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My father, Morton Eisenberg, became “slightly famous” because of his involvement in a time when the U.S. and Russia nurtured a partnership. (As the U.S. speaks out in 2022 about Russia invading the Ukraine, it’s hard to believe that there have been times when the such a “friendly” relationship existed.)

Learn more below.   This blog features a new biography of Morton Eisenberg that I wrote to share with genealogists researching people through Ancestry.com.

You’ll learn some other interesting facts about Morton, I believe, including how he met Helen, one interesting thing he has in common with his granddaughter Alison Merion Arena, and Mort’s work as the president of his ASPEP engineering union at RCA during the scary McCarthy era.

And by the way, aren’t we all “slightly famous?” It’s fun to examine how.

Ham Radio hobby leads to a job at RCA and becoming “slightly famous”

Morton Eisenberg was a happy man, and enjoyable to be with. He had two memorable hobbies that led him to be slightly famous and use his abilities to help the world. First, every child and adult who visited his home at 1224 McKinley St. in Philadelphia remembers his ham radio equipment in a small basement room, where he let visitors twirl the radio’s frequency (“radio station”) dial, and listen in as he spoke into the microphone or tapped out Morse Code to people all over the world.  The walls were lined with “QSL postcards” from people Dad had spoken to, and he sent out his own postcards with his radio call letters W3DYL (“darling young ladies” he’d used as the mnemonic) and later K3DG. That room was an enriching oasis – not of water, but of flowing conversation between strangers. His best friends were fellow ham radio operators.  They formed the Beacon Radio Amateurs Club and adventured away from the city and their wives each year for the annual field day ham radio contest.  There was “Uncle” Harold Fox and Herb Straus, the best man at Helen and Mort’s wedding.

Mort’s ham radio interest led to Drexel University night college classes when a friend who loved radios asked him to try out a class with him. Those night classes led to Mort’s Drexel University engineering degree that he proudly paid for himself while working at RCA during the day.

As an electrical engineer at RCA in Camden, N.J, Mort twice worked on historic radios under a NASA contract at RCA. In 1971, Mort worked on communications with the lunar rover vehicle that drove on the moon.   In July 1975, a photo of Mort at work on another NASA project appeared in seven newspapers around the country, including the Philadelphia Inquirer on page 4-B.  In the photo, he was working on a VHF ranging system that would use radio signals to calculate the distance between the Apollo and Soyuz spaceships during their historic space rendezvous the next week that historian Richard Samuels would later call, “The formal end of the space race.” The RCA system was unique as the only U.S-built system on the Russian craft.

Photography as a second hobby that led Mort to becoming “slightly famous”

The second hobby that led Mort to be slightly famous was an interest in photography.  Mort shared his hobby with family members, making photos in a make-shift darkroom in our small Northeast Philadelphia basement.  The darkroom shared space with a workbench, drill press, hot water heater, and washer and dryer. Pasted in my childhood photo album are 1.6“ square photos from a Kodak Hawkeye Flash Fun Camera that we printed directly from negatives, without an enlarger. One of my favorites is from my first plane ride. We sat in a two-seater plane (I sat on my father’s lap) which took off and landed on the water near New Hope, PA. Photos meant preserving memories, an inherited interest that has led to this story.

Mort shared his interest in photography with his younger brother William (Bill,) who became an industrial photographer and also worked at RCA in Camden, New Jersey.  The two brothers, who were often mistaken for one another, frequently ate lunch together in the RCA cafeteria.

Morton Eisenberg and Alison Merion Arena’s work in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

It is likely that Bill took the photo of Mort that appeared in the newspapers.  The Millville Daily even included a story about the event called “Soviets Use RCA Equipment” along with Mort’s photo and a diagram of the Apollo spacecraft due to take off on July 15, 1975.   A reproduction of the Apollo-Soyuz test project (the famous “handshake in space”) resides in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.  Side note—Alison Merion Arena, Mort’s granddaughter, also became a professional photographer.  Her photographs of race cars and Liam Dwyer, a Mazda race car driver, are also now featured in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., in the exhibit called “Nation of Speed,” which opened in October, 2022.

Morton falls in love

When Mort was 28, Helen eclipsed technology as Mort’s major interest.  He was drawn to be with Helen from the first day they met a party, held by a friend Helen had met when working at a chemistry job.  (Helen had taken off a year from University of Pennsylvania to join the work force for the war effort, like “Rosie the Riveter.”)  Mort and Helen were married on August 11, 1946, just six months after they met.  Mort was slender, with thick, dark, wavy hair, and Helen had a cherubic face, a delighted smile, and a stylish haircut with curls at the bottom.

