Interview with C. Moreau Jansky, 11 May 1965

Description

Interview with C. Moreau Jansky (aka C.M. Jansky, Jr.) on 11 May 1965 by Ray Kestenbaum of Bell Labs public relations department. This interview was intended to explore why Karl Jansky did not continue his "star noise" research. The interview is provided courtesy of J.A. Tyson.

Creator

Papers of Karl G. Jansky

Rights

Contact Archivist for rights information.

Type

Oral History

Identifier

CD3_Track1_CMJansky_11may1965.mp3

Interviewer

Kestenbaum, Ray

Interviewee

Jansky, C.M., Jr.

Location

Duration

66 minutes

Start Date

1965-05-11

Notes

This interview is part of a series of five interviews intended to explore why Karl Jansky did not continue his "star noise" research. The interviews were conducted in 1965 by Ray Kestenbaum of the Bell Labs public relations department. These interviews are provided courtesy of J.A. Tyson.

Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event.

Series

Oral Histories Series

Transcription

Transcribed by TranscribeMe in April 2019, reviewed and corrected by Kenneth I. Kellermann and Ellen N. Bouton


Kestenbaum

This is Ray Kestenbaum, of the public relations department of Bell Laboratories, May 11th, 1965. Today with me here in Washington D.C. is the brother of the late Karl Jansky, Cyril M. Jansky.

Jansky

No. I beg your pardon. I don't use the Cyril. C.M. Jansky, Jr.

Kestenbaum

C.M Jansky, Jr.

Jansky

That's right. I use the middle name.

Kestenbaum

Mr. Jansky, could you outline some of the things, since your brother's death, that had been done tributary to him to honor him in the field of radio astronomy?

Jansky

I think probably the most important things that have been done, have to do with statements which have been made in books and in articles attributing the discovery to him. I, personally have had requests from any number of sources for his picture by those who were writing textbooks and who were anxious to include his picture.

Kestenbaum

Could you name some of these for us?

Jansky

I don't have a record of them now, but I recall, specifically, that at least one or two of these requests came from authors from behind the Iron Curtain. This appears to be a discovery which is universally attributed to him. I have never heard anyone question the fact that he was the first man to detect radiation from interstellar space.

Kestenbaum

When I say tributary, Mr. Jansky, I'm referring to things like the naming of a laboratory to him.

Jansky

Yes. I think that should be mentioned. The radio astronomy facility-- the National Radio Astronomy facility at Green Bank, West Virginia, contains a very outstanding tribute to him. The large laboratory building there is named the "Karl Guthe Jansky Laboratory." I might comment that over here in the United States the name is always Jansky. Actually, in Europe, where there is no hard J. the name is pronounced Jansky. But it's always called Jansky here. Do you want me to - ?

Kestenbaum

No. I want to just sort of listen because I'm not too familiar with him. Where there any other tributaries or - ?

Jansky

The other tribute is that there is a unit universally accepted now which is named for Karl, and I might indicate exactly what that unit is. Can you stop that machine occasionally? Or is it in common use today? A basic unit of power flux density which is called the Jansky. Now, these are, I think, the outstanding tributes to him. Approximately 25 years after his discovery, rather in 1956, the American Astronomical Society at its annual convention held in the Spring of 1956 in Columbus Ohio, paid tribute to him and it was my privilege to give the banquet address at this convention. And this address was a history of his life, plus, a history in non-technical terms of the steps he followed in arriving at the conclusion arriving at this discovery.

Kestenbaum

Is this the same history that's documented in your presentation to the IRE?

Jansky

Yes. Almost, but not quite.

Kestenbaum

Yeah. One is in verbal form the other isn't.

Jansky

But there are one or two things in the IRE paper which appeared 25 years afterwards, which do not appear in the other. I wish you'd turn it off a minute.

Kestenbaum

Mr. Jansky, I want to ask you this question, in your opinion - in your estimation, how high up do you think your late brother's invention ranks? In rank, say, with the discovery of penicillin with the discovery of subatomic particles? Do you think, for example, this discovery ranks with the kind that Nobel Prize winners win?

Jansky

Yes. Of course, it is in a different field than the discovery or development of penicillin, which really was a development. But I think there is no question, but what it is. It was one of the basic discoveries in the field of pure science, ranking with some of Galileo's work and others in this field.

Kestenbaum

Who else you know outside of, say, the Laboratories that feels this way?

Jansky

Well, I might quote from what Sir Edward Appleton, who of course, is an outstanding scientist in this field.

