Oral History Transcript — Dr. David L. Webster
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Interview with Dr. David L. Webster
David L. Webster; January 26, 1963
ABSTRACT: Early history of formation of American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT); formation of the education committee of the American Physical Society (APS) by George B. Wendell in 1919; the APS “exclusion principle” for teaching papers. Dayton C. Miller on the Council of APS led objections to report of the education committee, Webster's counter-arguments. Experiences and interests in teaching of physics; instructor at Harvard University, 1913-1917. First involvement at second Cleveland meeting to discuss forming AAPT by invitation, 1930; other participants at Cleveland meeting, contributions of Karl Compton and Floyd Richtmeyer. Tenures as vice president, 1933-1934, and president, 1935-1936; Homer L. Dodge's presidency; Frederick Palmer's presidency; contributions in early years of AAPT of Paul Klopsteg and Marshall Ney States. Effect of formation of AAPT on teachers and researchers; need for and funding of the journal. First joint meeting of AAPT and APS.
Shaughnessy:The first thing that occurs to me, as an area important to investigate is the origins of the American Association of Physics Teachers. In connection with that, I'd like to ask you this: what circumstances in which you were personally involved do you recall that led up to the meeting held in Cleveland in 1930?
Webster:Well, I think the best answer to that is, that this paper that I wrote, that was published in 1957 contains the best account I could give of just those events, and of the first few years of the association. At the time of writing this paper, I went through various records that I had on hand, to verify my memories of these things, so that I would enter this in evidence as Exhibit A. But you can ask me more about it if you wish.
Shaughnessy:Yes, I would like to ask you about this reference you make here: "The first notable departure from this policy of exclusion came in 1919, when Professor George B. Wendel of Columbia University prevailed upon the Council of the Society to authorize him to organize a committee for the study of general problems of physics teaching and to call it the Educational Committee of the American Physical Society." Did you have a personal involvement in that?
Webster:I was not personally involved quite as early as that. I was on that committee later, but not at that moment. But I know that that was the date when the committee was organized. I think I got that date out of one of the reports, later published, that I mentioned in the paper.
Shaughnessy:When did you become personally involved in the AAPT? Its formation?
Webster:I was at the second luncheon. I was not at the first one, on the list you saw today. I was at the second one; I think that was the next day.
Shaughnessy:Another valuable thing for the record would be some personal expression by you, through anecdote or statement, of this conflict you describe so very well which existed between the research people and those interested in the teaching of physics. You made some very interesting statements. You said "Teaching was under a cloud in those days."
Webster:Yes, it was.
Shaughnessy:Do you recall any personal incident or anecdote which can substantiate that statement?
Webster:Well, I know that several times the matter had come up in connection with things that I was interested in. I thought it would be a good idea to talk before the Physical Society but it was thumbs down on anything to do with teaching.
Shaughnessy:What was there in your personal background that made you aware of the need for improved teaching methods in physics? Why did you become involved in this question?
Webster:I became involved in it when I first began to learn any physics, in school. I went to a school in Boston, Noble and Greenough’s. Mr. Greenough, the junior partner in the school, taught physics, and I got interested in science then and also in methods of teaching. Among other things that interested me was the fact that Greenough said quite plainly and often that the physics course in the school was definitely under the domination of the Harvard Entrance Exams. It practically had to become a coaching course for passing the Harvard Entrance Exam in physics. There were many things, he said, that would be much more interesting to talk about but questions from past exams were always published, and. they tended to be repeated, and he just simply had to coach us for it. We had to study for that. Well, that has colored my reaction to externally-imposed examinations ever since. But then when it came to the matter of teaching, I just happened to be able to help a lot of my friends who were having trouble with physics.
Shaughnessy:Where did you do your undergraduate work?
Shaughnessy:Did you stay there for your graduate work?
Shaughnessy:Do you recall whether or not anyone in your undergraduate or graduate days emphasized the need for improved teaching methods in physics?
Webster:Well, I know some of my friends did. I know also that I was told by my major professor when I was a graduate student that I was wasting my time working up new laboratory experiments for the freshman class. He said that was not what I was supposed to be there for, and it was not needed, and that if I had any sense I wouldn’t waste my time on it.
Shaughnessy:You did some graduate assistant instruction?
