Harold H. Buttner.

Research and development in radio and electronics, 1915-1974 online

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All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal
agreement between the Regents of the University of
California and Harold H. Buttner dated March 4, 1981. The
manuscript is thereby made available for research purposes.
All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right
to publish, are reserved to The Bancroft Library of the
University of California Berkeley. No part of the manuscript
may be quoted for publication without the written permission
of the Director of The Bancroft Library of the University
of California at Berkeley.

Requests for permission to quote for publication should
be addressed to the Director and should include identification
of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of
the passages, and identification of the user.

The Bancroft Library University of California, Berkeley

History of Science and Technology Program


Harold H. Buttner

An Interview Conducted by Arthur Lawrence Norberg

Copy No, ^
Q\ 1982 by The Regents of the University of California

Harold H. Buttner

TABLE OF CONTENTS — Harold H. Buttner




Preliminary on the Hewlett-Packard Company 1

Education in California 4

Navy Radioman 11

Service at Bell Laboratories 21

International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation 28

Charles V. Litton 41





This interview with Mr. Harold Buttner is one of several
dealing with the development of electrical engineering and elec-
tronics within the larger series of oral histories produced by the
History of Science and Technology Program of The Bancroft Library.

Besides these interviews, the Program assembles other primary
source materials, including the papers and personal memorabilia
of scientists and engineers, and the papers of certain organiza-
tions with which they were associated. The information in the
papers and interviews helps to demonstrate not only the develop-
ment of science and technology in the western United States, but
in the nation as a whole.

The project was made possible initially by the generosity of
Messrs. William R. Hewlett and David Packard. Mrs. Calvin K.
Townsend established the Doreen and Calvin K. Townsend Fund to
provide ongoing support of the Program. The University Endowment
Fund, National Science Foundation, and National Endowment for the
Humanities have assisted diverse aspects of the Program with a
series of grants. Further aid has come from the Marco Francis
Hellman Fund, established to document science and technology and
their relations to business in California. Other donors have
included the Woodheath Foundation, the California Alumni Foundation
and the Watkins- Johnson Company.

James D. Hart


The Bancroft Library



This interview with Harold Buttner was recorded February 5, 1974.
It was conducted and edited by Arthur L. Norberg, as part of a
series dealing with development in radio engineering and electronics.
Mr. Buttner 's work as a Navy radioman and long association with
Bell Laboratories, Western Electric, and ITT encompassed many of
these developments.

The final document was prepared with care from the original
tape-recorded interview. A preliminary transcript was edited for
clarity and sense, and the original tape checked against the
resulting draft. Occasionally it was necessary to rearrange para-
graphs and/or eliminate repetitive sections and superfluous
questions. The edited transcript was then submitted to the inter-
viewee for further clarification, identifications, and, in some
cases, additions. The index to the transcript was prepared by
Marie L. Herold. Mark J. Haas, Marie L. Herold, and Ann L. Pfaff-Doss
aided in the final production of the transcript.

Literary rights for this interview are vested in the Director
of The Bancroft Library. Any quotation for publication of the
material included herein requires the advance written approval of
the Director. A request to see tne transcript constitutes an
agreement to abide by this restriction.

Oral history can frequently provide useful information on
subjects not easily retrieved from published sources. Hence the
questions often dwell on family history, social and economic con-
ditions affecting research, interactions with colleagues and
peculiarities of institutional organization. They can also elicit
useful data on scientists' perceptions of themselves, their colleagues,
and their discipline. With respect to the historical record, oral
history ought therefore to be taken as a retrospective first
approximation, a starting point to organize research for cor-
roborating data in sources contemporary to the events described
or to gather hints about possible relationships, influences and
sources that might otherwise be overlooked. It should be borne in
mind that the interview records what the interviewee remembers
during the interview about what happened at a given place and time.
Typically, many years have passed since the events occurred; selective
memory (and sometimes wishful thinking) may have had ample time to
operate. In general, information obtained in response to broader
questions is more likely to be accurate, albeit more difficult
to corroborate, than answers on specific events. Influences, and
accomplishments .


