In June of 1943 I was at a very low ebb. My
first employment after graduation from the University of Pennsylvania in
early 1943 had turned into a disaster. I just did not know how to get
started on any of the assignments given to me at the Hazeltine
Corporation, my first professional employer. In June of that fateful year,
I was fired. This dismissal was the only one of its kind in my entire
life. Later, when I was in the Navy Eddy program, which was a training
course for electronic technicians, I was exposed to circuits of many
kinds, and something within me clicked. I learned what I had not known at
Hazeltine, and I became a successful designer of electrical circuits. But
that competence came about later in my life, after the war.
I was drafted into the Navy in June 1944,
and, after ten weeks of boot camp, I was assigned to a school at Navy Pier
in Chicago training electronics technicians. This was called the Eddy
Program to develop technicians to work on the new radar systems which were
being installed on Navy ships and which were giving the U.S. Navy a great
advantage over the enemy Japanese vessels. There was a dearth of
technicians to keep these radar systems operating and the program to train
a large number of them was crucial for the Navy. I spent almost two years
on active duty and was separated on May 17, 1946.
Although I was already a graduate
electrical engineer, I still had much to learn about servicing the new
equipment. In the course of time, I became an extremely successful
trouble-shooter. I don't think I ever failed to find the defect implanted
by the instructor for test purposes. My recollection is that I always
found the fault, so I am still somewhat mystified that I was promoted in
grade only once, at graduation Maybe I was not as good as I thought I was.
But let us return to June of 1943. With the
most horrific war of history raging in Europe, Africa, and the South
Pacific, it was an extremely perilous time to be out of work and not
employed in a crucial defense job, as I had been at Hazeltine. That is why
I quickly consulted the employment section of the Sunday newspaper and
learned that the Lansdale Tube Company wanted engineers. A telephone
number was provided, and I was invited to visit the plant. I promptly took
the old Reading Line from their North Broad Street station. You might say
that I was snapped up, because I was put to work immediately. Not all of
the cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) manufactured by the company met government
standards and those which failed were labeled "shrinkage." It was my
assignment to ascertain the causes of shrinkage and to reduce it. My
recollection is that I had some success and became a fixture on the
engineering staff. But that is a separate story which I will not dwell on
The reason why I brought up that experience
is that it was at the Lansdale Tube Company that I met Herb Sussholz, with
whom I became extremely friendly. What he saw in me I really don't know,
because I was extremely backward and underdeveloped socially. In fact, I
was a Republican then (which today I regard as an indication of
underdevelopment), thanks to the influence of Joe Emley and my
impressionability. Emley was a fine elderly gentlemen who was a frequent
companion of my widowed mother in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He
passed away during the war years. I don't know what there was about me to
like at that remote time, but Herb did, and in time threw a party for me
when I was classified 1-A by the draft board in the spring of 1944. That
was the only party anyone ever gave me in my entire life.
Now let us shift ahead to 1946 after I was
out of the Navy. I had been lolling about, blissfully unemployed, when I
suddenly received a call in August from, of all people, Herb Sussholz. He
wanted me to come right then to see him in New Rochelle, New York, if I
wasn't working, as he had an interesting proposition for me. When I
arrived in the reception room of Herb's New Rochelle headquarters, the
first thing to strike my eyes was what appeared to he about a half dozen
television sets. Although I had heard of television demonstrations, at the
1939 New York World's Fair, for example, I had never seen a television
receiver before. I was very familiar with cathode-ray oscilloscopes for
technical purposes, of course, but here there were pictures on the CRTs
which were moving, not static, so I realized that these were actual
television sets. Even though these sets were very crude, not being mounted
in a fine cabinet or console, they still had the distinction of being the
only television sets which I knew of to exist at a time when there were no
RCA, Philco, or DuMont sets as yet on the market. Of course, the pictures
were only black and white in those days.
I noted that the vertical panel was a light
tan in color, composed of a composition material about 3/8ths of an inch
in thickness, about twenty inches high and about twenty-live inches wide.
The CRT was mounted in the middle near the top and was only seven inches
across the diagonal. Across the bottom of the panel were three controls,
an on-off volume control, a station selector, and a picture intensity
control. The panel was attached at the bottom to a heavy, metal chassis.
Behind the panel on top of the chassis numerous tubes and other electronic
components were visible. I also noted for the first time that the
television sets had the name "Transvision" on them.
When I was led into Herb's office, I found
him just as congenial and personable as he had been at the Lansdale Tube
Company. First, he greeted me effusively as a long-lost friend. He asked
me about my experiences in the Navy and my negative response caused him to
move on quickly. He told me about coming upon Sam Carlisle at a party and
learned that he was designing and building a television set at home as a
hobby. When he later saw the pictures produced by the set, he became
excited about it, despite its flaws and imperfections. What if he
collected all of the parts and components into a box and told everyone
that here was a chance to be among the very first to own a television
receiver at a very low price by assembling it themselves? Of course, he
would have to provide a readily understandable set of instructions that
anyone with the ability to use a pair of pliers, a wire cutter, a
screwdriver, and a soldering iron could follow. Without such instructions,
the idea would simply not work. I began to sense that Herb was calling on
me to create the requisite instructions. But Herb did not ask me right
away. He discoursed on the history of his Transvision Company.
