Shaun Illingworth: This begins the second interview session with Irwin Spetgang on February 20th, 2012 in Voorhees, New Jersey with Shaun Illingworth. Thank you very much for having me here again.
Irwin Spetgang: It's our pleasure.
SI: When we last left off, you were describing your time at Rutgers in the early '50s and what led to your decision to join the military.
SI: Before we get into your military time, I want to ask, had you gone through ROTC training at Rutgers?
IS: Yes, I was in ROTC, I hadn't gone through it, but I was in ROTC. I was in a group called Scarlet Rifles, a drill team that used to put on shows at the football games and things of that sort. It never appealed to me particularly. I was not a gung ho kind of individual. I was more interested in seeing how I could scrape together the money for school. My summer jobs had been very worthwhile, I don't recall if I had mentioned one summer.
SI: Well, if you can just briefly tell me, then it will jog my memory.
IS: When I was at Rutgers one summer, I got a job as a welder with General Electric. ... I got it because Rutgers had given me a general engineering course that included machine shop practices where we spent a day or two learning to weld. I thought that entitled me to go after a welder's job, which I almost flubbed, but did get the job. Was earning probably about 120 dollars a week at that time, came back to school, and for the next semester, fraternity brothers asked me about it, I said, "Yes, I was making about 120." They couldn't believe it because new engineering graduates were making about eighty a week at that time, and they said, "If that's real, why are you coming back to school, are you crazy?" And they didn't believe it, but I pulled out an old check stub and showed them, and they were astounded, but that's the way I paid for each year. I went out and looked for the best, highest paying summer work I could get. I had some very interesting jobs during the summers. ...
SI: What was the welding job at GE like?
IS: It was initially embarrassing because I really messed up terribly, but I picked it up very quickly. Got into a fist fight with the shop steward because some of the other men were playing tricks on me and I didn't know and he thought that I was being abusive, and he came after me and so I remember that. I remember that I felt pretty good about learning the welding skills by the end of the summer. I was on top of it, but I also had a problem in that I never told them I was just doing this for the summer. They thought they were hiring me permanently, and when school was about to start, I had to make up some kind of an excuse for leaving, and I figured the best thing is to just say it outright, and I told them I decided to go back to college and see if I could pursue my engineering degree. ... They unhappily accepted it because they, in effect, spent half the summer training me and I'm sure it cost them. ... It was intriguing to see how air conditioning bodies were made and different kinds of welding. I did gas welding, I did arc welding, I did spot welding, learned how to set up the machinery and what not.
SI: Where was the plant?
IS: Bloomfield, New Jersey, yes, just a little bit north of New Brunswick.
SI: Did you get paid per piece?
IS: Yes, it was piece work, and that's how the fight started with the shop steward. Certain jobs were misrated by the industrial engineers that rated how much you should get for piece work, and there was one job where I was just taking a flat piece of metal, putting it through a triple roller to get a certain curve when it came out, and as fast as I could feed the blanks, the finished product popped out the back. That was rated before the automatic machinery was available, and whoever got that assignment, they used to jokingly refer to it as the "pennies from heaven" job, because as these curved blanks fell out, there was the sound of coins. ... You could really build up a big earning for that day, and I was not told to limit it, which normally, the shop steward came around and said, "Hey, we don't want to change the rate on it, make sure that you do just so much, and then stop, don't do anymore." I wasn't told, and I was just cranking them out, and a few of my coworkers thought this was going to be fun. They told the shop steward, "Oh, this guy is going to ruin the rate for everyone," and, well I turned around and got a fist in my mouth, and I didn't realize this was the way things work on the factory floor. So, but yes, it was all piece work. Certain jobs were, it was impossible to make rate, so you ended up with a base rate that was much lower than you might otherwise have earned, but all and all, it was a very lucrative summer. It paid for my next year of college and my books and fees. I just didn't burn it when I made it, I put it aside for school.
SI: What were some of the other jobs that you worked?
IS: I worked for an outfit called Dumont Television. I don't know if you've ever heard of it, they're out of business now.
SI: They made TVs and they also had their own network.
IS: Yes, and Dumont was the first one to make a twelve-inch cathode ray tube which was the largest picture tube that was available at the time and I worked night shift. My job was to make two cathode ray tubes, and when I say make them, I had to, parts of them were premade. The face was premade, the extension which contained the electron gun was premade. The electron gun was premade. What I had to do was glass weld. I had to learn to work with glass. In fact, I have a couple of glass cocktail glasses that I made that I still have and I'll tell you about that. ... There would be a big heat pump, a tremendous, half as big as this room, and I would mount the cathode ray tube that I had just welded together, on this heat pump. I would fasten a tubulation to an exhaust pump and I would pull the oven down for about an hour while the tube was baking. The impurities in the coatings, the phosphorous coating on the screen, the graphite coating around the body of it had to bake and impurities had to be released which were then drawn out by the vacuum pump. They were condensed by the use of liquid hydrogen. There was a thermos of liquid hydrogen that I, then, placed in a condensing unit on the bottom and once it was baking I had free time. So, I would go over to the glass lathe, and the glass lathe is like a metal lathe, only it had gas burners on a movable track, and I would take tubulation material and make a little piece of glassware. ...
IS: My quota was two per night. I worked from eleven at night to seven in the morning, which was great, because, then I'd go home, nap for four hours, and I had my day free until it was early evening. I'd grab another quick nap before I'd have a late dinner, and then off to the night shift. I did a lot of crazy things on the night shift using the liquid nitrogen that we had to condense impurities with. ... This big factory was almost empty at night. There were a few of us working, and during the down time we'd corner a mouse, take the liquid nitrogen, throw it, freeze him instantly solid, go out on the fire escape, drop him down into the courtyard, and shatter. You know, real kid stuff, but those are the memories, that's ... the kind of stuff that stays in my mind. Again, it paid for another year of school. I was a short order cook at a diner in New Brunswick, just east of Queen's campus. I don't remember the name of the street, but there was a diner on it. I don't know if it's still there, and I was a waiter and a bus boy and so forth. ... One summer, I did radio repair. I was a radio amateur as a kid. I used to build my own transmitters and receivers, and was licensed as an amateur radio operator. So, I very easily got a job doing radio repair work at local electronic shops. ... Television was just coming into its being and I really was unable to handle that. I didn't know or understand it at the time.
SI: So in these jobs at Dumont and GE, did your classes at Rutgers pretty much teach you everything you needed to know to do your work there?
IS: Those jobs paid for my [college].
SI: You said that you took a course at Rutgers in welding.
IS: ... It was a general engineering course, freshman year, for all, no matter whether you were studying mechanical, electrical, civil, whatever. Everyone had to take it, and in this general shop course, you had to learn to use different machine tools--grinders, lathes, presses and so forth. ... We did spend a couple of days learning about welding, where we were able to get hands on experience doing a little bit. I don't know if they still do that in the engineering schools, but that was invaluable to me later, even when I went to work for my career at RCA. I was comfortable going down to the shop, talking to the men in the shop, discussing problems and so forth. I hope they still give that to first year engineering students.
SI: When you were at Rutgers, the Korean War broke out.
IS: Yes, yes, and it was just ongoing. Let's see, I came to Rutgers in '48, in September of '48, '49, '50. I guess it was '50 or '51 that I left, it was at the beginning of my junior year that I left. I signed on a program that very few people were aware of. It was called the Civilian Commitment Program. I seem to think I talked to you about this already. I'm not sure. I don't know if it sounds familiar. The Civilian Commitment Program was where I would enlist with the proviso that I would be sent to officer training, and if for any reason I failed officer training, I would be returned to civilian status subject to the draft again. They were really hungry for officer candidates, so I did that, went through a lot of testing and so forth. The fact that I had had a couple of years of ROTC was helpful, and I was accepted on the Civilian Commitment Program, signed up. They were not ready for me, so I had about three months to kill. I hitchhiked down to Florida. I'd never been, heard about it, had a lot of adventures. Met up with my fraternity brothers at the University of Miami. They gave me a place to live in the fraternity house, and had a fun time until I got notice that I had to report. I then reported back to New Jersey, to Fort Dix for my basic training.
SI: When you came back to school in the fall of 1950, was it present on the minds of the student body that the war could affect them, and that we have to do something about our futures as a result of this war?
IS: I don't remember that being the case. I remember it being strictly "rah, rah," through college, waiting for the homecoming games, and putting up big exhibits and displays and parties, and then homework sessions. Fortunately, the fraternity that I was a member of, and that I was working at as their dishwasher, had advanced engineering students and they sort of acted as mentors to us younger guys. ... They were sort of a counter balance to our wanting to have fun and games. They sort of kept after us to get on the homework and get busy. I don't remember there being much attention to the Korean War at all. It wasn't called a war, it was a conflict over there, and the only reason my attention turned to it was purely self-serving. I wanted to get the GI Bill of Rights to help cover the cost. There were veterans, quite a few veterans, returning to Rutgers at that time from the Second World War. There was an old prisoner of war camp in Raritan, and I may have spoken about this where they, because of the influx of GIs from the war, they made that into a dormitory campus, this prisoner of war camp. My freshman year, I commuted the first half of my freshman year, then the commuting got to be too much--expensive. I had an old clunker of a car that I had to keep tinkering with to keep alive. ... I signed up to be a proctor, a preceptor, at one of these barracks, and I spent a half a year there for the second half.
SI: I think we did discuss last time your experiences as a proctor there. Let us look at when you enlisted in the military. You were called to active duty and you reported to Fort Dix. What was that initial involvement with the military like for you?
IS: The biggest memory that I have was meeting people from walks of life, from arenas that I didn't know existed. It opened my eyes to another world. I thought that I knew poor people, I knew rich people, and so forth. I didn't begin to know the kind of people that we have in this country. There were recruits from the South, from the West, from the Midwest, and, of course, I made friends with many and had differences with many. ... I saw things that I didn't know existed. There were young men that didn't know what it was to brush their teeth or to take a shower. It was foreign to them. Then, the teaching of basic training is geared to the lowest level, so, of course, for average people, it was just repetitively stupidity. You know, things that were obvious were drilled into you over and over again. The discipline didn't bother me. My father had been a very strict disciplinarian, in fact, later when I went to Officer Candidate School it stood me in good stead.
SI: When you were in this basic training session in Fort Dix though, it was just general? It was not for people that were destined for officer candidate school?
