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National Company (NATCO) Atomic Clocks Record,
1955-1968

Extent and Forms of Material: 5.5 cubic feet (15 boxes; 3 oversize folders)
Creator: National Company, Inc. (NATCO)
Abstract: Records document the development of the first commercial atomic clocks by the National Company, Inc., (NATCO) of Malden, MA., a company known for producing specialized electronic equipment. The records include blueprints, technical drawings and schematics, technical and research reports, instruction manuals, photographs, and marketing materials.
Repository: Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; archivescenter@si.edu ; 202-633-3270; www.americanhistory.si.edu/archives
Collection Number: AC0547
Processing Note: Processed by Laura Zelasnic, August 1998; supervised by Alison Oswald, Archivist.
© 2007 by the Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.

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Information for users of the collection

Conditions Governing Access: The collection is open for research use.
Physical Access: Researchers must handle unprotected photographs with gloves. Researchers must use reference copies of audio-visual materials. When no reference copy exists, the Archives Center staff will produce reference copies on an “as needed” basis, as resources allow.
Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use: Copyright held by the Smithsonian Institution. Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: fees for commercial use.
Preferred Citation: [Title and date of item], National Company (NATCO) Atomic Clocks Record, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, box number X, folder number XX, digital file number XXXXXXXX

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In-depth information about the collection

Administrative/biographical history
Scope and content
System of arrangement
Acquisition information
Custodial history
Related archival materials
Related artifacts
Access points
Container listing

Administrative/biographical history

An atomic clock is a cesium-based frequency standard. It operates by exposing cesium atoms to microwaves at one end of their resonant frequencies and then counting their corresponding cycles as a measure of time. In 1955, Louis Essen of Britain's National Physical Laboratory and William Markowitz of the U.S. Naval Observatory collaborated to produce the first measurement of what is now called the atomic second. In 1967, the 13th general Conference of Weights and Measures formally redefined the atomic second as 9,192,631,770. The atomic second became the internationally accepted unit of time. Atomic clocks are the most accurate of all clocks.

The first clock in 1949 was based on the microwave resonances of the ammonia molecule. It was patented by Harold Lyons and Benjamin F. Husten. The first commercial atomic clocks were developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Research Laboratory of Electronics under J.R. Zacharias, a protégé of I.I. Rabi’s, circa 1955-1956 and were manufactured by the National Company, Inc. (NATCO) of Malden, MA. NATCO, founded in 1914, was a well-respected company known for producing specialized electronic equipment in short runs. Prototype clocks bore the working name National Atomic Frequency Standard (NAFS). When the first commercial product was unveiled on October 3, 1956, it bore the trade name “Atomichron” and the model number NC-1001. Between 1956 and 1960, fifty Atomichrons were made and sold to military agencies, government agencies, and universities. Nine other models followed with refinements in size, portability and accuracy. The most radical design departure began with the NC3001 when the beam tube was placed in the horizontal position. Prices ranged from $10,000 to $50,000.

Patents covering NATCO’s frequency standards include: 2,960,663, 2,972,115, 2,991,389, 3,258,713, 3,305,290. In 1965, James J. Bagnall was assigned patent 3,167,772 for a Collision Avoidance System to NATCO. It never reached production.

Although supported by research contracts by all three military branches, especially the Army Signal Corps, NATCO failed to achieve a lasting profitability. It was liquidated, and its patents were acquired by Frequency Electronics in 1969.

Sources
1. PEM Drawing C43767, 1967, PEM Drawings (C38037-C43767), 1964-1967, Series 3, Components, 1955-1967, Atomic Clock Collection, Archives Center, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History.
2. Forman, Paul. “Atomichron: The Atomic Clock from Concept to Commercial Product,” in Proceedings of the IEEE, vol. 73, p. 1181-1204, 1985.


Scope and content

The National Company (NATCO) Atomic Clocks Record, 1955-1968, documents the development of the first commercial atomic clocks. Materials were generated by the National Company, Inc. (NATCO) of Malden, MA which produced the clocks under contract for military branches of the U.S. government and also marketed them on a retail basis. The collection consists of blueprints, technical drawings and schematics, technical and research reports, instruction manuals, photographs, marketing materials, and a stock offering prospectus for NATCO. If one blueprint, drawing or parts list had two or more models listed, it is included under the first model cited.

