Werner F. Auerbacher, an IEEE member for more than 60 years, died on 19 January, just shy of his 100th birthday. His engineering career spanned the early days of electronics and radio to the present through the electronic components company he founded, Inter-Technical Group.
Auerbacher joined the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE), one of IEEE’s predecessor societies, in 1938. He credited his membership with helping him succeed at the profession he loved. He particularly valued the publications, which he read well into his retirement. Attending IRE meetings and networking with other engineers was important to him, he said. In his will, he directed his executors, who were his two children, Roger Auerbacher and Judith Ellis, to select charities worthy of his support. Aware of the important role IEEE played in his life, they made a gift to the IEEE Foundation. With that gift, Auerbacher became a member of the IEEE Goldsmith Legacy League, which is composed of donors—members and nonmembers—who leave a bequest in their will to IEEE’s philanthropic arm or include it in their trust.
RADIO DAYS Auerbacher’s passion for radio began at age 13 when he spotted his first radio at an inventor’s fair he attended in Mannheim, Germany. Auerbacher’s father did not share his son’s passion, considering radio a plaything. He wanted his son to become a dentist, doctor, or lawyer. Auerbacher struck a compromise with his father by studying law and engineering to become a patent attorney.
Ultimately, his love of engineering and physics won out. In the late 1930s, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, he fled to New York City, where his first jobs were as an engineer working for radio manufacturers. With the outbreak of World War II, those manufacturers were converted to military operations. Because Auerbacher was not a U.S. citizen—and was from Germany no less—he was identified as an enemy alien and had to change his job. To support his family, he taught classes in radio at the Radio-Television Institute, a technical school in New York City.
According to Auerbacher’s oral history conducted by the IEEE History Center in 1996, the school also got work from the U.S. Department of Defense, which “grabbed every engineer” it could. The Defense Department wanted Auerbacher, enemy alien or not. So it got in touch with the State Department, which cleared Auerbacher, who was made a U.S. citizen and hired.
Once the war ended, Auerbacher worked on FM converters and television. While at Pilot Radio Corp. in New York City, he came up with an idea for a small, portable television that would sell for less than US $400. His brainchild became the Candid TV, announced in The New York Times on 8 June 1948 as the first portable television receiver. The little TV set displayed a picture 1¾ inches by 2¾ inches.
Auerbacher later joined Emerson Radio Corp., rising to the level of vice president. He left there to launch the Inter-Technical Group, in Irvington, N.Y, in 1963. It is still in business, now based in Elmsford. He retired from there in 1999.
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