Oral History Transcript — Dr. Robert R. Wilson
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Robert Wilson; January 12, 1979
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:Lillian Hoddeson with Bob Wilson, and we are embarking upon Session #4, in a series of interviews mainly on Fermi Lab but other things as well. Jan 12, 1979. Last time, we left off shortly after youíd accepted the directorship of this lab and had gone to Berkeley, or maybe you hadnít formally accepted it —
Wilson:— I went to Berkeley after —
Hoddeson:You went to Berkeley to talk with people there, and you got a very hostile or anyway cool reception from them, and decided that their objections to building in the mid-West werenít solid, and were up to the phase of early planning and staffing which you did from your office at Cornell. And letís see, somewhere in that period there were some joint hearings on the reduced scope machine. Do you recall anything about that?
Hoddeson:January and February of Ď67. Did you participate in those?
Wilson:No, I did not. Norman Ramsey did though. I had not been designated the director then. That was before that time. Norman Ramsey participated. Thatís just a question of going through the records, of course.
Hoddeson:Ok, yes. I can get the story from him. We just donít happen to have that issue. We have a slightly later one and an earlier one, missing that one. Ok, well, —
Wilson:I may have that some place in my papers. Iíll look for it.
Hoddeson:Ok. We donít have it yet. Iím sure itís around some place, we should have it. Ok, well, now, so youíre now back at Cornell and setting up an office or something there, or did you work from your other office?
Wilson:I just worked in my —
Hoddeson:— in your regular office, and somehow wrote (crosstalk)
Wilson:— what I did though was to appoint Bethe(?) as my assistant.
Hoddeson:Was that an informal appointment?
Wilson:No, it was a formal appointment. She was paid, and she would come and work, I donít know if full time or not, but very seriously. She had had quite a bit of experience doing administrative things; at Los Alamos, she had been there. For example, John Williams first came to Los Alamos, I believe, before many of the other people came, and I came soon after. Perhaps there were one or two other physicists, and Rose Bethe (?) was there, I remember, and we were essentially in charge of setting up the laboratory, running it, getting it in shape so that people could come in and live there and work there. We had quite a lot of arguments with the Army, military people, as you can imagine. She was to be in charge of housing, and had come out long before Hans Bethe came, he was at MIT at the time, I believe, so Iíd gotten to know her particularly well as a working woman at that time, and so, I suppose thatís why it occurred to me that she would be good again this time. Rose was German of course originally, and somewhat authoritarian. Sheíd tell people where they were going to live, and was just what I needed, because I frequently am somewhat bashful, and at that time the project was almost floundering, because it had come out here, and I donít think that I was necessarily the first choice that would have come into everybodyís mind. Because it had left Berkeley there was a lot of animosity, and I was not identified as an accelerator type particularly. Not one of the professional group. I think that there was some apprehension. In any case, if I wanted to have a meeting, Rose would simply call them up and tell them to come. So she was very good. She was well organized. That was a very happy choice of person to get things started.
Hoddeson:What did you do? What was the first step really?
There were a lot of things. I spent a lot of time flying around the country. There was a man, local man who had an airplane, and he became sort of a chauffeur full time for me. Whenever I wanted to go somewhere, Iíd get into his airplane and away weíd go. I think it was a rather bizarre thing for me to become the director. You know, here I was supposed to become the director of a big laboratory, to spend 250 million dollars — I was impressed by the enormity of the job. It was a tremendous step from my academic life at Cornell, where we were spending very much less, and very informally, doing things informally, and I had been about to take a sabbatical to do sculptures, as soon as the machine there worked, which was expected to be momentarily, and so thatís why Iíd been free. But instead of doing sculpture all alone, to then become the director of this thing was, you know, an enormous change. It really wrenched me out of myself, and so, I had my way of looking at everything was different there. Suddenly I would start flying around or doing — now, I had the idea originally that perhaps there should be a Science City here, and so, I perhaps wasted a lot of time in going to experimental cities, like Reston. I remember flying down to Reston — you know Reston outside of Washington? Itís a model town, an experiment. Itís right outside of Dulles, and it had been organized by a man by the name of Bob Simon, who was the brother I believe of a friend of mine, historian, so I somehow had that connection. I went down to see him about that town. You know, an artificial lake had been built and people had been chosen to come and the houses had been a proper mix of houses, and it was a town then of perhaps a few hundred houses, and a few thousand people, and it was supposed to grow up into something much larger. Perhaps it has now.
They got good architects, good architecture, and Bob Simon had put his life into a good part of it into making an ideal town. Again, when I visited it I was somewhat horrified because I also visited some people there. It was perfectly clear that he wanted everybody in that town to be ideal, too, and essentially was bullying them and telling them how to behave in this Paradise, which it was. There were no streets inside. Everything was organized for a very nice kind of living. But you had to live in an organized way, in the way that he wanted you to be organized. And I was pretty horrified at that. Also he assured me that — you know, he didnít want children to be running around, peopleís parents should keep them under control, and on the other hand then the children would do naughty things, teenagers, and he was just outraged. You know, they werenít controlled properly by their parents. Well, thatís well and good to say, but not likely that anything will happen; or local people would come in and he didnít like that either, or hooligans would come in from Washington, D.C. He didnít like that. Somehow just by saying they should go away, he thought they would go away. On the other hand he was a very realistic man trying to make a profit. Well, it went under, actually; the whole enterprise, a few years later, was taken over by Gulf Enterprises. Probably successfully, I donít know. Anyway, I looked at that, and at considerable length, because I had imagined we would set such a thing up here, a city, where we would all live together, and there wouldnít be any hooligans come in, and the children would be well controlled, and people would live s I damn well wanted them to! (laughter)
Hoddeson:(crosstalk) — is that the picture you had envisioned at that time?
Wilson:Well, spent quite a bit of time.... well, I mean, this was a big laboratory, big site, with thousands — look at the projections in the book — perhaps thereíd be 3000 people here by now, maybe more. So it wasnít — and the users, another thousand users projected, and so —
Hoddeson:A little bit like a university town.
Wilson:I thought of it as being like a university town, where people would live, like — probably or Duke now or a number of places are like. I guess I must have had Los Alamos in mind, to tell you the truth, which was a comparable laboratory where we went and built a town, and I think I was the first mayor of the town. And Oppie would perhaps decide, what was the style in which people were going to live, and they damn well live that way. In some sense. So I probably had that in the back of my mind. I hadnít thought of it.
Hoddeson:I thought Bethe was mayor, second mayor?
Wilson:I donít think so. No, I donít think he was ever mayor. There was a town council. I wasnít the mayor. There was a town council that was appointed by Oppenheimer. And that hadnít worked too well. The first chairman of that was a wonderful philosopher he (Oppie?) Had bought out, Will Dennis, and his job was to do nice things — he then went back. When he went back I think then Oppie decided, well, appointing people wasnít the right way. We should have an election. So there was an election and I stood for election and I got the most votes. And having gotten most votes, I became the chairman. Sometimes Iíd be referred to — I think later on it was referred to as ďthe mayor,Ē see. People use to call me Mayor, too. We had all sorts of problems. You know, a group of people living in a rather small area. I probably had that in the back of my mind, perhaps. And it was a lovely place. It was a great experience to be at Los Alamos.
