Monday, July 29, 2019

To the Moon

by Susan Zehnder, Education Director
Fifty years ago, an invention by a man in Horseheads, New York, helped us see our world in a new way. That summer on the evening of July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon’s surface. The world watched as the event was broadcast live using special camera technology developed at Westinghouse Corporation out of Horseheads.
Image of Westinghouse workers from our collection, n.d.

Dr. Gerhard W. Goetze (1930-2007) led the team of scientists as Operations Manager. He had discovered the Secondary Electron Conduction (SEC) effect which captured and amplified individual particles of light, and now his team of scientists adapted the SEC tube to fit NASA’s needs. Under his leadership, they developed the camera technology that allowed NASA to capture images in extreme light and dark conditions and broadcast them back to Earth.

The SEC technology had a variety of applications. It became an important part of night vision sensors, security cameras, and in electron-microscope-based biological tissue studies. It was found critical in work inspecting integrated circuits and helpful in ground-based astronomy work. As for the moon landing, “There would be no other way to get yesterday’s pictures of the moon without this tube” Dr. Goetze was quoted as saying in a Star-Gazette newspaper article published the day after the moon landing.
Gerhard W. Goetze, PhD, (photo source Wikipedia)

Dr. Goetze went on to be awarded a special patent for his work, and the Westinghouse team, along with NASA engineers, won an Emmy for their Apollo broadcasts.

Goetze’s graduate work in atomic physics had first caught the eye of the American government back in the mid-1950s. In 1959, the US Department of the Army sponsored him and he moved from Germany with his young family. He was just twenty-nine years old. His early work at Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse Research and Development laboratories focused on further developing SEC’s application for night vision, a technology supported by the Department of Defense. This went on to be used for police anti-crime measures, and in fighting the war in North Vietnam. By 1964, he had relocated to the Westinghouse Corporation’s Cathode Ray Tube facility in Horseheads and settled his family in Elmira. Under his leadership, the department grew from six members to more than 170 scientists and staff members. Goetze became a US citizen on July 4, 1967 two years before the Apollo moon landing.

In addition to the special patent awarded for the SEC process, Goetz was awarded the Longstreth Medal from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. This prestigious award recognized his invention and the impact it played in ultraviolet astronomical observations, as well as his work on night surveillance technology and broadcast television. In 1966, his SEC tube was named one of the 100 most outstanding scientific and technical achievements by Industrial Research Magazine.

It’s estimated that at least one quarter of the earth’s inhabitants watched the lunar landing and Armstrong’s first footsteps as it happened. The moon mission took over ten years and cost close to 25 billion dollars which would be about 100 billion dollars today. It took over 400,000 people working together to create the parts and needed pieces. The camera technology Goetze and his group developed captured color images on the flights to and from the moon, and the black and white images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they walked on the moon’s surface.

Looking back, the black and white flickering, grainy images don’t seem like very much, but at the time, they surely drew a collective gasp. People and companies were proud to contribute to the space program, and NASA was smart to scatter contracts throughout the nation, awarding companies like Westinghouse with jobs and contracts.

In his free time, Goetz’s passion was gliding, and he spent many weekend hours at the Harris Hill Soaring Club with his family. Another Elmira soaring enthusiast was only 13 years old that summer. Thirty years later, Colonel Eileen Collins went on to be the first female commander of a space shuttle.
Colonel Eileen Collins, autographed photo from our collection
But for one warm summer evening in July 1969, the nation and the world watched together and marveled at what humankind had accomplished.
The Moon, taken by Apollo 11 astronauts (source: NASA photo)

Monday, July 22, 2019

That Time the Town of Baldwin Almost Dissolved

by Erin Doane, Curator

As I was researching the Town of Baldwin for its upcoming exhibit (on display August 1, 2019-January 31, 2020), the town historian showed me an article written in 1959 about how the town almost dissolved in 1923. In the early 1920s, the town began paving many of the roads within its limits to make them more suitable for increasing automobile traffic. I can see the logic that improved roads might bring more people and businesses into the town, but the municipality was already unstable financially. The budget was unbalanced, there were no reserve funds, and the taxes were high. Adding the cost of paving on top of the general cost of maintaining 63 miles of roads and numerous bridges pushed Baldwin deeper into debt. There were no major industries, stores, utilities, or even a railroad line in the town, so the tax burden fell heavily onto farmers.

Aerial view of the village of North Chemung in the Town of Baldwin, c. 1950s
The first mention of the possible dissolution of Baldwin was in a Star-Gazette article on May 14, 1923. In order to help relieve the town residents of their high taxes, the Chemung County Board of Supervisors discussed the idea of combining the towns of Elmira, Ashland, Chemung, and Baldwin as one unit. By the end of the meeting, nothing had been decided.

One week later, on May 22, another article in the Star-Gazette reported that a petition was presented to the county Board of Supervisors. The petition read as follows:
The undersigned, residents and freeholders of the Town of Baldwin, your county, respectfully petition that your Board take such action as will bring about the annexation of the said Town of Baldwin to the Town of Chemung, in your county, or that the said Town of Baldwin be so partitioned that a part thereof may be set off to each of the Towns of Erin, Van Etten and Chemung in your county, and that your board will take such action as will accomplish this result.
The article then listed 100+ names of Baldwin residents who supported the petition.