Kestenbaum

Edward Appleton of England?

Jansky

Sir Edward Appleton of England. He was attached to Edinburgh University. A statement he made 20 years after the discovery in his 1953 presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, he said - stop about a minute will you. I haven't found what I wanted to - He stated that Karl Jansky's discovery ranked with Galileo's discoveries, and particularly, his discovery of the satellites of Jupiter. I think probably that is one of the most outstanding tributes that was paid to his discovery. Now, I might also offer this comment, which admittedly is hearsay. I cannot justify it by reference to any of the literature, but it is my understanding that at the time of Karl Jansky's death in February 1950, that he was under consideration for the Nobel Prize.

Kestenbaum

Can you qualify this sir?

Jansky

No. I regret that I can't. I have heard it said, but I can't justify it by any reference of literature. [Note added by Kellermann in 2019: Karl Jansky was nominated for the 1950 Nobel Prize]

Kestenbaum

Okay. Fine.

Jansky

I could check this in Stockholm where I have many contacts.

Kestenbaum

Well, let's go on here. Let me ask you this, Mr. Jansky, do you think that Karl realized the importance of his discovery at the time? Did he know the ramifications of it? Did he know what it might lead to at the time?

Jansky

Well, I think he did have a considerable vision of what it might lead to, but I doubt of any living person at that time could have visualized the magnitude of the science which would be built upon his discovery.

Kestenbaum

Do you recall whether Karl thought at the time that there were any other radio sources, save that coming from the center of the Milky Way? Did he ever talk about this?

Jansky

Yes, sir.

Kestenbaum

Other than - ?

Jansky

Yes he did. Among others, I think he felt, and I think his papers will show, that he was under the impression that among other sources the Sun would be a source.

Kestenbaum

Yes. What about radio stars?

Jansky

I think he felt that too, but I know specifically, I think he mentions in some of his papers that he thought the Sun was a source, and, of course, this was proved later.

Kestenbaum

During and after his discovery, did he ever attempt to explain the reasons for this radiation? Did he attempt to inject any theory into it?

Jansky

I don't recall that he did. I don't recall that he did.

Kestenbaum

Would you consider, Mr. Jansky, your late brother having been capable of working up a theory to explain galactic radiation? He was an extremely capable experimentalist in measurements.

Jansky

I think he would. But I think it important to bear in mind that he was not one to sit down at the table and concoct theories. He was more inclined to take data and then to analyze those data with a view of seeing what the data showed. And this was the way in which his mind worked during this whole study that he made. A study which, of course, occupied several years.

Kestenbaum

Were there were any other projects which he did before joining the Laboratory, such as, the University of Wisconsin from which he graduated that tended to show him as this gifted experimentalist that he was, as a patient data taker?

Jansky

I am not familiar with the work on which he obtained the Master's degree several years after he -

Kestenbaum

Did at Iowa.

Jansky

What? No. Wisconsin.

Kestenbaum

Wisconsin.

Jansky

Yes. You see, he graduated in the Department of Physics from the University of Wisconsin. The same department, the same university that I graduated from. He later did the thesis work that resulted in his getting the Master's degree. At the moment I am not familiar with the nature of that thesis work.

Kestenbaum

Okay. Let's get on with this question. Karl at the time was working on the measurement of static in connection with problems in the trans-Atlantic circuit, and he was involved in various types of static in studying the reception of various kinds of static. Its direction and its level etc. Then he came across this hissing noise which he spent at the beginning two years - at least two years before he decided that this was of extraterrestrial origin. Do you think, Mr. Jansky, that the hissing noise type of static occupied his interest more than the other noise sources which he was involved?

Jansky

Well, that is difficult to answer. Of course, he found after he built his rotating antenna and he set about making continuous records of static, he found three sources. One was, of course, static from local thunderstorms. The second was static from thunderstorms at considerable distance. And the third was this hiss-type static, which at first he was inclined to attribute to radiation from the Sun. The reason being is that when he first started to analyze his data, the direction, this is by chance frankly, the direction in which the static was coming was the direction of the Sun, but then it began to change in direction. In other words, the direction advanced by about four minutes of time per day. And this worked out, of course, to be such that at the end of the year it was coming from the same direction it had when he started. This obviously indicated that the signals, if you call them signals, of the electromagnetic radiation he was receiving, was coming from the point which was fixed in space.

Kestenbaum

Yes.

Jansky

I might say that during this period when he was analyzing this direction, and I think this is a point of some importance. There is evidence I believe to the fact that one or two other people had detected, or at least, had received this type of static.

