The Dictaphone: July and August, 1918

Information can be transmitted.

Information can be analyzed.

It can be manipulated

But, for those activities to take place, something else is necessary:  Information has to be stored. 

For which purpose, the three mid-1918 advertisements below – promoting The Dictaphone sound recording machine – are examples. 

The Dictaphone Company was founded by Alexander Graham Bell, the name – Dictaphone – being trademarked by the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1907.  The technology of the device was based on the use of wax-coated cardboard cylinders for sound recording.  The Dictaphone company existed through 1979 (!), when it was purchased, though retained as an independent subsidiary, by Pitney Bowes. 


Though the advertisement uses different images – the Dictaphone itself; a “boss” or manager surveying inefficiency in an office setting; a generic office setting – and the “copy” also differs, the fundamental thrust of the ads is identical:  More efficient use of the employee labor, greater output of correspondence, and supplanting activity of absent employees. As per August 20, 1918: “No wonder that every stenographer away on her vacation adds greatly to the burden or short help, mail congestion and overtime work.”  (Uh-oh!)  Each advertisement closes with the suggestion that the prospective client should obtain a copy of Dictaphone Company’s booklet, “The Man at The Desk”.  

The full text of the three advertisements is presented below.

July 8, 1918

Why The Dictaphone for you?

The Dictaphone keeps the mail going out on time in spite of summer vacations.

The Dictaphone is the easiest, the most comfortable, the nerve-saving method of hot-weather dictation.

Two Dictaphone operators can write more letters per day than four able stenographers.  Dictaphone operators can wrote from 50% to 100% more letters per day, better letters, too.

Convince yourself with a demonstration in your office, on your work.  No obligations.

Secretaries and Stenographers: Send for free book, “One Way to Bigger Pay.”

Phone, Worth 7250          280 Broadway

“The Shortest Route to the “Mail Chute”

Write for “The Man at the Desk”

It is not a Dictaphone unless trade-marked “The Dictaphone,” made and merchandised by the Columbia Gramophone Company.


August 13, 1918

“If I Only Had the Dictaphone!”

Four of his stenographers are spending two hours apiece per day taking dictation, and the fifth is on her vacation.  No wonder that much important dictation must wait until tomorrow.

Install the Dictaphone in his office, and he would not miss the girl on her vacation.  The other three girls would easily turn out more letters per day than all four when they have to write each other in shorthand as well as on the typewriter.

And with the Dictaphone right at his elbow all the time, he could dictate his important mail at the hour most convenient to him.

You need the Dictaphone as much as he.  Phone or write today for a demonstration in your office, on your work.

Registered in the U.S. and Foreign Countries
Phone 7250 Worth           Call at 280 Broadway
Write for the booklet, “The Man at the Desk,” Room 224, 280 Broadway, New York

It is not a Dictaphone unless it is trade-marked “The Dictaphone,” made and merchandised by the Columbia Graphophone Company.

“The Shortest Route to the Mail Chute”


August 20, 1918

The Dictaphone solves vacation troubles

Look at the waste!  The typewriter is absolutely idle.  One stenographer has been taking dictation continuously for nearly two hours.  The second stenographer is puzzling over her shorthand notes.  And all this time, not one letter is actually being written.

No wonder that every stenographer away on her vacation adds greatly to the burden or short help, mail congestion and overtime work.

What is the remedy?  Stop writing each letter twice.  The Dictaphone makes it necessary to write each letter only once – on the typewriter.  Result – from 50% to 100% more letters per day – better letters, too, and at one-third less cost.  Phone or write for demonstration in your office, on your work.

To Secretaries and Stenographers
You have to pay for the time you lose going back and forth to take dictation – and waiting to take dictation – with overtime work and constant strain and anxiety.  Send for free book “One Way to Bigger Pay.”

Registered in the U.S. and Foreign Countries
Phone 7250 Worth           Call at 280 Broadway
Write for the booklet, “The Man at the Desk,” Room 224, 280 Broadway, New York

It is not a Dictaphone unless it is trade-marked “The Dictaphone,” made and merchandised by the Columbia Graphophone Company.

“The Shortest Route to the Mail Chute”



Dictaphone (at Wikipedia)

Dictation Machine (at Wikipedia)

United Electronics Company: 1944

Some advertisements focus on products. 

Many advertisements focus upon – and intend to enhance – publicity. 

But, a certain kind of advertisement takes pride in and specifically focuses upon people – employees – as the fundamental basis for an organization’s success, growth, and prominence.  Such an example appears below:  A 1944 (or ’45?) advertisement in The New York Times by the United Electronics Company, of Newark, New Jersey, announcing receipt of the Army and Navy “E” (for excellence) award in manufacture of war materials.

Cleverly and appropriately, the ad juxtaposes the faces of four employees – two women; two men – who are obviously in not military service, upon one of its products (an electron tube).  Behind and above is the military’s “E” pennant. 

The United Electronics Company was founded in 1934 and – though no longer in existence – was in business at least through 1958, as evidenced through the company’s 1959 product catalog, at  In 1958, the company became part of the Ling Electronics, Group, Inc., at the time, “…being one of the first six or seven companies longest engaged in the design and manufacture of transmitting power tubes for the general market.” 

The company’s headquarters and manufacturing facility which once stood at 42 Spring Street, in Newark, New Jersey, no longer exists. 


The electron tube displayed in the advertisement is a “Type 851 Modulator, A-F and R-F Power Amplifier, Oscillator”.  Technical specifications for the tube, presented in United Electronics’ 1947 catalog, are shown below. 

Notably, the tube’s price in 1947 was $160.00, which – given the rate of inflation – would seventy years later – 2017 – be approximately $1,760.  Now there’s a bit of a jump.

(Regretfully, a search of the United Electronics Catalog failed to reveal either the Q 36 Eludium Space Modulator, or, replacement parts for (* ahem * ) Interocitors...) 

So Much … For So Many

by so Few*

Today the United Electronics Company receives the coveted Army and Navy “E” Award for excellence in production of war materials.

We accept the citation with pride – and grateful recognition of the skill and loyalty of each man and women of our company who has toiled tirelessly to make possible the achievement and the honor.

Yet, as the distinguished banner now flies over our plant, we shall be mindful that this is no symbol of a goal completely won.  To us it will serve as a fresh daily inspiration in our aim for ever-faster and ever-better production of the communications equipment parts still urgently needed by our armed forces.

Under this new inspiration we pledge renewed and unceasing efforts.  In the way we can serve the best, we shall keep faith with our friends and loved ones on the fighting fronts – with the constant hope that the instruments we make play a useful part in bringing our men home safe – and sooner.




     *United employees number hundreds, not thousands.  Yet in terms of production per employee and relative overall company output, we believe these men and women have achieved a record unsurpassed in the nation.


“Header” page of United Electronics’ 1947 Power Tube Catalog


Technical specifications of the Type 851 Modulator


Google Earth view of 42 Spring Street in Newark, just north of Interstate 280 (Essex Freeway) and just west of the Passaic River.  One would never know what once existed there…


Ling-Temco-Vought (at Wikipedia)

United Electronics Company Tube Catalog (1947) (at Hathi Trust)

United Electronics Company Tube Catalog (1959) (at Bunker of Doom)

U.S. Inflation Calculator (at

The Age of Science: Computer Memory in Astounding Science Fiction – 1949

The preeminent science-fiction magazine of the mid-twentieth century was Astounding Science Fiction, which rose to prominence under the editorial reign of John W. Campbell, Jr.  First published in January 1930 as Astounding Stories of Super Science, the magazine has continued publication under the leadership of several editors and through various title changes, now being known as Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

Though by definition and nature a science fiction publication, Astounding (akin to its post-WW II counterparts and rivals Galaxy Science Fiction, and, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (“F&SF”)) also published non-fiction material.  Such non-fiction material included leading editorials, book reviews, and letters, as well as articles – typically, one per issue – about some aspect of the sciences.  As in any serial publication, the nature of this content reflected the opinions and interests of the magazine’s readers, and, the intellectual and cultural tenor of the times.

A perusal of science articles in Astounding from the late 1940s reveals a focus on aerodynamics, astronomy, atomic energy, chemistry (organic and inorganic), computation, cybernetics, data storage, electronics, meteorology, physics, and rocketry.  (Biology it seems, not so much!)  Viewed as a whole, these subject areas  – in the realm of the “hard sciences” – reflect interests in space travel (but of course!), the frontiers of physics, information technology, and the creation and use of new energy sources.

Let’s take a closer look.

Here are the (non-fiction) science articles that were published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1949:

January: “Modern Calculators” (Digital and analog calculation), by E.L. Locke; pp. 87-106

February: “The Little Blue Cells” (The “Selectron” data storage tube), by J.J. Coupling; pp. 85-99

March: “The Case of the Missing Octane” (Chemistry of petroleum and gasoline), by Arthur Dugan; pp. 102-113 (Great caricatures by Edward Cartier!)