Series 1, National Company, Inc., (NATCO), 1957-1959, consists of a stock offering prospectus, 1959, which describes the organization of NATCO, its executives and Board of Directors, financial condition, and products. Located in this series is a bound volume of photographs which accompanied NATCO’s contract bids. This volume contains photographs of a state-of-the-art machine shop and electronics laboratory of the late 1950s and early 1960s. A blueprint for a radio receiver— the product on which NATCO had built its reputation—is here.

Series 2, Atomichrons, 1955-1968, contains blueprints, original technical drawings and schematics, instruction manuals for setup and operation, technical and research reports, photographs and marketing materials arranged by Atomichron model from the National Atomic Frequency System (NAFS) prototype through the NC3701 and NC3702. The NC1001, the first commercial atomic clock, is fully documented. Technical Memoranda and proposals (TM-) related to particular models have been included with them. Other Technical Memoranda and proposals are in Series 3, Components, 1955-1957, and Series 5, Technical Memoranda and Reports, 1956-1957.

Series 3, Components, 1955-1967, contains materials related to the development of NATCo’s Cesium Beam Tube and other parts of the Atomichrons. It includes Technical Memoranda (TM-), blueprints and original drawings, original notes and computations, parts lists, and photographs. Also included in this series is material related to the Production Engineering Measure (PEM), 1962-1967. This was a piece of equipment designed and built by NATCO to measure the accuracy of each Cesium Beam Tube as it was produced.

Series 4, Collision Avoidance System, 1962-1967, consists of material related to James J. Bagnall’s patented Collision Avoidance System, using the Cesium Beam Frequency Standard. It includes his research report, the patent assigned to NATCO, and proposals and reports from NATCO representatives to Air Transportation Association conferences and meetings for 1967.

Series 5, Technical Memoranda and Reports, 1956-1967, consists of bound and numbered (TM-) technical memoranda. These are research reports and proposals for future research or products. Other technical memoranda are in Series 2, Atomichrons and Series 3, Components, 1955-1967.

Series 6, Reprints from MIT, 1953-1955, contains a bound volume of reprinted or photocopied papers which document research developments in Cesium Beam Frequency Standards at the time NATCO was establishing itself as a commercial producer.


System of arrangement

The collection is arranged into six series.
Series 1: National Company, Inc., (NATCO), 1957-1959
Series 2: Atomichrons, 1955-1968
Subseries 1, National Atomic Frequency System (NAF), 1956
Subseries 2, NC1001, 1955-circa 1959
Subseries 3, NC1001, Polaris, 1956-1958
Subseries 4, NC2001, Militarized, 1956-1961
Subseries 5, NC3001, Airborne, 1956-1961
Subseries 6, NC1200, 1959
Subseries 7, Missileborne Atomichron, 1959-1960
Subseries 8, NC1501, 1958-1964
Subseries 9, NC1601, Economy, 1958-1964
Subseries 10, Tactical Frequency Standard Drawings, 1959
Subseries 11, Tri-Service CBFS, circa 1965
Subseries 12, NC3501, circa 1965, 1967
Subseries 13, NC3601, Aerospace, circa 1965
Subseries 14, NC3701, Commercial, 1964-1968
Series 3: Components, 1955-1967
Series 4: Collision Avoidance System, 1962-1967
Series 5: Technical Memoranda and Reports, 1956-1967
Series 6: Reprints from MIT, 1953-1955


Acquisition information

Materials in this collection were donated to the Division of Electricity and Modern Physics by Louis C. Lerner in December 1984. The bulk of the blueprints were purchased from Robert Reeves in August, 1991.


Custodial history

The collection was transferred from the Division of Electricity and Modern Physics to the Archives Center in February, 1996.


Related archival materials

Materials related to MIT staff and departments who were involved in NATCO’s Atomic Clock projects also can be found in the Historical Collections at the MIT Museum (http://web.mit.edu/museum/) and in the Institute Archives and Special Collections (http://libraries.mit.edu/archives/) of the MIT Libraries in Cambridge, Mass.


Related artifacts

Artifacts related to this collection are located in the Division of Information, Technology and Communication at the National Museum of American History.


