Oral History Transcript — Dr. Herbert Anderson
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Session I | Session II
Hoddeson:It’s January 16, 1981, and this is Lillian Hoddeson and Alison Kerr with Herb Anderson at Los Alamos about to begin session 2 of an oral history interview. We stopped last time after discussing the early papers you wrote on electronics for the cyclotron, before Fermi’s arrival at Columbia. You said there was a story that ought to be told.
Anderson:Well, first it’s probably worth saying at this point that I was a beginning Graduate student; in fact when I started out I wasn’t even in the Physics Department. So I was really only beginning. (Oh, you know what I forgot I found that notebook was in my home.)
Anderson:I’m impressed myself with the nice notes I took then; I can’t do that again. I was then a beginning graduate student in the Physics Department and very busy taking courses and, just for the record, when I entered the Physics Department, Andy Lawson and I became roommates. He went into solid state, and he began to work for Quimby and I was working for Dunning, it turned out. It was originally Dana Mitchell, but then Mitchell got his PhD and Dunning needed me for the cyclotron. I became Dunning’s research assistant and then more or less agreed to do my doctor’s dissertation with the cyclotron when it was built under Dunning. That had essentially all been settled. Let’s see, in 1936 I got my so-called BS in EE and I moved into the Physics Department. I was a teaching assistant in the beginning and I helped with lecture demonstrations. You asked what courses I liked best, and I said probably the one that was most important for me was the course in quantum mechanics under Rabi and then I did tell you that many of the lecture were given by Julian Schwinger who was one of the students and we now know how good he is. That surprised me.
Hoddeson:After you had worked on these papers having to do with the cyclotron, the electronics, did you continue in that same direction until Fermi came? Or was there something else in between?
Anderson:Fermi arrived early in 1939 and a lot of that is written down in the paper you might have. I wrote something in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and then it was ultimately published in the book with Jane Wilson. So that article is in there which spells out a lot about that period when Fermi arrived. It starts with Fermi arriving. Anyway, just before that, I mean before Fermi’s arrival, already in 1938, I was beginning to get ready for my PhD thesis and so when the cyclotron was essentially finished, but not working all that well, I had already begun, under Dunning’s direction, more or less, to build the nuclear physics detectors of the time which was called “ionization chamber and linear amplifier.” Dunning took particular pride in having built one of these and I built one too. Well, since I built it, it really was his. So he had one which I built, but then I built it with the idea of doing some experiment with it and the experiment that I had in mind was not all that great. It had to do with scattering neutrons from protons to do kind of a fundamental scattering experiment.
Hoddeson:Who developed the ionization counter?
Anderson:Well, you tax my knowledge. Ionization chambers were well known, but the idea that you could amplify the pulse of ionization enough to make a signal which would then be seen on a cathode-ray oscilloscope and used to be counted with the so-called scale of two circuits of the day —? In those days they had counting circuits, flip-flop circuits based on thyrotrons. The guy who built the first linear amplifier for an ionization chamber was named Watt Williams. He was somebody at Cambridge.
Anderson:His name was Watt-Williams. I think it was hyphenated; I could look it up. I guess I never met him. I was just trying to think whether his name was later associated with the development of radar or not, but I’m not sure. But he was a great expert in electronics in the Rutherford Laboratory. We could look him up. Anyway Dunning saw this and he said that he wanted one. And I built one.
Hoddeson:So you were really right at the edge of the technology.
Anderson:Yes, that was right at the edge of technology. And then I had to think what would I do with this thing. Well, having built that amplifier and the ionization chamber for an experiment that I wanted to do, I of course was in the best possible position to look at fission when fission was announced, because I had just the right apparatus. I didn’t build a cyclotron, but I had been involved in that, so I had the machine that could make neutrons and I had the best detector known at the time for looking at fission. So I would say that when you work in physics you have to be lucky, you have to be at the right place at the right time. In fact, there’s a famous passage that I uncovered for the purpose and that is “fortune favors the prepared mind.” You know, you have to be in the right place at the right times. Columbia was the foremost American University working with neutrons in all of the world, you see, because Dana Mitchell and Dunning and people had gotten interested in neutrons early on, as soon as they were discovered, as I told you. And neutrons were what were needed in fission. Furthermore, we had just finished the cyclotron, it was just beginning to work. And the cyclotron is a very copious source of neutrons so we had, so to speak, not as powerful a generator as maybe Lawrence had at Berkeley, but it had been built for neutron research because that’s all that the people there were really interested in. They thought neutrons were wonderful. So then, I had the best detector, just finished making it and it was working just great for detecting the fission of uranium. In fact, I did the whole thing in one day when the news arrived. In fact, that was always a very amusing story because what had happened was that Niels Bohr came to this country (he had escaped from the Nazis, you know, and had been flown out of Denmark into London). There’s a marvelous story about that.
Hoddeson:Where can I find that story of his escape?
Anderson:There’s a marvelous story written in Physics Today. There had been a symposium of the history of fission in which Otto Frisch, who was one of the early guys in fission, told his story.
Hoddeson:Right. I studied that at one point.
Anderson:So he told the story about how he was in Sweden and Lise Meitner was his aunt and they started talking and –
Hoddeson:And then drew patterns in the snow.
Anderson:Well, then he, of course, was really working in Copenhagen.
Hoddeson:And he told Niels Bohr, just as Niels Bohr was leaving and Bohr and Rosenfeld worked out the mechanism of the fission on the boat coming to the U. S.
Anderson:Yeah, well it was so close to what Niels Bohr had been working on for 20 years, the liquid drop model. And it was the first very clear case. See, he had this notion that a nucleus was like a liquid drop but it was pretty hard. But fission was just the perfect thing for that theory. So he was enormously excited. I mean here was an idea that he had and all of a sudden fission comes along which was just clearly a liquid drop being excited so the pieces came apart, and you can imagine how excited Bohr was when he’s always had this idea of liquid drops in a very fuzzy way. All of a sudden an experiment gets done which shows he’s right. Incredibly exciting. Well anyway, he was so excited about it in fact, that when he came in his boat and landed in New York, he immediately told Fermi, no, he didn’t tell Fermi. That was wrong; Fermi wasn’t there, but he was met by…
Hoddeson:I thought he was met by Fermi.
Anderson:Met by Fermi?
Hoddeson:I think he was met by Fermi, but there were a lot of other people there.
Anderson:That’s right. There were lots of other people.
Hoddeson:It wasn’t appropriate to discuss right then and there.
