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Chapter XII - Back to Chicago: Ups and Downs

fter we came back from Europe in 1925, I was very discouraged about the show business and not getting paid by people who were using Shadowgraph without a license. I said to my wife, "Now Shadowgraph will quit in a while, and probably we should go back to Chicago." We did, and took a modest apartment there. We were expecting a baby.

I had an invention which I worked on very hard. It was a wonderful invention. It was a system for boiling away water to make sugar with an efficiency much greater than the cascade evaporators then used. Sugar cane is dissolved in virtually a saturate solution. Then it was a put in a boiler, and the fire heated it and drove steam into the next boiler, where that steam (slightly cooler) was used to heat the solution in that place and drive the steam into the next boiler, and so on. So you had cascaded evaporators, and by that method it had been possible to get sugar - and I could read all that. I found out how much water you could evaporate per pound of coal. Now, according to my process, you weren't going to do that at all. You were just going to have one tank, in which you ran the sugar solution, and in the tank would be a blower of a type I decided to design.*

blower is a turbine, and it gets into a very complicated design, but I could make use of cases where turbines had done this and that, and I decided that if there was a turbine in there, you could have a continuous process where you just had a saturate solution of sugar going in one end, and sugar and water coming out seperately - so having done this enormous amount of calculation, I would go down to Crerar Library, which is a scientific library in Chicago, and make these calculations; and I worked it out after maybe 20 - 25 days of solid computing work.

And then I thought, well, now I must find out who you go to, to sell this idea, because it's going to be revolutionary for the sugar industry, I can see that. So I went to a place where they sell trade magazines. You know, there are trade magazines on practically every subject that you can think of. Well, one trade magazine had to do with sugar - so I bought it, and started to go home. And I read this thing on the elevated, and it was the most ghastly reading. It said, "It has really happened. The test has proved it. The new system for taking water out of sugar …" and it went right into the exact process, and it said it came out - that it would evaporate 81 pounds of water per pound of coal. And the figure that I had was 80 pounds (I was being conservative). Whereas the old-fashioned system was just nothing at all by comparison. And it said, "This has really happened, and from now on, this is also going to affect the price of sugar."

I had already searched the patents, but of course the patent hadn't been issued yet. Well, this was so discouraging to me that I could hardly bear it. And so I got home and I thought, this business about being an independent inventor isn't so simple, and you're not going to make the grade; you haven't done it. And maybe - considering the baby and everything - maybe I should look in the newspaper and see if I could get a job as an engineer before I do anything else. I looked in the newspaper, and they were advertising for a mechanical engineer for a research department in the Western Electric Company, and it said, "as a laboratory worker, it would be an advantage if he'd had some experience with glassware."

Well, I thought, glassware! Well, that's it! I went rushing over to the Western Electric Company, and I was interviewed by an engineer who was going to employ me - and he said, "What have you been doing?"

And I said, "Well, I'm still living on the proceeds of a stage invention which I made called Shadowgraph, but I will run out of funds from that. But as to your job, I've taken an interest in glass-blowing, and I can give you an example. I invented a differential mercurial barometer, and spent endless time fusing pieces of glass together, and in a humble way, I can make funny laboratory things by blowing-glass - I don't profess to be a professional glass-blower, but I can blow glass, to some extent."

"Well," he said, "You're absolutely what we want. But I can tell you right now that the highest possible starting salary that you can get as an engineer here is $62.50 a week."

I thought, "Good God, I don't know how I can pay for the groceries", but I wanted the job.

ut he said, "Before we go any further, I have to take you in to the Personnel Department" - and when we got there, there was a suave man who said, "Oh yes, yes, yes." And the engineer said, "This man is exactly what we want. He's had experience in this, and he's had experience in that, and I know from talking to him that he can do this job perfectly, and I just cannot tell you how much I would like to have him employed."

Then the engineer went away, and the personnel director said, "well, now, tell me about yourself, Mr.Hammond: What have you been living on? Where did you work last, and what money did you get?"
And so I just gave him a truthful account of my life with Ziegfeld.
This fellow's jaw just absolutely dropped open.
He said, "Well, Hammond, you're undoubtedly a most remarkable person. What you tell me about Ziegfeld and all that is tremendously interesting, and the fact that this man can want you so badly to take for his job in the laboratory shows to me that you are a very exceptional person. But that is not the object. If you are a personnel man, you try to fit round pegs into round holes, and square pegs into square holes. And there is no job at the Western Electric for you. I am sorry to tell you, but you cannot work here, no matter what happens, and I'll put a no-hire order, and that means that no matter what happens, you will not be hired here in any department …."

It kind of jolted me, because I wanted the job, but I understood the point of view of the personnel man; I shouldn't be applying for a job like this. I didn't know what I was going to do, but this wouldn't take care of me.

I can understand that he was right - what do you have these personnel people for? The object is, of course, to run a happy ship where people are doing what they are competent to do, and really not much more. Of course you hope that the fellow will progress, and learn, and soon, but you do not hire people that have anything startlingly unusual about them - and if you think that over, you will see that that's the way it would work. And that's the way it does work, because I've found it out since. I've had experience with that. My company alone got big enough so that we had a personnel operation going - and that is the way you run a business. If he says, put a no-hire on somebody, that person is not going to be hired unless something astonishing happens. You don't hire somebody to do work who has more than the necessary requirements to do the job at hand.

