Some Reminiscences About the Good Old Days

By: Bernard Grolman D.O.S.
January 25, 2000

I joined AO in 1955, year of the great flood, working under Dr. Fred Paul, a hard edged extremely competent physicist who carried responsibility for the R&D optical shop which, in turn, was run by a one-of-a-kind master optician named Colin Yates.

Not long after I went to work in the Southbridge R&D group I feared that my career there was to be short-lived. The ‘55 Quinebaug flood waters and the mud they carried inundated several floors of many buildings and rendered the majority of motor driven grinding and polishing machinery inoperable. There were serious doubts that manufacturing operations would ever be resumed. However, by round-the-clock manual labor extending over a period of several months, the seemingly impossible task was achieved.

I remained in AO’s employ when Warner-Lambert took over in 1967. Retiring from W-L in 1985, I have served as consultant to this date while ownership and company name changed frequently.

Colin Yates’ R&D optical shop warrants recollection. There, many firsts were achieved and new grinding and polishing techniques were developed. Precision fabrication tasks that no other laboratory in the country would or could undertake, came to Yates. Jobs included, for example:

finishing exotic optical materials that could not be exposed to water or air grinding and polishing prisms or mirrors on the ends of individual optical fibers developing a system for fabrication of arsenic trisulfide infra-red optics optical grinding and polishing of hardened steel surfaces for molding/casting.

I always felt fortunate to be on the Southbridge “campus” working with such an extraordinarily talented R&D faculty. One index to the productivity of the period can be found in the fact that during the 70s and 80s, AO’s 6 or 7 patent attorneys had difficulty keeping up with the output of R&D and Manufacturing.

Many instrumentation “firsts” of significance came out of AO’s R&D, some in collaboration with university medical facilities. I’m sure that I am unable to recall all, however, they included:

the first small corneal contact lens by Touhy & Yates in R&D optical shop

the first in vitro oxyhemaglobinometer

the first in vivo oxyhemaglobinometer

the first laser retinal photocoagulator (ruby)

the first movie visualization of a living heart (fiber optics)

the first solid state laser (neodymium doped glass)

the first demand pacemaker

the first non-contact tonometer (1972, St. Louis World Optical Fair)

the first cardiac defibrillator

the first sun-powered laser

the first rapid scan spectrophotometer

the first 75 mm total moving picture system (Todd-AO)

the first fully-articulated micro-surgical laser systems

the first production arsenic trisulfide infra-red optics facility

The mid-1950s included some heady experiences. Dr. Brian O’Brien headed an AO R&D team in the development of the Todd-AO movie system. The several year program resulted in the successful development of a new movie camera, a new draped film printer, new film size (70mm), a new wide screen projector, new concave screen, and new sound system.

For a few months, I worked in a Fort Lee, New Jersey film lab preparing prints of the first Todd-AO movie production, Oklahoma. The occasional appearance of Mike Todd and his wife Elizabeth Taylor in the Ft. Lee lab added spice. All Ft. Lee personnel and spouses were bussed to Manhattan for the premier showing of Oklahoma; they were heady times. Todd-AO was a great technical achievement; it appeared, however, that everyone but AO made money.

Although AO’s R&D was set within a great industrial complex, under Dr. Stephen MacNeille’s administration it more closely resembled a university campus. Each of its staff took turns in making monthly presentations to the entire faculty reporting progress and problems encountered. The benefits from the expected critique and suggestions proved to be important. AO administration encouraged and financially supported, long term, investigation and innovation in new areas. It was just such an environment that nurtured the birth of fiber optics, non-contact tonometry, industrial and medical applications of laser, etc. AO’s cumulative contribution to the ophthalmic, medical, and physical sciences literature is enormous.

I remember, during my first years in R&D, seeing retired Dr. Edgar Tillyer, then in his 80s, wandering through the halls of Building 17 (R&D) almost every day. Although he no longer had any responsibilities, an office was maintained for him; it seemed to be his life. He frequently visited with me in my office and he would tell and retell stories of his work experience at the U.S. Naval Observatory and of his helping the Wright brothers push their plane into the air at Kitty Hawk. His memory was extraordinary.

In Memory of Bernie Grolman

Thank You Dr. Grolman - A Tribute by Dr. Ken Myers

I was saddened to learn of the tragic death of Bernie Grolman on December 11, 2002 in Buffalo N.Y.  Bernie was struck and killed by a car will crossing the street. A friend and colleague, Bernie was a humble "giant" in the ophthalmic community. He has a long and distiguished career at AO, and more recently consulted for Reichert Instruments. Bernie was the inventor of the non-contact tonometer. Bernie was also active in ISO Tonometry Standards. A memorial was held at Bernie's home on Sunday, Dec 15, 2002.

Read about Bernie in this obituary written by
friend and colleague David Taylor

Dr. Bernie Grolman 2002 Interview on his Non Contact Tonometer Invention (provided by David Taylor) New July 30, 2009

To learn more about Bernie AO's technical writing contributions, check out the Optical Heritage Museum Website - AO Technical Documents

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