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Interview of Richard Grisdale by Lillian Hoddeson on 1975 July 10, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4644
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Grisdale's years at Bell Laboratories from 1930. Graduation as a chemistry major (with strong quantum theory interests) from Harvard University, 1930. Comments on the effect of the Depression and the work environment for researchers at Bell Labs (compared to university research laboratories); nonlinear resistor work, heat treatment (varistor, thermistor), synthetic microphone carbon; involvements in various departments after the war (Electronics Apparatus Department investigating selenium rectifiers) . Concepts of industrial research; the fifth circuit (papers by B. D. H. Tellegen at Phillips Laboratories); Clarence Lester Hogan. Also prominently mentioned are: William Baker, Joseph A. Becker, C. J. Christensen, Goucher, Green, Eloise Koonce, Sidney Millman, Stanley Owen Morgan, Gerald Leondus Pearson, Merle Rigterink, John Clarke Slater, Gordon K. Teal, Addison Hughson White, R. R. Williams, J. Wilson; Bell Telephone Laboratories Electronic Apparatus Department, and General Electric Company.
Dr. Grisdale, I see that you were born in Minneapolis, in 1908.
1908 is correct, but it is not Dr.
Mr. Grisdale, I would like to know whether your parents had been living in Minneapolis for some time.
Yes, I was born in Minneapolis and I lived there all my life, before coming east.
What was your father's occupation?
He was an accountant.
And your mother?
A housewife, and a good one.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
I have one brother, John, now living in Philadelphia, a retired architect.
Are you the only scientist in the family?
I'm the only engineer or scientist, yes.
Do you remember any early experiences that might have contributed towards your later interest in becoming a scientist?
I was always interested in gadgets and in early radio. Loved working with my hands, which is what made me an experimentalist, really, I suppose. I knew about Bell Laboratories even at that time in the middle ‘20’s.
How did you hear about it?
I can't answer that. In the middle ‘20’s I would be a little more than 15. In any case, it's difficult to trace these things, but I've always been interested in, as I say, building things with my hands and in early radio, the usual crystal sets to begin with. I remember buying my first vacuum tube — at great expense for me at that time.
Where did you pick up the vacuum tube?
I had to send away for it. I spent $5.50 of my money for it.
Where did you send away for it?
I can't tell you that. But they were scarce.
How did you know where to send to? Was there some manual that you were reading then?
Probably, some magazine or something of the kind. By talking with other people who were also interested in the same sort of thing.
Was there a group of you with this shared interest?
Oh there was a radio club in Minneapolis which used to meet in the courthouse once a month and I use to go down there, knowing much less about things than the people who were actual members. But you know it's awfully difficult to trace this kind of interest. All I can say is it was there. My family encouraged it and I used to, instead of getting the usual presents for Christmas, get a sheet of copper or a box of screws or something like that you see, or zinc, you'd make your own batteries at the time, copper sulphate and so on.
Where did you do all this?
Did you have a large enough home?
You don’t need a very large home for that. No, it was a very modest home.
And your friends, would they come over and work with you, at your house?
Yes, or we'd work at their houses. We set up radio communication between us, one form or another. And earlier we had a family friend who was with the telephone company; he appreciated my interests and so he got me a collection of telephone apparatus: switches, relays, sequence switches and things of that kind, which had been thrown out by them, but which I could make work satisfactorily. So it may be through him that I first learned about the telephone system and the research and development that was done. Of course, the Laboratories date from, what 1925?
Well that was the official incorporation date. It grew out of the engineering department of the Western Electric Company.
Well, in any case, while still in high school I decided that I wanted to work for the Bell System, for the Bell Laboratories. And I never changed my mind, and have never regretted doing it.
You chose to go to Harvard, when in high school?
How did that come about?
I won the Harvard Club of Minnesota Scholarship in high school. And after having been awarded it, I found that I could not satisfy the admission requirements for Harvard. It wasn't as easy to get into schools then as it is now. But Harvard Club agreed to hold the scholarship until the next year. So then I went to the University of Minnesota for one year and used about two thirds of the work I did there for admission requirements to Harvard. I finished at Harvard then in 1930.
Now could you tell me a little bit more about the Harvard scholarship? Did you apply for that?
Was it in a specialized area, or was it a general scholarship?
It was a general scholarship.
I don't know about these Harvard scholarships. Were these routinely applied for by the better students?
No, not at all. They were applied for only when there were special circumstances. One had to apply and —
How did you learn about them?
I can't tell you that.
So you ended up at Harvard and you spent four years there.
No, I did three and three-quarters work in three years. I entered with the class of 1931, but I graduated with the class the class of 1930.
And what did you major in?
How did you choose that as your major?
Oh I'd always been interested in kitchen sink experiments, things of that kind. Had done some reading on it, had had a smattering of chemistry in high school, thought I'd like it, so I took it.
And the scholarship supported you throughout the four years?
No the scholarship was only for the first year, but I obtained then from Harvard, scholarships for each of the succeeding years.
And your parents didn't add anything to it?
They could add virtually nothing, so I worked during summers and with scholarships and with borrowing I got through alright.
What did you do during the summers?
Oh I did a great variety of things. I worked all of my summers for what was then the Flour City Ornamental Iron Works, whose products were ornamental iron and bronze for building construction.
Where were they located?
Minneapolis. So I did everything from sweeping floors and washing windows to making blueprints, photographing artists' models of bronze work, painting, riveting, drilling; I was paymaster, I was the doctor on his vacation. I got a very good education from it.
Did this work feed into your work in chemistry in any way?
No, practically not at all.
Were there any professors at Harvard whom you think in retrospect played an important role in steering you towards your subsequent direction of work?
Well, there were several, of course. There was Grinell Jones in industrial chemistry, and George Shannon Forbes in inorganic chemistry, Theodor William Richards on analytical chemistry and X-ray diffraction at that time. Julian Lowell Coolidge a mathematician who was influential.
