Oral History Transcript — Dr. John W. Coltman
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Interview with Dr. John W. Coltman
John Coltman; June 30, 2004
ABSTRACT: Born July 19, 1915 in Cleveland, OH; family background adn early childhood growing up in Cleveland; early interest in acoustics, the flute, electronics, and radio; graduated from high school in 1933; attended Case Institute of Technology, graduating with a B.S. in physics in 1937; moved to University of Illinois for graduate school, specialized in nuclear physics research (also maintained abiding interest in acoustics); thesis research on nuclear cross sections classified by wartime Manhattan Project; completed Ph.D. in 1941; awarded Westinghouse Research Fellowship in 1941 to work on wartime microwave electronics at corporate laboratories in Pittsburgh; collaborated with researchers at MIT Radiation Laboratory; concentrated on development of magnetrons and other high-power electron tubes; accepted full time position at Westinghouse in 1944; developed x-ray image amplifier, major innovation for medical fluoroscopy; transitioned into management positions initially overseeing electronics projects (and some nuclear physics work); graduatlly moved into senior management positions focusing on research strategy and policy; retired in 1980; continued work in acoustics field.
Lassman:We are starting the first day of our autobiographical career interview. Iíve given you a copy of the question set, and Iíd like to start off just about family background and youth. You were born in Cleveland in 1915. Can you tell me a little bit about your familyís background?
Coltman:Yes. My father was a Clevelander also. His father was a fairly noted Cleveland artist, a painter. We have many of his paintings here in the house. My father, however, took up science. He was educated in Cleveland high schools and in the Munich Technische Hochschule. My grandfather had gone to Europe to study painting, and my father took the opportunity to spend three years in Munich at the Technische Hochschule. Though he didnít get a degree, he came back to Cleveland and got a job in the National Carbon Company.
Lassman:What did he study in Germany?
Coltman:Chemistry. He was an analytical chemist with them for the rest of his active career.
Lassman:How long did that last?
Coltman:He died in 1950 at the age of 63, just before he retired. My wife and I each wrote up a family background so that our children and grandchildren would have a record of where they came from. My father was born in 1886. The Coltman family, Coltman ancestors, go back quite early. The earliest one I have a record of is somewhere around 1736. Theyíre originally from England.
Lassman:When your father worked at National Carbon, was that in Cleveland? Did they have a plant there? Or was it a research laboratory?
Coltman:Yes. They had a research laboratory. That became part of Union Carbide.
Lassman:And what kind of materials was he analyzing?
Coltman:Their business was largely batteries, Eveready batteries. But he was head of the analytical department there, and there were always lots of things to analyze. He was a traditional wet chemist.
Lassman:Did he get a degree when he came back to the United States?
Coltman:No, he didnít. He was a voracious reader, and he was a very well-educated man, much of it by his own reading.
Lassman:And how about your mother? What was her background and occupation?
Coltman:Now, my motherís parents emigrated from Hungary in the late 1800s. She was one of nine children, all of whom were very successful. Some of them became quite rich. I had rich uncles, though our family was middle class. She met my father in high school, Central High School in Cleveland. And she went on to Western Reserve University and got a degree there.
Coltman:Iím not sure. It was some combination of physical sciences, or what was called natural history. Iím not sure what her major was, really.
Lassman:Were her siblings also all college-educated too?
Coltman:Almost all. All but two were college [educated]. Actually, they supported each other. The oldest one financed the next oneís college career and so forth, pretty well down the line.
Lassman:That was rare for those days, especially for women.
Coltman:Yes, it was.
Lassman:Did your mother have a career when she married your father?
Coltman:Only as a homemakeróa traditional family.
Lassman:Do you have any siblings?
Coltman:Yes. I have a sister. Sheís living in Rocky River at the present time, in Ohio.
Lassman:Younger sister or older sister?
Coltman:Sheís older, a year and a half older.
Lassman:And whatís her background?
Coltman:Well, she was married to a schoolteacher who was at one time a high school football coach—but mostly teaching. And she also was a homemaker.
Lassman:You mentioned your motherís family was a wealthy family. Were they industrialists?
Coltman:No. My grandfather, my motherís father, when he came over from Hungary, went into business selling baby carriages in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And then into dry goods, as it was called then. Then he took a position in the Bailey Company, a department store in Cleveland, one of the large stores. He had an administrative position there supervising sales personnel. One uncle was a surgeon. Others were really into retail business.
Lassman:So all professionals?
Lassman:And were they all in Cleveland, or a lot of them in Cleveland?
Coltman:No, they were spread all over.
Lassman:Getting to your childhood, Iíd like to find out more about your childhood hobbies and activities, things that you enjoyed doing, and the importance of learning in the household. You mentioned your father was a voracious reader.
Coltman:Yes. He also liked to work with his hands. He made clocks, among other things. Iím not talking about the woodwork. Iím talking about the mechanisms. He did a lot of woodworking, too. We spent a lot of time together. In fact, my father was by far the most influential person in what I turned out to be.
Coltman:He spent quite a bit of time showing me how to do things with my hands, and teaching me how to do things with my mind.
Lassman:Did he have a shop in the house?
Coltman:Yes, a small shop in the basement, not very elaborate; mostly hand tools.
Lassman:These clock mechanisms, did he sell those?
Coltman:No, just made them for a hobby to see how good a clock he could make. He also played the flute, and I took that up in about seventh grade. So we were very much alike in our interests and in the things we did.
Lassman:And did he have an impact on your interest in science and technology?
Lassman:When you were growing up in high school, what kinds of books were you reading, magazines, things like that?
Coltman:Well, I read quite a bit. We were in New York for five years. I lived there. When we came back, letís see, I was ten years old. I spent the summer getting acquainted with the library up in Little Italy. We were living in my grandfatherís home for the summer until we got a house of our own.
Lassman:This was in New York?
Coltman:No, this was in Cleveland, after we came from New York, back to Cleveland. My grandfather had a number of books: the usual, like Robert Louis Stephenson; I worked my way through Moby Dick and The Count of Monte Christo, the original three-volume edition of The Count of Monte Christo.
Lassman:And you did this as a teenager?
Coltman:As a ten-year-old. I got a taste for that semi-classical literature, if you like.
Lassman:Any science books or technology books that stand out?
Coltman:Not at that time. In high school, I started to read more. I was much interested in Edisonís career. I read some biographies of him. And I read Millikanís The Electron. I was kind of fascinated by that discoveryóor actually, not the discovery, but the measurement of the [electron] charge that he made. So science was a considerable interest of mine in high school. I had good teachers. I had an excellent physics teacher, and chemistry teacher also.
Lassman:Did you discuss science and technology with your father also?
Coltman:Yes, to some extent. But he was interested in mathematics, had done a lot of calculations. He made a table of 12-place logarithms using numerical techniques that he had read about. So I was raised in a background where there was a considerable amount of science and technology going on.
Lassman:Was there a religious orientation in the household or in the community that was significant in any way?
Coltman:Well, I went to Sunday school. Both my mother and father taught Sunday school in a local Christian church, though I was never deeply involved. We brought our kids up going to church, and we still go, not terribly regularly. But weíre members of Beulah Congregation.
Lassman:Tell me a little bit about your early interest in radio and electronics. Where did that originate?
Coltman:Actually, my first hobby of any intensity was chemistry. I had a chemical lab in the basement and built some instrumentsóa balance and a fume hood. I must admit, my chemistry ran considerably towards fireworks and other kinds of more or less spectacular demonstrations rather than any deep search into the science itself!
Lassman:How old were you at this time?
Coltman:Well, letís see. I was in junior high school, and all through from that time till about my first year in high school. I came across an article about building a radio transmitter. I tried to build it and didnít succeed.
Lassman:Where was the article?
Coltman:In some magazine or other. I was in junior high school at the time. But I got acquainted with a group in the high school who were following radio. And I got an amateur radio license in 1932.
Lassman:This group, were these other students?
Coltman:Yes. Actually, they formed the Lakewood Radio Club. I was in Lakewood, Ohio at the timeóitís a suburb of Cleveland. I really abandoned my chemistry hobby in favor of radio at that time.
Lassman:Did you have a chemistry set? Or did you acquire equipment on your own?
Coltman:Oh, I started with a little chemistry set, but then I began to acquire chemicals. Of course, my father was helpful in that.
Lassman:Did he get things for you?
Coltman:Occasionally he would bring something home for me. We werenít too far from the Chemical Rubber Company, which is a chemical supply house in Cleveland. I remember I spent my first weekís junior high school allowance at the Chemical Rubber Company and didnít have enough for my lunches by the end of the week.
Lassman:But you had chemicals.
Coltman:I had chemicals, but I didnít have any lunch money. But Iíll tell you one thing. I was growing up and going to school during the Depression, and money was tight. We didnít go hungry. My father kept his job, though the hours were reduced. But saving moneyónot spending moneyówas a cardinal rule. And that has stayed with me all my life. I canít shake it. I just hate to spend money. I donít care about getting it; whether I get it or not is more or less immaterial. But I just hate to spend it!
Lassman:So it was visible during the Depression?
Coltman:Yes. That left its mark on me.
Lassman:When you mentioned the switch from the chemistry sets into radio, that was with this radio group in junior high school?
Coltman:No, this was in high school.
Lassman:What kinds of things would you do? You mentioned you got an amateur license. How did you go about doing that?
Coltman:First you had to learn to send and receive Morse Code at ten words a minute on the telegraph key and pass an examination on technical questions, on radio circuitry and transmitters and some on radio rules and regulations.
Lassman:Who administered the exams and learning the telegraph?
Coltman:It wasnít the Federal Communications Commission at that time. They changed their name. I think it was the Federal Radio Commission. It was a government operation. Theyíd hold these exams every six months in a large city.
Lassman:And they were open to anyone?
Lassman:It sounds like it was pretty sophisticated. What kind of electronics questions would they ask?
Coltman:They would ask you how to draw the circuit of a radio transmitter and then explain how the oscillator worked.
Lassman:How did you learn this?
Coltman:I learned this from reading. I remember one book entitled Letters of a Radio Engineer to His Son. That was a good book. I read that, and of course, talked a lot with the other members of the Radio Club, most of whom had licenses already. They coached me.
Lassman:Once you had the amateur license, then, what does that enable you to be able to do?
Coltman:Well, you would build your own transmitter and get on the air and see how many people you could talk to and how far away. I never had a very potent radio set or a very good antenna, but I could talk over the country.
Lassman:You said this is the Depression. How did you acquire parts, and how did you assemble your set?
Coltman:You scrounged parts. Actually, that wasnít too long after the time that radio sets, building radio receivers had become a very popular hobby. That was finally taken over by— Commercial sets became so common and so relatively inexpensive that people no longer made their own. But there were lots of these left over that you could pick up in the junk. Or actually, there were a few second-hand stores, as there are computer stores today, where you could pick up radio parts or old radios.
Lassman:And you put it together on your own?
Lassman:I see. Weíll come back to this a little bit later, about your radio background. But let me jump out a little bit more to talk about Cleveland, growing up there and going to high school there. What was Cleveland like at that time, in terms of science and technology?
Coltman:We lived in a suburb. It was Lakewood, Ohioóa middle-class suburb, almost entirely white. In fact, I do not remember a black person in our high school. It was a very large high school. There were some 400 members in my senior class. I donít remember a single black. But it had a very good staff. I thought I got a pretty good education there. Lakewood is a very stable suburb. Today, I go down, and the streets look just the same. The houses are well kept. Thereís very little change.
Lassman:Cleveland was also an industrial city, a lot like Pittsburgh in that time.
Lassman:You mentioned the National Carbon Company. What other big firms were there?
Coltman:General Electric had a plant there. Mostly there was steel. It was a lake port, of course, and there were lake freighters bringing [iron] ore into Cleveland and taking Ohio coal out to the Midwest. As a matter of fact, one of my uncles was president of the [Corrigan [?]-McKinney Steel Company], and he had a privilege of taking trips on these freighters. The freighters had some modest passenger quarters on them they would use as perks for higher-ups in the company. He didnít use all of these, so he asked my mother (his sister) whether sheíd like to take her family. So we had three freighter trips up the Great Lakes when I was a youngster. I remember those very fondly.
Lassman:These were boats that were carrying ore?
Coltman:These were ore boats, yes.
Lassman:Iron ore. Those must have been big ships.
Coltman:Well, they were big. I mean, they were 500-foot ore carriers. They had passenger quarters up in the front. As a matter of fact, some of my inspiration for radio came from hanging out with the wireless operator on board. I was about 11 years old, I guess, at the time.
Lassman:Just watching him?
Coltman:Watching him, and he would tell me what he was doing and try to explain how things worked.
Lassman:Was the radio transmission equipment was pretty sophisticated on those boats? Or was it not?
Coltman:It was kind of old-fashioned. It was a spark transmitter. I donít know whether you know the difference between a spark and a tube transmitter?
Lassman:I know a tube transmitter. Spark transmitter, I donít.
Coltman:Spark transmitters go way back to Marconi. Yes, it was pretty unsophisticated, actually, at that time. And these were steamboats, reciprocating steam engines with huge piston, triple compound expansion steam engines. Itís a fascinating thing to watch, too.
Lassman:So you saw those as well?
Coltman:Oh, yes. I spent time hanging around with the Chief Engineer, too.
Lassman:How long were these trips? You said you took several of them.
Coltman:Ten days. Weíd leave Cleveland and go up into Lake Superior, then come on back.
Lassman:Would you stop regularly at different locations?
Coltman:No, only on one case. They stopped at Lime Island to unload coal. A good deal of the members of the crew and the residents of the islandóitís a small island. It was just a coaling station, and probably had a population of about 50. But theyíd put on a square danceóa real, genuine old square danceówith the crewmembers and inhabitants of the island in the basement of a church.
Lassman:So this would have been in the 1930s?
Lassman:Thatís interesting. You mentioned that the radio operator would teach you some of the technology or how to operate it. What kinds of things do you recall, specifically?
Coltman:He showed me what he was doing when he was operating. Actually, he was building a small radio receiver at that time, so I think he told me about that. [Reynaldo de Cola] was his name. I have not seen him since.
Lassman:These were boats that were run by the steel companies?
Coltman:Well, theyíre shipping lines, some of them. Iím not sure what the ownership was. But theyíve practically disappeared from the Great Lakes now. At one time, the Great Lakes were fairly crowded with them.
Lassman:You were just talking about these trips you took on these ore boats. Letís move back a little bit just to your high school experience. You mentioned you had some very good teachers. Could you talk a little bit about your teachers? Were there any mentors that you had who had a significant influence on the path of your thinking about your education, career, and so on?
Coltman:Yes. Well, as I say, my father was my chief mentor. He never pushed me to go in any particular directions. He just told me about things.
Lassman:You mentioned the teachers you had. They were particularly good?
Coltman:Yes. [Boruff [?] was the name of the physics teacher (I canít remember his first name now) and I had a chemistry teacher named Bradbury, both of whom I spent quite a bit of time with outside of class, just sitting and talking.
Coltman:Chemistry and physics.
Lassman:Did you talk about new developments in physics and chemistry in the 1930s, at that time?
Coltman:No, really just trying to get a better understanding what things were about. In choosing a college career, I was pretty well set on going to Case [School of Applied Science].
Lassman:How did that develop?
Coltman:Well, of course, that was local. I didnít have to leave home. Case was well thought of, and there were opportunities for a competitive scholarship. I graduated from high school in February. We had graduation twice a year: a February class and a June class. I spent the next few months— I went back and took a couple more courses at the high school. I took German again. I got an A in it the first time, and I took it again and I got a B because I wasnít paying much attention. And the German teacher was a lot of fun. But I was heading for the competitive examinations at Case. They gave three full scholarships to the winners of these competitive examinations. So I spent that time between February and June boning up for this exam.
Lassman:This would have been in 1932 or í33?
Coltman:Must have been í33, yes.
Lassman:And these exams, you say these were for competitive scholarships?
Coltman:These were competitive exams. They extended over a course of three days. You met and they passed out the exam. There were, oh, Iíd say about 50 people that took them.
Lassman:How did you get selected to take the exam? Or could you just take it on your own?
Coltman:Well, youíd just apply. And if you had reasonable credentials, they let you take it.
Lassman:When you graduated from high school, were you near the top of your class?
Coltman:I think I was number seven, if I remember.
Lassman:Out of 400?
Coltman:At the same time I was boning up for the exam, I was practicing for the state and national flute contests. I had taken an A rating, a first rating, in Ohio in the year before. That was some time in June, I think. And I repeated that in June the year I graduated and went on to the Nationals, where I entered both the piccolo and the flute.
Lassman:Tell me a little bit about your flute training. Did you continue playing in school or did you have a teacher?
Coltman:I took lessons from a local teacher, [Augustine Mendoza [?]. I took lessons from about the time I was in junior high school until maybe the last year in high school. I was the only piccolo player to get a number one rating in the national contest.
Lassman:Did practicing take up quite a bit of your time?
Coltman:I usually practiced about an hour a day.
Lassman:And did you travel around, also, when you competed?
Coltman:The local competitions, state competitions were held in Oberlin, and the nationals in Chicago. I went to the Worldís Fair.
Coltman:Yes. At that same year.
Lassman:So you finished high school. You were preparing for these exams and the flute competition also. Tell me, what was the outcome of the exams?
Coltman:I was the first.
Lassman:Did this cover everything for college? Tuition, etc?
Coltman:Well, mostly scientific and two languages, French and German, and hardly anything of the Liberal Arts.
Lassman:You graduated with a BS in physics [from Case]?
Coltman:From Case, yes. I had actually intended to go into electrical engineering because of my radio background. The first year there, essentially everybody took the same courses, whatever your major was going to be. Physics was one of these, and I got very much interested in that. So I decided to take physics major instead of electrical engineering.
Lassman:What was it that you found so interesting that made you want to switch?
Coltman:Oh, just the subject itself! This is mostly classical physics, some mechanics, and electrical, light. [Tape interrupted]
Lassman:Resuming here, we were talking about your time at the Case School of Applied Science. You ended with your discussion about how you switched from an interest in electrical engineering to physics. What was the undergraduate physics course like there, the content of it?
Coltman:It was largely classical physics. We really didnít get into what would be called modern physics todayóthat is, quantum mechanics and nuclear physics. Of course, that was just beginning at that time. The real push in nuclear physics came in 1932, so that was a pretty new subject. While some professors on the site were interested in it, it hadnít gotten into the courses yet.
Lassman:Was there any research in that area going on in the department?