Access points

Subjects/Topical:
Airplanes—Collision avoidance—1950-1970
Atomic clocks
Clocks and watches—1950-1970
Cold War—1950-1970
Frequency standards—1950-1970
Inventions—1950-1970
Military-industrial complex—Massachusetts—Cambridge
Patents—1950-1970
United States –Air defenses—Military—1950-1970

Subjects/Names:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology—1950-1970

Form/Genre:
Blueprints—20th century
Manuals—1950-1970
Photographs—1940-1970
Reports—1940-1970
Technical drawings


Container listing

Box Folder  
    SERIES 1: NATIONAL COMPANY, INC. (NATCO), 1957-1959
1 1 Prospectus, 1959
  2 National Company [Work] Experience, 1959
  3 AN/WRR-2 Receiver Blueprint, 1957
    SERIES 2: ATOMICHRONS, 1955-1968
    Subseries 1, National Atomic Frequency System (NAFS), 1956
  4 Blueprints (A17120-B17709), 1956
  5 Blueprints (C16001-D16488), 1956
    Subseries 2, NC1001, 1955-circa 1959
  6 Blueprints (A15696-A17802), 1955-1957
2 1 Blueprints (A15942-A27531), 1955-1957
  2 Blueprints (B15942-B17148), 1955-1957
  3 Blueprints, (B17155-B17265), 1955-1957
  4 Blueprints (B17266-B25265), 1956-1957
  O/S Folder 1 Blueprints (B20285-B22545), 1957-1959
2 5 Blueprints, (C16224-C20014), 1955-1957
  6 Blueprints, (D17063-D17950), 1955-1957
3 1 Blueprints, (E1708-E17919), 1955-1957
15 1 Drawings (20285 and 22545), 1959
  O/S Folder 1 Drawing D17117, 1955-1956
3 2 Beam Tube Assembly Manual, 1957
  3 Instruction Manuals, 1957
3 4 Photographs, 1957
  5 Short-Term Stability Study, Final Report, circa 1959
    Subseries 3, NC1001, Polaris, 1956-1958
  6 Proposal, TM-144, 1956
  7 Interim Report, 1957
  8 Interim Development Report, 1958
  O/S Folder 3 NC1106 Blueprint (C29888), 1960
    Subseries 4, NC2001, Militarized, 1956-1961
3 9 TM-110, Proposal, 1956
4 1 Blueprints (A18014-A29846), 1959
  2 Blueprints (B25141-B32015), 1959
  O/S Folder 2 Drawings (B26508-B34828), 1958-1961
4 3 Blueprints (C25313-C27783), 1959
  4 Blueprints (C28464-C32728), 1959
  5 Blueprints (D25300-D31961), 1959
5 1 Blueprints (E26452-E31052), 1959
  2 Blueprints (J32008-J32727), 1959
15 2 Drawings (B26508-B34828), 1959
5 3 Beam Tube Assembly, Evaluation & Test Procedures, 1960
  4 Atomic Beam Frequency Standard Final Report, 1955-1957
  5 Semi-final Report, 1958
  6 Instruction Manual, circa 1959
6 1-2 NC2001-2011, Instruction Manuals, circa 1959
  3 Final Report, 1961
  4 Range Measurement with Two Atomic Beam Oscillators, 1957
  5 TM-432, Proposal to Measure Directly the Phase Error in an Atomic Beam Resonance Tube, circa 1960
6 6 TM-520, Proposal to Investigate and Eliminate Distortions in the Cs 133 Resonance of the NC2001 Cesium Beam Tube, 1963
    Subseries 5, NC3001, Airborne, 1956-1961
  7 Blueprints (A24357-A28476), 1959
  8 Blueprints (A28502-A32730), 1959
7 1 Blueprints (B18009-B32717), 1959
15 3 Drawings (B26520-B34858), 1958-1961
7 2 Blueprints (C22347-C27749), 1959
  3 Blueprints (C27773-C33597), 1959
  4 Blueprints (D25434-D28438), 1959
  5 Blueprints (D28926-D32724), 1959
8 1 Blueprints (E27564-E53595), 1959
  2 Blueprints (J28434-J29995), 1959
  3 Completion Report, DR 1277, 1956
  4 Instruction Manual, 1959
  5 Oscillator Handbook, circa 1959