Kestenbaum

Previously?

Jansky

Previously. But they did nothing about it.

Kestenbaum

Meaning publishing?

Jansky

Well, they didn't even attempt to determine the direction of the source and attempt to relate it to anything. Now, about the time that Karl decided that this was coming from a fixed pointed space, he started to study astronomy, astronomical coordinates. A subject on which he had no previous knowledge. So having become thoroughly familiar with astronomical coordinates, what they mean, he was then able to specify in astronomical coordinates the direction from which this hiss static was arriving and this, for the record, was on a frequency of 20.53 megacycles per second. Or expressed in terms of meters wavelength it was 14.6 meters. Now, the real credit to him, I think, is that having determined that he was receiving electromagnetic radiation, I don't quite like to use the term static as applied to it, is that he went out of his way to study another science and to relate this to astronomical coordinates. I might say that not being an astronomer myself, I find his explanation of astronomical coordinates and what they are, as they appear in his papers, to be more lucid and more understandable than almost anything I've read on this subject and this [crosstalk] -

Kestenbaum

Including those written by astronomers?

Jansky

That's right.

Kestenbaum

Mr. Jansky, where you - I'd like to establish where you were at the time. Where you here, Jansky and Bailey, in the years 1928 to 33?

Jansky

Yes. In 1928 I was practicing - see I was professor of radio and electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota. I was on leave of absence in 1928 doing consulting work in Washington. I opened my office as an independent consulting engineer, radio and electronic engineer, in 1929, and I formed the partnership Jansky and Bailey in September of 1930. So I was in the East and I was in quite close touch with his work.

Kestenbaum

Were you in close touch with Karl himself?

Jansky

Yes.

Kestenbaum

How often would you say he contacted you?

Jansky

Well, we would get together several times a year.

Kestenbaum

A year?

Jansky

Yeah. We'd get together several times a year, and he discussed what he was doing and what his work was with me.

Kestenbaum

Did he write to you aside from this meeting, or was he a letter writer?

Jansky

No. I think we did most of this by personal conference.

Kestenbaum

Say, about five to twn times a year?

Jansky

Yes. Well, about that often, yes. I would say nearer five than ten.

Kestenbaum

Were you tuned in to his work at the time? In other words, were you aware of what he was doing before any announcement was made?

Jansky

Yes, I was. I was in close touch with him. There was nothing classified about what he was doing, and he was free to talk about it. I visited the Laboratory any number of times. I saw his antenna system. I saw his recording equipment.

Kestenbaum

What years were these?

Jansky

These were, I would say, in the early 1930s

Kestenbaum

Before the announcement came?

Jansky

That's right. As a matter of fact, at that time I was a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Radio Engineers. I was later president in 1934. And I was the Institute of Radio Engineers representative and delegate to URSI. Now, don't ask me at the moment what the letters URSI stand for. I can find it -

Kestenbaum

It's documented.

Jansky

It's documented. It's primarily the [crosstalk] -

Kestenbaum

Universal Radio something or other. [Union Radio-Scientifique Internationale]

Jansky

- Scientific Union. And in those days it was my job to act as presiding officer at some of the sessions of URSI of which were held in the spring of each year, usually in April.

Kestenbaum

You were an officer in URSI?

Jansky

I was the Institute of Radio Engineers representative, their representative to URSI.

Kestenbaum

Were you in command?

Jansky

And if my memory is correct, and I believe it is, I presided at the meeting at which Karl spoke in 1932 here in Washington down here at the building on Constitution Avenue.

Kestenbaum

That was quite an epic experience.

Jansky

I'm perfectly willing to admit that the tremendous importance of that, at that time, was not as thoroughly recognized by me as it was by him.

Kestenbaum

Yeah. Actually now in the URSI paper, this, I believe, was the first one which was to come before the public. It came before the IRE paper which was the next fall. I wanted to ask you, concerning this point, how did you feel about his work at the time? Did you feel that it was as earthshaking as - well, he didn't even feel it was earth shaking. But did you feel - were you convinced that it was as important as Karl thought it was, or some of his colleagues did? How did you feel about the working items around [crosstalk]?

Jansky

I suspect he felt it was more important than I did, as a matter of fact. Although, I felt that it was important.

Kestenbaum

Did you dissuade him or persuade him, or were you neutral as far as him continuing this sort of work?

Jansky

Well, I was in hopes he would continue it and be allowed to continue it.

