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Oral-History:Joseph Vogelman

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About Joseph Vogelman

Joseph Vogelman was an engineer whose career began with a position as Assistant to the Chief Engineer of the Signal Corps. Vogelman received a B.S. and an MBA from City College, and eventually earned his Ph.D. while working for the United States Air Force. After serving in the infantry during World War II, Vogelman became head of the instrument development branch at the Air Force Laboratory at Ethantham, New Jersey. Later, in the early 1950s, he became chief scientist of the General Engineering Laboratory at the Rome Air Development Center in New York. At Rome he also served as head of Electronic Warfare and eventually as Director of Communications. In 1959 he left the Air Force and went into private industry, serving first as vice president of research and development at the Capehart Corporation and then as head of electronics research and development at the Chromalloy American Corporation. In 1973 he resigned from Chromalloy and became an independent consulting engineer, working primarily with the medical profession.

The interview begins with a description of Vogelman's early work with the Signal Corps and the Air Force and focuses on the various research projects he was involved with, the special design criteria involved in electronic warfare design, and the extent of military branches' cooperation with each other and with private industry. From there the interview moves to his experiences in private industry, focusing particularly on his multiple roles as engineer and administrator at Chromalloy, Chromalloy's emphasis on systems design rather than on marketing of those designs, and on the usefulness of his business administration skills in Chromalloy's acquisitions activity. Finally, the interview focuses on his activities as a consulting engineer: his subcontracting, the variety of systems he has developed as an independent, his own focus on systems development (not marketing), and on the changes he has seen in electronics development throughout his career. The interview ends with some assessment of the various types of leadership roles Vogelman has played in engineering research and how his approach to engineering and to management has been shaped by those experiences.

About the Interview

JOSEPH VOGELMAN: An Interview Conducted By Andrew Goldstein, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, May 9, 1995

Interview #249 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 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:

Joseph Vogelman, an oral history conducted in 1995 by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Joseph Vogelman

Interviewer: Andrew Goldstein

Date: May 9, 1995

Place: New York City, NY

City College, Signal Corps & Military

Goldstein:

This is Andy Goldstein recording an interview with Doctor Joseph Vogelman on May 9th, 1995 at the [[IEEE History|IEEE executive headquarters in New York City. Tell me something about your background and education.

Vogelman:

I got a degree in math and physics originally. But since I couldn't get a job with it, I held jobs completely unrelated to engineering or science, until I got a job with the government in 1942.

Goldstein:

Your degree was from City College?

Vogelman:

City College. It was a bachelor's degree in science. And I also went back and got a master's of business administration at City College while I was working elsewhere. I got this degree rather than a master's in science, because I needed work. The kind of work I got was closely related to accounting and business administration. Once I went back to work for the government in my own field I concentrated entirely on science. I started out at the top instead of at the bottom. I worked as an assistant to the chief engineer of the Signal Corps Laboratory. What I got were projects for which nobody had been successful doing that kind of work. I don't know why I got them. The first one I got was to design a modulator cable to go from a twenty-five thousand volt power supply modulator to an SCR-268 pulse radar transmitter. I was successful at it, mostly because I wasn't smart enough to know I shouldn't have been using the material I was using; but they worked. That led to my supervising the conversion of SCR-268s to SCR-516s. This was "long range acquisition radar." It was radar for locating aircraft well enough to be able to put a search light on them, so that the guns could fire at them. This development tripled the range from ten thousand yards, accurate range, to thirty or forty thousand yards. The nominal range of the radar was much greater, but these were the very early days of radar, so we had all sorts of problems. You had to tune it three times a day to get it to transmit properly. Here I was already a supervisor.

Goldstein:

This is as early as 1942, or just a little after that?

Vogelman:

Near the end of 1942. Then I went into the service. In the great military system, I went into service as a private because I failed the eye test for an officer. I went in with a letter from the chief signal officer requesting that I be assigned to the Signal Corps, and the lieutenant in charge of the interview program said "When I want a general to tell me what to do, I'll ask him." I went into the infantry.

Goldstein:

Once you were in the military, you were no longer with the Signal Corps.

Vogelman:

No. I wound up in the armored cavalry, where I repaired some electronic equipment. They had no organization of position for anybody to do anything like that. My official title was "bugler."

Goldstein:

So, when you started working for the Signal Corps, you were still a civilian. Was that common?

Vogelman

Yes. When the war broke out the Signal Corps hired a lot of civilians. They gave commissions and most of the civilians got their commissions, but I failed the eye test. They were sure I would fail anyway, so they were perfectly happy to let me go to the draft, but I didn't; I passed. Nobody cared whether I could see or not. Anyhow I wound up in the hospital, spent seven months there in the hospital, and then I went home. I went back to work for the Signal Corps. Under Franklin Roosevelt, the Air Force was separated from the Signal Corps, and I wound up in the Air Force, still in the New Jersey area. By the time I moved to Rome Development Center, with the Air Force I held the second highest civilian job classification in the place.

Work on SCR 268

Goldstein:

I wanted to ask you about your first assignment at the Signal Corps. You said you were working on a modulator for what?

Vogelman:

Cable.

Goldstein: for the SCR 268. I was wondering how your education - did your education prepare you for that kind of work? You said you had majored in math and physics. Had you learned much power engineering?

Vogelman:

This was not really a power problem. I learned it all on the job because nobody really knew the answers. What was different was that it was a high peak power pulse with a very low average power. Power people had always designed for the average power. Peak power in electrical transmission is only the square root of two bigger than the average power, so who cared? In this case the power was a couple order of magnitudes bigger than the average power. I went around and talked to anybody who thought he knew something about peak versus average power, how to prevent cables from breaking down when the peak power was hundreds of times bigger than the average power, since the cable was designed to handle the average power with no difficulty. I went around and talked to the cable makers to see what new materials they were using. I made myself a big list of the new materials and their characteristics, and I picked a set of insulating materials and had Oakonite build me a cable to those specifications. It worked, so I was a hero. It turned out that if I'd been smarter I wouldn't have used those materials because they had enough carbon in them to be lossy, and nobody in the power business would have ever built a cable with a lossy dielectric. What that does is prevent the breakdowns.

Goldstein:

That's interesting.

Vogelman:

I got smarter afterwards. I finally figured out why it worked.

Goldstein:

So was this your first experience with something that you would call engineering?

Vogelman:

Yes.

Goldstein:

Did you like it?

Vogelman:

Yes. So I kept doing these kinds of jobs for the chief engineer.

Goldstein:

It seems quite a story that you came in and were given this whole project as your responsibility. Were you surprised at that?

Vogelman:

Well, I was put in the chief engineer's office because I had better mathematical skills than most people. I knew how to integrate complex variables, for example. I couldn't think of an application for that at the time, but I've learned a lot of things since. But you know, that was important to them, or at least they considered it important.

Goldstein:

Did the work that they gave you require much analysis?

Vogelman:

Yes. I did most of it by analysis, because there was no written material on anything. There were no books. You made it up as you went along.

Goldstein:

Were you interested in publishing the things you were finding?

Vogelman:

Well, other than internal reports, which were all classified at very high levels, you weren't allowed to publish. The war was on, and it wasn't until many years later that you could first start publishing if you worked for military agencies. Somewhere along the line I helped publish an instruction book for the SCR-516, but that was the extent of my publishing activity in those days.

Childhood and Education

Goldstein:

Okay. We can discuss what happened after the war later. Before we leave this topic, I just want to fill in some rough biographical information, from even before you graduated. Where you were born, and where you were raised, that kind of thing.

Vogelman:

I was born in New York City, in what is called Harlem. I lived there until I was seven, when my parents moved to the Bronx. And I went to the standard high schools. I went to Townsend Harris High School for a week, and my mother decided I was too young to ride the subways by myself. So she transferred me to DeWitt Clinton.

