TAPE 1, SIDE 1
MR. MARTIN COLLINS: The last time we talked, we talked about your activities at the Bell Laboratories. I think we'd like to wind that down and then begin discussion of your career at Ohio State and then at STL. We were just talking about the notebooks, and I wondered whether it was a typical activity for a member of the technical staff to maintain one of these notebooks, and also to the level of detail to which you maintained yours.
DR. GEORGE MUELLER: Yes, it was one of the things that everyone in the research department did. I don't know that it was common in the development department to the same extent but, of course, one of the outputs of the research effort was substantial patent positions. Bell Labs had developed a technique for both providing the proper kind of documentation for patent rights and also the technique for reviewing the notebooks to select out those things that were worthwhile patenting, and so that was the basis for all of their notebook work. It turns out to be invaluable, though, in terms of being able to go back and see what you actually did in an experiment, and change it or know what mistakes you made.
COLLINS: So in essence, then, you were instructed to keep these fairly detailed records of your activities.
MUELLER: Yes, indeed, although it varied from individual to individual, of course, but everyone did.
COLLINS: And how did these notebooks figure into preparation of any more formal publications that you had to do at this time?
MUELLER: Well, they served as a basis because they did contain the results of your experiments in some detail, so they served as the basis for writing papers and things of that sort. Papers at Bell Labs, at that time at least, were relatively difficult to get approved. They had a very, very high standard of writing, and of contributions, so that to get a paper out of Bell Laboratories was a real challenge. It got peer review internally, long before it ever got to one of the publishing places.
COLLINS: Can you briefly characterize the step-by-step process which one had to go through for publication?
MUELLER: Well, first of all, you needed to talk to your immediate supervisor and see if he thought it was worthwhile preparing a paper. Not that there was any real stricture in that. It was a free and easy society. But if he thought it was an idea that was worthwhile publishing and also that it would not violate security, because at that time there was a fair concern about security. Publications were very difficult to get out. And then you could prepare the paper. Once you had the first draft of it, or the final draft of it actually, he would review it and critique it. It would go back to you for re-doing. Then it would go to a review committee that they had set up. Essentially they set up a special peer group review committee for every paper, who would then comment on it. Once their comments were incorporated in the paper, and some of their comments said, "Well, it isn't worthwhile publishing," and some of them said, "Well, this is too sensitive material. You can't publish it at this time."
If you went through those hurdles, then you could submit it to the magazine, usually Proceedings of the IRE or the IEEE, and if they in turn--they then went through their own peer review group. Excuse me, first it had to go to the patent department for review to be sure that you weren't releasing anything that would be patentable. Then it came back to you for release to the publications and then they reviewed it and usually by that time it was pro forma. With the amount of massaging it got at Bell Labs, why, there weren't very many peers that wanted to argue about it.
COLLINS: This sounds like it could be a fairly lengthy process.
MUELLER: It takes several years to get a paper out, did at that time. But then the security requirements were such that it made it very difficult to publish much of anything.
COLLINS: I don't know how much you've kept in touch with that situation. Is it your impression that kind of lag between doing the research and getting it published is still there?
MUELLER: Probably so, but that lag is, I don't think, so much the review process now as it is the normal desire to be sure that what you're doing is proper, correct, and you haven't made a mistake, and you've got all of the results covered, you know, perfection.
COLLINS: Clearly, though, you needed to be able to communicate to your colleagues, more quickly than through publication, the results and the value of your work. How did that occur?
MUELLER: Well, Harold Friis had a weekly meeting, and usually it was lunchtime on, I guess, Fridays where all of the MTS would get together and go over whatever they thought was interesting in the past week's work and offer, if they had some problems, get help on almost any subject. So you had a couple of hours or three hours a week of exchange of ideas and work and so on, which was particularly valuable for a young person because you then could get the help you needed and, at the same time, get some advice and direction on what you were doing.
COLLINS: I realize that the wartime situation is a bit of an aberration, but were there weekly or monthly seminars, that sort of thing, for presentation of research results?
MUELLER: I wouldn't say they were seminars of that sort. We did have people visit from time to time, like Sokanoff would come down and talk on a particular subject or Bill Schockley came down occasionally. I was fortunate in being in an area where I also had an opportunity to go visit both West Street and Murray Hill on a frequent basis to work with people there on the various aspects of the microwave technology, working with John Pierce on magnetrons and traveling wave tubes when they came into being, with Schockley and the group up at Murray Hill on semiconductors, and looking into materials with, I forget the guy who was running materials. He went to TI eventually as their head of research. A whole group of people, Samuelson and so on, whom we were exchanging ideas with and getting advice from and who were building things for us and, in turn, we were building things for them to move this microwave technology forward.
COLLINS: Would this sometimes take the form of, say, just a two- or three-page memo about your research activity, or did you usually convey it more informally?
MUELLER: Both, because particularly in the case of John Pierce, he was a prolific writer, so he would tend to write things out. Some of the other people tended to do it on a verbal basis, but mostly it was in terms of what we were building at the moment or needed to build, so drawings and things of that sort were the primary means of communication.
COLLINS: That's important. During this time, did you ever work on any patentable devices?
MUELLER: Well, yes, I did, but really not as an object, the object to patent. The object was to get some things done that would work, and so the patent was a side product. And to a large extent, whether or not something was patentable was sort of at the discretion of the MTS. And I never got particularly involved in worrying about whether to create patentable ideas as such, although I would very much like to, and if I had any ideas I would try to see if somebody thought they were worthwhile. Interesting.
COLLINS: I was prepared to move on to your departure from Bell Labs to Ohio State. Do you think there are any other issues we should talk about during the Bell Labs time that perhaps figured into your later work, for example?
MUELLER: Well, yes. I don't recall where we left it. It was at that time that I first met Charlie Townes when I was doing the work on repeating some of the results of Cleaton and Williams on the transmission through various gasses, ammonia gas, for example. We were able to repeat their results. Then we were really looking at what were the attenuation characteristics of gasses at microwave frequencies, and we ran into the oxygen absorption phenomenon and a set of those things. So I had set up a fairly elaborate system for measuring the transmission through gasses and Charlie came down and was impressed with it and we spent some time chatting at that time about what course of action I might take to do more in this arena. And that turned out to be quite important later on, inasmuch as he then was the person I tapped for being head of our Science Advisory, the STAC Committee, Science and Technology Advisory Committee, at NASA. So it was contacts like that that, over the years, have been most helpful.
COLLINS: Are there any other names from that Bell Lab....
MUELLER: Bill Schockley, John Pierce, oh, Dean Wooldridge, who turned out to be important. I did not know Cy Ramo except by name at that time, but I did know Dean, and I got involved with him with communications when I was working on that back there.
COLLINS: Was he at Bell Labs at that time?
MUELLER: Yes. Down on West Street. And then John Whinery who's up at--I guess I mentioned Bill Schockley, who else.
COLLINS: We can add additional names when we get the transcript, but I just wanted to get a sense of these early contacts who were later of importance in the space program.
MUELLER: It turns out, quite a few of them were.
COLLINS: You mentioned in the previous interview that you began to recognize that the people at Bell Labs who were moving up in the hierarchy had PhD.'s and it was more difficult for you to move up without that PhD.
MUELLER: Well, it wasn't so much that it was more difficult. It was rather that I felt the lack of knowledge in doing the work that I needed to do. And then I discovered that one of the reasons these guys knew more than I did was because they had better training, and so I decided I really ought to go back and finish my training.
COLLINS: Can you recall what the change in character of the lab was as the war wound down? What kinds of things were happening as the war came to a close?
MUELLER: Great excitement throughout the research department on several new technologies that they had been working on during the wartime that were just coming into being. The whole transistor explosion, which led to integrated circuits, started at that time. In fact, about the time I was deciding to leave, Jack Townsend tried to get me involved in working with him on the development of the transistor. I'd been working with Russell 0hl and done a fair amount of work on the development of diodes for microwave purposes, and I'd also been working with Denny Lewis and the group down at--Chape Cutler and company down at their other lab, down below Holmdehl, on communications applications. I'd gotten involved with the optimization of communications using various kinds of modulation for transmission and trying to understand what the trade-offs were. At that time I got to know Claude Shannon a little bit and worked with him. Worked with him, studied from him, on the concepts of entropy and communications and the linkage between the physics of statistical mechanics and communications technology, which was a fascinating subject, one that I then began to try to understand how to apply. So that led to a whole set of contacts in a different spectra of people at the labs.