Hoddeson:To be at Los Alamos.
Wilson:Yes. An international community. Just wonderful experience. So — well, thatís neither here nor there, but probably I wasted quite a bit of time before it came to me that we had no business there. We couldnít set up a city in the first place. Our base was not big enough. I also spoke to Fred Cramer in Chicago, Cramer and somebody, the biggest real estate people, and he subsequently became quite a good friend of mine. I think heís built a number of very large towns, essentially, in and around this are. Thereís one south of them or — what do you call these developments? I guess, developments. But he also advised me that the numbers here we were projecting were not enough for a town. They have to have ten times as many people, before it was big enough to have a town that would make any financial sense.
Hoddeson:I see. Did Los Alamos have many more people?
Wilson:No, I donít think so. But there was a difference. I mean, that was completely supported by the military as part of running a war. It was a secret establishment and everybody had to stay, had to stay there, had to live there and had to stay there. So itís quite a different situation. And after the war, that was completely changed. It turned into an open city as it is now. During the war it was closed. You know, there was a fence around it. And on the other hand, it was 2000 people.
Hoddeson:Fence around the whole city?
Wilson:Yes. You had to show a pass to get in.
Hoddeson:Not just to get into the lab.
Wilson:No, to get into the city, you had to show a pass. And it was supposed to be a complete secret, the whole town. At any rate, you asked me what I was doing. That was one of the things I was doing, was preparing this big city, that we were going to need, and clearly it turned out to be just a waste of time. On the other hand, that in some way got me interested so that when we moved into the village, I pushed very hard to move into that, which we could at an early time, and then I began moving the little houses around and making a city and in a sense began to serve as the mayor that city, and began to make a city, in the way that the village looks, the way it looks now, because probably I had been somewhat captivated with this notion of making a town. And if not for everybody, at least for the users — and then we used that as a center originally, and the business of moving all the little farm houses in together probably derived from this idea that I had, of making a town.
Hoddeson:That actually didnít take place though until the following fall?
Wilson:Yes, that was much later, even later than that. The other thing I was doing was trying to get people to join the laboratory, and another thing was — I was also finishing up the Cornell cyclotron. That took most of my time. And I was teaching? I may have been teaching still, I donít think so, but I had a lot of relationship with (Dusav?).
Hoddeson:Yes, tell me about that, and then, Iíd like to talk more about the staffing. Tell me about Dusav. How did you get involved with them, with (Kitt?) or any other people?
Wilson:You know. Iíve written that down, and I think I explained it partly when I gave my lecture on architecture, so I can give you a copy of that, what Iíve written down. I donít really think youíd have to go into that, unless you read that and then you may want to ask me questions. But youíve got it down in two places, so could I suggest we — itís a funny story, an interesting one, but I think Iíve got that down, myself. I happened to be writing, after I gave the talk on architecture of Fermi Lab, then I wrote a good part of it down, so I donít think we have to cover that too much.
Hoddeson:Good. Iíd like to see that. I wasnít here when you gave the talk, so I donít know what was in it.
Wilson:I think thereís a recording of it, though.
Hoddeson:Fine. Weíll have to find that and listen to it. Ok, then letís talk about the staffing. How did you go about this? What criteria did you use?
Wilson:First of all, I spent quite a bit of time just thinking about it. Also I think I rather enjoyed being the only employee. (laughter) Except for Rose. Who was not going to really come, she was going to stay at Cornell, so I really was the only employee.
Hoddeson:Yes. Sheís not in the book. I have a —
Wilson:— she wasnít here.
Hoddeson:I guess it must be here. I have a copy of some of the, I was told, this was the early people.
Wilson:Yes, but she wouldnít be in this. At all. Because —
Hoddeson:This begins May 1967.
Wilson:Oh thatís interesting. Thatís early isnít it, thatís before, I would have thought — well, June 15th, you see —
Hoddeson:Youíre not until June 15th officially on the books.
Wilson:Yes, but thatís on the books. I certainly was employed before that. So who are the people before then? Donald Young, well, I employed him, heís one of the people —
Hoddeson:— yes. Thereís something wrong here.
Wilson:Obviously, and heís also, Iím number one, heís two, three, four — this is probably arrival and got to be put on the books. I donít know what it is. But who are the others? Donald Getz, Tom Poylon, yeah, and hereís other people — And probably as they, I donít know how they happen to be written down in this particular way, but —
Hoddeson:Iíd be very interested in hearing about the choosing.
Wilson:Ok, I did spend a lot of time thinking about it, about the laboratory, and how it might go, and how it might be organized, and as an expression of getting myself psyched up for the job, because it came, the appointment came very suddenly, a big change in my plans. Then, before accepting the job talked to Panofsky, I talked to directors of other laboratories, at great length.
Hoddeson:You told me you talked with Panofsky.
Wilson:I remember talking to — and then I went — I donít know whether I went, I certainly called up Rod — and had a long discussion with him about the laboratory. He gave me a lot of advice. I wanted him, I know, to be the — he was my first choice as the associate director, or —
Hoddeson:— oh, I didnít know that —
Wilson:— deputy director. I thought that I had offered him the job, and in the course of that long conversation had done so. At a later time he told me that he didnít know that I had. I never knew then whether I really had or hadnít so to speak — no recording of that. Iím pretty sure that I had offered him the job. He may have thought that I just had offered him a job out of politeness, you know, in the course of talking to him. Thatís whatís sometimes done. That I hadnít really meant it. Because in the same conversation that I did that, I also was asking him about other people who would appropriate. I wanted his opinion of how such a large laboratory should be organized, and I had lots of respect for Bob, because I knew that Brookhaven had been not well organized, that heíd come and it had been better organized, after heíd come there, although heíd never been the director, as far as I knew. But he had managed to — it was kind of a mess, as far as physics was concerned, and he had organized the physics. It became quite productive. That was one thing. The other person that I had a lot of conversation with then was the man who just died — at Brookhaven, the man who had designed the RAGS there — blocking, canít recall his name suddenly —
Wilson:Ken Green. I called Ken, and both of these gentlemen would talk all afternoon. So I remember being rather terrified to call them, because I knew that I was going to be involved in hours of advice. Both of them gave me great lengthy advice. And — well, then I called other people. Eventually, I got around to calling people and offering them, I wanted to pick the first few jobs and offer those, associate directors and so on, and I did make some — Well, one person, the first person would be (Bruce McDaniel?). I had hoped that he would come, and be — he was my associate director at Cornell of the laboratory, and I had hopes that would come for this project. Extremely good. But he became the director there, and obviously that was a better thing for him to do, and I also had two interests: one was that the lab continue as a strong laboratory, and I was both sad that he didnít come here, and on the other hand happy that he stayed there. Heís turned out to be a very good director there. And subsequently, thereís his picture over there, he did come here and help with the laboratory in a very substantial way.
