Peter J. Vogelberger Jr., nuclear engineer

Naval Academy graduate went into submarine service and led Teledyne Energy Systems

  • Peter Vogelberger
Peter Vogelberger (Baltimore Sun )
September 30, 2014|By Jacques Kelly | The Baltimore Sun

Peter John Vogelberger Jr., a retired nuclear engineer and past president of Teledyne Energy Systems who headed the development of devices used in 1970s space exploration, died of undetermined causes Sept. 7 at his Lutherville home. He was 82.

Born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, he was the son of Peter J. Vogelberger Sr. and the former Agnes Snyderwine. A standout high school athlete, he was recruited to the Naval Academy, where he was a member of the Class of 1954 and was an honors graduate. He played quarterback on the football team.

He served for two years aboard the attack carrier USS Philippine Sea in the Pacific and then joined the Submarine Service. He attended Officers' Basic Submarine School in New London, Conn., and spent two years aboard the USS Darter, an attack submarine.

In 1959, he entered training at the Submarine Nuclear Power Program and was stationed at the Nuclear Power Training Unit, Combustion Engineering Naval Reactors Division in Windsor, Conn.

He was gunnery officer on the commissioning crew of the USS Snook, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, in 1961. He spent two years in the Western Pacific.

He left the Navy as a lieutenant commander in early 1963 and was later a commander in the reserves. He became a nuclear engineer at the Reactor Operations Division of the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Ill.

Mr. Vogelberger then joined Isotopes Inc., where he managed a competition for an early food irradiation plant that was a joint venture of the Atomic Energy Commission, Martin Marietta, Uniroyal and Alpo. Family members said that in the Cold War, he and his team explored the process of canning food that would, in theory, survive a nuclear attack.

He then joined Teledyne Isotopes Inc. as a marketing manager based in Westwood, N.J.

"He was an intelligent man, dedicated to his family, the welfare of his children and to the Navy," said his son, Peter C. Vogelberger of Birmingham, Ala. "He loved the Chesapeake Bay, Ocean City and the Naval Academy, and we always had boats."

When Teledyne acquired the former Martin Marietta Nuclear Division, then based in Middle River, in 1968, Mr. Vogelberger moved to Baltimore's Homeland neighborhood and lived on Tunbridge Road.

Mr. Vogelberger spent 26 years at what is now Teledyne Energy Systems Inc. of Hunt Valley. He held several positions, including general manager and president, and retired in 1994.

Mr. Vogelberger worked to enlarge the business after a government defense contract was canceled in 1969.

"Our sales dropped off by 40 percent and we had a substantial reduction in force, but we survived and prospered," he said in a Teledyne publication published at his retirement. "After that experience I promised myself we'd never be that vulnerable again."

As president of Teledyne Energy Systems, he led the company to become the prime supplier of thermoelectric generators for energy conversion devices. He and his teams worked on the creation of a commercial hydrogen generation product used in remote controls for gas and oil pipelines and in hydrogen generators for metals refining, semiconductor manufacturing and electric power plants.

"Perhaps his most significant achievement was his leadership at Teledyne on NASA's Pioneer and Viking programs to Jupiter and Mars," said Jay Laskin, a retired Teledyne director of marketing and sales who lives in Pikesville. "They carried Teledyne's radioisotope thermoelectric generator power supplies."

A 1972 article in The Baltimore Sun noted that his company made four nuclear generators carried on the Pioneer spacecraft sent to explore Jupiter.

"The nuclear generators convert heat from decaying radioactive plutonium-238 into electricity," the article said. "During the past ten years, the company has pioneered nuclear power systems for space and terrestrial uses."

In 1976, his photo appeared in The Sun with Rep. Clarence D. Long at the Teledyne plant, then in Timonium. The congressman congratulated Mr. Vogelberger and his engineers who designed a generator for the Viking spacecraft.

Then-Gov. Spiro T. Agnew named Mr. Vogelberger to the Maryland Advisory Commission on Atomic Energy in 1968.

Mr. Vogelberger remained active in Naval Academy alumni circles. He also served on Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's Service Academy Nominations Board.

He also had homes in Little River, S.C., and Selbyville, Del.

Services are private.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 60 years, the former Marianne "Inky" Crane, a retired nurse; another son, Mark S. Vogelberger of Cockeysville; two daughters, Susan Torrence of Huntington Beach, Calif., and Holly McGarvey of Cockeysville; and nine grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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