Did you have any plans to go on to do graduate work?
No, I didn't.
Never? You stayed with your original decision to go on and work for Bell?
Were there any job offers for you when you got out of Harvard?
Oh yes, I had a number.
Do you remember them?
Yes, Rohm and Haas in Philadelphia, plastics, Lever Brothers, soap, and others which I do not at the moment remember. But I had my choice of jobs.
This was in the early ‘30’s?
Did these companies send representatives to Harvard who then tried to recruit you?
Yes, and then also with the concerns, then as now, if they were interested they invited you down to their own locations to discuss things with them.
And did you go to some of these interviews?
Yes. Oh yes.
And were there any other possibilities that attracted you besides the opportunities at Bell?
Apparently not. They were all, because I was graduating in chemistry, primarily oriented towards chemistry and chemical industry. And they didn't have any of the instrumental or electrical sorts of things in which I had become interested. These were interesting times you know, because the Quantum Theory developed during the time I was in Cambridge, and this interested me. And the instrumental end of things, I suppose because of my gadgeteering background, also interested me. The Bell Laboratories provided the best combination of all of these interests, including chemistry.
Did you have any training in the Quantum Theory? It was just developing then.
How did you hear about it?
We attended lectures about it. Not in regular courses but in symposia.
Do you remember any specific symposia?
John Slater, whose books subsequently I got much more familiar with, was in the know at the time when I was at Harvard. And these newer things that were coming along were the subject of open discussions on a sort of extracurricular system.
Could you tell me more about that?
This goes on all the time now, doesn't it? In any university, I take it, there are numbers of symposia to discuss new or controversial subjects, just to bring an awareness of these things to the student body in general. So that — well in any case I may be reading more into this than was the case.
This is very interesting. Wasn't Van Vleck there too, at that time?
Yes, I think so.
Were most of these symposia somehow connected with Slater?
Well on the quantum end of things, yes, from the wave mechanical point of view.
Did he give a series of lectures?
Well it was not a series, it was just an informative presentation of the present state of the art, shall we say? And anyone could go.
About how large were they?
Oh this varied. If I remember correctly the one that Slater first gave attracted quite an audience. He was a superb expositor, and still is.
Were there fifty, a hundred, or two hundred — I'm trying to…
Oh I'd say maybe 50. Yes. Because usually these things were on the fringes at the time.
Do you remember who hired you from Bell? Did someone come up and speak with you at Harvard, or did you write a letter?
You know, I really don't remember. I'd been aiming at this for some time, and as a matter of fact I think the gentleman who obtained some telephone equipment for me wrote a letter to Bell explaining my interests and so on, among other things.
What was his name, do you remember?
No I don't remember. I suppose that there was some representative of the Bell System coming to Cambridge. And I can't even tell you now whether before I was hired I visited the Bell Laboratories.
Slater had some connections with Bell Labs.
Yes, later he did, largely in connection with radar.
But not in that early period?
Not in that early period, no.
Did you get to meet Slater at —
Oh, I took courses from him. He was teaching physics. I found I liked physics in some senses better than chemistry. I was never able to interest myself in organic chemistry. Never. And that may be one reason that I avoided serious consideration of other chemical companies, because they were largely organic, you see. Inorganic chemistry, physics and, you can’t call it electronics — I don’t know what you would call it — electricity and magnetism.
Did the salary Bell was offering at that time seem high to you in comparison to what you thought you ought to be earning, or in comparison to what the other companies were offering?
The salary was $35.00 a week, and it was comparable with what was being offered elsewhere. And of course things deteriorated from 1930 on pretty drastically, so that any raises were negative, for a number of years.
Did that affect you?
Oh yes. It affected everybody in Bell Laboratories.
Specifically, did they lower your salary? Or were you asked to work fewer days?
It was working fewer days. And it got to the point in the depths of the Depression when having finished work one week you’d have a hard time remembering by the time you got back the next week what you were doing, because it got down to about — you see when we first started we worked Saturday half day too, so that was 5 and a half days, and if my memory serves me we got down close to 3 1/2 days before things began to improve. And the mortality was very high, very high.
What did you do on the days you didn’t come into the Labs?
It’s an interesting thing. We had this time available so on one occasion — have you come across the name of Gordon Teal? Well Gordon Teal was at the Laboratories at the time, and we decided we would make some hopefully profitable use of the time we had off. So that we would meet on those off days and we were writing a sort of different treatise on thermodynamics, which we never finished but we got a lot of it done.
Does the manuscript still exist?
No. And in another case, not during the Depression or maybe it was, maybe it started then — you've come across Addison White, too? Ad White and I, at Morgan's suggestion, thought it would be a good thing if we familiarized ourselves a little more in detail with wave mechanics and its applications. So we took Slater's book, did it ourselves, and worked out the problems.
Is this the book on theoretical physics?
So the two of you would meet regularly?
About a couple of times a week?
Yes, and in the Laboratories hours on occasion, because Morgan was a pretty enlightened individual.
Did he participate as well?
No he didn't participate.
But he was pleased that you were —?
Oh yes. Well that did us no harm, we put it that way.
Did it feed directly into the work that you were doing?
It did, in the sense that semiconductors were beginning to be worked on. I did some of it. And also because one of those was a nonlinear resistance kind of thing, first developed by G. E., picked up by us. Its behavior was inexplicable in classical terms but in terms of the tunnel effect, perfectly straightforward. So this was one reason for my interest in wave mechanics.
Let’s see, according to these (pulls out papers), from 1931 through 1937 you were in a group under Morgan is that right, along with Ad White and Murphy and several others? Did you all work together?
No, I was working on my own. I had Joe Fisher with me. I roomed with Keith Storks. Ad White and I had many interests in common. Bill Yager was working primarily on dielectrics with Morgan himself. Murphy was also dielectrics, now at the Rockefeller University.