The user wishing more detailed contact with this or other
interivews in the History of Science and Technology series may
consult the rough edited drafts of the typescripts and/or listen
to the original tapes. Tapes are located in The Bancroft Library *s
Microforms Division; draft transcripts, in the papers of the
History of Science and Technology Program. Either may be ordered
through the Heller Reading Room.

Robin E. Rider
Head, History of Science
and Technology Program


1892 Port Costa, California, born November 3

father: Louis N. Buttner
mother: Mary Hendry Buttner

1915 University of California, Berkeley (B.S., electrical engineering)

1916-17 Radio Engineer, U.S. Navy Department

1917-1920 Serviceman, United States Navy

1922-23 Expert Radio Aide, U.S. Navy Department

1923-26 Radio Engineer, Bell Telephone Laboratories

1926-30 Employee, International Telephone & Telegraph Company

1930-36 Managing Director, International Marine Radio Corporation, England

1936-40 Assistant Vice-President, International Telephone & Telegraph


19A0-51 Vice-President, International Telephone & Telegraph Company

1945-51 President, Federal Telecommunications Laboratories

1951-57 Vice-President of Research and Development, Federal Tele-
communications Laboratories

1957-70 Member, Board of Directors, Hewlett-Packard Company

1958-78 Consultant, Federal Telecommunications Laboratories

1970-78 Emeritus Member, Board of Directors, Hewlett-Packard


1979 Bridgeport, Connecticut, died January 12

Date of Interview: 5 February 1974

Preliminary on the Hewlett-Packard Company

Norberg: This morning we are at Hewlett-Packard Company. I'm talking
with Mr. Harold Buttner, formerly of International Telephone
& Telegraph Corporation (ITT) , consultant to Hewlett-Packard
and on the Board of Directors here.

Buttner: Correction: I'm now an emeritus.

Norberg: Emeritus member? Is this recent?

Buttner: Just recently. Fred Terman and I were made emeritus. I was
made emeritus first, because I felt I was too old to be on
the Board, and when Mr. Packard was in Washington, well, I
just said I didn't want to be elected again. So he said,
"All right, don't go away." Next thing I knew I had been
elected emeritus, which is just a wonderful gesture on the
part of Hewlett-Packard.

Norberg: Does "emeritus" mean that you keep coming to Board meetings
and take part in...

Buttner: Oh, yes. Nothing changes. And in this company, the fact that
the emeritus Directors do vote is of no consequence whatever,
because we don't have any situations here in which the voting
of the Directors is all important. Matters are so well
thought out and discussed beforehand that voting by Directors
is a routine procedure.

I've been around a long time, and in lots and lots of
companies (I still have an office in ITT in New York) and
Hewlett-Packard is the best-run company I've ever seen. They
have had a practice of looking in the future long before any-
body else. Long before it became fashionable Hewlett-Packard
was treating their employees well. Hewlett-Packard has always
had a sense of obligation to the community in which they were
a part. It is now very popular among all the companies to do
these things, but Hewlett-Packard has been doing it here right
from the very beginning.

Norberg: Can you say something about what motivated that?

Buttner: Well, just fine people. That's all. Fine people are always

well motivated, and have a sense of responsibility, and realize
in the measure that they have achieved power, that responsibility

Norberg: Well, that suggests, though, that other companies were not
composed of fine, upstanding men when these gentlemen were
beginning, doesn't it?

Buttner: Well, you could say so, but they weren't advanced to the degree,
they didn't look as far into the future as... They probably
reflected more of the older days of, where the first job, and
the only job, really, of running the company was to make the
thing profitable and if to make it profitable you had to grind
down the employees a little bit, why, they'd grind them down,
and they had a sort of a sense of small concern. You can't
generalize like this, without getting into trouble. I think
this was so. It was so marked in this case, and naturally
constrasts in my mind with the situations that were. The first
place I realized it was here. Without getting off the track
here, did you read a book by a fellow named [Anthony] Sampson,
an Englishman, on ITT, The Sovereign State of ITT ?

