Oral History Transcript — Dr. Robert R. Wilson
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Robert Wilson; May 12, 1978
ABSTRACT: The interview focuses on the creation of Fermilab. Also discussed: early origins of Wilson's involvement in high energy physics, Cornell University, Princeton, Los Alamos, Harvard and University of California, Berkeley.
Hoddeson:Last time we discussed the controversy raised by your objections to the Berkeley design and some confrontations at conference that arose as a consequence. Iíd like to backtrack today just a bit, to the site selection that had been going on since 1965 when the AEC announced that it was seeking bids for a site for the worldís largest atom smasher 200 BeV. This lead to lots of proposals, lots of small groups visiting other laboratories, and in June to the formation of URA. Were you involved with the site selection?
Wilson:I donít remember having any particular interest. I do remember that after that advertisement that a group in upstate New York, perhaps from Syracuse, someone called me with the idea of putting forward a site near the Geneva Agricultural Station on one of those Finger Lakes and wanted me to back that as the site for the big machine and I was indignant I remember. I told them they were wasting their time to prepare a site proposal. It was just mischievous nonsense, something like that. I remember feeling strong that they shouldnít do it and that I didnít want to have any part of making a separate site proposal for New York State and wouldnĎt take part in it.
Hoddeson:At what stage did you get involved with the site or was it only after you were appointed or approached to be Director?
Wilson:I think it had nothing to do with the site at all during that period, that I can remember, not a thing. I was barely aware of it happening, I think.
Hoddeson:I have a question: When the Midwest/Illinois finally did get the site, why didnít they decide to build at Argonne? Couldnít they have saved a lot money, because there was an existing structure there, an existing cafeteria, housing and physics structure and so on? It seems they would have saved an awful lot of money if they built there.
Wilson:I have no idea. The State of Illinois put forward two or perhaps three separate sites and why they chose to put those particular sites forward, I suspect that they would meet the criteria that I believe that were put on some kind of document for the sites. For those people who wanted to submit a site for the selection process there were criteria. Perhaps Argonne was not large enough or independent enough. I donít know. It probably didnít meet one of the criteria. Iíve never heard that question raised before. It seems like an obvious one, you would have thought one would have heard about it but I never did. On the other hand the site, when I got into the business, the site had been selected, so that wasnít a possibility.
Hoddeson:No. In the meantime several other things were going on also that may or may not be relevant to the story that weíre trying to follow. One was Budkerís visit in August, 1976. (Should this be 1966?) Here are some papers pertaining to Budkerís visit to Ithaca.
Wilson:Must have come to the laboratory, um huh. I vaguely remember it. Wasnít he coming to some kind of meeting in this country? I do remember meeting Budker in Rochester at one of the Rochester Conferences on something.
Hoddeson:Letís look at the itinerary.
Wilson:Yes here, September 21, Rochester. Only that one day, probably not. Iím beginning to remember. I know that Budker and I became quite friendly. Iíd met him earlier in Russia when we first visited after the thaw of the Physicists in 1956. I remember Budker had all sorts of very bold ideas about how to build accelerators and I was supposed to have bold ideas, so we had quite a bond because of that. Then when he visited Cornell, he was very much impressed by the way we were building the Cornell machine — the very small apertures and the physicists working with their hands, he thought that was pretty good and was very enthusiastic and I believe one could see that that had a big effect because when I went to Novosibirsk eventually I could see that he had adopted many of the things we were doing at Cornell — our ideas, innovations and methods but, of course, he had added many of his own and he always, whenever he saw me referred to the fact that he was impressed by the visit and that we represented the same spirit of building things.
Hoddeson:Did he have a significant influence on you?
Wilson:His coming here had no effect on us. I say that arrogantly. His ideas were just in a different direction and they seemed at the time to me as rather impractical. He is subsequently having a big effect on Fermilab now because of his idea for electron cooling and that was completely separate from anything that we were talking about. Iíd always admired and respected him but I donít think he had much of an effect.
Hoddeson:Well, while weíre on the subject maybe you ought to tell me about that, the way in which he is influencing Fermilab not in connection with electron cooling.
Wilson:I think thatís a long story about history which is happening right now and still unfolding.
Hoddeson:I also notice here that there were some efforts to collaborate with the Russians at Serpukhov. Here in Ď66. Hereís a letter from Goldhaber. I wonder if anything came of it.
Wilson:I donít think so but, I draw a blank on it. Iím sure nothing came of this, but I think the correspondence here speaks for itself. Itís funny, itís something I donít remember at all. I think the correspondence tells the story and I canít add anything to that because Iíve forgotten all about it by now, probably because nothing came of it.
Hoddeson:Now here, this is just an official note indicating that you joined the Advisory Panel.
Wilson:Thatís Ď66 and this Ď67. Yes, I was appointed to that Advisory, the first HEPAP meeting. Paul McDaniel probably signed the original. I agreed to serve on it. Iím trying to remember, but I think I was quite flattered to have been asked to serve on it and did feel that it was an important development. I believe the idea was that there had been the Ramsey Panel which turned out to be very important. Ned Goldwasser was a member of that, T.D. Lee, and John Williams and they had made some priorities and some recommendations and made a very impressive study of the direction high energy physics should take. I believe that after that then it was the feeling that perhaps there should be a standing committee and HEPAP might be that standing committee, so that I think that may be the history of that, Iím improvising a reason, that would be my guess why it was formed.
