AVS Historical Persons | Hubert W. Schleuning - 1991

Hubert W. Schleuning - 1991

Oral History Interview with Hubert W. Schleuning

Interviewed by Jim Lafferty, June 20, 1991
LAFFERTY: This is Thursday afternoon, June 20. We're in Ramsey, New Jersey at the lovely home of Professor Hubert W. Schleuning. Professor Schleuning is a Past-President of the American Vacuum Society and one of the founders of the AVS. It's our pleasure to talk with him this afternoon. Bill tells me that he's 88 years young this year, and I think that's quite an achievement, Bill.

schleuning.JPGSCHLEUNING: Well, it's nice. [Laughter] It's all right. I thought we would start, if you wish, by talking of the very first few days of the Vacuum Society. It had a different name then1. Vacuum Society or Vacuum Technology Society or something like this. But I heard about it very peculiarly. I was working in the research laboratory of the Electrical Engineering Department of the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now the Polytechnic University. They were kind of conducting research work on power measurement and output of radar units. One of the things they had to do was, how do you measure this, and what are the devices for doing it? And one of the things you do, if you have a...let's see, what did they call it? Those tubes that the RF went out at that time.

LAFFERTY: Magnetrons?

SCHLEUNING: Well, it was a magnetron to create the signal in that, but they were transmitted through these tubes. What did they call those?

LAFFERTY: Waveguides?

SCHLEUNING: Waveguides - that's it. We were working on waveguides, and then the waveguides, the way you measure the power is by inserting a glass plate with a resistance film on it from the side wall to the center of the waveguide. Knowing the position and other readings, of course, you can measure the power. Well, the idea was how do you get this resistance film on the glass plates? We were working on that. Some of the other brilliant research people in the laboratory had gone up to a meeting at Rad Lab at MIT. They came back and said, "This young fellow up there in that area was discussing about vacuum equipment. Why couldn't there be a society for people to get together and talk about how you get a good vacuum, what you can do with it, what are the applications of vacuum films, and so on and so forth?" His name was Fred McNally, and he worked with the Jarrel Ash Company. Over a couple months, we got in touch with each other and he got in touch with others, we formed a little group, and finally, we had a luncheon meeting in New York. Each member that was there at the time, I think there were about, oh, I don't know, 40, 45, maybe 50 people2 at the luncheon, each one got up and said a little bit about what was going on, and from that, that was the beginning of the American Vacuum Society. A year later, we had gotten together and worked so hard that we put on a symposium in Asbury Park. It was a one-day symposium at which, I guess, there were a couple hundred people that attended it, which really surprised us. Of course, it was a mix of theoretical people and practical people who were designing equipment. So it made it a very nice setup.

LAFFERTY: That was a very nice turnout for you.

SCHLEUNING: Oh, it was. I always remember it with a little bit of laughter. For one of the sessions, I had to act as moderator. At the end of one of the talks, I said, "Are there any questions?" and this fellow got up and said, "It's all very nice for all you people who are connected with academic people to be able to get your equipment from the government, while we poor fellows out here in the boondocks, we have trouble getting equipment and knowing what's going on. What can you do for us?" So that was the beginning of quite a session, I can tell you. 
All right, we went from that to the following years after that. The Society increased, and I think that it increased because of the wonderful boost we got from Dar Welch3. He really pushed the Society and kept it going, not only with his activity but with his pocketbook. And that was a big help in those days at the beginning.

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

SCHLEUNING: He was a wonderful person. He really was, right to the very end. I have always admired Dar. So, we went on, and look at what the Society is today. We've come up to where we're connected with an international organization. What is it? The IUVSTA - International Union, Science, Technology, and Vacuum, or something like that4. So we have a combined symposium these days. About one every three years, I think, is about the usual, about three years?

LAFFERTY: Yes. The International Congress every three years.

