Oral History Transcript — Dr. Lawrence Goldmuntz
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Lawrence Goldmuntz; October 21, 1983
ABSTRACT: This interview deals with Technical Research Group, Inc. (TRG) in the decade ca. 1953 to ca. 1963, from its founding to its merger into Control Data, concentrating on its laser activities. Goldmuntz was company president during those years. Founding and early contracts; TRGs quantum electronics program; Gordon Gould and the ARPA laser R & D contract; other Dept. of Defense contracts. TRGs non-government laser activities; marketing and other company procedures. (See also tape of interview with Richard Daly).
Goldmuntz: The Technical Research Group, Inc. (TRG) was founded I guess in 1953, 1954, by three individuals; one who was expert in hydrodynamics, graduated from MIT; another was an expert in electro-magnetics, graduated from Harvard; and then I was in electronics and graduated from Yale. I’d started the firm and the two other gentlemen came to my attention and it was simply a decision to do work in scientific areas. At that time, good scientists doing work that looked as if it might have long term potentiality could be supported by various government organizations like the Office of Naval Research. The Air Force had a comparable organization whose name I’ve forgotten and the Army had a comparable organization.
Bromberg:The Office of Scientific Research?
Goldmuntz:For the Air Force, I guess. Then there was something called the Air Force Cambridge Research Center that played an analogous role in certain areas. And our initial programs were supported by them, based on proposals that we made to them that were of interest to them. We also did some work for Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins, the lab of Johns Hopkins here in Washington, even though we were located in New York City at that time.
We were very inexperienced businessmen. We had picked this semi-commercial atmosphere of working, rather than the university atmosphere for reasons that weren’t very clear to me at that time; but that’s what we wanted to do and that’s what we did.
We started out in consulting work only, for these various organizations. Then after a while, we began to do some experimental work, and built up laboratories, machine shops and things of that sort.
Bromberg:So you were starting just in theory, just to do calculations and stuff?
Goldmuntz:Just in theory. That’s right. I’ll try to remember some of the initial projects that we had, which were highly theoretical. We had one program with Johns Hopkins on missile guidance over the surface or the ocean, because of the Lloyd’s mirror effect, where the missile sees an image of itself, and you don’t want the -- or it sees an image of the target in the water, and it might fly into the water or might not, and so one had to devise techniques for preventing that from happening.
We did some work for the Air Force on minimum varying deviation radomes that would create the least amount of distortion in a radar beam as the radar scanned behind a radome.
That’s very easy, when you have a sphere on the ground, but the aerodynamics of a sphere aren’t very good, and so when you have the nose of an aircraft, you have some problems associated with the minimizing distortion and loss, and still maintaining a reasonable aerodynamic shape. So we did some work of that sort. And then we also did some work for the Office of Naval Research on minimum wave resistance hulls. So it was highly theoretical to begin with.
Then after a while, we began to expand from theory to experiment. We delivered some radome structures. We designed some hull shapes and had them towed. And we did some work on electronics.
At about that time, I became interested in some work that Professor Weber was doing down here on negative temperatures. And that led to the development of some notions on nuclear magnetic resonance filters for special filtering problems that the Signal Corps had. It led to some work on rubidium cell frequency standards that the Signal Corps was interested in. We were gradually expanding our staff.
Bromberg:How big were you getting to be?
Goldmuntz:Well, it grew a little bit every year. You know, we started out with three people. I guess by the time we were heavily involved in the laser work, or first made our proposals in laser work, we were probably something like 30, 35 people by that point in time. So I’d guess -- These are all guesses -- But from ‘53, ‘54 to ‘58, we grew from about three people to probably 30 odd, 30 or 40, in that vicinity.
About the time that we decided to go into the field of quantum electronics and that was based more or less on hearing Professor Weber talk about negative temperatures; the maser at that time had been produced and so on. We then became more interested in the broader area of quantum electronics and went into the general area of rubidium frequency standards with the eyes of theoreticians and also experimental physicists, this sort of area. And we had as a matter of fact a program in the cesium beam standard With the Signal Corps as well.
Bromberg:Now, was Weber a consultant or were you just talking to him?
Goldmuntz:No, just heard his talks at Physical Society meetings, and was impressed by --. I guess the negative temperature concept, inverted states essentially was something that Weber pioneered; although I guess it was reduced to practice by Townes at Columbia before Weber ever did anything with it. But if I recall properly, he actually measured population densities in various states, and showed that he had achieved a negative temperature and I think that was before the first maser was produced, but I’m not sure I remember that correctly, but I think that was right.
Bromberg:Some of the people I know of and you can tell me who else is important -- Richard Daly, on your staff Rabinowitz, Jacobs. You might want to fill in a few others.
Goldmuntz:Well, during this expansion period, we decided that atomic frequency standards were an important area to be in and recruited Richard Daly. He was a good experimental physicist, worked with Zacharias at MIT, and we didn’t have that kind of skill and we felt we needed it if we were going to do anything with this. He joined us. Jacobs joined, I believe, after the laser programs got started. I’m not really sure. Rabinowitz, I’ve forgotten just when he joined us -- it was also, I believe, after the laser project started. There was a fellow name of Newstein who was a PhD in physics from Harvard who joined before that and did some theoretical work on the rubidium frequency standard and on I guess the cesium beam work that we were beginning to do. There was also a fellow named Nelson who did some work on the nuclear magnetic resonance filters
And a way, trying to get the fields more uniform, so the spectrum would be more uniform, things of that sort.
And about that time when we got to the rubidium frequency standard work, and the government decided to support that, we found that we were short of personnel again, and Gordon Gould joined the company to work on the rubidium frequency standard.
At that time, he didn’t sign the standard patent agreement with the company and that was brought to my attention. I said he was going to have to sign that at some point because we have to give rights to our work to the government on government contacts that we had. And he said, “Well, it’s something I thought about before joining the company.” And I said, “Well, that can be excluded, anything you did before you came here is not our property or the government’s property, but what you do here --.”
