AVS Historical Persons | Ben Dayton - 1991

Ben Dayton - 1991

Oral History Interview with Ben Dayton

Interviewed by Jim Lafferty, May 6, 1991

LAFFERTY: This is Monday, May 6, 1991. We're in East Flat Rock, North Carolina at the home of Benjamin Dayton. We're in his study. Ben has had a long and distinguished career in vacuum science and technology, and it's our privilege here today to talk with Ben about his various experiences. 

Ben, I understand that you're a Founding Member of the American Vacuum Society and a past President, and also an Honorary (Life) Member of the AVS. Ben, could you tell us something about the early days of the AVS?

dayton.JPGDAYTON: As you know, the formation of the American Vacuum Society has been very well summarized in at least two articles that I have in my files here. One of them, which gives an interesting story by Joseph Merrill who was the first President of the Committee on Vacuum Techniques—the predecessor of the AVS—tells how he talked to Fred McNally, who was really the originator of the idea of forming a society of vacuum engineers. The other article, which is a very extensive summary, is that by Bill Schleuning, who also wrote a book, of Brooklyn Technical Institute. It's entitled "The First 20 Years of the American Vacuum Society." That was published in the September-October 1973 issue of the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology. He had the notes of the famous meeting in New York at the Commodore Hotel, which I attended. He lists here the names of the 56 people that attended, and I was one of those people. There are several others here who later became Presidents of the American Vacuum Society, like Dar Welch, Lew Hull, Don Santeler, and Bill Schleuning, Will Matheson, John Gale, and Rudy Koehler of GE. This was really the beginning of the American Vacuum Society, and we must give credit to the young man, Fred McNally, who is mentioned in Schluening's article. 

Well, at that meeting, they elected the officers for the first year. In the discussions, it was decided they would need several committees, such as a Standards Committee, which was a recommendation of Walt Oversacker of National Research Corporation. It turned out that I got elected to be Chairman of the Standards Committee. I can explain, perhaps, why they chose me a little later. But they asked me to prepare a paper on standards for the first Vacuum Symposium, which was to be held at Asbury Park the next year in 1954. 

LAFFERTY: What were some of the accomplishments, Ben, of the committee?

DAYTON: The Standards Committee, which began, really, with a study of the glossary, that is the terms that are used in vacuum technology, was my decision to do that. The reason for this had been that I had written an article for the Cambridge Vacuum Symposium, which was published in this magazine, Industrial Engineering and Chemistry in May of 1948. The article actually had to do with standards for measuring pumping speed and pump performance. But in it, I had mentioned the solid-state nomenclature in vacuum technology. I think that's one of the reasons that my name was suggested at the organization meeting that I be Chairman of the Standards Committee, because this article had come out. 

To give you some background, the reason that I dealt with this subject was that during the year, I had been called out to the radiation laboratory of the University of California in Berkeley. There they were testing some large metal diffusion pumps designed by my company, Distillation Products, against some others designed by C.E. Norman, who was well known at that time, and manufactured by the Westinghouse Corporation. In comparing these pumps, instead of measuring them properly, I found that they had put a blank-off plate over the top and were just beaming the gas down into the pump and getting fantastic speeds. 

Earlier in my career, I had been assigned, when I first joined Distillation Products in 1940, the task of obtaining the speed curve and the catalog data on the pumps that had been developed by Dr. Kenneth Hickman and his associates. At the DPI Labs, one of Hickman's associates, Norris Embry, who developed a special high-speed nozzle assembly for vertical pumps, which later became the prototype for most diffusion pumps, found that the speed that you measured depended a great deal on the way gas was admitted above the pump into a kind of, let's say, test dome. I realized that these people out in the University of California should be using a dome, and I recommended it. From then on, they began to use a test dome something like we know today. 

But the first paper given at the Asbury Park Symposium was not on that matter of standard test domes. But because it was such a confusing subject, I decided to have my committee work on a glossary of terms. I have a copy of it here. This was the final version. It was published in 1958 by Pergamon Press. But at the Asbury Park Symposium, we had a third draft, which I gave as a paper. That elicited a great interest. It took us a great deal of work by many experts to come out with a final glossary here, which I was told had been well accepted. At that time, although it wasn't officially a standard, it was widely used by authors and by manufacturers in their catalogs to unify the terminology of vacuums. 

