# Oral-History:Victor Wouk

Wouk received his Bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Columbia University (1939) and his Masters and PhD from CalTech. He worked at Westinghouse at the end of World War II on an ionic centrifuge for separating U235 isotopes. After the war he went to work for North American Phillips on high voltage equipment, developing a 25K volt power supply for operating their projection television tube. Wouk invented a new form of compact high voltage power cords for providing power supply, and founded a company, Beta Electric, to sell them. They were used for test equipment for making TVs. He sold the company to Sorenson and Company in 1956, then went to work for Sorenson as the chief engineer of their power supply section. He then invented the use of thyristers for use in off-line switching regulators—his most significant power conditioning achievement, as they are now used in all electronic equipment. In the mid 1960s he switched to working on electric cars; then, from 1970, on hybrid gas-electric vehicles. He has been working on them steadily, despite little interest or support by major financial players. The Clean Air Act (1970) and the California Mandate (1990) have both played significant roles in driving the field forward. He is happy that Ford, GM, and Toyota, among others, are finally doing serious work on hybrid vehicles. He has also been involved in various standard-setting organizations, as relates to electric vehicles. He helped found the Power Condition Society, and was heavily involved in the Reliability and Maintainability Society.

VICTOR WOUK: An Interview Conducted by David Morton, Ph.D., IEEE History Center, 17 January 1999

Interview # 351 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Inc.

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Victor Wouk, an oral history conducted in 1999 by David Morton, IEEE History Center, Piscataway, NJ, USA.

## Interview

Interview: Victor Wouk

Interviewer: David Morton

Date: 17 January 1999

Place: Washington, D.C.

### Education

Morton:

Could you tell me a little bit about where and when you were born, a little bit about your early education, maybe how you got interested in electrical engineering?

Wouk:

Fine. I’m from New York City, born and bred in 1919, so this is my 80th birthday. Wow.

Morton:

What part of New York?

Wouk:

In the Bronx, in the South Bronx, which is now “Fort Apache” Territory. I went to elementary school there, and then to Townsend Harris High School, which in those days was a three year high school. One had to pass and examination to get in. It was an unequivocally elitist school, which is, of course, not politically correct nowadays. There I certainly began my major interest in science and mathematics. I liked the math courses, did very well. I liked the physics course, which was an unusual course for a high school in those days. It was a mandatory course. At Columbia I majored in math and physics. But at the end of my Sophomore year quantum mechanics began to come in, and I just didn’t have a feel for it. Even though I got good grades, I did not like it particularly. So I switched to electrical engineering, which I did like. I liked electricity. I thought I might be a television engineer, because that was just beginning to come to start to pass.

Morton:

Yeah. When was that? That would have been in the mid-’30s?

Wouk:

In 1935 to ’39. In ’37 I switched to electrical engineering and television. I was able to fulfill my interest in television to some degree. Professor Edwin Armstrong was an informal member of the faculty, and in the basement of Philosophy Hall he had built a TV set for receiving the only TV signal that was being broadcast from the Empire State Building. In May of ’39 the first baseball game, or maybe even sports match of any type, was televised from Baker Field, the Columbia football field at the Northern tip of Manhattan. Certainly it was the first baseball game that was ever televised. We had to reorient the antenna’s direction from the Empire State to the northern part of New York City, and I was given the dubious honor of going up to the roof and climbing on top of the forty-five degree roof to reorient. That was a dipole, a very simple dipole. But that gave me an even greater love for television. And I decided to go to some good engineering school for graduate work in radio engineering and television after that.

Morton:

Before we get to that, did you know Armstrong personally?

Wouk:

Very indirectly. I could not say I knew him personally. There were four or five graduate students, some of whom had experience in radio and TV. I didn’t. So I was not much of a direct help, except for such things as climbing the roof.

Morton:

What was your impression of him based on?

Wouk:

He was a brilliant man. I knew that he had developed the superheterodyne circuit. And I thought he had invented FM. I went to Cal Tech, thinking I would just for a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering; I ended up with a Ph.D. But in my first year my professor of radio and television engineering, Professor Samuel S. Mackeown, in the middle of the term had to go to New York. RCA was in a suit with Armstrong, and Professor Mackeown had been hired by RCA to defend their position. And one of his positions was that Armstrong had not invented the FM. Armstrong had made it possible for FM to be transmitted and received in a certain manner by a technology he had developed. But other technology was possible for FM. So this is how I learned Armstrong did not invent FM, he improved it.

Out at Cal Tech, there again my profession took an entirely different direction. Cal Tech in 1939 had the first high voltage laboratory of any university, certainly in the United States, maybe in the world. I became interested in high voltage. Then World War II broke out in 1941. I could have gone into the Air Force, because I had a pilot’s license. But I was told specifically that people with my training might be more valuable doing some important research work.

Morton:

That’s interesting. You mentioned the pilot’s license earlier. How did you get that experience?