Did you meet regularly with Morgan to discuss the work that you were doing?
Oh yes. Small groups went right on all the time. And we had to write up our work as progress reports, which are now frowned on.
Who wrote the progress reports?
Well, I wrote mine, Ad probably wrote his, and Ed Murphy wrote his and so on.
And what were you focusing on in the early years, on carbon?
Well, yes. The first thing I was put on was microphone carbon.
Who put you on that, Morgan?
Yes. But that kept on for years, you see. But very early in that period the nonlinear resistance thing came in and Morgan thought I ought to look at it. G. E.'s name for it was Thyrite. And it was a nonlinear resistance. High resistance at low voltage, low resistance at high voltage. It had potential for protecting many varieties of telephone equipment from voltage surges due to lightning, for example. So we got started on it, and that continued for quite a while and we produced it eventually with large scale equipment. We eventually followed it into production in Western Electric. I have a patent or two on that kind of thing. Have you looked up the patents incidentally?
I shall be doing that.
I think in some senses they are much more significant than other publications. But that was my first introduction shall we say to what you might now call solid state.
How was Morgan as a boss?
You couldn't ask for better. Very tolerant. If he had an idea to inject, it was injected very subtly. If something turned out that pleased him, he would say so. I think you'll find that Stan's reputation is universally this.
About how many patents did you take out in those early years?
I don't know. In the early years I think there's a total of maybe 13 or 14 plus foreign patents something like that. Some of them are useless and some of them aren't.
I'll have to go and look those up.
You can learn things from patents that you can't learn from much of anything else, but the technical journals also hold much of the work.
Could you give me an example.
Well you won't find much about the early semiconductors in publications; you will find something about them in patents. In the dielectric work that Morgan was so interested in, of course, there is a good deal of publication, by Morgan, Murphy, Yager, and White.
Did you see R. R. Williams on a regular basis?
R. R. Williams? He was chemical director, yes. Oh yes, I knew Williams well.
Did he participate actively in research activities?
Yes, he was a very savvy individual, himself a research man. You know, he was behind the first vitamin B. I think his early life was spent out in the East. He was aware of beriberi. Traced down the effects of rice polishing, and came out with vitamin B1. And as a matter of fact had all of us testing it.
And then Burns came in, right?
Yes, R. M. Burns.
What was his role?
He was assistant chemical director, and he was primarily interested in electro-chemistry.
What would you talk about with Ad White?
Williams would come around and just engage you in conversation occasionally. And you could bring up anything you wanted. In this sense it was a much more informal, open sort or organization than it is of necessity now.
Smaller number of people and many fewer complexities in the fields that you were interested in. You were able to cover, you thought, more things.
In those days were there many visitors from other institutions like G. E. or university labs?
There were, of course, some but, —
Did they play an important role in the actual research?
Well early on and I can't tell you the date, a Bell Laboratories symposium was formed whose purpose was two-fold: To keep people up to date on what was being done in the Laboratories itself, and secondly to invite people from industry or largely from academia to discuss their work. And this was a very good thing, it lasted a good many years.
Who was behind that?
Ives, Herbert Ives was a mover in it. C. J. Davisson another, Foster Nix, Stan Morgan, it was a research department sort of thing you see, confined as a matter of fact to the research area, as I recall. And it served to keep us aware of things going on elsewhere, and also with what was going on in the laboratories next door or in other Laboratories areas.
Would each individual be called on from time to time to report?
Yes, they were fairly formal presentations. I do not remember whether it was by invitation or not, but in any case the group would assemble and there'd be a formal presentation and then a very active question and answer period.
Now you mentioned Foster Nix, so I assume that the chemistry and the physics people were meeting together at these symposia.
And the mathematicians as well?
Yes. I think — I’m not sure, I think we had Bohr, very shortly after the major events that occurred in the field.
Do you know when?
Now wait a minute. I know he came and told us the first news of atomic fission.
That was later, in ‘39.
That was in ‘39, that's right. Well this went on until the Laboratories moved to Murray Hill, which is ‘41. And it still persists in a sort of way, but not in the close knit sort of way — there was even a ruling junta for the symposium.
Who was that?
Oh, Ives, Davisson.
Did K. K. Darrow play a role?
Oh I’m glad you mentioned him. It was K. K. Darrow's baby, or he thought it was. And of course you're familiar with the series of things that he wrote on modern physics. Each one of those was presented to the symposium at the time that it was being done. So he kept us up to date, on the currents in the then modern science. I'm glad you mentioned Caw Caw.
Were the talks that he put together, sufficiently detailed to influence the work. Or were they more a general knowledge of those new developments?
This I can't say. I just don't know. You might wonder what influence they had on Davisson and Germer — it's hard to say, very hard to say.
Certainly everybody was aware of them.
Yes, everybody in the symposium.
And I suppose they opened up some discussions.
Oh very much, very much. And, of course, just exposing people to this kind of thing is very good.
Was your article on heat treatment in the Bell Laboratories Record your first paper?
Probably. That I think has to do with the big furnace used for production of nonlinear resistors. We coined a name for those; as a matter of fact R.R. Williams coined the word varistor. We also later coined the word thermistor, you know.
Who was behind that? (interruption) We were talking about the heat treatment paper which —
Yes, yes well that has to do with the furnace used for the reasonably large scale production of nonlinear resistors. And it's just apparatus, I believe.
Do you remember specifically when you first heard about the nonlinear resistors?
I can tell you. Morgan knew about it. Incidentally, we were working in a stable at the time, second floor of a stable. Bell Telephone Laboratories at 463 West Street was a conglomeration of buildings and the one we were occupying had been a stable. All of this has long since disappeared. But that's where I first started. I was in there one day probably working on microphone carbon, and Morgan came in and said — we had been trying to make nonlinear resistors and hadn't succeeded, and he came in one day and handed me something and said "why don't you make a test and see what happens,” it was a piece of silicon carbide grinding wheel, I believe. So I did and this was it and from that point on we developed all the parameters in the production of thyrite. And got to the point where the apparatus development people were interested in having things for two purposes, one was primarily for what was called a click protector in the telephone receiver. It doesn't happen now, because similar devices are used to suppress these clicks but in the telephone system of those days, you could get fairly large random voltage excursions from a variety of sources and the acoustic output was sufficient to raise some fears about hearing damage.
