Ramo was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the son of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants who ran a small store. He entered the University of Utah at the age of 16, and earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. By 1936, at the age of twenty-three, he had earned dual PhD degrees from Caltech in Physics and Electrical Engineering.
From 1936 until 1946 he led electronics research at General Electric. He became globally recognized as a leader in Microwave research and headed the development of GE’s Electron microscope. He also published textbooks on Fields and Waves in Modern Radio (1944) and Introduction to Microwaves (1945).
In 1946 he returned to California to become director of research for the electronics department of Hughes Aircraft, and his career became coupled with that of Dean Wooldridge. Together they formed a successful team for many years, with Wooldridge concentrating on investment and general business aspects while Ramo led research, development and engineering. By 1948, Hughes had created its Aerospace Group to work with the newly created U.S. Air Force. Dr. Ramo became a Vice-President and the Group's Director of Operations. Ramo employed his skills in Systems Engineering to allow Hughes to deliver integrated RADAR and aircraft fire-control systems. He developed the air-to-air missile, creating the Falcon missile.
By 1953, both Ramo and the Air Force had become increasingly frustrated with management problems at Hughes. Ramo and Wooldridge were particularly concerned when Howard Hughes avoided their attempts to discuss the problem. In September they jointly resigned, and within a week they formed the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation on September 16, 1953.
In October 1953 an Assistant Secretary of Defense, Trevor Gardner, created a committee to consider the future of guided missiles. This Strategic Missile Evaluation Committee (SMEC) was headed by John von Neumann and included both Ramo and Wooldridge. In four months, the committee produced their report and recommended that a crash program was needed to develop Intercontinental ballistic missiles, and that such a program might enable the United States to overtake Russian developments by 1959-1960.
The Ramo-Wooldridge Corp. became the lead contractor for the resulting Air Force program. With Dr. Ramo as the driving scientific and engineering officer, they succeeded. In 1958, an Atlas Rocket delivered a payload 5,000 miles downrange. The Atlas would go on to serve as the launch vehicle for NASA’s Project Mercury orbital flights, starting with John Glenn in Friendship 7. USAF General Bernard Schriever, head of the ICBM program, described Ramo as "the architect of the Thor, Atlas, and Titan" rockets.
According to a July 30, 2002 article by Peter Pae, Los Angeles Times aerospace staff writer, Ramo’s comments are legendary for capsulizing complex ideas into off-the-cuff witticisms.
During a series of key experiments of ballistic missiles in the 1950s at Cape Canaveral, Florida, at which Ramo and Air Force General Bernard Schriever were observers, test rockets kept blowing up on their launch pads. When one missile rose about 6 inches before toppling over and exploding, Ramo reportedly beamed and said: “Well, Benny, now that we know the thing can fly, all we have to do is improve its range a bit.”
Ramo-Wooldridge merged with Thompson Products to become TRW, and Simon Ramo became Vice-Chairman. In 1969, when TRW spun off their Space Technology Laboratories division, it became Bunker-Ramo, with Ramo as President, and expanded into the computer and communications technology fields.
During his long and successful career, Ramo has received numerous awards and fellowships. He has been honored by the American Philosophical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the American Physical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Ramo has also authored dozens of books on topics ranging from science textbooks, corporate and technology management, society's relation to technology, economy, and how to play tennis.
Ramo lives in Beverly Hills, California.
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