Wouk:

In 1939 the United States Air Force -- or it was in the Army Air Force -- organized a program called the CPT (Civilian Pilot Training). Because what had been fed back from Europe, particularly the British during the first years of World War II, was that they needed pilots badly. The CPT was an attractive program. You paid about $25 for supplies and things like that, but otherwise Uncle Sam paid for you to be trained. Morton: This is while you were still in New York? Wouk: Audio File MP3 Audio (351 - wouk - clip 1.mp3) No, I was out at Cal Tech. Pasadena had an airport nearby in Monrovia, where one took the flying courses. After the necessary time I got a pilot’s license. I flew quite a bit, probably about eighty hours, before all civilian flying was grounded because of the USA entering the war. ### Westinghouse, North American Phillips Wouk: And after I got my doctorate degree I went to work at Westinghouse, where unbeknownst to me a Dr. Joseph Slepian had developed what looked like a very promising technique of separating U235 isotopes. I was put on the project because of my knowledge of high voltage and high power. I was the historian of that particular project, called the Ionic Centrifuge - a big mass of ionized gas was whirled around in a large, evacuated cylinder in the hope that the heavier U235 isotopes would pull to the outside and the lighter ones would stay at the center of the whirling gas. After the war I began to go back to my first love, which was television. I worked at North American Philips in Tarrytown. They had developed a program of projection television system. Apparently this had been developed in Amsterdam, which the Germans had occupied during World War II. Of course, the Germans had occupied the Philips Manufacturing and Labs because it was a factory facility for lamps, vacuum tubes, radio equipment, and so on. But apparently the back rooms, where the Germans never came, some people had been devoted to developing a compact projection television set using cathode ray tubes that were small (about 3” diameter). At North American Philips, because of my knowledge of high voltage, I worked to develop an extremely compact 25,000 volt power supply for operating their projection television tube. Morton: Can I ask you a question about that? Wouk: Sure. Morton: I don’t know much about the history of that company’s North American branch at that time. My understanding was that they were mostly doing other kinds of appliances and not electronics. But is that wrong? Had they already gotten into radio and televisions? Wouk: Before and during the war, North American Philips was one of the largest producers of radios and of crystals for controlling frequencies of radio. The managers felt that in television, which was forthcoming, the industry was going to be needing more and more crystals of greater and greater precision for stabilizing the local oscillator. So I was hired for two things actually: for the high voltage knowledge, and also for circuit theory, which I had done a lot of. ### High voltage power supply; Beta Electric Wouk: After about a half year there I realized that there was something wrong in the entire industry for making cathode ray tubes, testing them, and making television sets. If you wanted a high voltage power supply for testing cathode ray tubes, you usually had to go to General Electric or Westinghouse. There, one could get something three feet by three feet by three feet, that cost$10,000. These were power supplies for medical X-ray tubes. The small light ones that had been developed for TV tubes were all RF power supplies, working on RF principle with a resonant frequency in the 100 kilohertz range. Capacitors and inductors were small, thus having a comparatively compact system. But these RF power supplies were usually air insulated, with many discrete components, a lot of hand wiring; they were unreliable. For testing on TV production, one could either have one of the $10,000 GE units, which was oversized, or the RF system, which were just unreliable -- they would break down too often. From some of my experience in the Manhattan District Project, building high voltage DC equipment there, I had learned that for DC breakdown you could use much thinner insulation than for AC. With some experimentation I found that the ordinary coaxial cables that were being used for microwave transmission, and for radar transmission, which might be a co-axial cable a quarter of an inch in diameter, with maybe an eighth of an inch insulation, which would withstand 50,000 volts. So I went into the business, and formed the company Beta Electric to manufacture compact high voltage DC power sources. Morton: These didn’t operate on the RF principle. Wouk: No. Morton: They were more like the “compacts” of Philips. Wouk: No. They were straightforward 60 hertz rectified power supplies. The trick was that in order to illuminate the filaments of rectifiers for a “voltage doubler,” I introduced the voltage doubler into modern rectifier circuitry for high voltage. The filament wire could be surprisingly small. The insulation did not have to be very great. There resulted a nice compact high voltage power supply with the filaments directly heated from the power transformer. Relatively simple insulation could be used, with relatively simple rectifiers. We could get a 30-KV, two milliamperes power supply in an insulated box about a foot and a half by a foot and a half, six inches deep and weighing twenty pounds, instead of two-feet by two-feet by two-feet weighing 500 pounds, with insulating oil. The reason why I chose 30 kilovolts was that the large-size direct view TV tubes being built by Dumont in New Jersey, required about 20 kilovolts. To give a good margin of safety for testing, we felt 30 kilovolts, 2 milliamps, was more than was necessary to provide the current for operating cathode ray tubes. That’s how I got into the high voltage power supply business, Beta Electric. Morton: Where did that company go? Wouk: That company went to a sales volume of about$1 million in 1956, which was a lot of money in those days.

Morton:

Acting as a supplier to other set manufacturers?

Wouk:

Test equipment all over the country, all over the world.

Morton:

Oh, so these weren’t for regular TVs.

Wouk:

No. These weren’t for the sets, these were for testing on production. On the TV sets they started to use “fly-back power supplies.” RCA abandoned the RF unit that they had developed, and TV manufacturers were all using fly-back, which was the basis of the Philip system that I first worked with. They were the first ones to use fly-back. It was very clever. It enabled them to get a compact system, well built, light weight, and one transformer operating at the horizontal sweep frequency. They were able to get the high voltage required. It was a voltage doubler circuit, because they didn’t have solid state rectifiers good enough. But on that one core they had the one secondary. They had two filament windings for the voltage of the two tubes, and the high voltage winding. It took a little time for the fly-back energy to light the filaments, and everything was provided by this one cute little transformer and an oil-filled can.

One of my first big customers after I left North American Philips was North American Philips. They were going into production of the projection TV set, and they wanted a test cabinet for aging the power supplies for at least twenty-four hours, for culling out the “infant mortality.” So there was my first entry into reliability, because of high voltage. The other big customer was Dumont in New Jersey. They were building the big direct view sets. And I think that one of the other men who is going to be recognized tonight, Dick Rollman, was an engineer at Dumont. Am I right?

Morton:

Right. Exactly.