April: “9 F 19” (Hydrocarbons), by Arthur C. Parlett; pp. 46-162

May: “Electrical Mathematicians” (Machine (electronic) calculation), by Lorne MacLaughlan; pp. 93-108


June: “The Aphrodite Project” (Determining the mass of the planet Venus), by Philip Latham; pp. 73-84. (Intriguing cover art by Chesley Bonestell.)


July: “Talking on Pulses” (Electronic transmission of human speech and other forms of communication), by C. Rudmore; pp. 105-116.

August: “Coded Speech” (Electronic speech; noise reduction), by C. Rudmore; pp. 134-145

September: “Cybernetics” (Review of Norbert Wiener’s book by the same title), by E.L. Locke; pp. 78-87

October – First article: “Chance Remarks” (Communication research), by J.J. Coupling; pp. 104-111

October – Second article: “The Great Floods” (Review of great floods in human history), by L. Sprague de Camp; pp. 112-120

November: “The Time of Your Life” (Time; Determining the length of the earth’s day), by R.S. Richardson; pp. 110-121

December – First article: “Bacterial Time Bomb“, by Arthur Dugan; pp. 93-95

December – Second article:  “Science and Pravda“, by Willy Ley; pp. 96-111

Regardless of the topic, a notable aspect of the non-fiction science content of Astounding (likewise for Galaxy and F&SF) is that mathematics – in terms of equations and formulae, let alone Cartesian graphs – was kept to a minimum, if not eschewed altogether.  Science articles largely relied upon text to communicate subject material, and often included photographs (especially for issues published during the latter part of the Second World War) and diagrams as supplementary material. 

One such example – from February of 1949 – is presented below, in the form of J.J. Coupling’s article “The Little Blue Cells”. 


This issue features great cover art by Hubert Rogers for Jack Williamson’s (writing under the pen-name “Will Stewart”) serial “Seetee Shock”.  The cover symbolizes adventure and defiance in the face of danger, by incorporating a backdrop of warning and admonition (“YOU WERE NOT EVOLVED FOR SPACE”; “BACK ADVENTURER”, and more) around the figure of a space-suited explorer, while cleverly using extremes of light and dark and a sprinkling of stars to connote “outer space”.  Like much of Rogers’ best work, symbolism is as important as representation.  (You can enjoy more of Rogers’ work at my brother blog, WordsEnvisioned.)


    Coupling’s article is notable because it addresses a subject frequently addressed by Astounding, with continuing and likely indefinite relevance: recording, storing, preserving, and accessing information – computer memory.

      The article focuses on Dr. Jan A. Rajchman’s – then – newly developed “Selectron Tube”, which was developed in the late 1940s at RCA (Radio Corporation of America) and about which extensive and rich literature is readily available, particularly at Charles S. Osborne’s wesbite.  As implied and admitted by Coupling’s article, even at the time of the device’s invention there was ambivalence about its long-term economic and technical viability, despite its functionality and innovative design. 

     An image of a Selectron Tube, from Giorgio Basile’s Lamps & Tubes, is shown below.  (Scroll down to end of post for a photograph showing a Selectron Tube in the hands of its inventor, illustrating its relative size.)

      Eventually, the initial, 4,096-bit storage capacity Selectron Tube proved to be more difficult to manufacture than anticipated, and the concept was re-designed for a 256-bit storage capacity Tube.  To no avail.  Both tube designs were superseded by magnetic core memory in the early 1950s. 

     As for J.J. Coupling?  Well…(!)…this was actually the nom de plume of Dr. John R. Pierce, a CalTech educated engineer, who had a long and rich literary career, writing for Astounding, Analog, and other publications.  His lengthy oeuvre is listed at The Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

     Today, Dr. Pierce’s “The Little Blue Cells” opens a window onto the world of information technology and scientific literature – for the general public – from over six decades gone by.  His article, with accompanying illustrations, is presented below.



The most acute problem in the design of a robot, a thinking machine, or any of the self-serving devices of science-fiction is memory.  We can make the robot’s body, its sensory equipment, its muscles and limbs.  But thinking requires association of remembered data; memory is the essential key.  So we present the Little Blue Cells!

Most of the robots I have met have been either man-sized androids with positronic brains to match, or huge block-square piles of assorted electrical junk.  The small, self-portable models I admire from a distance, but I feel no temptation to speculate about their inner secrets.  The workings of the big thinking machines have intrigued me, however.  It used to be that I didn’t know whether to believe in them or not.  Now, the Bell Laboratories relay computer, the various IBM machines and the Eniac are actually grinding through computations in a manner at once superhuman and subhuman.  With the other readers of Astounding I’ve had a sort of inducted tour through the brain cases of these monsters in “Modern Computing Devices” by E.L. Locke.  I’m pretty much convinced.  It’s beginning to look as if we’ll know the first robot well long before he’s born.

Perhaps some readers of science fiction can look back to the old, unenlightened days and remember a prophetic story called, I believe, “The Thinking Machine.”  The inventor of that epoch had first to devise an “electronic language” before he could build his electrical cogitator.  The modern thinking machine of the digital computer type comes equipped with a special electronic alphabet and vocabulary if not with a complete language.  The alphabet has the characters off and on, or 0 and 1, the digits of the binary system of enumeration, and words must certainly be of the form 1001-110—and so on.  We may take it from Mr. Locke that somewhere in the works of our thinking machine information will be transformed into such a series of binary digits, whether it be fed in on paper tape or picked up by an electronic eye or ear.  The machine’s most abstruse thought, or its fondest recollection – if such machines eventually come to have emotions – will be stored away as off’s and on’s in the multitudinous blue cells of the device’s memory.

I’m sure that I’m right in describing the memory cells of the machine as multitudinous and little – that is, if it’s a machine of any capabilities at all.  To describe them as blue is perhaps guessing against considerable odds, but there are reasons even for this seemingly unlikely prognostication.

The multitudinous part is, I think, obvious.  The more memory cells the machine has, the more the machine can store away – learn – the more tables and material it can have on hand, and the more complicated routines it can remember and follow.  The human brain, for instance, has around ten billion nerve cells.  It may be that each of these can do more than store a single binary digit – a single off or on, or 0 or 1.  Even if each nerve cell stored only one digit, that would still make the brain a lot bigger than any computing machine contemplated at present.  Present plans for machines actually to be built call for one hundred thousand or so binary digits, or, for only a hundred-thousandth as many storage cells as the brain has nerve cells.  Mathematicians like to talk about machines to store one to ten million binary digits, which would still fall short of the least estimated size of the brain by a factor of one thousand to ten thousand.  But, if one hundred thousand and ten million both small numbers as far as the human brain is concerned, they’re big numbers when it comes to building a machine, as we can readily see.  It is because of the size of such numbers that we know that the memory cells of our thinking machine will have to be small, and, we might add, cheap.

For instance, some present-day computers use relays as memory cells.  Now, a good and reliable relay, one good enough to avoid frequent failure even when many thousands of relays are used, costs perhaps two dollars.  If we wanted a million cells, the cost of the relays would thus be two million dollars, and this is an unpleasant thought to start with.  Further, one would probably mount about a thousand relays on one relay rack, and so there would be a thousand relay racks.  These could perhaps be packed into a space of about six thousand square feet – around eighty by eighty feet.  Then, there would have to be quite a lot of associated equipment, for more relays would be needed to make a connection to a given memory cell and to utilize the information in it.  This would increase the cost and the space occupied a good deal.  The thing isn’t physically possible, but it seems an unpromising start if we wish to advance further toward the at least ten sand-fold greater complexity of the human brain.

Fortunately, at just the time it as needed, something better than the relay has come along.  That something, the possessor of the little blue cells, is the selectron.  It is a vacuum tube which can serve in the place of several thousand relays.  It promises to be reliable, small and, dually, at least, cheaper than relays, and in addition it is very much faster – perhaps a thousand-fold.  The selectron was invented by an engineer, Dr. Jan A. Rajchman – pronounced Rikeman – for the purpose of making an improved computer and so its appearance at the right time is, after all, no accident.  Instead, it is a tribute to Dr. Rajchman’s great inventive ability.  Lots of people who worked on computers knew what the problem was, but only he thought of the selectron.

You might wonder how to go about inventing just what is needed, and if Dr. Rajchman’s career can cast any light on this, it’s certainly worth looking into.  Did he, for instance, think about computers from his earliest technical infancy?  The answer is that he certainly didn’t.  I have a copy of his doctoral thesis, “Le Courant Résiduel dans Les Multiplicateurs D’Electrons Electrostatiques,” which tells me that he was born in London in 1911, that he took his degree at Le Ecole Polytechnique Federale, at Zurich and thereafter did research on a radically new type of electrically focused photo-multiplier – see “Universes to Order,” in Astounding for February, 1944.  I am not sure how many different problems he has worked on since, but during the war he did do some very high-powered theoretical work on the betatron, as well as some experimental work on the same device.  It would seem that the best preparation for inventing is just to become thoroughly competent in things allied to the field in which something new is needed.