Hoddeson:When did he come here to help?
Wilson:Oh, that was after the machine worked. In 1972. Thatís way down the line. Sort of worked. Letís see —
Hoddeson:Other people you talked to — well, what happened? Did you feel that Rod — Had turned down the offer?
Wilson:Oh yes. He had. And I offered —
Hoddeson:— but he felt he had never —
Wilson:— never been really asked, yes.
Hoddeson:— really asked... but he got the message across somehow that he wasnít —
Wilson:Later on, he was criticizing me I think for not choosing proper good people, maybe, and it came back that I had chosen him, why hadnít he come? And then he told me that he didnít, first of all, didnít recognize that, obviously — so, I wasnít communicating very well. Well, heís a complicated person, too. He may have just conveniently not remembered. Who knows? I also then offered the job to — oh yes, I remember offering it to, on (Peese?) recommendation, — oh dear, to a man who was his associate director of SLAC. Name doesnít come to me offhand. He came out, and he took the offer very seriously, came out and looked at the site, probably in March or May, and —
Hoddeson:He was at that time Panofskyís associate director?
Wilson:Yes, the person in charge of building the (LINIAC?). His name will come to me shortly. But, we have a big volume — SLAC — heís the man who wrote it, just look at the author of that.
Wilson:Yes, Dick Neil, Ok. Well when he came he visited the site with his family, and — but just as he was driving along, a tornado hit, and a barn — he called me up that night, telling me of his experiences, because he never before had been driving down the road with his family and had a barn go over his head. He was exaggerating slightly. And he turned down the job on this occasion, saying that really — and I believed him — it wasnít really the barn or the tornado, but that he liked California and liked his life there, and that he had a commitment to write that book, up there, which he had not yet written. I think he probably was concerned about working with me, because heís very professional, and again I was considered not professional; weíd have had a hard time communicating with one another. I didnít regret too much. But I was trying to — be very responsible. I was looking for opposites. That was my main policy, was to find people that were just the opposite of me. Thatís how I gave it my best shot, because I was a little worried about myself, too. Somebody in charge of such a large laboratory. And I was also worried that Iíd only had experience with rather small groups and small machines, and my informal method would not work in a big laboratory, and that I needed the experience of these other men who had worked with proton machines in much more formal situations. I tried Bob Walker then.
Hoddeson:Also at the same job, deputy director?
Wilson:I think so. Maybe it wasnít quite that specified, but associate director or deputy director, Iím not quite sure which. Each time you make an offer, of course, the — you canít expect an offer to — it takes almost a month to get an answer, I know. I tried Matt Sands. He wasnít so different from me. More of a, sort of wild man, but very bright.
Hoddeson:Youíd worked with him earlier, hadnít you, talked with him a lot?
Wilson:Knew him quite well.
Hoddeson:Late fifties or early sixties?
Wilson:Weíd been at Los Alamos together. Thatís where we knew each other. And then when I was at Harvard, he was at MIT. I saw quite a bit of him there. Then he was at Cal Tech, when Cal Tech was the principal competitor, but we loved our competition. We were always very — you know, Albin (Tolstrop?) is a good friend of mine, and Bob Walker was a good friend of mine. Those were people who were competitors but we were very close and managed to visit each other frequently so that we could have arguments.
Hoddeson:I didnít realize — (Sands?) was at Los Alamos. Was he in your group there?
Wilson:No, he was not in my group. He was in Tonyís group.
Hoddeson:I see. So you tried Sands and what was his response?
Wilson:I think he responded right on the spot, ďNothing doing.Ē
Hoddeson:He just didnít want it. And Bob Walker?
Wilson:He took a little longer, perhaps a few days, but he didnít want to do it either.
Hoddeson:Do you know why?
Wilson:I think he just didnít like the idea of a big project. Wanted to be a university professor and —
Hoddeson:Walker and Sands?
Wilson:Sands too. Sands I think had just come up to — Santa Clara?
Wilson:Santa Cruz, yes. He was starting off there.
Hoddeson:— and didnít want to change —
Wilson:— and letting his hair grow long, and I mean, he was adopting a different mode of, a different life style. Having started off in that direction, he didnít want to —
Hoddeson:His hair was short before he went to Santa Cruz?
Wilson:I think so. This was a time when people were changing their life style, perhaps as a result of the youth movement, and people associated with them, professors, many of them adopted this style too.
Hoddeson:— that was just the period when the Beetles were beginning to —
Wilson:— Essentially. Anyway that was clearly the direction that he was going. He liked the idea. More Bohemian rather than establishment existence. Iím perhaps reading something into that. Anyway, I was getting nowhere. So, then I appointed a group of people to be an advisory committee, again using — Rod? as one of my principal advisors. And I had a physics advisory committee. You probably have the names of all those people?
Hoddeson:I do have that somewhere, maybe not right here —
Wilson:...had to ask all of these people to serve...
Hoddeson:Yes. When did you appoint them?
Wilson:Earlier than this, but not much. This is what — January? Oh, Ď68, no, thatís wrong. Thatís probably what it was then. But one of the first things I started to do was to appoint this committee, and I had certainly done that by the time there was a usersí meeting in May, at Argonne. But I recall, I had two, I remember I had a notebook where I have some of these things written down from that period. I had two committees. One was an accelerator advisory committee, of accelerator specialists, and then, this is a laboratory physics advisory committee and these are more general types, some accelerator specialists but — I see this goes from (Ferous?) To people like McMillian, to Cronan — you see, was chairman, again, and I know that we sort of worked — first I asked him, he didnít want to be associate director or deputy director. Then I offered him, asked him if he would be chairman and help me set this up. We did that.
Hoddeson:He was going to do that.
Wilson:Yes. He was of great use. Now, some of the people didnít come at all. I donít think (Adrel?) ever came, and I donít know why the xís... Then there was an accelerator committee to advise me about accelerators.
Hoddeson:When were they appointed.
Wilson:About the same time. Almost simultaneously.
Hoddeson:So this is maybe April or something?
Wilson:It would have been about April. Yes. Maybe a little earlier. Then I began to have meetings, Iíd have Rose call a meeting. We called one meeting —
Hoddeson:Were they at Cornell?