Goldstein:

You were born in 1920?

Vogelman:

I was born in 1920. In those days you could skip classes, so I skipped lots of classes, and got out much earlier than my age warranted. That's why she didn't like me riding the subway. So I went through DeWitt Clinton in the normal manner.

Work with Group 55

Goldstein:

So tell me about what happened when you were discharged from the Army.

Vogelman:

Well, I went back to the Signal Corps.

Goldstein:

And that was in Belmar?

Vogelman:

Yes. I went to work on instrumentation. That was the biggest problem of the day. There was nothing to measure with. So I worked on developing things, one of which was a calibrator for range calibration of radar. Because they had floating range marks, you could adjust the knob to make them space anything you liked. That was the first job I did right after I got out of the service. I developed this calibrator for range, which turned out to be very interesting, because I learned a lot about acoustic resonance. Actually, I built a magnetorestrictive oscillator, 18 kilohertz, with the right kind of spacing they needed for the range bar. This actually followed me long afterwards, because somehow they kept it in use forever, and every time they had to buy it again, long after I stopped working for the Department of Defense, they would keep chasing after me when they needed to buy more so that I could help them with the specs. Then I went into other instrumentation, working towards the microwaves, because that was actually harder to measure. I represented the Army, up at Group 55 at MIT.

Goldstein:

Was that one of the older Rad Lab groups?

Vogelman:

Yes. Within the Rad Lab. And then when I went to the Air Force, I just continued to represent the Air Force, with that group, and spent a lot of time working with that group on instrumentation.

Goldstein:

And all this began in 1945, is that right?

Vogelman:

No, actually I got out early. This began in 1944. I made a lot of contributions in microwave instrumentation.

Goldstein:

You were measuring power?

Vogelman:

We were measuring power, we were measuring some kind of an overall measure — I don't know if you're familiar with echo boxes. You build a resonator, with a very high Q, and you ring it, with a pulse, and then it keeps echoing back, for some particular length of time. And you can then tune your radar against it, because the longer the echo is, the closer the receiver is to the transmitter, in performance. I was involved in developing things of that sort. The biggest part of my contribution in the 40s and early 50s was a whole set of microwave instrumentation, everything from measuring power, standing wave ratio, frequency. I did a tremendous number of developments of that sort.

Goldstein:

All right. What were the circumstances in which you were working? Were you part of a large team? What was the supervision like?

Vogelman:

Well I was head of a branch that was involved in developing instruments of all sorts. We were directly related to whatever the Air Force lab was doing when it was located at Eatonton, New Jersey. When it moved to Rome, New York, it became Rome Air Development Center. At that point, I switched over into electronic warfare. I became the head of the Electronic Warfare Laboratory. I was also a consultant for the instrumentation portion of development, as opposed to running it directly, until later when it was moved back under my jurisdiction, which put me back in the instrumentation business. I ran all sorts of things in electronic warfare, including making devices for collecting intelligence of all sorts. This was part of the electronic warfare business. These were the earliest days for the computer people. As a matter of fact, I did the third legitimate program of the Harvard Mark I computer.

Goldstein:

Using the Mark I?

Vogelman:

The Mark I. They did not do the wiring. I just did the analysis of how to do it, wrote all the equations out. We printed a book, because in those days you couldn't repeat yourself, it wasn't easy, so we printed out a book of all the resulting values, and it became the bible for designing echo boxes.

Goldstein:

So you were running certain equations on the computer to help you design the echo boxes.

Vogelman:

Right.

Goldstein:

That's interesting, and I want to get back to that, but first there are some things that I don't want to miss. When you were working in Group 55, and with the Signal Corps before that, where did the assignments come from?

Vogelman:

The assignments were from the project engineers who were working on the radar. I mean, they needed something to do something: "How do I know that my radar transmitter and receiver are tuned to the same frequency? How do I know that I've optimized the IF bandwidth?" Those were the questions we tried to answer by putting together instruments.

Goldstein:

So there were project engineers, and they would farm out different parts of the projects to different teams?

Vogelman:

Right, right.

Goldstein:

Would you consider yourself a circuit engineer or a device engineer?

Vogelman:

Probably a device engineer. I mean, it's hard to say in microwaves, because a circuit was a hunk of waveguide with some material in it, or a hole in it, or three holes in it. One of the early things that I did was to design high-power filters, which are just waveguides with corrugations in them, it goes up and down and up and down and up and down. You know, how to do that is really an analytical problem. The actual construction was done in the machine shop.

Goldstein:

To return to this project where you were working on the mark one, did you go to some of the project engineers and say that you had these intractable formulas and you didn't know what to do next, and they would tell you about this calculating resource?

Vogelman:

No, the Air Force was a major contributor to the support of the development. Aiken was building this essentially mechanical electric computer, with relays and switches and things of that sort, and the Air Force was paying. So we all knew about it.

Goldstein:

Were people eager to get on it, give it a try?

Vogelman:

Well, most people thought it wasn't going to work. I was perfectly willing to give it a try, and out of my own intellectual curiosity, I actually took some of the values out of the book, solved the equation for those values, to see it the computer was right.

Goldstein:

Yes, certainly you'd want to check it. You see its output.

Vogelman:

It was right, so I believed all the intervening ones. So —

Rome Air Development Center

Goldstein:

Did you say you went up to Rome?

Vogelman:

Yes.

Goldstein:

That was with the Air Force?

Vogelman:

Yes.

Goldstein:

And when did that happen?

Vogelman:

In the winter of 1950-1951. By that time I was the chief scientist of the General Engineering Laboratory, and shortly thereafter I became the head of Electronic Warfare, and then I became the director of Communications. From there I went out to industry.

Goldstein:

That's interesting, because you said that your position was the director of Electronic Warfare, and I know that your Fellows citation was for contributions to military electronics. Was there any conceptual difference between military electronics and electronic warfare, and other electronics? Is it simply a matter of the sorts of systems that you were developing, or were there important different as in concepts?

Vogelman:

I'll give you a typical example. If you're going to design an antenna, you would like to make it as efficient as possible. If you're designing one for electronic warfare, the big question is "Can I hide it on my clothes?" How would I hide it on my clothes? All that sort of stuff.

Goldstein:

A whole different design criteria.

Vogelman:

Right. And they greatly influence what you will do. For example, we made antennas that could be sewn into vests, and the ability to sew it into the vest was more important than any other criteria.

Goldstein:

Right, you'd want to optimize its sensitivity. How well did you accept those design criteria? Would you have to begrudgingly accept that yes, it's important that it be this rugged?

Vogelman:

Well, since I sat at the top with the director of intelligence for the Air Force and some other generals, we looked at it as a mission, you know. This is what the mission is, and we have to protect the people who are going to do this, to reduce their exposure to the maximum.

Goldstein:

So you could pretty easily set aside the esoteric engineering concerns.

Vogelman:

The engineering people who worked under me would come by with solutions, and I was the one who would always have to remind them what the mission was, because with them there was a great tendency to want to make it better.

Goldstein:

Right, and to try to cut corners on the parts that they're not so worried about.

Vogelman:

Right. And making it better didn't always conform to what was needed. We actually had a group internal to the laboratory that built them, because it was a very, very secret operation. We had to worry about that aspect as well.

Managing Projects at RADC

Goldstein:

Give me a sense of the scale of the projects we're talking about. How long would it take to develop something, how much money would the development take, what kind of productions runs were involved?

Vogelman:

One thing we did was to build an electronic balloon system to fly over Russia, and make measurements. That ran for about four years. The balloons, of course, were built by balloon people like Goodyear, but we built some of the earliest electronics ourselves.

Goldstein:

Those would be cameras and transmitting equipment?

