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Former Area Resident Pays Tribute to Impact of Boyhood Princeton Influences

VINTAGE TOWN TOPICS: This photograph appeared in Town Topics in 1955 under the headline “From Edison to Color Television.” It shows John Madey, 11, (center) with his older brother Julius, and Howard E. Schrader, then Princeton University’s official photographer, whose vacuum tube collection was on display in Princeton University’s Firestone Memorial Library. Mr. Schrader is holding an original R.C.A. color television tube, while John, in front of a portrait of Thomas Edison, holds an original Lawrence Color Tube. John Madey received a clipping with the photograph from Mr. Schrader’s niece Mary Johnson, who came across it when she was preparing a history of her family.

VINTAGE TOWN TOPICS: This photograph appeared in Town Topics in 1955 under the headline “From Edison to Color Television.” It shows John Madey, 11, (center) with his older brother Julius, and Howard E. Schrader, then Princeton University’s official photographer, whose vacuum tube collection was on display in Princeton University’s Firestone Memorial Library. Mr. Schrader is holding an original R.C.A. color television tube, while John, in front of a portrait of Thomas Edison, holds an original Lawrence Color Tube. John Madey received a clipping with the photograph from Mr. Schrader’s niece Mary Johnson, who came across it when she was preparing a history of her family.

The image may be faded but the event it depicts had a lasting effect on the two young boys pictured. Julius Madey went on to develop the Easy Pass wireless toll collection system while his younger brother John M. J. Madey become a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu.

But back in 1955, John and Julius Madey were ham radio and radio-control-airplane enthusiasts who learned how to build things in their father’s machine shop. They had studied and learned Morse code and got their ham licenses in 1954.

Taken at an exhibition of vacuum tubes collected by photographer Howard E. Schrader at Princeton University’s Firestone Library, the photograph ran in Town Topics for the week of January 9 to 15, 1955, along with the second of two articles about Mr. Schrader and his “unusual hobby” that had resulted in perhaps “the worlds largest collection of vacuum tubes.”

The exhibition commemorated the 75th anniversary of the first observation of the “Edison Effect,” Thomas Edison’s accidental discovery of the flow of electrons that became the basis of the modern electronics industry.

Mr. Schrader served as the University’s official photographer and had previously worked as a photographer for the U. S. War Department and with the State of New Jersey on the Lindbergh kidnapping case. Born in Trenton, he lived in Princeton Junction and retired from Princeton University in 1970 after 23 years of service.

A member of the Antique Wireless Association, he received the Association’s highest award, the Houck Award, for outstanding documentation of early vacuum tubes. He was Town Topics’ “Man of the Week” in January, 1955.

He also happened to have a sister who lived next door to the Madey family in the small town of Clark, not too far from Princeton along Route 1. When he discovered the boys’ scientific interests, he gave them the “unusual opportunity to closely examine the more sophisticated electron tubes that had been developed for operation at microwave and millimeter wavelengths,” said Mr. Madey.

In 1955, when Mr. Madey and his brother viewed the collection, which ranged from some 30 original Edison bulbs to the most recently developed color tubes, it was said to be “the finest and most comprehensive collection of its kind in the world.”

Mr. Schrader went on to introduce the brothers to leading Princeton scientists such as world renowned theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler. In turn, Professor Wheeler arranged for them to have access to the department’s collection of surplus electronic chassis in the attic of the old Palmer Laboratories of Physics.

“The interest he showed in my brother and I, including the introduction to Professor Wheeler, was to have a long lasting impact on our two lives,” said Mr. Madey, who recalled by email the life-changing encounters with the photographer, the physicist, and “the many other caring professionals” in Princeton who took the time to encourage his scientific interests.

“Inspired by Mr. Schrader, I, my colleagues and students, were able in the 60 years since those articles to carry the vacuum tube technology of which he was a student to its present level at which it constitutes the most powerful source ever developed of the coherent x-rays needed to support advanced research in the biological and physical sciences,” said Mr. Madey. “I do not think that any of this would have happened if it was not for the efforts and dedication of Mr. Schrader.”

On being awarded the American Physical Society’s R. R. Wilson Prize in 2012, Mr. Madey was invited to summarize his acceptance remarks for the journal, Physical Review. In “From Vacuum Tubes to Lasers and Back Again” he wrote of being a young amateur radio enthusiast in the 1950s, fascinated by the invisible mechanisms operating in the vacuum tubes that he and his brother used in their transmitters. “One could clearly observe their brightly glowing cathodes, but the electrons streaming from their cathodes were invisible to our eyes.”

“Through his personal contacts with the Princeton faculty and their associates, Howard had come to amass one of the world’s largest collection of vacuum tubes including examples of everything from deForest’s audion to the latest wave tubes developed by Bell Labs and Hughes,” recalled Mr. Madey, who had formed a complete knowledge of the then cutting-edge technology by the time he graduated high school in 1960.

Ultimately, Mr. Madey was introduced to the new world of lasers, following the trail blazed by the likes of Einstein and others in developing these new sources of light.

In his Physical Review paper Mr. Madey describes northern New Jersey as the predecessor to today’s Silicon Valley with “evidence of the pioneering contributions of its inventors and entrepreneurs visible everywhere from the research complex that AT&T had developed at the nearby Bell Laboratories and the numerous pioneering microwave electronic companies in the area to the several still standing Edison-era laboratories and workshops scattered throughout the area, including Edison’s old workshop on Chestnut Street in Roselle Park that my Dad drove by every morning on his way to work.

“For a young student interested in science and technology it was impossible to ignore the lesson that the ideas that had come to fruition in these laboratories and workshops had, when pursued with energy and determination, changed the world,” he said.

Both Julius and John Madey went on to careers that developed from their early fascination with science. Jules holds an electrical engineering degree from CalTech. John gained fame for his study of electromagnetic waves, specifically laser technology. His story demonstrates “just how long and deep has been the influence of Princeton’s staff and faculty,” said Mr. Madey. “When I think of how much I owe to them I have to wonder whether I have, in my turn, done enough along these lines for the next generation,” he added.

Vacuum Tube Mystery

Mr. Schrader’s collection of more than 6,000 antique radio tubes was displayed at the Commerce Department in Washington, D.C., the New York Coliseum, the Palmer Physical Laboratory, and Firestone Library at Princeton University, the New Jersey State Museum, and the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

Mr Madey would like to find out what happened to the collection, he said, since he “might have some additional artifacts of interest to add to it for the benefit of this century’s aspiring young scientists.”

“The last time I saw the collection it had been on display in Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Prior to that, Howard had kept it in his basement, where it took up most of the available space. With John Wheeler long gone, they may have never heard of Howard or his collection. I hate to think that it was discarded,” he said.

If anyone out there knows, please contact Town Topics (609) 924-2200, ext. 15 or linda.arntzenius@towntopics.com) and we’ll pass along the news to Mr. Madey.

 

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