Consequently, some form of click protector was required. And so we bent our efforts to devising a click protector out of these nonlinear materials. And we made a lot of them, in fact, even went out to the Western Electric Company in Chicago and used some of their fabricating equipment at one stage. That was one incentive shall we say. Then other people in the apparatus departments apparently got wind of it. They thought that maybe one should attack these clicks or some of them, at the source which was lightning induction. Much higher potentials. So we had at the one time the problem of making really very minute things that were smaller than had been made before out of these varistor materials. And on the other end of the scale making things adaptable to the Bell System equipment for lightning protection. GE had developed these originally for lightning protection, on a still grosser scale. And this furnace was designed largely to accommodate the big devices needed for what you might call primary lightning protection. We also made things for protection of switchboard lamps to prevent them from burning out due to these surges and so on and so on. You may be getting some idea here now that work can originate in —. You can start out either to learn something just because you're curious. Or you can recognize a need for something not then in existence, and go looking for it. And there’s no telling where either of these approaches will lead, and in many cases they lead to common lines in investigation. This is one of the reasons that the Bell Laboratories is what it is, that there is such a close inter linkage between theory and use, between ideas and the practical embodiment. You know there's quite an argument over how the transistor originated. Was it just out of pure abstract solid state science? Or was it, in a solid state device to duplicate the vacuum tube? I think Shockley will admit to the latter.
Oh, I'm sure he would. It's a very deep and interesting question that goes right to the heart of my entire study. I noticed in an announcement of the meeting of the colloquium on April 27, 1936 that you spoke then about nonohmic conductors.
Yes, that's the same thing.
That is just an announcement. I heard that the colloquium was well received —
No paper eventuated.
What happened to the work then? Was it ever written up? Did it appear eventually in patent reports, or were there informal write-ups?
Oh, you're not familiar with the Bell Labs files then?
Internal technical memoranda. You should get in touch with the library people, because a considerable amount of effort has gone into making this kind of thing as available as the open literature, and you will find monthly indices of Technical Memoranda. There are various quite sophisticated ways of routing these within the laboratories to the people interested in a particular subject. But there's a tremendous mass of material in internal technical memoranda. Technical Memoranda, then there’s a Memorandum for Record which is not indexed in the way the MM's are but there is a tremendous amount of material in the Bell Laboratories files. But if you start looking through this you're… (laughs). There is a way to approach this, that is to ask people involved on what cases they worked. Do you know the case system?
Now I know 19881 is one case that has a lot of material. I'd talk to the library people, because they have been very active, and I worked with some of them in setting up these indices. It might be that if you exhaust all other sources you can find things in there that you wouldn't find elsewhere.
I would like to ask you a question on the role that Bell Labs Record played at that time. Your early publication appeared there. Was that a journal that was read by more or less everybody working in the research department?
It was distributed through the Laboratories, through all of the divisions, as an internal informational device. It was also sent externally to a fair distribution list, colleges, universities, and things of that kind. It's what in modern terms you might call a house organ.
So it had a fairly wide distribution —
— oh yes, well it does today, and did then too, yes.
— compared to a research journal, for example.
Yes this is a popularization, or as the French would call it, a vulgarization.
Well, did you recall any particular reactions to your early paper of 1935 in the Record?
Within the laboratories, yes.
Do you remember anything particular?
By 1938 then you had become a sub-department head of a group on varistors and ceramics under Morgan. And I suppose Morgan focused on dielectrics while you focused on varistors and ceramics, and the two were still parts of Morgan’s large group. Why this division?
It was a practical event; it gave me a responsibility towards this sort of thing, you see.
Did it change the work that you were doing?
No, no, just set it up as a separate entity.
Physically did anything change in the laboratory?
Yes somewhat in here we did move out of the stable to the 10th floor of the West Street building into new laboratories which we designed so that they were then the last word. Thyrite is a ceramic material, a nonlinear resistor is a ceramic material — so we began to look around at other kinds of ceramics. We began to look at other kinds of things exhibiting what you might call non-classical conductivities. And there looked to be enough future in this that we took on Merle Rigterink for the broad investigation of ceramics —
I was going to ask you about him.
He'd gotten his doctorate in ceramics at Alfred would it be?
Alfred has a ceramics school.
I'm not certain of that, you can ask Merle, but I think that's right. So we set up a well-equipped ceramics laboratory and started looking at a wide variety of things. We had already been looking at various inorganic oxide systems which displayed electrical conductivities perhaps in the useful range. Concurrent with this the utility of a material which had a large negative temperature coefficient of resistance had been recognized because one could compensate for losses in transmission systems. The metallic portions go up in resistance with increasing temperature. The idea that you could perhaps compensate by having a material with a large negative temperature coefficient, so arranging them that they would just balance each other. So these things were being looked at. And Gerald Pearson, do you know him?
Have you come across the name J. A. Becker?