Vogelman:

No, these were electronic devices that could pick up radar signals, communication signals, and collect them. We also outfitted radar detection aircraft that would fly along the border to East and West Germany, to make measurements. I think we also built the first drum memory for recording digital data. It was a monster. I think it was twelve feet long and, six feet in diameter. Probably stored less than a little diskette. I'm sure it stored less than a little diskette.

Goldstein:

That's interesting, that you were working on that sort of device, because my next question was going to be whether, generally speaking, your outfit was developing equipment based on familiar devices and well understood technology, or whether you were pioneering new components, in order to accomplish your missions.

Vogelman:

We pioneered a lot of things. We were the pioneers of the spiral antennas. We did that to make sure that the spiral antenna was flat, and then we made it even flatter. The tailor in the outfit could sew them into things.

Goldstein:

That must have been a tough situation for you, developing brand new components and devices. On the one hand, you've got the pressure to get your system up and running, so when you're plotting it out at the beginning you've got to decide whether to use existing technology or make the very risky investment in working on something new. How did you approach those problems?

Vogelman:

Sometimes we did three approaches at the same time, depending on what we needed. For example, we made magnetorestrictive devices that could be taped to your skin, so you'd know that you were in the presence of radar when you couldn't wear anything to hear the repetition rate. So we played with all the possibilities. We learned a lot about making crystals for low frequencies, somewhere along the line that became an offshoot that we could use for some other project. I mean the flattened spiral antennas really became a necessity. We were able to make everything else fit the job with mostly available components, except for that, so we had no choice. We had to figure out a methodology for doing that.

Goldstein:

Did you try to coordinate the work you were doing with what was going on in the private world — for example, Bell Labs?

Vogelman:

Well, we knew what was going on everywhere, because everybody was in some way, shape, or form a government contractor. Actually we used to have meetings with all of them. We'd go to RCA at six-month intervals and look at everything they were doing. We looked at the image intensification radiography they were playing with, and somewhere along the line the image intensification package became useful, so we incorporated it in something. And we met regularly with the people up at General Electric. We met with all the contractors to the military and others that were around, to see what they were doing, and to see what technology was available.

Goldstein:

You met with General Electric. It seems like the move from New Jersey to New York would have been a way of formalizing your switch of affiliation from RCA to GE.

Vogelman:

No, it really didn't. The nice thing about working for the Air Force is there are lots of airplanes around.

Goldstein:

So location wasn't an issue.

Vogelman:

No.

Goldstein:

You said that occasionally you had as many as three approaches at once. Whose job was it to orchestrate all that work, to administer it? What were the logistics?

Vogelman:

In the long run I was the quote, the last word on the subject. But in fact, my method of operation was to get the people who were involved to talk to one another, even if I had to be there to referee. I would see if I could persuade them to come to their own conclusions, and we'd go that way.

Goldstein:

So you wouldn't want to pull the plug on one research group but rather hope that group B convinces group A —

Vogelman:

Right. That they've got a better solution, and then group A could put theirs away.

Goldstein:

Do you think most of the solutions that emerged were based on technical superiority over their other issues?

Vogelman:

No, they were always based on the issue of time — when can I have it? Of course this whole place operated as a quick reaction facility, even though quick might be three years. Sometimes the time was more important than anything else.

Goldstein:

Did you do any long range planning, that is, sit down with people from intelligence and say, "Well, we think that maybe in ten years we can deliver a system that has these capabilities"?

Vogelman:

We always used to have long-range projects, not through the same group that handled the quick-reaction projects. Their mindset was "get it done in a hurry". You had to separate them from the long-term people, because they had completely different approaches. With the quick-reaction groups you had to deal with things that you could do in a reasonable time, that didn't require so much basic or applied research. Whereas the other people were free to do a two-year project and look for a solution that would be the basis for going ahead, completely different approaches, completely different kind of people.

Goldstein:

You say that frequently you had to make choices about what to pursue based on projections about how likely you were to finish in a given timeframe. These projections would depend on the honest appraisal of the people working on them. Were you always getting the straight story from people? Were there some guys who were always over-promising?

Vogelman:

Well, I used to have a mental discounting system.

Goldstein:

Everybody had his own time dilation factor?

Vogelman:

Right.

Goldstein:

What were some of the challenges and rewards of being in your position?

Vogelman:

Well, for one thing, I knew everything that was going on in the world. I mean I was cleared for anything, everything. I was really required to know a tremendous amount of what was going on. I knew when somebody was going to take a boat into the Caspian Sea, or Black Sea. Sometimes I worried a lot about that, about the fact that I knew.

Goldstein:

You mean for your own safety?

Vogelman:

Yes, for my own safety. From that point of view it was very interesting. Also, I was reasonably free to look into anything, as long as it would advance the general status of Air Force research and development.

Goldstein:

Was there ever any room for your politics, or the politics of anyone working on your team, to influence what was going on, the sort of technical work was going on?

Vogelman:

I don't understand the question.

Goldstein:

Let me describe a hypothetical situation. There's talk about a particular project that needs to function in cold weather. You can make some assumptions about what they have in mind. Maybe they've even explicit about what they want this system for; they want to mine the Gulf Slip in Finland. Did any of the engineering staff, for whatever reason — perhaps a strongly felt political belief have any opportunity to influence the success of the proposal?

Vogelman:

Well, every engineer had the ability to influence the success, because if he didn't do his job, we wouldn't succeed, and if he did it very well, we would succeed sooner. I had to rely on them to do their job. Frequently I had to concern myself with the fact that even though I could do it quicker and better myself, I had to let them do it, because I couldn't spread myself that thin.

Goldstein:

Okay.

Vogelman:

I was the best standing wave measuring individual there. In less time than anybody else, I could measure standing wave ratios on microwave equipment. But that'd be the last thing I'd want to do, because that's a waste of my time. So I'd spend time teaching people, correcting their mistakes and then letting them do the job.

Goldstein:

That's interesting. Was there a physical skill involved in measuring standing wave ratios?

Vogelman:

Some physical, but mostly it involves thinking ahead that is analyzing what it is that you're seeing when it doesn't work exactly like the book says.

Goldstein:

Okay. Can you point to any places when the work that you did in this situation permeated out into the general art of electronics?

Vogelman:

Well, there are all the microwave developments we did for instrumentation. Once we got manufacturers to build them, they were building them for everybody. Initially they were building them only for military contractors, but the wraps were off in relatively short order. I can pick up instruments nowadays, and I know exactly where the idea came from. It's improved markedly, but the basic technique is the same.

Relations to Other Research Laboratories

Goldstein:

How did the work that you did compare with what was going on at something like the Naval Ordinance or the Naval Research Laboratory?

Vogelman:

Well, many times we were competitors, because the Army and Navy and the Air Force spoke to each other infrequently. You'd wind up finding the same activity going on in two or three places.

Goldstein:

It'd be interesting if there were any cases where two branches of the service were working on similar projects, and because they were working independently, took radically different approaches. Do you know if there were any cases like that?

Vogelman:

I sat on the research and development board and various committees, as well, and that's what you'd find out when we'd compare, what's the Navy doing about A, and what's the Army doing about it and what's the Air Force doing about it - you'd find that they were going in different directions to do the same thing. Other than the concern about how much effort was going into it, this wasn't necessarily a bad thing, because it contributed in large measures to the available science. From an accounting point of view, though, we were spending at least twice as much money as necessary. So that required some investigating, to see whether one of them was sufficiently better than the others to warrant the expense.

Goldstein:

So that's what your board was trying to do, trying to rationalize the expense?

Vogelman:

Right. I mean for example there were far too many coaxial cables out there. We eventually forced the services to agree on some relatively limited numbers, because you can get a fifty-ohm cable by all sorts of combinations. How many do you really need? And we'd made a lot of effort in that area. The same is true of waveguide structures. The first guy will come out and say, well, mine is going to be two by one. The next one will say not so, I'm going to make mine one point nine by point nine five. If you work independently, you can get a tremendous amount of semi-duplication.

