A Synopsis of the Farnsworth ITT fusion effort

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Richard Hull
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A Synopsis of the Farnsworth ITT fusion effort

Post by Richard Hull » Sun Sep 19, 2021 3:38 am

I have struggled to go year by year on a paper that is a quick rinse of the long history of the fusion effort at ITT that has avoided many technical details and stories related to the people involved. It includes no images. Still it is 5 pages long in an effort to tell the most important aspects to the common man. My wife remains unsung in many of my most expansive works here. I write the pieces in MS word and suffer its corrections and spellings. Still Kit finds an item here or there that Word which I seem to have missed......Any thanks in the ease of reading goes to th' wife. Any issues or difficulties are attributable to me. See Richard Hull's attic in this forum for the long full story with lots of images.

I attach the Synopsis PDF.

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Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Re: A Synopsis of the Farnsworth ITT fusion effort

Post by Paul_Schatzkin » Mon Sep 20, 2021 11:49 am

Look forward to reading that, Richard. Thanks.

--P
Paul Schatzkin, aka "The Perfesser" – Founder and Host of Fusor.net
Author of The Boy Who Invented Television - http://farnovision.com/book.html
"Fusion is not 20 years in the future; it is 50 years in the past and we missed it."

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Re: A Synopsis of the Farnsworth ITT fusion effort

Post by Richard Hull » Thu Sep 23, 2021 2:58 am

I have made some corrections and changes in the PDF above and have exchanged the original PDF for the latest version in the original post above.

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Re: A Synopsis of the Farnsworth ITT fusion effort

Post by Dan Knapp » Fri Sep 24, 2021 11:58 am

I finally got around to reading this and found it very interesting. Thanks for your efforts in writing it. I do have a couple of questions:
1. There is no mention of the work in the San Francisco lab. I’m assuming this took place after the time of your synopsis. Do you plan to extend your piece to include this era?
2. The mention of the Hirsch-Meeks “reversed polarity” devices brings to mind a question I have had for years. I don’t recall ever seeing any amateur effort on reversed polarity devices. This is surprising in that positive polarity high voltage power supplies are much more readily available on the surplus market than negative supplies. I’ve always assumed that the amateur efforts focused on negative grid designs because it was conceptually much more straightforward. Are you aware of any amateur efforts on positive grid fusors?

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Re: A Synopsis of the Farnsworth ITT fusion effort

Post by Nicolas Krause » Fri Sep 24, 2021 1:10 pm

Hi Dan,

My understanding of the polarity reversal is as follows. Farnsworth's original conception of the device used what he called a 'virtual cathode', so a positively charged grid attracted a bunch of electrons which in turn attracted a bunch of ions. I believe his initial insight into the idea came from observing what is now called the multipactor effect while he was designing vacuum tubes in the 30's and 40's. It was only later on at ITT that the research team started using a negatively charged grid, when as Richard describes, they were attempting to get actual fusion to occur. So the initial device used a positive power supply, but later more successful ones did not. Of course you should trust whatever Richard says above me.

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Re: A Synopsis of the Farnsworth ITT fusion effort

Post by Richard Hull » Fri Sep 24, 2021 8:09 pm

You have read and reasoned precisely correct in every aspect of your understanding and the reality of the effort. Farnsworth did a lot of research on the multipaction effect related to electrons in the 30's and 40's. He naturally concluded he could create the electron "knot" in the center to create the negative cathode in his original fusor idea. It was out of frustration that Bain and Meeks reversed the electrode polarity that the device started to do fusion. All of those first few years of thinking they were doing fusion via a GM counter clicking and Farnsworth's assumption he was doing fusion, would result in doubts being sown. The arrival of a real neutron counter, (two years into the effort), would tell the tale.

It is such a pity that a man like Farnsworth would be assumed to be the "lord of fusion" the "man in the know" and work with two people who believed in him, yet knew nothing of fusion, would work for two years in a vacuum of instrumentation. Delusion, coupled with doubt would send the two people in search of core knowledge. Once some knowledge was gained, more folks would be brought on board and knowledge transferred. All involved became much smarter via the doing and hands on work.

The irony is that while looking at the genius of Farnsworth, the real story would be later told by those who really did the work, yet knew nothing in the beginning.

Where is Farnsworth in all of this? The best I can say is that he strove to develop the IECF concept. A concept already just piddled with to a negative result by Elmore, Tuck and Watson.
Tuck is the man who would advise Farnworth in a letter on neutron measurement. Tuck felt this was Farnsworth's great need. The Admiral would OK the order for the neutron counter in 1961.

Bussard would drag the negative "electron well" back from the dead in the late 90's with his magnetic containment "Whiffle Ball" concept worked on in Virginia and later in San Diego under Naval contract only to be dropped at the end of the contract.

