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Interview of Laurence Batchelder by Kenneth Rolt on 1989 May 1,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Interview includes discussion of the history of underwater sound with reference to the Submarine Signal Company, the history of the Acoustical Society of America, Batchelder's education, and his involvement with the U.S. Navy Technical Mission to Germany (World War II).
How much about the Acoustical Society do you know?
I know that the Acoustical Society was formed in 1929, from the logo of the Society. I’m familiar with some of the early history of underwater sound, and I guess that’s where you’ve expertise is from and that’s where you worked. I’m a little bit familiar with the history of the Submarine Signal Division (of the Raytheon Company) because I worked there, and you worked there as well.
You’re familiar with the history that Harold Fay wrote?
Yes. There’s a small booklet that was published (by the Raytheon Company) called the Submarine Signal Log that were excerpts of stuff that Fay had written after the second World War.
I think it’s the whole thing. It came out serially, as “Sub Sig Soundings” (Rolt note: this newsletter is still in print). Harold Fay wrote that, and he wasn’t satisfied with it. He wrote it mostly during the war, and he was under pressure as everybody was, and he wanted to repeat it or review it, and revise it after he retired. But he died before he retired, so he never did it. What I’ve been doing is setting-up copy to revise it for him but he did such a good job I’ve found very little I could add to it. I’ve been trying to build up to a more broader field than submarine signaling rather than just the company but I haven’t gotten too far, Well the company has; he (Fay) says the company was formed (in) nineteen-one (1901). There was a man named Elisha Gray: he is a man who had a patent dispute with Alexander Graham Bell about the telephone. Bell won, but up until that time Gray had been a prolific inventor in that area. And then this man (Arthur) Mundy -- I don’t remember as to where he came from, New York I think -- was interested in safety at sea due to the many groundings and collisions, He got together with Gray to develop something for safety at sea. I think they started in ninety-nine, and worked for a couple of years and folded-up. Then they got some more capital and started the Submarine Signal Company in nineteen-one.
And that was in Boston?
In Boston, yes. I don’t know why they picked Boston except that the capital was in Boston, The company was, let’s see, incorporated the state of Maine You’ve heard some states are easier to incorporate in, than others. And they made submarine bells and hydrophones to listen to the bells.
I’ve been told that there is an old submarine signal bell outside a building at the Naval Underwater Systems Center in New London, evidently it is an old Submarine Signal Company bell.
I’ve got some photographs of those…but here we’re getting off on the wrong feet.
No, no…this is fine.
But your topic is the Acoustical Society…
From what I was told (about the interview), we can talk about whatever you would like. The history of the Submarine Signal Company is part of it, and how you got involved in underwater sound.
Well I got involved because I worked at Harvard for my degrees; I got my engineering master’s at Harvard under G.W. Pierce.
That’s a name I recognize from magnetostriction.
Yes, well I was in Pierce’s office one day in January on some problem, when we got through talking about that he said “What do you want to do next year?” I said, “well I haven’t given it that much thought.” And he said “Well, here’s a letter from the Submarine Signal Company, and they want to hire a man and if you’d like the job, I’ll recommend you.” So I took the job, I got the job in January and started working…
What year was that?
In twenty-nine (1929). I started working in June. (Then) they hired a second man from Harvard at the same time and he started working in June. And by September, he quit; he says “there’s no future in underwater sound.” Well that poor guy, he quit in September, the stock market crashed in October and the big depression started, and he never got another good job. He got a private job, working for the…I think it was the AP & T company, the grocery chain, (the owner) who was a rich man and an inventor, and wanted someone to develop his inventions. (Laughs) That’s the best job he ever got. And I got into a job that took me right through the depression.
Now what areas in acoustics did you work in? You said that you started working for the Submarine Signal Company …
Well I’ve never worked outside of underwater sound, and sound transducers, that sort of thing.
I feel like I’m covering ground that you’ve already covered, because I worked in transducers at the Submarine Signal Division of the Raytheon Company for a couple of years.
Well, yes you’ve done the same thing.