Anderson:Well, I’ve given talks about that and I’ve tried to correct my own impression, but in fact, the tape recording is of that talk that I gave on the history of the chain reaction. And I had my own idea about what happened and that always impresses me for historians. After all, you don’t remember anything. How can you be sure that what you remember is right?
Anderson:I don’t understand this business of memory. I mean you sit and listen and you listen to me and you believe what I tell you. But it’s only in my head.
Hoddeson:No, I don’t believe what you tell me.
Anderson:Good for you.
Hoddeson:I take it as your memory of what happened and then that needs to be double-checked with other people’s memories and with papers and so on, but it’s one factor that is fed in.
Anderson:Anyway, I’m always persuaded that people who just remember things are thoroughly unreliable. So I gave this talk which turned out to be a very popular talk and I gave it maybe ten times at various places and once I gave it, I think, in Madison, Wisconsin, and Heinz Barschall said I remembered it wrong, it wasn’t that way. And so he wrote me a letter to tell me how it really happened. He had been a graduate student, so what I’ve come to believe as a result – not of my own memory because I wasn’t at the boat; I have a notebook in which I wrote a lot of these things down – is that on a certain day Niels Bohr arrived in Pupin Lab at Columbia and he was looking for Fermi and he came down to the cyclotron room and he didn’t find Fermi, but I was there and so he said, “Oh, young man, I’d like to tell you about fission.” So I said, “Fine.” I was stupefied. Here was the greatest physicist in the world and he comes over to you and says “explain to me about fission.” And Bohr, when he talks to you, he talks in a whisper. So what he does is, he practically hugs you and speaks in your ear, so it’s a very close encounter. And I was overwhelmed by all that. But anyway he explained to me about fission and here I was, listening to Bohr while he is explaining all this. And so I said, “Gee whiz, how much more exciting a thesis than the one I’m doing which is hardly imaginative at all.” And of course, it was exactly, as he was going on, the greatest kind of a thesis I could do, work on fission and I’m all set. I have everything that it takes. So, as soon as Bohr left, as he was on his way to Washington to a theoretical conference…
Hoddeson:Oh yes, the Eastern Theoretical Physics Conference.
Anderson:And so he had to catch a train, so I knew where Fermi was; he was in his office on the 7th floor. It was just that Bohr didn’t come to the right place. So I, of course, had met Fermi before; he had just arrived, and on a previous occasion while I was a graduate student he had come and given a course of lectures on thermodynamics which I took and geophysics which I took when I was still a student. And I’d met him and so nothing like having a reason to talk to one of the really great guys who knew more about neutrons than anybody in the whole world. He’d just gotten the Nobel prize for that, for his discoveries on slow neutrons. And so any excuse to meet Fermi I immediately rose to. So I rushed up to his office.
Hoddeson:His office was on the 8th floor?
Anderson:7th. 8th floor was the departmental office. I was in there and I said “Professor Bohr was looking for you and he wanted to tell you about fission.” So Fermi says, “Let me tell you about fission.” Then he described it, and then I really understood it. With Bohr, it didn’t make any sense to me at all. But when Fermi explained it, he really made it very clear. He knew, he’d already heard about it. With Fermi, all you have to know is to tell him what to think about and he knows how to take it from there and work everything out. Incredible capacity for working out any idea and very fast – ten or twenty minutes or so he understood what had to be done. So he explained the whole thing and with mass defect and all that sort of thing. And I then said “Gee, you know this is terrible exciting” and then I said, “You know, you’ve just come here and you don’t have any apparatus. But I do; I have a cyclotron, I have a linear amplifier and an ionization chamber. I have everything that it takes to see fission. Why don’t we work together. You know, I’m just a student but I have all the apparatus.” Fermi thought that sounded like a great idea to him. And so he said immediately, “Why don’t we go down to the cyclotron, we’ll take your ionization chamber, and instead of the electrode you have in it, we’ll coat it with uranium, and we’ll see if it’s really true that you have this fission because you should see an enormous pulse, 200 MeV instead of alpha particles. You should see this enormous pulse.” So, I said, “Great.” I went up and brought down my amplifier and we took the chamber apart and we coated it. We went to Dana Mitchell’s stockroom – he had everything there – and got out the uranium.
Hoddeson:He had uranium just in the stockroom?
Hoddeson:Was that easy to come by?
Anderson:Well, he had a lot of chemicals. He had most elements. I actually have a collection of most every element. It’s something you collect, you know. So we got this uranium oxide and went down to the cyclotron. And of course, as you might expect, the cyclotron wasn’t working. It was one of its bad days. It had lots of bad days in the early days. And so I remembered it was a great neutron lab so it had a lot of these so-called radon-beryllium neutron sources all on the 13th floor and that’s what I used to work with when I worked with Dana Mitchell.
Hoddeson:That was pre-cyclotron.
Anderson:Yes, pre-cyclotron. And they still had that because that research was still going on. People hadn’t converted to the cyclotron by any means, you see. The cyclotron was just getting going. And so I said, “Why don’t we get one of these neutron sources.” And we brought it down and instead of the cyclotron we put in one of these old-fashioned neutron sources.
Hoddeson:Are these, by the way, considered dangerous to carry around now, these neutron sources? Can you just carry it in your hand without protection?
Anderson:No, you carry it in lead.
Hoddeson:Was it well protected in those days?
Anderson:Oh, we know all these things.
Hoddeson:You did know?
Anderson:Oh, yes. So that, in fact, as soon as you started working with them you had film badges. I have film badge records that go back to, I can’t tell you – well when I started working in the Physics Department. We used to get film badges. We had a connection with Memorial Hospital who had 4 grams of radium, and then they would collect the radon which they would put in seeds for treating tumors in cancer patients. That was already recognized as the way you dealt with cancerous tumors. You injected. They had a big supply of radium and then they would collect the radon gas and put it in tiny gold seeds and use that for treating patients with tumors. The surgeon would just put them in and there was carefully calculated —. In fact, Mrs. Quimby was a radiotherapist. She had a job at Memorial Hospital. She was a physicist. I don’t know whether you knew Mrs. Quimby; she’s a fantastically lovely lady. She was really very good. She was in that group. And whenever they had some left over, the deal was that we would get it and the point is that the radium is always giving its radon, and you’d milk that every four days, or something like that. I forget now, whatever the lifetime, and the arrangement was that although they had first priority, we would get these little bulbs of radon sealed off in the system, and then we would bring them over and we would put them in our own little tube which had the beryllium around it. In fact, that’s how I got berylliosis.
Hoddeson:You got that in that period?
Anderson:I think so.
Hoddeson:Was that deal worked out between Memorial Hospital and Columbia because of Mrs. Quimby?
Anderson:Oh, no. You know we had Pegram. He was the smoothest operator.
