Charles Wyckoff: Working with 'Doc’ Edgerton - 1995 Interview
INTERVIEWER 1: Today is Wednesday, February 15, 1995. And we're talking with Charles Wyckoff about his work with Harold Edgerton.
By way of introduction, could you tell us about how you came to MIT, and got into Doc's lab. And tell us your story from the beginning.
WYCKOFF: OK, there is a beginning. I went to Dartmouth College, and I figured that I needed a little more technical experience, so I came down to MIT. And a friend of mine had already preceded, me and he knew of Doc. And he came around to me one day and he said-- he knew that I was interested in color photography, I'd already had a patent pending on that-- and so he said, I think Doc would be interested in having you part of the scene.
So he introduced me to Doc. And it looked very interesting, so in 1939, in conjunction with my studies here, I started to fiddle around with Doc in the lab, and helped him out here and there. And that's how I finally got hooked on Doc-- because as everybody knows, he's kind of a magic character. He's got a very inviting personality that makes you want to work with him.
The first thing he did was to show me some of the experiments he was working on, and they were exactly what I had in mind. So from that day on, I was hooked.
INTERVIEWER 1: Now, was the first big project that you worked on the nighttime aerial reconnaissance photography development?
WYCKOFF: No, that didn't come until later. The first big project really was connected with the Navy. Doc and I would go down to the Dahlgren proving ground-- the Navy proving ground-- and then we'd alternate and go to the Army proving ground at Aberdeen. And we would take the micro flash along, and a couple of cameras, and photograph bullets going through the air just before they impacted a steel target.
And this was, of course, before the war. Oh, an interesting episode there, by the way, occurred at Aberdeen. We had a big bomb up on a pole-- I've forgotten what it was maybe, 10,000 pounds, or something like that, the biggest one that they had exploded so far. Well, they hadn't exploded it yet, they were getting ready to. And it was full of instruments. And Doc and I had a camera called the Jenkins camera-- it was one that he got from the widow C. Frances Jenkins, and he dug it out of the museum-- not this museum, because this museum hadn't started yet.
And we conditioned that camera so that we could take pictures. And we used a bent piece of metal from the USS Kearsarge hull as our shelter. So the camera would be inside this shelter. By means of a mirror, it would look at the bomb over here.
And we had selected the-- we didn't select the site, put somebody in Aberdeen had selected this site as being a perfect site, because it was in the middle of an artillery range, and nobody would come around and be too near the bomb when it went off.
So, we were just about finished with our preparations-- just about ready to start the tests, and we were going to leave, when all of a sudden we heard bullets coming over. [MAKES SOUND EFFECTS] And they landed fairly close to us. So everybody scrambled to get out of there.
And Doc was out taking pictures at the time, so he calmly folded up his camera. And I stayed behind in here, and Doc was out in the front. I said, what are you doing out there? And he said, well the bullets are coming from here, Charlie, you're going to get hit. And I said, the bomb is over there, Doc! If it goes off, you're going to get hit!
So we argued back and forth. We finally settled the thing, and went into safety immediately. [LAUGHS]
So that was my introduction to the kind of harebrained things that happened to us from then on.
INTERVIEWER 1: And the adapted Jenkins camera was a motion picture?
WYCKOFF: That was a motion picture camera, 35 millimeter. It used nitrate film, because that's all there was in those early days. And of course, that's an explosive hazard in itself. The camera would operate-- it was built in 1916, by the way-- and this camera would operate at 3,000 pictures per second.
And about every third or fourth time you operated it, it would jam and burst into flames. [LAUGHTER] So that meant that we had to take-- it had 48 lenses in it-- that meant that I had to take it all apart, clean each lens out, and put it back together again.
INTERVIEWER 1: We'll have to talk more about that another time.
OK, so how did how did that work-- blowing things up and photographing it-- [LAUGHS] translate through your career? Because I know this is a common theme going here.
WYCKOFF: Well, it is. Ending up with A-bombs-- that was the biggest.
INTERVIEWER 1: Right. Tell us about the path from Dalghren to [INAUDIBLE].
WYCKOFF: Right, let's get down to Dahlgren for a moment. Because this is almost an introduction now to a-bombs. There were two officers down there, two Naval officers, in connection with this testing we were doing on bullets. One of them was a man by the name of Norris Bradbury, who ultimately went out to Los Alamos in the Manhattan Project, and he became the director of the Los Alamos Lab. We met him down there.
Another one was Admiral Parsons, he was a commander at that time. And he became the chief weaponaire for the Japanese bombs. So we didn't know that that's what was going to happen, but that's some of our experience Dahlgren-- the Navy proving ground.
And then the war was beginning to show up. We still weren't in the war, but Colonel Goddard got a hold of Doc and wanted something to replace flash bombs. And so doc started working on the electronic flash for airplane news. And we were all involved in that project for a while-- the war still hadn't started.
And as I was explaining to you earlier, one of the ways we would test this thing would be to have airplanes fly out of Logan at different altitudes, and then we'd photograph these planes, so that we would know how far away we could photograph. In other words, what altitude we had to fly in order to get a good picture on the ground.
And we were able to do this with-- I hate to say it, but Doc's brashness, in calling up a pilot and say, would you fly over MIT for us, at a certain altitude? And that's how we did it.