I was really fortunate in my company in finding a man who was practically a genius in handling people. Every now and then I found something wasn't being competently done, - and I would complain to him, and I'd say, "Fork, I just don't have anybody who is smart enough to do anything around here, they're all these dumb bastards; how do we accumulate these guys?" And he'd say. "Larry, if you want smarter people, I'll get you smarter people; anybody that's dumb, you just point out and he's fired, and I'll get you smarter people. But don't forget, Larry, smarter people want more money. Smarter people cost money. Smarter people will begin to work on you."

So every time when he would give me the treatment I would quiet down and I'd say, "Well, all right, Fork, you have more sense about this than I do. I'll get along with these dumb bastards."

Well, it was only a few days before a call came from my cousin, Walter Strong (son of my surgeon-uncle Al), who was a very important person in Chicago, and had captured the Chicago Daily News and was then its publisher, and was in every kind of venture that you can imagine as a promoter, and he had his fingers in every pie and so on. Walter had, without really paying much attention to it, put $100,000 into the Andrews Radio Company. And the reason he did that was because there were several other people involved who would each put in $100,000. They hired a man whose name was Piper to get the thing going, and the radio was to be engineered by its inventor, E. F. Andrews, who was an extraordinary clever fellow, with tremendous imagination and all kinds of resources. But they had advertised this thing before they had any production. The way it all broke was, they weren't yet ready to deliver any sets, and this capital had all vanished in the form of advertising for a thing which they weren't yet ready to make - the most ridiculous thing you could imagine!

Well, Walter, in his grand way, when he found out that the company was bankrupt, he said, "This cannot be. We can put in more money and make it work. What is this?" Walter called me up and said, " Now Larry, I have a job for you. You understand this radio stuff. Go down, as my representative, and I guess we can elect you right away as general manager of the Andrews Radio Company."

I said, "Well, it seems kind of peculiar to make me general manager, but anyhow, I'll go, of course, Walter, and do whatever you say."
So he said, "Yeah, well I mean that. If all that's the matter is that some damn fool has spent all the money, that isn't a hopeless situation. If the thing is sound, we can put in more money, and we can get a competent guy to run it. But you go down there and find out what it's about, and, as a matter of fact, I'll call a couple of the fellows, and we'll elect you general manager."

So Hammond went down there and met Andrews, with whom he was most favorably impressed. Andrews had been mislead by another company as to what a vital component of their radio cost; it was going to cost too much for the radio to be profitable at the widely advertised price. There was just no future in this, and Hammond told Walter Strong he had acted as a perfect dumbbell to put all that money into advertising without investigating. To Andrews he pointed out, "That isn't the way you're going to make a fortune," and persuaded him to let the Andrews Radio Company die. Instead, the Andrews-Hammond Laboratories was formed, and Hammond induced the stock-holders of the Radio Company who had pledged to invest so much per month, to continue their investment in this new Company in place of the old one. The two inventors agreed to share equally in the profits of all inventions he had already done some work on. Hammond saved out clocks, synchronous motors, arc light schemes and theatrical things.

This was in 1926. In 1927 we made the A-Box, to replace storage batteries for radios. Fansteel, which made rectifiers for this kind of thing, had used tantalum in acid for their rectifier, but tantalum is very expensive. Andrews had a brilliant idea, and I suggested a design to make it simpler and cheaper. We wanted to use aluminum in alkali (less expensive) - but that wasn't supposed to work - it was supposed to gum up.

We tried one alloy after another in alkaline solutions (instead of acid) till we found one that worked. We had a row of drinking glasses on a board, with a very efficient rig, trying out the different metals, until we found a good one for this process. The result was a less expensive alkaline rectifier, which we used in the A-Box. The A-Box plugged into a wall socket and had two terminals which supplied six volts to run your radio on, instead of on a storage battery. We then started the A-Box Company, of which I was President.

Fansteel bought a license to make these, and made even more that we did, paying us royalties. The A-box had a transformer mounted in hot tar. Fansteel knowingly specified that the tar they ordered should be sulphur -free; we didn't. Their A-Boxes had no trouble, but ours sooner or later blew up, one after another! The sulphur in the coils partly short-circuited them, and blew the connection to the rectifier, spilling the ruinous caustic over carpets and furniture. When anyone complained, we took their A-Box back and gave them a credit - but these payments for damages ate up all the profits. However, we knew that a new vacuum tube was being developed that would operate directly on alternating current, so the need for A batteries wouls soon be eliminated anyway, and we didn't pursue this any further.

It was a painful lesson, but in a funny way led to Hammond's acquiring an outstanding chief engineer for his company. Hammond was impressed that the A-Boxes built by Fansteel did not blow up, because sulphur - free tar had been specified. He decided that the engineer who had that kind of detail in mind was the kind of engineer he wanted for his company. George Stephens was a chief engineer for Fansteel; Hammond made him an offer, and eventually Stephens accepted. Much later it turned out that Stephens didn't know about the sulphur-free tar item! However, he proved to be all that Hammond could have wished for as head of operational engineering, and the company which was to produce the Hammond Clock and the Hammond Organ owed much of its reputation for precision-made instruments to George Stephens.

Chapter XIII - The Electric Clock    Index

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