The strange history of TRA

Dave Tutelman  -  August 10, 2023

My consulting company, specializing in golf club engineering, is Tutelman Research. Here is my business card.

But the company started more than 60 years ago as TRA (for Tutelman Research Associates). It was active from 1961 to about 1970, then remained dormant until it re-emerged as Tutelman Research around 2000. But much more interesting was the actual purpose of the original company, which was not the purpose suggested by the name.

The ancient origins

It all started when I was a junior engineer, a summer intern at IBM, in 1961. I worked in the Poughkeepsie NY building where they manufactured their flagship mainframe computers. I discovered Datamation magazine in the company library and on the desks of a few of my colleagues. A lot of fascinating stuff there; I could read it just for recreation. (Remember, I am an engineer. It's not just what I do, it's who I am. So yeah, maybe geeky, but it definitely resonated with me.)

That was my first exposure to the concept of "trade journals". Until the Web took over as the main way people got information, starting somewhere around 2000, there were lots of specialized magazines aimed at professionals in some professions. Which professions? The ones that spend a lot of money on things that can be advertised in a magazine. Most of the trade journals were sent free to qualified professionals. What does "qualified" mean? You were able to fill out and mail a post card you could find somewhere in the magazine, with your name, address, and some details about your job and your company. No, they were not conducting industrial espionage with the cards; they wanted enough info about each subscriber that the magazine's advertisers would consider them a likely prospect.

I did mention that Datamation subscriptions (and many other trade journal subscriptions) were free. More specifically, they were 100% supported by money paid by advertisers. The advertisers wanted to be sure subscribers were the target audience for their products, so the subscription cards were questionnaires about your company and your position in the company. I was an engineer for IBM, which was a prime target audience for Datamation. I had no trouble at all getting a subscription.

Original headquarters of TRA

The trouble started at the end of the summer, when I moved back to the family apartment in the Bronx and resumed my education as a senior in engineering at City College of NY. Naturally, I wanted to change my address from Poughkeepsie to the Bronx. Equally naturally, Datamation's publisher wanted me to re-qualify at my new address. And I was no longer an engineer for one of America's top companies. I was a student at a public university -- not the prospect that Datamation's advertisers wanted to target. What to do?

OK, they want an engineer at an engineering company? That's what they will get. TRA was "founded", at least in my imagination, as an engineering research and consulting company. I was the owner, president, and chief engineer. I decided that "chief engineer" was the best title to put on the qualification card, because the chief engineer would be the decision maker for purchases of the stuff advertised in engineering trade journals. The address was where I lived, 1 Metropolitan Oval; hey, my apartment building's address even sounded like a business address. Here's a picture of the original headquarters of TRA, the apartment building I grew up in.

The next step was to convince our postman that mail addressed to "TRA" went to apartment 6C. I don't remember how we managed it, but that in itself suggests it wasn't very hard to do. And before I knew it, I was receiving Datamation at TRA.

I rapidly discovered that Datamation was not the only trade publication for electrical engineers and computer professionals. There were two more trade journals I was receiving within a month or two. A feature of trade journals was a big postcard folded into the middle of each issue, with a lot of numbers on it. Subscribers usually called it a "Bingo card". Each number referred to an advertisement in that issue. Circle the numbers for the ads you found interesting, mail in the card, and you would be the subject of a follow-up. But it was seldom an annoying phone call, as it would be today; phone calls outside of your own town were expensive back then. So the advertiser would send you a spec sheet or application notes, usually very educational. Occasionally there was even a free sample.

Not one to rock the boat unnecessarily, I left the subscriptions as TRA for a few years, even after I graduated and had a real engineering job. It wasn't until I moved away from home that I admitted to Datamation and the others that I now worked for Bell Labs.

TRA staffs up

When I returned from IBM to City College, my brother Bob was already a freshman at CCNY majoring in mechanical engineering. By the following year, he was aware of similar trade journals aimed at mechanical engineers. So TRA got its second employee, a mechanicial engineer, who subscribed to the ME publications. And their advertisers seemed even more likely to mail free samples of their products.

