Oral-History:Robert Mumma

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About Robert Mumma

Robert Mumma was born July 28th, 1905 in Manila, Philippine Islands to missionary parents, returning to America in 1914. Mumma became interested in radio when it first came out, and attended the electrical engineering program at Purdue for two years (1922-24), before deciding to leave and become a teacher. He received his teaching certificate from Otterbein College in Ohio, and taught high school in both Florida and Ohio. He returned to work in the electronics field, however, after he received a tutorial from the head of the electrical engineering department at Miami University of Ohio in high frequency AC theory, and he got a position at General Motors Radio, where he worked in Joe Desch’s department making test equipment. After that company folded, Mumma then worked for police radio in Dayton, Frigidaire, and finally NCR, where he worked under Desch in the Electrical Research Department. He was involved in many projects there, including developing an electronic counter using gas thyratrons, tube design, standardizing magnetic printing on bank checks, magnetic tape, and he sat on a committee that standardized characters. Mumma was also involved in the war effort at NCR, both under the NDRC and later the Navy which put the whole department onto the Ultra project in 1942.


Mumma talks about the automation trend that occurred at Frigidaire, and the resistance to the trend at the NCR factory. He also discusses the Ultra project, including the problems with Bombe design, security clearance, the Navy’s involvement in production, and working with Alan Turing. Joe Desch is threaded throughout the interview, with topics including his many patents and designs, his management style, his friendship with Mumma and his breakdown in the 40s all covered.