Reference Entry

Engstrom, Elmer William

Christopher H. Sterling

in American National Biography Online

Published in print January 1999 |
Published online February 2000 | e-ISBN: 9780198606697 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1302071

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Engstrom, Elmer William (25 August 1901–30 October 1984), electrical engineer, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of Emil Engstrom, a power plant engineer, and Anna Nilssen. After public schooling, he graduated with a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1923. He began his career with General Electric (GE) in Schenectady, New York, in 1923, working on short-wave transmitters and then broadcast receivers. He married Phoebe Leander in 1926; they had one son. He transferred to the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1930 when GE’s radio engineering and manufacturing work were taken over by RCA. At RCA’s facilities in Camden, New Jersey, Engstrom served as division engineer in charge of sound motion-picture devices and broadcast receivers. He became director of general research in 1942, when RCA research activities were concentrated in Princeton, New Jersey. He was promoted to director of research of RCA Laboratories in 1943 and administered a staff of 600 working on RCA’s military contracts on radio, acoustics, radar, and electronics. He was named vice president in charge of research of the RCA Laboratory Division in 1945, moving up to be in charge of the division in 1951. Throughout this period, as historian Margaret Graham notes, “He wanted to rebuild the inventory of scientific knowledge in electronics and recommended that corporate management devote a sizeable effort to this,” urging RCA to invest in fundamental and theoretical research and explore its commercial application. Yet Engstrom was somewhat hamstrung by RCA’s lower profits in the postwar years and by the end of much of its patent income, which had helped to finance fundamental research. He changed the budgeting basis of RCA Laboratories and tied research planning to RCA revenues. Requiring members of the Laboratory Division to budget on revenue was a significant change. As Graham notes, it was “the first time since the founding of the Laboratories that limits on the resources devoted to research were visible to the research staff.” In future years the RCA research effort was increasingly tied to development of viable products....

Reference Entry.  1123 words. 

Subjects: Electrical Engineering

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