Allan Earls, formerly of Wayland, holds up a copy of “Raytheon Company, The first Sixty Years.”
As Wayland’s residents and town officials debate the future of the property that was home to Raytheon for 40 years, Alan Earls is looking in the other direction.
Earls, currently a resident of Franklin, recently wrote, “Raytheon Company: The First Sixty Years,” along with co-author Robert Edwards. Together, the two scoured the archives of Raytheon and present images, quotations and anecdotes in their book, along with their own writing, that allows readers to trace the path of the technology company that played a crucial role in shaping the 20th century.
“You feel like you’ve done something useful by catching some bit of history that might have otherwise gone unnoticed,” said Earls. “I am generally interested in industrial business histories because people spend so much of their lives in these places, thousands of people. It interests me as a corner of history that isn’t always well-explored.”
Earls, a lifelong technology writer, has written several books for Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, including “Route 128 and the Birth of the Age of High Tech” and “Digital Equipment Corporation.” It was an Arcadia Publishing book, written about the history of Southbridge, Earls’ birthplace, that inspired him to consider writing history books.
Because Earls lived in Wayland from age 4 until his mid-20s, researching about the history of Raytheon immediately interested him. Though an experienced writer, Earls recognized he needed assistance from someone familiar with the history of Raytheon – the company’s archivist Norman Krim.
While Krim is an expert, as a man already in his 90s, his family felt the project was too challenging.
Earls recounted a conversation he had with Krim.
“He called me about a year-and-a-half ago, and said, ‘You mentioned that Raytheon book to me a few times and I’d like to do it. My family keeps telling me, I need to slow down at my age, but you know, I’ve got a younger guy who could help you. He’s one of the volunteers here at the lab, he’s only 83.’ Which, of course, became my co-author, Bob Edwards, a terrific guy, a longtime Raytheon employee.”
With Edwards’ knowledge of the company and Earls’ experience as a writer and researcher of technology, the pair set out to benefit the community by developing an account of Raytheon’s history.
“We tried to create something that would be of interest to people who worked at Raytheon, people who have appreciation for technology in general, and additionally, for people who are in the community and neighbors of Raytheon, who knew Raytheon people or just want to know more about what went on beyond the Raytheon logo,” Earls said. “A lot of people don’t really understand much about it; they know it’s something to do with defense and missiles, but that doesn’t mean too much to most people.”
Raytheon’s contributions to World War II are perhaps the most stunning achievement in high tech in the first half of the 20th century. At the beginning of WWII, the British were using a device to create radar images, which detected enemy aircraft and navy vessels. However, the radar images were produced by a magnetron, a piece of technology that was exceedingly difficult to build. The British, in an attempt to create magnetrons more easily, presented their problem to American corporations.
“They expected to get help from GE and Westinghouse, gigantic companies at the time. Raytheon was hardly more than a start-up,” Earls said. “One of the researchers at MIT recommended they talk to Raytheon because he knew there were some sharp people there. The exact sequence of the events is still argued, but Spencer saw the magnetron and either over a weekend or a week, depending on who you believe, came up with (a way) to mass produce (magnetrons).
“They basically bet the company and built this multi-million dollar oven and all the necessary production equipment. To make a long story short, they went from several a day to several thousand a day and Raytheon ended up producing 85 percent of the magnetrons produced anywhere in the world used during World War II,” said Earls.
Raytheon’s success did not result from its military technology alone. The demand for different types of technology transferred between national defense and consumer products. In an effort to take advantage of the changing business environments, Raytheon constantly made inventions in both markets.
“In terms of significance, the mass production of the magnetron would be right up there. In terms of social history, the microwave oven. It’s one of those things that we take for granted, almost like a telephone. Who could imagine life without a microwave oven?” said Earls.
The impact of Raytheon, both nationally and locally, is undisputed. If Raytheon did have any faults, Earls noted, one may be that it was too inventive, presenting a challenge to fully capitalizing on all of their opportunities.
It is estimated that nearly 1,000 Wayland, Weston and Sudbury residents have been employed by Raytheon over the company’s 83-year history.
Earls, who proudly attends each of his Wayland High School reunions, likens writing to telling stories.
“I think many people discount their own capabilities (of writing). I usually say, if you can effectively tell a story at a cocktail party then you probably have the fundamentals to tell any kind of story because the structures are really the same, just the medium is different,” he said.