SCHLEUNING: Congress, yes. And it has gone on. Not only that. Oh, and about, I would say, ten years after we started the Society, we suddenly decided that we had to have a journal, which details some of our activities and what we're doing. It's both theoretical and practical. And so the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology was started. I remember the first copies of it ran not more than 50 or 60 pages. The last symposium copy of the journal ran to four inches thick! I don't know how many thousands of pages were in that; it was simply terrific. So we have come from a little society with a few people who were interested in their particular work, to a Society now that is, what? Jim, what are we, about 3,000 or 4,000?

LAFFERTY: Oh, I think it's over 5,000 now.

SCHLEUNING: Over 5,000 now. And the articles in the Journal today are enough to make this poor head swim because I do not understand anymore what you're doing, fellows. But keep on doing it, and make it better. So I really had a great time of it. You think of anything else, Jim, that we can talk about with regard to that?

LAFFERTY: You were President of the AVS. You can tell us about your administration.

SCHLEUNING: You know, I think from the very beginning, there was a group of us. Why we were selected, I haven't the slightest idea, but I know there was a group that practically had every...from President all the way down to just committee members in that. And for all of the years up to, oh, I would say at least the 25th year of the Society, or maybe a little beyond that, I had some position in the Society at all times. President, Vice-president...

LAFFERTY: Member of the Board for many years.

SCHLEUNING: I wasn't officially Secretary, but I was secretary, and everything else from member of the board and all of the... I think the last position that I held was chairman of Voting Committee, counting the votes for the -  

LAFFERTY: Oh, I see. You were one of the official tellers.

SCHLEUNING: Official teller. That was the last thing I did for the Society. About that time, though, and shortly after that, I had to quit because, as I told you, Jim, before, I started to get this macular degeneration of the eye, which means the retina of the eyes are gone and you no longer can see detail. And if you look at anybody, you see a white haze. And if you were trying to write on a piece of paper, you don't see anything where the pencil point is. So you have to look off of one side because you still have, and I still have, complete peripheral vision all the way around. So I can see to get around, and Jim can tell you that the piece of property that we're living on now, which my wife and I inherited from her father and mother, I take care of, and it is quite a little park about the extent of one acre.

LAFFERTY: It's a beautiful place you have here, Bill, with all the flowers and shrubbery.

SCHLEUNING: It's really great. And it keeps me busy, believe me, it keeps me busy. But there are a lot of things to do with a vacuum. I often think of the days when I first was introduced to vacuum equipment and what you can do with a vacuum set. It was early in the World War II days. I was at that time teaching part-time in the evening at the Polytechnic University of Brooklyn, which is now the Polytechnic University. About '43, I guess it was, suddenly, Poly was given a group of Army students to teach. These were young Army fellows or recruits who were brought in, who were just starting their college work. Instead of just taking them into boot camp, they put them into several universities throughout the country, and Poly was, fortunately, getting one such group. I was from the Physics Department then, teaching them physics classes. 

Suddenly, one morning, we came in and there were no students. Where were the students? Well, all the students had been taken out overnight and put on board a ship or something, I don't know what. They were all shipped over to the Battle of Africa, and so we didn't see them. Then here I was, on the stairs, what to do, and I went to the president of the institute and said, "What'll I do? I guess I'll go out and get a job. You people can't keep me on just hanging around." He said, "No, no, no, no. You stay here." Well, to make a long story short, he first had me working in the Mechanical Laboratory, running some tests on, of all things, a jeep engine, where they were trying to super-power it to double its power output. Well, that was really a bust, I must say. 

But then that disappeared, and again I went back to the president, President Rogers, and said, "Look, I really have got to get a job somewhere." He said, "No, no, no, no. I want you to see Dr. Weber. He's the head of the Electrical Engineering Department." And so, after a day or so, I went to Dr. Weber, and I told him that President Rogers had sent me over and that he wanted to talk to me. And he said, "Yes, I think I have a place where you would fit in very well with my group." And I said, "But Dr. Weber, I don't understand anything that you're doing. I understand you're doing something with something called a rumba tube. It's sending out some kind of waves and you've got to do something with it. I don't understand it at all." He said, "Don't worry, don't worry. You just come along with us here, and we'll see how it works out." 

