Random Memories of Sven Henry Marriott Dodington (1912-1992)

Compiled by his eldest son, Thomas M. Dodington, and partially based on SHMD's unpublished autobiography

In 1945, ITT built a modern, aluminum-clad, group of laboratory buildings on the golf course near its factory in Nutley New Jersey. I center of the futuristic laboratory buildings was a tall cylindrical aluminum tower, with additional laboratories at the very top. This area could be used for experiments with the navigation equipment: it was a bit like being at the top of a very tall shipís mast. During the years directly after the war, Sven and the others worked every day on their new equipment, often returning to the Labs at night, after dinner at homes nearby. I remember going to these buildings with my mother to collect Sven: there was a reflecting lagoon next to the tower which was interesting for children, and once we were allowed to go up to the top of the tower, a room filled with electronic equipment, which had many clip-leads attached.

In the late nineteen-forties, Sven found himself working around the clock, trying to solve both the technical as well as the political problems involved in bringing TACAN to fruition. He made almost weekly one or two day flying trips to Washington and Dayton, Ohio (the Air Force center of activity for this project), and spent the remaining days of the week on technical problems, writing proposals and papers on navigation, and slowly advancing the project.

Although TACAN, and later VORTAC, were great technical victories, the struggle to implement them left Sven little time for family life. His diaries show continuous meetings and conferences, but little outside of work. For example, although the war had been over for two years, in 1947 he worked every day of the year except Christmas Day. When this effort was over, Sven had garnered thirty-nine ITT patents (in addition to his television patents) and many Engineering awards. Today (2002) such a difficult, prolonged, and internationally-successful effort would bring  a chance at significant personal wealth, but in those days, and for many years to come (until 1977), he worked long hours as a salaried employee of a giant corporation.

During his last years with ITT, Sven was a corporate Vice President, based at headquarters on Park Ave in NYC. His main task was coordinating the research activities at the various divisions scattered across Europe and the US, trying to get each to share work with the others instead of "reinventing the wheel". This involved much international travel. After retirement at age 65, 1977, he worked as a consultant to some of these divisions.

===Svenís Early Life===

1912, Vancouver, British Columbia. Spencer Dodington and his young Danish bride, Marli, were awaiting the birth of their first child. Spencer was a British Engineer, trained in Germany, working on the design and implementation of diesel engines in Vancouver. Sven was born in May, and a year later the trio moved back to England, where Spencerís ancestors stretched back to The Conquest in 1066. Spencer was the first in many generations to "work" for a living: his recent ancestors had been Clergy, using their inherited wealth to enrich their parishes and provide support for large families. Spencer inherited three small farms and some old furniture: all the money was spent by his ancestors. Due to English land laws, the rents on the farms were fixed, regardless of inflation and market realities, and the tenants could not be evicted: the rent was a few hundred pounds per year.

In 1914 The Great War began and Spencer, a strong supporter of the humane treatment of animals and a Conscientious Objector,  found himself imprisoned when he refused to join the military. During imprisonment he become very sick and died in Little Birch, in 1919, leaving his wife and two sons. (Robin had been born in 1917).

Marli returned to Denmark to stay with her relatives, taking the boys to various schools. Robin was often sick and spent much of his childhood away from school. Sven was sent to school wherever the lowest cost situation could be found. This meant occasional years in England and in Denmark, depending on the slim family finances. At an early age, Sven became proficient in Danish and in English as well as in traveling alone. At age seven, he made his first solo journey via trains and ships from Somerset to Denmark. Throughout the rest of his life he loved travel, recording the various trains, planes, and ships in meticulous detail in his diaries.

As a young teenager Sven was at Sidcot School, run by Quakers, near Bath, England. In later years he would tell his children about the cold showers, the long mandatory walks every Sunday (which he called "pig drives") in all kinds of weather, and the strict discipline (e.g. each student had exactly the same number and kinds of clothes regardless of finances). His favorite class was a small machine shop, where he learned to build models of trains.