Kestenbaum

Now, you were not intrigued by the hiss noise yourself? You didn't think it was -

Jansky

Well, I didn't see the future of the science it's built on. I don't think anyone did. Otherwise, it would not have taken so long for others to pick it up.

Kestenbaum

Now, he spent two to three years studying and tracking this down, and yet, a great many people, well, didn't think this worthwhile. Particularly, since it wasn't a dominant factor in the Transatlantic noise. And you yourself say, Mr. Jansky, that you didn't think it was anything extraordinary at the time. But you did feel that he should continue, is that right?

Jansky

I felt that. I felt that, but I didn't attribute to it the importance that I should've. Of course, the man who picked it up first was Grote Reber.

Kestenbaum

Reber. Let me ask you this, did he ever express an interest to you in wanting to pursue this work after the discovery was made?

Jansky

Yes, he did.

Kestenbaum

Could you explain this? What did he say to you?

Jansky

Well, he thought it was worth following. On the other hand, I think it important to note that Karl was a very modest individual and he worked on this as long as he could. And since it didn't have any direct bearing on the project on which he originally started, and there were many reasons why there were emphasis on other things, it's understandable as to why he wasn't kept at this. For instance, even in those early dates, there was the threat of war, and -

Kestenbaum

War with Germany?

Jansky

Yes, there was a threat. At least there was a defense effort. And it's understandable that emphasis in work should be switched to those things having a direct bearing on the defense effort. I know that we ourselves and Jansky and Bailey became involved in defense contracts quite a number of years prior to our getting in the war. And of course, this is true of other laboratories as well.

Kestenbaum

Yes. What I wanted to know sir, was Karl had expressed to you the desire to continue this work after the announcement of his discovery was made. Can you tell me - can you relate to me how he said this to you? What he said to you? Did he want to pursue the study of radios? Did he want to pursue - did he want to find other hiss noises similarly?

Jansky

Well, he had expressed this interest in me, but I think you can get even better information on this part from his widow because, of course, she knew what he was doing. And when it came to expressing his real desires in this and what he wanted to do she can give you better information than I am because, of course, they were together all the time. And I'd be inclined to suggest that you talk to her.

Kestenbaum

I see. But he did mention to you the fact that he wanted to continue in this field?

Jansky

Yes, he did. But mildly. He made no tremendous point of it. He was inclined to take the orders given to him and not question it. He didn't raise any great to do about it.

Kestenbaum

My next question, Mr. Jansky, is I wanted to ask you about if Karl was the kind of person, in your opinion, in your estimation, if Karl was the kind of person that needed the acceptance of his peers and superiors to carry on his projects? Or was he the kind of person to pioneer a subject despite the perhaps unpopularity of a subject or the general disbelief of a theory?

Jansky

I would say the latter. I would say the latter.

Kestenbaum

That he was a kind of a person who would pioneer?

Jansky

Yes, to the extent possible, but he wouldn't quarrel with anybody if they decided he was to do something else.

Kestenbaum

Do you think -?

Jansky

I kind of feel it's too bad he was not more insistent on this sort of thing.

Kestenbaum

He wasn't too insistent?

Jansky

No. That's right.

Kestenbaum

What do you think prevented him from furthering this study?

Jansky

I think it's his own modesty. I think it's his own - he had great respect for the people he was working with, and if they wanted him to do other things, why, he wouldn't question. He wouldn't put up a terrific fight to continue in this field. I don't think this is any lack of interest on his part. It's just the fact he was that kind of a man.

Kestenbaum

You say the fact that he wanted to continue in his work, this information you got from his wife, from his widow?

Jansky

Also, what he told me, but he told her much more about it than he did me.

Kestenbaum

I see. Now, you were familiar with the situation in the field at the time. Of course, it was an economic depression then.

Jansky

That's right.

Kestenbaum

The question is now if he did want to further this study in studying extragalactic sources, could he have done this elsewhere? Could he have left - was it possible in those days to do this kind of work somewhere else? Could he have left the Laboratories, for example, gone on to a university or an industrial laboratory or struck out on his own?

Jansky

I think it would have been more likely to have been at some university, rather than on his own. Of course, he had a living to make. He had a family. And however, it's interesting to consider the situation which existed at that time. I know of no institution - no commercial institution that throughout its entire history has devoted more time, effort, and money to pure research than Bell Telephone Laboratories and its predecessor Western Electric. It was my privilege to work in Western Electric before Bell Laboratories was formed, and I saw evidence of that in works which was done at 463 West Street.