Yes. Well, Becker was a peculiar individual, a very peculiar individual, in a sense a go-getter. Because it looked as though some of the things we had been doing and some of the things that Becker and Pearson had been doing might have a future, it was decided to set up a sort of informal joint collaboration between Becker's people and my people. It was a sort of natural thing. It was a means of perhaps fostering cooperation which, if you’ll excuse me, because of Becker's characteristics was difficult to accomplish in a normal way. Well, in any case this was set up in a joint laboratory, and I believe it was Gerald who came up with the use of silver sulphide. Now for some reason, I had also been interested in silver sulphide; we found some peculiar transitions in it. But it is a material ionic in conductivity which has a high negative temperature coefficient of resistance. So he made some little devices which looked as though they might well serve as line compensators. And somewhere along the same period of time, the name thermistor was coined. As I said, Williams had first coined varistor. And the silver sulphide devices looked pretty good, except that being ionic conductors they changed composition with DC current. So a sort of hunt, if you want to call it that, was on for electronic conductors free of this defect. I looked at a very large number of oxide systems which were semiconductors and came up with the nickel manganese oxide system, nickel manganite, which was pretty good and which is still used. And Gerald Pearson improved on that by the addition of cobalt oxide to the system. These thermistors I'm sure are now still very widely used in all sorts of applications. I have a patent on the nickel manganese systems, and others. Gerald has one for the addition of cobalt. These completely eliminated the silver sulphide. And then this began to arouse an interest in what the hell (excuse me) were semiconductors anyway?
This is now around 1939, or 1940?
Yes. Wilson had come out with a wave mechanical description of semiconductors as being due to the presence if you want in the hitherto forbidden band of impurities whose electrons could be excited into the conduction band. And if this were true then this looked as though it might make possible the synthesis of a very large family of semiconducting materials. Now, there had been other semiconducting systems in use. There was the copper oxide rectifier developed by Grondahl at Westinghouse, I believe it was, and this had its difficulties, peculiarities in the behavior of the devices depending on the source of the copper. This sort of led again into the search for the meaning of impurities in conducting materials. And, of course, some of this search had started still earlier in the vacuum tube business in the cathode emitter, because these are activated by impurities. And at the same time it was found that certain impurities in the envelope of the vacuum tube could poison the emitters. I really have a feeling that the source of much solid state work is in these kinds of things, coupled with work that Morgan and Murphy had done on dielectrics and the importance of, shall we say, traces of impurities in these on the behavior of these systems. These were all beginning to add up to a picture of the essential importance, deleterious or beneficial, of impurities in a wide variety of materials. And I have a feeling this is really the beginning of what you might call solid state science in Bell Laboratories. You see there are a number of things all combined in here.
I would like to know more about the interactions between your group and the group working with Joe Becker in 1939. Here (points to chart) we have Brattain and Pearson and Walther and White working under Joe Becker, and then you are working with Haynes, Hull and Ryder under Goucher.
Oh, I had now shifted, you see. I'd gone to the Physical Research Department.
Do you know who decided on the transfers?
Oh, I suppose it was M. J. Kelly. This is ‘39. This started out as microphone carbon again, you see. Goucher had been continuing in microphone carbon. He had been primarily the physicist on microphone carbon, and had done some absolutely beautiful work. What I'd been doing was rudimentary and more on the materials side. As a corollary to the microphone carbon which was originally made from anthracite coal — C. J. Christensen had developed a technique for depositing carbon on the surfaces of small hollow spheroids, of fused silicon, to produce a synthetic microphone carbon. As an outgrowth of that, that same thin film of carbon was deposited on other surfaces to make thin film resistors. We pushed this and it's a good thing we did for two reasons: one — a thin film resistor exhibits no skin effect, its resistance is independent of frequency. In a normal conductor the higher the frequency the more the current tends to crowd into the skin. If it's all skin they can't do it. So the resistance stays independent of frequency. We built these for a number of radar purposes.
Was that now or later during the war?
That's starting here.
Starting in '39, before you began working on applications to radar.
Yes that's right.
The whole group or just you and —
Pfister, Van Roosebroek and Andy Schwinn who was a superb model maker; he did all of our mechanical work. I don't know whether you know it, but this is an interesting thing. The Laboratories developed an analog computer for gun aiming, which looked promising. It used vacuum tube amplifiers, and it used highly precise networks of wire-wound resistors. It was instrumental in winning the Battle of Britain. But before that could happen, it turned out that the entire fine wire drawing capacity in this country was inadequate to supply the number of resistors required by the M9 directors. Something had to be done. It was thought perhaps that the deposited carbon resistor would do it, and we made it do it. We made it do it in a number of ways and here again we come back to Rigterinks because he had developed a new class of ceramics the alkaline earth porcelains, I've got a paper on that somewhere. The ceramic for these resistors had to have an exceptionally fine smooth surface, and Rigterink took this on and came up with a normal porcelain, which satisfied that requirement, which permitted us to make resistors which were as stable in their way as wire wounds and which could be had in much higher ranges of resistance. But somewhere along the line it developed that this porcelain core of the resistor was also an ionic conductor and that under certain conditions it could change its resistance because of ionic migration. Another kind of base had to be developed and Rigterink then applied his knowledge of alkaline earth porcelains, which had been originally developed as spacing elements in vacuum tubes, to the production of a new kind of ceramic core for resistors which did solve the problem. We were able to make these with almost unbelievable precision, in sufficient quantities that wire was no further any problem. The largest integrated ceramic establishment in the country was set up just to manufacture these cores, it is still in existence.
which one is that?
The American Lava Corporation.
Well now where are we?
Well I still don't quite understand how the radar work began.
It had begun in a desultory fashion, prior to my transfer here. The deposited carbon resistor — quite large — in this case was used as a water cooled dummy load for the testing of high power microwave transmitters.
Who was working on that?
Jim Fisk was working on the microwave end of it, and, C. J. Christensen had started this work. I don't know what’s become of Christensen. He was out at Brigham Young the last time I'd heard. But these sorts of things occupied our entire attention along with a continuing minor effort on microphone carbon all through the war, except that towards the end of the war we again reverted back to the semiconductor business — because the Navy wanted some heat guided bombs. Polaroid Corporation had the prime contract on this. They came to us to supply semiconductor bolometers made of semiconductors, nickel manganite. And we worked closely then with the Polaroid Corporation in that development and in the trial production of the infrared bolometers used in heat seeking bombs. The war terminated before we really got into full speed production on this.