Hoddeson:At that time. And what was the first issues discussed?
Wilson:I believe that the first time that I went to a meeting is later now I think. I was just being chosen the Director. And perhaps at the first meeting, Iíd been suggested to be the Director, Iíd been nominated or suggested and they were considering me. Norman was trying to get a reading from high energy physics community about whether I would be acceptable and at the same time there were meetings. Maybe the first meeting of HEPAP in Boston and that was an important meeting, but that comes farther along in the story and youíll see that in the correspondence there subsequently. I donít remember any meetings before that.
Hoddeson:Okay. Well I guess we are ready to go then to January.
Wilson:And that was September Ď67 so by the time there was a meeting it might have been in December or so, or January, even before the first group of that meeting had been called, thatís possible.
Hoddeson:Okay, well letís move on.
Wilson:I think the next step would be my having been appointed to the URA. It must have happened along here sometime about the same time. Is there a letter of appointment, for example? I must have such a letter in my files.
Hoddeson:There must be such a letter someplace but I donít think I have it here. Well, youíre certainly on it by December Ď66, youíre certainly on the list.
Wilson:It was formed in June of Ď65, the Universities Research Association. I hadnít realized, thatís a year and half earlier and they had agreed to have the membership drawn up in this particular manner. So the first meeting of the Council of Presidents was in November of Ď65 and it doesnít say when the first meeting was held, but it must have been before December 7th because this has to do with their first report and it gives the membership.
Hoddeson:Now thereís that URA notice in November, just before that time. I donít understand, thereís a section called Search Committee and youíre on that.
Wilson:My being on the Search Committee was crucially important.
Wilson:Thatís an interesting story. Why isnít Leon Lederman a member of that?
Hoddeson:Maybe he was then moved on to it. Who were the members that you remember?
Wilson:On the Search Committee? Let me talk a little bit about this whole thing generally. Now this was November of 1966, and this was not the first meeting I attended by any means. Iím sure there had been previous meetings. First of all, the Scientific Committee I think was, or why did I serve on this at all? I was asked whether I wanted to serve, I believe, as a representative of the New York State, the upper New York state area, or whatever that area group of universities would be. It would have included Rochester and Syracuse and Cornell, and maybe others. By then I had already had my interest aroused. The possibility of my serving came up after I had written my letters to Ed McMillan and probably after the Biltmore Hotel incident, Iím not sure of that. Do you remember when that meeting at the Biltmore was? We talked about it last time.
Wilson:So thatís a whole year almost before this. This is November Ď66. My recollection was then, some months after that the possibility of my joining came up and I think normally I would have regarded being a Trustee to something of this kind as something I would have passed on to another member of the Laboratory. But because I had been personally involved I thought, well, I mean Iím interested, Iíll have an effect on what happens. So I said, okay I will serve myself and I didnít pass it along to someone else. I might have passed it along to John DeWire or somebody, or Boyce McDaniel. I thought alright Iíll serve, but normally I would have regarded that as a bureaucratic committee, which creative physicists had no business belonging to or I might have. Then I recall going to a few meetings and the first meetings we would sit around mostly saying to one another that until a site had been selected we had nothing to do. And then the site selection process dragged on quite a while and I think then we began, we felt that weíd really better organize and when it was decided that there should be, one thing we should do was to have a president. There was somebody who was just nominally the president. (Looking at papers). There must e a Search Committee for a president of URA. The Chairman of the Board was Harry Smythe and this doesnít have any president. I think there was in fact a president but he had been appointed and was just filling that position. It doesnít seem to voice that
Wilson:It had the Scientific Report of the Board of the Trustees. It was the first report, something signed by I think Ramsey and Bacher and Smythe. Yes, there it is Ė President of the corporation, Ramsey. This is later. Alright now then by November 13 at least we were looking for a president. Thatís what this Search Committee was doing and I had been appointed to the Search Committee and letís see, how confidential are these things at this point?
Hoddeson:Iíd like to say it from the point of your history but it really should be confidential. We can have the tape closed and edit the transcript. Hold back sections.
I think Iíll leave some gaps in it. Now Scythe was out of town. He was the chairman and thatís why I was, I think the reason you may find a letter someplace from Leon, or Leon called me up I guess at some stage, and said ďSee here Bob, if we donít push this along — and thatís why I was taking such an active role — that weíre not going to get anywhere with this machine. And I said well gee, yes — heís not on the committee and so he would have called me because Iím on that Search Committee — he was saying Bob get off the dime. And so I got off the dime and I was pushing then and I remember this conversation over the beer and I began than to get on. Well you have to have a candidate and the way to do it instead of asking people — that will take forever. Have a candidate — I thought Iíll just choose one myself and I chose Norman Ramsey because of that conversation and decided I was going to, as a matter of politics, I was just going to push him through. And all these people were very pliant. (Looking at list) Many are scratched off. I was probably doodling in the meeting but thereís probably something below it.
