American Optical History
Recollections of Former AO Employees

Will Hicks recalls
the 50th Anniversary of the Birth of Fiber Optics and how the CIA's cover was blown

Presented to the AO
Reunion Gathering at Romís June 8, 2004


 

 I had a car accident 2 or 3 years ago and got hit in the head and my memory is shot. So, Iím the wrong one to give this talk - but here goes.

 This is the 50th anniversary of the birth of fiber optics.  It was born at A.O.

 The general concept of light conduction down a fiber dates back at least to about 1930.
If you take a glass pitcher and let sunlight hit it and pour water,it looks like you are pouring light.  Thatís the basic idea.  But  A.O. turned it onto a practical, useful technology.

 The people I can remember who worked on the project were:

  Dr. Brian OíBrian
  Steve MacNeal
  Lem Hyde
Will Bazinet
Louis Caliagheri
Walt Siegmund
 

 Iím sure there were others.   The last two on the list are special since they are still alive.  And Bob Innis is at this meeting.  Please stand up and take a bow.

 The CIA sponsored the project at A.O. (under the name of the Potomac Barge Company).
We set out to make an image-scrambling device so we could send encrypted pictures from Russia to the U.S.
And as a ďcoverĒ project, we developed an endoscope to look inside people.
The CIA cover was blown when our CIA manager flew into Southbridge and saw a plane go down behind a hill.
He thought it had crashed and reported?and identified himself as a CIA man coming to A.O. (typical CIA screw up.)
 

Fiber optics is in the doldrums right now but it will come to life again and have a tremendous impact on civilization?as great as electric power, for example.

 Everyone will work from home or near home:  Do paper work, mine coal, make cars, do surgery??!  Washington, D.C. will not be the home of the government.  The senators and Congressmen will stay in their own states (or perhaps Honolulu) but with the aid of fiber optics, they will feel like they are all in the same chamber as before.

 Fiber optics will carry voice (the telephone), sight (televideo), touch (teletactile) motion (teledynamics)?but probably not telesmelly.

 You young folks may not believe the world can change that much.  But in my lifetime, it has changed tremendously.  I remember my grandfatherís house in rural South Carolina.  He had one light bulb.  He was a real technoid.  He had rigged up a generator, run by his windmill that charges a battery that ran the light bulb.  But mostly he and his neighbors used kerosene lamps.  He drove a buggy to get around.  There was a highway near his home.  Paved!  One lane.  When cars met from opposite directions one had to get off the road.

  So things have changed.
  Change is not dead.

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Dick Whitney June 16, 2004

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