One meeting was at Cornell. The first one. First the (Dusav?) People came alone and only spoke to me. Then they came and spoke to this group of what I would call accelerator specialists, people with lots of experience, at Cornell, and also with the AEC types from the construction department, from Washington. Then we held a meeting, there was another meeting in New York City at some (Dusav?) Headquarters, some building, one of their companies, I remember, not attended by very many people. Then finally there was a meeting at OíHare field which was a very important meeting because the AEC people had decided that we couldnít possibly organize the laboratory in time — we had a 10 million dollar appropriation first for getting it off, for studies Ė for some kind of studies, administrative funds or something that you could use to formulate your plans. And come up with a design report. On the basis of the design report then you can get the funds, construction money. Well, they couldnít see how we could possibly organize the laboratory and design a machine for that money in time, before the money would lapse automatically, I guess in October of — perhaps in October — and certainly by January it would have lapsed, if it had been spent. They had to convince the joint committee that it would be spent. I think it was the kind of money that would lapse. And they had decided that — the money had started to lapse — that wasnít easy, you have to do something to lapse money — at the OíHare meeting, on the other hand, and I must have a list of the people who were there, we began.
I had made quite a few decisions myself, such as pretty much where the accelerator would be, the site, and how big it would be, and — but then we began to organize and discuss how it would be built, and beyond just making some decisions, so that (Dusav?) Could start working, and start planning — and we found out from the AEC just what dates weíd have to meet, in order not to have our funds lapse. And that meant coming up with a pretty hard design, as I recall it, sometime in October. Schedule 44. And so, what I wanted to do was to move very rapidly, thatís one thing I decided, whereas the design report, the Berkeley design report, had projected something like seven or eight years for the construction effort, given that they had already the design. I wanted to do the whole job in five years. That was my goal. And I wasnít about to want to lose a year, because the money would disappear. So I was very tough about, we were going to make the design schedules, we just wanted to know what it was that the AEC wanted Ė ďAll right, you tell us what you want, youíll get it.Ē Well, we convinced them. The group there all agreed that probably we could do that, at least this group of experts, that we could build a machine, design it, and I remember that one of them — one of the AEC members, I remember hearing on the telephone talking to the people in Washington, saying, ďWell, stop lapsing the money, these guys are making decisions.Ē Sort of, everything turned around. And then that gave us a big impetus to actually start making decisions. And I think at that time we decided to start the project — none of these people remembers the project then Ė to start the project on June 15th. I guess thatís this date, here. And that —
Hoddeson:Thatís when the meetings began at Oakbrook?
Hoddeson:How long were you under that pressure, money lapsing?
Wilson:I canít remember any more. I remember that occasion.
Hoddeson:Was it something like six months or two years?
Wilson:No, it would have been for several months. Then we had to pace ourselves, the summer studies started in Oakbrook on June 15, and so, well, I figured, weíll spend the first month just talking. We shouldnít be making specific plans. That would be a mistake. Just sit around and talk. So the whole group of people who were at that design study — maybe 30, different people coming in and going —
Hoddeson:Before we get into that, because I think that will be a detailed discussion, let me see if thereís anything before. You mentioned the meeting at Argonne — was that important? That was before?
Wilson:That was in May, I believe.
Hoddeson:Maybe we should talk about that.
Wilson:We should talk about that. Do you have the reports of that meeting?
Hoddeson:No, I have nothing on that meeting.
Wilson:There is a published report on that. That was organized, I think, even before I was director perhaps, by Norman Ramsey and the trustees.
Hoddeson:I see, so I can get information from Ramsey on that.
Wilson:I was one of the trustees, though, so it would have been continuous.
Hoddeson:All right. Tell me what you remember, and then Iíll go look for the documents. Why was that important? What was discussed there? I know Herb Anderson was there.
Wilson:It was a big — for one thing, it was a big meeting. There were lots of people there, one or two hundred. People came to the meeting who were interested. Thereís a transcript. I have a transcript, at least of the talk I gave.
Hoddeson:Fine, Iíd like to have a copy of that.
Wilson:I remember that itís the only time in my life, I think, where I ever had an ovation — to my surprise. I was introduced as the director, and people gave me a big hand. Well, it was quite an emotional business, because there were no — there was trouble getting a director. If there were no director, there would be no project, and the money could have disappeared. Had the money even lapsed, it might never have reappeared again. And I think everybody felt that project was pretty fragile, once it didnít go to Berkeley, and once the Berkeley people had turned down the job of building the machine, coming out here to build it. Because, you know, how could you build it? How could a group be put together to do it? It wasnít going to be easy. So anyway, I was quite heartened. They were showing that they were really behind me. It was quite a pleasing thing for me.
Hoddeson:Were you afraid that Argonne might not support you, because there was competition?
Wilson:Well, while it was at Argonne, it had nothing to do with it.
Hoddeson:It had nothing to do with it, it was just users.
Wilson:It was just using their auditorium. These were users coming in, potential users, thatís what it should be, there was no usersí organization. These were just people interested. But it was called the usersí meeting, because everybody wanted to be the users of the machine if and when it was built.
Hoddeson:And what really got accomplished at that meeting?
Wilson:Well, there were a number of general talks. T.V. Lee for example gave a talk about physics, and Mr. Eeeling gave a talk about bubble chambers, and Norman Ramsey gave a talk about the organization of the laboratory Ė I mean, thatís all recorded, as a program, and thatís all.
Hoddeson:— Iíll look for the materials.
Wilson:Then I gave a talk about how I expected to proceed, to build it, and Ė now then, that got into some kind of a newspaper. Thereís an article about that, something called ďTrans Scientific Research,Ē for some magazine at the time that will give accounts of such things and they wrote an account of this. Well, the editor, whoís the present editor, Hal David?
Hoddeson:Of Physics Today, yes.
Wilson:He was working for that organization at the time. He was there and heís the person who made that recording that I have somewhere. Judy may know about it, I donít — And thereís a transcription of the talk.
Hoddeson:We should have that, itís part of the history.
Wilson:He then wrote quite a glowing account of the occasion, as I recall, and — but anyway, I talked about how I planned to organize it. Now, I know at that meeting then, I think I had separate meetings with both of the organizations we just talked about. In particular, I had a meeting of the accelerator physics group, perhaps that night, and I remember one thing —
Hoddeson:— at Argonne?
Wilson:At Argonne, yes. Part of that, maybe it was a two day conference, part of it was to come over and examine the site. It was a nice day, and we had a drive to the site. Maybe after that I had a meeting of the accelerator group. I donít think that was terribly useful, because I canít remember any particular decisions coming out of that meeting. I do remember I made an awful gaffe. I forgot to appoint — who was just sitting right there at the meeting?
Wilson:Tom Collins. Heís certainly the obvious person to appoint to be a member of that and somehow Iíd forgotten to appoint him on it. At the last minute, I think I had to go and, into the audience, and ask Tom to please serve on this committee, but then I had to explain to him, you know, abjectly, why it was that I hadnít asked him to serve. It was just an oversight. I remember I was terribly embarrassed. It was just dumb. There were such people as Ken Green, though, quite a mix of people.
Hoddeson:Did Collins serve?
