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Oral History Transcript — Mr. Lorence Fraser

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Interview with Mr. Lorence Fraser
By David DeVorkin
At Fraser’s Office, Applied Physics Laboratory
March 9, 1983

 
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Lorence Fraser; March 9, 1983

ABSTRACT: Describes Fraser’s work as an engineer and instrumentation specialist at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism during WWII, and then more significantly, at APL following WWII. His work at DTM was on proximity fuse research. He transferred from DTM to APL during the war and concentrated on radar research and control systems for guided missiles. After the war, he participated in the use of V-2s for upper atmosphere research with James Van Allen’s High Altitude Group, developing instrumentation for telemetry and cosmic ray research.

Transcript

DeVorkin:

This is a tape-recorded interview with Lorence W. Fraser, and we are sitting in Lorence W. Fraser's office at the Applied Physics Lab. The date is March 9, 1983 at 9:15 a.m. To start out, I'd like to know a little bit of your home life and your training, and what brought you into the engineering fields that you are known for.

Fraser:

Well, as a child, I always had a good interest in electricity. Remember that this was before World War I, and during World War I. There wasn't any radio or electronics per se; but any time I could get a hold of anything that had to do with electricity, I was fooling around with it. For example, I got a hold of some wire from an electric range. I strung this all over the basement on porcelain knobs, put 110 volts into it and made it glow and what not. A wonder I didn't burn the house down! But that was my start in electricity.

DeVorkin:

Heavy resistance wire?

Fraser:

Yes, heavy resistance wire. (laugh). Probably eight or nine years old.

DeVorkin:

When and where were you born, and who were your parents?

Fraser:

Well, my parents came from Canada. I was born in Cleveland, December 19, 1908.

DeVorkin:

What did your father do?

Fraser:

My father was an accountant.

DeVorkin:

Did he have college-level training?

Fraser:

No, he didn't.

DeVorkin:

Your mother?

Fraser:

My mother did not, either; and she was purely a housewife.

DeVorkin:

Yes, brothers and sisters?

Fraser:

None. I was the only child.

DeVorkin:

How would you describe your family's social status, economic status, general background?

Fraser:

Economically, they were very well off. My dad was just a self-educated, hard-working man. He was the manager of a large printing firm that printed a lot of technical things, like the magazine STEEL.

DeVorkin:

What was the name of the firm?

Fraser:

Penton Publishing Company.

DeVorkin:

And this was in Cleveland?

Fraser:

Yes, in Cleveland. At about age 11 — since you want background, I'll give it to you — I had sitting next to me in about the 6th grade, I guess, in the grade school, a chap that had a brother who came back from the war, World War I, with a lot of surplus radio equipment, just as they did after World War II. And he said, "my brother has a wireless. Would you like to see it?" I said, "gosh, I sure would." To me, it was just a word.

DeVorkin:

You had no prior experience?

Fraser:

I had no prior experience.

DeVorkin:

You were around 10 or 11?

Fraser:

Yes, I was about 11. So, in those days you walked wherever you went, so I walked about three miles to this chap's home. When I got to the end of the street, about six houses away, I heard this roaring noise of dots and dashes, so I just homed in on that. Up in the attic was his brother with a spark set. I don't know whether you know what that is or not; but that was the rotary spark gap, and it made one heck of a racket. You could hear it, see it and smell it, because the ozone content was just tremendous (laughs). And that did it. I said, "I have to get into this." So, my Dad, well, having enough money to indulge a bit, went down with me to one of the local electrical stores in Cleveland, one which happened to carry wireless parts. The word, radio, was used interchangeably. And we bought some things, brought them home, and put them together. And that started it. That was my first experience, pretty much on my own. And then, of course, I branched out. There was a chap who was considerably older. He would maybe be around 18 or so.

DeVorkin:

What was his name?

Fraser:

Werner Sauber. German extraction, obviously. And he had one of these old Magnavox horns, that went up like this. And he used to stick that out the window and put the code on it, and two blocks away I could hear it. (laugh).

DeVorkin:

What was everybody in between saying?

Fraser:

Fascinated, because this was a new world. And this chap was just a wonderful person; and he took me under his wing. And with that, I learned radio pretty much by osmosis, just being there. Broadcasting came along, largely done by amateur radio operators, and he used to put music on. There was one in Cleveland that would broadcast every Friday night for about an hour; and I can remember very distinctly running home from Boy Scout meeting at 12 years old to be able to hear this music. Well, things progressed, and I finally got my amateur radio operator's license at age 14 in 1923. I have had an amateur radio operator license and pursued it actively ever since, even unto today. And I credit amateur radio with doing as much to advancing my career as my degree. When it came time to go to college, Case Institute of Technology, now Case Western Reserve, was in town and had a very good reputation.

DeVorkin:

Did you ever have any question that you would be going to college?

Fraser:

No.

DeVorkin:

What was your primary and secondary school training like? Was there anything of value that you would care to add here? Was it public training, or private?

Fraser:

No, it was public. Back in those days the schools taught you the three R's, plus in high school I had physics and chemistry, which I breezed through and enjoyed, really. Just loved it.

DeVorkin:

Were you thinking of careers in high school?

Fraser:

No, not at all.

DeVorkin:

But you definitely were looking at Case for what kind of area?

Fraser:

I had no area. There was no electronics. There was no radio. The electrical department at Case was largely devoted to illumination, and that was occasioned by the fact that Nela Park, which was the lamp works, making incandescent lamps for General Electric, was located in Cleveland. So of course, the electrical work at Case, the curriculum and the professors in the Electrical Engineering Department were really interested more in illumination and that didn't intrigue me. So I looked around for something else.

DeVorkin:

Did you actually go to Case?

Fraser:

Oh yes. I graduated in 1930.

DeVorkin:

So you went from 1926 to 1930.

Fraser:

1926 to 1930, yes; I had pursued the regular undergraduate course.

DeVorkin:

Was there any alternative to Case that you or your father considered?

Fraser:

Oh no, it was there. But it wasn't a case of living at home. In fact, I didn't live at home. I lived at the fraternity house for the whole time I was there.

DeVorkin:

Which fraternity?

Fraser:

Phi Kappa Psi.

DeVorkin:

How did you choose that one?

Fraser:

Well, I don't know. I just liked the people.

DeVorkin:

It wasn't a particular fraternity to focus in on any particular engineering, science?

Fraser:

No. It was a social fraternity. Well, for one thing, it was one of the better fraternities. We didn't have an awful lot of well-known fraternities on campus, and it was one of the old line ones, founded 1852.

DeVorkin:

Case was an established institute for technology, for physics.

Fraser:

Well, yes. It was an unfortunate choice of name, but one that was prevalent in those days, Case School of Applied Science. It was a full-rated college. It wasn't a university, but it was a college. It was ranked very high in those days. When I recall it, I think one of the reasons was that they worked you to death, and the mortality rate was very high in the freshman year. When you went there you went to work. But we had activities, football, basketball, social things, fraternities and what not. It was just a good place to go.

DeVorkin:

Did you ever declare a particular major at Case?

Fraser:

Oh yes. As soon as we had to choose, which was sophomore year, I selected Metallurgy, because I had an interest in chemistry, and I thought that would be a good choice. The rest didn't appeal to me, this sort of did. It was just dealing with things like mines, blast furnaces, smelting, a lot of chemistry, petrology and mineralogy. And I liked the colors of the rocks. I still go down to the Smithsonian Institution, every once in awhile, just to be amazed at those rocks that are down there.

DeVorkin:

Did your father or anyone else have influence in your choice?

Fraser:

No, none whatsoever. He supported anything I did, but he didn't push me into anything. Fortunately, he supported me in these crazy things I did, like radio, etc. He sent me to camp one year up in Ontario. And really, he didn't indulge me, because I worked every summer from the time I was 14 on.

DeVorkin:

What did you do?

Fraser:

Well, I worked in the factory, just bench work, putting together little mechanisms. One of the things was a foot-kick-press that put the tops on door keys. Remember the old-fashioned door keys which were flat and had a round part? I guess there are still some like that. That was put on with a kick-press. I did that. And another time I was fortunate to be able to work where my Dad was the manager (laughs). I worked as a printer's devil, in the linotype room, and proofreader. I think the proofreading was sort of valuable. It gave me a little bit of insight into grammar. And of course, we had good grammar teachers in those days. Kids today can't write, can't spell, but boy, we were drilled. And we had Latin, too. We had lots of Latin, and all that helps you, too, as you are well aware. Well, anyway, what I meant to bring out was: I was privileged to spend half of my money for my hobbies, and the other half had to go in the bank. And so I did not have a strict upbringing, but it was — I don't know what the word is — good.

DeVorkin:

Yes. So you chose the Metallurgy. Did you have other interests? Did anything in physics spark your interest?

Fraser:

Yes and no. The physics department wasn't anything to write home about. It wasn't well supported by the college, nor by the students. Only a handful went into physics. You see, we went to an engineering school; and we were rough and tough engineers. Back in that time, we didn't dress any too well. We weren't Ivy League or anything like that; and so we were rough and tough. We wanted field work; Metallurgy offered field work. So would civil engineering, while Physics wouldn't. In Physics you were in a laboratory, and that didn't appeal too much to me at that time. And so I elected to pursue Metallurgy, graduated and went to work for the Cleveland Twist Drill Company. I went through a very strict apprenticeship for two months. It was German-owned, and operated by an old-line German. I went to work at seven in the morning, worked 10 hours a day, five and a half days a week.

DeVorkin:

Were you living at home, or did you live out?

Fraser:

I was living at home at the time. And I learned to sharpen drills all the way from three-inch to ones you could hardly see. I did that for two months. Well, I wasn't terribly intrigued with that, but I stuck it out, and was assigned to the Chief Metallurgist. The Chief Metallurgist had as his staff the Chief Chemist (laughs), and I was brought in, and my job was to assist him in developing a new kind of steel. What I did was to take the test bars, heat treat them, test them for hardness, and then do the photomicroscopic work on it; where you look at the pattern at 2,000 or 3,000 X; so that brought me into photography. And by the way, I had always fooled with photography, from the time I was eight years old. I did my own processing and developing.

DeVorkin:

Was that an interest of your father's, or somebody else?

Fraser:

Well, it was in a way. I was nine years old, and he bought me a camera, and we went to New Orleans to the Mardi Gras and took a lot of pictures. When we came back, he bought this Kodak developing outfit; I can remember as if it were yesterday, developing those pictures. And I kept on all through the rest of my life to this very day doing it.

DeVorkin:

That's great. Let me ask you something generally about your home life, how you got interested in things. You've already identified how you got interested in the radio with friends. But did you have magazines coming in? Did you read any particular things?

Fraser:

I didn't read magazines. There weren't very many magazines those days. I did a lot of reading, a lot of reading. When one of the large book stores, that would be equivalent to Brentano’s, was going out of business in Cleveland, my Dad bought up all the books (laughs). And so, I'd sit there in the evening by the fireplace and read and read, and read, when I wasn't radioing. So I split my time about evenly between them.

DeVorkin:

Do you have any recollection of books that were particularly memorable for you?

Fraser:

No, no, they were — no, I didn't achieve much. Technically, in electronics and radio, there was only one book at that time. It was by Morecroft. I think it was PRINCIPLES OF RADIO, something like that; but that was the book. And of course, we didn't spend money on that. We could find one, maybe at a library or some older friend would have one. Well, anyway, at Cleveland Twist Drill, the photography part was particularly interesting. You had to polish those specimens without one scratch on them, starting with a heavy abrasive, going down to alumina and magnesium oxide and all down through.

DeVorkin:

Did you etch them with anything?

Fraser:

Yes, they were etched then, in a dilute nitric acid, and that brought out the pattern. And then you photographed them with a Zeiss camera. This Chief Metallurgist explored various mixtures, “prescriptions", call them what you will, a dab of this. For example, he'd take a steel that he thought was pretty good, and he'd put a half per cent more chromium into it, or a half per cent more vanadium, or a half per cent more tungsten, or he'd remove some. Eventually, he developed MOMAX steel, which — obviously from the name — had molybdenum as the main added ingredient. It took the place of tungsten-carbide. During the war momax was very valuable, because we have molybdenum at Climax, Colorado. Tungsten came from New Caledonia, and that was all cut off. So apparently this was very important during World War II. But in the meantime I had long, long gone from Cleveland Twist Drill.

DeVorkin:

So the development hadn't taken place.

Fraser:

I was only in at the beginning and the middle of discovering these various alloys.

DeVorkin:

Now, in developing these alloys, were you ever reading anything in crystallography or in UV vacuum spectroscopy?

Fraser:

Not really. The atmosphere in the place was not conducive to doing this for a young fellow like myself. And remember, I was just out of college. I had had all the education — I was fed up with education. And I hadn't oriented myself. It was a job; that was all it was. And I didn't like it for a lot of reasons. Well, as time went on — I only worked there a year — at the end of the year I was only working three days a week, because it was the Depression.

DeVorkin:

So, let's see, you graduated in?

Fraser:

1930.

DeVorkin:

Oh, you graduated in 1930 from Case.

Fraser:

That was the Depression. I was lucky to get a job. Finally, I was working only three days a week, and I said, "this is for the birds." And right in the middle, I just quit, and took a job with the Victoreen Instrument Company. And I learned of this, again, through a professor at Case. He was in the Physics Department.

DeVorkin:

What was his name?

Fraser:

John Martin.

DeVorkin:

What effect did the Depression have on your father?

Fraser:

The only effect it had was that he took a 20% cut, and he maintained his position. That's what everybody did during that Depression, you see. Everybody gave a little bit. Now, it's not that way. That's looking at it as one who lived through the Depression.

DeVorkin:

This is interesting, though, getting back to the Victoreen Company.

Fraser:

Yes, well, I learned of this through John Martin. He was a professor in the Physics Department, and he was just beginning at that time, after I graduated, to get into electronics; that is, vacuum tubes, resonant circuits, radio, and he put me in touch with Jack Victoreen. Well, I knew who Jack Victoreen was, because when I was 12 and 13 years old, I used to go to the Cleveland Radio Club, and Jack Victoreen was very active in that. Well, anyway, they were looking for somebody with a technical background; and of course, Jack knew I was in radio. I went there, and I stayed there 10 years.

DeVorkin:

So you left metallurgy completely?