Lassman:In your recollection, what were most of your peers in the department training for? Were they training for academic jobs, for graduate school, for industry jobs?
Coltman:There were only three of them.
Lassman:There were only three graduates? Or three students?
Coltman:No. In my class, of majors in physics, there were just three of us: just Chuck Smith and [Louie Ellsworth [?] and myself. That had a very considerable advantage, because we had essentially the whole physics faculty at our disposal. It was a very intimate operation. Of course, physics was a requirement for all the engineering students, so that a good deal of the facultyís time was taken up teaching general physics courses. But the more specialized ones for the physics graduates were attended by very small classes. I say there were only three in my year. I think altogether during that time there probably werenít more than eight or ten physics majors all together. So when we had a class in sound, weíd be sitting down with a professor and ten other students and studying acoustics. And that was really a very intimate and very effective way to learn.
Lassman:Was that typical, just that the department was that small in terms of majors and that it had such a large service function for the engineering school?
Coltman:Yes. Well, the whole engineering school at that time was, there were only 600 total in the school. There were about 200 in our class, in the class of í37, out of whom three were physics majors.
Lassman:Were the other science departments similar in that respect? Chemistry?
Coltman:No. There were a good many [chemistry majors]. I think mechanical engineering was probably the largestómechanical and electrical, and then chemical engineering, metallurgy and so forth, all the way down to physics.
Lassman:Did you have any mentors in your college experience who were particularly influential on your education, your outlook?
Coltman:Yes. Most particularly was my thesis advisor, Robert Shankland. Heís well known. He had gone to University of Chicago. He was one of the earliest persons in nuclear physics at Case.
Lassman:He had come from Chicago? Or he went to Chicago?
Coltman:No. He had been at Case and took his graduate work (Ph.D.) at Chicago and then came back to Case on the faculty. His graduate work had been in nuclear physics. However, he was much interested in acoustics, and of course Dayton C. Miller was famous in musical acoustics. He had become President Emeritus the year I entered, and he was still there. He had his flute collection.
Lassman:Had he been a physicist at Case?
Coltman:Heíd been a very well-known faculty member, professor of— Letís see, he was Ambrose Swasey Distinguished Professor of Physics at Case for many, many years. He was President of the American Physical Society some term, and was repeating the Michelson-Morley ether drift experiment, which had been carried out at Case while he was there. As a matter of fact, Miller was never convinced that they got a zero result. He always felt that there was a small factor left over. At some later date, Shankland analyzed Millerís work, and found, really, that there was no support for anything but a zero result. But mostly it was Millerís conviction rather than any real evidence.
Lassman:Did you know Miller?
Lassman:How did you get to know him?
Coltman:He maintained an office at Case, even though he was Emeritus. Since I was interested in the flute, he and I spent a fair amount of time fooling around with flutes. It stimulated my interest in the flute as an instrument, as a subject for study other than just playing on it.
Lassman:What kind of study? Did you study acoustics?
Coltman:Yes, the acoustics of the flute, which I took up quite a bit later and on which Iíve done a lot of work. I have some 40 publications on that [subject]. So that was a kind of a side operation at Case.
Lassman:You mentioned Shankland had also done research in acoustics.
Coltman:Yes. That was his chief field. Though he was trained in nuclear physics and did some work in it, most of his work was spent in acoustics, architectural acoustics, particularly. My [undergraduate] thesis was on the vibration of strings. I carried out the experimental work under Shanklandís advising. But he did the real deep mathematical analysis. That was my first published paper, actually, Shankland and Coltman. Itís been reprinted in a couple of books, on the vibration of strings.
Lassman:Was this the equivalent of a senior thesis?
Coltman:Yes. At that time, every graduate did a senior thesis at Case.
Lassman:You mentioned the mathematical analysis. Thatís the work that Shankland did for the experimental work that you had done?
Coltman:Yes. That was a fairly deep mathematical analysis. I donít quite understand it yet. He was using some of the mathematical techniques that had been developed in quantum mechanics for this.
Lassman:Did you take any quantum mechanics as an undergraduate? Or was it all classical physics?
Coltman:Just classical physics.
Lassman:Was there any other coursework that you took outside of physics, outside of acoustics, that was important or had an impact on your future career goals?
Coltman:The electrical engineering courses, particularly those involving communications and electronics, were important. I wasnít particularly interested in heavy electrical machinery, streetcars and that kind of thing.
Lassman:Was that a part of the curriculum?
Coltman:Yes. Thatís a basic part of the curricula because of electrical generating and motors.
Lassman:Were you still doing your amateur radio work at this time?
Coltman:Yes. As I said, I had that at the fraternity house!
Lassman:Thatís right. And this image of you, this is in 1936?
Coltman:It was something like that, í35 or í36.
Lassman:What about summer positions? What did you do in the summers as an undergraduate? Did you work? Continue studying?
Coltman:Well, letís see. In the summer beforeÖyes, at the end of my junior year, I got a summer job in Charleston, West Virginia, at the Union Carbide plant there, tending a still.
Lassman:How did you get that position?
Coltman:I got that through my father. Of course, he was part of Union Carbide. This was not an alcohol still. This was a butadiene still. It was an experimental unit in one of the factory buildings, extended up through four floors of open gridwork. Since smoking wasnít allowed anywhere in the plant, because there were a lot of flammable materialsómost of the people chewed tobacco. Since their aim to the cuspidor wasnít very good and there were open grating floors, I soon learned to wear a hat! I also learned to chew tobacco, but it wasnít a habit that I continued very long.
Lassman:Butadiene. Was that for synthetic rubber?
Coltman:Yes. Butylene and butadiene were components used in synthetic rubber.
Lassman:Is that what they were manufacturing at that plant?
Coltman:Yes. This was an experimental still. Really, my duties were just to make sure it was operating in normal range and taking readings on temperature at each of the stages periodically. So it wasnít a very demanding job, but it was kind of interesting.
Lassman:Were there any other positions of note that you had during summers?
Coltman:The next summer, before I went to [the University of] Illinois, I had a job in the electrical engineering department at the Great Lakes Exposition.
Lassman:What was the Great Lakes Exposition?
Coltman:The Great Lakes Exposition was a kind of a small Worldís Fair on the waterfront in Cleveland. I was an estimator for charging the tenants their electric bill. Each operationópop stand or ride or somethingóused electricity. And they were all independent contractors, so they had to pay for the electricity. But there were no meters. So I was the meter. I would go around and measure the current and check how many lights were burning, of what size, and so forth. So I would come up with an electrical consumption for the month for everybody in the Exposition. They would be billed on the basis of what I estimated. Many of them got to know me and reacted in various waysómany of them by turning off as much electrical stuff as they could when they saw me coming, others of them offering me drinks and cigars in the hope that I would go easy!
Lassman:The Expositionówere these companies that were showing their products?
Coltman:Yes. You know, a Florida Orange Juice stand, or there were a set of things, something like Epcot, an imitation of a European village or something like that. They were all independent businesses taking part in the Exposition. That was kind of interesting.
Lassman:Did you do that just one year?
Coltman:Yes, just one summer.
Lassman:Were there any other extracurricular activities during your time in college that come to mind or are of note?
Coltman:All the usual fraternity stuff.
Lassman:Was this the one [pointing to a picture in one of Coltmanís scrapbooks]? You were in Sigma Alpha Epsilon?
Lassman:So you finished at Case in 1937. What made you decide to go to the University of Illinois? Did you have other career thoughts?
Coltman:No. I intended to get a Ph.D. fairly early.
Lassman:What made you decide to do that?
Coltman:Well, for one thing, you didnít go very far in physics if you didnít. The Bachelorís degree in physics wasnít very marketable at that time. Thereís a lot to learn in physics, and if you donít go to graduate school, youíve only got a pretty small piece of it. That was my intention right from the beginning. I made application to Caltech and to the University of Illinois. I was accepted at both, but I was looking for some graduate assistantship and some support to take care of the financial end.
Lassman:Did Caltech not offer as much?
Coltman:No, they didnít offer any support that would be acceptable for graduate school. I had to pay full tuition. The University of Illinois offered me a graduate assistantship that had a stipend. It was sufficient to live on, $70 a monthówhich, in those days, $70 was $70. A dollar was worth about 15 times what it is today.
Lassman:When you applied to Caltech, did you apply to work with someone specifically?
Lassman:I was asking you what made you decide to apply to Caltech.
Coltman:Shankland advised that as a good place to go to get a good education. I had also been attracted to it because Millikan was there. And very early, as Iíve said, I had read about Millikanís work and was fascinated with it. I guess those were the two reasons.
Lassman:When you were at Case, did outside physics professors or physicists from industry come to your department to talk or to give lectures or things like that? Did you have any exposure to what was happening outside the school?
Coltman:Not that I remember, no. I donít recall any.
Lassman:One question I have here is when does Charlotte Beard appear on the scene, and whatís the story of that?
Coltman:Well, she appears on the scene maybe a couple years into my four years at Illinois. She was the daughter of a faculty member there, the head of the Health Department at the university. We met at the YMCA; it had a series of programs for graduate students and entertainment of one sort or another. Thatís where we met.
Lassman:And what was her educational background, her interests?
Coltman:Well, she had a Masterís in child development, and she had been teaching some in the local schools.
Lassman:She was from that area?
Coltman:Yes, in Urbana. Actually, she was born in Baltimore. Her father and mother had a really old farmhouse near Annapolis, which is still in the family, and had been for many years. Her name was Beard, and theyíre from that part of the country. The earliest Beard came to that part of Maryland in somewhere around 1650.
Lassman:Just moving back a few years to when you entered the University of Illinois, did you know you wanted to do nuclear physics at that time? What was the progression of your interests?
Coltman:It was really a choice between acousticsóthey had a good acoustics department at Illinois.
Lassman:Was that a separate department?
Coltman:No, [it was] part of the physics department. But it was moribund. The head of it was about to retire, and there were only about two of the graduate students who were majoring in acoustics. Nuclear physics offered a lot more contact with electronic matters, which was still a major interest of mine. So I took it up not so much from the standpoint of being interested in the physics of the nucleus, as from the fact that I enjoyed the kind of techniques that were being employed.
Coltman:The instruments and the cyclotrons and the various accelerators and that kind of thing.
Lassman:When you mentioned acoustics, you said it was a moribund field. Can you tell me a little bit more about what it was that was happening to acoustics as a field within physics at that time?
Coltman:Itís always been a relatively minor part of the activity in physics. F. R. Watson was the man who was heading it up. He had done a lot in architectural acoustics. But thereís not really a very big demand for that work or the feeling that it reveals much fundamentally in the way nature works. Itís more of a semi-engineering kind of activity.
Lassman:When you came in, how many new graduate students were doing nuclear physics? Were there other fields in the physics department that they were going into as well?
Coltman:Yes, there were some. Spectroscopy. Letís see, what else was going. A little aerodynamics. But the hot topic at that time, at Illinois and at most universities, was nuclear physics. That was a big field that was opening up.
Lassman:Were there new faculty who came in who were doing it? New machines?
Coltman:Yes, some. They had built a small cyclotron before I came. P. Gerald Kruger was the main guy on that. Iím trying to think of his first name. Letís see, 1932, I think Lawrence invented the cyclotron, or first demonstrated it. This wasnít really very long after that, five years after that. And sometime, I think in 1934, Kruger had built a cyclotron at the University of Illinois.
Lassman:So this was an early machine?
Coltman:Yes, this was an early machine. It was a fairly tiny one as these things go.
Lassman:Were there other physicists who were working in nuclear besides Kruger?
Coltman:Oh, yes, quite a few. Letís see, John Manley was doing neutron experiments. Maurice Goldhaber was mostly semi-theoretical work, and his wife, Gertrude Goldhauber, who made quite a name for herself in physics also, in subsequent years.
Lassman:Was Donald Kerst there at the time?
Coltman:Kerst was there at the time, yes.
Lassman:So that department was very advanced in the nuclear physics area?
Coltman:Yes. Their faculty is well known in physics. Kerst was there, and Kerst was starting work on the betatron at the time I came. So nuclear physics was a hot topic.
Lassman:When you came, what was your program of study? Did you work with someone right away? How did your program evolve?
Coltman:No, mostly taking courses for the first couple years.
Lassman:Is that when you were introduced to quantum mechanics?
Coltman:Yes. I had quantum mechanics under Robert Serber, another name. And I didnít get it. Serber had a reputation, I read later, of being a good teacheróhe was a person who explained things to new people at the Manhattan Project [Los Alamos] and wrote what might be called the bible of that operation.
Lassman:The Los Alamos Primer.
Coltman:But he must have learned how to teach later, because I had great difficulty with quantum mechanics and was never comfortable with it.
Lassman:What textbooks did you use?
Coltman:Didnít have any. Serberís notes.
Lassman:There were some out by that point.
Lassman:Condonís was out.
Coltman:[Condon] and Shortley was out by that time, but I didnít know that. I remember once Serber writing a lot of algebraic expressions on the board, and I said, ďCould you illustrate that numerically?Ē I wanted to do a problem, you know, with numbers in it so I could see what happened. And he said, ďSure,Ē and he wrote phi [Greek symbol] = 6. That was as far as we got.
Lassman:Did you pursue the quantum mechanics, though, beyond what Serber offered? Or was that it?
Coltman:No, I avoided it. I have always avoided it!
Lassman:What were some of the other classes you took?
Coltman:Atomic physics, spectroscopy, and optics. Iíve really forgotten what the curriculum was. One thing, I had a course in heat at Case. They said I didnít need to go any further than that in graduate school. And that was a mistake, because my knowledge of thermodynamics has always been weak. Iíve never tried to really master that subject. I know a little bit about it, but still, entropy and enthalpy, I have to think fairly hard before I know what theyíre talking about.
Lassman:Were there any textbooks in those other fields, though, that particularly stood out.
Coltman:Oh, yes, there were lots of them. I mean there was literature I could haveÖ
Lassman:I mean in optics and atomic physics, were there any books that stood out that were particularly useful?
Coltman:One book that I enjoyed very much was [James] Jeansí Theoretical Mechanics. That had a lot of interesting problems in it.
Lassman:Letís move on a little bit further down into your training at Illinois. Who was your dissertation advisor, and what was the project that you worked on?
Coltman:I started out doing a project using a cyclotron under Kruger, and using a cloud chamber, looking for. . . . It involved using the cloud chamber to observe events generated by particles accelerated with a cyclotron. But by this time, Kruger and his associates were starting to build a much larger cyclotron.
Lassman:How much bigger?
Coltman:They were going to, I donít know, 50-inch or something like that. The cyclotron I had was 18 inches. And it was falling apart. The hoses were rotten. The rubber was springing leaks. As a matter of fact, I had to rewind the coils. I spent one summer at the University of Illinois rewinding the coils of this cyclotronówhich were cotton-covered copper tubingóand putting it back together. I finally got the cyclotron running again, but the damn thing was breaking down all the time. I said, ďIím never going to get out of here if I do a project on this cyclotron!Ē So I went to Goldhaber and talked to him. He suggested another project using a natural radioactive source— there is nothing more reliable. It just emits. It sits there for 2000 years emitting neutrons. This is a radon-beryllium source. That kind of appealed to me, so I said my farewell to Kruger, who didnít have much time for me anyway, because he was building this huge cyclotron. I actually took up the Goldhaber-suggested experiment in November of 1940. I finished my thesis by June of 1941. So it went quite rapidly, and went well. It was a measurement of cross sections for neutron absorption of various materials. It had an immediate application. The Manhattan Project was underway at that time, though I knew very little about it. I knew vaguely that something of this sort was going on.
Lassman:You knew that they were building a bomb? Or you knew that there was just research going on?
Coltman:I knew that they were looking for a bomb, but I didnít really have any knowledge of what the status was or where it was going on. At this time, I guess it wasnít really the Manhattan Project. It was mostly [Enrico] Fermi at the University of Chicago trying to make a sustained nuclear reaction.
Lassman:The Army didnít take it over until 1942.
Coltman:But the physicists were essentially maintaining the classification and security themselves. The government hadnít really said, ďYou canít talk about this or set up any organizedÖĒ But the physicists realized what the importance was, and they didnít talk to anybody except those that really needed to know.
Lassman:What was the application of your work?
Coltman:The application was to find out what materials would be suitable for use in a nuclear reactor in a sustained nuclear reaction by virtue of their ability to absorb neutrons. I measured quite a number of elements. While there was a little local publication of my thesis printed up, it was withheld from general publication in the Physical Review. In fact, later at Westinghouse, Condon said to me, ďIíve got a document Iím not allowed to show you. Itís your thesis.Ē
Lassman:Because it was classified?
Coltman:Yes, it had been classified.
Lassman:Were these the materials to absorb fast neutrons in a reactor?
Coltman:Well, slow neutrons, actually, was what I measured.
Lassman:Slow neutrons. Iím just not clear. Are these materials that would facilitate a chain reaction, or that were actually the fissionable material?
Coltman:Neither. They were just a set of elements. Some of the elements that count didnít matter how theyíre combined chemically, so that you could decide whether to build your hardware out of iron or out of brass. You needed to know the cross-section of copper and zinc, if you were going to use brass in your. . .
Lassman:But this was something that, then, the Manhattan Project, that the wartime physicists might have used for their work on the bomb project?
Coltman:Letís see, thatís my first paper [pointing to it on table]. Shankland and Coltman. .
Lassman:ďA Departure of the Overtones of a Vibrating Wire from a True Harmonic Series,Ē 1938. Thatís the detailed mathematics.
Coltman:It gets kind of deep.
Lassman:Is this it [Coltmanís Ph.D. thesis]? An abstract of a thesis, 1941. ďAbsorption Cross Sections for Slow Neutrons.Ē This is the small piece that was published? This wasnít the full thesis?
Coltman:This was really printed by the University of Illinois as a record. Itís just a short abstract. As I say, those numbers werenít published in the general literature until after the war.
Lassman:So these would be materials that would be used in instruments for experiments?
Coltman:They might be. I measured those that were reasonably available and could see they were very substantial. Now, chlorine is a cross section of 35, so you want to avoid any kind of chlorides around in your operations.
Lassman:Could you just define briefly the significance of the cross section as a measurement?
Coltman:Cross section is an almost literal term. If you have an atom out here and a neutron coming along, what are your chances of hitting it and getting it absorbed? So something with a big cross section, your chances are good. And something with a little cross section, your chances of missing it are small. Itís defined, actually, in physical terms. But geometrically, itís similar to an actual area. A sodium aluminum as a material is much better than an iron if youíre going to use it for construction, because iron has ten times the cross section of aluminum.
