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Museum Tracks Electronic History

December 25, 1989|ELLEN HAWKS | THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN

BALTIMORE — Robert L. Dwight, creator, curator and director of the Historical Electronics Museum Inc., walks amid an incredible collection of electronic equipment, predominantly radar, and says, "This is the least-known museum there is."

If so, that should change. A visitor comes away from it wanting to tell the world to hurry up and visit this small spot where the history of radar and other military and commercial electronic equipment is displayed with detailed and understandable information.

The museum, in the Baltimore suburb of Linthicum, houses electronic equipment developed by Westinghouse, Boeing, RCA, Hughes, General Electric, Raytheon and Texas Instruments.

The tour guides, particularly Dwight, are Westinghouse retirees who very likely designed or worked on the items displayed.

Visitors can see the U.S. Army's long-range radar, the SCR-270 (Signal Corps Radar-270), built in the 1940s by Westinghouse-Baltimore.

The 270 was in continuous action in World War II and it was also used in moon-bounce experiments. Parts of that radar and a workable model are on display at the museum.

"I have a great desire to find an original one," says Dwight.

A lunar TV camera like the one used to photograph a human's first steps on the moon is displayed along with an award given to the Westinghouse development team by the National Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Outside, in front of the museum, is a large trailer truck with what appears to be a TV scanner on top. It is the SCR-584 radar, possibly the only one in existence. In World War II, the 584 played a major role against Germany's V-1 buzz-bomb assault on England. The 584 was capable of automatically tracking a target 40 miles out and feeding the calculations to mechanical anti-aircraft guns.

Dwight's idea to begin the preservation of electronic equipment came to him suddenly in 1973 at a Westinghouse family day.

Dwight was standing next to an old airborne radar unit, the AERO 13, when a man told his wife and two sons about his role in designing part of the radar 20 years ago.

"His excitement and pride in telling his family about it gave me a sudden knowledge that we should try to get back some of this electronic hardware we had built and to preserve it for history," Dwight says.

From 1973 to 1980 when the museum was established--it officially opened in 1983--Dwight and four co-workers, Warren Cooper, Chester T. Kelley, Eugene P. Krach and Jack K. Sun, collected and stored and planned.

"We reached a point where we had a warehouse full of equipment and no place to put it. Then Westinghouse gave us this space.

"We also have another 5,000 square feet of storage space that houses exhibits, which we rotate. The Smithsonian displays only 5% of what they have," he notes.

Dwight began working at Westinghouse in 1954 as a mechanical engineer in the airborne defense center. He retired in 1984, and with his wife, Alice, lives on Gibson Island. Dwight spends most of his days volunteering at the museum.

The museum has 24 volunteers and a paid staff that consists of a half-time secretary, Affie Poulos.

"Westinghouse funds us, modestly, but we have not established fund-raising programs, nor do we charge admission or have a museum store. This will come slowly, but we do welcome any funding or volunteer assistance," he says.

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