Kestenbaum

Who was -?

Jansky

Let me finish.

Kestenbaum

Yes.

Jansky

Now, this interest in pure research, which might at the moment have no commercial value, and this willingness to devote time, effort and money to it, was, I believe, at least on the basis of whatever knowledge I have, almost unique. This was a period of time when pure research was left largely to educational institutions. And it's also important to bear in mind that at this period of time, the government was not supporting pure research to anything like the extent that it is now. So it was common practice in industrial laboratories to limit the work done by its scientists to specific progress which showed some chance of having real commercial value. This difference between the situation that existed in those times and also it is important to bear in mind that this was a period of depression. In contrast, a situation which exists today is where they have note. If Karl had wanted to continue his work in radio astronomy there would have been only one course open to him, and that is to see if he could not find a position in some physics department in some educational institution.

Kestenbaum

Did he actually attempt this?

Jansky

To the best of my knowledge, no. He was loyal to the Laboratories. He liked his work there and he liked people he worked with.

Kestenbaum

Yes. John Pfeiffer documents a letter that he purportedly had correspondence with your late father. Do you know anything about this letter?

Jansky

No. I'm not familiar with it at the moment. I know that he corresponded a great deal with his father. And I think his father was one of those who early recognized the importance of this. Of course, his father was a scientist. A graduate in physics and electrical engineering from the University of Michigan and he held higher degrees from that institution as well. And his father was a professor of electrical engineering. And I do recall specifically that our father, in those early days, was tremendously impressed with Karl's discovery. And I recall in these early days, he's making a statement to me that he thought this was an exceedingly basic discovery in the field of science. Our father, I think, had a greater vision of the importance of this discovery than some of the rest of us did.

Kestenbaum

Did he, in any way, guide Karl or suggest things to him in the course of this research?

Jansky

I have not studied this correspondence between father and Karl yet. It probably would show that he offered many suggestions on it, but I can't document it.

Kestenbaum

Okay. Let's go on to this point, Mr. Jansky, who was the one that suggested Bell Labs in the first place to Karl?

Jansky

I am not sure. I know that I supported his application. And when he applied for his position, at first, there was some tendency not to employ him because of his known physical defect.

Kestenbaum

Yes.

Jansky

I can't remember this man's name, but the man in the Laboratories who had charge of employment at that time was a very good friend of mine. And I talked with him about Karl. And ultimately, I don't know whether what I said had very much to do with Laboratories hiring him or not, but at least I argued for it in spite of his physical difficulties.

Kestenbaum

Yes. And he did get the job.

Jansky

Yes, he did.

Kestenbaum

And he moved out to the country.

Jansky

That's right.

Kestenbaum

Mr. Jansky, could you recount to us your own experience with the Labs? I am totally unfamiliar with this? What were the periods that you worked with the Labs? When did this happen?

Jansky

I graduated in physics from the University of Wisconsin in 1917. At that time, although I'd had four years of military training, they wouldn't take me in the Army. One reason was my eyesight was bad, and the second reason, which seems peculiar now, is I was badly underweight. So we were encouraged to go into work which would have some - which would be helpful in the defense effort. So in about April of 1917, I joined the staff at Western Electric Company.

Kestenbaum

April 1917.

Jansky

I think it's about April. Anyhow, I graduated in absentia because I was at the Laboratories at 463 West Street.

Kestenbaum

And how long did you work at West Street?

Jansky

I worked under Crandall. And Crandall's specialty was sound, and we were working on problems related to submarine detection.

Kestenbaum

For how long a period did you work at Western Electric?

Jansky

I was there, if my recollection is correct, something over a year.

Kestenbaum

Until 1918 or so?

Jansky

Yes. And then I went back to the University of Wisconsin where under Max Mason and under Professor Kerry, I continued to work on the same problems because they were working on submarine detection there. And also, at this time I worked on radiotelephone developments, as my thesis work at the University of Wisconsin had to do with the design construction of electronic vacuum tubes and their use in radiotelephony. There we established a radiotelephone station in 1918 which is the oldest radiotelephone broadcast station in the United States. And then my other contacts with the Laboratories were during summer periods.

Kestenbaum

Were you an employee there, or -?

Jansky

I was employee, yes. I left the University of Wisconsin in 1920 and joined the faculty of the Department of Electrical Engineering University of Minnesota. The Summer of 1920 I spent in the Laboratories at West Street. This time I worked -

Kestenbaum

It was still Western Electric?