Then later on, the Navy-- now we got into the war-- and the Navy was calling. And Doc said, Charlie, you take the Navy stuff. And I'm going to work on this stuff for the Army Air Corps. And so we kind of split at that time-- I handled all the Navy stuff, and Doc handled the Air Force stuff. Along with Fred Barstow.
INTERVIEWER 1: What was the difference?
WYCKOFF: What's that?
INTERVIEWER 1: What was the difference? Was it the same equipment, just the two forces? Or was there a difference between what the Navy used, and what the Army Air Corps--
WYCKOFF: Well, there was quite a bit of difference, because the Army was interested in this-- the Army Air Corps-- was interested in the electronic flash from the air. And that was a different thing altogether. The flash duration didn't have to be as short as it did for taking pictures of bullets, or shockwaves.
So this was just a matter of Doc putting together all kinds of capacitance to really pump a lot of electronics into the flash tube. And so that kept him busy just working on that. Whereas, my stuff with the Navy was just the standard micro flash, and things like that.
INTERVIEWER 1: So your work continued out of what you were doing at Dahlgren, and a continuation of bullet and artillery tests?
WYCKOFF: Yeah. And then we went-- in Washington, there was a place called the Model Basin, which is, again, run by the Navy. And they had a water tank. And they would explode little charges under water, and I would take high-speed motion pictures of it. Now, this was simulating what a mine or a torpedo would do underwater.
And every now and then, Doc would come down and see what was happening. And he'd offer his advice. And this is the way we got going.
INTERVIEWER 1: Who else worked with you on this? From Doc's immediate circle? I know Fred Barstow was involved, but was he with the electronic flash, or--
WYCKOFF: No, well yes, it's an electronic flash in his case.
INTERVIEWER 1: Right, I'm sorry, I meant the--
WYCKOFF: But he concentrated with Doc on the aerial stuff. Where as I-- yes?
CREW: Feel free to--
WYCKOFF: A swig of water? I think I will, because I'm getting a little [CLEARS THROAT].
CREW: Exactly, so take your time. You do that whenever you want.
WYCKOFF: Now, Fred started out, by the way, doing a thesis under Doc. And this was an interesting story. He was studying shockwave propagation in glass, and crystal, and things. And he had a lab up on the second floor of building 10. Not a lab, he had an office there.
And he had shattered glass all over the floor. The custodians were afraid to go in there. [LAUGHS] So he had to do his own cleaning.
Now, the interesting part of that story is not the glass on the floor, but he decided that he was going to study the same phenomenon with sugar, with crystals of sugar. So he got hold of some candy manufacturer who gave him all sorts of samples of sugar in plate form. And whenever I'd come in to visit him, we'd start eating up his samples.
So when they got down to the time you really wanted them, he didn't have any samples left. He had to send for some more. But that's how Fred got started with Doc. And he was more interested in the electronics, and so he helped Doc and Ken Germeshausen put the electronics together for the aerial photography group.
And so during the war, although Doc went abroad, and Fred stayed in the lab here at MIT, he was part of Doc's team on that. Whereas I was strictly Navy.
INTERVIEWER 1: Now, you said that you originally came to MIT because of your interest in color photography.
WYCKOFF: No, no, because I realized I needed some technical education, which I only got a moderate amount of at Dartmouth. I happened to be interested in color photography. And that's really how I got associated with Doc, because this friend of mine, Evan [? Pankey, ?] thought that I might be able to add something to Doc.
In other words, Doc was interested in color at that time, so perhaps my background might have been a little more suitable than most people. And especially since I was interested in photography, in darkroom technology and all this, it looked like a good partnership. Which it turned out to be.
INTERVIEWER 1: So does that mean that when Doc started developing the Kodatron for studio work, and he used that for some early color photography in the studio, you were part of that, as well.
WYCKOFF: Yes, that's right.
INTERVIEWER 1: Can you talk a little bit about that?
WYCKOFF: Sure. In the early days, we did all the glassblowing right in the lab at MIT. So all the tubes were made right there. And the gas filling these tubes, in the early days-- in the very early days-- was strictly hydrogen, and then mercury. And of course, these were not very good as light emitters.
And then along came krypton, and that was much better. And so the studio units started out with krypton. But they were deficient in certain colors, so it was very difficult to get a good color picture using a krypton tube.
And I don't know what Doc did, but he got a hold of somebody at the General Electric plant in Cleveland-- Neila Park-- who was interested in exotic gases, the rare gases. And so this fellow showed up one day, in our office at MIT, with a flask. And he said, here is the world's largest supply of xenon gas, right here. [LAUGHS]
And so we started filling the tubes with that. And I made some spectrograms showing what the light output of that was, contrasted with krypton, and it looked perfect. It looked just like sunlight.
So we started using that in our so-called studio units, the Kodatron units, and that made color photography with electronic flash much more practical than it had been. Although color pictures were made before that.
INTERVIEWER 1: Why was xenon so hard to come by?
WYCKOFF: It didn't have any use. And here it is floating around in the atmosphere--
INTERVIEWER 1: But there was no demand, so there was no supply.
WYCKOFF: Yeah, whereas argon-- I forgot to mention argon. Argon came along before krypton. And argon, of course, was in use long before krypton was, and it's used for the welding industry. So there was an abundant supply of argon. And then krypton began to be used for the same thing, so there was a more abundant supply of that.
