Eric Lidow, a photovoltaics whiz kid who fled Nazi Germany with $14
in his pocket and went on to become a power-electronics pioneer and
multimillionaire philanthropist in the United States, died Jan. 18
at the age of 100.
Lidow, in the course of a remarkable, storied life, roomed with Leon
Trotsky's son, started two major companies--Selenium Corp. and
International Rectifier Corp.-- built a solar-powered vehicle ridden
in by Vice President Nixon and was a major arts benefactor in
Southern California. In 2007, EE Timeshonored
Lidow with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
At the time, Lidow, then 94, still ventured into his modest
cinder block office near LAX almost every day, driving his own hybrid
Toyota Highlander, and wearing a suit, tie and ever-present broad
During a luncheon Q&A then at a favorite seaside Italian
restaurant, he ranged over the major electronics achievements he'd
seen his life:
"The most practical one is the cellular telephone.
It's made communication so easy. I'm very impressed by the
advances in computers, but there's a tremendous danger to our
education because of the availability of computers and the place
they take in children's lives. They're spending too much time in
front of the screen and not enough time with other people. You
don't want Internet kids growing up to be antisocial, because
that's what happening, I pity those people who try to get
married on the Internet."
Lidow's career was remarkable not only because he worked every day
in it -- more than 60 years at IR alone -- but that he entered into
it in the first place.
Lidow was born Dec. 22, 1912 in Vilnius, Lithuania. As a young Jew, he
moved to Berlin in the 1930s, where the leading minds in mathmatics
and engineering were teaching and where Lidow would study
photovoltaics and room with Trotsky's son. In 1937, he received his
EE from the Technical University of Berlin--his diploma studded with
Nazi swastikas. Shortly thereafter, he fled Germany with $14 in his
pocket, a Leica camera and not a single word of English in his
vocabulary, arriving in New York in October of that year. In 1939,
he moved across county to Los Angeles, where he founded Selenium
Corp., in 1940. At first the company made selenium cells for
exposure meters, but when the business turned sour, the company
switched to making novel rectifiers. Thanks to the company's
advanced power electronics and some defense contracts, Selenium
Corp. prospered during World War II. Lidow sold it to Sperry Corp.
The newly minted millionaire could have been content to retire young
and hob-nob with Hollywood stars and starlets, but instead he spent
the year working with the Red Cross to find his parents, Holocaust
survivors, in Europe and bring them to America. The next year, he
and his father, Leon, an ex-banker, started International Rectifier,
which began by making selenium photoelectric cells and selenium
rectifiers. Lidow was CEO until 1995 and Chairman of the Board until