COLLINS: But the sense was that at the close of the war, say unlike the aircraft industry, Bell Labs, things were still pretty busy, still exciting and active.
MUELLER: Oh, yes. There was a whole pulse transmission system that was developed. There was the beginning of the waveguide transmission. It was back at that time that I was working in dielectric transmission media, the dielectric polyrod, and that eventually became what is now fiber optics, but a lot of the very early work on using dielectric transmission media was started in that time frame. Forty years to get enough interest in it. I was more interested in radio transmission, but there were other groups there that were working on waveguide transmission and, of course, the fiber optics is a form of waveguide transmission.
COLLINS: Was the level of work sufficient to support the number of staff that had been there during the war, or did they have to cut back some, do you recall?
MUELLER: Oh, no. In fact, the other way around. Now at the research part, because we'd never grown during the war--in fact, we were undermanned throughout that era. But in places where the defense activity was really very heavy, there were some cutbacks. Western Electric particularly had to change gears almost completely, and during that period, why, they had massive layoffs.
COLLINS: So in the research division--I'm reading a little bit into what you said here--there was simply a sense, now was the time to exploit, to develop the things that were researched during the war period.
MUELLER: And those that we couldn't work on because they weren't applicable to the war period. So there was a whole host of new ideas that needed to be explored. Great time!
COLLINS: Were the problems of classification of research activity beginning to diminish during 1946, do you recall, or was that still an issue?
MUELLER: Still very much an issue. Publications were difficult to get out and continued to be difficult, from that standpoint, for some period of time. But people were then beginning to work on new things, so it wasn't a great problem.
COLLINS: What finally sparked your decision? This feeling about the need for further education had been sort of there for a while. What was the spark?
MUELLER: Oh, Milt Boone. See, I was going to school at Princeton during this period and working on a PhD. there. So we'd get up every morning at around 5 o'clock and drive up to Princeton with Chape Cutler, with whom I was ride sharing, take a couple of courses there, and then drive on back down to Holmdehl to work all day. That was a hard way to get a PhD. and a hard way to learn, actually, because you were carrying on a full-time job. Well, it turned out, it wasn't the full-time job that was the problem.
But then a friend of mine, Milt Boone, was working with John Pierce in the development of the magnetron and traveling wave tube. He was a professor at Ohio State, who was on leave to work with Bell Labs during the war. At the end of the war, he then went back to Ohio State. And he arranged with the Air Force to set up a tube lab at Ohio State, and he wanted some people who knew something about building vacuum tubes to help do that, so he asked me to come out. What eventually ensued was that he asked me to take over Terman's job at Ohio State as an assistant professor. Terman was head of the communications department or option in electrical engineering at the time. He'd gone to Illinois to head electrical engineering, and they needed somebody to head up communications, and I happened to be interested in communications and knew a little bit about it at that time. You learn an awful lot when you're teaching. So he argued that I really ought to get a PhD., and I really ought to come out to Ohio State to do it and help him set up that tube lab and run the communications group, and that would be a great thing for me and for everybody else. So there was the opportunity to do that. Obviously, I could have stayed at Bell Labs and gone on to Princeton and finished there as well, but I decided that it would make sense to go out and do this. So I did.
COLLINS: Were you taking courses at Princeton during 1946, just before you went to Ohio State?
COLLINS: So it would be a very naturesque oral history. Milt Boone had described the possibilities there. What did you find when you came to Ohio State?
MUELLER: Well, I found that they were making the transition from no classes or virtually no classes and all of these training military people, over to going back to business as an electrical engineering school. Dreese, who was the head of that department, had come to Ohio State from working. He was vice president, I guess, at Lincoln Electric. He was very, very thoughtful and had a very good vision of where electrical engineering ought to go, and so he was busily trying to restructure the electrical engineering department into a modern department, as contrasted to the old one. When I got there, they still had a motor laboratory with Edison machines in it, which is kind of characteristic of the old electrical engineering courses, structure. What they were doing was creating a modern electrical engineering department with an emphasis on communications, on radio, and really applied physics, as contrasted to the more, at that time, conventional electrical engineering of power systems and so on.
So they were going off into the communications area and were one of the leaders in that activity. I got involved in setting up a new communications curriculum as soon as I got there and then helped design and set up the tube lab, with a fair amount of help from Bell Labs, in the course of what we should have in the way of equipment and so on. They had also a radiation laboratory at Ohio State that did a fair amount of work in support of the military antennas, and I worked with them on a contract to develop polyrod antennas for the Air Force at that time.
COLLINS: These were radar systems.
MUELLER: Yes. Well, I was just working on the antenna, but they were for radar systems, one of the alternative approaches, and actually Leakey waveguides, that whole host of things that provide some control over the radiation from an antenna that's better, really, than the normal parabolas that were used but are more complicated to build. That was a time when we really had students that were interested in learning, and with relatively good background. Most or a large share of the classes were people that were coming out of the military, using the educational bills that had been passed, and they were really serious students. It was a challenge teaching them because they did their homework and they weren't interested in anything but really learning fast so they could make up for the time they'd lost in the military, and a very good group of people to work with.
It was after about three or four years that we began to find that the majority of the students were coming from the high schools and that they were almost illiterate. Not only did they lack scientific skills but they also lacked any real ability to write or spell or read. Never mind arithmetic. And that was a very real concern. We were having to do remedial training. This was a state school, so we had to take the kids in. We were having to do remedial training, and we were flunking maybe half the freshman class every year because they couldn't read well enough to begin to keep up with college-level work.
COLLINS: These would have been fairly rudimentary engineering courses at the freshman level.
MUELLER: They were just simply entry-level math and English. But half of them were weeded out as freshmen, and then they went back for remedial work. I was on the curriculum committee for the university at that time, so I got involved in some of the problems of the educational process coming through.
COLLINS: At this time, Ohio State did have a separate engineering department?
COLLINS: And were freshmen admitted directly to the engineering department at that stage, or would it be later on in their undergraduate career?
MUELLER: There was an engineering college at that time. You had a general curriculum, but you could indicate a choice at the beginning. The curriculum was set so that you had to take certain courses. You were essentially enrolled in engineering as a freshman, and you had a set course structure that prepared you for going on through. It was during the course of that that we adopted the idea of a five-year engineering curriculum because we just didn't have enough preparation at the beginning and the complexity of the subject was growing, so that we felt that to adequately train an engineer, he needed five years to get a Bachelor's and not four. That was quite an argument because the liberal arts people didn't want to add another year to their curriculum. They were trying hard to see if they could do it in three years instead of five. Or four.
COLLINS: So initially you had a mix of students. You had people who were coming out of their war experience, and then you had the group of kids who were maturing and ready to go to college in '46and '47.
MUELLER: But they were relatively small compared to the war people in '46, '47, '48. It wasn't until '49 that you began to get the majority of these kids coming in as being not war-related. Not with military experience.
COLLINS: Were both groups a problem in terms of adequate preparation?
MUELLER: No, the military people in general had some education while they were in the military, so they picked up at various points in the course of the thing. No, the military was by-and-large well prepared, I think, in part because of the training they got in the services because those that came to college in engineering had had some experience, usually, in terms of doing engineering work or related things where they really had to get some training, on-the-job training.
COLLINS: So it was the younger cohort that was less well prepared.
MUELLER: It was the ones that had just graduated from high school.
COLLINS: What reasons or thoughts were advanced to account for this problem?
MUELLER: Basically, the training of high school and elementary school teachers had suffered during the war. There were hardly any and so that whole school system was being rebuilt. It was about that time that the idea that you had to provide for the adjustment of people to society, and therefore you didn't want to traumatize them by requiring them to do something, any work, became prevalent in the elementary schools and the high schools. So the emphasis during that time frame was on reducing the rigors of training. That was a mixed bag in Ohio. It turned out to be a real problem. And that continued in spite of a lot of work that we were doing in trying to educate the school system that they needed to better prepare their students for college if they were going to go to college, because it was ridiculous to have to first teach people how to read when they got to college. They ought to be able to read and write reasonably intelligently before you went to college. That was what elementary school was all about. Amazing how hard it was to convince the educational system, and even the teachers' college at Ohio State, that this was an important thing. Their whole bent at that time was to not provide a negative psyche in their kids. They were trying to make them happy in school, and happiness doesn't necessarily mean working, at least not in their context.