But nobody wanted xenon. They didn't even know about it. So this fella from GE managed to somehow or another find out how to collect it and make it, and that's how we got started.
We didn't want to tell him right away, that's what we're going to use, because we didn't have any to test out in order to make a spectrogram and see what it would be like. but it was a perfect simulation of sunlight.
INTERVIEWER 1: OK, so the war, you've gone through the war, you've photographed all these bullets. You're getting into--
WYCKOFF: Well, we haven't really gone through the war, yet. Some of the these thing happened during that time. [CHUCKLES] And some of them occurred before that time, and some of them occurred after that time. But now let's get after the war.
Since the war was really over, and the a-bombs had already-- three of them had already been exploded, one of them in Alamogordo, New Mexico, two of them over Japan, and the fourth one was going to be a Navy test out at Bikini. And so since I had established myself with a Navy connection, it was obvious that these Navy people wanted me to be involved in that.
So I got involved from the standpoint of Edgerton Germeshausen & Grier-- that's what the partnership was called at that time. I was I was a Navy representative from Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier on that test. And that was probably the world's largest fiasco. I don't think they'll ever be another one as big as that.
INTERVIEWER 1: Why? What went wrong?
WYCKOFF: Everything went wrong. Everything you can think of.
This was a big show-- the Navy said, there's no bomb that's going to sink our ships. So we'll get them out in force and we'll test them, and we'll find out.
And the Air Force, of course, hadn't come into being as an Air Force, it was still the US Army Air Corps. And they were the ones that were going to drop the bomb on the target ship-- the target ship, in that case, was the Nevada, which was a victim at Pearl Harbor but they salvaged it and reconditioned it. And it served its duty during World War II. And then afterwards, they said, let's use that ship as our target ship.
So they painted it a bright orange color, because that's supposed to signify danger. They knew that red would be darker, so they picked orange. But it turned out that orange was a bad color, too, because from 20 or 30 miles, it blended into the ocean. You couldn't see it.
So the bombing people just couldn't see it. So they had 36 inch arc searchlights, aimed right down the bombing alley. And the bombardier still couldn't see it, until they got within about 15 miles. And that's too close-- they could alter their course.
And so I heard about this, and one of the pieces of equipment that I had with me-- you know, when I got involved in this thing, I didn't know what I was going to be faced with, so I took all the equipment I could think of that we might use. One of them was a unit that we called a Sea Search unit. This was something that we developed during the war to fly at fairly low altitudes looking for submarines. And when we'd see something, we'd flash, and we'd get a picture of it.
And that looked like a unit that I might use somewhere on this test. So I brought it along. We'll have a slight break here. [CLEARS THROAT]
And incidentally, during all this decision making with the carbon arc searchlight, they said, this is the wrong color of the ship, so let's paint it white. So all the superstructure was painted white. And the white paint didn't dry right away, so we were all walking around in white paint. That made a mess.
And I had lunch with the skipper of the ship one day-- and of course, I dragged my white painted shoes onto his nice carpet-- and he had a piano in his office. I said, what's the piano for? He said, well, you know, I like to play the piano, so I brought it along. I said, well, you're going to lose it. He said, nah, I'm going to sail this ship back to Pearl Harbor.
So he said, I'll tell you something right now. This ship was not sea worthy. And I had all the pumps going, full blast, in order to keep it afloat to get out here. He said, but I'm going to sail it back to Pearl Harbor after the test.
Well, he was right. He did.
Anyhow, I tried this Sea Search unit out-- I mounted the thing up on the mast, right beside the 36-inch carbon searchlights. And it was radio controlled so that the bombardier could flash it anytime he wanted. So when he got to a position where he said, let me see if I can see it, he would watch it.
And he found that he could see this thing from 40 miles out, as opposed to 15. So that was a very useful thing.
So you might say that this should have made everything perfect. Well, it helped, but not quite enough.
This was the very first large-scale test where telemetry was being used for the first time. Now telemetry means, really, that you're going to radio out your signals to a remote spot, so they don't get damaged. And since this was a Navy show, the Navy selected their smartest statisticians, and decided where the antenna should be to transmit the data.
And where do you think zero point actually turned out to be? Over the antennas. So that was one thing that was bad.
Another thing that was bad was that the Army Air Corps fellas said that, we can hit a pickle barrel from 20,000 feet. So we'll have no trouble dropping the bomb right on the Nevada. Well, the trouble is, there was no pickle barrel.
The bombardier was not given access to this bomb until the last minute. And the casing was not what he was told it was. And it turned out that the casing was not airworthy. So as the bomb was released, the tail bent-- it didn't pull off, but it bent. And so it didn't go down the way it was supposed to go down.
So it landed a half-mile off target. And that's why it landed on the antennas. So the Nevada was saved.
And now, another thing that happened, the Manhattan district had been disbanded-- it wasn't anymore. And so, Los Alamos was kind of on their own. There was no Atomic Energy Commission, yet. And they were the ones that supplied the timing signals out to each person who was doing an experiment.
And I had some high-speed motion picture cameras out there, and the total recording time-- the total time, on and off, before we ran out of film was two seconds. Well, the zeroth time didn't come along until 17 seconds after the explosion. So obviously, I didn't get any records. It was all wiped out right there.