Webster:Yes. I was first a teaching assistant in mathematics, and then in physics. I guess I first got interested in the problems of teaching through helping my friends individually, before I became an assistant, when I was taking courses. I realized that there was a lot of need for improvement in teaching.
Shaughnessy:How was physics taught at Harvard when you were an undergraduate?
Webster:It depended on the courses. Now the freshman course had one lecture a week, and I think one or two laboratory sessions, I guess one for each of us. I've forgotten whether they had any problem sessions or not. Anyway, the lectures were very good, very good indeed.
Shaughnessy:How big were the classes?
Webster:About 150, or so. But the professor who gave those lectures said once that I ought to realize that, as he put it, "In a class of that size, you can only appeal to the most elementary passions." That's the way he put it. Well, I think that's an exaggeration. In my own teachings later I always encouraged questions from the class, and I'd get a class of 130. That was the limit of the room, when I did most of my teaching, at Stanford. I'd get good questions from a class of 130 and good interest in the answers to them.
Shaughnessy:When did you finish your graduate work at Harvard?
Webster:I got my PhD in 1913, and then I stayed on as an instructor until 1917.
Shaughnessy:Were you a member of the American Physical Society during this period?
Webster:I became a member, I believe, in 1913.
Shaughnessy:Were you disturbed or concerned with the problem of teaching of physics?
Webster:Yes, I was, very much so. I put in a lot of extra time on developing laboratory experiments and by that time, we did have problem sessions in the physics course. I know we had sessions in mathematics before that. The boys worked at drafting tables, and the instructors went around and helped them individually. I got a pretty good idea of what kind of help they needed, and I thought it was a very important problem, to improve teaching.
Shaughnessy:You were aware of the need to improve methods of teaching in physics. In this period prior to 1925, you met many, many physicists from different colleges?
Shaughnessy:You attended the meetings of the American Physical Society?
Shaughnessy:How widespread was this concern for improved teaching methods?
Webster:Well, I'd say it was more widespread than appeared on the surface. The American Physical Society, as I think I said in that paper, had this hard and fast rule against the presentation of any papers on teaching. I did not at that time see why they should have such a rule, and I thought it was unnecessary and harmful.
Shaughnessy:When you say the American Physical Society, are you speaking about a group of men or perhaps a few individuals who tended to dominate the Society at that time?
Webster:The Council of the Society tended to dominate it. Of course they did.
Shaughnessy:Was there any one person, any two people, you can think of who set the attitudes in the Council at that time?
Webster:Well, I don't know how large a group there was, but I know that when I came to argue before the Council for the publication of this report of the educational committee, there were certain ones who thought it was all wrong. I mean, not that the report was wrong, but that publication of it was wrong.
Shaughnessy:Who were they?
Webster:Particularly D.C. Miller. He was one of the founders of the American Physical Society. He was very conscientious, very devoted to the interests of the Society. But as I gathered from his arguments and others of the same sort, they had had to make a rule, or thought they had to, against publication of any papers on teaching, because when the Society was founded, there was very little research being done, and even less money being granted by universities for research. It was felt that, if papers on teaching were allowed in the society, the universities would realize that they could get their names on the programs of the Society without giving their faculty members either the money or the time to do any research. The only way to force the universities to give money and faculty time for research was to have this rule, that nothing but research papers should be presented to the Society. Of course, that didn't absolutely force the universities to do it, but at least it was sort of a dig in the ribs to make them go a little bit that way.
Shaughnessy:If you were asked to identify those people in the American Physical Society who took the strongest position against the attitudes and values of the AAPT, whom else would you name besides Miller?
Webster:I’m not sure that I'd name any other special individual, but there was a general feeling that ran through the Council meetings and informal discussions outside, that that rule was necessary. I remember one of the arguments that I presented was that by the 1920's, research was no longer an infant industry and did not have to be bolstered by embargoes or protective tariffs or anything of the sort. It was on its feet and going, and now they should be able to afford to relax that rule. But all the past presidents of the Society were ex officio members of the Council and of course most of them were getting pretty old. Getting too old to change their ideas, or recognize a new situation.
Shaughnessy:You say: "To make matters worse, there was a lot of talk to the effect that no man could be a good teacher, even in undergraduate classes, unless he was also a researcher."