Lassman:Were you approached by Manhattan Project physicists or by the government? How did you learn that you werenít going to be able to publish it? What was that process?
Coltman:Goldhaber. Goldhauber was one of the people who knew everything that was going on in this. He simply said, ďWell, we canít publish that now.Ē
Lassman:You said you finished in June of 1941. Is that correct?
Coltman:Yes. I played in the University of Illinois band all that time.
Coltman:It was a very excellent experience. It was one of the top-notch bands in the country.
Lassman:Did you travel around with them?
Coltman:Yes, some. It wasnít extensive. But I did that even at the expense of missing a faculty meeting for rehearsals every week. One of the two faculty meetings, I always got ribbed for that a lot. But the head of the department put up with it.
Lassman:Tell me a little bit about what life was like at Urbana at that time period? Iíve been there once myself. Itís a college town.
Coltman:Yes, itís a college town. I didnít lack for things to do. We were studying a lot, of courseóhours and hours of studying. And teaching. I taught undergraduate physics courses. Thatís a learning experience that people shouldnít miss. You learn more when you teach a course than any other way. Even in something as elementary as the first year in physics, I learned an awful lot.
Lassman:Did you enjoy teaching?
Coltman:Yes, I enjoyed teaching. Iíve always enjoyed it and taken opportunities to do lectures and things like that.
Lassman:When you were working on your thesis, when you switched from Kruger to Goldhaber, did you have any collaborators who worked with you?
Coltman:No. Each student generally worked on his own thesis by himself.
Lassman:Where did you get the radioactive source for your research?
Coltman:I donít know. Goldhaber acquired that. I donít know where he got it. Itís a mixture of radon, which is a derivative of radium and beryllium. They react. When the radon emits a particle, itís absorbed by the beryllium, and a neutron is produced.
Lassman:What was Goldhaber working on himself at that time? The same general subject area?
Coltman:Yes. He was occupied with that. Iím trying to remember. I canít recall what, specifically, he was engaged in.
Lassman:Letís just move ahead to as youíre finishing up then, at that time. There are two things that I thought of when I was putting this question set together about this specific time period. One is the discovery of fission in 1938. And the second one is the onset of World War II. When fission hit the news and you all learned about it, what was the reaction? Did it create a shift in the type of research that was being done? Were there any notable transformations?
Coltman:We talked a lot about sustained reactions. The physicists, of course, immediately recognized that there was a possibility, now, of getting a sustained nuclear reaction from this chain of neutron emission. We talked about that, and figured out the energy that would be available, which was enormous. . . .
Lassman:You mentioned you didnít know where other people were working on fission research?
Coltman:No. Actually, to go back to an earlier question, I believe Goldhaber was mostly concerned with figuring out the shell structure of the nucleus. It kind of resembles that of an atom, where electrons are in various shells. The nuclear structure was essentially unknown at that time. All we knew was that it came apart, but we didnít know what it looked like when it was together. I think Goldhaberís main interest was in trying to figure out the structure of the nucleus.
Lassman:Moving to the question about the war. What was the shift like in the department? Was there a move toward military R&D? Did people leave? How did that transformation happen?
Coltman:No, not at the time that I was there. Of course, the onset of the war was a topic of constant discussion. I remember listening to radio broadcasts of Hitler up in the attic of the physics building. I could see the war had started in Europe, of course.
Lassman:You were listening to radio broadcasts of Hitlerís speeches?
Coltman:Yes. What was that particular one that he made? A whole group of us gathered around the radio up in the attic there. It was in German, so a number of the people could understand it. My German wasnít that good. And the draft was instituted, and that was, of course, a matter of considerable concern to the students. We were exempted because we were students in important technical areas. As a matter of fact, I maintained a deferment all during the war, when I was actually working on wartime projects. But there was constant concern with your number coming up.
Lassman:Did any of your friends or colleagues get called?
Coltman:No, I donít remember any of the physics students being called at that time. Now, we were quite close to a large airfield, Rantoul Air Base in Illinois. So there were uniformed soldiers beginning to appear around in Urbana. I remember an enormous aircraft flying over the stadium one time. It was bigger than anything any of us had ever seen before. Iím not sure what it was, but it was an impressive sight.
Lassman:In 1941, when you finished your degree, what career choice were you thinking about? You applied for a Westinghouse Research Fellowship.
Coltman:The summer before my senior year, I had a summer job at General Electric in Schenectady in their research laboratory.
Lassman:This was the summer before you finished at Illinois?
Coltman:Yes, after my junior year. I keep thinking I had a four-year Ph.D. experience.
Lassman:So itís just like college?
Coltman:It was just like college. I keep thinking in the same terms. I did a research project there on an ion source, the thing that produces the ions for something to be accelerated. I was not very successful at that. Nothing really came of it. I met a lot of interesting people.
Lassman:What made you decide to take that job?
Coltman:That I got through a friend of our family, a [Dr. Enfield [?], who had been friends of the family ever since my motherís college days. We were quite close, and he knew of my interests and asked if I would be interested in a job in Schenectady. And I certainly was.
Lassman:Did you work in the research laboratory?
Lassman:And were you working with someone specifically, or a group?
Coltman:Yes, letís see. I can see this guy, but I canít recall his name. But anyway, heís probably nobody you would recognize. I did meet William Coolidge and Saul Dushman and some other well-known figures there and had short interactions with them, but nothing very extensive.
Lassman:Did you meet [Irving] Langmuir?
Coltman:No. Leroy Apker. The name may be familiar to you for the Apker Award in the American Physical Society. He was a summer student at the same time I was, so I went around with him quite a bit.
Lassman:So it would have been in the summer of 1939 that you were at GE?
Coltman:I graduated in í41, so the summer of í40 I went back to Cleveland to Lakewood. And to keep myself occupied during the summer, I went over to Case and started doing some work there in the physics department with Eugene Crittenden and [Boyce McDaniel [?], and whatís the other Cornell guy?
Lassman:Crittenden was the electronics specialist at the Bureau of Standards?
Coltman:No. This must be another Crittenden. I guess I donít have that photo in here. At any rate, I started to do a little work with them in ultrasonics, but a couple weeks after I started that, I got a telephone call from William Shoupp. Shoupp had been at the University of Illinois. He was about two or three years ahead of me and had gone to Westinghouse to join the atom smasher crew. He called me up and said, ďWeíve got a special summer project that Condon has dreamed up. We wondered if youíd like to come down and help us with it?Ē This is the summer of í40. Did I send you that story about turning on the radio station in Boston?
Lassman:That does sound familiar. Could you give a synopsis?
Coltman:At any rate, there was this guy with a black beard: G. Edward Pendray. He had been hired as a consultant by Westinghouse to dream up things that would put Westinghouse more in the public eye. One of the things that he and Condon had thought about was using nuclear fission to turn on a new radio station in Boston. So they needed somebody to make the apparatus. Shoupp called me up, and I came down to Pittsburgh, to Forest Hills here, and started to work on the apparatus. We had another radon-beryllium neutron source and some uranium. I built a chamber rather like the one I had used in the cross section experiment, for the one that I explained to you as a cross section experiment, and got pulses from fission. But we took that to Boston and successfully turned on a radio station with it.
Lassman:When you say turn it on, you mean turn on the transmitter?
Coltman:Well, you know, itís like a telegraph signal from the golden spikes in Utah or the light from Arcturus to open the Chicago Fairójust something that would throw a switch. So we got this figured out so that after the third fission, the next one would throw the switch and turn on the new station.
Lassman:Was that a big public relations coup?
Coltman:Well, I donít know. It was fun. It was interesting because we got there and set up the apparatus, and it didnít make the right kind of a noise, they thought. It was just a click. They said, ďThat doesnít sound like smashing an atom.Ē I said, ďNo it doesnít? What does an atom sound like when you smash it?Ē They said, ďYou know, it has a smashing noise, a grinding noise of some sort.Ē I looked around. I found an old fire bell, and I used that and something with a loud speaker and got something hooked up that at least made more of a clatter than a single click. They said that would be all right. Then they said, ďWhoís got the script?Ē We said, ďYouíve got the script, havenít you?Ē And they said, ďNo. We thought you were writing a script.Ē Well, this was all about 30 minutes before the program was supposed to go on the air. So Condon wrote the script. Heís a very facile writer and did a very good one. Everything went off right.
Lassman:That was the first time you met Condon?
Coltman:Yes. Well, I had met him when I first came down and we talked about how to make this apparatus. That was the first time I had met him.
Lassman:How long were you working on that project? Did you go back to Case after it was done?
Coltman:Well, Crittenden and McDaniel and another man (the names come hard; heís well known in physics) had figured out a little sailboat trip up the Great Lakes. We had scheduled to go out. So I quit after the Boston thing and went sailing on the Lakes. My mother said, ďYou should never have done that. They wonít be interested in hiring you because you left early.Ē But that turned out not to be the case at any rate. Shoupp suggested that I make application for a fellowship when I graduated the following year. I did that, and Condon knew me, and of course, it was more or less of a shoe-in, I guess.
Lassman:When you were at GE and you said you were working on the ion source, was that for a commercial product or an application?
Coltman:No. They were thinking about accelerators. They had made a very high voltage X-ray machine using a resonant transformer. I think they had in mind making a particle accelerator of the same type. There wasnít anything very specific in the way of a project, but they thought theyíd look into ion source behavior.
Lassman:So they had an idea in mind for what they thought they would use it for, but it wasnít for a specific application?
Coltman:No. As far as I know, they never did anything with it in furthering that.
Lassman:Were you there as part of another group of young physicists or scientists who were there for the summer? Was this a formal program?
Coltman:Yes. They generally took four or five graduate students on for summer jobs at General Electric.
Lassman:You were at Westinghouse the previous summer, then you were at GE. . . .
Coltman:No, it was the other way around. I was wrong about the year that I went to GE.
Lassman:Any comparisons that you drew between the two?
Coltman:I felt much more at home at Westinghouse because I knew Shoupp well. And Condon was an awful lot of fun. General Electric was interesting, but I felt more attracted to Westinghouse.
Lassman:When you applied for the post-doctoral fellowship at Westinghouse, did you consider a university position? You mentioned you liked teaching. Another company?
Coltman:Well, Loomis, the head of the physics department, offered me a job there at Illinois, to continue on as a faculty member. But I was really interested in industryóalways had been. Back when I was in Illinois, I started a little seminar group to look at technical applications of physics and to study things that were being done out in the non-academic world.
Lassman:Was this just an informal group that you started?
Coltman:Just an informal group. We met every two weeks or something like that, and somebody gave a presentation on some new development. And I was the chairman of that group when I started it. Then we had an election for a new chairman, and one of the faculty members took me aside and said, ďIf I were you, I wouldnít run for that job, because thatís not looked on favorably by the academic people. It might not be too good for your career to emphasize that.Ē
Lassman:Because it was applied?
Coltman:Because it was applied and not academic.
Lassman:Interesting. So you didnít?
Coltman:So I didnít.
Lassman:Tell me a little bit about who the other members were. Were they other graduate students who were in physics or [from] other departments?
Coltman:All physics students.
Lassman:What kind of topics did you cover?
Coltman:We talked about some of the things that were going on at Bell Labs. I gave a talk about frequency modulation, which was just then coming into public use.
Lassman:In vacuum tubes?
Coltman:In broadcasting. There was no FM until Armstrong finally convinced RCA, I think it was, to start broadcasting on that frequency with that technique.
Lassman:How did you learn about what was going on at Bell Labs or these other industrial [firms].
Coltman:I donít know. Read about it somewhere in journals.
Lassman:You mentioned you didnít run for this office. Who ended up getting the position?
Coltman:I donít know, one of the other students. I donít believe it really hurt his career. Didnít last very long anyway. I thought it was an interesting attitude. At that time, and for a long time afterwards, academic physicists looked down their nose at industry. Thatís changed quite a bit since the opportunities for academic positions have shrunk.
Lassman:When you were finishing, did Goldhaber or any other faculty give you advice? You mentioned you were offered a job at Illinois. When you mentioned that you were going to Westinghouse, did you get any kind of reaction?
Coltman:Yes. Loomis said, ďWell, theyíre not so hot.Ē
Lassman:Did he elaborate on that at all?
Coltman:No. He asked me why I didnít apply to Bell Labs. And I guess, in fact, I really wanted to go to Westinghouse. I knew the guys. Condon was there. I thought a lot about the new program they were starting [in fundamental research]. It was not too far from my home in Lakewood. I just really wanted to go there.
Lassman:Did you know of Condon before you met him? Was Condon someone you had known of before you went to Pittsburgh?
Coltman:No, not really. I mean, it was a name I was probably familiar with, but I didnít know anything about him.
Lassman:Did you know Shoupp while you were at Illinois?
Coltman:Yes. Shoupp and I were quite close at Illinois. But he left there, I think, two years before I did.
Lassman:He was one of the first [Westinghouse] Research Fellows.
Lassman:Coming from Urbana, Illinois to Pittsburgh, what was that transition like?
Coltman:Pittsburgh wasnít so different from Cleveland, really. But it was filthy, absolutely filthy. That was a little hard to get used to. But otherwise, we felt quite comfortable. We had rented a nice house in Forest Hills that belonged to the head of the physics department at [the University of] Pitt[sburgh], who Iíd been called off to do underwater sound work [for the war effort].
Lassman:Was that Elmer Hutchisson?
Coltman:Elmer Hutchisson, yes.
Lassman:You rented his home?
Coltman:Yes. We rented his home for a couple of years, and then he decided to sell it. We werenít in a position to buy it at that time, so we rented in Wilkinsburg, where it was really filthy.
Lassman:Weíre resuming after lunch on Tuesday afternoon. We were talking about your move to Pittsburgh, just after you came there. I take it that would have been the fall of 1941?
Coltman:That was in June, immediately after getting married.
Lassman:Was the Depression still on here, noticeably? Or was Westinghouse in full production?
Coltman:No. Wartime activity was well underway, and everybody was busy.
Lassman:You came into work as a research fellow in Condonís group and the fundamental research program that was running [at Forest Hills].
Coltman:That was essentially gone when I arrived. Condon, as he had explained in a letter that accepted the fellowship, he was interested in turning into wartime activities, specifically [microwave] radar, and wanted to know if I was willing to do that. I certainly was. I had no particular love for nuclear physics as such. Radar and microwaves sounded very interesting, indeed. So after a quite short time here, around three or four weeks, I was sent up to the Radiation Laboratory [at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)] in Boston, Cambridge. Charlotte was with me, and two other fellows, Sid Krasik and Bill Goode. The three of us went up and joined, temporarily, groups at the MIT radiation lab. Now, F. W. Loomis, who was head of the Illinois physics department, had a major influence on the radiation laboratory. He was, for a time, its director, I think before [Lee] DuBridge. At any rate, he had recruited physicists from a number of universities, including Illinois, so there were a number of people at the radiation laboratory that we already knew from Illinois. Some of the faculty members were there. I joined a group headed by [Prof. [first name?] Collins], acquired from Cornell to study magnetrons. I learned something about magnetrons there. We were there forÖI think we came back just about Labor Day . I donít recall.
Lassman:Was this to get up to speed on the technology?
Coltman:Yes. This was to learn about radar and microwaves.
Lassman:Was this your first exposure to microwave technology?
Lassman:Were these magnetrons the new cavity magnetrons, or an earlier generation?
Coltman:This was the cavity magnetron that had been introduced by the [British in 1940]
Lassman:So this was a training course? Was this because Westinghouse didnít really have much background [in the microwave field]?
Coltman:Yes. It was the policy of the Radiation Llab to get [industrial firms] like Bell Labs, General Electric, Westinghouse, Raytheon, and others, up to speed in microwaves. That was their policy. They werenít just doing research themselves. They were trying to get the whole operation going from a manufacturing standpoint as well. So they had a policy of bringing in people, or having people nominated, to come in and learn the technology.
Lassman:When you came back, around Labor Day, what was your routine?
Coltman:My mission was to learn how to make magnetrons by ourselves, and specifically, the three-centimeter magnetron. The British magnetrons were ten centimeters. There was this design that youíve probably seen, with the loops. The radiation lab, while pursuing that and the radars that it provided the source for, was also interested in pushing much higher frequencies. These were operated at three times the frequency. So I started out learning how to make three-centimeter magnetrons. We developed the techniques for manufacturing and testing and operating those, and then started working on improvements, such as higher power and those particular things. This is a wave-guide output [pointing to image]. The prior magnetrons had typically a little loop in here out to a coaxial connector for the microwave, which was a little clumsy and lost some efficiency. This magnetron, which I made, went directly into a wave-guide, this rectangular carrier of microwaves. This was a Westinghouse contribution.
Lassman:Westinghouse had before you arrived, there was some microwave research underway. [G. Ross] Kilgoreís group [in microwave research at Forest Hills in the early 1930s].
Coltman:That was many years earlier.
Lassman:Was there any connection to what you were doing?
Coltman:No. The only connection was that I found the magnetron that Kilgore used in a drawer. During the War, all sources came from the radiation lab.
Lassman:Were the technologies that different? Were those early microwave tubes just not—
Coltman:Yes, quite different. This [Kilgoreís tube] was what they call a split-anode tube in a glass bulb, whereas the other ones had a multiple set of cavities.
Lassman:Tell me a little bit about going from designing and putting together the first workable models to scaling up to mass production.
Coltman:The production was done at our lamp division, which had responsibility not only for lamps, but for radio tubes. They made radio tubes of all kinds. And they started in manufacturing the British tube quite some time before I came. Very soon after it was brought over by the British. They also manufactured three-centimeter ones, some on a design by MIT, and some on this design. Those were supplied to the manufacturers of radar equipment, one of which was our electronics division in Baltimore. That Baltimore division produced, I believe, the first three-centimeter operational aircraft set. The virtue of the three-centimeter was that it made the antenna small enough to be carried readily in an aircraft.
Lassman:You put it in a plane?
Coltman:Those were used, initially, in submarine hunts off the coast of the US looking for snorkels with the three-centimeter radar. That, I believe, was the first military application that the US made of a three-centimeter magnetron.
Lassman:There was an expansion of microwave research and development at Forest Hills. Was there also ongoing R&D at Bloomfield [New Jerseyólocation of the lamp division] on microwaves?
Coltman:Yes, there was some there.
Lassman:How about the electronics division in Baltimore?