But I did have some other instruments that were self-supporting-- they were operating by a photo cell, so I did get those records. So here we were, nobody that really needed precise timing got any data. Because the timing signals didn't go off.
And all the reporters-- the news photographers, the newspapers, the magazine reporters, radio, any we talked-- I mean, Bikini was such a nice place that they liked it on the beach, and they wrote all their stories the day beforehand. And they said, well, all we have to do is ship them out now, and that's it. We'll watch the thing.
Well, of course, it didn't work the way their stories said. So there was a mad scramble to try to get the stories back and write it the way it should have been. Now you can see why I said it's the world's largest fiasco-- it really was. We had Russian visitors out there, we had everybody-- it was open to the public, almost.
So from then on, the security was a lot more tight. And we were able to do things, then.
INTERVIEWER 1: So tell us about the development of the rapid triadic, and some more successful tests.
WYCKOFF: Oh, all right. The very first official job-- that, incidentally, EG&G was still Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier, and we had our offices right here at MIT. And we had to have our own guards for security. And the very first test that we went on, officially-- not the Bikini test-- officially from Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier, was in 1947, or '48, called Sandstone.
And we were not doing photography on that test-- we were doing photocell work with celescopes, and things like that. And it was strictly a shipboard operation. We weren't on land. And so during the time-- no, I beg your pardon. We did have some stations on land.
We had some big reflectors with photocells in them, and they were telemetered out to our ship.
Anyhow, during the waiting period, we got to talking with some of the guests out there. And it turned out these guests that we were talking with were what you might call embryo Atomic Energy commissioners. They were about to form, but they haven't formed yet. And Wright Patterson was doing the high-speed photography, and we told them we thought that was the wrong approach-- even though that's basically what we did, high-speed motion pictures-- we said that's the wrong approach.
And we said-- and Doc said, particularly-- what we need are some large pictures. You know? Single pictures. Well, can you do that? Doc said, sure.
We didn't have the camera to do it yet. But he knew we could come up with something somewhere.
So we went back, and incidentally, on the basis of that-- not that alone, but on the basis of that-- we did get the contract with the AEC. We were their first prime contractor. Not because of that, but because of the timing and firing, and this kind of helped.
So we put on a full blast program to try to develop a camera which would take a single picture-- maybe 2 or 3 inches square, in a very short time. And one of them was a camera called a-- from Eastman Kodak-- called a multiple aperture focal plane scanner. That's a mouthful.
It was somewhat similar to one of the early TV systems, back in 1916, called a Nipkow disk, but not quite the same. Then we had another one, in which we used a crystal with polarizers-- ammonium dihydrogen phosphate crystal. And I worked on that one, and I also worked on the Eastman camera.
And incidentally, that's how I got into the film business. Because the film required for that camera was non-existent, so the camera didn't work. We got three cameras, paid $100,000 for each, and the cameras wouldn't work because the film was wrong. So I got into the film business at that stage, came up with an emulsion working with Kodak that made it work.
And the ammonium dihydrogen phosphate shutter wasn't working out. Doc, in the meantime, was working on one called the Faraday shutter. And it got down to the point in our program where we had to cut out something and concentrate on one. And we'd already committed ourselves for the Eastman camera so, that was a go. So the other one to cut out was the one that I was working on, because it just wasn't producing results.
So I jumped with Doc, and we worked on the magneto shutter. And that's the beginning of the rapatronic right there. We finally got that up to the point where that would work.
But we were ham-strung, because in those days, we knew we had to use polarized light. And in order to make it work, with the Faraday principle, you have a lead glass cylinder with a wire wrapped around it, a coil. And if you discharge a capacitor through that coil, it creates a magnetic field for a very short time.
And that actually rotates the plane of polarization. Nothing mechanically moves-- it just rotates the plane of polarization, and it lets the light through. But using two polarizers together, when you cross them, doesn't produce enough density. It produces enough density so that you could use them goggles to watching an a-bomb, but not enough to exclude light the way we had to.
So I came up with the idea of using two systems. One of them with a cylinder and the cross polarizers, and a second one behind it. And so we tried to get Polaroid to make this for us. And Land, Din Land, said, well, that isn't going to work. You get infinite density of nickel prisms. And I said, well, we're not using nickel prims.
I said, the thing that makes this work, is the fact that you've got a polarizer system here, and the light leakage that comes out is still plain polarized. I said, therefore, you could use it. Oh, yes, he said. That's right.
Now, he didn't agree to this right away. I had to bring the whole team over-- I had to bring Doc, had to bring Ken Germeshausen, I had to bring Bob Morris, Bob Davis. And there was an array of us, maybe a half a dozen, sitting in his office trying to convince him it would work so that he ought to make it for us.
He said, that's fine. I agree. But how are we going to know that we're lined up? We don't have photocell that'll work. I said, well, Doc said, we do. Because we'd just been working on something similar to that. So we'll give you a photocell system to tell you when they're properly oriented. So that was the beginning of the rapatronic right there.
But we still knew that that wasn't enough density, so we had to have a mechanical shutter that would close right after the exposure was made-- but that was slow. So we needed another shutter in conjunction with that, that would close immediately after the thing was over, and not give us the complete density, but give us some. And so that was what we call there a fuse shutter. We'll get into that in a moment.