Everybody was scratched off because they werenít doing anything and I then called everybody and once Iíd done that I was an expert. I could tell anybody what it was that the general feeling was and my report was slanted towards Norman. There were some pockets of resistance but I found him generally acceptable to everybody as the president and then there was a meeting and I guess youíll find a letter too, which I wrote to Scythe saying we had to take action — he was in Germany because he was the Ambassador — saying that they couldnít wait for him to come back and I was moving. Perhaps there is some letter somewhere in my correspondence to that effect. And either before or after the fact, perhaps then I had found that Norman Ramsey was a strong candidate. And then soon afterwards we had a meeting, I believe it was in New York, when there was to be a report of the committee. Well I made the report because, again, I think Scythe was away and I, of course, spoke to everybody on the committee.
I remember Bache and then I gave a strong recommendation, as being the recommendation of the committee for Norman Ramsey. It wasnít all that clear. There was no one that really opposed me but I certainly indicated the strength may or may not have been there, I man within the political — and then he was then voted in. I felt very triumphant. So that made Norman the President. Iím remembering something else. That left a vacancy on the scientific committee and I remember going to the next meeting which I believe was in Washington and then the question of who would be the chairman of the scientific committee and I was asked would I serve as the chairman and I said no I wouldnít serve as the chairman, Iím a busy physicist and trying to build a 10 GeV machine at Cornell and I simply havenít got time. And Iím not a good chairman and I donít write things down and donít want to and to choose somebody else to be the chairman, not me, donít bother me. And Smythe gave me sort of hell, as he was Chairman of the Board. So he gave me hell for taking this attitude and then passed over me and they chose somebody else to be the chairman. And I suspect that I had wanted to be talked into it or something, Iím not sure but I know that when I left that meeting I felt quite miserable that I had sort of dealt myself out of everything and I remember thinking that in making those strong statements, I wasnít saying what I believed. I would rather have played a stronger role in this that I had said. What I was saying was all true, I was busy doing something and I shouldnít be diverted. On the other hand, I found that I regretted the statement that I wouldnít and I felt that I would have liked to have accepted the chairmanship of this and I could have played a strong scientific role in the formation of this new laboratory. And I remember that very strong feeling of dismay — ďwhat have I said?Ē And why did I keep asking myself as I went back on the airplane ďwho did I say what it was what I said, what kind of a damn fool was I to have made those peculiar statements?Ē
Hoddeson:By this time was the site selected?
Wilson:No, it was not selected. So there I was. Before that I would have said that I didnít want to become a bureaucrat and didnít want to be on a lot of committees and didnít want to do anything and thatís what this was coming out. Some kind of naive physicist, honesty or picture of what a physicist should be, whereas the person who serves on committees around Washington, I found that I really did want to do that kind of thing, strangely enough.
Hoddeson:Was that a surprise?
Wilson:A real surprise to me. I didnít have that view of myself and so I did want to be involved with this. It seemed to me that that was a lesson I donít know which of the meetings but it was probably at the next meeting after November 13. Then the next thing that happened was — when was the site chosen? It must have been in December?
Hoddeson:December of Ď66.
Wilson:Okay, so then we were organizing and the next thing then was to choose a director. There were a number of lists of possible directors. This may have been the first one. Hereís another list.
Hoddeson:That oneís later —
Wilson:Okay, this is the first one and so you see all the people who were there. Thereís John Adams from England, Herb Anderson, Rod Cool, Val Fitch, Goldhaber. Oh, there was an idea then, at that time there would be a laboratory director and an accelerator director. And I think essentially this was emulating the situation at CERN, were Viki had been sort of the presence there. The director was usually or could be a theorist, but usually a famous personage who would be in charge of overall policy, whereas the accelerator director, the man actually building the accelerator, would be a more technically oriented person. So there was the Laboratory Director and then the Accelerator Director. That was, for some reason, strongly in the minds of the Board of Trustees and I notice that Iím on the list to be the Laboratory Director but not on the list to be the Acceleratory Director, oh no, I am down here. But you notice Iíve crossed myself out. I think Iím the only person I crossed off that list and I would have said that at the meeting that I disqualified myself, that Iím building a machine, I have responsibilities to finish the machine at Cornell and I couldnít see any possibility, that I could be a candidate and to scratch me off the list and to ignore me. I suppose the people I underlined, I donít know. Now thereís their ages, no, he couldnít be 20 years old. I donít know what those, I thought those. Well Iíve underlined the people that I thought would be good and hereís Rod Cool, one of my candidates.
Hoddeson:Could it be number of votes?
Wilson:There may have been a vote taken and that may have been the order of the first vote, I donít know. I suspect these are ages there. Yes, that would be ages. Those are ages and the others may be votes. So Val Fitch would have been the most votes here, Viki interesting would have had fewer votes but also maybe, heís 60 years old at that time, yeah so he would have been appropriate, heíd already been a director at CERN and anyway, Fitch, Cool, Viki, Maurice Goldhaber and sort of in that order. And hereís Panofsky underlined but no statement of votes. And then as possible directors hereís or these may have been my choices. Tom Collins, and these people Iíve underlined may have been people I would have voted for in that particular order or they may have asked that you vote for five people. Anyway I probably underlined Tom, thinking he would be a good director, Ed Lofgren and Matt Sands among those people I probably would have picked them and Ed Lofgren would have been my, I would have preferred him strongly to the other two. I donít mean as the director, I mean as the man that directed the Design Report, I felt strongly about that. Okay then this is before the site.