Webster:There was a lot of talk to that effect, and I think most of it was absolutely false. I think a lot of researchers wanted to believe that, because they wanted to believe anything that would bolster the arguments for research. I think they sincerely believed it, but I am quite sure it was not so. As I think I said further along there, I never could do the two things in one Quarter. I did a lot of research, and I did a lot of work on improving teaching; but not in the same Quarter.
Shaughnessy:You say: "In my experience, at least, the correlation between research and undergraduate teaching is definitely negative.”
Webster:Yes. If I tried to put any real effort into improving an undergraduate course, I had to neglect my research. If I tried to do any research, I had to neglect the undergraduate course.
Shaughnessy:This was another point that I considered fairly important — talking about the period prior to 1930, now — you said that “it had seemed to justify a rule that each faculty member would be judged entirely by his research, and that there would be no promotions except on this basis."
Webster:Yes. That was a rule that was put into effect at a good many universities. Stanford University was one of them, and I guess Harvard before but I’m not quite sure. Anyway, that was a rule that was being put into effect at that time.
Shaughnessy:Is the situation in the teaching of physics much different today; at universities, for example, in physics departments, aren't promotions of individuals largely based on their research published?
Webster:Yes, they are. They are. Stanford's one of them, now,
Shaughnessy:How did you happen to be present at the second meeting at Cleveland?
Webster:Well, I was invited.
Shaughnessy:Do you remember who sent you the invitation?
Webster:Oh, it wasn’t sent to me. It was just a verbal invitation. At the time, after that first luncheon, they wanted to get a few more people together the next day, to consider the matter further. I rather guess it was Dodge that asked me to come into that next luncheon.
Shaughnessy:What was your reaction when he asked you to attend?
Webster:Oh, I was very glad to.
Shaughnessy:Do you recall seeing Compton or Richtmeyer at the second luncheon?
Webster:Well, I think they were both there. I wouldn't be absolutely certain.
Shaughnessy:It's my impression that the fact that the AAPT had Compton and Richtmeyer, (who were then two outstanding members of the APS Council) on their team, so to speak, was a very important point.
Webster:Yes. Oh, it was very important.
Shaughnessy:Do you know how it came about that Compton and Richtmeyer were present?
Webster:Yes, I know that Dodge personally realized that it was necessary to have men of that type who were known for research as well as for teaching, and who were influential in the Physical Society — it was important to have them on the Council of WT, so that they could act to improve cooperation between the two societies, because there were a good many people in the AAPT who were somewhat bitterly resentful of the superior attitude, the holier-than-thou attitude, of the researchers, and there were a good many who were rather in favor of standing along the Physical Society and making a point of the fact that we are on our own now and to hell with you." I know people like Dodge and Palmer realized that that would be the wrong attitude to take. I thought it was the wrong attitude myself, for that matter.
Shaughnessy:Do you know of any steps which the APS took, officially or unofficially, to block the development of the AAPT?
Webster:No, I don't know that they took any definite steps to block its development. But I'm pretty sure that a lot of members of the APS would not be found dead attending a meeting of the AAPT. I remember one time, just about the second year, when the AAPT invited Arthur Compton to come in and give them a talk by invitation, an hour or half hour perhaps, and he kept us waiting a while, and then strode in with a heavy military tread down the aisle and gave the talk and strode out again. He wasn’t going to be associated with the AAPT anymore than he could help. I don't know why he even accepted the invitation to talk. I know another fellow, Leonard Loeb, at the University of California. I remember seeing him shortly after I'd been elected vice-president of the AAPT, and he greeted me with some question of "Why the hell are you playing around with that crowd of good-for-nothings?" or words to that effect. He implied that it would seriously interfere with my getting ahead in my profession. He said as much, that I'd better not waste my time on the AAPT, because the effect would be adverse. Other remarks were made of that general sort.
Shaughnessy:At this second meeting in Cleveland, 1930, there was some discussion about what relationship the AAPT should have to the APS.
Webster:Well, there was this discussion about whether we should or should not stand aloof from the APS.
Shaughnessy:What was your feeling?
Webster:My feeling was that we should not. My feeling was that we should not stand aloof, and yet not come crawling on our bellies for invitations to join up with them, either. Better let them recognize us as being worth inviting.
