A Salute to Captain William Eddy

A Salute to Captain William Eddy
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Pictured: Bill Eddy’s drawing of the sea-going “electroniker” courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

World War II was still in progress when, in my senior year of high school, I visited the local Navy recruiter. He asked about my interests, and when I mentioned engineering he said there was a serious need for Naval radio and radar technicians. He asked about my subjects and grades, then suggested I take an examination covering mathematics and physics (the Eddy test), which, if passed, would qualify me for the special training program. I took it, passed, and was told I would have to complete my final term of high school; then the Navy would immediately send me to radio technician school. I complied and was sworn in and, with six other recruits who had survived the Eddy test, boarded a sleeper train for the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

We were assigned to an all “radio tech” company for boot training. A strong rivalry existed between our company and the other companies, in part because we were sworn in as Seamen First Class, whereas the other recruits were Apprentice Seamen, and would only become Seamen Second Class at the end of boot training. One of the marching songs sung by the non-RT companies ended with the phrase “. . .so take down your service flag, Mother, your son is a [censored] RT.” One of our RT company marches went “They envy our sixty-six dollars, they envy our stripes one, two, three; they envy the pride of the Navy; they envy the Navy RT.”

We had no idea why the test we had taken to determine our aptitude for the radio technician program was called the “Eddy” test until we reached pre-radio school in Chicago. We then learned that it was devised by Navy Captain William Eddy. Although Eddy had retired from the Navy in 1934, when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 he volunteered to return to set up a program to train much-needed radio technicians. He became Commanding Officer of the Naval Training School for Radio Materiel, and Radio Technician Procurement Officer.

At the outset, Eddy would interview prospective candidates for the new training program. But its growth and complexity made it clear that a standard admissions test was warranted. He then devised a series of multiple-choice questions that became known as the “Eddy Test.” It covered both the likelihood of the applicant to cope with the mathematics and physics of complex Navy electronics equipment, and his native ability and interest in using the tools and instruments required to install, maintain, and repair it.

The Electronics Training Program (known by the Navy as the Radio Materiel School) was initiated as a two-phase program—a three-month Primary School (designated Elementary Electricity and Radio Materiel) and a five-month Secondary School (designated Advanced Radio Materiel School). But students entering the Primary School program did not find it easy, with unacceptably high failure rates. The Navy, prompted by recommendations from Eddy, added a four-week Pre-Radio School, to be attended by all new students, in which they were subjected to an intensive review of fundamental topics plus an introduction to the slide rule.

Beginning in June 1943, three Chicago locations became the sites for permanent Pre-Radio Schools: Hugh Manley High School and two junior colleges, Wright and Herzl. I was assigned to Herzl. Enough classrooms had been converted to dormitories to accommodate the student body.

Pre-Radio included a review of high school math and physics, plus the issuance and use of a Cooke slide rule. Classes began at 7:30 a.m. and ran until 5 p.m. Organized sessions in problem solving ran until 9 p.m. Class time centered on math and the slide rule. Also ac and dc theory and electrical components. Lab work involved using test instruments, soldering, and machine shop practice. Exams were held Saturday mornings, and the results determined whether a student was allowed to continue in the program.

Upon completion of courses at Herzl, I was sent on to Primary School. Its three-month program was designed to emphasize fundamental topics covered in the first two years of an electrical engineering curriculum. Weekday classes were eight hours. A mandatory study period followed in the evening. We were issued a pair of textbooks by Frederick Terman: Radio Engineering and Radio Engineers’ Handbook. Today both are safely preserved on my library shelves.

We built several electronic devices, including a superheterodyne receiver. At the conclusion of the testing of mine, my instructor told me I could keep it. I packaged it to send to my dad from the base post office. Back at my dorm I received a notice to report to the postal manager. He had cut open the carton. I thought I was in trouble for attempting to send Navy property off the base. But he had discovered a note I had enclosed in the box. “No handwritten notes allowed!” he told me. I removed it, resealed the box, and home it went!

Advanced Radio School, the third and final phase of the RT/ETM training program, took place at several Navy installations where students were exposed to both the theory and practice of the Navy’s latest proprietary electronics gear.

Eddy’s Other Sides

Seen as an electronic genius by many of his colleagues, Eddy nevertheless was something of a character. At Annapolis he nearly failed to graduate by accumulating 148 demerits, only two short of the 150 required for expulsion. He operated a sub rosa skating rink in his Annapolis dormitory until it was discovered by an officer.

