As part of GE’s sponsorship of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Celebration — which is a two-year-long commemoration of President Reagan’s 100th birthday on February 6, 2011 — we’ll be taking an ongoing look at Reagan’s GE years through the lens of the employees he met and the technologies they made.
In postwar America, GE found its ideal goodwill ambassador in Ronald Reagan. The former president projected optimism and reassurance, the perfect spokesman for a company introducing the public to new technologies. Reagan helped sell GE’s “Progress Is Our Most Important Product” slogan to millions of Americans looking for not only a better and more comfortable way of life, but a brighter future. During Reagan’s early years with GE, the progress could be seen in revolutionary home appliances such as the world’s first toaster oven and the automatic portable dishwasher, or in the latest TV sets that Ronald and Nancy Reagan described in our last story. Some of GE’s most innovative discoveries in the 1950’s also came in the area of plastics — and when combined with optical research born from those early entertainment systems — together they paved the way for GE’s latest breakthroughs in holographic storage.
With the discovery of Lexan polycarbonate resin, a “transparent plastic of unsurpassed impact resistance,” GE was setting the groundwork for a myriad of applications and uses, including space helmets for NASA and the manufacture of compact discs, cell phones and pagers. That expertise in materials research fueled discoveries that enabled GE scientists to use the full volume of a DVD-type disc, rather than just the surface, as is now the case. The result is holographic technology that will soon allow consumers to store 100 traditional DVDs on a single disc — and will help support a new era of sophisticated 3-D TV.
“We’re talking about producing hardware that gives viewers a cinema experience superior to movie theatres at reasonable costs,” says Peter Lorraine, manager of the Applied Optics Lab at GE Global Research. “In the Reagan era of early television, you could only get a postcard box with flickering green and black images. Now we’re going for unparalleled color and capacity.”
He should know! In the video above, General Electric Progress Reporter Don Herbert gives a tour of GE technologies. In case you didn’t know it, Don is none other than TV’s “Mr. Wizard” from the hit science show that ran from 1951 to 1965.
Peter says the need for additional digital storage is crucial in a world where huge amounts of data are being lost every day, costing companies billions of dollars. “There is a spectacular amount of data that cannot be maintained,” he says. “Consumer video is like an onion, peeling away a new layer all the time.” For example, holographic data storage would allow television networks producing live sports to retain more of the digital video — and it provides significantly faster access to archived information when compared to traditional computer hard drives.
Peter says consumers can expect to find an entire TV series available on one high definition disc. And holographic storage technology will be able to support 3-D television that will make the home viewing experience comparable to seeing Avatar on the big screen.
Learn more in these GE Reports stories:
* “Leaps in the lab: From Reagan’s TV to digital x-rays”
* “Coast to coast with 250,000 employees: Reagan at GE”
* “The Reagan centennial: A legacy of progress”
* “GE’s holographic disc lands “Coolest Tech” award”
* “GE unveils holographic disc breakthrough”
* Read Reagan essays on our website by Thomas W. Evans, Peggy Noonan, Andrea Mitchell, Tom Brokaw, and Rudy Giuliani
* See more of Reagan’s General Electric Theater spots by clicking the videos in this slideshow
* Read GE’s Centennial announcement
* Learn more about the centennial at www.reagancentennial.com
* Watch a rebroadcast of Jeff Immelt’s speech at the Reagan Library