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
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.The National Radio Days
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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.