Wouk:

Audio File
MP3 Audio
(351 - wouk - clip 2.mp3)

Oh, okay. Fine. Then that makes me feel better. I wasn’t sure. I don’t know where he saw one of my power supplies and one of my kilovolt meters. Beta Electric built kilovolt meters for 30 KV and the power supplies for 30 KV. Maybe he saw them at an IIIE exhibit, or maybe he saw an ad in the IRE proceedings. Somehow or other we got together and had a big discussion. After North American Philips—I think Dumont ordered thirty or fifty of the power supplies to operate on the production lines.

In early 1949 Rollman got in touch with me, saying, “These television sets can scarcely go for thirty weeks without breaking down. It’s amazing. We really ought to be doing something about reliability. Do you think we should organize a reliability section through IRE?” I thought it was a good idea, because I knew that, certainly in television, this was a major problem, as well as in the other electronic equipment I was involved with.

Now here is a strange story. Originally the name of the company was Beta Electronics. After establishing a basis of some standard products in the 30 KV line, people came around asking “can you build something larger? Higher voltage? More current?” We began by building a higher voltage unit for Oakridge, where they were on the NEPA project (Nuclear Energy Propulsion for Aircraft). They needed a 250 KV power supply. I had become familiar with the voltage multiplier circuits, so we built a 250 KV supply with little difficulty.

The entire industry began to expand in electronics, and at one point we got an order from Phelps Dodge, a major cable manufacturer on the Hudson River, in Hastings on Hudson. They’re not there anymore. But it was for 150 KV at ten milliamps. The purchasing agent was very reluctant to place the order with us. Electronics was known as being low power, unreliable, nothing but trouble with all the radar and radio during World War II. So the engineer in charge research lab said, “Vic, change the name to Beta Electric, and then I won’t have any trouble with any and all purchasing agents.” It sounds silly, but it was true at the time. All you had to do was say electronics to anyone in the AIEE in reference to equipment with vacuum tubes, and you would get a very negative reaction. So I changed the name to Beta Electric, and it stayed that way until the company was sold to Sorensen and Company in 1956. Sorensen was sold to Raytheon in ‘59. I think they still have the Sorensen power supply subsidiary. I’m not too sure about that. But I’ll tell you something that makes me proud. Every now and then I go into a very big lab, where they’ve got dozens of power supplies, and I’ll see an old Sorensen unit for which I was chief engineer. After I sold the company to Sorensen I became chief engineer of their power supply section. The Sorensen low voltage, high power devices were reliable units. They still are. That’s how I got further involved in reliability.

### Reliability and power conditioning in professional societies

Morton:

It’s interesting, I was talking to Mr. Rollman this morning, and he got into reliability in a similar area but in a different way in that he was testing equipment to see how it would hold up under different conditions, where it sounds like you were making equipment to test pieces of equipment, which is a slightly different angle on it. So eventually you met him, and were you involved in the formation of the new society?

Wouk:

Yes. I was one of the, whatever it was, ten men who started it. I remember the founders. Dick Rollman was the first president, or chairman for three years. There was Leon Bass, who is deceased. He was the chairman for the next few years. And then I was chairman for the next few years. My involvement with reliability became tangential, and I became much more involved in power conditioning equipment. I may have been the first chair of the IRE section on power conditioning equipment. We had many, many discussions on what “power supplies” should be called. Everyone called the devices power supplies. At one of our early meetings of the organizing committee, Dr. Fransicz Schwarz, who was working with NASA then on their space projects, said, “Look you guys, I am the ‘power supply’ man. I’ve got all of these solar cells sticking out there. So I supply the power. You provide the power conditioning. You take the electrical power in the form in which it is available and you condition it to be in the form in which it is desired to be used. So you do not make power supplies. You make power conditioners.”

Morton:

Wouk:

He was from NASA. He ended up in the University of Leyden in Holland. He was a really bright guy. He and I were on the opposite side of the fence as to how to build power conditioners using thyristors. When you needed a high current you used thyristors; transistors for ordinary low power. I was for the parallel inverter, and he was for the series inverter; we used to have discussions of the relative merits.

Morton:

That’s interesting. You talk about inverters. What were the applications for these?

### Sorenson and Company, Power Conditioning Group of the IRE

Wouk:

We now “fast forward” to where I was involved with high power semiconductors.

Morton:

This was Sorensen and Company?

Wouk:

Yes. And I was one of the founders of the Power Conditioning Group of the IRE, which I think is still called the power supply society, around 1956. Just about then I began to get involved with power conditioning equipment and the power conditioning of this society. And that grew and grew. But in 1959 I wanted to go into some more sophisticated equipment then Sorensen was willing to do. And even now that Raytheon took over, Raytheon did not want to do anything very new and different. Whereas I thought of using thyristors in what is now known as the off-the-line switching regulator. Better write that down. Are you familiar with that term?

Morton:

No, not at all.

### Off-the-line switching regulator, Electronic Energy Conversion Corp.

Wouk:

I would say of all my contributions to electronics, that’s probably the most important. Virtually every piece of electronic equipment that plugs into the wall -- a computer, a TV set, VCR, you name it -- nowadays uses the off-the-line switching regulator. What it does is take the AC, immediately rectifies to DC, no heavy weight 60 hertz or 50 hertz transformer. Then it takes the DC and chops it up into high frequency pulses. So the transformer is smaller, the capacitors are smaller, the inductor is smaller. When I first went into the business, the off-the-line switching regulator that I built, which we dubbed the Convertron, was built by another company that I formed: Electronic Energy Conversion Corp. I started that in late 1959.

Morton:

We’ve got ‘60. But I’ll take ‘59. Close enough.

Wouk:

Okay. Electronic Energy Conversion Corp. The power supply at Sorensen that was rated at 30 volts and 100 amps, which was 3 kilowatts, weighed about 150 pounds. The Convertron weighed less than 25 pounds. Quite a breakthrough. Literally a breakthrough.

