Milestone-Proposal:Research and education in electronics and communications at Cruft Laboratory, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science, 1915 to 1947

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Docket #:2013-07

This proposal has been submitted for review.

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation?

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:

1915 to 1947

Title of the proposed milestone:

Research and education in electronics and communications at Cruft Laboratory, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science. 1915 to 1947

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

Under the leadership of GW Pierce and EL Chaffee, recipients of the IRE Medal of Honor, Cruft Laboratory was the site of academic courses in electronics and communication, research, innovations, patents, books, and special training to the men and women of the armed forces. In 1917 the first Navy Radio Training School was established here. In the 1940s, the staff participated in training the armed forces in electronics and communications.

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?


IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: Boston Section
Senior Officer Name: Robert Alongi, Business Manager

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: Boston Section
Senior Officer Name: Robert Alongi, Business Manager

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: Boston Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Robert Alongi, Business Manager

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Gilmore Cooke
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

Inside the Van Vleck Bridge joining Pierce Hall to Cruft Laboratory, Lyman Laboratory and Jefferson Physical Hall. The address is Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, 19A Oxford Street, Cambridge MA 02138.

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. It is a building named Cruft Laboratory which looks like this.

Cruft Laboratory - Harvard University - DSC05376.JPG

Are the original buildings extant?


Details of the plaque mounting:

Will be mounted inside the corridor or bridge wall joining the Pierce Hall to Cruft Laboratory.

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

The present owner of the site is Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, aka Harvard SEAS.

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

IEEE Milestone Nomination 2013-07

Original Title was Cruft High Tension Laboratory, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science.

New Title is Research and education in electronics and communications at Cruft Laboratory, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science 1915 to 1947


  • Purpose and Scope
  • Key Players
  • Cruft Laboratory
  • The Navy Radio Training School and More
  • Research, Patents and Published Articles (1928-1929)
  • Naval Training School, Pre-Radar Courses, Army Electronics Training Center (1941-1945)
  • Progress in the 1940s
  • The Book “Electronic Circuits and Tubes” (1947)
  • Blogger Yeoman Richard Brill
  • Conclusion


The purpose of this document is to nominate a unique and formidable body of work performed at the Cruft Laboratory for an IEEE Milestone. Cruft Laboratory is located on the campus of Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science, Cambridge, Massachusetts. In general, this body of work belongs into two categories: the first is published academic research, experiments, inventions, and patents, in electronics and communications. The second category consists of special courses and training given to men and women of the armed forces in electronics and communications. This nomination addresses only the time period beginning in 1915 and ending in 1947.

Not Included

This nomination covers just one of the building on campus during a specific time period. The accomplishments of many other electrical pioneers connected with the university, for example, John Trowbridge, Edwin H. Hall and AE Kennelly, cannot be taken into account here.


George Washington Pierce

GW Pierce was a radio pioneer and educator. He held a series of patents in wireless telegraphy, plus others in electronics. He was one of the first individual in the country to have a government-issued license to operate an experimental wireless station in New England. Others were John S Stone and Greenleaf Whittier Pickard. According to the 1913 edition of the Radio Stations of the United States, two of the five land stations in the Boston - Cambridge area were assigned the following call letters: 1YH to Harvard Radio and 1XP to George W Pierce. Pierce was an early inventor-scientist seeking to develop wireless apparatus for the US Navy. He and ‘Harvard Radio’ were in high regards by navy personnel at the Charlestown Navy Yard. Because of his credentials, Harvard received the first US government contract for scientific work. There would be many different government sponsored programs over the years, Radar for example, but as we shall see, the first was awarded for wireless work at Cruft Laboratory.

In 1929 Pierce was awarded the IRE Medal of Honor for his great work performed at the laboratory with this citation: “Major contributions in the theory and operation of crystal detectors, piezoelectric-crystals and magnetostriction frequency control and magnetostriction devices for the production of sound; and for his instructional leadership as a teacher and a writer of important texts in the electric wave fields.” His biography is given in the IEEE GHN

Emory Leon Chaffee

Professor EL Chaffee’s principal work was in the realm of electric oscillation and electric waves, with special reference to vacuum tube phenomena. His name appears quite often in the Cruft Laboratory Annual Reports, some of which have been submitted with this proposal. He replaced Pierce as Director in 1940. In 1959, Chaffee was awarded the IRE Medal of Honor. The citation clearly refers to his accomplishments at the laboratory, for “his outstanding research contributions and his dedication to training for leadership in radio engineering.” Dr. Chaffee served as Vice-President of the IRE in 1922 and was a Fellow of the IRE as well as other organization. Chaffee’s biography is given in the IEEE GHN - Work_at_Harvard


The Cruft Laboratory was opened in 1915 for instructions and researches in high potential and high frequency electrical phenomena. According to many, it was the best radio laboratory for learning electronics, pre-radar courses and communication engineering. This postcard was sent 20 April 1919 with the message “Harvard Radio … is a nice place to study wireless.”