Marli moved house constantly, as finances changed, so that Sven never lived in the same place for more than a year or two: there was no place that could be called "home". In 1924 Marli married Fred Champ, a gardener and nurseryman. The family moved to San Francisco where Fred started a nursery. They lived in several rented houses, and in one of them for three years: this was the longest time that Sven had lived in one place. Sven went to Polytechnic High School (near Kezar Stadium) in San Francisco, then to Stanford University.

While in San Francisco, Robin and Sven shared a bedroom with a model train running around the perimeter: there was a drawbridge at the doorway and Marli never entered the room, on condition that the boys would maintain it and clean it themselves. Sven kept personal engineering notebooks starting in high school (at least these are the oldest ones that I have), with descriptions of various ship engines and radio ideas. He was fascinated by radio, which was developing in many directions at this time: vacuum tubes were becoming affordable and stations were appearing all over the country. He often used the battery in Fredís car to power radio sets, and played with every set he could find. A few blocks from this house is a beautiful view of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, so Sven could watch the many ships and ferry boats transiting the Golden gate (before the bridge).

Sven entered Stanford in 1930, just as the Depression was beginning: to earn extra money, he painted advertising signs. His school record was spotty and he barely managed to graduate. His best classes were physics and engineering, while the rest were a struggle. His drawing skills were good enough that he spent his last summer getting Aís in landscape painting classes, earning just enough good marks to receive his diploma three months late. His notebooks and photos from these years show continuous development of  radio receivers, ever more complex. By the time of graduation he could mathematically design, and predict the performance of, a wide range of electronic circuits and devices. This was in an era when most electronic work was done by experimentation and by copying.

After Stanford, he went to England,  which was leading the effort to develop television equipment, and found employment at a small television company, Scophony Ltd. Svenís photo albums from these years show various television equipments that he designed and built: these include a complete television station transmitter (both audio and video) as well as receiving sets. He holds various patents from the early days of television. The electronics used in television were state-of-the-art then, and television was not quite practical yet as the hardware to bring the ideas to fruition was just being developed. TV operated at much higher frequencies than radio, and it required excellent wide-band amplifiers which were not needed in radio. Sven could design these and make them work. As history would later unfold, this very kind of electronic design was at the heart of radar equipment.

Scophony believed that to be successful, TV needed to be presented on large screens, similar to motion pictures. They did not believe that anyone would watch a little picture perhaps six inches in diameter. Scophonyís equipment used the very bright narrow beam of light from an arc, which bounced off two rotating mirrors, which provided vertical and horizontal scan. The beam was modulated by passing it through a polarizing cell which could block or pass the beam, depending on an electrical signal applied across the cell. This equipment was complex and delicate, and getting it all working was an adventure. In the late 1930ís Sven and several other engineers brought the equipment to New York, to give demonstrations in a movie theater near Times Square. Sven told us about the audience reaction: some people in the theater were shelling peas in their laps and most thought that they were watching a rather fuzzy and dull movie: few realized that it was a live broadcast which RCA was transmitting experimentally.

Until I studied the dates in his photo albums, I was not sure about the timing of this trip to NYC and how it related to the start of the war in Europe. I suspect that Sven, as well as many others, could see the war coming and decided to move to the US in advance of the mess. His fatherís status as a C.O., who died from the experience, might also have had a strong influence. Certainly the business prospects for a project such as Scophonyís were much better in NY, and Sven had lived in the USA from ~1926 into ~1935. Svenís photo albums from this period give the relevant dates.  In late 1938 Hitler took the Sudentenland and Chamberlin brought "peace in our time", but by March 1939 Prague fell. There is a photo of Thornwood Lodge, Scophonyís building in London, showing trenches being dug in the yard in late 1938. In September 1939 Poland was invaded and England declared war. By June 1940 France had surrendered. There are several photos showing the packing of the Scophony equipment in July, 1940, (right after France surrendered) and shipboard photos from July 1940 on the way to NY. I wish I had asked Sven about this trip and the circumstances surrounding it: although he traveled a great deal, this must have been one of the most memorable journeys. A few months later, September 1940, was "the Battle of Britain" in the air, and the Blitz.