Then after we had gotten that project out of the way, the Standards Committee did draft a proposal regarding the performance rating of diffusion pumps. I reported the progress on that at the next Symposium, which was in 1955 at the Mellon Institute. At that time, we had divided the Standards Committee into several sub-committees, one involving Vacuum Gauge Calibration, one involving Pump Standards, and another involving Leak Detection. Al Nerken of Veeco had volunteered to be Chairman of the Leak Detection Committee. So at the second symposium in 1955, he gave a paper reporting on the progress of the Subcommittee on Leak Detection. 

So it developed from there, but it took a long time before we could get a consensus of a standard that we were able to offer to the American Vacuum Society as the final draft for publication. In fact, it wasn't until 1963 that the AVS published official, what we called Tentative Standards. At that time, the Tentative Standard on Leak Detection was published and a number of others. I have a list here, but the point is that the groups had worked very hard, had been very productive. The reason for the delay in getting the final copies published was that it had to go through a rigorous procedure of acceptance. First of all, there was the working committee that made up the drafts. These were experts, and they would meet as often as they could. Then it had to be reviewed by the whole Standards Committee, which would meet maybe once or twice a year. Then it had to go to the Board of Directors of the American Vacuum Society for final approval. Then at that point, it was available for publication in the journal.

Along the way while we were working on standards, similar work began in France and Germany and England. They copied, in a sense, the glossary of terms that the U.S. had produced, elaborated on it, changed it a little according to English custom and so on, and of course translated the things into the French and German versions. These societies that had formed in Europe also became interested in standards. They began different subcommittees according to their countries to work on standards. But very soon, the standards effort was taken over by the International Standards Organization. That's been in existence for a long time, something like the American Standards Institute and the German D.I.N. and all. That meant that they came out with standards on the testing of pumps that we wanted, as far as possible, to have the American standard conform to. 

So again, before we published in the journal the standards, we did our best to study the standards that the European groups came up with in the I.S.O. and conform them as far as possible because they were following our pattern to begin with, and then we'd publish. Finally, I guess by 1968, there had been about 19 standards published by the society. We considered that quite an achievement because there'd been a lot of work, all voluntary, by many real experts in the field. At that time, in April 1968, there was a very interesting panel discussion on the subject of standards that was published in R&D Magazine. I was one of the members of that panel, and also on the panel was Dan Bills, Al Nerken, and Daniel Johnson of the National Bureau of Standards, who was a member of the Standards Committee. You may not be able to see that from here, but the title of this article is "Where Do Standards Stand?" [Laughs] A good title. It gives pictures of us as we answered the questions and covered what we had done in standards and explained that standards were always in a state of flux. There was nothing final about a standard. It could always be revised. But it did take a lot of work to get a consensus. That's essentially what the Standards Committee accomplished.

LAFFERTY: That's very interesting, Ben. You've certainly come a long ways over the years in getting the standards accepted and making them very useful. 

During your long career, you must have met a lot of interesting vacuum scientists and engineers. Could you tell us something about some of the people you've met during your career?

DAYTON: Yes. I was fortunate that my company was able to allow me to travel to Europe several times and to Japan to attend international congresses and symposia and the meetings of the International Standards Organization. Naturally in the course of that, I met many of the leaders of vacuum science in foreign countries. In particular, I have to point back to my beginnings at Distillation Products, which, of course, owes its existence to Dr. Kenneth Hickman, one of the pioneers of vacuum science. I worked for him only a little bit. That is, when we were developing the large pumps for the Manhattan Project, he took that charge and I worked with him. But most of the time at Distillation Products, I was working under Frank Jenner, who was then manager of the Vacuum Equipment Department of DPI and later became President of Consolidated Vacuum Corporation. 

I owe a great deal to Mr. Jenner, who furthered my career in many ways. It was of course inspiring to work with Dr. Hickman, who was quite a taskmaster. But he was the first and honorary chairman of the first Symposium in Asbury Park. As you perhaps know better than I, he originated the Gaede-Langmuir Award, I believe, I 1977. 

LAFFERTY: That is correct.

DAYTON: I don't think it was well known that he financed that at the beginning. 

LAFFERTY: No, he didn't want it known in the beginning. After he died, we talked to his wife about this, and she agreed that it would be a good thing to let the world know who had started it. 