Well, he saw he’d have to write it up, we’d note it and that’s it.
It still took a long time for him to write it up and I was getting a little nervous about it, and leaned on him a little bit; and finally, I was told by, I guess it was Newstein, that Gordon was really reluctant to reveal all this and hadn’t really worked out all the details and he thought it was very important, and he had talked to, I believe it was Newstein. Newstein told me it was extremely important, I really ought to wait and spend some time with him.
I said, “For goodness sakes, what is this all about?”
Then Gordon came in and explained it. I think Newstein was present at that time and my God, you know, this sounded intriguing. We ought to do something about it. And we certainly ought to get a patent filed very quickly, because I hadn’t heard of this before, it seemed as if, if it all works out the way it looks as if it might work out, it could be extremely important.
So we said, “You still have time to work and do this at the same time,” so we made some time available for him to write up his disclosures, and we urged him to get them in. And then we worked up some arrangement whereby he and the company would share in the proceeds, if any, from this patent and the company would pay for the preparation of the patent and its filing, its prosecution and all that.
Bromberg:That must have been quite a change for you, because up to now you were doing government work and all the patents were assigned to the government?
Goldmuntz:From time to time, even at that early stage, we would pick something that we thought was likely to be commercially interesting, and would put our own funds in it, and would hope to commercialize it. So from time to time we did that. It wasn’t a foreign practice for the company, but certainly it was nothing that was as significant as this.
Bromberg:I see, so you had a little commercial relationship --
Goldmuntz:Beginning. Beginning. Beginning the commercial developments. They hadn’t really matured into any major markets or anything like that. We were cognizant of commercial possibilities in some areas and, as you well know, not every commercial potential opportunity turns into reality, and not very many did, it was always a small percentage of them, but there were one or two that we were working on, before Gordon joined the company.
Bromberg:There’s a kind of metamorphosis, from a consulting firm or firm that was mostly wrapped up with government contracts, to one which was keeping its eyes open, is that it?
Goldmuntz:That’s right. I think we always had the feeling that we would do government work, and that we would attempt to develop commercial products, and we didn’t know quite in what direction, that this would all work out. But we were always mindful of it. As a matter of fact, the work that we were doing in the radome area, for example, we decided not to go into the manufacture of radomes ourselves, but we did have a lot of analytical capability after a while, in designing radomes that had attractive properties, and we signed agreements with some of the radio manufacturers, to help guide them in their product development. We didn’t set up a radome manufacturing facility of our own. With respect to ships, we never could figure out a way to ...
But the notion was that, yes, we would do work, and we hoped basic or frequently basic research work, development work, and hope that that would grow into products that we could commercialize because the company wasn’t a university.
So we did have that in the back of our minds, I think from the very beginning. We didn’t know quite how it would get expressed, but we just let nature take its course, and thought, you know, it would grow out of the work we were doing.
Bromberg:I guess I would also like to ask you; it seems to me that you were growing very very well indeed. Now, compared to the other companies around at that point, was your growth exceptional, or just normal.
Goldmuntz:I don’t think it was exceptional. We were interested in the large empires of people or money or buildings, but we didn’t know how to go about doing it. In any case, that wasn’t our background. We were all pretty close to coming out of graduate school; and I guess I’d worked in two companies before I started this company, and I guess, my two first partners worked in one company before we started this. So we didn’t have much industrial experience. They were small companies. And we wouldn’t have known how to do that even if we wanted to do it. I guess, for a research—oriented company, we grew fairly quickly, as fast as anybody, but we worked hard, and I think we did good work. There was an atmosphere at that time, by and large the government was really interested in pursuing things, so if you had a good idea, you’d go down to a government agency and they would generally support it. There’s competition for those funds now and it’s probably a great deal tougher than it was in those days. But if you had an idea that was at all relevant, for example, if you were interested in filtering techniques and nuclear magnetic resonance had just been developed by Purcell and Felix Bloch and so forth, then there ought to be some applications for that, to the filtering process, and these are the sorts of problems you have. Well, they’d look at something like that and say, “That deserves to be looked at.”
There was a somewhat different attitude with respect to the military supporting applied research than there is today. That seemed to me at that time. Maybe it’s the kind of people we were cultivating at that time.
Bromberg:Of course, right at this point, I mean just coincident with the laser, you get the whole Sputnik thing. Did you get any feeling that that was loosening things up? Do you have any memory of that?
Goldmuntz:When was Sputnik?
Bromberg:Sputnik was October, ‘57. So right through the spring they’re setting up ARPA and they set up some other; NASA was set up about that time, so between October ‘57 -- and then Eisenhower of course was soon going to be on his way out. So I’m just wondering whether you have any memories, of the interaction of the laser business with these new agencies.
Goldmuntz:Yes, there certainly was that interaction, because when Gordon finally had the patents prepared, we then worked very hard on getting a proposal, which was a very interesting and good document. I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen it. Considering when it was written, and the conditions in which it was written, I think it was really quite a remarkable document, mostly Gordon’s work, I contributed a little bit to it, and we took that to a variety of places -- you know the beginning of a notion.
I remember Gordon and I gave a, I think Gordon was there, a presentation at Wright Field on the potentialities of the laser. At that time we called it an optical maser.
Bromberg:You did too?
Goldmuntz:Well we coined the name “laser.” I think it was Gordon that coined it. I can’t claim who did, at our place, but I know our organization did. Townes and Schawlow used to like to call it the optical maser, I think because they wanted to tie it in with their prior developments. It’s a very clumsy name. When we first started out, I think we called it that so that people could relate to it, but then later on I think we changed the word to laser. I’m just not sure when in time that was.
But the point was, when we tried to explain the potentialities of this to a variety of governmental organizations and other people who might sponsor it, boy, there was just plain incredulity, that this thing could work at all, and there was a German paperclip scientist, (I don’t know if you’re familiar with that term, but at the end of World War II, our armed services were convinced that German scientists were extraordinary people, and so they just gathered them up, dumped them in the various government laboratories, and there were a few at Wright Field), and after the presentation, there was this German guttural voice from the rear of the room that said, “That won’t work, it violates Heisenberg’s principle.”