Hoddeson:So he knew probably worked that out.
Anderson:He was absolutely the smoothest operator. He could work out anything. He was just absolutely smooth. He was a Southern gentleman. You can’t imagine how effective he was. He spoke in a slow – he was the truest kind of gentleman you can imagine. I mean he could do anything just with sweet talk. He’ll come back later on. So we went up and actually recorded some of these pulses we saw. I may not have the story quite right, because I think what actually happened was that Fermi had to leave and Dunning came in and then Dunning wanted to work with me right away. I’ll have to try to remember that. I think I have it written in my notebook.
Hoddeson:That would be great fun. In fact, it would be fun to get a Xerox of a couple of pages.
Anderson:Yeah, I have the notebook. I’ll try to remember.
Hoddeson:That would be a nice little insert.
Anderson:I’m trying to remember whether they ever got into print at all. I still have that notebook in which we would count by hand these fissions and, but as I recall now, Fermi also had to go to this meeting. So he had to leave before I brought down these radon sources. And Dunning had arrived.
Hoddeson:He had to go to Washington.
Anderson:He had to go to the Washington meeting.
Anderson:And Dunning arrived. He said, “What are you doing?” and I told him and he says, “Well, I’ll help you.” And so anyway, then it was with Dunning that we did that. And we saw the fission. Well, Dunning immediately dispatched a telegram to Fermi telling him that we’d seen these big fission pulses. So, what happened, of course, was that although it was supposed to be a theoretical meeting, Bohr of course got up and made this big speech about the discovery of fission, and there was enormous excitement, and Fermi, equipped with Dunning’s telegram, got up and he told about how his colleagues had already seen it. Then everybody went out to their telephones, to call whoever there was back home to look for fission. Every lab in the country had somebody who was even close. I don’t know who called whom, but whoever was at the conference called his experimental colleague Merle Tuve, who was already in Washington and had Van der Graff immediately rushed out to see if they could see it too. So in those days, experiments took a day, you see.
Hoddeson:I understand Bohr felt some embarrassment about…
Anderson:…giving Frisch away.
Hoddeson:Because Frisch and Lise Meitner had thought of the idea of fission, and Bohr felt that Frisch ought to be first to do the experiment. Whose experiment was first?
Hoddeson:Frisch did actually do it first?
Anderson:Yes, he did so it first. All I can claim is, first in America, but he had already done it.
Hoddeson:So yours was the second time that it was observed, probably.
Anderson:There’s no question about that. It was the second time. But it was the first in America. I have only one claim I can make, first in America. Frisch had done it. Actually, in the time that it took for the ship to go—(you know, people went by ship then)—about four or five days, so Frisch was very fast and he set it up. Frisch also was a great expert in these same kinds of amplifiers.
Hoddeson:Did he do it the same way?
Anderson:Yes, pretty much.
Hoddeson:They didn’t have a cyclotron?
Anderson:No, but they had these neutron sources. I don’t remember exactly how they did it. No, there were essentially no cyclotrons in Europe. The cyclotron was originated in America, by Lawrence. And so we were building the second, really. Livingston and Lawrence started out with little tiny ones and built up, so by the time Lawrence had one of these, we also had one of these, but by then it was beginning to spread. Anyway we had one and it was one of the few that were available. They hadn’t spread to Europe yet.
Hoddeson:Well, I know that by 1935 or so they were building one in Japan, and I think Copenhagen; that was the second one, the first one to be built outside of the US. I don’t think it was finished, but they had started to build it.
Anderson:You know people had started building them.
Hoddeson:Then I think Copenhagen was perhaps the third, but I don’t know the date on that. I don’t know when it was finished. But you don’t remember what he used for a neutron source?
Anderson:No, I don’t, really.
Hoddeson:Well, we can look it up in the papers.
Anderson:Frisch has described all of this in the Physics Today article.
Hoddeson:Were you and other people already aware at that time of the tremendous implication of fission? Were there any thoughts at that early time of the pile and bombs and so on?
Anderson:Oh yes, because whenever I give this talk on the history of physics, one of the things I do is read the news release of Watson Davis to Science News, the same day, January 26, 1939, published in Science News. And that then was in the newspapers, and there was this guy Lawrence who worked for the New York Times who got terribly interested in this, and there were big headlines in the Times, and then Life Magazine took it up. It was taken up the same day. The next day there were already news releases and all over the world, and they were talking about, enough energy being released so that you could blow a hole in Long Island one mile long and half a mile wide. It was immediately recognized—I guess more, the more spectacular thing was not the nuclear power, but the bomb. That it could blow up things.
Hoddeson:Now, of course it wasn’t yet known whether or not a chain reaction could be set off .
Anderson:No, no, nothing was known, but all they did was calculate.
Hoddeson:If enough neutrons came off?
Anderson:Yes. There were lots of ifs and buts, you see, but the point is, you could calculate from the energy release that if you could take a pound of Uranium and have it all go this way, you could calculate how much energy would be released—and that’s equivalent to enormous numbers of tons of TNT. So you make that calculation. It was ‘39, there was not yet a war, but there were war clouds.
Hoddeson:Certainly. Was there any attempt to hold it back at that time from the enemy? Because already by then there was an enemy. I mean, it was not exactly an enemy because US hadn’t gone to war yet.
Anderson:No, there was not. This was an international conference and physics was still free. In fact, as you may know, my PhD thesis was the first paper ever to be withheld from publication—for secrecy reasons.
Hoddeson:Yes, I want to get to that—I learned about that from your comment in Fermi’s Collected Works. Let’s see, this result of course then opened up a whole series of detailed questions about neutron.
Anderson:Yes. Well, you see, most people—and that of course is an important aspect—immediately everybody who had any means whatever to look at fission looked at it. And it all came back, and in fact, if you look up the Physical Review issue of a few weeks after that meeting, there were four or five papers already in Physical Review. You have to look at that issue, and you see all these papers, one from Berkeley, one from Tuve you know, everybody who had an accelerator to make neutrons did something and did something different and interesting. What happened was that when Fermi returned to Columbia, on Friday or Saturday— he actually left the meeting, he got so excited about it. The first thing he did was, he called me into his office and he said, “These are the things we have to do.” He made a list which I carefully wrote down in my notebook.
Hoddeson:Oh, I’d love to see that.
Anderson:All the things. Fermi said, “This is what we have to do. We don’t want to study the fission process; we want to look at the neutrons.” So he had right from the beginning, the first day—in fact he was the only one really—with the clear idea that if you wanted a chain reaction, and that obviously was something you had to go for, it was neutron reproduction. And so you had to measure, as soon as possible, how many neutrons came out of fission. So the list of experiments that he listed put that right on the top of the list. Of course the first experiment that Dunning wanted to do was to write a paper right away on fission, and so we all got down to the cyclotron and we did a lot of measurements and we published a paper.