DAYTON: Well, the names Gaede and Langmuir, of course, are the great pioneers in the vacuum field. I never had a chance to meet either one. But I did meet Dr. Saul Dushman, who I consider a pioneer. In 1944, I visited the General Electric laboratories in Schenectady at his invitation to discuss the pumping systems on the GE leak detectors and some other matters. Later in 1946, I visited his lab again. He was working on gauge calibration, I think, using porous leaks and some other things. We had a very interesting conversation, so I enjoyed getting acquainted with him. Irving Langmuir was alive at that time, and we actually walked past his office, but much to my regret he wasn't available. I would have loved to have met him because he'd been an idol of mine ever since my high school days when I became interested in the electronic structure of atoms. 

But again, Saul Dushman was in attendance at the Cambridge High Vacuum Symposium in 1947. He gave the opening address there. That symposium was organized by the National Research Corporation and the American Chemical Society and I gave a paper. Although the first paper I ever gave was on outgassing at French Lick. That meeting, most people don't know about, but it was really a beginning meeting, before these others. 

During my visits to Europe, I became acquainted with other well known names in the field of vacuum, like Dr. Rudolph Jaeckel. He was the first president of the German Vacuum Society. He was actually a scientific assistant to Wolfgang Gaede, while the latter was advisor to the Leybold Company. Of course, when Hitler's regime started, people like Jaeckel were threatened with persecution. But Gaede and Dr. Dunkel, a manager of Leybold, were able to protect Dr. Jaeckel so that he escaped possible death at the hands of the Nazis. 

However, he had a record as a Communist sympathizer, unfortunately. So when he attempted to attend this first symposium in Asbury Park, he was stopped by the customs people in New York and sent back, much to our embarrassment. Nevertheless, he was able to attend the Second International Congress in Washington, D.C. in 1961 when I was President of the American Vacuum Society. There was a joint with our International Vacuum Symposium. 

So I had gotten acquainted with him earlier on my trips to Europe. We had a common interest because he was interested in diffusion pumps, and so was I. He was interested in standards and he had worked with Leybold. We had a chance to get personally acquainted with he and his wife. They visited us in Rochester, so we got in the car and took them to Niagara Falls, which he wanted to see. We spent the day sightseeing there. He didn't live too long after that. His obituary is written up in Vacuum magazine. I have a copy here. The obituary of Jaeckel is on page 58 of the February 1963 issue. By the way, I didn't mention that, at your invitation, I collaborated with you on the obituary of Hickman, which also was published in Vacuum, as you recall. 

I could go on and name a variety of others that I felt were leaders at the time that I enjoyed meeting. When I got to England, I met Dr. Blears of Metropolitan Vickers. We went up to the University of Liverpool and met Dr. J. Leck, who did a lot of work on gauges and has this book on gauges that everybody knows about. In France, we had a particularly interesting experience. We got, in 1953 when I was over there, to meet the original organizers of the French Vacuum Society. They took Mr. Jenner and I—we were traveling together—to the original place where the idea of forming a French vacuum society was generated. That's the famous cafĂ© in Paris known as Les Deux Magots, "The Two Flies." [Chuckles] Apparently as they say, in a dimly lit basement there just after the war, they decided the French needed a vacuum society. 

So at that time, I met those people. One of them, Mr. Pierre Tarabez, was Chairman of their Standards Committee. I had quite a discussion with him in 1953. He made a suggestion at that time that the German word "torr" --T-O-R-R-- be adopted as the universal unit for pressure in place of millimeter of mercury or the French term because of problems in defining a millimeter of mercury. Of course, since then the ISO has recommended the use of the Pascal in honor of Pascal of the French. Torr was a contraction of Torricelli, the Italian. But the Torr did come into use for many years, as you know. So Pierre Tarabez has the credit for that. He actually, as I understand it, was in the French Resistance and had quite a career. 

I could also mention that Mr. Jenner and I visited the laboratory of Louis Dunoyer. He may not be too well known to vacuum physicists today, but in my day, the book by Louis Dunoyer on vacuum technique was the bible. I learned a lot of my basic vacuum technique from that. He wasn't living at that time, but his son was still running the laboratory. I could go on, but perhaps that's enough. [Chuckles]

LAFFERTY: During your experiences abroad, I understand that you became involved with the IUVSTA and was a member of the technical directorate for some time. Would you tell us about some of your experiences when you were with that group?

