100 Years of Electrical Engineering in the IEEE Baltimore Section

Merrill Skolnik


A talk presented at the Centennial Celebration of the IEEE Baltimore Section

February 28, 2004



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 Baltimore and surrounding areas during the past 100 years.


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 1892, but Baltimore City had a DC as well as an AC power distribution system until 1950 when the DC system was finally shut down. When the Baltimore Section AIEE was organized in 1904, electrical power distribution systems were measured in tens of miles rather than the long lines they are today, and electrical illumination was just beginning to be installed.


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 Baltimore section, Guglielmo Marconi in 1901 demonstrated transmission of radio waves across the Atlantic (from the UK to Newfoundland). The vacuum tube diode was invented in 1904 and the triode in 1907. Vacuum tube technology was quite slow in developing and it wasn't until WWI that it began to be used in earnest. Early radio transmissions were known as wireless telegraphy. The transmitters of that time could not transmit audio, only dots and dashes. The name "wireless" soon was almost completely replaced by the new term "radio." As you now know, "wireless" has been resurrected recently as the modern term of choice for transmission via propagation of electromagnetic waves in space.


In an article entitled "Wireless Telegraph Stations in Baltimore," that appeared in the October 1908 journal "Electrician and Mechanic," it states "The wireless telegraph 'mania' has reached a high state of development in the Monumental City, the majority of amateurs using the latest methods...." It goes on to mention the names of a number of experimenters and describes the type of equipment they used. It ends with "Judging from the past success of experiments, Baltimore will soon hold the enviable position of being the center of wireless development in the United States. This is but right, since it was Baltimore that Professor Morse first successfully demonstrated ... telegraphy, and had the first telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington." (Morse was Professor of Fine Arts at NYU, the first fine arts professor in the US. He was a painter, rather than an inventor, most of his life and for much of his life he had to put bread on the table by being an itinerant portrait painter.)


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[1] 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.[2] The dominant topic was electrical machinery and transmission. There were only a few papers dealing with radio.

1895-1900 1900-1905

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

3. Measurements

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

16. Illumination

17. Industrial power applications

18. Electric heating and welding

19. Electricity in transportation

20. Electrochemistry and electrometallurgy

21. Batteries

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 Baltimore area during the middle years of this Baltimore Section Centennial are as follows:


         Baltimore Gas and Electric (Constellation Energy)

         Westinghouse (Northrop Grumman)

         Bendix Radio (Allied Signal)

         Western Electric (Point Breeze)


         Black and Decker

         Glenn L. Martin Co

         C & P Telephone (Verizon)

         NSA, etc

         Aberdeen Proving Ground

         Applied Physics Laboratory

         Bethlehem Steel and ship yard

         Various electrical contractors and suppliers

         Many small electrical companies

         Universities (UM, Hopkins, Morgan, UMBC, Loyola, Capitol College)

My apologies for any companies and organizations that have been omitted.



Three Examples of Accomplishments within the Baltimore IEEE.


There is a lot that can be said about the past 100 years of electrical engineering in Baltimore, but I will restrict my "history" to three examples that are based on my personal knowledge. There are likely others of equal or greater significance.


W. B. Kouwenhoven and the closed-chest heart defibrillator


Dr William B. Kouwenhoven was dean of the School of Engineering in the mid 1930s until the mid 1950s. He was a traditional power engineer who received his Doctorate in Germany in 1907 (as I recall). He became interested in the subject of electric shock because it was a hazard that electrical utility company linemen were exposed to. Two serious results of an electric shock (in addition to burns) are the stoppage of breathing and fibrillation of the heart. A fibrillating heart operates in a noise-like manner rather than the normal uniform beating A fibrillating heart can result in death unless promptly treated. There was nothing that could be done to reverse the fibrillating heart of a lineman in the field.


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 Philadelphia[] a patient's heart went into fibrillation. The surgeon opened the chest and began massaging the heart by hand. When the defibrillation continued, the surgeon directed an assistant to take a lamp and remove the wires. He took the bare ends of the wires (still plugged in to the electric outlet) and placed them on the patient's heart. The patient received an electric shock, and the fibrillating stopped. This lead to the development of a suitable instrument (other than a lamp) being available for operating rooms for the surgeon to use with the open chest to defibrillate a fibrillating heart.


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 Johns Hopkins Hospital began research to develop a closed-chest defibrillator that could be used in the field to treat linemen who had received severe electric shock. He conducted experiments with dogs and also had to make electrical measurements on humans. He succeeded in perfecting a closed-chest defibrillator that could be used outside the operating room, for which he has been highly honored. His technique is used by paramedics and even as an implantable defibrillator for heart patients. But the greatest honor that I believe could be bestowed on this energetic and dedicated electrical engineer was to receive the title of Professor of Surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Not many electrical engineers have that distinction.


