Jack Anthony Baird (27 May 1921 – 23 May 1986)

My father was born and raised in Omaha, a northeastern Texas community of barely 1,000 people surrounded by farms of cotton, watermelons, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, and peaches.   Dr. Edward Young Anthony’s only child, Allie, had married Harry Baird in 1915.  Dad was their only child, born and raised in the house Allie and Harry shared with her parents Dr. Anthony and his wife Lou Ella Witt.   Dr. Anthony’s house sat (and still does) at the corner of South Main St. and the unpaved Senter St., separated from Omaha’s main street (US Highway 67) by an embankment and the railroad tracks that carried Omaha’s crops to market.

My father was valedictorian of the Omaha High School Class of 1939, a class that also included his future wife Louise Taylor.    At some point during high school he dove into a lake that wasn’t quite deep enough and broke his nose, a feature clearly seen in later photographs.   In his teens he built his own radio from a kit and  became  an avid ham radio  operator, corresponding with other enthusiasts all over North America. 1 That was his only hobby until well into the 1950s.  That early interest in radio and antennas  drove his selection of a college major and his later career.

College-JackCollege at  Texas A&M

He attended Texas A&M as a member of the Corps of Cadets, winning a gold watch in the prestigious sophomore math contest in 1941 and earning membership in the Scholarship and Honor Society.   He was on the college swimming team (as a diver) and was a cadet Major, the second-highest cadet rank, commanding the Signal Corps Battalion his senior year.  When World War II began the college converted to a year-round three-semester “express” curriculum and the Class of 1943 was graduated a semester early.    Dad graduated in January 1943 in the top 1% of his class with a degree in Electrical Engineering.  The photo at right was taken, we believe, during his freshman year at college.

My father was one of more than 14,000 Aggies who served as officers in Wold War II.   Although nearly all his classmates were commissioned as U.S. Army Second Lieutenants in January of 1943, Dad managed to parlay his interests and academic achievements into a Navy commission.   He was planning on the army as late as Christmas break 1942 but by the time he graduated a month later had apparently changed his mind.  While his classmates went off to Army assignments, Dad stayed at A&M to complete a special course in “ultra-high-frequency techniques” (meaning radar).   He applied for a naval commission on 27 January 1943, writing  that he wanted the Navy because “I might find there the work for which I am best suited”.   He was referring to his specialty in radiation and antennas, and specifically requested a commission as a radar engineering specialist.   The Texas A&M E.E. department retained him for some project for a few months before releasing him to the Navy and he was commissioned on 21 April 1944 as an Ensign in the Naval Reserve and immediately placed on active duty.   He was given seven days to report to Ft. Schuyler in New York for eight weeks of naval indoctrination.

A copy of his induction physical discloses that he was 5’8″, 125 pounds, had 20-20 vision and perfect hearing, and was missing all four wisdom teeth (his uncle was a dentist).   It also notes that he had diphtheria as a young child.

He Marries Louise Taylor

He married my mother on Sunday, 20 December 1942 during the Christmas break before graduation and, judging by the dates, created me at the same time.    The wedding, according to The Omaha Breeze, took place at noon in the First Baptist Church in Omaha with a Methodist minister presiding.  (My mother’s family were members of the local Methodist church, while my father’s family were staunch Baptists.)  My mother’s sister Virginia was maid of honor and her future husband Jack Moore was best man.

Upon entering the service, he spent a few weeks of indoctrination at Ft. Schuyler, 8 weeks at radar electronics school at Bowdoin College in Maine and 12 weeks at a special fire control radar school at MIT’s Radiation Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.   I was born in Boston, a couple weeks short of nine months after the marriage, when my parents were living in an apartment in Brookline, Massachusetts.  Two months later Dad was on his way to Pearl Harbor.

