Recollections of Frederick Emmons Terman - Lewis M. Terman
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Recollections of Frederick Emmons Terman† 
©Lewis M. Terman
From SMEC VIntage Electrics Vol #3, Issue #1 1991 (now SMECC)


At the Stanford-Colorado football game on the September 28th weekend celebration of the Stanford Centennial, a man, sitting one row in front of me and whom I had never seen before in my life, looked at my name on my Centennial badge, and asked "Are you related to the Terman?" Among my brothers and myself, this is known as "the question," since it has popped up with surprising frequency throughout our lives.

The usual answer has been "which Terman?" The questioner usually was referring to our father, Frederick Emmons Terman, the man to whom this special issue is devoted -- but not always. His father was the psychologist, Lewis M. Terman, also a Stanford professor, who was world famous for his studies of intelligence, developing the IQ test, and his life-long study of gifted children. And our mother, Sibyl Wolcott Terman, was an educator who was deeply and passionately involved with helping children with reading problems. She developed a very successful program for teaching phonics and coauthored a book on reading. But most of the time, particularly in the last couple of decades, the questioner turned out to be someone who had studied electronics using my fatherís book Radio Engineering, and to whom the book apparently was relatively close to the Bible. Most also knew Radio Engineerís Handbook, which Dad also authored.

For about two decades Radio Engineering was probably the main focus of Dadís life. The first edition came out in the mid-30ís, the second before the 2nd World War, the third about 1947, and the last edition in 1955, just as he became provost of Stanford. In his study, he had a shelf with copies of Radio Engineering in every foreign language into which it had been translated. This included pirated Asian editions and an edition in Russian which had a Russian listed as author. Dad did not read Russian, but recognized the figures. The bookshelf had over thirty volumes.

Perhaps my strongest recollection of Dad is of him working patiently and painstakingly night after night on the book. His daily routine was almost invariant. He would come down to breakfast around 7:30, go to the office at 8:00, return home around 5:00, and work in his study for an hour or so before dinner. Dinner occupied the next hour, the family around the dinner table in those pre-television days, nobody dominating the conversation. With dinner over, he would rest for about half an hour, lying down in his study with the lights off, and at about 7:30 or so would resume working on the book, continuing until 9:30 or 10:00 P.M.., when he would go to bed. Weekends were similar except that he didnít go to the office. He would rest or nap in the afternoon, and he was not above taking a little time off upon occasion.

Dad once remarked that if you wrote one page a day, at the end of a year you would have a 365 page book, and I think this indicates how he worked. He would slave over each sentence, making it say exactly what he wanted as economically as possible. He wrote out section long hand and then, at least after WW2 when I was old enough to understand what he was doing, read them into an archaic wax-cylinder Dictaphone machine, from which they would be transcribed by a typist the next day.

The book-writing was greatly helped by his filing system. When he read an article, he would cut it out and file it away in the appropriate place. When he came to writing a particular section, he would pluck out the folder, and there would be all the articles written on the subject.

Dad was able to work so effectively because of his ability to concentrate. In the original house on the Stanford campus, the study was in the middle of the ground floor, surrounded by the living room, the entrance way, the dining room and the breakfast room. Almost any movement in the house must have been audible, and yet nothing seemed to disturb him. Even my playing of jazz records in the living room never drew any comment. Similarly, in the house in Belmont, Massachusetts during WW2 his study was on the third floor, which it shared with the playroom for the three brothers, yet he seemed oblivious to any noise we made. But I could walk into his study at any time. He would drop what he was doing, give me his full attention, and when we were finished would seamlessly pick up his work again. He never asked me to come back later or said he was busy.

Dad was very proud of the success of his books. He once said, with a chuckle, "Other people write books for prestige. Mine also make money." His books were successful in the 30ís, and certainly must have been instrumental in his being elected the first IEEE President from west of the Mississippi, just before the Second World War. After the war, he realized that there had been tremendous strides in radio and electronics, and although he had just been appointed Dean of Engineering at Stanford, and had been an administrator for three years as head of the Radio Research Laboratory at Harvard, he dug in, worked the proverbial night and day, and was the first to incorporate the war-time advances in a textbook.

He did this despite the fact that he knew he was not going to be heavily involved in technical work again. A few years after his retirement he told me that it was at the RRL during the Second World War that he found that he really enjoyed "running the show." Mother said that Dad had always felt that as a technical innovator and inventor he simply was not in the same class as the best he knew - Ed Ginzton, Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard, Russell Varian, and the like. This was probably nonsense, but he did find great satisfaction in providing the foundation and environment which allowed others to do their best work.

He had tremendous admiration for creative people. This was reflected in his "steeples of excellence" theory - get the very best. "You don't get a seven-foot high jumper by hiring two three and a half foot jumpers", he would say. He often spoke with admiration of Hewlett and Packard, who had been students of his in the 30ís. Dad said he saw something in both Hewlett and Packard, and told them to work together. It was Hewlettís solution to a thesis project which Dad gave him which was Hewlett-Packardís first product. Dad admired both their technical acumen and their success in running their company equally, and he had a life-long friendship with the Hewletts and Packards. He also thought highly of their relationship with their employees.