Goldstein:

But we all had the impression that there was plenty of money available for military hardware research.

Vogelman:

I know, but that was up to the point when you'd have to manufacture it. Then it became extremely costly for the Navy to be pulling waveguide out of some of the brass mills, such as Revere Copper Brass, that was ten thousand of an inch smaller than the one the Air Force was pulling. That cost a lot of money in production. Even though there was a lot of money, there really was a limit. There were finite budgets.

Move to Private Industry

Goldstein:

Tell me something about the switch to industry.

Vogelman:

At the time I was director of communications, I was a public law 313 employee, which meant that for me to get to get a raise, the Secretary of Defense would have to get a raise (because I was only a few thousand dollars less than he was getting). And while the Secretary of Defense was very rich and didn't need a raise, I wasn't rich and I did need one. I had three children. It was really money that prompted me to leave. Because I had lots of prestige, a very free hand to do a lot of research and development, but not money. So I went out to industry.

Goldstein:

When was this?

Vogelman:

In 1959.

Goldstein:

How did you do it? Did you get a job with an established firm?

Vogelman:

Yes, I got a job with an established firm as a vice president. Stayed with them a while, wound up on their board of directors.

Goldstein:

Who was that?

Vogelman:

It was the Caphart Corporation. They were both in commercial electronics and military electronics. I was in charge of their research and development engineering. The man who arranged for me to come to Caphart died, and the company started to do strange things. They brought in some money from some other individual, and he became chairman of the board. I didn't like what was going on, and resigned. One of the other board members convinced me I should join the Chromalloy American Corporation, which was a very small corporation at the time.

Impact of Transistors & Semiconductors

Goldstein:

We'll come back to that, but I didn't realize we were all the way up to 1959. I wanted to ask how some of the changes in electronics in the 1950s affected the work that you were doing for the military. I'm thinking of semiconductors.

Vogelman:

The biggest change was the type A transistor, because it started a really massive attempt to duplicate all tube circuits with the transistor. A type A transistor was not a great transistor, but it was a big improvement in terms of size, power requirements and so forth over anything that had gone before.

Goldstein:

The type A is junction and germanium, is that right?

Vogelman:

Yes. It was the first of the Bell Lab transistors.

Goldstein:

The one that they made in Allentown?

Vogelman:

Yes. It made a radical change in the thinking and in the approach to research and development. It made a lot of things possible that were impossible before.

Goldstein:

Because of miniaturization power requirements?

Vogelman:

Right. It took a tremendous amount of effort to get to the point where you could make circuits out of it that could duplicate what you could do with vacuum tubes. You didn't have the niceties of five grids, or three grids, but you could learn how to put transistors together so you could get the equivalent performance. But it took time.

Goldstein:

Was there ever a time, a transitional period, where you would simultaneously consider how to do a circuit with the transistors or with tubes?

Vogelman:

Well, we started out by doing pieces of circuits with transistors. For a long time power supplies were always tubes. And even if we got to the point where all the circuits were transistors, the power supply would still be tubes.

Goldstein:

The power handling capabilities of the transistors weren't there.

Vogelman:

They just weren't there. The other thing I did at the time was to go around from university to university and lecture about transistors. I gave out handfuls of them, so people would develop circuits. My only requirement was, if you develop a circuit, you've got to tell us. So if you can make an oscillator, you've got to tell us about it; if you can make a flip-flop, you've got to tell us about it. We got a lot of circuits that way, from all sorts of schools.

Goldstein:

That's interesting. Was there, an alternative opportunity for some of those people to patent their circuits and market them, and make any money off them?

Vogelman:

The developments were coming so fast and furious, that if you had tried to patent a type A circuit it would become valueless before the patent was issued. Now complex circuits that were different than a vacuum tube circuit are a different story. The patent laws are very complex, but if you take a tube circuit and follow its characteristics and make one out of a transistor you can't get a patent for it, because you're using the same technique, and the fact that it's got three connections on here and it's got three connections on the vacuum tube, and you're doing the same kind of thing, you're running a resistor from here and a capacitor from here to here —

Goldstein:

So if the analysis of the circuit's operation is the same, it's the same circuit.

Vogelman:

Right. On the other hand, there are things you can do with transistors you could never do with vacuum tubes. Most people were able to patent circuits. And the legal people worried about what the government's rights were. I didn't; I was just concerned with getting people to work. And that's what we did; we got a lot of people to work.

Goldstein:

Did embrace working with the transistor, or was there some suspicion, or reluctance?

Vogelman:

At some places there was a great deal of reluctance on the part of the staff, but not on the part of the students. The graduate students were anxious to get a handful of transistors from me because they were going to go off and do things with them.

Goldstein:

Cutting edge things.

Vogelman:

But faculty frequently didn't think it was worth the students' effort.

Military Outreach to Schools

Goldstein:

How did these lectures with the schools get arranged? Was this your idea? Was it sponsored by the military, or by the schools?

Vogelman:

What would happen would be this: we would send a notice to, let's say the University of Massachusetts, "We have somebody who's willing to come out and talk about this new thing known as transistors. Would you like to have him?" And then we'd get a reply. Or we'd get no reply. Some schools couldn't care less.

Goldstein:

I would never have predicted that there was that kind of outreach program going on in the military.

Vogelman:

Well, we'd get onto things. For example, we taught science to science teachers in New York State, because we hoped in the long run to develop people who would move ahead scientifically from where they were at the time. Other than a few schools like the Bronx High School of Science or Stuyvesant, New York State Schools' science and math curriculum was essentially nothing. The teachers knew nothing either, so we would put together a traveling course on up-to-date science, with demonstrations, with all sorts of things going on in it. It was given all over the state.

Goldstein:

Unquestionably this was a useful thing to do. It sounds like a Department of Education function rather than the Department of Defense.

Vogelman:

There was no Department of Education then. The science available was essentially through the Department of Defense. Other than what was then known as the National Bureau of Standards, the Department of Defense was the scientific part of the government. If you wanted to know how to grow pigs, you could go to the Department of Agriculture. But that was a different kind of science; that was biology, not engineering or electronics or aeronautics, all of which were modern outgrowths of military-sponsored development.

Goldstein:

When you mention the limited number of advanced science training programs at the high school level, I wondered about the demographics in your unit. Where did your people come from?

Vogelman:

They came from all over the country.

Goldstein:

Were they people who had learned engineering through the Army during the war?

Vogelman

Some were, and some had been in this program that the Army sponsored where they went off to universities and learned electronics. Others had had their educations paid for when they got out of the service.

Goldstein:

Under the GI Bill.

Vogelman:

Under the GI Bill. Others were just recruited, from all over, from faculty in very diverse places.

Chromalloy American Corporation

Goldstein:

All right, let's head up into the 1960s then. You were saying that you didn't stay long at Caphart?

Vogelman:

And then I joined Chromalloy American Corporation. They started out in metallurgy. When I joined them their total business was about five million dollars. They had originally developed a process for putting a solid solution into the surface of metals. They would make the high temperature survival of parts many times better. That's where they started. They eventually got into ancillary things, and I joined them to head up their electronics research and development. Mostly they were in the acquisition business, and that was how they expected to grow. I spent a lot of time acquiring companies or setting up groups, heading them for a while, and then going off and starting another acquisition. I stayed there about nine years. And then decided I'd go out on my own as a consultant.

Goldstein:

Now remind me, had you gotten your MBA at this point?

Vogelman:

I got my MBA back in 1942. I got my bachelor of science degree and MBA while I was working elsewhere, before I joined the government. The way the economy looked at that point, I figured I could do better by becoming an accountant. Accountants were surviving, and the scientific people were going nowhere, they weren't getting jobs.

