Sidney Herbert Witt (1923-1945)

Herbert Witt

The selection of Mr. Witt as the founder of the Research Laboratories in 1923 was indeed fortunate. His technical perspicacity and foresight, his early acceptance as an expert in telecommunications in both Australia and overseas, and his long tenure of office as "Head" of the Laboratories combined to assist the development of the infant Laboratories to a mature and effective working unit in the Department.

His vision of the Laboratories was that of a special group set aside to advise the Department on how best to make use of growing technology and this vision is still reflected in present day statements of the functions of the Laboratories.

Mr. Witt joined the Department on 10th February 1910, as a junior Instrument Fitter in the Electrical Engineer's Branch, Melbourne Office, He was then almost 18 years old. By 1917, he had advanced to Assistant Engineer, Class D, in Central Office, and had already demonstrated his ability in 1913 by suggesting an improvement to junction line circuits working between C.S. and magneto exchanges.

In 1921 and 1922, he undertook a study tour of America, England and Europe, investigating the latest overseas developments in telegraph, telephone and radio communication, and on his return, he played a leading role in the planning of the Australian trunk network. This led to his appointment as the founder of the Laboratories in 1923 and his subsequent appointment as Supervising Engineer, Research, in 1924.

For the first few years, Mr. Witt and his small team of four concentrated on the introduction of voice frequency repeaters and 3 channel carrier systems into the trunk network. In 1927 Mr. Witt was seconded to play a leading role in the planning and establishment of the National Broadcasting Service. This work introduced the Laboratories to the radio broadcasting field as well as that of telephone transmission, and many of the present-day activities of the Laboratories can be traced back to these personal activities of Mr. Witt and his early team.

Throughout his career, Mr. Witt was active in the international telecommunications arena, becoming one of the first A.P.O. representatives to participate in the activities of the International Telecommunications Union (I.T.U.), and its associated consultative committees in the post-war years.

Ultimately, this association led to Mr. Witt's retirement from active control of the Laboratories in June 1945, when he undertook a series of overseas assignments as Australian delegate to international meetings of the I.T.U. These were mainly concerned with formulating an international plan of radio frequency allocations for radio communications and they led, at the Plenipotentiary Conference of 1947, to the establishment of the International Frequency Registration Board (I.F.R.B.) as a body of the I.T.U. Mr. Witt was elected as one of the eleven original members of the Board on the nomination of the Australian Government and took up full-time duties in Geneva in January, 1948. He continued to serve on the Board until his retirement in 1957, and served as its Chairman in 1949.

The dynamic personality of Mr. Witt was not confined to departmental activities. He was an energetic member of a number of professional associations, notably the Postal Electrical Society and the Institution of Engineers, Australia, and a founder member of the Melbourne Division of the Institute of Radio Engineers. Records show that he frequently held important office in all of the above associations and that he was a ready and lucid author of technical articles in their respective journals. He was also a member of the institution of Electrical Engineers, London, and of the Institution of Post Office Electrical Engineers, London.

Sidney Herbert Witt died on 28th June, 1973, aged 81.

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Last updated: May 2016