IS: No, just general. I was in amongst the general world. The only difference, when we finished basic training, they got assignments to specialty schools or to ship right over to Korea, and in my case, I was promoted to sergeant, which you know, blew everyone's mind away, but that was the automatic system for those that were going to Officer Candidate School, they were made sergeants. It surprised me, I didn't know about it. Then, I was discharged as a sergeant in the regular Army, but on the same day, I was reenlisted as a candidate for Officer Candidate School down in Fort Benning, Georgia. ... I have two honorable discharges, I have two reenlistment paper work sets and so forth. It was weird. The trip down to Fort Benning, Georgia was interesting. I had gotten rid of my old clunker. I had a 1936 Oldsmobile that I used to use to commute to Rutgers when I was starting out commuting, and I bought a Frazer. I don't know if you've ever heard that. ... There was a Kaiser and Frazer. Kaiser was a ship builder during the Second World War. He went into automobile manufacturing afterward, tried to compete with Chrysler, Ford, Packard, Studebaker. They were product lines that were all available at that time. His lower car was the Kaiser, his better car was the Frazer, and you could pick them up for nothing because they were going out of business. So, I had this old Frazer, and drove down to Georgia, had a very interesting situation with a young lady. I won't go into detail, but we met each other, met one another at a road house on the way down, and during our discussion she happened to say, "What are you," and I said, "Well, I'm a sergeant, that's what these three stripes mean." I was in uniform and she said, "No, I don't mean that, I mean, what are you? Do you believe in Jesus," and I said, "No, I'm Jewish," and she said, "No, stop kidding me, tell me what you are," and I said, "I'm Jewish." "No, I know you're not Jewish." "How do you know I'm not Jewish?" "Because all my books in Sunday school show the Jews with horns and you don't have horns," and that shocked me. This was my first trip down, other than my "quicky" trip down to Florida which was strictly hitchhiking. I didn't pay any attention to it very much, but this was my first taste of Georgia and it opened my eyes, and I reported down to Fort Benning. There was big class. My particular class of officer candidates were 228 of us.
SI: How long had the training at Fort Dix been?
IS: ... Not that long, three to four months I would say. I'm just guessing now.
SI: Maybe sixteen weeks, something like that. This would be still in 1951 when you were getting to Fort Benning?
IS: Yes, it would have to be.
SI: Do you remember what time of year it was when you reported?
IS: Yes, I remember it was spring time, about March for some reason. I don't know. I remember that because of an incident. It was summer right down there at Fort Benning, and each morning we started the day, before breakfast, with a five mile run, because they had to build you up physically as well as condition you mentally. We were out running one morning, ... it was t-shirt and fatigue pants, that was it, and boots. It started snowing, and we couldn't believe it, no one. We were out running, and here it's snowing out in Georgia in March, and it was like an unheard of thing, but they put tremendous pressure, they put such pressure on you at Officer Candidate School. I understood why. They wanted to weed out those that couldn't handle the pressure. The candidates were from all walks of life. There were a few Marines that had come in, a few from the Navy, Army. The class was made up of a group that was just totally homogenous from all the different branches of service, older, younger, I was one of the youngest. There were those that we call the old men, they were in their late twenties, early thirties. The pressure took many forms. Sleep was hard to come by. At two o'clock, the lights would go on in the barracks, inspection. Everyone up at attention beside your bunk, and then they'd want to inspect your footlocker, make sure everything was folded where it should be as it should be. Demerits were given for anything, took away any chance of a weekend pass. Probably halfway through Officer Candidate School before anyone saw the first weekend pass. An example of an inspection during the day, you'd be standing at attention, one inspecting officer would walk by and check your brass, check it out to see that it's clean. A second would come by and say, "fingerprints on your brass, demerits," and so forth. ... This didn't bother me because I told you, my father was a very strict European disciplinarian, and this was nothing compared to him. So, I cruised, but it took its toll. Of the 228, I think, of us that started, eighty-two of us graduated. There were several section eights, mental crack ups, and there was one suicide in our group. It may or may not have been related to the training or it may it have been a personal problem. I seem to remember that one of the candidates got word that his wife wanted a divorce, she had a new boyfriend. I think that may have been the suicide.
SI: Within the training unit, was there was a sense of bonding together to get through it?
IS: Yes, it was very strong, very strongly supportive of one another. The training was made up of basically field training and classroom training. Classroom training was a breeze for me, learning logistics and strategy and things of this sort. Field training, every one of us had to take a turn as field commanders of any given training session, so we were put under the gun. There were training officers around us at all times screaming at us. You didn't ever walk between classes or to dining room, it was always double time everything. There were a lot of physical exercises. I handled it reasonably well, but I later found out when I was able to get my records jacket that I was one of the lowest graduates in the class. Of the eighty-two, I was about eightieth, and when I was able to review my records jacket, it was good and bad. The good was I had, scholastically, I was near the top of the class. Attitude wise, I was absolutely at the bottom. They did not feel I had the right gung ho attitude, and it was probably because I was a Civilian Commitment, and I knew that anyone else that flunked out was right over to Korea. I knew that if I flunked out, I'm a civilian again, start all over, and it didn't bother me all the pressure they put on me. I didn't fall apart with it and I didn't let it get to me and I tried to stay true to myself, but they graduated me. [laughter]
SI: I have heard that about the infantry school, that they really instill this killer instinct, that they put a lot of emphasis on that for the infantry officers.
IS: Well, that was fun. We learned a lot of hand to hand combat. We learned dirty combat. We learned the quickest ways to put someone down, to poke out eyes, you know, in hand to hand combat. I had to do some jump training, learn how to get out of a plane and go down in a parachute, how to do swamp training where we were in swamps up to our neck wading through you know, holding our rifles. God forbid you ever got your weapon wet. I learned about every kind of weapon they have in the military, and learned how to use them, and how to disassemble, reassemble, care for them, all the mechanics. I sort of thought that was fun. It was challenging and it kept me on top of my game, I know. I had one physical problem. I went into heat exhaustion on one field exercise where I was hauling a fifty caliber machinegun. ... I watched my hand start cramping up, and I didn't know what was happening, and then, into the wrists, then my arms, and then suddenly I was having trouble breathing because my chest. ... They threw me over the hood of the jeep and drove me back into the base, and they stuck some saline solution into me and that straightened it out immediately. These were experiences that, you know, they sort of stick in your head, and I look back and it wasn't fun at the time. That was the first thing that truly scared me. I was stupidly not scare-able, and I say stupidly because it was youthful overconfidence or something, but that scared me when I watched my body cramping up and I couldn't do anything about it.
SI: Were they bringing in anything into the course from what was actually happening in Korea?
IS: Yes, many of our instructors, many of the things that we were taught were taught by sergeants, sergeant majors, young officers, who had returned from Korea already. We were starting to see a return. I later had a lot more dealings when I got out of OCS. ... My next assignment was, I had Korean veterans working for me and they had quite a few stories. One very sad story that fed back to us quickly, there was one tactical officer, one of the officers that trained us, that got his orders, shipped to Korea and two weeks later, we got word that he had been killed by a sniper. So, you know the realism came home through it all. ... Finally, graduated OCS, and this marked a couple of things in my mind. Number one, my father did something he had never done before. We had a little candy store luncheonette, I think I've mentioned this. He closed the store and drove down to Georgia with my mother to be at my graduation when I got my commission and we all drove back together. The assignments were very straight forward. It was a simple assignment, everyone ships over to Korea, and we were packed, duffle bags packed, ready to get on our transport when a courier came into the barracks or to the line where I was and was asking for Lieutenant Spetgang and I said, "Oh shit, what did I do now," and I stepped out. He said, "Follow me sir," you know, he was a corporal. "Where are we going?" "We're going to base commander's headquarters," and this, you know, what's this all about. The base commander at that time was a Colonel (Berkev?) who later became General (Berkev?). I snapped to attention, saluted and so forth. "Lieutenant Spetgang, I see by the records here that you have two and a half, almost three years of engineering background of college. Is that correct?" "Yes, sir." "We've got a special assignment for you." "My unit's getting ready to leave right now." He said, "You won't be leaving with them. We've got a new set of orders cut for you, you're going to be taking over a communications school that just lost its commander." I said, "But I was just an engineering student." He said, "Well, you've got the most appropriate background for it being a radio amateur and so forth." "May I inquire where?" [He said], "Fort Dix, New Jersey." I could not believe it, and I had a sense of disappointment. Here I had been trained in all this hand to hand combat, strategy, this that and the other, and I wasn't going to be using it. ... Again, stupidly I was upset over this, but I reported to Fort Dix, and it was a wire communications school, not a radio communication school. I later learned that the radio communications work was all done at Fort Monmouth, but they had a wire communications school where installation of telephone systems and so forth was taught, and that was my assignment for the rest of my military time. I learned a lot about the military. I found that every officer, every junior officer, must serve on court martial boards either as a defense attorney, a prosecuting attorney or a board member, on whatever case came up. One day I was summoned away from the school, and I put my field sergeant in charge of the school while I was gone, and I was told that I have to defend a GI who was found sleeping on guard duty. I was given a book. I still have it in my library, it's called the Uniform Code of Military Justice and that's the whole shebang. That's the whole law of the military in that one book. So, I started browsing it, you know, like anyone would. ... I started reading about the rules of proof and so forth, and I was able to get this young man off the charge because of the rules. In the rule book, I read any sentry who having been properly posted is found asleep and so forth. ... What had happened, the officer of the day, in the middle of the night, had gone by, found this young man asleep, cradling his rifle. The officer called the corporal of the day over. Together they removed the rifle, took it, put it in their jeep, and then they went back and awakened him. So, that was the prosecution's case. I got the corporal of the guard and asked him about how he posted this man. He said, "I posted him in a very usual fashion, walked the post with him, showed him. ... That was the first posting." "What time did this occur?" "Well, it was about four o'clock in the morning." "Was that his first, second, third posting, or what?" "Well, that was his third posting of the night." "How did you post him the third time?" "Well, I just let him out of the jeep. He knew his post." ... I put before the board that this man was not posted properly, and the rules of the military code of justice say, "Any man who having been a sentry having been properly posted," and they agreed, and because of that, I got into a little bit of trouble. ... The trouble was that word spread quickly that Lieutenant Spetgang had gotten this GI off a charge that was sure to have stood, and suddenly, I was being requested as a defense counsel. The next one was a WAC who had gone AWOL and stolen money from another WAC and so forth, this went on, and it really kind of interfered with my school that I was running, but I had good people and that's where I was going to talk about the Korean returnees. I had a field first sergeant who really ran the show for me at the school. I sort of oversaw things, but he kept the ball going. Did have one memorable situation occur where I was called to the post commander's office and I was in my field fatigues. I had been out in the field, took a jeep, drove in. There were a few civilians in the office with him, and as I reported, he said, "Lieutenant Spetgang, these gentlemen are from the United States Post Office. They say that the road that they use between Fort Dix and Brown Mills has been blockaded." I said, "Yes sir, I cut it off." What I did originally, the civilian traffic used one of the roads through my field training area. I had a school, and then I had a field area where I taught the GIs to string wires out in the field, set up field telephone switchboards. I had what I called the "pole orchard." It was an area of telephone poles, just a whole group of them, where we taught the kids to climb poles to string wires and so forth. So, this road ran through the middle and civilians were using it. I had these young GIs in their fatigues working, stringing wires by the side of the road. I was afraid someone was going to get hit. I didn't want the civilian traffic, so I asked my field first sergeant to lay a log across the road, which he did. The next day it was removed. I said, "No, they're not going to remove that." I said, "Do you know how to put in dragon's teeth?" It's a technique they used over in Korea where they dug logs straight down then they put diagonal logs against the base of them dug into the earth with points on them so if you tried pushing it with a vehicle, you'd tear the front of your vehicle apart. So, he installed dragon's teeth across the front of the road. [laughter]. The post office said, "It's adding so much time to our trip, we've been using that road," and this and that and they were really angry and the general's got this frozen look on his face. He said, "What have you got to say Lieutenant?" I said, "Well, I'm responsible for the school, I'm responsible for the young men taking training there, and I felt that in their fatigues with all the greenery around the sides of the road stringing wires, they might be accidental targets, and I just felt it was for the safety of the troops." Well, he just sat glaring at me. I mean he looked at me glaring and didn't say anything. I'm dying there. Finally, he turns to the men from the Post Office, he says, "The lieutenant's responsible for the area, gentlemen, I'm sorry I can't do anything else." [laughter] He backed me up. I was so surprised, I almost floated back out to the field area, but he backed me up. Just one of those little incidents. These are things that stick in the head.
