away last year.
It was in 1952 that the stage was being set for our move to Jersey and Bell Labs. You recall that my partner, George, and I were having difficulties with our work at NACA on electrochemical cells involving copper-nickel alloys. Our boss decided that our problem was somehow connected to our furnace design, an opinion we did not share. However, he insisted that we take another alloy system that had been reported in the literature and repeat that work to see if we got the same results. I've forgotten which alloy system it was. However, it required making new alloys and cells and it took us a couple of months before we finished the experiments.
Well, we ended up getting the same results as in the literature. Our furnace was not the problem! I distinctly remember the meeting of our group when we reported our results. After hearing our report, our total comment, I kid you not, was -"Humph"! Needless to say, I was not happy that, after all our wasted work, we had gotten in response nothing more than a humph! It was about that time that one of my fellow graduate students at Pitt, Tom Buck, and his wife were visiting in Cleveland and we got together for a picnic. I expressed my unhappiness at the way things were going at NACA. Tom was working in New Jersey at the National Lead Company. You may recall that I've mentioned another grad student at Pitt, Don Koontz, whose wife, Emma worked with Vicki at Magee Hospital in Pittsburgh. Don had recently joined Bell Labs in New Jersey. Tom happened to get together with Don and mentioned my problems at NACA. Don arranged for me to interview at Bell Labs.
My interview at Bell Labs was interesting. I spent part of the time being interviewed in a laboratory by William O. Baker and Robert M. Burns. During the interview, I was sure that Baker, with his eyes closed, had fallen asleep. Burns asked me why I wanted to leave NACA and I mentioned discontent with my management. Baker opened his eyes and said, "Mr. Trumbore (that's my other name), if you were president of Bell Labs, how would you manage this place?" Well, I was completely flustered and have no idea of what my response was! I was quite relieved when that interview was over. Later that day, I was interviewed by Gordon Teal and Carl Thurmond, a physical chemist who appreciated the nature of my thesis work at Pitt and he and Teal must have played a key role in Bell Labs making me an offer for a job doing research in the field of semiconductors.
Here, let me digress a bit and elaborate on the doings of Baker, Burns and Teal. Bill Baker actually became president of Bell Labs and, not having any idea of what I said responding to his question, I couldn't tell whether or not he followed my management philosophy, whatever it was! Baker was also an adviser on scientific matters to five presidents of the United States. I recall reading somewhere that he probably knew that the Bay of Pigs crisis had been defused before President Kennedy knew about it. Baker was in Washington and happened to encounter an emissary carrying the news to the White House that the Russian ships had turned around.
Teal, soon after I arrived, left Bell for Texas Instruments, where he set up TI's Central Research Laboratories and his team produced the first commercial silicon transistor, launching Texas Instruments into a key player in the semiconductor revolution. I thank my friend Fred, a former TI researcher, for calling my attention to Teal's role at TI. My first hand-held calculator was a TI product for which, as I recall, Bell Labs paid about $400. While at Bell Labs, Teal had been involved in growing single crystals of germanium and, with Morgan Sparks, who was my first boss at Bell Labs, had made the configuration for a bipolar junction transistor. I would grow many germanium crystals using Teal's method.
As for Burns, it would be decades before I learned that he had been president, vice president, secretary and treasurer of The Electrochemical Society (ECS), the only one to ever hold all four of those offices in ECS. In 2002, I would co-write and edit a centennial history of ECS, in which I described the very important role Burns played in the Society. By then I had also been secretary of ECS.
Back to Cleveland. After accepting the offer from Bell Labs, I decided to put off moving to New Jersey until after election day in November, 1952. I wanted to cast my first ballot for Dwight Eisenhower. In those days the voting age was 21, not 18 as it is now. I was 24 at the time. I remember working with Stan on a faulty clothes dryer in the basement of the house we shared listening to Richard Nixon give his famous "Checkers" speech a month or so before election day. (I just read parts of the speech on the Internet and must say it was a masterful speech by Nixon, who was under attack for questionable dealings at the time.) We moved to New Jersey the day after voting, my wife having voted for Adlai Stevenson, so we canceled each other out.
Reflecting on my two years at NACA from a scientific standpoint, for me it was a wasted two years. Being free to work on anything I wanted sounded great but I was too young or naive to realize that I should have been trying something new and challenging rather than simply working on the same type of project as in graduate school. At Bell Labs, in the research area, I also had freedom to do pretty much anything I wanted. Nobody told me I had to work on any specific project but the atmosphere was such that one seemed to naturally be drawn to focusing on areas that contributed something significant to, in my case, the field of semiconductors. I was to find that at Bell Labs, especially in those golden days of the transistor, was a place where there was not only intense competition but also intense collaboration. If you had a problem or perhaps a material (such as a crystal of some material that might be useful in a device), there was always someone you could consult or work with to solve the problem or make the device.
Before leaving Cleveland, I did manage to get out golfing and started a marked improvement over my 198 initial effort. I also enjoyed playing on the softball team our group fielded and hit the only homerun of my life, as far as I can recall. We played on a field where there were a string of logs bordering the outfield and I surprised myself and my teammates when I actually hit one over the logs. Before I came to NACA, one of the players on this same softball team was a member of the group named William Perl, whom I never met. Perl was testifying in the Rosenberg trial about the time I arrived and left NACA, after which he was convicted of perjury in that trial and he was spying for the Russians. I couldn't believe that anyone who played softball or baseball could possibly be a traitor. If you're interested in more on Perl and some tidbits about Douglas MacArthur and Bobby Feller check my column of 6/1/1999 in the archives. (This column will also come up if you search "William Perl" in the stocksandnews .com search engine.)
Next time - a shaky start to my career at Bell Labs. Column to be posted, hopefully, on or before June 1.
Allen F. Bortrum