Fraser:

I left metallurgy completely, but at Victoreen I got the equivalent of an undergraduate, even graduate degree in electronics. Remember that people didn't have a radio in their homes until about 1930. I was listening on homemade stuff in 1928, to broadcasts before that in 1924. But radio didn't really arrive until the '30s. Well, Jack Victoreen built audio amplifiers, great big powerful audio amplifiers. He had high fidelity long before anybody else did. And he had given that up and gone into the x-ray dosage measuring business, to measure the output of x-ray machines for deep therapy. And he, in conjunction with a Dr. Glasser, a biophysicist from the Cleveland Clinic, which is a well-known organization, he developed this dosimeter.

DeVorkin:

Did they coin the name?

Fraser:

It is possible since he was a pioneer in radiation dosage measurement. Anyway, it's a name that you recognize in use today. Absolutely.

DeVorkin:

What were your responsibilities?

Fraser:

My responsibilities were to help make the dosimeters, calibrate them, and repair them. It was a very small company of only 13 people, which included the chap who came in and swept the floor once in a while; but most of the time we did it ourselves. It was a nice machine shop; and I learned to use a lathe and a milling machine. I learned to do a bit of chemistry, electroplating, ionic deposition, and all sorts of things like that. I was just sort of a handyman. I didn't build these instruments, but I did service them, and I was thoroughly familiar with them. And we did a lot of experimental research work on the measurement of x-rays by ion chambers, etc. We built all our own calibration equipment for the instruments, brought it down to the National Bureau of Standards, had it certified, calibrated, and took it back.

DeVorkin:

This really sounds fascinating. I take it, the atmosphere for learning and training in the Victoreen Company was different from that of Cleveland Twist Drill.

Fraser:

Oh, yes. It was a different world. We kept our own hours. If you wanted to come in at 10, why, fine. You did. It was sort of slightly academic. And I used to go fishing with Jack Victoreen, the boss, every year. We would go up to Northern Ontario, and we were friends and colleagues.

DeVorkin:

How much older was he than you?

Fraser:

About five years, something like that. I began to do a bit of studying at that time. I joined the American Physical Society. I bought a lot of books on physics, started graduate work, took a course in Atomic Physics. There was no nuclear physics per se at that time.

DeVorkin:

That was at Case?

Fraser:

Yes, at Case. The positron had not been discovered, invented yet. It was pretty rudimentary.

DeVorkin:

Who did you take that course from?

Fraser:

Bob Shankland, who was the head of the Physics Department at Case.

DeVorkin:

Right. I met him. He's a marvelous person.

Fraser:

Yes. And also, talking about astronomy, one of my fraternity brothers was Sydney McCuskey, who you probably know of.

DeVorkin:

Yes, absolutely. Did you have any contact with him or others about astronomy during your Case years?

Fraser:

No, no.

DeVorkin:

But you do remember him?

Fraser:

Syd was — I can't think what he took, whether it was civil engineering, or what it was. It wasn't astronomy, and it wasn’t physics. He just got into that. He just changed disciplines when he got out.

DeVorkin:

Jason Nassau was the astronomer there, I think.

Fraser:

Yes, oh yes. Jason Nassau, absolutely.

DeVorkin:

You had no contact with him.

Fraser:

I had no contact with him. I knew who he was, but that was all. I can't remember whether he taught any of the undergraduate physics courses. We didn't have that much of a graduate school. In fact, I don't think we did as I can remember it.

DeVorkin:

The important thing is that at Victoreen you were stimulated enough. So you went back to school.

Fraser:

Oh, I was stimulated, and started in. And then I finished up about two courses. One was in electronics —they had finally gotten around to teaching electronics — taught by Jack Martin, the same one I mentioned before. Bob Shankland did the Atomic Physics; that was the name of the course. I finished up the Atomic Physics about two weeks before I left Victoreen; and the reason I left was the war.

DeVorkin:

This was already 1940.

Fraser:

Yes, this was in late 1940. I finished at Christmas time in 1940.

DeVorkin:

Were you, by any chance, married during this time?

Fraser:

Oh, no, I was single for quite awhile.

DeVorkin:

Okay, so in 1940 you were 32 years old. The war was coming up.

Fraser:

The war was coming up, and I was single, and they were breathing down my neck. I wanted to get into something that was worthwhile, because I did have an education. I had known Merle Tuve, who was our Director of APL here during the war. I had known him through meetings of the American Radiological Society. I don't know whether that organization still exists or not; but anyway, Victoreen would put up a display at these various meetings to sell our instruments. And we knew all the prominent radiologists from Massachusetts General and other large hospitals. All of them. And we knew Tuve, because he was interested in measuring the output of his Van de Graff generator over at Carnegie. And they didn't have much money, so we donated them one of our R-meters, Roentgen meters. And of course, he was just tickled to death. In the interest of science; it was that kind of a place. They were interested in science. It was a fascinating place.

DeVorkin:

Did you personally have anything to do with the donation?

Fraser:

Well, I knew Tuve. We had dinner together every meeting we went to, and we would go up and have a room service dinner and a couple of drinks. And Tuve would tell us about the fission of uranium, which (laughs) as you know, was confirmed out at Carnegie during the, I believe, 1940 meeting of the American Physical Society. And it was in the newspapers, and everything else. He was telling all about it. Did you ever know Tuve? You know who he is, of course.

DeVorkin:

I certainly know who he is, but I never knew him.

Fraser:

Yes, but you never knew him well. He's a gung ho character. He just passed away recently. And he was a character. I remember, he would sit in a chair in a hotel room, and we would have room service dinner, with his feet up over the back of the chair, up like this, you know (chuckles). He was that kind of a guy; telling us all about this wonderful fission of uranium. The war was coming on. Czechoslovakia had been invaded and it looked bad. And Victoreen showed absolutely no inclination to get into the war effort. People were looking around at that time, seeing what they could do to help the war effort and drum up a little business, too.

DeVorkin:

Why didn't Victoreen?

Fraser:

It wasn't a moral thing, or anything like that. It just was that he wasn't interested. And jumping ahead a little bit, I think it was because he ran this business the way he wanted it run. There were two other partners. I wasn't a partner in it, but there were two others. And he ran that thing. He would just as apt to come in and play for two or three weeks with some idea of his that had absolutely nothing to do with making a buck. But, we all lived fairly well. During the depression, one time I didn't get any pay for six weeks. I wouldn't have thought of walking out, or anything. I kept working. Finally, we sold one instrument on the day Roosevelt closed the banks. And from General Electric X-Ray Corporation, we got a postal money order for $465. We took it up to the Post Office about 10 minutes to 12; (it was a Saturday). They closed at 12; cashed this thing, brought it back and put it on the boss's desk. And one for you and one for me and one for Joe (laughs), and that was the way we did it. And I got, oh maybe, probably 100 bucks — I couldn't have gotten 100 bucks, because we split it five ways. Of course, I wasn't going to get as much as the owner, but anyway, I got some cash. That was the first money I had had in six weeks. Well, I was the thrifty sort, and I had money in the bank. My Dad had a job, and I paid a modest board at home, but I lived all right. I was lucky, lucky in more ways than one. But anyway, my point is, Jack ran that business the way he wanted to run it. He would take off and do something that had absolutely nothing to do with the business; and he wasn't about to get tied down to something. Well, eventually they got into the war. Naturally, with the Manhattan Project. And of course, he expanded and had to borrow money. Of course, the bank came in and told Jack Victoreen what to do, so he lost in the end, anyway. He might have done better, had he started in early and raised his capital in some other way than just having the Government come in and say, here you are; moving their auditors and all the rest of it in. He might have done better.

DeVorkin:

You were gone by then?

Fraser:

By then, yes, I was. I learned this later. I had very little contact with him. I met him once during the war when Tuve and Jack and I went out to dinner one time. And I used to go back to Cleveland once in awhile.

DeVorkin:

Let's identify then, the transition. Did you go directly to APL, or was it to DTM?

Fraser:

I went directly to DTM. I had a letter of recommendation from Bob Shankland. I knew Tuve.

DeVorkin:

Was that why you chose to go to DTM, because of Tuve, or was there another reason?

Fraser:

Well, let me divert a minute. I had introductions to NRL, the National Bureau of Standards, and I had letters written by Shankland, resumes and what not, that we had prepared together. I was looking into getting into the war effort. I might as well. Of course, I knew Tuve. I think I interviewed with him after NRL. Well, there was nothing wrong with these other places. It wasn't a case of money, because making money wasn’t important. It was the case that we were all, those of us who were that age, looking to help. I came out to Tuve's office; and of course, I knew Merle very well. He looked at my resume like this, you know. He said, "My god, you're a radio amateur." That's just what he wanted. He wanted guys that were tinkerers.

DeVorkin:

Do you remember who you talked to at NRL?

Fraser:

No, I don't. I haven't the slightest idea now.

DeVorkin:

Okay, that's fine. Let's go on with this interview with Tuve.

Fraser:

So, he said, "when can you start?" And I said, "well, I've got to go home and get my stuff together. But I can be back in a couple of weeks." And he says, “okay, you’re hired.” And I came to Washington.

DeVorkin:

Can you give me a date?

Fraser:

February 1, 1941. Yes sir, I can never forget it (laughs). And I started right in. It was classified work, but that didn't bother Tuve. He knew me. Everyone that came into DTM came on the personal recognizance of somebody whom they knew. And I went upstairs there; and here was Dick Roberts, who was on Tuve's staff, and they were doing work on the proximity fuse. And here — it was a new life for me. I had been at home, which wasn't the best thing in the world at 32 years old. And here was a whole new thing. I was out of Victoreen. He was taking off hither and yon on all sorts of projects. He was a smart guy.

DeVorkin:

Victoreen?

Fraser:

Yes, he didn't have benefit of an education. And he was completely undisciplined, because he didn't have to report to anybody. He got thrown out of high school because he knew more than the chemistry instructor. He didn't even finish high school. Yes, it was one of those sad cases you see. He had no discipline. He had no formal education. When he plotted a graph, solved an equation, it was always by some oddball method (laugh).

DeVorkin:

But he did it.

Fraser:

Yes, he did it. And that bothered me. It shouldn't have, but it did. You see, I had an education. You did things this way. He was a maverick; and toward the end, I must confess, we didn't hit it off too well. And that was another reason for me wanting to get out. I came to Washington here, and I just loved the city. And there was a whole bunch of us who were single, or whose wives were at home. We lived hard, and played hard.

DeVorkin:

Now, this was DTM?

Fraser:

DTM, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism down on Broad Branch Road. It's part of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. And I was in on the very first of the Proximity Fuse development.

DeVorkin:

Who else was there? You mentioned Dick Roberts.

Fraser:

Dick Roberts, Larry Hafstad, Dr. L.R. Hafstad, who after the war was Director of Engineering for General Motors. In that first year, there came through DTM a string of the world's physicists: Louis Alvarez, the particle physicist, Willie Fowler, whom we have talked about.

DeVorkin:

How long did Fowler stay?

Fraser:

He stayed probably six months or so, something like that.

DeVorkin:

And Alvarez?

Fraser:

He wasn't there, but he would drop in every once in awhile. These people were in Washington for one reason or another, and they always came to DTM. And out on the campus — as I call it at DTM — that spring and summer of 1941, there were some park benches. And Tuve and these people who came in would sit out there as gurus, and the rest of us would squat around in a circle and just listen to them talk. Richard Tolman used to come out there. Charlie Lauritsen, and Tommy Lauritsen from Caltech, Don Lockridge and Joe Henderson from the University of Washington; Seth Neddermeyer who worked with Anderson in the discovery of the positron; and Bob Becker, a graduate student of Charlie Lauritsen. There are probably others. I am trying to recall them now for a little ceremony we are having around here one of these days. But of course, Vannevar Bush would come out every once in awhile. We always had a big time when the American Physical Society met for the first two years, 1941 and 1942; they met here in Washington, particularly in 1941. We would go to the meetings. And of course, the cream of the physics crop was there. So it was an exposure on my part to big names. And that was real nice.

DeVorkin:

Do you remember the conversations?

Fraser:

Oh, no, they were talking physics in general. Remember, it was the time of the discovery of the positron, the neutron, and so forth and so on. They discussed all these things.

DeVorkin:

Were they discussing fusion?

Fraser:

No.

DeVorkin:

Fission?

Fraser:

No, because that had been classified by this time.

DeVorkin:

And so this was not necessarily a classified group, or groups of classified people.

Fraser:

No, they weren't. This was just physics in the broad brush. And this was before the war, but the clamp had been put on.

DeVorkin:

So you got there before the United States actually entered the war?

Fraser:

Yes, I was there, yes.

DeVorkin:

But you were working on proximity fuses.

Fraser:

Yes, on proximity fuses. And of course, the Navy was very greatly interested in this proximity fuse. I used to go down to the Naval Proving Ground, Dahlgren. There was a Lt. Cmdr. Parsons down there who observed some of our work. W.S. Parsons, later Adm. Parsons, and navigator on the Enola Gay over Hiroshima. He was our first Naval Officer, on board what would be today the Naval Plant Representative at an institution such as APL. He had an office right up front. He was sort of liaison with the Navy, and helped us get our funds and help for the work. So we had many a good time together there. Others included were Bob Brode, Wallace Brode, and Allan Aston, who was later director of the National Bureau of Standards. Aston worked with us for quite some period, maybe for a couple of months or so, just helping out to lend (chuckles) a Ph.D. atmosphere to us tinkerers. That fuse was developed by Ph.D. and radio amateurs.

DeVorkin:

Was that the feeling that you all had?

Fraser:

Yes, I think they did, too. An example, Dr. Phil Rudnick, who was head of the Department of Physics at Vanderbilt, said one day, "I want to build something here, and I want a vacuum tube that didn't have a sharp cut-off of the plate current with grid bias. And he wanted this special kind of a tube. He says, "I don't know how to get one." And he says, "another thing I want is a switch, a double pole, double throw knife switch." And he went like this. And I said, "well, Phil, you’ll find it kind of difficult to find a knife switch but we do have little toggle switches, but not old fashioned throw switches." And I said, "what you want is a vacuum tube known as a 6SJ7." And he said, "well, how do I get one?" I said, "let's get in my car and go down to Capitol Radio on 14th Street. And we'll buy this, and anything else you might want. I'll act sort of as an interpreter." So you see, this is what I'm getting at: this tremendous melding of the theoretical and the practical. I was representative of the practical. And F.E. Terman joined us at DTM for a while. He wrote the bible on electronics, after Morecroft. Morecroft was the original, and then came Terman. He came and worked with us. Anyone who is in electronics, or ever has been, or is today, knows of F.E. Terman. He wrote the bible on electronics and communications. You can find it, ask any radio man. He was working with us. These people would come in, maybe for a month, on a consulting basis. I still say, despite all the theory that the Proximity Fuse was empirically developed. There was no question about it.