What was needed in connects with computers was, as we have said, a memory cell, or, rather, lot, of them.  What do these cells have to do?  First of all, one must be able to locate a given cell in the memory so as to put information into it or take information out.  Then, one must be able to put into the cell the equivalent of a 0 or a 1.  One must have this stay there indefinitely, until it is deliberately changed.  Finally, one must be able to read off what is stored in the cell; one must be able to tell whether it signifies 0 or 1 without altering what is in the cell.  The selectron has these features.

You might be interested in some of the earlier suggestions for using an electron tube as a memory in a computing machine.  The electron beam of a cathode ray tube sounds like just the thing for locating a piece of information, for instance.  One has merely to deflect it the right amount horizontally and vertically to reach a given spot on the screen of the tube.  One wishes, however, to store a particular piece of information in a particular place and then to find that same place again and retrieve that same piece of information.  This would mean producing the exact voltages on the deflecting plates when the formation was stored, and that is by no means easy.  Further, if the accelerating voltage applied to the tube changes, the deflecting voltage needed to deflect the beam to a given place changes, and this adds difficulty.  When we realize further that our memory simply must not make mistakes, we see that there are real objections -to locating and relocating a given spot by simply deflecting an electron beam to it.  The selectron has a radically different means for getting electrons to a selected spot – the selectron grid.

The features of the selectron which Dr. Rajchman holds in his hand – page 163 – are illustrated simply in Figure 1.  There is a central cathode and around it a concentric accelerating grid.  When this grid is made positive with respect to the cathode, a stream of electrons floods the entire selectron grid, the next element beyond the accelerating grid.  The selectron grid, is made up of a number of thin bars located in a circular array, pointing radially outward, and a number of thin rings, spaced the same distance apart as are the bars.  Figure 2 shows a portion of the selectron grid formed by the rings and bars.  The rings and bars together form a number of little rectangular openings or windows.

Now, in operation each bar and ring of the selectron grid is held either several hundred volts positive with respect to the cathode, or else a little negative with respect to the cathode.  After a definite pattern of ages has been established on the selectron grid, the accelerating grid is made positive and the selectron grid is flooded with electrons.  What happens?  Let us consider first the bars of the selectron grid.  Figure 3 tells the story.  If two neighboring bars are negative, the approaching electrons are simply repelled and turned back.  If an electron enters the space between a positive bar and a negative bar, it is so strongly attracted toward the positive bar that it strikes it and is lost.  Only if the bars on both sides of the space which the electron enters are positive does the electron get through.  At the rings, the story is the same; an electron can pass between two rings only if both are positive; it is stopped if either one or both are negative.  Thus we conclude that electrons can pass through a little window formed by two bars and two rings only if both bars and both rings are positive.  If both bars and both rings forming a window are held positive, the window is open; if one or more of the bars or rings are negative, the window is closed.  Thus, we have a means for letting electrons through one window at a time.

In the early model selectrons there were sixty-four apertures between bars around the tube, and sixty-four apertures lengthwise, giving four thousand ninety-six windows in all, and any one of these could be selected for the passage of electrons by applying proper voltages to the bars and rings.  Does this mean that we must have one hundred twenty-eight leads into the tube for this alone, one for each bar and one for each ring?  The tube would certainly work if it had one hundred twenty-eight leads to the selectron grid, but Dr. Rajchman’s ingenuity has cut this down instead to thirty-two, a saving by a factor of four.  How is this done?  The table of Figure 4 tells the story.  Here we have in the top row the numbers of the bars, in order, sixty-four in all.  These bars are connected to two sets of eight leads.  The second and third rows show to which lead of a given set a bar is connected.  Thus, Bar 1 is connected to Lead 1 of Set I.  Bar 2 is connected to Lead 1 of Set II, while Bar 64 is connected to Lead 8 of Set II.  To save space, some of the bars have been omitted from the table.

You will observe that if we make Lead 7 of Set I positive, and all the rest of the leads of Set I negative, Bars 13, 29, 45 and 61 will be positive.  Then, if we make Lead 2 of Set II positive and all the other leads of Set II negative Bars 4, 8, 12 and 16 will be positive.  All the bars which do not appear in either of the above listings will be negative.  Now, the only adjacent bars listed are 12 and 13, which have been written in italics.  Hence, when Lead 7 of Set I and Lead 2 of Set II are made positive and all the other leads negative, electrons can pass between the two adjacent positive bars 12 and 13, but not between any other bars.  Thus, by selecting one lead from Set I and one lead from Set II, we can select any of the sixty-four spaces between bars.

The thoughtful reader will have noticed, by the way, that there are only sixty-three spaces between sixty-four bars.  This, however, omits the space out to infinity from Bar 1 and back from infinity to Bar 64.  We can in effect shorten this space by adding an extra bar beyond the sixty-fourth and connecting it to Bar 1.

The same sort of connection used with the bars is made to the ring so that by selecting and making positive one lead each in two sets of eight leads we can select any of the sixty-four spaces between rings.  Thus, in the end we have four sets of eight leads each, two sets the bars and two for the rings.  We make positive one wire in each set at a time.  The number of possible combinations we can get this way is four thousand ninety-six, and each allows electrons to go through just one window out of the four thousand ninety-six formed by the bars and rings of the selectron grid.  The action is entirely positive.  A given window is physically located in a given place.  Small fluctuations in the voltages applied to the bars and rings will not interfere with the desired operation.  This is a lot different from trying to locate a given spot by waving an electron beam around.

The selectron grid and its action are- of course, only a part of the mysteries of the selectron.  They provide a means for directing a stream of electrons through one of several thousand little apertures at will.  But, how can this stream of electrons be used in storing a signal and then in reading it off again?  Part of the answer is not new.  For some time electronic experts have n thinking of storing a signal on an insulating surface as an electric charge deposited on the surface by means of an electron stream.  Thus, by putting electrons on a sheet of mica, for instance, we can make the surface negative, and by taking them off we can make it positive.  It is easy enough to do either of these things, as we shall see in a moment.

There are two very serious difficulties with, such a scheme, however.  First, how shall we keep the positive or negative charge on the insulating surface indefinitely?  It will inevitably tend to leak off.  Second, how can we determine whether the surface is charged positively or negatively without disturbing the charge?  The logical exploring tool is an electron beam, but won’t the beam drain the charge off in the charge off in the very act of exploration?  Both of these difficulties are overcome in the selectron.  To understand how, we must know a little about secondary emission.

Beyond the accelerating and selectron grids of the selectron, as shown in Figure 1, there is a sheet of mica indicated as “storage surface.”  This has a conducting backing.  We are interested in what happens when electrons pass through an open window in the selectron grid – one made up of four positive bars and rings – and strike the mica.  The essential ingredients of the situation are illustrated in the simplified drawing of Figure 5.  Here the accelerating grid and the selectron grid are lumped together and shown as positive with respect to the cathode.  Electrons are accelerated from the cathode, pass through the accelerating grid and the open window of the selectron grid, and shoot toward the mica storage surface.  What happens?  That depends on the potential of the storage surface with respect to the cathode.

In Figure 6 the current reaching the part of the storage surface behind an open window is plotted vs. the potential of that part of the storage surface with respect to the cathode.  Potential is negative with respect to the cathode to the left of the vertical axis and positive with respect to the cathode to the right of the vertical axis.  Current to the storage surface is negative – electrons reaching the surface and sticking below the horizontal axis and positive – more electrons leaving the surface than reaching it – above the horizontal axis.  The curve shows how current to the surface varies as the potential of the surface is varied.

If the surface is negative with respect to the cathode, the electrons shot toward it are turned back before they reach it and the current to the surface is zero.  If the surface is just a little positive, the electrons shot toward it are slowed down by the retarding field between the very positive selectron grid and the much less positive storage surface, and they strike the surface feebly and stick, constituting a negative-current flow to the surface, and tending to make the surface more negative.  If the potential of the storage surface is a little more positive with respect to the cathode, the electrons reach it with enough energy to knock a few electrons out of it.  These are whisked away to the more positive selectron grid.  These negative electrons leaving the surface are equivalent to a positive current to the surface.  There are now as many electrons striking as before, but there are also some leaving, and there is less net negative current to the surface.  Finally, at some potential labeled V0 in Figure 6, one secondary electron is driven from the surface for each primary electron which strikes it, and the net current to the surface is zero.  If the potential of the storage surface is higher than V0, each primary electron releases more than one secondary and there is a net flow of electrons away from the surface, equivalent to a positive current to the surface.  This tends to make the storage surface more positive.

As the potential of the storage surface rises further above V0, current for a time becomes more and more positive.  Then, abruptly the neighborhood of the potential VS of the selectron grid itself, the current becomes negative again and stays negative.  Why is this?  The the primary electrons still strike the storage surface energetically and drive out more than one electron each.  The fact is that these secondary electrons leave the surface with very little speed.  When the storage surface is more positive than the selectron grid, there is a retarding field at the storage surface which tends to turn the secondaries back toward the storage surface.  Hence, there, is still a flow of primaries – a negative current – to the surface, but the secondaries are turned back before reaching the selectron grid and fall on the storage surface again.  Thus, the current to the storage surface is again negative.

