Jobs from Research (Feb, 1941)

I had no idea the term “test-tube baby” was in use in the 40’s. I thought it was invented with the modern usage, a baby conceived using in vitro-fertilization.

Be sure to check out the nifty turbine skirt on the third page.

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Jobs from Research
By Everett S. Lee
Engineer-in-Charge, General Engineering Laboratory, General Electric Company

FIFTEEN million Americans are at work today in jobs that did not exist in 1900. These jobs exist today because, through research, industry has been able to develop hundreds of new products and to make them so inexpensive that people have been able to buy them, thus creating a demand for more of the products.

The recent report of over 1,700 distinct research groups in this country, affording employment to some 50,000 workers, with an annual expenditure of from 150 to 200 million dollars, with an existence dating back some forty years indicates the importance of research.

Yet there is room for more because 150,000 manufacturing concerns recently were found to be without research laboratories.

The job of research is to find out new things. “Test-tube babies,” we call them. Some of them are problem children which require years of struggle before they are of value. Others develop smoothly into important roles of daily life.

Tests, research and study during a period of fifteen years brought the first hydrogen-cooled turbine generator into commercial operation in 1937, and at the beginning of 1940 there were thirteen hydrogen-cooled turbine generators in operation, with a combined rating of 816,000 kilovolt amperes, with another 1,500,000 kilovolt amperes under construction or about to be delivered.

A more familiar test-tube baby is the electric refrigerator. Electric refrigerators had existed for years practically unknown until Chris Steenstrup designed a mechanism from which came the first sealed-in steel refrigerator mechanism. Now electric refrigerators are in at least 14,000,000 American homes.

Sympathy for research on the part of those who direct is the fountain head of new achievement. This is recognized in the electric-light and power industry where expenditures for research are continuous both on the part of the manufacturers who produce the equipment and on the part of the operators who use it. One result is that the average resident today uses three times as much power, compared with 1913, at an increase in total cost of only thirty-five per cent. At the same time the number of users of electricity increased so much that the central station industry increased its employes from 79,000 in 1913 to 270,-000 in 1938, a 341 percent gain.

Research recently produced a new enameled wire, called For-mex, of less bulk and greater durability than formerly because of a remarkable insulation derived from coal and lime. To prove this advance a new measurement had to be devised—a heat shock test in which the old product blistered while the new product remained durable and firm. To test Formex these instruments were developed: abrasion tester for measuring the durability of the film; compression tester for determining the solidity of the film; continuity tester for assuring that the film is perfect throughout without any holes or flaws; reflection meter for determining that the film has been properly baked, and the scrape tester for measuring the stick-to-it-iveness of the film to the wire.

Much of the progress in metallurgy is the result of the measurement of the “creep” of actual materials under stress in the laboratory. This has improved turbine material, and instruments like the transverse pressure recorder have helped improve turbine design. Air is blown through a turbine nozzle section and the resulting pressure, mass flow and energy are automatically recorded on this device.

At the edge of a sheet of steel going through the mill may be seen an electric gauge which tells the thickness, and which can be made to control it. The electric gauge, together with electric drive features has made possible an increase of sheet speed through the mill from 300 to 1,500 feet per minute. Research has so broadened the market for steel products that today the steel companies employ approximately 500,000 persons compared with 275,000 in 1907, at the same time reducing the price of steel by forty-six per cent since 1923.

The new trains in our transportation system are known to all. They, too, are the products of research. When new steels are welded, a little instrument, the ampere-squared second recorder, which automatically evaluates the welding current, stands guard to stop the operation if the current is not correct to give a satisfactory weld. So quickly does it operate that it summates its story in one-tenth of a second, allows the process to proceed if right, stops it if wrong.

Time was when the streetcar was generally accepted and not much was done to improve it. Then came competitors, and the streetcar had harder going. Then came the formation of the Street Railway Presidents’ Conference Committee; a research engineer was brought from a prominent utility; measuring equipment was put to work, together with brains and study and thought, and the PCC car was born. This was in 1936. Today there are more than 1,200 such cars in use or on trial in fourteen cities. Here research revived; and here research is keeping alive; there will go into service shortly 100 of these cars without air, the use of electric braking having been so perfected that the air is now not necessary, thus eliminating compressors, pipes, valves, fittings, and their maintenance. Soon the PCC car will go into the subway.

It was not so many years ago that aluminum cost eight dollars a pound. Very few people were able to afford aluminum pots and pans. But a new refining process by electricity from research reduced the cost of aluminum to twenty cents a pound and opened up a wide market for aluminum products in many new fields. This electrolytic method not only brought many additional benefits into the household but also increased the number of people employed by the aluminum companies from only a few hundred to around 25,000 men.

The rayon industry is in itself a story of the most remarkable research. Starting in this country about 1910, it has shown one of the greatest advancements and expansions of any of our industries. During the first ten years, this industry produced an average of 8,700,000 pounds per year. In 1939, its production was 331,200,000 pounds.

This increase must be attributed in a large measure to research in the industry itself together with that in the electrical industry, resulting in the production of motors and control for the manufacture of this synthetic fiber.

There are similar stories in radio, the advances in the automotive industry, the petroleum industry, the extension of electricity to the farm, and the creation of an electrical standard of living in the home. Not all of the advance has been due to research, but that research is prominently there we know, and that we cannot separate it shows how it permeates the whole train of complex events from even before the inception of new ideas to their ultimate useful application.

The year 1929 was not a happy one. We all remember what happened then. But in 1929 we did not have streamline trains, television, transoceanic passenger air service, synthetic rubber, fluorescent lighting, colored home movies, new plywoods stronger than steel, many new plastics and resins, polarized glass, glass building blocks, fiber glass for insulation and textiles, synthetic hosiery replacing silk, synthetic vitamins, sulfanilamide and sulfa-pyridine, drugs that kill the deadly streptococcus germ and which are now being credited with the decrease in deaths from pneumonia.

All these have been the products of research, ability, hard work, perseverance, faith.

1 comment
  1. Stannous says: June 28, 20073:41 pm

    Not exactly the same definition of ‘test-tube babies’ though.

    Today, San Francisco’s historic F-Line has a fleet of the PCC cars shown:

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