Welcome to the Siren Board! 3.3.6

This area of the site is for discussing things related to Outdoor Warning Sirens.
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By fyrboy
Earl Gosswiller, 1912-2009: Engineer, prolific inventor
Helped design squad car lights, tornado sirens

Anyone who has been jolted by a whirring police light in his or her rearview mirror can thank Earl Gosswiller, an inveterate tinkerer whose creations included the Federal Signal Beacon Ray, believed to be the first rotating light for the top of squad cars.

Mr. Gosswiller, 96, died of complications from pneumonia on Saturday, Jan. 3, in Cordia Senior Residence in Westmont, his home of four years, said his son-in-law Bruce Broberg.

Mr. Gosswiller, who worked at Federal Signal for almost 40 years, has his name on 29 U.S. patents, said John Segvich, a spokesman for the Oak Brook maker of safety equipment.

"He's considered the father of engineering at Federal Signal," Segvich said.

The Beacon Ray was one of his early inventions. According to Broberg, Mr. Gosswiller came up with the idea after looking at a rotating siren attached to a firetruck. He hooked up four sealed beams to a fixture that rotated horizontally, then capped it with a colored lens.

Mr. Gosswiller and his team advanced the idea with more sophisticated light bars like the Federal Signal Twin Sonic, which use multiple lights and in some cases mirrors to amplify the effect.

"What you don't want to see in your rearview mirror, that's Earl's work," said Andy Kunz, vice president of operations for the mobile systems group at Federal Signal.

Mr. Gosswiller also invented and refined several lines of sirens that warn of tornadoes or other potential disasters.

His creativity didn't stop when he left the job. Awake late one night, he came up with a way to increase the sweet spot on his wooden tennis racket by lining its frame with lead weights, his son-in-law said. The reworked racket made him an even more formidable player in the days before oversize frames.

Mr. Gosswiller graduated from Highland Park High School and received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Armour Institute, now the Illinois Institute of Technology.

He took a job with a company that made pinball machines, and helped develop the bumpers that push out the ball in an explosion of light, his son-in-law said.

During World War II, he helped develop a training aid for fighter pilots, using film to show exactly how far ahead of a moving enemy plane they had to fire their missiles to score a hit.

Mr. Gosswiller, who lived for many years in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood, was a scratch golfer, at one time had a 190 average in bowling and competed in national club tournaments in tennis.

He retired from Federal Signal in 1982 as vice president of engineering of the signal division, but continued to work as a consultant for several years. Younger engineers looked up to the prolific inventor, who defied some of that profession's stereotypes.

"He wasn't a mad scientist. He was a regular guy," Kunz said.

Mr. Gosswiller's wife, Nancy, died in 1999. Survivors include a daughter, Sue Broberg; a sister, Berenice Fox; four grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday in Cordia Senior Residence, 865 N. Cass Ave., Westmont.
By Robert Gift
The rotating beacon is such an effective device.
The mirrors in the twin sonic made excellent use of otherwise wasted light.
Last edited by Robert Gift on Thu Jan 08, 2009 7:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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By fyrboy
Copied from the original undated article, which is too worn to risk posting, the following was sent to me in the 1980's. I regret that I don?t have the diagram which shows the housing mentioned in this article.

As with many other inventions, the revolving warning light so widely used on emergency vehicles began as something else.

In 1945, sirens, some with a forward-shining light, were considered the ultimate in emergency vehicle warning systems. One of their major flaws, especially in northern climes, was that the rotor could not overcome accumulations of ice and snow, and the rotor could not overcome accumulations of ice and snow, and would freeze. Mr. Earl Gosswiller, an engineer at the then-Federal Electric Co., believed the problem could be solved with a bell-shaped housing placed over the siren in an inverted position within a metal housing with an opening at the bottom, which allowed the sound to be transmitted.

