January 1997 FORGE: The Bigelow Society Quarterly Vol. 26, No. I


Minnie 9 (BIGELOW) PARKINSON, Elverton 8 BIGELOW, Ferrand 7, Elisha 6, Elisha 5, Elisha 4, Isaac 3, Samuel 2, John1

Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss psychologist, elaborated the theory that the solution to a difficult problem can somehow suddenly crystallize in the unconscious mind.

A compelling example in favour of this theory concerns an engineer, David Bigelow Parkinson (159B1.17362). The time was spring, 1940 and Parkinson was then a young engineer working at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City in the specialized field of electromechanical design. He was working on improving an instrument called an automatic level recorder. A small potentiometer [ an instrument for measuring electromotive forces] controlled a pair of magnetic clutches which in turn controlled a pen to plot a logarithm.

Meanwhile, the top story in the headlines concerned the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of stranded Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France across the Channel to England. This news greatly preoccupied Parkinson's mind along with that of his work. And the two ideas came together in a dream, which he later described in an unpublished memoir:

I found myself in a gun pit or revetment with an anti-aircraft gun crewÉ . [A] gun there. was firing occasionally, and the impressive thing was that every shot brought down an airplane! After three or four shots one of the men in the crew smiled at me and beckoned me to come closer to the gun. When I drew near he pointed to the exposed end of the left trunnion. Mounted there was the control potentiometer of my level recorder!

Parkinson realized the full significance of his dream the following morning. If his potentiometer could control the pen on the recorder, something similar could, with the right engineering, control an anti-aircraft gun. At the time, the complex mechanical systems controlling these guns were not very accurate and could not be mass-produced.

Parkinson discussed the idea that morning with his boss, Clarence A. Lovell. They worked for several days writing a report and then met with Lovell's boss. Just before this meeting, on 18 June 1940, Parkinson realized he would need a diagram to explain his ideas so made a quick sketch on a sheet of plain white typingpaper.

The company submitted a proposal for exploratory work on an electromechanical system for directing antiaircraft guns to the Army Signal Corps which was subsequently approved. An engineering model was delivered for testing to the Army at Fort Monroe MD on 1 December 1941. The result of Parkinson's dream began rolling off the assembly lines early in 1943. More than 3000 of the gun directors, designated the M-9, were built.

Many thousands of shells were fired to bring down a single aircraft with the older directors; the M9 brought the number down to around 100 shells per hit on an aircraft.

Thus Parkinson's unconscious revelation led to one of the most effective pieces of air-defense technology in World War II. Several patents were awarded to him, as well as to his boss and coworkers. He received the Presidential Medal of Merit in 1947 and the Potts Medal from the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia in 1948.

David Bigelow Parkinson was born on a farm in Oconto County, Wl on 16 May 1911, the younger of two children born to Truman David and Minnie M. (Bigelow) Parkinson. His mother was the daughter of Elverton and Mary Jane (Betts) Bigelow. Parkinson grew up in Green Bay WI and graduated from West High School in 1928 as valedictorian of his class. He then attended the University of Wisconsin for two years at Milwaukee and subsequently at Madison, graduating with his B.A. in Physics in 1933 and his Ph.D. in nuclear physics in 1937.

He married Alberta Merle Steinfeldt on 11 August 1938 in Green Bay. That same year, they moved to Manhattan where Parkinson joined the Technical Staff of Bell Laboratories.

In 1945 at General Eisenhower's request, Parkinson was sent to Germany as an observer for that time which turned out to be the last two weeks of war and the first two weeks of peace. His impressive slide photographs of that journey document the awesome effects of war on the German countryside and towns. Due to planning - he brought one suitcase containing not clothes, but pint bottles of American whiskey, which (judiciously distributed) facilitated his movements in Europe - he got homeward-bound air transport from London within 16 hours of his being able to leave.

In 1948, Parkinson became Manager of Product Engineering at the Brush Development Company and occupied various staff positions at Brush, the Clevite Corporation and Gould Inc. through mergers. He retired in 1976 as head of the Advanced Development Group at Gould Research Laboratories in Cleveland.

Parkinson volunteered in various Boy Scouts capacities for 17 years - four of his sons and two grandsons became Eagle Scouts. He lamented a commonly held disdain for machine shop skills and combatted this attitude by freely teaching the uses of the many machines in his own basement workshop not only to his family but to any others who were interested. His own talents found expression not only in inventions such as a space program accelerometer, an autolighting torch, and a new type of loom for his wife's brocade weaving, but also in models such as radiocontrolled boats, steam engines, miniature cannons and "impossible" wooden block toys. He also enjoyed occasional excursions into witty doggerel.

Parkinson's doctoral work dealt with the invention of the first constant voltage Van De Graff generator, used in the study of metallic films under nuclear bombardment. Years later in his basement workshop, he was helping a youthful neighbor to make a small Van De Graff generator for junior high science. The project was not without its trials and reworkings, and at one point the teenager fixed him with a disbelieving eye and inquired, "Are you sure you know anything about these machines?" Typically quiet and without detailed explanation, Parkinson assured him that he did. And they made it work.

For many years, in a frame over the mantel of his living room at home, hung the rough drawing Parkinson sketched that morning in June, 1940. He died 17 March 1991 at his home in Cleveland Heights, OH.

Children of Truman David and Minnie M. (BIGELOW) Parkinson both born in Oconto County, WI:

  1. Ruth Marie, b 15 Aug 1908 currently res.Appleton, WI.
  2. David Bigelow, b 16 May 1911, d 17 Mar 1991 m 11 Aug 1938 Alberta Merle STEINFELDT.



    Children of David Bigelow and Alberta Merle (STEINFELDT) PARKINSON;

    1. a son, b and d 7 Aug 1940.
    2. Truman David, b 11 May 1942, m 1) 26 Aug 1966 Margaret LAUGHREY, m 2) 4 Apr 1981 Barbara Haas SANDULEAK.
    3. David Bigelow Jr., b 24 Aug 1943, m 15 Jan 1977 Carol Ann STORY.
    4. John Daniel, b 5 Jan 1945, m 18 Dec 1971 Margaret Ann SHIPMAN.
    5. Thomas Richard,, b 18 Sep 1949.
Source: Ruth Parkinson Appleton WI.
created by Don Bigelow-Director 1998.

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