Simon Ramo was born in Salt Lake City in 1913 and received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Utah with highest honors at age 20. He earned his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology, Magna Cum Laude at age 23 and then joined the General Electric Research Laboratories where he accumulated 25 patents before the age of 30 and was cited as one of America's most outstanding young electrical engineers. Pioneering in the generation of microwave electricity, he was the first in the U.S. to produce microwave pulses at the kilowatt level and the first to create the so-called cavity resonator magnetron. His early definitive papers published in the leading technical journals on waves in linear and rotating electron streams detailed the relationships among frequency, stream density, electron velocity and amplification and earned him awards from physics and electrical engineering professional societies.

He developed GE's electron microscope. He published the first book on the characteristics of microwave electricity and also produced what became a classic textbook on electromagnetic fields and waves (with co-author John R. Whinnery). Used in over 100 universities, it has been a leading text in the field for over 50 years.

After World War II Ramo joined Hughes Aircraft Company to launch an entirely new approach to defense electronics. In a few years Hughes became one of the largest and most successful hi-tech companies in the world. Ramo was the Vice President for Operations over R&D, Product Engineering, and Manufacturing. Developments at Hughes were basic to the air superiority of the U.S. and were an extremely important contribution to national security since every interceptor airplane built in the U.S., to prevent enemy planes from successful bombing of the nation, was equipped with radar, computers, navigation systems and guided missiles developed and manufactured by Hughes.

A major factor in the Hughes success was its development of “systems engineering,” the design of the “whole” (the solving of complex interdisciplinary problems and the ensuring of a harmonious, optimum ensemble of hardware and information flow to reach desired overall systems performance). On this and other pertinent engineering innovations, Ramo wrote many articles, authored and co-authored a number of texts and delivered numerous invited lectures at universities and National Academy and professional society meetings.

In 1953 Simon Ramo and Dean Wooldridge founded the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation, later to become TRW. By coincidence, it was discovered at just that time that the USSR was well along in developing an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that would be able to by-pass the entire U.S. air defense system. President Eisenhower declared that for the USSR to possess such a threat ahead of the U.S. was absolutely unacceptable. He placed the highest national priority on the U.S.’s gaining an ICBM system before the Soviet Union. The Defense Department asked Simon Ramo to be the chief engineer for the project, which was to become the country’s largest. This was accomplished by awarding a contract (without a competition) to Ramo-Wooldridge for “Systems Engineering and Technical Direction.” The program called for unprecedented advances (10 times or more) in rocket propulsion, guidance accuracy, re-entry heat containment, control precision, structures (payload to overall weight), fuel performance, etc. Yet it was accomplished in five years, beating the USSR in the race to reach first operational capability.

Anticipating the space era before the USSR’s Sputnik launch, Simon Ramo created a new corporation wholly owned by TRW which he named Space Technology Laboratories and persuaded the TRW board to fund a “Space Park” to house innovative facilities for R&D and manufacturing of spacecraft. Space Technology Laboratories won the first spacecraft contract issued by NASA, the “Pioneer” series.

In the last decade of Ramo’s participation in the leadership of TRW, he was vice-chairman of the board of directors, chairman of the board’s executive committee, and variously chairman of the planning committee and the policy committee. For the first 20 years after the forming of TRW, 1958-78, Ramo was the leading executive team member in strategic planning and in decision making regarding major R&D investments and new product developments.

Upon reaching retirement as an officer of TRW, Ramo was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame, becoming the only holder of the National Medal of Science to be also a member of this business honorary group. At the White House, when the National Medal of Science was awarded to Ramo, the citation read in part: "For basic contributions to microelectronics and imaginative technical leadership in making large electronic systems available to the country for defense and civilian uses."

Because of his many creative contributions, Simon Ramo has been recognized for many years in academic circles as a leading figure in engineering education. This was especially remarkable for one simultaneously heavily involved with responsibilities as a corporate executive and as technical director of difficult frontier-breaking projects.

Simon Ramo was the author or co-author of numerous books on science, engineering, management, and the impact of technology and science advance on the society (and a best seller on tennis strategy). His published articles and lectures number in the hundreds.

Few individuals have rendered influential advice to the U.S. government on science and technology over so long a period. He has been a member of the National Science Board, the White House Council on Energy R&D, the Advisory Council to the Secretary of Commerce, the Advisory Council to the Secretary of State for Science and Foreign Affairs, and of many special advisory committees to the Defense Department and NASA.

Ramo became concerned very early in his career with the need for better public understanding of the enormous impact of science and technology advance on the society. In 1983, the National Academy of Engineering, in order to emphasize the growing importance of the science-technology-society interrelationship and "to honor statesmanship in science and technology" created the Bueche Award. The first recipient to receive this award was Simon Ramo. The citation read in part: "Simon Ramo – engineer, scientist, statesman, educator, author, policy maker, industrialist – is hereby honored for his achievements in advancing the understanding of technology, developing and applying technology to meet commercial and defense needs, and advising the leaders of government."

In 1983 Ramo received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the government’s highest award to a civilian. The citation read in part: “As an engineer, physicist, businessman, and aerospace pioneer, Simon Ramo’s career has been on the forefront of American technology development. A shining symbol of American ingenuity and inventiveness, Dr. Ramo is also a distinguished author and philanthropist. His life’s work has strengthened America’s freedom and protected our peace.” Since, almost without exception, the Presidential Medal of Freedom has been awarded to Americans who have stood out in a specific area of endeavor, it is reasonable to assume that the selection committee, in Simon Ramo’s case, took special note of the wide span of his achievements.

Back to the top Back to the top

Content Owner: Communications Committee | Last Updated: 14 Oct 2005