David F. Plant, K9LAJ/2
paper originally appeared in CQ Magazine, July 1967. Permission
to present it here has been granted by CQ Communications, Inc.,
and they retain all rights to its distribution and reproduction.
Only not-for-profit personal use is authorized for any hardcopy
printouts of this page. I want to thank Ms. Gail Schieber, CQ
Managing Editor, for her support of the Millen Page project.
is a story behind those unchanging Millen ads that appear year
after year in CQ. It is the story of a man who pioneered in the
state of the art many of the things that we now take for granted,
for r.f.chokes, coil forms, variable capacitors, and the famous
Millen dials all owe at least part of their existence to his influence.
James Millen fathered the concept of superior mechanical, as well
as electrical design that has become a standard in the electronics
Radio has a lure all its own and
it can strike at any time or stage in a man's life. It hit Jim
Millen while he was attending high school in Forest Hills, Long
Island. The fascination of communication by wireless... By 1916
Jim has a station on the air.
In those days ham radio was a bit different. You took a spark
coil from a Ford motorcar and souped it up by adding larger contacts
so it could handle the 110 volt d.c. house current instead of
the 6 volts for which the coil was designed. This coil then excited
a helix coil affair which was tuned by a large home made capacitor.
The Q was very low and the resultant signal was quite broad, being
somewhere around the upper part of the present broadcast band.
This spark signal was received with either a galena or electrolytic
type of detector and a set of headphones, and sounded like a raspy
buzzy note that wasn't the most pleasant sort of thing. Those
who wanted to improve the sound of the transmitted signal used
a rotary spark-gap , imparting a high audio frequency whine which
acted to modulate the transmitted signal. This was the state of
the art before the First World War.
After the war to end all wars was over, and the world went back
to what it was doing before, amateur radio operators went back
to experimenting with several new pieces of apparatus developed
for the war effort. The most noted was the tube called the J-type
manufactured by the Western Electric Company and it found widespread
use in both transmitting and receiving modes. It replaced the
spark transmitter when used as a keyed triode oscillator, and
as a gridleak detector proved superior to the crystal set. Jim
was among those experimenting and learning on the ham bands around
Herbert Hoover Sr., 6DH personally signed all licenses issued
by the Department of Commerce and Jim Millen was given the call
2BYP in 1921.
Upon graduation from high school Jim studied mechanical engineering
(there being no formal course of study in electronics at the time)
at Stevens Institute. During the 4 year course of study, 1922-1926,
Jim Millen started making receivers as his first commercial enterprise
and the October 1922 issue of Radio News Magazine carried
the original Millen Advertisement.
Other magazines also started carrying the Millen name, first with
pen and ink drawings of radio diagrams, then a question and answer
column, and finally Jim ended up writing a monthly technical article.
Starting as a means to help pay tuition, writing was to become
a very important part of a fascinating career.
The 4 years spent at Stevens earning the M.E. degree were interesting
ones as many of the pioneers of the electronics field either taught,
or were classmates of Jim's. Dr. Alan Hazeltine, the designer
of the Nuetrodyne circuit; Paul Ware, founder of Ware Radio; and
Larry Horle, of Federal Radio were on the staff and Ted Smith,
later of RCA, was a fellow student.
Upon graduation from Stevens, Jim worked on the editorial staff
of Radio Broadcast Magazine, published by the Doubleday-Page
Company. Contributions were also made to the other radio magazines.
James Millen then decided to put his experience to use in consulting
work and a company was formed. Working closely with companies
that were to become famous in the electronics field, clients included
the American Appliance Company (called Raytheon a year later),
the Ceco Tube Company of Providence, R.I. and the National Toy
Company. RKO Studios also became a customer when they came to
New York to make their first two "Talking Pictures."
During this period of time Arthur Lynch took over the management
of radio WRNY and Radio News Magazine. He also had started
a resistor manufacturing company developing among other things
a solid-state diode long before current solid-state technology.
Millen worked with him while attending Stevens, and continued
while doing consulting.
One of Jim's clients, the National Toy Company, was attempting
to break into the "new" radio industry and made a deal
with him to put them in the field. In 1928 Jim took over operation
of National and entered a very fascinating part of his career.