Coltman:They didnít do the tubes at all. They did the radar sets themselves. That first set had some contributions from the Forest Hills lab also, in the form of crystal detectors. That was another group under Steve Angello that undertook the crystal detector development. Condon had essentially set out various groups within the research laboratories in various aspects of radar. I had the microwave tubes group. [Daniel] Alpert and Krasik were devoted to whatís called a TR boxóa transmit-receive boxóand Steve Angello on crystal detectors. Then there was a fourth group on measuring techniques. That was about to set up in the Electronics Department at Forest Hills.
Lassman:Tell me a little about what the learning curve was like?
Coltman:Fast! Fast, and lots of interactionópeople going back and forth to MIT and people from MIT coming to the lab, and people from the government. One of the happy aspects of that era of government contracting was that the administration didnít get in the way of the technology. A representative would come from the Navy and come out and sit down with three guys and say, ďDo you think you could do this?Ē And weíd say, ďYes, we think we could.Ē And he says, ďOkay. Start. Iíll take care of the paperwork.Ē And we never heard anything more about it, just the money came in. These days, well, you know what itís like. You apply for a grant. You go through peer reviews. You go through this and that and eventually, a year or maybe two years later, they say, ďYes, you can go ahead.Ē This, you went first, and they worried about the money later.
Lassman:Were there any particular bottlenecks or difficulties of that type of learning and getting up to speed on that technology?
Coltman:No, I donít think so. Everything was very wide-open. People who were in the field; the work was classified, of course. We werenít supposed to discuss it with people who didnít have the proper clearance. But everybody who had clearance was very open about what they were doing and willing to cooperate and exchange specimens.
Lassman:Did you go back and forth to MIT repeatedly? Or was it just that one time in 1941?
Coltman:I went back several times for visits, but short ones, a day or two.
Lassman:And was this just for you to learn? Or also to take up models of tubes you had developed to show them?
Lassman:Did you also have interactions with other firms?
Coltman:Some with Bell Labs. Going on along with this development was a development of the resnatron.
Lassman:The Sloan tube?
Coltman:Under [David] Sloan. Sloan was at the [Forest Hills] lab. And if I remember correctly, Bell Labs had the contract for developing the equipment that that tube was used in. I do remember a fair amount of interchange between ourselves and Bell.
Lassman:That was a very high-powered tube. The Sloan tube was?
Coltman:Yes, a much longer wavelength. It was somewhere around 40-centimeters, I think. Its use was intended to jam the German wurtzberg [spelling?] radar. Actually, I donít think it ever got on the battlefield. But what did get on was a split anode magnetron, something like Kilgoreís, that Sloan also developed. Sloan reported to me. Shoupp says, ďOn the organization chart, Iím going to show Sloan part of your high-powered tube section. You follow him around and take notes on what heís doing.Ē
Lassman:He told you to do that?
Coltman:Yes! Thatís what I did. I followed Sloan around and took notes on what he was doing. On the organization chart, he was reporting to me, but he was miles ahead of me.
Lassman:He had done a lot of work in [E. O.] Lawrenceís laboratory [at Berkeley].
Coltman:Yes. They had started the work there, and Condon was instrumental in persuading them to continue it at Westinghouse. That was underway when I arrived, as a matter of fact.
Lassman:The other major invention, in addition to the magnetron, is the klystron tube.
Coltman:Yes. We at Forest Hills had essentially nothing to do with klystrons. We used them. And Bloomfield, I believe, manufactured some out of Bell Labís design. But we never undertook to do klystron work.
Lassman:A couple questions now about management. First to talk about, to make sure I have this right, Shouppófrom 1943, was put in charge of a new electronics department. So you were within his organization?
Coltman:I reported to Shupp.
Lassman:Did you ever report to Condon directly, even when you got there?
Coltman:No. I always reported to Shoupp.
Lassman:Could you tell me a little bit about his managerial style? Was he someone you tried to emulate?
Coltman:No. Shoupp had a very (how do I say) personal management style. He liked to get into things himself, to dig into them. He was very open and free. You could argue with Shoupp without feeling that you had to kowtow to the boss at all. As a matter of fact, I always felt that I was more like just a colleague of Shouppís than a person reporting to him, though of course I wasóhe was determining my salary. But nevertheless, we argued and haggled just as if we were a couple of research colleagues. He was a very outgoing guy and liked to have a finger in everythingówhat color the overhead plumbing was painted!
Lassman:He would have something to do with that too?
Coltman:Well, yes. Heíd say, ďYouíve got to paint these lines blue and these lines yellow.Ē ďYes, sir.Ē And they got painted.
Lassman:How about Condon as a manager or a presence?
Coltman:Condon was much more devoted to the technical subject itself. He never worried about anything outside of the particular problem in front of him, or other problems that he took on. He was interested in a lot of different things, as you well know. His management style was kind of loose. As a matter of fact, there was very little rigid management in the Forest Hills lab at the time I was there. The head of the labs, [Lewis Warrington] Chubb, was also a guy that mixed in with the technical crew, whom you could talk to on level terms.
Lassman:Do you suspect that the loose management style was precisely because it was wartime? Or was that just the nature of the organization?
Coltman:I think probably some of both. There wasnít much formality. Reporting was kind of undisciplined, I felt. Finally, at one time, Shoupp came around and said, ďHey, the management wants you to write weekly reports. Keep them short. Just drop me a note on what youíre doing.Ē I remember one weekly report from Bill Altaur [spelling?] that said, ďI spent this week writing the weekly reports for the last six months.Ē
Lassman:Iíd like to ask about Harvey Rentschler [director of research at the lamp division]. Heís at Bloomfield. Did you have any interaction with him?
Coltman:I didnít have any interaction with Harvey. I knew that he was there. I knew about the uranium. But I donít think I ever met him, actually.
Lassman:How about Marvin Smith, the engineering vice president?
Coltman:Rarely. I heard about him. I think I may have attended a talk or two that he gave, but no direct interaction with M.W. Smith at all.
Lassman:You mentioned that the fundamental research program, the atom smasher, was shut down. Other research programs were shut down. But did microwave [research] essentially take over the lab?
Lassman:What other major projects were going on?
Coltman:It was large. Another major project was jet engines. As a matter of fact, the atom smasher pressure tank was used as an air source. Youíd just pump it up full of air and conduct it into the jet engine and let her go. It was a terrible racket, so I didnít understand why the neighbors put up with it. There was a substantial amount of jet engine research at the lab, as well as at Philadelphia. Letís see, Ryan Crohn [spelling?] was the Philadelphia man.
Lassman:Thatís the steam division?
Coltman:Thatís awful. I canít remember the name of the jet engine guy here. [Tape cut]
Lassman:Just continuing here. I was asking about other major projects in addition to radar. You mentioned the jet engine development.
Coltman:The tank gun stabilizer.
Lassman:And these were at Forest Hills?
Coltman:Yes. C. R. Hannah, Clinton Hannah [spelling?], had been working with [rate?] gyroscopes for some time as a control mechanism. The Army came to him wanting to know if he could apply those to all the tank guns; horizontal and pointing in the same direction while the tank was running over rough ground. That was a very successful development. Westinghouse supplied those stabilizers. They were used for all of the US tanks in World War II, and many of the Allied tanks were supplied with them. Hannah got the Presidential Medal of Honor for that work, so that was another important piece of research. Then there was a considerable amount of research associated with the Manhattan Project. Now, Condon was in on that. He was circulating around Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Pittsburgh. As a matter of fact, the fact that he was circulating around so much was something that top Westinghouse management decided he wasnít going to be the next research director. He had too many outside entanglements.
Lassman:But he knew he was in line for that position?
Yes. I think they brought him in clearly with the idea that he would be the successor to Chubb, who was nearing retirement then. But Westinghouse supplied all of the vacuum pumps for the uranium separator, the calutron, at Oak Ridge. As a matter of fact, Shoupp had considerable [a lot] to do with the design of those pumps. And Condon picked out some people to go down to Oak Ridge and spend some time there, contributing to the work on the calutron, particularly on the question of beam focusing. Sidney Seigel was doing work on the effects of high neutron radiation on mechanical properties of metals for the Manhattan Project. He was using an ultrasonic technique to measure the elastic coefficients of the metal before and after it had been bombarded. The bombardment was done, I think, in Chicago, or some place where there was a nuclear reactor. But Seigel developed the methods.
Those were substantial contributions to the Manhattan Project, also. What else was going on? Fosterite was an important invention of Luke [correct first name?] Fosterís. He developed a material that essentially could be a liquid that would polymerize on heating and was widely used to treat electronic components, particularly transformers, in military equipment, to make them resistant to steam, water, and anything else in that harsh environment. That fosterite process was widely used in the industry for treating military components. There were probably a number of other things, but each of them was classified, and you werenít supposed to talk to people unless they had a need to know, even if they had clearance. If they didnít have a need to know, you were supposed to shut up. So I didnít know about a lot of things that were going on in the R&D center that were military classified projects. Some of them, I heard about later, like the tank gun [stabilizer] or the jet engines. Well, you could hardly miss the jet engines!
Lassman:Yes, I guess thatís true. Must have been loud.
Coltman:Made the whole neighborhood roar when it went off.
Lassman:Were you also going into the manufacturing plants, too, and working with the production engineers?
Coltman:From time to time, particularly at Bloomfield on the magnetron manufacture. I remember one expedition, they sent me out— The vacuum cleaner division had been turned into a production center for microwave wave guide apparatus. You can imagine going from vacuum cleaners to wave guides!
Lassman:Thatís a big transition.
Coltman:They really didnít know anything about what they were doing. They were doing their best to copy the specifications and put things into manufacture. But I went over there and got them out of a hole a couple times on microwave measurements.
Lassman:Was it a case of also having to develop new production machinery to build these things?
Coltman:Yes, sometimes. But the way the government did it, the sensible way was to find an industry that had been making something that had more or less the same kind of processing machinery in place and then ask them to produce what military component they needed. One of these, I remember, was the Conde-Betony [?] Company [spelling?], from which we received microwave radar components, and who was, before the war, the manufacturer of the flute that I played on. So they go to an instrument manufacturerótheyíre used to drawing tubing and all, so you make microwaves.
Lassman:In 1944, you were appointed [section manager of the research laboratories]
Coltman:[I was following] Sloan around. [It is likely this statement was made in the context of Coltmanís new position; that he was still learning the art of the new microwave technology from Sloan, even though Sloan officially reported to him in this new management role].
Lassman:When he was developing the resonatron?
Lassman:Was that a really critical source of information, watching what he was doing?
Coltman:No. I was just putting it down because Sloan never wrote anything down. Everything he knew was up here [in his head]. He just made it. And I went around and said, ďYesÖĒ
Lassman:In addition to doing that, were you doingówhen you were promoted to that positionÖ
Coltman:I was doing this magnetron research.
Lassman:Was it split between management and working in the laboratory?
Coltman:Section Manager was a term that, at Forest Hills Lab, at any rate, it really meant sort of Project Leader. Sections were never very largeófive or six professionals, and they were all working on the same thing.
Lassman:Was that the permanent position you got when your fellowship expired?
Coltman:I think so. I donít know whether I was named Section Manager directly or just Research Engineer. I donít remember whether I even had the title of a fellow. I was one of the fellows that were hired, but what my title was, I donít recall.
Lassman:You mentioned earlier that the research management was not very formal. Not very formal at all. But how was Westinghouse otherwise, as an employer?
Coltman:Very good. We got raises with reasonable regularityónot tremendous ones, but they came along. We had medical insurance and life insurance opportunities. So yes, I think it was among the best.
Lassman:Letís move into the beginning of the post-war period. Were you committed to staying with Westinghouse? Did you give any thought to moving?
Coltman:I never gave any thought to it.
Lassman:Can you tell me a little bit about what post-war planning there was forónot just on two sides, one just generally on research, and in the electronics field, Microwave electronics is a big field now.
Coltman:Yes. There was a substantial amount of planning on the part of engineering management, including the personnel of the research management. I was not involved in it. Chubb was, Condon was, [John] Hutcheson was. Now, Hutcheson, Iím not sure just what his date of arrival on the scene was, but he was brought in from the Baltimore electronics division as the presumed successor to Chubb, in place of Condon.
Lassman:Did Condon, by the way, know this? That he was being groomed, originally, for the [Chubbís] position?
Coltman:I donít really know, but I suspect he did.
Lassman:Because I havenít found any evidence whether he knew.
Coltman:I donít know of any evidence, either. I guess my source of information on that would be Shoupp. I know for a fact that Shoupp told me that Hutcheson was brought in as the replacement. But I think at that time, he may have talked to me about their disappointment that Condon didnít work out like they thought he was going to. At any rate, there was a great deal of planning, and the electronics business was seen as a big future opportunity for the company.
Lassman:On the commercial side or the defense side?
Coltman:The commercial side. As a matter of fact, they thought the defense business essentially was dissipated. It took a guy name Frank Godsey, whose interview I saw on the Internet very briefly just the other night.
Coltman:Yes, an interview with Frank Godsey. I donít know who prepared it. You can Google it.
Lassman:Iíll make a note of that.
Coltman:Godsey was the one who saw a big potential in military business. He set about to get Westinghouse established in that. He peeled off a part of the activity that was going on at the Forest Hills lab, based on Hannahís gyros, which had been applied to the tank gun stabilizer, and also had been applied to the ball turret in the [Boeing] B-17 [Flying Fortress], and those gyros were used there. Godsey took that work and moved it down to a little operation in Forest Hills, in the basement of a furniture store, and started to grow his military business on that, mostly emphasizing automatic flight control. Now, Westinghouse was interested in the Army and Navy, with whom they had done business for a long time. But the Air Force was something new and strange, and it was there that Godsey put his emphasis.
Lassman:But that was a small part of it after the war?
Coltman:It was a small part of Forest Hills, but it grew substantially here in this new operation down on Braddock Road. And then Godsey moved it to Baltimore, and it grew and grew and largely absorbed, eventually, the other existing electronics military divisions down there in Baltimore.
Lassman:In the microwave electronics field, what were the commercial applications, as you saw?
Coltman:They made some attempt to go into microwave communications using towers on mountaintops to transmit high volume communications. That got started, but didnít go very far, I believe. I think they must have sold the whole business. But I really am not much up on the history of that. Another area they went into was vacuum tubes. Now, Westinghouse had made radio vacuum tubes since the very earliest days. As a matter of fact, they were the first to provide what you would call a mass-produced vacuum tube. They had very close associations with RCA. I donít know if youíre familiar with that entanglement or not.
Coltman:They were a tube manufacturer. But the [Westinghouse] tubes were made in a lamp division. After the war, they decided that was going to be a substantially expanded business. The transistor hadnít shown up yet. They set up a new plant in Elmira, New York. At the same time, that plant was starting to get into the television tube business. Television was beginning to take off after the war, and television played a considerable part in the planning for post-war business in electronics. There was a plant inóIím not sure whether it started in [Sunbury [?] spelling [?], Pennsylvania or not óthat had during the war been making electronic proximity fuses. They converted this plant into making television sets. So television tubes, radio tubes, microwave communicationsóthose, I think, were the major aspects of the post-war electronics planning.
Lassman:With a corresponding increase in R&D operations as well?
Coltman:Yes. The Forest Hills lab contributed essentially nothing to black and white television. That had been going on at RCA before the war, and really had kind of started a little bit commercially before the war, but was really delayed by the war and didnít take off until after that. Well, Forest Hills lab was [Vladimir] Zworykin, the guy who really made television what it is today, the electronic television with the iconoscope and the cathode ray tube. That was done early in Forest Hills. I think the iconoscope dates from 1929? Could I be right on that?
Lassman:I think thatís about right. Yes.
Coltman:Yes, 1929. And that work was Zworykin himself. And the work that he was doing was transferred under agreement to RCA to carry it on. After that, Westinghouse really was relying on RCA for any developments in that area. It wasnít until considerably later (I canít remember the date) that the Commerce Commission [Department?] finally broke up this tight relation between RCA, Bell, General Electric, and Westinghouse. Essentially, RCA was really the daughter of these three companies, and eventually became the major contender in the business. We did have a color television program, looking at ways to produce color TV. It was under my direction. I did a poor job of that. For one thing, I knew what the magnitude of the problem was.
Lassman:Was this right after the war?
Coltman:This was after the war, yes, it was a few years after the war. Iím kind of skipping a period here. In the meantime, I had done the x-ray image amplifier development work. But to go on with the television, after Shoupp left and I became manager of the Electronics Department, Hutcheson, then director of the labs, wanted an effort in color TV. We set it up in a little abandoned mine building, not more than about 1000 yards from where youíre sitting. Right off in the woods there. We just didnít have the stuff to do what it took. That problem was much bigger than any resources that we put into it. We dabbled around.
Lassman:But you had a black and white TV business, right?
Coltman:Well, the company had a black and whiteóyes, Iím talking about what research went on at Forest Hills. As I said, this color television research went on for three or four years until RCA announced their all-electronic system, after which we bowed out. But it was pretty clear all the time we were working on it that we werenít putting in what it would really take to make an advancement in that area. We were just fooling around.
Lassman:What did you need? Did you need more personnel, more resources?
Coltman:Yes. I mean, places like RCA had maybe 100 people working on it, and we had six.
Lassman:Was Shoupp looking for a new market,?
Coltman:Shoupp was gone by this time. He was heading up the nuclear power engine for the Nautilus submarine. Iím getting a little ahead of the story here.
Lassman:I can make a note of that right here and weíll get back to it. I want to just go back. I have a couple more questions in the post-war period. Marvin Smith left in 1948 to become a vice president at Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. And I havenít been able to figure out why he left abruptly. I wanted to ask you if you perhaps knew anything about that?
Coltman:I really donít. My knowledge of Westinghouse management essentially stopped at the Research Director. I knew he reported to the Vice President of Engineering. And the Vice President of Engineering would occasionally come out and listen to presentations that we made, but didnít really have much interaction.
Lassman:After the war thereís a new generation of R&D managers. Chubb retires in í48.
Coltman:Was it í48? That late?
Lassman:Yes. Chubb retires in í48. You mentioned Hutcheson comes in from the electronics division.
Coltman:Yes. He came in several years before Chubb retired.
Lassman:Did he have a more rigorous management style than Chubb did? Or was it the same type of thing?