Norberg: I tried to find that book yesterday, and I must confess it's
not in our library.

Buttner: Well, you should get it.

Norberg: I will.

Buttner: It's well written, it's full of misstatements, but there's a
great deal of fact in there about the early days. He made it
sensational, for obvious reasons.

Norberg: Tell me, as a way of getting into the interview here, how did
you become associated with Hewlett and Packard?

Buttner: In the very beginning, I met them through Charlie Litton. You

know Charlie Litton? Charlie was one of my very oldest, greatest
friends. And at that time I had various assignments in ITT,
among other things. Chairman of the Patent Policy Connnittee.
The Vice-President and Patent Attorney were not interested in
the business side of patents, an important phase of the business
as ITT held all foreign rights of Western Electric patents,
hundreds in number. So because of its importance, a patent policy
committee was formed, the chairman being President of ITT.
Nobody could object to that; and then he turned the thing over
to me as the chairman. So, I was concerned with all patents
and trying to get royalties from people who were using our
patents or using the Western Electric foreign patents.

Hewlett and Packard developed an oscillator, resistance-
capacity oscillator. It was quite good, and it seemed like
it would be a good idea to have the foreign rights to that.

Buttner: So that*s the way the thing started, and then later ITT acquired
the foreign rights covering the Hewlett oscillator patent.
They onnnitted the payment and these were times when it was touch
and go here with Hewlett-Packard so the small payment was all
important .

Norberg: Now, who forgot to pay?

Buttner: ITT. And so this was a small amount of money; it was also an

important amount of money. Someone, either Bill or Dave, called
me up and said, "Can you do something about this?" I said, "I'll
see that ITT pays right away." An important matter for Hewlett-
Packard at that time.

Norberg: You go ahead.

Buttner: Well, anyway, this did relate to my introduction to Hewlett
and Packard.

Before U.S. entry in World War II, we had association with
Dr. Hansen of Stanford who had done outstanding work on the
klystron, high frequency generator tube. Ultra short waves
were important for war work, particularly radar. The French
heard about work in the U.S. on the klystron and so through
ITT's French company, asked if we could arrange to get rights
under this, and, hopefully, manfacturing information. Sperry
gyroscope company had acquired the patents from Stanford for
this important invention. So I went to see the President of
Sperry, who at that time was Gillmor, and told him of the
situation. The French government was very desirous of having
these rights, and considered the matter all important.
Gillmor 's reaction was that Sperry won't talk about licensing
anybody at that time. However, in an issue of the Review of
Applied Physics , a picture of this klystron appeared. So I
got in touch with Charlie Litton and told him of the urgency of
the situation; that the French considered vital. I asked Litton,
"Can you make one of those things, Charlie?" He said, "Well,
somebody did. Sure I can make it." So he made a klystron.
I followed the work closely, and the result, actually it was
better than the one Sperry made. Ever since then I've made
periodic visits to Cal.

When it got about time for me to retire from ITT, David
Packard was in New York one time, and he Invited me to lunch,
and he said, "What are you going to do when you retire?" Well,
I hadn't even thought about it at all. And he said, '*Why
don't you come with us? I think you'd have a lot of fun."
I said, "I could answer you 'yes' right now, not for the reason
you think, but because I just like to be associated with a live
bunch of young people. That's just what I want, so I'd be
delighted." So that's how I came here.

Education in California

Norberg: Before we pursue that further — and we will — can we go back to
Port Costa? Can you tell me something about your family?

Buttner: Yes. My grandfather came here from some place in Kentucky,
and his people came from Frankfurt in Germany. That's my
father's father. My mother's father lived here in San Francisco
and came here from Scotland. He had a marine engineering business,
My grandparents lived here all their lives. My father was
bom in Sunol. Do you know where Sunol is''

Norberg: No.

Buttner: Do you know where Niles is? Livermore?

Norberg: Yes.