The next problem was to incorporate a flashing light into the water-resistant siren. Mr. Gosswiller developed a rotating bell-shaped housing which had two automotive spotlights inside. The rotating lamps gave a flashing signal in all directions, like a lighthouse, rather than just a single flashing light pointed in one direction, but the idea was not well-received and the whole concept sat dormant.

Mr. Gosswiller knew the idea was good, and he set out to prove it. About a year later, a prototype of the revolving emergency signal, called the Model 17 Beacon Ray, was finished. It was readily accepted when introduced in 1948. With minor modifications, it is still being sold today. Its success is due to eighty explosive flashes per minute, an electrifying high-intensity, short-duration flash not approached by common flashing signals.

In 1961 Mr. Gosswiller conceived the idea of mounting an electronic siren speaker in the center of a bar and a rotating light at each end of the bar. This arrangement permitted 360-degree coverage by the lights with no blockage by the speaker, allowed unobstructed sound from the speaker, and the entire assembly could be clamped to a vehicle?s drip rail without drilling holes. The Federal Model 11 Twin Beacon Ray was developed from this concept, and introduced in 1962.

Mr. Gosswiller noticed that some of the light at the end of the bar was randomly reflected from the chrome-plated center-mounted speaker. In 1967 he devised a set of mirrors, arranged along a parabolic curve, to reflect the wasted light toward the front or rear of the vehicle. A plastic housing was designed to protect the mirrors from weather and dirt. This light bar, the Model 12 TwinSonic, was introduced in 1968 as the first enclosed light/sound system.

In the mid-70?s, fuel shortages and rapidly rising fuel costs resulted in aerodynamic tests being conducted on lightbar-equipped vehicles. These bars caused considerable drag and increased fuel consumption. In 1977, Federal introduced the Model 24 AeroDynic light/sound system. It was the first streamlined lightbar with a substantial reduction in drag over the previous square, box-like shapes.

In closing, it all started in a Chicago snowstorm with a better way to keep the old mechanical siren from freezing. Today, the vehicular revolving light is used on every continent.

As for Mr. Gosswiller, he received a BSME degree from Armour Institute of Technology (predecessor to Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1934. He joined Federal Electric Company in 1943, and was a project engineer, chief engineer, vice president of engineering, and vice president of advanced engineering. He holds numerous patents in the visual and audible signaling field.?

I just look, stand still and gawk. He looked, grabbed a pencil & made history.
Last edited by fyrboy on Sun Mar 23, 2014 7:21 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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By JasonC
That's terrible news! Mr. Gosswiller invented the Thunderbolt siren, as well as the 2001, Modulator, Thunderbeam, and many other Federal sirens as well. He truly was a great inventor!
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By fyrboy
Here are two very good comments about this issue from folks on the various boards where I posted it:

From copcar.com - I think maybe someone should contact the family or the funeral home about an escort for the funeral, using some cars with Federal lights on them. I know most people up there have their cars in storage, but it would be a nice gesture, if someone has a car they will bring out for the funeral procession.

From elightbars.com - So everyone who has a Beacon Ray in their collection or on an old truck should fire it up at 1 PM on Saturday.
Last edited by fyrboy on Sun Mar 23, 2014 7:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
By Nelso90
He was a great man. Ironic that he died right when I started redoing my T-Bolt. I would love to get into the field of acoustic engineering. I'd probably never be as good as him for all the stuff he's done, but it makes me glad I'm taking the career path that I am.
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By Federal Signal fan
I believe he deserves a moment of silence... In repect...


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By NanSiren
fyrboy wrote:-snip-

He took a job with a company that made pinball machines, and helped develop the bumpers that push out the ball in an explosion of light, his son-in-law said.
Ahh so that's who designed those bumpers!

He will sorely be missed. A big loss for the warning systems industry as well as the pinball industry. RIP, Earl Gosswiller.
User avatar
By Gil
For some weird reason, I didn't think he was from Illinois.

Death of a legend.
By Fletch
What a legend! He has saved countless lives thanks to his great mind.

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