Goldstein:

So did that training help you at Chromalloy?

Vogelman:

Oh, yes. I was a nemesis for years, because I could go into the places we were considering acquiring and tell the people: "I have an MBA and I'm really an accountant, but take me around and show me what you've got." I'd ask questions, appear as stupid as I wanted to, and ask the same question with four different people and get four different answers. As a matter of fact, the chairman of the board once called me and said he had a complaint from the last place I visited; a guy said, why did he send someone as stupid as me, I kept asking the same question to everyone I met, and I couldn't understand the answers. I understood the answers pretty well by then. But you know, it's a game you play.

Goldstein:

So you were much more involved with the business side of things than the technical side of things.

Vogelman:

I spent about half of my time on the business side.

Pocket Phones

Goldstein:

What sort of electronics projects was Chromalloy getting into?

Vogelman:

Well, we developed the first of the pocket telephones. In those days we couldn't get anything but citizen band to use. And we had them spread around, all over the country. The big problem was that they were in citizen band, so anybody else in citizen band could interfere.

Goldstein:

Were they were just broadcasting straight from the units? They weren't the cellular systems we find today.

Vogelman:

No. Let's say you were a shipyard. You'd put the base station high up somewhere, second floor, and then you could go around the shipyard, receive your phone calls. You could dial out, but we didn't recommend that, because of the potential interference from other people.

Goldstein:

So it connected to the phone network at the base station.

Vogelman:

Because of our conflict with the great Bell system, which was AT&T at the time, in the AT&T areas, the operating company that worked under AT&T, we would have to acoustically couple it to the handset.

Goldstein:

You couldn't connect it directly because they didn't want anything riding on their system?

Vogelman:

They lost somewhere along the line in the courts, and then everybody could connect, provided they provided the right protection. On the other hand, in some of the smaller telephone systems, we'd just connect directly. Then of course it worked a lot better. You didn't have the room noise of acoustic coupling. Although we made all sorts of cuffs and sleeves that supposedly cut out a lot of noise, but if somebody stood next to the base station and talked in a loud voice, you'd hear it in the background.

Goldstein:

Give me a sense of how large the market was for that, and what your company's expectations were.

Vogelman:

At the time the market was something in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If they had stayed in it, it would have been in the millions of dollars, but at the time they decided that with all the conflicts with the telephone companies it just didn't pay. The legal bills were too high to warrant staying in it. And so they sold it to some other company that was willing to undertake the expense. Then of course this present system came out a few years later, and it's a lot better. Though the company that bought out Chromalloy used the patents that were available to make themselves some money.

River Navigation System

Goldstein:

You got hand telephones. Any other achievements?

Vogelman:

We developed markers for the Mississippi. Somewhere along the line we bought up a whole bunch of barge lines. So we developed electronics that would mark the Mississippi. You rent this two-foot square from somebody along the river, and you put up a beacon in it, and when the ship goes down the river, pushing a hundred barges ahead of it, it has a way of telling where it is. These were private markers. We changed the code regularly so the competitors couldn't use them.

Goldstein:

Was this a way of controlling traffic on the river?

Vogelman:

No, it was about controlling the position of the barges in the river. Otherwise you have to depend on the captain's knowledge of the river. We would mark the places for him, to remind him -

Goldstein:

So it's a navigational system.

Vogelman:

Well, it's a very crude navigational system, because you've got to depend on the captain knowing what the depths are. This was a long time ago. You couldn't do any real navigation, because they didn't have any of the things they have now, like depth sounders, and radars. You can buy the whole set up for your cruiser, you know, or your motorboat if you like. But they weren't available, so ours was an interesting technique.

Goldstein:

So would you develop that a system like that in-house, and then go out and try to market it?

Vogelman:

No, we developed it.

Goldstein:

Did shipping companies approach you?

Vogelman:

The money came from running the barges, so we couldn't sell them to anybody. Chromalloy had its own barge operation. Being able to navigate better than our competitors was very valuable.

Goldstein:

But then once you'd developed a system like that, was there an opportunity to sell it?

Vogelman:

Well the company, the company wanted to keep it to themselves. But it helped their barge business by a lot more than they could have made selling the electronics.

Goldstein:

Because you could cruise the river faster?

Vogelman:

Right. The time it takes to get from, say, Chicago to New Orleans is worth a lot of money, in the order of a hundred thousand dollars if you cut off a day. Because you're turning around and going back loaded a day earlier, and so on.

Other Projects

Vogelman:

We also did a lot of devices for metallurgy people. We did a device to measure the thickness of these chromalized surfaces, by using electronics and x-ray technology.

Goldstein:

These are control systems for industrial applications?

Vogelman:

Right. We did a lot of work with lasers, for cutting holes in jet engine vanes. We also developed a microwave link for transmitting television mostly for the cable operators, so they could put your cable systems up on a mountain and then transmit down to around hills and valleys. That didn't get too far because the satellites started appearing. Some of the technology was adopted for the satellite transmission.

Goldstein:

Was that a system designed for your own company to use, or was the idea to sell it?

Vogelman:

No, no, we were planning on selling it to the cable operators. We had also developed a charge-per-program cable system, which we sold in Florida, and a few other places, some in Oklahoma. We had developed that. We operated the one in Florida ourselves, and we actually had Dore Sherry as the head of that division. He was one of the big producers in Hollywood, long ago, and he had all the connections for getting movies. But the best you could do with movies was two years old. Things have improved. So they kept doing that, but they eventually sold that out also, to make more money selling the idea to somebody else. We also developed and built all sorts of devices for aircraft. If you've ever flown or gone on a ship, the little light operated by seawater was developed in one of our divisions.

Goldstein:

Oh, that's interesting.

Vogelman:

We had a hundred and twenty five companies around the world. We were doing all sorts of electronics. There was a whole project for doing controls for an automated system for fabricating and polishing sterling silver flatware. You started with silver blanks, they got stamped, they got formed, embossed, and all that sort of stuff, and then you had a combination of electronics and hydraulics to turn them upside down so the bowl gets polished, and then turn them the other way around so the top gets polished, and flip them around in the other direction. We did a tremendous amount of that kind of thing.

Business Decision-making

Goldstein:

Tell me something about the business decisions involved in decided what systems to work on. How would you assess what a promising area was?

Vogelman:

Well, from my point of view - forget about the chairman of the board, or vice-chairman for finance - from my point of view I would look at the market, and what our costs would be to get to the point where we could take a finite part of that market. Frequently, what we wanted to do was to develop a system and sell it to somebody else. Let them worry about how to sell it. The selling part is a specialty. For example, I wouldn't go into business right now and try to compete with Estee Lauder. I could make perfume, or whatever, as well as anybody else, because, the chemistry is easy. But I don't know how to market. So we'd develop and sell it, sell the whole thing away.

Goldstein:

So you might work on a system based on its technical feasibility, and then sell it off to somebody who then has to worry about.

Vogelman:

How to manufacture it.

Goldstein:

Getting it on the market and making it profitable.

Vogelman:

For example, with this telephone: we made it with discreet transistors, because it would have been too costly to make integrated circuits at that time, even though they would have been a lot better. But once we sold it off, the people got taken over. Their marketing strategy pushed them to invest in making integrated circuits, and that made a better telephone.

Goldstein:

People talk about technology drive or market pull — technology push or market pull. What do you think was operating, what kind of combination?

Vogelman:

It depended on the project. For example, we developed computer analysis of electrocardiograms. And we ran it as a successful business. It got too complex in terms of organizational structure for us to keep it. We just weren't in the business of dealing with doctors on a regular business. So it was sold out to a pharmaceutical company who dealt with doctors on a regular basis. The marketing became cheaper and easier for them, and they went ahead. Now on the other hand, we had a joint venture in Europe with Union Minière, which was the big mining company in Belgium. And since Europe has socialized medicine, you only have to sell it to the government. They have been running it for years, because of that.

