Designed for Application
The Story of James Millen, W1HRX
By David F. Plant, K9LAJ/2

This paper originally appeared in CQ Magazine, July 1967. Permission to present it here has been granted by CQ Communications, Inc., and they retain all rights to its distribution and reproduction. Only not-for-profit personal use is authorized for any hardcopy printouts of this page. I want to thank Ms. Gail Schieber, CQ Managing Editor, for her support of the Millen Page project.

There is a story behind those unchanging Millen ads that appear year after year in CQ. It is the story of a man who pioneered in the state of the art many of the things that we now take for granted, for r.f.chokes, coil forms, variable capacitors, and the famous Millen dials all owe at least part of their existence to his influence. James Millen fathered the concept of superior mechanical, as well as electrical design that has become a standard in the electronics industry.

Early Days

Radio has a lure all its own and it can strike at any time or stage in a man's life. It hit Jim Millen while he was attending high school in Forest Hills, Long Island. The fascination of communication by wireless... By 1916 Jim has a station on the air.

In those days ham radio was a bit different. You took a spark coil from a Ford motorcar and souped it up by adding larger contacts so it could handle the 110 volt d.c. house current instead of the 6 volts for which the coil was designed. This coil then excited a helix coil affair which was tuned by a large home made capacitor. The Q was very low and the resultant signal was quite broad, being somewhere around the upper part of the present broadcast band. This spark signal was received with either a galena or electrolytic type of detector and a set of headphones, and sounded like a raspy buzzy note that wasn't the most pleasant sort of thing. Those who wanted to improve the sound of the transmitted signal used a rotary spark-gap , imparting a high audio frequency whine which acted to modulate the transmitted signal. This was the state of the art before the First World War.

After the war to end all wars was over, and the world went back to what it was doing before, amateur radio operators went back to experimenting with several new pieces of apparatus developed for the war effort. The most noted was the tube called the J-type manufactured by the Western Electric Company and it found widespread use in both transmitting and receiving modes. It replaced the spark transmitter when used as a keyed triode oscillator, and as a gridleak detector proved superior to the crystal set. Jim was among those experimenting and learning on the ham bands around 200 meters.

Herbert Hoover Sr., 6DH personally signed all licenses issued by the Department of Commerce and Jim Millen was given the call 2BYP in 1921.

Upon graduation from high school Jim studied mechanical engineering (there being no formal course of study in electronics at the time) at Stevens Institute. During the 4 year course of study, 1922-1926, Jim Millen started making receivers as his first commercial enterprise and the October 1922 issue of Radio News Magazine carried the original Millen Advertisement.

Other magazines also started carrying the Millen name, first with pen and ink drawings of radio diagrams, then a question and answer column, and finally Jim ended up writing a monthly technical article. Starting as a means to help pay tuition, writing was to become a very important part of a fascinating career.

The 4 years spent at Stevens earning the M.E. degree were interesting ones as many of the pioneers of the electronics field either taught, or were classmates of Jim's. Dr. Alan Hazeltine, the designer of the Nuetrodyne circuit; Paul Ware, founder of Ware Radio; and Larry Horle, of Federal Radio were on the staff and Ted Smith, later of RCA, was a fellow student.

Upon graduation from Stevens, Jim worked on the editorial staff of Radio Broadcast Magazine, published by the Doubleday-Page Company. Contributions were also made to the other radio magazines.

James Millen then decided to put his experience to use in consulting work and a company was formed. Working closely with companies that were to become famous in the electronics field, clients included the American Appliance Company (called Raytheon a year later), the Ceco Tube Company of Providence, R.I. and the National Toy Company. RKO Studios also became a customer when they came to New York to make their first two "Talking Pictures."

During this period of time Arthur Lynch took over the management of radio WRNY and Radio News Magazine. He also had started a resistor manufacturing company developing among other things a solid-state diode long before current solid-state technology. Millen worked with him while attending Stevens, and continued while doing consulting.

