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Ralph Sias Scholarship Fund

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F. Ralph Sias

Frederick Ralph Sias, known as Ralph, had an outstanding career after graduating from the University of Florida in 1928 with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. He earned 18 patents, including some vital to the war effort during World War II.

Born in 1905, he spent his early years in Sioux City, IA, then moved with his family to Orlando when he was nine years old. He received much of his early schooling from his mother; when he entered fifth grade he was immediately promoted to seventh grade. Sias was an experimenter even as a boy. He built radio receivers, electric motors, a steam engine to drive a model battleship, and, in high school physics class in 1922, an ice making machine. He was also a champion swimmer in high school and at UF. He served as a captain of the UF swimming team and won a total of 18 gold, silver and bronze medals.

He met his wife, Mildred Hogg, at UF while she was taking a summer course in chemistry not offered at her school, the Florida State College for Women (now Florida State University). After graduating with a double major in electrical engineering and chemistry, Sias built a six-inch reflecting telescope for himself and ground a ten-inch telescope mirror from a Pyrex blank – one of the first ever used for a lens – for Fred Heath, his major professor in chemistry. The mirror was later given to the physics department. The first job Sias had after graduation was with Weston Electrical Instrument Company in New Jersey. One year later, he returned to Jacksonville, where he taught junior high school science, set up an instrument repair shop called Sias Laboratories and married Mildred.

In 1932, he was hired by Pan American Airways (PAA) in Miami to work on aircraft instruments. He developed an engine synchronizer for PAA’s four-engine Clippers, leading to his first patent in 1935. While with PAA, he checked and calibrated the instruments, including the compass, on Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra before she left Miami on her unsuccessful round-the-world flight in 1937. In 1940, he joined the aircraft instrument engineering department of the General Electric Company (GE) in West Lynn, MA. During the war, he received seven GE patents for temperature measuring devices and moving magnet and gyroscopic instruments. In 1952, he received GE’s Russell A. Warner Award, recognizing his contributions to the company through engineering invention, for the Outstanding Invention of the Year.

With the advent of the nuclear age, Sias developed a resistance thermometer for the Navy’s USS Triton nuclear submarine. The American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) honored the invention as one of the Developments of the year in 1958. When he transferred to GE’s rectifier department and later to their space division, he earned several more patents for a total of 18. He presented papers about his inventions on several occasions to meetings of the AIEE and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and prepared articles for publication in Electrical Engineering magazine and Communications and Electronics magazine. He was an IEEE Life Senior Member. In 1959, UF conferred him an honorary degree of Professional Electrical Engineer at the same time that his son, Frederick Ralph Sias, Jr., received his master’s degree in electrical engineering.

Sias and Mildred retired to the old family homestead in Orlando in 1970 and he lived out his remaining years on the edge of the lake where he had grown up. Swimming remained a lifelong activity, but he was also interested in birding, photography, boating in the 24-foot cabin cruiser he built himself “from scratch,” canoeing and camping, astronomy (he saw Haley’s Comet twice), optics and the new adventures of space.

Sias was a gentleman, a man of great integrity and a patient and careful craftsman – an engineer whose memory scholarship recipients can honor. He passed away on August 29, 1991 at the age of 86. Mildred, his wife of 61 years, passed away in November 2001. The couple had two children, Frederick Ralph Sias, Jr. and Peggy Sias Lantz.

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