DeVorkin:

Now, you recalled a nice episode of how you would help someone like Dr. Rudnick to enable him to do work while he was visiting. But as far as the Proximity Fuse, what were your responsibilities and your talents?

Fraser:

My first responsibilities were to take the fuses to the field, test them, bring them back, post-mortem them, and write a report as to how they operated. Now, the problem in a proximity fuse was to develop a vacuum tube sufficiently rugged to be fired from a gun. This involved 20,000 g.

DeVorkin:

20,000 g?

Fraser:

20,000 g. So at the time there were little hearing aid tubes. Hearing aids in those days involved a very big pack on your chest.

DeVorkin:

You are talking about a disk about four or five inches in diameter?

Fraser:

Well, it was a little box, actually; and in that box were ordinary vacuum tubes with microphonics and all kinds of noises. The tubes were about an inch long, and a quarter of an inch in diameter. Well, we took those, we being DTM, and actually being Ray Mindlin. He was a structures engineer, and he had studied under Timoshenko, who at the time was one of the greatest authorities on structures in the world.

DeVorkin:

Where was he?

Fraser:

It beats me where he was, but anybody in the business knew that name. And then they said, "oh, he studied under Timoshenko, that is why he was qualified."

DeVorkin:

Timoshenko?

Fraser:

Yes. I don't think it was in the Soviet Union, but it could have been. Mindlin, by using the principles of structures, as one would in bridge building, "ruggedized" — that's not a good word — made the tube sufficiently rugged that it could be fired in a gun. And of course, it was spun up, too, 400 rpm. We got a hold of an old 57 mm. gun, installed it down at Stump Neck, Maryland, on the Potomac, and fired these things vertically, and protected ourselves with a few sandbags and a couple of boards over our shelter.

DeVorkin:

Fired them vertically?

Fraser:

Well, we put a little angle on the guns.

DeVorkin:

So you knew where it was going to go?

Fraser:

More or less, yes. We listened to them with a radio receiver, a Halicrafter radio receiver.

DeVorkin:

What were you listening to?

Fraser:

These were oscillators. They were miniature radio sets. Shall we talk about how they work now?

DeVorkin:

If that's all right with you.

Fraser:

Well, if you look at your television with a pair of rabbit ears, and when you approach it sometimes it will go all like this (waves finger into a blur). The picture will break up and then reappear as you move. That's probably as good a graphic example of the operation of the radio proximity fuse. It was a little oscillator in there that was not crystal controlled. It was a self-excited oscillator. And as you approached it, the plate current of the oscillator would change due to the proximity of your body, or any object. You took that change of plate current, amplified it in a two-stage amplifier, put it into a thyratron. The thyratron would be fired, actuating a detonator which in turn would detonate the shell. Now, of course, we weren't detonating shells at the time.

DeVorkin:

But you could hear this?

Fraser:

You could hear this thing. It was oscillating on a frequency of 135 megahertz. And obviously, if it did not oscillate, something was wrong, either the parameters of the radio frequency circuit were not right, or the tube might have been damaged, or any of the components may have shaken loose. So we brought them back to the lab. We had potted them in wax, put them in a baking oven, melted the wax, took the tubes out untested. That was our first work.

DeVorkin:

Now, why did you pot them?

Fraser:

To hold them together. That was the only way.

DeVorkin:

Oh, not any arcing problems.

Fraser:

No, the plate voltage was only 45 volts. It was just to hold the things together. We had to make the assembly sufficiently rugged. Well, when we got so that we could get a score of 50%, and that is, 50% of them would hold together and operate, we took them down to the Naval Proving Ground, Dahlgren, put them into 5-inch shells, and fired them from a 5-inch 38 Naval gun against the water. Now, any object coming near the fuse would cause it to activate. Now, it was actually the Doppler effect which caused the action.

DeVorkin:

Yes, you got a beat frequency.

Fraser:

You got a beat frequency (Doppler effect), which was amplified. It built up until, after rectification, the resulting DC fired a thyratron, which in turn fired a squib. And they would, as we say, ripple — that was the term we used — against the water. Now, you'd fire them down there, and if 50% of them worked, why, you thought you did pretty well. Now, you could tell whether they were going to work by listening with a radio receiver. You could hear the radiated signal. One of the things I did was to make all sorts of exotic antennas to put in back of the gun, like a rhombic antenna (laughs). But we would hear these things, because at first we went out on a yacht, a commandeered yacht that the Navy took over. But that got to be a little expensive, to crank up that yacht, get a crew and take the receiver and antennas down the Potomac.

DeVorkin:

You were somewhere in the ballistic path?

Fraser:

Yes, that's right. And that wasn't such a good idea, either. Of course, we never thought of it. So I said, well, why not hear the signal from in back of the gun; and how are we going to do that? Well, we'll make a directional antenna, so we made a rhombic antenna. I designed the rhombic antenna and put it up behind the gun; and that worked real well. I also did a lot of work on the sensitivity of these fuses, testing of the sensitivity, and not necessarily designing the circuitry, which was designed by a couple of young fellows on a purely empirical basis. Are you familiar with a Hartley oscillator? Have you heard of that? Well, it's just a radio oscillator. It's named after a British chap whose name was Hartley. It's an oscillator, and by varying the circuit parameters, in other words, varying the grid leak, which determined the bias on the tube, and by changing the filament tap on the coil, which changed the feedback, you could achieve different sensitivities. And it was done purely empirically, purely empirically. The fuses were fabricated at Carnegie by a group of technicians. We developed what was called a "prescription;" that is, for example, you put in a grid leak on one megohm, and you put the tap five-eighths of a turn from one end, and you use a by-pass condenser of .005 micro-mikes, etc. Those values and parameters made a prescription, which would be phoned in to the Erwood Company in Chicago, a couple of brothers who were looking for business. They had a machine shop and they would build fuses in greater quantities than we could build at DTM with just our few technicians.

DeVorkin:

So they did production work?

Fraser:

They did the preproduction, the protoproduction, call it what you will. Now, remember, we were still experimenting with these things. DTM had a few engineers that would decide that, yes, if we put the tap here, and if we put in this grid leak, then they would turn it over to me, and I would test the sensitivity, by very, very crude methods, with no instrumentation at first other than measuring the change in plate current as you moved the dipole antenna up to it. And we determined that, yes, indeed, the sensitivity was good. And we had these made up in Erwood, Chicago. We'd telephone the prescription in one morning. And we had it all coded up so that nobody could tell what we were doing. Erwood gave it to the Conductors on the Capitol Limited coming out of Chicago, and the Conductors would deliver it down to the little railroad station in Silver Spring, which is still there. And we would drive from APL at 8621 Georgia Avenue, on the corner of Georgia and Colesville Road, to pick these up.

DeVorkin:

You were on Georgia and Colesville?

Fraser:

Yes. (In the meantime we had moved from DTM). The building is still there. It's right between Hahns and Chambers.

DeVorkin:

No kidding. That was only about a quarter of a mile from the Silver Spring station.

Fraser:

That's right. We'd take a station wagon and go down and pick the fuses up, hand delivered from the Conductor.

DeVorkin:

There's nothing left there of APL, is there?

Fraser:

Oh, not APL, but the building is still there. Well, then we would take these fuses down to the field. And when we finally got a couple of prescriptions that looked pretty good, then we did further, more realistic testing. The first thing we did was to go to the Parris Island Marine Base. We took a barge out in the ocean several hundred yards, and suspended a barrage balloon from it; and underneath the barrage balloon, we put a mock-up of a Piper Cub, covered with chicken wire. And the Marines fired shots at it, and again, we — (I’m going to show you a picture) — we listened to the fuse. Let me get this, if I can find it here. Just to show you how we did this.

DeVorkin:

Okay now, for the tape. We are looking at a clipped together series of black and white 8 x 10 photographs of the receiving station at Parris Island, South Carolina in 1942. These photographs will be in your possession, and eventually will be published?

Fraser:

Not necessarily published. They will be a part of a video tape we are making, showing the proximity fuse. As a digression, hopefully, if I can get somebody interested, I'm going to do the same thing with the V-2 and Aerobee. We'll talk about that later. Anyway, this shows you the type of set-up we had here. This is an antenna. I took the pictures, so I don't know. One of the things I'm going to do — to digress — is to try to get all this stuff together. I've got some approval to do that from the front office, and we're going to try to pull all of this stuff in one place. It's all over the laboratory.

DeVorkin:

Do you have any pictures of you in there with, possibly van Allen, or other people on your team?

Fraser:

I have pictures of van Allen, but not with me.

DeVorkin:

Certainly pictures of you and of Van Allen would be very nice.

Fraser:

I’m afraid I don't have those. But one of the interesting things from a technical standpoint, if you fire at a target and it doesn't work, the shell does not explode, so what happened? It's out there. You don't know what happened. Perhaps the tube broke. Perhaps something let loose in it. Perhaps it was too far away. Perhaps the sensitivity was low. Was it operable? So how do we tell that? We had this radio receiver which we tuned it in here in a box, and we had that geared with string to a transmitter, which we built, ourselves, with two great big vacuum tubes putting out kilowatts. We had a discharge from great big capacitors with 6,000 volts. And we would put that in there and give a pulse out through this directional antenna. And if the fuse was at all operable, regardless of low sensitivity, it would detonate. And we could see where it detonated. If it detonated way past the target at the time when you pulsed it, you knew that it was operable. This was the pulser.

DeVorkin:

That's marvelous. Who are the people in there?

Fraser:

Yes. Well, this is Emory Cook.

DeVorkin:

Not this one, deeper in there's a group. That one. [1]

Fraser:

Yes. This is me (laughs). Now, we're out in New Mexico. See, we're in fuses. I'll tell you how this snake came about.

DeVorkin:

Oh, you're holding up a snake!

Fraser:

And he's holding a snake. This is Frank South, one of the engineers. We took this pulser that you saw in the other picture there, took it out to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and put it up in a cave. Here we put a model of a Nakajima bomber between two 250-foot wooden towers.

DeVorkin:

So that bomber's not flying.

Fraser:

No, it's just suspended there. We fired shells at it. And we were able to get good patterns from that with photographic means.

DeVorkin:

To see what the proximity was.

Fraser:

To see what the pattern was, the sensitivity and the pattern. And we took the pulser out there and we lived out in New Mexico for four weeks.

DeVorkin:

Was it anywhere close to White Sands?

Fraser:

No, it was Albuquerque. When you came out of the Albuquerque Airport, you looked right at the towers. And in those days, of course, when they took off in the old DC3's, you had to pull the curtains. Only you wouldn't know about that. But when we flew during the war, coming into any city, it didn't matter where it was, you had to pull the curtains. And if you try to sneak a look, the stewardess would come and whap you on the shoulder.

DeVorkin:

Why?

Fraser:

You weren't supposed to look at defense installations, or Pentagons, or Navy Departments, or Carnegie Institutions, or anything like that. But I can remember flying to and from New Mexico, knowing that as I left the Albuquerque Airport, you knew the two towers were there but could not look at them. Anybody with a pair of binoculars could go out in the desert there and see them. We had a ball out there. We did all sorts of crazy things.

DeVorkin:

Capturing that snake apparently had nothing to do with your work?

Fraser:

No, it didn't; but what happened was that one of the guys was about to step out of this car here, and if we hadn't shouted at him, he would have stepped right on that thing. And of course, he's got his boots on up, but you know, they said to wear boots. We says, "aaah, no." And I said, maybe we had better. And boy, we saw more darned rattlers out there than you can shake a stick at. So I was glad I had them.

DeVorkin:

When did you first meet van Allen? Because he worked on the proximity fuse too?

Fraser:

Yes, you would have to ask Jim about that. He came right after I did. He had just gotten his doctorate, and he came there, and he worked all along with us on the same sort of stuff. He would go to the field. We were all together in this thing. Well, the chap in this picture was named Hunt, just one other name I want to drop. That's Emery Cook. He founded ORI over in Silver Spring. That's Dr. Emery Cook, a theoretical guy if there ever was one. But he came down to observe and help out, a heck of a nice guy.

DeVorkin:

Okay, to identify which picture, this is the one where we see the dipole; we see the radio transmitter, and …[2]

Fraser:

Yes, well, it's a picture of him sitting and looking out to sea.

DeVorkin:

And he's got a white shirt on.

Fraser:

Yes, I know these pictures back and forth. Again, I took them. We had problems in those days, you see. I took my Leica down there, but I couldn't really shoot anything; I wanted to. I would have liked to have had a good picture of the balloon and barrage, but all that was classified. Another chap who went down to the field on this operation was Allan Hynek. He went to the field many times. And another place besides Parris Island that we did this same testing at was Hilton Head, which was a Marine base then. Of course, Hilton Head now is all built up.

DeVorkin:

What was Hynek's involvement?

Fraser:

Well, again, he was a young fellow who was a Physicist who came and helped out. What he did, was to go along just to observe to help write reports. He founded what we call our Reports Office here. In other words, it's our documentation center, where all reports were filed.

DeVorkin:

Do you ever recall talking about astronomy with this fellow?

Fraser:

No, but I don't know what we talked about. Let me tell one fascinating thing. We took some Florida train. We were going down to Hilton Head, and they dumped us off at the junction about 25 miles from Hilton Head at 4 o'clock in the morning. And somebody was going to come up and meet us. I forget the name of that place. But this place had only three stores, one of which was a restaurant, and the old freight depot that they had where you had the ramp up. Allan Hynek and I got dumped out there at 4 o'clock in the morning, and nobody came to pick us up until 10 o'clock. And I don't know whether we talked astronomy, but we talked about everything. We were there for six hours, just Allan and myself.

DeVorkin:

Was it a clear night? Could you look at the stars?

