IEEE Washington Section History
The Earliest Days
Mention is made in the 1904 transactions to a reply from Mr. Philander Betts to the question, "Is there sustained interest in Branch meetings?" Mr. Betts replied:
We are glad to say that the interest in the meetings is well sustained and the prospect for the future is bright. In order to keep up a general interest we have had to introduce a new subject and we feel that our proceeding in this respect is accountable for the sustained interest in the meetings.
The membership of the Washington Branch in 1903 numbered 44. The national membership was as follows: 417 members, and 1,810 associates, as well as 2 honorary members, for a total as of May 1, 1903, of 2,229.
Another contemporary account is as follows:
The Washington section, composed of fellows, members, and associates of the institute residing in the District of Columbia and vicinity, was organized April 9, 1903 and affiliated with the academy [Washington Academy of Sciences] in 1912. This membership, varying in numbers from time to time owing to change of residence of fellows...averages about 75.
The early records are sparse beyond this. We have the complete address of Chairman Samuel Reber at the time of the fall meeting in October, November or December of 1904. We also have the minutes of the Branch meeting of February 5, 1907. There is no record indicating any special occasion celebrating the founding and chartering of the branch. The records show only that the branch was formed.
At the Potomac Power Company (known since 1953 as the Potomac Electric Power Co.), a description in a 1904 handbook noted the following: "The two phase system of distribution is gradually being displaced by the three phase system, current for which is furnished by 1 2000KW turbo-generator of the Curtiss type which was recently installed in the plant at 14th and B street, N.W." A picture of two turbo generators is available in the new Potomac River Plant.
The 1910s: Building a Foundation
In an "electricity-copper wire table" dated 1911:
Mercury resistance standards are sufficiently reproducible so that different labs agree to within 2 or 3 parts per 100,000.
Wire standards are now so constant that a reference to mercury ohms need be made much less often.
Or consider this description of antennas that is known today as radar. As described in Radio-Telegraphy Dampened and Undamped Oscillations (1912), an experiment was carried out between the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and the Radiotelegraphic Laboratory in Washington, D.C.
The 1920s: Peacetime Research
"...If the government will cooperate with the industries in peace as effectively as the industries cooperated with the government in war, it would be of vast benefit to the public, which pays all the costs."
Performance curves showing the instantaneous demands made upon automobile starting and lighting batteries when cranking the engines have been obtained recently at the Bureau of Standards. These curves were made while preparing specifications for this type of battery for the motor transport division of the War Department. In the course of these experiments additional information was obtained with respect to the operation of the starter system and the engine itself.
In March 1921, experiments were conducted under the supervision of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory on radiotelegraphy. The details are extensive; some of the description is as follows.
Several experimenters have attempted to measure the wave front angle by means of receiving loops. In the final experiments the mast with its pivoted antenna and instruments was erected on the Anacostia Flats not far from the Washington Navy Yard. The absence of wire lines and houses within a distance of more than a quarter of a mile made this an ideal location. Preliminary observations had been made at the Bureau of Standards in the summer and autumn of 1919.
Unfortunately the work at Anacostia was stopped because the 50-foot pole for the antenna was considered too dangerous for the aviators at Bolling Field!
In 1923, a radio program talk show on WRC, under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, was announced for February 19, on the topic "What the Earth Is Made of."
The 1940s-1950s: Recollections
The Potomac Electric Company (DC) was the home of teh AIEE section from 1932-1953 (see phtot below).
Fortunately, there are still IEEE members who can recollect and report on their personal experiences in the wartime years and later. According to one account, from a British viewpoint:
Early in World War II, there was an agreement between the British and the Americans aimed at avoiding duplication in military research and development. This identified certain fields of work where one side would do all of the work, and would share the results with the other side. Thus the United States was to do all of the work on guided missiles and would provide the British with their results.
By the end of 1944, the end of the war was in sight, so this seemed to be the right time to send a team to report to the British Government on the American work in this field. Five of us were sent to Washington: an aerodynamicist, a specialist on gyroscopes and guidance systems (both from the Royal Aircraft Establishment) and two electronic specialists (from the Telecommunications Research Establishment), of whom I was one. The fifth member was a senior British civil servant, charged with making the arrangements with the US Government organizations, laboratories and companies we were to visit.
We traveled by sea to New York and by train to Washington. After four years of blackout, rationing, shortages, air raid damage and general drabness, Washington was a revelation. With the bright lights, modern cars and abundant food, it was another world.The BAC was located on Dupont Circle. We all lived at the Gralyn Hotel at 17 and N St. NW. We used this as a base for visits over most of the US. The BAC had its own aircraft parked at Bolling Field: a twin-engine Beech craft painted in Royal Air Force colors, with a US flight engineer.
The RAF Group Captain in charge at the BAC enjoyed piloting us in this aircraft to and from many of our destinations.We were welcomed and entertained everywhere we visited. We were provided with all of the technical information we sought, without reservation and often with considerable pride. It was an episode of the war I shall always remember with pleasure and with gratitude.
Harold W. Lord wrote about some of his work from 1943 to the end of WWII. He was 'loaned' out to the Naval Research Laboratory in Silver Spring, MD. His responsibility was to design and develop all of the transformers needed for a new 'friend or foe' system. It required him to develop small transformers to operate in the 25 HZ to 1000 HZ. In his capacity he worked 40 hours a week in Silver Spring, then returned home to Schenectady, NY for his weekend job. He also traveled to Fort Wayne and to Boston to the MIT lab. He kept records of all his travel, which amounted to 26,000 miles as well as working six days a week!
