Lasers and the Glory Days of Industrial Research

Jeff Hecht

Fifty years ago, well-funded corporate labs were great places to do research. They could afford sophisticated equipment; they employed an enviable depth of talent; and they paid better than academia. That made them the ideal environment for developing lasers in the 1960s.


figureIBM’s Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Designed by architect Eero Saarinen in 1957 and completed in 1961.

Through the 1960s and into the 1970s, corporate research labs were more likely to produce major laser innovations than academia. Bell Labs was prominent, but it had no monopoly. The first laser was born at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, Calif., U.S.A. Important laser inventions also came from other big labs, including the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., General Electric labs in Schenectady and Syracuse, and the American Optical research laboratory in Southbridge, Mass.

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