Fraser:

I don't remember him as an astronomer then. I don't know what he was doing, really. I just remember, but I'll never forget that. Finally, somebody said, "oh, I guess we had better pick those jokers up." And they finally came for us. We didn't have a thing to eat. It was Sunday. The restaurant didn't open. The stores weren't open. We walked up and down that railroad platform 100-thousand times. So that was quite a story. I've got a good picture of Hynek.

DeVorkin:

Did he get out to White Sands with you?

Fraser:

I don't think he did, no. We only had our crew of Frank South and those people you saw there, plus Larry Hafstad, who was later post war director of APL. He went along. I've got a picture of ole' Allan somewhere around here. He went to the field. He was in the shelter. If it's of interest, I can find it. I've got so damned many pictures here that I don't know where they all are. But my problem is, I only come in once in awhile, and I get everything sorted out, then I forget in between.

DeVorkin:

I'm trying to get a sense of your general participation in war work. Did you go on any maneuvers later? I know Van Allen took the proximity fuse to the Navy.

Fraser:

He took it to the Navy. I didn't. The reason I didn't, I was married. In the meantime, I was married just a few weeks before the war. I was very active with Van Allen and a couple of others, whose names I can give you, if you want them. And they commissioned them directly into the Navy as lieutenant, J.G.'s, I guess. I was considered for it, but since I was married, they wouldn't take me. And there, again, is one of those things what might have been, you never know. But of course, van Allen did come back to fuse work, as you know, to APL. It wasn't a case of severing connections just because he went into the Navy. But they took the fuse out there and introduced it to the fleet. One of the biggest jobs they did was to replace the dry batteries. The fuse was powered by a dry cell, made by National Carbide in Cleveland. And when it got out in the Pacific — the thing wasn't terribly well sealed up — the humidity got to it, so in the meantime a reserve battery had been developed. It had a chromic acid electrolyte, which was in an ampule. The ampule broke on firing and the spin of the gun spun the liquid into the battery. This provided a certain degree of safety, because you didn't come up to voltage instantly. It was out of the muzzle of a gun before it came up, so that was a good idea, and it worked beautifully. That was the answer to that problem.

DeVorkin:

Whose idea was that?

Fraser:

I don't know. I could probably look it up.

DeVorkin:

It wasn't yours or Van Allen's?

Fraser:

Oh, no. Whose idea it was would be pretty hard to determine now.

DeVorkin:

Was the proximity fuse work, then, your primary wartime work?

Fraser:

As we moved over to APL, I set up the group of about 25 people that did all the fuse testing. We built the test equipment for the tubes. I got a patent on a thing for a tester for the fuse, which permitted testing inside a room. Obviously, with a radio oscillator sitting in a room, it is affected by the reflections. Another thing that I did was to put a pole up on top of the APL building at 8621 Georgia Avenue, and we would raise the fuses up and down in an artillery shell, a dummy shell, up and down against a chicken wire ground screen. And by putting a micro ammeter in the plate circuit, you can see how far it would deflect as you went through the loops and nodes of the radio as a measure of sensitivity. Then I made a box to simulate this inside a room. It was reasonably successful, but nothing spectacular. They wanted to patent that, and so I said, okay.

DeVorkin:

Yes. Were you involved at all in deciding to make the transfer of APL?

Fraser:

No way.

DeVorkin:

Was there any question that you would stay at DTM, or go with Tuve?

Fraser:

Everybody moved out of DTM. You see, DTM was a slow-moving research institution under the aegis of Dr. Fleming, who was an old-line scientific type. He was the Director; and they had just built a nice new Cyclotron Building over there. They had a cyclotron. Oh, by the way, another man who came in when we had these sessions out on the lawn at DTM was E.O. Lawrence, the cyclotron man. And what a thrill it was to someone like myself to shake hands with these guys. That was terrific. I forgot to mention him. Well, anyway, we had a Cyclotron there. And a nice brand new, spanking new building. And Tuve as chief scientist of DTM brings in all these maverick types of all kinds, radio hams, technicians, young Ph.D.'s, etc. And poor Fleming, his nice new building torn up with somebody bringing in and setting the oscilloscopes up, and bringing in benches and all this sort of stuff, tracking in mud when you came from the field. Back in those days you took your own car to the field. You didn't get any per-diem or mileage or anything. You would drive your car up, load the stuff in the back and away you'd go. And DTM had to buy a couple of station wagons. Well, that was a major operation for the one-man purchasing department that they had at DTM (laugh). All these people coming in and getting the money to do it, and everything, just got to be too much for DIM. And of course, Johns Hopkins had been in the, I guess it was the National Defense Research Council. That stuff I am not completely clear on. I know where to find it. I can point it out to you, if you are interested, how this thing got started.

DeVorkin:

Is there an official history. Is that what you are saying, or are you talking about records?

Fraser:

Well, I'm talking about records, and I know where they are. Should you want them, I'll be glad to get them xeroxed and get them to you.

DeVorkin:

Absolutely.

Fraser:

Okay, we'll just remember that and let me know. Anyway, Johns Hopkins had been associated with all of this effort set up by President Roosevelt and the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), and the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). Johns Hopkins agreed to take this thing over; and they appointed D. Luke Hopkins, who was a Baltimore banker, on the Board of Trustees of the university as a business manager. Well, he was one great business manager. He was wonderful, just a wonderful personality — knew what to do, was just the kind of person we should have. And Tuve was the Director, and we had a going concern then. There was a building in Silver Spring, known as the Wolfe Garage. It had a used car sign on the side of the building, which we left there, and we moved in. I was with the first technical group that moved into that, and set up my testing laboratory to build all of the electronic test equipment.

DeVorkin:

Did you leave the used car garage sign there for a reason?

Fraser:

It was a blind. What went on in this building nobody ever knew. But as it grew, there would be troops of people coming in there, poles sticking up on the roof, and cars, station wagons leaving at 4 o'clock in the morning to go down to the field. Navy officers were coming in and out, and they kept their uniforms on most of the time.

DeVorkin:

Did local businessmen ever ask, if you went out to lunch ever?

Fraser:

Oh yes, we went out to lunch, but of course, we never said one word about what went on in that building. And there was sort of a lack of curiosity. People would scratch their heads and wonder what went on there and let it go at that. (laughs). There was a war on; you just didn't pry into what the other guy did. And, gee, we just never thought about talking about it.

DeVorkin:

So, after the development of the proximity fuse, to move ahead?

Fraser:

Yes, you asked, did I do anything else along the way. Well, I turned the testing over to somebody else, and I got into radar. And the thing I did in radar was to help get 100 fire-control radars out to the Fleet. We had put together parts from here, there and everywhere, and designed a blind firing radar. We had to get it produced. So I got in on that. And I was the supervisor of the group that turned out the 100 radars. And we started out; there was a company in town called Wilmotte. He was a sort of entrepreneur of one sort or another. Did you ever hear of him, or know him?

DeVorkin:

That's a familiar name.

Fraser:

Yes, a familiar name. Well, he was quite a character, but he had some darned good engineers. And I can't remember, for the life of me, what Wilmotte was doing before. Oh, I know what it was, making pattern measurements of antennae for broadcasting, etc. Well, that kind of work didn't burgeon with the coming of the war. So he was looking around for something to do, and somehow we got in touch with him. That was out of my bailiwick, anyway. I was pretty much in the technical end of it. I remember one cold winter day, we went down to a loft on "L" Street, with broken windows. We sat on orange crates, and that's how we started this project. When we ended up, we had delivered 100 blind-firing radars to the Fleet.

DeVorkin:

Did you use klystrons or magnetrons?

Fraser:

Magnetrons, yes.

DeVorkin:

Where did you get them? Did you make them? And what contact did you have with NRL at that time?

Fraser:

I can't remember. The radar components came to us in parts. Sub Sig, the Submarine Signal Company, was one that made different kinds of radars. And there again, I can't remember what other companies were involved. But we put the parts together, added components, calibrated them, built antennae for them, tested them, and commissioned our people to take the radars out to the Fleet. Within six or eight weeks of the final test of this radar at Dam Neck, Virginia, we shot down Japanese planes. The radars had been installed, and had done that.

DeVorkin:

That quickly?

Fraser:

Yes, that quickly. Something you couldn't possibly do today (laughs). But my job was to supervise the building of the parts that we used to bring these things together, to assist in the testing, and to make the spares list. It was an 80-hour a week job. I never worked so hard in my life. It was really terrific. But there again, when we got through we had something other than a bunch of papers. It was hardware.

DeVorkin:

Now, by saying "something other than a bunch of papers," what is your feeling? What are you revealing to me when you say that?

Fraser:

Well, (laughs) I think I'm saying that I'm a tinkerer, and I like hardware. As time went on, I didn't get a chance to do too much of that, as the program developed.

DeVorkin:

To do much tinkering?

Fraser:

Yes, you get into areas of program management, an assistant to a project manager, and things like that. You arrange meetings. You write reports. You make presentations. You prepare presentations. You document things. You do all that. Oh, it is interesting.

DeVorkin:

Yes. How would you typify the years, 1943, 1944? You were working on radar during this time? Or did you have other major projects?

Fraser:

Well, when we got the radars out, and finished, and delivered, we closed that thing out and then I went into guided missiles. You see, there was the need for something besides 5-inch 38-shells and radar directors to meet the threat of Kamikaze planes: high speed airplanes. Not other missiles, but aircraft.

DeVorkin:

So you hadn't been aware; you had gotten into missile development at APL before you were aware of what Germany was doing with the V-1s and V-2s, or had you already known?

Fraser:

That's a good question. Well, anyway, we knew about the V-2s. Obviously, we knew about the buzz bombs, but there again, I have a feeling that we at APL didn't know about the buzz bombs until the end of the war, because, remember, the use of the proximity fuse was highly classified. The proximity fuse was very important to the defense of Antwerp, London, and the Battle of the Bulge. You see, with the fuse coming in, bursting over ground, it didn't bury itself in the ground; it didn't detonate as a time fuse way up in the air where it did no good. You could set the sensitivity of the fuse, depending on the angle that you fired it, and it just wiped out the Germans to the point where they said, boy, no way are we going out on patrol with this thing. They actually mutinied toward the end of the war.

DeVorkin:

That's very interesting, yes. So, both in Europe and in Japan, the proximity fuse was extremely successful.

Fraser:

Well, the proximity fuse was not used on land in Japan.

DeVorkin:

Was there a reason for that?

Fraser:

Well, you see, we didn't make any landings in Japan. The atom bomb wiped that out. They surrendered a few days later and that was it. We didn't have any landings.

DeVorkin:

Oh, we're talking still about …

Fraser:

Shooting down Kamikaze planes.

DeVorkin:

And we're talking about 5-inch guns and not missiles. Let’s talk about the missile development. I'm very interested in that. How did that develop here? Who began it? Was it Tuve directly?

Fraser:

Well, Tuve and a chap by the name of Dr. Wilbur Goss, a young Ph.D. He came to APL in April, 1941; and he lived through the proximity fuse with us. He was a very dynamic character.

DeVorkin:

What's his background? What kind of degree?

Fraser:

He came from teaching, as I recall, as a Ph.D. at New Mexico A & M in Las Cruces. And also, he had a connection with the University of Washington. Gee, some of these things are — that’s the sad part of this thing — not documented here at APL.

DeVorkin:

I'm trying to fill that gap.

Fraser:

Yes, well, why not. All I can say is that some of these things, you spur me on to look deeper into them. I can't remember Wilbur's background. But anyway, he was the chap that decided that we were going to take the principle of the Athodyd, the ramjet.

DeVorkin:

It sounds like a bug.

Fraser:

Yes, it does; doesn't it? Well, it was the development of a Frenchman, back in the 30's. It was a concept of using ram pressure for your air and burning it with fuel. Well, Wilbur set out to do this. It was a job that he picked up. A lot of jobs were not assigned around here. You expressed an interest in them and took off on them. First we flew some subsonic missiles to see if we could achieve burning; that is, was there an excess of thrust over drag? And the way we did this, was by developing telemetering. We developed our own telemetering, placed the telemetering unit in the nose of this little job and launched it with four aircraft rockets. And we launched this from — well, there again, I've got lots of pictures of this — a wooden ramp at Island Beach, New Jersey. And we finally did achieve thrust over drag. And then we just went on expanding that on the test range down there. But we couldn't recover anything. We couldn't get instrumentation out at the impact point, so we moved out to the Naval Ordnance Test Station, Inyokern.

DeVorkin:

That is China Lake?

Fraser:

Right, and we did our testing there.

DeVorkin:

Very interesting. Did you have any formal association with their own missile development work at Inyokern?

Fraser:

No, none, except we knew who was the director out there. Bill McClean was the director out at NOTS. William McClean, and he was here in Washington in the very early days before the war. He worked over at the National Bureau of Standards. You see, Tuve's work was Section T, "T" for Tuve. And we did the shell work, the gun fuse. The bomb fuse was done over at the National Bureau of Standards under Dr. Ellett. Bill McClean worked over there. So did I, as a matter of fact. I don't know how you are ever going to straighten this out, but if you want to know, I was over there for awhile. Again, one of those transfers where the General said, "the private moved over to the Bureau of Standards." (chuckles). Just an illustration.

DeVorkin:

But you were still working for APL or DTM?

Fraser:

No. No, I wasn't working for DTM. They decided they wanted somebody to go over and help develop the bomb fuse before the war. I was selected to go over to the National Bureau of Standards. There were three or four of us transferred over there. I went over there. I worked with Harry Diamond. You know the Harry Diamond Laboratories. I worked directly with Harry Diamond and Dr. Ellett, who was the chairman of Section E. And we did some bomb work. And I was there from September to about the first of November, I guess; but I left there because I couldn't hack the Civil Service of that day.

DeVorkin:

You mean, you might have been permanent there?