In NYC, 1940, Sven met Kathleen Dworak, from David City Nebraska, and they were married, having their first son (me) in late 1941, just a few weeks before Pearl Harbor. When the War began for the USA, television broadcasts were stopped and Sven joined ITT, which had labs on Broad Street, in lower Manhatten: he worked on high frequency electronic projects for the military effort, and gained many patents. I have his notebooks from this period: these include no classified material, so they are sparse, but they do show his balloon-borne transceiver, codenamed "Moonshine", that was used to spoof German radar. The most clever part was a little oil-filled box of irregular shape; the incoming German radar pulse excited one wall of the box, then various echoes around the box were transmitted back faintly. The result was that to a German radar operator it appeared that a large fleet of aircraft were coming: the signals fluttered and varied in intensity (due to vibrations in the oil), just like the reflections from real airplanes. Apparently these gizmos, floating from balloons, which were part of the "electronic countermeasures" used by The Allies, were quite successful.

Most of Svenís wartime efforts were classified so there is little that can be learned about them now, other than TACAN which survived the war, and the few notes in his wartime notebooks.

After the war, the television effort re-started, with the large-screen version in the USA being called Skiatron. Sven occasionally worked as a consultant for them during the late 1940ís. I was taken on several visits to their labs in New York and remember the brightness, and smoke, from the arc light that powered the picture. I also remember that they would give me bits and pieces of old wires: they had a barrel full of wire scraps. I remember being particularly fond of black two-conductor twisted wire, with cloth outer insulation and rubber inner insulation: nothing special, but for some reason I remember having a long piece of it. I also remember passing through the Lincoln Tunnel toll booth, in the left front seat, of Arthur Levyís right-hand-drive Bentley, with a sunroof: I had to pay the toll while standing on the seat and it was quite exciting for a boy of perhaps six. My mother told me that Arthur (who was perhaps the business manager of Skiatron) paid Sven with shares of stock, which turned out to be worthless, and with presents to me (model trains).

Eventually Skiatron collapsed, and Scophony tried to implement pay-for-program television: they were many years too early with this idea. Kathleen commented that in the early 1950ís she and Sven visited the site of the old Scophony labs in London, but bombing had destroyed it, and the site was just wreckage: a sad visit.

Perhaps by 1950, if not earlier, the rest of Svenís life was in some sense "determined". He would continue to develop TACAN and work for its implementation world-wide. Until his death in 1992 he worked as an employee, consultant, and volunteer for various radio navigation companies and advisory groups, writing many papers and giving talks on the subject. He moved from the purely technical side, to focus on bringing the larger enterprise to fruition.

As negotiations for VORTAC and other radio navigation systems spread worldwide, Sven had many opportunities to travel. He often extended these trips by taking Kathleen and visiting old friends and relatives: his photo albums show these trips: many to Europe, as well as some to Russia and China. His diaries record in meticulous detail the planes, trains, and ships used in these travels.

On the business side, he stayed loyal to ITT, a corporation which moved away from its core of electronics to eventually becoming a conglomerate, with emphasis on hotels and insurance. He considered leaving ITT and joining companies with a more technical orientation, but for some reason never quit "the old outfit". His part of ITT slowly diminished and he would be very sad today to see the site of the futuristic Labs in Nutley: they were sold to a real estate developer who demolished them, less than fifty years after they were built: the ITT "factory" is now a shopping center.

During part of the 1950ís Svenís portion of the Labs was moved to an old brick factory building in Belleville NJ: I remember many trips there with my mother to pick him up after work. It was a dreary building, adjacent to railroad tracks: I was allowed inside occasionally. Sven told us in later years about one time that he presented his annual report to the bosses over in the fancy buildings in Nutley: his division was the only one that made money that year: he ended his presentation with a picture of the back of the old brick building, from the railroad side, commenting that all the profit came from this one old building: a sharp contrast to the efforts in the fancy buildings.


Svenís non-work interests:

He liked listening to music that was perhaps popular when he was in college: dixieland jazz seemed to be his favorite, and old tangos and rhumbas: but no vocals ever.