Our mechanism for holding the storage surface positive or negative is immediately apparent from Figure 6.  If the surface is more positive than Vs, the current to it is negative and its potential will tend to fall.  If the surface has a potential between V0 and Vs, the current to it is positive and its potential will tend to rise.  Hence, if the storage surface initially has any potential higher than V0, current will flow to it in such a way as to tend to make its potential VB, the potential of the selectron grid.  If, on the other hand, the potential is between O and V0, the current to the surface will be negative and the potential of the surface will tend to fall to O.  If the potential of the surface is negative with respect to the cathode – less than O – there is no current to it from the electron stream and hence no tendency for the potential to rise and fall.  Actually, some leakage would probably result in 3 very slight tendency for the potential to rise.

We see, then, that when it is bombarded by electrons, a part of the storage surface tends naturally to assume one of two potentials, or VS O.  If it has initially any other potential, it tends to come back to one of these.  Which potential it assumes is determined by whether the initial potential is greater or less than V0.  Thus, if we store information on the part of the storage surface behind a particular window by making this area have a potential Vs with respect to the cathode – meaning, say, 1 – or O – meaning, O – and if this potential changes a little through electrical leakage, perhaps adjacent portions at a different potential, we can recover or regenerate the original potential merely by opening the window of the selectron grid and flooding the area with electrons.  In fact, we can periodically regenerate the potentials behind all windows by opening all windows at once and flooding the whole surface with electrons.  This is what is done in the operation of the selectron, and this regenerative feature, which makes it possible to retain the stored information indefinitely despite electrical leakage, is one of the most ingenious and important features of the selectron.

How do we get the information on the portions of the storage surface beind the various windows?  That is, how do we initially bring some portions of the surface to the potential Vs and others to the potential V0?  In this process of writing inflation into the tube, we first open the particular one of the four thousand ninety-six windows behind which we wish to store a particular piece of information, thus flooding a little portion of the surface with electrons.  Then, to the terminals T of Figure 5, between the cathode and the conducting backstage of the storage surface, we apply a very sharply rising positive pulse, shown as the dashed line of Figure 7.  Because of the capacitance between this backing plate and the front of the storage surface, where the electrons fall, this drives the front of the storage surface positive.  Then the pulse applied to the conducting backing falls slowly to zero, as shown.  However, the action of the electrons falling on the surface tends to make it assume the potential Vs, and so if the pulse falls off slowly enough the portion of the surface on which electrons fall is left at the potential Vs, as shown by the solid line of Figure 7.  Application of the pulse will leave the portion of the storage surface behind the open window at the potential Vs regardless of whether its initial potential is Vs or O, and the pulse will not affect portions of the surface behind closed windows, because no electrons reach them.

This tells us how we can bring any selected area of the storage surface to the potential Vs which, we can say, corresponds to writing 1 in a particular cell of this memory tube.  By flooding a given area or cell with electrons and applying a sharply falling, negative pulse, which rises again gradually toward O – the dashed pulse of Figure 7 upside down – we can bring any selected area of the storage surface to O potential, and thus write O in any selected cell of the memory.

Thus, each little area of the storage surface behind each window of the selectron grid is a cell of our memory.  By opening a particular window – through making one lead of each of the four sets of eight selectron grid leads positive – and pulsing the conducting backing positive or negative, we can make the little area of the storage surface behind that window assume a potential Vs or a potential O, and so can, in effect, write 1 or 0 in that particular memory cell.  By opening all windows periodically and flooding all areas with electrons, we can periodically bring all little areas back to their proper potentials, either VS or O, despite leakage of electrons to or away from the little areas.  We can, that is, put thousands of pieces of information into the selectron and keep them there.  What about reading?  How can we get this information out?

Imagine that the entire inner storage surface is covered with a phosphor or fluorescent material like that used on cathode-ray tube screens or inside of fluorescent lights.  Now, suppose we open one window of the selectron, shooting electrons at a particular area of the surface.  If that area has a potential O, the electrons will be repelled from it.  But, if that area has a potential Vs, corresponding to 1, the electrons will strike the fluorescent surface vigorously, emitting a glow of blue light.  Suppose we let this light fall on a photo-multiplier, of the type Dr. Rajchman worked on earlier in his career.  Then, when we open a given window of the selectron, if the potential of the surface behind the window is O, we get nothing out of the multiplier.  But, if the potential is Vs, there is a flash of light, and a pulse of current from the multiplier.  And so, we can not only write a O or a 1 in each little memory cell of the selectron, we can not only keep this information there indefinitely, but we can also read it off at will.

Dr. Rajchman has devised other ways for reading the stored information in the selectron, but the use of a phosphor-coated storage surface together with a photo-multiplier has been one of the preferred method.  I have spoken of the phosphor as one giving blue light.  This is because the photo-multiplier is more sensitive to blue light than to other colors.  And so, I predicted that the memory cells of the thinking machines will be not only multitudinous and small, but also blue.

Of course the selectron provides only a part of the thinking machine – that is, the memory.  Associated with it there must be circuits in tubes to seek out stored in tubes to seek out stored information, to make use of it to obtain new formation, to write in that new information, and to make use of the new information in turn.  All is a field apart.  Still, there is one wrinkle which is so intimately connected with the use of the selectron that it deserves mention here.  I have referred to the O or 1 a cell of the selectron which can tore a binary digit or, alternately, as a letter of the electronic alphabet which the machine understands.  Now, usually we don’t want to store isolated digits or letters: we want to store complete numbers or words – combinations of 1 and O, as, 10011.  This is 19 in binary notation, and might in some instance stand for the nineteenth word in a dictionary.  When we look up a number or a word, we want it all at once, not piecemeal.

When we want to write many multi-digit numbers in a book, as, in a table of logarithms, for instance, we usually assign a vertical column for each digit to be stored, and write each digit of a given number in a different column, along the same row.  Thus, entries in a log table appear as in Figure 8.  Suppose that in using the selectron we assign a different tube to each binary digit of the numbers to be stored.  If we wish to store twenty-digit numbers, we will need twenty tubes.  Each tube will, in effect, be a given column of our storage space.  The different cells in a tube will represent different rows.  Thus, Cell 1 of Tube 1 will be Row 1 Column 1, Cell 1 of Tube 2 will be Row 1 Column 2, while Cell 10 of Tube 1 will be Row 10 Column 1, et cetera.

We want to look up all the digits in a given row at once.  This means that we want to open corresponding windows in all the tubes at once, and so we can connect the corresponding selectron grid leads of all twenty tubes together.   Thus, if want to store a number in Row 1, we apply voltages to the selectron grid leads which will open Window 1 in all tubes.  We are then ready to read the number in Row 1 or to write a new number in.   The twenty photo-multipliers which read the twenty selectrons are not connected in parallel, but are connected separately to carry off the twenty digits of the number in Row 1 to their proper destinations.  Perhaps these twenty leads from the twenty photo-multipliers may go to the twenty backing plates of another twenty selectrons to which it is desired to transfer the number.  We see, thus, how a whole table of numbers can be stored in twenty selectrons.  The windows 1, 2, 3 et cetera, can represent, for instance, the angle of which we want the sine.  The first selectron can store the first digits of all the sines, the second selectron can store all the second digits, et cetera.  The twenty digits of the sine of any angle – any window number – can be read off simultaneously from the photo-multipliers of the twenty selectrons.

The selectron isn’t perfect by any means.  Perhaps it’s not even the final answer.  At the moment, in its early form, it may be almost expensive as relays, but that’s partly because it’s new.  It’s certainly great deal more compact than relays, a very great deal faster, and probably more reliable as well.  It represents a first huge stride in the electronics of the thinking machine.  Just how far it takes us is up to a lot of mathematicians, a lot of circuit gadgeteers, and, especially, to Dr. Jan A. Rajchman and RCA, to whom we must look for smaller, cheaper and better selectrons.

– J.J. Coupling, 1949 –



Dr. Jan A. Rajchman

Jan A. Rajchman (at Wikipedia)

Jan. A. Rajchman (at I.E.E.E. History)

J.J. Coupling (Dr. John R. Pierce)

J.J. Coupling (at Wikipedia)

J.J. Coupling (at Speculative Fiction Database)

Machine Hearing and the Legacy of John R. Pierce (at Cal Tech) (at

Creative Thinking, by John R. Pierce (at Tom Schneider’s “Molecular Information Theory and The Theory of Molecular Machines”)

Selectron Tube

Pierce, John R. (as J.J. Coupling), “The Little Blue Cells”, Astounding Science Fiction, 1949, Vol. 42, No. 6, February, 1949, pp. 85-99

Lamps & Tubes / Lampen & Röhren (Giorgio Basile’s website)

Selectron Tube (at Wikipedia)

RCA Selectron (at Charles Osborne’s “RCA” – superb and comprehensive website)

Почему фон Нейман верил в SELECTRON (“Pochemu fon Neyman Veril v Selectron”) (Why Von Neumann believed in the Selectron) (In Cyrillic)

Astounding Science Fiction

Analog Science Fiction and Fact (at Wikipedia)

The Noiseless Typewriter: June 24, 1918

An emblematic aspect of mid-twentieth-century movies and television programs which portrayed – whether seriously; whether in parody – corporate “office” settings, was the depiction of row, upon row (upon another row) of secretarial, clerical, or administrative personnel, each busily typing away upon their own typewriter or calculating (“adding”) machine.