Fraser:

Oh, I might have been, I don't know. Examinations were waived, and I was appointed to the staff as a Junior Physicist. But I just couldn't stay after working at DTM, where you could sort of go your own way. Over there it was regimented. There were so many things that were bad. I remember one day — I probably shouldn't tell it (laugh) — but one day, Labor Day, 1941, before the war, we took a batch of fuses up to Aberdeen. I got to the National Bureau of Standards at 4 o'clock in the morning. I had arranged the night before to leave a window open so we could crawl in, to get our stuff out, because the place was closed (chuckle). We did get in. We got in, backed the station wagon up, got in the window, loaded our stuff out the window, which was much harder than taking it out a door, because these things were heavy. You saw pictures of them. We drove to Aberdeen. We set up. We spent all day. It was hot, and in a field of poison ivy. We got back at 11 o'clock at night and repeated the process. We drove in; we had to go through the steam tunnel to get to our laboratory. It was 100 degrees in there. We hauled the stuff in through the window and went home at 11 o'clock. I was at the gate, at the guard at about five minutes after 8:30 the next morning. And he says, "well, you're late. You'll have to sign a chit," and I said, "the heck with you, Buster." And I put my car in gear and I roared in there. I couldn't stand that kind of stuff after being at DTM. We didn't operate that way.

DeVorkin:

DTM or APL were not that way at all?

Fraser:

Not that way at all.

DeVorkin:

That's important to know.

Fraser:

Yes, so I came back to Merle Tuve one night. He was in his office. I went in and I said, "Merle, I just can't put up with this stuff." Well, another thing that got me at the Bureau of Standards, I drove my car down to the field and I said, well, how about insurance here? He says, well, "you can always buy some." (laughs). And I said, the Government won't buy me any? Oh, no, no way. I said, okay. I didn't press the point. It was things like that, that I didn't have to put up with, since I had enjoyed Carnegie. So I went back and told Merle that either I quit NBS and come back to DTM or else quit the whole program. And of course, that was all I had to do. So I spent just two months at NBS or so.

DeVorkin:

Okay, let's get back to the missiles with Wilbur Goss. How were you brought into this? You were brought in to do the structure?

Fraser:

Oh, no. No, I was assigned to the section under Dr. Walter Good to help him develop a control system for the missiles.

DeVorkin:

Who assigned you?

Fraser:

Oh, I guess Tuve did. He looked around and he saw that the radar's folding up. Lorie Fraser will go to help Walt Good. I knew Walt ever since the beginning.

DeVorkin:

What kind of layers of bureaucracy were there? Did you report directly to Tuve, yourself?

Fraser:

Well, in the radar business, I reported directly to D. Luke Hopkins. I may have reported through somebody, but why that was, I can't remember necessarily. We didn't have a strong hierarchy. As Tuve often pointed out, over night you found yourself working for somebody who was working for you before. And that’s written up in the histories here. You'd go in there and look at the organization chart on a Monday morning, and you're just apt to find that you no longer did what you were doing. You were working over here. And we didn't have much of a hierarchy or bureaucracy, or anything. Then I presume that Tuve looked around, or Walt Good knew that I was free, (I'm a very good friend of Walt Good; we had worked together) and he maybe asked Tuve for me, something like that. I have no idea. But I went to work. We built control systems.

DeVorkin:

This is radio telemetry?

Fraser:

Well, no. The telemetry was something else. That was a separate section. We worked with servos, to move the flaps. And we worked with gyros.

DeVorkin:

So it was gyro stabilization?

Fraser:

Gyro stabilization. We did experiments, and worked on the hydraulic bench. One of the things that turned up in one of the movies here that we are putting out was a model I made with a gyroscope and a missile on it, showing how this worked, and what not. And it worked right. I had a couple of technicians helping me. I didn't know much about servos. Walt was the leading one; and we had some liaison with Sperry Gyroscope for the gyroscopes.

DeVorkin:

So there was no electronics with this at all, the servos.

Fraser:

Well, yes, because we used servo amplifiers, you see. Your sensing of the aspect of the missile was very small. Just take a crude example, a potentiometer on the wing. Out of that potentiometer you got, if you were lucky, volts, but it was more apt to be microvolts. And you had to amplify that, translate it into a servo valve with hydraulics, which would move this wing. So there was electronics; and that was another thing. Yes, we had electronics, all vacuum tubes, of course. I finished up the radar in the end of 1944, went into the guided missiles in 1945 and worked on that until the end of the war. And that came, "ker blam!": What was APL going to do with the end of the war?

DeVorkin:

Yes, right. I sure want to get to that. In the missiles, not guided necessarily, on-board guidance in terms of stabilization, how far did you get with these? Did you get an operational missile?

Fraser:

Yes, we did. We got what we called the CTV, Controlled Test Vehicle.

DeVorkin:

You had no code name?

Fraser:

CTV: The Controlled Test Vehicle. We called it the CTV.

DeVorkin:

Was this air to air, or ground to air?

Fraser:

No, this was just a vehicle for testing servos. It was subsonic. And then we went on to supersonic in 1945, yes. Now, I have to digress here, because what was APL going to do after the war? People were deserting the ship, wanted to go back to their academic positions. We had an awful lot of academic people; professors, teachers.

DeVorkin:

Was this around the summer of 1945?

Fraser:

Well, it was August of 1945 when the war ended. Nobody left before the date when the war was over. And then they started looking around. They wanted to go back to here, there and where they came from, or a lot of them went back to their jobs, like RCA, Eastman Kodak, or Princeton University. A lot of these people went back. Phil Rudnick went back to Vanderbilt. [3]

DeVorkin:

Who was here from Princeton? Was it Nichols?

Fraser:

Yes, Nichols was here. You see, we had so many things going on. There were times when I, as this thing grew, didn't know all the people. I didn't know the telemetering people. A lot of them I knew only casually. We did a lot of telemetering work with Princeton.

DeVorkin:

Did you have any contacts during your missile development years with the GE group, Richard Porter's group?

Fraser:

Richard Porter. That name is very familiar

DeVorkin:

It was project Hermes.

Fraser:

No, not that I know of; and I knew in general what was going on, but that doesn't ring a bell. We have a Henry Porter here, but this was a GE Porter?

DeVorkin:

This was Richard Porter. You have no personal contact?

Fraser:

No. At that time I didn't. Perhaps later I did. I don't know.

DeVorkin:

I'd like very much to talk then about your impressions of the end of the war; and what were you going to do in the postwar era. And certainly, you know what I'm driving at.

Fraser:

That's what I'm coming to, because there is a glitch in here.

DeVorkin:

Go ahead.

Fraser:

I wasn't going back to Victoreen. That was out. So what was I going to do? It looked as though they were going to fold the laboratory.

DeVorkin:

Really?

Fraser:

Yes, it was not necessarily going to fold, "kerchunk;" but they were going to kind of let it just go down the drain.

DeVorkin:

"They" being Tuve?

Fraser:

Tuve, yes, and the University.

DeVorkin:

Johns Hopkins?

Fraser:

Remember, Johns Hopkins was very much in this. So Tuve called me in. They were transferring the fuse work. I had been out of the fuse work for a long time. They wanted to transfer the fuse work up to Eastman Kodak. I was in missiles. And he said, we're transferring it up to Eastman Kodak. The Navy's going to keep funding the fuse work, keep it going, and what not." And he said, "why don't you go up to Eastman Kodak and help them out?" So I said, "well, what are the chances of staying here?" He said, “well, it doesn't look good." He wanted to get back to Carnegie, you see, for one thing. So he wasn't anxious to keep Applied Physics Laboratory going. And so, I said, okay. Well, I happened to be very friendly with Dr. Herbert Trotter, who (when DTM transferred to APL) went up to Eastman Kodak, and wanted to get a number of APL people to continue the work at Kodak. We were friendly and he knew what I could do. We had worked since the beginning, so he said, why don't you come up there? So I did, and I left the laboratory and went up to Eastman Kodak to help keep the fuse work going. Well, my reactions to Eastman Kodak were very similar to those at the National Bureau of Standards. I was regimented, and I don't regiment.

DeVorkin:

This was in the fall of 1945.

Fraser:

The fall of 1945. So we went up there and my wife and I bought a home, and settled in, $10,000 for a real nice place out in a beautiful suburb, 10,000 bucks; can you imagine that?

DeVorkin:

So that wasn't bad in itself.

Fraser:

Well, I didn't like the doggone town. It was going back; I went up there in the middle of the winter, and blizzards and everything; and no way.

DeVorkin:

What about your wife? You met her here in Washington?

Fraser:

No, I met her in Cleveland. She was a secretary at Victoreen.

DeVorkin:

I see.

Fraser:

Yes, and we went up there.

DeVorkin:

She didn't mind moving?

Fraser:

No. She's a good sport. She came down here when we married, and left her family and relatives, and then there was nothing else to do. It was either go to Kodak or go elsewhere. I wanted to stay in this sort of work. And I had no reason to leave it. I knew nobody that I could go to to talk about the future, so I just went up there. Well, things conspired against me. In the first place, I had been out of the fuse work for two years. I had been in exotic things like radar and guided missiles. And to get back to this doggone fuse was just — I just couldn't return to this little thing. Furthermore, I went to Kodak at a fairly good position, and that brought resentment to the people that were there. And they just did everything they possibly could to make my life miserable. So again, I said, "okay, I don't stay." In the meantime, Johns Hopkins had said, yes, we will support research for the United States Government. So, since they were doing guided missiles, they carried it on. And I kept in pretty close touch with people down here. I had a lot of close friends in the organization. And I came down here a couple of times on fuse matters. I knew what was going on, so I did the same doggone thing that I did at the Bureau of Standards. I said, "I leave the defense work entirely, or I come back to APL." It was very simple to come back to APL. It was just like that, one telephone call did it, which I felt pretty honored about. You know, it does your heart good when somebody wants you. So I sold my house and came back here. And when I came back, well, they asked, “what would you like to do?"

DeVorkin:

Was this still 1945?

Fraser:

This was 1946, about the 1st of April, 1946. Yes, I was up there living, actually, about four to five months. Have you ever been to Rochester?

DeVorkin:

No.

Fraser:

Well, they can give it back to the Indians for my part. If you work for Kodak, everybody else hates you in the town. If I had stayed there, who knows what would have happened. They had, up until recently, a wonderful bonus thing. But I couldn't stand the regimentation. I had to punch a time clock, even though I came in on what was known as a gold badge.

DeVorkin:

What was a gold badge?

Fraser:

I was a supervisor. A supervisor had a gold badge. But I had to punch a time clock, and I said, "fellows, I never punched a time clock, except the very first job I had out of college." And so I left. It was one of the reasons I left. Well, I got that taken care of. I didn't have to punch a clock, and they offered me a job in any part of Kodak I wanted to go. But there were so many things. You had no freedom at all. I could go on and on and on. I've talked with people about Rochester and about Kodak, a wonderful place. The Great Yellow Father does real fine for his people.

DeVorkin:

Great Yellow Father?

Fraser:

Yes, Kodak; haven't you ever heard the photographers call it the Great Yellow Father? (laugh). And anyway, I came back here. And they said, what do you want to do? Well.

DeVorkin:

Who is saying that? Tuve, again?

Fraser:

Oh, personnel people, I guess. And I knew one of the fellows, who is still here, T.W. Sheppard; and he wanted me to come with him into telemetering. And I said, what's telemetering? And he told me. So I said, oh, that's great. In the meantime, Jim van Allen wanted to know if I was coming back, and he asked, "why don't you come in this high altitude group?" Oh, I said, “that's for me." And they wrote the papers up and that was it.

DeVorkin:

That was April of 1946.

Fraser:

Yes. We hadn't instrumented anything by the time I joined the high altitude group.

DeVorkin:

Right, but did anybody talk to you, or do you have any knowledge of how the group was formed?

Fraser:

Okay. Well, you'd have to get that from Jim, because by the time I came, the funding was here, and the permission to use the V-2s had been granted.

DeVorkin:

You don't recall ever talking to anyone of how the permission to use V-2s was granted?

Fraser:

No, Jim did all that on his own before I came.

DeVorkin:

Did you know what the involvement of Henry Porter was?

Fraser:

Well, as I recall, I don't remember that Henry Porter had a heck of a lot to do with that.

DeVorkin:

Is he still around?

Fraser:

He comes in once in awhile, yes.

DeVorkin:

Because Jim van Allen's recollection is that Henry Porter was the one who had Pentagon contacts.

Fraser:

Well, yes, I shouldn't have said what I said. I will correct that. Yes, now that you mentioned that, if Jim said that, then that is absolutely right, because Henry knew, and knows everybody.

DeVorkin:

I would love to be able to get in contact with him, to ask him this specific question. Maybe we could get a mailing address later on?

Fraser:

Okay, fine. Just remember it. Let me make a note of it, so I can. In fact, Henry Porter was the first man who joined Tuve's team at DTM in October, September, 1940.

DeVorkin:

I see, yes. Okay. We'd love to find him. [4]

Fraser:

Okay, I'll get you some way to get in touch with Henry. Okay, yes.

DeVorkin:

Now, what I want to ask you, is that in the Bumblebee Report No. 81, that you were co-author with. [5]

Fraser:

Yes.

DeVorkin:

Let's see, Page 2, you mentioned that a problem assignment — this must have been a work order of some sort — was issued by the Navy Bureau Ordnance in February of 1946, enabling APL to do upper atmosphere research.

Fraser:

Yes.

DeVorkin:

I'm wondering where I could get a copy of that.

Fraser:

Uh, huh! I doubt it. I'd like to have it myself.

DeVorkin:

So it was something you saw at the time?

Fraser:

Well, let me — maybe Henry would know. I don't know. Now, this is the order to establish the upper atmosphere group. I don't know. See, this was going on while I was up at Eastman Kodak at Rochester. When I came back, Jim was just getting his technical group together to do the hardware, and all the rest of it. He probably did the negotiating himself with Henry Porter. If that's what he says Henry was doing, then that's what Henry was doing. But as far as being involved in it, setting up a contract, or sitting in on any of the preliminary meetings — no. As for APL, we'd sit down around the table and say, this is what we are going to do. This is how we are going to do it and so forth. But Henry wasn't in any part of that, although he is a Physicist in his own right.

DeVorkin:

Was it an immediate decision on your part to come with Jim van Allen? Or did you consider other options?

Fraser:

Oh, no. When I heard that one, why, I had known Jim. I had ridden around town in his car back during the war and what not. And I knew Abbie, and had been at parties at his apartment. I knew Jim. I knew what he could do. I knew him as an individual, as a person, in addition to all the scientific stuff.

DeVorkin:

What about the idea of using these V-2 rockets? Did that intrigue you, or did that draw you into it?

Fraser:

Oh, of course. This was a great thing: "gee, to put something in a rocket and fire it up like that! Goodness, gracious!" To somebody like myself, that was just as fascinating as my introduction to ham radio.