Well, we tried to explain to him that just because atoms radiated in phase, and the spectral line was narrow even though the emission time was long, didn’t mean that you were violating Heisenberg’s principle. So the argument, you know, went from the basic notion of the laser to whether we were in theory violating Heisenberg’s principle. Well, he convinced Wright Field not to do anything about it, and there were similar arguments in I think the Signal Corps, when we talked to them.
Bromberg:Townes complains about this kind of thing too, by the way.
Goldmuntz:It was very very tough to get them to believe that anything like this could possibly work. They couldn’t point to anything that was wrong in the analysis. There was no hole they could -- I’m not even sure they were equipped to do that, but they couldn’t, and so they’d pick some overall principle which they were misapplying.
We finally went to ARPA, a little bit despairing at this point, because we didn’t have the funds to do this internally. At ARPA I talked to a man I knew -- it was newly formed, and I talked to a man that I knew there, and he said, “Look, I don’t know anything about this sort of thing, but it sounds very interesting. Let me see if I can get somebody who I think does know something about it or might know something about it,” and they asked Paul Adams, who was a former patent lawyer of ITT, who was on loan to ARPA and then went out to work in California after this.
He ought to know something about it. He was an extraordinary man. He was not a physicist or scientist, he’s really a patent lawyer, but he had an awful lot of technical background. And he was a sort of loud, tough voiced fellow.
“You folks know how to generate coherent light?” He at least understood that maybe there was such a thing. And we said, “Well, we think so. You’ve got an hour.” He took off his coat, sat down, so we went through it.
He said, “You know, I think you do,” at the end of it. He said, “I’ve got to get this cleared through the Killian committee, and we’ll go tout de suite.”
Bromberg:The Killian Committee?
Goldmuntz:That was -- there was some review committee, and –-
Bromberg: -- it was somehow in ARPA?
Goldmuntz:It was not quite in ARPA, but evidently on advanced R and D they referred it to the Killian Committee. I think as a matter of fact it may be that Townes even sat on that committee. I’m not really sure at this point. But all I know is, the Killian Committee, after a few weeks of looking at it, said, yes, it looked like a good set of ideas and probably you ought to support it, several hundred, 200 thousand dollars.
Adams said, “That’s nonsense, it’s very important, and we ought to support it at the level of a million dollars and get people moving on it.”
Bromberg:Who said that?
Goldmuntz:Paul Adams. In ARPA.
Bromberg:I see. Now, right about this time you get the publication of the Townes and Schawlow article. Did that make a difference in how you were being received by people?
Goldmuntz:Not that I know of, no. I don’t, I’m not sure exactly when that article came out, as compared to when we first made our proposal.
Bromberg:It came out in the December issue of Physical Review.
Goldmuntz:What was the date of our proposal? I think it was earlier but I’m not sure. But those things that have preprints of them, we knew there was a preprint out, but the whole set of dates, of the preprint, the date when our proposal went in, the final publication, final acceptance of our proposal -- I can’t really give you dates on that. I might be able to dredge them out, but –-
Bromberg:No, I can find them out. I just was wondering if this kind of reception you were getting at Wright Field and Signal Corps was modified when another optical maser proposal was laid on the table like that.
Goldmuntz:I don’t think so. Not that article in any case, because that article appeared in a learned journal. It was the Physical Review Letters.
Bromberg:It was the Physical Review.
Goldmuntz:Letters or the Physical Review? The Physical Review. Not widely read in those circles.
Goldmuntz:And also, if read, not readily understood. It wasn’t an experiment that demonstrated; it was again another analysis. Now, of course it meant a second person had come in to talk about it. But you’ve got to remember, there was a little some literature in this area, because Weber had been talking about negative temperatures, and your masers had been out there as we1l; so it wasn’t exactly an unknown, subject about this time.
I think, as in so many of these cases, you scout around looking for an organization that should be a natural father to something like this, and you’re fortunate if you find one man who understands and who will really put his neck out and say, “This ought to be done.”
And in this case, it was Paul Adams at ARPA, and he was recognized by his co-workers down there as being a bright guy who could understand the concepts, get on top of them very quickly, and he was, and is. I don’t know if he’s still alive. But I ran into him a number of years ago. He’s just extraordinarily bright, active kind of fellow, whom you could talk to, who would understand what you were saying, and could evaluate the problems and have enough self-confidence and skill to say, “All right, I’m going to recommend that we do this.” And do it.
There are not very many of those kinds of experiences you have in your life. I haven’t had very many. Maybe three or four times, when somebody who really -- who’s not dependent on some other organization for taking up an idea -- an individual who’s that quick, precise and hard-hitting about it. It’s happened in one other case but as an aside, I happen to be now involved in clean coal burning technology, as a director of a new R and D company, and we had all sorts of test models, smaller sizes, and the energy manager of Iowa Beef Processing Company (of all people) went around the world looking for techniques for burning coal cleanly meeting new sorts of environmental standards, co-generating; do all sorts of things.
He came to our little schnook outfit up in Massachusetts, and said, “This is the technology I want.” And he has a big plant down in Amaryllo, Texas. The plant is an acre plant. And he said to his architect and engineers, “This is what we’re going to build.”
They said, “We’re not going to be responsible for this.” He said, “No, I know you’re not going to be responsible for it.” I’m going to be responsible for it.”
And he went to the plant management, which was tough as nails. They said, “What are you doing that for?”
He said, “Because it’s the best coal burning technology in the world. I’ve been all over the world, that’s the right one to use. That one will work. It’ll clean coal. I can use high sulfur, low sulfur, high ash, low ash, any kind of coal, and it will work, be efficient, it will pay back in three years, and I know it will work.”