INTERVIEWER 1: Tell us about some of your experiences in photographing atomic explosions.
WYCKOFF: Oh, they're quite interesting. This Kodak camera that I mentioned to you, used a glass disk, 21 inches in diameter. And it was very precisely ground, and so that it was flat to better than 1,000th of an inch when it would rotate. And this had to be loaded in the dark.
And so we did it at night, we loaded the camera at night. And then, in order to recover it, we had to do it at night-- but the helicopters that would take us away-- bring us in and take us away-- said, we can't operate at night. So we have to go in near dusk.
And we agreed. We said, with enough cloth, we can probably do this. So Doc and I went out and recovered. And we got the-- it was a helicopter operation. We got off the ground. And we started to fly over the crater.
And the pilot smelled gas. So he cut the engine right away. And we said, what are you doing? What are you doing? He was-- here's the crater we just dug. He said, well, we can't fly anywhere. Got to come down. I said, if you come down in that hole, we're all going to die.
So he managed to get to the edge of the island when he came down. And we hollered, he hollered mayday on the radio. Now mayday is a signal, universally accepted everywhere-- everybody listens to it-- stops. Find out what the trouble is. Well the guy at Eniwetok tower said, wait one. [CHUCKLES]
So it didn't do any good, because by the time we answered him again, we were below the line of sight and he couldn't hear us. So that's where we were stuck. And we made our way into the bunker where we were protected. But it was dark, there was no electricity. And we figured that maybe we could activate the telephone system. But we couldn't-- it was dark in there and we couldn't see what we were doing.
And I happened to lean against the wall, and there was a battlefield phone there. And just for the heck of it, I cranked it. And somebody said, hello? They said, what are you doing out there?
I said, well, we're in the bunker, we're stuck. Nobody's supposed to be there. Well, we are, we're stuck. We need some help. We just crashed in our helicopter.
So then, that started the activity going. And the pilot said, get my friend, Joe Blow, whatever his name was, and he knows what the problem is, and get him to fly a piece out in his helicopter. And so they did. It took several hours to do all this-- it was a very melodramatic thing.
They got out there, and they didn't have the right tools. So Doc, with his trusty screwdriver, said, here, let me do it. So he replaced it. And we took off and came back.
That was one of the very things. We had a few more like that. Very interesting adventures, I will say that.
Doc had a special little island on one of these things, all to himself. And he had a luau party every three weeks or so, and we'd all come with luau-- [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER 1: How long a period of time was he out there, and were you out in the South Pacific, doing this? A couple of months? Or a couple of years?
WYCKOFF: Well, no, this covered a period of several years. But we'd alternate. We'd go to Eniwetok one time, Bikini another time, and then the Nevada test site another time. We started, really-- even though we started out at Bikini, that was the Navy show. The next move was Eniwetok. But before that started, we had an operation going out in Nevada, and that was still being designed on the backs of envelopes when we got out there.
So we manned a big effort there where we had trucks. And then after that was over, we said we'd then board ship and go out to the Eniwetok thing.
So this covered a period of a number of years. But we would be out there any one time for maybe six weeks, and then come back. And Doc didn't always go. He went whenever he got the opportunity to go. And he used his what he called his [? piddletronic ?] camera. He got some startling pictures, because this camera-- again, it was a special rapatronic, but he used a very long, focal-length lens, like a telescope.
So our camera stations were usually something like 20 or 30 miles away. But with this long telescope, he could get right on top of it. So some of the pictures you've seen of the cabs, that haven't quite exploded yet, were made with that camera.
INTERVIEWER 1: OK, let's come back just for a little bit to the non-military side of what you were working on. And I'd like you to talk a bit about how the nighttime aerial photography tube was re-adapted for a peace-time use.
WYCKOFF: That would be a-- I think the most spectacular one would be what we called the sun flash. And that got its name because one of the photographic studios in New York City was not-- [CLEAR THROAT]
I'll start on that one completely.
CREW: Great, and you've got some [INAUDIBLE] over your shoulder.
INTERVIEWER 1: Yeah, back there if you need it.
WYCKOFF: Oh, OK-- so you can see that a little. All right. That frog keeps coming up.
The sun flash evolved as a result of the electronic aerial photography. The aerial photography-- it was called portable, because it was in an airplane. It could be moved. But it weighed several tons. And it was basically a lot of capacitors put together with one flash tube. And the flash tube is very similar to this one that you can see right in back of me here.
A number of photographic studios in New York, each year, would go out to Arizona with a bunch of models to model clothes for things like Montgomery Ward catalog. And this one commercial illustrator was not in on this-- they were not politically in. So they said, there must be some way that we can bring the Arizona sun into our studio.
So they called up Doc. And Doc said, sure, we can do that. Well, again, we didn't know we could. But there's always a way.
And so I got involved in that almost immediately. And the first thing I did was to find out really what they needed. So I took a unit down there that, fortunately, only weighed half a ton. And had a reflector on it. The tube was like what you see in back of me, but it was in this big reflector.
When I got down to the studio, and they told me what the problem was, the first thing I did was to say, paint your walls white. Well, in a photographic studio, that's the last thing you do. You don't want reflections from your walls. But in this case, this would be the simulated sky.