Buttner: All right. Sunol is the head of the Niles Canyon, which is

about eight or ten miles from Livermore. It's a place which we
still own, incidentally, as a part of my grandfather's homestead.
It was on a range of hills near the former home of Phoebe
Apperson Hearst. So that's my grandparents on both sides. My
grandfather on my mother's side, I never saw; he died before I
was around. My father worked with the Southern Pacific and he
became County Treasurer of the County of Contra Costa. He
died quite young, in his forties, when I was just starting college.
I went to college at Berkeley, and graduated from there in




Can we not proceed quite so fast, though,
do for the Southern Pacific?

What did your father

Well, he was employed in the division area in Port Costa.

Was he an engineer of some kind before he went to the railroad?

No, I think he was more in the accounting-administrative side.
He was not an engineer.

Did he go to college locally?

No, I don't know how far he went through school. Not very far.
He was sort of self-educated, then he became County Treasurer,
and then we moved to Martinez. And at that time, that was my
first experience with electronics, called wireless.

Norberg: What year was that?

Buttner: It was 1910. 1906 was the year of the earthquake. We were

living in Port Costa then, and by 1910 we moved up to Martinez.
And then we were trying to get telegraph signals with galena
silicon and electrolytic detectors.

There was a group of people around the Bay here: Ralph
Heintz was one, and Charlie Litton, when he came in at that
time, a fellow by the name of Wiley, and they later formed what
was called the Bay County Wireless Association. Haraden Pratt
was quite active in that. Incidentally, I made his acquaintance
by wireless long before I ever met him in college, and the same
way with a man named Lewis Clement. And you would talk over
the wireless, and later you finally met.

In those days they passed a law specifying the frequencies
[that] amateurs, what they called wavelengths at that time, could
operate on, and power. No limit at all. You just picked a spot
where you seemed to get good radiation in your antenna, and what
power you could afford. We made our own transformers, and this
was a curse too, for the neighbors, because the high frequency
got back in the line and short-circuited lights around the
country; the sparks made a terrible noise, and [had] a lot of
power in some of them. Clement, I think, had a ten-kilowatt
transformer. His father was a civil engineer, and he had a
special line put in by PC & E, because the local lighting
circuits were inadequate for the power required.

I had problems even then. I was hard of hearing. The first
time I realized it was when I realized that I could not hear the
Honolulu station on the headphones. A measure of achievement
was reception of the Honolulu station, and I never could hear
it. So some of the boys came over to my house. "Hell, there It
is. You don't hear it?" So I realized [it] then, and I*ve
been cursed with defective hearing ever since, in varying

Norberg: Well, how did you get Involved with wireless in the first place?
What was your first experience with it, do you remember?

Buttner: Well, I suppose there was a firm down on Market Street called

Paul Siler. He had a few wireless gadgets. And then there were
small magazines with semi-technical articles. That's how I got
first acquainted with wireless, and it was very simple. The
equipment was Just a variable inductance coil, a detector, and
a pair of headphones.

Norberg: Did you wind the coil yourself?

Buttner: Oh, yes. We had to make our own transformers and did all that.
That was the first introduction to electronics, then called
wireless. Of course we amateurs were a nuisance to the coast

Buttner: stations, too, because they're all over the place, frequency,
and some of the boys took particular interest in the station
out there on the beach. The coast station was unable to com-
municate with the ship when the boys would interrupt and complete
the communication, which was not appreciated.

Norberg: How powerful was your set?

Buttner: Oh, about a kilowatt and a half. Before we got to the point of
transformers, we were working with spark coils, spark coils with
a mechanical interrupter. A better performance could be obtained
with an interrupter, which was called an electrolytic interrupter,
with a sharp point in a porcelain tube projecting into a
bottle of sulfuric acid and water. Hydrogen bubbles would form
on that point where it stuck through the tube, and that would
interrupt the current. It made a terrible noise, and it spread
sulfuric acid around. So that wasn't too popular with the
families involved, and that didn't last long. But then the
ability to make high-voltage transformers came along — small
wire and bit cores — and then everybody had those. These things
were just a very short passing phase.

Norberg: When did the regulation of one kilowatt come in?

Buttner: Hoover law regulated power and frequency.

Norberg: But do you have any idea about when? Was it when you were In
college, perhaps?