Morton:

So not to restate the obvious, but your use of high frequencies allowed the smaller size because all those components, the transformers and so forth, just weren’t so big.

Wouk:

The transformer was smaller. The capacitor was smaller. The inductors for filtering were smaller.

Morton:

You may be getting to this, but what are the applications for this sort of equipment?

Wouk:

Morton:

Or back then.

Wouk:

Oh, back then. The main applications were in the computer field where they wanted high efficiency and low volume in order to put all the other stuff in the cabinet. A very important application was the military, for aircraft use where they needed light weight, high efficiency. These units were inherently more efficient than conventional units in those days, because conventional units consisted of taking the power, transforming it up and down to the approximate levels that you needed, and then dissipating the difference between the rectified voltage and the voltage you needed, in a series of transistors. Originally they were vacuum tubes. That would absorb all the additional energy. There were some refinements on that, but in essence it was a dissipative regulator.

The Convertron was indeed inherently a non-dissipative regulator. Because in order to control the output voltage you would vary the width of the pulses that were generated. So because I was the first one, I suffered the fate of pioneers. I called this Variable Width Pulse, because of the fact that I used the modulation, which I could see on the oscilloscope, to compensate for the ripple in the rectified DC. So in my seminal paper I referred to pulse width modulation, but I did not call it a pulse width modulated power supply, I called it a VWP, in my original paper in 1962, “A VWP, a Technique for Light Weight, High Efficiency Power Supply.” I doubt that you’ll see it in any citation, not the VWP. If I had written pulse width modulation, you’d see it. That business was a nice little successful business. But it was limited because of the fact that at that time only five or six large customers were available for the more expensive product were available. I [inaudible], and it was sort of tricky. It created a lot of electrical interference and noise -- one thing and another.

Morton:

You mentioned that one of the applications was in aircraft. Could you even use thyristors in an aircraft system? I’ve only heard of them being used in power.

Wouk:

It was difficult. And actually it was more or less used for testing aircraft. In Vietnam, for example, the battery had to provide 100 amps at 30 volts to start jet engines, and things of that nature; the military wanted a system that was independent of power frequency. The Convertron, because the power is rectified immediately, is independent to a very large degree of the wave shape of what is available in the form of AC. The frequency, wide swings of voltage, and waveshop. I’ll show you the “power cord.” If you have a portable computer—do you have a laptop here?

Morton:

No I don’t. It recently died.

Wouk:

Oh, okay.

Morton:

Possibly because of the power supply.

Wouk:

Now, you’ve got a little thing out here that you plugged into the wall and you plugged into your computer. That was an off-the-line switching regulator. And if you looked at the other side of the little box, it would say 95 volts to 240 volts. You might ask, “how the heck did something operate from 95 volts to 220 volts?” That is an off-the-line switching regulator. Whatever the voltage is, it is rectified immediately. And since in a computer it’s fairly low power, the OTLSR is filtering that rectified stuff off from that series. And then it’s chopped up into high frequencies and rectified, and out comes 16 volts.

Morton:

In terms of the reliability issue, in those days were those considered less reliable than transformer power supplies?

Wouk:

Yes. And one of the things I had to do was to improve reliability, and understand some of the problems associated with the rather complicated circuits, which in those days were all hand wired with discrete components. Not necessarily all hand wired, there was lap soldering and wave soldering in those days. But there were discrete components in the Convertron.

### Electronic control and batteries for electric cars

Morton:

Okay. Let’s pause. And where were we?

Wouk:

We were talking about Electronic Energy Conversion Corp, the company that I founded to use high power semiconductors for power conditioning equipment. We did very well with the off-the-line switching regulator. After about two years-- two or three years into Electronic Energy Conversion Corp, a man came to me, a Mr. Russell Feldmann. He had been one of the founders of Motorola, was retired, quite wealthy, and he now wanted to do something good for mankind. This was when air pollution from automobiles was first being recognized as important. Professor Hagen Smits at Cal Tech had tied the formation of smog in California into the exhaust from cars, particularly the nitrous oxide, and ozone, and the interaction with sunlight. So Russell Feldmann wanted to build electric cars. He bought something like thirty-five Dauphines from Renault, yanked out all the guts -- the engine, the propulsion system.

Morton:

Why did he pick that car?

Wouk:

Audio File
MP3 Audio
(351 - wouk - clip 3.mp3)

Because it was cute and little. He didn’t want a big car. He wanted a little car because he thought if this was converted to an electric car, it could certainly be used, at least by utility companies, for meter readers. The EVs don’t have to go very far. They don’t have to go very fast. They should sell like hot cakes! Instead they sold like cold cakes. Why? Because even for a meter reader -- the meter reader does not necessarily go 250 feet and then start reading meters, he may go five miles and then start reading meters and it was just too slow, the range wasn’t enough. The EVs were a big flop. Someone told Feldmann that the reason for the failure was because Feldmann was using an old-fashioned speed control. Power was generated by four banks of batteries of eight volts each, you started the EV with the four batteries in parallel. When you wanted to accelerate rapidly, the car would accelerate with a DC series motor and then switch the batteries into series parallel and then for top speed it switched them all into series.

