Local historian preserves Brevard business history


Frank Perkins has written several interesting books, including “A Lifetime of Travel.”

SENIOR LIFE Maria Sonnenberg

Frank Perkins is proud to be a Radiator, the term given to the employees of Radiation, Inc., the precursor of Harris Corporation and the company that put South Brevard on the map.

Radiation played an important part in the development of Brevard, and Perkins is helping to keep those memories alive through his efforts in establishing the Radiation archives at Florida Tech’s Evan Library. As time shrinks the number of Radiators, there is a sense of urgency to keep the history of the company alive. 

“We felt it was important to preserve the past,” Perkins said.

Like most of the Radiators, Perkins was a bright, young engineer when the company was formed. With the ink from his Georgia Tech diploma still fresh, the Atlanta native was immediately called into active service with the Army during the Korean War. His tasks included familiarizing troops with the guidance computer for the Corporal, the first U.S. surface-to-surface missile. 

“Through a series of events, I learned electronics and was hired as an electronics engineer when I completed my active duty,” Perkins said.

The young former first lieutenant was working in Washington, D.C. and looking for the perfect place to establish roots when he noticed the call for engineers to come to a little company in the then sleepy fishing village known as Melbourne. 

“I soon migrated to Florida and ended up going to work for Radiation in late 1959, just as they were moving into the first building in Palm Bay,” Perkins said.

Harris Intertype, which focused on equipment for the printing industry, merged with Radiation and eventually morphed into the giant corporation it is today.

Perkins’ work helped to whet his appetite for travel.

“A couple of my more memorable work experiences included a test trip to Italy that ended up being extended around the world with stops in India and Japan, and another trip where I accidentally encountered a fellow tourist in the mountains of Portugal who turned out to be a Harris employee from Melbourne, said the West Melbourne resident. 

After retiring from Harris in 1988, Perkins embarked on his second career — travel, with some fishing on the side. 

“For a number of years, I devoted much of my time to fly fishing and travel,” he explained. 

While some of the journeys were purely recreational adventures, many had a serious purpose.

“Some of my best travels were as a volunteer for Earthwatch and similar organizations,” Perkins said. 

Earthwatch conducts scientific research through the contributions of volunteers who are invited to participate in expeditions. The work could be long and the accommodations and cuisine were usually very simple, but for Perkins the experience was priceless. If he could factor in a little fly fishing or bird watching, so much the better. 

He documented his life in books. “Travel Adventures on the Company’s Nickel” records his business jaunts. His opportunity to travel as a citizen scientist became “Whales, Termites and Dragons,” while his passion for fly fishing in places such as Bhutan, Mongolia and the Falkland Islands evolved into “Rainbows, Cutthroats and the Prince of Bhutan.”

Perkins also compiled a photographic summary of many of his journeys in “A Lifetime of Travel” and recounted his years as a Radiator in “High Tech Among the Palmettos.” His books are available through amazon.com.