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Fritz J. Russ was born on a farm 13 miles west of Jackson, Ohio, on Sept. 23, 1920 but passed away in 2004. He grew up in the house his father built, which was lighted by a carbide lighting system also devised by his father. Fritz is survived by his wife Dolores Russ nee Houser, who was born on July 20, 1921, just 15 miles away in Jackson County. (Two decades later, as they applied for their first passports, Fritz and Dolores discovered that they were delivered by the same family doctor.)
Fritz Russ graduated from Ohio University in 1942 with a bachelor of science
degree in electrical engineering and immediately went to work for the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. One of his first assignments was to help build the world’s first high-voltage, RF-generated power supply—an invention later used in every television set. During the war, he oversaw a series of developments in electronic engineering. Dolores also worked for the Naval Research Laboratory as a fiscal clerk.
In 1946, after designing data collection equipment for the first U.S. post-war nuclear tests, Fritz traveled to Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands to witness the explosions. On the voyage back, he learned Morse code and went on to become a lifelong ham radio enthusiast. (He later learned to fly to avoid the heavy traffic between Washington, D.C., and Ohio.)
The following year, Fritz began working for Industrial Research Laboratory. As assistant director of the Baltimore, Md., laboratory, Fritz was instrumental in developing new products, including the first electronic control system for large diesel generators – a creation that led to the issuance of two patents.
The Russes returned to Ohio in 1948 when Fritz began working as an electronics engineer for one of the military’s major research and development centers, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Dolores became assistant chief of personnel management in its Aircraft Radiation Laboratory.
Fritz rose to the rank of senior electronics engineer. During these years, one of his most important inventions was the Firing Error Indicator, which measures the precise distance by which an aircraft gun misses its target and then adjusts the gun in time for the next shot. He also led a group that compared U.S. missile guidance and control systems to those of other countries.
The New Frontier and Systems Research Laboratories
By the mid-1950s, Fritz had converted the basement of their home—which he and Dolores designed and built themselves—into a part-time repair, research and development business known as Knollwood Electronics. (Their work included the first known transistorized wireless electric guitar, a project they later abandoned in favor of “more important” projects.) In 1955, he left Wright-Patterson and opened Systems Research Laboratories (SRL), specializing in the research and development of electronic systems and automatic control processes. SRL started out small, housed in yet another Russ-built facility and featuring desks purchased from Goodwill Industries. It prospered and just four years later, Dolores was able to give Fritz a unique birthday gift – a Dayton-based pump manufacturing company.
With its first large equipment contract, SRL joined America’s emerging space exploration program. The firm designed and assembled a complex digital computer system to analyze spacecraft signals. Even before NASA was created, SRL assisted the Air Force in testing procedures to select America’s first astronauts. SRL researchers helped test space suits and assembled computer equipment to help astronauts make critical in-flight decisions in just seconds. SRL also created an instrument for space suits to monitor an astronaut’s blood pressure and radio the data back to Earth. This breakthrough device became the basis for central monitoring of multiple blood pressures in hospitals. Soon Fritz was traveling to Europe and the Soviet Union as a technical adviser to the Air Force and SRL helped the military track the progress and vulnerabilities of the East Bloc’s radar capability.
In 1969, another SRL breakthrough brought space-age technology into the medical arena. SRL’s Pulmonary Intensive Care Unit, installed in a Dayton-area hospital in 1969, helped monitor pulmonary disorders in people with respiratory illnesses. In 1976, President Ford selected Fritz to serve on the President’s Committee on Science, on which he helped conduct a comprehensive study of national science, technology and engineering policies.
In 1987, after a continued string of milestones in lasers, chemical warfare shelters and artificial intelligence, SRL had grown to more than 1,000 employees (450 of those were engineers and scientists). Its outstanding board of directors enhanced this success. At this time, SRL was merged into Arvin/Casplan to permit further growth. After the merger in 1987, the Russes formed a new company, Russ Venture Group Corp., and continued to do consulting work.
Contributions to Ohio University
In 1975, in recognition of his research and contributions, Ohio University awarded Fritz Russ an honorary doctorate. In 1981, Fritz was appointed by Ohio Gov. James Rhodes to the Ohio University Board of Trustees. In 1994, the university’s College of Engineering was re-named The Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology. Fritz and Dolores divide their time between homes in Naples, Fla., and Dayton, Ohio.
Also visit Ohio University's Russ Prize website.
The Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize
The National Academy of Engineering established the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize in 1999 to recognize outstanding achievement in an engineering field that is currently of critical importance and that contributes to the advancement of science and engineering, as well as improves a person’s quality of life and has widespread application or use.
Endowed by the Russes through Ohio University, the prize recognizes achievements in bioengineering in its initial years. Therefore, an auxiliary purpose of the Russ Prize is to encourage the medical and biological disciplines/professions to work closely together. Awarded biennially, the Russ Prize consists of a $500,000 cash award, a gold medallion, and a hand-scribed certificate. NAE members and non-members worldwide are eligible to receive the Russ Prize. Only living persons may receive the prize and recipients of the Charles Stark Draper Prize are not eligible for the Russ Prize.