World War II Naval Service

In December 1943 Dad was sent to the Pacific while Mom and I went to Texas to live with the two sets of parents.  He left San Francisco two days after Christmas bound for Pearl Harbor, by which time my mother and I were already in Omaha, Texas.2  My father’s parents and maternal grandparents lived together in town just a block off Omaha’s main street, while my mother’s family lived on a farm about a mile out of town.

Dad was initially assigned as an instructor at the Pacific Fleet Radar Maintenance School in Pearl Harbor, working on a variety of ships installing and repairing radars and training crews.   In July 1944 he was promoted to Lt. (JG)  and assigned to the staff of Destroyer Escort Division 65, consisting of the USS Straus, USS Corbesier, and USS Conklin, as Radar and Radio Maintenance Officer from July 1944 through December 1944.   Based at Pearl Harbor, but on nearly constant escort duty in the western Pacific, he spent this period aboard the ships of the division performing crew training and repairs to radars and electronics.

He spent the month of October first on the USS Corbesier then the USS Conklin then back to the  USS Corbesier from 30 October 1944 to 11 December 1944 to perform emergency repairs to radar equipment damaged in a Japanese air attack.  The ship was at Saipan, Leyte, and Ulithi during this period and was attacked by more Japanese airplanes on at least a couple of occasions.  He was aboard various other ships of the group for similar periods during his five months on the Group 65 staff.

He was then assigned to the Pacific Fleet Radar Maintenance School in San Francisco from 19 December 1944 until 10 August 1945.   He left the Corbesier on the afternoon of 11 December 1944 while it was docked at Ulithi, and flew to San Francisco via Guam, Kwajalein, Johnston Island, and Honolulu — finally arriving at San Francisco several days later.   In August 1945 he was assigned to the Fire Control Section of the Bureau of Ordinance in Washington, DC until he was discharged from active duty on 9 February 1946, though he remained in the reserves for another six years.   My mother and I reunited with him in Washington in late 1945. 3

Bell Telephone Laboratories and AT&T Career

While ending his service, he sought and was offered a job at Bell Laboratories, the world’s premier electronics research facility of the time.   (Researchers working at Bell Labs are credited with the development of radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, the charge-coupled device (CCD), solar cells, information theory, the UNIX operating system, the C programming language, S programming language and the C++ programming language.  Its work also earned seven Nobel prizes.)   He joined the military systems division of Bell Labs in Whippany, New Jersey to continue working with radar systems, with his first assignment being the installation of the first radar system in the Great Lakes on the steamer John T. Hutchinson.  At this time we lived in Rockaway, New Jersey (On Valley View Road.)) in a housing development of $6,000 houses marketed to returning veterans.

A Brief Return to Texas A&M

He went to night school for three years at Stevens Institute of Technology, earning an MS in 1950, and promptly took a two-year leave of absence from Bell Labs to return to Texas A&M where he received a PhD in Electrical Engineering in May 1952, just a few months after my brother Glen was born.   His PhD thesis was entitled  An Approach to the Problem of Network Synthesis Utilizing Normal Coordinates and was published by the Texas A&M Press in 1952.  The work later resulted in his first patent.   While at A&M he was an on staff as an Assistant Professor, teaching classes in television circuits — he had built a home television from scratch in 1949. 4  During the College Station years we lived in College View Village, a set of converted Quonset hut barracks, in an apartment that rented for $20 a month plus 50¢ for an “ice box””.

By this time he had discovered, or perhaps always had, a love of teaching and after receiving his PhD Dad was offered a job as a professor at A&M and received a similar offer from VPI.  Although he apparently seriously considered staying on at A&M, he decided to return to Bell Labs and in the summer of 1952 we moved to an apartment in Morristown, New Jersey while Dad resumed his career at Bell Labs in Whippany.  The following year we bought a house and moved to Whippany.5