Wilson:Oh, then he came. And so, I was anxious to have Tom come to join the laboratory, at that time, because I was again looking for opposites. He represented almost a complete opposite of my style in physics. He was very hostile at the time, just because of that — we were competitors. On the other hand, I had a lot of respect for him, still do have a terrific respect. Heís inventive, very strong in accelerator work. But we had, as you can imagine, a very complicated — you know, some of these, when you forget something, it may have been Freudian. (Laughter)
Wilson:In looking back, I suspect it was. I suspect it wasnít an accident, too much of an accident. But it was an interesting business.
Hoddeson:At what point did you hire Priscilla and also Ned?
Wilson:Ned? Them — before that meeting, you have the date of the meeting, before the meeting I had started to negotiate with Ned. Now, Ned was again complete opposite from me. He had pretty much opposed, I think, my becoming the director, and when I had not — also, before the site, I explained how I had been a fierce critic of the project, and he was a fierce champion of it, and that it be done right, and in an establishment way, whereas I felt that it ought to be done less that way. Ned felt it was absolutely necessary to have lots of people and lots of administration, and do it in the professional manner, and was pretty outraged that I had come in, in the manner that I had — in fact had written a long letter to me and to all the other people, taking exception to that particular method. His letters are probably in one of these — thereís a letter of mine got in one of these and I think Nedís letter is in that, too. But anyway itís something to look — one of these joint committees, thereís one in which they have a copy of Devonís letter, or Devonís — letter — I had written some things and Ned had written some things and I think Bob Walker had written some things that were, also had gone to him, because I think, heíd been extremely critical. So I was interested in those people.
Hoddeson:Bob Walker criticized the Berkeley people?
Wilson:No, heíd been criticizing — me for criticizing —
Hoddeson:— heíd been criticizing you, for criticizing the Berkeley people. I see. Ok.
Hoddeson:Ok, Iíll certainly look that up. Itís probably in — Ď66?
Wilson:Yes, perhaps, or in the hearings for Ď67.
Hoddeson:Which I donít have. Ok, Iíll keep my eyes open.
Wilson:So I was interested particularly — well, Ned was a member of the trustees, though, and Iíd not known him particularly well before at all and had gotten to know him as a fellow trustee and come to like him. Obviously, heís an extremely likeable person. And — well, he had doubts about working with me, and so it took a long time and a lot of getting things straight, before eventually he accepted the job. Thank God. And he was very complementary to me in every way, so it was a very good choice, I felt. And I think by the time that meeting was over, within days, he had accepted the job.
Hoddeson:I see. He was thinking about it during the time of the Argonne meeting?
Wilson:Yes. I have a feeling, either he had sort of tentatively accepted — but I know, Iím pretty sure I was not able to announce.
Hoddeson:Was he at the Argonne meeting?
Wilson:He was at the meeting, of course. As I recall, part of my — I said, ďWell, what have I been doing all the time since Iíve been appointed director?Ē I hadnít done anything because I hadnít appointed anybody yet. I donít think Iíd made a single appointment then. Unless it was Don Young. No, June 1st, weíre talking about May. May 12 or something.
Hoddeson:Ok, what about Priscilla?
And another thing, when I look at this, I remember that the group came from Wisconsin, because the MIRA project had been closed down, and I think that Frank — brought down — Frank had been a strong member of MIRA and had moved on out to Berkeley a year before and had written the report, and — the BLUE BOOK report particularly — and, but, for some reason I think he brought — I knew Frank. Heíd been a student at Cornell, and — had been for some reason, I think people at Berkeley had sent him to Cornell. They asked me to discuss the Cornell plan. He was supposed to make some kind of an investigation, as I say, wrote a little report — So I would have known him fairly well at that time. Then for some reason, he brought people from MIRA to my office. Now, I may not be right in that. It may be that they just came. But Don Young was one of those people, and the other person was Fred Mills. And they felt that they could do a lot for the project. And I on the other hand had a pretty low opinion of MIRA, although I had supported it strongly.
They had never built anything and made it work, and that made me think that they were not very proficient people, and so, when these two people appeared gratuitously telling me how they were going to build a machine, that they were going to do it, I think I almost threw them out of my office. I mean, I didnít... but (I was) thatís pretty cynical, and I didnít like the way they were talking to me. They were essentially telling me how to do it. I remember they just got furious because I didnít hire them right on the spot, and here they were, real professionals and knew how to do things. Quite right. And I didnít jump at the chance to hire them. And somehow, they had the idea that I had a responsibility, it was my responsibility to hire them. But I know that Don, who has a terrible temper, got really angry at me, and they both left angrily. Maybe just the two of them were present, but I have a feeling that Frank was involved too, but anyway, I thought it over later, and decided that there was a great opportunity, and Iíd better hire them, and did. And so I think that Don was the first person that I appointed. I see his name as Number 2. When we came out, itís clear that until June 15, Rose acted as the secretary and administrative assistant, and another man, Bob Madeus, had been my business manager
. He was going to — he was one of the people who talked me into being the director. It was a great opportunity and so on and he was going to come and help. But then at the last minute he decided not to come. But he had done some administrative work too, on the project, and anticipating that he would be the business manager. So, I think I would have come and I would have started hiring people a little earlier. Obviously probably May 22, I had made a definite offer to Don Young and He had accepted at that time, would be my guess. Then number 3 is who, Don Getz. I remember I hired Don Getz because I came out to make a visit to the site. The first time I was scheduled to come was the day of that historic snowstorm, 1967 — anyway, there was a fantastic snow storm. 16 inches fell. It must have been May. It was an unusual thing. Probably the early days of May or late April. Just stopped everything. People are still talking about the story of Ď67. And people couldnít get to their homes. Everybody had an adventure, because it was a thick heavy snowstorm and it was unexpected and late in the year. So my airplane was supposed to (come) go that day and of course never got off the ground, in Ithaca, because no planes were landing from the air, and — But a week later, I did come, to look. I had not seen the site. I think it was the first time I examined the site, and met Ė and I was looking for an administrative assistant, and he had been recommended, so I met Don Getz at that time and I was well impressed by him. He just took me around. We talked about the project. I was impressed so I hired him. And one of the things he did was to take me out, first of all, to show me the site, and he was some kind of an administrative person at Argonne, probably administrative assistant to Bob Saks, and he seemed well organized and so on. He took me then to a place in Wheaton where there was an office, where there was a local representative to, whose business it was to set up an office for the state, a state person — it was an office set up to fulfill their responsibilities, making the site available. I think they had committed themselves for something like 60 million dollars — canít be — some sum of money.