One of the following mornings, I came in and he said, "You go right in here. I'll take you in, introduce you to the people here." Here was a room full of five girls working on things that I didn't understand what they were all about, and then into another room where there were real highbrow technicians working on all kinds of electrical equipment." I said, "Oh, I just don't..." He said, "Just take your time. Just work around with it. I'm sure you can handle these girls and what they're doing. You'll quickly catch on to what's needed. And then Stanley Johnson," who was the head of this other group, "he'll get you started with the vacuum equipment there." Well, in a couple of days, I found out what the girls were doing; I got on to their job and how it could be handled. They were making attenuators that were tubular attenuators, not flat-plate attenuators. Then I went in with Stanley. He said, "This is our vacuum equipment. This is what you're going to work in." And I said, "Fine. What do I do?" He said, "Well, I'll tell you what to do, and then you go ahead." And I said, "No, you tell me what to do and then we'll make a run, and you'll be with me." "Oh," he said. "All right. Let's make a run right from the beginning." 
Now, the vacuum equipment was this baseplate with a hole in the center; a pipe, which went down from that; and around the bend to a two-stage Hickman glass diffusion pump. Only old-timers know what a Hickman, two-stage, glass diffusion pump looks like, Jim!

LAFFERTY: I remember those! [Laughs]

SCHLEUNING: You may remember them, but they were really the tops in those days. That's all there was to it. And all stuck together with de Khotinsky cement5. This vacuum plate had all kinds of penetrations in it where electrical connections entered, and then a glass bell jar over it. And I said, "What do we do with this? What do you do?" He said, "Well, I'll show you." So he showed me how to set it up inside the bell jar, how to arrange the glass plates up on the top, how to arrange the filament. And I said, "The filament. What kind of a filament?" He said, "Oh, we take three strands of tungsten wire and braid them. Do you know how to braid?" I said, "Well, I know how hair is braided. Yeah, I guess so." He said, "Well, this is the way we do it," and he twisted a hand." I said, "Golly, can't we do it some other way? Make it easier to do?" He said, "That's your job." Well, I did determine a way to do it better, so that was all right.

LAFFERTY: But you started out as a mechanical engineer and became an expert in vacuums. You're the second person that I have interviewed who is a mechanical engineer. You know Mars Hablanian. He told me he was a mechanical engineer at one time.

SCHLEUNING: That's right. And now he's a headman in vacuum equipment. He really is.

LAFFERTY: He's an expert on pumps.

SCHLEUNING: He knows pumps forwards and backwards. He sure does. So that's the way I got started. Many things came about while I was working with that equipment. It turned out that the specifications on these plates were very, very tight. Several times, we would make a set of these plates and evaporate the film on them, monitoring it with resistance measurements, because they were nichrome films. They had to be held rather closely, and you were doing it indirectly because you were measuring the resistance of the film on a test glass plate and hoping that that was what you were getting on the other plates. Anybody who works with the vacuum system knows that this is asking a lot - you can't always depend on this kind of a system. But we did our best. I would give these plates afterwards to some of the other smart technicians and brains around there who were doing the research work on them, and they would make measurements on them, which were supposed to come up to their specification. I remember one of them, who was a very nice fellow, very quiet, and we got along. After a while, he would come back, he would walk by, and he would say, "Who are you fooling, bud?" And I'd know I'd have to do it all over again. [Laughter] Really fun. 

Of course, you must remember that in the earlier days, if you got a vacuum in 10-5 Torr, you were really getting a vacuum! There wasn't any equipment that could get vacuums much better than that. So, you had to be a little bit careful with what you did with this vacuum equipment with all the chances for places where it would leak. I remember one day I had put the equipment together, and by that time, I had acquired a girl who was my assistant, Mary Eschwiewho became the chief operator of my laboratory on my retirement and has just recently retired herself. She was there, and she said, "Are you having trouble, Prof?" And I said, "Yes. I don't seem to be able to get into the 10-4 [Torr] region, much less to 10-5. Something is wrong with this equipment. I've tried checking everything." She looked around, looked at me a minute, and very quietly said, "Prof, do you think this might have something to do with it?" And she pointed to a single, little wire from one of these braided cables. You know how fine a wire could be in those braids. This was coming out from underneath the rubber gasket of the bell jar. I said, "Oh, gosh." We stopped everything, cleaned it up, and everything worked fine after that. [Laughter]

LAFFERTY: That fine wire made a coarse leak.

