John R. Whinnery


John R. Whinnery
John R. Whinnery
Read, CO, USA
Death date
Associated organizations
General Electric (GE), University of California
Fields of study
Education Medal and Microwave Career Award, Lamme Medal, IEEE Medal of Honor


John R. Whinnery was born in Read, Colorado, 26 July 1916 and died on 1 February 2009. He received the B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1937, and the Ph.D. from the same institution in 1948. From 1937 to 1946 he was with the General Electric Company, Schenectady, New York, working on problems in waveguide discontinuities, microwave tubes, and applications to radar. During that period he was active in war training classes, and in 1945-46 held a part-time lecturership at Union College, Schenectady. Whinnery has been on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, since 1946, holding appointment as Lecturer, Associate Professor, and Professor. From 1952 to 1956 he directed the Electronics Research Laboratory; from 1956 to 1959 he was Chairman of the Electric Engineering Department; from 1959 to 1963 he was Dean of the College of Engineering at Berkeley. On leaves from the University, he acted as head of the Microwave Tube Research Section of the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1951-52, engaged in research in quantum electronics at the Bell Laboratories, Inc., Murray Hill, New Jersey in 1963-64, and has held Visiting Professorship at the University of California, Santa Cruz and Stanford University. In 1959, he held a Guggenheim Fellowship at the ETH, Zurich, Switzerland.

He was a Fellow of the IEEE and of the Optical Society of America, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.He has received the Education Medal and Microwave Career Award of the IEEE, and the Lamme Medal of the American Society for Engineering Education. He was named as an Eminent Member of Eta Kappa Nu in 2000. He has served on various advisory committees to government agencies and other educational institutions. In 1980, he was appointed University Professor at the University of California. In 1985, he was awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor "For seminal contributions to the understanding and application of electromagnetic fields and waves to microwave, laser, and optical devices."

Truly a renaissance man, Whinnery was first a creative engineer, his technical contributions completely warranting him the IEEE Medal of Honor. However, he was also a gifted poet, a writer of children's stories, a connoisseur and vintner of superb wines, and a troubled but valiant golfer. From his early youth, after escaping the wilds of Colorado's mountains and the mosquitos of California's central valley, he composed lovely sonnets for his true love Pat, not only extolling her beauty, charm, and intelligence, but the wondrous world in which they lived. His stories were not only for his own children, but also for those of his younger colleagues throughout the years, including tales of the fascinating creatures of the Mendocino coast. On a lighter side, and in the era of the topless bar, he was known to emerge with suitable limericks to clothe the occasion. With proper schooling and with dedicated perseverance, he entered the vintner's game, and in his cellar, which happened to be his garage, he made fine chardonnay, gewurztraminer, and cabernet. Alas, his brilliance and creativity, and his dedication and perseverance did not followed through in his golf game. But even a renaissance man need not break par.

John Whinnery's extraordinary talents add a dimension to his career as a distinguished engineer that made him truly unique. His creativity, eye for beauty, personal warmth, and sense of humor were admired and enjoyed worldwide.

Further Reading

John Whinnery Oral History