Alumni Spotlights

James R. Hall 

Seattle University, BS Engineering, Class of 1951

Professional Biography       


James Robert Hall Career Summary           

James showed an interest in science at a young age, which led to a career developing technologies that touch all of us today.  Many more patents were filed, however over 25 U.S. patents were granted patents with most having been granted in another dozen countries. James is a scientist, an innovator, who has contributed to our advances in technology from early color television to high power lasers.

His career spanned a tremendous time of technology growth and discovery.  Technology areas James had the opportunity to participate included: early color television to color video tape recording, missile re-entry radar signature recording , moon satellite televised  landing site surveillance, early high speed computer data information access processing, war defense and intruder surveillance, microwave and aircraft collision avoidance systems, Star Wars defense projects, advanced laser technology for medical and energy generation, space power technology, and the International Space Station power systems.

The Early Years

James always had a natural curiosity in science and radio.  He built his first radio as a young teen. He earned his Commercial Radio License at age 15, before he had his drivers license, so he could work on civil defense communications during WWII.

After graduating from Everett High School in 1945, he joined the Navy and became an Electronic Technician.  He then went on to Everett Community College, earning his Associates in Arts and Science in 1948.

Seattle University

James selected Seattle University because it was smaller than the University of Washington and provided a Jesuit quality education.  He used the GI Bill and worked at three different radio stations concurrently to pay his way through college. He also became a Ham Radio operator and during two of his summers he worked in Alaska installing marine communications equipment built by the Wold Radio Company that he started with in high school.

During his years at Seattle University the most influential in his education were: Father McNulty, the Dean of Engineering; Father Gaffney, Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Father Phillip Bourette, Professor teaching electric power machinery, motors and generators; Father Gilmore and Father McGuigan who taught Philosophy and Theology. And Father Joe Corrigan, the Vets Hall proctor, who helped James prepare for his radio announcing auditions that helped pay for his education.

Like many other science students James questioned the usefulness of the philosophy classes. Over the years he discovered that this part of his education proved to be as necessary in dealing with people as the science and math classes.

In 1950, James formed the Seattle University IEEE Chapter, which was then called the IRE Institute of Radio Engineers.

James’ senior engineering project was designing and building a closed circuit black and white television camera.  Although it didn’t work after much careful design and testing, three years later another SU engineering student working on the camera identified the problem was a mislabeled part. Once the part was replaced the television camera worked successfully.

James was awarded IEEE Engineering Student of the year for the State of Washington in 1951 after his graduation from Seattle University, Cum Laude, with his B.S. in Engineering.

The RCA Years (1951 to 1976)

James was recruited by RCA through on campus recruiting at Seattle University.  He joined the Optics and Sound Advanced Development group in Camden New Jersey. This was the pioneering organization formed by General Electric and Westinghouse in the 1920’s to develop radio communication, sound for motion pictures, and to electrify phonograph record generation.

During this early part of his career James worked with two engineers who between them held over 200 patents for sound on film variable area recording.  During James’ first week at RCA the new engineers were touring the television camera design area.  In discussing issues that the engineers were having, James suggested an alternate design approach.  His boss sat him down and had him fill out his first patent application.  As it turned out a scientist from RCA Princeton Labs had filed a patent for the same idea one week earlier.  Not bad for a new grad filing his first patent only one week on the job. This early training taught the value of teamwork and help to others.

One of his training projects was working with the Princeton Labs designing the antenna system  for the first portable wireless (backpack) television station and camera used on the floors of both the Democratic and Republican 1952 National Conventions.  

Early Computers

Other work done in RCA Camden included a magnetic tape mass memory system for RCA’s first commercial digital computer using vacuum tubes, called the BIZMAC, in 1952. This led to a spinoff of the RCA Computer Division. It was also at this time he met the love of his life, Theresa Mullen his future wife, who right out of high school was a member of the mathematical group at the University of Pennsylvania doing war effort calculations in the days that The Computer Wore Heels (  This classified defense program was responsible for the ENIAC, the first electronic vacuum tube digital computer and contributed to the U.S. success in the war.