SI: During your time in charge of the school, did you have good relations with your higher-up officers?
IS: My immediate superior was a captain who had a Napoleonic complex. He was tremendously overconfident and very cocksure of himself and I was a little uncomfortable with him, but did not have a friendship or anything of that sort. Did have friendships with many other young junior officers. Interesting, another thing that pops into my mind was the pecking order. We would have an officers' party, and the wives on occasion, wives, girlfriends, dates, would go out to use the rest room. When they would come back, it would be in the pecking order of the husband's rank. This used to blow me away, like the colonel's wife would be the first out, and then the major's wife, and then the captain's wife, and then, the girlfriend of this Lieutenant and so forth. It was consistent, it wasn't a chance happening. They were very conscious, rank conscious. ... I guess you gathered from what I told you about Officer Candidate School that I never really bought into the military. I was responsible, I did what I had to do and then some, but I was never really gung ho about it and most people were, most of those in the military. It was really drilled into them, they were anxious to go, go, do.
SI: Tell me more about your relationship with your enlisted men. You said you had this great first sergeant who ran large portions of the school. One of the things that they impress upon you in the military is the division between officers and enlisted men. Did you maintain that or did you try to have relationship with your men?
IS: We were very comfortable together. We did a lot of partying after hours out in our field area. We would get a keg of beer, and you know this was off time, on our own time where school is done for the day and the staff would go out and some of us would get dates, bring dates along, the WACs on post, and we socialized together. My off duty socializing off post was only with a few other young shaved tail officers, young second and first lieutenants that I buddied around with. ... My after hours on post was with all the staff and myself included. I was always very comfortable with it and they were comfortable with it, and a lot of fun. We were very creative, our job was to teach them to set up telephone exchanges out in the field, a field office. Well, rather than just picking a nice spot in the woods and setting it up, we were able to scavenge at the post dump, blimp cloth, and we built shelters and threw the blimp cloth over it. We built actual sites as if it were combat sites because the staff, most of them were returned from Korea, and they knew what it was, and they felt they wanted the kids to know what to do and how to do it. So, we had these earth sheltered, we dug them down away into the earth, and then we put the blimp cloth over them and we'd throw camouflage over that. We had these private little spots out in the woods that we, the staff, knew about that I don't think any of the post officers really knew about or anything of the sort. That's where we did our partying and what not.
SI: Do you happen to remember any of the things that the Korean War veterans were trying to teach them that they were not necessarily going to learn in the standard course?
IS: Yes, first of all, about that very thing that I mentioned, digging in any kind of equipment that you had, how to camouflage it, putting in the dragon's teeth. That was something these kids had no idea what the sergeant was having them do until it was a finished product and then they realized that's probably impenetrable even to a tank, you know, and that sort of thing. We had a couple of veterans who had, at the time we didn't know it, but they had post "something" syndrome, where they were jumpy as hell. We had one fellow that we'd, if someone would go to wake him up you had to do it sort of carefully from a distance. Shake him, and stand back, because he would immediately be up to throttle someone that was over him. He'd awaken in his past experience. I saw things like that. I never experienced it myself in any way. There were stories that came back from Korea, but they were mostly the horror stories. The returning guys didn't have, they really didn't talk too much about it. Every once in a while they'd really get angry at the new recruits who were, in their eyes, somewhat spoiled, and they would raise hell with them, and spout out about how things are in the real life over in a combat zone. Even the combat zone, those that came back, I learned that only about one in ten were literally in the combat zone. The other nine were in support and logistics and what not, although at one time or another every one of them may have had tastes of combat. We were very conscious of decorations, we only saw them when dress uniforms were used, but occasionally, someone that we buddied around with and just didn't give two thoughts to would come out wearing a Silver Star or something of the sort, or Bronze Star with oak leaf clusters, and you know that here's someone that did some outstanding things that they never talked about it.
SI: Did you ever have any discipline problems with your men?
IS: Nothing stands out in my mind right now. I suspect I must have, but I don't recall having to court martial anyone, anything of the sort. The worst that I had was a couple of AWOLs where there was good reason. They needed a pass, they had a mother who was dying, and for some reason couldn't get it, and they just said to hell with this and went, and we worked around it the best we could. I was not a great disciplinarian as far as military discipline. Maybe that's why my gang was so comfortable with me when we partied together and so forth. The way I separated was interesting. At the end of the Korean War, word came down from Washington that anyone who has over a year of active duty with a valid reason for separation, should be separated. They were trying to pare the budget, should be separated immediately. ... I got word of this and I went to the commanding officer's headquarters and said I want to put in for separation. It was August and the Rutgers semester was starting in September, and I wanted to get back to start the semester, and they said, "What's your reason?" "I want to get back to college, the semester starts." Well, they thought it was a big joke and I said, "No, I'm serious; I want to do this." So they put in paper work for me and they telexed it to Washington. The next day orders came from Washington to separate me from service. Then, there was a tidal rush after that, but no one gave much thought to it until I tried it and did it work, and I got back to Rutgers at the beginning of the semester. Anyway, that's kind of a thumbnail sketch.
SI: About how long had you been in charge of this school at Fort Dix?
IS: Maybe a year. Maybe I had been in service eighteen, twenty months from the time my basic training, my officer candidate training, and then running the school. So, it was a very uneventful, for me, military service. Although it changed my attitude totally when I was back at school and that's another whole story.
SI: Korea was the first war fought after the integration of the armed forces. In your school or back when you were at OCS, how integrated were the forces that you were dealing with?
IS: You know I don't remember how many blacks we had. If I can take a minute I can go get a picture of my graduating class and just roll it out and see if there are black faces. I don't remember.
SI: We were just looking at a photo of your graduation class from OCS at Fort Benning. We found one that, out of your class, there were maybe seven or eight African-American candidates out of a class of what, over a hundred?
IS: There were eighty-two of us, I think, that graduated. Well, it looked like more than eighty-two to me.
SI: Could that be the candidates in the training cadre?
IS: Yes, I don't know whether this was at graduation or whether when the picture was taken, that may have been the entering class, possibly.
SI: It also noted that the class started in January '52 and you graduated in July of '52.
SI: Then you came straight up to Fort Dix to command the school. Then, you were discharged in August of '53. You were there about a year pretty much.
IS: Yes, that's about it.
SI: Do you remember any problems related to the racial integration of the armed forces? Did any fellow officers express a problem with this?
IS: No, as a matter-of-fact I remember several strange things about how comfortable things were in the military. ... Our company clerk in basic training was homosexual. Very obviously, didn't try to hide it, nobody bothered him about it, that's the way it was, people accepted it, and that's long ago. I mean now we're getting this big flap about "don't ask, don't tell" nonsense and I don't know why something's being made of it, because for years and years and years, that's the way it was in the military. ... There were some people who were homophobic. I imagine there might have been some in my basic training and elsewhere, but for the most part, no one took any [offense], they were people, like the rest of us. ... I don't remember any problems with blacks in the military in our unit. I know of one, I remember in basic training, and he was an outstanding trainee. I mean, he was truly gung ho and did everything by the numbers, by the book, and he was well thought of. It's a different world, the military. It's a broader picture of "we the people" than we get in a university setting or in a suburban setting or anything of the sort.
SI: On a typical day during your work at the school, what would you do as the commander?
IS: At the communications school?
IS: I'd take a drive out to the pole orchard. Wanted to make sure, it was very important, we did have an occasional accident where a trainee would take his retaining belt, snap it on to the D ring, hear it snap and lean back and fall because he snapped it, but it didn't grasp it, it missed. So, that was very important to me, the safety at the pole orchard, and I would check on how the trainees were doing, if anyone was having a problem. I would then go out and put trouble on the phone lines. They would have set up telephone communications between four different outposts and the switchboard, and I would creep along the side of the road when no one was around. ... I'd have a supply of straight pins in my pocket, a pair of pliers, and I would take two separate lines, phone lines, and I'd put a straight pin through, causing cross talk. ... Then, I'd lay back in the woods to see how the trainees would find the problem, how they'd straighten it out. That was one of the dirty tricks that I used to pull. It was ... generally a twenty minute wait, and then, suddenly, people would be coming along and inspecting the lines. They couldn't understand why they were getting cross talk from one line to another. Occasionally, I'd have classes scheduled where I would actually be instructing. It would be classroom work, and most of the time it was the field sergeants that would do the instruction and I would monitor, go in and monitor the class. That's generally the sort of way I spent my time. Once in a while I'd cheat. I would take one of my jeeps, and put my field sergeant in charge and head into the post to get a cup of coffee and a donut. It was spent this way. The thing is it was not really a work day. When you're in the military you're on duty all the time, and sometimes we had night training exercises, and other times we had continuous day and night, sometimes very relaxed, other times very intense. For the most part ... I felt unused. I felt that I was anxious to get back to school, to get into engineering, so that I could begin a career. I can't think of too many other things that I did with the classes.
SI: Did your field sergeants just sit you down when you first got there and say, "Well, Lieutenant, I'll be in charge of this." How did that relationship develop?
IS: Oh, okay, it's funny. I wish I could remember the name of my field first sergeant. He was wonderful, but I'm looking at him right now in my mind's eye and no, I went to him. I said, "You understand that I have just gotten out of Officer Candidate School, and I don't know the first thing about what you're doing here, but I'm a fast learner, and I'm going to need your help, all the help you can give me in learning. ... I need your guidance," and he was very responsive to this. He went out of his way to protect my backside, to make sure that I didn't get into trouble by making terrible mistakes. If he saw me going in a direction on some problem or another that he didn't think was wise, he would come to me and say, "You know, you might want to reconsider this," and he'd say it softly, but boy my ears perked up because I knew that he was mature, more mature than I was. ... He had seen a lot more than I had seen, and he had been part of the school under the previous commander and knew the ways of the school. So, he was my chief liaison with the school, but then I had others. I had one sergeant who was a Hawaiian and we used to spend a lot of time talking about Hawaii. ... I don't remember his name, but I'm looking at him too. It's funny, the images remain, but I don't recall the names.
SI: Did you have much time to have R&R off the base or go visit your family or anything like that?
IS: Yes, generally, I had at least two weekends a month that I had free time over weekends and because I was at Fort Dix, it was no problem at all for me to zip up to Nutley to my father's store and later to Paterson when he sold the store in Nutley and got a store up in Paterson, New Jersey. In fact, that's where he was when I finally separated from active duty. The home was still in Nutley, kept the apartment over the candy store after he had left the store.
SI: You told me a lot of great stories about how your father's store was the center for the home front in Nutley, where they would keep track of the people who were going overseas.
IS: Yes, a big world map up on the back wall.
SI: Had they done anything like that for Korea?
IS: No, nothing like that was done. And then my college was interrupted again, but I haven't told you about getting back. ... I don't know what direction, if you have any thoughts about the direction to go.
SI: No, I want to get back into Rutgers. Did you go back to the fraternity house? Where were you living?
