Happy Birthday, Ralph!
Ralph Miller

Here we celebrate Ralph Miller.

Joining the technical staff of Bell Labs in its early days, Ralph Miller worked on the teams that would blossom into the Labs’ golden age. Among the tens of patents to Ralph Miller's name is the invention of Pulse Code Modulation. The story of PCM tells how the Labs’ dedication to war work in the 1940s laid the foundation for today’s digital transmission.

At the age of 108 and proudly retired, Ralph Miller is one of the only voices left to testify to those years. Fortunately for those of us with shorter memories, he recounts how he and his colleagues took first steps to the Internet today.

In 1929 Ralph Miller went, a newly minted electrical engineer, from Kansas State University to Bell Telephone Laboratories to participate in the golden age of the Labs. In the following ten years he obtained patents, among others, for the Quartz Oscillating Frequency Divider and aspects of the Vocoder. This was a prelude of patents to come.

In 1939 amid gathering storms of war O.E. Buckley, soon to head the Labs, attended a meeting of the National Defense Research Council (NDRC). Deep concern emerged because Roosevelt and Churchill, diplomats, and the US military were regularly using a communication system that was not secure. He returned to the Labs committed to address that problem.

Top-level Labs discussion, because of the limited bandwidth available, quickly focused on the Vocoder as a starting point for a new secure system. The ensuing research and development of the X system (aka SigSaly and the Green Hornet) created an unbreakably secure connection between the White House and Churchill’s bunker, MacArthur’s signal operations ship, and Eisenhower in North Africa. Subsequent development in the next couple decades, mainly by the Labs, produced the parallel AMTRC and KY3 systems.

The insights generated in this war effort proved half a century later to be precursor to today’s high speed digital transmission. But from the mid-1940s through the mid-1970s news of the patents was tightly held by the US government. These 30 patents, including Pulse Code Modulation among a number held by RL Miller, had secured military and diplomatic transmission through the war. The decades of secrecy shrouded from view the underpinnings for today’s network.

Notwithstanding, that earlier work from the golden age of the Labs was the foundation. From that ultimately would grow ARPANET and the Internet. Now you can see.

coordinates: Ralph Miller, 100 Newbury Court Road, Suite 606, Concord, MA 01742, USA, +1 978 318 7057, ralph at ralph-miller dot org (remove extraneous characters before sending)