A humorous example of this effect occurs in the Twilight Zone episode “Mr. Bevis“, which – starring Orson Bean as protagonist James B.W. Bevis – was broadcast on June, 3, 1960.  A representative “office” scene can be viewed between 3:55 and 4:44, where silence is cleverly used to connote an abrupt change in atmosphere.

While the the purely visual aspect of such scenes  – through their depiction of conformity and regimentation – could be humorously cynical, the sounds generated in such settings – a fusillade of overlapping clickety-clack * pause * clickety-clack * pause * riinnng-of-a-bell (end of line approaching! carriage return impending!) * clickety-clack (and, repeat) struck a deeper chord: The viewer did not actually have to “view” the scene to understand its nature.  Sound by itself was enough to communicate setting, characters, and sometimes give an inkling of plot.

It seems that “sound”, per se, has long been an issue in the business world: whether one hundred years ago; whether in movies and television; whether through the “white noise” deliberately permeating the offices of contemporary corporations. 

An example of this appears below:  An advertisement for “The Noiseless Typewriter” that appeared in The New York Times on June 24, 1918. 

George Fudacz’s “The Antikey Chop” website clearly presents the history of the Noiseless Typewriter Company and its products.  The Noiseless Typewriter was the collaborative invention of Wellington Parker Kidder (1853-1924) and George Gould Going (1872-1954), with their firm being incorporated in January of 1909.  Their company merged with the Remington Typewriter Company in 1924 “to form Remington-Noiseless, a subsidiary of The Remington Typewriter Company.”

As described at Richard Milton’s Portable Typewriters website (and as seen in the advertisement from the Times) “…the physical shape of the noiseless portable happened to fit perfectly the streamlined Art Deco contours favoured by designers in the 1920s and 1930s and the resulting Noiseless Portable is considered by many collectors to be one of the most beautiful typewriters ever designed.”

The Noiseless Typewriter
On the

Write for booklet

     Suppose you issued instructions that for one day all writing in your office must be done with pens.  What a miraculous quite would reign that day!  What an increase in concentration and deep thinking for yourself and every employee!

     You must have typewriters, of course, but there is no longer any law of necessity that says to you that you must have noisy typewriters.

     The Noiseless Typewriter is really noiseless.  It does beautiful work and it does it quickly.  It is durable – a mechanical marvel.  Makes the office a better place to work in.  Gives every stenographer a better opportunity for advancement into the main office.  Write, call or telephone for a demonstration.


253 Broadway —– Telephone ★ Barclay 8205


The images below, from the Noiseless Typewriters website, are of a Noiseless Typewriter (model) 4 (serial number 84565) manufactured circa 1919. 


Mr. Bevis (Description of episode at Wikipedia)

Mr. Bevis (Full Episode at

Noiseless Portable (at The Virtual Typewriter Museum)

The Noiseless Portable (at The Antikey Chop Typewriter Collection)

The Noiseless Typewriter (at Portable Typewriters)

General Electric Television Network – January 12, 1945

A sign of the times; a herald of the times, in the Times

An advertisement by General Electric from early 1945, promoting GE’s television network, through station WRGB in Schenectady, New York.  Relying far more on explanation than illustration (that illustration being a simple map), the ad connotes pride in General Electric Television’s recent past, describes the then current scope – in terms of geography and content – of GE’s network, and includes a hint about a future where, “millions of families throughout American can look forward to television in their homes after the war.”  (They had no idea…)

In the context of today – 2017 – where accessing information can be done near instantaneously, an intriguing highlight of the ad is mention of a broadcast of the 1944 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, “derived from films flown to New York.” 

The ad thus implies – without needed to explain the steps involved – the use of photographic (motion picture) film to record these events, and, the use of aircraft to transport said film to New York for development, after which images would be broadcast to GE’s audience. 

Technology not only collapses space, it collapses time.


The text of the advertisement is presented below…


five years old today

JUST FIVE YEARS AGO TODAY – January 12, 1940 – General Electric Television station WRGB, in Schenectady, added relayed programs to the service it rendered to several hundred families in upstate New York.  In addition to programs originating in its own studio, NBC programs sent out from WNBT, in New York City, were picked up by G.E.’s relay station in the Helderberg Mountains and broadcast to WRGB’s audience. 

This was America’s first television network – the first time that two television stations broadcast simultaneously the same regular programs.

Television set owners in Schenectady, Albany, and Troy have shared a lot of G-E television “firsts”.  This pioneer television audience has been a fireside laboratory.  Besides serving as “guinea pig” for relayed programs, it has expressed opinions on more than 900 different television shows originating at WRGB.  Experience thus accumulated on television programming will help to improve the television entertainment of tomorrow.

This television relay, five years old today, was developed by General Electric scientists and engineers as an answer to one of television’s greatest problems – long-distance transmission.  It has been proved by five years of actual use.  It is one more reason why millions of families throughout American can look forward to television in their homes after the war.


Here are a few of the many programs, originating at WNBT in New York, which the G-E relay has brought to homes in Schenectady, Albany and Troy areas.

1940 – January 12.  First program ever transmitted over relay was the play – “Meet the Wife”.

Easter services and Fifth Avenue Easter parade.

Opening baseball game.  Dodgers vs. Giants.

1941 – Boxing matches from Jamaica, Long Island, Arena.

Golden Jubilee Basketball Tournament from Madison Square Garden.

1942 – A series of instruction programs demonstrating Air Raid Protection methods for Air Raid Wardens.

1943 – World’s Championship Rodeo from Madison Square Garden.

1944 – Finals of Daily News Golden Gloves Boxing Tournament.

Democratic and Republican National Conventions in Chicago, from films flown to New York.

Hear the G-E radio programs: The G-E All-girl Orchestra, Sunday 10 p.m. EWT, NBC – The World Today news, Monday through Friday 6:45 p.m. EWT, CBS – The G-E House Party, Monday through Friday 4:00 p.m. EWT, CBS.


Trade in Your Old Radio!: Philco Radio – December 21, 1941

Technology changes, as does the world of business.

Some corporations are acquired by other enterprises.  Some merge with competitors.  Some, quickly or gradually, falter, and go out of business.

Neither the manufacturer – Philco Radio – nor the merchant – Davega Stores – from this New York Times advertisement of December 21, 1941 (published two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor) still exist.

But, it’s still s a most interesting advertisement. 

Notably, in the way that Philco’s advertising staff correctly anticipated that defense needs would limit the availability and selection of radios for the civilian market for the indeterminate future.

Notably, in the way that prospective customers are advised to trade in their old radios, without specifying what, exactly, they’ll receive in exchange!

Notably, in the way that a selling point of the “AC-DC Superheterodyne Radio” is the presence of 5 tubes.  (During the 1960s, hand-held, portable AM receivers which included transistors as components were dubbed “transistors”!  A selling point!)

As for Philco, the company was founded in 1892 as the Helois Electric Company, with the name “Philco” appearing in 1919.  The company existed as such until 1961, when it was acquired by the Ford Motor Company.

Davega stores were a New York metropolitan area chain that sold consumer durables, appliances, sporting goods, and apparel.  The company was founded in 1879, expanded to 27 stores by 1954, and survived until April of 1963, when it declared bankruptcy.  (Note that of the 27 stores listed below, all but 3 are located in the New York Metropolitan area.)

The full text of the advertisement is presented below…


Buy Your Christmas


Shop early for complete selection and prompt delivery.  Possible scarcity because of defense needs may limit later selection.


Full Vision Dial, Automatic Volume Control.  Super-sensitive Speaker.  5 Tubes and other features make this efficient, compact radio a tremendous value.

Trade In Your Old Radio

Three easy monthly payments.  Pay nothing until Jan. 15.  No Credit Charge on this plan.
Do not buy any Philco Radio with the serial number removed or mutilated, as this renders the factory guarantee null and void.


Smart, lightweight Philco portable for all-year-round use anywhere, indoors and outdoors!  Case is covered in new cowhide graining with ivory piping.  Real leather handle.