Same type. Actually, before we finished our microwave workóand Iím not sure just what the dates were that we took onóCondon had formed a committee with the members of the X-ray division and a person or two from the research laboratory, and an outside consultant in X-rays whoís name I canít recallóbut he had red hair [laughs]. This committee met to determine what new products the X-ray division might undertake. Now, Westinghouse had been in X-rays quite a long time. I donít know how long, but they had a division down in Baltimore making more or less conventional X-ray apparatus. There was an obvious need that didnít have a solution at that time, and that was in the area of X-ray fluoroscopy.
The images were extremely dim. A doctor had to dark-adapt for at least 20 minutes using red goggles. The eye will dark-adapt to other colors if the only thing itís exposed to is red light. The brightness of the imageóyou have X-rays coming in the back of the patient and the fluorescent screen here and the doctor looking at the fluorescent screen. The brightness of the image was limited by the fact that the patient could only tolerate so much of a dose of X-rays. You couldnít turn up the X-rays. The efficiencies of the screens were fair, but not tremendous. And the image was so dim that, even if the doctor dark-adapted for 20 minutes, there was a lot of detail that he couldnít really see, detail that would show up on a radiograph and a photograph, but not in a fluoroscopic examination. You want to use a fluoroscope when something is moving, when you want to see things moving through the intestines or watch the heart beat.
Lassman:Can I ask just ask what the time was? This was right after the war that you started working on this?
Coltman:Yes. Iím trying to put a dateómust have been í45 or í46.
Coltman:And I was named manager of the X-ray section in the Electronics Department at Forest Hills. Prior to that, Iíd been in high-powered tubes and magnetron radar. And we collected a few other physicistsóI think there were four of us in the groupóto look at various aspects of X-rays. One of the researches I did was to try to find out what the real efficiency of these fluoroscopic screens was. I also worked with the combination of a photomultiplier and a fluorescent screen, which resulted in the invention of the simulation collar, widely used in much more sophisticated form in nuclear physics today.
Lassman:Did you have a patent on that?
Coltman:Yes, we had a patent. But interestingly enough, we tried to enforce it, and we came across the fact that a General Electric researcher at Los Alamos had put this combination together and had written a report on it, but it wasnít filed because it was classified information. And yet, it was held that that was a prior invention, even though it was never filed. So the patent that we had essentially became worthless. But they [Westinghouse or GE?] never followed that through. We used it really to check on people to see whether they had any alpha emission on their clothes or hands. And thatís all they [Westinghouse?] did with it. They never tried to use it for an exposure meter, which is what we were working on, or a more sophisticated counter. So the X-ray committee finally decided what was needed was an effort to brighten this fluoroscope image by some means or other. They assigned one of their members to look into the subject and write a report. He wrote a very thorough report bringing up, in particular, the theoretical limitations of such amplification and that there would be a theoretical limitation because of the quantum nature of the X-rays. That was R.C. Mason. That report was given to me by Condon, and he said, ďColtman, do something about it.Ē
Lassman:You mentioned in that article, by the way, that you wrote on the X-ray image amplifier, about the Mason report, that that became kind of a standard. What was it about that that made you say that?
The main feature was that it brought out something that nobody had ever thought of before, that the X-rays come in fairly big chunks. Theyíre quanta, or high energy. And therefore, even though you have a certain amount of energy in the picture, itís divided into fewer pixelsóis the modern terminationóthan you would have with light by a very considerable factor. As a matter of fact, I learned later, in reading an article from RCA, that they had considered working on an X-ray image amplifier and had themselves come across this limitation, and decided that it was too much of a limitation and it wasnít going to work, and they dropped the project. My first research effort was to find out where does this limitation lie? What is the real limit? We set up some, mainly television methods and did studies of scintillating pictures.
I came to the conclusion that you could do at least 500-times image brightening before that began to make it not worthwhile. That turned out to be quite right. At any rate, we went ahead, and using a principle that had already been described, but never worked out with a fluorescent screen followed by a photoelectric surface and accelerating electrons and projecting them onto another screen. We announced that I think in 1949, taking a risk that I would not take today, that we knew enough about it to announce we were going to succeed when we hadnít succeeded yet. We did succeed, but we also set off a lot of competitors going after the same thing. No, we got there first by a considerable amount, and we had a fair amount of patent protection; but still, it was a kind of premature announcement.
Lassman:I was asking how big the market was for these devices [x-ray image amplifiers].
Coltman:Iíd say thereís not a radiological department in any competent hospital in the world that doesnít have one. Still today, itís the only way. Whereas our original one was viewed by the doctor through an imaging system, it wasnít long before the television techniques got good enough so that you could put it on a television screen. So today, the image amplifier is used to operate a television camera, and the doctor just looks at a TV screen.
Lassman:Is the technology still basically the same?
Coltman:Yes. The initial amplification of the image is still the same.
Lassman:Right after World War II— Youíre doing this for the X-ray division. How big is the X-ray division?
Coltman:Itís relatively small. I donít have any kind of a number to put on it, but they really werenít anything like Calicat [spelling?] or General Electric or any of the other ones. They were certainly a third runner in the US, and more than that, in the world; people like Phillips and Siemens. But the image amplifier was a significant profit-maker for them [Westinghouse].
Lassman:But you mentioned other competitors then were able to move into the field.
Coltman:Yes. One of the failures of Westinghouse that I complained about fairly loudly, without results, is that they were so exhausted after accomplishing this that they didnít go on to the next step. I kept telling them, ďLook, this is a five-inch screen. A guyís going to come out with a 10-inch one, and youíll be out of business unless we get to working on it right now.Ē But no, they didnít go on from there.
Lassman:Do you know what the reason was?
Coltman:Financial. They didnít really have enough money to continue the kind of investment theyíd been making. Actually, the development took a lot longer and was more costly than anybody had projectedónot an unusual event in the research business, by the way.
Lassman:If Condon was on this committee, so this would have started in í45. When did Westinghouse actually start producing these amplifiers?
Coltman:When did we actually start selling them?
Coltman:It was announced in í49. I think maybe the first sales were in the early Ď50s. It got quite a bit of publicity.
Lassman:ďX-ray telescope developed here makes images 500 times brighter.Ē [referring to article in scrapbook]. Thatís you!
Coltman:Yes. This is Popular Mechanics. It got a lot of publicity, which is what we wanted out of this announcement. Like I say, at that time, we were hardly ready.
Lassman:Maybe another way to ask the question is how much did it boost the bottom line of the X-ray division?
Coltman:I donít really have any direct information on that. I know they said it was profitable. They got their money back and more. It was being produced and sold.
Lassman:A six- or seven-year window from conception to. Iím interested in this problem with not moving on to the next step. Were other competitors actually coming in and making the devices with a bigger screen and just took the business?
Coltman:Yes, Phillips in particular, and Hollands [correct name? / spelling?]. Calicat [spelling?] in Cleveland in connection with one of the television companies. They were an X-ray manufacturer; they didnít make the amplifier itself, but they got a TV tube manufacturer to do it. I donít know who is supplying the major ones today. I suspect itís Phillips.
Lassman:Did any of these companies license the technology from Westinghouse?
Coltman:Yes. They all had to. That was a source of income also.
Lassman:On this point that youíve made that these other companies basically took over the market from Westinghouse. What was the view, from within Westinghouse, of your competitors in terms of, on the one hand, just R&D. General Electric, for example. What was the perception among scientists like yourself at Westinghouse about the research competition?
Coltman:We always felt it strongly. That is, it was pretty clear that we were outclassed by Bell Labs, General Electric, maybe on a par with RCA. But Shouppís motto of ďsecond to noneĒ really never came to pass.
Lassman:How so? Was it in terms of output, publications, products?
Coltman:Yes, output, and we never had any Nobel Prize winners. We had two Nobel Prize winners who were employees before they got the Nobel Prize, but they didnít get the Nobel Prize for anything they did at Westinghouse. One was Arthur Holley Compton, and the other was Polykarp Kusch, both of whom early in their careers were research employees, one at the lamp division, and Compton here. So we never had that class of scientific researchers. Slepian was well known. Many of our people in the more engineering fields were well known, like Timoshenko in mechanics and Hannah and Slepian.
Lassman:Wasnít Chubb well known?
Coltman:Fairly well known, yes, but not really what youíd call scientifically in the sense of Langmuir [at GE] or Davisson and Germer at Bell Labs. Though we wrote lots of scientific research papers. As a matter of fact, our annual output, Zener used to boast, was more than Bell Labsí in some years. The big ones never came along, so to speak.
Lassman:Iíve always wondered about what the perception was among Westinghouse research scientists in regard to their competitors.
Coltman:That was my perception, at any rate, and I think it was shared by a number of people. It might not have been universal by any means.
Lassman:When you talked about the development of the X-ray image amplifier with formation of this X-ray committee and then the work that you did to develop the technology and its production, to any extent, was that considered to be a model for technological innovation within the company? Were there competing models for how to develop new technologies right after World War II?
Coltman:No. I think we all indulged in the same kinds of practices. It was usual to work with an operating division on something that they felt they needed. As a matter of fact, the score on things that were originated and didnít have an obvious partner in the company has been pretty lowópretty difficult to do innovation alone.
Lassman:You just mentioned Clarence Zener. He comes in as director of the research laboratories [after Hutcheson]. Can you comment a little bit about Zenerís background?
Coltman:Thatís quite a bit later, historically. Thatís after we movedÖ
Lassman:Thatís after you moved out here to Churchill?
Coltman:Yes. Iím trying to think of a date when Zener came on the scene. Zeener was a different director than any of the others weíve had, I think. He was very science-oriented, and he didnít have the confidence of downtown management that he was sufficiently close to engineering and development for their tastes.
Lassman:Zener was a physicist?
Coltman:Yes, well known in solid-state theory, which was a topic of very considerable interest at the time he became director of Westinghouse research, of course. The transistor business was beginning to take off. Things like integrated circuits were underway. Zener, in contrast to other research directors, spent a lot of his time personally doing theoretical research, rather than doing research management. Heís a very likeable guy. Some of his management decisions I found hard to live with. I disagreed with him several times on organization problems and who ought to be running what. As a matter of fact, at one point, I offered to leave if he would give me a reasonable time to look around for a position somewhere else.
Lassman:When was this?
Coltman:This was some time in the late Ď50s or early Ď60s. The bone of contention was a person that I was asked to report to, with whom I had a more or less constant conflict. There are very few people in the research lab or the Westinghouse organization that I felt like I couldnít get along with. But there was this one person, who I just wouldnít report to. I told Zener I would rather leave. He asked our Human Relations Director, a man of long-time service and very well admired, to report to the same person, and he offered to leave. So I think Zener finally got the message and relented on that decision. In spite of that, I liked Zener a lot. I just didnít like these particular things that he often did. But as a person, [he was a] very nice guy.
Lassman:He took over for Hutcheson when Hutcheson stepped down?
Lassman:Hutchisonís an engineer by training, whereas Zener is a theoretical physicist. I wonder if perhaps that training had an impact on the way he perhaps approached management problems?
Coltman:Oh, yes. Iím sure it did. He made a lot of changes in what the lab did. He tried to turn it, and I think desirably so, more into a theoretical understanding of phenomena that might be important to the products, and less emphasis on invention and product development and that sort of thing. I think that was a desirable thing to do, but it didnít go down too well with higher management [laughs]. How long was Zener there? Do you know that?
Lassman:I donít have that information with me. I donít recall that it was that long.
Coltman:I think it may have been six, seven years. At any rate, management brought Shoupp in to take his place and Zener became Research Director Emeritus or something like that. He stayed on at the lab, and Shoupp took over with a very different management style.
Lassman:Iíll finish that out. Was his management style to be more responsive to what the senior managers down at headquarters wanted?
Lassman:And directing it not so much at the theoretical understanding of the science?
Coltman:Yes. And again, Shoupp was into everything, like the ducks on the pond in the back of the lab as well as the color of the pipes that were painted.
Lassman:Thatís like he had been when you were reporting to him in the Electronics Department.
Lassman:The last question Iíll ask just on this section, and this gets back to what I asked you earlier about your view of what Westinghouseís competitors were doing in R&D. To what extent was Westinghouseís strategy for post-war expansion based on the idea of trying to come up with blockbuster innovations, things that were really going to change the company? Like a Bell Labs transistor or a Dupont nylon.
Coltman:No, I wouldnít say any of their planning was based on that. Their planning was really based on developing technologies as they came out of the war, and the way technology was advancing in general, from whatever source. I donít think they looked to R&D or other innovative organizations like new products in any but as sort of an ancillary way, as far as their business planning was concerned. And I think thatís all you can do. You canít really depend on having breakthroughs. Youíd like to have them. You hope they happen, but you plan without them.
Lassman:Should we stop there for today?
Lassman:Just to refresh and get us started, before you were appointed Manager of Electronics and Nuclear Physics, what was your position?
Coltman:Section Manager of Microwaves and Imaging, it says here.
Lassman:And that was within the Electronics Department at Forest Hills?
Coltman:Yes, thatís right. Shoupp was manager of the department at that time. Westinghouse had just received a contract from the Navy under Admiral [Hyman] Rickover to develop a nuclear engine for a submarine. They set up at Bettis Field, the original airport for Pittsburghóa very small one. Shoupp was appointed Technical Director of that operation. He recruited several people from the research labs, including the Electronics Department and other departments, some of the research lab, and some from the operating divisions. They moved out to Bettis Field, and I was appointed to take Shouppís place as manager of the Electronics Department.
Lassman:Who were some of the other people that Shoupp recruited from Forest Hills?
Coltman:Sidney Siegel, [Sidney] Krasik, and Don Baird [spelling?]. Thatís about all I recall at the moment. But there were more like eight or ten people originally from there. That technical operation grew from that small start to several hundred people out there before they got the engine finished.
Lassman:Did you have any involvement? Because I noticed the department, from 1949-1960, was Electronics and Nuclear Physics.
Coltman:No. The nuclear physics aspect was the operation of the atom smasher at Forest Hills. That had been put back into service. In fact, it was just being put back into service at the time I took over, as a nuclear accelerator. There was a small group of people, maybe four or five professionals, continuing the nuclear physics research.
Lassman:What kind of experiments were you doing?
Coltman:They were experiments that mostly took advantage of the precision with which one could measure the voltage of the particles, the energy of the particles, more accurately. Cyclotron output had quite a spread, so that if you were trying to do a scalpel experiment with fine variations in bombarding energy to see what happened, the Van de Graaff generator was much better suited to that. By this time, it [the Van de Graaff generator] had been outmoded as far as energy. The cyclotrons were producing much more energetic particles.
Lassman:How high did you get the voltages on the Vandergraff after the war?
Coltman:The voltage got up, I think, to a maximum of four million volts.
Lassman:Did you get a sizeable current in the tube?
Coltman:No. I donít remember what the current was. But it was adequate for experiments. Usually those things are limited by the counting rates of the detectors, rather than the number of bombarding particles available. Actually, the Office of Naval Research, ONR let a contract to us to continue that work. So much of it was done under government contract.
Lassman:Were there any applications in mind? Or did you have decisions to choose what you wanted?
Coltman:Noóapplications as far as the company was concerned. We were just sort of content to just go on with this contract work from the ONR.
Lassman:How did you choose research projects on the atom smasher? Were there any restrictions on what you could do?
Coltman:Usually they were discussed with the representative from the ONR, Emmanuel Piore. He was the person in charge of our contract, so we discussed with Piore what might be worthwhile to do from their standpoint, getting data and measurements.
Lassman:Were they thinking about applications?
Coltman:No, it was pretty general. The Office of Naval Research, after the war, and particularly under Piore, took a pretty broad view of fundamental research. They wanted to investigate things that might, in the future, be of interest to the Navy. But it was not at all as devoted to a particular project as this thing got to be later on. Fundamental research always diminishes in favor of practical research and development [laughs]. But at that time, it was fairly wide open what we did.
Lassman:Can you give me a sense of how much money you got from ONR for the nuclear physics research?
Coltman:I donít have it in dollars, but it was probably enough to support two or three professionals. And then we, as a company, supported the other two or three. I think there were five or six altogether.
Lassman:But ONR was the majority of the funding?
Lassman:The researchers who were working on the atom smasher, did you recruit them? Or were they drawn from other parts of the company?
Coltman:No, we recruited them. See, Birge Jennings [spelling?] was in charge. Kwan Sun [spelling?] came later. Kwan Sun later went back and forth to Taiwan and was very instrumental in setting up their nuclear research program in Taiwan.
Lassman:But he got started here in Westinghouse in nuclear physics?
Lassman:Did you recruit him?
Coltman:Yes. He came from Carnegie-Mellon. Very interesting guy. He would take these trips to Taiwan on leave of absence from Westinghouse with our permission, be gone six months or so. And then eventually he went over there. As far as I know, heís still there.
Lassman:What did he set up over there?
Coltman:They had, essentially, after the war and after they were split off from China, very little in the way of any government-sponsored research. He set up the nuclear physics research. Iím really not very familiar with it, but I know he was instrumental in getting that accomplished.
Lassman:And he got his Ph.D. at Carnegie-Mellon under who?
Coltman:I donít remember that.
Lassman:Did they have a nuclear physics program at Carnegie-Mellon at that time?
Coltman:I donít really know. I think Iím correct at Carnegie-Mellon. Itís possible it was University of Pittsburgh. I know University of Pittsburgh had one at that time. I may have been mistaken. It may have been Pittsburgh.
Lassman:You mentioned thereís another person, Jennings. Was he recruited locally also?
Coltman:I donít know. Shoupp recruited him, and I really donít recall his background.
Lassman:You mentioned that the Van de Graaff, in terms of precision measurement, was superior to the cyclotron. And you also mentioned that the University of Pittsburgh had a cyclotron. Was there any collaboration with the nuclear physics community here in Pittsburgh?
Coltman:After the war, very little. There was some interchange of information. But not as it had been before the war, when Condon was there. The head of the Pittsburghóyouíve mentioned him in Condonís bio. He had a professorship that was established by Westinghouse at [the University of] Pitt[sburgh].
Coltman:Yes. They had a fair amount of interchange before the war. But after the war, when the program was restarted here, I donít remember much at all in that.
Lassman:Was there any thought to building additional particle accelerators or in expanding the nuclear physics program at Westinghouse when you were running it?
Coltman:No, there wasnít really. I expect youíd say it was tolerated because we had a government contract to finance most of it. We really didnít have any thoughts of what its future meaning might be to the company.
Lassman:What about the science that came out [of it]?
Coltman:Not very much. There were a few papers, measurements of nuclear energy levels. But nothing very important.
Lassman:When did the atom smasher shut down?