Shaughnessy:Do you remember whether there was any debate on the constitution or the bylaws of the AAPT when they were proposed and adopted?
Webster:I don't remember any important issues, but I'd find it hard to believe that there wasn't some debate on the constitution and bylaws of any society,
Shaughnessy:Especially on tenure of office, of president for example? I believe the tenure was two years?
Webster:No. There was an election every year, but Dodge was reelected, so he served a second year, and then Palmer and then I. Beyond that I've forgotten how far it went,
Shaughnessy:You were one of the original officers of the AAPT? When did you become a vice-president?
Webster:I became a vice-president at the meeting of 1932. That is, I was chosen to be a vice-president at that meeting and took office in 1933. Then I was vice-president again in ‘34, then president in '35 and ‘36.
Shaughnessy:Shortly after the AAPT was formed in 1930, steps were taken for the formation of the American Institute of Physics?
Shaughnessy:What was the role of the AAPT in the formation of the AIP?
Webster:As I recall it, the AAPT was not directly concerned in the formation of it, but was invited to join the AIP when it was formed. I wouldn't be dead sure, but that's my recollection of it.
Shaughnessy:After the AAPT had been organized, did relations between the AAPT and the APS improve any? Did the negative attitude you described diminish any?
Webster:Well, it diminished rather gradually.
Shaughnessy:What were the immediate effects of the formation of the AAPT on the attitudes and the values of physicists toward the teaching of physics?
Webster:I don't think it had any immediate effect on the attitude of the research men. I think it did have a great effect on the teachers — that is, those who made teaching their chief business or perhaps their entire business. It gave them a degree of self-respect that they never had had before. I mean, it enabled them to hold their heads up and say "We’re just as good as you fellows." And I think that was very necessary and very important, because the holier-than-thou attitude of the researchers, and being prevented from presenting papers and all that, had got under their skins and made them feel that they were being treated as second class citizens. Whether they thought of themselves that way or not, they didn't like that treatment. I think the AAPT had a very wholesome effect on their own self-esteem.
Shaughnessy:Would say that the AAPT had any role in the formation of the AIP?
Webster:Well, I don't know. I was not directly connected with the formation of the AIP, and I don't really feel at all sure what could be said about that.
Shaughnessy:What about the other organizations in the AIP? The Acoustical Society, I believe, is one; the Optical Society another. What was the relationship of the AAPT to these other organizations?
Webster:Now, I'm not sure. I don't think there was any very direct relationship, except that they were all members of the AIP. I've forgotten now exactly when the Optical Society, the Acoustical Society and the Society of Rheology were organized. I think they were organized before the AAPT, at least some of them, anyway.
Shaughnessy:Do you recall at one of the early meetings, about 1932, a series of prolonged discussions over the question of whether or not a journal should be published?
Webster:Oh yes, sure.
Shaughnessy:Was that publication an important step?
Webster:Certainly, it was a very important step.
Shaughnessy:Was there any doubt as to whether a journal should be published or not?
Webster:There was doubt as to whether we could finance it, just on account of the kind of thing you were hearing about at lunch today. Everybody was short of cash, and teachers have never been very well paid anyway. So there was a question as to whether we could finance a journal. But I think if we hadn't, the thing would have faded out of existence — I mean, the AAPT would have — because after all, it was important to have the things that teachers had to say put into print, for two reasons: one, for the benefit of the other teachers who weren’t able to get to a national meeting because it was so far away; and also to have things on record, so that people could read about ideas about teaching later and refresh their memories on them and so forth.
Shaughnessy:How was this financial problem ultimately overcome? Wasn't there an anonymous grant of some money?
Webster:There was an anonymous grant by Palmer that you heard about today. That was a thousand dollars. I don't recall now whether there were any other anonymous grants at that time but even a thousand dollars went a long way toward financing the journal in those days.
Shaughnessy:At lunch we discussed the effect of forcing an organization such as this in the midst of a national depression. What would you say was the effect of the depression on the formation of the AAPT?
