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A Portrait of Sid Stein

by Mike Stein

Sid Stein personified his family's hopes and dreams for America. And he delivered.

Max Stein, my grandfather, arrived at Ellis Island alone in 1912 intending to work (he was a skilled tailor), and bring his wife, Bella, and five children from Poland within two years. The Great War and a devastated Europe resulted in his family finally arriving in 1920. Sidney was born in 1921.

None of Sidney's brothers or sisters finished high school. Most lived at their Sackman Street, Brooklyn, duplex (even after marriage) and all were part of the workforce during the Great Depression, a family of seven potential breadwinners. (And then six: at some point the oldest sister, Sadie, died in childbirth.) Even during the worst of The Depression at least two Steins worked, making them relatively prosperous - able to feed less fortunate extended family or friends, and able to insist that Sidney stay in school. He was encouraged by a high school teacher (one of those unsung heroes) to study chemistry at Brooklyn College.

In college Sidney met my mother on the cheerleading squad. (They got into ball games for free.) Bunny, whose background was remarkably similar to Sidney's, was only 16 when she started college. (Many of you know how bright and assertive she was until she pased away in January 2015.) I get the impression that an understanding was reached between them early on, including the decision that a decent income must precede marriage.

With World War II several brothers joined the Armed Forces. But the newly graduated chemistry major was invited by his college professor, Joe Greenspan, to join him on the Manhattan Project, developing isotope separation equipment for later installation at Oak Ridge.

Sid remembered hearing that the bombs had been dropped and that the Japanese had surrendered. "We were thrilled knowing we had shortened the war, saved lives." He was decorated for his work.

He won fellowships for his masters and doctorate degrees at Brooklyn (now New York) Polytechnic Institute in physical chemistry – a level of income in excess of that ever earned by his father or brothers. Sponsored by Wrigley and under the great Herman Mark, he developed equipment to test the elasticity of synthetic substitutes for chickle in chewing gum.

 

Sid's first entrepreneurial effort was a detergent business. With Alex Sacher, another Ph.D. candidate, Sid would mix chemicals in barrels by rolling them on their Sackman Street driveway and then peddled them to Laundromats. But they wouldn't sell: the detergent cleaned the clothes but it wouldn't make suds. The customers wanted suds.

Other than family, Brooklyn had no appeal for my parents. (Mother remembers the Murder Incorporated gang hanging out at the corner candy store.) So in 1949 Sid accepted the offer of Philadelphia resistor manufacturer IRC. It was a big move; no one had cars. Sid became Director of Research and Engineering in 1951.

Ten years later, now with four children and having been passed over for the IRC presidency ("You're the best man but you're just too young"), Sid left IRC for Apollo Industries, a company which bought small distressed technology companies, returned them to profitability and sold them. Sid became their company fixer-upper. On weekends he worked on his own dream: a company devoted to screen-printed materials for passive components, interconnections and packaging (an approach that had been considered at his urging but then largely dismissed by IRC).

ElectroScience Laboratories was incorporated in February, 1962. Sidney's earliest employees include former IRC colleagues Catherine Schreiber (then Wilkins), Steve Rollin (later the co-founder of EMC Technology), Connie Huang, and Loretta Spadafora. All were later well-known in the ISHM/IMAPS community.

Steve remembered ESL's first location, Arch Street, Philadelphia, as being in the midst of the region's fastest growing pornography market. Rents were cheap. Cathy remembered they had almost no money. Sid worked seven days a week. She remembered when he brought in ESL's first repeat order. "GE wants another jar of 2209," she told Steve Rollin. Steve wasn't sure he could make it again. "I don't have a recipe. I just mixed something up." He apparently mixed something up again, successfully.

I remember when Dad stopped working Sundays. One Sunday morning in maybe 1966 I was surprised to see his car was still parked out front of the house. My brothers, sister and I nevertheless remember Dad as always being present, interested and loving.

It was in the late 60s that Don Southerland, Lou Hoffman, George Lane, Dan Hughes, Wayne Martin, Don Hamer, Sid and other brave, smart people started educating each other in earnest about the advantages of hybrids: of combining various electronics technologies (thick film, thin film, PCB, monolithic) for optimization of cost, turnaround scale up and performance. It was the beginning of ISHM. With its novel advantages of rapid prototyping, simplicity and cost, thick film became the focus of much of the Society's activities. Richard Tait, a 30-year ESL Europe veteran, recalls a European microelectronics industry hungry for information and Sid, Lou, and George, fierce but friendly competitors, turned up at every conference to spread the "thick film" word. Those seminars, whether in Paris, Milan or Copenhagen, were always standing room only.

It was on one of those early trips to London that Sid convinced the president of Johnson Matthey to sponsor the first UK ISHM Conference; thus was born the first European Chapter. Many others followed; Sid was instrumental in encouraging most of them, including those in Eastern Europe. (In the 80s while still under the Soviets, those engineers were hungry for meaningful contact with the West.)

Appreciations, plaques and awards to Sid also flowed in from chapters he helped found in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and India. There was a joke that Sid spoke fluent English in 20 different languages. (His legacy of "giving back" is a compelling one; I was humbled by it when playing a small part in helping the Israel chapter get started several years ago.)

Many more of his awards say "Best Paper of __"; Sid wrote and presented papers literally hundred of times and has always been more focused on sharing technical information than on product advertising (sometimes, I admit, to my frustration). In 2008, IMAPS honored Sid with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

He served as ISHM's (then IMAPS's) International Liaison, has been perennially active on the finance committee, and co-founded the IMAPS Educational Foundation, a story familiar to many. He also ran a pretty successful company: ESL and its affiliates have been very profitable for over 40 years and have grown without the need for outside investors or significant debt. (His aversion to depending on outsiders' money, since passed on to me, was born of those Depression years and has served us well.)

The founding of the IMAPS Education Foundation is the base the current Microelectronics Foundation was built upon. Sid's international liason has resulted in the IMAPS Sidney J. Stein International Award.

True to form, Dad became the generous patriarch of our extended family, knowing he could never repay the siblings who insisted on his education but he has always tried, one way or another.

Also, he and my mother became philanthropists and through their personal Foundation have given millions to charities.

Sid Stein represented the best of us. He is missed by family, friends, associates and many who didn't know him personally, but only knew of his accomplishments and innovations.

Bunny pased away in January 2015; Sid in July 2015 - after 70 years of marriage.