Magnetic Recording and the Space Program

James was granted five of his patents developing magnetic recording for color television signals in 1955-1959.  The spinoff of this work started the Astro Electronics Division which developed TIROS weather satellites, which is the basis of our weather we see on TV today. This was also used for spy satellite technology that replaced physical film with magnetic recording and radio transmission to earth.

In 1959 James moved to Van Nuys, CA to the RCA West Coast Missile and Surface Radar Division. His first major project was a missile tracking system for recording the re-entry signatures of nose cones for missile defense and space program. This included testing and tracking in the southern Atlantic Ocean and off South Africa. Over three months this included stops in Ascension Island, St. Helena, Napoleon’s place of exile, and Cape Town South Africa.

This was followed by joining the team developing the technology to televise pictures from the Ranger, a space exploratory device that sent photographs of the moon surface before crashing onto the moon.  The Ranger program, run by JPL and NASA, was used in determining moon landing sites for the Apollo space program. His next major project was the RACE, Magnetic card, Mass memory system built in 1964. The system could hold half a gigabyte in a single machine, which is about the capacity of a CD used today. Most system configurations with 8 machines could hold 4 gigabytes.  The speed of the memory was 5 to 1 faster than the technology of the new IBM computer memory systems of that time. 

Electronic Intelligence Gathering

James worked with the Electronic Warfare group in developing solid state microwave technology used for electronic warfare, used in military aircraft to jam missile weapons.  That led to his team’s development work on the airborne transponder collision avoidance systems. The spin-off of this technology is the TCAS system used in most airplanes today.  Similar microwave signal processing technology was used in the river and harbor navigation system RIHANS, later replaced by satellite navigation. 

Other defense projects included Intrusion detection systems used in the Vietnam War. The remote devices were the size of a silver dollar and their detection sounds were picked up by a unit about the size of a brick for radio relay to control centers.  The relay unit could also pick up seismic movement of people and vehicles and differentiate from natural seismic vibrations such as trees and animals.  Working with Disney Studios, the remote devices were disguised to look like something natural to the area, like animal feces. The remote devices were dropped by airplanes. James worked with the U.S. Army Special Forces to field test the devices.

The Rockwell / Rocketdyne / Boeing Years (1976 to retirement in 1994)

James moved to Rockwell International Rocketdyne Division the summer of 1976. He worked on the Rocket engine control and monitoring systems and was involved in satellite deployment rockets and the rocket engines on the Space Shuttle program.

Rockets to Star Wars

Next James was involved in the Star Wars projects, of the Regan Era. Work included anti-nuclear missile defense systems.  Some of this technology has been field tested and deployed and is still classified today.

James worked with Los Alamos National Labs in development of high powered lasers used for nuclear fuel processing as part of Department of Energy programs.  The pulse power systems of these lasers had to deliver 5 gigawatts of electric power to the electric discharge excimer laser in pulses of a thousand times a second.  This delivered 160,000 amperes at 40,000 volts.

James did the pulse power systems for a free electron laser. This technology is still under development today, 25 years later.  The advantage of the free electron laser is that it is tunable to make different wave lengths of light, unlike gas or crystal lasers where the color is specific to the chemical properties of the molecules used. Rockwell’s research was for development of laser medical and surgical applications.

The International Space Station

James, as a part of a multi-company team developed the Space Station power generation and distribution systems. His work included technology development and the integration and testing of the space stations power system components which were launched to build out the International Space Station in 1998.

Other technology developments and projects James worked are still classified 25 years after retirement.  James retired in 1994 but continued to do consulting work with Boeing – Rocketdyne for the next two years.

Today James still reads up on technological breakthroughs and advances and continues to keep in touch with his fellow workers and friends around the world with his Ham Radio, the original social network before Facebook and Twitter.

What attributes of your success would you pass on to Seattle University students of today:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Perseverance
  3. Serendipity
  4. Faith in my abilities and the abilities of others
  5. Teamwork
  6. Loving the challenge!

But as a famous Group Executive Vice President at RCA once said, “springs, glue, and people are the cause of most of the problems in my career, but not necessarily in that order”.

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