COLLINS: So the effort was directed at remedial teaching, as well as trying to help correct the larger endemic problem?
MUELLER: Oh, yes. We had many meetings with school boards, trying to convince them that they really needed to do something different than they were doing. So there was some groundswell of real attention being paid to it when the Sputnik went up. And that really crystallized the problem, and they went overboard the other way. That's when they started teaching group theory to the fourth grade, and that's the wrong thing to do, also. You really need to teach them arithmetic before you teach them group theory; elegant as it is, it doesn't do very much for you in terms of providing some basis for understanding what math is all about. So from one extreme to the other, and neither one is very constructive. Hopefully, we're getting somewhere close to a nice median now.
COLLINS: Did you have teaching responsibilities immediately upon coming to Ohio State?
MUELLER: Oh, yes. We had a 24-hour teaching load, which is about twice what a professor today thinks of as being reasonable.
COLLINS: That's 24 hours per week.
MUELLER: Yes, which didn't give you an awful lot of time for preparation or anything else.
COLLINS: That must have been what, six, seven, eight classes?
COLLINS: And I assume initially you were teaching undergraduate courses, or were you teaching graduate courses as well?
MUELLER: Well, there weren't a heck of a lot of graduate students. I did teach generally one graduate course, but mostly undergraduate.
COLLINS: I'm not exactly clear on the kinds of activities or intellectual areas that the communications group might cover in an engineering department, what range of interests they have.
MUELLER: You know, it was an option in the curriculum so that hopefully when you came out of it--my approach to it was a fairly basic one of really understanding first what communications was all about. How you modulated. What are electromagnetic waves? How do you modulate them? How do you transmit information across them, and what's the difference between information and data? How can you trade bandwidth for signal-to-noise ratio? The whole basic set of concepts that go with the communication system. Then set up a laboratory program to allow you to actually experience in the lab how to do it. How to modulate, and what is the difference between frequency modulation and phase modulation and pulse position modulation and pulse code modulation. Building all the way up through to the radio systems and the various transmission media that are used in communications. So coming out you had a reasonably basic knowledge of what was involved in communications and how to go about at least doing some elementary things in terms of building a communications system that would work.
COLINS: What you described there was what you were trying to impart to the students who might have an interest in this area.
MUELLER: Right. Right.
COLLINS: In terms of building up a core of scholarly researchers, including yourself, you were pursuing research topics along similar lines.
MUELLER: Yes. But in this case, because in research you have to concentrate more, at that time I was working primarily in vacuum tubes, building vacuum tubes, and working on building antennas and actually getting enough data pulled together so that I could get a PhD. in something. In this case it turned out to be on antennas, dielectric antennas.
COLLINS: Before we discuss your PhD. work, what other members of the electrical engineering department were part of your communications group?
MUELLER: Well, there were about four of us in the communications option. We were a small enough department, though, so that we didn't specialize to that extent. So I was teaching courses across the board, depending on what was needed in order to get the necessary courses offered.
TAPE 1, SIDE 2
COLLINS: We were just discussing the organization of the communications group in the electrical engineering department. So essentially, it was a fairly small contingent in the department overall. In numbers, what are we talking about at this time?
MUELLER: I think there were about 12 or 15 assistant professors, professors.
COLLINS: And then every one, of course, had his own interest, and some of them related to the communications group and they would participate in the curricula for that area.
MUELLER: There were power curricula, and then they were also involved in automation at that point in time, and feedback systems.
COLLINS: Were there any other segments of the program and research that you can recall besides the power, communications, and feedback elements?
MUELLER: Well, you had that whole cross section of the antenna lab there. That included everything from building the actual antennas, prototypes of them, to--see, you had a mechanical lab there. For example, I got involved in medical electronics at that time, in addition to other things, and we built a scanning detector for iodine uptake in the thyroid. A mechanical scanning of a gamma ray detector. So we had a whole machine shop there that could support these various activities in the research group, a fairly good one, so that there were maybe 30 or 40 technicians available, in addition to a number of research assistants.
COLLINS: Let's turn to how your own research interests were developing. First of all, what specific areas did you see yourself wanting to work in when you came to Ohio State, and then as you moved towards your dissertation, what kinds of activities were you thinking about?
MUELLER: Well, I guess one of the difficulties that you get into when you're teaching full-time is finding time to do research. I often think, as I see some of my friends who are now teaching, that they sure have a wonderful life, compared to what I had at that time. Twenty-four hours a week didn't leave a great deal of time for research. And so I was just barely hanging on. I built some traveling wave tubes, some millimeter traveling wave tubes, built a number of millimeter magnetrons, but I didn't do any propagation work because that would have added a considerable amount of time, energy, and effort. I did a lot of work on the polyrod antenna, trying to finish it to the point where one could publish a reasonably definitive statement about it. Exploring particularly the idea of super-gain, not only in polyrods but in other things, because in principle you can maybe double the directivity or more for a given cross-section of antenna, and I was exploring how to accomplish that in a practical way. The problem you get into with super-gain antennas is that your antenna losses go up because you have a lot of internal reflections or essentially internal reflections that cause the antenna losses itself to become larger, so your trade-off is in directivity versus the actual amount of energy you can receive or transmit from the antenna. We explored that fairly definitively. I keep reading of other people reinventing that idea, but that was one that I did explore fairly well. The original concept of that, incidentally, was Schakelnoff's, who showed that one could get super-gain, at least in theory.
COLLINS: You were coming into the program. You'd taken some courses at Princeton. You had your Master's. Were you required to take additional course work to fulfill the PhD. requirement?
MUELLER: Oh, yes. I was taking two courses in physics, so I had to fit those into the 24 hour teaching courses, and I took about three years to get the course work out of the way. And then I got involved in various committee activities as well. Universities abound with committees. And I got to be pretty busy.
COLLINS: Was there some pressure on you to complete the PhD. process? Was there a sense that you needed to move along quickly?
MUELLER: I had that sense, but I don't know that anybody else cared. I don't think they had any real concern about it.
COLLINS: Did this substantial teaching load continue throughout the time that you were at Ohio State?
MUELLER: As I took on more committee activities, it got down. I guess I ended up at around 18 to 20 hours, usually, in the latter years there.
COLLINS: That's still reasonably heavy.
MUELLER: Quite heavy when you think about it.
COLLINS: It took you approximately three years to do the course work. How did you decide on a dissertation topic?
MUELLER: Whatever was easiest was my conclusion because I wanted to get it over with, and I really didn't decide. My advisor and I worked out what would be satisfactory.
COLLINS: Was that Boone or someone else?
MUELLER: Oh, no. This was over in physics. I thought you might ask me the guy's name, and I can't remember it at the moment.
COLLINS: Okay. As I say, we can fill that in.
COLLINS: I guess I didn't realize your PhD. is from the physics department, not the engineering department?
MUELLER: Right. I'm theoretically a physicist.
COLLINS: Was that a typical background for other members of the Ohio State electrical engineering department?
MUELLER: No. But at Purdue and at Rolla, I spent about as much time in physics as I did in electrical engineering.
MUELLER: So physics was the thing I was really interested in at that time and still am.
COLLINS: Okay. What then did your dissertation topic turn out to be?
MUELLER: The dielectric antennas that I'd been working on at Bell Labs and then carried on the work at Ohio State.
COLLINS: So it was essentially an applied kind of research activity.
MUELLER: Right. Almost all of my work has been in the applied arena rather than in the theoretical work.
COLLINS: One last thing on the dissertation. Given the amount of time that you had committed to these other activities, teaching, committees, how long did it take you to get through the dissertation process?
MUELLER: Actually, let's see, I got my PhD. in 1951, but really the hardest part of that was the general exam, which took place in 1949, I guess. I passed the general so it took about a year and a half to get the dissertation written, approved, and the final exams done and so on.
COLLINS: At that point were you given associate professor status?
MUELLER: Yes. Soon as I got the PhD.