Hoddeson:And then we have a list after the site, in January.
Wilson:This is after the site. Okay and again I think that, alright hereís some numbers, for Ken Green and Fred Mills...
Hoddeson:You know when I first saw this it looked like a ranking in order.
Wilson:Yes, it may have been my ranking. It probably then was their ranking Bill Wenzell, Ken Green, Fred Mills, Stan Livingston and Ed Lofgren. He may have, since heís not ranked there, he may have already been offered the job and turned it down. That would show up in other things, probably had turned it down. You see whatís important though the Accelerator Director and I doubt that Ed Lofgren is on, yes, heís here but heís crossed out and I think that these people had ordered the list as Laboratory Director, people like Cool and Fitch, George Vinyard is on it, Viki and Wenzell but Lofgren is probably crossed off, probably because he had refused this job or they had decided to offer him this job therefore he was crossed off there, I donít know.
Hoddeson:Thatís the story I heard informally from Leon Lederman.
Wilson:Now thatís correct. Thatís the way it happened. I know that once the site had been chosen then it was quickly determined, I know I strongly supported, I couldnít imagine not offering Ed Lofgren the directorship of the laboratory, that is, of the Accelerator Department and Iím sure I voted for him in support of that choice. The idea that they had designed it so, therefore, they should build it and it just seemed to me as the right thing to say. You couldnít reverse things and I had had my say and didnít want to change that around. So immediately after the meeting in which that happened which is probably before this at which it had been decided to choose Ed Lofgren, it probably was a meeting before January 13. You might get a list of those meetings if one wants to know that. But I do remember there was a meeting in Washington where it was clearly determined that we should choose Lofgren. So Norman Ramsey then did offer it to him, probably by letter, and then he went out to Berkeley to talk to the people there and they were very hostile to Norman. He came back and, visibly bruised, as it were, because I think that Ed took the following position that he would do what his colleagues wanted him to do. He was going to choose to be the director or not but he was going to let his colleagues who worked on his design report at Berkeley and was part of a group and the group should decide what he should do and they decided that he should not accept it. They came to this decision at Berkeley and he turned it down. And then Norman, perhaps went there to try to talk him into accepting it and I think they were almost insulting to Norman. They were very upset because the site had not been chosen in California and they were very angry about that. I think they had the idea that somehow they would turn this matter around, I donít know how.
Hoddeson:I was just going to ask.
Wilson:If they could turn this around
Hoddeson:They didnít think that by declining that he could
Wilson:If they declined to build it that would leave, I think that, Iím just guessing, that there was an idea if they declined that perhaps it would then be regarded as impossible to build a site in Illinois and therefore people would come to their senses and put it back in California or whereas if they had accepted or made him the director then they would have to come to this God-forgotten place which they didnít want to do and California, in Illinois they sort of regarded as awful that you couldnít build the site here and then a machine here in any case. Anyway you ought to interview Norman on that Iím sure he would give you a good story. I remember he had a very strong reaction and seemed to be quite angry with him, being almost insulting. So when Harry Smythe went out to try to talk sense into them, the Chairman of the Board now, the President went out and was refused so Harry Smythe went out. He too had a hard time. They were, I remember he couldnít convince them at all and came back feeling that they seemed to be irrational hysterical. So both of them reported that so there was no director and what they had done and I think one of the things also that they reported was that Ed Lofgren was angry because he had been offered the Accelerator Director and not been offered the Laboratory Director. He had only been offered the Accelerator Director and that had offended him. So I suppose
Hoddeson:Couldnít that have been turned around if people really wanted him that badly?
Wilson:Yes, and I believe that when it was reported, there was a meeting when it was reported, it could have been on January 13 but when that was reported it was trips of Smythe and Ramsey to see Lofgren and it was reported that he had turned down. Then it was decided to offer him both jobs and (end of tape) I believe that thatís correct and he turned that down too. He was the leader of the design and that was the only design and there was no other design, the idea of starting all over again seemed impossible so it was the only possibility.
Hoddeson:At the meeting on January 15, 1967
Wilson:Thereís a meeting here on the 13th so there
Hoddeson:Well anyway the minutes were, nope January 15, anyway thereís some comments on
Wilson:Oh yes, oh yes it elaborates on Dr. Lofgrenís rejection. Saying Mr. Smythe had long and serious talks to Dr. Lofgren and while Lofgren came to the conclusion he would not take the position and hereís the reason he gave concern as to the physical characteristics of the geographical site and he felt was not an adequate site. Lofgrenís conviction that he could not assemble a staff here at Weston and the AEC had made the reduced scope by then and the AEC emphasis on reduced scope and ambiguity concerning the ultimate job structure of the laboratory. And then hereís a letter of some kind to Ramsey with a number of problems which might confront the person chosen director. Oh I see, itís just to Ramsey and then Dr. Lofgrenís letter declining the offer.
Hoddeson:So that was it.
Wilson:So that seems to be that.
Hoddeson:How come Panofsky wasnít offered the position. Wasnít he equally as competent?
Wilson:Oh yes, he must be on the list.
Hoddeson:Heís on the list but heís not underlined. Heís on both lists just as Lofgren is.