Call for Wireless Operators

In June 1917, the Charlestown Navy Yard made an urgent appeal to recruit 2000 radio operators and telegraph operators. Applicants were expected to complete a three-months course of instruction at the Naval Radio School at Harvard University. The enrollment was for four years active service. Pay ranged from $33 a month up to $77 a month from the lowest rank up to chief electricians and radio operators. Age requirements were 18 to 35. Applicants for third-class had to copy 10 words per minute, continental Morse and be experienced with receiving and transmitting wireless apparatus. Applicants for second-class radio had to copy 20 words per minutes. Telegraphers for second-class had to copy 25 words per minute, American Morse. Applicants for first-class additionally had to copy 30 words per minute on a typewriter. Interested candidates were instructed to go to one of the recruiting office at Bar Harbor, Bath, Rockland, Portland, Provincetown, or the Navy Yards at Portsmouth or Charlestown.

The Naval School for Radio Operators at Harvard

On 17 June 1917, the Boston Globe wrote a very interesting article explaining what Harvard University and Harvard Radio were going to do to help with the war. Because of its historical content, the article has been transcribed. The headline begins “Harvard’s Naval School for Radio Electricians to Become Central Training Institution of Country.” Because of the poor quality of the images and copyright issues, they cannot be reproduced. The caption read: “Members of the school lined up for inspection. Prof George Washington Pierce, in charge of the Cruft Laboratory and Capt Rush of the Navy Yard, Center. Harvard Pres Lowell and Capt Rush on tour of inspection. Miss Mary Lamborghini, yeoman stationed at the laboratory.”

“The Naval School for Radio Electricians at Harvard, established early in April (1917), has been so successful that plans are now in contemplation to make it the central training institution of the country for radio operators of Uncle Sam’s fleet and shore stations.

“Already the school has graduated 32 of its students into first-class electrician rating and distributed them to posts aboard United States ships, including some of those which are now in foreign waters. At the present time there are 120 more men grinding through the intensive course of Naval training under directions of expert officers, and within three or four months they, too, will be ready for service wherever the Navy Department orders them.

“Should the present plan materialize, the personnel of the school will be expanded to include about 400 students. The room is there and the facilities are there. Pierce Hall, which has become the headquarters of the students, offers ample room for instruction and dormitory accommodations. The Cruft High Tension Laboratory, built in 1915 and operated under the supervision of Professor George Washington Pierce, is regarded by Naval officers as the best radio laboratory in the country, and in case of accident to the Chelsea Station it will be a valuable asset as a distributing station for this district, manned by experts in the service of Uncle Sam.

“These facilities, probably unequaled for an emergency of the kind presented by war, cost the Government nothing. Some weeks ago, after the declaration of war, Pres. Lowell offered the Government the free use of Pierce Hall and Cruft Laboratory. Soon afterward, the Naval School was established there under the direction of Lieutenant E.G. Blakeslee, communications superintendant of the 1st Naval District, and it’s first quota of students set to work. Chief Electrician H.D. Kent was placed in charge of half a dozen petty officers of the Navy as assistants.

“All of those who are accepted for training must be well grounded in the fundamentals of radio works. They must have a substantial knowledge of the construction of the machines, must have had some commercial experience or it’s equivalent, must be able to copy in the continental and so called radio codes, and must meet a certain sending standard. Many Harvard students who have had previous instruction in wireless operation are among the 120 now in the school. There are others from Cornell, Dartmouth, and M.I.T. and many of no college training; all are Uncle Sam’s Reservists. Aside from the opportunities offered, the value of the school rests in its strict discipline. Regular battleship routine is the fortune of those who have volunteered for the work. They are up at 5 am and spend the day at practical radio instruction, lectures, study of machines, paperwork and simple movements of the infantry drill, under strict Navy discipline. They take their meals with the student body at Memorial Hall.