Hoddeson:The fission of uranium paper?
Anderson:Yes, so that was the first paper.
Hoddeson:There’s a number of authors.
Anderson:With everybody. So, here are the authors, the people who built the cyclotron, which are myself, Booth, Dunning and Glasoe. Then Frances Slack who happened to be on a sabbatical that year and was working with Dunning and so he participated. And then Fermi, who of course had to be included, and who was particularly active actually. He did most of the—well, in fact, you can almost see what in the paper was due to Fermi, and what in the paper was due to everybody else. You see, in here we make the admission that Frisch had done it first.
Hoddeson:Yes. Yes, I noted that.
Anderson:The parallel plate ionization chamber was the one I had built, you see, OK? and it had this layer that I’ve just described, and the linear amplifier, that was one—that I built—and then it described, now, it said—you see, Dunning of course wanted to say the cyclotron did it. The fact of the matter is, it was done with the radon beryllium source, first, and then the next day with the cyclotron. So here it’s explained, this is the way Dunning would have been able to write the paper. He probably wrote that. Now, what Dunning wouldn’t know how to do, you see, is how to get a cross-section out of that, and that would be something that Fermi would insist on. He said, “You don’t only want to see the effect, which is spectacular, and talk about that. What’s important is to know quantitatively how frequently it occurs. And so these numbers, 2 10-24 square centimeters, (which is wrong by a factor of 2 by the way), was the first real measurement of a cross-section of fission. And in a certain sense, it shows that it was a thermal neutron process. Fermi was always strong on getting numbers. That’s what he was always after. He knew that physics is a quantitative subject; you have to get numbers, so that was always first in his mind. You know, you don’t go around just looking at effects. You stay there until you see what the numbers are like. And then the idea that it follows the 1/? law, would be something that Fermi would immediately deduce, and so he immediately connected all of that. Now, interestingly enough, there’s a separate experiment reported here recoil fragments was really done by probably by Boothe and Glasoe.
Hoddeson:This is the last paragraph.
Anderson:It is separate, really a separate experiment. In fact, the group, although they look as though they worked together, really did different things.
Hoddeson:Who wrote the paper? Or did you each write your own part?
Anderson:Well, I don’t remember.
Hoddeson:It’s not a very long paper.
Anderson:I don’t remember how it came about. I can’t remember that. Dunning would want to write a paper right away, (this I’m just deducing from the personality)—got to get into print right away. This is February 16th. It’ a one month after, no, less than one month; two weeks, two and a half weeks. So he says, “We’ve got to get out there first,” and so he would start to write the paper. Then he’d go talk to Fermi about it, and Fermi would add some words. I’m sure I didn’t. They probably never even talked to me. I have no recollection.
Kerr:I have a question. Is the term cross-section used in that paper? I wondered where the term came from, If fission had just been discovered.
Anderson:Oh no, it’s not originated here by any means. It’s a term that’s connected with, any process in which collisions between particles take place. And although such processes were already invoked in the very early days when people were just setting electrons against atoms, cross-section is really a measure of how big the target is.
Kerr:So it was just the logical word to use.
Anderson:Well, they always measured cross-sections. That’s what we do, you know. That’s what physicists do. Particle physics and, a certain class of physicist, that’s their business: they measure cross-sections. And all the people in P division, not all but a fair fraction, just measure cross-sections.
Hoddeson:Was Szilard around then?
Anderson:No. That’s its own interesting story. Szilard wasn’t here at that time. He showed up very soon. You see, the Szilard story is that, when he got the news of fission-
Hoddeson:He was just living near Columbia at that time?
Anderson:No. I have to get it a little straight, but I think, he was really at Rochester, and he was visiting Wigner I think, at Princeton, and when he heard about fission, he says, “There’s only one place to be, and that’s where Fermi is.” And so he just showed up. He went to Pegram and said, he wanted to work here at Columbia, and would Pegram give him some sort of position? He said, you didn’t have to pay him, but he wanted to have an official connection with Columbia and he wanted to be where Fermi was. That’s a whole story in itself, the relationship between Fermi and Szilard. A very interesting story, but anyway Szilard, of course, being one of the smartest guys in the world, also realized that neutrons were the thing. But of course Fermi already had me, and so he got hold of Wally Zim, and talked Wally Zim into doing experiments.
Hoddeson:Szilard got a hold of Wally Zim.
Anderson:And worked with Wally Zim,
Hoddeson:There were two groups.
Anderson:There were two groups, and if you look at this paper… Anderson and
Hoddeson:The “ Production of Neutrons…”
Anderson:You have to look a little earlier. Ni, it says is here.
Hoddeson:This is the same paper.
Anderson:No, but there’s an earlier one. Here you are.
Hoddeson:Yes, this is on page 5 of the Collected Works of Enrico Fermi, the comments by Herb Anderson .
Anderson:Yes. Well, Szilard showed up. It mentions here how he showed up. But this, of course wouldn’t have it, but in the book that now exists on the Collected Works of Leo Szilard; you’ll see the other aspect. Szilard got together with Wally Zim, who had a different kind of neutron source. He’d built what’s called the D-D source. You accelerate deuterons and you hit a deuteron target, and that makes neutrons. So, he persuaded Wally Zim to look for neutron production in fission with this source, but quite independently. He did that, and then that takes off.
Hoddeson:I just wanted to know what Szilard’s role was. This is all connected. We’d like to get the background of these works.
Anderson:Well, Szilard’s role was sort of indicated there, because when we were executing Fermi’s program, which was a program that had nothing whatever to do with the cyclotron, just using these radon beryllium sources, and to look for neutron production in uranium, Szilard was sort of a step ahead of Fermi, in that he came around, he said, “Well, you’ve done a nice experiment, but you know, you use this radon beryllium source, and those neutrons have a high energy, and how do you know that the production that you see is due to fission and not due to an end to end process?” Then he says, “By the way, I happen to have a neutron source of much lower energy. We should work together.” Actually what he did is, he offered the source to Fermi, and we repeated the experiment, with Szilard’s photo neutron source. You have to look up the original papers, to get properly reminded.
Hoddeson:It must be in this section earlier, here. Because this is the right—
Anderson:—OK, so, here we did this. And then you see.
Hoddeson:This is the paper on the production of neutrons.