Wilson:Probably there was the feeling that he was building, just as I was building a machine, I think he was building SLAC, so he had a job to do and was doing it and so he probably had indicated he was not a candidate. Strongly that would be my guess that someone had asked him and he said very strongly that Iím not a candidate. That would be my guess, I donít know, because he certainly would have been well thought of by everybody as a leading candidate but he already was a director with a job to do just as I was a director with a job to do and you donít leave a job halfway done so I think that would be the general idea. He probably indicated strongly that he was not a candidate.
Wilson:Heís not, incidentally, heís not one of the Trustees was he? I donít think so.
Hoddeson:I donít think so. I can check that very easily. No, no heís not.
Hoddeson:Okay, so now weíre up to about January 15, meanwhile the AEC establishes a High Energy Physics Advisory Panel.
Wilson:When the draft announcement came January 19. Thatís after this. So anyway weíre talking about finding a director and thatís going on.
Hoddeson:And now I have a letter out. Alright, then thereís a letter on January 26 from Ramsey to you.
Well, the 26th. So there must have been a meeting of the Trustees then, probably on a few days before that. You donít have any minutes for that. Well, so my guess is — I remember anyway we came to Washington, this was January 13. By January 26 I remember I came to a meeting and, I know at all of these meetings I always immediately took my name off although you notice I donít scratch myself off there as I had done previously. I think maybe thereís something Freudian in that. I didnít scratch myself off, thatís interesting. But at a meeting, before January 26 clearly it may have been the meeting January 13 I think I had discussed in the morning various possibilities, this may have been discussed there. And at lunch time, as we were going into lunch Leon came up to me and said, ďlook Bob weíre not getting anywhere, why donít you reconsider being, is there any way of your reconsidering becoming a candidate?Ē Leon said that to me and as we walked in I thought about it and I said, ďWell, as a matter of fact I felt that if they can wait until I finish my job, I said, the reason why I was not a candidate because I wanted to finish the job I had in hand.Ē If they were willing to wait until I finished it before, I would start, then I would consider it and I thought that at the rate we were building the Cornell Synchrotron, things had been going well, I could see we would be finished within a few months and have a beam, once we had a beam then I would be willing to move on to another job, perhaps.
I said at least I would think about it. Leon then did some fast footwork and as we were standing in line, maybe to get drinks before lunch or something, because by the time I got up to the head of that line, or had a drink, Bacher came around and said ďwhatís this, Bob, that Leonís telling me. Is there any possibility that you would consider yourself as a candidate?Ē And I said, ďwell, Iíve been thinking it overĒ as I moved up the line. You know up to then I had been making strong statements to the contrary and that was a ďvolta faceĒ (about face) I donít think Iíd really considered it myself, after all Leon hadnít spoken to me and with a real, you know, real appeal to do that. In any case I said, ďWell yes, perhaps.Ē So during lunchtime I think quite a few people were buzzing around and then by the time that lunch was over and the Trustees had met again and they asked those people of the Trustees who might consider, who wanted to talk about this question of director, the Trustees who were on the lists and there were a number of them for example or any of those who considered themselves candidates to leave. Bernie Waldman Iím pretty sure, was a Trustee then and he left and they asked me to leave because of that and Ned left as a candidate and there may have been somebody else, we were the three Trustees. So we left the room while it was discussed. I also think that I indicated that I was not interested if they were considering me I was not interested in being Accelerator Director. I didnít think, I must have felt that this was not a workable scheme, I felt there could only be one director of the laboratory and not two directors. It was nonsense to have two directors, youíd have to do everything, I wouldnít be interested in anything except having a single director, if I would be the director that was it and I remember making that very clear. So by the end of that time I think that they, at the meeting, I donít know that went on there but I think they indicated that they were interested in my becoming the director. That meant that Norman had to do all kinds of things because they were in serious trouble as a Board having taken that possibility seriously which they did, clearly. They then, because there were many detractors.
I mean, because I had been rocking the boat, generally because of the methods at Cornell which were considered almost trivial, too small and I think that they, I think that there were many people who felt that I was not the proper accelerator builder, professional. They were the professionals and I was pretty arrogant about the professionals as you can see and so someone like Tom Collins I think would have taken a very dim view of me as an accelerator builder, you know I was an amateur. Iím a high energy physicist and didnít know anything about building accelerators and we were building just trivial things. And so why any of the, someone like Ken Green, I know would have taken a very dim view of me as a director, as an accelerator builder. In fact almost everybody on that list had taken that point of view. So Norman had to call up all sorts of people and f9nd out how strong their sentiments were against me and youíll have to get that story from him. Of course what they said, he always told me that he got an earful and a lot of resistance to my being the director. Nevertheless I think they were desperate to get a director and I had shown that I was interested and that I had some ideas and I believe from the very beginning I indicated to them that I wasnít interested in building, also that I was not interested in building what the Berkeley people had designed. They got me and a fresh start. And that Iíd probably be interested in a higher energy and proceeding much more rapidly than the Berkeley people had indicated. One thing that I said though to them was that I recall, was that I was impressed by the fact that they had come back, as you saw in the minutes. There were some statements that you could not build an accelerator here in the Midwest. It would cost twice as much, I think was one of the statements to build it here because of the short building season, because the dirt was no good here, you couldnít put a machine on it and that it would all sink out of sight in the mud and there were many reasons they had that it could not be done.
