The invention of radar, “radio detection and ranging” was a long discontinuous process, conducted by various scientists and engineers over the span of many years in different countries. Tests conducted independently by researchers determined many of the important properties of radar. These experimental results, combined with the need for national defense in wartime, spurred the development of a technology capable of seeing through dark clouds in the dead of night and reporting the presence of enemy aircraft approaching. Before utilizing this technology, it was necessarily to invent, produce and distribute it. These are stages in the product life of every new device, but radar differed from a typical consumer good because of war. Radar’s end users were determined from the beginning to be governments, and radar systems did not require a consumer market. They did however require a few individuals who understood the technology and who could convince governing bodies and manufacturers to sponsor and produce these systems. Hugh Aitken refers to such individuals as “translators”, or men who can move technology among the categories of invention, production and distribution. These are men with special interests, abilities and experiences that bridge the gap between two or more distinct arenas of product development. In the history of radar there were several such men, and this paper will detail the involvement of two. A. Hoyt Taylor in the United States and Henry Tizard in Great Britain both acted as translators, ensuring that the new technology of radar took its prominent place in the defense of both countries.
Long before he received any higher schooling, Taylor started working with old car parts and discarded wiring to make batteries in his own telegraph line. He attended a small high school in Evanston, Illinois where he took every math, physics and chemistry class he could. Because family finances prevented him from attending a college where he could study electrical engineering, the young Taylor went to a local college. He registered for a special course loaded with college physics, chemistry and mathematics. Meanwhile he worked nights installing electric doorbells and burglar alarms. By combining this experience and a detailed grasp of the theoretical principles, Taylor was clearly destined to make a place for himself among the great men of science.
After spending a year studying at the Institute of Applied Electricity in Goettingen, Germany, where he went to study because “German scientists and engineers enjoyed a prestige and respect which was by no means equaled in our country at that time”, Taylor returned to the United States in 1909 to head the physics department at the University of North Dakota. Through radio research conducted at the university Taylor made his first contact with the United States Navy in 1916. The Navy expressed interest in the application of radio for direction finding as well as communication, and Taylor agreed to work with the Great Lakes Naval Station near Lake Bluff, Illinois on radio propagation. Taylor’s work eventually lead to a commission as a lieutenant, and the call to active duty on March 28, 1917, a few days before declaration of war with Germany.
In 1922, Taylor and Leo C. Young were working for the US Navy studying high frequency communication at the Naval Research Laboratory near the Anacostia River in Washington D.C. The basic setup of the experiment consisted of a transmitter on one side of the river which sent a signal to a receiver on the other side. They used the resulting tone was for communication. An unexpected discovery came when the tone would swell to nearly double it’s intended volume before fading to nearly nothing. This process reversed a few moments later, going from near silence to maximum volume and back to the intended loudness. Taylor and Young determined that the cycling coincided with the passage of ships on the river. Because Taylor had received shipboard training as an officer in the US Navy, he saw an application for his scientific discovery in the detection of naval intruders at harbor entrances, or the detection of enemy ships between friendly vessels at sea. Taylor proposed using radar for these purposes to the Navy Bureau of Engineering on September 27, 1922. Detecting moving objects by observing signal fluctuations became known as the “beat” method of radio detection and resulted from Taylor’s knowledge and experience.
Throughout Taylor’s term of service at the Naval Research Laboratory, he continued to use his technical expertise combined with his knack for invention to ensure funding and research to develop more effective, higher frequency radar systems. He was the chief persuader in convincing notable companies such as the Westinghouse Company, RCA, General Electric and Bell Telephone Laboratories to produce higher frequency vacuum tubes as well as transmitters and receivers desperately needed in the World War II effort in the United States. If Taylor were not present to bridge the gap between theory and manufacturing, radar technology would not have gained the prominence that it came to bear.
Henry Tizard was born in Great Britain in 1885 to a father who was a naval officer, and who raised Tizard to have the unquestioning patriotism of a military man. He spent his early childhood in preparation for service in the Royal Navy, but when a common housefly flew into his eye in a freak accident, the resulting partial blindness disqualified him from military service. Although the doctors assured his parents that the blindness was only temporary, Tizard turned to competition for, and subsequently won, a scholarship to Westminster College. Here he began the first in a series of leaps across the chasms of expectation. Because Tizard had such an interest and ability in science and mathematics, his time at Westminster helped to round out his education through exposure to literature and architecture. The curriculum “Opened his eyes to the splendours of architecture and the continuity of history. For Tizard, already directed towards a career in which science was obviously to play at least some part, it provided a counter-weight. It kept him on an even keel and helped to save him from the aesthetic and moral illiteracy into which the scientist can so easily slide.” Tizard did so well at Westminster that he went to Oxford in 1904 to study and tutor mathematics and chemistry. After graduating he went to the University of Berlin to be a graduate student in what was then the Mecca of science and engineering. In 1909 he returned to Britain and began work in chemical research.
In 1914 Tizard was commissioned in the Royal Artillery and soon became involved in increasing the accuracy of bombs dropped from airplanes. In his attempt to verify his calculations of a falling object, Tizard requested to learn to fly. The authorities at the War Office begrudgingly gave him permission, and he promptly proved to them the value of a flying scientist when his bombsight went into production. Tizard’s work in aviation expanded to include performance testing and fuel efficiency tests that became industry standards. Tizard was a pioneer in the field of aviation performance standards, a position afforded him by his status as the first flying scientist.
When the war ended Tizard went back to chemical research at Oxford and began honing the skills that would secure his place in history. Through his rise in the faculty at Oxford, Tizard came more and more to have administrative dealings with all classes of people. His ability to size up a situation and immediately evaluate the difficulties to come, as well as his respectful dealings with others soon earned him the respect of supervisors and subordinates alike. A friend at the Board of Education recommended Tizard for the position of Director of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, where he was to oversee the use of physics, chemistry, engineering and radio as national defense resources. Through his service in this capacity Tizard perfected his political skills. It was a position practically made for him because it required a detailed knowledge of technical matters, a civilian status and military experience. This position laid the ground work enabling Tizard to bridge the gap between technical specialists and political representatives.
The culmination of Tizard’s participation in pre- World War II events occurred when a political contact asked him to Chair the Committee for the Scientific Survey of Air Defense in January 1935. This group of technicians and politicians were responsible for protecting Britain from the increasingly efficient air attack that the German’s were developing. This nomination would have been impossible without some political attachment, but technical expertise was also a requirement. Through the use of scientific investigation and careful political strategies, Tizard and the members of the committee came to eliminate the majority of possibilities then at hand and decided to recommend radar. If Tizard had not been able to act as an “interpreter” among the military, scientists and politicians, the island country in the North Atlantic most likely would not have been ready for the Battle of Britain, which it won largely due to the radar early warning system of enemy aircraft approaching.
Taylor and Tizard were both instrumental in serving their prospective countries by determining that radar was the best of all options for national defense. Without their common ability to operate on both sides of “the interfaces where science meets technology”, industrial production in the US and the well being of the English would have had very different outcomes after World War II.