  6 TM-474, Final Report, 1961
15 3 NC3011, Drawings ( B34389-B34441), 1961
    Subseries 6, NC1200, 1959
9 1 Blueprints (A25466-D37180), 1959
  2 Instruction Manual, circa 1959
  3 NC1201 Oscillator-Comparator Manual, circa 1959
  4 NC1200 & 1201 Transistorized Frequency Standard Manual, 1959
  5 NC1251A Auxiliary Frequency Standard Manual, 1959
    Subseries 7, Missileborne Atomichron, 1959-1960
  6 Detail Drawings, 1959
  O/S Folder 2 Harmonic Generator Drawings, 1959
  O/S Folder 2 Cross-Section Drawings, circa 1959
15 4 Drawings (Notes J31998), circa 1959
  4 Sketches, circa 1959
  4 Blueprint, Layout No. 3-X-288 Multiplier Module B-2-3-4, circa 1959
  4 Drawings (Notes J31998), 1959
15 4 Beam Tube Cross-Sections, 1959
  O/S Folder 2 Oscillator Drawings, 1959
  O/S Folder 2 Harmonic Generator Drawings, 1959
9 7 Technical Proposal, Lockheed Missiles, circa 1959
  8 Technical Proposal For Missileborne Atomichron v. 2, circa 1959
  9 TM-438, Missleborne Atomichron Frequency Standard, 1960
  10 TM-453, Beam Optics for MBA Tube, 1960
    Subseries 8, NC1501, 1958-1964
  11 Blueprints (B25432-C33985), 1958-1960
15 5 Drawings (B29931-B38097), 1959-1964
  O/S Folder 1 Blueprints (C38104-C38107), 1964
  O/S Folder 1 Blueprints (D34816-D38132), 1961-1962
  O/S Folder 1 Unnumbered Cross-Section, circa 1964
9 12 TM-504, Short Term Stability Measurement, 1961
  13 NC1501 & NC1511, Instruction Manual, 1961
    Subseries 9, NC1601, Economy, 1958-1964
  14 Blueprints (A2448-C29179), 1959
  O/S Folder 1 Blueprints (C36380-C36499), 1962-1963
  O/S Folder 1 Blueprints (D36447-D36501), 1962-1963
15 6 Drawings, (B25448-B36509), 1958-1963
9 15 NC1601 (M) Instruction Manual, circa 1960
  16 Cesium Beam Tube Studies, 1962-1964
10 1 Contract, 1963
15 8 Subseries 10, Tactical Frequency Standard Drawings, 1959
    Subseries 11, Tri-Service CBFS, circa 1965
10 2 TM-634, Proposal, v.1, circa 1965
  3 TM-634, Proposal, v.2, circa 1965
  4 Photographs, circa 1965
    Subseries 12, NC3501, circa 1965, 1967
  O/S Folder 3 Blueprint (C43694), 1967
10 5 Photographs, circa 1965
    Subseries 13, NC3601, Aerospace, circa 1965
  6 Photographs, circa 1965
  7 Specifications, circa 1965
    Subseries 14, NC3701, Commercial, 1964-1968
  8 Blueprints (A44252-D44251), 1967
  O/S Folder 3 Blueprints (C43656-C43663), 1967
10 9 Assembly Beam Tube, 1967
  10 Preliminary Technical Manual, circa 1968
  11 Preliminary Technical Manual, (incomplete), circa 1968
  12 Specifications, 1968
  13 Photographs, circa 1968
  O/S Folder 3 NC3702, Drawing 38059, 1964
  O/S Folder 3 Blueprint (C43666), 1967
    SERIES 3: COMPONENTS, 1955-1967
11 1 RPD Blueprints (B15971-B15979), 1955
  2 TM-219, Cesium Beam Tube Design Information, 1957
  3 Beam Tube Optics For Offset and Conventional Designs, 1957
  4 [Beam Tube] Magnetic Measurement Data, J. Mackowiack, 1957-1958
  5 TM-307, Method of Matching and Compensating the RF Structure of the Beam Tube, 1958, Constance W. Franklin
  6 [Summary and Notes on 13 Topics], circa 1958, Constance W. Franklin
  7 TM-435, Notes on the Design and Testing of the Temperature Compensator for the 24" and 72" Cesium Beam Tubes, 1960
  8 Detail Drawing, Airborne and Missleborne Beam Tubes, circa 1960