COLLINS: Going back to the vacuum tube laboratory that you helped to establish, you mentioned that there was some assistance from Bell Labs in identifying the things that needed to be in such a laboratory. I'm wondering what other thought, activity was required to set up the laboratory in a university setting? What had to be done?
MUELLER: Well, fortunately at Ohio State they did have a procurement process in place because they had the antenna lab during the war, and so they had an infrastructure to support it. They had also established a research foundation, really separate from the university structure, which carried on the contracting for research and so on. That structure was there, and we used it in establishing the laboratory. Now it may seem inconsequential, but any time you want a major activity of that sort, it's just as important to have the right contract structure as it is almost anything else you're going to do because otherwise you get in deep trouble, particularly when you're working for the government and have all of the forms to fill out and all of the other things to do. We got the plans and equipment specifications from the Labs for the laboratory and, of course, we had to adapt it to fit the things we had. Milt Boone had done most of that work before I came out, because he came back about a year before I did, and so I really only helped to iron the bugs out, help get that going.
COLLINS: Did you continue to participate in the management and running of that thing during your time at Ohio State?
MUELLER: Yes. Its management was a fairly loose term in that kind of environment, but I continued to work there and work with Milt and the other people that got involved in it. But it was a laissez-faire type of thing to a large extent.
COLLINS: How did the interests of that laboratory evolve? You're moving away from vacuum tube technology during this period. What was going on in the laboratory over this l0-year or l2-year period?
MUELLER: Well, we started out, of course, in vacuum tubes, but we also had in mind the possibility of doing some work in the semiconductor arena. Many of the techniques are the same in the two cases, so the furnaces you use and so on, at least at that time, could be adapted to semiconductor work as well. Again, at that time, we were dealing with discrete elements, not large-scale integration. As time passed, it looked like we ought to get more into semiconductors, and actually Bell Labs invited a couple of people to go back there to spend a year learning how to do semiconductors. We sent a couple of our seniors, our graduate students back to do that. About that time, I was invited to go back to the Labs to work.
COLLINS: On a temporary basis or as a member of the technical staff?
MUELLER: Back as an MTS. But I decided that that probably wasn't the thing I wanted to do at the time. I was in the middle of building a house, in addition to doing other things, and I kind of thought I'd like being a professor and staying at that.
COLLINS: Can you recall the year that you're talking about here?
MUELLER: This was about 1949. Actually, it was '5l. Take that back. It was '5l that we really moved over into semiconductors and that I was approached to go back to the Labs because I was then finished with my PhD. work, '50 and '51.
COLLINS: Had you maintained a close contact with the organization and individuals?
MUELLER: Yes. Well, close, reasonable contact, particularly with the people in the tube area back there because we were working with them in our tube lab research.
COLLINS: Working with them in what sense?
MUELLER: Comparing notes. It's a close-knit fraternity. Just communicating what they were doing, what we were doing.
COLLINS: Did you have any other contacts with industry at this time? I'm thinking of back at Purdue. You had, for example, contact with RCA. That was fairly typical for industries to come in and work in some fashion or other with the engineering departments. Was that the case at Ohio State as well?
MUELLER: It was, but not to the same extent as Purdue. Purdue had developed a much better rapport with industry than was characteristic of Ohio State. I did do a little consulting, but not anything like the consulting work that was being done at Purdue. Most of my work was with the government, and so we had a lot of contact with various committees of the government during that time frame, primarily out of Wright-Pat. As I say, I also was teaching down at Wright-Pat. That was an evening course that augmented the salary, so that used up some more time.
COLLINS: You were indeed busy! What was the nature of the contract activity with the Air Force?
MUELLER: They essentially supported the work we were doing in the tube lab. And so it was all the research we were doing on microwave tubes and traveling wave tubes and things of that sort.
COLLINS: So again this is for radar applications.
MUELLER: Well, not primarily, just new tube designs, trying to invent better ways of generating these frequencies, not necessarily for radar, more nearly for communications. These are lower power devices and working for communications purposes, not for radar purposes.
COLLINS: But they were not seeking some particular project. They were just more generally interested in encouraging the work.
MUELLER: Right. It was fundamental research. That's something that got out of favor about the time Proxmire spent so much time arguing that the military ought to be concentrating on today's problems, not looking to the future.
COLLINS: Were you personally involved in contacts with the Air Force at this stage?
MUELLER: Some. I was just thinking about that. I did a fair amount of contacting, but primarily it was Milt Boone who did the contract negotiations and things. I didn't really get involved in that, thank goodness.
COLLINS: Was this a substantial piece of income for the department, to have Air Force support for the laboratory?
MUELLER: Oh, yes. I really don't recall what it was, but it probably supported some ten technicians and maybe another ten graduate students.
COLLINS: Were you getting support from any other elements of the services?
MUELLER: Yes. We had occasional support from the Army, but it was more through the antenna lab rather than from the Air Force. You notice that there is a certain amount of proprietary interest on the part of each service in their research activities. So they didn't encourage us to go out and get support from other branches of the service or anywhere else for that matter.
COLLINS: As you know, I'm studying some aspects of RAND history right now, and clearly that plays a very strong role there.
COLLINS: What about your contacts with colleagues in other universities in the electrical engineering field or communications field?
MUELLER: Well, there's a substantial amount, primarily at the technical meetings, where you get to talking to people and seeing them, so that occurs a couple of times a year, maybe. At that time, there was not the kind of communications available that we have today, in reality. I don't think anything of picking up the phone and calling France. I should, I suppose, but I don't. While at that time, you didn't talk to your colleagues on the West Coast unless you had something very important to talk about that couldn't wait. And there weren't that many things in the university atmosphere that couldn't wait.
COLLINS: Would it be fair to say that your closest external colleagues were the ones at Bell Labs?
MUELLER: Oh, yes, indeed. Even there, you know, airplanes were not that readily available immediately after the war, and so you were still traveling by train. So it was a major occasion if you went back to New York or New Jersey. You didn't do that every week as I did later when I was working in the ballistic missile program.
COLLINS: During this period, were you a paid consultant to Bell Labs in any way? Did they undertake those kinds of relationships?
MUELLER: No. No. I wasn't and they didn't, at that point in time. They did and they probably still do think they're the experts.
COLLINS: So what I was getting at, any travel that you would do out in that direction would have to be supported by the university or yourself.
MUELLER: Or the contract work.
COLLINS: What other elements of your time at Ohio State should we cover before moving on to STL?
MUELLER: Let's see. A couple of side things I did. I became secretary of the research foundation. So that turns out to be a relatively powerful position because you can--one of my observations is, the strongest position is the secretary of a committee. The next strongest is the chairman because the secretary writes down whatever it is that he thinks the chairman said. Usually the chairman doesn't remember what he said anyhow, so you can control direction very well. So I spent a fair amount of time with that. Another thing that I did while I was there was to be chairman or really the person who was responsible for the design of a new electrical engineering building. I was the interface with the architect and responsible for gathering the requirements of the various people and interpreting them and putting them into being as the new electrical engineering building. That was a major chore.
COLLINS: Was this building financed through some special donation to the university, or was the university just doing it out of its funds?
MUELLER: The state had approved it.
COLLINS: I'm a little unclear, what is the research foundation?
MUELLER: It was the foundation that spent the money that came in through the various contract work that the university was doing. In this case it was the engineering research foundation, and they then made the decisions as to what research would be undertaken and how to fund it and so on.
COLLINS: So, for example, would this Air Force contract that supported the vacuum tube laboratory have come through the research foundation?
MUELLER: Only as a vehicle for implementing it. What the research foundation board mostly did was to take the overhead that came from the research activities and allocate it to unsponsored research.
COLLINS: I see. And was the amount of overhead to be dispensed in this way a fairly significant contribution to the research effort?
MUELLER: No. Not really, because there wasn't that much profit in that kind of an operation at that time. But it was enough to be of considerable interest to all of the staff, so one had the problem of making sure it was an equitable distribution and the right set of things to do.
COLLINS: I see. Did you get involved at any point along this line with the university administration in the negotiation of contracts? Let's take a step back. How did a contract, say such as the Air Force contract, come to be negotiated with the university?