IS: I went back to the fraternity house. ... I was given the assignment as house manager which meant that I had responsibility for the physical fraternity house. If a hinge started sagging on the door, to have it repaired and take care of it, and that gave me a small stipend. I told you I had a different attitude altogether when I returned to school. Studies were very important to me and getting the most out of it was important but I changed my major. I had majored in electrical engineering until I left for the military. When I came back I changed it to administrative engineering because I kind of liked running the school and being the administrative manager and that sort of thing. I still wanted the engineering involvement, but I started taking courses a little more slanted toward the management side and I had no patience. For instance, I was in an accounting class, and it was made up of a third of veterans. Two-thirds were high school kids coming into college and there was a very timid instructor who was running the class, very good, but very timid, and a couple of the high school kids were heckling him terribly. When his back was turned, he was on the blackboard, there'd be catcalls and stuff, and by the second or third class session I couldn't stand it. I got up in the back and I said "Okay, who's making all this racket," and I must have had rage written on my face because everyone looked and shut up. I was going to throw someone out the window and I said, "Look, I'm paying my hard money to be here to learn, I'm not here to fool around. If you don't have the guts to stand up and tell me who is doing it, just knock it off," and I sat down and the instructor was shocked during this. He turned around and said, "Thank you, Mr. Spetgang." There was never another disturbance in the class, but here I had come from being the responsible commander of a school and having responsible men working for me and so forth, and I'm put back into this situation with this high school crap and I just lost it. That was part of my attitude change.
SI: Did you find similar situations, frustrating situations, like that at the fraternity house?
IS: No, I sort of joined in the nonsense there. I sort of switched gears away from class, and I told you I had another interruption. I was in Christmas break the next year. I was a senior, one semester from graduating. It was Christmas break when I got a phone call to get home quick. I had a Christmas break job with the post office in New Brunswick, got a call from my mother, "Get home quick, your father's had a heart attack. I dropped everything, drove home. By the time I was home, my father had expired. At that time we had a small luncheonette type place in Paterson, and I had to look after my mother and dispose of the business, and get her set and so forth. So, I just didn't return to school, and I missed most of that last semester, but I got a call from Dean Easton at my home, and he said, "You've left school, you've not come back and we've gotten word that your father died, but why are you not back?" I said, "Well, I have to dispose of the business, I want to set my mother up, and see that she's got what she needs and so forth." He said, "I think it's really important, you're right next to graduating, to not do it," and I told him, "Well, I've missed most of the semester, I'll go down the tubes." He said, "No, since you've been back from service you've been in the top two percent of your class," which by itself, here I am before I left, I was verging on flunking out. I'm back and I didn't realize that, he said, "You've got very good grades going in, if you come back, even if you drop a grade in every class, you'll still complete and graduate." So, I made some arrangements with my sister to move my mother to Philadelphia with my sister, and I sold the business off at a bargain price just to get a little bit of money. Most of it was owed, so paid off the notes, and then, had a small war chest for my mother. Got her settled with my sister and came back. ... After my mother was settled, I had some time before I could step back into school, and a buddy of mine, a high school buddy was working at RCA in Camden at the time, and I had also settled at my sister's in Philadelphia, and he said, "Why don't you come over here, I can get you a job as a technician until you go back and finish," which I did. I got a job as a technician with RCA, a lab technician. They knew it was part-time, but they also made a commitment with me, an arrangement. Jack Barkow was the plant manager of Camden at the time, and Jack, for some reason, liked me and said, "If you come back to us on the Engineering Training Program when you graduate, we'll give you this technician's job to carry you until you leave to go back to finish your semester." So, he arranged for a part-time job with me, with a big corporation, RCA and he came through with me in more ways than one. There's another little story, I'll interject it, it's out of sequence, but when I was back at, no before I was back at Rutgers, I discovered along the line, I'm not sure where. I discovered it was after the military, when I was back at Rutgers the second time, yes, I was back the second time, and I was doing well, that I discovered I had a physical problem. I had a rupture. I had ruptured myself in the military. Well, I remember that in my basic training, I had ruptured myself, they sent me to the Fort Dix Army hospital. I was operated on, had the rupture repaired in my groin, but on my record, it noted that there was a weakness on the other side, which may have been from the same incident. When I found, back at Rutgers, that I was ruptured again, the other side of my groin, I had no money for surgery or anything. I went to the veteran's hospital in East Orange and they took care of it for me, and then, that was when I graduated. That's why I missed my graduation. Okay, it's coming together now. It was just before graduation. I had taken finals. I did not lose too many grades. I went down in a few of my courses, but I held my grades in a few others, did okay, graduated. Waited until then to see if I could get the government to fix the second hernia for me, ... went through the VA. They sent me to the veteran's hospital in East Orange and I was operated on by my fraternity brother. One of my fraternity brothers from my first time at Rutgers had gone on to medical school and was in the service and it was quite a surprise in the operating room running into him.
SI: During the break you mentioned that your fraternity brother was Art Jacoby. ... I actually interviewed him. He is also in the Archives. Mrs. Spetgang mentioned that this is when you met. Can you tell me that story?
IS: Yes. I was recuperating from the surgery, and my buddy, Warren Paul, who had been in the Marines when I was in the Army, we had by chance returned to Rutgers together and bumped into one another at registration, decided to room together. He was a year ahead of me, and he was a reporter on a daily newspaper in Levittown, Pennsylvania at which Tilly was women's editor. ... He told me about this divorced lady that he was dating occasionally. Anyway, he knew that I had surgery and wanted to stop by and visit the hospital, and he had a date with Tilly at the time.
Tilly Spetgang: ... We met for lunch first.
IS: Well, okay, but he brought her along ... with him to the hospital. She didn't care for me. I didn't care for her for a different set of reasons. I thought she, for a young woman, she was just too over confident and she thought I was too "Joe, rah, rah Joe college." She told Warren, "Well, I'll just sit in the back of the room and make it a short visit." While there, I was telling Warren I had just received a bonus from Jack Barkow at RCA, a thousand dollar bonus, because I had graduated and I had signed up for the Engineering Training Program at RCA. I didn't realize they were hungry to get new young engineers, but anyway, I was now delighted and the way the story unfolded, Warren said, "Well, what are you going to do with the money?" So, I said, "Well first of all, I had to borrow five hundred dollars from my mother some years ago, and I never paid her back so that takes care of half of it, and then I don't know what I'm going to do with the other half." Well, anyway, that caught Tilly's attention. She feels that was the first responsible thing she heard out of my mouth, so that made her look at me with different eyes, and then ... that's another whole world how we eventually got together and all.
SI: Before we leave Rutgers, you were in this new major, administrative engineering. Can you tell me a little bit what that entailed and about the classes and professors?
IS: ... It gave us survey courses in all of the other fields of engineering. I had to take a course in civil engineering, actually out in the field doing surveys and things of the sort, laying in proposed new roads and what not. I took a survey course in mechanical engineering. I took a survey course in electrical engineering. ... I sort of cruised then because I had been an ... electrical engineering major until that point in time. Took a survey course in ceramics engineering which Rutgers offered at the time. I don't know what they offer today. ... Dean Easton was still the Dean of the College of Engineering when I was there, and whereas he was a distant authority figure to me when I was first at Rutgers, when I returned he was a person and we got to know one another. For a period of time, I was dating his secretary as a matter-of-fact, and I felt much more comfortable at Rutgers. I did not feel that I was in part of just a little piece of a monstrous institution. I felt closer to those in the engineering school than I did to those in the fraternity. I was spending most of my time at the College of Engineering. Loved the lab courses, but then, in addition to those survey courses, I had some liberal arts courses. I took Ancient Greek Philosophy with Dr. Mason Gross, who later became president of Rutgers. He actually taught Ancient Greek Philosophy. He had a big auditorium class that he conducted. I had courses in accounting, in business administration. They were a cake walk compared to engineering courses, and the idea started forming, maybe someday I'll go on ahead for a master's degree, and I started thinking about that. Didn't act on it until I was with RCA for a while, then I pursued my master's at night.
SI: What did you do during that first stint at RCA as a technician? What type of work did you do?
IS: I was more of a coordinator. The assignment that they gave me was in production control and I was sort of liaison between engineering and the factory floor. The factory would call with a problem. They're supposed to assemble part A to part B and they don't fit, what are we supposed to do, you're going to shut us down, and I'd run down there to see what the problem was, bring it back to engineering, unless it was something obvious that I could give an answer to. So, I was in this coordinator's kind of role. If they needed a set of drawings, I'd get up to the print room and arrange to have the set of drawings printed out and carry them down to the factory floor to make sure that the product kept moving and there were no stoppages. That was the nature of the work. Can I think of any other specifics? Problem breaker. You know, whatever problems were occurring between engineering and production, I was the guy in the middle. There were many and varied and some of them were dumb stupid things that the answers were obvious to and I could give an answer and be a hero, while others had to go back to engineering because they were engineering errors or oversights.
SI: You graduate in 1956.
SI: Then you went to work for RCA full-time in this Engineering Training Program.
IS: ... Yes.
SI: What did that entail and how long did that last?
IS: That was a six-month training program and what it was was six different monthly assignments. Each assignment had the purpose of giving me familiarity with one aspect of the production programs. One month I would work in the drafting room, one month I would work in the machine shop, one month I was assigned to production control, one month I was assigned to warehousing and stocking, that sort of thing. I don't remember the precise assignments, but one month I was assigned to the factory floor ... as an acting foreman of one of the production lines. So, it was to give me a broad general background in the whole operation so that I knew how the pieces fit together. I enjoyed it. I didn't know if it was going to lead to where I wanted to go, but RCA was a big corporation and I knew I'd have the opportunity to move around. I wouldn't have to quit jobs and go to another company to change my venue. I can do it within RCA and that's indeed what I did. I had thirty-six years with them, and through that time, I did change my venue on ... maybe four, five occasions.
SI: Once you completed the six month training program, what division were you sent to?
IS: I was assigned back to a Production Control Manager, and my title was a Production Control Coordinator, and that was very much the sort of thing I had been doing in my technician's job before I graduated, only with much more responsibility and authority and so forth. Solving the problems between production and engineering, many varied. ... I was assigned to different plants, different product areas in that capacity. I'd be out at the transmitter plant and I'd spend a year or two there where RCA made the large studio transmitters that were used by radio and television stations. Television was just coming on line, becoming a big thing, and we were in over our heads building hardware for new stations to go on the air. Later, I was moved to a defense division that worked with military equipment, and there I was both office manager of an engineering group, an engineering design group that made equipment. It was called the ANPRC. That stands for Army Navy Portable Radio Communications. The ANPRC 8, 9, and 10, three different forms of walkie-talkie radios, and my job was to run the office area with an engineering design group with draftsmen, with stenographers, so forth, and sort of keep this group cohesive and make sure everyone had what they needed when they needed it to do the job. I had to plan the budgets and the schedules for this small group. Had to plan moving things into production when they were going in, seeing that production lines were set up appropriately to handle the particular job orders. We did not work on continuous production, worked on job orders when the Army would come in with an order for 25,000 of these particular portable radios that we were designing at that time. I had to see that the production line was appropriately established so that it could maintain a flow rate of such and such, and we'd have to make decisions on ordering for inventory. Do we want to order nuts and bolts for 25,000, or do we want to order large things for a thousand and reorder each month and minimize our inventory--typical business manufacturing kind of problems. So, that was beginning to become more interesting to me. My first coordinating job left me feeling, was kind of a dead-end.