Jansky

It was still Western Electric. This time I worked under Nichols. And at this time I was particularly concerned with radiotelephone problems and with the use of vacuum tubes. Some of the people I worked with were E.L. Nelson, now deceased. Housekeeper, who was working on, at that time, on the development of waterproof tubes. Then throughout all the period of time that I was a the University of Minnesota, I kept in touch with the Laboratories. My dean and the head of my department were very kind. They allowed me to make trips east, and I spent quite a little bit of time with people in the Laboratory.

Kestenbaum

You left the Laboratory because you were essentially an academician. You shuttled between -

Jansky

At that time I was, yes.

Kestenbaum

At the University. So the periods you worked in the Laboratory, and correct me if I'm wrong here, is about one year starting with 1917 and the summer of 1920. Those were your official engagements as an [crosstalk].

Jansky

Yes. Those were my official engagements. Now, I would have to look at my records to see whether I didn't - I think I spent other summers there.

Kestenbaum

As an employee?

Jansky

I think so, yes.

Kestenbaum

One or two?

Jansky

One or two others.

Kestenbaum

Okay.

Jansky

I'd have to check to make sure because about this time the Laboratories became concerned with securing graduates to go into telephone work and the Laboratories - the Western Electric Company and the Bell people started holding educational conferences. And it was my privilege to attend some of those as well.

Kestenbaum

Okay. Coming back to your late brother, Mr. Jansky, I wanted to ask you, did you detect in Karl any change of personality after he came to fame through his discovery?

Jansky

I wouldn't say so, no.

Kestenbaum

Was he the same fellow?

Jansky

Absolutely. I didn't detect any what so ever.

Kestenbaum

Do you think that he ever accomplished, or ever set out to accomplish, anything comparable scientifically in subsequent years?

Jansky

That's a hard one to answer. That's a hard one to answer. I know that he worked on amplifier circuits. And also, I guess this is entirely unclassified now, but one of the projects which he worked on had to do what they call fingerprinting. Fingerprinting radio transmissions.

Kestenbaum

I didn't know about this.

Jansky

Yes. It is possible, for instance, if, let's say - let's relate this directly to submarine operations. I don't believe this is classified now, but it's perfectly possible to take the radio transmission from a radio transmitter. And if you study it, spread it out you can usually identify a particular transmission from a particularly transmitter. Now, this is something you folks have much more data on than I have. I know he did work on that project.

Kestenbaum

Did you receive any patents on this?

Jansky

Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge.

Kestenbaum

Sir, do you think that your brother was happy working at the Lab?

Jansky

Yes, I think he was very happy there.

Kestenbaum

He liked the work he was doing?

Jansky

Oh, yes.

Kestenbaum

Do you think at any time - did he ever express any dissatisfaction with his job after his discovery?

Jansky

No, I don't recall that he did. He wasn't the kind of a person who would've. I say he was a very modest man.

Kestenbaum

Did he speak with favor, with high regard about his bosses?

Jansky

Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

Kestenbaum

Then actually, let's get back to the statement now, the one that you wrote in this 25th-anniversary tribute. You said he would have preferred -

Jansky

To continue?

Kestenbaum

He would have preferred to continue with his work?

Jansky

That's correct.

Kestenbaum

And you know this to be a fact?

Jansky

Yes.

Kestenbaum

Could you explain the - could you qualify this? Could you explain this a bit?

Jansky

Well, there isn't much to be said about it. He would have preferred to have continued on it. This I know. Not only from what he told me but from what he told his wife. She can expand on that point much more than I can.

Kestenbaum

Fine. I have just two more questions, Mr. Jansky. I'd like to know sort of your own chronology. For example, when Jansky and Baliley started, you mentioned you established this business in 1929.

Jansky

Yes. Or 1928 really. Well, this is one of the things that's hard to put a date on because, you see, I was at the University of Minnesota. I established the broadcast station there in the spring of 1920. And as commercial broadcasting developed, I started having clients. I represented one of the big stations there. I did considerable work for the Chicago Tribune, so I found myself in the position of -

Kestenbaum

Worked for the Chicago Tribune?

Jansky

That's right.

Kestenbaum

In what capacity?

Jansky

I was consulting engineer for the capacity in connection with a case involving other stations pirating a frequency which is too close to it, and I spent a number of months there preparing evidence as an expert in that case. This, if my memory is correct, was in 1926. So about 1928, my consulting business had reached a point where I was making as much money in that I was in teaching, and I felt that I had to make a decision. That is, if I try to carry on both, one would suffer. If I expanded the consulting business the teaching would suffer. If I continued and specialized in teaching the consulting would suffer. So I decided that I'd take a whirl at it by myself on the outside. In 1930 I decided the consulting business was big enough that you needed help, so I brought with me Mr. Stuart Bailey who had taken the Master's degree under me at the University of Minnesota, and we've been close business associates ever since.