Hoddeson:This is the Berkeley people?
Wilson:The Berkeley Group. They in fact had a study and I think theyíd sent perhaps that study to the Trustees. So I indicated that before I would accept and if they offered me to be the director, before I would accept I would have to go to Berkeley and listen to their arguments because it would be silly, I mean to me, I didnít agree with them, but if the most reputable group in the country said you couldnít build it then Iíd better find out why they were saying you couldnít build it because I didnít want to end up being the director and then be told why you couldnít build it and find out the reasons were logical and good reasons. So I went out to, by then, this is complicated, by then, maybe the next time there was a meeting of HEPAP and I said the same thing to them because Ed Lofgren was a member of HEPAP, meeting in Boston, and he came to that meeting and had given me a document and there must be a copy in the URA files someplace in which states how much extra it would cost to build a machine here. It was a study they had made. He gave me a Xerox copy of that and I looked at that again I said to the HEPAP people at that meeting that I would not, there was some discussion of my being director, that I would not become the director until I had gone to Berkeley and heard why I should not be.
Hoddeson:I donít know if this is, — Probably not. No thatís too early.
Wilson:No, thatís not it. Iím pretty sure that I gave that document to the URA people, I mean afterwards for their files because I didnít know that I would be the director and felt they should have it. So I went. Oh, then I asked to have a committee of HEPAP to advise me and help me with this decision and the committee was chosen. It was Rod Cool, I believe, Panofsky, who was on HEPAP and do you have a list of HEPAP people? Bob Walker — Bob Walker is also a member of HEPAP and we were all supposed to go as a committee and listen to the arguments. Well, there was a terrible storm and...
Hoddeson:You can date this
Wilson:It must be on my calendar, yes. September. This would give those meetings, yeah. October, November, December. Wait a minute, this was Ď65.
Hoddeson:Underneath it is Ď66. Iím sorry. Weíre now approximately, no this is too, itís not going to go far enough. We need Ď67. We donít have Ď67 unfortunately.
Wilson:First the meeting was July Ď66, the first URA meeting 1966. So thereís probably the first meeting of URA.
Hoddeson:Iím sorry, I thought Ď67 was in here, itís not. Iíll have to look for that afterward. I believe those are out in those big files in the corridor.
Wilson:Hereís a URA meeting in October that I didnít attend so there were meetings.
Hoddeson:Well, in any case I can go back and
Wilson:Hereís a meeting on the 19th. Thatís probably, the site was being suggested along in here someplace. Okay.
Hoddeson:Iím sorry, for some reason I thought we had that.
Wilson:In any case there was this committee and for some reason people in the east couldnít come. I know Rod couldnít make it because of the storm and so when I got to Berkeley I did have quite a bit of discussion. I guess about that time, I did see Panofsky for part of this. I was alone I recall when I went. Maybe Bob Walker was there but Iím not sure. But those people were really hostile when I got there and the fact that I was even considering being director, they considered insulting to them and I never felt like such an enemy of any group of people in my life and
Hoddeson:Do you have any particular pictures that come into your mind?
Wilson:Well, anything I, anytime I was talking to all of the people there in general, going from group to group and when Iíd come in thereíd just, they would barely talk to me and if I asked them any questions about why you couldnít do it and why it couldnít be built in California and you couldnít do it at the site. There would be long reasons but sort of hostilely presented, and made no sense to me and they would put it in a manner that was quite insulting. There was finally one big meeting where they presented, I guess they presented to me a number of reasons why I couldnít do the job and the meeting was in a big room full of people and at the end of it I said I thanked them for speaking to me and said that I had not found any, I looked at this group of very hostile people and I said I had not found any reason they had given me why we could not build an accelerator at the Weston site and I said I felt I owed them an explanation of how I would build it. And so I told them how I was going to build smaller magnets and build them more rapidly and so on.
Hoddeson:Frank Cole was there
Wilson:Frank Cole was at that meeting. And then I asked them, I said there must be some of you people who put your hands to this project and want to finish it and Iím inviting anybody who does to come and help build this machine. And one or two people spoke up saying that yes they had started it and they were interested. They obviously felt that was a very courageous thing to do.
Hoddeson:Who were they?
Wilson:Perhaps Kerns, Quentin Kerns who did come and another man, Iíve forgotten his name temporarily (Iíll find it pretty soon), who had designed the booster and he came out and he was very interested in helping design in a summer study, design the booster here and he had said that yes, he had started that and he wanted to help. One or two, it may be three or four people, there must have been a hundred and Frank Cole may have spoken up Iím not sure but he could tell you a lot about that meeting as seen as a Berkeley person since he was around and whether I may have been just paranoid, he would have known whether they were hostile to me.
Hoddeson:He remembered the painted glass. Part of the meeting, I think, took place in Lofgrenís Office and that there was glass that had been painted over. I think Lawrence had had everything in glass so that he could...
Wilson:Oh yes, so he could see the people?
Hoddeson:Half the Lawrence people began painting the glass.
Wilson:People began painting it so they could have a little privacy?
Hoddeson:No, he didnít have any detailed collections of what went on but maybe I can go back.
