Bell Labs Journal Now Online

“Innovation” is a word often thrown around these days. Back in the old days, you couldn’t find an organization more innovative than Bell Labs. They could certainly afford it, though. They had a monopoly on the telephone system!

At any rate, all of the issues of the Bell Labs Journal from 1922 to 1983 are now online. Within the pages of these journals you’ll find papers on:

  • the invention of the transistor in 1947 and subsequent advances in related solid-state device and circuit technology.
  • Shannon’s paper, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” that was published over 60 years ago and gave birth to Information Theory.
  • the charge-coupled device (CCD), a technology that transforms patterns of light into useful digital information, is the basis for many forms of modern digital imaging.
  • cellular telephone service, the concept that multiple lower-power transmitters could be spread throughout a region employing automatic call handoff and frequency reuse that changed the face of communications.

Overall, it’s pretty cool stuff.

General Stoner’s 24-Hour Circuits

Major General Frank E. Stoner

Major General Frank E. Stoner, Chief of the Army Communication Service of the Signal Corps. Photo courtesy of the Missouri State Archives

IEEE-USA’s Today’s Engineer has a very interesting story on Gen. Frank Stoner, Chief of the U.S. Army Communication Service during World War II. He set up two communications networks that operated around the clock and proved crucial to the war effort. One of the networks spanned the North Atlantic and used long-wave radio to mitigate the interference caused by the aurora borealis. The second, called ACAN (Army Command and Administrative Net), operated near the equator and used shortwave frequencies.

One interesting factoid is that ACAN had a capacity of 100,000,000 words per day. In 1945, the network carried about 50,000,000 words per day. Today’s communications networks, of course, carry billions times more data than this network.

After the war, Stoner became the United Nations’ Chief Communications Engineer and set up a radio network to broadcast news of the UN. At one point, Stoner enlisted the help of amateur radio operators to keep the network on the air:

In May of the following year, the United Nations broadcasting network that Frank Stoner had set in place with such care and foresight was at risk of going silent. For economic reasons, the United States Congress was considering reducing the funding for the State Department channels used to send programs abroad, channels which had been made available to the United Nations. With resourcefulness and ingenuity, Frank Stoner turned to the world’s amateur radio operators to relay the news of the Parliament of the World to the people of the world. Not only was there an elegant grass-roots symbolism in having amateur radio operators serving as a direct link between the United Nations and the people, it would also enable the United Nations to maintain communications in the face of possible interference — whether political interference or from natural causes — in the existing commercial systems. K2UN, with its networks of ham operators, went on the air on 17 May 1948.

Does anyone know if Stoner himself was a ham? I Googled him, but couldn’t really find anything that said one way or the other.

I’d also be interested in more information on the K2UN operations. Googling turned up an article from the August 9, 1947 issue of the New Yorker titled “Cooperative Hams,” but you have to be a subscriber to view the article.

Heathkit Now Selling Doorbells!

About a week ago, I was in Lowe’s looking at doorbell switches.  They had several reasonably priced switches, most marked with the Heath-Zenith brand name. That sounds familiar, I thought. The logo looked familiar, too.

Well, I finally got around to looking at the HeathCo website, and found this on the history page:

The History of HeathCo

Originating from the Heath Company, best known for designing and marketing electronic kits and controls to the early do-it-yourself market, HeathCo’s foundation is built from over 100 years of finding and applying innovation to develop new products. In the 1980’s, as part of the Zenith Electronics Corporation, Heath began marketing products under the brand name of Heath/Zenith. These two great American brands were both established by offering quality products that are innovative and easy to use.

Since the late 1980’s, intelligent lighting, door chimes, and wireless lighting controls have been the product categories of focus. Today, under the Heath/Zenith brand we offer a broad selection of specialty electrical products built to meet the needs of today’s consumer. Our products are designed to complement any decor and install with ease for even the most inexperienced do-it-yourselfer.

HeathCo LLC is a subsidiary of Duchossois Industries, Inc., a privately owned, diversified, multinational holding company, headquartered in Elmhurst, Illinois.

How do you like that?

First Article on Transistors?

Google recently digitized all of the back issues of Popular Science. In the September 1948 issue, they ran an article on the new electronic device the transistor. This could be the first article in a commercial publication on the transistor.

Here are a couple of quotes:

  • “The device that may start a revolution in electronics is smaller than a paper match.”
  • “Whether transistors will ever replace the vacuum tubes in your home radio will probably depend most on how much it costs to make them.

Now, of course, transistors are on the order of microns, and in integrated circuits cost a small fraction of a penny. And all this happened in about sixty years.

National Electronics Museum Includes Ham Radio Station

From the 12/9/09 issue of IEEE-USA’s Today’s Engineer

Electronic Marvels on Display at National Electronics Museum

By George F. McClure

A valuable, but little known, resource tracing the development of electronics for defense, space, and other applications is located near the Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the BWI Rail station.

The National Electronics Museum (NEM), renamed in 2009 from the Historical Electronics Museum, is a treasure trove of radar, sonar and other electronic technology, with an emphasis on phased array antennas and countermeasures. It also operates an annual two-day Pioneer Camp program for school children between the ages of 8 and 11 to help them appreciate the role electronics plays in our lives.

There is a complete amateur radio station, K3NEM/W3GR, fully equipped with vintage and modern communications systems. A temporary exhibit last year, called “Hallicrafters and Heathkit – the H in Ham Radio,” chronicled the history of these two companies and their contributions to amateur radio.

Read the complete story.

Slideshow: The History of Radio in Pictures

From the 11/5/09 IEEE Tech Alert:

The American Museum of Radio and Electricity, located in Bellingham, Wash., contains a unique collection of interactive galleries and artifacts. The museum shares photographs from their new book, Where Discovery Sparks Imagination: A Pictorial History of Radio and Electricity. View photos of a rare multibulb Geissler tube, a Volta canon, a combination Oudin/Tesla coil, and many more antique electronics.

View now


The translucent beauty of the ones in the Atwater Kent Number 4333 “Compact” Receiver is so great as to render its functionality almost superfluous—which is a good thing. Shortly after this device was introduced in September 1923, the range of U.S. broadcast frequencies was expanded, rendering it almost useless. Today the 4333 is highly prized by vintage radio collectors.