Managing Research and Development

Goldstein:

And what were the research facilities like at Chromalloy?

Vogelman:

Well with a hundred and twenty five companies you have research facilities of every sort. You don't do anything all in one place.

Goldstein:

You were vice president there. Were you in charge of managing research across one or all of these companies?

Vogelman:

Yes. I'd worry about the budgets, and whether the projects were acceptable, and you know some of the developments were not electronic. There was a research and development group that developed radiators for trucks. Other than the fact that I collected their budget, I did nothing. But they were very good at it. I would only spoil it for them if I interfered. So other than the nicety of going to visit them once in a while and taking them out to lunch, I let them alone. On the other hand, one of our European companies, in England, needed lots of looking at.

Goldstein:

Because they would slide off track?

Vogelman:

They would wander all over the place, and not make progress. They were supposed to make a certain kind of machine, but they were always doing something else.

Goldstein:

Do you think you were adventurous in terms of looking at new technologies, or were you more cautious in the interest of sound business?

Vogelman:

I was cautious on dollars, adventurous on technology.

Goldstein:

So, hypothetically, would you hear from one of the labs a proposal for a large system that involved lots of innovation, and they would draw up some estimates for how much investment it would take, would you look at it and say "well, it's not that expensive and it seems like its an interesting thing to be doing, let's go with it?"

Vogelman:

Well, for example, we developed the ejection seats for the jet fighters in our propellant division, which is a combination of electronics and propellant technology. That started out as an adventurous low-level project. Now it turned out that when it got to a point where they could demonstrate that they had something, they were able to get government agencies to pay for it from then on, which made it very profitable. So it was fine. But it started out as an adventure.

Goldstein:

Are there any other examples? You say that you were technically adventurous. Were there any proposals that really excited you so that you said "yes, that's going to be the next decade, the next century, I want to be doing this?"

Vogelman:

This technique of distributing cable channels was really adventurous, because the technology didn't exist. We were really trying to put together things that were not there. But the scale was relatively small for a corporation our size. You know, ten dollars can be a lot for somebody who's only got a hundred, and when you have a lot you can deal with numbers differently. That was really a big adventure, because there was a risk of not succeeding at all, because you needed components that didn't exist, and that I consider adventurous. You can describe what you want it to do, but you don't know how to do it, and developing new technology of that sort is really an adventure.

Goldstein:

Were you ever in a position at Chromalloy to give technical input?

Vogelman:

Oh sure. I did it all the time.

Goldstein:

People from the research labs would describe what was and you'd say "have you tried this?"

Vogelman:

I would come and review everything they were doing, to the point where my input might be "drop the project, your budget is now zero."

Goldstein:

Was your background unusual for the vice presidents, or was the place stacked with people like you?

Vogelman:

No, it really wasn't. Because there were metallurgists who were officers, there were physicians who were officers, there were biochemists — we had two divisions that developed veterinary pharmaceuticals, and some human pharmaceuticals. The people who ran those divisions were all biochemists, chemists, so it wasn't unusual to have people with non-financial backgrounds, purely technical backgrounds.

Electronics in the 1960s

Goldstein:

Before we leave Chromalloy and get into when you strike out on your own, could you say something — general or specific — about electronics in the 1960s compared to the 1950s? Or about how electronics in the private sector compared to the military. How did your experience at Chromalloy compare?

Vogelman:

Well, in the 1950s the semiconductor was new. Everything was an adventure. At Capehart, for example, we built what was called a portable Marine Corps translation station. Since the code was different for the Army, Navy and the Air Force, and the Marines were required to operate with everybody — they had to be able to communicate with everybody. So, we built this device, which allowed Army code to come in and Marine code to go out, or Marine code to come in and Army code to go out, and the equivalent for the navy or the Air Force. It was a real adventure, making circuits out of diodes and transistors and things of that sort, because they were brand new. In the 1960s it was just a matter of looking in the book. We'd say, "Oh, you want an oscillator, which one of these twelve would you like?" There was a whole category of information available that you could access by just reading.

Goldstein:

The innovation then was at the systems level.

Vogelman:

Innovation moved from the component level to the systems level. So it was just a matter of carefully figuring out what you wanted to do, and then finding the parts to put it together.

Goldstein:

You say people could look up the information for making the circuits they needed. Would these different modules work well together?

Vogelman:

No, but you knew how to get around that kind of thing. You could go back to the supplier of that module and say "I don't like your 400 ohm, make a 270", or whatever you wanted. The technology had grown to the point where you could go merrily along and design systems without having to worry that you'd have to design a component from scratch.

Goldstein:

Can you tell me when you left Chromalloy?

Switch to Independent Consultancy

Vogelman:

I left Chromalloy in 1973. From then to the present I've been doing it solo.

Goldstein:

That was a risky time to go, with the recession in engineering in the early 1970s.

Vogelman:

I never worried about those kinds of things. When I left the Air Force it was a risky thing to go at that time; when I left Chromalloy, it was risky thing to do.

Goldstein:

Why did you leave, were you anxious to go?

Vogelman:

Well, no. I was never home. With a hundred and twenty five companies all around the world there were enough problems all over the place that I didn't have any time to stay home. I used to commute to Europe once a month. And then I'd run to the West Coast, and down to Mexico, from place to place. What really convinced me it was time to go was my son was graduating from law school and I hadn't been home at all during that period of time. It was time to stop.

Goldstein:

Tell me about the shop you set up.

Vogelman:

Well, I did consulting on electronics and computers, and based on the work I had done on computer analysis of electrocardiograms, I got involved with the medical profession. On the advice of my accountant I ran the business on a completely different basis from the way people usually run businesses. I had no employees. I subcontracted everything, and I still do. So if I need somebody to do a piece of a program I work out a price with him. You deliver it, you get paid, and if you don't deliver it I go find somebody else. It saves me from all sorts of grief. I never have to fire anybody; I just don't hire them again. It seems to work out fine as far as I can tell. And, of course, over the years I've been doing less and less. So that at this point, I may have two or three people to whom I give subcontracts every so often, and the rest of it I do myself, or I just don't take it.

But in recent years, or at least the last ten or twelve years, almost everything I've done is medical. The kind of things I've developed have been devices that measure the reaction if you hit the heel with a hammer — you get a displacement curve as your nervous system responds and your foot moves. That's an indication of disease. I've done a lot of things in terms of automating blood analysis, including the chemistry. If you can't take a technique in which your eyeball is the measuring device and automate it, you've got to change your methodology. You're dealing with real things that can be measured and stored in a computer. I do a lot of that kind of thing. I've also done business systems, databases, and published a lot of papers on research. I talk like a walking encyclopedia.

Goldstein:

Putting all this together, it sounds like you've managed research in three very distinct contexts — in the first case as the onsite leader of a team, second, from a higher position, and third as the main contractor. How do those three contexts compare? Can you say anything about the nature of products that result from these different research situations?

Vogelman:

You have the biggest satisfaction if you have your hands in the project. You can accomplish the most if you're consulting and people listen to you. And then just being a top executive is somewhere in between. When you do consulting you have access to the world — you have no restrictions, so that you can collect all the information that you need to do the job well. For example, we've done, as a group, lots of research in cancer. If you look at the list of authors they're as diverse as you can imagine. Setting up the project is a highly complicated engineering task. You know, you look at things differently as you grow older. Experience pays off after a while. It might be interesting for half a day to get my hands dirty and wire up a circuit, but you know, that's a half-day. Since I've been on my own I've been involved in developing things like an audio system for shopping carts; when you walk by a shelf of Wheaties, you hear an advertisement that says "Buy Wheaties, they're on sale," or whatever. I don't worry about the text. Another man and I have a patent for this system. He's marketing it.