Cementing the ceramic bars together, and stressing the stacks, taking Fr and Fa…
Well they didn’t have ceramics in most of my time, (it was) magnetostriction and before that it was variable reluctance. We didn’t get into ultrasonics until, oh about thirty-two or thirty-three, or something like that.
I remember seeing a book on ultrasonics and in it there were photographs of equipment that the Submarine Signal Company had made, ultrasonic equipment (Ultrasonic Engineering by Alan E. Crawford, pp. 248-252, Butterworths Scientific Publications Ltd., London 1955). An ultrasonic drill I think.
Well, non-sonar purposes… Sub Sig tried to branch out, feeling that sonar was limited to one customer, the navy, and that it wasn’t sure to be always willing to buy stuff. So we tried a lot of other developments, but not a great deal came of it.
What was the most interesting job you ever worked on?
That’s hard to say. The biggest job I did was to develop the 755 receiver-amplifier. That was intended to replace everything. We had Bell Labs to help design it, and I did the mechanical part of the design all through the production. It was a super-heterodyne amplifier.
That was to be used for sonar transducers on a ship or on a submarine?
Yes, that was used on I guess all the sonar equipment during the war. We built several thousand of them.
Now that was when it was still the Submarine Signal Company, it hadn’t been bought by Raytheon yet.
No, Raytheon didn’t come into the picture until about 1946 or so.
How did people feel about that, when the company was bought by Raytheon?
Well, we didn’t like it. Nobody likes it when there is a takeover like that. It turned-out it wasn’t too bad.
Now the company (Sub Signal) was still in Boston.
Yes, we were still in Boston. Then Raytheon moved us from Boston out to Newton, California Street… I wasn’t down at Portsmouth (RI) you see, when they moved down (from Wayland MA) I didn’t want to move and I was prepared to quit. So they gave me a desk in this area. First they got me a place in Bedford in what was the Raytheon Service Company, that’s the headquarters for all the servicemen. Then they got too crowded and they kicked me out and moved me to Waltham. They used to say that the best life you could have, the most productive life, you could have is to get 100 miles away from your boss.
When did you retire from Raytheon, from the Submarine Signal Division?
In 1970, it was then (owned by) Raytheon.
You retired from the Submarine Signal Division of Raytheon, which was formerly the Submarine Signal Company, in 1970 and you’ve been reviewing patents for underwater sound transducer continually since 1947. What have you working on since?
Well, I’ve spent a lot of time on standards. I was quite active in acoustical standards both in this country and internationally… For ten years I had the job which they now call standards director. I was chairman for the International Committee on Electroacoustics, and that gave me plenty to do. I pulled out of that gradually. Now the Acoustical Society (of America) had started in twenty-nine (1929) the same year I started my job. And I kicked myself ever since, because my boss, he was the president of the Sub Sig at the time, Lyndon Hayes suggested and even urged that I join the Acoustical Society, he says ‘you’ve got a chance to be a charter member.’ Well I didn’t think I was interested in acoustics, so I didn’t join, I thought I was interested in electronics, and I was a member of the IRE which is now the IEEE. I didn’t join (the Acoustical Society) until after the war. Up until after the war there was very little underwater sound in the Acoustical Society, so I didn’t miss much.
Most of it was confined to classified research that could not have been found on the pages of the Acoustical Society.
That’s right, you couldn’t publish anything. So that’s how the Acoustical Society started, and I don’t think it was very eventful until about the time of the Austin (Texas), the first Austin meeting. By this time the society was afraid of splinter groups. The Audio Engineering Society you know had (been) started by people who were unsatisfied with it (the Acoustical Society). And then ultrasonics split off.
Dissention among the ranks?
Yes. Well, at the IRE -- it was then -- convention in New York a fellow named Haymor Lane put up a notice saying those who were interested in forming an ultrasonics group, please meet in such-and-such a room. They had the meeting; the only Acoustical Society members that went to it were Ted Hunt and I, and we strongly opposed it. But you know how people are, they like to have to form their professional group in ultrasonics
Is that a group that still exists today?
Well it exists, but it has changed. It’s now ferromagnetics or something like that. (Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control)
It’s part of IEEE I think.