MUELLER: Well, at that time it was a much more flexible system than we now have, so essentially it was Milt Boone meeting with the contract manager of the Air Force deciding what it is that they wanted to do this year. In turn, I was sometimes involved in that, describing the activities that I was responsible for. And he said, "Well, gee, I've got this much money," and we said, "Well, we really need a little more, and we need this piece of capital equipment," and he said, "Well, let's see what I can do." So after a little while we compromised, as one generally does, and we agreed and then it was written up by somebody. Usually the Air Force wrote up the contract, and we signed it.
COLLINS: And how did the university administration get involved in the process?
MUELLER: They signed it.
COLLINS: So it was very, very casual.
MUELLER: Very casual.
COLLINS: But there was this research foundation entity that served as kind of a formal means of....
MUELLER: Yes, it was the one that really signed the contracts. Not the university.
COLLINS: During this time, there was some concern, I think expressed in Congress and among the services, about the amount of overhead that universities and other elements charged. Do you ever recall that as being an issue at Ohio State?
MUELLER: No. I don't think we charged that much overhead, which was probably a mistake because we should have had a greater overhead return. But it was early on, and it was just a nominal amount. I can't remember what it was, but it wasn't all that much. And it was never an issue at that time. It's only fairly recently, in the last ten years, that you've had any real discussion of overhead because the universities have been exploiting their contract work.
COLLINS: Not to digress too much, actually it was an issue during the war as well, when overhead first came up as a question.
MUELLER: I wasn't aware of it yet. Probably MIT was the cause of it.
COLLINS: Yes, that's the case I'm thinking of specifically.
MUELLER: The other universities were not that sophisticated.
COLLINS: Well, it sounds like you were involved in a wide spectrum of activities. You were not merely directed towards your research. You were getting involved in a lot of other aspects of being in a university setting.
MUELLER: Yes, you know, in a way it was exciting because I was starting a whole set of new courses. I remember I got involved in nonlinear mechanics in working with one of our cohorts. First, we did develop a course in it and then tried to develop a book. And we never did finish the book, but it would have been a very timely thing since we were well in advance of the real interest in it at that time. Interestingly enough, the Russians were the leaders in nonlinear mechanics in that time frame, nonlinear mechanics in a theoretical sense. Of course, it's basic for most of the work one does in vacuum tubes and semiconductors.
COLLINS: I guess what I was starting to try to get at was a sense of perhaps broadening horizons in terms of the kinds of activity that you were interested in, apart from research.
MUELLER: I'm not sure I was interested in it. It was something that it seemed like I had to do. I remember regretting the fact that I was getting involved in all this committee work and so on, and it was keeping me from doing research. But for some reason or another, I didn't have sense enough not to get myself involved in these other activities. So it was broadening all right, but not necessarily one that I had planned in that sense.
COLLINS: Let's move on to how you came in contact with Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation and your eventual leaving of Ohio State to go out there.
MUELLER: That was an interesting occasion. A friend of mine from Bell Labs was Gardner Fox. You know, by this time I'd been at Ohio State for eight years, I guess, seven years going on eight. Gardner Fox, he was teaching at Michigan, and he'd gone over to India for a year to help set up their Indian Institute of Science. And when he came back, he was enthusiastic about it and suggested that I might like to go over there and take on that chore. So I was negotiating with them about going over, but they also came back with a problem. I forget now what disease they'd picked up, but they'd picked up something over there, and they were ill for quite a little while. And my wife and I decided that maybe that wasn't the wisest thing to do, to go over there with two young kids. About that time also, and I don't really know how it happened, but somebody had suggested to me that there might be some interest in this Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation. I vaguely remembered Dean Wooldridge and thought it might be interesting. And I can't really recall how that came about, but I do remember talking to Frank Leehan, who was a friend of mine, lives down here. At the airport, he called and said he'd like to meet with me. First time I'd met or heard of him, and maybe Jim Fletcher or he had heard of me, either through Dean Wooldridge or through the Bell Labs people, I don't recall. But in any event, he called and said he would like to meet with me and talk about a possible leave of absence to go work on an interesting project. And so I met him at the airport in Columbus and we spent about an hour talking and he said that he would be back in touch with me. What he had in mind was coming out to work as a consultant for a year and help them in some of their problems with radar. And so about a month later, I got an offer for taking on this chore. It wasn't all that much money, actually, but then it sounded interesting, and at least it was in the United States and not in India. And I thought I really needed a break from the university. Sabbatical.
COLLINS: So this was a full-time consulting position.
MUELLER: Yes. I talked to Dreese about it, and he said, "Well, I'm reluctant to let you go because I'm afraid you won't come back, number 1. Number 2, I can't, you know. You've been here seven years, but we don't have a sabbatical leave program so I can't pay you anything for while you're gone." I said, "Okay. But I think it would be something would be interesting and worthwhile for me to do." So he said, "Okay, but I want to make sure you come back." I guess it was while I was gone on this sabbatical, which was '53, I suppose, that he arranged to make me a full professor when I came back. Now, whether it would have happened anyway I don't know, but that was one result of the trip.
COLLINS: I guess the timing of this would have been 1955. That's what you have in your vita here. Does that sound correct?
MUELLER: I thought it was earlier than that, but maybe it was '55. I'd have to go back and look to get the right date. I think the discussion was in '54. And so maybe it was '55. No, it was '54. Because in '56 I was full-time back out there. And '55 I was at the university again.
COLLINS: So let's say in '54 you went out to Ramo-Wooldridge.
MUELLER: Maybe not. Maybe it was '55.
COLLINS: We can straighten the details out. But generally, what was it they were asking you to come in and consult on?
MUELLER: Radar. They were building the missile radars and, of course, this was a super-secret project at that time, so no one knew what they were. Frank never did tell me what it was until I got out there. But these were the guidance radars for the missile program. Initially, they were all radar-guided. The parallel development of the inertial guidance systems was going on, but at that point in time, they weren't nearly as reliable as radar.
COLLINS: And this would have been already for the Atlas, Titan, Thor. Was the Minuteman on the books at that point?
MUELLER: No. [Interruption]
TAPE 2, SIDE 1
COLLINS: Just before our break, we were talking about how you came to Ramo-Wooldridge around 1955. Let's describe what it is you were doing for them as a consultant.
MUELLER: I was brought in and started with the General Electric radar. One of the first chores I had was to try to see what kind of accuracy one could obtain using a radar, and that meant tracing through all of the errors inherent in carrying out one of these missile flights. That involves not only the launch phase but also what aerodynamic effects you have and re-entry and where the target is and a whole host of associated things.
COLLINS: Was there some kind of model set up to look at these perturbations of a perfect flight, if you will?
MUELLER: Yes. Remember again, that was, what, 20 years ago, so you were using fairly rudimentary computers at the time. But we had, of course, guidance and navigation equations developed, and then we knew something of the errors. We measured more errors as we went along trying to pinpoint what kind of accuracy we should expect and what the limits were, if any. Interestingly enough, it turned out that one of the limits was the location of the target vis-a-vis a standard reference, and that may still be the largest error, even with satellite photography and so on to help.
COLLINS: I'm unclear on how the radar system would have worked. This would have been a radar instrument in the, say, nose cone of the...?
MUELLER: No, no. It was a ground-based radar.
COLLINS: Ground-based radar, okay.
MUELLER: So it traced the thing from launch, and it guided it to a fixed point at a fixed velocity in space. It really was a combination of velocity and position that it guided to, which gave it a trajectory, so that from there on, just in a ballistic path, it would land where it was supposed to.
COLLINS: I see. What were typical deviations from the perfect hit that you were finding in this?
MUELLER: They were substantial at that time.
COLLINS: What exactly was Ramo-Wooldridge's responsibility in developing this radar vis-a-vis GE [General Electric]?
MUELLER: They were the system contractor. They were responsible for establishing specifications for the radar, working with GE, figuring out what they could do. Then they also worked with the vehicle manufacturer to figure out what he could do. Then the chief or one of the chief things that Ramo-Wooldridge did was to define the interfaces clearly enough so that you could actually build the radar and the launch vehicle and the nose cone separately and still have them all work when you put it in place. They also were responsible for the guidance and navigation equations, the development of the program, so they actually developed a key part of the whole system. And obviously they were responsible for the system as a whole, too.