One of Jim's clients, the National Toy Company, was attempting to break into the "new" radio industry and made a deal with him to put them in the field. In 1928 Jim took over operation of National and entered a very fascinating part of his career.

The National Radio Days

The First step was to have National enter the amateur receiver market. Combining his mechanical engineering background with electronic experience gained through operating and experimenting, Jim produced the first of a long list of good receivers. The model was called the SW-5 and it met with immediate success, as it enabled the shortwave listener or ham to have a good factory wired receiver at a resonable cost.

The SW-5 was originally a battery powered unit and required husky batteries for the filament supply, so research was done to see if it would be feasible to run a shortwave radio from the power lines. The problems encountered seemed insurmountable at first; for a.c. on the filaments of the tubes caused a hum in the loadspeaker, and instability at the higher frequencies. Better tubes and a lot of research time in the laboratory overcame the hum problems finally and the shortwave listener could eliminate the bulky storage battery. Trying to rectify the power line voltage to provide d.c. voltage for the plate supply was the next step, and problems were met here also because the c.w. signal from the receiver had an annoying ripple until power supply filtering techniques were perfected.

Jim and his group seemed to thrive on challenges. After a model was built they looked for ways to make it better, less expensive, or more universal. After the SW-5 came the SW-3. It was more compact, lighter (suggested use in aircraft) and required less current from batteries. The SW-4 and FB-7 evolved next, then the classic National HRO was developed followed by the NC-100, NC-200, etc. Men that helped in the design of these receivers included Dave Grimes, R.S. Kruse, and Zeh Bouck.

Going north along Route One from Boston brings one to Malden, Massachusetts, the home of the National Radio Company. The Millen home, located nearby, proved a natural for testing new designs, antennas, or frequencies. The location also had other advantages. This writer found it peaceful and beautifully scenic - just the place to experiment and operate, or write.

QST at that time was being run by Ross Hull, and he and K.B. Warner, the League's manager, were close friends to Jim Millen. The close cooperation of these men made possible the sharing of new developments with the amateur fraternity almost on a monthly basis, as much of the experimenting and editorial work for QST was done at the Millen shack.

The Radio Amateur's Handbook as we know it today also came about through the Millen-QST relationship. In the early 30's it was a pamphlet-sized affair until Jim underwrote the cost of a larger and more complete book. National Radio, under Millen, became the first advertiser.

This period of time also brought about some historical v.h.f. work. Under the leadership of Ross Hull, Jim Millen participated as the Boston station of a triangular setup with each leg consisting of a 100 mile path. Recorders were set up to measure the reliability of the nightly transmissions on the 5-meter band. The favorable results of the experiment paved the way for the later allocated 2 and 6 meter bands. Ross Hull was killed in an accident before he was able to compile all the data, but he did give several talks before scientific societies in Washington. The equipment used consisted of push-pull 800's running over a hundred watts and feeding a large 8-element array at each station. The receivers used were of National manufacture and were superregenerative.

Other "Firsts" during Jim's stay at National included the backing of Jim Lamb on his single signal crystal filter work, the use of Red Cross TB stamps affixed to a National ad in QST as a charity gesture, and the initiation of the monthly series of "Personal Message" type of advertisments starting with the March 1934 issue of QST. This form of advertising is still being carried on by others.

Perhaps one of the most important contributions to the state of the art occurred in 1934 when the present design of the r.f. choke was developed. Prior to that time chokes were wound on high value resistors or wooden sticks, much the same way we do now if an experimental choke is needed. Many chokes were made and tested to determine hot spots and frequency range, and finally a predictable and mechanical sound choke came about, Jim was issued a patent on October 2, 1934, and the 2.5mhy choke quickly became a standard throughout the industry.

James Millen also continued his writing and many of the designs of the National Company were shared with hams through magazine articles and a number of books including Radio Design Practice, and an excellent v.h.f. text, called Below Ten Meters. Numerous pamphlets were also printed so that amateurs could duplicate National's designs.

The newly developed air transportation services discovered that ham radio equipment worked well for ground to air communication and in the late 20's and early 30's became a large, but little known customer of the National Company. National was doing well.