A Genuine Computer Pioneer

Baird-Leprechaun-1Dad was one of the early pioneers of computing, building on Bell Labs early work with transistors.   In 1951 Bell Labs had begun working on an on-board aircraft computer, later called TRADIC, for solving navigation and bombing formulas using a mere 684 transistors.   With improved transistor technology the Labs undertook to build the second-generation version, which was called Leprechaun, to demonstrate the feasibility of using on-board digital computers for real-time navigation and weapons control.   Shortly after returning to work Dad was named to head the development of Leprechaun, which is generally acknowledged as the world’s first stored-program solid-state computer.   Leprechaun used a whopping 5,500 transistors and 18,000 magnetic cores, consumed 250 watts of power, and occupied a  relatively minuscule 15 cubic feet.  It was capable of addition and subtraction in 48 microseconds, multiplication in 350 microseconds, and division in 430 microseconds.   Leprechaun was operational by 1956 and Dad went on to develop it and its successors into the Air Force’s first high-altitude bombing system and the Nike-Zeus missile guidance system.  He was named director of Bell Labs military systems development in 1958.

An advertisement showing my father with a Leprechaun computer appeared in the 10 January 1958 issue of Science magazine and can be viewed by clicking here.

He had apparently not lost his interest in teaching, because a few years earlier in 1956 Dad had applied for the position of head of the Department of Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M and was offered the job later that year. (The letter offering the job gave him a choice of a salary of $10,500 for 11 months or $10,000 for 10 months, with a month or two available for contract work.)  Despite asking for the job, he turned down the offer.

JAB-smallerHe remained at Bell Labs, focusing on applications of computers to telephone and data networks.  In 1961 he moved to Rumson, New Jersey to take the job of director of military switching systems at the new Bell Labs location in Holmdel and was promoted to executive director of the Bell System’s network switching engineering in 1964.   He became a vice-president of systems engineering for Bell Laboratories in 1966, heading up the systems laboratory at Holmdel.  In 1970 he was named VP of network planning and customer service for the Bell System network.

He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1970 and the National Academy of Sciences in 1971.  He had been a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers since 1969.   He was also a member of the Telephone Pioneers of America, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the Newcomen Society.

In 1973 he left Bell Labs to become vice-president of engineering and network services at AT&T.   Over the next ten years, working in New York City and later in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, he became an executive vice-president of AT&T, chairman of American Bell International, and a board member of several AT&T subsidiaries including Bell Labs, Illinois Bell, Western Electric, and the Sandia National Laboratories.   The government’s antitrust suit was filed in 1974 and the consent decree’s plan to break up the largest corporation in history was signed in early 1982 to be effective on 1 January 1984.   Dad was at the time the AT&T VP of Network Planning & Design, to which the VP of Network Services title was later added.   But with the demise of the AT&T conglomerate, my father was forced into retirement in late 1983 at the age of 62.

In 1982 Texas A&M created an Alumni Honors award in its College of Engineering and Jack Baird was one of the first three recipients.  He also served the government on a variety of advisory committees, typically associated with the National Research Council and the Department of Commerce, dealing with telephone and data network issues.   He continued that work after his retirement, and also served as an advisor to the Voice of America.

My parents had moved into an apartment in Summit, New Jersey and built a winter home in Naples, Florida in anticipation of retirement.    Unfortunately, his retirement was cut short by a fatal heart attack a few days before his 65th birthday.

  1. His call letters as an adult were W2Q7R. []
  2. He sailed on LST 224 according to the ship’s manifest. []
  3. We lived at 144 Danbury St., SW, in 1945-6. []
  4. The TV screen was an oval mounted horizontally in a large cabinet with a lid on top.  Viewing it required raising the lid to a 45 degree angle and watching a reverse image through a mirror mounted to the underside of the lid.  We lived at the time in Rockaway, New Jersey and managed to view television programs broadcast every evening from New York City, which sported an impressive six TV stations by 1950.  My favorite was DuMont’s “Captain Video and His Video Rangers”, which I watched most nights after dinner.  “The Lone Ranger” on Thursday nights was another favorite. []
  5. The house was built in 1953 on the corner of Jacque Terrace and Jeffrie Trail.  Our address was 11 Jacque Terrace. []