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 Joppa Road, not far from the center of Towson, MD. During WWII and in the post-war years, it was a major developer and manufacturer of long-range air-surveillance radars. In the 1950s they were probably a major (if not the major) manufacturer of such radars. (The AN/FPS-20 and its offshoots is a good example.) They also were a major manufacturer of automobile radios, a highly competitive field. I had an opportunity to be shown their auto radio production line in the early 1950s. I remember being told that they charged the Ford Motor company $14.65 for each radio, which Ford then sold to the auto buyer for $65. But, they said, if they were to increase their price to Ford by five cents, Ford would then switch to Sylvania for their car radios. From, this experience with auto radios their engineers learned how to produce a good product at low cost, which is one reason why they were so successful in radar.


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 Joppa Road, and it still can be seen from the road as a building with as sloped side 50 by 50 ft. It is no longer a radar, but I understand it is used for storage. (A slide of the ESAR located off Joppa Road was shown at the talk, but was not available for insertion in this write-up).


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 US. (A slide of the AN/FPS-85 was shown, but it is not available here.)


Bendix later became a part of Allied Signal, and their radar expertise faded and disappeared.


Westinghouse radar in Baltimore


An excellent history[3] by Gene Strull (former vice president of Westinghouse), tells the story of Westinghouse Electronic Systems which was mainly in the Baltimore area. Westinghouse, now Northrop Grumman, has been a major industry in electronics, in the broadest sense. Broadcasting grew rapidly in the early 1920's and Westinghouse in East Pittsburgh led this advance by the establishment of Station KDKA in 1921, followed in the next year by three other stations.


In 1938 Westinghouse decided to move its Radio Division from Massachusetts to Wilkins Avenue in Baltimore city, with 250 employees. Westinghouse management wanted to expand its effort in radio so they moved to Baltimore in order to be closer to the federal government in Washington. With the coming of WWII in 1939, Westinghouse in Baltimore began to grow. Two of the major radar systems that made a big difference in WWII were built here. The SCR 270 and the SCR 584 are both in the Historic Electronics Museum near BWI airport. There were 180 SCR-270 long-range air-surveillance radars, operating at 100 MHz, delivered to the US Army by the time of Pearl Harbor, one of which detected the Japanese air attack on US Navy battleships in Pearl Harbor. The message of the radar detection was sent forward, but the Command and Control System at that was ill-prepared to act on the information.


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 Washington Blvd. The company expanded to 6000 during the war. In 1951, they moved adjacent to Friendship airport (now BWI) and expanded further. They eventually were the largest employer in Maryland.


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.


Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE)[4]


Before leaving the story of electrical engineering in Baltimore, something needs to be mentioned about the place of BGE in Baltimore' electrical world, especially the old AIEE. For many years BGE, which started in 1816 as a gas company, was an important part of the world of electrical engineering in this area. You just can't have electrical engineering without an electrical power company. The city' s first electric companies, Brush Electric Light Company and the United States Electric Light and Power Company appeared in 1881, two years after Edison successfully tested the first commercially practical incandescent lamp. It took until 1888, however, for the introduction of incandescent lamps for interior lighting. In 1906, the two electric companies in Baltimore merged with the Consolidated Gas Company to become Consolidated Gas Electric Light & Power Company of Baltimore. Gas street lamps were finally replaced with electric lighting in 1946, and in 1955 the name of the company was changed to Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, which is now a part of Constellation Energy. In 1990 there were one million customers.



IEEE Presidents from Baltimore


There were three presidents of the IEEE with connections to Baltimore. The first was Dr. John B. Whitehead, who was president of the AIEE from 1933-1934. He was the first Dean of Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University, where his research was on improving dielectric materials for high voltage electric power systems. After his retirement as dean he left the field of 60 cycle power and was one of the first to do research in microwaves.


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 Baltimore to work at SRI International and later at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. He later was in the Pentagon administrating the Defense Department Basic Research Program.


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.



The Future.


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 Alaska, Greenland, and the UK, all looking northward.

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 US retaliatory forces whose function was to deter attack. If an attack did occur they would be the retaliatory force that responded. Their survival, which BMEWS was designed to help insure, was an essential part of the US policy at that time of mutually assured destruction to prevent a nuclear attack from happening in the first place.


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 Cambridge, MA. It had to be programmed to use the radar information to rapidly perform the calculations that predicted when and where the missiles would impact. In those days there were no high level programming languages. Programming was done in machine language. Thus there were not many individuals available to program any particular computer.


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.

[1]. Internet address https://earlyradiohistory.us prepared by Thomas H. White.

[2]. J. D. Ryder and D.G. Fink, Engineers and Electrons: A Century of Electrical Progress, IEEE Press, 1984.

[3]. Gene Strull, "Electronic Enterprise: Stories from the History of Westinghouse Electronic Systems," Electronics Systems Division, Feb. 29, 1996.

[4]. "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.