In 1939 the National Radio Company went "Public". During the same year James Millen made a friendly withdrawal from the company, and along with several associates started the James Millen Manufacturing Company. An announcement of the newly formed company was run in the May, 1939 QST.

Jim had started the policy early in his career of working with the very best talent possible and made no exception when the manufacturing company was started. John Di Blasi, 2FX, and Charlie Cooper, both well known men in their fields, were among those that Jim brought with him.

John, 2FX, is perhaps best known to readers of CQ as the founder and president of the Quarter Century Wireless Association. He is also the New York representative of Millen Manufacturing.

The late Charlie Cooper had also an interesting life. He was an early associate of DeForest, and later founded the Ship Owner's Radio Service. The latter provided wireless for boats and eventually became part of RCA. Charlie was also a poet and often delighted the company with verse.

The summer of '39 was an active one as many items of manufacture were reviewed by Millen and his associates to see what improvements could be made. Tools were designed and made, and a factory was leased in the fall. A catalog was then released and James Millen was in business.

The importance of good mechanical design in the manufacture of electronic components was always stressed during Jim's career. At National Radio, a good example of this approach could be found in the HRO receiver. Here, the main emphasis was placed on the tuning capacitor and dial combination. The time was well spent as the receiver met with great success. The practice of good mechanical and electrical design was carried over to the Millen Company and the company slogan "Designed For Application" became well earned.

Although the Millen factory originally started making components, they soon began the manufacture of electronic equipment. Oscilloscopes were built for RCA, and the first commercial two-way f.m. radio equipment was designed and built for G.E.

Looking for ways of combining electronic with mechnical design has brought James Millen to many places throughout the world. Trips to Europe enabled the American manufacture of items such as coil forms, tube sockets, sheets and tubing made with polystyrene and other low loss injection moldable plastics shortly after their European discovery.

Another important type of component developed at Millen was the magnetic metal shield. Using commercially available ingots of Mu Metal made in Trenton, New Jersey by the Henry Porter laboratory, the Millen people pioneered in the manufacture of custom and stock magnetic shielding for cathode ray tubes, photo multipliers, and klystrons.

During the Second World War the Millen Company worked with G.E. to produce the "continuous" type of delay cable and the neccessary machinery for its production. Twenty years later finds the Millen Company still the exclusive manufacturer of this component group.

One of the best known items in current manufacture is the Millen Grid Dip Meter. This precision device combines the excellent mechnical design of the Millen Works with the electronic experience of CQ's own Bill Sherer, W2AEF, and is found in many labs and shops.

Although many items at the Millen factory are components and assembled units for private industry, laboratory work, and government; the major emphasis is still designed in the communications field.

Among the may parts found in the current catalog are a complete line of variable capacitors for both transmitting and receiving, coils of many shapes and values, sockets and terminals, oscilloscopes and their accessories, and many types of special hardware. Of special interest to the radio amateur is the transmitting equipment, antenna matching devices, and the famous dipper. The Millen dials and couplings have also found popularity among hams.

A recent development from the Millen Works is their "No-String" dial and it has already found wide acceptance in the amateur ranks for v.f.o.'s and other tuning applications.

The Millen plant is completely self contained so they can perform all stages of manufacture including the making of tools and dies. This approach allows the company to immediately change or design an item without having to go through the usual time-consuming channels. Better quality control is also assured.

With the company well established Jim now has the time to follow other interests. These include the Vice Chairmanship of a large suburban Boston bank, and boating. Also maintained is a complete electronics library including publications pertaining to radio from the very beginning. Early catalogs, complete collections of Radio, QST,and CQ are kept as well as many books and magazines now out of print. Also in the library is a complete ham station that Jim uses to keep weekly skeds on 75 s.s.b.

Spaning over 50 years in the radio business, the life of James Millen surely ranks as one of the most productive we're likely to see. "Designed for Application" will continue to be a way of life to this vigorous, brilliant and imaginative pioneer of the electronics industry.


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