Coltman:Actually, we shut the atom smasher down after we had purchased a second machine, commercially made with a somewhat lower voltage. I think that was a two million voltómuch more compact, but much easier to operate. We used that primarily for making measurements that were of interest to the operation out at [the] Bettis [Atomic Power Laboratory].
Lassman:What kind of measurements?
Coltman:All measurements of energy levels and neutron cross-sections and things they needed for the design of the reactor.
Lassman:And these werenít the types of experiments you were doing with the original atom smasher?
Coltman:Partly. We did some of that, and it was for that reason, in effect, that that was a growing need that we got the two million-volt machine.
Lassman:That was just a better alternative to the original atom smasher?
Coltman:Yes. The old atom smasher was hard to keep going. It was a difficult machine.
Lassman:You mentioned this one was purchased commercially, the smaller one.
Coltman:Yes. Van de Graaff himself had established a company up in Boston to make and sell these.
Lassman:Was that the High Voltage Engineering Corporation, HVEC?
Lassman:And was that installed at Forest Hills, the new, smaller one?
Coltman:Yes, that was installed at Forest Hills and later, it was moved up to the Churchill Lab.
Lassman:When did the original atom smasher shut down?
Coltman:It must have been around 1952 or somewhere around there, because we moved [to the Churchill laboratory] in í56. By that time we had already had the new machine going for some time. So somewhere in the mid-Ď50s.
Lassman:Did the Navy contract change when the atom smasher shut down? What were the funding patterns?
Coltman:Yes, I believe it did. I know that by the time we got the machine moved to the new lab, we were doing work of interest to Bettis and to the corporation. Kwan Sun had developed some analytical techniques using nuclear phenomena that were rather interesting in applied research. And that continued for some time. As a matter of fact, we ordered a very much larger machine from [the] High Voltage Engineering [Corporation]. It was a double-ended machine. It accelerated from both ends to essentially double the voltage.
Lassman:This was a Van de Graaff?
Coltman:This was a Van de Graaff, yes. That machine we ordered from them, it was under construction, and then budgetary squeezes at the lab brought a decision that we werenít going to go ahead with it after all. So we cancelled the contract. But [Westinghouse] had a financial penalty, of course. In fact, we were obligated to continue until the machine was finished. So what we did, we made an arrangement with Penn State University to take over the machine. We finished paying for it, and it was delivered to Penn State.
Lassman:When was this?
Coltman:Oh, probably some time around 1960 or so.
Lassman:This is after the original atom smasher shut down? Youíre running the smaller Van de Graaff?
Coltman:Yes. We continued to run a small Van de Graaff up at Churchill, even though we abandoned the idea of building the big one [tandem accelerator]. Operation of the big one would have entailed very substantial additional expenses besides the machine itself—the building to house it, the people to run it and maintain it and so forthóthey just decided they werenít going to do it.
Lassman:And this would have been funded by an Office of Naval Research?
Coltman:No, they werenít involved at all. This is all company money weíre talking about.
Lassman:Iím just not clear on what you said. The contract was terminated?
Coltman:The contract with High Voltage Engineering to build the machine before this was terminated.
Lassman:Who proposed the idea to build this bigger machine?
Lassman:And was the idea just to be doing more fundamental research?
Lassman:How powerful was this machine expected to be?
Coltman:I donít really recall. It may have been somewhere around eight million volts, but thatís a number I really canít vouch for.
Lassman:But was it a pressurized generator, like the first one?
Coltman:Yes. It was two Van de Graaffs hooked in series, in effect. Particles were accelerated down one portion by a belt system, and then accelerated down the next one, just like putting a couple of batteries in series. But to double the voltage, there were two machines.
Lassman:Do you know who, from the management side, wanted to cut this project, or where those orders came from?
Coltman:Well, they came from Hutcheson, but his arm was probably twisted pretty hard by the higher-ups. He was Vice President of Engineering at that time, not Director of the Laboratory. Letís go back. Weíre getting pretty far ahead of the story here. The nuclear physics aspect of the Electronics Department was really a very minor part of it.
Lassman:Tell me about the rest of it.
Coltman:When I took over, the total population, the number of people reporting to me, was about 100.
Lassman:Thatís in the whole department?
Coltman:The whole electronics department. That includes the technicians, the secretaries, and so forth. The professionals were probably little more than half of that, some 50 or 60 professionals. We had a number of things going. There was some microwave work continuing. The imaging work growing out of the X-ray image amplifier had actually turned to the development of television camera pick-up tubes, which, eventually, over several years, became quite successful. They resulted in some novel, highly sensitive tubes, one of which was used in the first television transmission from the moon—the moon camera. So that was one group. There was a group on gas discharge, largely directed towards problems of interest to the lamp divisionómercury lamps, fluorescent lamp kind of thing. But this was pretty basic research. They werenít trying to develop a lamp. They were trying to understand the mechanisms of the discharge. That work under Dan Alpert was very successful from the standpoint of the contributions made, not only in understanding gas discharge, but in vacuums. He achieved ultra-high vacuums that were considerably in advance of what was available at the time. Dan was one of the principle members if not the founder of the American Vacuum Society. He was prominent in that. That was part of the Electronics Department. And electronic solid state had made its appearance at this time.
Lassman:This is post-transistor?
Coltman:Yes. Well, this is at transistor. I donít know when the exact date of the Bell Labís announcement was.
Coltman:Yes. We had already started, and under Shoupp, a program trying to learn about transistors. We had some considerable background from the microwave crystal work that Angello had done. And while that had stopped, it was started up again. We recruited some people. We transferred some physicists from microwaves. Lloyd Hunter, I donít know if that name means anything to you; heís been rather prominent in the solid-state business. He went to IBM, left Westinghouse and went to IBM. Dick Longini [spelling?]. And because of a lack of space in the Electronics Department, which was getting pretty crowded, we set up in a temporary building just up the street from Forest Hills and occupied a floor of that with solid-state research.
Lassman:Tell me a little bit about what it was like with the invention of the transistor? How did you get up to speed on that technology, and what were the commercial applications you were thinking about?
Coltman:The commercial applications were fairly obvious. One was rectifiers. Westinghouse used a lot and was a major supplier of copper oxide rectifiers. These are solid-state devices. But they donít have anything like the capability and the efficiency of the silicate devices.
Lassman:Just for clarification, a rectifier is used to convert AC to DC.
Coltman:Yes. Electricity will only pass through it in one direction.
Lassman:Would that be something that would be used to get electricity into your home, because itís carried on AC?
Coltman:No, not into the home, but widely used in converting to DC. DC motors have some advantages in many cases, in elevators, for instance. They usually run from DC. They are sometimes used to convert the field of a rotating piece of equipment to direct current while the armature keeps running on alternating. . . . Thereís a whole variety of uses for it. Copper oxide was not used in automobiles, but the efficiency of the silicon rectifier is such that these days all automobiles use an alternating current generator and rectify the output in order to charge the battery.
Lassman:Using a silicon rectifier?
Coltman:Yes, using a silicon rectifier. That was an application we had in mind. In fact, not too long after that, the company set up a solid-state division to make devices. And we, of course, were interested in all types of transistors. It became apparent that they were going to replace vacuum tubes, which is substantial business for Westinghouse. So it was imperative that we cover our butt in that respect.
Lassman:What kind of strategy did you use?
Coltman:Well, the strategy was mostly learning as much as we could from our own work and gathering as much information as possible from what other people were doing. Hutcheson put it rather well when he said a major function of a research laboratory is not only to generate information, but to have people available to interact with others through scientific meetings, scientific papersówho can understand this, who can gather the information. If you donít have some research of your own going on, itís hard to have people who understand where the state of the art really is. So we did a lot of that, and we developed some techniques for making transistors, but we were not prominent in the business at that time at all.
Lassman:Let me just jump back to one question. You mentioned you saw the copper-oxide rectifier and the possibilities of silicon as a replacement. Did you see thatÖ You were just commenting on the use of silicon rectifiers to replace copper-oxide.
Coltman:Yes. The work that we had done with germanium, and what everybody had done in the crystal rectifier business using germanium and silicon, were point contact devices. These were good for low current communication kind of things. But after Bell Labs invented the point contact transistor, with the two points and the base of germanium, there was a considerable development looking for ways to improve the amount of current they could handle. And eventuallyóI say eventually, because it was only a matter of a year or two, in the art as a whole turned to making layers and finding out how to make a transistor in layers where you could make large areas and handle large currents. Those were the ones that became practical in the rectifier business. It was really an outgrowth of the transistor work that stimulated that.
Lassman:You mentioned just before we were talking about the transition from copper-oxide to silicon rectifiers, that the business for Westinghouse was never really that big.
Coltman:Well, it was not as big as many, but we had a high-power semiconductor division at Youngwood for several years, which did a fairly good business. The transistor work eventually went to our electronics divisions in Baltimore where they were making defense applications of rather specialized transistors. The laboratory supported that, and that has become a fairly substantial factor in their business. These are transistors and solid-state devices that operate at microwave frequencies and are essential nowadays in modern radar—military equipment of that sort.
Lassman:But what about the commercial business?
Coltman:The commercial business, we made a try at integrated circuits with a group who was transferred— Well, it was first set up here in Churchill as separate from the research laboratory, but on the same site, to try to commercialize the integrated circuit business. They moved down to Baltimore and grew somewhat, but we were really far out-distanced by Texas Instruments, General Electric, and those people. It never got to be much. It really, eventually, turned over to being an R&D and limited specialized production operation for the defense divisions.
Lassman:Can you comment a little bit about why Westinghouse was behind in that field, and what factors contributed to that?
Coltman:No, I really donít know, except that there probably wasnít the will to make the huge investments that these other operations made. Thatís about all I can guess.
Lassman:You mentioned the competitors, GE and Texas Instruments. Were they really far ahead in this type of electronics R&D?
Coltman:Well, I donít think they were particularly far ahead in the technology, but in application, in the variety of devices that they made. And the marketing that they did far out-distanced what Westinghouse put out.
Lassman:How about the scientific content of the R&D?
Coltman:Well, they probably had in that respect also. Our group was fairly small. And while we made some contributions, there were no major advances or breakthroughs that you can attribute to Westinghouse.
Lassman:In the integrated circuit business?
Coltman:Well, Gene Struell [spelling?] had some early things going in the integrated circuit business, but we really didnít follow up the way that they did at Texas Instruments.
Lassman:What time period did the integrated circuit business— would that have been the late Ď50s?
Lassman:It was [Jack] Kilby who came out with the integrated circuit, if Iím correct.
Coltman:Well, thatís a complicated history. A lot of people had their fingers in that pie. But yes, I think late Ď50s or early Ď60s.
Lassman:Let me ask some questions about recruitment. With the emergence of the transistor and the new electronics technologies, where were you going for electronics specialists, given the steep learning curve in this field?
Coltman:Iím trying to recall. I think there was a group at Indiana at the university that we got a couple people from. But at the time we started, it was new to everybody, except Bell Labs. People converted to solid state. There were hardly any that were trained in it, in a university sense. Most of the people we had were our own physicists who transferred into solid state as a field. They did their learning on the job, so to speak.
Lassman:There were no textbooks, no courses?
Coltman:There were plenty of kinds of seminars and meetingsólocal meetings, national meetings, and so forth, where people presented papers and exchanged ideas.
Lassman:Were the physicists in your department and even within the research laboratories in general, did they go to conferences and publish?
Coltman:Oh, yes. Finding out what everybody was doing was a major part of the operation.
Lassman:And you mentioned Hutcheson had a very clear vision of that.
Lassman:One other question Iím interested in about all this is the threat to the tube business. How did that play out? Did Westinghouse continue to be a dominant force in the electron tube business, even though its role in the commercialization of semiconductor technology didnít take off?
Coltman:The tube business just gradually disappeared. The operation at Elmira [New York?] turned to imaging tubes, camera tubes, based on the work that we did here in the electronics department. Cathode ray tubes, which was right from the beginning an important part of their business. The cathode ray tube is just now on its way out as an imaging device. Itís been that long for solid state to finally catch up with the cathode ray tube. But I think it has.
Lassman:The decline of the tube business at Westinghouse, was that very gradual?
Coltman:It was quite gradual in the receiving tube business. The cathode ray tube television business, color television tubes, kept on for quite a while, actually, until the operation was sold.
Lassman:And was there a major R&D effort ongoing in the tube business?
Coltman:No, except for the camera tubes. There was nothing on cathode ray tubes for ordinary receiving tubes. In fact, the R&D on ordinary receiving tubes had long since gone from the laboratories.
Lassman:So the Electronics and Nuclear Physics department, the electronics component was focused primarily on semiconductor, solid state? Or did you also have tube research?
Coltman:Some microwaves and this gaseous charge that I mentioned under Alpert. Letís see, what other things were going on there? Itís hard to remember. I wish I had some organization charts. There are a whole bunch of them down at [the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh].
Lassman:At the History Center.
Coltman:That will lay right out for you what we were working on at any particular time, because the organizations were based on technology. You had people interested in this technical field and that technical field, each one of which had a section manager. So on the organization chart, you can really tell what we were up to at any given moment.
Lassman:Okay. Iíll have to go and look at those documents. I want to ask just another couple of questions about what you were doing. Clearly youíre becoming much more of a research manager. How did you balance working at the bench with becoming an R&D manager? How did you manage that transition?
Coltman:Largely, I abandoned it, working at the bench. The demands of administrationónot just paperwork sort of administration, but talking with people, keeping in touch with them, reviewing their programs, making suggestions on what to do, making organizational changes where itís appropriateóthose things took up essentially all my time. So I, as you will note from the list of publications, I would say practically ceased [doing research] at that time.
Lassman:In the mid-1960s?
Coltman:Before that. The publications, after I became a manager, were really those that resulted from work I had done earlier, primarily on the image amplifier itself.
Lassman:Was that difficult for you to do? Not to be doing bench science anymore, being in the laboratory?
Coltman:No, not particularly, because I was so closely in touch with the research that was going on. I was really immersed, now no longer in what I was doing and what our group was doing, but what 50 or 60 people were doing. Thatís stimulating.
Lassman:You were learning a lot about a lot of different fields at that time, too.
Lassman:One of the reports that I read before I came here to talk to you, is this study that you did in 1982, where you talk about the new product divisions and the efforts to commercialize new technologies. I want to ask you about the relationship between the Electronics and Nuclear Physics department and the Special Products department and the New Products laboratory that were set up to help transition products developed in the laboratory into commercial [markets].
Coltman:Not so much as on their own, to look for opportunities for new products, whether they came out of the lab or not. I canít remember when the first of those was set up, but it must have been about in the early Ď50s.
Coltman:We had some interaction, but I canít recall at this moment any joint projects. There may well have been some, but I donít remember what they were. This other operation was essentially an operation on its own, getting its material from wherever it felt was desirable. I think one of the things they did was magnetic amplifiers. If I remember correctly, the head of that operation had devised some rather interesting magnetic amplifiers. He brought that technology to Westinghouse, and Westinghouse incorporated them in a lot of its apparatus and sold magnetic amplifiers as a product. But the magnetic amplifier, unfortunatelyówell, [laughs] unfortunately for itóit was a fine product introduced at just the wrong time, because the solid-state transistor now became a device that could handle power. It just took over everything that a magnetic amplifier could do, and did it a lot better. So the magnetic amplifier disappeared from the scene as an electronic component.
Lassman:It didnít have a chance?
Coltman:No. Thirty years earlier, it probably would have taken over the place and still be used, because as you know, itís hard to uproot a product once it really gets established. Itís like the lousy typewriter keyboard we have. It doesnít make any sense at all, but nobody can change it because everybody uses it.
Lassman:You mentioned the New Products Departmentólet me make sure I have these terms rightóthe Special Products department and New Products Laboratory, they were supposed to identify technologies. You said from your department, they werenít really pulling anything out of it?
Coltman:They knew what we were doing, but I donít recall any joint projects at that time with that group. There may have been some solid-state work.
Lassman:What you say in that report, though, is that they werenít particularly effective.
Coltman:No. No. They didnít contribute much to the corporationís new products.
Lassman:Did you have an alternative strategy for getting products out of the laboratory into the market? And did you try to promote that?
Coltman:No. We worked with the operating divisions. That was our strategy, if you can call it that, that is to work on things that they felt they needed, not that we felt they needed.
Lassman:Did that work effectively?
Coltman:Yes, that worked fairly effectively. In fact, it was the only thing that worked. Youíll have to remember, our financing came largely from the divisions. Now, money is an important aspect of how things work. We had various financing schemes for the research laboratory during its career. Some of those ideas, I think I described in one of the reports that you may have. But all of the corporate money, of courseóthatís excluding government contractsóhad to come through the company one way or another. Some of it came through headquarters, who taxed the divisions for it. Some of it came directly through the divisions in the form of pre-planned programs. For a while it went under the terminology of long-range major development programs that the divisions would sponsor. And others would come from direct purchase orders from the division. If they wanted something they couldnít do and the lab could do and knew how to do it and deliver it right away, they would issue a purchase order for that work. Those purchase orders would come at any time during the year, whereas the LRMD (Long Range Major Development) was an annual planned program that was agreed upon in the period before it was carried out.
Lassman:Agreed upon between?
Coltman:The individual divisions and the research laboratories by a mechanism that later became more formalized. Iíll tell you about that when we get farther down the road.
Lassman:Can you give me just a very rough breakdown of how much money came from corporate headquarters, from the operating divisions, etx? Even if one was just more than the other.
Coltman:It varies with the period. In one of those reports that I think you have, at least that I told you about that was at Heinz [History Center], gave a history of that, curves of the amount of money that came from each of the sources. That would be a better source than my recollection. Though at the time that I took over the department in 1949, I would guess the work of our department, the electronics department, was maybe 30% government contract, largely ONR. No, that may be a little high. And 20% corporate, unspecified money that we decided what we were going to do with that, and maybe 30% this pre-planned division program and 10% purchase orders. Those were very rough, off the top of my head, because these changed over the years.
Lassman:Thatís fine. I know what report youíre talking about, actually. I can go back and get more specific figures. Let me just ask a couple more questions about the department. One is getting back to recruitment. Were you looking for Ph.D. scientists, primarily?
Coltman:Yes. The company had, for many years, had a program of hiring electrical engineers and other Bachelorís degree people for what they called the student course. They would take on maybe between 50 and 100, depending on their perceived needs, and bring these in to the student course for them to learn about the company. By the way, those student course manuals that are now in the Heinz history collection, theyíre fairly thick books, give excellent descriptions of the company at any given time, because that was what they were teaching these studentsówhat the company was all about. Then theyíd send them out on assignment to various divisions. If they liked that job, okay, they were hired by the division, and if the division liked them. Some of them came to the research lab. So we took on maybe one or two a yearóBachelorís degree people, electrical engineers, most of whom continued studies at night at the university, getting Masterís and so forth. That was one source, not a big one. Most of the time, we went out to recruit at universities and get Ph.D.s.