“But that’s a fiftyfold scale-up of what they have in their little pilot plant!”
He said, “That’s all right. It’ll work.” And it did work.
You know, you occasionally meet somebody who will do it. Paul Adams was that kind of a person, and he was extraordinarily helpful.
So ARPA was important, in getting us started that year, that’s your question 3.
Bromberg:Now, actually the question 3, the one that follows that, I’d like to get some feeling, not necessarily just the cesium, but some feeling, as to how you got started, what you decided to do, how you developed the program. I divided it up into two stages -- from when you started out, to the first Maiman laser, and then from then for a few years.
Goldmuntz:You should understand that the laser project was one project in one department at TRG. This was Dick Daly’s department. Of course it was sort of a quantum electronics department too and we did have other programs going in millimeter wave systems and radar systems, microwave components mostly of waves –-
Radar systems, low noise amplifiers, hydrodynamics -- there was a broad range of technologies that were going on. So this was one project, in one of the TRG departments.
Bromberg:I do think that’s important, to get a sense of the perspective within which the laser work was going on. About how many departments would there have been?
Goldmuntz: At that time, I think there was something on the order of four or five departments, and this was one of them, and it was one of the larger ones, but I don’t believe it was the largest at that point in time. Now, Gould joined us when we were still in New York City, and then the laser contract, as far as I know, was signed after we moved out to Long Island, to larger facilities; and the company was growing all this time in a number of different dimensions. Certainly the laser contract was the largest contract that we had signed to that date in this area. It wasn’t the largest one we signed. In another two years we were doing work in satellite communications systems, particularly low noise amplifiers, and some of our systems, a variety of things like that, were in monetary terms larger than this contract. But this was certainly the largest research and development contract I guess that we’d had to that point. The others were much more applied, and product-oriented.
There was some initial resistance to going into laser work, because, while nobody resisted my helping Gordon write the proposal and helping to sell it, they weren’t very much involved in that. It was mainly Newstein I guess, Gould and myself. Others began to get a little nervous when it was clear that this was going to be the most substantial program in quantum electronics.
And they thought we were really abandoning the atomic frequency standards, and those sorts of things, like the cesium beam standard and the rubidium standard, to go after this thing, which didn’t look as if it was going, to be reduced to a product right away.
So we had some discussions, arguments, over that issue.
Bromberg:Did it devote its’ whole energies to lasers; Daly’s department?
Goldmuntz:It gradually converted to that, yes, and we did drop out of the atomic frequency standards business. There were two other companies that went into it. Hewlett Packard went into cesium beam standards and Varian went into rubidium cells.
Bromberg:Which ones, I’m sorry?
Goldmuntz:And we puttered along for a while, though we never really put the effort into it. This laser effort kind of deflected us from doing that, and I just felt that I and I guess the rest of the board. Dick was not happy about it because his background was in cesium beam frequency standards, but it was clear that he was a very well organized fellow and a very good experimentalist. Gordon was very imaginative, and not quite as organized an experimentalist. And then because of the security problems that developed over Gordon’s clearance, we couldn’t put Gordon in the position of running the program, so it gradually was under Dick Daly’s prime responsibility, with Gordon acting as a consultant and on some parts of the program that were clearly not going to be classified.
Why did we go into the cesium laser? When Maiman’s laser came out, it was after our contract was signed, we began to get a little bit nervous. We’d gotten the bulk of government money. We were doing good work. But we hadn’t gotten the laser to work. So we felt that it would be important for us to show that we were able to reduce one medium of the many that we had suggested in our proposal to practice, and it was felt that that would be the clearest one that one could do, so we did it.
Bromberg:Didn’t the cesium one start before summer of 1960? You submitted the contract in ’58; that gave you about a year or more to work before Maiman splashed on the scene.
Goldmuntz:Well, I don’t know. I don’t recall whether it was a year or not. We did have a number of months, and I don’t know whether it was a half a year or a whole year at this point in time, before Maiman’s device was announced. But we really did feel that we’d better show some results of our own and reduce -- I think ruby was mentioned in our proposal, but we didn’t take it too seriously, because in talking to a variety of people around who were working on it, it was our own feeling, as well, to get ruby with the ? clarity and purity that was required would take an enormous pump, which it indeed did. You know, I think Maiman’s contribution was simply to put the biggest flashlight he could on the smallest ruby and beat the hell out of it, and that’s exactly what he did, with all the difficulties. But we didn’t feel that was very elegant, and so what we did think was -- and I guess at that time, what we had written up in the proposals, collisions of the second kind, there were plenty of problems associated with that.
And so it would seem to us at that point that the quickest thing we could reduce to practice, in the cleanest way, was the pumped gas laser, and if I recall, that’s what we did. And that was part of the genesis of it. I think our calculations showed it was not likely that was going to be a very powerful laser, or very meaningful laser or anything like that, but it was an attempt to do something in a medium that was pretty controllable, and where you could understand some of the processes more readily than you could with some of the other approaches.
That I think was the primary motivation for doing it, and I think that became Gordon’s responsibility, if I recall properly, rather than Dick’s or other folks’ responsibilities.
Bromberg:I did read in an article that Arthur Schawlow wrote at one point that a few weeks after Maiman’s laser he got a call from TRG saying that you had made a ruby laser also.
Goldmuntz:It could very well be, because I think what happened was, I think we were working on ruby, but I’m not sure that we were. But I’m sure that we wanted to see if we could replicate his results, because you can get a bright red light and it may not be lasing either. It may not be coherent in the sense that you might want. It may be fluorescence.
Bromberg:I see, so you think it might have been just a desire to see if he was right?
Goldmuntz:It could have been I’m not really sure.
Bromberg:Of course a lot of people did that, and frankly I’d like to understand why people do that. I mean right after Maiman came out, a lot of people went into the lab -- they did it at Bell, they did it at RCA, I’m sure they did it a lot of places.