COLLINS: So within that framework, your specific responsibility was to look at the requirements for the radar system.
MUELLER: It wasn't quite like that because, after all, I was just a consultant. That was one of the things that I did. I got involved in the review of the radar design, got involved in the beginnings of the Bell Labs radar for the Titan. The Titan was originally radio-guided. I got peripherally involved with some of the developments of the inertial systems and generally began to help out wherever there was a problem. I got tagged the problem solver of the moment which turned out to be a lot of fun but kept me busy, too.
COLLINS: So they were not interested in directing your energies toward a particular problem but really were bringing in your broad experience and knowledge about the area as a whole.
MUELLER: Yes. Yes, I wasn't an expert. In fact, I didn't know anything about missiles at the time I came in.
COLLINS: What was the level of their in-house competence? Why bring in a consultant?
MUELLER: They were building. You know, they started out with Dean and Sy, and they got a contract from Benny Shriever, first really large contract, and then they were in a build-up mode. They were trying to manage four programs all at once and starting with a cadre of maybe 20 or 30 people. They got Louis Dunne in from JPL, and he in turn brought in some more people from JPL. They got Jim Fletcher over from--Frank Leehan was from JPL and Jim Fletcher was from Hughes--and they had the electronics laboratory, which was responsible for the guidance control system and all of the electronics on board. Will Duke was responsible--I guess at that time he was the Titan program director--and Ed Dahl was Atlas program director. But Titan was just being formulated at the time and the Minuteman was in the conceptual stages, just beginning to be talked about, and Thor was just starting, and so it was a rev-up of activities.
COLLINS: And Atlas was at what stage at this point, do you recall?
MUELLER: When I got there, they were in the midst of their first set of problems about staging and a few other things like that. They were learning how to manufacture these balloons. And I remember one of the first things that happened was they were shipping one of the Atlases down to the Cape, and it collapsed on them because they lost the pressure in the tank. So very early on I think they may have fired one of the Atlases before it got there, but it blew up. So this was the beginning of this whole operation.
COLLINS: How did you find this activity? Did you see this as a slightly different type of work? Did it seem a new departure for you?
MUELLER: It was certainly a lot of fun. I enjoyed it tremendously because you got a lot of work done and you could see that you had some effect on the progress of things, which is always satisfying, and so it was a whole new world for me. I had a lot of fun. Of course, I was traveling a great deal. But nevertheless, I had a chance to spend a bit of time wandering around Los Angeles and getting to know a little bit about this country because it was the first time I'd been out here. And I liked it. On the other hand, I fully intended to go back to Ohio State and continue teaching. I had decided that was what was going to be the long-term thing.
COLLINS: Where did your travel as a consultant take you?
MUELLER: Well, it took me to San Diego, to Sunnyvale, to GE--I spent a lot of time up at GE in Syracuse--and all over.
COLLINS: And you would have been to Convair at that time?
MUELLER: Yes. Minneapolis. Philadelphia, where the computer manufacturers hung out. Sperry. One interesting thing about that, I didn't have any management responsibility. You know, as a consultant all you do is offer great and grand advice and view with alarm and so on. That's marvelous. Best of all possible worlds.
COLLINS: You were privy, I think, to new kinds of management problems. I mean compared to what you were working on at Bell Labs, these were certainly more complicated devices.
MUELLER: Oh, yes! And a lot of people had to come together in order to make the thing work. I mean personalities had to be reckoned with, and the way has to be pointed out and then made sure that people will follow it. It's quite a challenge.
COLLINS: Can you recall any observations you may have had at the time regarding the special management concerns of a project like this?
MUELLER: Oh well, the first thing you learn is that you've got to have a clear definition of interfaces. The second thing you learn is that you've got to have somebody in each of the places who's responsible and understands what those interfaces are and is able to interpret them so that he can design and meet them. That's not an easy thing because a lot of managers think they manage by telling other people go do something. That works if you're in a stable situation, but if you've got one that's as dynamic as the start-up of the missile program was, you need very, very good and very knowledgeable managers to succeed. And we did a great deal of management consulting during that time frame, as well as other things, trying to get the right people in place to do the right jobs, developing some understanding of what the various functions are that had to be identified, and made sure that they were being carried out, which is an important ingredient in management of any enterprise. It is surprising how many organizations don't recognize the essential functions and provide visibility to be sure that they're being carried out properly.
COLLINS: And this is something you were beginning to be aware of as you worked at Ramo-Wooldridge at that time.
MUELLER: I learned a great deal in that working environment because, in a real sense, those are the first major systems that were really designed as systems. A lot of systems work had been done before, but usually they were what became a subsystem of the ballistic missile program. You had to have a full communications system developed for controlling the launch of these things, and that was not a trivial task in its own right.
COLLINS: So when you went to visit the other contractors at all these various locations, primarily what were you doing during this time that you were a consultant?
MUELLER: Essentially reviewing their designs, trying to understand what their problems might be, making sure that they had thought through the problems, making sure that the interfaces were properly understood and being met. And generally trying to assess whether their progress was going to meet the needs of the program. One of the real problems is they all have to come together at the right time and work or else you can't get the vehicle to fly, and so we spent a good deal of time getting them to do the proper kind of management in terms of their actual production of the things, as well as in the design process. Well, if you think about it, the Thor went from concept to the first flight in one year. Now, in today's world, that is incredibly fast. We might be able to do it today in ten years if we're lucky. And so you didn't have a great deal of room for error, and you had to get people all coordinated and working together and being creative in the process.
COLLINS: This is a bit of a digression, but I'd be interested in your views about why the greater time required to develop something, say, like the Thor at the present, rather than compared to the late fifties.
MUELLER: Well, for one thing, your whole procurement process is greatly extended. In the case of the Thor, the concept was arrived at, I don't know, in about two months' of review, and the contract was let at the end of the two months. Now in today's world, you might spend a year working on the concept. Then you would let it out for bid, and at the end of another year--well, first of all, you'd have to write up a complete set of specifications and get them approved. Then you'd let it out for bid, and at the end of a year of study, why, a whole host of contractors so if they all came out equal, that's Phase A. You would then have an evaluation, which takes six months, and then you'd choose two of them for the Phase B studies. And that would take another year or two years, as the case might be. You'd have another evaluation, which takes six months, and at that rate you can use up years as though they were going out of style! Now, that's not all bad, but if you think of costs versus time, programs cost money because people work on them for periods of time. So the longer they work, the more those programs cost, and somebody's paying for all this. So Dave Packard was probably right. The thing to do is to have two companies, choose them, build prototypes, let them have a run-off, and whoever wins gets the contract. That works remarkably well and cuts that time down to maybe two or three years now for an airplane instead of ten or fifteen.
COLLINS: You're referring to the Packard Commission.
MUELLER: Yes. The early one, where when he was deputy, he set up the F-l6, F-l5, F-18 competition, I guess it was.
COLLINS: As a consultant, who were you reporting to?
MUELLER: Frank and Jim. They were co-directors of the electronics lab, or Jim was director and Frank was deputy or something like that.
COLLINS: You're talking about Jim Fletcher and Frank Leehan. So what transpired? You worked at the corporation for a little while, a couple of years perhaps?
MUELLER: One year. Then I went back to school, went back to Ohio State.
COLLINS: Was this because your sabbatical had expired?
MUELLER: Yes, and that's what I'd planned to do. That's what they expected. They asked me to stay on as a consultant when I went back, so I worked part time as a consultant for them. I spent a good deal of time traveling around particularly the East keeping track of what was going on and picking up the pieces at Ohio State. While we were out here, we had contracted to have a house built for us on our farm back there, and I got back there and found it was about half finished. They had just gotten the roof on when I got there. I had a couple of friends who were professors who were supposed to build it while we were gone that year, and like most people when you aren't there, why, they really hadn't quite gotten around to finishing it. So I ended up having to finish it as well as pick up the reins on teaching as well as run the farm, which was considerably different than consulting and chasing around the United States with the ballistic missile program.