DAYTON: Yes. I attended the First International Congress in Namur, which was organized by Professor Thomas of Belgium. That was the beginning, as you say, of the IUVSTA, although what happened was that this was a very successful congress. Everybody felt that it should be continued and repeated at a certain interval of years. Particularly Dar Welch (I say Dar; his name was Medard, but everybody knew him as Dar) made the proposal at one of the dinner meetings in Namur that a permanent organization be formed to hold congresses at different places around the world. 

At that meeting, in attendance was a man called Robert Maxwell, who was the owner and publisher of Pergamon Press. He's now well known as a publishing tycoon, because he not only acquired MacMillan but other publishers, and he owns papers around the world. He recently acquired a paper in New York City. He's a very wealthy man now, but at that time he was expanding his publishing business. 

So what he did was to get the rights to publish the proceedings of the First International Congress. He knew seven languages. So he acted as a kind of informal interpreter while we were discussing how to form the international organization. He also, at that time, convinced A.S.D. Barrett of the Edwards Company, who were publishing a journal called Vacuum, to turn the publication of that magazine over to Pergamon Press. I'd gotten acquainted with Maxwell, and for some reason he asked me if I would serve on the editorial board of this new magazine, Vacuum. I agreed, and he also got Wilf Matheson to join and a number of other people who were serving on what he called the Honorary Editorial Board of Vacuum. 

So I became the U.S. editor. All manuscripts from authors in the U.S. had to flow through my office, and then to London for this Vacuum magazine. It also had to carry on the abstract service that Edwards had started. I had a lot to do with arranging for abstracts, and I particularly worked out the classification scheme that they used at the back of the journal for classifying the abstracts. Wilf Matheson dropped out after 1963, and I continued on till about 1972 or something like that as the editor. 

Then the next year, Robert Maxwell attended the eighth Symposium in San Francisco. That was in 1959. That it was in the fall. Excuse me, that was not next year; that was in the fall of '58 after the Namur congress. He persuaded the American Vacuum Society to let him do the publishing of the transactions of their Symposium. Up until that point, they had been printed up by people like Welch and others and privately published. So Maxwell got control of the whole vacuum industry at that point [laughs]—the AVS Transactions, the Edwards Vacuum. And many of my dealings as President had to do with getting contracts with them at a reasonable rate for the publication of the Transactions. 

My wife and I visited his palatial mansion in Heddington Hill Hall in Oxford England in 1965. Since then, I've somewhat lost touch with him, but he's in a world of his own [laughs]. 

LAFFERTY: That's very interesting, Ben, to hear about all these interesting little tales to people that you've met during your career. 

DAYTON: I have mentioned that the IUVSTA, in which you have played a significant role, was formed while I was President in 1961 at the Second International Congress in Washington, D.C. As you have explained very well in the history that you wrote of the IUVSTA, there was a legal problem with the way the IOVST was set up. They allowed membership by private companies and maybe even individuals. Some countries wouldn't allow professional organizations like that where people would become member and insisted that it should be a federation of vacuum societies. 

So after much work between Madame Berthaud of France and Dar Welch and others that you know, they came up with a proposal at the Washington meeting to form the IUVSTA. That's the International Union for Vacuum Science, Technique and Applications. I, at that time, had played some part in it, but at that point it was Dar Welch and others who were the leaders. I forget who became the first president of that organization. 

But Dar Welch in my memory is the grand old man because all during this sort of thing, he would stay at the very best hotels, like the Plaza Athenae or the George V in Paris in a marvelous suite. He would invite a variety of people to discuss these matters at dinner meetings that he would hold. He was a most gracious host, and I well remember enjoying those meetings where all these experts discussing either an international situation or the AVS and its problems. There's nobody like Dar Welch. He was greatly missed.

LAFFERTY: He was a grand old man, wasn't he?

DAYTON: He was [chuckles].

LAFFERTY: Ben, when you were president, I believe the first division was set up in the American Vacuum Society. My feelings about this today is if it hadn't been for these various divisions that were set up, the American Vacuum Society wouldn't be in existence today, because I don't think there's been enough advancement in science and technology to warrant a full-fledged society. Would you tell us something about the first division that was set up when you were president?

