Your Engineering Heritage: Newark’s Past and Future as a High-Technology Center

Your Engineering Heritage: Newark’s Past and Future as a High-Technology Center

BY Robert Colburn Posted: 15 Dec 2015

Centers of technological innovation are constantly shifting as technologies change. In some cases, innovation returns to places where it was once at home. The recent announcement by Newark Venture Partners Fund of plans to make Newark, N.J., a high-tech center by providing venture capital and workspace for start-up companies called attention to how one former technology city plans to revive its innovative tradition.

Newark’s past as a site of a number of telephone-related innovations provides a historical parallel for its current and planned role as an internet hub.  In August 1902, the first commercial loaded cable project, an underground cable between Newark and New York City, was completed. Loading coils, which were placed at intervals along a telephone line, used inductance to prevent distortion of the signal, thus improving transmission quality and extending the usable distance of telephone lines. Because of the new loading coils, the original 13-gauge non-loaded cable planned for the route could be replaced by a less expensive 19-gauge cable. The cable demonstrated that loading yielded large economies. Michael Pupin, who served at different times as president of both of IEEE’s predecessor organizations, AIEE and IRE, held an important patent for loading coils.

Large-scale field trials of semiautomatic telephone switching were another Newark high-tech advance. Two switching offices, Mulberry (3,640 lines) and Waverly (6,480 lines), went into commercial service on 16 January 1915 and 12 June 1915, respectively. In April 1917, Newark’s Branch Brook office (7,400 lines) began testing automatic call distribution.

In 1975, transmission testing began on the T4M, which at that time was the highest-capacity, short-haul digital transmission system in the United States. The system, linking Newark to New York City, transmited 274 million bits of information per second over a single coaxial tube. 

Newark was important for other technological achievements, as well. As the electrical industry developed, companies such as Westinghouse began building factories to make the equipment needed for the new discipline. The first section of the Westinghouse Newark Works was built in 1884 (the ruins of the building are still at 95 Orange Street as of this writing). During its century of operation, it made radio speakers, electric fans, motors for trolley cars, and in 1922 was the site of the second licensed commercial radio station in the United States. (The first was also a Westinghouse station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, now an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing.) Westinghouse’s Newark station, WJZ, eventually moved to New York City and became WABC.

With the rise of electricity as a saleable commodity in the 1870s and 1880s, reliable methods of metering it needed to be developed so that customers could be billed appropriately. Efficiencies of motors and generators needed accurate measuring, and voltages and currents needed to be controlled. 

Edward Weston and the Weston Electrical Instrument Company introduced the first portable and direct-reading current and voltage meters in 1888. In order to invent a stable meter, Weston invented the first truly permanent magnets. Weston’s portable instruments helped enable the expansion and acceptance of the use of commercialized electricity. Although his laboratory at 645 High Street in Newark no longer exists, Weston was a founder of New Jersey Institute of Technology, where his papers and some of his inventions are preserved.

Newark has a strong heritage in high-technology. History very often guides the present and the future, and one hopes that the city will be able to write new chapters in its technical history.

For more detail on the history of telephone switching, we recommend the Engineering & Technology History Wiki page at http://ethw.org/Electromechanical_Telephone-Switching

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Robert Colburn is research coordinator at the IEEE History Center EEE History Center at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. Visit the IEEE History Center's Web page at: http://www.ieee.org/about/history_center/index.html.

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