As much as Dad admired the steeple of talent, he also had respect for anyone who did their job well. He spoke very warmly about the staff at the RRL ("The boys" he called them) and remember by name the people who solved various technical problems, large and small. He recalled the machinist who worked out the method of mass fabricating the aluminum foil strips ("window" or "chaff") which were dropped by airplanes to confuse enemy radar, and spoke of a technician who was a whiz at building and installing equipment and getting it to work.

Dad was also concerned about students, and tried to help them as much as possible. He told the story of one of his advisees who seemed quite bright, but wanted to take a course for which he lacked several prerequisite courses. Despite this, instead of having him audit the course, Dad let the student sign up for it, telling him to do the homework and take the mid-term. If he found it too difficult, he could discontinue the course before the cut-off date for dropping courses, while if he did well on the mid-term he could complete the course for credit. With some glee, Dad recounted that the student got the highest grade on the mid-term and an A in the class.

Another example involved a faculty son who was in EE. He was in a number of my classes, and was doing so poorly that he was in danger of flunking out. In the course of talking to him, Dad found out that he was business manager of the campus radio station, and was really enjoying it. Dad had him take a couple of courses in the Business School, and when they went well, got him out of engineering and into a Business major, which he completed successfully. The important point to Dad was not the field in which he graduated, but that he reached his potential.

A natural outgrowth of this philosophy was that he was adamant about people being educated to the highest level possible. He felt this was valuable not only for the person, but also for their present or future employer. The Honors Co-operative program was started to allow employees of companies to get a Masters Degree at Stanford. The Masters Degree was obtained with only classwork; Dad said that he didnít want to waste the time of the students and professors writing and reading MS theses. The students attended the normal daytime classes with the full-time students (though taking two years instead of the normal one). Dad did not want to create a group of second-class students in evening classes. He also did not want to create a second-class faculty teaching these courses. The companies had to give students time off to attend the classes and commute to them, but the result was they got first-class education.

The hope was the that best could be convinced to stay on for a Ph.D. Dad felt the best job he had done in getting someone to go for higher education was to get Dave Packard to come to Stanford for graduate work. "Remember, this was in the middle of the depression. Dave had a good job with GE and had been there about a year. Coming to Stanford was a real risk. I managed to get him a fellowship for $150 a month. I told him not to cut his ties with GE, to take a leave of absence for a year". He would laugh. "You canít hardly get good people for that kind of money anymore." Packard came, met Hewlett, and the rest is history. "Packard came to me and said that within a couple of weeks he knew he had made the right decision," Dad said.

The success of the Honors Cooperative program and the whole graduate EE program was helped by the presence of Silicon Valley and its precursor in the late 40ís and 50ís. At that time, virtually everything from San Jose to South San Francisco was within a 30-minute drive, so students could commute to Stanford easily. Dad is called "The Father of the Silicon Valley," but he always denied it. "It was Bill Shockley that caused Silicon Valley" he would say with a smile. "People would come out to work with him because he was so brilliant, then find they couldnít get along with him, and leave to start a new company." Dad said that after the WW2, he knew there would be a lot of money available from the Government to support research. He envisioned the university industry and government working together. The government money would fund research in the university, and also support students who would receive the best education and take the ideas and training into industry to develop new products and create jobs. He viewed it as an all-win proposition.

By modern standards, Dad would be considered a workaholic; he was dedicated to his job and he worked very hard and long hours. But he did it because he loved it. His often quoted remark, which he also made to me, that if he had his life to live over again, he would live it exactly as before, reflected the quiet satisfaction he had in his accomplishments. But his life was not all work. He did go on vacations. There are some family films of a trip to Yellowstone Park around 1940. In 1944 we spent a month or so on Marthaís Vineyard, and two months on Buzzards Bay in 1945. Both years he spent several weeks with the family, and for the remainder of the time commuted down from the Boston area on weekends. Later, he spent a week or two each year at the Stanford camp on Fallen Leaf Lake in the Sierras. There he loved hiking through the Sierras, taking walks of many miles. This probably harkened back to his early days when he walked and hunted through the Stanford hills. He always enjoyed walking and did it consistently after he retired until his health deteriorated towards the end of his life.

He had a pretty good sense of humor, made more striking at times because it was unexpected from him. He once deadpanned his way through a presentation to the Stanford Board of Directors in which he claimed to have discovered that the three-mile long Stanford Linear Accelerator was really connected to Rosottiís, a local beer parlor in the hills behind the campus, through which the students were planning to clandestinely pump beer to the campus dormitories. Needless to say, it broke up the meeting. He loved telling the story of how Hewlett and Packard put goldfish in a barrel which was used to catch water from a roof leak in the laboratory building they were using. In fact, he had a whole series of stories, some of them quite funny, about the early days of radio and electronics in the Bay Area. He never wrote them down, and they probably vanished with his passing.

