RAN Technology

History of the Quartz Crystal Industry

Historic 0 Comments 02/11/2022 

by Virgil Bottoms, Christopher Shawn McGahey, and Patricia McCommon

Posted By: Robert Nickels (ranickels)

Two excellent papers on the history of the quartz crystal industry.


With the aid of many of the people who were involved, this paper is an attempt to record the history of the quartz crystal industry in the USA. Although crystal units were in use at least a decade earlier, the beginning of the quartz crystal industry in the USA can logically be dated November 1941 when the Quartz Crystal Section was organized in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer.

The history of the industry is traced from its origin with the discovery of Piezoelectricity by the Curie brothers in 1880-81 to the present time. Special emphasis is placed upon the problems which were encountered and overcome in creating an industry capable of meeting the demands of the Armed Services of the United States and their Allies during WW II.

The record of cooperation among the large and small industries, governmental agencies, the armed services, universities and individual citizens inspires confidence that the most critical problem can be solved with cooperation, dedication and effort.



Georgia Tech PhD dissertation by Christopher Shawn McGahey

In 1880, French brothers Jacques and Pierre Curie discovered the phenomenon of
piezoelectricity in naturally occurring quartz crystal, sometimes referred to as “nature’s
timekeeper.” By 1959, tens of millions of devices that exploited quartz crystal’s
piezoelectric character were being used in the technologies of radio, telephony, and
electronic timekeeping. This dissertation analyzes the rapid rise of quartz crystal
technology in the United States by looking at the growth of its knowledge base as
reflected primarily in patents and journal articles. The major finding of this analysis is
that the rise of quartz crystal technology cannot be fully understood by looking only at
individuals, institutions, and technological factors. Rather, this work posits that the
concept of technological community is indispensible in explaining rapid technological
growth and diffusion that would otherwise seem inexplicable. In the late 1920s, and
again in the early 1940s, the knowledge base of quartz crystal technology experienced
exponential growth, partly due to U.S. government patronage and enlightened regulation.
However, as this study shows, quartz crystal engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs
could not have mobilized as quickly and effectively as they did unless a vibrant
technological community already existed. Furthermore, the United States’ ability to
support such a thriving community depended in part on an early 20th century American
culture that displayed an unmatched enthusiasm for democratic communications media,
most especially broadcast radio and universal telephone service. Archival records,
professional journal articles, government reports, manufacturer catalogs, and U.S. patents
have been used to document this history of the quartz crystal technological community.



History independent study paper by Patricia McCommon, Dickinson College, 1973

The growth of the crystal industry in Cumberland County spans more than 40 years and has involved many of the local residents in its development. Today it is one of the biggest employers in this area, having approximately 2000 employees.(1)  Its products are vital to the nation's elec­tronic industry for such things as aircraft radios, color television sets, missiles, satellites and so forth.

Despite its importance, controversy and uncertainty surround the origins and early development of the industry. Who made the first crystal in this area? Who deserves the credit for the introduction of the business and for the various developments in the industry? These questions are dif­ficult to answer, because so much time has elapsed and memories of people have faded. Few or no written records exist, and even among the persons involved there is not always agreement on what occurred.

In September as an independent study in history at Dickinson Col­lege, I began an oral history project to investigate the history and develop­ment of the crystal industry. The project resulted in ten interviews of people who either are or were involved in the crystal business. The transcripts and the tapes of these interviews which form the major source for my his­tory will be located in the Cumberland County Historical Society in Carlisle.

All papers can be downloaded in entirety from the "Attachments" section below.

Description Comment  
PhD dissertation GA Tech 2009
History of Quartz Crystal Manufacturing in the US Proceedings of the 35th Annual Frequency Control Symposium, pp. 3-12, 1981
Patricia McCommon, Dickinson College 1973


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