Well, you certainly do dissipate a lot of power in the resistors while you’re switching. Feldmann was told that he needed a modern electronic control, and in order to get a modern electronic control, “see Dr. Wouk up there on Madison Avenue. He’s got this company Electronic Energy Conversion Corp. that builds high power semiconducting equipment that could control an EV.” So Russell Feldmann came to see me, explained the situation, and I said I’d like to ride in one of these cars. I went up to his estate in Stamford, Connecticut -- Shippan Point, a beautiful place. I drove around in some of his vehicles and, yes, they were jerky because of the switching of the batteries’ voltage. I could feel some of the resistors getting warmer, but once the vehicle was driving at maximum voltage there was nothing in between the motor and batteries. There was no particular loss of energy. I did some analysis. I came to the conclusion that, yes, our speed control might increase the range -- I think he had about 30 miles range -- might increase it from 30 miles to 35 miles. The modified converter control would be an experimental unit. In those days it would cost about $100,000, yet the real problem was the battery. The battery just didn’t store enough energy. Feldmann then asked the question that changed my life. He said, “Am I wasting my time trying to get batteries for electric cars? Will EVs ever work? Can we get a better battery?” I didn’t know the answer, but I thought I could ask the question of someone who would know the answer; that was Professor Linus Pauling back at Cal Tech. I didn’t know him personally, so I wrote to Lee DuBridge, then president of Cal Tech, whom I did know. I was president of the Cal Tech Club of New York, things like that. So I wrote to DuBridge asking, “will you please ask Pauling whether this is a dead-end project, that we can’t get a better battery?” About three weeks later I get a letter from Dr. DuBridge saying, “I thought this was such a wonderful problem that I didn’t just ask Pauling. I called a mini-seminar of chemical and electric engineers, chemists, and physicists. We all sat around, examined the table of elements and other things, and lo and behold, we came to the conclusion that there are electrochemical couples that have much greater energy density than lead batteries or nickel-cadmium batteries, and with enough money, manpower, motive, and work, we can get better batteries.” So I told this to Russell Feldmann and he said, “Okay. When there are better batteries give me a call.” This was incredibly prophetic because two years later Ford announced their breakthrough with the Sodium-Sulfur battery. So at least from the point of view of the elements involved, we could think of a cell that would deliver about five times the energy per pound of a lead acid battery. So, I became much more interested in the electric vehicle at that point. By that time, about 1965, I had sold the Electronic Energy Conversion Corp. to Gulton Industries and we began to experiment with electric cars -- power sources for electric cars. That’s how I became involved with electric cars, and I’ve been involved with them ever since. Morton: Wasn’t there a General Motors project about that time… Wouk: Yes. Morton: In electric vehicles too. Wouk: I think they called it the Lander. Ford had an electric car. GM had an electric car. A lot of people were experimenting with electric cars. The one that I built at Gulton Industries was designed to prove a principle and to overcome the objection that existed, and which many people thought were inherent to electric cars, that EVs were inherently sluggish. Lead batteries just couldn’t provide the power that was required for acceleration. Nickel cadmium could and Gulton Industries was one of the largest manufacturers of nickel cadmium batteries. Dr. Gulton thought it was a great idea, so we built an electric car using his nickel cadmium batteries with the speed control I had developed. We built one and lo and behold it was rather spectacular. It would beat, in those days, a Thunderbird from zero to 30 miles an hour. The main reason being that any ICE vehicle has zero torque at zero speed whereas an electric motor has a lot of torque at zero speed. With an EV, as they zoom past at about 30 miles an hour, the torque doesn’t increase, the power doesn’t increase, whereas with an internal combustion engine the torque and power keep going up, up, and up and the RPM goes up, and up. So that was a rather exciting few years. Then came the real crunch on automobile exhaust. It was determined in 1968 that automobile exhaust had to be dropped by substantial amounts in a short period of time, so the first laws were passed for reducing emissions for automobiles. I testified in Congress about the practicality, for at least special applications, of electric cars: that they could go fast enough, they could accelerate well enough, the only problem was that they couldn’t go far enough. For certain applications you don’t have to go far, delivering things in the downtown area for example, or buses. Morton: There were undoubtedly some small businesses selling electric vehicles of some kinds, golf carts, but also there had been, as late as the ‘30s electric delivery trucks and so forth or… Wouk: That’s right. Morton: Do you know, did that persist all through this time? Were those manufacturers interested… Wouk: No. The battery driven electric delivery vans -- which existed in great numbers in New York City -- I would see them from Gimbels, and Macy’s, and Altman’s, and others. They were very popular during the war because of the rationed gasoline. After the war there was the big development of urbanization. People were beginning to move out of the cities; these were mainly the more affluent people. The delivery vans, battery operated, went slowly. That was fine when all they had to do was go to customers mainly in Manhattan, and back or even up to some of the reaches of the Bronx and back, but when they had to go to Yonkers or beyond, it became quite a problem. They could barely make it. Also, the drivers’ wages were going up. When the driver was getting$5 a day, and that was high, -- $25 a week. That made little difference, if it would take them half the time to go up and half their total time to come back. But when wages began to go up and distances were great, the battery operated delivery van became “economically disadvantaged.” Then shortly after the war all of these individual delivery companies Macy’s, Gimbels, et cetera, united. It became uneconomical to have all these companies with their own electric delivery van serving the Manhattan area and suburbs. That’s where United Parcel Service came in. Morton: I see. Hold that thought while I turn the tape over. [End of tape one, side a] So, we were talking about the situation right after World War II with the electric car. I think you were telling me about the… Wouk: Oh, the UPS. Morton: Yes, the UPS story. Wouk: Right. As the suburbs grew, these electric delivery vans could no longer cover their appointed rounds whether it was snow, sleet, rain, or gloom of night. Do you know what I’m talking about? Morton: Right. Wouk: In order to make it more economical, the department stores joined ranks, particularly because of the problem of the electric delivery vans. It made more sense to have one organization deliver for everybody, and that’s where United Parcel Service came in. In 1968 the first laws were passed for controlling the emissions of vehicles, and that is when oil and car companies began to pay at least lip service to the fact that they had to develop lower emissions vehicles. The electric cars seemed like the very obvious one, but they were all limited by the battery. Just about at this time a bunch of small companies, which we referred to previously, thought that they would build electric cars. What they would do would be to take out the engine and transmission of a conventional car, load it up with batteries and sell it as an electric car. These electric cars were harrowingly unreliable because they were usually not built by engineers, but by well meaning amateurs. Mechanically they would overload the springs. From the drivability point of view they were terrible; in order to get enough batteries on the EV to get some sort of decent range, the underhood would be loaded with batteries and the trunk would be loaded with batteries. This gives a dumbbell effect because of the high moment of inertia. So in the early ‘70s the electric vehicles were getting a terrible reputation because of their unreliability. Also in speed controls some of the early electric cars had relay and resistor controls which were cheap. Those who wanted to get electronic speed controls, had to go to someone like General Electric to get an SCR control. It wasn’t until the early ‘80s that you could get enough power in a transistorized control so that you did not need the complexity of the SCRs. I found, much to my amazement, in the late ‘60s and the early ‘70s that I was the only person with an advanced degree, who was taking the electric vehicle seriously, the others were amateurs. The electric vehicle that I had designed at least worked. We didn’t have any failures of the speed control. We didn’t have the motor overloaded. We didn’t have too many batteries in it so that it didn’t misbehave -- but I didn’t try to put in so many batteries that the vehicle could go very far. I wanted to prove the principle, so that when the “better battery” came along, we would be all ready with the speed controls and anything else that had to be done. Morton: By this time had the big auto makers lost interest again? ### Federal Clean Car Incentive Program, 1970s; heat engine battery electric hybrid Wouk: Audio File MP3 Audio (351 - wouk - clip 4.mp3) The big auto makers at all times had some sort of project going on in the field of electric vehicles, but they knew very well at that state of the art they could never build an electric automobile that would be the least bit attractive commercially. Then along came something which is one of the great secrets of the early 1970s. There was a government program that apparently was more secret than the atom bomb secret. They didn’t mean it to be, but that’s the way it turned out. It was called the Federal Clean Car Incentive Program. I was still at Gulton Industries, Director of Electronics Research when this came out. The Clean Air Act of 1970 had just been passed requiring that emissions be reduced by a factor of twenty by the year 1976. I knew darn well that Detroit could not possibly meet that with a conventional vehicle. The Federal Clean Car Incentive Program said, “You think you’re so smart that you can build a low emission vehicle that can be produced, have good performance, and so on and so forth? Fine. You go ahead and build it. First tell us what you think you’re going to build, and if we see that there’s a possibility, we’ll say ‘Here’s one dollar’ go ahead and build it on your own time, your own money, your own effort. When you’ve got it built, you call us up and say, ‘Hey, I’ve tested this at such-and-such a lab and it has the low emissions that are required.’ If you do that then we’ll come over to where you say you tested it, and check. If it’s tested and meets the specs, fine, you can then send that vehicle to the EPA labs in Ann Arbor. The lab has been set up for doing large volume emission testing on Detroit vehicles. You send it there, and, if it meets the emission requirements we’ll buy ten of them and test in many different places. With ten you should be able to get your investment back. If that works then we’ll order 300. Now, you’re in a position to do pretty well financially. And we’re going to test them all over the country for a year, cold weather, hot weather, hilly, desert, flat, and if we have a good report after one -- it had to be more than one -- two years, then it would become mandatory for the general accounting office, whatever the office is that buys for all concerned, they would have to purchase half of their vehicles of this type and they could pay up to twice the statutory price.” So this sounded like a exciting challenge. So what do I think of? Not the electric car, because the electric would not meet performance requirement. The car had to be absolutely the same as the conventional car. It had to be as big. It had to seat as many passengers. So I said the only way we could do it is with the heat engine battery electric hybrid. Had to be a hybrid. In an EV the engine does not have to operate at very high power because high power can be provided by the motor, from the batteries. It does not have to operate over a very wide range of speeds. And more important it does not have to have any transients, because it’s the transients that produce most of the spikes of emissions when you suddenly step on the accelerator to accelerate, or you take your foot off the accelerator to slow down. The electrical system will absorb all of the transients. And damned if it didn’t work. It worked. It met all the emission requirements and so on and so forth, but so what? This was 1974. Plenty of gasoline around. Detroit was doing a good job, but they had not reduced the emissions by a factor of twenty. By 1976 they had cut them by a factor of five and they didn’t come down to the factor of twenty level until about 1986, ten years after the PEM hybrid. Morton: That’s interesting. Did you build this car from the ground up or was it a modified… Wouk: No. It was a modified Buick Skylark. And I would say that I got all sorts of cooperation from everyone involved in the automobile industry. People say, “Oh, Vic, you must have had to fight your way against Ford, General Motors, the oil companies!” Just the contrary. General Motors provided a car for me of the type that I wanted, a Buick Skylark, because the car had a lot of room under the hood. GM provided one for me after the production line had closed at the Texas facility. A ukase was issued by Dr. Robert Thompson who was then Director of Research. He said, “You give Wouk whatever car he wants.” There was only one catch to it. I had to pay for the car. Morton: I’m trying to remember what the Skylark was. Wouk: It was a 1970 Skylark which I bought in 1971. Let me backtrack a little because this is important. While I was at Gulton and we had built this electric car that had excellent performance, just about that time the Edison Electric Institute began to say, “Hey, electric cars are great.” And they formed the electric vehicle council. A bunch of utility presidents and a few others of that nature and I was the Gulton representative on this Electric Vehicle Council (EVC). In early 1970, the Electric Vehicle Council received a letter from the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) saying, “We’re thinking of organizing a technical committee in the IEC on electrical cars, would you be interested in having a representative?” It turns out they had first written a letter to the SAE, saying, “Hey, what about electric cars?” SAE didn’t even answer it. So the EEI’s thought was “let’s try to select a few.” They said, “Yes. Who can we send.” I was the engineer on that Council. All others were presidents of electrical utilities. So in 1970 I became involved with international standardization of electric cars. ### Standards for electric and hybrid vehicles; vehicle performance and pollution Wouk: For a while I was THE United States representative to IEC/TC69. I was chairman of the first working group, “Standards for Terminology and Testing,” and then I was the chairman of the Hybrid Vehicles Committee from the USA working group. I became involved in standardization, and I was the sole representative of the USA until about 1992. By then the electric vehicle program in California had become serious, so a lot more people were interested in EVs and standards. So because of that situation in 1970, I’ve been involved in the EV standardization now for almost 30 years, originally just on IEC committees. Then I became involved with SAE and now I’m also on the ISO. The ISO originally was not the least bit interested in electric cars, because the automobile manufacturers in the ISO were not interested in electric cars. The ISO members were from all over the world, except the United States. The SAE was completely divorced from any international standards. And now I’m involved in all of them. Morton: Now, what kind of standards, or standard setting activities were you involved with? What kind of standards related to electric cars? Wouk: Originally we wanted everyone to be talking the same language. So, we had to deal with definitions and basic terms, and also how to measure. For example, range was a very important question. Company “A” said, “My vehicle has a range of 40 miles; “B” says, “60 miles.” We’ll have set up standards to measure range. How much energy do you consume? “We consume 250 watt hours per mile,” says A. “Ah,” says B, “that stinks; mine uses only 200 watt hours per mile. How are you going to compare that? A lot of other things. The hybrid that we tested in ‘75, although it met all requirements and we had cooperation from General Motors, from Mobil, and from Ethyl, yet nobody was really interested. Why not? The answer was, “Who needed it?” I had said in my original proposal if we had to reduce the amount of air pollution produced by and the amount of onboard fuel consumed by an ordinary car, by a large amount in a short period of time, we have to use existing technologies. All of the sudden three years ago the industry wakes up and you now have the Toyota Prius, a hybrid. Honda is coming out with a hybrid. General Motors has announced a hybrid, Ford’s big thing in the year 2000 is a hybrid, and I think it’s the only way to go. Morton: Yeah. Now, a ‘70 Buick is, by today’s standards, a great big, heavy car. Wouk: It was. Morton: What was the performance on it? Wouk: It was exactly what it was originally. Whatever it had to do in those days, zero to 60 in 12 seconds, or whatever. But the emissions of our EV were one-twentieth of what they were of the vehicle when it was a Buick Skylark. We used a Mazda RX2 rotary engine so that under the hood everything would be nice and squat. And we had one half the specific fuel consumption, or let’s put it the other way, twice the specific fuel economy - not for the miles per gallon, but the ton-miles per gallon. We had twice as much as the original engine. So it meant that the concept of the hybrid was a damn good one. Morton: I don’t mean to press you on this but this is something of sort of an interest to me. As for the early Mazda rotary engines, weren’t they notorious polluters? Wouk: Audio File MP3 Audio (351 - wouk - clip 5.mp3) No. They weren’t notorious polluters. Inherently they are polluters but it was easy to scrub the exhaust and get it all the way down because they used a thermal reactor. They took the exhaust and they injected air and a few other things and burned up all the unburned hydrocarbons, unburned carbon monoxide. That’s what we had on our hybrid, but despite that we had twice the specific fuel consumption that the engine had -- the original engine. No, twice the specific fuel economy-- we should really use “fuel consumption.” When we had half the specific fuel consumption for the same number of gallons, we were able to pull twice as many tons over a mile. I became more and more involved in electric vehicles and in standardization programs. That is when the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Act of 1976 was passed. It was originally the Electric Vehicle Act to try to promote the development of electric vehicles. I had just had the hybrid tested at the EPA and it looked very attractive. I went to people on the particular committee in the Senate involved in developing and showed them the results. I said, “Look, you can make an economical hybrid vehicle.” The EPA and other people didn’t like the idea because they said, “Hybrids stink!” You know, the fact that one was built and it worked fine, nobody else had ever done one that worked fine. “That’s irrelevant!” Hybrids -- it’s just prejudice and platitude. The platitude is that it’s got two sources of power, it’s got to be more complicated. That’s not so, because each power system now doesn’t have the stresses on it that it had before. The internal combustion engine doesn’t have to change the throttle rapidly so it can be a much simpler system. Electronics, you don’t have to worry about saving the absolute last one percent of efficiency because you’ve got the range you’d get with a conventional car. So that and then other platitudes such as, “You still have emissions, you know, we want zero.” I asked, “how much of emissions? Are they one-tenth the required level? Are they one-hundredth the required level?” So nobody paid attention to emissions, and I just went along being a consultant in the field of electric and hybrid vehicles. I was a consultant to the DOE trying to at least get reliable electric vehicles for the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Act of 1976. The Act authorized$200 million be spent to try to develop a system of Electric Cars.