SI: The transmitters?
IS: Oh, yes, the transmitters and the coordinating between engineering and the factory. This new assignment in a government division was a modest promotion, and able to bring home a few more bucks which were important at the time, and that started me on a career in government work which I stayed with until I retired from RCA. ...
SI: I know you have several patents. When did you start working on these patents?
IS: Well, that was one of my later assignments. One of the last assignments that I had in government work was with a recording group, state of the art recording. There were no such things as solid state recorders, like little pocket recorders or a device like you are using right now, but we used tape recorders. The public was used to little quarter inch tape being run on a reel to reel machine. We had much more sophisticated tape recorders that could record a much broader spectrum and you get the broader spectrum by the speed by which the tape is passing the head, the recording head. ... To do it reel to reel past a fixed head would be impossible to reach the spectrum and the frequencies that we needed for our special government work. So we designed rotating head machines where the head was moving at high speed and tape was moving next to the high speed wheel so that the path of flux being recorded across the tape was seeing a much broader spectrum than it would otherwise see, and play back. The nature of the work that we were doing was highly classified, and I was able to secure several special clearances from the government for some of our customers. Some of our customers, one of our customers, today known as NSA, which stands for the National Security Agency. At that time, when we used the term NSA, and anyone asked, that meant "No Such Agency." That was our quick response. They were doing a lot of spy in the sky kind of work, and there was no way to instantly get information from satellites to ground stations. Satellites communicated with two or three ground stations at certain points in the earth's orbit, so we designed and built the recorders that went to those sites that the satellites could communicate with during a brief window of time as the earth was rotating. ... That permitted us to gather photographic evidence of things that otherwise could never have been had. This is thirty some years ago, the technology is old. I don't imagine there's any problem with my talking about it now for the Archives. It was restricted information, but at the time when we had U-2 spy planes over flying places like Russia, they would drop a canister with the tape that they used. We would have airborne recorders that we would put on those craft. They would drop a tape which would be recovered and then played back at ground level. When satellites, and we also built recorders for satellites. When the satellites, observation satellites started, we radioed the data from the satellite down to the ground station. So, it was near real time but it wasn't real time, it was near real time, and we could see not only a map of Moscow that the U-2 plane had been able to secure, but we could define the streets and we could define the make of an automobile parked in the street. ... Later, as our equipment improved, both in the satellites and on the ground, we could tell you the license plate on the car. We designed recorders that went in suitcases. Suitcases carried by tourists visiting the Berlin Wall where, what they were actually doing was recording the full spectrum of all recordable information coming from the other side, which meant that if motors were running somewhere, they got a signal from that, not just radio communications, but the full spectrum. We later got into laser recorders where we took data from satellites, fed it to lasers that reflected off rotating mirrors and the reflections scanned photographic film that was moving and created pictures that would come out again in near real time, developed film with pictures that were needed. We developed recorders.
SI: How early did you get into laser recording?
IS: All of this was in my last assignment which was in recording systems engineering and that was during my last ten to fifteen years at RCA. I started in '56. ...
SI: When did you first get into laser recording?
IS: Oh, government recording?
SI: Well, I asked you specifically about the laser work.
IS: We started in the laser work about '82, '81, '82, '83. Around that time frame if I am remembering properly. I did not work directly with the laser recording, it was being done in our group, in the recording group. I was a group manager, I had three program managers working for me. I reported to a vice president of General Electric. I had profit and loss responsibility for my sub portion of the business. It was a very modest by GE terms, I did about thirty-five to forty million dollars business a year in my group, which on the outside would be like a small, medium business, but in GE, it was a hiccup. Other types of our very interesting "black" programs at the time, today it's old hat, but we made massive recorders where a reel of tape was half the size of this table, had to be lifted by a forklift, went into a massive recorder that went into a steel water tight, air tight tube that was sunk in the ocean and it recorded signatures of all sea craft. Every propeller on every sea craft has its own unique signature. No two have the same signature because of the grinding of bearings, the polishing of shafts, they're never the same. We, the United States, decided to build a library of all Russian craft so that if our submarine, which had a library on board, were submerged and craft were passing over they'd know if it was a Russian destroyer, an American cruiser, or whatever. We made several of these that were sunken by the Navy in particular spots, and antennas were drawn out from them, and any passing craft would leave its signature. ... Then, we had aircraft overflying to coordinate, to confirm the class of naval craft with the signature that was being recorded. Later, a library was created and placed on every one of our submarines and it was for that purpose. That was the nature of the work that we did in recording. We also worked for NASA, for the space agency and for NOAH. We designed the recorders that went on the ERTS, E-R-T-S, the Earth Resource Technology Satellite, and this gave me the best feeling of anything that I worked on because it was for humanity not for wartime purposes. It was not military, it was government, but not military. The ERTS recorders were the first recorders to record earth's signatures. Schools of fish, where they were, underground volcanoes getting ready to erupt, hot and cold spots, ground coverage, where desert was encroaching. All this was done by the Earth Resource Technology Satellites, and we made--we the United States--made this information available to the world. It was not retained. It was available to our friends, to our enemies, to anyone. It became public domain, and it was put to such good use, particularly in farming. It increased crop yields around the world, showed highlighted spots that were prime for growing crops where nothing was being done to use, showed other spots where desert was taking over because of poor farm management. Did wonderful things. So that part of my job I loved. Eventually, when I retired I was offered a job by NASA as their representative at RCA, which I had considered, but it was interrupted by a serious accident that I had. ... In between my first jobs with RCA and this, you know, where I went from being an office manager, I went through some periods that were very low. I was transferred to the comptroller's organization at one time because of my business knowledge. By then, I had my Master's degree in business and I didn't like working with the comptroller's group. They felt that they ran the show because they determine profit and loss and so forth and I, of course, felt that engineers ran the show because engineers created the product and made it at all possible. We had those kinds of differences. The toughest thing for me was when General Electric bought out RCA, and that was in 1987, '86 or '87, and the thing that made it bad was that the GE management that came in needed training and I would spend more time giving tutorials to my management than I could in working with my customers. My actual job as manager of programs was to propose work, manage proposal efforts and if the job was won, bring it in, set up facilities, bring in the team to do the job, build the equipment, see it through its acceptance testing, customer's acceptance, and delivery. So, it was sort of like a good old business within the business and an example of the problems I ran into. When GE had bought us out, I was just in the midst of starting to propose a space-borne recorder called COBE, the Cosmic Background Explorer, and it's a costly job to propose a program to the government. To generate the proposal was, at that time, a twenty-five, thirty thousand dollar effort to bring on the people that you needed to write the proposals and to diagram and so forth. GE refused me the money to propose this. Now, that sort of enraged me, because we had spent the previous three years preparing our customer for our product. I had worked with NASA, I had learned what they needed, we had designed it into the product that we were proposing, we had designed responses to what their needs, specific needs, were. There was only one other real competitor for the job, it was not a major job, but it was like an eight, ten million dollar job. I would get the GE management that controlled the purse strings together, sit down, explain to them why we needed this money to write the proposal that we had a better than fifty, fifty percent chance of winning the job. ... They would start quizzing me in great depth about things about my customer, things they didn't know anything about, and that further angered me, but I contained it, and I did what I had to, got the money eventually, got the proposal out eventually, won the job. It was, as a matter-of-fact, RCA's first deep space job. We had one, we had put recorders on earth orbit programs, but this was the first deep space probe that we won a spot for our recorders on. It was an ongoing thing and eventually it got to the point where I had to start going above their heads, in some cases, to their management. Normally, when I would write a business letter, I would address it to the person I was interested in. I would keep my boss and others that needed to know what was going on, but it was very upsetting to have work with and teach a whole new management when I should be working with my customers out selling product and working with the production in house to make sure it was going as it should. Instead, I had to put those problems aside to train GE. So, GE came up with a plan where RCA people could, I stayed RCA under RCA rules and regulations for two years. That was the buyout agreement for GE. Then, at the end of two years, I had to either become a GE employee or leave, and I chose to leave, take an early retirement as an RCA employee for several reasons, primarily financial. By this time, I had gone through several promotions, several raises. I had a modestly good retirement savings, and under GE my retirement savings would go into my GE retirement plan, which then would pay me so much a month for the rest of my life. I was very uptight about this because it did not have a provision for inflation and I had seen my father-in-law retire very comfortably and then fifteen years later be practically penniless where Tilly and I had to sneak money to them under different guises. ... I saw what could happen, what inflation can do to a fixed plan retirement. I wanted to manage my own retirement, and the RCA plan allowed me to withdraw my whole retirement amount and manage it myself, and I did not want to lose that opportunity. So, I retired before I was fifty-nine, I was fifty-eight and a half. ... My only regret there is that I took social security as soon as I could which sort of minimalized it. Had I waited, I could have had a better social security package, but fortunately, it's helped see me through to today.
SI: I want to get into some stories about your work at RCA. I am used to talking to people who are in similar positions where the government puts out a request for a proposal, not the other way around.
IS: Request for a proposal?
SI: It sounds like you were working the other way, selling them on your product and idea.
IS: Not quite. I worked with the government agency. As soon as we would get word that there was going to be a proposal for a new satellite system that would need recorders on it, probably one to two years before the actual RFP, Request For Proposal was issued, I would make contact with that agency in the government. I would talk to them about the fact that we have product that can probably be modified to fit their needs. If they have defined their needs, can they tell me anything about it, and I would get in bed with the customer anywhere between eighteen months and twenty-four months before the actual request for proposal was issued. I would subtly, as subtly as I could, help shape their request for proposal around our equipment's capabilities. They would need something that could withstand a certain launch shock, and I would tell them that, "Well, these are, we've done shock testing on our equipment," and so forth, and "these are the parameters that we meet right now." Then, they'd say, "Well, then we have temperature limitations. ... We have to be able to go to minus forty degrees Fahrenheit or plus two hundred." ... I'd say, "Well, you know, you have to be realistic. If you need recorders on your satellite, they must use tape." Remember, this was before there were solid state recorders. "You must use tape, and the tape that's made today can only withstand temperatures up to thus and so before the tape starts getting gooey and will stick to the head and will cause a malfunction." So, I would feed that kind of information to them and they would then modify their request for proposal to something that they could realistically expect customers to propose. They came to depend on us to an extent to help them shape their RFP, their request for proposal. I don't know if my competitors did the same thing or not. I only had about two or three real competitors in the field of space-borne recording.
SI: Who were they?
