TRW Inc. was an American corporation involved in a variety of businesses, mainly aerospace, automotive, and credit reporting. It was a pioneer in multiple fields including electronic components, integrated circuits, computers, software and systems engineering. TRW built many spacecraft, including Pioneer 1, Pioneer 10, and several space-based observatories. It was #57 on the Fortune 500 list, and had 122,258 employees. In 1953, the company was recruited to lead the development of the United States’ first ICBM. Starting with the initial design by Convair, the multi-corporate team launched Atlas in 1957. It flew its full range in 1958, and was adapted to fly the Mercury astronauts into orbit. TRW also led development of the Titan missile, which was later adapted to fly the Gemini missions. The company served the US Air Force as systems engineers on all subsequent ICBM development efforts, but TRW never produced any missile hardware because of the conflict of interest. In 1960, Congress spurred the formation of the non-profit Aerospace Corporation to provide systems engineering to the US government, but TRW continued to guide the ICBM efforts.
TRW originated in 1901 with the Cleveland Cap Screw Company, founded by David Kurtz and four other Cleveland residents. Their initial products were bolts with heads electrically welded to the shafts. In 1904, a welder named Charles E. Thompson adapted their process to making automobile engine valves, and, by 1915, the company was the largest valve producer in the United States. Charles Thompson was named General Manager of the company, which became Thompson Products in 1926. Their experimental hollow sodium-cooled valves aided Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic.
In 1937, Thompson Motor Products bought J. A. Drake and Sons (JADSON). The company made high performance valves that were used in many racing engines of the day, including the Miller Offy. Dale Drake (son of J. A. Drake) bought the Offy engine design with his partner Louis Meyer in 1946 and won the Indianapolis 500 twenty-seven times, more than any other engine design. During the period leading up to World War II, through the end of the Korean war, Thompson Products was a key manufacturer of component parts for aircraft engines, including aircraft valves. The TAPCO plant, owned by the U.S. Government, but operated by Thompson Products, extended for almost a mile along Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue. It employed over 16,000 workers at the peak of WW II production. As jet aircraft replaced piston engined aircraft, Thompson Products became a major manufacturer of turbine blades for jet engines In 1950, Simon Ramo and Dean Wooldridge while working for Hughes Aircraft, led the development of the Falcon radar-guided missile, among other projects. They grew frustrated with Howard Hughes’ management, and formed the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation in September 1953, with the financial support of Thompson Products. The detonation of a thermonuclear bomb by the Soviet Union spurred Trevor Gardner to form the Teapot Committee in October 1953. Chaired by John von Neumann, its purpose was to study the development of ballistic missiles, including ICBMs. Ramo and Wooldridge were committee members, and Ramo-Wooldridge Corp. became the lead contractor of the resulting ICBM development effort, reporting to the United States Air Force.
With continued backing from Thompson Products, Ramo-Wooldridge diversified into computers and electronic components, founding Pacific Semiconductors in 1954. They also produced scientific spacecraft such as Pioneer 1. Thompson Products and Ramo-Wooldridge merged in October 1958 to form Thompson Ramo Wooldridge Inc., unofficially known as “TRW”. In February 1959, Jimmy Doolittle became Chairman of the Board of Space Technology Laboratories (STL), the division which continued to support the Air Force ICBM efforts. Other aerospace companies challenged that TRW’s Air Force advisory role granted it unfair access to its competitors’ technology, and in September 1959 the United States Congress issued a report recommending that STL be converted to a non-profit organization. With nearly half of STL’s employees, The Aerospace Corporation was formed in June 1960, which headed the Atlas conversion for Mercury, Titan conversion for Gemini, and provides ongoing systems engineering support for the United States government. The Air Force continued its ICBM work with TRW.
During fiscal years 1961 through 1963, TRW produced 319,163 M14 rifles for the United States military.
Dean Wooldridge retired in January 1962 to become a professor at California Institute of Technology. Simon Ramo became President of the Bunker-Ramo Corp in January 1964, a company jointly owned by TRW and Martin Marietta for the production of computers and computer monitors. Thompson Ramo Wooldridge officially became TRW Inc. in July 1965. Free of anti-competitive restrictions, except regarding ICBM hardware, STL was renamed TRW Systems Group, also in July 1965. The Credit Data group was formed in 1970 to compete with Dun & Bradstreet, and ESL was acquired in 1978, specializing in technical strategic reconnaissance. TRW Information Systems and Services Division (Credit Data) was spun off in 1996 to form Experian. TRW acquired LucasVarity in 1999, then sold Lucas Diesel Systems to Delphi Automotive, and Lucas Aerospace (then called TRW Aeronautical Systems) to Goodrich Corporation.
The company was #57 on the Fortune 500 list of highest revenue American companies in 1986, and had 122,258 employees in 2000. They had operations in 25 countries. At approximately 7 p.m. on February 3, 1986 the large TRW plant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania burned to the ground in an eight-alarm fire. The plant stored large amounts of dangerous chemicals and people in the local area were urged to stay indoors. The damage was estimated to be greater than $10 million and it was the most serious fire in Harrisburg history at the time. In February 2002 Northrop Grumman launched a $5.9 billion hostile bid for TRW. A bidding war between Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and General Dynamics ended on July 1, 2002 when Northrop’s increased bid of $7.8 billion was accepted. Soon afterward, the automotive assets of LucasVarity and TRW’s own automotive group were sold to The Blackstone Group as TRW Automotive.
Much of TRW’s Lyndhurst campus is now home to the lifestyle center Legacy Village.
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, says that “he got his first big break” when only 15, debugging energy-grid control software for TRW. “It was kind of scary,” Gates said, realizing the things the program was going to help operate. “This thing needs to work.”