Kestenbaum

Has your business ever had any contact with the Bell Laboratories in the interim?

Jansky

Yes. We've done contract work under the Bell Laboratories.

Kestenbaum

The Bell Laboratories has contracted you to do jobs?

Jansky

Oh, yes. Yes, that's right. And also, while I was with the Air Force during the war, I was given the job of developing operations research in air defense. I was instrumental in getting a pretty substantial contract for Bell Laboratories to do some systems engineering and operations research for air defense.

Kestenbaum

Your relations with Bell Laboratories is good I think.

Jansky

Oh, yes. I have many friends there and the highest regard for the organization. A matter of fact, the man responsible for - can you stop it just a minute? We can come back to that. I get these [crosstalk].

Kestenbaum

Yeah. How much a senior or are you to Karl?

Jansky

Let me see, Karl was born in 1905 and I was born in 1895. So 10 years.

Kestenbaum

10 years. Mr. Jansky, could you describe the principal occupation of Jansky and Bailey? What is this enterprise? What are you people mainly concerned with?

Jansky

Jansky and Bailey in the 1930s was an independent consulting engineering organization which represented broadcast stations. We handled our allocation problems - or our engineering problems for the Federal Radio Commission. Later the Federal Communications Commission. We had no connection with manufacturing organizations and [inaudible]. Many of the cases before the Federal Communications Commission were controversial, for instance, two applicants for the same facility, in which case there would be a hearing. These hearings would call for technical evidence as what you propose to do. The kind of antennas you propose to use, and the silicons you need to propose for them. Also, at times we would handle engineering with respect to complete installations. Just exactly like an architect would handle the design of a building. Then in 1936, we became very much involved in the application of radio communication or electronics to the maritime industry.

Kestenbaum

Ship to shore communication?

Jansky

Ship to shore and ship to ship communication. Since 1936 we have continuously represented Lake Carriers' Association. Which is an association of 25 companies operating all of the bulk freighters on the great lakes, about 300 of them. So in the consulting business are two big areas of activities, our broadcasting and television engineering, an area in which we still carry on, and also a service to the maritime industry.

Kestenbaum

I see. Are you retired now, sir?

Jansky

No. I'm not retired yet. I will retire this summer.

Kestenbaum

I see. And people carrying on your work here?

Jansky

Oh, yes. For instance, Jansky and Bailey, now, there are three Jansky and Bailey divisions of Atlantic Research Corporation. My title is Chairman of the Board. Mr. Bailey's title is President and he is also a Vice President for Atlantic Research Corporation. We now have about a 150 employees. We do a wide variety - carry on a wide variety of projects in the defense effort. We have a pretty extensive laboratory. So actually there are -

Kestenbaum

Here in Washington?

Jansky

This is at [Edsel Row?] here in this area.There are three divisions to Jansky and Bailey. There is a broadcast and television division. We channel broadcast and television engineering, and this is right in this building here. And then we have a systems engineering and operations research division which plans communication systems.

Unknown female speaker

Was it [L.E. Buckley?]?

Jansky

No.

Unknown female speaker

Was it a Larry Harrison?

Jansky

No.

Kestenbaum

Very well then. To conclude, Mr. Jansky, do you think that there are any loose ends about Karl Jansky's story? Do you think that there is anything still to be done? Is there anything that you would like to see done with regard to discovery of your late brother? Any honors that should be bestowed upon him? Any meritorious things? Any salutations? How do you feel about this?

Jansky

Well, there are a couple of things that I would like to have done. I know that there was a project to have a model of Karl's antenna on exhibition in the laboratory of Green Bank. Now, whether that was ever done or not, I'm not sure, because it's been a number of years since I've been to Green Bank. But I think it might be worthwhile to pay a visit to that laboratory.

Kestenbaum

You are for the antenna to be put there?

Jansky

Oh, very much so. I think -

Kestenbaum

Well, they are putting the antenna there.

Jansky

They are?

Kestenbaum

Yes.

Jansky

Good. They're putting the antenna itself or a model of it?

Kestenbaum

A model of it.

Jansky

A model of it. After all, it's pretty big. It's a pretty big -

Kestenbaum

Oh, well, this antenna has been disassembled here.