National Radio Days
The First step was to have National
enter the amateur receiver market. Combining his mechanical engineering
background with electronic experience gained through operating
and experimenting, Jim produced the first of a long list of good
receivers. The model was called the SW-5 and it met with immediate
success, as it enabled the shortwave listener or ham to have a
good factory wired receiver at a resonable cost.
The SW-5 was originally a battery powered unit and required husky
batteries for the filament supply, so research was done to see
if it would be feasible to run a shortwave radio from the power
lines. The problems encountered seemed insurmountable at first;
for a.c. on the filaments of the tubes caused a hum in the loadspeaker,
and instability at the higher frequencies. Better tubes and a
lot of research time in the laboratory overcame the hum problems
finally and the shortwave listener could eliminate the bulky storage
battery. Trying to rectify the power line voltage to provide d.c.
voltage for the plate supply was the next step, and problems were
met here also because the c.w. signal from the receiver had an
annoying ripple until power supply filtering techniques were perfected.
Jim and his group seemed to thrive on challenges. After a model
was built they looked for ways to make it better, less expensive,
or more universal. After the SW-5 came the SW-3. It was more compact,
lighter (suggested use in aircraft) and required less current
from batteries. The SW-4 and FB-7 evolved next, then the classic
National HRO was developed followed by the NC-100, NC-200, etc.
Men that helped in the design of these receivers included Dave
Grimes, R.S. Kruse, and Zeh Bouck.
Going north along Route One from Boston brings one to Malden,
Massachusetts, the home of the National Radio Company. The Millen
home, located nearby, proved a natural for testing new designs,
antennas, or frequencies. The location also had other advantages.
This writer found it peaceful and beautifully scenic - just the
place to experiment and operate, or write.
QST at that time was being run by Ross Hull, and he and K.B. Warner,
the League's manager, were close friends to Jim Millen. The close
cooperation of these men made possible the sharing of new developments
with the amateur fraternity almost on a monthly basis, as much
of the experimenting and editorial work for QST was done at the
The Radio Amateur's Handbook as we know it today also came
about through the Millen-QST relationship. In the early 30's it
was a pamphlet-sized affair until Jim underwrote the cost of a
larger and more complete book. National Radio, under Millen, became
the first advertiser.
This period of time also brought about some historical v.h.f.
work. Under the leadership of Ross Hull, Jim Millen participated
as the Boston station of a triangular setup with each leg consisting
of a 100 mile path. Recorders were set up to measure the reliability
of the nightly transmissions on the 5-meter band. The favorable
results of the experiment paved the way for the later allocated
2 and 6 meter bands. Ross Hull was killed in an accident before
he was able to compile all the data, but he did give several talks
before scientific societies in Washington. The equipment used
consisted of push-pull 800's running over a hundred watts and
feeding a large 8-element array at each station. The receivers
used were of National manufacture and were superregenerative.
Other "Firsts" during Jim's stay at National included
the backing of Jim Lamb on his single signal crystal filter work,
the use of Red Cross TB stamps affixed to a National ad in QST
as a charity gesture, and the initiation of the monthly series
of "Personal Message" type of advertisments starting
with the March 1934 issue of QST. This form of advertising is
still being carried on by others.
Perhaps one of the most important contributions to the state of
the art occurred in 1934 when the present design of the r.f. choke
was developed. Prior to that time chokes were wound on high value
resistors or wooden sticks, much the same way we do now if an
experimental choke is needed. Many chokes were made and tested
to determine hot spots and frequency range, and finally a predictable
and mechanical sound choke came about, Jim was issued a patent
on October 2, 1934, and the 2.5mhy choke quickly became a standard
throughout the industry.
James Millen also continued his writing and many of the designs
of the National Company were shared with hams through magazine
articles and a number of books including Radio Design Practice,
and an excellent v.h.f. text, called Below Ten Meters.
Numerous pamphlets were also printed so that amateurs could duplicate
The newly developed air transportation services discovered that
ham radio equipment worked well for ground to air communication
and in the late 20's and early 30's became a large, but little
known customer of the National Company. National was doing well.