C. Richard Ellis wrote that he worked at the Naval Research Lab in Silver Spring as a technician in the aircraft radio group. He was originally working with the British radar and IFF (Identity Friend or Foe) equipment.
W.A. Dickinson wrote that he participated in research of radar designs and display tubes at the Naval Research Laboratory.
Kenneth R. Jackson wrote that his career started at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington D.C. His boss's boss was Dr. John Bardeen, who was later awarded two Nobel Peace prizes, one for his contribution to the development of the transistor. It is not clear whether Dr. Bardeen actually worked at the Ordnance Lab.
Howard O. Lorenzen wrote that he joined the Naval Research Laboratory with experience in radio design. He worked on designing UHF receivers and worked on some of the first radar receivers. During WWII, he was involved in designing countermeasures for various German electronic controlled devices. After the war, he formed the electronic warfare branch, which developed countermeasures for the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Not to be outdone with all this radar stuff, a "simple" item like the weather was important to Francis J. Heyden. He went from being a Jesuit priest to a weatherman via the Philippians to Georgetown College Observatory! After the war, he worked with the university's radio station, WTB. Over the next 26 years, he produced three outside broadcasts. The first was "the mass for shut-ins." The second was the "blue gray show." The third was the Georgetown University forum.
Al Gross wrote that he built the first hand held-radio in 1938! On the eve of WWII, a magazine article on the radio caught the attention of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The OSS panel commissioned Mr. Gross with assembling a group of people to secretly design and build hand-held radios, which would operate on high frequencies. From there he went to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for licenses to create the citizens band radio, and the first voiceless pager (e.g., beeper) in a hospital.
The 1960s: Technological Advances
In the 1960s, electronic digital computers were first used by the Coast and Geodetic Survey for determining the location and origin of earthquakes. The system utilized punched business machine cards with coding for the reporting station and the exact time of the first shock wave. It was believed that the results were accurate to within seven miles of the point of origin.
The 1970s: Welcome to the Digital Age
Skylab3 was launched in 1974 using components of the Apollo Program. By 1975, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project combined the assets of two nations' lunar efforts to achieve the first international rendezvous and docking procedures, which would aid in the planning of today's International Space Station. Even before this flight, Pioneer 10 was launched in March 1972, ushering in an era of unmanned exploration, and Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in September and August 1977. Planning and construction for the Space Shuttle program began in the last half of the decade.
Some milestones reached in this digital transition include:
- 1970: Intel delivers the first 1024-bit DRAM.
- 1971: Bell Labs researcher Dennis Ritchie announces the C programming language and Intel delivers the first large-scale integration (LSI) processor with the 4004, which contains 2300 transistors.
- 1972: SPICE1 is released by UC-Berkeley, and the HP35 calculator from Hewlett-Packard and the SR10 from Texas Instruments introduce subcalculators at less than $400, affordable to college students.
- 1973: The first logic analyzer, the HP1601A is introduced by Hewlett-Packard.
- 1974: The eight-bit Intel 8080 is introduced and becomes the basis for the PC revolution.
- 1975: Arguably the first PC, the Altair 8800 is introduced.
- 1977: Apple computer introduces the Apple II; Radio Shack introduces the TRS-80 PC.
- 1979: The Motorola 68000 is introduced, which will be used in the Apple Macintosh.
Also in 1971, Donald Dinger became Associate Deputy for Research and Development of the U.S. Army Mobility Equipment R&D center at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia.
In 1976, Howard Jones, Chief of the Microwave Branch of Harry Diamond Laboratories, was given a Meritorious Civilian Service Award from the Army. He was a Fellow of the IEEE in the microwave area.
Also in 1976, Frank Reggia of Harry Diamond Labs received the Army R&D Achievement Award for his efforts and accomplishments in conformal antennas for military systems.
The 1990s: Approaching the Millennium
By this time, the two National Capital Area sections had established a joint newsletter, the Scanner, to keep area members apprised of technical meetings and area events. Also, The NCAC established a Web site in 1997. The IEEE Headquarters did not provide centralized hosting of web sites at that time, so we had to apply for our own domain name, and pay for the web site hosting space. Names of the Section and NCAC Chairs for the last 40 years are available on our Web sitesBy the 100th anniversary of the Washington Section, there were plans to take advantage of modern communications technology to move the Scanner from a print medium to electronic communication via the Internet. These plans led to the present eScanner website.
Entering the 21st Century
The lineage of Washington Section Officers dates back to our early members (Alexander Graham Bell) and Dr. F.A. Wolff, who served as Chair of the AIEE organization in the 1903-04. Over the past 50 years, the succession of leadership has included the 'passing of the gavel' which has been a tradition maintained over a 100 years.
In honor of the 125th IEEE Anniversary, we have created this poster of our Section's AIEE Chairs (1903-1953)
The Section chairs of the past 50 years are shown here --> Washington Section Chairs (1964-2008). The gavel which has been a part of the Section for 100 years is shown here --
We have also worked to create an on-line digital archive from a Scrapbook presented at our 100th year Centennial celebration in 2003. Be sure to visit our new Digital Archive on GHN at --> Washington AIEE Section Digital Archive (1903-1953)
Are you a member of this section? Please help expand the article by using the edit tab.
- 1 The Earliest Days
- 2 The 1910s: Building a Foundation
- 3 The 1920s: Peacetime Research
- 4 The 1940s-1950s: Recollections
- 5 The 1960s: Technological Advances
- 6 The 1970s: Welcome to the Digital Age
- 7 The 1990s: Approaching the Millennium
- 8 Entering the 21st Century