Wilson:He may not have been involved very deeply but I would have thought that he would have because of his conversations with me earlier and
Hoddeson:He was actually getting tired by the time we got to that point.
Wilson:I see, well you might talk to him again. In any case I thought that they were extremely hostile, about as hostile a situation as I had ever been in with people.
Hoddeson:How did you feel about the Weston site?
Wilson:I had no choice. I remember that it was a mess. I said, when we were looking at the news on television and when they said Weston site I said to Jane, ďoh, my God.Ē I said ďtheyíve lost me.Ē What I had imagined about that time was that and why I had wanted to serve on the Scientific Committee is that I would be going to the site as a Trustee and helping I imagined that we should all pitch in and help build this thing and I would have useful suggestions and that was a rather naive point of view. Anyway I thought that as a Trustee at least that I would be there and I thought who in the hell wants to go to Illinois, that was my general response, especially when they showed pictures of the miserable city of Weston. What I had hoped, I think at that time, my first choice would have been Berkeley, my second choice would have been Brookhaven to build it because it could have been cheaply there and my third choice would have been one of the Colorado sites because itís a pleasant place. And I wouldnít have seen my reason to choose Illinois. So if I had a choice Iím sure I would have made it in that order.
Hoddeson:So you went back from Berkeley.
Wilson:Anyway, it wasnít anything. The question I had would I build it in Illinois or not. And I saw those people as irrational and that any reason theyíd give, technical reason why you couldnít do it here, I could think of a reason why you could and to say you canít build things out here, canít build buildings and so on, was ridiculous, I mean look at all of Chicago. You wouldnít be able to build those buildings in Chicago in a competitive way or you wouldnít have steel industry here or there would be anything you could do according to their arguments. Of course you couldnít build Argonne or you wouldnít be able to build the large synchrotron that they had built and Iíd found out that much that the land was sufficient to build a massive machine on it already so that just seemed to be ridiculous. And again I think that they had talked themselves into the view that if nobody would build the machine it would somehow come back to the University of California and which I think had zero realism in it. And the reason that they were so upset and angry at me is there I was somebody who was clearly looking and thinking seriously of building it and that represented clearly a threat. Because if nobody had stepped forward and maybe it would have someway come back. I donít see how because there had been so much politics and at such a high level it would have been impossible, utterly unrealistic and impossible.
Hoddeson:Itís difficult to believe that that group of very intelligent people could have been that irrational.
Wilson:There seemed to be some kind of mass hysteria though and in any case why were they so hostile, first to Smythe and to Ramsey, and then to me?
Hoddeson:And what are the roots of that mass hysteria?
Wilson:Well, I think that the roots of it were they had felt they had this real future in the lab, and they were right, and left dying when they lost this project. The whole future was hanging on that and their future put in six years of hard work and that they couldnít imagine anything to the contrary, just couldnít face up to the fact that they would not be doing it. And I think they saw themselves, you know their work demolished and therefore themselves. Itís feelings that I can understand. Look, because I canít build a Doubler I have resigned. (Laughter) You know thatís an irrational view but having seen something that could be done and then being confounded by lots of reasons, at least I make a strong enough case to resign in the hopes that by that resignation how Iíll find a way of building the Doubler. And so thatís, but thereís an irrational element thatís somewhat close to what they must have felt. So itís very peculiar. But I can understand that you can get yourself into a highly emotional state and do something and be somewhat irrational about the question and unrealistic. So in any case I went back and there was a meeting then of HEPAP for some reason. Maybe Iíd come out and the HEPAP meeting was still going on. I do remember coming back and reporting on my meeting and that may have been what I did. I left and came back to the HEPAP meeting. I reported and I said that I intended to accept the directorship, thatís my memory at least, and then I said what I began to say, I said I hadnít seen anything at Berkeley that convinced me to the contrary, and began with that I wanted to build a larger machine, a 200 GeV and wanted to build it more rapidly.
Hoddeson:About what month are we up to now? Early spring I think.
Wilson:That was in February still. January — February, very early, and then I begun, well then Iíd been chosen somehow.
Hoddeson:I have a document in the other room — Iíll get it. I have the first pages of the Personnel Log Book. This will tell in what order people were hired.
Wilson:Oh good. Yes, I see, hereís a letter of February 6 that Norman sends me that Iíd been chosen. And about that I can remember before. There was a meeting in New York which I remember was quite in the IBM Headquarters of Manny Piore. He was either, he had been on the Board. Okay Manny Piore let us use their Board Room at the IBM, very fancy. I remember they were going to discuss, they asked me to leave the room because they were discussing whether they really wanted to offer me the job or not and I had to go out and sit in the Library for quite a while which is a kind of a foyer to these fancy suite of offices and I went up, after a while, I was bored and clearly it was taking time, so I went to get a book out of the bookshelf, it was locked, of course. So I went over to the secretary and I asked the secretary could I please have a book from the bookshelf as I was going to have to wait for a while. ďYou want a book,Ē she said and I said ďyes, Iíd like to read one of these books,Ē they were all classics. So, alright she gave me the key and I open it and got down a book and began to read it but then, of course, all of the books, none of the leaves had been divided, torn. What do you call them, you cut —
Hoddeson:I know what you mean, you cut the pages.