Goldstein:

How did you get involved with that?

Vogelman:

Well, I know a tremendous number of people. And this particular man came to Chromalloy, I don't know, some time in the 1960s, for help with some project he was involved in. One day he came up with the idea that it would be nice in some way to have localized messages.

Goldstein:

Like you get at an art exhibit.

Vogelman:

For shopping carts. Since the shelves are changing all the time, you can't do what you do with an art exhibit, where as you walk by, it's all fixed. So you have to do other things. This man told that he's been talking to the people in the supermarket business, and they'd like some way to tell the customers that what's over here is on sale. So I developed an infrared system that will do all of these nice things, we applied for a patent, we got it, and he started marketing it to the shopping cart people or to the supermarkets. Marketing is his problem.

Adoption of New Technologies

Goldstein:

In the history of technology, we have the question of why our world adopts particular technologies. How do technical artifacts get the shape that they get? Can you say anything about either of those questions, given the fact that you've been involved in technical innovation at several different levels?

Vogelman:

Well, many times need is the governing factor. I need something, and I need it bad enough so somebody's ready to put up the money to do it. And that pushes the technology. What comes out of that operation doesn't look like what they're ultimately going to be.

Goldstein:

A demonstration system, you're saying.

Vogelman:

Then there are other people whose specialty is taking something that somebody else knows how to do and making it marketable. The pocket telephone is a typical example of that. What we had developed was difficult to market; what's ultimately come out is easy to market. I mean the fact that you've got cells and all of that - cells that took a tremendous amount of work. I happen to know Bill Pritchard, who did it. Pritchard headed the group that did all of this work. It took a tremendous amount of work to figure out how to make it play. There's a different category of people who get involved.

Goldstein:

And all that work may not be done. There was an article I saw recently, maybe at the IEEE Institute, about whether people thought that we would accept all the microwave towers that would be necessary to make the world completely wireless. So we don't know about popular acceptance.

Vogelman:

That's a question you really want to ask the AT&T people because they actually went through it. They actually wired the whole country for microwave, and they had a lot of difficulty. Because people didn't want whatever this microwave was in their backyard, anymore than the Long Island people want this weather radar that the FAA wants in their backyard. Mostly because they don't know what it is, and we're not set up to teach them. Acceptance is the toughest thing around. I've looked at the specs for this radar, and since I was the one who came up with the standard of ten milliwatts per square centimeter originally I know it's as safe as anything I've ever seen. But it's not politically acceptable.

Goldstein:

Right, people are anxious.

Vogelman:

It's the same kind of thing about the question: can you get brain damage from using a cellular phone? You know, you're talking about six tenths of a watt out of one of the handsets. It's an insignificant amount of power, six tenths of a watt, you know. It doesn't mean anything. It gets reflected, as you know. How little exposure time there is, but it doesn't sell anyway, because the people who worry the most know the least.

Goldstein:

You've said that you don't like to deal with the actual marketing, so you've probably never had to confront this question of chasing away those apprehensions to make your product more palatable to the intended market.

Vogelman:

Right, I haven't. That's what I've been saying, that you'll have to talk to the people who actually had to do it.

Markets for Ideas and Applications

Goldstein:

If you get contracted to work on a medical system, and while you're doing the work an idea occurs to you for some other system, but what do you do with that? Would you then hunt around for somebody else to sell the idea to?

Vogelman:

Well, it depends on the effort it takes to reduce it to practice. And reduction to practice can mean as little as writing it down on a piece of paper. Or it can mean doing a lot of lab work and manufacturing, and construction.

Goldstein:

Are there separate, parallel markets? Is there one market for just raw ideas, and another one for more developed ideas?

Vogelman:

If you write things down and get a patent, you can market that, without ever building anything. There is a market for that. It's a different kind of a market than if you have a working model, because then the manufacturing engineers can take it over. The easiest one of course is when you have a finished manufactured product. Then the sales people take it over. The steps to market are determined by how raw the information is. As you know, if you make a drawing of a diaper pin, early enough in time, that's the end. You don't need to do any more, ever. You're done, you can just sell it to anybody, because it's so radically different, and it's easy to put on a piece of paper. If you're talking about a new radar, who knows? You may have to do tremendous amounts of work before you can market it.

Recordkeeping of Past Projects

Goldstein:

When you were talking about the work with the Air Force, where would a person go if they wanted to research some of the projects that you had worked on, or that your unit had worked on? I've got the same question really for each of the three stages of your career.

Vogelman:

I don't know what happens in the Air Force. For example, in the Army, on information — I have a strong feeling that it gets lost, and I'll tell you why. I had a friend who was a consultant at Rome Air Development Center. There was a reunion up there. I went to the reunion with my wife, and he was there with his wife, and his wife suggested I go pick him up at the base, because he was there. So I drove myself up to the base, and I went into the lobby, had the guard call up and say I was in the lobby. When he came down he said, we were talking about a project they want to start, and do you know what I told them? I said the man who just called up did that work back in 1955. Why don't you find the data, and you'll save a lot of work. And they said, "We can't find it."

Goldstein:

Not even worth looking?

Vogelman:

Not even worth looking. That's why I think it's lost.

Goldstein:

You were there for a long time. Did you ever had an occasion to check back to old measurements that you'd taken, or whether they'd been collected? Is this a problem of thirty years elapsing, or is this a problem of it all falling into a pit?

Vogelman:

Well, if you don't keep it yourself, I have a strong feeling it falls into a pit. But what happens is this: you move from division A to division B, someone new takes over at division A - takes all the stuff you've left behind, and three years down the road dumps it. There's just not enough storage space. Because I can tell you, this calibrator for measuring range, three times the Air Force wanted to buy more; they needed me. They had no records. I would say, why can't you find the specs and the drawings?

Goldstein:

Were things more organized at Chromalloy?

Vogelman:

Yes, they were more organized. They kept patent data for the seventeen years of the patent, just in case they had to defend or prosecute. After seventeen years then it went. But if it wasn't patented, it depended on whose data it was. I can tell you that we had a division in England that, when we closed it down, everything went. You know, they just packed up trunks, and took it away, and dumped it. There's a limit to how much stuff you can keep. There's a limit to how much stuff I can keep. I don't have anything of what I did for Boeing in 1974, or what I did for other people in 1977, or 1981 to 1985.

Goldstein:

The issue of limits is a very hot topic.

Vogelman:

Right now, if my wife had her way, all my existing records would get dumped. I have bookcases full of things like that. Some historian could benefit from all this. Now for example, I'll give you a typical example of what happens. I have completely bound sets of the AIEE and the IRE] from the time the war ended until the merger. Nicely bound, lovely green covers and all that sort of stuff. And I promised to give them to a librarian at the IEEE, and she wants them. I just can't get anybody to pack them and transport them. I tried doing it myself and it's a lot of work — they're very heavy. My muscles are wearing out. Somebody talked to me from the IEEE history program about making a list what records I have, because they might be interested in acquiring it. That's too much work; it's just not worth it. And I'll be glad to let somebody come, go through it all, and take what he wants. Take it all. I'll help them load it into their truck. It's too much work to warrant my doing it. And that's what happens to documents and companies.

Goldstein:

Yes.

Vogelman:

I have clients who call me and say, "do you remember blah blah blah blah, and do you have a copy." And the answer is, I remember, and I'll give you what I know, but I have no copies of anything. I don't even have papers - I've written a hundred and fifty papers by now. I don't have copies of them.

Goldstein:

That was my next question. Your work since 1973 is well documented by the papers that you've published, you see, and those would be available in libraries.

Vogelman:

Yes. But I don't have copies. You've got to do your own looking.

Goldstein:

It's never hard to find if you know where to look.

