Perham Collection Creator Profile: Harold Elliott

Harold Farley Elliott was born in Durango, Colorado, on June 17, 1892, to Wilbur S. Elliott and Henrietta Farley Elliott. Elliott’s only sibling, Jean Elliott, was born in 1895.

Elliott grew up in Prescott, Arizona and graduated from Prescott High School in 1911. He then attended Stanford University, where he graduated in 1916 with his A.B. in Mechanical Engineering and in 1925 with his Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering.

Harold Elliott posing with his clock control for radio, 1941 (Perham Collection of Early Electronics)

From 1916 to 1922, Elliott worked at the Federal Telegraph Company as a Chief Draftsman, Production Manager and Engineer in Charge of the design of high power radio transmitting equipment. From 1922 to 1925, he served as the Consulting Engineer in charge of designing the transmitting equipment for the Trans-Pacific project (“the Chinese project”) for the Federal Telegraph Company and its subsidiary, the Federal Telegraph Co. of Delaware. Federal Telegraph Company had planned to construct four radio transmission stations to be located at Shanghai, Pekin (Peking or Beijing), Canton, and Harbin, China. However, in 1924 the Chinese project came to a standstill. According to Elliott, the instability of the Chinese government, the beginning of short wave radio and conflicts between the Federal Telegraph Company and R.C.A. caused the Chinese project to be delayed. Elliott wrote “It was not until 10 years later that R.C.A. finally established a short wave circuit to Shanghai.”

In early 1927, Elliott began designing and producing radio receivers for home use for the Victor Talking Machine Company. From 1929 through 1931, he served as a consulting engineer at that company. In 1937, he demonstrated his home radio set with clock and push button tuning to Paul Galvin of the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation (Galvin). This demonstration led to a licensing agreement for Galvin’s exclusive use of Elliott’s tuner in auto sets and the production of a push button automobile radio. According to Elliott, the licensing agreement “worked out very satisfactorily for all parties concerned.” While working with Galvin, he developed other radio apparatus, such as a portable table model radio, radio tuners for military communication equipment, and a solenoid (or motor drive) for mechanical push button tuners. When describing his working relationship with Galvin, Elliott wrote “Over an eight year period every request for help has been met in good faith and without reservations. No expenditure in time or money has been spared to find a satisfactory solution and every problem has found a successful answer.”

In February 1942, Dr. Frederick E. Terman convinced Elliott to join the Radar Counter-Measures Laboratory developing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Eventually the laboratory moved to Harvard University and became known as the Radio Research Laboratory.) While Elliott spent 1942 through 1945 conducting war research at the Radio Research Laboratory, he still continued to work on his radio apparatus developments for Galvin.

During much of his career, Elliott independently designed, developed, and marketed various radio apparatus, such as push-button, remote control, and clock control mechanisms for radio receivers and transmitters. His work resulted in over 80 U.S. patents, issued from 1920 through 1966.

1953 through the early 1960s, Elliott worked as a consultant at the Hewlett-Packard Company on technologies related to digital printers and clocks.

In addition to his electrical engineering work, Elliott was an accomplished photographer. During his undergraduate studies at Stanford, he managed the Campus Photo Shop and was the student manager of the 1916 Quad (the student yearbook). (Elliott appears to have been a contemporary of Stanford photographer Berton W. Crandall.) He continued with his photography throughout his lifetime, taking photographs for both professional and personal purposes. During the 1950s, Elliott’s work was shown in multiple photography exhibits, including an exhibit held at the Stanford University Art Gallery. He also spoke about his photography at local camera clubs.

Throughout his lifetime, Elliott remained connected with Stanford University. He worked with or corresponded with other Stanford University electrical engineering alumni throughout his career, such as Ralph R. Beal, James Arthur Miller, Clinton H. Suydam, Herman P. Miller, Hans Otto Storm, Dr. Frederick E. Terman, Charles V. Litton, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. Elliott’s personal correspondence refers to attendance at Stanford University football games and other activities. In his later years, he served as a part-time lecturer in the Engineering Department and on the 50th Anniversary Stanford Engineering Scholarship Fund Committee.

Elliott married 1924 Stanford University graduate and accomplished musician Winifred Estabrook. One common interest between the couple was their love of classical music. Their personal correspondence mentions Estabrook’s musical performances and their attendance at various music events. In later years, Estabrook acted as his personal secretary. In 1954, the couple moved into the custom home Elliott had designed at 800 Westridge Drive in Portola Valley, California. Elliott died at age 77 on January 24, 1970, in San Mateo, California. Estabrook died at age 82 on January 20, 1977, in Santa Clara, California.

Elliott’s papers were donated to the Foothill Electronics Museum in 1971, and today are part of the Perham Collection of Early Electronics. They were processed in 2012 as part of a grant received from the Council of Library and Information Resources.

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