First of all, he disclosed that his wife
was the sister of Abe Burroughs, who became a big name in show business.
He was the collaborator with Frank Loesser in writing the musical "Guys
and Dolls," one of the great shows in the history of Broadway. Burroughs
was also the creator and writer of "Duffy's Tavern," which had a very long
run on radio. His major success came later, after my experience at
Transvision I think that it was through Burroughs that Herb met Emmanuel
Cohen, a Wall-Street type who financed the Transvision Company.
At that point, he could offer Carlisle a
full-time job to work on the perfection of his television receiver. He
also could order numerous chassis cut to the appropriate specifications
and a supply of parts. There were several other employees at the time of
my visit, including a secretary-receptionist, a technician and an engineer
whose function was unclear to me. He also provided a sales outlet for his
product when he would have a product to sell.
Another person to be counted among
Transvision personnel was Jerry Cohen, the profligate brother of the
financier, Manny Cohen. In the account books of the company, he was
another employee, but because he was the brother of the financier, I
hesitate to lump him with the other employees. How relieved Manny Cohen
must have been to be given a place to put his problem brother, who was
made the Treasurer of the new company. Jerry Cohen has no significance to
my story except that he took me for a tour of Providence night spots and
giving me the most enjoyable evening of my entire life. What I
particularly remember is that I became "sozzled" for the first and only
time of my life.
Herb described what his contact at Gimbel's Deptartment Store
exclaimed when he saw the Transvision receiver in operation for the first
time: "Now this is remarkable." He must have been puzzled when told that
Transvision had no intention of selling assembled receivers, but that the
purchaser would have to assemble the set himself. He assumed that the
public was so hungry for television that they would be happy to assemble
the receivers themselves. The Gimbels manager was persuaded to wait for
the instructions. Then Herb, in relating this story, paused and then said
to me, "And this, my friend, is where you come in." In response, I
practically yelled "What!" I was then shown a large box with a lot of
nameless parts and I immediately thought, this situation is hopeless --
what I see here is a chaos of disassembled parts. I repressed all of these
thoughts, but I did point out that I had never in my life written assembly
instructions before and I did not think I could. But Herb was not
perturbed. He told me that he knew very well that I could write them. So
that I could not refuse, be took me by the arm and took me to a typewriter
on a desk and a workbench on which there was a huge box of electronic
parts, tools, and an operating television set. He told me to spend the
rest of the day thinking the matter over and if, by the morning, I decided
to go ahead with it, he would make it all worthwhile to me financially. As
for sleeping quarters, a nice room had already been arranged. In the end,
I consented, but I actually had little choice, and the thoroughness of the
preparations definitely intrigued me.
While the typewriter stood inert on the
desk, I stared into the box for a short while. I soon decided that I could
assemble the set with the aid of the circuit diagram. Having done that, I
could decide how to write the assembly instructions. I did not proceed
very far from starting construction of the set when I realized that I
could write the instructions concurrently with assembling the parts
physically. To my surprise, I quickly discovered that this procedure was
the correct one. My second surprise was that the task turned out to be
very easy. And so I did it, although it was quite tedious. Mechanically I
was slow, and my typing was slow as well. I should have been able to do
the job in - never mind how long it should have taken - I actually
completed the instructions in less than a month. During the time I was
working, what Herb observed when he peered into the room, he saw me there
working very steadily. He must have been both pleased and reassured.
But hold on a moment. How could I know that
these instructions were really valid and unflawed? Now, it is true that I
never bad to backtrack, that is, I never had to take parts apart because
they were in the way of other parts I needed to introduce. I had organized
the sequence of assembly well. But if I connected the antenna and switched
on the power, would I see a picture or would I see smoke? I switched on
the power and saw a picture on the CRT. No smoke or sparks. Oh, these
instructions were valid, all right! The mission I had been given at
Transvision had been successfully completed.
I began to recall what Herb had said during
our first conversation after I had arrived in New Rochelle. "The success
of the company rests on three cornerstones," he had said, "First, there
was the television set itself that Sam Carlisle had designed. Then there
was the financing and the sales outlets that Herb had provided. Finally,
there were the instructions for assembling the receiver. Without such
instructions, there would be no product to sell, and without a product to
sell, there would be no company." Well, all right, I thought to myself,
here is the missing cornerstone, the assembly instructions. Here they are,
filed away very carefully. Still I did not proceed right away to Herb's
office with the instruction manual. I began to think about how much I
enjoyed the job, how much I liked New Rochelle, and how much I wanted to
remain at Transvision. Would that be possible? Did Herb have anything else
he wanted me to do? Was there another cornerstone somewhere?
Wait, it was time to deliver the
instructions to Herb and find out. He was overjoyed when I handed the
pages of the manual to him. There was a bubble of anxiety in him, but it
came out with such an exclamation of relief that he exhaled forcefully.
