AVS Historical Persons | George Bancroft - 1991

George Bancroft - 1991

Oral History Interview with George Bancroft

Interviewed by Jim Lafferty, June 21, 1991
LAFFERTY: Well, here we are in Litchfield, Connecticut at the home of Dr. George Bancroft. This is June 21, the longest day of the year, 1991. These are not mint juleps we have here, but they're iced teas. [Laughter] 
George, you've had a long and distinguished career in vacuum, and you've been very much involved in the activities of the AVS. You were President and the Chairman of the Program Committee for many years, and were instrumental in setting up the Vacuum Technology Division. We'd like to hear about some of those early days in vacuum at the time the AVS was started, or maybe even before the birth of the AVS. Could you tell us some of your experiences in those early days? 

bancroft.JPGBANCROFT: Well, I got into active vacuum work, although I had been, more or less, avoiding working with vacuum, but had got involved with them on many occasions. I got my first professional connection with vacuum with Distillation Products Industries, in 1940. I was active there in research work - development work, if you will - and then got into Special Products, where I would go out and find out the problems of the customer and come back and conjure up an answer to those problems and get out a quotation. The salesmen were actually selling standard products, and when it came to things that were special, it came back to me, for a number of years. So, I was there from 1940 to about '55, when the Distillation Products Division, Vacuum Equipment Division, was sold to Consolidated Vacuum, or Consolidated Electrodynamics, and our division became the Consolidated Vacuum Company. There I became director of research and development, and spent a lot of time on trying to improve products and bringing out new products.

LAFFERTY: You were responsible for developing those large, high-speed auto-pumps that were used in the Manhattan Project down at Oak Ridge, weren't you?

BANCROFT: I wasn't personally involved. Those came before I got to Distillation Products Industries. They were made by Distillation Products Industries. I did quite a little testing on them and that sort of thing, and modifications, but the original ones that went to Oak Ridge were long gone before I got there. See, I came there in 1940. I don't remember just when they were developed. Gary Noggle1 and I developed the quarter swing valve while I was there. We arranged it so that it was a cam operation, and the cam would come down. We provided shims so that they could be adjusted. When it got in production, they threw the shims in, but didn't adjust it! [Laughs] And as a result, some of them, if they released the catch button on the handle, the handle would fly, and panic developed. There was almost a rebellion. They had a system under a vacuum and said it's dangerous to operate the valve. I walked up to it, pushed the button, controlled the handle and let it leak a little bit, and opened it up after the pressure was released. No problem! But what they'd been doing was pushing the lock button, disengaging it, and just letting the handle fly. Well, if you did that, you really could get a whip out of it!

LAFFERTY: You're in trouble.

BANCROFT: Yep. After we were taken over by Consolidated Electrodynamics, one of the fellows who had been elected Program Chairman -  but I'm getting ahead in the story. I'm not sure of the date, but there was an organization meeting called the Committee on Vacuum Techniques hosted by National Research Corporation. This was essentially an organization meeting. At the first meeting, it was decided then to set up this committee and set up an annual meeting, and the first meeting was held in Asbury Park. I believe this was 1952 or 19532.

LAFFERTY: That was the forerunner of the AVS. The AVS hadn't been organized yet. 

BANCROFT: No, no. It was the Committee on Vacuum Techniques. I don't know whether the first meeting was successful or not but the next meeting came along, and we decided to have an equipment exhibit along with it. Actually, we had grown a little bit; the Asbury Park meeting was bigger than anticipated. Mr. Perry at Distillations Products, Incorporated was made the Program Chairman3, and he enlisted me to join in 1955; he recruited me to be on his committee. I served on the Program Committee continuously from 1955 to 1963, serving with various chairmen. And then in 1962 and 1963, I was the Chairman of the Program Committee4. I edited the Transactions for those two years. 

LAFFERTY: And those were the first transactions, at that time?

