100 Years of Electrical Engineering in the IEEE Baltimore Section
A talk presented at the Centennial Celebration of the IEEE Baltimore Section
It is a pleasure and an honor to be here with you tonight to
commemorate the 100 years of existence of the Baltimore Section of the
IEEE. You should be quite proud of the
service this section of the IEEE has provided to electrical engineers in
When one looks back on the history of the IEEE and its predecessor organizations[*] the key lesson learned is that many changes occurred in the world of electricity in 100 years. Electric street cars, arc lamps, wireless telegraphy, Morse code, spark gap transmitters, coherers, 78 rpm records, electron tubes and other electrical devices came and went. Electricity in the late 1800s was mainly for telegraphy and power. A large part of the membership of the original AIEE started out in telegraphy, as had Thomas Edison. Today there are 38 diverse technical societies in the IEEE. For a long time there was only one technical publication in the old AIEE and only one in the old IRE. Today there are almost 90 different transactions and journals published by the current IEEE.
In the past 100 years there probably have been more significant advances in science, technology, and engineering than ever since the beginning of human history. In 1890[†] there were no automobiles, aircraft, radios, or movies. Houses were illuminated by gas flame. The telephone existed, but was not in wide use; and long-range communication was by telegraph, a highly treasured capability at the time.
Distribution of electrical power was in its infancy in the
late 1800s and a fierce battle raged between Thomas Edison, who advocated the
use of direct current (DC) for electrical power distribution, and George
Westinghouse who advocated alternating current (AC). Westinghouse and AC rightly won the battle in
In the late 1800s, those who worked with electricity were known as electricians. Engineers at that time were either civil or mechanical. The formation of the AIEE in 1884, however, associated the name of engineer with electrical. Before that, one might say that no one was called an electrical engineer. To say the least, the early AIEE was quite different from the current IEEE. According to the 1984 IEEE Publication "Engineers and Electrons," the first president of the AIEE (in 1884) was educated in medicine, the second was an attorney, the third was educated in theology, the education of the fourth president was not listed, and the fifth is listed as having a high school education. Things have changed since then.
Just before the birth of the
In an article entitled "Wireless Telegraph Stations in
The first licensing of radio amateurs began in 1912, but commercial radio grew only slowly, and not well, in the early 1900s. It is interesting to note that it was said "For many years radio firms were better known for their fraudulent stock selling practices than for their financial viability." More than one newspaper article from those times lamented the "selling of worthless radio company stock to widows and orphans." There were many major court cases that caused companies to be shut down, and stealing of patents was not unusual.
Listed below are the various topics and the number of papers of each that appeared in the early AIEE Transactions. The dominant topic was electrical machinery and transmission. There were only a few papers dealing with radio.
Lighting 12 17
Circuits, devices 13 10
Telephone 2 10
Telegraph 0 6
Machinery, transmission 50 146
Transportation 10 47
Science, instruments 8 20
Radio 2 3
Total 97 262
The Table of Contents for the seventh edition (1941) of the "Standard Handbook for Electrical Engineers" is shown below to also illustrate what constituted electrical engineering in its early days. The first edition appeared in 1907.
1. Units and conversions factors
2. Electric and magnetic circuits
4. Properties of materials
5. Circuit elements
6. Transformers, regulators and reactors
7. Alternating-current generators and motors
8. Direct-current generators and motors
9. Rectifiers and converters
10. Prime movers
11. Power plant economics
12. Power system electrical equipment
13. Power transmission
14. Power distribution
15. Wiring design – commercial and industrial buildings
17. Industrial power applications
18. Electric heating and welding
19. Electricity in transportation
20. Electrochemistry and electrometallurgy
22. Wire telephony and telegraphy
23. Electronics and electron tubes
24. Radio and carrier communications
25. Codes and standard practices
26. Electrophysics (primarily lightning)
Again, the emphasis was on electric power and its applications.
The areas of current electrical engineering are listed below to show how it grew and changed during the 20th century.
• Electrical power generation and transmission
• Communications and broadcasting
• Information processing and handling
• Consumer and entertainment
• Electrical components
machinery, illumination, transportation, law enforcement,
instrumentation, control systems, robotics
A listing of the major companies and institutions that have
had an impact on electrical engineering in the
• Westinghouse (Northrop Grumman)
• Bendix Radio (Allied Signal)
• Western Electric (Point Breeze)
• Black and Decker
• Glenn L. Martin Co
• C & P Telephone (Verizon)
• NSA, etc
• Applied Physics Laboratory
• Bethlehem Steel and ship yard
• Various electrical contractors and suppliers
• Many small electrical companies
My apologies for any companies and organizations that have been omitted.