Vogelman:

The stuff I've done in medicine is easy. I call up the National Institute of Health and the National Library of Medicine on my computer, over the telephone, and I can dial up the list of things published between 1970 or so to today. That much I can do. But I don't know how to do the rest of it, because they're just not indexed nicely.

Engineering Since 1970

Goldstein:

That's a big job. Let me ask you to talk about the changes in engineering since you struck out on your own in 1973. You see an increase in techniques like digital signal processing; you get increased penetration of integrated circuits. What were the important developments, from your perspective?

Vogelman:

From 1973 on, the biggest development was the integrated circuit. It's made things available to the general public that they wouldn't have access to otherwise. The other big development was that the computer prices were coming down to where most people can own one.

Goldstein:

Is that important for the kind of work that you've been doing, or are you just speaking generally now?

Vogelman:

In general.

Goldstein:

Yes.

Vogelman:

The next important step I think is going to be an Internet with an index. Right now I get on the Internet and I have to wander all over the place to try to find things. It's very time-consuming, to the point where I give up in disgust frequently. But that could be a very important source of communications and interchange of data. The other big development has been the change in communications. The technology has advanced to the point where you can transfer data easily and that's important. I can remember when we used to get reports from our overseas operations at Chromalloy at something like sixty characters a second, and we thought that was terrific. And we could only do that overnight because we were stealing line space. Now at ISDN you can transmit megabytes of stuff in a hurry. So that's radically changed things.

Goldstein:

I want to ask about the lag time that it takes for a technology to permeate society. When you were at Chromalloy in the 1960s, did you have glimmerings that this revolution was coming? Other big labs seemed to be about twenty years ahead.

Vogelman:

I'll give you an example. Harry Davis and I were over in the Air Force. We patented a repeater satellite, which the Air Force promptly classified so nobody could find out about it. But you know, that's what you're using now.

Goldstein:

Who was this?

Vogelman:

I don't remember. Here was an "on-paper" patent that took a long time to bring to fruition. On paper we wrote down exactly how you could do it. But then you had the people like Herb Sherman up at Lincoln Lab. Herb had the job of sending a satellite up that you could repeat one channel, not fifty like we'd envisioned. It took him three years or thereabout to get it flying. Right now we still lose a satellite every so often, so they haven't really perfected it. There's a big lag in big technology. Today's lag is much smaller on small things. But the invention and the usage are separated by a lot of work. And you have to get people who are willing to put in the time and effort, and the money. It's hard to get somebody to see the advantage, and to be willing to wait out the time it takes to profit; it's hard.

Role of Consulting Engineer

Goldstein:

Can you tell me how you see the role of the consulting engineer in comparison with some of the other engineering contexts, like the big firm?

Vogelman:

When the economy is in trouble, the consulting engineer is a very desirable individual to have. He comes in, you pay him for three days, he solves the problem, and he's gone. Even though he costs more for those three days than an employee would, you don't have to worry about him the rest of the time.

Goldstein:

There's no overhead.

Vogelman:

No overhead.

Goldstein:

It's flexible.

Vogelman:

Yes. When the economy is very good, and everybody's got lots of money, then corporations will fill their own staff with all the engineering skills that you can imagine in an attempt to have everything under their own hat. And then the consultants aren't needed, or rarely needed. That's the way the system really works. Right now, I think the consultants with a reputation already developed are doing well, because the economy is such that everybody is cutting their staffs down. If the economy changes and they start building their own staffs, then it'll get worse.

Goldstein:

Can the consultant work at the same scale, though, as engineers in a large corporate context? I just wonder if there are certain types of innovation that are beyond the scope of what consultants can get involved in.

Vogelman:

It all depends on the arrangement between the corporation and the consultant. As a consultant you have no authority. You're essentially in a position where you've got to persuade people to do something. On the other hand, you can go into a corporation where the arrangements are such that you have the authority of the man who hired you. I had that kind of arrangement with Boeing when I was consulting for them. I was nominally the consultant to the executive vice president. So I was free to wander round and talk to everybody, just like he was. If I wanted somebody from one group who reported to the vice president to talk to another party in another group, I couldn't ask them to do that, but I could invite them both to sit with me and have coffee, and I could talk to everybody, and they could talk to each other. And I'd get away with it. If I knew what the solution was as I listened to them, I'd go back, and an order would come down from the top, even though he didn't know what I was talking about. He would just sign it, and say, from now on the impedance is twenty-seven ohms, whether you like it or not. Nobody argued, and it made the thing work.

There was an interference problem on the Minuteman missile. I figured out what had caused the problem. They were buying good transistors instead of lousy ones. If they bought a lousy transistor that transistor would be incapable of receiving the interfering signal. But since the good transistors didn't cost any more than the bad ones, the purchasing department decided to buy the good ones. So I went back and said, you have to issue an order that says you've got to buy those transistors even if they're not as good. And that solved the problem. Big corporations have big problems because they don't talk about their problems. In that kind of consulting environment, you as a consultant have some authority — you can do things. On the other hand if you can go into a place where you have to persuade people and they don't want to be persuaded, you can do nothing.

Goldstein:

You were saying that when times are bad, firms can take advantage of consultants to get the brain power without any of the overhead. If you believe in synergy, then might there be a kind of innovation that emerges from the critical mass of people working in the same environment?

Vogelman:

It depends on how long term you have to sit to get to synergy. You can sometimes get four people in a room, and by the end of a day you've solved a tremendous amount of problems. You don't need long-term synergy. It depends on the problem.

Goldstein:

Okay.

Vogelman:

I've run into all sorts of conditions. I had one consulting job in which I spent a total of one day. And I was finished. Theoretically, everything was solved. They just had to do it. They really did it for themselves. I just kept asking questions until they thought of the answers. So I was done, I could leave.

Ph.D. Work

Goldstein:

I have a feeling that we're wrapping up. I want to make sure that you have an opportunity to turn the conversation around to anything important that we might have missed. If you think there's some stage in your career, some development, or just some general point that you want to talk about, I don't want to pass it by. I wanted to ask about the circumstances around you getting your Ph.D.

Vogelman:

I got that while I was in the Air Force. The Air Force was willing to pay. I did my Ph.D. work at a very slow pace, because I was paying. Then the Air Force was paying, and I sped up the whole process.

Goldstein:

Was the research or dissertation independent of the research you were doing at work?

Vogelman:

Yes, completely. It had applications at work, but it was independent of what I was doing. I was in an executive position and I wouldn't have done all of this detailed work —

Goldstein:

At work.

Vogelman:

At work.

Goldstein:

You'd have had one of your staff doing that kind of stuff.

Vogelman:

I would have given it out. But I did it all, I did all the experiments, and I learned an awful lot. I was able to get some real information out of it.

People Management

Goldstein:

Have you ever been afraid at some time in the last thirty or thirty-five years that you might have lost sight of what it's like for the people working under you? You know, working at the bench?

Vogelman:

Well, I try to talk to them, frequently, to get an idea of what they're doing. I've always tried to be a good listener. I'm not sure that I really know what their problems are at this point, but I think when I was in corporate life I did.

Goldstein:

Yes? Just by keeping the channels of communication open?

Vogelman:

Everybody was free to come see me. If you had a problem and you didn't know anybody who could solve it, you could tell me about it and I'd help. That frequently paid off, because I had access to people that they couldn't get to. Nowadays my association with the working people in any particular project is very cursory. I will come and observe how they're measuring something; half an hour later I'm gone. I don't see them regularly; I don't have any real feelings for their long-term problems. I'll listen to what they say their problems are.

Goldstein:

I would guess that's less important in your present position than when you were at Chromalloy, for instance.

Vogelman:

I really don't know what their frustrations are, unless they've made a point of telling me about them. But that's what it boils down to.

Goldstein:

Shall we stop the interview here?

Vogelman:

Yes, fine with me. It's a good time to stop.

Goldstein:

Thank you very much.