DAYTON: Yes. Well, what happened was that a Dr. Ron Bunshah of New York University, who was an expert in vacuum metallurgy, decided to organize a professional association covering just that subject. So he sent out a questionnaire to my company and to other companies and to government organizations asking their opinion about the formation of a vacuum metallurgy association. When I got the letter, I brought it up to the Board of Directors of the AVS and I said this could be a split-up of the vacuum community into two professional societies. And the Board agreed that it would be desirable if possible to avoid another vacuum association. There had already been one split-up in the form of a Vacuum Coaters Society. 

But we decided to send a delegation to talk to Ron Bunshah at New York University and see if we could sell him on the idea of holding his conferences under the American Vacuum Society. So a delegation consisting of Dick Denton and George Carr and C.R. Meissner and myself visited New York University and talked to him and the professors there in the Metallurgy Department. Apparently we convinced him that he'd be better off under the aegis of the Vacuum Society. So he became the first chairman of the Vacuum Metallurgy Division in 1961. Later, in 1971, he actually became President of the American Vacuum Society. 

I feel that was a crucial period there when we could have gone either way. We could have been a lot of splintered groups, each doing our own thing. Possibly today we have too many divisions and too many sections. I don't know. Because it wasn't too long after that that the Thin Film Division was formed. Then, as you know, it went on to other surface sciences and so on. So today, the AVS is a huge organization all under the American Institute of Physics. The symposia have grown to a size that you just can't hear all the papers you want to hear. You have to decide what you want to attend and look forward to the publication later.

LAFFERTY: Well, the AVS has certainly found a home for all of these groups that use vacuum science and technology and has succeeded very well in keeping them all under one roof [laughs].

DAYTON: Yes. I feel that the American Vacuum Society has made a great contribution to the country, both in regard to the war effort and other things there, when the vacuum people worked on the Manhattan Project and whatnot. But this whole field of thin films where the Japanese threatened to take over the whole thing, at least the AVS has done a lot to advance the cause of thin film technology. 

LAFFERTY: Ben, I think you also had some interesting experiences in Japan, too, haven't you?

DAYTON: [Chuckles] Yes, that's true. I was very surprised to see a letter from Japan one day inviting me and an accompanying lady to come to Japan to deliver the memorial lecture on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Vacuum Society of Japan. Well, I interpreted the accompanying lady to mean my wife, so the two of us went over there. We were royally entertained. I did give the memorial lecture. It's published in this issue of the Vacuum Journal, which I have here. It also contains pictures of them presenting me with an honorary membership. They made me an honorary member of the Vacuum Society of Japan. I have the certificate on my wall here. 

But it also shows the banquet that was held on that occasion. The Japanese don't ordinarily invite their wives to things like that, but they did on this occasion. The wives were there in their Japanese costume and their obi or the bows tied around them. My wife was invited. Actually, they knew she was a poet. The Japanese love poetry. So they asked her if she had something she could read. She had actually composed a poem thinking about Japan called "Autumn in Japan." She had it with her, so she got up and read it at this banquet. It was really well accepted. Then later on, we had an excursion to Mount Fuji. We went to most of the shrines in Kyoto and Tokyo and Osaka and the island of Iseshima. They really showed us as much as we could see at that time. We were there, actually, for three weeks. It was something I will never forget. They make great hosts, I must say. 

LAFFERTY: Yes. I think the Japanese are very gracious people. Is there anything else, Ben, that you would like to tell us about?

DAYTON: I've had other events in my career that relate to vacuum. I think one thing that I might mention is that in 1953, I was elected to the Editorial Board of the Review of Scientific Instruments. It turned out that Daniel Alpert was also on the editorial board at that time, so I got acquainted with him. Then as you know later, Dan Alpert at Westinghouse developed many devices for ultra-high vacuum and became well known in that field. He was actually the first editor of the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology. So I appreciated knowing him through the years. And I've appreciated knowing you too, Jim. We've been together in a lot of things, including the People to People trip, which I don't want to go into. But I really enjoyed those trips to Hungary and other places.

LAFFERTY: I have certainly enjoyed knowing you too, Ben. Our paths have crossed many times over the years. I want to thank you very much for taking time out to let us have this interview with you this afternoon. The AVS History Committee is putting together a video in which we will have interviewed many of the people who helped found and establish and develop the American Vacuum Society. So thank you very much, Ben.

DAYTON: You're quite welcome.

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