SCHLEUNING: It made a very coarse leak. And I am amazed today in the vacuum equipment that has been developed and the ways of measuring vacuum have been developed so that now we can produce vacuums that are down to the 10-12 [Torr] region or possibly even better, and are able to measure it down there. Although I do remember one person who said, "What device was used to measure it?" And I said, "I think it was a mass spectrograph." He said, "If one particular person, who I know, operated the mass spectrograph, I will believe it. But only then" But I think that has been changed now so that we really can get down there if we want to.

LAFFERTY: I think that's one of the things that the AVS has done, is to help industry in providing them with the best vacuum techniques that they've needed, and always kept ahead of the industry, I think. We can even do better today if it were needed.

SCHLEUNING: Yeah, we can do better if it was needed. I remember Don Santeler - he's an old-time member of the Society - he was the first one who came to me and said, "We have a vacuum down to 10-10 [Torr]." I said, "Aw, come on, Don." He said, "No, we have." But he said, "You know when you work with vacuum equipment, you've got to bake everything out. We baked the daylights out of this equipment, and it really came down." He said, "There's only one thing that we noticed. Part of the equipment, the chamber, is in a place in the laboratory where the sun comes on it. When the sun comes on, there is a change in the pressure." I said, "Yeah, I guess there is a change in the pressure, isn't there?" [Laughter] Just things like that can alter the pressure of the system. 

To me, the Society has grown to a place where - well, its place in the group of societies connected with the American Vacuum Society is really tops.

LAFFERTY: As I remember, Bill, you wrote the first history of the AVS.

SCHLEUNING: I wrote the first history, yes. The first 25 years, wasn't it?

LAFFERTY: I think so.

SCHLEUNING: I think it was 25 years. And then you amplified it.

LAFFERTY: I wrote the 30th. I sort of carried on where you left off. [Chuckles]

SCHLEUNING: That's right.

LAFFERTY: Now we've got a 40th anniversary coming up in a couple of years.

SCHLEUNING: I'm sure there's somebody in the Society who can write for the last ten years.

LAFFERTY: I think Jack Singleton is going to do that7.

SCHLEUNING: He would be excellent.

LAFFERTY: He was Secretary for all those years, and he was at every Board meeting, and he just went on.

SCHLEUNING: Well, he and his sidekick up there, Bill Lange. He very well could do it, too. Both of them.

LAFFERTY: Yes, they have been involved in the AVS more than I.

SCHLEUNING: Or if Luther Preuss was around, he could still do it, too.

LAFFERTY: Luther retired there just a few years ago.


LAFFERTY: You were very active internationally, too, there for a while. I think you were the representative for the AVS and the IUVSTA. You must have attended a number of meetings in Europe. Anything exciting happen there that you'd like to tell us about?

SCHLEUNING: I attended one in Dijon and I have attended one in London. Also, we were at some other place over there. Yeah, I remember the Dijon one especially. That was the first one I went to. I had to make my own arrangements for travel in those days, and one of the things I wanted to take was the Mistral, which was the fastest train in France at that time between Paris and Dijon. It went on to other towns. So I got that. 

But at that meeting in Dijon, an interesting thing happened. They were discussing an international meeting, and some of the people, especially the French representatives, were suggesting that the American representatives, who had all kinds of means for doing things, could be expected to come over with all of their equipment to put on a very lavish display. And the Europeans would come in too and also help, but that they were really depending upon the Americans to come in. I sort of hackled at that because that was in a period of recession that we had after the war. So I lit out and said, "Now look, we have a period of recession in the States. Money is not flowing like water all over everything the way it was for a while. They are having trouble getting the money to bring over equipment and staff it and things like that, so be a little bit careful. Yes, they are willing, but be a little bit easy on what you demand." That went over. And by the way, they were tape recording the meeting, so this went on the tape, and I'm sure it's available somewhere exactly what I did say. It's a little different.

