Books on Engineering History

These books may not help you with your next design, but they'll give you context of how we got to where we are today.  Take a look at the lives and works of engineers who came before us. 

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Our main page on Microwave Engineering Books. 
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Making Waves and How the Laser Happened by Charles H. Townes

We've added Charles Townes to our Hall of Fame, but we couldn't possibly do him justice in so few words. Luckily, you can read more about the man and his work in these books!

Man of High Fidelity: Edwin Howard Armstrong, a Biography by Lawrence Lessing

First published in 1956, this is the definitive work on Edwin Howard Armstrong's life. Out of print, but available used in paperback. Armstrong invented the feedback amplifier, the superhet receiver and FM radio. For these accomplishments, RCA pretty much tried to destroy his life.


Tuxedo Park : A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II by Jennet Conant

This is the only book on Alfred Lee Loomis's life, first published in 2003. Fueled with Wall Street money that he held in cash during the 1929 crash, Loomis developed an incredible private laboratory for research into topics such as radar, ultrasonics, EEG and nuclear, and formed a close association with many of the top scientists of the day. He personally invented LORAN, which is still used today for keeping aircraft on course. He was the founder of Rad Lab, and often kicked in his own money when the government fell short. He was not in the science game for name recognition or money, just for the good of mankind.


The Tube Guys by Norman H. Pond

This book is about the history of vacuum tubes, with an emphasis on high-power microwave varieties, back in the day when companies were run by engineers who worked hard, took risks, and didn't suffer fools lightly. You'll learn about the origins of the magnetron, the traveling wave tube, the carcinotron, the ubitron, the klystron, the backward wave oscillator, and much more. There's plenty of discussion on the history of the microwave oven as well. There's company histories of Raytheon, Varian, Litton, Sperry, GE, RCA, Sylvania, AT&T, Federal Telegraph (ITT), Westinghouse, e2v, Eimac, Bomac, Hughes, Microwave Associates, Huggins, Watkins Johnson, Roger White Electron Devices, SFD, Teledyne, Northrop Grumman, MLI, Star Microwave, M-Square Microteck, and Asian and European tube companies, it almost puts our "where are they now page" to shame! You'll learn that the Varian brothers were practically communists, their original goal was to establish a commune with a working farm where engineers could live grow their own vegetables and chickens. A water leak at Varian once caused foam rubber "falsies" to float away from the company across the street... this book is Solid Gold for microwave nerds everywhere!


Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Thunderstuck is a thoroughly entertaining tale that provides information on how Guglielmo Marconi went from tinkerer/dreamer (or maybe obsessed crackpot) to set up the Marconi Company that soon dominated wireless telegraphy. You'll learn about massive peak-bog-fueled steam-powered generators powering spark-gap transmitters, and coherer receivers, which are now in microwave engineering's fascinating compost heap. The book also tells how an infamous murderer was apprehended on a transatlantic ocean liner. The ship's wireless traffic to Scotland Yard was intercepted by newsmen who built up the story, while no one on the ship but the captain and the wireless operator knew what was going down.


Fire in the Belly: Building a World-leading High-tech Company from Scratch in Tumultuous Times by Jerry D. Neal with Jerry Bledsoe

The title of this book made us buy it just to make fun of it. The boyz at RF Micro (and the rest of us) look a little too well fed to have "fire in the belly" like the Oakies did picking crops in California during the Great Depression. Tumultuous times? Like the French Revolution? Didn't RF Micro just sprout up because they had the right idea at the right time?

The book didn't disappoint, but in the opposite sense of the reason that we bought it. It's a great read!

This is the story about how a chain-smoking visionary engineer (Bill Pratt), a hands-on fab and test guy (Powell Seymour) and a NASCAR fan and marketeer (Jerry Neal) found themselves laid off from Analog Devices after developing "RF stuff" that the company didn't see any market potential for. Founding RF Micro Devices in 1991, their original market play was to be a fabless source of amplifiers for the handset market, processing three-inch GaAs HBT wafers at TRW in California. Working 16 hour days for no pay the first year, the founders couldn't have been more enthused if they were Br'er Rabbitt in his briar patch. After some disastrous reliability problems were worked out, they went on to swamp the capacity of TRW's fab in a few short years and built the biggest GaAs fab campus in the world in their home town of Greensboro North Carolina. "Fire in the Belly" refers to Jerry's need for a roll of Tums while maintaining a stream of investor cash during the startup years. We bought a used copy of the book, and it came with his autograph!


Not very many businesses go from garage shop to $1B in ten years, but RFMD did. Their success reminds us of a rule of thumb:

thumbs up! When engineers decide to quit the comforts of their employment and start a new company, they should never attempt this without a really good marketing guy. Engineers often think that it's simply "build it and customers will come" but that is never the case!

Now let's have a look at essential North Carolina culture on Youtube (sorry, Jerry Neal, we couldn't resist!)


Empire of the Air by Tom Lewis

Empire of the Air is a great book if you are interested in the history of radio. Learn how De Forest, Sarnoff and Armstrong took radio from a mere curiosity to a consumer product. De Forest and Armstrong are in our Microwave Hall of Fame!