Goldmuntz:One reason for doing it is that I feel for if you decide to be in the field, then you get some experience with it, and your technicians know how to build capacitor banks that can be switched to the flash tube, you know how to operate a flash tube, you know how to do that, all of the things that you have to do, which then helps you when you start going to other kinds of crystals, other materials, other devices and so forth.
Now, I don’t know what our motivation would have been precisely at that time for doing it. I think we had been playing with aluminum oxide crystals. I’m not sure they were rubies, but they may have been. They may have been doped with other materials, might have been chromium, I’ve really forgotten at this point. I don’t really remember the phone call to Maiman who may have done it also. I didn’t make the phone call. Maybe Daly did. I was not running the project. As a matter of fact, for the president of the company I was much too involved in some of these projects.
Nobody, you know, resented it, but it’s just that it wasn’t right, because there were a lot of things to do with respect to the company that I should have been worrying about. But it was of course very interesting.
Bromberg:What was your interaction with DOD on the cesium work?
Goldmuntz:Well, I think there, you know, I’m not so sure of this, but there was some tension, in that here they had committed themselves to us, we were one of the first to do something, we thought we had to do something. I don’t know whether they suggested that to us, or, I think, we did it on our own, and I think they were very happy when that happened, because then they could have some evidence that, you know, they hadn’t bet their marbles on the wrong outfit, that here was a group that could do original work.
Bromberg: I see you’ve got a couple of people who were working on this. I mean, Columbia was also supported, maybe by the Joint Services Electronics Program; they were working on potassium vapor and then cesium
Goldmuntz:I didn’t know that.
Bromberg:You were not the only people whom the DOD, through one of its organizations, was betting on.
Goldmuntz:Well, it’s different. When you have a Tri-Service contract with the university, the money is set aside for years and they can switch what they’re working on fairly quickly. When you don’t have a contract with an organization, you say, “I want a contract to do A, B and so forth,” then you have to go through all the proceedings, getting it evaluated, getting it approved, getting a contract and so forth, and there’s a kind of different arrangement. Now, there were other DOD interactions with TRG at that time. Shortly after we got this contract, shortly after Maiman produced this first ruby laser, there were people in the DOD, in ARPA, who were convinced this was a good weapon, and we were convinced that this was no time to think about weapons. It was too early in the business.
And so they said, “We have got a proposal here from Hughes about making some sort of anti-missile weapon.”
We said, “Boy, that’s nonsense, because, (and we listed a whole variety of things here) you don’t have media that have low enough absorption. You don’t have mirrors with low enough absorption. You have all sorts of problems in the atmosphere, the efficiencies are God awful. It’s just not in the cards.”
So we put up quite an argument about, against changing our program from more or less basic R and D into weapons.
They said, “OK, we’ll go out and have another procurement and we’ll let you bid. Hughes and you will bid because Hughes is proposing it.”
So we said, “OK. We’re going to tell you why we’ll bid it but we will tell you why we don’t think it’s going to work, and what you ought to do at this point in time. If this is your eventual objective, as compared to other objectives, this is why weapons are premature at this point, and this is the work you ought to do in order to move in that direction, make it a possibility.”
We were talking about low loss material, more efficient systems, all those sorts of things, a loss mirror? the whole bit, the whole works.
I remember that ARPA was very impressed with our proposal, and Hughes at that time, we were told later on, had your big diagrams with satellites, power banks, and all this sort of stuff. They’d done the big systems engineering work.
And we got half the money that they had set aside. Hughes got the other half. And Hughes was absolutely furious, because here we’d sort of beaten them to the punch getting to ARPA, for the first contract, and on the second contract, we had beaten them intellectually, and they couldn’t admit either of those things. So they were very furious with us. But I said, “Look, what the hell, you write what you think, we write what we think, and you have the technical arbiter.”
We were delighted. At that time Ronnie Martin was with the company. I don’t know if you knew him. He was an accelerator physicist, at Argonne. I think he later went back to head it up, as a matter of fact, or maybe he was at Brookhaven at that time and went out to Argonne. He headed up their particle accelerator program, was a key figure in it, very nice guy. And he took over our sort of weapons work, which was essentially high power lasers and deposition. Steve Jacobs joined us as well, maybe a little before that, I’m not sure, and they were prominently associated with deposition of energy, what it would go to, would it all get absorbed in the gas cloud that came off or what happened. There’s lots of complex interactions.
Bromberg:There’s something I want to ask you. You said you beat out Hughes in the first ARPA. Was Hughes involved in that meeting?
Goldmuntz:No, they were not, but in the commercial sense, we were the first company to recognize that there was such a thing as coherent generation of light, in a major way, and that it had important interests or ramifications for government purposes, and so we pushed through a proposal, we went down to see them. I guess if we’d been three months later in seeing ARPA, or four months later, there would have been a flood of companies down there, and we would have had a lot of competition. But we were clearly the first one down there, by a long margin, with a very complete proposal, a very good statement of what could be done and where and what we would use, and so forth, so ARPA said, “Look, why should we wait for other people to come around? You people came first, we’ll support you.”
That was essentially -- that’s still I think the practice today, And in that sense, we beat them out the first time, and that speed of response, in these fields is extraordinarily important. It was a very tense period. We were not making progress at the rate we wanted to, and we were worried about it. We said all these things could be done. As a matter of fact, most of them were done. But unfortunately most of them were not done by us. It was a very disturbing thing, what was the matter with us?
Well, it just, it took lots of groups to do it, and as a matter of fact, then everybody found out that lasers were so easy to make work -- because everything seemed to work, all the materials, after a while.
So DOD was important, for these various kinds of interactions, and then also DOD was very much interested in things like the laser range finder, and the Vireo I was kind of an outgrowth of some work we did, leading up to the terrestrial laser range finder for Army purposes. I don’t know if you want to go through that or not.
Bromberg:Sure. I don’t know how much time you have, but I certainly do want to go through -- because as I say, it’s really a picture of how TRG functioned as a laser company that I’m interested in and what it was like to be a laser company in those days. What the whole atmosphere was, your relations with other companies; that kind of thing.