LAFFERTY: It's in the archive someplace.

SCHLEUNING: It must be. But I know Luther came to me after and he said, "Bill, you were a little bit hard on them. Be a little more diplomatic." I said, "No. I'm sticking up for the American representatives. They should know about this." Oh, well. It really was fun, though, and all the things they've been able to do. At all the meetings, I have had such fun, both Dot and I. At the beginning, some of you will remember that the ladies always got together and arranged the seating at the main table at the dinners that were given. Arranged the seating at the tables, and so forth. Did a lot of work for it. And then also arranged what should be done, where should they go, and got people to work on that. That's changed a little bit now. We don't have dinner meetings anymore. I guess the luncheon is the only real meeting that we have where we all get together that way anymore and hear talks and who's getting awarded what and so forth and so on. But in those early days, it really was fun over there. The camaraderie between all of the people was just great.
Oh, I will tell you one more thing. We had one meeting. It was one of the meetings that I was the head of; I don't know which one it was. I think it was in New York, but I'm not sure. We had some Russian visitors. Luther and somebody else brought the visitors up to me and introduced me to them, and I said, "Well, I hope you have a wonderful time and learn a lot in seeing our exhibits." I noticed at that time, or it was right after that, suddenly we had the FBI on us. They did not like that we had Russian visitors at our meeting, at which we were discussing papers on stuff that the government was paying money for, and it was supposed to be a little bit on the hush-hush side. But I think we got around that somehow or other. I'm sure we did.

LAFFERTY: You were mentioning the banquets. I think you should describe one of these early annual AVS banquets where the president and Board of Directors were in their tuxedoes. I think Wilf Matheson started that, didn't he?

SCHLEUNING: No, Dar Welch. Dar Welch insisted that at the head table, everybody should be in full dress - tuxedo - and so he started it. It went on for a number of years, but as it went on - I must say, by the time Bill Lange was taken on board as one of the directors, he would not wear a tuxedo. He just would not get dressed up. I go along with him on that. He had his points. So he wouldn't.

LAFFERTY: That was the end of the tuxedo era.

SCHLEUNING: The dinner at which I was President8 was the last dinner in which we had tuxedoes. I insisted upon it. Bill Lange said, "Bill, you're not going to get me in a tuxedo no matter what." So he didn't get into a tuxedo, and a couple of others didn't either. They went along with him. So that was the last time. Those dinners were really formal affairs. The dinner was started. There were brief talks, introduction of all of the people on the dais, and then the introduction of the main speaker. At my particular dinner, the main speaker was a fellow from the National Geographic Society, who had just been climbing a region of Mount Everest. He gave a wonderful talk on the climbs that were done on Mount Everest, and with pictures. Oh, the pictures were beautiful. No, they were really great meetings. Lots of fun.

LAFFERTY: You were in charge of one of the annual meetings, I think, in New York City, wasn't it?

SCHLEUNING: Yes, I was chairman of the committee for the first New York meeting9 that we had. That was really quite a hassle because at one point in that, we had a crate, which belonged to the Society, that had placards and that that we used all around. That had been put in the office region where the chairmen and so forth were holding forth, and I wanted to open it up. I start to get a screwdriver and find a screwdriver to open it up, and Tony...what's his name? He was with AVS. He was New England representative for AVS. Tony...oh, I can't think of his name. Heck of a nice guy10. Well, anyway, he saw me and he said, "Bill, don't! We'll have a strike!" And I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "If you get a screwdriver or try to take those screws out in any way, these fellows will all strike. You've got to get a carpenter to do that for you. I'll get one for you. Stay right there." So I had to stop until he got a carpenter to take a couple of screws out so we get the placards. Oh, boy. 

