First-Hand:Warsaw's First Vacuum Tube Factory: The Story of Wieslaw Barwicz

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Wieslaw Barwicz

My first job in 1938 was in a Philips factory in Warsaw as the manager of a small department producing small Pupin coils for telecommunication purposes. At this time, Philips was looking for young Polish engineers and I decided to take it. My wife was working in Warsaw. This first job was very good for me because I started with Dutch machines waiting for set up. I started without training (probably no time). My responsibility as a manager of this small department was to set up machines, to teach some workers and make Pupin coils from special flattened iron and wind them.

I think that responsibility was just right for me. However, I did not choose this specialty especially since this activity had no future. In 1939, WWII began and I was taken to another department namely the Electron Tube Department. In this department, I worked as an engineer until the insurrection in Warsaw. In this department there were only two engineers. One for electrical measuring and me, principally for technology. The leader of this department was German and practically always absent. Therefore, I had a freehand. The Dutch chief manager wanted me to work from the beginning on all machines step by step. It was, of course, very good for my future.

Responsibility (Germans and war) was very high. For instance, some workers were taken to the unpleasant camp. Therefore, we had some troubles and friction. But it was the time of war and occupation. The relationship with the German leader was not pleasant.

When the war was finished in 1945 and Berlin was conquered, a lady from the Warsaw Ministry came to me with a proposal. She wanted me to undertake a terribly difficult task, namely to organize a Polish factory of electron tubes in the south of Poland because the Philips factory had been destroyed. Realization of this proposition was at this time very, very difficult. The country was completely ruined-no machines, no technical documentation, no material, no specialists.

It is necessary to underline that at this time I was the only engineer in Poland who knew about or who was a specialist in the technology of electron tubes (such a situation may be curious for western countries but it was true). The specialists from Philips factory were dispersed over the whole world. The decision was very difficult for me to make. After deep meditation, I said all right. I went to a small town in the south of Poland where I found only two empty buildings. They had been the German Telefunken factory of electron tubes during the war. The production machines had been taken to Germany by German soldiers and the rest had been taken by Russian soldiers to Russia.

In this case, I had good luck because the Russian soldiers did not have enough room on their trucks so they threw some of the machines into ditches. These machines, after being repaired (which was very complicated), were used in the future factory. We also had good luck because the Russian authorities did not find the small laboratory situated in the south of Poland in the mountains.

This was very important because in this laboratory we found a power electron tube (the only one) needed for induction heating the electron tubes and for pumping automation. This laboratory had been destined for new elaborate metal ceramic tubes for military purposes. We also found a small quantity of raw materials. But the grid winding machines and automated pumping machines were missing. My expertise was electrical engineering not mechanical. What to do? I constructed both machines, and after building them, they were quite good. Especially the grid winding machines, they were still working many years later in the Warsaw factory.

For raw materials, we had to look out in the country. The most important was finding getter (for maintaining a vacuum in the pumped out tubes). I had luck because in in the ruins of Warsaw I found two small boxes of getter.

Now the question of specialists. Because in ruined Warsaw there were not enough houses, I invited some workers from the former Philips factory to come to the new start-up factory. About ten workers came including one chemist and two from the universities. Also some people who were already there joined. The latter would be trained.

With these "assets," I started step by step, day by day with the production of electron tubes. In the first two or three months, I was pumping tubes myself and performing many other activities. The first tube in our factory was of course the rectifying tube AZL. The next year, it was the power pentad AL4. After two years of production and learning, the factory was completely transported to Warsaw at the destroyed Philips factory. In Warsaw, we started with the production of old tube types and new tube types . Some years later, around a thousand workers worked in the factory.

I proposed to the government to organize the Industrial Institute of Electronics. My proposition was accepted. I organized the Institute with five branch establishments in different towns. Two of them some years later were operated independently.