Their wedding, a grand affair with 200 people at the Broadwood Hotel in Philadelphia, was memorized by black and white photos, silent movies, and records, self-recorded at the wedding on Duodisc blank records.  The recordings were narrated by a professional announcer named Joe Hess who interviewed attendees and described delightful details: “The strains of ‘Oh Promise Me,’ which the band has been playing, has changed suddenly to the very familiar music of ‘Here Comes the Bride.’ And here she comes, a vision of loveliness.”

Mort looked for humor everywhere and had silly sayings he’d pull out to lighten a moment, like “I’m had you’re glappy,” or “My cup runneth over and drippith on the floor.”  He didn’t smoke, drink, or gamble and the closest he ever came to a curse word was uttering in shock “Cheese and Crackers!“


When Gary arrived in 1953 and Debbie arrived in 1956, Mort now had kids to play with and nurture.  He took us sledding at Burholme park in Philadelphia in the 1960s, hard-hat diving and feeding fish by hand on a favorite vacation in 1973 in Bermuda, and bounced on a trampoline at Huron Valley Swim Club in Ann Arbor in the early 1990s.

As children of the depression, Mort and Helen could be frugal with themselves, but never hesitated to provide for their kid’s college education. Mort used to say, “Others can never take away what you’ve learned.”

A quiet leader

The community benefitted from Mort’s interest in helping others when he became the president of organizations at home and at work.  Once he was checking out the state of our newly-built Philadelphia synagogue Temple Beth Torah that he was integral in creating, carrying his trusty wooden toolbox in case he might be needed to make a building repair. Someone asked him if he was the maintenance man. Always modest and a bit of a jokester, he replied quickly, “Kind of.  I’m the president.”  He had also been the president his union at RCA. His presidency of the ASPEP engineering union at RCA in 1954 was during the McCarthy era, a challenging time to be president.  Not only were employees going to the union to ask for legal support when they were in danger of losing government security clearance when accused of being communist, but the management of RCA was concerned about losing government contracts when personnel lost security clearance.

After retiring from RCA in 1983, Mort brought his trusty wooden toolbox with him when he moved with Helen to Delray Villas in Delray Beach, Florida. There he took care of the loudspeaker system in the clubhouse, delivered newsletters, and helped manage the pool equipment. He loved history and could talk for hours on the subject.

To keep up with the news, he developed a clippings file in three dozen brown manila envelopes, with titles written in his neat square engineering printing that included some of his favorite topics: “Presidents,” “Atomic/Nuclear Radiation,” “Inventors,” “Birth Control,” and “Spies.”

The South Florida Days

Helen and Mort lived in South Florida for 30 years!  They loved each other and their family dearly. Once, while Mort was hospitalized for heart bypass surgery, Mort asked me to buy him an anniversary card for Helen. My heart melted as I watched him write endearing words in a weak scribble from his hospital bed.  Of course, Helen loved it, and she herself was the queen of Hallmark cards. She took care of Mort in his final years, until he passed away at 95 on Dec 10, 2013.

Morton Eisenberg was a wonderful man; kind, curious, generous in donating his time to others, humorous and fun-loving. An ancestral role model, indeed. If you are reading this because you are related to him, consider yourself fortunate to be swimming in his gene pool.

2 Responses to “Morton Eisenberg’s Week of Fame in 1975 (When the U.S. was “Friends” with Russia)”

  1. Stuart Ruben says:

    Hi Debbie
    Without getting into all of the DETAILS I just wanted to say hello. I ran accross this article about your father and read it with great interest. I’m also a ham operator (since birth, I think…LOL) and I live in Cherry Hill NJ. I was just speaking with another ham (on the radio) whose last name is Eisenberg, and that “rang a bell”. I got on Google and found this article about your father. I don’t have time now, but later this week I’m going to put together a short story and send it to you. For some reason or reasons I’ve always been a very nostalgic person and, at times, I can get very nostalgic. Without “giving away” all of my story, I’ll simply tell you that your parents are in both my brothers and my Bar Mitzva albums……LOL. FWIW…..I’m 74 now and probably like you, I went to Carnell. You will hear from me next week……I LOVE stuff like this:)))) regard’s, Stuart Ruben RHELIARC@AOL.COM

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