Prior to World War II, Eddy had served on the cruiser USS Cincinnati in Nicaragua and, later, China. In 1928 he was transferred to the submarine service where he developed an improvement in tracking techniques and qualified as the youngest submarine commander to do so without attending submarine school. He also designed the Submarine Warfare “Dolphins” Insignia (still in use when I last checked).

At the Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut, Eddy set up a laboratory to research underwater sound gear and radio transmissions from a submerged location. When he retired from the Navy in 1934, he joined the laboratory of Philo Farnsworth as a member of the team that designed all-electronic television. Later, at RCA, he was awarded 43 patents.

The Artist

Eddy was also a self-taught artist. He created the logo for Radio Chicago Naval Training Schools. He gained recognition worldwide as the cartoonist for the Honeywell calendar beginning in 1938 and continuing after World War II. The cartoons were populated by electronics engineers, technicians, and assorted managers in, usually, an industrial setting involving state-of-the-art electronics gear. His characters were often portrayed as less than astute, with dialogue to match. Occasionally a friend or acquaintance of his would end up in a particular scene. One wrote to Honeywell threatening to sue for defamation of character unless they would give him the original to hang in his office.

Many electronics engineers got their impetus to pursue that career from the Navy RT program. Ron Jurgen, senior editor of IEEE Spectrum, was himself an RT during World War II, and, indeed, later became a 1950 graduate of R.P.I. with a B.E.E. degree.  In 1975 I suggested to Ron that he interview Captain Eddy for an article “The Man Who Launched a Thousand EEs.” Ron brought back from the interview a few original Eddy cartoons. One of them hangs in my office. In it a group of engineers and quality-control inspectors huddle around a complex piece of equipment called the Bi-Articulated Digital Phlymsl Simulator. It is about to be crated for shipment, but sparks and smoke emanate from it during final test. A supervisor advises one of the technicians, “No, Spencer, you can’t just lengthen a short circuit!” On the wall behind the smoldering equipment hangs the Quality Department’s motto: “They Shall Not Pass.”

Eddy’s Retirement(?) Years

When Ron Jurgen visited Captain Eddy in 1975 at his home in Michigan City, Indiana, he found it “a unique game preserve of sorts.” Eddy and his wife had begun sheltering disabled and abandoned animals and birds many years earlier, gaining a special permit from the U.S. government to operate the sanctuary. Ron also was privileged to view many examples of Eddy the artist, including beautiful oil paintings, ceramic sculptures, and intricate wood carvings.

Resources

  • Watson, R.C., Solving the Naval Radar Crisis: The Eddy Test—Admission to the Most Challenging Training Program of World War II, Trafford Publishing, 2007.
  • Christiansen, D., The War Years: 1939-1946, Informatica Press, 2012.
  • Gariott, E. B., “A ‘gadget man’ develops electronics for the Navy,” The Kansas City Star, May 2, 1945.
  • Jurgen, R., “Captain Eddy: the man who launched a thousand EEs,” IEEE Spectrum, 1975.
  • Jurgen, R., “William Eddy, devised the Eddy Test,” The Institute (IEEE), Nov. 1989.
  • “Loop Sailors,” Time magazine, March 25, 1942.
  • Spires, A., “It’s Like This,” seven-part series on Captain William Eddy, The News-Dispatch (Michigan City, Ind.), Nov. 7-15, 1956.
  • Lange, H., “The Eddy Genius,” four-part series, The News-Dispatch (Michigan City, Ind.), Nov. 25-28, 1985.
  • Eddy, W.C., et al., Wartime Refresher in Fundamental Mathematics, Prentice-Hall, 1945.
  • Terman, F. E., Radio Engineering, McGraw-Hill, 1937.
  • Terman, F. E., Radio Engineers’ Handbook, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
  • Hooper, S. C., “How the Navy first used underwater sound,” Soundings (house organ), Submarine Signal Company, 1945.
  • Howeth, L. S., History of Communications Electronics in the United States Navy, United States Government Printing Office, 1963.
  • Note: Bill Eddy’s drawing of the sea-going “electroniker” courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Donald Christiansen is the former editor and publisher of IEEE Spectrum and an independent publishing consultant. He is a Fellow of the IEEE. He can be reached at donchristiansen@ieee.org.

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