So they agreed they'd do it. And then I took the reflector off the lamp, and got them to rig it up on a tall pole. And I said, now give me a reflector from one of your spotlights. That's about so big-- it has to be about 6 or 7 inches in diameter. What's that for? I said, well that's going to look like the sun-- that's going to subtend the same angle-- so that your shadows won't be crystal sharp, they'll be the same sharp as the sun is.
We put that in back of the tube, put this thing up on a pole. And they said, now we need a model. And the president and CEO of commercial illustrators was sitting there. And so I said, you look like a good model. So you sit down on the chair. Oh, no, I don't photograph well.
Well, you photograph outside, don't you? Sure. Well, this will look like outside. So we took a picture of him.
Sure enough, they were all flabbergasted when they saw it. Because it looked just like sunlight. And that's how we got started.
So then we came back, I came back, and reported my findings. And that's when we went to work and decided that we would build a sun flash unit for them. We didn't have a name, but somebody came up with the idea of sun flash, and that stuck.
And so we made it pretty, and photographers accepted it. And even today-- this, of course, occurred-- I'm trying to think when it did happen. Probably in the mid-'50s, something like that. And even today, that sun flash is being used by a number of studios-- not just down in New York, but all over.
Of course, EG&G doesn't make them anymore, somebody else makes them. But at least we got them started.
INTERVIEWER 1: OK, I think to finish out, I'd like you to talk about your life after Doc. I know you started up your own company, and just to finish out your story here.
WYCKOFF: All right, well my connection with Doc continued, because every summer, he would have a bunch of people come in where he'd give them lectures on high-speed photography, and things like that. So every year, I participated in those things. And that continued on.
And some of the films that I had invented at EG&G for the AEC were quite useful for solar eclipses. So I became known as an eclipse chaser. And I had developed a film-- not for AEC, but for NASA, which had a wide exposure latitude, for use up on the moon. So that was ideal for eclipse photography.
So there was a particularly long eclipse that was going to be seen over in Africa. And so I got a couple of friends to help me out on that. And one of them happened to be my patent attorney. And so he agreed-- he said, yeah, I'll go over and help you. But on the way back home, I'd like to have you help me on my project. Sure, I'll do that.
So I said, what's your project? He says, I'm looking for the Loch Ness monster. [LAUGHS] So I got stuck on that one.
INTERVIEWER 1: Yeah, tell us about that, because I see your name cropping up in Doc's notebooks when he talks about Loch Ness.
WYCKOFF: Well, Doc had gotten involved in this project before I did. But he said, you're not going to use my name. He said, I'll loan you some equipment. Which he did. He had developed some equipment for the National Geographic for underwater work.
And he said, this ought to do for you. So he gave it to Bob Rines to use. And Bob just couldn't get him to come over there-- he didn't want to have anything to do with it. But he had trapped me, obviously.
And so I got to work with Bob on that. And we developed up a system-- each year we go over, what would be better? We finally connected sonars with it, and computers, and everything else. And we got some pretty good pictures in 1975, and Doc heard about them.
So he said, hey, what's this that I hear about your pictures from Loch Ness? I said, oh, you wouldn't be interested in those, Doc. Well, what are they like? Nah, you don't want to see those. Well, can I come out look at them? Well, sure if you want.
So he and Gene [? Mooney ?] came out, and he looked at them. And he said, is it too late to join the team?
So he was publicly hooked at that time. And so we went over a number of times. And the last big episode, we decided we needed an underwater photographer. And somebody came up with-- we were thinking of underwater robots and things like that, but we couldn't get our hands on those. We didn't have any money.
As a matter of fact, our team consisted of ex-MIT guys that were used to scrounging. You know, we'd go down the hall, hey, that's a good piece of equipment, who owns that? We'd talk the guy into joining the team, he'd bring it over.
And so somebody-- we couldn't find anybody at MIT that was really working on underwater robots at that time. So somebody came up with the idea of using dolphins. And that was a red hot idea. So we dived into that one.
And I contacted the Navy to see what they were doing, because I knew they were using dolphins for some purpose. And said, what kind of harnesses do you use? Well, they wouldn't tell us too much, but they sent us something-- they said, here's a harness that we're using.
So we looked at it, and it was terrible. It looked like spaghetti. If you put the harness on the dolphin, he couldn't ever get out of it. It was a sure death trap. So we said, we can't use that.
So we developed our own harness, called a voluntary harness, where the dolphin would swim into this thing on its own, and swim out any time it wanted. And we'd strap the equipment onto it-- a camera on one side, a light source on the other. And that looked fine.
We trained the dolphins down in Florida, and it's amazing what you can do with a dolphin. The trainer knew exactly how to train them. And explained to the dolphins, somehow or another through his hand signals, that we wanted the dolphins to take pictures of objects a certain size. So they got the idea, well, we're that size, so they were taking pictures of each other.
So we had to kill 'em with that idea. And they were also taking pictures-- they'd come up every now and then and get a picture of us on land. But we did have them-- we got them trained so that they would go underwater, look for these things. And we figured that we didn't know what the so-called monster would do-- we knew they weren't monsters, but we didn't know what they were.
And so we said, we'd better have-- we've got to use two dolphins, one of them to ride shotgun for the other in case it got into trouble, and the second one could nosey around and scare the creature off. As long as we had two dolphins, put cameras on each one.