What I remember is 60 million dollars. Thatís a definite number, that they had appropriated to make the site available. Letís see, there were about 100 sites, 100 different farms, 50 to 100, and I think each one of those cost about a half million, so itís not far out, it might have been 50, 60 million, as their estimate of the cost of taking over the site. They had set up an office to start this procedure, and I remember, I wasnít impressed by the young man who was in charge of running the office. Mostly he was buying furniture, you know, selecting drapes, when we got there, dealing with all sorts of things that didnít seem to have much to do with it. Whenever he got around to talking about taking over the site, he should change the conversation back to the drapes and the kind of office furniture. He was obviously a minor bureaucrat, a very minor bureaucrat. But we did, I remember, get down to talking about the site. Well, he said he had been at the meeting at Springfield, and they had discussed points, with some person, maybe the government, they had discussed points 1 to 12, and on 1 to 4, they had agreed that they should, and from 4 to 6 theyíd agreed that they perhaps shouldnít, and on 6 to 12, that this needed more discussion. ďWell,Ē I said, ďthatís fine, but how about the points you had agreement on, 1 to 4, whatever it was?Ē He didnít have any idea. He couldnít remember what points 1 to 4 were at all. (laughter) He hadnít the slightest idea. That seemed like a, you know, that was rather frightening, to think that this young man was going to get into the hard business of getting that land for us. That was pretty frightening.
Hoddeson:What happened? Did he do it?
Wilson:That came about much later, I suppose — no, I think they had to get a little more steam up, on that. But probably they had in mind that just somebody be setting it up so it would appear that they were doing something. I donít know what they — Anyway thatís when I met Bob Getz and I remember, he went to that place with me. Then I went back to Argonne and had discussions with Bob Saks, because — I mean, there was some thought that Argonne might be involved, that we would have our headquarters at Argonne, for the study, for example. We were looking at places for the study and probably had visited Oakbrook where the high rise building was, and we had gone to another place, some old school, to look at that as a possible site where the project might be. I remember then, I chose — though it may have been at a later time — I chose the Oakbrook, very posh, expensive, just the opposite of — I didnít want to be at Argonne. They didnít want me to be there. They had no place. I didnít want to be there, because we would lose our identity. I mean we had to have an identity, and to be there, weíd be overwhelmed by this big laboratory. I didnít want that, and their idea was to charge an awful lot of money, and it was clear they didnít have any. And they were also worried about our hiring all the people away from them, I think was another thing. Anyway they were happy, I can remember, that — Sakes I think was the director — happy that we werenít coming there, and I was equally happy that he didnít want us and I didnít want to go there. But the AEC was trying to force that, as a sensible thing to do.
Hoddeson:I just came across a note of mine. The Argonne meeting was in April, Ď67 — U just have down April.
Wilson:Well, then it wasnít May. I thought it was early May.
Hoddeson:It may have been late April.
Wilson:It must have been late April then, yes.
Hoddeson:And Governor Kerner was there.
Wilson:Right. Lovely thing happened that I should put on the record at this time. Youíve been at Argonne, and you know thereís that circular building, and the Governor coming was a big thing. We of course had to brief the Governor. So Norman and I discussed it, that he was going to drive up in front of that building, that was all we knew about the schedule. So word came that the Governor was coming, the Governor was coming, so we thought, my God, which side of the building? So Norman went out one side and I went out the other side, and I think somehow we met in the other end of the building. Heíd come in through some other entrance. It was one of those very funny things, where we were both rushing around outside to meet the Governor, and then the Governor came in perhaps another doorway. All the elements of a Keystone comedy, weíre out in the cold rushing around — (laughter)
Hoddeson:Right. Letís see, now, why did you choose Oakbrook? (....) Maybe we ought to begin next time with the summer study? We did everything up to the summer study. We can have a nice leisurely session discussing the work that was done then. I have a nice report on that from Steemburger, Harry Steemburger.
Wilson:What? Oh, Harry Steemburger wrote some notes, yes.
Hoddeson:Which he sent me, which we can do next time.
Wilson:Oh, good. Thatís nice, lovely.
Hoddeson:One of the responses to that awkward letter I wrote. I got a number of responses ...
Wilson:...later on, but this reminds me that he had written up some other notes, just written them down and given them to me.
Hoddeson:These are the Steemburger notes on the summer study.
Hoddeson:Ok. Well, maybe, if they turn up, they would be useful.
Wilson:I probably have them somewhere.
Hoddeson:Letís just sum up everything until June 15; we have the choosing of Oakbrook —
Hoddeson:How did that happen?
Wilson:Well, we decided not to have it at —
Hoddeson:— Argonne — the school house —
Wilson:— Argonne. And then I sent, I remember — no, I sent Bob Madeus out to look over, as he was going to be the business manager, to look over various sites. He looked at the school house, and — well, he didnít —
Hoddeson:Who found the school house?
Wilson:AEC. The great advantage of it was, I think it cost $2 a square foot to rent per year or $3 and was very cheap. On the other hand, Oakbrook cost $6, which — per square foot — which is a very high price, three times bigger, two or three times bigger than the other place. And Bob Madeus recommended to me that I choose Oakbrook.
Wilson:And then when I came out — either for the, probably I chose it then, looked at it, but it may have been in my first visit with Don Getz. Anyway, I looked at the Oakbrook quarters, and I went out and looked at the other place. The other place was falling apart, a sort of, you know, smelled like a gymnasium, and it was awful. So, although we were trying to save money, it seemed to me — and my reputation was that of a chintzy fellow — I thought that would be the worst thing possible. The people who came would say, ďWell, look at this, lousy accommodations — if thatís going to be the way the siteís going to beĒ — and the professionals would just stick the nose up in the air and walk away. I thought, why not have — and it wasnít as central as the present, I mean, as the Oakbrook, which was quite on the crossroads of two, you know, the OíHare, the Wisconsin, Indiana, throughway, goes right by from OíHare, very close to OíHare, about 20 miles away or less, 15 miles away, close to Argonne, where we would be having to use their facilities, computers and various things, and also close to the site. Probably 25 miles away from Chicago, where I was living. When I came to the project I had to promise Jane, we will live in Chicago, in the city of Chicago, at least the first two years, which we did, and I would go back and forth. So it seemed to be an ideal site from many points of view, and also, it was just open — the top floor, as I recall, there was nothing on the floor. It was built just like this, except there were no walls, and although it was expensive, I chose that site. Now, letís see.
Hoddeson:Ok. Now, thereís some other early staffing before — Livingston, how did you choose?
Wilson:Well, Livingston, the CEA project had been just closed down, and so Livingston was available, and —
Hoddeson:— This is later, this is November.
Wilson:Yes. Anyway, this was a little later that I chose him, I think, but at an early time Iíd offered him a job. There must be letters to that effect but I remember, anyway, he had no job, and was clearly a man of great substance. He invented the cyclotron. He was Mr. Accelerator. And I liked Stan, and so, it just seemed the natural thing, to ask him to become an associate director. And he, not having a job then, was happy to accept that job.
Hoddeson:Another early appointment was Dwyer.
Wilson:He wasnít an appointment. He was an appointment, yes. He came to work for a year, I believe, on the project. He had a sabbatical or took a leave of absence, but it was understood that he was only coming for a short length of time, when he came.
Wilson:Yes, he came, and he was extremely useful too.