He loved animals and always had a cat or two and sometimes a dog: many evenings in later life he fell asleep in his chair by the fireplace, with a snoozing cat or dog in his lap, or in summer, in the backyard after lunch.

Although he didnít have the time or inclination to run for political offices, he spent much effort on a local sewer improvement commission, and on various committees at the tennis club. However, his primary volunteer efforts were directed to improving radio navigation for airplanes, and he served on many committees and organizations in this area, often rising to high office and receiving many honorary awards.

His favorite foods seemed to revolve around fish, which he had as often as possible: imagine being awakened at five in the morning by the odor of  fish (kippers or finnan haddie) cooking in the kitchen. He also loved boiling and eating lobster in the backyard in Mountain lakes: his meals were always accompanied by hot mustard. Once he swallowed a fish bone which became lodged in his throat. Doctors at the hospital could not find it or remove it, but he continued to complain. A few days later, while looking in a mirror, he reached into his own throat with a pair of long nose pliers, and pulled the bone out.

At home, the earliest Ďradioí that I remember was an open chassis set with a complex round dial, that had once tuned the shortwave bands. It had been modified numerous times. It sat atop a large speaker cabinet, which was covered mostly in some sort of oil-cloth with a black cloth (with white polkadots) covering the openings: I had the impression that he built this cabinet: it was a tuned labyrinth, with a large bass-favoring loudspeaker: he always loved music that had lots of bass. 

As a television Ďpioneerí, one might have expected him to have the first set in the neighborhood, but perhaps economics prevented this. He eventually bought an Olympic TV, and it sat on top of a cabinet he built, with a large round loudspeaker opening (I think an old towel was the grillcloth). The antenna was in the attic, and Sven loved to watch football games if Stanford or one of the other west coast teams was playing.

Throughout his life he followed Stanford football, occasionally taking us to a radio broadcast (relayed over phone lines) of the game. Sven played soccer for Stanford, and was a good swimmer, and after 1957 he began to play tennis.

While living in Nutley (1945-1956), he built a large model train layout that used half of the houseís basement. There were two levels of track around the perimeter, switches, paper-mache mountains and tunnels, little houses with lights, street lamps, and a hole in the middle of the table: we children could climb under the table and emerge in the middle of the trains. After several years, this was demolished and he converted that part of the basement into a Ďfamily roomí, with pine paneling: he did all the construction work.

Sven became a naturalized US citizen in 1948: this was perhaps related to security issues since most of his work was on classified projects.

Around 1950, Sven and K made their first joint trip to England, flying on a Boeing Stratocruiser, which had two levels: the downstairs was a bar and lounge: it was a long flight, perhaps 20 hours. They visited Marli, Fred, and Robin and his family, as well as old Scophony friends and other relatives. England still had food rationing and much visible war damage, so it must have been quite a contrast to the situation at home. Syles (which Spencerís sister and her family owned) had been a productive farm before the war: when it was returned to the family in 1945, it was a ruined airfield; they received minimal financial compensation. Before leaving on the trip, Sven gave me a pair of tin snips (which I still use), so that I could cut open tin cans to get sheet metal, and a box of miscellaneous screws (a prize from ITT). 

In 1956 Sven moved his family from Nutley to Mountain lakes, New Jersey: this involved a much longer commute to work (Belleville at that time, then Nutley, and later NYC), but it was a beautiful house on a lake: a perfect place for children. He lived in this house for 36 years, until his death in 1992. During at least his last ten years with ITT, he commuted to the headquarters building in NYC, a door-to-door trip of perhaps ninety minutes each way: often he rose very early and drove to Newark Airport, which allowed him to put in a full dayís work in Washington, before flying home.

Although Sven was athletic when young, and through Stanford, the following years of long hours at his desk and in the Lab brought him little exercise. He had a pneumonia while living in Nutley and a heart attack around age sixty. His only exercise was weekend tennis, but it was combined with much food and drink. The end result was liver failure, from which he died in January 1992.

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