To my recollection, my sister Ruth was never on the TRA staff. She was a music student. The few music magazines back then were about the music business (not interesting to her) or fan magazines for rock groups (definitely not interesting to her). And I don't think any of them were free. Today, there are also lots of magazines for music electronics and studio equipment and practice. But even if they were available then, the tech side of music was never Ruth's thing.

TRA diversifies

By late 1965, Bob and I had graduated from college and were employed. Ruth was a college junior. While Ruth and I still lived at home and commuted, we were adults and could manage our own affairs. So my parents decided they would take a round-the-world trip for six months, the first half of 1966.

You have to understand, my dad loved planning trips. With only a little help frrom the AAA, he had planned the family's big trip in 1951. He set up day-by-day itineraries, researched lodging and the attractions where we should spend our time, and made all the reservations for us. He was really good at it; he got us to experience things that a travel agent would not have been able to. And he was looking forward as much to planning this trip as to the traveling itself. So imagine his disappointment when most of his letters to Europe, Asia, and the Pacific requesting reservations were rejected.

Apparently it was one thing if you were in the USA making reservations in the US, Canada, or Mexico. But if you were trying to reserve a hotel, air flight, or even a tourist thing in the Eastern Hemisphere, it had to be done by an actual travel agency. Well, Dad was not about to relinquish the planning and arranging part of the trip; that was a major portion of his travel bliss. So TRA diversified. It included a travel agency. Now we had TRAvel, a TRA company.

It was no effort at all for TRAvel to be recognized by our letter carriers. To our surprise, it was also no effort at all for foreign hotels, airlines, etc to treat TRAvel as a full-service travel agent. Dad was able to make all the reservations he needed for the trip. He and Mom departed in early January '66 and immersed themselves in an exciting travel experience.

By March, something quite unexpected happened. Multiple times. TRAvel started receiving checks in the mail from overseas. Remember, a travel agency is a business. Its revenue stream is commissions on sales. The checks were typically for 10%-15% of the price Dad and Mom paid. It amounted to a discount on all the big-ticket items on their trip. That was not the reason we started TRAvel, but it was a very nice bonus.

One consequence was the need to start a bank account for TRA, in order to cash the checks. I didn't have much trouble opening a joint bank account that recognizd TRA, where I deposited all the commissions to wait for Mom and Dad's return. It was a big, happy surprise for them when they got back. Banking regulations are a lot tighter today, and they probably should be. I doubt I could open a bank account where I sign for checks written to "TRAvel", without having at least a DBA name that was recognized by the state.

TRA today

Mom and Dad's foreign travel did not continue very far into the 1970s. From then until the late 1990s, TRA was dormant. Neither the company nor the name was doing anything. Then, as I was nearing retirement from what was left of Bell Labs, I found myself with a reputation for knowing things about how a golf club works. And I was being offered consulting jobs (and one offer of full-time employment) by companies that made golf clubs and their components. I got permission from my employer to do such consulting, as long as (a) it didn't impact my work and (b) it didn't have anything to do with the business my employer was in. (Not a lot of overlap there; it was golf club technology vs computer networking.)

I needed a name for my golf technology consulting operation, and I just updated "TRA" to "Tutelman Research"; you saw my business card at the top of this article. Why change it at all, especially since the change is a bit counter-trend; most company name changes in the past few decades are from something meaningful to just an abbreviation. Well, it is now a one-man operation, so the 'A' for "Associates" would be untrue, and "TR" is already taken.

In fact, "TR" is already taken by multiple entities. One of them happens to stand for Technology Review, an engineering magazine which I have qualified to receive free. We have come full circle.

I have done a lot of golf research since then, some of it with a consulting fee, some for free, and some just to satisfy my own curiosity. You can find the output of my golf research elsewhere on this web site. For instance, this graph is of a driver's "launch space", a concept I pioneered.

And it's all done under the auspices of what originated as TRA more than  60 years ago.

Last modified  --  Aug 13, 2023