However, I probably would have stayed there except that I got involved with some of my graduate students in trying to get a thousand dollars to build a simulation model for relaxation calculations, and it took me a full year to get somebody in the structure to give us a thousand dollars to build this little simulation model, which would actually have been a considerable step forward. I thought it was a great idea. That, together with the fact that we were spending a million dollars without even thinking about it and getting things done versus struggling at the university to even begin to start something, got to me. And then, Frank and Jim spent a fair amount of time trying to persuade me to come back and go to work instead of having fun at the university. I finally made the decision to do that. And so at the end of the school year, I went on back out to Los Angeles, left my wife back in Ohio to sell the house, which we'd just finished, and that was traumatic, and went back to work. I guess it was the week after I came back in that Frank and Jim called me in and said, "We've got news for you. We've decided to start our own company and we're leaving, and we want you to take over this job." So, lo and behold, the first thing I did was I suddenly found myself managing the electronics laboratory.
COLLINS: What was the position they were recruiting you for when you first agreed to go out there?
MUELLER: Just as a member of the technical staff.
COLLINS: Not on the consulting but when they came to you and said, please come out to Ramo-Wooldridge.
MUELLER: Come out and have fun. Little did they warn me that fun isn't part of a manager's role.
COLLINS: What company were they about to start?
MUELLER: Let's see, what did they call it to start with? I'm drawing a blank at the moment.
COLLINS: That's all right, we can go back and fill that in. Did it evolve into another name at a later point?
MUELLER: Yes, it was acquired by Aerojet, and it became Aerojet something or other.
COLLINS: So you, through circumstance, became head of the electronics department.
COLLINS: How large was the electronics department at the corporation at that time?
MUELLER: I don't know, maybe a couple of hundred people. As soon as Frank and Jim left, they decided to reorganize because there had been an electronics lab and a mechanical lab, I don't know what they call it, of some sort, and they decided they needed to combine them. There was too much overlap between the functions and they moved Will Duke in as director and I was deputy director.
COLLINS: Of this combined entity.
MUELLER: Right, which was the whole research and development arm of the company. And it had about five or six hundred people at the time. But I was busy because we had taken on the task of building the Pioneer 1, which was the first of the moon probes, and so I was running that program. In fact, that's what I went out--no, I didn't really go out to do that.
COLLINS: According to your vita, you started full-time work out there in 1957.
MUELLER: Yes. Frank had just begun to work with the Air Force in setting up a program for an open satellite program, and so I took that over, in addition to taking over the lab, and that involved setting up a worldwide tracking network, as well as building the satellites. The only thing I didn't have under my direct control, which was probably a mistake, was the launch vehicle, which was run by Dick DeLauro or by Dolph Teel at the time. We were using Thor Deltas--Thor Ables, Thor Ables for the launch vehicle. Able was the second stage that we had developed. This was a period of time when I was working on the organization during the daytime and working on the satellite in the evenings and traveling around in between times setting up the ground stations, plus keeping the people going on the various radars that we had under development. Bob Bennett, at that time, was running the inertial guidance business, but he moved over to become Minuteman program director, and Bob Burnett took over the running of it.
Many of the key people at Ramo-Wooldridge at that time were recruited from the universities. I was one of many that they recruited in from the universities, like Burnett was out of Purdue. I forget where Bob Bennett came from, but he came from a university, also. It was a new field and the university people were vulnerable because at that time the salary scale at universities was miserably low and we just got a tremendous group of very fine people.
COLLINS: Did these other individuals that you mention also move into fairly important management positions?
MUELLER: Yes. Some of them did not do well. Some did well. But yes.
COLLINS: How did it strike you, I mean, I'm sure it was certainly a challenge, but did you feel well prepared to take on such a substantial management responsibility?
MUELLER: Didn't even think about it. In that sense. I was too busy putting out fires to worry very much about management. Did spend a fair amount of time though worrying about how to manage, or how to get other people to manage properly, because that was the essence of success or failure in our business at that time. That certainly was a very valuable lesson indeed.
COLLINS: How did you develop guidelines to pass on to others to be effective managers, not having specific management training yourself or specific management experience?
MUELLER: I didn't even try. I tried to set in place a reporting structure that caused people to know what it was they had to do and make sure that it was getting done. All of these people were bright enough so that if they knew what it was they had to do and when they were supposed to get it done and a number of checkpoints along the way, it just worked. Or if it didn't work, if they ran into problems, which they often did, then at least we had the visibility to go fix or go figure out what we had to do in order to get it fixed.
COLLINS: And this basic insight about what needed to be done in a management sense you derived from your experience as a consultant.
MUELLER: Just common sense. Consulting didn't have much to do with it. I think that Frank particularly was very, very good at this business of identifying problem areas before they got to be problems. Jim Fletcher was good at organizing, identifying the kinds of reporting things and so on that needed to be done. Certainly Ramo and Wooldridge were quite good in that arena. But we drew upon every resource we had. We made considerable use of computers for tracking purposes, at a very early stage for such things. But we had a fair amount of computational capability there because of our development program. You know, it's incredible the amount of work you had to do in order to get a program to run in those days. The concept of executives had just begun to emerge, and punch cards were still the way you programmed. If we had both the talent and the machines we have today, it would have been a cinch to do many of the things that we struggled over.
COLLINS: To what degree of sophistication did that technical inhibition allow you to do the tracking that you'd like to do? Did it inhibit you in that sense?
MUELLER: No, it wasn't a hindrance because we probably couldn't have used the level of sophistication we have today, then, because we were just developing the methods and our needs, so they were fairly well matched. Now how much more we could have done, I don't know, but it would sure have been a lot simpler to do what we did with the present day machines.
COLLINS: I just want to run through the progression of your positions and responsibilities there at STL. You came on for a brief period of time. You were director of the electronics lab. That would soon merge with the mechanical group, and then you became deputy of this larger organization. What was it called at that time, that part of Ramo-Wooldridge?
MUELLER: I think it was the research group, research department or something.
COLLINS: What was the progression of your career at STL after that point?
MUELLER: Let's see. At the same time, I was program director for the Pioneer program. And then Will Duke left, and I took over as head of R&D [Research and Development]. See, it started out as Ramo-Wooldridge. Then it switched to STL, and STL was going to be an arm of the Air Force, but the Air Force decided it had to be a not-for-profit. We decided that we wanted to be a profit-seeking company, and so Aerospace was formed, and I then continued as head of R&D. But I also took on the chief marketing role, so I was chief marketeer for STL, for a time. Louis Dunne was president. Rubin Mettler was, I guess, at that time program director for the Minuteman program, and Dolph Teel had the Thor program. Jimmy Doolittle was chairman of the board of STL. It was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ramo-Wooldridge.
Shortly after the decision to form Aerospace, some of the people like Hal Donovan went over to help form the Aerospace Corporation, and some of the rest of us then took on other roles within STL. And the Air Force decided they wanted Aerospace all right, but they were going to keep STL in as their systems contractor for the ballistic missile program, and Aerospace would gradually take over. In the event, STL remained, still remains, the support contractor for their systems work on ballistic missiles, but Aerospace also plays a role in it so it's a joint kind of endeavor.
COLLINS: Just to finish tracing out the progression of your career, you were chief marketeer, head of this research entity....
MUELLER: It was the R&D division at that time. Then STL was absorbed into what became TRW, and we began to get more internal things developing. Louis Dunne became chairman, Rube moved up to be president, and Jimmy Doolittle retired again for the fourth time. And the space program was going apace.
I guess that's about when I left STL. It was when it became TRW, and the Manned Space Flight Program got into trouble. Crawford and the other guy at Thompson decided that--Jim Webb talked to them because he'd known them for many years and said, "Look, I need some help," so they volunteered my services. And I was interested because that was a great challenge and something that I was enthusiastic about. In the course of time, I had also been involved in leading the STL's efforts with respect to the Apollo program. We'd been with General Electric for one of the major contracts. And we also developed the concept of a systems support contractor for the program, sold the idea to Wernher von Braun. And then I guess I was instrumental in doing that, only to discover that the powers that be in Washington decided it was a great idea and they were going to have GE do it, when GE lost the contract for the Apollo program.
TAPE 2, SIDE 2
MUELLER: One of the fascinating things is thinking back over those times and trying to remember all of the events that occurred, and I'm only hitting a few of the many highlights, is what it amounts to.
COLLINS: Well, maybe what we should do is consider perhaps jointly preparing a chronology that will provide us a kind of framework so that we feel that we've covered the relevant items adequately.
