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Simon Ramo
Born May 7, 1913 (age 96)
Salt Lake City, Utah
Nationality American
Fields Electrical Engineering
Institutions TRW
General Electric
Hughes Aircraft
Alma mater University of Utah
Known for Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)

Simon "Si" Ramo (born May 7, 1913) is an American physicist, engineer, and business leader. He led development of microwave and missile technology and is sometimes known as the father of the Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). He has been partly responsible for the creation of two Fortune 500 companies of the 1970s; Ramo-Wooldridge (TRW after 1958) and Bunker-Ramo (now part of Honeywell).


Early life

Ramo was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the son of Russian-Jewish and Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants who ran a small store. He entered the University of Utah at the age of 16, and earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. By 1936, at the age of twenty-three, he had earned dual PhD degrees from Caltech in Physics and Electrical Engineering.


From 1936 until 1946 he led electronics research at General Electric. He became globally recognized as a leader in Microwave research and headed the development of GE’s Electron microscope. He also published textbooks on Fields and Waves in Modern Radio (1944) and Introduction to Microwaves (1945).

In 1946 he returned to California to become director of research for the electronics department of Hughes Aircraft, and his career became coupled with that of Dean Wooldridge. Together they formed a successful team for many years, with Wooldridge concentrating on investment and general business aspects while Ramo led research, development and engineering. By 1948, Hughes had created its Aerospace Group to work with the newly created U.S. Air Force. Dr. Ramo became a Vice-President and the Group's Director of Operations. Ramo employed his skills in Systems Engineering to allow Hughes to deliver integrated RADAR and aircraft fire-control systems. He developed the air-to-air missile, creating the Falcon missile.

By 1953, both Ramo and the Air Force had become increasingly frustrated with management problems at Hughes. Ramo and Wooldridge were particularly concerned when Howard Hughes avoided their attempts to discuss the problem. In September they jointly resigned, and within a week they formed the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation on September 16, 1953.

In October 1953 an Assistant Secretary of Defense, Trevor Gardner, created a committee to consider the future of guided missiles. This Strategic Missile Evaluation Committee (SMEC) was headed by John von Neumann and included both Ramo and Wooldridge. In four months, the committee produced their report and recommended that a crash program was needed to develop Intercontinental ballistic missiles, and that such a program might enable the United States to overtake Russian developments by 1959-1960.

The Ramo-Wooldridge Corp. became the lead contractor for the resulting Air Force program. With Dr. Ramo as the driving scientific and engineering officer, they succeeded. In 1958, an Atlas Rocket delivered a payload 5,000 miles downrange. The Atlas would go on to serve as the launch vehicle for NASA’s Project Mercury orbital flights, starting with John Glenn in Friendship 7. USAF General Bernard Schriever, head of the ICBM program, described Ramo as "the architect of the Thor, Atlas, and Titan" rockets.

According to a July 30, 2002 article by Peter Pae, Los Angeles Times aerospace staff writer, Ramo’s comments are legendary for capsulizing complex ideas into off-the-cuff witticisms.

During a series of key experiments of ballistic missiles in the 1950s at Cape Canaveral, Florida, at which Ramo and Air Force General Bernard Schriever were observers, test rockets kept blowing up on their launch pads. When one missile rose about 6 inches before toppling over and exploding, Ramo reportedly beamed and said: “Well, Benny, now that we know the thing can fly, all we have to do is improve its range a bit.”

Ramo-Wooldridge merged with Thompson Products to become TRW, and Simon Ramo became Vice-Chairman. In 1969, when TRW spun off their Space Technology Laboratories division, it became Bunker-Ramo, with Ramo as President, and expanded into the computer and communications technology fields.

Ramo is also a founding member of the National Academy of Engineering.[1]

Ramo has also authored dozens of books on topics ranging from science textbooks, corporate and technology management, society's relation to technology, economy, and how to play tennis.

In January 2008, he joined the faculty of the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering as a presidential chair and professor of electrical engineering.[1]

Ramo lives with his wife, Virginia (née Smith), in Beverly Hills, California. They have two sons, James Brian and Alan Martin.


During his long and successful career, Ramo has received numerous awards and fellowships. He has been honored by the American Philosophical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the American Physical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

On February 23, 1983, Simon Ramo was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.

Dr. Ramo was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1984.

In 2007, the Space Foundation awarded Ramo its highest honor, the General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award.[2] It is presented annually to recognize outstanding individuals who have distinguished themselves through lifetime contributions to the welfare or betterment of humankind through the exploration, development and use of space, or the use of space technology, information, themes or resources in academic, cultural, industrial or other pursuits of broad benefit to humanity.

See also



  1. ^ Legendary Engineer Joins USC Viterbi, USC News, January 10, 2008.
  2. ^

Further reading

  • Simon Ramo; The Business of Science: Winning and Losing in the High-Tech Age; 1988, Hill & Wang Pub (ISBN 0-8090-3255-4).
  • Davis Dyer; TRW: Pioneering Technology and Innovation since 1900; 1998, Harvard Business School Press (ISBN 0-87584-606-8).
  • Stephen B. Johnson; The Secret of Apollo: Systems Management in American and European Space Programs; 2002, The Johns Hopkins University Press (ISBN 0-8018-6898-X).
  • G. Harry Stine; ICBM; 1991, Orion Books (ISBN 0-517-56768-7).
  • Ernest Schwiebert; A History of the U.S. Air Force Ballistic Missiles; 1965, Praeger Publishers.

External links

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