DeVorkin:

I see. I'm trying to get an idea of what it was about that kind of activity that fascinated you.

Fraser:

Well, one thing that fascinated me was the fact that, even in the limited guided missile work I had, I had field experience. I had gone down to the field and had seen these things fired. And we ran like mad, crazy, when something went wrong up there, and you didn't know where it was coming down, and sitting in back of sand dunes, and watching it — hammering live rockets into the base of a missile with a sledge hammer, and all sorts of things like that (laughs). That's what crazy people did. I'm not kidding you. We had a standing joke. They had four of these 5-inch rockets, about ye long, 5-inch diameter, HVAR (High Velocity Aircraft Rocket); and they manifolded four of those things and put it on the end of this little test vehicle we had, to just explore whether the thing would burn or not, whether we would get to thrust. The fit was pretty poor on these things, so to get them in, you took a sledge hammer and beat these live rockets in there. And somebody came down to the field. They did this in an old Coast Guard shed. And they said, "gee, aren't you afraid something will happen?" Oh, no, we just open the doors. If anything happens, it goes out to sea. (laughs).

DeVorkin:

Oh, my heavens! (laugh).

Fraser:

Yes, so this intrigued me. As I have mentioned, I like to work with my hands. So this intrigued me. I was so glad to get back to APL that I would have done anything. I would have taken any assignment that APL had to offer. And this looked like a good one. And I knew Jim. I knew the other people that he had selected to work, Howard Tatel, Jimmy Jenkins, Al Gange, Bert Chaffee, Blair Barghausen, and Russ Ostrander, who is my cousin; he got into it, too. Jim just went around and kind of found who was available, picked his team, and that's when I came in, when we hadn't fired anything at that time. We designed the first experiment after I came.

DeVorkin:

What was the atmosphere like in the group? You said you sat down around a table.

Fraser:

Oh, it was tremendous, yes.

DeVorkin:

Can you give me a flavor for it? How did ideas come up?

Fraser:

Well, Jim knew what he wanted to do. He had as an assistant in that phase of it, Howard Tatel, a Ph.D. You've heard the name. And he had Pete Peterson, R.P. Peterson. Have you got his name? Well, he was a Ph.D. who had come from California. I guess it was his first job after college. And Jim was just out to measure the primary cosmic ray flux. Tatel was a very enthusiastic guy. He wanted to eek the last little bit of the last tenth of a per cent out of data. And when you start a scientific project, that's not always the best idea. It's sort of growing. You ought to grow into that.

DeVorkin:

Was Howard Tatel here, also?

Fraser:

Yes, he was here during the war, too.

DeVorkin:

And he was a nuclear physics person?

Fraser:

I guess. When he was here during the war, we were everything.

DeVorkin:

Yes. Did he do proximity fuse work, also?

Fraser:

Yes. And so, we designed a cosmic ray telescope, and we put a lot of Geiger tubes in there with their respective coincidence circuits and what not. Jim would know this better; it's all in the book there.

DeVorkin:

Where did you get the tubes? I'm trying to recall. These were Rossi-type tubes.

Fraser:

Yes. There was a place over in Virginia that made these.

DeVorkin:

I think he told us. That's okay.

Fraser:

Yes. He might remember that. Next week I might remember it. I remember we kept them in business. Ion chambers, also, were made by the same company.

DeVorkin:

Now, you had had experience in ion chambers at Victoreen.

Fraser:

Yes, I had, yes.

DeVorkin:

What was your particular role on this team, then?

Fraser:

It was to get this stuff pulled together, drawn up and built. And to do the control circuitry to turn it on, turn it off, suggest batteries, buy batteries (I was the purchasing agent) suggest dynamotors, buy dynamotors, test them. The telescopes and a fair share of the coincidence circuits, and the electronics were made by Willmotte again to APL design. See, Willmotte finished off with the radars. And since they had a good shop, a couple of good engineers and a super salesman (laughs).

DeVorkin:

Who was the super salesman?

Fraser:

I can picture him. Quite a guy; he was our liaison with the laboratory, a heck of a good guy.

DeVorkin:

What was Willmotte's full name?

Fraser:

Raymond A. Willmotte, as I remember. I'm not sure of the A. But Raymond I know. Well, anyway, we would have to draw this stuff up to a certain degree for Willmotte, although they had draftsmen. Sometimes we could wave our arms and say, "do it something like this." But we had a young chap named McEvitt, who was a darned good draftsman. He kind of would look at something, and say, "well, I guess we can do this." So, we made up a Geiger telescope, put it in the V-2, and when we got the data back, there was so much cross talk between circuits that we couldn't make head nor tail out of the results.

DeVorkin:

Were these the first flights in the spring?

Fraser:

Yes, the first flights in the spring. June 30, 1946 was the first flight that we made with our instrumentation in it.

DeVorkin:

Jim van Allen recalls sending little things up beforehand.

Fraser:

Perhaps he did, but not as the APL High Altitude Group; he may have. I don't know. It may have been before I was there. There was a flight that I didn't think APL took part in before I came. But I have always thought that I saw the first flight. I had had so much to do with getting this stuff together, and making sure that the spare parts were there, that everything was hooked up and working, and that all the packing when shipping was done; and arrangements for shipping, and all of that. I was just sort of the guy that saw that these ideas were translated into reality. This is perhaps the best way to describe how it was.

DeVorkin:

So the June 30th flight was the first one that you saw?

Fraser:

That's the first one. It’s the first one, I think, that's reported in the book there. [6]

DeVorkin:

Okay. Did you actually go to White Sands?

Fraser:

Oh yes, I went to White Sands, stood outside the block house in back of three or four feet of soil (laughs) and watched that thing take off. I can't remember how — the thing that puzzles me — somebody had to turn on the instrumentation. It should have been me, because I turned on an awful lot of them, but I don't know how it got started. I'll tell you what I think happened. We turned it on and went outside the block house. We weren't going to watch this great big rocket take off inside a blockhouse. That's no fun, you know. So we decided all to go outside.

DeVorkin:

So the White Sands people let you just do what you wanted.

Fraser:

Oh sure. When we were out there we were living in the barracks, on the second floor of those barracks, no air conditioning anywhere. The officer's club was just another barracks, and you bought a coke for a dime. You bought a glass of water for a dime. And then you bought — I don't think they had beer. It was 110 degrees and it was the middle of summer, and the humidity was about 2%, as it gets out there. So you just go around and drink beer, water, coke, maybe beer, water, coke, etc. And you never could get hydrated.

DeVorkin:

Did you have contact with the German rocket people out there?

Fraser:

Yes. I never met Von Braun, but I did meet his right-hand man. I can't remember his name.

DeVorkin:

Stuhlinger?

Fraser:

That sounds familiar.

DeVorkin:

Yes, but you're not sure.

Fraser:

I'm not sure.

DeVorkin:

Did you have any technical discussions with them ever concerning the performance of your own instruments?

Fraser:

I didn't. And I doubt very much if Jim did, but he would know.

DeVorkin:

Is there a reason for that? Was any of this classified?

Fraser:

No, it was completely unclassified. The Germans were interested in rockets. We were only interested in getting cosmic ray information by telemetering, which NRL did. I'm sure you know that NRL did the telemetering. And we would go out there a week or so in advance, and we would have a run-through, a dry run, to make sure that our cosmic ray instrumentation, generators, and clacking relays didn't interfere with their telemetering; and that their telemetering didn't interfere with our cosmic ray counters, etc.

DeVorkin:

How did you get rid of the cross talk, the cross current? What did you call it, cross-talk?

Fraser:

Cross-talk. We just didn't put as many geiger tubes in.

DeVorkin:

I see. Were these the lead igloos?

Fraser:

This was before the lead igloos. These were just racks.

DeVorkin:

You didn't put in as many. Did you have any shielding?

Fraser:

Well, we put more shielding in, yes. You see, we tried to do it without partitions between the hot end of the geiger tube and the 12 AU7 close-up vacuum tubes that we used on the flip-flops.

DeVorkin:

The data, of course, was telemetered back from the telescopes.

Fraser:

That's right.

DeVorkin:

Do you recall your first sight of the data? Were you on that end?

Fraser:

I was in everything, yes.

DeVorkin:

Could I turn this tape over, and maybe you could give me a recollection of what the first flight was like. Or generally, what it was like to receive the data, and to know that everything was going right?

Fraser:

Well, of course, we didn't get the telemetering data until a little bit later, as I recall it, because it was from NRL. They had to transcribe it and develop it. I frankly don't remember, to be honest, what it looked like. We are talking too many years ago, too much water over the dam. So I can't help you there, but it was a success, as far as the flight was concerned. It didn't fall over and burn up, or it didn't land in Juarez, Mexico, as one of them did later. And we got the telemetering. And as I recall, we concluded from it that you just couldn't make head nor tail out of it, because of the cross-talk. You see, you didn't know which layer of geiger tubes, or which tube — that would be something that Jim would have to give you. Let me tell you a story to illustrate my role in this thing and what I did, and how my relations with Jim were. After we had been in the business for awhile, Jim wanted to write a paper. I can't remember what the paper was — but it was by J. Van Allen, J.J. Jenkins, A.V. Gangnes, R.S. Ostrander, and L.W. Fraser. And this was a very erudite paper. It was very complex; and I went to Jim and I said, "gee, Jim, I appreciate your putting my name on this, but supposing I get somewhere and somebody asks me about this paper." And I said, "I'll be honest with you. I don't know what the hell you're talking about." (laugh). And I went around to these other guys that were in the same boat; and I said, "fellows, I think it's the better part of discretion that we let Jim Van Allen and Howard Tate author this paper. And we did, because you see, I'm not a cosmic ray physicist. The reason I got a title of Physicist here is just because I brought it from Victoreen. That's the only reason. The work I have done has been engineering, in the true sense of the word, translating ideas of physicists and experimenters into reality. And so I wasn't going to ride on false pretenses there.

DeVorkin:

Didn't he try to argue you out of it, saying that it was understood that you had a right.

Fraser:

No, no, he was just being a heck of a good guy to put my name on the paper, because I had worked on it. So, we wrote a paper for SCIENCE, [7] where we sort of told what we did, how we did this, and that we had instrumented them for this and that. And I said, that's fine; put my name on that.

DeVorkin:

Was Van Allen the first author on that?

Fraser:

I can't remember. A funny thing: I was at a party the other night with one of the editors from SCIENCE, and I said, I had a paper in SCIENCE once. (laughs).

DeVorkin:

You had several. There is one that we can talk about later, on the Aerobee sounding rocket, "A New Vehicle for Research in the Upper Atmosphere." [8]

Fraser:

Oh, yes, that's it. This is the one. This is the one we were referring to.

DeVorkin:

Oh, that has nothing to do with the cosmic ray stuff. That's on the Aerobee. You must have had several papers.

Fraser:

No, that's the only one. I wanted to have an article in a publication with a reputation, and get a patent. And I did both of those things. That was my goal. But that's the paper. Where were we?

DeVorkin:

The fact is that you are not a cosmic ray physicist.

Fraser:

No.

DeVorkin:

Were you encouraged to go to learn a bit about cosmic rays?

Fraser:

Oh yes, yes, of course.

DeVorkin:

And to what degree do you think you did?

Fraser:

I just touched the surface. I was interested in this, of course, at Victoreen, because you see, we were measuring radiation, and cosmic radiation was a part of that. Who was the chap from Chicago that was the cosmic ray physicist?

DeVorkin:

Marcel Shein.

Fraser:

Shein, yes, and there was a chap that wrote a book. Karl Compton, you know the Compton Effect. Yes, sure.

DeVorkin:

Compton, sure. Also Millikan.

Fraser:

Yes, Compton, Millikan. I read some of their papers and their books when I was at Victoreen. But I must confess, it was not my forte.

DeVorkin:

But was it something that made you more comfortable or more motivated to work in this area with Jim Van Allen?

Fraser:

No, I just like the hardware. I just like to see generators, alternators work off a storage battery and give us 250 volts to run those tubes. I like to see the pen recorders go like this, and I like to see the telemetering filters work in the different channels. One of the things I did was to tune the radio receivers used in the Aerobee, a fail-safe Aerobee system, which had a pulser. And if the Aerobee went outside of the safety limits, you could explode it to bring it down. Well, you wanted something that wouldn't blow itself up, if everything was okay. So I helped design the receiver, and aligned it and did all of that. I worked with my hands. I knew every control wire in the Aerobee and V-2. I know this wire went to there. When you pushed this switch, this would happen, the interlocks and the relays. And, to a certain extent, the packaging of it too. And certainly, the wringing out of all the electronics. In other words, making sure, that we got rid of crosstalk; that when you put a pulse in here, it came out there; that when you put one in here you got coincidence. I rang out all the electronics that way. Now, that's not cosmic rays; that could have been anything.

DeVorkin:

Understood.

Fraser:

I was fascinated by this.

DeVorkin:

Considering your fascination, is there any chance at all that there are pieces of the V-2 era cosmic ray equipment around anywhere?

Fraser:

No. Human beings are that way; and APL as an institution is one of the worst. They throw everything away.

DeVorkin:

So, you are sure of that?

Fraser:

I'm sure of that.

DeVorkin:

That's too bad.

Fraser:

It is too bad. You see, that's one of the problems we have had at this laboratory. I guess, a lot of places have it; but we don't document things. I think, though, you will have to admit, with my three papers there, I documented when that project closed off. I documented it.

DeVorkin:

In the Bumblebee report series?

Fraser:

In the Bumblebee, yes.

DeVorkin:

Yes. This is Report 81. I hope to be able to get the other reports.

Fraser:

Well, if you will return them, I'll give you mine.

DeVorkin:

That would be marvelous. I'll identify each one of these.

Fraser:

There you are. Those are my personal copies.

DeVorkin:

"Aerobee High-Altitude Sounding Rocket, Design, Construction and Use" in this Bumblebee Series Report No. 95, December, 1948," and "High-Altitude Research of the Applied Physics Laboratory" by L.W. Fraser, May, 1951, Bumblebee Series Report No. 153. [9] Where did the word, Bumblebee, come from anyway?

Fraser:

That's a good story. There was a cartoon in the early days of the guided missiles which showed a bumblebee; and it said — I'll paraphrase — according to the laws of aerodynamics, the bumblebee cannot fly. But the bumblebee does not know this, and he goes on and flies anyway.