When the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Act was passed in 1976 and the program was turned over from the EPA to the DOE, they had to start buying electric cars to demonstrate. Electric and Hybrid Research then developed into the Demonstration Act. The proponents wanted to demonstrate that electric vehicles were wonderful, and the DOE was hoping to have 10,000 EVs on the road within five years. The only people they could go to were small companies, and the small companies did not have the engineering staff to do a reliable job. I was called in to at least help design reliable equipment. It was a very difficult job, because to make these electric cars reliable you had to have good speed controls. You had to have proper engineering and mechanical designs. It costs. Small companies didn’t have the staff to do it, and the DOE didn’t want to spend more than a certain amount on each car. The EVs came, and they weren’t reliable; the program fell flat on its face after a few years. So you don’t hear very much about that particular program. For all I know, it’s still on the books as money allocated to buy electric vehicles and so on.

So, in about 1985 there really wasn’t very much left for me to do in the field of electric and hybrid vehicles because this 1976 act was a big flop. Then came the California mandate in 1990. The question remains as to whether the mandate came because General Motors built this wonderful electric car which was then called, unfortunately, the Impact, or whether one came after the other. But certainly the availability of the Impact with its wonderful performance and its reasonable range encouraged California to establish the mandate that required by 1998, two percent of all cars had to produce zero emissions. That’s when I got back into the electric vehicle business, because several companies asked me to consult. Since then I’ve expanded my activities as a consultant, mainly in the field of standards.