Three Examples of Accomplishments within the
There is a lot that can be said about the past 100 years of
electrical engineering in
W. B. Kouwenhoven and the closed-chest heart defibrillator
Dr William B. Kouwenhoven was dean of the
Fibrillation of the heart also can occur on the operating
table in certain cases. When that
happened, the surgeon opened the chest and massaged the heart by hand to try to
stop the defibrillation. I was a student
in Dr. Kouwenhoven's class in the late 1940s when one day he departed from his
planned lesson to tell us about defibrillation of the heart, which was a major
research interest of his at that time. He
said that during an operation in
Such a device, however, is of no value for defibrillating
the heart of a lineman who has experienced severe electric shock. Dr Kouwenhoven believed that it should be
possible to apply an electric shock through the closed chest to stop fibrillation,
if the proper location to place the electrodes and the proper voltages were
found. At the
In spite of being engrossed in medical research for many years Dr. Kouwenhoven was very active in the national AIEE and its Baltimore Section.
Bendix Radio and phased array radar
This was a modest size company located on
The radars you see around airports use a mechanically rotating
reflector antenna to steer the radar beam to cover the required volume of
space. It is also possible to use what
is called a phased array radar, which has a fixed planar antenna with a large
number of individual radiating antennas (such as dipoles). It steers its radar beam by electronically
changing the phases of the individual antennas.
This allows rapid, inertialess beam steering. This is highly desirable, but generally is
expensive. In the late 1950s the technology
of phased arrays was not suitable for producing competitive radars. To correct this situation, the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sponsored a development effort to produce
a large (for its time) L-band experimental phased array radar. Bendix won the job even though they had not
been considered one of the major phased array radar companies. Some of the other well-known radar companies
appealed the award to Bendix, but to no avail.
Bendix's experience with the highly competitive car radio was probably a
major factor in their winning this important project. This radar, called ESAR, operated off
In the mid 1960s the US Air Force wanted to build at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida a large long-range phased array looking south for the detection and tracking of satellites and other space objects approaching the continental United States. The solicitation was competitive and Bendix again beat out its highly regarded competitors. The result was the AN/FPS-85, a UHF (450 MHz) radar. There was a separate transmitting and a separate receiving array since it was cheaper to build two large structures rather than one array that employed duplexers. Another interesting aspect was that the transmitter used a vacuum tube at each of it radiating elements. Today the desire by the customer is to have solid state (transistor) transmitters. For many years Bendix and the Air Force considered replacing the vacuum tubes with transistors, but the vacuum tube transmitter was always cheaper. Although this radar is still in operation, I do not know if the vacuum tubes have ever been replaced by transistors. (My own opinion is that vacuum tubes will remain competitive for the AN/FPS-85 until there is no one left who knows how to manufacture them.) The dipole radiators were fat dipoles similar to prolate spheroids. A Bendix engineer noted that they resembled the common toilet bowl float, so they went to a toilet bowl float manufacturer to fabricate the antenna elements, another indication of why they were able to produce radars (and car radios) at a low lost.
There is one more thing to say about the AN/FPS-85. After it was constructed in 1965 and began
its test phase it caught fire and burned down as the power was being raised on
the transmitter. Apparently, it was not
known at the time that the plastic insulation in the coaxial cables used in the
radar was highly flammable. Being in the
boondocks of Eglin Air Force Base and a long way from the Air Force Fire
Station, as well as having a small water line, the fire consumed the
radar. It was insured, however, and
Bendix received $26 million in 1965 to rebuild it. It is interesting to note how fast progress in
phased array radar technology was being made at that time. The original AN/FPS-85 radar used analog phase
shifters (due to Prof. Huggins of Johns Hopkins) and vacuum tube
receivers. On rebuilding, diode phase
shifters and transistor receivers were employed. Also, computers were advancing rapidly
then. It was this radar that made radar
engineers aware of the high cost of the computer software that goes into a
phased array radar. During this time
period Bendix was probably the leading developer of phased array radar in the
Bendix later became a part of Allied Signal, and their radar expertise faded and disappeared.
Westinghouse radar in Baltimore
An excellent history by
Gene Strull (former vice president of Westinghouse), tells the story of Westinghouse
Electronic Systems which was mainly in the
In 1938 Westinghouse decided to move its Radio Division from
The SCR-584 was a very versatile radar and was the first acquisition and weapon control radar introduced during the war that operated at microwave frequencies (3 GHz). The Germans were not prepared for such a radar since they were not aware that radars could be built at microwaves. They were introduced just in time in the Italian campaign (at the Anzio landing) where the Germans were prepared to jam the existing VHF radars, but had no countermeasures or even intercept receivers that could handle a microwave radar such as the SCR-584.
The war-time need for more space caused Westinghouse to build
in Lansdowne on
Much of the post WWII work at Westinghouse was in military airborne radar. This is a tough problem since the higher the aircraft is above the ground the more unwanted echoes there will be from the ground (known as clutter to the radar engineer). To make a long story short, Westinghouse engineers meticulously worked the problem and made great advances so that these needed radar capabilities were obtained.