Trade In Your Old Radio

Downtown – 15 Cortlandt St.
Downtown – 63 Cortlandt St.
Near 13th St. 831 Broadway
Hotel Commodore – 111 E. 42nd St.
Empire State Bldg. – 18 W. 34th St.
Madison Square Garden – 825 Eighth Ave.
Yorkville – 148 E. 86th St.
86th St. – 2369 Broadway
Harlem – 125 W. 125th St.
180th St. – 1383 St. Nicholas Ave.
Cor. 163rd St. 945 Southern Blvd.
Bronx – 31 E. Fordham Rd.
149th St. – 2860 Third Ave.
Brooklyn (Boro Hall) – 360 Fulton St.
Brooklyn – 924 Flatbush Ave.
Brooklyn – 1304 Kings Highway
Bay Ridge – 3106 Fifth Ave.
Bensonhurst – 2065 86th St.
Brownsville – 1703 Pitkin Ave.
Jamaica – 163-24 Jamaica Ave.
Astoria – 31-55 Steinway St.
Flushing – 39-11 Main St.
Hempstead – 45 Main St.
White Plains – 175 Main St.
Newark – 80 Park Place (Military Park Bldg.)
Jersey City – 30 Journal St.
Paterson – 185 Main St.


For further information about Philco Radio Write
Davega – 76 9th Ave., N.Y.C., or Phone CHelsea 3-5255


Philco Radio (at Philco Radio Forum)

Philco Radio (General History)

Before the Intranet? – Automatic Electric Corporation’s Private Automatic Exchange: June 18, 1918

A survey of The New York Times published between 1917 and the early 1920s reveals the frequent appearance of advertisements promoting devices that were the predecessors – perhaps the harbingers? – of technologies that are now pervasive.  Many of these involve the communication, interpretation, storage, and retrieval of information, in the realms of manufacturing, business, and military activity.  In their depictions of dress and fashion; of speech; of human interactions, these advertisements are evocative of an era that’s largely receded beyond the horizon of common thought and cultural memory. 

As do all eras, in their own time.

The sometimes implied, occasionally hinted, and typically explicit message behind these advertisements – relevant to the world of 2017 – is the promotion of the benefits of new technologies for an enterprise:  Enhancing human skills.  Supplementing human activity.  Supplanting – whether temporarily or permanently; whether fortuitously or (?!) entirely intentionally – human labor.

The image below is an example of one such advertisement. 

Published in The New York Times on June 18, 1918, the ad promotes the Automatic Electric Company’s P.A.X. (Private Automatic Exchange) telephone communications system.  Founded in 1901 by Almon Stowger of Kansas City, who was, “…inspired by the idea of manufacturing automatic telephone exchanges that would not require switchboard operators,” the company was acquired by General Telephone and Electronics (GT&E) in 1955, through a merger with Theodore Gary & Company.  It continued operations until 1983, when it was merged by GT&E with Lenkurt into GTE Network Systems. 


The advertisement – the text of which is presented below – is simple and direct, relying more on text than images.  Well, hey, there’s only one image, anyway:  A rotary phone. 

The users of the P.A.X. system are listed below.

Irony…  The system’s largest user – with 880 units – was a firm once known as Sears, Roebuck, and Company… 

Some things never change. 

And other things?  Well, they do.  And, they will.

Let Your Telephones Help – Not Hinder

Many business plans today are finding their telephones a hindrance, not a help.

Slow connections, wrong numbers, incessant “busy” are taking a heavy toll of time and efficiency in these establishments because interior calls – 60 per cent or more of the average traffic – are crowded onto the already overburdened city telephone system.

Never before were operators so scarce, equipment so overburdened, traffic so heavy, and these hindrances to efficient city telephone service are daily growing more serious.

Your city telephones have one vital duty – keeping you in touch with the outside world.  You dare not slow up these business activities with organization messages.

For true efficiency and genuine economy department-to-department calls should pass over separate, distinct lines.

The Automatic Telephones of the Private Automatic Exchange – the P.A.X. – handle all interior calls with lightning speed and unfailing accuracy, over separate wires.

At one stroke the P.A.X. frees your city telephones for city calls, speeds up every process of your business and reduces rental costs to a minimum.

The P.A.X. needs no operator and gives 24-hour-service.

The P.A.X. enables fewer men to do more work with less effort.

The P.A.X. will serve 20 telephones, 200 or 2,000 with equal ease.

The P.A.X. has no complicated cables, no troublesome push-buttons.

The P.A.X. is making the telephone a help, not a hindrance, in many of New York’s leading business establishments.

Let us tell you how it can help you, too.  Write – or phone Murray Hill 3209 – and our industrial telephone experts will confer with you without obligation on your part.

Sixty per cent of our 1918 output is already booked, but prompt action will insure prompt deliveries.

Some P.A.X. Users

U.S. Arsenals, Navy Yards and Forts
French War Dept.
British Admiralty
Collier’s Weekly – 80 telephones
United Fruit Co. – 66 telephones
New Remington Rifle Co. – 338 telephones
Sears, Roebuck & Co. – 880 telephones
New York Central Lines (in New York City) – 592 telephones
Federal Reserve Bank of New York  – 51 telephones
Equitable Trust Co. of New York – 150 telephones
International Banking Corp. – 46 telephones
W.R. Grace & Co. – 124 telephones


Automatic Electric 40-60D P-A-X Business Telephone System (Promotional Brochure and Technical Specifications, at TCI (Telephone Collectors International) Library

Automatic Electric Corporation (Historical Overview)

The Disappearing PAX, at (“Devoted to Trailing Edge Communications”)

Intranet (general overview)



Imagining the Integrated Circuit: Astounding Science Fiction – July, 1948

Sometimes, fiction can foresee fact.

Sometimes, entertainment can anticipate reality.

This has long been so in the realm of science fiction, a striking example of which – perhaps arising from equal measures and intuition and imagination – appearing in Astounding Science Fiction in mid-1949.  That year, Eric Frank Russell’s three-part serial “Dreadful Sanctuary” was serialized in the June, July, and August issues of the magazine.

(Astounding Science Fiction, June, 1948; cover by William F. Timmins.  Note Timmins’ name on the “puzzle piece” in the lower left corner!)

(Astounding Science Fiction, July, 1948; cover by Chesley Bonestell)

With interior illustrations by William F. Timmins, the story, set in 1972, is centered upon the efforts of protagonist John J. Armstrong – an iconoclastic combination of entrepreneur, inventor, and unintended detective – to accomplish the first successful manned lunar landing (as his entirely private venture) in the face the inexplicable mid-flight destruction of each of his organization’s spacecraft.  Armstrong doesn’t fit the cultural stereotype of inventor or scientist.  As characterized by Russell, “Armstrong was a big, tweedy man, burly, broad-shouldered and a heavy punisher of thick-soled shoes.  His thinking had a deliberate, ponderous quality.  He got places with the same unracy, deceptive speed as a railroad locomotive, but was less noisy.”

While Russell’s story commences as a solid – and solidly intriguing – mystery, effectively conveying a sense wonder; with characters who portend to be more than two-dimensional; the events, plot, and underlying tone gradually change.  With the installments in the magazine’s July and and August issues, what had been a story with an eerie undertone of Fortean inexplicability, technical conjecture (such as the “ipsophone”, a video-telephone imbued with aspects of artificial intelligence – cool! – we’re talking 1948!), and a well-crafted mood of impending threat, gradually and steadily falls flat.  A pity, because to the extent that the story succeeds – and in parts it does succeed, and creatively at that – it does so far more as a hard-boiled (and very ham-fisted) detective tale than science-fiction.

Regardless of the story’s literary quality (I don’t think it’s ever been anthologized) the physical and psychological presence of the aptly named Armstrong (“arm”?! “strong”?!) remain consistent throughout.  Iconoclastic and independent, he’s extremely intelligent, and if need be, a man capable of brute intimidation, self-defense, and violence.  He is also canny, cunning, and psychologically astute.

It is these latter qualities that lead to Armstrong’s discovery – after meeting with a police captain – of a most intriguing device, at his residence in the suburbs of New York City. 

Correctly suspicious of surveillance by adversaries, on reaching his residence, …Armstrong cautiously locked himself in, gave the place the once-over.

“Knowing the microphone was there, it didn’t take him long to find it though its discovery proved far more difficult than he’d expected.

“Its hiding place was ingenious enough – a one hundred watt bulb had been extracted from his reading lamp, another and more peculiar bulb fitted in its place.

“It was not until he removed the lamp’s parchment shade that the substitution became apparent.

“Twisting the bulb out of its socket, he examined it keenly.

“It had a dual coiled-coil filament which lit up in normal manner, but its glass envelope was only half the usual size and its plastic base twice the accepted length.

“He smashed the bulb in the fireplace, cracked open the plastic base with the heel of his shoe.

“Splitting wide, the base revealed a closely packed mass of components so extremely tiny that their construction and assembling must have been done under magnification – a highly-skilled watchmaker’s job!  The main wires feeding the camouflaging filament ran past either side of this midget apparatus, making no direct connection therewith, but a shiny, spider-thread inductance not as long as a pin was coiled around one wire and derived power from it.

Illustration by William Timmins (July, 1948, p. 101)

“Since there was no external wiring connecting this strange junk with a distant earpiece, and since its Lilliputian output could hardly be impressed upon and extracted from the power mains, there was nothing for it than to presume that it was some sort of screwy converter which turned audio-frequencies into radio or other unimaginable frequencies picked up by listening apparatus fairly close to hand.

