Soon after WWII the US Navy was funded to build a nuclear engine for warships. On the 17th of January 1955 Commander Dennis Wilkinson sent the historic message, "Underway on nuclear power," from the USS Nautilus. On the 3rd of December 1956 the Navy began the development of the Polaris missile submarine.
In 1957 after the launch of "sputnik" Congress authorized the AEC to speed up funding for a factory located in as abandoned railroad repair station (round house) located in the strip coal mines outside Hazleton, PA to produce beryllium for the atomic bomb race. Funds were short so the Agriculture Department made a wheat for burl ore barter agreement with the Brazilian government. The Navy terminated the Regulus missile program to free funds for the Polaris project.
0n the 3rd of August 1958 the Nautilus passed beneath the North Pole on a 1,830-mile voyage from the Pacific to the Atlantic. My three-year career in the vacuum melting of superalloys came to an end as funds for purchasing jet aircraft were shifted to missiles.
In early November 1958 for Beryllium Corporation assigned to the task of vacuum melting beryllium beads mixed with beryllium fluoride to produce a pure beryllium ingot. The furnace was a standard 500-pound steel (100-pound beryllium) vacuum melting built by FJ Stokes and the power supply was a 100kW Inductotherm system. Near the unit was installed another Inductotherm system used to sinter beryllium oxide powder to make the refractory lining.
The thermal looses through the beryllium oxide lining were very high and we were had just enough power to make the metal liquid. I did not ask permission to change the refractory to magnesium oxide but it worked like a charm with the magnesium levels lowered because we could make the metal hotter and the remaining magnesium fluoride slag coated the magnesium oxide walls. The management did not know if they should fire me or reward me but for sure my assigned job was finished.
The company was able to produce enough quality beryllium ingot in a short period to meet the stockpile requirement of the AEC and were allowed to bid on the finished products made by hot pressing beryllium powder in to blocks that were machined into shapes for atomic bomb parts. Every person at that facility was checked by the FBI and given the AEC "Q" clearance. Based on the need to know most of the people never saw what was done behind the walls of the machine shop.
The company had a pilot plant for converting beryllium ingot to chips before they were ground into powder. The powder was pressed into a cylindrical shape using a hydraulic press with a die made of steel that was placed into a vacuum chamber to be heated to about 200 degrees F using metallic heating elements. I understood what was being done but did not agree with the methods being used. I wanted to use a graphite die but the company was afraid that it would react with beryllium to form beryllium carbide.
The company assigned me to the engineering department to design a larger hot pressing unit. The task of designing was well beyond my meager capabilities so the company hired a local young man of Italian decent named Joe Lona.
Joe received his degree in mechanical engineering in 1957 from Penn State and right away went to work for DuPont in Newark, Delaware as a design draftsman working on piping systems for polyethylene production. This project was completed in December 1958. He was looking forward to using unemployment insurance and shooting darts with his buddies at the local bars until he found his next job. The unemployment office sent him for an interview and Beryllium made him an offer. He refused because the pay was much less than he received at DuPont. The employment officer at Beryllium threatened to tell the unemployment office he had refused an offer. Joe started his new job just before Christmas in 1958
Joe was soon to learn that the "hillbilly" had grand visions but had no clue of the details required to make things work.
I knew how to operate an induction system and that graphite could be heated by induction without difficulty. I knew how to turn on vacuum pumps and where to buy them. I also had met Henry Rowan the president of Inductotherm a few months earlier.
While Lona was designing the mechanical portion I contacted Rowan for help on the induction system. Rowan worked with Lona to design the chamber to be fitted with an induction coil including the required thermal insulation. He provided us with a quotation for the whole system including the induction coil that was priced at $750. Even before he was out the door I decided we could use the power supply made redundant when we changed the refractory of the vacuum-melting furnace to magnesium oxide. For all his efforts Rowan's efforts he received an order for $750.
The first submarine combining nuclear propulsion with the Albacore hull (to store Polaris missiles) was commissioned while we were in the processes of building the prototype induction hot pressing facility. (The first of the "41 for Freedom" Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) submarines.)
Beryllium Corporation received the green light from the Navy to build a facility to produce Polaris parts including the nose (Nag), the cone section (CAT), and the flare section (Fox) using beryllium metal.
In the end it would turn out that his was a major technical error in material selection but the Russians were beating us at every turn in the race for control of space. I was also a political year where the Republicans had selected Nixon and were fighting Kennedy who was preaching a "missile gap".
The company gave me a numbered requisition pad that could be used to commit the company to save time in building the facility. Lona was transferred from the drafting board to supervise the existing construction staff to get the first prototype up and running. The first order was placed with Penn Iron in Reading for the chamber using sketches that Lona drew on a cloth napkin at the Medvich Hotel restaurant.
During the start up we ran into a peck of trouble caused by induction heating of the surrounding steelwork. Rowan offered to send Jess Cartlidge for $50 per day to help us out. He solved our problems in a couple of days and first test run to produce a part 8-inches round and 16-inches long was perfect.
We needed a larger part right away so Jessie spent another day helping us design a larger coil and to prevent the chamber from heating he introduced us to iron shunts attached to the chamber wall. Jessie went home that day as a salesman with two orders. One for a larger induction coil for $1250 and $450 for shunts. My meager understanding that iron shunts could be used to prevent stray induction heating of a chamber was the clincher that allowed me to sell a very large but unsuccessful facility for testing rocket motors to NASA in 1963.
On the 20th of July 1960 while submerged off the coast of Cape Canaveral, a Navy submarine successfully fired two Polaris A-1 missiles with a range of 1,200 miles. On the 25th of August 1960 the USS Sea Dragon charted the Northwest Passage and surfaced at the North Pole where the crew played baseball.
Lona and I completed the fabrication department at Beryllium in the fall of 1960 that included induction furnaces that used 60-inch graphite.
With the experiment to use Beryllium dead in the water as a failure I moved on to become a salesman for Ajax Magnethermic in April 1961.