In addition to their pioneering work in airborne radar, Westinghouse also made significant advances in land based radar, shipborne radar, electronic warfare, air traffic control, space, underwater systems, as well as many other important areas of electronics, as described in Gene Strull's history. At one time, before all the big industrial mergers, I used to voice the opinion that Westinghouse was probably the best all-round radar company in the country with many fine radar engineers. They might still be, I just am not that familiar with the current successors to the old Westinghouse.
Before leaving the story of electrical engineering in
IEEE Presidents from
There were three presidents of the IEEE with connections to
Leo Young was the President of the IEEE in 1980. His election was unusual since he challenged
the nominee selected by the IEEE Board of Directions by petitioning to get his
name on the ballot. Dr. Young received
his PhD in EE at Johns Hopkins and worked at Westinghouse in the 1960s. He left
Dr. Donald D. King was head of the Johns Hopkins University Radiation Laboratory in the late 1940s until the late 1950s, where he directed programs in new proximity fuze concepts, electronic countermeasures, and millimeter wave research. He was elected President of the IEEE but passed away before his term began.
I was asked to include something about the future of electrical engineering. This is hard to do since it is seldom that one can predict more than 3 to 5 years ahead as to what might happen in any technology. In my career I have been asked many times to predict where radar is going, so I know from experience that it is best not to check on the accuracy of past predictions. Most of the major advances in radar have come as surprises, and I suspect that is true throughout electrical engineering. Instead of specifics I would like to suggest what the past might have to teach us about the future.
The history of the electrical engineering clearly shows that there will always be changes and surprises. New applications and technology will appear and old ones will disappear. Eighty years ago, the AIEE and the IRE were somewhat monolithic. Today the many different Societies in the IEEE attest to the changes that can occur in electrical engineering. Electrical engineering is a big tent that can accommodate many diverse technologies.
The only sure thing about the long-term future of electrical engineering is that it will be much different from what it is today. Engineers have to adapt to the changes, learn new things, and continue to grow professionally. Anything involving electrons – (and what doesn't?) - is fair game for the electrical engineer.
In closing, let me relate what I learned many years ago about
the future from Prof. Herbert B. Dwight, a retired Prof of Electrical Machinery
at MIT. He had an outstanding reputation as a power engineer, authored books (one
of which still sits on my desk and which I refer to often), authored chapters
in handbooks on power, and was a well respected consultant as well. I met him in 1956 when I worked at MIT
Lincoln Laboratory as a member of a group trying to conceive of a long range radar
system for early warning of the approach of Soviet ICBM. This later became what is known as BMEWS with
three sites in
These were big radars since they had to reach to well over
2000 nmi to detect, track and predict the impact point of intercontinental
ballistic missiles (ICBM) of relatively small radar cross section. Its purpose
was to provide sufficient warning of an attack so the US Air Force B-52 bomber
aircraft could take off in time to avoid being destroyed. The B-52s were part of the
Dealing with the detection of ICBM was something new at the
time. We had to read up and understand
how to employ Kepler's laws of planetary motion as well as learn to deal with spherical
trigonometry. Whirlwind (the cutting
edge of computer technology at that time) was an experimental vacuum tube computer
at MIT in
Prof. Dwight was our only programmer. Programming Whirlwind was a complete change from what he had down in his prior illustrious career as an electrical power engineer. And programming was quite different as compared to now. One day while we ate our brown bag lunch around a lab table he said: "Boys, when I was your age we would sit around and talk about electrical power with the same enthusiasm as you now talk about radar." This made an impression on me which I have retained ever since.
So in 1956 I began to wonder what I would be doing when I was his age – and I am older now than he was then. However, I stopped worrying a long time ago about what I would be doing in the future, and the future is now. The lesson from the last 100 years of electrical engineering is that unknown changes are to be expected; but we can adjust, as those in the past have done.
Thank you for letting me join you to honor the 100 years of accomplishments of the Baltimore Section of the IEEE.
I wish you all the best! And "Happy Centennial."
[*] For those who might not be aware, the IEEE was formed in 1963 from the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) and the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE). The AIEE originated in 1884 and the IRE in 1916.
[†] Although the Baltimore Section was formed in 1904, it is helpful to go back a few years earlier to understand the status of electrical things at that time.
[‡] The reader should keep in mind that the writer is reciting this from memory. I believe that what is said is correct since the story made a lasting impression on me, but it should be understood that there may be some discrepancies in the details.
. J. D. Ryder and D.G. Fink, Engineers and Electrons: A Century of Electrical Progress, IEEE Press, 1984.
Gene Strull, "Electronic
. "The First 175 Years: A Pictorial History of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company from 1816 to 1991," a brochure of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.