“Without subjecting it to laboratory tests, its extreme range was sheer guesswork, but Armstrong was willing to concede it two hundred yards.

“So microscopic was the lay-out that he could examine it only with difficulty, but he could discern enough to decide that this was no tiny but simple transmitter recognizable in terms of Earthly practice.

“The little there was of it appeared outlandish, for its thermionic control was a splinter of flame-specked crystal, resembling pin-fire opal, around which the midget components were clustered.” (July, 1948, pp.116-117)

I’ll not explain the origin of this device (it’d spoil the story should you read it!), but suffice to say that in the world of the “Dreadful Sanctuary”, things and people are not as they seem, in terms of origin, nature, and purpose. 

In our world, however, it seems that Eric Frank Russell created a literary illustration – at least in terms of its diminutive size and the delicacy of its fabrication – of what would in only a few years be known as the integrated circuit.

Sometimes, imagination can anticipate the future.


Chesley Bonestell (at Wikipedia)

Eric Frank Russell (at Wikipedia)

William F. Timmins (at Pulp Artists)

Astounding (Analog Science Fiction and Fact)

Integrated Circuit (at Wikipedia)

Technology, Work, and The Future II: “Where The Jobs Go”: The View From Galaxy Science Fiction in 1966

Over five decades ago, multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winner Frederick Pohl wrote an editorial entitled “Where the Jobs Go”, which appeared in the April, 1966 edition of of Galaxy Science Fiction.  The impetus for his essay was the New York City Transit Strike of January, 1966 (1).  That event created an intellectual springboard for musings about the relationship between automation, information technology and employment, particularly in terms of the diminution – if not outright elimination – of existing occupations.  Writing in the midst of the strike – with the cancellation of bus and subway transportation affecting millions of New Yorkers – the issues Pohl raised are even more pressing today than in 1966.

Pohl presented a specific example of the effects of technological change on employment, through his discussion about the future of publishing, with representatives of the Philadelphia-based Institute for Scientific Information (a.k.a. “ISI”) (2), and, Simon and Schuster.  He clearly foresaw what today would be termed “on demand” publishing.  Though he didn’t specifically estimate when this would occur, he understood that for the replication of printed information, the central dependence on and necessity for human activity, and in turn specific job categories, could in time be eliminated.  In the mid-1960s, this was in the areas of linotype operation, printing, binding, storage, and sales.  Bypassing and eventually supplanting the these steps – and the human role in them – could enable a customer; a user; a consumer; to produce a book, “on order, anywhere in the world”.

Which is where we’re at today. 

Another notable aspect of Pohl’s editorial was the realization that there is a natural and perhaps inevitable tendency to perceive the uses, effects, and implications of any new technology through the context of the past.  Pohl’s “twelfth-century armaments expert” has appeared throughout history in all venues of human endeavor: technological, military, economic, educational, and political.   

Pohl’s other examples included bank tellers, retail clerks, and accounts.  he realized that the commonality among these occupations was their general predictability and codification.  His prediction: Technological advances in electronics (“black boxes”) would eventually supplant established work activities, let alone categories of employment.

Pohl didn’t really address issues that would in time (our time) be wrought by these changes.  Instead, he concluded by simply suggesting – simplistically and optimistically; resignedly and pragmatically – their acceptance:  “Postponing this revolution or slowing it down isn’t going to make us very well indeed; let’s swallow it and get it over!” 

Perhaps he couldn’t have foreseen – could anyone? – the magnitude to which the issues he discussed – in terms of both physical and intellectual activity; in terms of social cohesion; in terms of geopolitical stability; in terms of ethnics and morality – would rise to prominence only a few decades later.

His editorial follows below…



As this is written, the city of New York is tying itself in knots because of a strike in the Transport Workers Union.  All of the city subways, and nearly all of its buses, are idle.  Workers can’t get to their jobs; shoppers can’t get to stores; salesmen can’t call on their customers; theatergoers can’t reach the plays for which they have bought tickets months in advance – in a word, the normal operations of the city have stopped.

All of this costs money.  The current guess is that the paralysis of the city is costing it something like $100,000,000 a day or substantially more than the combined expense of the space program, the war in Vietnam and Medicare put together.

It is our opinion that this is only a beginning, because it begins to look clear to us that the real squeeze brought about by automation is going to express itself – has already begun to express itself – in a wave of strikes such as we’ve never seen before. 

True, automation is not technically an issue in this strike.  The TWU had its confrontation with the machines – the “Headless Horseman”, as Mike Quill called it – when the subways installed the first automated tracks a few years ago.  At union insistence the Transit Authority provided a standby motorman on the train, whose principal efforts consisted of walking from one end of the train to the other each time it came to the end of its run.  The automated was destroyed accidentally in a fire after a year’s trial – apparently to the unspoken relief of all parties.  There has been no announcement of any plan to build another, but we would judge that its ghost haunts the negotiating tables.

Nearly all of the subway jobs involved are relatively unskilled – changemakers, conductors, station guards, motormen – with only a comparatively small number involved in maintenance, repair, construction and other more technically demanding jobs.  And this is the edge that cuts.  The subway workers have not been through the automation shakeout, when a large number of repetitive jobs are obsoleted and the jobs that are left require more training and more skill.

In other words, their productive capacity has not yet been multiplied by the machine factor.  This produces two opposed points of view, both of them unarguable.  Say the subway administrators and the public at large: These jobs just don’t call for that kind of money, and besides it would make the expense of running the subways ridiculously high.  Say the subway workers:  Other people putting in the same hours earn much more; we have to live in the same world with them, we have to compete with them to buy what we want in the stores, and we can’t do it unless we make as much money as they do.

This is the classical formula for the hardest-fought wars: both sides are right.

Is there any way to avoid more and even worse strikes than this one in the transition to the Cybernetic Age?

We doubt it very much.  Certainly what is happening now is not the final struggle; in fact, the issues haven’t even been joined.  The present subway strike is only a taste of what will come when “Headless Horsemen” are beginning to come out of the shops for all the major routes – and that day cannot be far off.  Remember the newspaper strike of a couple years ago.  That one was indeed fought on the issue of automation; but we have it on the word of the man who designed the systems that triggered the strike, Eugene Leonard, that it was the wrong fight at the wrong time over the wrong issues – because the systems that caused the strike were already obsolete at the time.

Not long ago we took part in a radio program with the aforementioned Gene Leonard, along with Arthur Elias of the Institute for Scientific Information and Henry Simon of Simon & Schuster, talking about the future of the publishing business in the Cybernetic Age.  We started by discussing automated typesetting, and it took exactly twelve minutes by the studio clock before we had reached a proposal for high-speed facsimile machines which would produce a book to your order, anywhere in the world.  In twelve minutes we not only got rid of the human linotype operator, but abolished the linotype itself and went on to obsolete the printing press, the binderies, the warehouses and the publishing house’s road salesmen.

Is such a new kind of publishing technologically feasible right now?  Certainly.  Is it likely to come into being in the next few years?  Certainly – cultural lag doesn’t permit us to move that fast – but it, or something like it, is surely the shape of the publishing business some time in the future.

We tend to think of automation’s effect on our own jobs in terms of a wilier, cheaper competitor to do the same things we’re doing right now.  In the event it isn’t going to be like that at all.  An analogy: Suppose we resurrected some twelfth-century armaments expert and asked him how he thought we should employ the resources of modern technology to build weapons.  No doubt he would be delighted; at once he would proceed to the fabrication of sharper lances, springier bows, truer shafts; and just how far would his troops get against H-bombs or napalm grenades?

Unfortunately, our own outlook on our own jobs is largely medieval.  The long lines of girls who used to assemble radio components don’t get replaced by speedier machine assemblies; they get put out of business entirely by printed circuits.  The stockbreeders who used to export power to the cities in the form of draft animals weren’t hurt by competition from more efficient breeders.  They simply ceased to have a market when the cities began exporting power to the farms, in the form of tractors and trucks.

Just so, in the long run (which may be measured in years or even months, these days), the bank tellers and retail clerks and accounting departments are not as likely to be replaced by whirring black boxes which accept ten-dollars bills and return change as they are to be retired completely by new electronic credit systems.  The machines don’t confine themselves to doing our jobs faster and more reliably – and cheaper.  They make it unnecessary for a great many of our jobs to be done at all.

Meanwhile, we have the strikes.  More and more of them, we would bet; worse and worse strikes, costing us more and more money.  (Each day’s loss to New York under the current subway strike would build a couple dozen handsome new schools.)