DeVorkin:

And that's it?

Fraser:

That's it.

DeVorkin:

Ah, that's marvelous. Did you coin it?

Fraser:

Oh, goodness, no. I don't know where it came from.

DeVorkin:

Okay. Where would the entire run set of these reports be? APL, I would hope.

Fraser:

They would be the only ones. APL has them, but they only have one copy each. There are only three that have to do with the high-altitude work.

DeVorkin:

Okay. Is this something we can deposit in our collection? Or would you like me to xerox it and send you back the original?

Fraser:

I'd like you to xerox it, really, because, oh, that's my pride and joy.

DeVorkin:

Absolutely. You do have this one?

Fraser:

Yes.

DeVorkin:

Okay, so I will xerox these and send them back.

Fraser:

You see, I have given them away from time to time, and I had quite a few of them, because they printed a lot of them, and they didn't want to store them here. But talking about documenting, I just felt that I ought to document this.

DeVorkin:

Absolutely. You mean you did this on your own?

Fraser:

Oh, I did this on my own, sure. Nobody told me to do it. That's the way APL works, you see, and has always worked. That's why I'm still here (laughs).

DeVorkin:

Are there laboratory notebooks of the development of any of the instrumentation?

Fraser:

No, no.

DeVorkin:

Okay. Let me then, go to something slightly different. The work of your upper-atmosphere group was an APL project, of course, but the firings of the V-2s were coordinated through a V-2 panel that Jim Van Allen was on. It was in the Army. I would like to know if you had any contact with their deliberations.

Fraser:

Oh, on the fringes, I guess, yes. I used to go to some of them once in awhile. I was busy back home getting the hardware together.

DeVorkin:

Sure, but did Jim Van Allen ever come back frustrated about any meeting where he didn't get a particular berth on a rocket he wanted?

Fraser:

Oh, I don't think so. No. Not that I remember.

DeVorkin:

I'm interested in finding out if there was any overt competition between NRL, APL, the other groups.

Fraser:

Not particularly. It seemed to me that we were able to get space for all the stuff that we were capable of developing. Now, I can't remember whether other people put things in there or not. I don't know.

DeVorkin:

Yes, some did.

Fraser:

Some did, yes. Okay, but when we were assigned rockets, I can assure you that it took every bit of energy that our tiny group had to get the things done in time to get them in there; because you didn't postpone a flight with that thing, as you do a Shuttle, or something like that.

DeVorkin:

Why was that? Why couldn't you postpone flights?

Fraser:

Too many people involved. It was the proving ground. The crew was out there. The General Electric group fired it, and NRL put the telemetering in, the delivery of the fuel from down at Fort Bliss or from El Paso and all the rest of it. There were no postponements, certainly not for somebody getting a free ride. After all, these were primarily fired to evaluate rockets, not to explore the upper atmosphere.

DeVorkin:

Yes. Did you feel, though, that it was a free ride? or that, I mean, how did you feel as an APL group, participating in this? Did you see it as a necessary thing, or that you were a necessary evil to the military? What kind of contact did you have?

Fraser:

Oh, no, no. The relations were so good that one couldn't feel that. I'm sure we all felt we were doing pioneer work here. We had an opportunity to look at the atmosphere from altitudes that had never been reached before.

DeVorkin:

But you did feel as if you were a guest?

Fraser:

Oh yes. That was my feeling when I had to take the stuff out there mounted in the warhead, or give it to somebody to mount. You put it where they said you ought to put it. You have a cable coming down here, one over here, and not over here; but, we had full freedom to put in there, in the warhead space, the nose cone, what we wanted to put in within the constraints of weight. We convinced them to take that 2,000 pound lead igloo. That was overloading it, and we all knew it wouldn't go as high. But that was one of the better experiments. No, no, the relations were excellent. And I was out at the conferences where they had the pre-briefing and the debriefings. And I was out there when NRL put in our control boxes and things that we had adjuncts to, ancillary equipment to the warhead. We didn't have very much of that. So we had to connect up with means to turn our equipment on through their control systems, you see. We had to match those carefully because you didn't just climb up there and turn it on, then come back down again. It was all done from the block house.

DeVorkin:

Right. Were there any interface problems?

Fraser:

Not particularly. We worked those out ahead of time. We would have some little conferences to do that.

DeVorkin:

No plugs that didn't fit into receivers?

Fraser:

Oh no, no.

DeVorkin:

So that was all good communication.

Fraser:

It was good communication, yes.

DeVorkin:

Did the military ever — I mean, people you would talk to maybe over a beer or something — wonder about what you were doing? What kind of a sense did you get from them? Did you have contact with military people?

Fraser:

Not particularly, no. No, it seemed to me there were two separate things. The space was there. Go ahead and use it. Just don't interfere with what we are doing, and you go your way. Now, from Jim's standpoint it may be different. Remember that he would say, "I would like to do this experiment." And we would get together and say three geiger tubes or it takes ten. It takes two about here. It takes one down here. And we would draw it up. And then he would more or less go about his business; and the rest of us would take over. And he would come around every once in awhile and say, "gee, do you think that will work?" And we would say, "we think so.„ Okay, and away he would go. He was not one for leaning over your shoulder; that's for darned sure. That's what made it so pleasant working with him.

DeVorkin:

Do you have any photographs of the test equipment you used to calibrate these things, or any pictures from that era?

Fraser:

I don't have pictures of the equipment that we used. It was just standard laboratory equipment, oscilloscopes, signal generators, and so forth. And we made our own control panels with enough meters to monitor what was going on in the instrumentation before launch from the electrical standpoint alone.

DeVorkin:

Yes, just as you had pictures from your proximity fuse era, do you have pictures at White Sands?

Fraser:

Oh, yes, yes.

DeVorkin:

I'd be very interested in seeing them.

Fraser:

Well, do you want to see them now?

DeVorkin:

We could. We're looking through a file of pictures, and we have come across an Applied Physics Laboratory publication called SO COLUMBUS WAS RIGHT. [10] And it's clippings from more than 1,000 newspapers, magazines and radio, giving coverage of the Applied Physics Laboratory, U. S. Navy Earth Picture Release, October 1948. And Mr. Fraser has kindly allowed us to take this to xerox, and then to send him back the original. We are now looking at a photograph dated 10-9-46. It has a Number 945 on the upper left. A number of people are standing around what appears to be an NRL nose cone, about a big rack. And, can you identify the people and what's going on? [11]

Fraser:

Oh yes, this is Dr. R. P. Peterson.

DeVorkin:

On the left?

Fraser:

And this is Russell Ostrander. And this is me.

DeVorkin:

You're sort of just seeing …

Fraser:

Yes, I'm up in there making sure that this thing … See, this is one of the final fits — this was our responsibility. It may be an NRL nose cone, but it was our responsibility to see that no interferences developed as the nose cone was lowered over the instrumentation.

DeVorkin:

And you're the one with the large checkered tie.

Fraser:

Yes, that's right, and head showing is J. Vincent Smith. And coming around, Dean Klampe.

DeVorkin:

On the right hand side.

Fraser:

And the other is Frank Loomis.

DeVorkin:

Where would Jim Van Allen be in this sort of operation?

Fraser:

Oh, goodness only knows. We were the guys putting this thing together for him, you see.

DeVorkin:

We are now looking at a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Magazine article by Clyde T. Holliday, titled: "Seeing the Earth from 80 Miles Up." It is in Volume XCVIII (98), No. 4, October, 1950. I think what we should do is have a copy of this for the record. There are some very good pictures in here. It shows pictures of the earth's curvature, firing V-2s. They are really good-looking Kodachromes. There is some optical trackings that's going on. I'm just making this for the record, and I think we should have a copy of this for the record. Were you working on this particular flight? Were you out at White Sands? Do you recall?

Fraser:

Yes.

DeVorkin:

Are you in any of these pictures?

Fraser:

No.

DeVorkin:

Okay. I'll put this back here.

Fraser:

That's what it looks like out there.

DeVorkin:

This is a snapshot. Who was in this picture?

Fraser:

Yes, that's me and that's one of the G.I. drivers, yes.

DeVorkin:

And the fellow on the right?

Fraser:

Oh, J.J. Hopfield. Do you know about him?

DeVorkin:

That's Hopfield.

Fraser:

That's J. J. Hopfield, sure. He's in here, yes.

DeVorkin:

That's the first picture I've ever seen of him. [12] Maybe there are some more.

Fraser:

Yes, there are some more, yes.

DeVorkin:

There is no mark on this picture.

Fraser:

Yes, that's mine again.

DeVorkin:

If we could take this, also.

Fraser:

Okay.

DeVorkin:

Unless you have the negatives.

Fraser:

No, no. I may or may not. I have some. This is the driver, yes. This is me and this is John Hopfield, on the right. We were out on a recovery party.

DeVorkin:

So he's the gray-haired fellow on the right hand side. Who are the people on the left?

Fraser:

This is Russ Ostrander on the far left. Art Coyne, Fraser and a driver. And Hopfield on the right, yes.

DeVorkin:

I certainly want to ask you about Hopfield, and talk about him a little later. Now, here is a close-up. Is this the same group?

Fraser:

Yes, with the addition of one of the German scientists; and we don't know his name.

DeVorkin:

With an arrow?

Fraser:

Yes. Well, that's the way we had to ride around on recovery parties.

DeVorkin:

Yes, that's a great picture.

Fraser:

We started out at 8 o'clock in the morning and got back at midnight, going out to recover the camera, with one of warm lemonade, and no spare tire. We had two jeeps, and six of us came back in one jeep, because we had to abandon one out there. Well, these are the fun things. You bitch about them at the time, but it's the fun thing then.

DeVorkin:

Would it be appropriate to talk about J.J. Hopfield and your contact with him?

Fraser:

If you want, yes. I don't know — somewhere, there is a copy of his spectrograph.

DeVorkin:

I'd love that. I'd love a copy of that. We are talking about J.J. Hopfield; and I am referring to your May, 1951 high-altitude research at the Applied Physics Lab, [13] Figure 11 on page 24. It is about the best photograph I have ever seen of the Hopfield spectrograph. Could you give me your recollection of how this spectrograph was developed? What was J.J. Hopfield's relationship to the high-altitude group? How long had he been at APL?

Fraser:

I'm not sure. He was there during the war, but I can't remember what he did. He was a theoretical type. Our job was to implement his spectrograph. He wanted a spectrograph above the appreciable atmosphere, where you see the true solar spectra. And here was a chance to get it without the atmosphere intervening, so it was an ideal opportunity. So that we did. And he was an old line experimenter, very impractical sort of a chap, very likable chap.

DeVorkin:

You say, impractical?

Fraser:

Well, I'm searching for the word. Well, let me give you an example (laughs). He was out at White Sands with his spectrograph one time; and he liked to practice golf shots. So he'd get out there, out in the boondocks, and hit a golf ball out, and then walk out and get it. And the desert sort of chewed up his golf ball. So there was a G.I. with a V-2, a V-2 is a pretty good size, particularly for those days. A G.I. with a great big spray gun was spraying this V-2 with paint for display for an open house at White Sands. And so ole' John Hopfield comes up and says, hey, I wonder if you could spray this golf ball for me. (laugh). He had his spray like this, you know. Well, you see what I mean? Well, he approached his spectrograph in much the same way. He was the bane of us practical people who had to get his ideas implemented and instrumented in a hurry. It was a very difficult job, because he was no help whatsoever. His mechanical aptitude was not too good. He knew what he wanted, you see. He was another case like Phil Rudnik, I mentioned before. He knew what he wanted, but he didn't know how to get it. And he wasn’t very good at explaining what he wanted. But he was a grand ole' person. I shouldn't, perhaps, tell the above story.

DeVorkin:

He had an associate, Harold Clearman.

Fraser:

That's right.

DeVorkin:

What was Harold Clearman's role?

Fraser:

Just to help Hopfield; that's all I know. He wasn't here too long.

DeVorkin:

I see. Okay, they did write a few papers together

Fraser:

Oh, yes. They did. Yes, they did some good work. One of the problems we had with that thing from a practical standpoint was to get out what we called a sun seeker; that is, something to keep pointing the thing to the sun. And I must confess that among our team we just didn't have the skill to do that. Of course, it's doneall the time now, as you know.

DeVorkin:

Sure, but that was the first one that was ever made that was operational at all.

Fraser:

Is that so?

DeVorkin:

I believe so. It was a one-axis sun seeker, and I'm a bit confused from some of the drawings and texts in your own Bumblebee report. [14] I was wondering if you remember it well enough to help out with this? Can I show it to you?

Fraser:

Yes, sure.

DeVorkin:

Okay, great. On this particular diagram, Figure 46, "Warhead Instrumentation," you notice that there are two mirrors. You had two mirrors there coming into the spectrograph on either side, a set of two mirrors through two little holes on the skin. But further in, in a larger diagram of the instrument itself (this is Figure 58, Rocket Borne Solar Spectrograph). You notice this has one mirror on each side, feeding a slit, coming through what was called a cowling, or a set of holes. Now, the text on the page before says: "Two cowled holes at the side of the rocket admits sunlight to the front aluminized diffusing mirrors, and a plain front aluminized mirror in front of each slit of the spectrograph." So that statement on page 69 agrees with what you've got here on Figure 46, page 56, where you've got a diffusing mirror, and then a mirror in front of the slit. Now, that certainly wasn't the sun seeker on Figure 46.

Fraser:

No, it wasn't.

DeVorkin:

Okay, but the later figure here, where you have only one mirror, Figure 58, was this the sun-follower then, the sun-seeker? And I'm wondering how it worked?

Fraser:

Now, I can't remember. I can't help you there. All I know is that it wasn't eminently successful, because we just didn't have the servo knowledge. This was a case where you put two photocells, and you operated the mirror to keep them in between the two. But that was just something, to be perfectly honest, that was beyond the capabilities of those of us who were commissioned to do it. And we didn't have access to somebody who could do it. There were people around here who probably could have, but we had too many things to do. We had a very limited facility to do all of this work, to get everything. When John got his spectrograph, our job was to mount it in there so it wouldn't fall out or break loose.

DeVorkin:

So you didn't build the spectrograph itself?

Fraser:

He did, I think, yes, with our help.

DeVorkin:

He did here?