Anderson:OK, here it already says, you see, we found neutrons, and Szilard had already done an experiment. This resulted in agreement with the direct observations of Szilard and Zim. The two papers were published essentially side by side.
Hoddeson:Right. Yes, same paper, I marked that carefully.
Anderson:So you see, he’d already come to Columbia, talked to Pegram, got himself appointed as a something, some title, and then he talked Zim into working on his experiment. And already —you know, this is weeks now, not months or years, but weeks—already he had done a perfectly good experiment with Zim. It’s curious that in this paper, which I may have had a role in writing, essentially over Fermi’s signature, we mention that we repeated the experiment with photo neutrons emitted from a block of beryllium,—we got that from Szilard and didn’t even thank him. Oh yes, here, “we are indebted to the ”—we asked Szilard if we should thank him and he said, “No, thank the Association for Scientific Collaboration.”
Kerr:What was that? I spotted that.
Anderson:That was a Szilard invention. It was him.
Hoddeson:Oh. Why did he prefer that?
Anderson:Well, he was a very devious person. And you know, he really didn’t have any money, but he had some friends who were rich and who admired him. You know, he could go around and he could impress anybody. He was one of these guys who knew, who could discuss any subject. He was really a remarkable guy. We have people at Columbia who used to admire Szilard no end. Now I’m telling stories. He said, “You know,” we arranged a meeting between Szilard and Konrad Lorenz, who is this great guy who won the Nobel Prize for animal behavior, and in the course of the discussion, Szilard looked as though he knew more about it than Konrad Lorenz. The guy I just had to admit that he brought up points and views and insights that this guy who was, the Nobel Prize winner (or became—he wasn’t so at the time)—he was just deeply impressed. It’s just that Szilard knew more about anybody else’s subject than anybody else. That was his typical approach. You get in a room. You put two together, Szilard on one side and some other guy—name anybody—and pretty soon you’re listening to Szilard. He’s telling all the really important things. He was really—no simple person, who can come to the chairman of the department, get appointed in the department, and in a less than two weeks get into an experiment with somebody else and get it done and publish it at the same time as somebody who is officially in a position to do it. Fermi was well established. He was new, but—we had everything going for us. Szilard came in out of the blue sky.
Hoddeson:I noticed on the first page of that paper, it says “It is conceivable that the splitting of the uranium nucleus may have associated with it the emission of neutrons.” That indicates that it was by no means clear that any neutrons were emitted.
Anderson:Oh, no, no. Nobody knew that.
Hoddeson:Nobody knew that yet, they were talking about bombs!
Anderson:Without understanding it, you see. The point is that Szilard understood it. You know, there’s a story about Szilard I have written up.
Hoddeson:Which one? About the book he had read by H.G Wells?
Hoddeson:That’s a wonderful story.
Anderson:That’s a wonderful story. If you want to do your homework for this interview, you have to go and read a book by H.G. Wells, which is called The World Set Free. That’s required reading, and if you aren’t thrilled by that book, you have no business being in this business, I must say. You know, it’s really fantastic, a fantastic thing.
Hoddeson:I haven’t read it yet.
Anderson:Well, shame on you. It’s required reading.
Anderson:Get a copy. It’s not a very big story. It’s almost required reading for anybody that’s at Los Alamos, actually, because it predicts Los Alamos in 1913. The whole thing. It’s all written up, all described, the whole thing, the whole history, is written up in that book. You know? In 1913. The whole thing. Well, Szilard had read this thing, see, and so, according to Szilard, he says, Szilard’s story was that in 1935, I’m not sure of the date, he had read in the London Times a report of a speech that had been given by Rutherford at the Royal Academy, in which Rutherford said that anybody who talks about king power from the nucleus…
Hoddeson:… is talking moonshine.
Anderson:Is talking moonshine. I believe that’s the word. I only know this second hand, too. So Szilard says, “You know, when anybody says something is moonshine,” that’s when he gets interested. And so, he says, he was about to cross the street at Piccadilly Circus but the light was red. When the light turned green, he’d figured out how to do it. He realized all the implications instantly and decided he would patent this idea and so he wrote a patent on the idea of a chain reaction, and then he thought—we don’t want irresponsible people to know about this patent. But nevertheless he wanted it in the record that he’d invented it? So he said, “What shall I do? I know what I’ll do. I’ll make it a patent and deposit it in the British Admiralty. Then it will be kept secret and nobody will ever hear about it but it will be there.” And that’s what he did. The patent exists, but nobody heard about it. It was kept secret. And then, when Bohr announced fission and Szilard, who was somehow at a meeting with Wigner, heard about it, he said, “That’s it. That’s my invention.” He immediately knew this was the thing he was looking for. His own idea, which was pre-fission, was based on the fact that there was a process, which he knew, in beryllium, in which one neutron goes in and two come out. He figured out that would work, but then it turned out that somebody had measured the masses wrong, and so it turned out that that idea of using beryllium was not a way of multiplying neutrons, which he appreciated was the essential ingredient. He just had the wrong stuff and then somebody made a mistake in the number, which then got later corrected. It was Dempster, at Chicago, who’d made the mistake. One of the classic mistakes. I don’t remember now, I think it was Dempster. Anyway the mistake was corrected and then it turned out that it wouldn’t go that way, but it pretty close. If Nature had willed otherwise, we would be doing fission chain reacting with beryllium and not with uranium. But, Nature didn’t have it that way. But when fission was discovered, Szilard said, you know, this fission—certainly neutrons will boil off. He immediately understood exactly what might happen, and decided without wasting a moment, just to come to Columbia and get himself a position and start some experiments. His main idea, though, was to be close to Fermi, so that you have somebody to discuss things with.
Hoddeson:We’ve got a series of papers that are all on neutrons. Maybe we can discuss them all together. There’s the one we just spoke about and then there’s the one on simple capture of neutrons by uranium, which, this is a paper that you wrote with Fermi on neutron production but absorption in uranium.
Anderson:OK. The interesting comment that I should probably make at this juncture is that, I once ran a symposium, a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the first chain reacting pile. I always hate to be reminded of it; one of the things I promised to do was to write a book on that. So I have an enormous amount of material in my file.
Hoddeson:Where’s this file? Where’s this collection of material?
Anderson:Right next door. (Indicating next office)
Anderson:An enormous amount of material. What brings this to mind is that, while all this was going on, you know, Fermi and I and Szilard and Zim were doing what I considered to be the crucial experiments for the chain reacting pile. Nobody else in this country was following neutrons. They followed everything else but. And some won some Nobel Prizes by doing that. Ed McMillan and Glenn Seaborg, won Nobel Prizes for finding plutonium, neptunium, and all these things, but that was part of fission process, so to speak. But Fermi had his eye directly on the chain reaction and so did Szilard, and they were just doing experiments right down that line, you see. You just have to see if it’s going to work. At the same time, in France, Konarski, Joliot and Fernando were doing the same thing, always two weeks ahead of us. Always publishing in Nature, the British magazine. We were publishing in Physic Review Letters and there thing was always dated two weeks ahead every time. They were completely independent, but we would measure a thing this way and they had already measured it. It’s really phenomenal.
