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ELMER W. ENGSTROM 1901-1984 BY WILLIAM WEBSTER ELMER W ENGSTROM died at the Meadow Lakes Retirement Community in Hightstown, New Jersey, on October 30, 1984, after a long illness. Dr. Engstrom, a former president of the RCA Corporation who also headed its research labo- ratories in Princeton, New Jersey, played a major role in the development of color television. He retired from RCA in 1969. Dr. Engstrom rose to the top level of one of the worId's largest electronics companies from a background of re- search, engineering, and technical management. In his ca- reer of thirty-nine years with RCA, he directed major re- search and engineering programs and advanced through increasingly important executive assignments involving the manufacture and marketing as well as the technical activities of the company. Dr. Engstrom served as president of RCA from ~ 96 ~ to the end of 1965. In the ensuing two years, he was chairman of the executive committee of the boars! of directors and chief executive officer. He relinquished the latter title in 1968 but remained chairman of the executive committee until his re- tirement. During the early years of his retirement, he was a consultant to RCA and remained! a member of the board of directors until 1971. Elmer Engstrom was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota,-on 151
152 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES August 25, 1901. He graduatecI from the University of Min- nesota with a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1923. In later years he was awarded honorary degrees by eighteen colleges ~ · · . and universities. Following his graduation from the University of Minne- sota, he joined the General Electric Company in Schenec- tatly, New York, and was assigned to engineering clevelop- ment work on ractio transmitting and receiving equipment. When General Electric initiated commercial activity In mo- tion picture sound equipment, he was placed in charge of the company's engineering development and apparatus design. In 1930, when the radio ant] engineering activities of Gen- eral Electric were transferred! to RCA, Elmer Engstrom joined the corporation as division engineer in charge of the Photophone sounct motion picture apparatus. Soon after- wards, he assumed engineering responsibilities for RCA's broadcast receiver development anct production. Beginning in the 1930s, Dr. Engstrom supervised RC~s television research and development program. He clevel- ope(1 the concept of television as a complete system, intro- ducing one of the early large-scale examples of the system's engineering concept that is now stanclard in major technical programs. In the postwar years, as head of RCA Laborato- ries, he applied the same concept in directing the clevelop- ment program for the all-electronic, compatible color televi- sion system. In 193 ~ Dr. Engstrom directed the first test of a complete television system at RCA. The test was macie in the Empire State Builcling, where a transmitter was installed on the eighty-fifth floor. A mechanical scanner provided a 120-line, 24-frame picture from live anct film subjects. Extensive field tests were then macle using the first cathode ray tube receiv- ers. The picture clarity left much to be desirect, but the equipment worked well as a system, ant! the tests proved that television broadcasting was possible. In 1942, when all RCA research project activities were merged at Princeton, New Jersey, Dr. Engstrom became cli-
ELMER W. ENGSTROM 153 rector of general research. In 1945 he was electecl vice- presiclent in charge of research. Under his direction the re- search group of the RCA Laboratories compiled a brilliant wartime record] in the fielcts of radar, radio, shoran, sonar, airborne electronics, infrared! television, and acoustics. The end of WorIct War II resulted in a transition to a peacetime economy. Television became a major concern of the electronics industry. A rush to establish new television stations was follower! by a partial freeze as the industry and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) settled the thorny questions of stanciards, first for monochrome ant! then for color. During the lengthy field! tests, hearings, and reviews, Dr. Engstrom lect RCA,s technical efforts and acted as the corporation's chief spokesman. He also served as vice- chairman of the National Television System Committee, the industry committee that studied and recommended the stan- ciarcts eventually adopted by the FCC in 1953. In ~ 955 Elmer Engstrom, then senior executive vice- presiclent of RCA, was also placer! in charge of RCA,s de- fense activities. Spurred by the experience of the Korean War, a tremendous builclup was taking place in defense elec- tronics. Large projects such as BMEWS (the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System) were undertaken ant! successfully completecl by RCA. As the principal engineering executive of RCA during the 1950s, Dr. Engstrom was responsible for the establishment in 1958 of RCAs Astro-Electronics Division, the first organi- zation of its scope established within the electronics industry to develop space electronic systems. The very successful TIROS (Television Infrared Observation Satellite) weather- reporting satellite system was an early product of this divi- s~on. These anti other contributions in the fields of both engi- neering and corporate management brought Dr. Engstrom a number of honors from both engineering ant! inclustrial organizations. He was one of the founding members of the National Academy of Engineering and a member of its . .
154 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES Council. In 1965 he presented the Charles Proteus Steinmetz Centennial Lecture at the first annual meeting of the Na- tional Academy of Engineering and received the Charles Proteus Steinmetz Centennial Medal. In 1958 he was the recipient of the Inclustrial Research Institute Medal for "distinguished leadership in industrial research," and in 1962 he received the Mecial of Honor of the Electronic Industries Association in recognition of his contributions to the advancement of the electronics industry. In ~ 966 Dr. Engstrom was presented with the Founders Award of the Institute of Electrical anc! Electronics Engi- neers "for his leadership in management anct integration of research and development programs and for his foresighted application of the systems engineering concept in bringing television to the public." That same year he also received the William Proctor Prize for scientific achievement from the Scientific Research Society of America. His foreign honors included membership in the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and the rank of commander in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. In 1965 the King of Sweden conferred on him the rank of com- mander of the Royal Order of Vasa. Dr. Engstrom was the author ant] coauthor of numerous articles that appeared in technical publications and was a li- censed professional engineer in the state of New York. He participated in the work of many major advisory groups and professional organizations during his career. Among his principal positions and memberships were chairman of the Research and Engineering Advisory Pane! on Electronics; member of the Defense Science Board, Office of the Secre- tary of Defense; member of the Research and Development Committee of the National Security Industrial Association and chairman of its visiting committee to the Naval Research Laboratory; and member of President Nixon's Science Policy Task Force. In 1965 Elmer Engstrom was appointed chairman of the U.S. Industrial Payroll Savings Committee by Douglas Dillon,
ELMER W. ENGSTROM 155 Secretary of the Treasury. In honor of his community activi- ties in Princeton, New Jersey, Dr. Engstrom was given the Gerard B. Lambert Community Service Award from the Princeton Area Uniter! Community Funs! and was named "Man of the Year for 1964" by the Princeton Chamber of Commerce and Civic Council. Dr. Engstrom's great ability was to recognize, organize, and direct the proliferating talents that surrounded him. With- out exception, those who worked with him hac! not only a high respect for his ability and integrity but also a genuine liking for the man himself. Perhaps steadfastness was his most outstanding trait. Over the years, his personality did not change much from his clays as a young engineer. Those who knew Elmer Engs- trom best would tell you that. He became more experienced, of course, and more mature, but he remained quiet in mien, courteous in speech, and almost embarrassingly honest in everything he clicI. He was always searching in his questioning manner and steely-eyec! in his decision-making style. He had a natural re- serve that was sometimes mistaken for aloofness, yet he was always quick to acknowledge the thousands of acquaintances he had made over the years, making it a point to maintain personal relationships that dated back to his clays as a young engineer.