So in a sense the war work that you did was a direct continuation of what you were doing before.
Unlike some researchers who dropped what they were doing and switched to different wartime activities, you just went right along with what you were doing until you had moved into the semiconductor work. Was there a natural continuation or was there some abrupt switch in emphasis towards the end of the war?
You know, I spent some time in the Apparatus Department too. During the war, we transferred from the Physical Research Department to the Electronic Apparatus Development.
Yes I see, under Wilson (referring to chart). In 1945 you appear on this as a department head alongside Joe Becker.
We picked up John Shive and embarked upon an investigation of the selenum rectifier, yet again another semiconductor system.
Why did you pick that?
The Bell System uses a large number of them, and we weren't particularly well satisfied with either our state of knowledge or our supplier's state of knowledge and we thought maybe we could do something better, and we set out to investigate it.
Did Mervin Kelly play some role here too?
Mervin Kelly masterminded it.
Masterminded the move of Grisdale and Becker into electronic apparatus? Why did he do that?
It isn't such an unusual sort of thing to do. It was I think motivated by a conviction on his part that in the future there had by necessity to be a closer interlinkage between pure research and apparatus development. At just about the same time, he established at Western Electric manufacturing locations, branches of the Bell Laboratories. It worked extremely satisfactorily and about this time Western Electric tried to get me to go and head up their research in Allentown. I wasn't interested and Mervin Kelly was displeased, not that I wasn't interested but because they'd approached me without going through him which they didn't.
This was just about the same time that the solid state group under Morgan and Shockley was organized in the physical research department. Was there any direct relationship between the work that was being done in that group under Morgan and Shockley and the work of the groups now working in the Electronic Apparatus Department?
Where does Mr. Green come in?
Mr. Green's here in — 1947 on these charts give or take 6 months I suppose. You were in the Transmission Apparatus Department.
It's a little hard for me without knowing the details to understand —
Well, I think this is part of the same thing. The Electronic Apparatus Development Department had been a pretty forward looking up-to-date organization under Jim Wilson. The Transmission Apparatus Department had been much more remote from the research and fundamental area than had it, I am now the guinea pig to introduce fundamental development into the Transmission Apparatus Development Department.
Were all of the other groups working on much more applied subjects?
Yes and our charter was to see what we could do.
I'm going to have to look at the case authorization for this new group and see what it says.
This started out small but we were then given the charter to hire — this may interest you — hire the best people we could find to look at the application of fundamental materials developments, new viewpoints, in the apparatus field. This put us in the position of hiring in competition with the research department because the kinds of people required for these two things were the same, you see. And we found a very interesting thing which some people in the research department commented on: that in direct competition for some of the best people we could get out of the universities, we could get them away from the research department. You want to know how come?
Yes, how come?
How come? I'm convinced that the opportunities that can be offered by a combination of what you might call research and practical application are greater than can be offered by a research department, if you are talking to the right kind of person. Say what you will, a lot of the people in research would disdain on the surface, any interest in practical things, really getting themselves tied up and wanting to see their ideas carried through to fruitful use. This gets you into all kinds of things that normally the research department doesn't get into. It does turn out that, depending on the individual, they like this freedom to follow from a gleam in their eye to a piece of something actually functioning. They like to do this. So that we get some very good people. They don't show up here yet, but we got some extremely competent people. And they came up with some very interesting things.
I have some questions on your interactions with some of the other researchers, for example Germer. In some of your publications you refer to the diffraction work — the electron diffraction work — that Germer and White were doing at that time. I was wondering whether you were meeting with these people regularly.
Oh, all the time. And as a matter of fact in the work on carbon we found the electron microscope plus the diffraction to be extremely valuable. So we pushed that. And as a matter of fact, Eloise Koonce whose name you see here, started out working out on the resistors, and she was straw boss of about 20 girls during the war, very good you see.
What were they doing?
Making resistors — And later thermistor bolometers.
Oh we ran a factory right here in the Bell Laboratories.
In Murray Hill?
Right here in Murray Hill. We did a large volume of business. And we had to do it; we had to supply both the burgeoning radar needs and the gun director needs, until Western could get into manufacture. So we set up an outfit here, and as a matter of fact for a long time we supplied all of what you might call raw coated ceramics, for Western's production. This is measured of hundreds of thousands of millions, I mean. Along with this we were carrying on, when we had the opportunity a little bit of more fundamental work on carbon. We had to do some of this in order to do the resistor job properly. And we took Eloise Koonce in as a superb electron mircroscopist, which she still is. And then out of that in the latter stages of the war when we were relieved of production responsibility, we began to look at carbon in the abstract. I don't think you'll find any publications, but you'll find three or four or five patents that Bill Baker and I have on the production of synthetic polymer carbon. He used that subsequently in his push to develop the ablative nose cones.
Since we are skipping about I shall throw in one or two more abstract questions. The concept of industrial research, as expressed by presidents of the Labs and directors of research portrays an organization composed of many individuals from different fields, working together on a common unified project. I wonder if this concept is experienced in the same way by individual workers who are doing much more specialized things. Did you feel in those years that your work was somehow fitting into this larger plan?
Yes, I think you have that feeling. But you see the Laboratories, at most any point in its history, has been relative to others, sufficiently large, so that if you find yourself ignorant on a certain matter the likelihood was very good that you could find in the Laboratories membership someone who could supply the necessary know-how, who was an expert in the particular area. So you would go to him.
Was that very common? Did you in fact spend a good portion of your time talking to people?
