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Carl Willard Claras

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Photo Carl Willard Claras A World War II Veteran and engineer who developed the first wire recorder and first commercially available tape recorder (the "Wollensak"), passed away peacefully on Sunday, November 11, 2007, at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Palo Alto, CA, at the age of 85. In addition to his work, Carl was a lifelong outdoorsman; skiing until the age of 83, sailing his boat on San Francisco Bay, an avid camper and a regular at the beach for long walks and quiet contemplation. Over the years, Carl became deeply spiritual through Buddhist teachings, Unity and Unitarian church services, and the practice of Dousing. Carl was born on July 13, 1922, in Chicago, IL, to Carl Frank Claras and Sophia Polauskis, who emigrated from Lithuania to the U.S. in the early 1900's. Carl was preceded in death by his loving wife of 55 years, Eleanor in 2003. His sons, Carl Damon Claras and John Adam Claras; daughters-in-law, Karen Claras and Maureen Sheehan; two grandchildren, Ian and Kristina Claras; as well as a niece, Bonnie Goodman, survive him. As a young man, Carl joined the Army to study electronics and radios. As a radio operator, he was assigned to the U.S. 1st Division Infantry in England. This was the first Division of allied troops to storm Omaha beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Carl survived the landing, but his radio did not, shot with three bullets. His unit went on to fight every major battle of the European war, including Operation Cobra and Battle of the Bulge. At the battle near Romagen Bridge, he was injured and hospitalized. Carl was a recipient of the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts for his service. He carried the same sentiment as many others that returned home after the war, "that he was a survivor not a hero -- that the heroes were still there." Like many combat Veterans, he did not talk much about the war. After the war, with the help of the GI Bill, Carl graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology (ITT) where he studied Electrical Engineering and Physics. His first job out of college was with Armor Research, where he developed the first wire recorder while working under Marvin Camras. This was the precursor to his next project, the tape recorder. Samuel Briskin, owner of Revere Camera Company, was looking for a bright engineer to develop such a recorder and brought Carl on board, resulting in the development of the Wollensak tape recorder found in many classrooms throughout the 1950's and 1960's. Carl rose to General Manager while employed at Revere, overseeing the Tape Recorder Division of 2,500 employees. Revere Camera Company sold to 3M Corporation in the early 1960's when Samuel Briskin fell ill. Carl's love of water sports, especially boating, kept him from moving to Minneapolis to work for 3M at that time. He went on to work for Ampex Corporation for a number of years before joining Samuel Briskin's son, Jack Briskin, to start a company called Satin Mist, in Los Angeles, which was not a success. Eleanor had always wanted to live in a college town, so Carl moved the family to Palo Alto where he helped start International Video Corporation (IVC) in Sunnyvale. IVC went on to be a leader in the video tape recorder industry due to its leadership in new technology. With the movement of this industry offshore, Carl made a career change to the insurance business and retired from Farmers Insurance Company after 10 years. During his career, he was awarded 13 patents for various devices. Services for Carl will be held at 2:00 pm on January 20, 2008, at the Unitarian Church in on 505 E. Charleston in Palo Alto CA.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Dec. 2, 2007
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