BANCROFT: No, no. There had been Transactions back as far as '55, but they were yea thick, about a half-inch thick. Then, in 1964, I was elected President-elect and served as President5 in 1965, and Past-President then again in 1966. I don't remember whether I still stayed on the Board after that6. As things went on, we no longer had transactions - January 1964 was the last transaction as a published book7. We then started the vacuum journal8 and published articles throughout the year, and with a larger volume after the annual meeting in the fall. Sometimes that began to spill over into two quarterly publications in order to cover the papers, which were being given at an increasing rate.

LAFFERTY: That journal, the JVST, has certainly increased tremendously since those days. Now we get many volumes in one year. [Laughter] 

BANCROFT: Well, then again, the symposium was expanded to bring in the thin film topics about the time of the start of JVST, or a little later9. The vacuum technology kind of got lost in the applications, so we started up the Vacuum Technology Division10. Collin Alexander and I served, alternately, as Chairman and Vice-Chairman for the first two years. Things get a little hazy at this point because I hadn't gone through my JVST journals; they're still packed away in a case!

LAFFERTY: I think organizing the Vacuum Division was a very important thing. Here we were in the American Vacuum Society with Divisions in Thin Films and Vacuum Metallurgy and all sorts of things, but nothing in vacuum itself. We had an organization here where the tail was sort of wagging the dog. I think it was very important to establish that division and make a home so the vacuum people had their own organization. 

BANCROFT: Some of us felt we were getting left out, and so we decided to try and get a little more emphasis on it and have our own program chairman. Actually, we joined the rest of the Vacuum Society in their annual meetings, but we had our own vacuum technology program.

LAFFERTY: I think that was good. You know, if it wasn't for those divisions, though, in all these various applications in vacuum, I doubt if the AVS would be in existence today because the basic things in vacuum haven't changed that rapidly or fast, but the AVS is very helpful in helping these various organizations to use the vacuum and use it for their various products that they were making. This went a long way, I think, in helping the AVS to grow to the size that it is today.

BANCROFT: Yeah. But it got to be to the point where you had the Thin Films Division and we started to break up into various divisions. About '64, we were also setting up local groups11. We were active in the West Coast to start with, but they gradually spread and grew.

LAFFERTY: The Chapters, you mean.

BANCROFT: Chapters. That's right. The Florida Chapter was one of the first to have their own symposium12 in addition to the General Vacuum Symposium. The one on the West Coast also did this. The various applications of vacuum set up their own group: Metallurgy Division, the Thin Film Division...oh, let's see, there was another one. Cryogenics was one13.

LAFFERTY: I think those chapters played a very important role in the American Vacuum Society so that various people who had interest in vacuum could continue to have meetings and talk about scientific developments and so on between the Annual Meetings of the American Vacuum Society. The Society itself only had the big meeting once a year; these various chapters, many of them right now have activities going on about once a month.

BANCROFT: You can go from one to another! And of course, one of the stronger groups was, well, the first place was California, and then the New York area were the two strong ones14. But then they developed other local areas, and there came to be quite a number of them altogether. 
Another thing that developed was the Vacuum Equipment Exhibit. That started fairly early15. I don't think we had one at Asbury Park, but it wasn't too many years after that before we started showing the new developments in vacuum equipment.

LAFFERTY: Well, that turned out to be a very good thing for the American Vacuum Society because those annual exhibits brought in a tremendous amount of financial support for the organization. Did you tell me earlier that the equipment exhibits were every year at the beginning, and then for a while only every other year?

BANCROFT: Yes. They were every year for a while, and then Wilfrid Matheson, I think, was the prime mover in saying that there isn't that much development in new equipment every year. So we decided to have an exhibit every other year so that we would have maybe more new things at the exhibits. One of the things that happened there was that, at the meeting in Chicago, Consolidated Vacuum Corporation went to another hotel and set up their own exhibit; theoretically, or as far as they were concerned, in association with the Annual Meeting. I was President at the time, so that was in 1965. I had been let go at Consolidated Vacuum Corporation the preceding fall, and so I figured, even though I was President, that any remonstration that I would come up with would not be received in any cooperative manner. So, Bill Schleuning volunteered to go talk to them and at least get the thing cooled down a little bit. And after that, we went back again to exhibits with every meeting.

LAFFERTY: Those were kind of the growing pains of the American Vacuum Society in the early days.

