[Nerd alert!] Comments to memorandum MM-48-130-10, case file 38139-8, från BTL
Quite a while now I’ve been fascinated by Bell Labs (Bell Telephone Laboratories, BTL). The famous lab that had its best days around and between the world wars. Nowadays Bell Labs is “owned” by Nokia, and hopefully the good traditions are carried further.
What intrigues me is the amount of brilliant people that seemed to work there. Imagine walking down the corridor and meeting all these oddities. Large amount of patents, inventions, great ideas, etc. Who were they?
Annually, Bell Labs also produced a rather big book (the “Bell Laboratories Record”) with stories about their employees, their latest findings, etc. I have previously presented the fascinating story about the Swede and his wife.
Anyways. Going back to the naming of the transistor, which I also touched upon a while ago. Within Bell Labs they circulated a memo and had a vote about the name. The memo was MM-48-130-10, case file 38139-8 and can for example be found at
The list contains a set of people (here in alphabetic order). And what to do in late evenings than researching a bit on these guys (yes, all of them are male but the secretary Ms. XXX). Some of them are already so famous that they have gotten a wikipedia page. Therefore, I will only give a link and possibly some additional information for them. Some of the others were a bit more tricky to find information about. Some of them are also left in the darkness (i.e., not being on the internet). Some birthdates I had to find in civic registration records.
So, let’s go nerd!
1 J.A. Bardeen (1908/5/23 – 1991/1/30)
Well, one of the three… and might not need much more of introduction. Bardeen was a theorist.
2 H.L. Barney (1906/8/7 – 1960/12/30)
Harold L Barney worked with speech coding and a negative resistance device. He produced a paper with G. Peterson: “Control methods used in a study of vowels”. In the early days when bandwidth was sparse and increasing middle class with phone access, speech coding was a very important field of research.
3 J.A. Becker (1897/1/24-1961/7/13)
Joseph Adam Becker was born in Saar in Germany, came to America and studied at Cornell. He had some 20 patents (one of them on how to connect a resistor…)
4 H.S. Black (1898/4/14-1983/12/11)
Harold Stephen Black – the inventor of the negative-feedback amplifier and contributor to pulse-coding modulation techniques (PCM) for speech coding. Once again to be able to squeeze as many phone lines as possible into the same wire (and enable automated switch boards).
5 R. Bown (1891-1971/7)
Ralph Bown led the press conference that announced the invention of the transistor. He received the IEEE medal of honor and specialized in Radar and Radio.
6 W.H. Brattain (1902/2/10-1987/10/13)
Walter Houser Brattain, one of the three, was born in China. Needs no more introduction than that. Brattain is the older, more uncle-looking guy, in the lab-picture where Shockley has hi-jacked Bardeen’s microscope. Brattain was the experimentalist.
7 D.M. Chapin (1906/7/21-1995/1/19)
Daryl Muscott Chapin had a great idea. What if we could extract energy from the Sun into our semiconducting devices? He invented the silicon solar cell in 1954, the “solar battery”. Together with Fuller and Pearson he authored a rather famous article: “A New Silicon p-n Junction Photocell for Converting Solar Radiation into Electrical Power”.
8 E. Dickten (1904-)
Emil Dickten, Jr., also born in Germany. Together with Wallace and Schimpf (interesting name…) he authored a paper on “A Junction Transistor Tetrode for High-Frequency Use”. By adding a fourth terminal to bias the transistor higher gain at higher frequencies could be obtained.
9 J.O. Edson (1905-1970)
James Oliver Edson was a contributor to the so popular research on pulse-code modulation (PCM). He filed a few patents together with Black.
10 C.B. Feldman (1900-)
Carl Braft Henry Feldman studied at the University of Minnesota and then worked on steerable antennas at Bell. He worked on bandwidth-vs-transmission performance and was Shannon’s aid to formulate the channel capacity. He filed some 20 patents within the fields of antennas, PCM and transmission lines and authored papers with the famous H.T. Friis.
11 G.W. Gilman
George W. Gilman happens to share same with an inventor of pencils. “Our” Gilman, an MIT graduate, however, filed some 15 patents and worked typically on system’s engineering. He studied antennas and radio transmission.
12 F. Gray (1887/9/13-1969/5/23)
Frank Gray, the inventor of the Gray code, once again used for PCM. Gray also worked with television and filed quite a few patents.
13 H.C. Hart
Harry C Hart began working at Bell in 1939 and co-authored an interesting paper with Irven Travis on analog computers.
- H. C. Hart & I. Travis, “Mechanical solution of algebraic equations,” J. Franklin Inst., v. 215, 1938, p. 63-72.
The analog computers were designed to solve polynomial equations (root solver). He also designed an electronic harmonic synthesizer.
14 W.E. Kock (1909-1982)
Winston E. Kock later became the director of the NASA electronics research center (NASA ERC) and developed some of the first electronic musical organs!