Goldmuntz:It was very exciting. For one thing Gordon really did an amazing piece of work in putting together the right ingredients and in a very broad area. I’ve got the highest regard for his ability at that stage to not only understand the physics and the optics, but also to understand applications, in – well, it was very thrilling. For an applied scientist like myself, rather than a basic scientist, it was really a first class piece of work and it was very exciting.
Sometimes they say, “Well, gee, you were just lucky that Gordon joined you.”
Yes, we were. On the other hand, when the three of us sat down and said, “What are we going to do?” I said, “I really think quantum electronics, the stuff that Weber’s doing, has got to be important.”
And so it wasn’t all luck. It was some positioning yourself. After all, we’d been in this field for two or three years before Gordon joined us. I’m not sure luck isn’t important in a case like this, but the point is, we’d decided that quantum electronics was an important area. We did some work in nuclear magnetic resonance. We got Dick Daly to join the company. We got theoreticians to work with Dick. And so we started this process, and then Gordon came along and really gave the thing a big kick. This was very fortunate from our point of view, because we would not have invented the laser without Gordon being there; there’s no doubt about it.
But at least there was a place where you could hire a fellow like Gordon, where he would fit in, and there was something for him to do and so one thing sort of fed on another.
Bromberg:I wanted a feeling for how the situation developed.
Goldmuntz:Yes, you start something, and then there’s some serendipity and some luck and some insight, and it all gets mixed up in a big ball, and sometimes the yeast raises, you know, and it did in this case, and that was very very nice.
Applications started to become important. The big military one, the high powered weapon, was the first one that came along. We didn’t think very much of it. We tried to turn that into a research and development program, rather than a plain development program. Lots of work had to be done in understanding what was going on.
But then the other one that was very important was, in our view, the terrestrial range finder, and that was particularly for artillery purposes and tank purposes, because at that stage, tanks like battleships, they fired one shell over and one shell under and the next shell you hoped would go into the target. But they didn’t have good range finders. They had these optical systems that were hard to calibrate and weren’t very accurate, and range fed into the ballistic equation very sensitively.
So we went to the Frankfurt Arsenal, which I don’t think exists any more. It was in Philadelphia at that time. And they were pretty much like this Paperclip scientist out at Wright Field. They weren’t all that excited about lasers. They had some infrared lamps that they thought they could give a little bit and so forth, talked about spectral brightness, and cutting down on background light, and said, “Oh, yes, that’s important.”
Well, finally they came around to supporting a program with both Hughes and ourselves, a parallel program, developing a range finder for military purposes for limited ranges, up to 5000 yards or something like that.
Bromberg:This was the contract that was jointly awarded, split in half?
Bromberg:And Ronnie Martin is the man who was in charge of both the weaponry and the radar, or what?
Goldmuntz:I don’t know whether Ron was in charge of the range finder program or not at this point. He was in charge of the high energy program. For the life of me I couldn’t tell you whether he had the responsibility for that or whether Dick Daly had it or both. Dick and Martin worked together more readily than Dick and Gordon Gould. Gordon Gould and I guess Jacobs worked on the cesium beam laser, if I remember -- and Rabinowitz, yes. I don’t know whether Ron Martin and Dick or somebody else perhaps was involved in the range finder and some of the other parts of the ARPA program. I don’t recall that.
But in any case, we and Hughes both reduced a range finder to practice. I think Hughes used the Kerr cell and I think we used the rotating prism. I’ve forgotten that but I think that’s the way it worked. We did range successfully on target; we were out there at night, with a big red spot on a water tower, and another red spot over there. It was a whole lot of fun. The first time we ranged on something successfully we were really very very excited.
Bromberg:You went down too?
Goldmuntz:Oh sure. My goodness, that was pretty exciting stuff, you know So the -- and then Frankfurt Arsenal, at that point, after it was clear that both Hughes and ourselves were going to be successful, even with different Q-switching techniques -- and the theory of Hughes, which I guess -- oh, see, then Ben Senitsky – I don’t know whether he was involved, I think he was involved the second time. I’m not sure at that point. There was another physicist that we had hired. In any case Frankfurt Arsenal cancelled both the Hughes and the TRG contracts. They said ”This is too important for industry, we’re, going to have to develop this, in the government.”
“You don’t know anything about this.” “Too important for industry!” -- we were furious, what kind of nonsense is that? They’re both successful in the first phase -- they cancel the contract? And the second or third phase never materializes. And we had really worked very hard to beat out Hughes and to get that thing done and so forth.
But it turned out that Frankfurt Arsenal couldn’t hire its people unless it had a certain amount of in-house work, and they thought this was a hell of a good program to have in-house. That’s what they did.
We said, “You’re going to delay the Army having a laser range finder by this technique.”
Well, we bitched and Hughes bitched, and the upshot of it was that we could work in NATO countries and in Israel -- if we wanted to. We were licensed to work with them and Israel. So Hughes worked with the Germans, we worked with the Dutch; the Dutch and the British and with the Israelis through the Dutch.
Bromberg:Does that mean that you actually got funds from them, or were on contract to them?
Goldmuntz:No, it meant well, in a certain sense, we could license companies, a British company and a Dutch company, to work with their governments and we would support those companies, and we had a commercial relationship with them. If they were successful we would get certain proceeds from their programs. And we’d have a technical exchange with them and in that manner the laser range finder got introduced into the British military, the German and Dutch militaries and Israeli military, long before it was in our own military.
Finally Frankfurt Arsenal came back. At that time TRG was a part of Control Data and for a variety of reasons we don’t have to go into now, things did not work out very well in that merger, and Hughes did get the contract finally to produce the laser range finder, and fire control systems, for the US. The company that we dealt with in Holland and England produced them for the British and the Dutch, and the Dutch company had a branch in Israel and they produced them for the Israeli Army.
Bromberg:Just what is the period we’re talking about?