Lassman:What was a typical day like for you in this position?
Coltman:Busy! A typical day was listening to people that came into my office that had a problem that needed to be solved, often some technical aspects to it. Others were matters of being able to purchase new instrumentation or get more office space, or that kind of thing. Then I spent quite a bit of time just going around, walking around the operation and talking to the people that were doing the work and finding out what they were doing, keeping in touch.
Lassman:Did you run any kind of colloquium series or anything, where you would bring your group together to talk about new developments?
Coltman:Occasionally, but those were most often done by the section managers, who would hold a meeting in their section, to which anybody would be invited. Somebody would present a topic about what he was working on. Also, the laboratory as a whole did that. They had a weekly seminar at which one prepared a more formal or elaborate kind of discussion about what he was doing, or a particular topic that came up that people might be interested in. Those were held once a week, laboratory-wide. You could attend or not, at your pleasure. But there were usually 40 to 50 people there. Almost always Joe Slepian, who was one of the toughest commentators you can imagine. . . . Every time a speaker came in, they would eye Slepian and wait till he was going to crack them over the head with some statement [laughs].
Lassman:He was still active during this period?
Lassman:Was he in your department?
Coltman:No. He was Associate Director, essentially on his own with a few people reporting to him.
Lassman:When you were there running the Electronics and Nuclear Physics department, the transition from Forest Hills to Churchill with the new lab [was going on]. Were you involved in the preparation of that transformation, the design of the new lab, where it should be?
Coltman:No, not really.
Lassman:Were there any specific things about it that come to mind, whether it was a good move or they should have moved somewhere else or stayed in Forest Hills?
Coltman:Everybody was enthusiastic about it. It was brought about, essentially, by the fact that the lab had grown too big for that site. As I told you, we had this out building up on Shadeland [spelling?] Avenue for solid-state work. We built a penthouse on top of the electronics building to houseóInterestingly enough, it started as a special radar penthouse, but was occupied by the mathematics department. Well, that was part of the electronics too, a small mathematics group, which was just getting started in—
Lassman:One other question about recruitment. Since you were recruiting academic Ph.D.s, did you notice any bias among Ph.D.s who perhaps had negative views of working in industry? I ask that because given this time period, there was a dramatic demand for Ph.D. scientists, not just in industry, but in academia. Did you ever get any sense of a bias against industry, against Westinghouse?
Coltman:No, I donít think so. Actually, the way this recruiting was done, a couple of people from the lab would go out to a particular university. Their presence would be known a couple weeks before, and those students who were interested in talking to Westinghouse came. So those that didnít have an interest in Westinghouse or industry, we never saw.
Lassman:Another technology besides the image amplifier I want to ask you about is thermionic generators. That was something that you talked about in at least one of the reports that I read. Was that something that you were involved in?
Coltman:Not directly. It was going on in my department, and I wrote this up as a story. Really, I think somebody from the Corporate Communications department wanted it and said, ďWhy donít we tell a little story about what weíre doing in thermionic generators?Ē So I wrote the paper, but I wasnít reallyóWell, I was quite familiar with it, of course. It was a project in my department, but I wasnít myself doing it.
Lassman:That wasnít something that moved quickly into the commercial field?
Coltman:No. It never succeeded at all. But a thermo-electric generator, we had extensive government contracts on that. That didnít work out either. . . . Both of these were designed to be usedóor were intended or hoped foróto be used in nuclear reactors to more directly generate electricity from the heat of the fission, rather than boiling water and making steam and running steam turbines.
Lassman:This was a more direct method?
Coltman:This was a more direct method. It was intended to be inside the reactor itself and use the heat available there to generate electricity, which would come out of a couple wires out of the reactor. The steam generators were always a big problem in nuclear power, converting the heat to steam and running a steam engine, so to speak.
Lassman:Is that because of efficiency?
Coltman:The efficiency and corrosion and leaks. One didnít dare have leaks, because this water was radioactive. It had to be absolutely leak-proof, or almost absolutely leak-proof. Nothing gets absolute. This corrosion of the materials used over long periods of time turned out to be a very serious problem, too.
Lassman:The thermoelectric, thatís the one that takes the heat directly out of the reactor?
Coltman:Yes. That came closest to being practical, but never really made it. It was done under government contract for several yearsóa fairly large program under Bob Hikiss [spelling?]. That was not my responsibility.
Lassman:Was that handled by Bettis?
Coltman:No. It was another department in the Churchill Laboratory, not the electronics department.
Lassman:In one of the reports, is that on the thermoelectric side there were some attempts to make refrigerators and—
Coltman:Baby bottle warmers [laughs].
Lassman:Consumer. And that, apparently, didnít take off?
Coltman:No, it didnít take off. We sold a few, I guess. And theyíre still available on the marketónot Westinghouse. But you can buy thermoelectric coolers for camping and use on boats. Theyíre a fairly limited market kind of thing.
Lassman:Itís just interesting, going from nuclear reactors to the consumer shelf. Itís an interesting trajectory of technology. I think that covers most of the questions I had on the Electronics and Nuclear Physics department. Letís move on to Director of Mathematics and Radiation department, 1964-69.
Coltman:You have a misconception there. I wish I had a set of organization charts. It would have been very useful in this discussion. When we moved to the new laboratory, Hutcheson was director. But he never got to occupy the office that he had prepared for himself in the new building.
Coltman:He was promoted to Vice President of Engineering and moved downtown. Temporarily, if I remember, Cy Herwald [spelling?] took over, but I may be a little uncertain at this. But certainly, afterwards, at any rate, [Clarence] Zener became director of the research laboratory. Now, he had reporting to him by that time, maybe ten DepartmentsóElectronics and Nuclear Physics Department, Mathematics Department, Chemistry Department, Insulation Department, Mechanics Department, Magnetics Department, Metallurgy Department. And then he had the financial operations and the facilities and the communicationsóall these people reporting to Zener. He was not that kind of a director. He was interested in solid-state physics.
Lassman:Doing the science?
Coltman:Doing the science. So he decided a reorganization was in order. He appointed three associate directors. Where is my resume? Up until 1960, I was Manager of the Electronics Department.
Lassman:Is that Electronics and Nuclear Physics?
Coltman:Yes, I suppose it was, but these names keep changing [laughs].
Lassman:Okay. Because from the bio you sent me, it said 1949-1960, you were Manager of Electronics and Nuclear Physics; and from 1960-64, you were Associate Director.
Coltman:Yes. Associate Director of Equipment Science. What equipment? This was a title given to me, Director of Equipment Science, which meant that I was in charge of some three, maybe four of the then-existing departments.
Lassman:This was when Zener was director?
Coltman:This was when Zener was director. Itís his reorganization, in which he wanted a lot fewer people reporting to him. So he grouped the existing departments into groups and he named an overall associate director to be in charge of those groups, and then to report to Zener. In this Equipment Science, if I remember correctly, I had Mathematics and the Electronics and Nuclear Physics Department, which was taken over by Art Anderson. The Mechanics Department—itís so hard to remember at the time, but it was three or four. I had administrative responsibility for those, and the managers of those departments reported to me. I was involved in the planning of the program and watching to see how things were carried out. But it got more and more administrative at this point, and less and less contact with the actual work that was going on. That, essentially, continued on until 1969. Now, this Director of Mathematics and Radiation, I donít know who thought that title up. I never liked it. It was just another rearrangement of some different departments under my direction. By this time, Shoupp was inóhe came in 1962. He replaced Zener.
Lassman:Zener wasnít there that long? You had said he was there for six or seven years.
Coltman:We moved up in í56, and Shoupp came in í62. So it was no longer than six years. I think Herwald was in there for a short time, taking over from Hutch[eson] before Zener was appointed. But it would be six years, maximum. And Shoupp wanted his own reorganization and rearrangement when he came in.
Coltman:So in 1964, that was some two years after Shoupp came, or probably less than that. It could be as little as one year, depending on the dates. He reorganized the place, and I think some of the departments were, pieces were broken off, and I took responsibility for a somewhat different set. Again, I canít remember what it was. But my function was essentially the same.
Lassman:As it had been under Zener?
Coltman:As it had been under Zener. I was now reporting to Shoupp, and I had these several departments under me. This change in title really wasnít a change in functional job at all.
Lassman:Do you know why Zener left? What were the circumstances?
Coltman:Yes. The company was unhappy with his management of the research lab; primarily, I think, from a standpoint of wanting to pull it too much in the fundamental science direction at the expense of answering the divisionsí needs. Thatís a pretty general statement, but they thought theyíd be happier with somebody who was more familiar with the company operations. As a matter of fact, I think, as a rule of thumb, the top management of the company didnít want, really, anybody running a research operation who wasnít very familiar with the rest of the corporation. And Zener, you know, had been brought in from the outside, from [the University of] Chicago, and had never had any experience in running an operating division or any of the kinds of problems the company had. They just felt he was kind of too divorced from their culture. So they moved Shoupp in.
Lassman:Two questions: who wanted to get Zener there, and what was the reason?
Lassman:Hutchison wanted to get him?
Lassman:What was his reason for doing that?
Coltman:Hutcheson had taken on Zener as a consultant to the laboratory while he was still in Chicago. I think he thought well of him. And it may have been that one of the members of the [Westinghouse] Board of Directors. Oh, gosh. He was president of MIT.
Coltman:Julius Stratton. He was on the Board of Directors of the corporation. His assignment, in particular, on the Board of Directors, was to look at the research lab. Stratton came out several times. I remember making presentations to him about what we were doing. I think that Stratton had an influence on Hutch[eson] also, in getting Zener. Thatís just a guess. I donít have any real evidence. At any rate, that experiment lasted for six years, and then they brought in somebody who really knew the corporation, which was Shoupp. Now, Shoupp had a very successful career as Technical Manager, first of the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, which built the submarine engine for the Nautilus—nuclear energy. And then not too long after they began that, they started to think about commercializing atomic power.
Coltman:The Shippingport. That was done under government sponsorship, and also built at Bettis. It was really a modification of the submarine reactor. But then the company went off on its own, a commercial atomic power division, to pursue this. Shoupp was the Technical Director of that. I think their first reactor order was from Belgium. But I think their first reactor that went into operation was the Yankee. . . . At any rate, Pat was the foundation of the companyís preeminent position in nuclear power, and Shoupp was really the technical guy responsible for that.
Lassman:And Bettis was already a pretty big operation by the early Ď60s?
Coltman:Yes. Bettis had the Commercial Atomic Power division, which, at their beginnings, were moving into the old Forest Hills lab. You asked what happened to the old Forest Hills lab. That became the site for the Commercial Atomic Power division. They did design work. They didnít do much construction there, though they did some testing. But Shoupp was head of that. Of course, he had a really very outstanding career as a technical director.
Lassman:Hutcheson hand-picked him to come back to run Churchill Labs?
Coltman:Iím not sure. He came back, but Iím not sure whether Hutch[eson] was still in the picture at this time or not. Again, an organization chart would show who was Vice President of Engineering. It may have been Herwald.
Lassman:Thatís all right.
Coltman:At any rate, Shoupp came in í62. To me, he came back, because he was my boss before, and he was my boss again.
Lassman:Given that you had worked under Hutchison as director of the research labs, then Zener comes, and then Shoupp comes, did you notice that under Zener the lab was really moving towards fundamental research that was detached from the operating divisions? Did you see that?
Coltman:Somewhat. It really didnít get appreciably detached, but it was definitely going towards more scientific work. And I think that was good. I didnít really have any objection to that.
Lassman:Why were you in favor of that? Iím just trying to get a sense of to what extent corporate management was justified in having concern over Zenerís management policies, given that you were seeing it from the laboratory end.
Coltman:I donít really have much of an opinion on that. I know that Zener didnít occupy himself very greatly with the management of the lab in the ordinary sense of management. He was interested in the technical and the work and the science. He spent a lot of his time doing science himself, that theoretical work. No, I donít really know what their entire motivation was or what the picture was. Iím pretty sure they were happier dealing with Shoupp than they were dealing with Zener.
Lassman:Tell me a little bit about what you were doing as Director of Mathematics and Radiation. Was that a department or a group of departments?
Coltman:No, it was a group of departments, and I had department managers reporting to me. I was, to a considerable extent, a bridge between the work that our groups, our departments, were doing, and our customers—the operating divisions. A lot of the work was involved in planning what the program would be and trying to make applications for funding for the work to try to see that it was financed.
Lassman:Funding from the operating divisions?
Coltman:And from the government and from the corporate side, all three of these. That was a chief occupation.
Lassman:You had mentioned this before, that you werenít walking around the lab as much. You werenít in the science. Now you were really moving into the management, the strategy planning and so on. Given that you were doing that at this time, did you start looking more long term, in terms of where the company should be going, what was going on with your biggest competitors, like GE?
Coltman:It would be nice to say that, but I think most of the time I was scrambling for money!
Lassman:To keep your operations running?
Coltman:Yes. Long-term strategy was certainly a part of it, but it wasnít this lofty planning. Itís like being the president of the United States, you know. You have lots of lofty planning ideas for the future, but most of your time is really spent taking care of the crises that come up all the time.
Lassman:You mentioned just trying to get money. Whatís the background for that?
Coltman:The budgeting was an annual process. And in effect, we started over again, budget-wise, every year. You had to justify what you were doing to continue on. If you wanted to start something new, you had to find a potential sponsor for that and go into new work. Reporting and filling out forms became more and more prevalent. In fact, a lot of people accused me of being the source of that. And perhaps I was, to some extent, because I kind of like to do things in an orderly, rather than in an off the top of the head, fashion. But I was certainly not alone in that. A lot of it came from Shoupp and from the corporate and from the financial department.
Lassman:Tell me a little bit about some of the research projects that were underway.
Coltman:Jeez, thereís so many of them now that I canít talk about them.
Lassman:Maybe another way to do it would be to ask, was there a growing diversification of research projects? Were you working on a lot of small things, a lot of big things, a mix and match? I just want to try to get a sense of what the landscape was.
Coltman:I donít think the overall landscape was very much different, except that as time went on and money seemed to get scarcer and scarcer from headquarters; we relied more and more on outside contracts, government contracts, and the division requisitions. So I think more and more, what we did was influenced by what outside customers either asked for or could be persuaded to ask for.
Lassman:When you say government contracts, do you mean a lot of defense money?
Coltman:Yes. Department of Defense, later the Department of Energy. And purchase requisitions.
Lassman:These would come from the operating divisions?
Coltman:Yes, the operating divisions.
Lassman:So the amount of money that was coming from corporate was drying up?
Coltman:Yes. It was diminishing as a percentage of the work, at any rate.
Lassman:What were the reasons behind that?
Coltman:Some of them were hard times, as the economy varied. I donít know the exact correlation now. Iíd have to go back and study that. But we had one champion downtown who worked with Shoupp. Thatís awful. I canít remember this manís name.
Lassman:Was he the engineering vice president?
Lassman:Was it Monteith
Coltman:No. Monty was long gone. Who was it Shoupp reported to? Oh, anyway, he was very interested in the research laboratory and tried toó
Lassman:You were mentioning the person who Shupp reported to. This would have been the Vice President of Engineering?
Coltman:No. Not at this time. Oh, gosh. I wish I had the charts in front of me.
Lassman:Thatís all right. You can just say there was someone down there in corporate.
Coltman:There was someone down there who was a champion, among the headquarters people, of research. He tried to take care of us pretty well. There were changes in the way the funding was obtained and the program planning went on. That Iíll really come to later, when we talk about the next position I had. But there was this general tendency towards more customer-oriented work and less fundamental research and corporate-sponsored research.
Lassman:I keep asking this question because Iím interested in what your competitors are doing. But from your perspective, was this just something that was particular to Westinghouse? Or were you keeping an eye on what GE was doing?
Coltman:No, I donít think it was peculiar to Westinghouse. General Electric, for instance, took down a good deal of their research laboratory in Schenectady. They set up a more product-oriented operation in Syracuse, I think.
Lassman:And this was in the Ď60s also?
Coltman:Yes, about this time.
Lassman:Did you get any grumblings from the researchers who were working under you?
Lassman:How did you manage that?
Coltman:Well, persuasion and trying to solve their problems. There were ups and downs in the morale, but I think as a whole, it was pretty good. But financing became more and more of an occupation, not only for the managers such as myself, but for the individual researchers. I think this is typical of whatís gone on in academia. When I went to school, a professor was hired by the college and he did his research with the college money, and unless he wanted to expand, he never worried about where the money was coming from. Now youíve got to make a proposal every year and get it reviewed and see if you can get a government grant. Much the same thing was going on in industry.
Lassman:One question I missed here. At the time that you were Director of Mathematics and Radiation, in the Ď60s, you served on the membership of the Numerical Data Advisory Board in the National Academy of Sciences. I wanted to know a little bit about that. How did you get into that? Was there a relation with the company?
Coltman:Serving on committees of the National Research Council and other industry committees was always a function performed by members of research, as well as other members of the company. I donít know who asked me, ómaybe it was Lou Branscomb, to serve on this particular committee. We met every three months or something like that and discussed the problems that the NAS [National Academy of Sciences] might be having. I was not a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Iíve never been. Iím a member of the National Academy of Engineering. But this was an NAS committee, I think. I was also on a vacuum tube committee earlier than that, and maybe two or three others that were government committees. These were advisory sorts of things that they called on from industry or people who might be knowledgeable about what was going on.
Lassman:The Numerical Data Advisory Board, can you just tell me briefly what the content was?
Coltman:They were really trying to devise better methods of organizing and distributing scientific information all over the world. We talked about various methods of doing that and what things were in place at the present time. I didnít serve very long on that, as I remember.
Lassman:Letís move to Research Director, Industrial and Defense Products. Do I have that title right?
Coltman:All right. Now, this was another Shoupp reorganization, and a quite different job. In order to improve the communication with our major customers, the divisions, and to assist in the program planning process, Shoupp appointed three, maybe four people with this title, and assigned them to certain company groups. The company divisions were divided into groups, each of whom had a group vice president who oversaw the operations of all these multiple divisions. One of these groups was the Industry and Defense group. That (again, I wish I had an organization chart) comprised all of the defense divisions: the electronics division down in Baltimore, the Bettis division out here, and nuclear power, and the divisions that made heavy electrical machinery—generators and motors—that sort of industry product. This is distinct from the divisions that were making refrigerators and toasters. You saw that product list of how many products Westinghouse had [laughs].