Oh yes. I mean luncheons, or tea — the mathematicians are strong on teas. Oh yes, now that is one of the difficult things to solve in an industrial establishment or in any establishment. No matter what the number of journals, no matter how many papers are published, this is formal communication. And if you survey your people, and this has been done at Bell Laboratories, and ask them what is the source of the information that has been most crucial to them in the developments that they have had a hand in, is informal communication. Now the problem is how do you foster this? How do you arrange for the informal communication which is recognized as important? A formal publication is of course open for public scrutiny by one's peer superiors, so that you don't hazard what might be considered crack-pot ideas; you don't put them forward. But in an informal give and take conversation any kind of idea can be brought up, maybe it’s, hooted down, maybe it isn't, maybe it has no effect at the time, maybe someone remembers a month later that someone said a funny thing, and maybe there's something to it after all. In this kind of thing you get an informal communication that you cannot find in the literature. And it's this kind of thing that really in many instances triggers off, maybe in a delayed fashion, pretty fundamental developments.
Do you think more of this went at Bell than say at Princeton, or Harvard, or other university laboratories? Was Bell set up in such a way that this was more likely to happen?
I think there's one thing about an industrial organization and maybe it's more true at Bell Laboratories than most. I think that no matter to whom you talk, you will uncover a sense of purpose, a corporate purpose, if you want to put it that way, that is of necessity lacking in the university atmosphere.
And yet when I speak with individual researchers they all felt free to do with what they wanted.
And that's very difficult for me to put together with this. How can people feel entirely free to work on what they want and yet be part of the corporate purpose? There must be some subtle way this happens.
Yes, this in the first place takes an enlightened management. It takes a management which can recognize, that even though at the moment this looks to have no direct application to our business, it is we think in these general directions that future progress is going to be made — not all of it's going to pay off, but if a small fraction of it pays it, we’re in. Now, there's no question that some individuals abuse this enlightened atmosphere, in purely selfish ways. They put their own interests before that of the corporation. Now I'm perfectly frank to admit that if you ask some people which is more important to them, their standing in Bell Laboratories, they would say the former means much more. Now this is perfectly true that this is a worthwhile thing for an establishment, because if their standing with the world external to the Bell Laboratories is good, then informal channels of communication with that world are also good. They become aware of what's going on external to the Bell Laboratories through their informal contacts. Because they are recognized, respected for their developments, they have access to materials on an informal basis that others don't have. Am I making any sense?
Yes. I suppose that Niels Bohr for example wouldn't have visited a laboratory that wasn't doing first rate research. Similarly Wigner, De Broglie and the others —
Yes, that's right. I mentioned that fact that informal contacts yield the most valuable information. That's not just informal contacts within the Bell Laboratories. This is the point: it is informal contact with the world of science external to the laboratories that is important.
— friends visiting —
Friends visiting, telephone calls, gripe sessions at meetings, attendance at international meetings —
— summer schools –
Summer schools, you name it. There is a continuing interchange of intelligence between our people and others. You've got to keep these channels open. You have to keep the people satisfied. That's a real problem in industrial research. You've got to lean over backwards, in satisfying what you might call unwarranted demands. You've got to recognize that the people working in scientific areas are just as much prima donnas as in any artistic field, but you've also got to recognize that unless you can satisfy their apparently unjustified demands, you're not going to get anything out of them. Of course, the Laboratories has for a long time literally leaned over backwards in establishing a climate in which these prima donnas can flourish. You have no idea what the extent of this business is sometimes.
They want to park where they want to park; the hell with the rules and regulations. You can't tell me where I'm going to park. You say I've got to be here at 9 o'clock? Fine, I want keys to the library so that I can get in at any time. I don't want to be checked on. I don't want to be told that I had to be there so many hours a day. After all, I don't stop working when I leave the establishment. I don't like the food in the cafeteria. That poster shouldn't be up on the wall.
Did the enlightened policy hold — were there more restrictions on it — during the war? Were people not more directed in that period?
Oh well, I suppose so. You can't restrict the informal things. And there are times when this got to be a problem with secrecy. There is the case of the gentleman in Bell Laboratories working in a restricted secret area who got himself admitted to the quarters every day for some months with a picture of Hitler on his badge. But I think on the whole people reacted very well to the urgency in the war situation. And in some ways, yes, the regimentation was stronger, but also so was the cooperation.
You were fortunate to be able to continue going along the lines you were following before the war; some others were forced to switch.
Well that's one way to put it. I suppose that's a perfectly fair way to put it. And yet I'm reasonably certain that the aptitudes, capabilities, likes and dislikes of people were not totally disregarded when they were asked to do certain jobs.
Did your war work — and now I bet your answer is yes from what you told me before — change the scale of the work that you were doing? You must have had more funding for example, during the war. Did that continue after the war?
Oh no we were working on war contracts alone. I'm quite sure that aside from defense contracts all fundings of Bell Laboratories research and fundamental development has been internal to the Bell System. I'm sure there are minor cases where this is not true. (break)
We’re resuming now after a short break. In 1951 you worked as a physicist again, this time under Sid Millman. The other department heads included Lester Germer, William Shockley, and Stanley Morgan. I was wondering about the origins of the new organization: Who set it up? Who master-minded it? And how the different groups were working together. Everybody here (pointing on chart to Shockley group) is working on some area of solid state research, it seems in ‘51 to be a true solid state group.
Do you see the title there?
Your group is called applied physics of solids. How did that come about?
I have a feeling that before this we had gotten involved in things that made this seem very reasonable although I must admit I can't answer your question.
How was it working under Millman as compared to say working under Green?
Well, I preferred Green.