Goldmuntz:That was, I guess the laser range finder contract started in about ‘61, lasted till about ‘62, or ‘63, and it was during the period of 1962-65 that we had made these arrangements with other companies overseas, and so forth.
And then Wright Field now became interested in laser work, and they wanted all sorts of range finders for -- as a matter of fact, satellite work, measuring the ranges of satellites, satellite orbiting, and I think that’s, if I recall, did we built the satellite that ranged on the moon, laser that ranged on the moon? I’m not sure.
We built some very large -- I think we did -- that was a project that Jacobs was very much involved in.
Bromberg:I think of the moon shot as a Raytheon-MIT one. I didn’t know there were other people, --
Goldmuntz:Well, I’m trying to think. I know that we built for the Air Force at Wright Field some very large, long range space lasers, that were ground—based but space, and I don’t know whether they measured just satellites or went up to the moon or not.
I just don’t remember that. By that time things were becoming very big at that point, a couple of hundred people, and I was not on top of all these programs, but I know we were building a very very large one.
Bromberg:I was interested also, by the way, just the very end of that page -- what the business climate was? I mean, when you looked out -- now, I have some names in my head like Trion Instruments and Kolloman and so on, but I don’t have a good feeling for who seemed to be the big companies at that point.
Goldmuntz:Well, those were hot competition for us in the laser business. Our main competition was Hughes. About this time, people, began to go into the commercial business of lasers, and lasers became the darling of Wall Street, and people came to us and said, “Why aren’t you a billion dollar company? After all, you had a two year lead in lasers.”
“There’s not a billion dollars worth of lasers being sold.” “There’s not even 100 million, there’s not even 10 million, and of the 10 million dollars the government is spending, we have something like 50 percent of it. If that’s not good enough for you, good-bye.”
Things like that. So it became a field that had enormous attractiveness because of the romance, but it developed much more slowly than most people wanted it to develop, and for a lot of good reasons. It took a long time to educate people, to get equipment perfected, to do things correctly.
guess at this point Gerry Grossot was working with us who had some sort of medical background. Did you know him?
Bromberg:No, I just was wondering how you got into the ophthalmology business.
Goldmuntz:I don’t know quite how he met Zaret but all I know is that we developed a product, once we had switching down analytically, experimentally, in pretty good shape and it was clear that you could fuse things and perhaps you could do some retinal or eye surgery with it and so forth So for a while we had a couple of rabbits running around our laboratory. We were doing surgery on them. I guess that was the first optical surgery that was going on.
Then we found ourselves in a terrible pickle, because doctors are extraordinarily, jealous of who does what and whose name appears in what order on the papers, and I finally decided that we could not sort this out; I know one doctor said, “Well, if you do an experiment with me, you can’t do any other experiments like them with anybody else.”
We tried to define our role in this area. I said, “We’re not going to be the medical part of this business. We will supply instruments to anybody, and we’re not going to have animals around here. Somebody else is going to have the animals. We’re going to get out of the animal business, out of keeping animals and doing operations on animals or people or anything like that.”
“So we will try to find products based on laser technology that we know something about, and sell them to the medical community.”
Bromberg:Now, who was doing these rabbit experiments? Was this Grossot or were doctors coming into Syosset.
Goldmuntz:They were jointly -- sometimes we went out to, I think some were actually done at TRG, if I recall, in the very early stages. Then we got rid of the animals. Then they were done at some of the hospitals, medical and biological laboratories or whatever and we decided our role was just to supply equipment, and not to become involved in the medical aspects of it.
That’s when we really decided to develop a laser product line. We had little power measuring systems, so you could measure peak and average power. We had all kinds of laser systems, gas, solid state, and so forth, to sell commercially, for people to use.
Bromberg:Now these markets, were they mostly medical markets?
Goldmuntz:They were all over the place. They were medical; they were heat treating, materials, communications, optical. Lasers were very new and they were used in various applications.
We didn’t go into any -- we had standard line of laser products and that’s what we sold.
Bromberg:You had some ruby, you had some gas tube discharge.
Goldmuntz:We had gas, we had ruby, we had neodymium, and we had the power measuring equipment. For that time we had a fairly complete line of laser products.
Bromberg:Can you give me a sense of how big that was compared to the government contracts?
Goldmuntz:At that time it was small. It could never have been more than 20 percent, 25 percent of the dollar value of our government programs. And there was certainly was serendipity between them, because the government programs, we had to develop power measuring devices for the government programs, -- we had to deliver lasers with certain power outputs, peak power outputs, and so forth. We had to develop them, since none of that instrumentation was commercially available. We had to develop that and then a lot of people wanted to buy our bolometers, etc., etc., so that was sort of integrating spheres.
By laser weapons one usually means depositing energies sufficient to destroy something, and that was not our program. Certainly range finders, communication equipment, new types of lasers, all sorts of things were part of our government program.
Bromberg:Now, the next question I really think was written before I found that article, which gives me quite a bit of information on the projects you were working on.
Goldmuntz:In the laser area.
Goldmuntz:William Bennett I guess… we knew him and he knew Gordon at Columbia and I think we hired him as a consultant. If I recall, didn’t he leave Brown and go to Yale?
Goldmuntz:I think at that time we hired him as a consultant. He was a very good guy. I don’t know how helpful consultants ever are and I don’t recall how helpful Bill was, though he’s an extremely good man.
Bromberg:I guess I wanted with that question to get some feeling for whether consultants are an important part of a business like TRG was, whether I should be, or whoever is working on the history of lasers should be thinking about their role or what.
Goldmuntz:My personal bias is that they’re not because the people who carry the work through to fruition are the full time people. They have to be. That doesn’t mean a consultant can’t help you, have good ideas and be helpful, I think they’re helpful but I don’t think they’re crucial. And Bill is really the best consultant around. They’re helpful to management too because after a while you don’t know, there’s no way that I and the others could be conversant in every aspect of what was going on, so when you sat down with a consultant and your own people, got a better feeling as to what you were doing right and where you weren’t doing the right things, so they were a management help. But they certainly – they’re consultants, they’re not full time employees, their career doesn’t really depend on that.