Webster:Well, I hadn't realized that the depression had as much effect as some of the other men here at lunch thought it had. Teachers were not losing their jobs the way industrial people were. They had more security of tenure, and I'd rather taken for granted that on that account, they were able to pay their $2 and even $3 if they really cared about it. I was rather surprised this noon to hear these opinions that the depression had had that much effect.
Shaughnessy:In 1933, I think it was, Dr. Palmer succeeded Dr. Dodge as president.
Shaughnessy:How would you evaluate the period of Dodge's tenure as president of the organization?
Webster:Oh, very highly indeed. He was a good organizer, and he had a lot of common sense and he knew a lot of people. He got Richtmeyer and Karl Compton on the Council of the AAPT which was an excellent move. He knew whom to turn to for a lot of things. He got Roller in as editor. He was a man of wide acquaintanceship. He was a very good leader of people.
Shaughnessy:What would you say Compton and Richtmeyer's contribution was to the AAPT? Was it significant, or was it merely the fact that their names could be used on the masthead of the organization?
Webster:By the way, distinguish between Karl Compton and Arthur Compton. They're brothers, you know. Karl, I think, was too much up to his neck in his work as president of MIT at that time and he couldn't do very much, although his name was important on the masthead, and also in influencing the councils of both societies toward cooperation. Richtmeyer was influential, not only in that way, but also in writing for the journal. There's a paper that I quote at the end of this one that I consider an extremely important paper, because there had been a lot of talk among researchers at the time we organized the AAPT, to the effect that you can talk all night about teaching if you want to, but you can't ever prove anything. Well, Richtmeyer explained in that article, in the part that I quote there, exactly why you could not prove anything — why you couldn't prove it definitely, all you could say was, "I've found this method very good" and somebody else will say, "I've found this other method very good." Well, all right. That, you could say, proved that those fellows had found those methods good, but it did not prove absolutely that one method was better than another for somebody else. Still it was very important to lay these different methods of teaching, different methods of presentation of special subjects, before the group, put them in print, so that any teacher could read about them and might well say, "That's a good idea," and then try it out, It enabled teachers to improve their own courses by what they could read, Richtmeyer brought that point out very clearly there, and it was a very important point.
Shaughnessy:After Dodge was president, he was succeeded by Palmer. Do you know anything about how Palmer came to be elected? Was he chosen by a small group of people?
Webster:Oh. I think he was chosen by a nominating committee. Most of the early members of the AAPT knew him and recognized him as a good man.
Shaughnessy:I wondered whether his choice as president was influenced by the fact that he had strong connections with the northeast section of the country, with Harvard University? Was this a method to gain greater national recognition for the AAPT?
Webster:Well, I think that was a byproduct, but I wouldn't think it was the main reason. He was teaching at Haverford College, and that was a college which made a business of teaching. It was not a research institution. He was one of the men who was a real honest-to-God professional teacher and a good one. He was well liked, well known, and he was a mighty good choice,
Shaughnessy:It occurred to me that the first president coming from a state like Oklahoma might not have given the society the recognition that a man like Palmer, with connections at Harvard, teaching at Haverford, living in the northeast section of the country, might have given the association. It occurred to me that these geographical, social and economic factors might have had a strong influence upon his choice as president.
Webster:Well, they might have. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they did. After all, Dodge mentioned that to me at lunch a couple of days ago. He thought that that was a mighty good idea, but at the same time, I don't know whether that was really prominent in the minds of the nominating committee or the society.
Shaughnessy:I also wondered whether your choice as president in 1936, wasn't it, when you became president?
Webster:— no, I became president in ‘35 — I became vice-president in 1933 and that pretty much meant that I was likely to become president, although it was not written down that I would or anything.
Shaughnessy:Do you think your choice as vice-president and subsequently as president was influenced by the fact that you were in California, at Stanford University, and that we had now had a president from the Midwest and one from the Northeast, and to avoid making the organization parochial, make it broader, it was wise to get someone from the Far West?
Webster:I don't know. Nobody ever said so to me. I think that —
Shaughnessy:How did you become president? You say there was no written rule that the vice-president became president?