Buttner: It could have been then, or just shortly after.

Norberg: Okay. I'm trying to fix the date down, and some of the routines.

Buttner: They could have that of course, you could pick that up very
quickly, that's a matter of record.

Norberg: Yes, but I'm trying to get some of the discussions that went on
before the regulation came in. We can fix the date all right,
but why and how is not recorded.

Buttner: Why, of course, as more and more young people got Involved In
this home wireless, why, the conditions were getting chaotic.
They were all over the place, they had powerful stations, and
they were just as apt to light on a frequency they liked right
near a coastal station frequency, and they were calling them
on their own frequencies.

Norberg: Okay, that's after 1918. Isn't that after the First World War?
About that time?

Buttner: That's right. That would check up pretty well. I*m pretty
sure it was during the period when Herbert Hoover was
Secretary of Commerce. And then from that followed the necessity
to have a license, and for that you had to develop a certain
degree of understanding, and pass a very simple test in Morse
Code or Continental Code. And some of the people at that time,
Pratt and several of them, Clement, a number of those were in
the association around the Bay here, would get summer jobs
as wireless operators on ships. I couldn't do that because
my hearing was bad; I'd get a job on the steamers and oilers.
So then when we went to college, Pratt, Clement, myself, there
were three of us who were really interested in it, wireless.
At that time the Campanile was just being constructed. Pro-
fessor H.F. Fisher suggested that we do our thesis work on
wireless communication. So then we started working on that. One
of our first projects was to determine the longitude of the
campus by receiving Arlington signals using the high Campanile
structure to support a long antenna. And we did write such
a thesis! It's around some place, I suppose, if they keep
those things. Do they?

Norberg: Not senior theses, no.

The problem with space Is just too

Buttner: I suppose so, yes. Well, anyway, that was a...

Norberg: Do you have a copy of it?

Buttner: No, I don't have one. I've lived a terrible life. I've been
here, there, everywhere, and I don't have anything. I've
lived in London, I've lived in Paris, went back and forth
across the ocean with ITT and over a long time. We were married
many years before we owned anything that wouldn't fit in the
steamer trunk. And then we finally located in Rye, New York,
We lived here for a short time too, in San Francisco. So I
didn't keep any. I had a complete set of the Institute of
Radio Engineers , I gave that to my associates here at Hewlett
and Packard.

Norberg: Okay, before we talk too much in detail about Fisher and wire-
less communication on the Berkeley campus, how about your high
school years? What kind of courses did you take in high school?

Buttner: Well, I went to a high school in Crockett, called John Svett
High School. I took what was normal courses at that tine.
I took a little bit of Latin, physics, chemistry. I was
pretty good in physics and chemistry, and on the whole, I
guess I was a satisfactory student there. I really liked
those things, and the very fact that we were playing with wire-
less gave added incentive to...

Norberg: Was the physics Instructor Involved in wireless too, do you


Buttner: No, I don't think so. I think it was a lady. The first en-
couragement in that direction was when we went to the University.
As a matter of fact, my father, having died young, I had to
make my own way. I did various things: I wired houses, I
installed motors, then in my senior year I got a job with the
Assistant to the Dean correcting papers, et cetera.

Norberg: Do you remember the decision of going to UC and studying

Buttner: Well, the engineering decision was mine, going to UC was my
father's decision. As a matter of fact, he didn't have the
advantage of a college education, and wished for his two sons
to enjoy one. It was all understood; you do well in high
school and go to UC, and then my brother the same thing,
came along five years later. And so I was always interested
in the engineering. I have an interesting anecdote which we
may cut out of here.

Norberg: Go ahead.

Buttner: When I was in college I had to work all the time. During first
year engineering there was a summer camp of surveying. It
was a required course which you paid a certain amount of money
for. You did surveying problems in the field, and then you
did all the calculations that go along with them, and the
usual things, running levels and traverses. But it was mandatory
to pass summer civil engineering camp before graduation. So

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Online LibraryHarold H. ButtnerResearch and development in radio and electronics, 1915-1974 → online text (page 1 of 5)