Wilson:Curtis came from the MIRA group. He was part of that. There were quite a few people then that came. And I made the decision. One of my early decisions was, yes, weíll build the 200 GEV LINAC. I just decided, yes, thatís what weíll do, and weíll start to do that as soon as possible. When Iíd made that decision, then I immediately hired Don Young and tried to hire Fred Mills, was unsuccessful in hiring him, but got Don and Curtis. And several other people including the secretary that we started off. There was a young lady, whoíd been a secretary at MIRA, who came down Ė she was the secretary there the first day.
Hoddeson:Who was that?
Wilson:I canít remember her name. Then, I think she may have been the secretary for two years or maybe for only one year, and then she went back to MIRA. Her husband was living I believe. And we got Priscilla at that time, because Priscilla came from La Jolla. Her husband came out to be director at — Bob Ducktail? Came to be the director of Argonne, and just as soon as we learned that, both Ned and I knew her. Ned had known the Duffieldís because they were at the University of Illinois in the old times, before heíd gone to California, and Ned had been very good friends with the Goldwassers, and then I had known Priscilla before that at Los Alamos, where sheíd come out — sheíd come out in the very early days, even before Oppenheimer came, as I recall — And so, I remembered her as Priscilla Green, and sheíd come out to be the secretary. Of course, she had been Oppieís secretary. Before that, I knew her somewhat as — she had been Lawrenceís secretary, then Roger Revelleís secretary when she was at La Jolla. Then she became my secretary. So she made quite a collection. She must have many interesting stories and invidious comparisons she could make, between us.
Hoddeson:She made a few. I have them on tape.
Wilson:Oh, really? That would be interesting.
Hoddeson:Theyíre fun. Theyíre in that collection of tapes.
Wilson:I see. We were all such different, quite such different people. It always gave me a terrible inferiority complex, to be a sort of a ďnew boyĒ in this crowd of Nobel Prize winners, all the people I thought, the generation before me, were great.
Hoddeson:She saw more things in common that she did differences.
Wilson:Oh, really? I always thought of myself as a graduate student, I mean, in terms of Lawrence and Oppenheimer, so —
Hoddeson:Then thereís Lincoln Reed. He was early.
Wilson:He was at Cornell, and agreed to come out, pretty much (invited?) decided himself to come. He was one of the first people.
Hoddeson:Ok, and were there any other relationships besides those youíve told me about which were important in that very early period? Before the summer study? I gather they were very receptive in the beginning, welcoming, and then — that sign up there shows.
Yes. I think the sign was up. I didnít have anything — I mean, I just drove through the town, didnít meet anybody, and there was that sign, — Atomic City, was it? Yes, they had the idea that this was going to become a research capital. We were building reactors — you know — but I had no contact with anybody then. Obviously what they had in mind was not what I had in mind. That developed later. There was a lot going on a proposal to that, but nothing coming up at that time. I had just assumed that the state would make the plant available to us immediately. Well, of course, that was naive. But I mean, the reason that we went — of course, we couldnít go there, because they hadnít taken any steps to make the site available. They wanted to see that the government really was serious about building the machine, and such things as that. I guess the only thing I could spend a few minutes on, that did happen, that we havenít covered, was that I had to go before the subcommittee of the joint committee before I was appointed. They had to have the approval of the commissioners. I had to go before them. We talked about that last time, Iím sure. But then I went before the joint subcommittee of the joint committee, and the man who I believe was the chairman was Mr. Pastore.
Mr. Pastore — there was a terrible fuffaroo that started about this time, open housing, and Mr. Pastore had been put in charge of civil rights, and — well, these people asked me a few questions, and then he started a diatribe about, because there were some AEC people who had brought me, Jerry Tate, some other people perhaps, other commissioners had come with me to meet — and then Norman Ramsey, to meet with the commission, I mean the joint committee members. It was clear that they wanted to approve of my selection. Or not. Pastore didnít differentiate between me, clearly, and the AEC. He just knew AEC people. And what had happened was, the day before, Seeburg had gone to Illinois, in Illinois in Springfield, I believe, I donít know why, or someplace had given some kind of a press conference or interview about open housing, saying what a great thing this was for the — just infuriated the people in Illinois, who didnít want open housing, I guess, and it infuriated Mr. Pastors who didnít like, for some reason, Iíve forgotten why, he did not like that at all. He was just terribly angry, and he said there wouldnít be any project, or that we were doing, AEC was doing everything wrong, and gave me hell. And I got angry pretty soon and said, Iíve forgotten just how it came out, but I said, ďLook here, Iím going to give a substantial part of the rest of my life to this. Iím not a member of the AEC. Iím a physicist,Ē and I told him what I was, I told him what the URA was in case he didnít know, and said, ďI care as much about civil rights as you do,Ē and I guess I began to talk , told him somewhat about my great-great-grandfather who was the president of Bria? — things of that kind. But I got very angry, and we got into quite a hassle, and I think that, you could talk to, I donít remember exactly what happened, but there is a sort of a political factotum, in the AEC, very nice man, whatís his name? Not Warren but one of the assistants there. Oh dear, it will come to me pretty soon. He does all the political things, man full of stories, name will come to me very soon. He was one of the people who had come along. He was present, I remember, he was reminding me of that, because he said — he reminded me of this fight we had where everybody, I guess their hearts were in their mouth because they thought, well, thatís the end of the project, hereís this guy giving Mr. Pastore what — for and thatís just going to finish it. At the end of this time though he said Mr. Pastore had calmed down completely. Apparently it had been sort of artificial. He said, ďWell, youíve got yourself a director, havenít you?Ē (laughter) — So it was quite an interesting confrontation.
Hoddeson:Iím switching — just to close up the session — at what point did you decide to call the lab National Accelerator Lab? We donít need to go into that because weíve discussed it. Do you remember when that was?
Wilson:Iím sure that that was about the same time I was appointed director.
Wilson:Within days — it was earlier, much earlier. Perhaps at the meeting at which, the fact that I had accepted to be the director, was appointed — it may have been decided at that meeting or at an earlier meeting, but it was much earlier. It would have been some time — when was I appointed? March, perhaps.
Hoddeson:— when you accepted —
Wilson:But it was right from the very beginning. I called it, from the time I had been appointed I always called it National Accelerator Lab and the name stuck.
Hoddeson:Ok. I just thought of that because you were talking about Pastore and he played a role in that.
Wilson:He played a very strong role in —
Hoddeson:— in the choice of —
Wilson:— yeah, in the choice of that name —
Hoddeson:— the name ďFermilab.Ē Yes.