So we knew that with a voluntary harness, we had a very good chance of losing our equipment, if they got tired of it or something, they'd just drop it. So we decided to train them to retrieve our equipment when they dropped it.
And we selected what we thought was the smartest dolphin to wear the harness, and the other one, we said, well, you'll be the retriever. Will, it turned out the one that we selected as the retriever was the smart one. Because when she-- dolphins work only for food.
They don't work for love or anything else-- their paycheck is a fish. So when she saw the other dolphin with a harness on, she knew her job her job was to retrieve it. So she poked the other dolphin in the ribs, it would drop the harness, she'd go down and get it and get her fish.
They're crafty creature. So we got them well-trained. And the camera equipment was highly sophisticated at that point. We had, as I say, our own sonar, and of course, the dolphin uses sonar. And it did not interfere with the dolphin sonar, except when we tried to put the harness on. Then the dolphin didn't like it.
So we knew that we couldn't turn the sonar on until the dolphin was already in the harness. So we had a little magnetic switch in the thing, and when the dolphin had the harness on, we'd reach down and to the magnet and turn it on. But the dolphin knew that, and so before we got a chance to do it, it would swim away.
So we built a little automatic pressure switch. So when the dolphin swam down to about 15 feet, the thing would come on. And then it would get us pictures.
And now, when you go to a dolphin show and you see these stunts, after the stunt has been performed, the trainer whistles, a loud whistle. And that's the signal to the dolphin to come up and get his paycheck. So we had to build one of these whistles into the camera. And after about 15 pictures, then the whistle would go off, and the dolphin would come up and get his paycheck. Then go back down again.
And so we knew that this was going to be it. And so we were delayed some six weeks because of our training efforts. So here was everybody over at Loch Ness waiting for us, and we weren't there yet. We finally got the dolphins ready to fly over. And when you transport a dolphin, it's a tremendous ordeal for a dolphin-- but these dolphins had been transported a number of times before, so they knew what it was.
You have to suspend them in a harness, you have to coat them with lanolin and keep massaging them all the time, and squirt water on them. And we reactivated the whole aquarium in Boston-- that was one that was destroyed during one of the hurricanes. We reactivated it so we could put our dolphin there, you know, rest up before we went over the ocean.
And the dolphin had been there about two days when it died. So that was the end of that. Because we were known from-- we tried to keep it from the press, but we couldn't do it. So we were known as the people who murdered a dolphin. So that ended that project. And we've never been able to reactivate it again-- but that would have been the perfect thing.
But we kept going over to Loch Ness, trying things out. In fact, the last expedition that Doc was on, before he died, was over at Loch Ness. He had had a serious problem, an operation, about a year before that. And before that, he had committed himself to give a lecture over in Scotland-- or England, I guess it was England-- at one of the museums.
And so Esther tried to keep him from doing it. But he said, no, I'm going to do this. He said, I've spent all this time preparing the lecture, please let me do it.
So we took advantage of this time that he was over there, and said, OK, we'll mount an expedition. When you're through, come on up and we'll do something. So that's the way it worked out.
And of course, we didn't get anything on that expedition either, but he had a chance to get over there and try it. And it wasn't many months after that, in January, was when he died. So he died with his boots on, doing the things he loved.
INTERVIEWER 1: So what's your verdict? Is Nessy down there?
WYCKOFF: Oh, there's something there. There's no question about it. We've got enough data to know that there's something there. We can't tell you how many they are, or what they are, but we know enough to know that they also have a sonar of their own. We were very, very fortunate-- we tried to scan the spectrum to see if they did have sonar, and we never caught it.
But one time we happened to catch one on our sonar, down about 300 feet. And it detected our sonar. And so it gave out a burst of its own to see where we are, and swam off. And we never caught it again. So at least we did see its sonar. So here it is over there.
It's not a monster, obviously. Everybody has an idea-- it's a dragon, breathes fire, eats people. But it doesn't do that. Apparently it's very, very shy. Otherwise it'd be seen much more often. And if I had to describe what it was, I'd say it was something like a giraffe without any legs-- that's about the size of it. So it's not gigantic. You know, maybe 8 or 10 feet long with a long neck.
And how many there are, I don't know. Maybe they're dying out. And you can't have one survive as long as the reports have been coming in, for 1,400 years. So it had to be a family of them of some sort. And you can't have a family smaller than 20, otherwise they'd die out due to inbreeding.
Maybe that's the problem-- maybe it was a colony of 20, and they've died out. We don't know. We just don't know.
INTERVIEWER 1: OK, Is there anything else you wanted-- I've gone through my questions, is there anything else you wanted to talk about?
WYCKOFF: I don't think so.
INTERVIEWER 1: Jim has a question.
INTERVIEWER 2: I think that [INAUDIBLE] two things-- one is, it's funny working on the project, one of the things people ask me, once they know about what EG&G did, in terms of that they somehow were involved with nuclear explosions, they were somehow involved with [INAUDIBLE]. You know how people are so negative about that today.
But what was that like in terms of when you were in the middle of all the testing? In terms of what you thought you were doing, and why you were doing it, and where you were going, and what that-- [INAUDIBLE]? Because obviously yourself and Doc, cared a great deal for other people and what was going on in the world. So that must have been a topic that came up occasionally.
WYCKOFF: It didn't really come up until sort of after the thing.