IS: There was a firm called Odetics, and Lockheed started, although they came back to us. They ran into so many problems, it wasn't worth it for them, but for a while they were our competitor. I think there may have been one other, Ball Brothers who was a satellite manufacturer. I really was unaware, but I knew that I wanted to grease the skids for our product and most often it worked because we were the preeminent recorder, space borne recorder producer, some of the others did sell recorders. When Japan started their space program, they started with Odetics. They were in bed with Odetics, and although I have no doubt that I proposed a better product for their first satellites, they went with Odetics, which was a bitter disappointment for me. ... Very often certain customers get in bed with certain vendors, and they build their requirements around the vendor's capability, and that's what I did with my customers. ... That's why, to have to stop and explain all this to new management in GE, and they were never satisfied with any explanation, they had to dig deeper and deeper. What they were, and I don't mean this in too disparaging a way, they were young MBAs that were put into these jobs because of their degree accreditation. ... They really had no feel, some of them had no technical background at all. ... We could have just bullshited them as much as we wanted. Well, that's one thing I hadn't touched on. While I was with RCA ... I decided to go back to graduate school. I did that at night at Drexel and that was simply reality. I went through several strikes at RCA where different unions, Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, IBEW, would go out on strike and even the engineers were organized at RCA. They were known as the ASPEP, the Association of Professional Engineering Personnel. I knew the strikes could shut down the plants, and I had a young family. I decided that, you know, I ought to have a backup plan in my hip pocket in case things ever get bad at RCA. Maybe I better go and get more education. I was in administrative engineering and administrative management so I thought a Master of Business Administration would be a wise route. Started at Drexel, but because I had one new baby at home, I was helping out as much as possible. I could only schedule one class a week at night. I couldn't really, it would have been abusive to my wife to stay away more than that. So, it took me about seven years until I finished and graduated with my MBA. But I did that while I was at RCA.
SI: What year did you receive your MBA?
IS: ... I got the MBA in '63 and my children came to my graduation, and this time I went to my graduation. I missed my Rutgers graduation because I was in the veterans' hospital at the time.
SI: You must have started your studies pretty quickly after you graduated from Rutgers.
IS: ... Hey babe, how many years did I go to graduate school?
IS: ... Maybe I started earlier than I remember.
SI: When you first got to RCA, they were having a number of labor problems.
IS: All through the early years, ... there were strikes about every other year. The unions ran RCA and management was struggling to take back control. Let me give you an idea of what I mean when I say "unions ran things." When I was on my Engineering Training Program, and one of my assignments was acting foreman of a production line, the shop stewards never worked. They were given shop orders to charge their time to, but they didn't work, they didn't do a job. This was part of placating the unions. Well, one shop steward would go around to people on the production lines and take lunch orders from them. He would then go out to a deli and buy all kinds of meats and breads and make hoagies. He'd get white butcher paper, spread it over one of our production benches and have the production line make up hoagies and whenever anyone ordered, make up the sandwiches, wrap them, drop them off, collect. This was another form of income that they had. I'll never forget when I first went out to the production line, and I saw this happening, I said to the foreman, "Why isn't he doing a job, why isn't he working on anything?" "Oh, he's a shop steward, you don't touch them, hands off. Let them do what they want," and that was typical of the strength of the union. ... There were eighteen thousand people at RCA when I first came to the company, and the unions truly ran the show to a very great extent. RCA took each strike because management was trying to get back a little piece of the control that they had, and another little piece, another little piece, and eventually they did. Eventually the strikes were so damaging to the union and union personnel, and then RCA started moving operations away from Camden. When I started there were eighteen thousand, when I retired there were maybe three thousand working in Camden. A small segment of government business remained. ... The union movement was so tremendously important, and it did so many needed important things, but then the pendulum swung too far in certain industries and businesses. ... That's what happened at RCA during my early days there. Among my responsibilities, I had to deal with union officers. I had to handle arbitrations and grievance cases, and I had a very good relationship with the union people because I based it on being honest. ... That was very unusual for them to have honesty handed to them, and they recognized it, and they appreciated it, and they were quite cooperative with me. ... I had very little by way of labor problems when I was running my own businesses later in my career. For those engineering students that ever look into the Archives, I just want to say I found my work on the master's degree childishly simple compared to an engineering curriculum, and it was a breeze. It was just that it took me so long because ... I dropped out a couple of years. Things were busy at home with the kids, or problems. I guess before I had my adequate credits, it was about five actual years in graduate school, but it was a breeze.
SI: If I have the years right, you were doing a lot of the work with the government on the recorders and spy equipment during the height of the Cold War during the Vietnam War. Is that correct?
IS: Can you give me a time frame for the Vietnam War?
SI: That would be the early to mid-sixties through the early seventies.
IS: I don't remember doing a lot of work for the government at that time. ... Much of our spook work I don't know where it was going, what they were looking at. I just know that we were at the receiving end and we were recording it for them and I knew an overview of what the equipment was needed for. I really never associated it with a given, well the Cold War definitely I can associate with that. We were very involved. The Vietnam War, I don't have any sharp memory of work that we did that applied.
SI: I was just curious if it was anything that specific, such as the customer saying, "We need this for Vietnam."
IS: No. The agencies that we dealt with were compartmented, that's one of the major aspects of secure work. A doesn't know what B is doing, B doesn't know what C is doing, but then there is an overview. Someone has overview, whether it's occasionally FBI, although we had very little to do with the FBI. CIA we had more to do with, and NSA we had most of our dealings were with the National Security Agency. Did some work for the Air Force, for the Navy. We were the first ones to put video on naval craft. We put recorders on aircraft, the A6 Grumman is an attack craft carrier based that carried our recorders and what they used it for was strike assessment. That was its beginning and end purpose. They would have a bombing run and a follow up craft would fly right behind it, record the whole scene and determine whether the target was hit, taken out or not.
SI: Did the relationship with the military work the same way as your later relationship with NASA would, where you would hear about something that they may want, and then start putting ideas in?
IS: Yes, that was our method of marketing, that's what we expected of our marketeers. We had marketing personnel who were in the field at all times and they were sniffing around government agencies, some military, some non-military. ... If they'd get wind of a potential need, they'd write reports back to us, and if it was to a point where we could see that there might be a need for our hardware, then we would initiate, we would have our marketing people grease these skids for us, say telling the potential customer that they might be hearing from some of the technical side with a few comments or questions. So, yes, that was our modus operandi. We built a good business, it started out as maybe a one to two million dollar a year business, and it ended up as about a thirty-five to forty million a year when I left. I don't know what's become of it since. ...
SI: Over the course of your time at RCA, you were also developing your personal life. We talked about how you first met Tilly, but how did your relationship develop from there?
IS: ... We went on double date with my buddy, the ex-marine, Warren Paul, that she was dating. She was with him, I was dating a school teacher from Philadelphia, and somehow the two of us spent most of the time together, me and Tilly talking, couldn't stop, we had so much to say. Then, she was living on her farm at the time, and I, as I probably had mentioned before, I was interested in buying a piece of property or a farm, getting a piece of land instead of paying rent. I thought I would see if I could find where this farm was. So, one day after work I took a drive, and finally found the little town of Perrineville, and there were two general stores, and one gas station that was the town. One of the general stores was also a post office, so I went to that post office, general store and I called her, I was only maybe half a mile from her farm at the time and she was surprised to hear from me. I said, "Can I come up?" She said, "Oh, it's a working day, it's a long trip for you." "Oh, I'm not too far away, I'm at Wolf's General Store." So, she said sure, and she put up coffee, and we sat talking and that was the beginning. We started dating, which my buddy Warren wasn't too thrilled about, but we dated for about a year. She was separated from, her husband had left her. He had walked out and left her and a little gorgeous baby. I enjoyed, was enjoying Tilly and Wendy very much. Wendy gave me a sense of reality, she was, at that time, about a four, five year old and I saw the relationship between Tilly and Wendy and I knew that there couldn't be anything fake about that. I didn't very much trust women at that time. I had run into too many situations where young women did one thing and said another and so forth. So, I began to build trust, and after a year of keeping company, we decided, and her divorce had become final, we decided let's do it, let's take the step. Oh God, that started another whole adventure for me, a whole new adventure, it was exciting and fun. Then, one day when Wendy was in first grade, she came home and said she's very unhappy because her name is different than our name. She was using Tilly's former married name of Bratman and why can't she be Spetgang. Well, her father was still alive and I couldn't adopt her without his permission so we arranged a meeting with him. I had the idea of adopting Wendy ... in my mind from the very beginning, and we talked to him about it, and we agreed that Tilly, he had never paid a penny of support toward his daughter in any way. There was a court order for him to pay ten dollars a week for her food and clothing and so forth, and even then, ten dollars a week wasn't much. ... He had never paid a penny, and we agreed that all back support, everything would be forgiven, if he would be willing for me to adopt Wendy, and we would not stop him from seeing her or her from seeing him. We would not cut her off. ... He said, in a breath, in an instant, go do it. So, once we secured his permission, we went ahead with the adoption, which went very smoothly, and Wendy became my daughter from age six on. She's now sixty. At first, Tilly wanted to work and I was old fashioned, I was a young engineer at RCA, and I said, "Forget it, you stay home, take care of Wendy, be a housewife, have hot dinner for me when I get home." She had been, you know, a newspaper woman, a journalist. She had written for the New York Herald Tribune, she was written up in "Who's Who" in American journalism, all that good stuff, and I'm telling her to drop it all. So, she tried for probably less than a year and I had to scrap her off the walls. She was going nuts, berserk. So, she went out and I don't want to go into her story, but she got a job in a local chain of newspapers, and later went to the Philadelphia Bulletin and so forth. So, she was working, never full-time. She always arranged that she would be home when Wendy got home from school, and she didn't do this until Valerie was in school, our second daughter, so that she'd be there when the kids got home from school and so forth. ... I learned to cook a little bit so that we could share dinner responsibilities. Money was very tight for us at first. We budgeted very carefully, we had fights about it. I did go through a period where I took all the credit cards and cut them into pieces, and said, "We live on cash from now on." At a certain point, we both decided that any increases that I get would no longer go to changing our life style, but would go into our retirement savings. We were very, we lived a relatively austere life until my last five years at RCA when my salary grew to a point where we could afford a little more comfortably. We had a lot of illness throughout our married years. In my case, I had a very severe accident that kept me hospitalized for about six months between hospitals and rehab and so forth. I won't go into the details, just a lot of broken bones, collapsed lungs, broken ribs, broken spine, all that kind of stuff.
SI: Was it a car accident?
IS: Yes, I was coming home from a doctor's appointment. ... I had taken the high speed line. I was driving from the high speed line to my house, and a block-and-a-half away from my house, a young woman ran a red light and broadsided me right in the driver's door. I don't remember much after that, but fortunately, an ambulance was driving by. They cut me from the wreckage, called for a chopper. They flew me to a trauma unit, and got me there during that magic hour after the accident and that kept me on board. ... Tilly had a lot to put up with, and then she's been through periods of illness. Cancer a couple of times, things of the sort, that have put strains on our financial situation, our home life and all, but temporary, and basically very good. We're very different people, we have very similar values. We work well together. ... We got very involved in the environment early on, both of us.
SI: I do want to get into that, but I want to just get an overview of where you were living and the communities you were involved in. Originally, you were living on the farm.
IS: Yes, briefly. We only stayed there because it was a hell of a commute for me, and we didn't sell the farm for maybe two, three years, and we used to go use it as a summer place where Tilly would go there with the kids and be on the farm. She was freelancing at the time, and I was commuting from the farm, but it got too messy and sloppy, literally at times, and we finally sold the farm. During that time we had, we lived in an apartment group in Westmont, called the Cuthbert Manor Apartments. ... From there, when Valerie came along and joined us, we went out and bought an old farm house in Cherry Hill with a double lot. We loved it, we lived there for ten years, but we ran into problems.
SI: Which I think we talked about the last time.