  9 Cesium Beam Resonator (6201CBR) Photographs, 1967
  10 PEM Quarterly Reports, 1963-1964
  11 PEM Quarterly Reports, 1965-1967
12 1 PEM Parts List, 1965
  O/S Folder 3 PEM Blueprints (C38037-43767), 1964-1967
  O/S Folder 3 17" PEM Model Drawings, unnumbered, 1964
  O/S Folder 2 PEM Blueprints (E39972), 1965
  O/S Folder 2 PEM Blueprints (D36505-D41155), 1965
12 2 PEM Assembly Blueprint (J39092), 1965
15 7 PEM Drawings (B36449-B40086), 1962-1965
12 3 PEM Acceptance Test Procedure, 1965
  4 PEM Acceptance Test Procedure, NC6201CBR, Cesium Beam Resonator, 1967
  5 PEM Final Report, 1967
  6 General Purposes Blueprints, 1959
  7 TM-621, Operational Considerations for Driving Crystal Oscillator for APFS, circa 1962
  8 Stability Computation Notebook for Tri-Service Crystal Oscillator, 1965
  9 Assembly Blueprints (D111-158-D44458), 1966
  10 Specifications, 1966
  11 Calibrator Blueprint & Parts List [Electron Multiplier], 1962
  12 General Description of 60 Degree Electron Multiplier, undated
  13 Effect of Noise on an Oscillator Controlled by a Primary Reference, Bagnall, undated
  14 Specifications for Processes and Materials, 1960
  15 Temperature Compensator for Airborne and Signal Corps, 1960
  16 Parts Lists, NC2001, 2021, 1200, 1501, 1601, 3001, 3011--1960-1963
  17 Parts List [Unidentified], circa 1965
13 1 Unassigned Blueprints, 1959-1967
  O/S Folder 1 ASD Blueprints (C40321 & C41135), (D38984), 1965
    SERIES 4: COLLISION AVOIDANCE SYSTEM, 1962-1967
13 2 James J. Bagnall Paper, 1962
  3 James J. Bagnall Patent, 1965
  4 Air Transport Association, Memos and Reports, 1967
  5 NATCO Proposals and Reports, 1967
  6 NATCO Trip Reports, 1967
    SERIES 5: TECHNICAL MEMORANDA AND REPORTS, 1956-1967
  7 TM-124, Molecular Beam Oscillator for Frequency Control, 1956
  8 TM-311, Carbon Monoxide Frequency Standard, 1959
  9 TM-419, Magnetohydrodynamic Effects, 1960
  10 TM-425, Magnetic Resonance and Possible Applications in Biophysics and Medicine, circa 1960
  11 TM-429, Ultrasensitive Mass Spectrometer
  12 TM-439, Processing of Cesium, 1960
  13-14 TM-446, Isochron Study, Final Report, 2 vols., 1960
  15 TM-458, Advanced Techniques for Frequency Standards, circa 1960
14 1 TM-460, Precision Frequency and Time Measurement Techniques, circa 1960
  2 TM-461, Investigation of a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Oscillator, circa 1960
  3 TM-462, Time and Frequency Requirements for ARDC Division Systems Programs Offices, circa 1960
  4 TM-465, Application of Universal Frequency Control Systems to Aerospace Vehicles, circa 1960
  5 TM-500, Investigation of Coupled Electron and Nuclear Spin Systems, circa 1961
  6 TM-525, Tactical Atomic Clock and Frequency Standard, circa 1961
  7 TM-697, Atomic Clock for Satellite Operation, circa 1962
  8 Study and Investigation of an Improved Proton Maser Antenna, 1966
  9 TM-964, Portable, Tactical CBFS, circa 1967
    SERIES 6: REPRINTS FROM MIT, 1953-1955
  10 Reprints and photocopies of articles re: Atomic Clocks, 1953-1955

 

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Last Update: 26 Mar 2012

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