It’s part of IEEE, yes. I think it’s… full-fledged society now. But they were forming. And the Audio Engineers hadn’t formed, the Audio Engineering Society. And the architects were forming some kind of a group or bureau but I think was a little bit more commercially oriented than scientific, I’m not sure. And the society was worried about what to do… I was on the council at the time, and we had a lot of discussion. And Bruce Lindsay I think was the one who came up with the idea of technical committees within the Acoustical Society, and technical council. And that’s what resulted.
So that’s how we have different technical groups within the Acoustical Society today.
Yes. And I think that’s functioning very well. I think the Technical Council could be given more authority than it gets, because those fellows are picked by their peers as being professionally competent. I think it’s a more competent group than the Executive Council well, the Executive Council is a relative of the nominating committee, and it isn’t very thorough in picking the people they pick. And then the names are put up for election by the membership at-large, and the people vote for the ones they’ve heard of and usually don’t know them. The Technical Council is chosen, not elected, and I think it’s a more competent group.
So did Bruce Lindsay’s suggestion of the technical committees sit well with the groups that wanted to splinter off?
Well, I think it has prevented a lot of other splintering. It hasn’t stopped those, but it prevented a lot of other splintering. The chapters are another thing that started after the war.
Well when I first started reading the Journal, which was probably five or six years ago, I was amazed at the breadth and the expanse of the people who work in acoustics; you find everything under the sun. That’s especially true when you go to a meeting, there’s no way that you can attend all these different sessions, but there’s such a wealth of information and knowledge there, in so many different fields. It’s neat. It’s hard to get bored at one of those meetings, if you stay at one section and decide you’re not really happy with (what you’re) listening (to), you can walk next door and listen to something totally different that you probably know nothing about.
They didn’t have that in the early days either. There was a Boston/Cambridge meeting back about, around 1945. It was the last meeting that had no overlapping sessions. Just one session at a time. Which meant that everybody could go to everything. But now it’s impossible, and I don’t know any solution to it. Well, I think the biggest change in the history of the Acoustical Society was the introduction of the Technical Committees and Technical Council. Of course the other change was Wallace Waterfall died. He was a remarkable man, and he was in it from the start. And in the very first meeting they named him temporary secretary, and then they re-elected him secretary year-after-year.
He didn’t have much choice I guess.
Well, he was willing to do it. After a few years, in the beginning he worked for I think it was Celotex out in the Chicago area. When the war came, he moved to New York and got a job with the NDRC (National Defense Research Committee). Then the AIP (American Institute of Physics) made him their secretary, and that was a full-time paying job. And so he stayed in New York doing that, and doing the Acoustical Society on the side. And Betty Goodfriend was his secretary for the Acoustical Society matters. He carried on until he died of cancer. It was a rather sad end to his life because his wife got killed in an automobile accident. They were up in Maine, and they were coming back on one of these superhighways, and a guy coming the other way went off and came through the central divider and crashed into them, and his wife was killed. He (Wallace) was hurt slightly, granddaughter who was in the back seat wasn’t hurt at all. And so he lived alone for a few years, then developed cancer. It was too bad you didn’t know him. Wallace had a…he was very able administratively, and that sort of thing, and always had the Society at his fingertips and he pretty-much ran things in a very undictatorial way. It turned out though that when I was involved with the young presidency (that) ‘you’ll soon learn that Wallace runs the society.’ He did, but you didn’t mind it at all. I remember that after the war, the navy had these annual or semi-annual symposia on classified sonar. But they used to hold them in conjunction with the Acoustical Society, in the same city, on adjacent days. I was in favor of trying to bring them even closer together. So the society could run them and hold classified sessions. The IEEE had demonstrated that you could have classified sessions, but Wallace didn’t like the idea. He was afraid of them, and Bob Leonard, who followed me as the president, he was violently opposed to the idea, he didn’t want to get involved in that sort of thing. So it didn’t go through. The navy was willing to do it, they thought it was a good idea. Well, I remember a letter Wallace wrote when I was President, he said ‘make sure you have the council behind you before you proceed with this,’ or something like that. Wallace knew, he was a wise man.