Vincent J. Coates was too young to join the military at the start of World War II, so he got a job filing machine parts and began attending the Bridgeport Engineering Institute. He later applied the knowledge he had gained at the Institute on the Navy's Officer Candidate School exam, earning him the highest score in Connecticut. At the behest of his mother, Coates attended Yale University, majoring in mechanical engineering. After a short tour in the Navy, Coates took a job at Chance-Vought Aircraft. In 1948, he was hired at Perkin-Elmer Corporation; when John U. White left suddenly in 1949, the responsibility for their project, the Model 21, fell completely on Coates's shoulders. After the original Model 21 became a proven success, he began developing accessories for the instrument, such as the Prism Interchange Unit, to expand its potential market. Coates decided to leave Perkin-Elmer after the president decided to shut down Coates's field-emission scanning electron microscopes (FESEM) project. With Len Welter, he started the Coates & Welter Instrument Company to produce the world's first commercial FESEMs. Later, his Microspot Film-Thickness-Measurement Systems became essential for the manufacture of advanced microchips, and his company became extremely successful as a result.