Millen Memories 1949-1955
By Anthony Alegero
Anthony (Tony) Alegero started at James Millen Manufacturing
in 1949 as an assistant foreman in the production of variable capacitors. Later
he moved on to become foreman of the coil winding and distributed delay line department.
Tony provides a great deal of insight into the working of the Millen operations
during the years when employment was at some of the largest numbers in the companies
I was green out of eighteen months of electronics school in the USN and looking
for a job. Born, schooled and still living in Malden made Millen a good spot to
start jobhunting. I applied and was interviewed by Phil Eyrick and hired to be
asssistant foreman of the Variable Capacitor department. working under Ray Fittz.
He was an ME Tufts grad who had worked during the war at RCA in NJ. Helluva nice
guy to work for and a great mentor. When I read of OSHA and EPA these days I often
think of working with cyanide to remove silver plate tarnish, the girls (today ladies)
were busy all day scrubbing all the ceramic parts of finished caps with of all things
carbon tetrachloride. Somewhere in the early fifties someone became aware of what
CCL4 could do to your kidneys so we padlocked the 55 gal drum spigots and only the
supervisors could dispense it. We also had vent hoods built in our own sheet metal
shop for the girls to work under. These simply discharged out the adjacent windows.
Most of our shaft couplings and terminal strips were manufactured in this same department.
Phil Eyrick was production manager over the whole plant during my whole stay. After
a couple of years they moved Howard Stone from coil winding foreman to final assembly
and I took over the coil winding and distributed delay line winding depts. There
I had anywhere from 10-12 girls winding rf chokes, IF xfmrs, large xmitter tank
coils and coil forms (ceramic and plastic). In an adjacent elevated gallery we had
the distributed delay winding machine run by one woman. This consisted of roughly
3/8 saran tubing in up to 100 foot lengths which was continuously wound with from
about #36 to #40 formex insulated wire. This in turn was continuously wrapped with
a very thin teflon tape which in turn was covered with a copper braid shield. It
was unique because the long lengths were then chopped off at so many microseconds
delay per foot depending on the customers need. My memory sugggests this process
was developed by GE and licensed to Millen but I may be wrong.
In the early fifties Bob Pearson, ME Iowa State, came aboard and was originally
Ray Fittz's right hand man. He, Dick Evans and I became sort of a triumvirate on
and off the job as we were all in our marrying days and were part of each others
wedding parties. Bob was a real nautical man and collectively owned about four boats.
We on occasion would all head for the boat after work, including another name that
just occurred to me, George Pike. George was the company purchasing agent and did
all the company buying. We thought nothing of heading from Lynn MA to Marblehead
at 6 pm and returning by 12. Eventually both Bob Pierson and Ray Fittz left to go
to Towle Silversmiths as ME's.
All through my days Gene Williams was Millen Sales Manager. And of course, as in
so many companys the real force behind the company was "Miss" Bearse.
CRT shields was a very profitable business at the time, as a considerable amount
of work on radar development was going on. These were made of a high permeability
alloy called Mumetal. If the design required spinning (a shaping process) to achieve
a certain shape or size this was done by a couple of companies in the Malden, Everett,
MA area. They were then painted, labelled, etc. The metal also required annealing
after any drilling, punching, etc. This also represented a good source of business
for several Greater Boston heat treating firms. The sizes we made kept growing as
available CRT sizes increased. Mu metal was tough to work with as it was a pretty
hard metal that came in about 4X12 foot sheets and was pretty thin. It could and
did inflict some pretty rough cuts on workers. According to other article on the
JMS website it sounds as though the business was bought by one of the original spinning
The Paint department was run by Frank Weaver. He was able to spray paint almost
anything to some pretty tight specs, including a few government jobs of my own.
A lot of the delay line assemblies were hermetically canned and thus were painted,
all CRT shields were painted as well as the classic black wrinkle that you have
all seen as the classic Millen finish.
The Sheet Metal department was run by I believe Bob Carlson. They made all chassis,
housings, CRT shields, cases for delay line cans, etc. A well run group with capable
Dick Evans was responsible for the Machine Shop, at least part of my time of employment.
Can't think of any of the others. There was one, to me at the time, elderly gentleman
whose name escapes me who was the super machinist, whose job was to make the molds
for injection molding. The Injection Molding department was run, I think, by Frank
Weaver when he wasn't spraypainting. These were jobs that weren't full time. All
those polystyrene coil forms that were turned out by the thousands for GDO coils
were made on a pretty good sized injection mold press. Another interesting note
on the subject of plastics, the poly strips that many tank coils were mounted on
were cut by bandsaw from large sheets. In order to get rid of the saw marks on the
edges after manufacture we dipped the whole coils in vapor degreasers with TCE which
took out the marks and gave them a polished edge.
Jim Millen was in the plant most days. He was a very quiet man and seemed a little
aloof to us peasants. He very commonly closed his door after lunch and took a nap
on the leather couch in his office carefully guarded by "Miss" Bearse.
There weren't many who called him "Jim". In later years, I often wondered
whether he wasn't actually a shy man. He would often make his way around the departments
observing but saying nothing. You would hear later from Phil Eyrick about his observations.
I would disagree, at least during my stay, about no smoking. There were breaks where
you could go outside in the shipping area or out on a deck outside the machine
shop on the roof for a "butt". Also, there were always a few who would
grab a smoke in the mens room where the window was always wide open. Once in a while
Phil Eyrick would come in, and out the window would go all the butts. Speaking of
"out the window", the back of the factory overhung the Malden Brook. All
the plants back windows were over the brook. When there were too many rejects they
were known to have landed in the brook. Thank God for no EPA in those days.
Enough for now.