IS: Anti-Semitism, and so we decided to look for a more Jewish neighborhood. ... We heard that there was a development called Woodcrest that was being newly developed in Cherry Hill that had a large percentage of Jewish population. So, we started shopping there, although the houses were a little out of our means, this will date everything. Our first, the little farm house that we bought in Erlton, that we lived in for ten years, cost us 12,500 [dollars], and ten years later, when we moved to Woodcrest, we paid 25,000 [dollars] for that house, but that we could barely afford. We borrowed money from parents to help with the down payment, and then I was able to get the GI Loan, which was a lower percentage, and I think we had monthly payments of something like eighty dollars a month, which today seems ridiculous, but back then it was tough, but we made it, and we paid everyone back. We lived there for twenty-eight years in that Woodcrest home. The children grew and went off to college from there. We left because of physical problems. Tilly was having problems with her knees, and it was this front to back split level, three sets of stairs, and she was having great difficulty. So, we started looking at expanding the first floor to put a bathroom on the first floor, things that we could do to ease the burden on her. We also began looking at ranch style homes, one level homes. Spotted a house in a section of Cherry Hill that was way beyond our means, but it was gorgeous, I had to drive by and take a look. So, I talked Tilly into driving by with me, and I called it the Mafioso home because it reminded me of one of these low, rich landscaped California homes. ... At the time, I think they were asking 350,000 [dollars], mind you we had paid 25,000 [dollars] for the house we were in. At that time I was able to sell it, it was worth maybe 130,000 [dollars], so I did nicely with the house appreciation, but why I was looking at a 350,000 dollar house I'll never know. So, Tilly agreed to drive by, and, oh, it was something. We said, "Why don't we contact the realtor and take a look, see what it's like inside," and it was gorgeous. It had a two story foyer, Italian tile floors, sunken living room, three decks, one outside, a massive kitchen with a deck, and the deck outside the dining room, and a third deck outside the living room. We started talking to the owner and the realtor, and I said to the realtor, "I'll tell you what, I can make a real nonsense bid, but it's ridiculous." Well, I learned that the owner had it for sale for a year and had not had a bid on it, She was asking 350, so I told the realtor I'll bid 175,000 [dollars] for the house, and I don't know if he'd even want to go to them with it, and yes, it did. Believe it or not, we got into negotiations back and forth and eventually we settled and bought the house for 212,000 [dollars], something like that. That's where we lived until we came to Lion's Gate. We did a lot, we put a lot into the house, we put skylights in, seven skylights. We put in solar tubes to bring lighting into closed dark corners. Loved it, absolutely loved the house, and hated the idea of selling it and leaving it, but I could no longer do the maintenance. I used to, I had a beautiful, beautiful shop down the basement. I had accumulated all kinds of power tools. I did a lot of woodworking.
SI: At what point did you first get involved in the conservation movement?
IS: I guess it had to do with Malcolm Wells. Mac was a local architect who at the time was advocating something that was unheard of--underground architecture. ...Tilly was writing for the Philadelphia Bulletin, and now when you talk to her, she may have a slightly different take on all this, but she was going to do a cover story on him with an earth sheltered underground office that he designed and built in Westmont, right at where Route 70 intersects Cuthbert Boulevard, and it's still there. There's still an earth sheltered underground office there. I think some realtor owns it now, and it was because of that interview that we became a little conscious of the fact why he did that. ... We learned that he had had a big architectural office, he had probably ten, twenty architects working for him. He did many of the big RCA buildings, he designed the RCA building at the World's Fair. He designed Rutgers, some of Rutgers' buildings in Camden, the Cherry Hill Library. ... His work was very similar to Frank Lloyd Wright's work--emphasis on beauty, on clean lines. Not so much on the practical, not big on bathrooms or kitchens, but always gorgeous and outstandingly comfortably fit into the terrain, whatever the terrain might be, became part of it. He started talking to us about recycling, beginning in Cherry Hill, starting recycling, and at the old Ellisburg Circle where the city hall used to be for Cherry Hill. They had trailers lined up where you could put green glass, you had to separate brown bottles from another, and clear glass in another, and newspaper in one, and magazines in another. ... There was a certain hard core group of people in Cherry Hill that went to the trouble of segregating all their waste and driving to this recycling center and dropping off the recycling, and that first piqued our interest in it.
SI: When approximately was this, the early 1970s?
IS: No before that.
SI: In the 1960s?
IS: ... I'd like to go just grab quickly one of the books that Mac and I [wrote]. ...
SI: You think it was around 1975 when you started your association with Malcolm Wells?
IS: Yes, and at first it was just a casual sort of thing. We were curious. He was cultivating Tilly not from a personal perspective, but because she was, she had the press. She had her finger on public relations and he was very conscious of this, very conscious that his profession depended upon word getting out and so forth. So, we were invited to his house, met his wife, beautiful house that he designed ... in Cherry Hill. We slowly started our involvement, Tilly volunteered for the Cherry Hill Conservation Advisory Board, which was just starting at that time, and she was I believe a charter member of it, and later I became a member of it. ... We started thinking in terms of how much we're defacing the earth and without realizing it, terrible, terrible things that we're doing and we're not paying attention. So, we started looking for ways to publicize, we decided that Cherry Hill had to start preserving land and Green Acres was just a talked about idea at the time. It hadn't come into being. The federal Green Acres program, and certainly, there were no state or county programs at that time, but we started thinking about, maybe there's a way that Cherry Hill can preserve some open space, and lo and behold, Green Acres occurred. ... We went to the township clerk and asked if she would please get applications for Green Acres' funds and, "Why?" ... I said, "Well, let's see if we can get a nice piece of property for Cherry Hill," and the first, and we organized the ... Conservation Advisory Board into groups to go out and survey. We first went to township files and got maps of every publicly owned piece of vacant property in the township and we gave assignments to our committee to walk certain areas. ... We designed a form that had to be filled out which told about whether there was wild life present, wet lands, what kind of foliage is growing, is it bare, it is accessible by road, general suitability type questions. So, we first did this survey of all of Cherry Hill. Green Acres comes along and the town clerk gets the application paper work, they thought it was a little premature, as when I applied to get out of the military the next day, and we submitted, and we won Green Acres funds for a large parcel of land that's at the corner of Crescent Road and Springdale Road, right across from the Jewish community center. There is a very large parcel that's now Cherry Hill property used for composting, it's deep in the woods. I can't remember how many acres, but I mean this was Nirvana for us. We couldn't believe that we had done this, that we had this massive multi-acre parcel of land that was now township property. So we continued on that bent, and meanwhile recycling was coming along. We had gotten to the point where recycling centers would accept mixed glass of mixed colors, and then we were able to even mix magazines with newspapers. As the facilities in Camden County started improving to accept more unsegregated waste, we went along with it in Cherry Hill. I understand they've gone far beyond where we were when we left, but they were kind enough to, when we moved to Voorhees, they were kind enough to give us a day, an Irwin and Tilly Spetgang Day, and the mayor made a presentation. I have it hanging on the wall there which was kind of fun. We got involved in a lot of side issues at the time, "no-smoking bans." We were very conscious. I had been active at RCA in this, and was quite disliked by some because I arranged that there be no smoking in our office area when I was office manager. ... I designated one little rest room with picnic tables and benches for break time to be a smoking area, and even later, that was eliminated. ... Certain key personnel refused to give up their pipe, cigars and so forth and we were forced to install exhaust fans over their particular officer area because we couldn't afford to lose them. They were too key to our product, but they absolutely would not give up smoking. Sad to say one of them died before retirement of lung cancer and throat cancer, but we took up these different causes ... as part of the conservation, environmental conservation board of Cherry Hill, and got involved in different civic responsibilities of this sort. ... I felt that you have to give back to a community, you know. You start out with nothing, and I can't speak for others, but in my case, you know, my father's in a little candy store prior to that before he got in that business, he's getting food bundles from his sisters to keep food on our table. ... You're given the opportunity to go to college, and then the government helps pay and support you, and the government paid for my master's degree completely on the GI Bill. Wonderful, wonderful programs that afforded me upward mobility and I felt it was imperative that we do something to give back and that was part of it, the environmental thing. During the course of environmental, Mac was talking up solar energy, Malcolm Wells, and we decided that we would do surveys. We'd start a little business, we incorporated, I learned how to incorporate, self-incorporation. I went up to Trenton to the State house, and I learned the rules, and I went to Rutgers Law Library, and I incorporated us as a Solar Service Corporation. I was president, Mac was vice-president, Tilly was our treasurer, Mac's wife was the recording secretary. We decided that the first thing we would offer was the service of determining suitability for solar usage, and we wrote a book called "Your Home Solar Potential," not this one, that was the first book. That was for Edmond Scientific, and we started getting questions from community people within Camden County, and we were spending so much time answering phone calls that we decided we better do something to short circuit this. So, we created a comic book called, "Tilly's Catch a Sunbeam Coloring Book," and it told the story of solar that a child could understand while coloring in this book, and it caught on with different environmental groups and word about it spread around the country. We went through ten printings of it. ...We used it, the reason we created it, we used it as a give-away to people that invited us out to their house to tell whether they were suitable to convert to solar. It used to cost so much time and effort, and we couldn't bill for what it was really costing us so we'd give them this coloring book, and that answered almost all of their questions, and we'd make it a very short, sweet visit and so forth. Well, that led slowly to some other things. We got a contract with Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to mount a solar display where we found a good location in the museum where we could put an outdoor solar collector to gain maximum access to the sunlight, and then we put a replica inside, not hooked up just standing there that people could touch and see and feel. ...Then, we diagramed how the system worked about the unit that was outside, and we had a big red button, "Push this and a fan will blow warm air on you," that's solar heated air, because it's coming over this tank of water with a radiator that we had installed and so forth. Then, we thought, you know, maybe it's time to get in to do a more serious book so then we did this guy. Rodale Press published that one for us, and we had an interesting way of handling it.
SI: The book is titled "How to Buy Solar Heating Without Getting Burnt."
IS: Yes, "How to Buy Solar Heating Without Getting Burnt." Mac and I outlined what we'd like the book to be, and then we went through and defined chapters, and then we assigned chapters to one another. Mac assigned to me those chapters that I was most comfortable with, he took chapters he was most comfortable with. He did most of the sketching, very fine artist. ...Then, when we had written each chapter, we gave it to the other to edit. So, I edited his, he edited mine, so when we submitted it, Rodale couldn't believe it was written by two people. It was a common thread throughout it, a common voice with which it spoke, and it did quite nicely. We, I guess we sold almost forty thousand copies where they had expected maybe eight to ten thousand, and we did cross country tours. I had to use my RCA vacations for this. By the way, I went to my management before we incorporated. I told them that I was generating an interest in an outside firm, but I would not let it in anyway interfere, and in no way did it cross over with GE, with RCA's product, or anything. ... They wanted to know a great deal more, and I filed briefs with them about the company, solar. Basically, we were an information firm not a hardware firm, and they gave me permission. It was with permission that we formed Solar Service. ... All this was occurring while I was with RCA--I needed the salary.
SI: Did you have hardware dealers that you worked with or were you just strictly telling people how they can get solar power?
IS: We were information to start with. We thought that we might evolve into a hardware firm which we never did. We found that after the initial excitement about solar, it went into a dead period of almost twenty years before it started coming alive again. We were unfortunately twenty some years ahead of our time. We could have expanded with it, but it was a lot of fun on the cross country tour. Mac did the northern trip, I did the southern trip. I ended up in Hollywood on television there where they started putting make up on me, and I got frantic, and I said, "No, I don't want it, this is crazy." ... I did several television appearances in Philadelphia for the Philadelphia stations, and it was big for a moment, it was a splash at a certain period of time. ...