Well, let’s see. I told you about the foreign firms, in various periods, where we were actually -- because these were sales to governments and we didn’t know how to negotiate them, and an American firm wouldn’t have much chance to do it. So we worked through foreign companies.
The laser boom -- everybody went in the laser business. One of the consequences was people would say, “Why aren’t you making more profits?
Why does everybody else get in the laser business? Why aren’t you the only one in the laser business?” And so forth.
It’s a kind of unrealistic understanding of how American industry works.
Bromberg:Who are all these people who are asking this kind of question?
Goldmuntz:Well, there were occasional people who owned stock in the company because individuals might have sold some of their stock to them. The company was not a publicly listed company and they were always complaining. Not all of them; some of them. And we had to defend ourselves against these professional marketeers who send out that newsletter, “Lasers are going to be a two billion dollar business by 1965,” on and on and on. Where do they get those numbers? I don’t know where they get those numbers. “Lasers are going to be a two billion dollar business, invest with them -- I don’t think it’s going to be a two billion dollar business. “Who says it was that kind of business?
So, yes, they were a headache. There was lot of competition. But we had a very good rate of winning programs, even when it became competitive. We used to pride ourselves on that. That we wrote very good proposals, we would think through these issues very carefully, and we’d get a very high yield on our proposals. I think 60 percent of our proposals were accepted, or something like that.
Bromberg:And these were still proposals that were mostly for the government?
Goldmuntz:Mostly the government; mostly DOD but some for NASA. But mostly to DOD.
Bromberg:Is there any other part of the government I ought to be considering in this? That we ought to take into account as a market place for research?
Goldmuntz:Well, there was some NASA. There was DOD. There was NASA. I can’t think of anybody else who was involved in it. I don’t know of anybody else.
Bromberg:Bureau of Standards wasn’t one of your customers?
Bromberg:And -- so, the kind of interaction you had with other laboratories, there probably was a lot of interaction with the government laboratories.
Goldmuntz:Oh yes. Air Force Cambridge, Wright Field. Some here in Washington. Navy. Bluegreen laser. In those days they were interested in that.
Bromberg:Probably Naval Research Laboratory?
Goldmuntz:That came out of Patuxent Naval Air Station; that particular program. If I remember. Now, the interplay of our R and D team with our potential customers, that was very important. We did not have central marketing in TRG, because we felt that our products were too technological for us to do that. And so each department had responsibility for its own market. And I sort of helped out on major problem, and brought in some company resources on major programs and integrated them. But we did not have a marketing group and then groups over here that did the work. You had to get your own --
Bromberg:-- that’s interesting –-
Goldmuntz:It had to be that way because you’re talking to highly professional people and only professional people can sell a professional person. They’d write a proposal. I’d review fixed price proposals, but I spent an awful, lot of my own time writing proposals and helping out the various departments, but we did not have professional marketing.
Now, the products were sold by a professional marketing crew in the microwave area. By this time we had products. The company was selling microwave components. They were selling laser components. What else were we selling? Well, we were selling some communications systems, satellite ground stations, and so forth.
Bromberg:And those would go outside your organization through marketing organizations?
Goldmuntz:No, no. We had our own marketing organization, other than the technical people. Products were developed by one group and sold by another group but within our own organization.
Bromberg:Is this the kind of thing where you’d get a lot of feedback? They’d come back to you and say, “Look, we want a different kind of laser?”
Goldmuntz:Oh yes. There’s always that in the marketplace to the developer.
Bromberg:That would go through the marketing organization?
Goldmuntz:That would go through the marketing organization. If somebody in a -- like, in Dick Daily’s department, felt that they had an idea for a laser type system, they would make the proposal to a government agency. If I recall properly, not the standard but the laser, and I think it went with the laser, with a copy of the proposal to ARPA, and it was part of the notion that this was a historical document and a device of some importance.
By the way, I’ll just get to question 8. We did sell the company, having nothing to do with the laser program, but simply that we had made some discoveries in the sonar business that were important and were funded very heavily by the military, and they said, “We would like to have you do all this, but you can’t be responsible for all the sonar on her majesty’s ships, so we’re just going to give this to General Electric and General Dynamic, unless you care to merge with somebody.”
We said we didn’t care to merge with anybody -- Raytheon, Westinghouse, we didn’t care to merge.
And then Control Data came along, and we were gradually losing control of this program which we thought was an extraordinarily important program, and we had a lot of our time tied up in it. And we didn’t want to solely be pushed out of it, on a size basis.
So we did become a part of Control Data when they came around. They seemed like an interesting good company, good people, so that was -- the genesis of the merger was simply that things got too big for us in terms of our capital and manpower, and also the company was extraordinarily diverse. The problem really was the size question, and it was not probably the right move for us to have made but at that time we thought it would be best for us and we did it.
It was simply because a group like TRG is not a very digestible group in any company; pretty headstrong bunch of people, doing their own R and D, getting their own support, knowing what they wanted to do and going out and doing it. And that isn’t exactly the right kind of group to acquire. And Control Data also ran into some very serious problems just about that time and the whole thing didn’t work out very well. Not any one individual’s fault. There was a lot of -- the dynamics of the situation.
That’s your last?
Bromberg:Yes. That was really an attempt to find out whether there was anything in the climate, in terms of laser work, that was relevant that was interesting to bring out here?
I don’t think so. I don’t think it was related to laser work. Control Data was fascinated by laser work, and they did feel there would be some applications of lasers in computers, and indeed there are certainly, in communication between computers and so forth. But that wasn’t the critical issue.
Bromberg:I see. So, OK, so now what kinds of documents might be in existence? We were talking about artifacts and you said the cesium beam laser is something I should ask the Smithsonian about.
Goldmuntz:And also the proposal. They have a copy of it.