MUELLER: Yes, I think that would be a great idea.
COLLINS: Okay, what I'll do is draft something and then give it to you and then it will stimulate you and you can add or delete things as you see appropriate. I think that would be the useful way to proceed.
MUELLER: Actually, one of the ways that jogs my memory, although inadequately, is a set of calendars I kept, because at least then the major events are highlighted in some sense.
COLLINS: Are those part of your papers that Peter's working on?
COLLINS: At what point, when you became a vice president--have we already covered that?
MUELLER: Yes, that was fairly early on. I decided it has one great advantage, it gave you--well, I'm not even sure it did. Eventually it gave you a company car. I don't know that it did originally, but that's the principal virtue of being a vice president.
COLLINS: Would this have happen when you became the head of RD entity?
MUELLER: I think it did, but I'm not certain. It might have been later.
MUELLER: I never have spent very much time worrying about titles. So I never keep track of that.
COLLINS: Yes, this is more fixing it for the record than that sort of thing. I'm curious. To go back, let's examine some of the programmatic things you were involved in. As deputy and head of this larger research group, essentially what were your activities?
MUELLER: Organizing, because we had the meshing of two fairly competent organizations, making sure that the overlaps were defined, reviewing the work in progress that was going on, reviewing the work we had in hand, developing a concept of where we wanted to be at the beginning of the planning activities there, and beginning to clarify where the key areas were that needed our activities. You know, what's going to be important next year and a few years out so that we can do research and development on things now that we can use then. We spent a fair amount of time in various kinds of technological developments. One was telemetry, for example. We were kind of forced to develop a new telemetry system, and we built one of the first digital telemetry systems. Most of them had been analogue up to that time, so we developed a digital telemetry because going out to the moon you couldn't transmit analogue systems very accurately. And it needed to be light and so on, so we built that. We did some engine development that was eventually used in the Apollo program. And we were trying to identify key technologies and beginning to bring them to the point where we could actually use them. We did a lot of early work triggered by that digital telemetry on various forms of, I'll call them, integrated circuits, but they were really precursors to LSI [Large Scale Integrated Circuits] but done with discrete elements because we didn't at that time have a semiconductor capability, but we did identify the need for it. We had a sister corporation that Si and Dean had set up, under--oh, what was that guy's name?
COLLINS: Again, we can go back and fill this in.
MUELLER: In any event, he was in the semiconductor business with us, and he was losing money so rapidly that no one really wanted to do that at STL, so we built the equivalent of that in the discrete circuit elements, but very small and very compact.
COLLINS: In terms of carrying out this work, was it all done on the basis that it was part of a given contract, or was there also work that was done independently of contract work that was just pure research?
MUELLER: We always had an independent budget, a research budget to be used in addition to contract work, and usually that would be doing that kind of research that would eventually, if we were smart enough, lead to a contract. But we did a lot of things that were more like Bell Labs things, not directly related to any foreseeable contract but which were fundamental to any progress in that particular area.
COLLINS: You were responsible for a variety of programs, various missile programs, but it sounds like you tried to keep a capability in discrete discipline areas. Did you have some kind of matrix organization for getting work done and moving people in and out of these various projects?
MUELLER: Oh yes, indeed. We developed the concept of project directors and used them extensively, so somebody was responsible for anything we were responsible for, so you could pinpoint who was responsible. And then we had, of course, the various laboratories which supported these projects, and if a project warranted it, people were assigned to it in depth, but in other cases they would draw on laboratory resources from those technologies where they didn't need somebody full time. So we had a rather complete organization, in that sense. Now, it didn't have the depth, but we sure had a lot of great talent in it. We didn't have a cast of thousands like Boeing did, but we probably had a cast of ten that could do a lot more work in less time than Boeing could with its several thousand people. But not carry it all the way through.
COLLINS: How were the budgets handled? Did, say, the project manager have control over the monies related to his project?
COLLINS: Or did he have to go to the departments?
MUELLER: No, he had a budget, and if he lived within it--of course, we had checks and balances. That's where our reporting system was fairly good. So if he began to spend faster than he should, at least it raised a flag, and he had a chance to explain why.
COLLINS: And the supporting laboratories had budgets independent of the project budgets?
MUELLER: But eventually they were not blanket. They were all related to some work that was going to get done.
COLLINS: What other major organizational units were there in Ramo-Wooldridge, TRW at this time, besides this research group?
MUELLER: Well, there were the various program offices. There was the Atlas program office, the Thor program office, the Titan, and Minuteman, and those were large organizations because they did manage the programs. They're the ones that kept the interfaces. They had technical capabilities. They also had financial monitoring capabilities. They really were the program managers for each of those programs.
COLLINS: Your unit essentially supported the activities.
MUELLER: That's right. In certain areas we had project responsibility, like the guidance systems. We actually controlled the budgets and did the interface specs and so on for those. In that sense we supported the program office. In other cases, like the Pioneer programs, we were the program managers ourselves. But primarily we were the technical resource of the programs that program directors drew upon when they had problems to solve.
COLLINS: Organizationally, were these various program offices on a par with this research group?
MUELLER: Yes. At least in principle.
COLLINS: So were there any other entities within the corporation besides the research group and the program offices?
MUELLER: There was the financial group. Somebody worrying about contracts and all that sort of nice stuff.
COLLINS: You mentioned early on that you had taken on the responsibility for this Air Force open satellite program. Did anything come out of that program?
MUELLER: Yes, we had our first launch of a satellite to the moon, which failed. Failed to get there. If it had gotten there, it would have been about 1960, I guess. '59. '60. And we lost three more of them. All of them failed. All of them failed because of a design problem with the interstage separation mechanism on the Thor Able. It turned out that they were using separation bolts not properly shielded, and when the things exploded in space, why, they acted like shrapnel. And why we took so long to find out, I don't know. We finally fired one on the ground and saw what happened.
COLLINS: What was this program called?
MUELLER: It was called, I think it was Pioneer. We had two programs. One was the Able program. The other was the Pioneer program. That's why I'm having a little difficulty separating them out. I ended up being program manager on both of them for a while. And then people decided I was doing too much, and they were right.
COLLINS: So you were wearing several hats. Here you were program manager for something like this Air Force program at the same time that you were involved in the management of the research group.
MUELLER: And at the same time I was forming a marketing organization, getting that to go, and at the same time, I was learning to ski.
COLLINS: Okay. I'm not sure we'll cover the skiing. I'm curious about what was behind the establishment of a marketing arm in the corporation.
MUELLER: We had suddenly become divorced from the Air Force, and so then it was necessary to go out and win competitions, you know. They no longer gave it to us. We had to go compete. This was that whole time of turmoil as to whether or not the Air Force could hire people to give it advice, and so we got caught up in that mess.
COLLINS: So this would have been in '60, '6l time frame.
COLLINS: Describe what needed to be done in terms of setting up a marketing entity in the corporation.
MUELLER: Boy, that was a case of the blind leading the blind. What we did was, first of all, start to get on the list of those who could bid on programs, then develop a bid proposal team to be able to write good proposals, and then establish some liaison people who could make sure that we knew what the customer wanted, so hopefully we wrote a proposal that met their needs, rather than our conception. That latter turns out to be a lot more difficult than it might seem. And then to start winning contracts. And it all had to be done rather promptly because our sole source situation with respect to the Air Force was disappearing very rapidly.
COLLINS: Did you call in people from other corporations to give you a little guidance on how to go about this process?
MUELLER: Yes, we brought in some consultants to help us to get organized and so on, but mostly we invented it ourselves. At that point in time, there wasn't the well-developed kind of a system that now exists for marketing to the government. It's gotten stylized now, but then it was a free-form kind of thing. Nobody was very used to it because almost all contracts had been sole source. And I hate to say it, but I think that's probably the best way of letting contracts by the government. They would be way ahead of the game if they just sole-sourced the things. Never mind this idea that competition is great. It really costs everybody money and slows everything down.
COLLINS: This is a digression, but how do you determine then who's the best one to do the job?
MUELLER: You work with them and know them from the last thing they screwed up on. And how did they recover from it. I don't know of a single contractor that hasn't had problems. I am afraid that I have to leave.
COLLINS: Thank you very much.
MUELLER: You're very welcome.