SI: This was in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
IS: Yes, '78, when this went out.
SI: In general, the environmental movement did not fare too well under the Reagan administration. Did the shift towards conservatism have any effect on this or was it just other factors?
IS: No, I'd say that any funding that was given to alternative energy concepts, earth-warming concepts, came mainly from liberal administrations. I remember Jimmy Carter's administration being reasonably liberal. I don't remember Nixon pro or con, that's my failing memory. That or more recent Republican administrations have been quite contrary to environmental matters because they feel they're looking at an aspect of it which is true in that it limits certain, it adds certain business costs, makes it more expensive for some to do business, prevents some from doing certain kinds of business. ... This is a real concern, that they have a right to be concerned with, but I personally feel they've been too extreme in their perspective and their viewpoint. In theory, working with the earth is going to have many long-term benefits, and could have some short-term benefits regarding earth warming. I remember when they first realized that part of the ionosphere was disappearing over the South Pole, and that we were going to be exposed to solar radiation that could be extremely deadly. Before we could get the world to recognize it, it was a painful time until certain, use of certain gasses could be outlawed that were, that were blocking our atmosphere from its normal layered form, the troposphere, the ionosphere, the stratosphere. I clearly remember that under Democratic administrations, there was more effort, more funds made available for subsidizing solar heating, subsidizing insulation, but there was also building up economic shortfalls for the government. It was happening, although it was a Democratic administration that balanced the first budget in many, many years, that was ... Clinton, the first president that I can recall. I remember from Roosevelt on, all the Presidents because they've all been in my conscious life, but I don't remember another who had a balanced budget other than Clinton.
SI: You said that there was a small window of great interest, and then, it kind of waned after that, but you continued your involvement in solar energy.
IS: We continued in our publications, had a few national articles, I got myself in Popular Science once, nationally, that kind of thing. ... It didn't seem to be going anywhere, it needed big money to go anywhere. There was no big money, ... it just wasn't available. There wasn't enough efficiency in home heating or hot water heating. Hot water heating is much more efficient than home heating. Our calculations were that investment in hot water heating for a home would amortize in seven years. It would take seven years before you would be at breakeven, and then you would be ahead. People were worried that if they bought the equipment, does the equipment last seven years, does it breakdown, you know things we didn't know, we hadn't done it yet. Home heating was more expensive to get involved in because you needed heat storage technology of one sort or another, and there were many intriguing ideas put forward, but we felt that it was a twelve to fifteen year pay back before you could break even and be ahead financially. ...The financial aspect of it is what limited solar going ahead. If we want to look at it on an apples and apples basis though, nuclear energy would never have come into being if it wasn't subsidized so heavily and to this day is still being subsidized. Almost any energy, even oil energy is granted many subsidies and solar, whether it be wind or silicon cells or whatever, has just never grabbed the attention enough so that it could go into wide enough distribution to get cost benefits of mass distribution and mass manufacturing. That's kind of where it is now, although China is stepping in right now, and they have cornered the market on the manufacturing of solar cells. We are still doing some, and we can get back into it if more attention was given to research and development, looking at advances, the sort of thing that Steve Jobs did with Apple where he, at the time, wasn't concerned with profits. He was concerned with the product that achieved something and did it well. Our industry hasn't gotten around to that point yet. It's needed, and I think if Obama gets in for a second term, I think we may see more funds going to R&D, Research and Development, because it's very hard to put money into "now" things that don't give you results for twenty or thirty years, especially when you're running a deficit like this country is running. I hate to turn this into a political diatribe, but it's what everyone is looking at today and tomorrow, today's profits, today's employment rate, not what we'll have tomorrow, not tomorrow's factories and what we need. I'm in my eighties now. You know what, I shouldn't be worried about this stuff anymore. I should read that to you.
SI: You certainly did a lot for the environmental movement in your time there. Did you always have the business after that or did you shut down the business afterward?
IS: No, we milked it a little bit. I used the royalties from this book to buy a couple of cars, got Mac Well's a car. I got a new car from it and things of this sort. We couldn't take anything personally because it was company property and we understood enough about the corporation to know that it would be wrong for conversion. Although I know there are many companies that do, we chose to stay clean, and it just sort of petered into nothingness one day, and as far as I know we're still filed as a corporation in Trenton. They used to send me annual reports and finally after a period of time, telling them that we're inactive, I stopped receiving questionnaires or tax forms or anything from the State of New Jersey. I felt that was the end of it, and then when Mac passed away last year, it was truly the end of it. He was very prolific, he did about thirty some books himself.
SI: Tell me a little bit about your involvement in the movement to conserve water by putting bricks in the toilet.
IS: That was Tilly's idea. ... She asked me about the numbers. She said if you put a brick in the toilet tank, "How much water do you save each time you flush?" It was a quick calculation, about a quart. So we stopped and we said, ... "How many times do we flush?" Maybe serious bowel movement maybe once or twice a day, not serious urinating, maybe five times a day. So, we averaged, let's say, six times a day the average person flushes. Well, how many homes are in Cherry Hill, and we calculated ... maybe twenty some thousand. How many people living in a home? Well they've got kids, average home maybe three to four people, three and a half people. Do the math. How much water could you save if everyone put a brick in their toilet tank, and it came out that it would be very substantial. Millions of potable water would be saved, but more important than the potable water would be millions less going into our overloaded sewage disposal plants. That was a problem in Cherry Hill. They were considering new sewage disposal and all. So we thought to ourselves and we talked to the Cherry Hill Advisory Board about it, why don't we take this on as a major project, let's see if we can get the township. If we can get the township to supply enough bricks to drop two off at every home in Cherry Hill, we'll make up little instruction sheets of what to do with them, and we can have it, you know, save the water, a whole campaign. Now, it's going to be a lot of work, we're going to have to organize. Let's get the high school clubs involved, the environmental clubs at both high schools in Cherry Hill, East and West. Let them map the township. Let's decide on where we can have storage depots for the bricks, where they could be, but how are we going to get the money? Whoops, that was the big question, and Tilly said, "Why don't I go to a town meeting and I'll tell them what our idea is and see if they'll give us the money to buy. How many bricks did we buy?
TS: Thirty-six thousand.
IS: Thirty-six thousand, enough for eighteen thousand homes. So, she loaded the deck. She had some friends who were on Associated Press, she knew people on press around the country and around the world. She told them, "There's going to be an interesting subject brought up at the Cherry Hill Council meeting." You might want to have someone there to cover the story. So, she loaded the gun. She had people there from Associated Press and from other newspapers and so forth. ... When the end of the formal meeting came and it was time for public speaking, they called, she raised her hand. As she's walking up towards the podium she reaches in her big handbag and pulls out a brick and holds it up and they all, to a person, they all ducked behind their bench.
TS: The table.
IS: Behind the big table, they thought she was going to heave it the way she picked it up. I think it was done deliberately, but that was the story, that made the story, that story went around the world. The story of putting a brick, Cherry Hill voted tonight, fund the purchase of thirty-six thousand bricks which will be distributed to every home to be put in toilets to displace a quart of water with each flush, to reduce the load on the sewage disposal plants and it touched a nerve. ...
TS: It was funny.
IS: It was funny, number one, but it touched a nerve because a lot of people were beginning to feel that the environment needed some kind of help, some kind of attention. Clean water was in short storage, one of the Great Lakes had caught fire, it was just a disaster. The Hudson River was horrible. Organizations like River Keepers were being formed to try and clean up some of this mess, and this just caught the imagination, and the Associated Press sent it statewide and all over this country. The story about what had happened at Cherry Hill. Well, Cherry Hill started getting a flood of mail from all over the country. How did you start this program, do you have any information about it, and of course, Tilly being the writer, was drafted into drafting up standard answers that could be packaged and mailed out, and hung. We then took on the task, the two of us, of starting to organize for this to happen. We went out to (Chick's?) Cinder Block Place, and bought the bricks, thirty-six thousand bricks. We arranged with the Township Department of Public Works to use their trucks to load the bricks. We got a young man named Maurice Samson, Moe Samson, headed one of the environmental clubs at Cherry Hill East I think, and he started organizing the two schools' environmental clubs to map out communities, to help move the bricks to storage spots. We were able to get the school board to designate storage spots on different school parking lots for supplies of bricks. You're remembering it differently?
SI: Well, I will interview you separately.
IS: Well, okay, I'll just summarize it, then. We did get the bricks distributed, it took us a year to achieve this whole program. We started hearing from world locations, we started hearing from, we heard from Great Britain, from Israel, from the Hawaiian Islands, governments in these places. Some actually, literally calling Tilly at the Philadelphia Bulletin, some writing to Cherry Hill Township. It was an idea that just caught fire, caught everyone's imagination, "Hey I can do that." You know, it's a simple-minded, dumb idea that has a real payoff and vastly reducing the load that sewage disposal plants had to handle and making so much more potable water available for use. So, that's how that project happened.
SI: Just one more thing I want to get on the record before we conclude our interview. You did work at Rutgers Camden as an instructor. Tell me a little bit about that? How long did you work there and what did you teach?
IS: ... I started working there because of RCA strikes. I knew strikes were occurring, I knew I had to have another back up field in case I lost my job for some reason or another. One of the things I did was start work on my Master's degree. The other thing I did was, after getting my Master's degree, decided that now that I've got it, maybe I can get a second profession in teaching and Rutgers was just up the street from RCA. So, one lunch time, I walked up to their administrative offices and said, "What do I have to do to get a job here?" They said, "What kind of job?" I said, "Well, I can teach business management, organization, personnel management." ... "Well, let me put you in touch with this dean," and they put me in touch with the dean of the night school, adult night school. I told him what I'm interested in doing, and I was very open about it. I want to do it, ... I want to develop, I want to create a second career. He said, "Well, the first thing you're going to have to do, I'm going to arrange to have about fourteen different textbooks sent to you and you go through them, and you decide which one you want to use and build a prospectus on the course, what it would be and so forth." So, I did it and I was hired, and I got the job teaching business management, business organization, and apparently I did it well because there was always an abundance of students signing up for my class, and they kept asking me back. So, I did it for fourteen years. They honored me with a nice little citation and a few things like that, but that was kind of fun for me, but it cost, you know, I spent time correcting homework and preparing and so forth and so on. ...
SI: When was that fourteen year span from approximately?
IS: ... I'm going to have to look at this thing that they gave me when I left and I'll get a date. ...
TS: We lived in Erlton.
IS: I got my master's degree in '63 and it was right after that, shortly after that, so it must have been within a year to two years after that. Let's just guess '65, and I continued it into when I was with Solar Service, till we had formed Solar Service, and then the two things outside got to be too much so I quit it in the late seventies. I quit at Rutgers in the late seventies and that sort of ties it together with when we were deeply involved with Solar and so forth.
SI: Well, thank you very much, I appreciate all your time. Thank you for the overview of your life.
IS: Well, I'm very fortunate that there's a good interviewer here, you've triggered memories that I've haven't dredged up in so long.
SI: Thank you.
IS: My thanks back.
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Reviewed by Katie Ruffer 10/10/12
Reviewed by Nicholas Molnar 11/15/12
Reviewed by Irwin Spetgang 2/27/13