Another time I remember - No, wait a minute. That was the second one. No, that was the first one. That's right because another thing had happened at that meeting. I assumed that the treasurer would be there at all times, and therefore take care of the money. The first day, the treasurer was there. We took in quite a bit of money. I had made arrangements with the hotel that they would receive the money, issue us a check, and then I could give the check to the Treasurer. We wouldn't have all this money around. So I did that. I went down, deposited the money, got the check, brought it back up to the Treasurer, and gave it to him. He took a look and he said very carefully, "Bill, we can't accept this check." I said, "But the hotel just issued it." He said, "No, look. Did you look to whom it was made out?" And I said, "To the American Vacuum Society." He said, "No, it's made out to the American Banking Association." I said, "What?" And it turned out that the American Banking Association had held a meeting just a few days before ours, and the girl in the office down there thought I had said "American Banking" instead of "American Vacuum." So I had to go down, take the check down, get it canceled, new one issued, and, oh, it was quite a hassle. Oh, boy! We've had times at these meetings, but they've always been good.

LAFFERTY: You've certainly had some exciting experiences.

SCHLEUNING: Oh, it's been fun. No, there were a couple of things that I did, too. I think I was the first President who made a point of visiting every Section11 while he was President. This demanded quite a bit of travel and all that, and arrangement, but the fellows all went along with it and changed the dates of their meetings so I could make a swing and get the most of it. I thought it was most helpful to me to meet the people out there by themselves. I don't know whether that's being done today or not. I imagine it is, but I don't know. But they all appreciated it, if I can believe their letters and the remarks they made about it. It was fun.

LAFFERTY: Well, I think that's very important to you...

SCHLEUNING: I think you should get together.

LAFFERTY: ...to have done that because it ties the organization all together since we are spread all over the country.

SCHLEUNING: We are. And another thing I did at that same meeting, at the end of the Exhibit, I went downstairs and went to each exhibitor and thanked him for coming to this meeting, exhibiting his equipment, and wished him lots of luck and so forth. I thought that somebody in authority really should go down and thank these people because it costs them money to exhibit in places where we've been.

LAFFERTY: Those exhibitors are really the financial backbone of our organization.


LAFFERTY: We were very dependent on them for income.

SCHLEUNING: There were years that we really depended upon them totally. I don't know how it is now.

LAFFERTY: It used to be, in the old days, they didn't have an exhibit every year, did they?

SCHLEUNING: No, we only had symposia. That's all. We couldn't afford anything else. I think that every year business started with that international meeting in Washington12, where Dar Welch was really the engineer of that meeting and got all of the exhibitors to come. I guess he used his company's influence, the Welch Instrument Company or whatever it was, to push that, and he really did a job because they were there. They were really great. 

Well, I think those are the things I know, Jim. I don't know of anything much more to say, unless you can come up with something.

LAFFERTY: I think you've covered pretty well early days of AVS, and it's been very exciting. I'd like to thank you very much, Bill, for allowing us to come here in the privacy of your home and interview you.

SCHLEUNING: My pleasure. My pleasure completely. Our pleasure.

LAFFERTY: Thank you very much.

1. The initial name was Committee on Vacuum Techniques
2. There were 54 attendees. For a list, see the Era 1 of the e-book "50 Years of AVS' on the web site
3. Medard W Welch
4. International Union for Vacuum Science, Technique and Applications
5. A shellac-based product, somewhat like sealing wax.
6. Spelling of name uncertain
7. For a list of these histories, see the e-book "50 Years of AVS" on the web site
8. President for 1966-67 (from the Annual Business meeting in 1966 to the one in 1967.
9. He was Local Arrangements Chair for the 1965 Symposium in New York.
10. Tony Messina was the Exhibit Chair for the 1965 Symposium in New York
11. Sections was the original designation for what are now Chapters
12. The International Vacuum Congress and the AVS Symposium were held jointly in Washington, DC in 1970. The Exhibit has been held annually since the 1965 Symposium in New York.

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