Webster:No, there was no office of president-elect at that time as there is now. I think my election in 1935 came about mostly because I was elected vice-president in 1933, I remember that happened after the meeting there in December, '32, at Atlantic City. The meeting was all over with the dinner on Friday night, and then I stayed there overnight before going home. The next morning I came down to breakfast, and there were Dodge, Palmer, States, Klopsteg, and one or two others sitting around the table. I said good morning. They said, "Come on over here and sit down and have your breakfast with us, "Then they said, “We want you to be vice-president." They were the nominating committee. I didn't know it until they said so. At least I wasn't conscious of their wanting to talk to me about that. But they just said they wanted me to take on the job. Well, I had written some papers before that on teaching. I’d been on this educational committee of the Physical Society. Somewhere along there I wrote a paper, way back before 1920, on the physics of flying, in the Franklin Institute Journal — couldn’t be in the Physical Review. Then in addition to being on the educational committee, I was on the committee on electromagnetic units.
Shaughnessy:Why couldn't the article on the physics of flying have appeared in the Physical Review?
Webster:Oh, because it was on what you should teach about flying, and how you should approach it. The physics of flying itself of course — well, what I had to say about it was not new contributions to the theory of aerodynamics, it was on what should be said about it in the classroom. Of course, the subject had come before the public in World War I, and I'd been a flier in World War I, on experimental work. I had studied aerodynamics on that account, and I had a pretty good idea of how it should be approached and made use of as a good classroom subject in physics. But as a teaching paper, you couldn't put it in the PHYS REV.
Shaughnessy:Was there any time during the first six or seven years of the AAPT that it occurred to you that this society might not continue?
Webster:I didn't think it would fail, no. There was always a possibility, but I didn't think it was going to go that way, particularly when we founded the journal.
Shaughnessy:Up to the time of the foundation of the journal, was there a question in your mind or the minds of others that this might not continue?
Webster:Apparently there was a good deal of question in the minds of some of the people as to whether we could make the association stay alive without a journal. You see, it's not like a local society of any kind, where everybody knows everybody else and they can all get to a meeting every week or two. It's a big job to get to a national meeting, particularly if you live off at a long distance in a place where the college is not in the habit of paying transcontinental railroad fares.
Shaughnessy:We've talked about some of these men who were important in the early days of the organization. What do you think were the specific contributions of these individual men? Take a man like Dr. Klopsteg. What did he do to advance the cause of the teaching of physics?
Webster:For one thing, as president of Central Scientific, he had very wide acquaintance among teachers, because after all teachers at that time were the main customers of Central Scientific. He also had the facilities of a large business organization for typing and programs and letters and such things as you heard about today. He personally donated the funds for the Oersted Medal.
Shaughnessy:What do you think his interest was in the improvement of classroom teaching of physics? Why was he involved in this?
Webster:I don't know how he first got involved in it, but as a manufacturer of laboratory and lecture room apparatus, he naturally got in contact with a lot of the needs of physics teachers, He was quite conscious of them. You might say that was his business, to satisfy those needs. But more than that, he had a definitely more altruistic interest in it than mere business. He definitely wanted to advance the teaching of physics.
Shaughnessy:Take a man like Dr. States. Why was he interested in the problem of teaching of physics and what did he contribute to the association?
Webster:He was interested for very much the same reasons that Klopsteg was. He was employed by Central Scientific, and he was also in contact with teachers and realized what they needed. He wanted to help.
Shaughnessy:Was he also altruistic?
Webster:Oh, I think he was definitely interested that way. As I understand it, his position was not one that enabled him to participate in teaching, because after all, he was busy manufacturing apparatus; but he certainly had an altruistic attitude toward the improvement of teaching.
Shaughnessy:Both he and Klopsteg contributed to some of the physical needs of the association in the early days? The equipment?
Webster:Oh, yes. Central Scientific was the leading manufacturer of apparatus that was useful in both lecture demonstrations and laboratory classes. Then, of course, also research apparatus. Their vacuum pumps, for instance. They knew the needs of teaching and they wanted to help.
Shaughnessy:Some other names that appear very frequently in these early minutes — a man by the name of Minor, also Worthington and Wooten. Webster: Yes. Minor was a teacher at the University of California at Berkeley. There wasn't any other University of California in those days. He was one of the few there who really insisted on making a business of teaching, at the sacrifice of his own promotions.
Shaughnessy:You mean he was not promoted because of this interest in teaching?