Hoddeson:How come they had an edge? What gave them the edge? Was it Joliot?
Anderson:Well, probably Joliot.
Hoddeson:He just had tremendous energy, I gather.
Anderson:Enormous energy. I never, I guess I’ve seen him but I’ve never met him. He must have been awfully good. It couldn’t have been the other two, who were pretty good guys, but—well, you know what they say about Joliot.
Anderson:Well, he missed the discovery of the neutron. And so, it then got discovered by Chadwick, and then people say, “Don’t worry, you’ll discover something else,” and he did, the next year: he discovered artificial radioactivity. He was the kind of a guy who could just make one discovery after the other and did, but occasionally he missed one. I thought that’s amusing, when somebody can come to you and say, “You may have missed this one, but don’t worry, next year…”
Hoddeson:“Next year you’ll get one.” Right. Is there anything to say really about these papers which follow in sequence in the Collected Works of Fermi on the properties of the neutron?
Anderson:You’ll always see that we say that. I mean, there’s always a reference.
Hoddeson:Yes, but you see, there’s certainly a reference to von Halbon, Joliot and Kowarski …
Anderson:—always a reference, it’s incredible. But where they ultimately fell down—well, in the first place, the Nazis moved into France, so their work was wrecked by the war. In the second place, they—well, they didn’t have— the great thing here was that Szilard and Fermi, and that’s an interesting thing, but anyway, Szilard, after this experiment—
Hoddeson:—the neutron production and absorption in uranium—
Hoddeson:—that, I gather, is THE crucial experiment here?
Hoddeson:It’s one of the crucial experiments.
Anderson:That’s the crucial experiment and that proved that you couldn’t make a chain reaction with water. And then Szilard said, “Graphite’s the thing.”
Hoddeson:This proved that you could not make a chain reaction with water because it didn’t slow it down enough?
Anderson:No, because there was too much capture of the neutrons by hydrogen. And then after that experiment, Szilard realized that, and then there’s a lovely exchange of letters between Fermi and Szilard. I think I have some of those.
Anderson:Yes, they’re in the—someday I’ll write up the story.
Hoddeson:Well, save the file. We should make a note of this.
Anderson:Oh, I’ve saved it. I’ve saved it, I’ve saved it. In fact, we had at this meeting, this anniversary meeting, a man by the name of Alexander Sachs.
Hoddeson:Oh, I know who he was.
Anderson:You know who Alexander Sachs was?
Hoddeson:He was one of these friends of Szilard who—wasn’t he the one who gave Szilard access to Roosevelt?
Anderson:Yes. You see, Szilard wanted to get the graphite—well, this comes a little later in the story, but Szilard wanted to get this graphite, and you know that takes some money, and moreover, he was so convinced that if you had graphite you could make a chain reaction and then ultimately you’d make a bomb, and he felt this was so important that it had to get to the President. But he didn’t know the President. In fact, he was an enemy alien. So how should he do it? Well, he knew Alexander Sachs and Alexander Sachs was an economist with Lehman Brothers, and an intimate, economic advisor to every President—not only Roosevelt, but before and after, they always called him in for advice. And Szilard decided that he would have to get to know Alexander Sachs, because he was the right guy to get him an introduction to Roosevelt. And so he actually got introduced to him and of course made his usual overwhelming impression, and pretty soon Alexander Sachs was willing to do anything he asked. So Szilard went to him and said he had to do this, and so Alexander Sachs said, “Well, I don’t know you so very well, but I do know Albert Einstein, and if you can get a letter signed by Albert Einstein, I’ll take that to Roosevelt.” Well, nothing could have been easier for Szilard than to get a letter from Albert Einstein, because they had mutual patents. You know, Szilard was a great patent guy, and Einstein used to work in a patent office. Together there exist patents, Einstein and Szilard, on all kinds of devices such as you can’t imagine. Then there’s the story actually that Edward Teller loves to tell about how he was the messenger boy who took Szilard letter to Einstein because Szilard doesn’t drive. That’s a story that Edward likes to tell. That’s the greatest story in the world, how he was the messenger boy for Szilard.
Hoddeson:Then that resulted in the Einstein letter to Roosevelt…
Anderson:Well, it was written by Szilard. He wrote the letter, and then he wrote a long letter and a short letter, and he gave Einstein the choice, of choosing which of the two he should sign. He said, “You can sign either one.”
Hoddeson:And Einstein chose the short one?
Anderson:I think he did the short one.
Hoddeson:What about the graphite? You started telling us about the graphite. Did Alexander Sachs have something to do with the graphite?
Anderson:Well, that’s a story which I only got out of the official history. Hewitt and Rudison. Szilard at some point decided that he should recall all these things, and he didn’t have anybody like you to talk to. He decided he would just talk into a tape recorder anyhow and tell the whole story, and that is in print.
Hoddeson:Is that his autobiography? Or something else?
Anderson:No. There is an article, of which I have a copy, in which he simply tells the story and it was published, and all this story about Rutherford and the moonshine and the red light and so on, that’s all out of Szilard’s own history of the subject which is written, I have it, written Anyway Mr. Alexander Sachs, who played this crucial role, turned out to be, an historian in his own way. He had written an enormous amount of material on the whole evolution—to him, the chain reaction was just, he’d already anticipated it, and so he was very insistent that I publish his writings in this symposium. Well, that almost threw me. I said, “Sure,” he was a lovely guy, and he made a great effort, and he was also very old. He died after a few years. I went to an enormous amount of trouble, because his language, was sort of like out of the Middle Ages. I have to show you his writing. And I wanted to get everything in some kind of uniform style, and it was almost impossible to do. I struggled. In fact, I even hired people to help me on that. There were some gals at Chicago—one of them is a Ruth Grossington.
Hoddeson:I’ve come across her name.
Anderson:She and Jean Bloch who were two ladies who employed themselves by doing editing, and so, I got somebody to give me some money. I said, “I’ve got this money and will you see what you can do with Alexander Sachs?” “And help me edit this thing so we can get the book published?” I had it all put together and I promised him it would go on, but the language—well, you’d have to see that.
Hoddeson:What happened to the book? Is it still in preparation?
