from: Electronics Markets - March, 1955
In a small laboratory tucked away in a corner of the Measurements' Boonton, New Jersey plant, a busy executive occasionally takes time out from his many duties to do a little "dial twisting." But the dials are not just ordinary dials, they are the controls of the original second-harmonic superheterodyne receiver that Major Edwin H. Armstrong and he, Harry W. Houck, built in the spring of 1922. No speech, no music now comes from this museum piece-but a host of memories for the man who had an important part in its creation.
Harry W. Houck, President of Measurements Corporation, subsidiary of Thomas A. Edison Incorporated, has been associated with the electronic art practically all his life which began in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania on April 11, 1896. At the age of 14 he built a crystal receiver and went on the air with his first "ham" rig, a spark coil, which was soon replaced with a 3 KW open gap. He doesn't recall how many stations he worked signing the call AK but can't forget the neighbors' reaction to having their lights dimmed whenever he pressed the key!
His formal technical education and personal experimentation continued until the spring of 1917 when peaceful pursuits were exploded with the first shell fired by our military forces in World War 1. In February, 1918 he received an assignment that was to greatly influence his life and also to have an important bearing on the world of electronics. He reported for duty to Capt. Edwin H. Armstrong (later elevated to Major Armstrong and referred to henceforth as the Major) then engaged in development work on direction finder and communications equipment.
The history of the development of the superheterodyne is well known by technical people the world over-how it was a direct outgrowth of some experimental work on the problem of the "reception of extremely weak spark signals of frequencies varying from about 500 kc to 3 mc, with an absolute minimum of adjustments to enable rapid change of wave length." The quotes are Major Armstrong's words describing the task. After much experimental work, an eight tube set was constructed by Armstrong and Houck and other associates, which consisted of a rectifier tube, a separate heterodyne oscillator, three intermediate frequency amplifiers, a second rectifier and detector, and two audio frequency stages. The IF stages were coupled by tuned aircore transformers set for a frequency of about 100 kc, with an adjustment for controlling the regeneration.
The activities in the Paris laboratory ended abruptly with the Armistice. The advent of broadcasting, however, brought a new importance to the superheterodyne so Armstrong and Houck constructed, during the spring of 1922, a set designed for the maximum usable sensitivity and selectivity. The result was a receiver much superior to any other but the cost of construction and maintenance was prohibitive. Houck, working with the Major, then designed the second harmonic superheterodyne, which reduced the number of tubes required from nine to six, and was practical for home radio reception. It was the first superheterodyne to be placed in large commercial production.
In 1924 newspapers and technical publications across the nation carried the headlines that Harry W. Houck youthful Chief Engineer for the Dubilier Condenser Company of New York had invented a "new device which makes house current serve in place of radio "B" batteries." Houck had done it again, first a radio receiver for home use, now a means of powering it without need of costly, ever weakening batteries.
The extent of the electronic art increased at a rapid rate and experimenter Houck had no small part in accelerating it with his many inventions. His research on capacitors made practical the filter systems used in all modern receivers, and his pioneer work on other problems opened the way for future research and application. He held many important positions. He was associated with Federal Telephone and Telegraph Company, Newark, New Jersey; Micamold Radio Corporation, Brooklyn, New York as Chief Engineer and Consulting Engineer of several other well known companies.
In 1940 Houck joined Measurements Corporation. In this new company Houck had the opportunity to apply his diversified experience to the direction of a modest concern which was, in a comparatively few years, to become one of the outstanding developers and manufacturers of a precision line of laboratory standards designed for radio, television and many other branches of the electronic industry.
In the process of broadening its stake in the field of instrumentation, Thomas A. Edison Incorporated of West Orange, New Jersey purchased Measurements Corporation from Houck and his associates in July 1953. Now Measurements Corp. is a subsidiary of that concern which bears the name of one of the greatest inventors of our times. Houck served as vice-president of Measurements during the first year of Edison ownership, and last July was elected President, the office he now holds in conjunction with his position as General Manager.
Houck is a member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, senior member and former director of the Institute of Radio Engineers, member of the Engineers Club, and Fellow, director and past president of the Radio Club of America. This organization in 1941 awarded him the coveted Armstrong Medal for his outstanding contributions to the radio art. He is actively engaged in civic affairs and was instrumental in the installation of an extensive radio communication system for the Civil Defense organization in his community.
(View photos relating to Harry W. Houck)