Wilson:So then I went back and I asked none of the pages havenít been cut on these books, could you please give me a letter opener. Oh, she said sheíd have to get permission to do that, said sheíd have to go to the president or something like that. He said yes, she came back with a letter opener and I remember slicing the pages to read the book. None of the books had ever been read, this whole history of IBM, probably they were first editions or something that I was ruining. They eventually came back and they offered me the job at the that occasion and then this was one of the follow-up letters.
Hoddeson:Was it a surprise or had you suspected it?
Wilson:You mean that they would actually
Hoddeson:I mean that that was the formal offer.
Wilson:That was the formal offer. At that meeting, the first meeting where I let slip that I might become director if I could see my way clear to finishing, then they came back so enthusiastically that I was pretty sure they would choose me. So after that it wasnít a surprise. Well, I thought that Norman might have run into terrible problems. You see he also had to go to the meeting after which I got in touch with Gerry Tape. He said ďit was agreeable for us to offer you the position.Ē Now they had to, the Commissioners of Atomic energy, had to approve my being director and they might very well have — it was not a foregone conclusion.
Hoddeson:Do you think that earlier correspondence in Ď65, the end of Ď65, with Tape and the others may have helped.
Wilson:No, I think that that acted the opposite way. They regarded me as rocking the boat, being a terrible trouble-maker. On the other hand as a Trustee we did come over and talk to the Commissioners at one time about the problems of setting a laboratory up and I think I had quite a bit to say and that I thought some of the things were sensible. Also my view of myself was kind of a young tiger may have been my own view and a bit different from what other people felt about me, I donít know.
Hoddeson:This letter is in there too. I gather at Cornell they werenít too happy with your leaving.
Wilson:I donít think so. No, there was a lot of emotional staff about my staying. There were also a lot of formalities you go through.
Hoddeson:Iím wondering if you have anything special to say about the letter that you wrote to — we have to stop.
Wilson:We have to stop pretty soon but once I had made up my mind to become the director I think I talked quite a bit to Panofsky because he had been running the biggest project to build SLAC. I considered him an expert and he considered himself an expert and he had a lot of advice to offer to me about being the director and about the problems of choosing an architect-engineer. There were a lot of things that I didnít really know about running a small project and running a big project and the project I had had to do with the NSF where things were much more informal, the AEC had all kinds of formalities and Pief explained a lot of those to me. He was extremely helpful. I also felt that in taking the job that I should, I was very interested in architecture, for example at Cornell and as a sculptor I was interested. I was horrified by the big national laboratory at Argonne, for example, or Berkeley or Brookhaven, just horrified, mishmash they were and how little attention had been given to making them pleasant places visually. So here Iíve written a letter then, putting down what I expect it to be. Also the AEC, I felt, was in a slightly desperate situation. They didnít have a director and therefore I could put down what it was that I would insist on and thatís what I was putting down here. Some of the things at the recommendation of Pief, other things of my own and, for example, I think the AEC had the idea that they would put up all the building and they would design those buildings and they would have a big construction division, they would design and put them up. They had a kind of a notion —
Hoddeson:Is that the same with the other laboratories?
Wilson:Some of the laboratories and I think they were coming out of the construction phase so they didnít have too much to do. But Iím not sure how it went there but I know that this was the idea they were talking about with regard to me and the Congress asked them to do something of that kind, not to leave it up to some egghead to do that sort of thing. It appears in some of the hearings. And because they werenít building very much they had in mind that perhaps they would do that kind of work for us. And sometimes they would say well it doesnít matter if the building is expensive but it shouldnít look expensive. And the buildings they put up looked that way, monstrous. So I told them that I would have to, that I was going to be in charge of the design and construction and wasnít taking it otherwise. Then I talked about architecture and Iím saying I wanted to hire an outstanding architect and Iíd imagined having somebody like Boyer who would advise me about eh architecture. I soon decided thatís the last thing I wanted, I wanted to do that myself, some of my arrogances that I didnít have at this point. It crept in eventually, thatís a different story. And I say by good architecture I donít mean expensive or fancy buildings but there are occasions I said when meaningful architecture will justify extra costs as I had in mind something of a building of this kind whereas all the little buildings around are minimal cost but this building cost a little extra than the minimal and I was nailing that down. Thatís nailed down in ... All of the things that I had put in this letter, here the question is risen, ďWho would be responsible for some kinds of conventional construction, this has caused considerable concern on my part and my colleagues. I said I donít mean to preclude the use of their construction division where it is mutually advantageous. On the other hand I did take a very firm line not to have it and they agreed with me. And I made clear that I was going to make the choices. So then he [Tape?Seaborg?] wrote back saying that he liked good architecture too, something of that kind. Anyway the AEC people always honored that, Iíll say that for them. They never faltered in their living up to whatever it was I had written there.
Hoddeson:Well the next, oh hereís the letter that they sent back.
Wilson:Yes, saying I understand your desire for maximum freedom of actions and design, construction of accelerator.
Hoddeson:Weíre now up to
Wilson:And they say they do support the concept of sound architecture but it must be done within the financial limitations, that I would be happy with.
Hoddeson:Well now weíre up to the early staffing and the early planning that you did out of your office at Cornell with some assistance from Cornell people. Is this a place where we should stop?
I think itís a good place where we should stop.
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