CREW: This sounds like the beginning of a formulation of an answer. If you can still be facing Joyce when you're [INAUDIBLE], even as you think it through.
WYCKOFF: Yeah, OK. The interesting question is, what does EG&G-- oh, and by the way, let me preface this by saying that when the Atomic Energy Commission was formed, and they selected us as a prime contractor, we were still at MIT, we were a partnership at that time. But we had grown to about-- from five of us, we had grown to about maybe 40 or 50.
And the AEC demanded that we have our own guards. Well, MIT didn't take kindly to that. So they said, you better leave. But we were in MIT up until that time.
So then we decided that we'd better incorporate, because the AEC couldn't have a partnership as a prime contractor. So we were Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier Incorporated for a couple of years, until people couldn't stumble over the name anymore. So we shortened it to EG&G. And that was about 19-- oh, I guess probably '48, '49.
And our basic interest, prior to the war, was electronic flash, and high-speed motion pictures, and we did consulting work. But after the war, we decided that we'd better do something else. And it turned out that Herb Grier was part of the Manhattan Project, so this looked like an interesting thing that we might be able to do.
And so we turned out to be responsible for the triggering system for the a-bomb-- the later a-bombs. We came up with the triggering system-- that's one of the things we did. It looked like we were the ones that take over for the timing and firing, because Los Alamos proved that they couldn't do it from the Bikini test, when their signal didn't come out right. So we did that.
And as I mentioned to you before, in talking with the embryo AEC people, we convinced them that we could also do the scientific photography. And the reason for this photography was not documentation, but rather to determine what the efficiency of an explosion was. Because one of the easiest ways that you can increase the efficiency-- or rather, increase the stockpile-- is to increase the efficiency of the explosion.
And we developed a system whereby, by measuring the diameter of the fireball, at a given time, and plotting the curve, we could determine very precisely what the efficiency was. Prior to that, the only way they had of knowing was through radio chemistry.
So this was one of the things that we concentrated on. So all the photography, basically, was for that purpose-- was for measuring the efficiency. And each time we would find out what the efficiency was, and they'd say, well, let's try this next, and measure it again. And so we went from less than a percent efficiency of the Nagasaki, Hiroshima explosions, up to doubling, or tripling, quadrupling, and so on, the stockpile. Just by increasing the efficiency.
And I'm not about to tell you what it is now, but it's pretty high. And so our work in that end was focused on how to increase the efficiency, and how to measure it.
Since we had to build a lot of equipment to do these things, it became obvious that these instruments could be used commercially. So we developed at EG&G a commercial arm that would produce these instruments for things other than the AEC or the military. And we came up with new oscilloscopes, we came up with new light measuring equipment. I came up with a sensotometer, which is used in the photographic business, and a lot of things like this.
We developed new cameras, new light sources, underwater photography-- a new business was created as a result of our underwater photography. And that was Sam Raymond with his Benthos equipment. And there are a number of things like this that got started.
Now, I probably would have continued on with EG&G, but since they were getting out of the photographic end of things, and that was my specialty-- because I had worked on that-- Fred Barstow and I-- I had to buy back the patents that EG&G had, and we decided to buy those back and start selling this film commercially. It wouldn't have a wide use, but scientifically, it had a good use.
And unfortunately, during this time, my son was killed, so I got bypassed on that, and decided to go into something that would have saved his life if we had it on the roads. And so that's my business now, called Bright Line-- it's a new highway marking system.
But EG&G has continued on. I understand now that they're getting out of the Defense Department business altogether. But up until the last few years, that was their major source of income-- not a-bombs, obviously, because that was still part of it, but it was a very small part of it.
And Herb Grier had a bad conscience problem, so he finally decided he didn't want to have anything to do with atom bombs anymore. And so he was the only one in the whole group that really felt morose about it, I guess. I don't think Barney O'Keefe felt that way, although he told people he did-- he didn't really.
Because he knew-- he knew what the purpose was. And if we didn't do it, the Japanese, the Germans, somebody would do it. And we had to keep on the forefront. Because this was the sort of weapon that the United States should have control over, not to use it indiscriminately, but to make sure nobody else used it.
But to do this, we had to make sure that we had a decent stockpile. Because we knew the Russians were building up their stockpile, and they did it the same way. So I don't think any of us had had a conscience problem that way, although that wasn't our primary business.
Is this more or less what you had in mind, Jim?
INTERVIEWER 2: Yeah, that's good. Then one last thing-- if there is a--
CREW: We're just about about of tape. [INAUDIBLE] the end, or I can put it on [INAUDIBLE].
INTERVIEWER 2: This, I think, might be real quick. If you could just say, very briefly, what do you think the long-lasting legacy, importance of Doc Edgerton is?
WYCKOFF: OK, Doc's main memory should be his way that he gets people interested in experiments and learning. He turns out to be an excellent teacher in a way that other people haven't ever thought of-- and that was to get the students involved with their hands early in experiments.
And he believed that there was no such thing as a failure, that you always learn something. If you didn't learn anything else, well that way isn't the way to do it. You've got to do it some other way.
So that's his legacy, really-- how to teach people. And he created a new method of doing it. And I think that's going to become more obvious as time goes on. And I think this is going to be felt in the [INAUDIBLE] Kim Vandiver has taken over-- and he's an ideal guy to do this, because I think he feels the same way.