“At 5 pm they find themselves with nothing to do until tomorrow. But tomorrow begins with the call to quarters at 8 pm and they are up at 5 am the next morning and at it again. Their present rating, that to which they are admitted upon preliminary examination and enrollment, is third-class electrician. Upon the completion of their course, which varies from three to four months, they qualify and rise a couple of notches in the petty officer rank to first-class electricians. From that time their fortunes are in Uncle Sam’s hands, that he may assign them to duty wherever he sees. It is one of the conditions of their enrollment. Many of them will go to the regular Navy ships, which will need plenty of their kind. Others will be assigned to boats of the ‘mosquito’ fleet or the coast patrol service, as more are put into commission. Still others will be sent to man new Government radio stations that are being established.

“The Cruft Laboratory was built about two years ago at a cost of some $50,000. It was a gift of Miss Harriet Cruft of Boston, in memory of her brothers, graduates of the college; Edward Cruft Jr., ’31, William Smith Cruft, ’31, Samuel R. Cruft, ’36, James Jackson, ’46. It was an innovation at the time, for prior to that radio courses had been confined to the Jefferson Laboratory.

“These courses have recently been transferred to Pierce Hall because of the proximity to the laboratory and its advantages as a barracks. Lectures are held at Pierce Hall and practical workings in the ‘lab’, which is provided with the most thorough equipment, including a new high-power arc. Many researches are conducted regularly by Professors Pierce and Dr. E.L. Chaffee, the experts in charge.

“The new school was inspected during the past week by Commandant W.R. Rush, Capt. Ashley H. Robertson, chief of staff, Lieut. Blakeslee, and others of the staff of the 1st Naval District and Command Rush was greatly pleased with the conduct of the institution.”

Additional description of the laboratory is given in this 1915 Annual Report.

Cruft 1915 - 1.jpg
Cruft 1915 - 2.jpg


The first Radio Training School was established for the US Navy at Harvard ‘Radio’ in 1917. This was a landmark event because it was the first US government contract to establish a central institution for the systematic study of telegraphy, telephone and radiotelephony for navy personnel. Thousands of recruits were enrolled then graduated in short order.

Following the close of the college year of 1917, Harvard University offered the US Navy free use of campus buildings for classrooms, laboratories, and dormitories. This offer was gratefully accepted; the school was established and grew rapidly into a large institution. By the end of 1917, almost 5,000 students had enrolled in the 4-month intensive radio operating and indoctrination courses. Graduates went into service at a rate in excess of 100 a week. By early 1918, this had increased to 400 a week. Classes were held night and day throughout the war. To house the many navy and army recruits, some of the campus buildings had to be converted into dormitories. Portable trailers sprang up around the campus for supplemental housing. Space was always at a premium. Stockrooms and machine shops were in high demand for the many special projects taking place. During the war, a difficult problem was lack of space to accommodate both classes and scientific research. Things got worst after the war due to the growing field of electronics and the larger number of students pursuing work in that field. In one of his Annual Report, Pierce reported that “Cruft Laboratory was crowded before the war, but in the postwar period, space will be all the more urgent a problem.”

In addition to training of recruits, the armed forces were interested in research and development of secret signaling by radiotelegraphy. Many staff members were assigned to this type of research, such as, investigation and development of wireless remote controls for torpedoes. Pierce also participated in submarine sound detection systems for use in coastal defense and aid to navigation.

Pierce understood and appreciated the lessons learned during the war-training programs. He said that the teaching staff had opportunities to develop and improve teaching methods in electronics. In September 1920, he announced that the school would adopt a new program of studies in Electrical Communication Engineering. He planned this program to provide “for systematic study of telegraphy, telephony and radiotelegraphy, and for the training of persons for research and invention in this important branch of engineering.”

The academic and research activities pursued at the laboratory before the United States went to war, those activities carried out during the war, and those pursued after the war, are all well documented in the Cruft Laboratory Annual Reports. Only a few pages from these Annual Reports are included below.

Cruft Lab Annual Reports 1920s


Accomplishments reported for the period 1928-1928 are given in the attached page of the Annual Report.