TRW Inc. was active in the development of missile systems and spacecraft, notably the early development of the U.S. ICBM program under the leadership of the Teapot Committee led by John von Neumann. TRW pioneered systems engineering, and created the ubiquitous N2 chart and the modern functional flow block diagram. They served as the primary source of systems engineering for the United States Air Force ballistic missile programs.
Space Technology Laboratories (STL), then a division of Ramo-Wooldridge Corp., designed and produced the identical payloads for Pioneer 0, 1 and 2. These were intended to orbit and photograph the Moon, but launch vehicle problems prevented this. NASA launched Pioneer 1 as its first spacecraft on October 11, 1958. It set a distance record from Earth, and provided data on the extent of Earth’s radiation belts. Pioneer 10 and 11 were nearly identical spacecraft, designed and fabricated by TRW Systems Group. They were optimized for ruggedness since they were the first man-made objects to pass through the asteroid belt and Jupiter’s radiation belt. Simplicity, redundancy, and use of proven components were essential. As NASA’s first all-atomic powered spacecraft, these used plutonium-238 units developed by Teledyne Isotopes. Pioneer 10 carried 11 instruments, and Pioneer 11 carried 12, for investigating Jupiter and Saturn, respectively. Data was transmitted back to Earth at 8 Watts, 128 byte/s at Jupiter, and 1 byte/s from further out. Pioneer 10 was the first man-made object past the planetary orbits, and its last telemetry was received in 2002, 30 years after launch. TRW Systems Group designed and built the instrument package which performed the Martian biological experiments, searching for life aboard the two Viking Landers launched in 1975. The 34 lb (15.5 kg) system performed four experiments on Martian soil using a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GC-MS) and a combined biological instrument.
TRW Systems Group designed and manufactured the Vela series of nuclear detection satellites which monitored the 1963 establishment of the nuclear Partial Test Ban Treaty. Subsequently, they produced the Advanced Vela series, first launched in 1967, which could detect nuclear air bursts using instruments actually called bhangmeters. It had the first dual-spin attitude control system with the total system momentum controlled to zero. The Vela and Advanced Vela satellites were the first to alert astronomers to the presence of gamma-ray bursts. They also reported a mysterious apparent nuclear test now called the Vela Incident. First launched in 1970, the company built all 23 reconnaissance satellites in the Defense Support Program (DSP), which are the principal components of the Satellite Early Warning System currently used by the United States. These are operated by the Air Force Space Command, and they detect missile or spacecraft launches and nuclear explosions using sensors that detect the infrared emissions from these intense sources of heat. During Desert Storm, for example, DSP satellites were able to detect the launches of Iraqi Scud missiles and provide timely warnings to civilians and military forces in Israel and Saudi Arabia. The initial seven Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) were built by TRW to improve communication coverage for the Space Shuttle, International Space Station, and US military satellites. When first launched in 1983, the TDRS satellites were the largest, most sophisticated communications satellites built at the time. The seventh vehicle in the series was ordered as a replacement when TDRS-2 was lost in the Challenger accident. Launched in 2002, TRW produced the Aqua spacecraft based on their modular standardized satellite bus. A joint project of the United States, Japan, and Brazil, Aqua delivers 750 Gigabytes per day detailing the Earth’s water cycle in the oceans, lakes, atmosphere, polar ice caps, and vegetation.
TRW designed and built the descent engine or (LMDE) for the Apollo lunar lander. Due to the need for a soft landing on the Moon, it was the first throttleable engine for manned space flight. This, and the requirements for high thrust, low weight, and crushability (in case of landing on a large rock), earned surprising praise from NASA’s history pages, considering the complexity of the lunar missions: “The lunar module descent engine probably was the biggest challenge and the most outstanding technical development of Apollo”. This engine was used on Apollo 13 to achieve free return trajectory and make a minor course correction after damage to the Service Module. After the Apollo program moon landings, the LMDE was further developed into the TRW TR-201 engine. This engine was used in the second stage Delta-P of the Delta launch vehicle for 77 launches between 1972-1988.
Semiconductors and computers
The Ramo-Wooldridge Corp formed Pacific Semiconductors in June 1954, under the leadership of Harper North who had been head of electronics R+D at Hughes Aircraft. The funding for this endeavor from Thompson Products was about ten times their initial investment in Ramo-Wooldridge. The original goal was to produce the recently invented transistor for commercial sales.
The company manufactured the RW-300 for sales in 1959, one of the first “all-transistor” computers with a power supply that used vacuum tubes. The computer was targeted at industrial control applications, with 1024 analog inputs multiplexed to a 1.9K sample/s 10-bit analog-to-digital converter which was transparent to the programmer. The real-time operating system was written by John Neblett, and was the intellectual precursor of the RSX-11 operating system for the PDP-11. The TRW-130 computer was introduced in 1961, and designated the AN/UYK-1 by the US Navy as part of its pre-GPS TRANSIT (NAVSAT) satellite-based location system. It used Doppler shifts to compute a location in about 15 minutes, and had rounded corners to allow installation in submarines.
The TTL logic gate, which was the electronics industry standard for two decades, was invented by TRW’s James L. Buie in 1961.
In 1965, engineers Don Nelson and Dick Pick at TRW developed the Generalized Information Retrieval Language and System, for use by the U.S. Army to control the inventory of Cheyenne helicopter parts. This developed into the Pick Database Management System which is still in use as of 2016. TRW LSI Products, Inc. was a wholly owned subsidiary formed to commercialize the integrated circuit technology the company had developed in support of its aerospace business. They produced some of the first commercially available digital signal processing ICs including the TDC1008 multiplier-accumulator. They also made the first 8-bit flash ADC IC, the TDC1007, resulting in an Emmy Award for analog/digital video conversion technology.