Anderson:It’s still in preparation. You know, it’s something I’m going to do when I retire.
Hoddeson:—you could probably get some help from the history of science—
Anderson:—well, I had tried to do that, and what really got very discouraging is that I have all the material, and then I went to the University Press of Chicago. And the timing was just a little bad, because there was a time when I was very big in the University Press. I was on the board and I was the chairman of that board and everything, and they had a marvelous guy with whom I had a great rapport, and it would have been duck soup. But when this thing came out, he had retired, and they had a new director of the press, and I took it to him, and he was a much more hardnosed, and he said, “Well, we don’t publish this kind of collection of papers for people.” And that’s what threw a monkey wrench into it. He said, “If however you can rewrite the material so that it looks as though it’s all done by a single person, we might then publish it.” So I had to go along that line. These were lovely papers, which I still have. (crosstalk) Wigner and Zim and all kinds of people came and talked.
Hoddeson:I’d love to see that. I’m sure that another publisher would be very interested.
Anderson:Well, it exists as a complete thing. I can give you the full thing. But it doesn’t satisfy people who have to show some sort of profit.
Hoddeson:We’ll just keep it in the back of our minds. Let’s go on. So, Szilard got the graphite somehow?
Anderson:Well, then there’s that story about how he got the graphite.
Hoddeson:Right, and that we can get from the other, from his account. How he got the graphite.
Anderson:Yes. Well, you can get it out of Hewitt and Anderson.
Hoddeson:Or out of Ulart and Anderson. OK—
Anderson:That is not a personal recollection of mine.
Anderson:My personal recollection is the following. That after this experiment—Fermi went to Michigan, because there was a summer school there that he always used to go to, and lots of people went to Michigan for summer school, and he was scheduled to go there. And I didn’t have my PhD. This is all a distraction. So, Fermi said, “Why don’t you work on your Ph.D. and I’ll go to Michigan. We can’t do anything more until we get the graphite. When he came back, Szilard had already ordered the graphite, or gotten the money for it, and had rushed around, and began to procure it. The point is that Fermi went off to Michigan, and I was supposed to do my Ph.D., and I had the idea that one of the problems that came up in analyzing that experiment was a thing called a resonance absorption of neutrons by uranium, which then became my Ph.D. thesis. And Fermi said, “You do your thesis and I’ll do something else.” First he was going to go to Michigan. Then when he came back from Michigan, in the way that only Fermi can do, he said, “I’ll do theoretical work while you do your thesis.” “And I won’t interfere, you just go ahead and do the whole thing.” And so I began to do these experiments, and that’s a picture of me working on my thesis experiment.
Hoddeson:The thesis experiment grew out of Fermi’s estimate, that by lumping the uranium, you could get a reduction of the resonance?
Anderson:Yes. Now I felt that it was important to measure the resonance absorption to do an experiment for that. That looked like a good thesis subject, because that was the mechanism which inhibited the chain reaction, and so you had to measure it, and having measured it,—well, Fermi already had the idea that it would be reduced by lumping. But in any case, I thought, well, I need a thesis and I’ve got to do something all by myself, me, myself alone, and so I’ll measure this thing, and I had all the—I already knew how to do all that. And that was something I could do on the cyclotron, so I proceeded to do that, and Fermi said, “While you’re working on your experiment, I’ll do theory,” and so he did an incredibly difficult calculation which became just sort of a classic, an important—
Hoddeson:This is the paper on the absorption of mesotrons?
Anderson:Yes. So he just stopped experiments and let me go ahead and do my Thesis, and he did theory, OK. We would see one another, but we were quite separate and I did this thing, and I was working, getting data and so on, and then one day, the graphite arrived and he said “We have to go back to experiments now.” “Why don’t you write up—” I said, “I’m not finished yet.” He said, “Write it up anyhow.”
Hoddeson:Was he by then your advisor or was Dunning still your advisor?
Anderson:No, no, I made a deal in which Fermi would be my sponsor.
Anderson:We had to break away from Dunning. A delicate operation but we managed it. No, I instantly recognized that I wanted to work for Fermi, not for Dunning, because I always thought I knew more than Dunning. But I certainly didn’t know a tenth as much as Fermi did. So it was just very obvious, where I would learn.
Hoddeson:So you wrote your thesis.
Anderson:He said, “You stop to write it up. That’s an order.” So I said, “OK.” I wrote up everything as far as I’d gone. If I hadn’t been told to stop I would have gone on another six months. Of course, all these things you can prove and so on. The fact of the matter is that I did a whole research and write up in six months; it wasn’t so much of a record in those days, but it’s a little bit different from what it is today.
Anderson:I have graduate students that take xix years to do a thesis and write it all up. It’s a misery. Anyway, so I wrote it all up, and then by this time Szilard decided that any work on uranium should be kept secret, and so he had gone to Pegram and to all kinds of people to talk them into—because Pegram was a big wheel in the Physical Society, so you had to get the Physical Society to agree to accept the paper for publication, but not publish it. So Szilard needed an example of such a thing, so that he could tell, other people, “This is what we’re doing at Columbia.” And my thesis was just the thing, because here it was on the subject, it had already been written up—in fact, I had already sent it in to the Physical Review; I had already had the proof back, because one requirement for a Ph.D. is that you write a thesis and have it accepted for publication by the Physical Review. Otherwise you don’t get a Ph.D. So I’d been through all that. I wrote up the paper, I sent it in, I got back the proof, and then Pegram called me into his office one day and said, “Look, how about keeping your paper secret?” Well, that was quite a thing to ask of a young man. He said, “I will deposit in the University $75 to guarantee the ultimate publication of your paper, and I will certify that it’s a proper thesis, and you’ll get your Ph.D., but the paper won’t come out in print.” Well, I was always one to listen to my superiors and he seemed to make a good arrangement, and so I agreed. So I had the proof of the paper, and then only after the war did it get published. I always liked to see the thing get published so it ultimately did get published, but maybe three or four years late. And by that time it was practically out of date. Physics moved on. But anyway I did get my Ph.D.
Hoddeson:It’s interesting because it appeared in 1950, this paper which was received in 1940, “Resonance Capture of Neutrons by Uranium,” which is interesting.
Kerr:Wasn’t an abstract published in 1940? Yes.
Anderson:Yes, that was before the secrecy. I not only published an abstract, but I was always also somewhat public relations minded so I wrote it up for the Scientific Monthly and it had a very—
Hoddeson:—that’s this article here, “Progress in Harnessing Power from Uranium.”
Anderson:Yes. As soon as I started doing the experiments, I had this, and then I wrote this little article. That’s that picture. They came and took a picture and that’s why I had that.
