Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame


Dr. Robert Morris Page - 1979 Inductee

(1903 - 1992) Born in St. Paul and educated at Hamline, Dr. Page achieved outstanding success in federal service before coming home to spend his retirement years. In 1927, he went to work as a junior physicist at the United States Naval Research Laboratory - an institution of civilian scientists - where he spent his entire scientific career, advancing to Director of Research of this immense government complex. Forty years later he retired back in Minnesota, with more than 75 patents in the field of radar. His many patents on radar far exceed those of any other inventor (or even groups of inventors). Eventual Allied supremacy on the seas during World War II was made possible by the use of radar devices such as those developed by Dr. Page. Page was considered our Nation’s foremost authority on radar - now considered to be the second greatest invention of World War II.

Radar (radio direction and ranging) is an electronic device that can "see" great distances despite fog, rain, clouds and darkness. It can accurately locate missiles, aircraft, ships, cities, rainstorms, and even mountains. Radar was developed only after many years of research in physics and radio.

Page was known as the idea man behind radar" since the late 1930's, when he built a transmitter that could send a quick series of radio signals and a receiver that could detect the signals as they bounced back from an object. He is the author of "The Origin of Radar" published by Doubleday, and many other treatises and technical papers. According to an article entitled "The Road to Radar" published in the Invention and Technology Magazine, Spring 1987, Volume 2, Issue 3, "No one did more than Page to bring forth working radar from the mass of theoretical possibilities."

Among Dr. Page’s many inventions were the pulse radar system, which detected targets by sending out high-frequency pulses of electro-magnetic radiation rather than continuous waves; the PPI or plan position indicator, a cathode ray tube with a beam making a circular sweep (the well-known round screen with the streak of light that rotates around the center, painting blips of light for target and terrain), that was the first radar technology to indicate direction and range of a "target" simultaneously; Radar I.F.F. (Identification - Friend or Foe); and the first long range "over-the-horizon" radar (over 3,000 miles).

As a physicist employed at the Naval Research Laboratory in the years prior to World War II, he conceived and developed circuitry and components for early pulse radar systems. In 1934, Page succeeded in building a transmitter and receiver that demonstrated for the first time that aircraft could be detected by radio pulses. This early system could warn of planes dozens of miles away but was unable to give precise locations. Worst of all, the transmitter and receiver had to be so far part that there was no hope of fitting the contraption on a ship. Page build the "duplexer" which allowed both transmitter and receiver to use the same antenna.

The working prototype of the duplexer took Dr. Page and his assistant several days to build. When it was installed and tested, it worked the first time. It took 20 years for other physicists and mathematicians to come up with the correct explanation for why his device worked as it did.

By 1936, pulse radar with a range of 25 miles had been developed, and by 1938, a pulse radio had tracked an aircraft 100 miles. The first sea trial of on board radar was held aboard the U.S.S. Leary in 1937. The very first test spotted an airplane 45 miles away, over the horizon. This kind of radar was installed on 20 warships before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. According to an article written by John R. Page (the son of Dr. Page), 19 such sets were aboard ships in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked. Not one was turned on.

An Army radar unit in the Hawaiian Islands detected the Japanese air fleet approaching Pearl Harbor. George Elliot saw the echoes 15 minutes before the attack and reported them, but was ignored. Higher command thought the echoes were from American bombers flying to Hawaii from the West Coast.

In Britain, Sir Robert Watson-Watt had independently started work on a radar project in March 1935. Some dispute persists over who was first. Nonetheless, the Americans, including Page, and British pooled their work and made radar into the target-finding, gun-pointing system it was in World War II. Radar allowed the Allies to accomplish "through the clouds bombing," missile guidance, and sinking of enemy ships in total darkness - beyond the horizon. Post-war publicity about radar was overshadowed by the growing importance of the atomic bomb. Radar scientists liked to say that although the atomic bomb ended the war, radar won it. Of such importance was this that eventual Allied supremacy on the seas during World War II was made possible by use of radar. After the British invented (some say improved) the magnetron (used to this day in microwave ovens), it was combined with the duplexer, allowing high power and high frequency equipment to be installed on board British fighter-bombers. This was just in time to break the back of the German wolf packs in the Atlantic. In May of 1943 Allied aviation sank over 40 German submarines (often called U-boats)

Dr. Page also pioneered the development of fire control radar, which was responsible for winning several stunning nighttime naval battles against the Japanese in the Pacific. By early 1941, development was well underway on a 3,000 megahertz radar to control antiaircraft guns. The first test model was so impressive that Army orders for it exceeded in value the cost of the entire Boulder Dam project. A trailer mounted unit, the SCR-584, proved amazing effective - against dive bombers at Anzio Beach, when the Germans were jamming older radars into uselessness; at the Remagen Bridgehead, where it tracked not only airplanes but also commandos swimming down river; and in the defense of England during the V-I campaign, in which 85 percent of the buzz bombs were shot down with cannons controlled by 584 sets.

Of all the varieties of radar developed during WWII, a huge set called the Microwave Early Warning, or MEW, was perhaps the most sophisticated. MEW used an unconventional "leaky pipe" waveguide - a sort of electronic sprinkler hose - to deliver a million watts of power along the trough of a cylindrical parabolic antenna eight feet high by fifteen feet long. The set was so powerful that the designers had to keep adding displays so more operators could monitor the many thousands of airplanes it was watching. The first MEW went into action on the southern coast of England. During D-Day it caught a complete view of the air and sea battle, allowing tactical air controllers to truly see what they were doing.

Dr. Page’s inventions have present day applications in navigation, weather forecasting, astronomy, automation, and related technical fields. Civilian uses in air traffic control can now locate all planes in the sky, and provides for accurate "blind landings" during inclement weather with ground controlled approach, altimeters, obstruction indicators, and storm warning detectors. Moving ships now have complete safety in total darkness, fog, amongst rocks, reefs, icebergs, and other vessels. Now possible with high accuracy are outer space measurements, such as the distance to the moon, mapping the surface of the planet Venus through her clouds, apprehending speed violators by the Highway Patrol, and countless other uses.

Dr. Page’s name in included in the World Book Encyclopedia under the title Radar. For his accomplishments, he received citations from four U.S. presidents, including Harry S. Truman, who in 1960, awarded him the Certificate of Merit for aid of the war effort, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who in 1960, presented him the Presidential Award for Distinguished Civilian Service. In 1986, President Ronald Regan wrote to Dr. Page, remarking that 50 years after his initial radar work "our nation’s scientists continue to rely on your research."

NOTE: These biographies have been compiled from information accompanying the nomination form submitted to the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame, information available on the Internet and from a variety of other sources.