[time-nuts] Remembering Al Bagley

Tom Van Baak tvb at LeapSecond.com
Tue Jul 17 02:32:53 EDT 2018

Some of you met, worked for, or at least know of Al Bagley. He was one of the early guys at hp and very involved with time & frequency.

(1) Here is recent news via https://www.seti.org/remembering-al-bagley
Al Bagley, one of the transformational engineers in Hewlett-Packard's early days and a long-time member of the SETI Institute's Board of Trustees, passed away on 24 June at the age of 94.

At the SETI Institute, Bagley was known as a generally taciturn and occasionally flinty board member with a deep background in technical innovation and management.  A graduate of Caltech and Stanford, Al had decades of experience solving problems in the pressure cooker world of high-tech - experience that prompted insightful comments on the development of equipment for the Allen Telescope Array, an instrument that was being planned and constructed during his Board tenure.

Al (known to colleagues as "Bags") was one of the handful of HP pioneers who established the company's impressive reputation for solidly-built measuring equipment during its first few decades, eventually heading up what became known as the Frequency and Time Division.  The cesium atomic clock developed under Bagley's leadership became the forerunner to equipment that proved the tenets of Special Relativity and also made applications such as GPS feasible.  Without doubt, Al was part of the team that ushered in Hewlett-Packard's Golden Age.

Bagley's presence on the SETI Institute's Board was part of a small parade of H-P luminaries who guided the research organization in its formative years.  Al was an exceptional talent and singular personality - one that all who knew him will miss.

(2) Here are some hp journal articles by Al Bagley that I remember:

"The High-Speed Frequency Counter - A New Solution to Old Problems", 1951

"A New Performance of the "Flying Clock" Experiment", 1964


(3) Here's a very recent, detailed, delightful article that any hp test equipment user or time nut should read:


which is summarized here:

"Our Finest Hour," the Cesium Atomic Clock, circa 1964

In his HP Memoir chapter titled "Our Finest Hour," the Cesium Atomic Clock, circa 1964, Alan Bagley, manager of the HP Time-Frequency Division during more than 25 years, recalls:

"That's a takeoff on the Winston Churchill WWII pronouncement, but the technology which led HP to dominate the world of time keeping was based on our best product to that time, literally our finest and most accurate hour. By using the atomic resonance of the element Cesium, we created a time standard based on atomic physics, and not the resonance of a quartz crystal. This product was also in line with our stated product and business strategy of providing extremely precise RF signals.

Using this standard "Atomic Clock," our promotional department created a well-publicized world tour, which was dubbed the "Flying Clock." The chair-sized instrument usually occupied a first class airline seat, with standby power supplied from the baby bottle warmer outlet in the galley. The idea was to visit global standards labs including our U.S. National Standard at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.  Then further comparisons were made at Swiss Observatory in Neuchatel. The clock was designed to maintain accuracy for 3000 years within only one second of error, a truly remarkable leap ahead for time keeping. Just in time for the Apollo Moon mission which required precise timing to carry out the critical navigation and communications.

The HP line of Cesium standards came to completely dominate the standards world, with most large and aerospace companies buying their own resident standard. And for decades, as the communications technology moved to digital formats, the transmitters and receivers were required to be synchronized to a very precise scale. This has become even more critical as the technology moved to fiber optics which exploit data rates in the 10 giga-bit region and higher."


(4) See also:

"In 1964, Cutler and his colleague Al Bagley succeeded, inventing the HP5060A Cesium Beam Clock"

"A Modern Solid-State Portable Cesium Beam Frequency Standard", 1964

"Hydrogen Maser and Cesium Beam Tube Frequency Standards Comparison", 1965

Comments by David Packard about Al Bagley, 1981

"A Conversation with GPS and Technology Pioneer Charlie Trimble", 2016

"Time flies ... especially at Hewlett-Packard", 1964

Cover photos like that and stories of traveling clocks played a role in the creation of the time-nuts list as well as Project GREAT.


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