R&D work at Cruft 1928-1929.pdf


In July 1941, members of Cruft Laboratory provided an exceptional national emergency response by acting rapidly to the call to provide training in electronics to 100 army officers. Within a short time the teaching staff was augmented by instructors from other institutions from across the country. This rapid response is documented: “25 new experiments were set up and 17 others planned and ordered. A new laboratory manual of 109 pages was written, edited, and published. Library, study, and laboratory facilities were expanded to meet the new demands.” By 6 July 1941, 100 Army officers had already registered for class. Courses in electronics and specialized subjects for officers in all branches of the military were given throughout the war to July 1945. The statistics on these courses and student enrollment are tabulated below:

Number of courses given 1 July 1941 to July 1945 = 57

Total students enrolled 6254

Total student hours 4,450,000

Total costs $966,886.21

Average cost per student $40.38


Activities at the laboratory are well documented in the Annual Reports. Complete reports are accessible on line by exploring the Harvard Archive at this website

Since accessing these archives may be difficult for some readers, copies of some of these pages are included here.

Grad School Annual Reports 1940s pdf


The simplest way to describe the courses delivered to the armed forces is to look at the book entitled “Electronic Circuits and Tubes” written by the Cruft teaching staff. McGraw-Hill published the book in 1947. It has nearly 1000 pages. The twelve members of the staff engaged in training army and naval officers wrote it. EL Chafee headed the team of experts - Harry E Clifford, Alexander H Wing, Harry R Mimmo, and others. Courses were designed for juniors and seniors attending colleges and engineering schools specializing in the study of communication engineering. The book was developed from the lecture notes of the special training courses given to graduate electrical engineers at Harvard. Chaffee explains how in the month of July 1941, courses were rapidly created, assembled and delivered to graduate electrical engineers enrolled as officers in the Signal Corps. Immediately after the declaration of war, the Navy also sent officers to what was called the ‘pre-radar’ courses. Since the preface and the forward of this book have useful historical information, they have been reproduced in the next paragraph. For those interested in getting the entire book, download it for free at

Cruft - book.jpg

Front matter of book electronics


It wasn’t all studies and no play. There was some occasional comic relief given by Yeoman Richard Brill’s newsletters. His address was the Army Electronics Training Office and Naval Training School. He had this to say: 27 August 1943 - Ever since the Radar Rockettes* made their debut, the Cruft Laboratory has not been the same. There was a time when one could enter the austere building and walk through quiet dignified halls. Now all is changed. An underground of swing is plainly discernable and one has the jivy feeling that a hepcat session is somewhere in progress though hidden from the electronic eyes of student and faculty.” * try googling Radio Rockettes.

19 November 1943 - Last Saturday, one of our more prominent Ensigns and one of our loveliest WAVES, after a four week whirlwind, high frequency courtship, completed a coupled circuit in a little church on Staten Island, New York. Up to this particular hook-up, the record for the Navy side of the Radar side of the Radar school has been eight weeks. Apparently, the accelerated courses given here at Cruft Laboratory seem to have had more than just a scholastic effect upon the students today.

There’s more Yeomen blog on this website


In addition to their regular academic activities, the faculty and staff, augmented by outside instructors, taught the armed forces electronics and communication engineering. When evaluating the merits of this proposed IEEE Milestone, please consider that a large segment of the American population acquired new knowledge, learned new skills, started new careers as radio technicians, radio operators, and communications officers.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

The site and staff were subjected to national security conditions.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

The proposed body of work was both remarkable and unique. There doesn't seem to be anything like it.

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

  1. Cruft Laboratory Annual Reports. Partially copied.
  2. Annual Report of the Graduate School of Engineering from 1943 to 1945. Partially copied.
  3. “Electronic Circuits and Tubes” by Craft Electronics Staff. McGraw Hill, 1947. Partially copied.
  4. Newspaper article “Naval School for Radio Electricians Established” Boston Globe, 17 June 1917. Transcribed.
  5. IEEE GHN biographies for GW Pierce and EL Chaffee
  6. Cruft Laboratory Complete, 1915 article

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

Cruft Laboratory Annual Reports.

Annual Report of the Graduate School of Engineering from 1943 to 1945.

Text book "Electronic Circuits and Tubes" by Craft Electronics Staff. McGraw Hill, 1947.

Newspaper article "Naval School for Radio Electricians Established" Boston Globe, 17 June 1917.

1919 postcard of Cruft Laboratory

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.

Cruft Annual Reports 1920s.pdf
Harvard Cruft Lab 1919.jpg