As long as Smith, operating at a job with only his own decision-making power, lives next door to Jones, whose decision-making power and consequent productivity is multiplied by the machine factor, they’ll go on; because Smith eats as many pork chops in a year as Jones, his children wear out as many clothes, his car uses as much gas – and he wants as much money.  Postponing this revolution or slowing it down isn’t going to make us very well indeed; let’s swallow it and get it over! – THE EDITOR


Akin to my prior post “The Past As Prologue: Technology, Work, and The Future – The View From 1947” (which was based on a New Republic article “Communications Revolution” from 1947) “this” post includes – below – links to a variety of articles, essays, and a video or two.  They cover topics such as the effect of the Internet and technological change upon employment, and, social stability (both domestically and internationally); the return – with a searing vengeance – of the question of “class” in contemporary America (it never really went away), whereby social status has become a zero-sum-game conferred through thought, belief, pose, and moral intent; the impact of automation and robotics on employment; the economic and social corrosiveness of an informational oligopoly; the cognitive and cultural effects of “social” media.  And, in an age of ostensible meritocracy, the not uncommon lacuna between intelligence and wisdom. 

The commonality among these writings is that most (not all) have been published since February of this year (2017), when I created that “first” post covering the 1947 essay from The New Republic

For future blog posts concerning technology, economics, employment, and society, I hope to present links to similar writings, as they become available.


Thoughts of Note

Uncertainty Without Principles

Rod Dreher Economic Insecurity
(The American Conservative – February 20, 2017)

Nicholas N. Eberstadt Our Miserable 21st Century
(Commentary – February 15, 2017)

Esther Kaplan (Photography by David M. Barreda) – Losing Sparta: The Bitter Truth Behind the Gospel of Productivity
(Virginia Quarterly Review – Summer, 2014)

Michael Lind – The New Class War
(American Affairs – Summer, 2017)

David Ramli Jack Ma Sees Decades of Pain as Internet Upends Older Economy
( – April 23, 2017)

Walter Scheidel The Only Thing, Historically, That’s Curbed Inequality: Catastrophe

(The Atlantic – February 21, 2017)

Yves SmithHow Financialization and the “New Economy” Hurt Science and Engineering Grads
(Naked – May 12, 2017)


The New Zero Sum Game: Social Status in America* in the 21st Century (The Aristocracy Reborn?)

Matt Stoller On Mocking Dying Working Class White People
( – March 24, 2017)

Lambert Strether Frank Rich, the Trump Voter, and Liberal Eliminationist Rhetoric
(Naked – March 27, 2017)
*And beyond.


Avarice In the Guise of Altruism

Kevin D. WilliamsonWhy Corporate Leaders Became Progressive Activists
(National Review – March 13, 2017)

Michael Hobbes Saving the World, One Meaningless Buzzword at a Time
(Foreign Policy – February 21, 2017)


Robotics and Jobs: The Unknown Future

Nicholas CarrThe Digital Industrial Complex
(Rough Type – May 12, 2017)

Nicholas Carr The Robot Paradox
(Rough Type – May 16, 2017)

Tyler CowenIndustrial Revolution Comparisons Aren’t Comforting
( – February 16, 2017)

Jack MaWorld Leaders Must Make ‘Hard Choices’ or the Next 30 Years Will be Painful ( – June 21, 2017)

Cade Metz The AI Threat Isn’t Skynet, It’s the End of the Middle Class
(Wired – February 20, 2017)

Claire C. Miller The Long Term Jobs Killer is not China.  It’s Automation
(The New York Times – December 21, 2016)

Claire C. Miller Why Are We Doing This to Ourselves
(The New York Times – December 28, 2016)

Claire C. Miller How to Prepare for an Automated Future
(The New York Times – May 3, 2017)

Rick MoranThe Huge Economic Issue That Washington Isn’t Talking About
(Pajamas Media – February 12, 2017)

Clive Thompson The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding
(Wired – February 8, 2017)

Victoria TurkDon’t Fear the Robots Taking Your Job, Fear the Monopolies Behind Them
( – June 19, 2014)

Marcus WohlsenWhen Robots Take All the Work, What’ll Be Left for Us to Do?
(Wired – August 8, 2014)


From Prose to Power.  And, More Power.

Franklin FoerAmazon Must Be Stopped: It’s too big.  It’s cannibalizing the economy.  It’s time for a radical plan.
(The New Republic – October 9, 2014

George PackerCheap Words: Amazon is Good for Customers.  But Is It Good for Books?
(The New Yorker – February 17 and 24, 2014)

Matt StollerWhy We Need to Break Up Amazon… And How to Do It
( – October 16, 2014)



“Social” Media

Nicholas Carr Zuckerberg’s World
(Rough Type – February 28, 2017)

Nicholas CarrHow Technology Created A Global Village and Put Us at Each Other’s Throats
(The Boston Globe – April 21, 2017)

David FosterMark Zuckerberg as Political and Social Philosopher
( – March 7, 2017)

Annalee Newitz Mark Zuckerberg’s Manifesto is a Political Trainwreck
( – February 18, 2017)


Intelligence Or Wisdom

Andy BeckettAccelerationism – How a Fringe Philosophy Predicted the Future We Live In
(The Guardian – June 5, 2017)

Gregory Ferenstein The Disrupters: Silicon Valley elites’ vision of the future
(City Journal – Winter, 2017)

E.M. OblomovIntelligentsia Elegy: American Intellectuals are at Odds with the Workings of Democracy
(City Journal – February 3, 2017)

Paul G. RavenWe’re Reading Up on Transhumanism
( – 2014)

Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel Hail the Maintainers: Capitalism Excels at Innovation But is Failing at  Maintenance, and For Most Lives It Is Maintenance That Matters More
( – April 7, 2016)


On a hopefully lighter (!) note, this post ends with two illustrations that graced the interior of the April 1966 issue of Galaxy, both of which complemented Jack Vance’s remarkable Hugo and Nebula Award winning novella, “The Last Castle”.  They’re by science-fiction artist Jack Gaughan.  They show a Phane and a Mek. 

To learn more, you can read about “The Last Castle” at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased.

(For more literary illustrations, particularly from the “Golden Age” of science-fiction, you might want to visit: [Shameless plug.]


(1) From Wikipedia:  New York City’s Transport Workers Union, and, Amalgamated Transit Union, called a strike against the city’s Transit Authority on January 1.  The strike was resolved by the 13th, through a package comprising, “wages increases from $3.18 to $4.14 an hour, an additional paid holiday, increased pension benefits, and other gains.”  The strike also resulted in the passage of the Taylor Law, which defined, “rights and limitations of unions for public employees in New York.”

(2) Also known as “ISI”; later “Thomson-ISI”, then the Intellectual Property & Science business of Thomson Reuters; now “Clarivate Analytics”.  The title of the enterprise’s next iteration – should one occur – is unknown.


New York City 1966 Transit Strike, at

Frederick Pohl (biography), at:

“The Last Castle” (by Jack Vance), at:






Multitasking Begins! (Somewhat…) – The Advent of Multiplex Telephony, circa 1918: “Five Conversations On One Pair Wires”

An article from the Philadelphia Inquirer on December 23, 1918, carrying Theodore N. Vail’s announcement about the the advent of Multiplex Telephony.  The full text of the article is presented below, followed by an article from Electrical World of January, 1919, describing the development and implications of this technology in more detail. 

Theodore Vail was president of AT&T between 1885 and 1889, and again from 1907 to 1919. 


5 Conversations
On One Pair Wires

Philadelphia Inquirer
December 13, 1918


Theo. N. Vail Describes Invention of Multiplex Telephony and Telegraphy


Wires Can Now Be Used Simultaneously for Both Purposes If Desired


Special to the Inquirer

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12. – The invention and development of a practical system of multiplex telephony and telegraphy are described as of recent accomplishment by Theodore N. Vail, in a letter to Postmaster General Burleson, made public by the latter today.

Mr. Vail said in his letter:

“After several years of intense effort a practical system of multiplex telephony and telegraphy has been invented and developed, by the use of which it is now possible to increase many fold the message-carrying capacity of long telephone and telegraph wires, especially of the open wire type.”

Four Conversations at Once

Mr. Vail said the service had been in operation between Baltimore and Pittsburgh for more than a month.

Under the system four telephone conversations can be carried on over one pair of wires at the same time, in addition to the telephone conversation provided by ordinary methods.  Heretofore the best possible over a single pair of wires was one conversation, although a “phantom circuit” arrangement, developed some years ago, enabled three telephone circuits to be obtained from two pair of wires.  Now, by the latter device, ten simultaneous telephone conversations are obtainable from the two pairs of wires.

“This represents an increase of more than three fold in the telephone capacity of the wires as compared with the best previous state of the art,” said Mr. Vail in his letter.  “And a five fold increase under conditions where the phantom circuit is not employed.”

Sensational Results

Mr. Vail goes on to state that sensational results have also been attained in telegraphy by the new system.

“The nature of the developments,” said Mr. Vail, “is such that if desired wires may be used partly for telephone and partly for telegraph.  _____ pair of wires is available either for five simultaneous telephone conversations or for forty simultaneous telegraph messages, or partly for one and partly for the other.”

It is announced that from the nature of the apparatus and methods, the system is not practically advantageous [for] short lines.  Its application on lines, however, is to be extended immediately. 



Theodore Newton Vail, at

“New Multiplex System of Telephony”, Electrical World, V 73, N 1, January 4, 1919, pp. 11-13.