Every Sunday morning Dad would go "up the hill" to his fatherís house and spend several hours talking with him. This went on regularly like clockwork week after week, year after year, until his father died in 1956, several years after his mother had died. My mother later reported that he later said to her "now I know how an orphan feels."

Dad was devoted to Stanford University. The family moved to Stanford from the Midwest in 1905. He did his undergraduate work at Stanford, and then received a Ph.D. from MIT under Vannevar Bush. Bush became a presidential advisor on science and technology during WW2. Dad kept in touch with him, and avidly read and quoted the books Bush wrote.

Dad returned to Stanford after his Ph.D. and suffered a near fatal attack of tuberculosis. His father had almost died of TB, and the familyís move to California was to help overcome the disease. Dadís attack was at least as serious. One doctor, assuming that Dad would not live, told his parents to go ahead and let him do anything he wanted to. Fortunately, a second doctor put him on what was at that time an accepted but excruciating treatment for TB. For over a year, he lay in bed with his chest immobilized by sandbags. While he was ill, Stanford offered him a position on the faculty when he recovered. This was very important to Dad for it meant he had a position to look forward to when he recovered, and I believe it was instrumental in his loyalty to Stanford.

Dad worked long hours, but he did enjoy some recreation. He was a big fan of Stanford football; he attended the home games and listened to the road games on radio. Losses did not affect him (quite fortunate, considering Stanford football fortunes), but he was quietly pleased when Stanford won. He would talk about the more famous Stanford teams of the 30ís and early 1940ís, particularly the Frankie Albert Rose Bowl team of 1941. He followed the San Francisco 49ers, especially the early team which had a number of former Stanford players. Otherwise, he did not follow professional sports much, except for an occasional former Stanford athlete.

Dad told me, to my surprise, the he had competed in intercollegiate track while he was at Stanford. He laughed and said, "I once beat the best miler USC had. I was starting the last lap, and I saw the runner ahead seemed to be tiring. I thought, ĎI can take himí, so I put on a push and I passed him on the final turn." He smiled and said, "I was third."

Dad also supported my own athletics. I have memories of him one summer when I was learning baseball when he hit grounders and flies to me in the backyard for half an hour or so several nights a week. He came to some swimming meets and softball games, and he came out to watch me fly free-flight model airplanes. This was done in the Stanford hills, off Page Mill Road, where the main Hewlett Packard Corporate building is now located.

I do not remember Dad ever going to a movie, and he did not watch television except for a rare football game, such as the Rose Bowl. He did enjoy Broadway musicals, although he did not go to many of them. He did enjoy walking and he was quite pleased one year when we went to Fallen Leaf Lake in his mid-50ís he could still walk eight miles.

Dad also enjoyed travel, although most of it was business related. He took a number of trips to Asia, especially Korea and Taiwan. He would return from these trips with gifts and stories. Some of the items he brought were quite beautiful and became decorations in the house. He always brought back gifts for the whole family. On these trips he absorbed information like a sponge, and had a storehouse of stories when he arrived home, both about the history and the present-day culture and environment. He was very impressed on how the Nationalist Chinese on Taiwan had been able to become self-sufficient in food production despite minimum arable land, and had persuaded people to voluntarily cut the birth rate to avoid over-population. He greatly admired the hard work of both the Chinese and Koreans.

Although Dadís public persona was somewhat reserved and austere, he was a warm and communicative person underneath. I have many warm memories of my father. His life was marked by hard work, great accomplishment, and a rare sense of satisfaction at what he had been able to achieve. You canít ask for more than that. - L.M.T
About Lewis M. Terman.

Lewis M. Terman received the B.S., M.S., and Ph.D degrees from Stanford University in 1956, 1958, and 1961 respectively. His thesis was on the measurement of surface states at oxidized silicon interfaces using MOS capacitors. In 1961 he joined the IBM Research Division, working first system logic design, and then on magnetic film memory development. In 1964 he began working on semiconductor memory, especially with MOS technology, and became one of its earliest advocates, participating in the program which resulted in the initial IBM NMOS memory products. In the 70ís he worked on MOS and CCD memory, MOS logic and MOS analog circuits. During 1979-80 he was on the Technical Planning Staff of the Director of Research. Since 1981 he has directed groups doing research on circuits, devices, and technology for advanced MOS memory and logic. He is currently manager of VLSI Logic and Memory, directing four groups in CMOS logic and memory design and technology.

Dr. Terman is President of the IEEE Electron Devices Society and was Vice-President 1988-1989. He has been a member of the EDS AdCom since 1985. He was Treasurer of the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Council 1988-89, Co-Chairman of the 1988 Symposium on VLSI Circuits and Co-Chairman of the 1989 International Symposium on VLSI Technology, Systems, and Applications. He has been the chairman of the International Solid-State Circuits Conference and the Symposium on VLSI Technology, editor and associate editor of the Journal of Solid-State Circuits, and a member of the IEEE Circuits and Systems Administrative Committee. He received IBM Outstanding Invention and Outstanding Contribution awards in 1968, 1971, 1974, two in 1976, and two in 1988. He is the author or co-author of 32 technical articles and 19 US patents. He is a Fellow of the IEEE and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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