Anderson:So, I already talked about my magnificent work. So—let’s see, it’s now 6 o’clock. Well, I’ll finish with one story, because I promised to tell you about Pegram.
Hoddeson:OK. I also had one small question; I wonder if we could also deal with, before going on, this story you told earlier about Szilard and Einstein. In Fermi’s Collected Works you mention on page 15 that Fermi had, along with Pegram, already tried to alert the government, before Einstein, about fission. But the whole story isn’t there, and I wonder if you could tell a little more about what happened? Did anything come of that?
Hoddeson:Here it says, “Introduced by a letter from Pegram,” this is on page 15, “Fermi had talked to Admira1 S.C. Hooper and a group of Navy men in Washington.”
Hoddeson:“Perhaps because of his and Pegram’s cautious language, no action followed.”
Anderson:Right. Well, the point is that, it’s just the great difference in the personalities. You know Fermi, the true scientist, would never say anything that he wasn’t pretty sure of. And so, when he had to go and tell them what the implications of all this would be, this group began asking Washington bureaucrats will—to find out whether it’s really solid and all that kind of thing, Fermi said, “Well, you know, you can’t be sure until we do certain experiments. That’s why we’re doing experiments, “he would say, “to find out whether we could.” So, he didn’t make a very good thing out of it. Fermi was never either dramatic or emphatic. You ask him a question, he gives you a clean simple correct answer in which he doesn’t ever tell you anything that isn’t the way it is. But Szilard is a different sort. He understands the nature of the people with whom he’s dealing, and he knows how he has to deal with them, and Szilard didn’t go direct to any of these guys. He went via the President of the United States. So when Szilard did it, the story is that Alexander Sachs, who was a sort of a secret economic advisor and would come in and have personal chats with President Roosevelt, and completely secret—nobody knew when he would come in and maybe have dinner with him, and he would tell him how the economic scene was. Then one day he came in with this thing, this letter, and as Sachs went out the door, Roosevelt said, “It will be done. I’ll take care of it.” Then what Roosevelt did was, he called in the head of the Bureau of Standards whose name was Briggs and said, “Organize a committee to look into this thing.” It came down the other way and it was completely different.
Hoddeson:I have one more question before we do the final story in this interview. And that is, in the acknowledgements of your thesis paper which was published in 1950 but written in 1940, you acknowledged the Research Corporation as well as the Work Projects Administration of New York.
Hoddeson:Were you still working under them? You mentioned that early, earlier when you were talking about experiments you did with Dana Mitchell.
Anderson:The WPA, I have to try to remember that—the Research Foundation of course was one of the foundations from which Dunning got money. He made application to the Research Corporation for building the cyclotron and for providing money. The Work Progress Administration, if I remember correctly, paid the salaries of some of the staff; I’m not exactly sure. They didn’t pay me. I was being paid under the department funds for teaching assistants or research. By that time I was a research assistant.
Hoddeson:Why don’t we conclude the interview with the story about Pegram. Then next time I would like to start with the experiment on the production and absorption of slow neutrons by carbon. This detailed experiment that you did with Fermi, and with the rhodium foils, and so on.
Anderson:Well, I’ve written that up.
Hoddeson:Then maybe, we can start with that and then go on from there to all the rest of your life.
Anderson:The point is that much of the stuff I wrote up was really stories about Fermi. I was always sort of a story teller, and I just thought he was a wonderful guy, and people love to hear about how Fermi was running down the hall, all that kind of thing, because he was so deeply enamored of doing physics and having a visceral feel for the whole thing. He liked to touch it himself. He was that kind of a guy and I tried to bring that out in these tales of him.
Hoddeson:Did he do any experimental work before he joined you at Columbia?
Hoddeson:When he was in Italy, he was both a theoretician and an experimentalist?
Anderson:Oh, haven’t you seen my famous film?
Hoddeson:Your famous film?
Anderson:Called “The World of Enrico Fermi”?
Hoddeson:Yes. Actually I saw that many years ago, but I don’t remember the details.
Anderson:(to Kerr) If you haven’t seen that film, it’s a must.
Kerr:How would I get my hands on it?
Anderson:I have it.
Hoddeson:It’s a great film.
Anderson:It’s really a great film. All you need is an 8 mm projector with sound, and I have it up there—
Hoddeson:Show it at your next party.
Anderson:You really could, absolutely—
Hoddeson:It’s a great film, could get the equipment?
Anderson:I’ve shown it here, actually, I’ve show it in P Division Auditorium, and it was standing room only, and I then had to show it in the big auditorium.
Hoddeson:OK, it probably would be safer if you kept it and then I could—get hold of it.
Anderson:Anyway it’s right here.
Hoddeson:So tell us the story about Pegram. You were going to tell us something about Pegram.
Anderson:Well, I then took the exam, and then with Pegram’s $75 deposit, and then, got my Ph.D., and then or day, about that time, Pegram came around to me and said, “Herbert, do you know anybody who has a Ph.D. in physics, who’s very good with electronics, and would like to have a job with a company who’s looking for such a person? There’s an Italian millionaire who’s got a company called Giannini, that I know, who asked if there was somebody like that around.” I said, “How about me? I need a job.” He said, “Oh no, not you, you’re going to stay here. I just wondered if you knew somebody else.” So I always say, nobody ever gave me a chance to get a job. I never was allowed to have another job, so to speak, because Pegram said, “Oh no, no, no, I’m not thinking about you, you’re going to stay here. Do you know anybody else?”
Anderson:Well, I didn’t really know anybody.
Hoddeson:So then you stayed.
Anderson:But I was so eager. This was the whole reason I went to college.
Hoddeson:To get a job.
Anderson:To get a job, you see. And here, you know, here I’d just gotten my Ph.D., and here was this new firm starting up, and they needed somebody just like me, and I would have been a huge success, I decided I probably would have been, and be a millionaire. So then I went and I discussed that with Fermi, you see. I said, “Well, here I have a chance to get this job, even though I am told that it wasn’t for me.” And Fermi said, “Well,” he said, “if you keep working with me, some day you will become the President of the Uranium Corporation of America. It will be a great thing and there’ll be a big business, and you of course will have a big position in this business, and just for want of another name, you’ll be the president. I expect you’ll be the president of the Uranium Corporation of America.” So I said, “OK, I’ll go along with you.” I never became the President of anything.
Hoddeson:But you did some very exciting physics; working with Fermi.
Anderson:I had the idea that I wanted to become a millionaire, but I didn’t. Well, always life has its own way of—
But then you would have been involved with money all the time instead of physics.
Session I | Session II