A Strange Government Contract
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A STRANGE GOVERNMENT CONTRACT By Ivan Saddler

 

 

When the transistor was invented by Bell Labs, the frequency response was not of great concern.  AT&T only needed audio range for telephone switching and long distance transmission.  Others did want higher frequency performance.  The original transistor construction featured a point contact.  Performance was limited by the thickness of the base.  Texas Instruments was probably the first to use a different construction known as the grown junction transistor.  Base width was easier to control with this construction.  TI made kits of transistors used in early portable radios.  Not to be outdone, RCA invented an even better transistor construction, the mesa transistor.  With care in manufacture, this transistor could function at higher than 30 MHz.  RCA transistor portable radios became very popular.  They were small, light weight, economical and required only one battery; a 9 volt unit which lasted a long time.

 

RCA Defense Electronic Products wanted to introduce the mesa transistor into military communications equipment.  Introduction of revolutionary things seems to take forever for standard equipment.  RCA, under the direction of an engineering group manager  named Harry Laiming, decided to build demonstration units to show the size, weight and performance advantages of transceivers using transistors. At that time high frequency AM was the usual method.  The demo units did operate in the 30 MHz range.  Demonstrations were given at many organizations which controlled what equipment military units could procure.

 

At that time (mid to late 1950s) The Central Intelligence Agency had just replaced the Office of Strategic Services.  The Agency did not yet have a home but was housed in temporary buildings left over from World War II.  One demonstration of these small transceivers was viewed by an employee of the CIA.  He decided that the Agency needed a pair of the units.  Informal discussions with the fellow who wanted the units soon developed the facts that the units were desired, needed to be acquired low key and not leave records.  Bureaucracy at RCA and government procurement regulations caused snags in completing the deal.  Finally, a method was worked out to accomplish the delivery.

 

One day, by agreement, I waited on a corner across the street from the Bureau of Engraving until a fellow arrived at the same corner.  He was handed a brown paper bag containing two of the transceivers.  After a peek in the bag, he handed me an envelope.  I counted the paper money and found the amount correct.  We shook hands and left in different directions.

 

Although unheralded, to the best of my knowledge, this was the introduction of transistors to government communications equipment.

 

 
 

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