15 J.G. Kreer (?-?)
John G. Kreer, Jr., is quite an unknown guy in the 31-man strong team. He has left some of his legacy in a paper
- E. Peterson, J. G. Kreer, and L. A. Ware, “Regeneration Theory and Experiment,” Bell System Technical Journal 13 (October 1934): 680–700,
and he filed a handful of patents on various electronic circuitry.
16 C.O. Mallinckrodt (1907-1985)
Charles Olcoh Mallinckrodt probably had the coolest name among the crew. He also seemed to be an allround-type-of-guy and produced patents on both radio/wave transmission as well as companders and transistor circuits.
17 R.C. Mathes (1888-?)
Robert C Mathes was of Austrian descent and produced more than 50 patents! He typically worked with tubes, speech synthesis (PCM – anyone?) and frequency analysis. Mathes produced quite a few articles in the Boys’ Life magazine (scouts) on various topics. For example:
- “Fun with a Pocket Compass – An Electrical Stunt that is Interesting and Helpful” (February 1914)
- “Adventures in Electricity – Exciting Experiments With Your Static Machine”.
He also contributed to some of the refined first color television solutions. He was the most senior of the researchers and also jointed the BTL early.
18 J.W. McRae (1910-?)
James W McRae worked with transoceanic transmitter and is a recipient of the United States Legion of Merit.
19 L.A. Meacham (1908/9/3-?)
Larned Ames Meacham (also a cool name) invented the wobble organ in 1951 while not being busy with his work on PCM at BTL. Unfortunately, I could not find any clips with music played by this type of organ. More information you find at
20 S.E. Michaels (?-?)
Another unknown in the team… S.E. Michaels authored a paper
- L. A. Meacham and S. E. Michaels, “Observations of the Rapid Withdrawal of Stored Holes from Germanium Transistors and Varistors”, Phys. Rev. 78, 175 – Published 15 April 1950,
indicating that he worked in the measurement lab.
21 M.E. Mohr (1915/4/9-2000/7/17)
Milton E. Mohr, one of the youngsters in the team, filed a load of patents in various field of research. Given that I have worked quite extensively with data converters, I am quite happy to see Mohr’s name in the list. He constructed one of the first-ever quantizers. His Alma Mater was University of Wisconsin.
22 A.C. Norwine (?-?)
Andrew C. Norwine filed four patents with BTL and worked on pulse-code modulation. His patents related to coders and encoders. He found a clever way of doing an adaptive signal-to-noise ratio control, i.e., when there was less noise on the channel, the signal could be transmitted at less amplitude.
23 W.G. Pfann (1917/10/27-1982/10/22)
William Gardner Pfann was one of the outstanders – a chemist! He however played a very important role since he invented the zone melting process. This method enabled Bell to purify crystals, i.e., starting to produce high-quality semiconductors. For his deeds he also received the first Gordon E. Moore medal.
24 J.R. Pierce (1910/3/27-2002/4/2)
John Robinson Pierce is actually the key guy in this whole story, since he was the one coining the term “transistor”. He worked with Claude Shannon on channel capacity, traveling wave tubes and later relaying communication satellites.
25 R.K. Potter (?-?)
Ralph K Potter worked on frequency analysis of speech and how to be able to code speech more efficiently. He contributed to the theory of speech coding, worked for the NSA (since his techniques could also be used for cryptology). Perhaps most importantly, he is the mastermind behind:
- “Frog Calls – the musical patterns produced by various species on a Summer night are made visible in traces”, published May 1, 1950.
26 A.J. Rack (1908-1988)
Aloïs J Rack produced a handful of patents on PCM decoders and radar implementations.
27 J.H. Scaff (1908-1980)
Jack Hall Scaff, a University of Michigan graduate, was a metallurgist and thus was contributing to the knowledge on how to dope the different materials used in the experiments and research.
28 J.N. Shive (1913/2/22-1984/6/1)
John N Shive refined the photo transistor and perhaps most importantly invented the Shive wave machine that could illustrate traveling waves. If not useful in theoretical work, it is an excellent way of illustrating standing waves, reflections, etc.
29 W. Shockley (1910-1989)
Shockley was the versatile guy, with the ideas to test and try, albeit a poor entrepreneur. Shockley does not need much more of introduction.
30 R.L. Wallace (1916/2/21-?)
Robert L Wallace, Jr., suggested that a point-contact transistor is not a practical component after all. This in turn led to the development of the junction transistor (also invented by Shockley). Wallace was a materials’ guy. Towards the end of this list, a quote from Wallace finds a good place:
“The advantage of the transistor is that it is inherently a small-size and low-power device,” noted Bell Labs circuit engineer Robert Wallace early in the 1950s. “This means you can pack a large number of them in a small space without excessive heat generation and achieve low propagation delays. And that’s what you need for logic applications. The significance of the transistor is not that it can replace the tube but that it can do things the vacuum tube could never do!”
31 J.R. Wilson (? – ?)
Also quite unknown after my research. He is not the main investor of Xerox, though (same name)… J.R. Wilson worked with Radar at Bell Labs and if nothing else, so far, we can get a glimpse of him at
Looks like a nice man overviewing the youngster’s experiments in the lab.