In 1939 the National Radio Company went "Public". During
the same year James Millen made a friendly withdrawal from the
company, and along with several associates started the James Millen
Manufacturing Company. An announcement of the newly formed company
was run in the May, 1939 QST.
Jim had started the policy early in his career of working with
the very best talent possible and made no exception when the manufacturing
company was started. John Di Blasi, 2FX, and Charlie Cooper, both
well known men in their fields, were among those that Jim brought
John, 2FX, is perhaps best known to readers of CQ as the
founder and president of the Quarter Century Wireless Association.
He is also the New York representative of Millen Manufacturing.
The late Charlie Cooper had also an interesting life. He was an
early associate of DeForest, and later founded the Ship Owner's
Radio Service. The latter provided wireless for boats and eventually
became part of RCA. Charlie was also a poet and often delighted
the company with verse.
The summer of '39 was an active one as many items of manufacture
were reviewed by Millen and his associates to see what improvements
could be made. Tools were designed and made, and a factory was
leased in the fall. A catalog was then released and James Millen
was in business.
The importance of good mechanical design in the manufacture of
electronic components was always stressed during Jim's career.
At National Radio, a good example of this approach could be found
in the HRO receiver. Here, the main emphasis was placed on the
tuning capacitor and dial combination. The time was well spent
as the receiver met with great success. The practice of good mechanical
and electrical design was carried over to the Millen Company and
the company slogan "Designed For Application" became
Although the Millen factory originally started making components,
they soon began the manufacture of electronic equipment. Oscilloscopes
were built for RCA, and the first commercial two-way f.m. radio
equipment was designed and built for G.E.
Looking for ways of combining electronic with mechnical design
has brought James Millen to many places throughout the world.
Trips to Europe enabled the American manufacture of items such
as coil forms, tube sockets, sheets and tubing made with polystyrene
and other low loss injection moldable plastics shortly after their
Another important type of component developed at Millen was the
magnetic metal shield. Using commercially available ingots of
Mu Metal made in Trenton, New Jersey by the Henry Porter laboratory,
the Millen people pioneered in the manufacture of custom and stock
magnetic shielding for cathode ray tubes, photo multipliers, and
During the Second World War the Millen Company worked with G.E.
to produce the "continuous" type of delay cable and
the neccessary machinery for its production. Twenty years later
finds the Millen Company still the exclusive manufacturer of this
One of the best known items in current manufacture is the Millen
Grid Dip Meter. This precision device combines the excellent mechnical
design of the Millen Works with the electronic experience of CQ's
own Bill Sherer, W2AEF, and is found in many labs and shops.
Although many items at the Millen factory are components and assembled
units for private industry, laboratory work, and government; the
major emphasis is still designed in the communications field.
Among the may parts found in the current catalog are a complete
line of variable capacitors for both transmitting and receiving,
coils of many shapes and values, sockets and terminals, oscilloscopes
and their accessories, and many types of special hardware. Of
special interest to the radio amateur is the transmitting equipment,
antenna matching devices, and the famous dipper. The Millen dials
and couplings have also found popularity among hams.
A recent development from the Millen Works is their "No-String"
dial and it has already found wide acceptance in the amateur ranks
for v.f.o.'s and other tuning applications.
The Millen plant is completely self contained so they can perform
all stages of manufacture including the making of tools and dies.
This approach allows the company to immediately change or design
an item without having to go through the usual time-consuming
channels. Better quality control is also assured.
With the company well established Jim now has the time to follow
other interests. These include the Vice Chairmanship of a large
suburban Boston bank, and boating. Also maintained is a complete
electronics library including publications pertaining to radio
from the very beginning. Early catalogs, complete collections
of Radio, QST,and CQ are kept as well as many books
and magazines now out of print. Also in the library is a complete
ham station that Jim uses to keep weekly skeds on 75 s.s.b.
Spaning over 50 years in the radio business, the life of James
Millen surely ranks as one of the most productive we're likely
to see. "Designed for Application" will continue to
be a way of life to this vigorous, brilliant and imaginative pioneer
of the electronics industry.