Donald Norgaard and his Television, 1934

Digging around in materials from the 1930s recently, I first flipped right past this picture from the Campanile, then turned back to it when I realized what I’d just seen:

Television set 1934 Engineering show Donald Norgaard and Arthur Wood

It captures an exhibit from the 1934 Engineering Show being demonstrated by sophomore Donald Norgaard and that right there is a television. Staring at the picture, I couldn’t quite figure out what he had done, so–without much hope–I started looking for an explanation. And I found one. Here’s part of an article from the March 30, 1934 edition of the Thresher that details the “flying spot” technique Norgaard used for the display:

Engineering Show TV 1934

This all made me very curious about young Mr. Norgaard. I figured with a name like “Norgaard” it ought to be easy to track him down with Google. Well, what happened was I fell down into an internet rabbit hole and spent the better part of Friday afternoon wandering from one link to the next, reading about the world of early radio and television enthusiasts. (I feel like this was time well, if weirdly, spent. I really did learn quite a bit.)

I wasn’t especially surprised to find that Donald Norgaard was a very interesting, even compelling, person. He came to Rice in 1932 with a plan of action already firmly fixed in his mind. He was going to study Electrical Engineering, his main interest was “Radio–all branches” and the life work he intended to prepare himself for was “Radio Engineer.” There’s a letter in his file from Samuel McCann, the registrar, that’s rather unusual, a bit of a challenge. “Your record looks very good indeed, ” said McCann, “and I feel sure you will have no trouble gaining admission. The next question is whether or not you can keep up your good record in the fast company you will be in when you enter our engineering school.” He could. In 1933 Norgaard was awarded the Daniel Ripley Scholarship, which went to the self-supporting student who finished freshman year with the highest grades. He graduated in 1936, after building an improved television for that spring’s Engineering Show:

Television Norgaard 1936 Engineering Show

I’m happy to report that Donald Norgaard got the career he wished for. I found this brief article about his work in an old Hewlett-Packard Journal:

Following graduation from Rice Institute with a BSEE degree, Don Norgaard became engaged in television studio equipment design and as part of this activity, he participated in the field trials leading toward establishment of the NTSC TV standards. He also served on other industry committees concerned with TV equipment and transmission standards. During World War II, Don designed naval gunfire control radar. Following the war, he engaged in research on communications systems, with particu lar emphasis on single-sideband modu lation where he made significant contri butions that have led to the realization of practical SSB systems. Don joined Hewlett Packard as a development engineer in 1957 and has been concerned with the design of numerous instruments, primarily in the audio video field, with major participa tion in the 425A Micro-Voltammeter and 738A Voltmeter Calibrator designs among others. He also contributed circuit ideas for the Dymec 2800A Quartz Thermometer and was Project Leader on the -hp- Model 412A DC Voltmeter. At present, he is concerned with electronic designs in systems for chemical analysis at the -hp- Mechrolab Division. Don is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi. He is an active amateur radio operator and was chief designer of the OSCAR III Translator Satellite which was orbited by the Air Force on March 9, 1965.

Donald E. Norgaard, “The Phase-Shift Method of Single-Sideband Generation,” and “The Phase-Shift Method of Single-Sideband Reception,” Prte. IRE, Vol. 44, No. 12, Dec. 1956.


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13 Responses to Donald Norgaard and his Television, 1934

  1. Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

    After reading about Donald Norgaard and considering all the other Rice graduates you have remarked upon in other posts, I wonder if you can find out how the hello I ever got in Rice?

  2. Don Johnson says:

    An electrical engineer (me) finally has relevant information for a History Corner post!

    The approach he used for his television is known as the electro-mechanical approach, which was a dead-end for television. The all-electronic version was under development at about the same time as his last Engineering Show appearance. The 1936 Olympics was broadcast, for example. You can see a clip of that broadcast in the movie “Contact.” It is quite an achievement for an undergraduate to be that close to the frontier of the development of a major communications system!

    Turns out his later work on SSB (single sideband) is also relevant to television. Back in the days of analog television, the image was transmitted using SSB. SSB is a variation of AM, such as used in AM radio today. SSB consumes half the frequency range of regular AM. The image in TV has a LARGE bandwidth. Using SSB means more stations can be crowded into a given frequency range. Also, design of SSB receivers, the subject of the mentioned paper, is quite tricky. Hence his article.

    I found several other patents of his, all in advanced electronics.

  3. Don Norgaard was active in amateur radio as W2KUJ and (when he moved to California) W6VMH.

    He was a pioneer in in SSB (single sideband) voice transmission, which is the standard mode for shortwave voice today.

    Some early SSB experiments were made at the Stanford amateur radio club. I would be surprised if Don Norgaard was not part of that.

    This HP magazine lists amateur radio operators in the company, including Don Norgaard. Now that I’ve found it, this is an awesome resource. Palo Alto still has a lot of ham radio folk, about 5X the nationwide per-capita rate.

    Don was active with AMSAT (amateur radio satellite) and OSCAR (orbiting satellite carrying amateur radio). “SK” is amateur radio jargon for “silent key” (deceased).

    You might want to check in with W5YG (the Rice amateur radio club) and W5TAR (Prof. Patricia Reiff, the sponsor).

    Amateur radio call signs are great search terms — government-issued unique IDs with public records.


  4. Also, “Donald Norgaard and his Television” reads a lot like “Tom Swift and his Atomic Submarine”.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Yeah, I was going for a sort of “Boy Adventurer” vibe. I find Norgaard to be one of the most attractive characters I’ve ever come across in these archives. I was also just fascinated by the radio enthusiasts on the internet. I don’t fully understand the attraction but I find the fact of it endlessly interesting.

  5. Grungy says:

    More like first-series books “Tom Swift and His Television Detector, or, Trailing the Secret Plotters” (Tom Swift #36) or “Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone, or, The Picture That Saved A Fortune” (Tom Swift #17), both by Victor Appleton.

  6. Pingback: An Unsuspected Link Between Rice Engineering and Beer | Rice History Corner

  7. Lucky niece says:

    Donald Norgaard was my uncle. Great guy–a bit eccentric. Invented a cereal he called “Weevil Crunch” made of Grape-Nuts and Bran Flakes.

    • Robert Stanley says:

      He was my uncle also. is Kim your mother. My sister and I spent the summer with him and my aunt Doris in about 1954 in New York. He worked for General Electric research lab at the time.

      • We are visiting Doris right now in Nevada City, California. Doris would love to hear from you. Please call her at 530-265-4436. If you have difficulty, email me at My wife Louise’s parents were friends of Don and Doris for many years– in Schenectady and in California.

  8. Right now my wife and I are visiting his widow, Doris Gayle, who lives in Nevada City, California. She is 99 years old. She hadn’t seen this article. We may come back for her 100th birthday in August. I was a ham radio operation when I was a teen-ager, so I am familiar with SSB.

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