All of that I observed very carefully. Then he became skeptical. "how do
you know if these instructions will work and can be used by a typical
purchaser?" he questioned, eyes narrowed. "How much help did you need to
get your set working?" When told that my receiver came right on and I
needed no help, his expression did not change. He said that he would have
to verify the instructions by having Louis, the technician, and Everett
Shinn, the engineer, use the instructions-to assemble two more sets.
Suppose I found something to do in the meantime. They didn't finish until
the following morning. They both pronounced the instructions a success.
They had no trouble in following them, and both sets worked right away.
"What about the language?" Herb asked, "Was
it too 'hifalutin' anywhere?" "No, the language was very straightforward,"
Everett Shinn replied, "In one place, he said, 'Unwind the nut
resolutely.' And that was just the right word to keep the assembler from
thinking that the nut was actually stuck. These are excellent
A load of anxiety must have been lifted
from Herb's shoulders. He called me into his office and introduced me to
Everett Shinn. Louis, whom I already knew, shook my hand in
congratulations. Herb and Everett did the same. Everybody was very happy.
Herb broke out a bottle of Scotch and everyone had a drink. Everybody,
that is, except me, I didn't know how to unbend. But this shortcoming
didn't dampen the atmosphere, which was one of joy and triumph.
Herb asked me to stay for a moment after
the other two had left. He called in a huge, pudgy man, whom he introduced
as Joe Green. Herb explained that Green was a history teacher in the New
York City school system. Herb went on to say that Green was going to write
a series of exercises for the students based on the television receiver.
This left me puzzled and disturbed. I didn't see how anything Green wrote
could have pedagogical value to the students, but, even more important
than that, how two writers could serve the company at the same time.
However, I was too happy at the moment to let this question burden my
"Oh, Mark," Herb said, before I left the
room, "Ev is driving to Philadelphia this weekend. Why don't you drive
with him and take the television set you assembled?" Shinn and I did drive
to Philadelphia that weekend, and what I remember is that we took turns
telling smutty stories during the entire drive. Furthermore, neither of us
faltered for an instant when it was his turn.
The first boxes with assembly instructions
went out to Gimbels on Monday morning. By Tuesday afternoon, Transvision
received its first check. By Wednesday, a party for the company and its
employees had been set at some nearby hotel. I cannot state the name of
the hotel, because no one told me about the party. I did not learn about
it until the following morning, Thursday. Someone asked me why I hadn't
been there. I was the only employee who had not been invited and who did
not attend. I felt that a heavy blow had smashed my senses. I was stunned.
The only thing that was clear to me was that I wasn't at the party because
Herb did not want me there. Well, something else was clear to me as well.
Writing the instructions was the only job Herb had for me. After that,
nothing else would be forthcoming. I walked into his office and closed the
door. The expression on his face was extremely tense.
"Herb," I said, "I've come to resign my
position." His countenance was extremely dark, but he said nothing. "And I
want to leave immediately." Finally, he said something. "I have no doubt,"
he said, "that you will be extremely successful at whatever you do next."
"Goodbye, Herb," I said, and walked out of his office. I don't know if
anyone spoke to me as I walked to the front door. If anyone did, I did not
respond. After all, they were all part of the conspiracy. I do know that
no one walked over to escort me or to offer me a ride. I walked to my
room, picked up my valise, paid my bill, and walked to the train station.
The valise was heavy, but I managed. Soon I was on a train headed to New
York where I would get another train back to Philadelphia.
was said about the few dollars the company owed me. Whether I ever
received them, I don't know. Nor do I know whatever happened to the
By the time I was on the train traveling to
New York, my shock over having been excluded from the festivities of the
previous night had subsided. I quickly understood that the reason for my
exclusion was to goad me into doing what I had just done. That is, to
resign, so that Herb would not have to fire me. So I had played into his
hands like a fool, hadn't I? Well, I didn't feel like a fool then, and I
don't now. The best thing I could do would be for me to put the
Transvision chapter of my life behind me quickly and quietly.
Herb's perfidy went much deeper, of course,
than banishing me from a victory celebration that I had helped to make
possible. What I have only recently come to realize is that the entire
incident was a hoax. When Herb originally called me from New Rochelle to
urge me to call on him, he let me think that he was offering me a job, long-term employment but the only job he had was the writing of the
assembly instructions, and after that nothing else. After completing that
job, I was going to be fired, one way or another.. Would I have traveled
all that distance in 1945 for just one job? I doubt it, and Herb doubted
it, too. That was why he let me believe thathe was offering long-term
employment, a real job. He did what he did because he was desperate for
assembly instructions. I was the only one he knew who could give them to
What Herb should have been doing was to
work on new products. At the very least, they should have been working on
CRTs with magnetic deflection, instead of the electrostatic deflection
that was then being used. Furthermore, although a seven-inch CRT was
acceptable at that time in an infant industry, it would not suffice very
long. I saw no sign of any work being done with magnetic deflection.
Carlisle was just puttering with improving the basic seven-inch receiver
which he had designed.
But who cares!
Note: Mark died on September 10, 2004.