Again, where is Farnsworth in all of this?.....You will have to decide.
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Re: A Synopsis of the Farnsworth ITT fusion effort

Post by Dan Knapp » Sat Sep 25, 2021 11:55 am

It seems my earlier questions were both misunderstandings. The San Francisco lab predated your synopsis and Hirsch’s “reversed polarity” devices were the negative grid devices. Sorry to confuse things. Again thanks for writing the synopsis.

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Re: A Synopsis of the Farnsworth ITT fusion effort

Post by Richard Hull » Sat Sep 25, 2021 9:28 pm

Thanks for the notice Dan. To be absolutely clear. The time period I covered in the synopsis, and my vast story in "Richard Hull's Attic" in this forum was limited to Farnsworth's actual ITT fusion work. It doesn't involve any of his thoughts or efforts prior to his initial failure to interest ITT in his fusor which went down in flames with a definite "N0" in 1957. The first hands-on effort at fusion, by Farnsworth was at his home, (State Street), away from his work at ITT, (Pontiac Street), in Fort Wayne, Indiana with his privately paid assistant Gene Meeks, who also worked at ITT. This "Home effort", (58-59) failed miserably due to a number of reasons.

Change in the presidency of ITT would see Farnsworth's effort approved in 1959 at the urgings of ITT vice president, retired Admiral "Fritz", Fredrick Furth. Due to organization and lab setup, no real fusion lab effort was done at ITT in 1959. The work at ITT by Meeks and head engineer, George Bain would not begin until mid 1960! In general, all the people at Fort Wayne, Pontiac Street viewed the tiny fusion basement lab and its two people and their work with suspicion and disdain. Numerous other departments within the Fort Wayne facility would see their work interrupted rather constantly, at first, due to requests with strange priority-one jobs or direct assistance needs by this secretive tiny effort. The often direct and forceful presence of the "Admiral" constantly re-iterating...."You will help them immediately upon request" came booming through quite clear. The admiral came from the big New York HQ to present his personal being to tend directly to his "baby chicks", and see that they were not impeded in any fashion by Fort Wayne internal bureaucracy.

I do not claim any research by me prior to 1958 in my synopsis. My research of that ITT fusion period was gleaned from in-person interviews and in many telephone calls with all of the following named, actual living people involved in that period 1958-1972. All interviews took place 1998-2012 when the last team member, save for Robert Hirsch, passed away.

Pem Farnsworth
Gene Meeks
George Bain
Fred Haak
Steve Blaising
Robert Hirsch

There are many books of varying value that follow the entire life of Philo Farnsworth. None cover in any creditable sense of scientific value, the ITT fusion effort. Throughout my period of interviewing the actual participants in The ITT effort they noted to me that only Paul Schatzkin seemed to take an interest in some of the details of the fusion period. All noted that only I understood and desired scientifically, fusion related as well as engineering related minute details over the entire fusion effort. They all respected that I had a fusor and was doing fusion with it. This allowed them to "talk the talk" of fusion and engineering to me. This proved to be a big plus, that opened up a lot of closed mouths related to many, not only technical details, but also personal relationships and interactions over the narrow ITT Fusion period.

My snapshot of Farnsworth, the man, came from active workers around him near the end of Farnsworth's active career. This was when Farnsworth was just a paid executive of ITT/Farnsworth. Farnsworth had been forced to sell his company, Capehart/Farnworth to ITT earlier. He was kept on as a vice president of research at Fort Wayne as he held a number of patents both in-hand and pending with ideas and promises of new vacuum tubes of military value. Farnsworth's old company, Capehart/Farnsworth also had military contracts in-hand at the time ITT bought his company. Like so many companies, Farnsworth's company had lots of promise and assets but were cash poor and struggling to make payrolls. ITT saw a value and snapped up Farnsworth's faltering enterprise. The infusion of ITT cash and the retention of Farnsworth's name and his vacuum tube division put ITT in a great defense contract arena. Thus the new name, ITT/Farnsworth.

At the time of sale, the Farnsworth, name brand televisions were being manufactured at Fort Wayne and sold all over the U.S. ITT was not in the retail business and viewed the burgeoning TV sales arena as being too competitive with diminishing profits in future. ITT would shut down the TV part of the Fort Wayne facility in 1957-58 time frame. This would be a boon to Meeks seeking electronic parts in 59-60 as the old manufacturing line stores of parts were still in the building, from which, he gathered parts for their first fusor power supply that Meeks built in late 59.

The only lab that ever did or investigated fusion was at Farnsworth's home and at ITT in Fort Wayne. My synopsis in no way meant to follow Farnsworth's life or history. In all my work, Farnsworth is just another player with his name attached to an idea that he sought to push into usable fusion.

There was no fusion lab work done at PTFA in Utah 1968-70 as ITT directly and sternly threatened Farnsworth to not start up his fusion effort in Utah as they owned all the patents. Farnsworth had approached ITT in 1968 about selling the ITT held fusion patents to PTFA. ITT flatly refused to sell the patents to Farnsworth.

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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