Jansky

Yes. But a full-scale model would be too big, but I think a model would be good. [Note added in 2019: A replica of Karl Jansky's antenna at Bell Laboratories, used in his detection of radio waves from the center of the Milky Way, was built at Bell Laboratories and installed at the entrance to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Green Bank site in 1964.]

Kestenbaum

It is possible that the original is in the Smithsonian. I'm not sure. Do you know anything about this?

Jansky

I don't know. I don't know as to that. Now, there is another project that I started on but never finished.

Kestenbaum

What was that all about?

Jansky

I have had a number of requests from time to time from libraries for copies of his original papers. Particularly, the two papers that he gave on the subject. I have had in mind of taking these two papers, putting with them a copy of the address which I gave for the American Astronomical Society in 1956 and republishing them. That is putting them together in one book. And then if the proper channels can be found to distribute these to libraries. Not only in the United States but throughout the world.

Kestenbaum

I see.

Jansky

My original plan was to, if necessary, to do this at my own cost. I'm sure there would be no difficulty in obtaining permission from Bell and from the Institute of Radio Engineers to republish these because I believe that - now, these are the only two copies of these papers which I have. I originally had quite a large number of them but I've sent them out. And I would suggest that the laboratories might consider putting together these two papers, plus, my paper which is descriptive of his life. Plus anything else which might be desirable. Perhaps Southworth's papers could be added to this list because I think Southworth's detailed analysis of what Karl did is a very masterful piece of work.

Kestenbaum

Yes, it is. Incidentally, did Southworth consult with you when he wrote his piece?

Jansky

I don't think he did. I talked to him about it and I've used it as source material. Of course, Southworth had the advantage of having available Karl's notebooks and he drew on this information very extensively in this paper he did. And it might be worthwhile to add this. And if Bell Laboratories failed, if they would like to cooperate with me on a project of this kind, I'd be very happy to cooperate. And yet, we could spend a reasonable amount of money on it. I'm prepared to spend some of my money on it. As far as I'm concerned, I think this would do credit to the Laboratory.

Kestenbaum

Would you still feel the same way about that statement at the end as well?

Jansky

Well, this isn't in any - this is not in that address. The only reason I put that in is because I was told by the people I talked to that it ought to be the records.

Kestenbaum

You mean by Lloyd Berkner?

Jansky

By Lloyd Berkner and Haddock and Merle Tuve.

Kestenbaum

How did these people know what the story were?

Jansky

Well, I told them what the story was and I said, "Do you think I ought to say it?" And they said, "We think you should." They didn't have the intimate knowledge of his work. I was delighted. So I stuck it in the IRE. The only place it appears is in the IRE. It doesn't appear in the address which I gave which I think is a little bit better to publish.

Kestenbaum

In conclusion, you would like to see a joint effort between Bell Laboratories and Jansky and Bailey repairing the chronology and formalizing all the papers of him scientifically in the profile of Karl Jansky. And where with this go then?

Jansky

I think it ought to go to libraries throughout the world as source material. This is where the requests came from. Somebody would be working in this field and they'd dig around the library trying to find Karl's original work. To find the original story of his work. The original papers which he wrote. They couldn't find it. So they'd end up writing me. And more recently, I'd have to say, "Well, I'm sorry. We just don't have it."

Kestenbaum

Yes. Would you want to include John Pfeiffer's account as well?

Jansky

Well, that's a whole book. I wouldn't say so, because after all, that is a very fine book for the [Cairo?] in this [inaudible] book.

Kestenbaum

Did John Pfeiffer actually talk with you at the time?

Jansky

Oh, many times.

Kestenbaum

Did he interviewed you for this book?

Jansky

Oh, yes, many times. And he also interviewed my sister Helen and other members of the family. Particularly, my sister Helen.

Unknown female speaker

Was it [inaudible] H.D Higgins?

Jansky

No. Sorry.

Unknown female speaker

You can tell, Lance. He knows [inaudible]

Jansky

Yeah. [inaudible].

Kestenbaum

I guess this letter that John Pfeiffer speaks about where Karl says he wanted to go to the University of Iowa. That would be something that Mrs. Jansky would be holding -

Jansky

That's right.

Kestenbaum

[inaudible].

Citation

Papers of Karl G. Jansky, “Interview with C. Moreau Jansky, 11 May 1965,” NRAO/AUI Archives, accessed May 22, 2024, https://www.nrao.edu/archives/items/show/15316.