Wilson:He kept bringing it up. Well, I should go on with the story further, because I was very upset, that Mr. Pastore had been so hostile, and it was about civil rights. His point was: how can I be in charge, I, the chairman of the Joint Committee of Atomic Energy, be in charge of this project, and at the same time, how can I be in charge of civil rights legislation? This had been done you know in the paper. I know what it was — ďAnd you have selected Illinois, a place that has no civil rights, how can you put a project — a United States government project supported by this committee — within a state without civil rights, open housing rather, legislation, and expect me to back that project?Ē That was his argument. ďI simply canít and this project will not go.Ē Thatís when I started fighting with him about civil rights and telling him I cared about it too, and made the argument that, if youíre going to put the project, if you put it in one place that had open housing, youíre not going to change that state at all, but put it in a place that doesnít have it, then you have an opportunity of putting a lot of pressure on that state and youíll get open housing in that. I made some argument of that kind. And that it took people working in places where there werenít civil rights, to have an effect on it, not some place like Rhode Island where there already were good civil rights (which there werenít) and so we got into —
Hoddeson:How did he respond to that?
Obviously he didnít think it was completely stupid, or he would have — he could have canceled me, I mean, that was for sure. If Iíd really made him angry. He was testing me, I think. Then, anyway, I didnít know that, and at the end of that, Iíd had a big argument with him and here was the chairman saying that there was not going to be any project unless there was civil rights. So I said to Norman, ďMy God, NormanĒ — Norman Ramsey was present, he would know about that, remember — I said, ďLook here, weíre not going to have a project unless we attack this problem of civil rights.Ē ďLetís go see the Senators in the Capitol Building.Ē So we went down to see Percey first. He called up, and we made an appointment to see him and his secretary told us to go down to the — room in the Capitol Building, I think it was, for Foreign Affairs, where they met. We went right down there, and we asked to see him, and after we waited 10 or 15 minutes, because they were in session — Then pretty soon a page came out, what I thought was a page came out, and started talking — and it turned out to be Percey. I somehow had not been prepared — you know, heís quite short, if youíve ever seen him, and looked very youthful, and anybody shorter than I am, I think is very short. Anyway, I thought he was some functionary of Senator Percey, and I thought the great Senator had sent us out some guy, itís not unusual, to handle the problem, and we were getting this underling. But pretty soon — he just was a freshman Senator — he said, ďLook here.Ē We told him, I told him, about our problem — ďLook here, weíve got to do something about housing and civil rights in Illinois.Ē I think they had been making very hostile comments about the project, and I guess that Chairman Seeburg had made sort of comprising comments perhaps, that it didnít matter or, I donít know what it was, Iíve forgotten, but something that made Pastore very very angry. Anyway I said, ďWeíve got to do something about that in Illinois. Theyíve got to do something,Ē and made some kind of a statement, ďor, if they want the project, otherwise, to hell with it, there wonít be a project.Ē So I explained that very strongly to Mr. Perce, and he said, ďWell, look, Iím just a freshman Senator. I really have no effect. The person who really does have an effect is Senator Dirks. Why donít we go see Senator Dirks?Ē So we walked over to his office in the Senate Office Building and went in. Mr. Persea said to the secretary, ďI have the president of the University Research Association with me, the director — designate of the Laboratory, and thereís a problem, could we see the Senator?Ē She said, ďWalk right in, Senator Perce, walk right in. Heís just dictating a letter.Ē So we walked right in. Well, we walked into a MussoliniĖlike office. It was a long office, and at one end, it seemed to me 100 feet long, there was a desk and there was Senator Dirks — a Senator with his back to us essentially. I guess it wasnít quite with his back to us, but not facing us, but he could see us come in, but dictating a letter. Then as we came down, he just kept dictating while we came along what seemed to me an infinitely long walk.
He didnít look up. He was aware we were there, but we hadnít been announced or anything, we were just interrupting. Pretty soon I could see that Perce was somewhat embarrassed. Then Perce began to make what sounded like a political speech to him. ďSenator Dirks, I have with me today, on my right, Professor Norman F. Ramsey, the President of Universities Research Association, and Dr. Robert R. Wilson, who is going to be the new director of this great laboratory thatís going to be build in the State of Illinois — he went along with this kind of thingĒ — and theyíve run into a terrible problem with Senator Pastore.Ē A public speech, you know, as weíre walking along. Old Senator Dirks said nothing. He just kept dictating. And he kept going on with this speech as we walked along, and it was a complete putdown because Senator Dirks gave him not a glance, nothing at all, and as we came close, I could see this old man with a mean kind of a face — to me he looked the very soul of corruption, and everything IĎd read about him, I didnít like — Then finally we stopped at his desk. He just kept dictating until heíd finished the letter, paying no attention. Perce continued with his speech. Believe me, what a putdown. Finally he turned around, and he didnít look at Norman Ramsey or me, didnít say a word to us. He only looked at Perce and said, ďSee here, youíve brought those people from those AEC people. I donít want those AEC people coming into my state, and telling us what to do. I donít care whether we have that project here or not.Ē (Laughter) Perce said a few other things. I was just hopping mad. I just couldnít have been more — angry...
Hoddeson:I thought he wanted it. Wasnít there a political arrangement, in an earlier —?
Wilson:Yes, that was supposed to — thatís what I thought, too. Anyway, then we just left in disarray. And he never, in the whole conversation, never looked at Norman or me — ďthese people, these AEC people,Ē I remember that. I was hopping mad, but I didnít say anything and Norman Ramsey Iím pretty sure didnít say anything. Only Perce made this statement and he (Dirks) said, ďDonít want them coming and interfering with what goes on in our state...Ē To him, of course, there was that — apocryphal but I think itís correct — that the reason that the project came to Illinois was that he had made a deal with Senator Dirks, that at that time, and prior to that —
Wilson:Johnson, President — because the issue of having consulates, I that what theyíre called? In various cities, Russian consulates, had come up, and Johnson was arguing in favor of that, why, Iíve forgotten. Dirks had been publicly balking it, and all thatís really known — I mean, that much is fact, from the newspapers. Dirks stopped his opposition suddenly, just stopped, on the same day or same week, I think within days, probably hours, of the time that the decision to have the site, was dramatically announced that it would be here. Perhaps on the same day it was announced, consulates would be set up.
Hoddeson:I thought Dirks agreed to both the civil rights issue — maybe thatís confusion?
Wilson:I donít think so, I donít — could well be but —
Hoddeson:I thank that was written down some place but it may not be accurate.
Wilson:I donít remember. All I remember was, zero. Just that he was a real bastard. Thatís what he appeared to me, and I just didnít like him. I was angry. I mean, I was willing to argue with Pastore. I didnít see any point in arguing with Dirks. Oh he was — I mean, the way he treated Perce, not to have looked up. Hereís a Senator walking in, his co-Senator. I mean, he was obviously putting him in his place, it seems to me. And then, hereís two respectable professors coming in, not to even look at us — with a big project, that he has presumably had something to do with in his state — again, I thought was, you know, just a terrible way to treat people. Clearly he was miffed at the AEC and confused. He though we were people, functionaries from the AEC, I presume, and we werenít. I mean, the whole thing was just something that made me very angry. And as far as I know, we got no help whatsoever from Mr. Dirks. No. He died very soon after, of course. He looked as though he were at deathís door. At half the time.
Well, thank you. It was a great session.