Webster:I think it must have held him back definitely. I could afford to take an interest myself, because I went to Stanford as head of the department and there wasn't much more I could expect in the way of promotion, and I had cash enough so that I didn't give a damn whether I got a raise or not, so I could afford to be interested in teaching. Otherwise I can't claim I would have been saintly enough to do it. I was interested, and did devote about half of my time to it, But Minor; I guess was more definitely doing it at a real sacrifice to himself.
Shaughnessy:What about Worthington?
Webster:I recall Worthington rather vaguely.
Shaughnessy:Glenn Warner played a more prominent role than Worthington, didn't he?
Webster:I don't recall very much about either of them.
Shaughnessy:What about Wooten?
Webster:He was, as I recall it, a teacher at some college where research was not done. I think he was a teacher, definitely, and as such he wanted to advance the interests of the AAPT.
Shaughnessy:Is there anything that sticks out in your mind about Dr. Webb?
Webster:Yes. He was a very conscientious hard-working secretary of the Society for years, did an awfully good job, and it must have taken him a lot of time.
Shaughnessy:He was affiliated with some educational institution?
Webster:He was at Kentucky. That, I guess, was not really a research institution.
Shaughnessy:I have one final question which could have subdivisions. Looking back, at what point in time would you say the AAPT was established and recognized as the association of physics teachers? I'm sure in its early years it had difficulty gaining recognition among scientists.
Webster:It had difficulty gaining recognition among researchers but it didn't have much competition among associations of physics teachers, because there wasn't any other national association of physics teachers. The educational committee of the A?S had gone out of existence. The engineering societies, mechanical and electrical, had their educational committees and were doing some work along those lines, but that was more strictly engineering education.
Shaughnessy:Would you say there was any point in time that could be pinpointed, which would indicate the time in history when the AAPT gained the recognition and approval of the APS?
Webster:Well, there's one little point. I don’t know that I can say it gained the approval of the APS particularly or anything of that sort, but the first time we had a joint dinner of the AAPT and APS was my last year as president, and of course the president of the APS was the fellow who was the leading speaker and all of that. That was, R.W, Wood. Llewellyn Hughes spoke for Section B of the Triple A S (AAAS) and I spoke for the AAPT. Well, I'd made up my mind, by gosh I was going to sass Wood and make it evident that I at least thought that we deserved some recognition. It just happened that I had a wonderful opportunity in that way. There was a young fellow (I've forgotten his name now), who'd made quite an, impassioned speech at the joint meeting in favor of qualitative laboratory experimental and he’d ended his descriptions of several of these experiments by emphatically saying, "When that student got through with that experiment, there was no doubt in his mind about the principle.” When I was called upon to speak, I said that it gave me great pleasure to respond to Professor Wood, because Professor Wood had once told me of a very good laboratory experiment which he had tried himself in his younger days — that he had taken a lot of kindling wood and paper and piled it up in the middle of the street in downtown Baltimore, late in the evening when nobody was around, and put a bunch of cannon crackers on top, and then on top of that a mixture, a box containing a mixture of potassium chlorate and sugar. I said first that once I had performed an experiment that I thought was good. I'd made a mixture of potassium chlorate and sugar and put it in an envelope and tied it between two bricks and dropped it out of a fifth story window, and it had gone off very satisfactorily. One of the bricks had gone through the janitor's door, I thought that was a pretty good qualitative experiment. Then I told about this one of Wood's. Wood had done much better. He had made up this bonfire, in this downtown street in Baltimore, and lit it, and then he ran. The bonfire burnt up beautifully. Then the cannon crackers began to go off. Then pretty soon the whole box full of potassium chlorate and sugar went up, and blew a hole 25 feet wide in the pavement. I said, "Of course, 25 feet is not a quantitative measurement," You know, Wood is famous for his qualitative experiments. But I said, "When that student got through with his experiment, there was no doubt in his mind about the principle, — nor in the neighbors' minds about the lack of principle?" That really brought down the house. It sort of struck me, from things the fellows said afterwards, that they were awfully glad to see the president of the APS get sassed in that way. Wood’s a genial soul. He said something to the effect that "Well, this was a slightly garbled account of my experiment, but there was one interesting phenomenon I noticed — that immediately after the explosions there was a crash of falling glass from the windows, from windows hit by the explosion, and also down the street toward me, followed by a faint tinkling dying off in the distances, as the sound had to get down to other windows and back." So a good time was had by all. But I don't claim that that made a tremendous difference in the Society at all.