Star-Gazette headline, May 22, 1923
These two new propositions – either combining Baldwin and Chemung into one town, or dividing the land of Baldwin up among the three towns of Erin, Van Etten, and Chemung – were left in the hands of the supervisors of the towns of Baldwin, Erin, Chemung, and Elmira. They were to research options and report back to the board of Supervisors at their next meeting.

An editorial appearing in the newspaper on the same day explained how the petition was unlikely to succeed. “Changing long established town boundaries or discontinuing towns entirely and incorporating them with other towns is an extremely hard thing to do,” it stated. Beyond the legal and logistical issues of such a drastic change, Baldwin had the highest taxes in the county (higher even than the city of Elmira). No other town would willingly take on that burden. As a result, the petition quietly died in committee.

This effort by the Town of Baldwin was not for nothing, however. By presenting such a sweeping demand before the Board of Supervisors, the town pushed the county into honestly considering the tax problems it was facing. For years, Elmira had been helping Baldwin cover its tax shortfalls as no other solutions had been implemented. After the petition for dissolution was presented, the board approved a county-wide tax levy that provided $2,000 (around $30,000 today) to Baldwin to help ease its residents’ suffering. 

Map of Chemung County, 1989

Monday, July 15, 2019

America’s Wildest Goose Chase: The Hunt for Pancho Villa

By Rachel Dworkin, archivist

While the rest of the world was slugging it out in Europe, the United States invaded Mexico in the spring of 1916. You know, like you do. At the time, Mexico was embroiled in a civil war between the revolutionary faction, led by Francisco “Pancho” Villa, and the Constitutionalist faction, led by Venustiano Carranza. The Mexican Civil War (1910-1920) is quite the saga in and of itself, but for the purposes of our story, we’re just going to focus on the American involvement. 
Fransisco "Pancho" Villa

Venustiano Carranza

In October 1915, the United States Government decided to back Carranza by offering him formal recognition and providing train transport through the United States to Carranza’s forces on their way to the Second Battle of Agua Prieta (November 1, 1915). This understandably pissed of Villa, whose forces began to stage raids on border towns and attack American citizens within Mexico. On March 9, 1916, Villa’s troops attacked Columbus, New Mexico and the nearby army base, Camp Furlong. 18 Americans were killed in the attack and the Mexican forces were able to seize mules, horses, machine guns, ammunition, and other supplies before fleeing back into Mexico. 

Aftermath of the attack on Columbus, New Mexico

The following day, President Woodrow Wilson authorized the Southern Department of the Army under the command of General Frederick Funston to peruse Villa into Mexico. The wild goose chase was off! Throughout the spring, American troops clashed with Villa’s forces across northern Mexico, killing or capturing nearly 300 men. In retaliation, his soldiers staged several lightening raids on Texas towns. By May, Carranza’s government had become quite annoyed with the Americans running around his country shooting people and threatened to attack the expedition’s supply lines unless they pulled back. American forces remained in northern Mexico until January 1917, but they never managed to find, let alone kill or capture, Villa. 

While the army was running around south of the border, there were 38 Mexican raids on American towns. On June 18th, President Wilson called up over 140,000 National Guardsmen from across the country to protect the southern border. Elmira’s Company L received notification that they were being called up and began a recruitment drive. Over 23 men joined up within a week to bring the company to full strength before it departed Elmira on June 27th

The city was caught in a state of patriotic fervor. On June 24th, the Mozart Theater invited the men of Company L to a free showing of a film of the original incursion into Mexico. J.E. Morrow of the Morrow Manufacturing Company asked his employees to donate money to purchase the unit their own truck. Within a matter of hours, they raised $2,000. $1,700 went to buy the Garford truck with the remainder going to a family relief fund. Good thing too. Despite being sworn in to federal service on July 5th, the men of Company L were not paid for over a month. Since they also weren’t receiving their regular pay from their civilian jobs, their families might well have starved without the relief fund. 

Company L was stationed at Camp Pharr, Texas from July until October. During that time, they made improvements to the camp and nearby town, patrolled the border, and melted in the over 100-degree heat. They never encountered the enemy and their biggest fights were with the local wild life. That truck did come in handy though when it came to transporting supplies, so that was something.

Company L men clearing brush at Camp Pharr, Texas
After nearly three months languishing in the desert, Company L returned home on October 5, 1916. They were greeted by a crowd of over 1,000 people which included local politicians and a band.

Friends and family greet the men of Company L at the train station, October 5, 1916

Over all, the Pancho Villa Expedition from March 14, 1916, to February 7, 1917 was pretty much a failure. Despite repeated encounters with the enemy, they never managed the stated objective of capturing Villa. Instead, they managed to alienate the Mexican populace, piss off their Mexican allies, and generally make fools of themselves. Still, the expedition gave the American regular army and Nation Guard valuable experience in terms of training and logistics which would serve them well after the nation’s entry into World War I. In fact, almost all of the Company L men who had gone south in 1916 saw action again in Europe.