post-Information Gathering

**written at Dulles. edited in Santa Barbara**

What a whirlwind. I’m heading back with 1361 images of Sherman’s papers. That’s a lot of reading to do over the next few weeks on top of everything else I have going on, but this was a trip paid by a grant, and I agreed to do the project when I accepted the money.

The papers are a fascinating glimpse into a very Gatsby’esque life. Most everything was from the 30’s through the 50’s, but there’s quite a bit from the roaring 20’s as well. And towards the end, I found the essential early 60’s materials that are helping form an idea about how and why the company went away.

Today I finally found a photo of the E. 65th Street house, apparently one of the last single-family houses built on Manhattan Island. It’s not too attractive, and a New Yorker (if I remember correctly) writer made fun of his obviously bachelor tastes. A photo of him in the living room has, oddly, a framed photo of himself.

There’s plenty in there to substantiate all the gossip column clippings’ speculation about Sherman being fond of actresses, dancers, and models—including a modeling agency catalog and correspondence from other industrialists commenting on his proclivities. My early speculation that Sherman might have been a gay gentleman seems shot —unless he was way overcompensating. Fantastically, mothers would send him letters saying that their daughters were moving the big city, and wouldn’t Mr. Fairchild please put in a good word for them with the theater owners.

What I learned about Fairchild Aerial Surveys is more than enough for a solid journal article about that company’s relationship to the larger enterprise. There were 2 primaries, one of whom was a childhood friend of Sherman’s. I’m not sure that business ever made that much money, but both of the principles were deeply involved with business development for Fairchild Camera & Instrument, which was the controlling parent company.

Camera & Instrument, by necessity, made a big effort to break out of the aerial camera mold after World War 2. I had no idea that there were huge tax breaks and subsidies after the war as companies turned back to civilian production. Even with these, Sherman and his companies were addicted to the military-industrial complex, and it took the transistor to break the habit.

Before the trip I read an article that described the number of unfilled military orders at the end of the war. Sherman probably had enough cameras on the shelf to outfit the whole world in 1945, effectively tanking the production plant on Long Island. One of the new products, if I remember correctly called the Copy Roll, was a hand-held photocopier reminiscent of hand-held optical scanners that were cheap alternatives to flatbeds in the mid-1990’s. It never took off.

But transistors. Transistors were huge.

One thing is for sure: within 2 or 3 years of its founding, Fairchild Semiconductor’s revenues far outstripped all of the other business units.

Sherman lived with an elderly aunt for many years, serving seemingly as his chaperone. One nice thing is that she repeatedly shows up in the correspondence. Beyond ‘regards to your aunt,’ there was one letter saying that a trick fountain pen had been found for her, and another commenting on the price of Virginia ham sent from a Virginia supplier versus from Macy’s, followed shortly thereafter with a typed note from Sherman that the ham should be arriving shortly, and that carving instructions should have already been received from Mr. So-and-so.

Fascinating.

oysterman