### Spectrum

Morton:

We’ve only got a couple of minutes left but you mentioned earlier that you were involved with Spectrum. Are you a consultant for Spectrum or are you now a editor, or…

Wouk:

No. At one time I was on the advisory board, but all along since 1992 I’ve been a consultant to Spectrum on all articles that have to do with electric and hybrid vehicles. I was the proponent for two issues with special reports, July 1995 on EVs, and the November issue in ‘98 on EV update they used this beautiful picture on the cover, of a car in an idyllic surrounding. I arranged for all the articles and all the authors, except in fuel cells. I am ignorant about fuel cells. I still don’t understand how they work. I arranged for that and I arranged for the round table that was the subject in the December issue.

I meet with Mike Riezenman and his staff at least twice each quarter. First I lay out generally what the EV watch department should be. Every three months we have the EV watch, and we discuss which subjects should be in there. Then Mike Riezenman picks from there, either handling some of it himself or turning it all over to Will Jones and Elizabeth Bretz. Every now and then, as I did in 1998, I make my suggestions or my superior on more important subjects -- treatment of the subject. Fortunately, the entire staff on Spectrum agree with me that electric cars are a sexy subject that the readers love. Spectrum always gets good feedback after there’s been an electric vehicle issue. They never get anything negative except, “why didn’t you include... ” And this is why in the November 1998 issue I deliberately did not have my name or side box saying this is all Wouk’s idea.

### Career highlights

Morton:

Let me ask you one more question…

Wouk:

Yes.

Morton:

…before we wrap it up. I know this has run roughshod over your career but hopefully someday there will be an opportunity to do a more detailed interview, but I’ll ask you one question and then you can close with whatever you like. You had almost two careers. One very oriented towards electric vehicles and that type of engineering and the other -- the earlier stuff, power conditioning as you call it. Which part are you more proud of, or do you think has contributed more to the field?

Wouk:

You’ve asked the question that really must be answered “both.” In the technical end I’m proudest of this off-the-line switching regulator, even though you won’t see my name in any citations because I called it the VWP. But deep in my heart I’m very proud of that. On the electric vehicle thing I’m very proud that I made a pain in the ass of myself for the last twenty years now about the hybrid. Now, the big error that people made is that they think I’m saying “forget about all the other cars, build hybrids.” Absolutely not. I’m saying if we have to reduce emissions, by large amounts in a short period of time, or cut the use of gasoline, by a large amount in a short period of time, go with hybrids.

The Japanese picked that up. Why? Because gasoline is expensive there. They pay for a liter what we pay for a gallon. So the car is being made attractive by the fact that they use half the gasoline that they would with a conventional car. Now, their hybrid -- the Toyota hybrid is limited. They cannot make it much better because it does not plug into the wall. So they cannot transfer any of the propulsion energy from onboard liquid fuel -- to off board electricity. But by means of this electric interface they’re able to make use of the propulsion fuel much more efficiently.

So I’m very proud that we’re going to hybrids now, and to more of them. And I’m very glad that the Convertron is now in every piece of equipment that is here right now.

### Professional Group on Reliability

Morton:

Have you got any final parting shots or do you want to call it quits there.

Wouk:

No. I’m just very pleased that I’ve lived to be eighty years old and I’m here at the Reliability and Maintainability Society. Oh, I think we should get in one thing.

Morton:

Okay.

Wouk:

When this was first organized it was the Professional Group on Quality Control, and then it became the Professional Group on Reliability. Then because things were so complicated that just maintaining them was difficult, you had to start putting engineering thought into maintaining them. So there’s been a little bit of an evolution there. Were you aware of that?

Morton:

I don’t know that much about the field. I meant to ask about that. It sounds like it wasn’t just a change in the fashionable terminology but a real change in the field of study and that implies a change in the people who were involved in the society. Was there ever a real period when there was an old guard of the old quality control people who…

Wouk:

Yes. That was in the very beginning. And Dick Rollman would know more of it because he was a member of the ASQC and I was almost an outsider. “Hey, this guy Vic he’s intelligent I promise, high voltage, but what’s that got to do with it?” Batteries were a very important subject of quality control in those days, and hearing aids. One of the organizers was with Sonotone, a manufacturer of hearing aids. He was one of the original organizers with Dick Rollman; that was because the hearing aid was one of the first electronic devices in which reliability was serious. If a hearing aid went on the fritz, the poor person couldn’t hear. If the TV set or the radio goes on the fritz, what the hell, so you read the newspaper. I never thought of it that way. So...

Morton:

Well, it’s too bad we can’t explore that. I would like to hear more about the history of the society.

[End of interview]