Shaughnessy:Were there any points in the early history of the American Association of Physics Teachers which you would Bay were critical points in its history?
Webster:Well, there was the critical point of whether we could finance the journal. That was the one real critical point.
Shaughnessy:After that hurdle had been cleared?
Webster:Then we were on our way.
Shaughnessy:Between the things that you've said today, and what you have published in the articles I think we've covered pretty much the early years of the origins of the AAPT, some of the problems associated with the formation of the association and the problems encountered immediately after its formation.
Webster:Yes, I think we have. Of course, there were various committees that were organized for special services.
Shaughnessy:Here's one last question I would like to ask you. All of you people who congregated at Cleveland in 1930 were university teachers?
Webster:Yes, university or college.
Shaughnessy:At some point shortly after the formation, the question came up of whether or not to admit secondary teachers of physics.
Shaughnessy:Remember the debate on that?
Webster:I don’t remember much debate on it. I remember that there was debate, and that it was recognized that there were a lot of secondary school teachers who were mighty good teachers and had the intellectual qualifications, but I'm pretty sure there was sort of a feeling that if we let secondary school teachers in, in general, we might find the intellectual tone of the association getting lowered to what the APS members thought it was — a drop in the intellectual prestige.
Shaughnessy:What was your feeling on that?
Webster:Well, my own feeling was that really if we did a careful job of selection, it probably would not have that effect. Still, I don't know, I think I was willing to believe that there was a risk of that, perhaps.
Shaughnessy:Were you opposed to the idea?
Webster:I didn’t take any active opposition to it, myself.
Shaughnessy:It was a real dilemma, though.
Webster:It was a bit of a dilemma. I believe there was a committee appointed to consider what should be done about that and the committee went on for a considerable time. I practically had to drop out of work for the AAPT very soon, within a year or two after I finished my term as president, because Russell Varian invented the klystron out there at Stanford, and he and Bill Hansen and Russell's brother, Sigurd Varian — (they were Irish, just as Irish as you make ‘em, just as Irish as O'Shaughnessy!) — they really did a remarkable job. This comes into history of science, not into history of the AAPT exactly, but you might be interested. Sigurd was a Pan-American airline captain, based in Mexico City, and his wife was the daughter of the British Consul in Mexico City. She heard the Germans in the foreign colony there bragging about what Hitler was going to do to England with his bombers. She asked her husband if he thought they could. He said, as far as he knew, they could. So he got in touch with his brother Russell who was working in Philadelphia and asked him "What can we do about this?" Russell said "The only way to prevent it would be to get a good early warning system, which you could make if you had a powerful source of short wave, microwave, radio, You could focus the beam. Any physicist would know that. If it's powerful enough, you could get a reflection back, and time the reflection so as to tell how far off the bombers were and in what direction. Then you'd be ready for them." So both Sigurd and Russell threw up good jobs to come to Stanford for the purpose of inventing a powerful source of microwaves.
Shaughnessy:And you got involved in that work?
I got involved. I saw to it that they were given proper facilities. They really chose Stanford on account of Hanson's having invented the cavity resonator. Russell had a lot of ideas. He was always chock full of ideas. He’d been at Stanford as a student so I knew him before. He was so full of ideas that when he was helping in research, I'd have to say, "For God's sake shut up, I want to concentrate on my work and not on this idea." But he was full of them. He sat around in the office with Hanson and swapped ideas. Hanson would say that most of them were no good, and show why. But eventually Russell came up with this idea of bunching of electrons, while they coasted along in a field-free region, using one of Hanson's resonators to start the bunching, then letting them get bunched as they coasted along, then letting them go through another resonator and deliver the power. That, we all recognized instantly as a grand idea. Then they asked me to develop the mathematics of it for them, Meanwhile Sigurd got to work and constructed the thing. The very first time we tried it, it worked. That was a great invention, made by these two fellows who had thrown up good jobs on the chance that they might make it.
 "Reminiscences of the Early Years of the Association," American Journal of Physics, 25, 131 (1957)