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Radar Pioneer William Blair

The US Army CECOM dedicated the largest building in the C4ISR Campus in memory of William Blair, the “father of radar.” Building 6009/6010 is known as Blair Hall.

Blair was born in County Derry, Ireland on 7 November 1874 and immigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of nine. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a Ph.D. in 1906, and went to work for the U.S. Weather Bureau.

Blair joined the Army 3 September 1917 and was commissioned as a Major in the Aviation Section of the Signal Officers’ Reserve Corps. During the First World War, he served in France as Officer in Charge of the Meteorological Section, Signal Corps, American Expeditionary Force. Immediately following the war, he served as a member of the technical subcommittee of the Aeronautical Committee at the Peace Conference. He was then assigned Officer in Charge, Meteorological Section, Signal Corps, Office of the Chief Signal Officer. One of his assignments was forecasting the weather for the first around the world flight of Army aircraft in 1924.

Blair Portrait

In 1923, Blair graduated from the Signal School at Camp Alfred Vail (which would become Fort Monmouth in 1925). He then graduated from the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth in 1926.

Blair took charge of the Engineering and Research Division in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer that same year. He served as director of the Signal Corps Laboratories at Fort Monmouth from 1930 until his promotion to full Colonel and retirement 31 October 1938 (he had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1934). While acting as director of the Signal Corps Laboratories, Blair pioneered the work of radio direction finding on meteorological balloons and encouraged experimental work in infrared, heat detection, radio detection, and pulse equipment.

In the latter part of the 1920’s, Blair had outlined a need for radio detection as a means of identifying hostile aircraft. A complete workable radar set had been developed at Fort Monmouth and demonstrated for the Secretary of War and Congress by 1937. Locating and tracking targets by radio echoes is commonly regarded as one of the most important contributing factors to the Allied victory in WWII.

A top-secret security classification restricted Blair from applying for a patent for his radar pulse echo technique until June of 1945. When he finally applied, the Navy, IT&T, Raytheon, RCA, and others contested his claim. He was not officially credited with the invention of radar until 1957. On 20 August 1957 he received Patent No. 2,803,819, entitled “Object Locating System.” The government was given a royalty free license. Blair died 2 September 1962 at 87 years of age.

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