Saturday, December 6, 2014
Walter L. Hawkins Developed a Plastic to cover Telephone Wires
Walter Lincoln Hawkins was an African-American scientist and inventor who, while working at Bell Laboratories in the 1940s, helped to make universal service possible. Hawkins developed a plastic to cover telephone wires ; a new material that was lightweight, and less expensive than the lead sheathing used at that time. He is a recipient of the National Medal of Technology and an inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. When he was young, Hawkins was fascinated with how things worked. For example, it was not unusual for him to take apart one toy and reassemble it to make another one. He also made spring-driven toy boats to sail in the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. He built a working radio so he could listen to Washington Senators baseball games. While at Washington's Dunbar High School. After graduating from high school Hawkins became one of two African-Americans that went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. In 1932 he graduated with a chemical engineering degree. He enrolled in graduate school at Howard University, he earned a Master's degree in chemistry. Professor Howard Blatt, Hawkins’ friend and mentor at Howard, informed him of a special scholarship at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Hawkins enrolled at McGill, earned his Doctorate in Chemistry in 1939, and left to continue his research at Columbia University when he received a fellowship from the National Research Council. In 1942, Hawkins became the 1st African-American to join the technical staff of Bell Laboratories. Hawkins began work on an important project, a new and improved insulation for telephone cables. Underground and underwater cables. Hawkins and Vincent Lanza in 1956 invented a plastic coating that could withstand extreme fluctuations in temperature, last up to seventy years, and was less expensive than lead. Telephone lines were subsequently installed in rural areas, bringing affordable phone service to thousands of people. In 1981, he became the 1st chairman of Project SEED (Support of the Educationally & Economically Disadvantaged), an American Chemical Society program designed to promote science careers for minority students. He also helped to set up a program at Bell Labs and AT&T to recruit African-American scientists and engineers.