BANCROFT: Yeah. One other thing was that I went to the annual meeting of the American Physical Society, and there was a man giving a paper on a vacuum topic there. I didn't believe in what he was talking about, and I was amazed that nobody asked any questions. Then it developed that he submitted essentially the same paper to the Vacuum Society at the time that I was Program Chairman. I wrote to him and said, "I think your subject matter is at least subject to criticism. You may present the paper, but be prepared for critique." So he did go ahead and present his paper, and there were a lot of criticisms of his thesis! It was an interesting situation. [Laughter] It was one of those things that it was a little hard to figure out how to handle, but I felt so strongly, having heard his presentation at the American Physical Society and their acceptance of his paper with no criticism, I thought that was a little out of order. So, he did get his criticism! [Laughter] 
Then as the Society grew, it kind of split off into Thin Films, Vacuum Metallurgy, and a number of these other groups. Vacuum Technology got very little recognition, so Collin Alexander and I were the prime movers in organizing a movement to set up to Vacuum Technology Division as a group of equal standing to the others and to present a continuing emphasis on technology developments, and we had our own program in the Annual Meeting.

LAFFERTY: That still continues, and I think it's been very important in the vacuum group and continues to bring new vacuum technology to all the users.

BANCROFT: And then the Society was giving grants in remembrance of certain people, and they set up - 

LAFFERTY: Students, I guess, primarily, weren't they?

BANCROFT: Well, they were set up for...oh, I forgot now just who it was, but there were a couple of people that died, and it was set up in their memory, originally. It was set up to award one scholarship, and then two scholarships a year17. I served for a time on the Scholarship Committee. The funds grew, so the assistance also grew over time. When the Vacuum Technology Division was set up, I represented the vacuum technology interest on the Board of Directors for a while. We were able to then get back with some emphasis on the basic vacuum techniques and development, which kind of had been sidelined, more or less, for a few years. I've not been able to refresh my memory on this era because my JVST journals are still packed in a box. [Laughs] They weren't too easy to get at.

LAFFERTY: Well, it's hard to remember the details of a lot of these things, but there's always some things that stand out in your memory that have happened over the years.

BANCROFT: Yep. Well, my tour as President was - We had an awful lot of activity in the few years before, and we figured that a little rest was due. I always enjoyed my membership in AVS and the activity there, and through all the years that I was working, I was subsidized by my employer. When I retired, that ceased, and I ceased going to meetings. [Laughter]

LAFFERTY: Well, I have to tell you, that happens to a lot of us! I assure you. George, it's been really great talking with you this morning. It's exciting to hear about those early days in the AVS, and I want to thank you very much for allowing us to come here and interview you. Thank you very much.

BANCROFT: You're quite welcome.

1. Name uncertain
2. The first Symposium was held at Asbury Park, NJ in 1954
3. Edmund Perry was Program Chair in 1956
4. He was officially Chairman in 1962, 1963 & 1964
5. He was President from the Annual Business Meeting in 1964 till the Business meeting in 1965
6. He was a Director for 2 years, from the Business Meeting in 1961 till 1963
7. The last Transactions were those of the 1963 Symposium.
8. Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology started publication in 1964.
9. The Thin Film Division was formed in 1964.
10. The Vacuum Technology Division was formed in 1970 
11. The first Section was the Pacific Northwest Section, in 1962 . The name was changed from Sections to Chapters in 1971
12. The first Symposium of the Florida Chapter was held in 1972, after the Chapter was formed in 1971.
13. The Vacuum Metallurgy Division was formed in 1961
14. For a list of all the Chapters, formation dates, and activities, see the e-book "50 Years of AVS" on the AVS web site www.avs.org
15. The first Exhibit was held in 1961 in Washington, DC and the second in Boston in 1963. An exhibit has been held each year since the Symposium in New York in 1965
16. The 1964 Symposium was held in Chicago; he was Program Chair and began his term as President at the Business Meeting held at the Symposium.
17. Two annual scholarships of $4,000 were awarded from 1967 through 1974. For more information, see the e-book "50 Years of AVS" on the AVS web site www.avs.org

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