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Arthur D. Hall III papers

1951-1999
 Collection
Identifier: 2628

Abstract

Arthur D. Hall (1924-2006) was a systems engineer who spent the first part of his career with Bell Telephone Laboratories and later taught at the University of Pennsylvania and conducted an independent consulting business. In the latter capacity he developed a patented automated agricultural production system that the called "Autofarm," but was unable to make the leap from invention to true innovation. It was an early, but failed attempt at "green" farming. The Arthur D. Hall III papers represent a portion of his total archive that survived at the time of his death and was removed from his home office in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The main focus of the papers is Hall's work to develop Autofarm and his unsuccessful attempts to secure funding and market the concept to paying customers. There are smaller amounts of material dealing with his career at Bell Labs and his writing and publishing efforts.

Dates

  • 1951-1999

Creator

Extent

9 Linear Feet

Historical Note

Arthur David Hall III (1924-2006) was a systems engineer who spent the first part of his career with Bell Telephone Laboratories and later taught at the University of Pennsylvania and conducted an independent consulting business. In the latter capacity he developed a patented automated agricultural production system that the called "Autofarm," but was unable to make the leap from invention to true innovation. It was an early, but failed attempt at "green" farming.

Hall was born at Lynchburg, Virginia on April 13, 1924. He received a B.S. degree in electrical engineering and physics from Princeton University in 1949 and received postgraduate training through the employee training programs of his first employer, Bell Telephone Laboratories, as well as coursework at Newark College of Engineering, MIT, New York University and Johns Hopkins University. Upon graduating from Princeton, Hall joined the Bell Telephone Laboratories in northern New Jersey, where he became head of the Broadband Systems Studies Department and later of the Television Engineering Department. His most important project was the development of the Picturephone and teleconferencing, but he also worked on cable television and systems for educational television. He also authored a pioneering textbook, "A Methodology for Systems Engineering" in 1962 and was first editor of the IEEE Transactions on Systems Science and Cybernetics in 1965.

Hall left Bell Labs in 1966. He subsequently became an expert witness in the Justice Department's ultimately successful antitrust suit against AT&T. Hall then took a short-term job as vice president of engineering for Jerrold Corporation, but in 1967 became visiting professor of systems engineering in the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, where he established the first Ph.D. systems engineering department in the U.S. In 1969 he became adjunct professor of communications at the University's Annenberg School of Communications, where he was employed until 1985 teaching systems methodology and public policy issues related to telecommunications. From 1968 to 1970, he was also vice president of research, systems engineering and development at the Smith-Corona Marchant Division of SCM Corporation, but after that he augmented his academic salary by running an independent consulting business.

On May 4, 1971, Hall incorporated Arthur D. Hall, Inc., in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, he formed the company as joint tenant with his second wife, and the marriage ended a few years later in an acrimonious divorce. As a result, Hall incorporated Advanced Design Handling, Inc., in Maryland on August 6, 1975. It was based at his Colonial-era farm at Port Deposit, Maryland. The names of both companies allowed him to create a common logo from his initials.

Although Hall contracted for a number of small consulting jobs through both firms, beginning in the early 1970s, he became increasingly preoccupied with the idea of applying computers and systems engineering principles to agriculture, culminating in the patenting of what he called "Autofarm" on April 5, 1977. A combination of a small computer and feedback mechanisms would monitor and adjust inputs such as soil moisture. Processes would be integrated so that waste products could be utilized, and plants would be used to recycle water and remove harmful waste products from the environment. Robots would perform picking, harvesting and mulching. Hall refered to this as a "jumbo patent" (a term not used by the Patent Office), because it was almost a half-inch thick compared to the typical two or three page issue.

Hall spent considerable effort to secure federal funding for pilot projects and trying to find people willing to deploy it, from Israel to Poland. He liquidated Advance Decision Handling, Inc. in January 1986, although he made an attempt to revive it in 1990.

A new Autofarm system was trademarked in 1999, but it was the work of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs based at Stanford. There is no objective evidence linking it to Hall's earlier work. Although present-day Autofarm embodies some of the same principles of regulated drip irrigation, its principal feature is the use of GPS, a completely new technology, to control the movements of tractors and other farm machinery, and of course, it is successfully targeted to the needs and means of modern agribusiness.

Hall died in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on March 31, 2006.

Scope and Content

The Arthur D. Hall III papers represent a portion of his total archive that survived at the time of his death and was removed from his home office in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The main focus of the papers is Hall's work to develop Autofarm and his unsuccessful attempts to secure funding and market the concept to paying customers. There are smaller amounts of material dealing with his career at Bell Labs and his writing and publishing efforts.

The first series of Bell Laboratories materials consists of regular memos and internal publications that would have come to Hall in the ordinary course of work and which were preserved by him in binders. The more substantive papers, notebooks and reports would have remained property of Bell Labs. There is some coverage of his work on Picturephone and other television projects.

The main or numbered file series has been maintained using Hall's own filing system. The files contain the minute books and incorporation papers of his two consulting firms but none of the other business records, such as account books, personnel records or customer correspondence that would permit an analysis of their operations. The minute book of Arthur D. Hall, Inc., contains some of the details of Hall's divorce dispute with his second wife Patricia. There is a bit of material for his work for Herr's Potato Chips, Inc. Some data on the workings and personnel of the companies can be found in the many grant proposals written to secure funding for Autofarm.

Another important file consists of Hall's extensive monthly reports written as an expert consultant to the Justice Department in the A.T.&T. antitrust case, in which he expresses his animus against "Ma Bell."

Files on Autofarm include the original patent of 1977 and the documents connected thereto, numerous grant proposals seeking government funding, research materials and correspondence on the general topics of agricultural efficiency, aquaculture, the use of water plants and poplar trees to filter toxins from the environment, energy from biomass and related matters.

Other files concern Hall's relations with his publishers, including the rejections of his later manuscripts and his indignation on learning his publisher had destroyed a large stock of unsaleable copies. There are also copies of Hall's earlier and shorter writings and speeches, at least two of which contain personal memoirs, as well as material related to professional societies and awards.

The third series or "Vu-graphs" consists of positive acetate transparencies in cardboard frames used with overhead projectors. Some of these were grouped and identified as being used for classroom lectures, but the rest were in a jumbled mass, and it would appear that Hall selected whichever ones he needed for each presentation. Some were clearly used in presentations to market Autofarm, while others seem to be generic textbook illustrations for systems engineering and its application to management and communications.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions. The collection is open for research use.

This collection is housed in off-site storage. Please contact the Manuscript and Archives Department at least 48 hours in advance of a research visit.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may apply.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Arthur D. Hall III papers
Status:
Author:
Christopher T. Baer
Date:
2015
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400