Well, Green was quite an exceptional person, a very well educated and highly sophisticated person, with a broad understanding of the meaning of research for applications. I think Millman had practically none. Millman had been from the outset a pure research oriented individual from the days he spent with Rabi to this time. I think however that maybe some of the reason was that prior to this move we had uncovered some things. One in particular: it represented the new application of the physics of solids, shall we say, to practical use. It had implications that might better be followed up in a research area than in a development area. If you're interested just let me tell you what that was. Our charter had been —
— this is under Green —
Yes — to look around for new things that might have implications for the future telephone system. Now there had been virtually no application of the physics of solids to the microwave region. Aside from the fact that early in the War it turned out that vacuum tubes were not really satisfactory as detectors of microwave radiation. The frequencies had gotten so high; they'd gotten beyond the efficient capability of vacuum tubes. And recourse was then — going back to the beginning days of radio to the cat's whisker detector. And the radar detectors were silicon diodes. I had made the first sample of vacuum melted silicon and given it to Ohl down at Holmdel, who found it very satisfactory. Well, as you know, a large effort in diode behavior then was instituted and it is out of that really that came the work preliminary to the transistor. Jack Scaff and his people in metallurgy had given the names N and P to varieties of silicon. But there had been no application other than that of what you might call solid-state physics to the microwave area. Well, I had come across a paper, as a matter-of-fact a series of papers, by B. D. H. Tellegen, working for Phillips in Holland. Now Tellegen must have had somewhat the same kind of assignment that we had, because he looked things over, and he might have said: “Now look, the circuit designer has had available to him only four circuit elements; he had devised all of his circuits using only four circuit elements: resistor, capacitor, inductor, and ideal transformer.” “Is it possible,” he may have asked himself, “that this list is not complete?” So he mathematically set up a hypothetical fifth type of circuit element. It was nonreciprocal in nature, which means that if it could be realized, one could make transmission systems which would transmit in one direction only, not in the reverse. He had not realized it. Well I was in the process of recruiting a pretty sharp young man by the name of C. L. Hogan, later Chairman of Fairchild Camera, got him from Lehigh, and got him interested in what we're doing.
Did he have a degree?
He was getting his Ph.D. He didn't have it, but prior to that time I sent to him at Lehigh, reprints of Tellegen's articles. I'd talked to him about this before. I said I just wonder if there's anything to this any way of realizing it. Hogan thought about it and came and worked with us. And to make a long story short, it wasn't long before we indeed did have a fifth circuit element which functioned in the microwave region. And it is today a common part of all the Bell Systems and world-wide microwave systems. Out of it have come things with names you might not recognize: the gyrator, the isolator, and things of that kind. And this came very directly out of just this sort of thing. It depends on electron spin resonance in solids. It makes use of magnetic insulating materials, the ferrites; it does make possible one-way transmission systems; it makes possible ways of eliminating interference in microwave systems; it makes possible ways of eliminating feedback from transmitter to receiver; and it is a very widely used element. Now, we were in the throes of that when we moved over to research and applied physics of solids.
And Hogan moved along with you?
Was it that piece of research that caused this?
I don't know. I am just speculating. It may have been part of it.
And then, did you continue in that same vein?
Yes. Incidentally, speaking about the way that things sometimes happen, you know the ferrites are very valuable things in communications and otherwise. And in the course of our work on oxide semiconductors, which lead to the thermistor, we noted that some of these materials had unusual magnetic properties. We called the attention of the magnetic people, particularly Bozorth, to this. But since everybody was hot after semiconductors, instead of investigating the magnetic end of it, Bozorth went searching for other semiconductors and had he not done that, the magnetic ferrites would have originated in Bell Telephone Laboratories rather than Phillips. Well, this is an example of people following their own inclinations.
Now, you were also at the same time, or was it not the same time, working on carbon?
Did that relate to the work on ferrites?
No. That is a completely separate thing. And the borocarbon work was done in collaboration with G. K. Teal again. You will find one Bell System Journal publication. Teal is not a co-author; he is co-holder of the patents. That one looked pretty good. And it again, going back, treats carbon as a semiconductor, which indeed it was right from the beginning, even to exhibiting N and P varieties of conduction. But the borocarbon was particularly interesting because it had a much lower temperature coefficient of resistance than the straight carbon films themselves. And this would have been an advantage. But the production difficulties were really, I think, never fully overcome and I doubt that Western is now making them at all. The normal carbon film is obtained by the pyrolysis of hydrocarbon vapor, methane for example, if it oxidizes, it just burns away. But what you have to do is to co-deposit boron and carbon from a mixture of a hydrocarbon and a boron compound such as boron trichloride. But if there is any oxygen leak anywhere in the manufacturing system, the boron is converted to boron trioxide and this gums up the works. Not only do you fail to get what you want, but you ruin your furnaces. I think this is the answer.
You had a paper on the growth of crystals from molecular complexes in a book on crystal growing, 1963.
How did that come about?
Well, this is a funny thing in a sense. All of the electron microscopic and diffraction work we had done on carbon, and we had done a good deal, indicated that what happens is not that, shall we say, a methane molecule is decomposed to carbon and hydrogen, but that there is a series of complex molecular intermediates of growing molecular weight between gaseous hydrocarbon and solid carbon. You get pretty clear evidence of that electron microscopically. You can see that there are these intermediate states. And, as a matter of fact, this led also to the work on polymer carbon with Bill Baker, where you start already along the intermediate stage and just further hydrogenate the complexes rather than reducing them. Well, I think, but I am not sure how many others do, that this same process occurs in the transition between a molecular or ionic solution and a crystalline product. As a matter of fact, there is a good deal of evidence in the colloidal field to suggest that this is true and we produced crystals of ferrites by the hydrolytic oxidation of metal chlorides and we got the same physical artifacts in appearance as we had gotten in the deposition of carbon from the hydrocarbon gas, which lead us to begin to think about the possibility that there were states of aggregation between the solution and the solid.
Before we end up today, I hope we will have a chance to look through your book on Materials in The Bell System.
You can take this, and McCall has no objection to us as long as it gets back to him.
How did you come to write this?
I was asked to do it by Baker.
Was this distributed throughout the research department?
Yes, and others also; quite a few people got it. I think it is self-explanatory. It does have some of the background and it is fairly easy to find things.
You have been very helpful. Thank you very much.
 “Growth from Molecular Complexes”, in Art and Science of Growing Crystals, ed. by J. J. Gilman, 1963, pp. 63-73.
 “Manuscript: Materials in the Bell System, Their Influence on American Industry, April 1968.