Lassman:Yes. There must have been a lot of divisions.
Coltman:In this new position, I was assigned a dotted line to report to the group vice president of the Industry and Defense divisions. At that time, I think it was Charlie Weaver; later it became Tom Murrin. And later than that, Robert Kirby, who became president of the corporation. I reported . . . to them, which meant, particularly in the case of Murrin, that I was quite apart of their planning groups and seminars. Murrin . . . well, any of the people that I reported to, would have meetings of their division managers periodically. I attended those meetings, so I was kind of in on what they were talking about. It was my responsibility to annually plan the research program being carried out at Churchill for that particular group of divisions. The idea was that I was to get well-acquainted with what they were doing and what their needs were and to use that knowledge in working with the people who would be carrying out the research and planning their program for the coming year.
Lassman:Is this somewhat similar to what the New Products and Special Products departments were supposed to be doing?
Coltman:No, not at all. No, entirely different. This is a communication bridge, is what this position is. I didnít have any responsibility administratively within the lab at all. Nobody reported to me. Well, I did have an assistant, Mike Fox [name/spelling?], who helped me. But nobody reported to me in the laboratory. All the work was carried out by the operating managers and the staff. I was purely an intermediary between them and a large group of their customers.
Lassman:Was this a completely new type of communication system?
Coltman:Yes. This was something instituted by Shoupp, and quite different than the way that it had been done.
Lassman:How had it been done?
Coltman:Well, it had been done by process of osmosis, I guess you would call it, in which individual department managers would try to contact the divisions they were interested in and work directly with them. That still went on to a considerable extent. That kind of communication wasnít cut off. But the formal programming had to go through me. And submitting the request for the budget, for the coming year, that was something that I submitted on behalf of the group vice president that I reported to . . . . Of course, it was worked up by me in connection with the management and the staff at the research laboratory. It became quite a formal process of planning, essentially, I suppose, not dissimilar to the sort of thing that the National Research Council has to go through in deciding who gets the money.
Lassman:Was this at all a response to corporate headquarters decreasing the amount of money that was coming directly from it?
Coltman:I think that Shoupp felt that this was going to increase that amount. And I believe it did. Iíd have to look back at that. But at any rate, it seemed to be well accepted by the group vice presidents. They kind of liked to have somebody they could turn to that knew all about the research program that was being carried out on their behalf, rather than having this diffuse stuff—ďHey, what are you guys doing anyway?Ē
Lassman:Did it pay off?
Coltman:I think it did. I enjoyed this greatly. I found that, in general, the group vice presidents I worked withóand I worked for Weaver and [Douglas] Danforth and Murrin and Kirby at one time or anotherówere all very interesting people and challenging people, in particular Murrin. I never went into Murrinís office that I didnít come out with an assignment and raring to go.
Lassman:What was his background?
Coltman:Actually, he had a Bachelorís degree in physics, but he went into manufacturing. He rose through the company and was the candidate for the presidency when Kirby retired. Heís now a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Duquesne University [in Pittsburgh]. Heís still here. Great guy. [Tape cut]
Lassman:Just resuming here. We were talking about your position as Research Director of Industrial and Defense Products. At the same time that you were in this position, was the defense business also growing for Westinghouse?
Lassman:You mentioned earlier that there was a shift, at least among the research laboratories, to get more money from government agencies.
Coltman:Yes. But all of those werenít defense, by any means. The Department of Energy played a big part, and some from this organization of electrical companies. What are they called?
Lassman:The Electric Power Institute.
Coltman:Yes, Electric Power Institute. Things like that, as well as defense.
Lassman:On the civilian side at this time period, can you comment a little bit about what was going on in nuclear power? What was the companyís perception of what was going on in the nuclear power industry and conventional electric power industry?
Coltman:No, I really canít comment on that. We didnít have close relations with the nuclear power group at all. I think the reason for this is that they were a highly technical, skilled group in there, and in order to carry out that business properly, they had to have experts in metallurgy and nuclear science. In all of the things they dealt with, they really had to develop an expertise of their own. They werenít dependent on the research laboratory for that. Most of their work was internal.
Lassman:This would have been in the atomic power division at the old Forest Hills site?
Coltman:Yes. We did have at the lab here some testing facilities set up by the metallurgy department, a hot lab. They did a fair amount of work for them.
Lassman:Thatís at Churchill?
Coltman:Yes, at Churchill. That was almost all under purchase requisition kind of work, so not very much went into the program planning. The purchase requisitions were kind of outside the program planning operation.
Lassman:That you were doing?
Coltman:Yes. Well, they came into the picture somewhat, but that was something a division could ask for and pay for any time of the year. It wasnít a pre-planned affair.
Lassman:What about on the industrial sideópower generation, the electrical distribution business? That falls within your position.
Coltman:Yes. A lot of the work had to do with the application of solid-state devices to power handling. The laboratory made some very significant contributions in those areas, in power control and power distribution, even DC transmission, that kind of thing.
Lassman:And these developments were coming out of the lab as a result of this communication system thatís been set up, that youíre in charge of. Can you just talk a little bit more about some of these other solid-state devices? Did they take the place of mechanical systems?
Coltman:Yes, and to some extent, taking the place of rotating machinery. We also had some developments in measuring current using optical means of measuring the current in a power transmission line. One canít climb up and approach a power transmission line at several hundred kilovolts while it was running and clamp a nanometer around it, yet youíd like to know the current. We devised methods of doing this with a light beam from the ground up to a special unit on a transmission line. I think those are in fairly common use now.
Lassman:Is that something that the operating divisions needed?
Coltman:Yes. That was in power transmission.
Lassman:Given the push toward getting outside contracts, outside funding from government agenciesóand Iíll focus on this case just on defense—to what extent was there spillover from R&D that was done for defense agencies into commercial applications for the company?
Coltman:I think a fair amountónot maybe direct things that you could point to, but all of the work that we took on for outside contract was pretty relevant to the kinds of things we were doing inside anyway. We tried consciously to do that, to get contracts for things that we were interested in anyway.
Lassman:We can move on to director of research planning, 1973-1980. Was there anything else you wanted to go over? I think Iíve got pretty much everything from the Industrial and Defense Products position, because a lot of the questions I have in here deal with staff and budget. But from what you said, you were managing a department.
Coltman:Okay, well, this was another organizational change. Letís see, when did that happen?
Lassman:I have 1973.
Coltman:í73, that would be under Meklin [spelling?].George Meklin had replaced Shoupp at that time. Again, he did some reorganizing in various departments.
Lassman:What was his background?
Coltman:He was originally project manager out at Sunnyvale [California] for the system that contained and launched the Polaris missiles carried on nuclear submarines. That went back quite a long ways. But that was a very successful job. All of the nuclear submarines now use these launching systems that were developed at Sunnyvale under Meklin. He then was appointed in charge of not only the Sunnyvale operation as general manager, but the undersea division in Annapolis [Maryland]. I hadnít mentioned that before, but during the war, the company developed acoustically guided torpedoes. That work was carried on after the war, and is still going on, various underwater applications, mostly torpedo-like. He was put in charge of that division also. I might say that the research laboratory had, in the electronics department at Shouppís urging, a somewhat brief attempt to do underwater research. We built a small research submarine.
Lassman:And when would this have been?
Coltman:Well, letís see, Marshall Evans, Vice Chairman of Planning, is the man whose name I couldnít remember.
Lassman:He was down at headquarters?
Coltman:At the headquarters, who was Hutchesonís champion. He was under Donald Burnham. [Tape cut]
Lassman:We were just mentioning about this submarine. Just refresh my memory, just for the tape, of what this was supposed to be used for.
Coltman:This was primarily Shouppís urging to get into underwater exploration. We hired a gentleman named Roy Gaul [name/spelling?] to take over this. He had designed, and we had constructed, a small submersible, a two-man submersible called the Deep Star 2000, which we used for a relatively short time out in La Jolla. That was transferred out of the research laboratories to the Underseas division in Annapolis. I sort of lost track of what they did with it from there on. But in the 1960s, an important development from the Electronics and Nuclear Physics department was under the direction of Arthur Nelkin [name/spelling?]. He and his group developed, under contract to the Navy, a side-looking sonar, which was the first of this type of undersea imaging device. It was used to discover the Thresher, the nuclear submarine that the Navy lost. It was used in several other explorations; that is, that particular Nelkin model. And successive models of that, which the Navy has had developedó Many of the pictures that you see of underwater wrecks and other discoveries are done with this same technology. So it was really quite an important contribution to the art of underwater exploration.
Lassman:Did you work on that yourself?
Coltman:No, not myself, but Nelkin was one of the section managers in the Electronics and Nuclear Physics department and I was head of that.
Lassman:You mentioned this within the context of, was it Meklin who came to head the research laboratory?
Coltman:No, this was earlier than that.
Lassman:Iím just trying to get back to the Director of Research Planning position that you took up in í73.
Coltman:No. I just had a flashback [laughs].
Lassman:Okay. All right. I just wanted to make sure if there was any connection. But when you took this new position in 1973, as Director of Research Planning, that was a reorganization?
That was a reorganization by Meklin, yes. Meklin came in when Shoupp retired. I think George is one of the best research directors that we had. I liked them all, but Meklin had some qualities that I think everybody in the lab really appreciated greatly. But, as seems to be typical when a new change is made at the head, there was a reorganization. He came up with appointing me as Director of Planning, and these three people that had the same job as I did had formerly had, as Research Director of Industrial and Defense Products. There were three of these people. There was one in Consumer Products, the washing machines and that sort of thing.
What was the third one? I canít remember. . . . At any rate, there were three of these research directors. They were to report to me, as Director of Planning. A new person was appointed as Director of Industry and Defense. The four of us, as a groupómyself and these three other peopleóhad responsibility for all of the program planning in the R&D center. I also had charge of the budget. The financial department reported to me in this new position. I was sort of Meklinís number two guy with the financial and programming planning responsibilities for the lab. By this time, I might say the lab had grown rather substantially. Not too long after we moved into Churchill, a new building was built to house a group called Materials Engineering. Materials Engineering had been in existence for about as long as the company had, just as long as the research laboratories had. But they were located down in East Pittsburgh. They had grown rather substantially. And they were moved up to their own building in Churchill, which was later attached with a bridge to the research laboratory building.
They operated there for several years, and then another building was built to house a new products organization. At the time, some time during Shouppís reign, these all came under a single management. The Research and Development Center really consisted now of the sum of three organizations, so it was getting to be a pretty big kind of operation. We had responsibility for program planning for what used to be Materials Engineering as well as the R&D Center, and to some extent, theónot the New Products Organization, butÖ If you could remind me what the name of that was under La Croix [name/spelling?], the one that I said was most successful.
Lassman:Yes. I donít know if I have that here. In any case, itís in one of your reports [at the Heinz History Center].
Coltman:At any rate, I had, then, the responsibility for the budget and the program planning for this whole ball of wax. It was now getting to be a pretty big ball of wax. That was the job until I retired. My position was taken when I retired by John Hume [name/spelling?], except that he didnít have responsibility for the budget, which pained me greatly, because John Hume was one of the guys I had the most trouble with when I had responsibility for the budget and he was pounding me all the time for more money, and then when he took my job, he didnít have that responsibility!
Lassman:Who did you report to in that position?
Lassman:So you no longer had a direct contact with the vice presidents of the—
Coltman:No. I had three people reporting to me who did that. That system was still in place.
Lassman:You had just moved up?
Coltman:I was moved up and another man was appointed to take my Industry and Defense operation.
Lassman:At this time that this is happening and when youíre moving into this position in the 1970s, the company is diversifying. Iím thinking of that report that you wrote on the different businessesóthe shrimp fishing, 7-Up bottling, the record mail order businessódid that at all impact what was going on at the research lab in terms of funding priorities?
Coltman:Well, yes, but the company had always been diversifying. All throughout its history it had been adding things, growing. Thereís a very entertaining and well done film in the archives [at the Heinz History Center] that I rescued, called ďWestinghouse from A-Z.Ē Itís about a half-hour singing commercial describing the businesses that Westinghouse is in. Itís kind of fun to look at.
Lassman:But did it impact R&D specifically?
Coltman:Only gradually and imperceptibly. There wasnít any noticeable change. As we grew and as the company grew, we took on more and more of these diversified things.
Lassman:You retire in 1980. You mentioned that you were still a consultant [writing] these reports.
Coltman:Yes. Meklin suggested that I take a look at innovation in Westinghouse and how it had been pursued.
Lassman:What was his reason for asking you to do that?
Coltman:He just felt that we ought to look back and see what weíve done before we make all the same mistakes again.
Lassman:The same mistakes being?
Coltman:Or do it better next time. I wrote several reports that youíve seen on the case histories of innovation and some on the various attempts at new products, which succeeded and which didnít.
Lassman:Letís switch topics. Tell me about whatís going on with your interest in acoustics and the flute collection [you have]. Youíve written a lot of papers. Did those deal specifically with the instrument? With acoustics in general?
Coltman:Mostly the acoustics of the instrument. It was stimulated by a paper I read in the Acoustical Journal [Journal of Acoustics?/citation?] describing a certain aspect of the flute, particularly how its frequencies related to the way it was blown. I read that thing, and I said, ďThat canít be right. That just canít be right. It doesnít look right to me.Ē
Lassman:When did you read this?
Coltman:Oh, some time in about 1960, I guess. I said, ďBy gosh, Iím going to find out whether this is right or not!Ē So I went down to the basement and collected up a little equipment (I had some electronic equipment for my ham radio) and did some experiments. It turned out it wasnít right. Then I got to do some more and more experiments. I published a paper on that. Then I got interested in the mechanism by which the flute sound is produced and made some experiments on that, which apparently hadnít been done before. At any rate, I got a couple papers published in the Acoustical Society [journal title] And then those peaked the interest of the Physics Today. I wrote an article for Physics Today describing what I had learned. Unfortunately, I was wrong in one important aspect, which was reported in that paper. It turned out to be later that I was wrong. But that has been one of the most widely quoted and reprinted papers. Itís been published in a couple of books and on a CD ROM for high school. And itís got this damned error in it that I wish it didnít have.
Lassman:Did you have a chance to correct it?
Coltman:I corrected that later in subsequent papers, yes. After that, quite a number of people took up studying this mechanism, and it still is not entirely clear. You would think something as simple as making a noise by blowing over a Coca Cola bottle, which is really all it is, would be well established and any engineer could figure it out, but it ainít so!
Lassman:Have you been continuing to work on it?
Coltman:Iíve sort of dropped out because the competition is fairly heavy. Thereís a group in Holland thatís been publishing extensively on it without finally finishing it off. And as I get older, my ambition gets less and less. Iíve done only a few things lately.
Lassman:When you started doing this, in the 1960s, did you do that on your own time? At home?
Coltman:I was doing it at home, but I did borrow the acoustic chamber at the lab on Saturdays occasionally for some of the work. And my secretary did type up the papers, Iíll have to admit that, though after I got a computer, I typed my own.
Lassman:And your flute collection, have you been collecting flutes throughout your life? Or is that something that you picked up later?
Coltman:No, that started some timeówhen did I get my first one? I could look at my acquisition book and tell you accurately, but it was some time in the 1950s, I would guess. I had come across one or two that I had collected or had given to me, old flutes. Then when I was in an antique store up in New Hampshire I saw a flute that I was very interested in. I bought it, and the proprietor said, ďIíve got lots more flutes at home if you want to come around and take a look at them.Ē I said yes. So the next morning, I went and I bought something like 20 flutes from him. That was when I really started.
Lassman:Just a couple of questions just to finish up, some general reflections on your career as an industrial physicist and R&D manager. Is there anything that you think about, going back over your career, that stands out that you did or would have liked to have done.
Coltman:The thing that stands out, of course, is the successful invention of the X-ray image amplifier. Thatís clearly the high point of my technical career. But I enjoyed all of it, and I found Westinghouse a very good employer. The people I worked with were all interesting and challenging. I have no regrets. Very few times in my career did I consider doing anything else. I did have a couple of head hunters come and ask me if I wanted to investigate positions as head of some other industrial research labs. I took a look at some of those, and I took a look at IBM, but I didnítÖ I decided not to. I also was offered a position as engineering manager of the expanding electronics division down in Baltimore. And except for the fact that I enjoy sailing, that was about the major attraction. But it didnít take me long to make up my mind Iíd be happier here, and I donít regret the decision.
Lassman:You mentioned IBM as one. What other firms were coming after you and recruiting you?
Coltman:The other one wasówhat was it? General Telephone?
Lassman:That became Sylvania, I think.
Coltman:It transformed into something. I forget what. Now, it was [Emanuel] Piore that invited me to IBM.
Lassman:Did you go out and look at what they were doing?
Coltman:I went out and looked, and he offered me a job and a good salary.
Lassman:Would this have been at Yorktown Heights?
Coltman:Yes, Yorktown Heights.
Lassman:One question that does come to mind, one of the managers you didnít mention who I wanted to ask you about is [Gwilym] Price, who became president of Westinghouse right after World War II. The reason I ask you about him is he wasnít a technical person at all. He was a lawyer. I was wondering if you had any impressions of him as the first post-World War II manager.
Coltman:Not as a manager, but as a person. I had an interesting experience. Price came out to the Forest Hills lab to attend some kind of a dinner that we were giving in our shabby cafeteria. I had just come to Westinghouse. I donít think Iíd been there more than three or four months; must have been just after I came back from MIT. It so happened that I sat next to him at the dinner. We had a conversation. He asked me how I liked Westinghouse and how I liked my job. I said, ďI like it fine except for one thing. Iíve found Pittsburgh terribly filthy.Ē That was the only thing that I really didnít feel first class about. About five years later, I happened to come across Price at another occasion. He came up to me and he said, ďHow do you like Pittsburgh now?Ē He remembered some kid, you know, from five years ago! And he remembered what Iíd said. And by that time, Pittsburgh had cleaned up very considerably.
Lassman:What did you tell him?
Coltman:I said I thought it was improving very greatly, but I sure was impressed, his ability to remember people. Thatís something Iíve always been very poor at, remembering people.
Lassman:Well, I think that covers it. Are there any other questions or comments?
Coltman:No. I think thatís it. Itís been an interesting experience.
Lassman:Thank you for your time.