Fraser:

Yes, I think so. He drew up, or told us what he wanted. We must have made the film cassettes and other parts. Nobody did that for us. We had Willmotte, and we had a couple of good machinists with us here, the kind of guys you could wave your arms and say, "I want something about like this," and out he would come with it. You didn't have to make elaborate drawings, nor did we have to get budget estimates, or all the rest of it, as you do now.

DeVorkin:

So it sounds like the documentation does not exist.

Fraser:

That's right. It wouldn't exist. It probably was all just cobbled-up. That's the way we did a good bit of stuff.

DeVorkin:

Well, how would you suggest I go about learning more about the Hopfield-Clearman spectrograph?

Fraser:

No chance, unless you could maybe locate Clearman. And did you ask me where he was? Somebody asked; no, I know what it was. It was the people who are getting out the 40th anniversary book. They wanted to know where Clearman was. I said I hadn't the slightest idea.

DeVorkin:

The last I heard, he was at Tufts, but I am not sure about that now. Did you have any contact with Krause's group at NRL?

Fraser:

Yes, we did.

DeVorkin:

What are your recollections of their cosmic ray work? Because they were flying similar instruments.

Fraser:

Yes, they were. Well, I don't know. Off the record, I think we did a lot more than they did, but that's all right. That's off the record. (laughs). That's right. You ask me; I tell you, but, no, I don't know. So I maybe shouldn't say that. There again, the implications of the scientific results of these studies, I just didn't have time for that sort of stuff. I was working day and night to get these things out. I must confess that after we got one out and got back from White Sands, we didn't strain ourselves too much. But we were exhausted. It was one of those cases where you work yourself to death; and then, gee, you just can't start right in and generate something right away.

DeVorkin:

Yes. Do you remember any flight deadlines that you missed?

Fraser:

Oh, we didn't miss any, no way. I remember some we damn near didn't miss, working all night. I mean that literally.

DeVorkin:

Yes. The first flight of the Hopfield-Clearman spectrograph was in October of 1946, as I recall. Do you have recollections of finding the film canisters out at White Sands?

Fraser:

No, I don't. Maybe I wasn't there. I didn't go every time. I went most of the times.

DeVorkin:

Yes. I see you in those pictures with Hopfield.

Fraser:

Yes, well, that was the very first flight. That was the June 30th, 1946.

DeVorkin:

Oh, now why would he have been out there?

Fraser:

Because we took everybody who worked in the group, and gave them at one time or another a taste of what you had to meet up with. We took our young draftsman. He was a married kid 22 years old, but he was really good. And why did we take our draftsman? Because, at first, he had put a very important plug in back of the launching rail on the Aerobee tower, so to do any testing, or changing, you had to remove this great big railroad rail from the Aerobee tower to get the plug in. So we said, "Bob, that was a goof, and so you are going out to White Sands, and you are going to see what this looks like."

DeVorkin:

So he did a little designing himself?

Fraser:

Oh, he did things like that, absolutely. "And you're not going to put the plug in back of the rail, are you?” "No, I'm not," he says. So, for a young kid like that, you know, it was an adventure, to fly out there. In those days, flying was not what it is today, as you know. It took you all day to get out to White Sands.

DeVorkin:

Yes. Did you have any participation in building the cameras that Holliday used?

Fraser:

Oh, yes.

DeVorkin:

Including design? What was your participation?

Fraser:

No, he was the design man. He designed those things. Well, we had them built for him, you see. He would draw them up. We would have them built. And we would see that they got mounted in there, that the electrical connections were made, and the holes were cut in the V-2, in the warhead, and all that sort of stuff.

DeVorkin:

Was there an on-board sequencing thing to advance the film and take the pictures? Or was that controlled at all from the ground?

Fraser:

It was a movie camera, and it kerchunked, kerchunked, kerchunked. He had some still cameras, too, with an advance mechanism, I believe. He passed away here with a stroke just about six months ago, or we could find out. He was a wonderful person, a wonderful person.

DeVorkin:

Who is still here? You mentioned Henry Porter is around. Who else is here?

Fraser:

From that operation?

DeVorkin:

Yes.

Fraser:

Vinnie Smith, J. Vincent Smith, is the only one out of that group that is still around here.

DeVorkin:

And what was his role in the group?

Fraser:

Well, he was a technician.

DeVorkin:

What was your feeling about the upper atmosphere group here at APL? How was it regarded by other groups at APL?

Fraser:

That's a good question. It was regarded by other groups at APL as a drain on the facilities of the laboratory (laughs), because APL was so intent on getting a guided missile that any effort that was not immediately directed toward that was not good.

DeVorkin:

You mean, APL itself?

Fraser:

I'm talking about APL, within APL. There were remarks made in public about the fact that anything that was done in the V-2/Aerobee group was just detracting from the main guided missile effort.

DeVorkin:

Who made those kinds of statements?

Fraser:

No, that's off the record. I wouldn't say.

DeVorkin:

You said they were in public.

Fraser:

Well, I mean, APLers.

DeVorkin:

Oh, I see, not in print.

Fraser:

No, not in print. No, in a meeting.

DeVorkin:

I see.

Fraser:

I'd rather not say.

DeVorkin:

Did this have anything to do with Jim Van Allen leaving?

Fraser:

Well, in a way. Jim Van Allen left because we couldn't get funding. That was the main reason he left. We couldn't get funding to carry this work on. See, we had used up all of our Aerobees. Now, somebody had to go out and buy some more. And it would be only natural that APL should get in there and say, gee, we want a lot more of these. But we didn't get the support. Again, this is kind of off the record. We didn't get the support of our front office in this.

DeVorkin:

To go out for Navy money?

Fraser:

To go out for Navy money, or keeping us working. I can remember talking to our director at the time.

DeVorkin:

That was not Tuve?

Fraser:

No. I said, "you ought to keep this group together. Look what we've done here. It's been eminently successful. It's pioneer work." But Jim left, because he didn't get support. And if you'll remember, Jim's picture was on the front of TIME or 'NEWSWEEK, which? [15]

DeVorkin:

I think it was TIME.

Fraser:

Yes, and the director later came up to me and put his arm around me, and says, "see, if you had stayed with him, your picture might have been on the front of TIME Magazine (laughs)."

DeVorkin:

Did Van Allen want you to go with him?

Fraser:

No, because he was going to a place where he was a one-man band with his graduate students to do his work.

DeVorkin:

Yes, that's right.

Fraser:

No, there was never any mention of that. I wouldn’t have gone, anyway.

DeVorkin:

Were you pretty secure here, as it was?

Fraser:

Oh yes.

DeVorkin:

Did the section really fold after Van Allen left?

Fraser:

Oh, yes.

DeVorkin:

I know that Hopfield left.

Fraser:

We fired one last Aerobee. I can't remember what it was. It is in the book. And that was it. And this is unfortunate, as you can probably imagine, because we picked space work up again, with the advent of Sputnik; and there was that gap from 1951 to 1957 that we didn't do any space work. Now, what would have happened, had we continued on, I don't know. We have done, as you know, quite well in space, without that; but one just never knows. As it so happened, I believe I told you, I have done no space work since that time.

DeVorkin:

Right.

Fraser:

When Aerobee and V-2, high altitude folded here, I went back with Walt Good on control systems for missiles. Of course, they had over that period come of age. And we were making control systems for missiles, not for test vehicles. So that's what I did there. Yes.

DeVorkin:

Did you have any contact with Greenstein?

Fraser:

Jesse Greenstein? Yes, we did. I can't remember what it was, but he would come around to see us. I remember sitting in one meeting with him somewhere, sometime. All these were names that place with faces, and at one time or another, I had shaken their hands. I was the guy that built the hardware.

DeVorkin:

We're at the end of this tape. I'd like to spend the last minute or two talking about what we will talk about next time. We haven't talked about the development of the Aerobee rocket at all.

Fraser:

No, we haven't.

DeVorkin:

Did you have a participation in that?

Fraser:

Oh yes.

DeVorkin:

So we should talk about it?

Fraser:

Yes, so we should talk about it.

DeVorkin:

Okay. So we'll talk about development of the Aerobee. After I read the other reports, I'm sure there will be questions that will come up. During this period between 1951 and 1957-58, I want to talk about the control work you did do, I imagine in electronics. Can you give me some idea of what type of work you got into after Sputnik here?

Fraser:

What I did?

DeVorkin:

Did you come back at all into space work?

Fraser:

No, no, not at all.

DeVorkin:

Okay, but APL did.

Fraser:

It was a whole new world. The space work was largely done by people who didn't know me, with one exception, and the one exception was a chap that I had not worked too much with. Now, had he known me better, perhaps he would have asked me to go there. I don't know.

DeVorkin:

Who was that?

Fraser:

Dick Kerschner. I knew him, and he knew me and everything. But we had never worked together. He had worked with another gang of people, many of whom he took over to space. And was still in missiles. I went into missile work. I did a lot with missile work.

DeVorkin:

Did you ever have contact with Johns Hopkins in general?

Fraser:

No.

DeVorkin:

Okay, so you have no idea what the relationships were like between Johns Hopkins and APL?

Fraser:

Oh, they were very good, of course. I went over there a couple of times when they had some dinners. But that was it. Yes, Isaiah Bowman had something to do with it. He was a resident of Johns Hopkins for many years.

DeVorkin:

We will concentrate next time on the development of the Aerobee, and pick up material that I haven't covered, that I read through here. Okay, you're talking about a talk that Jim Van Allen made.

Fraser:

We'll have to fill in when it was, and where. But it was Jim's paper, given at a meeting of something or other, the Meteorological Society in Oslo, Norway. Dr. Gibson, our director, read the paper for Jim. This paper fell into the hands of our public relations department here; one Aubrey Thomas, who was an ex-newspaper reporter. And one of the problems that we had with Aubrey was that when the newspapers, the media, came to us in the program, they would, as newspaper people do, ask all sorts of leading questions. We had to be very careful, because we are the Johns Hopkins University. And that's a name that is zealously guarded in the academic world. This was one hot night of 99 degrees in my living room before air conditioning, around 1947, at the time of this paper. I received a telephone call from the science editor; I believe it was the WASHINGTON POST. I don't recall his name. And he wanted to know about the statement made in the paper that Jim Van Allen was making. And I said, well, you want to talk to Aubrey Thomas. The reporter responded: "Well, Aubrey Thomas referred me to L.W. Fraser;" and so I said, well, that's me, go ahead; what's your question?" Well, this paper had in it the statement that rockets would eventually circumnavigate the earth, would be in orbit around the earth. This was before any space work, before Sputnik, before anything like that. Jim had made the statement that someday man might even orbit the earth. And the reporter wanted to know, did he make that statement? And I said, yes, he did; and I had visions of the WASHINGTON POST: "Johns Hopkins says man will orbit the earth." And I said, “now you wait a minute here, Buster! I know you have to get a story, but I said, no way, are you going to put that in the WASHINGTON POST with Johns Hopkins' name tied to it. If you do that, I don't have a job." So I finally convinced him, but by golly, I was scared to death. Because, you know, that is just the kind of stuff, sensationalism that Johns Hopkins does not go for.

DeVorkin:

Right. So someone here asked Jim Van Allen to take it out. Was it Gibson himself?

Fraser:

It was. That's off the record. Well, he's gone, but that's who it was. Yes. But again, it was the same sort of an idea. It had Johns Hopkins' name on it, and it had Dr. Gibson's laboratory connected with it, you see.

DeVorkin:

But how did the reporter find out about it?

Fraser:

Well, Aubrey Thomas gave him the paper. He was our publicity man. See, he was a former newspaper reporter.

DeVorkin:

Before it was struck out?

Fraser:

Yes.

DeVorkin:

I see. Did Aubrey Thomas survive?

Fraser:

Oh yes. One of the things he NEVER did would be to fend off these guys from us poor types that had to do it. And boy, I was just scared to death about that sort of thing, particularly when the University's name was brought up with it. I'm connected with the University. And "Lorie Fraser of Johns Hopkins University said." You know, it's quoted.

DeVorkin:

Did you have an official University title at all?

Fraser:

No.

DeVorkin:

Okay, but you were connected.

Fraser:

I was connected, I'm on the staff.

DeVorkin:

That's right. Okay, that's fascinating. I just want to mention for the tape, also, that you gave me for duplication another photograph with A.V. Gangnes and yourself at electronics testing, and a number of xeroxes, which we will copy, of some very interesting newspaper articles and letters. And I want to repeat that we are very interested in collecting any knowledge of archival materials that still survive, letters, working notes, pictures…

Fraser:

Here are Jim Van Allen's files; what's left here, and I haven't gone through them yet.

DeVorkin:

My heavens! They are sitting right there in that cubby hole. Oh boy! (laugh hard). Thank you, very, very much.

Fraser:

Okay. Well, as I said in my letter, I just love to talk about this, because it was great. From the standpoint of a career, it was the most exciting part of my career. I've had some other excitement, too, but nothing like this, nothing as rewarding, exciting, as this was. I feel privileged to have been associated with Jim Van Allen.

DeVorkin:

That's great… Well, I'm sure I'll have more questions about it when we meet again.

[1]Pictures in SAOHP — SSE Working Files, NASM.

[2]SAOHP - SSE Working Files.

[3]See: Obituary, Physics Today 36 (July, 1983), 78-79.

[4]H. Porter was contacted in June, 1983 (SAOHP file).

[5]L.W. Fraser and E.H. Siegler, "High Altitude Research Using the V-2 Rocket, March '46 — April 1947". Bumblebee Rpt. 81, (APL, July 1948).

[6]L.W. Fraser, "High Altitude Research at APL" Bumblebee Report #153 (APL, May 1951).

[7]Science 108 (1948), 746-7.

[8]Science 108 (1948), 746-F.

[9]SAOHP - SSE Working Files, NASM.

[10]APL, "So Columbus was Right..."(Press Release after Oct. 1948 Flight, undated).

[11]SSE - SAOHP Working Files.

[12]SSE - SAOHP Working Files.

[13]L.W. Fraser, "High Altitude Research at the Applied Physics Laboratory." Bumblebee Series Report #153 (APL, May 1951).

[14]L.W. Fraser, "High Altitude Research at the Applied Physics Laboratory." Bumblebee Series Report #153 (APL, May 1951).

[15]TIME 5/4/59.