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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Bart Bok

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Interview with Dr. Bart J. Bok
By David DeVorkin
At Howard Johnson Motel,Tempe, Arizona
May 19, 1978

open tab View abstract

Dr. Bart J. Bok; May 19, 1978

ABSTRACT:Interview discusses, not always in chronological order: early home life and schooling; undergraduate at Leyden, influence of Ehrenfest, Oort, Kapteyn, Kuiper, Pannekoek, Hertzsprung. Recollections of work of Uhlenbeck and Goudsmit. Assistant to van Rhijin at Groningen ca. 1928, work on various stellar and galactic topics. Move to Harvard, 1929, and atmosphere there under Shapley. Marriage to Priscilla Fairfield Bok; her contacts with W.W. Campbell. Search for and interpretation of spiral arms of our galaxy; studies of stellar density distribution. Activities during World War II. Harvard astronomy group's difficult postwar transition; McCarthyism. Work on nebulae and globules. Comments on astronmy at Mt. Wilson, Tonantziutla, and South Africa. Origins of Harvard radio astronomy and National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and their funding. Move to Australia, 1956, and conditions there. Move to Steward Observatory of University of Arizona, 1964, and conditions there. Location of national observatory at Kitt Peak; management of Kitt Peak. Discussions of astronomy, education, popularization, employment, and organization.

Transcript

Session I | Session II | Session III | Session IV

Bok:

I would like to speak for a minute about the group of reasons that made me leave Harvard, because in my day, Harvard was a place where you stayed for life, and leaving was not a normal thing to do. There were several reasons. The first one was, in a way, the most important one. I felt that at Harvard, my work on the Milky Way was looked askance at by my colleagues, because my colleagues felt that Milky Way research was not a profit making affair; Harvard had more and more to earn overhead. The group had at that time very little -- that was about 1954, '55 -- very little confidence in the National Science Foundation yet, and felt it would never compare with what the military was capable of doing. And I was made to feel that I should change from Milky Way research to a more profitable field. I decided instead, because Priscilla and I were very deeply involved in Milky Way research, committed to it, I felt that we should think about changing and going elsewhere. I had always hoped that when Shapley would go, that I either would have been director -- that would have been fine, but not especially -- or I would have the Boyden Station.

DeVorkin:

Did you ever talk to Shapley about the possibility of being his successor?

Bok:

Oh yes, yes. And Shapley wanted me. But Shapley had no influence at the time whatsoever. I was then sort of the senior associate director of Harvard Observatory. But what I had counted on was that I would always have access to the Southern Milky Way, and that I would become a pure Southern Milky Way astronomer and develop Boyden Station. Then I found out, when I came back from there in 1950, '51, that by the time I came home, they had pulled the rug out from under me, and Boyden Station was to be closed. That was Number 1.

DeVorkin:

Who made that decision?

Bok:

That was made partly by President Conant. I think part of that decision was made in spite of Conant -- or by Conant in spite. He wanted to be difficult with Harlow Shapley, and wanted to make things tough for Harlow.

DeVorkin:

It was Harlow Shapley he was getting at.

Bok:

That he was getting after. And as far as I was concerned, I don't think I counted in Conant's thinking at all, in either a minor or a major way. I was in the way and that was all right. So what he wanted to do was really hurt Harlow Shapley, who they couldn't fire at that time. Then, what happened, I had set up radio astronomy, and that was also beginning to be looked askance at by my colleagues because they felt that I should change from the Milky Way radio astronomy, 21centimeter line, to more profitable fields in radio astronomy like meteors. That was number 1. Number 2 was that in this whole climate, there then came suddenly this development that the members of the Council, Menzel and Whipple especially, with McGeorge Bundy as the dean on top of it, were ready to move in a different direction and bring the Smithsonian in. They knew probably pretty well that I would not be in favor of the Smithsonian coming to Harvard Observatory, for I felt it was a big bureaucracy. I could see nothing wrong with it, but it didn't belong in a university where teaching and research were the two primary affairs. The Smithsonian decision was made without consulting me at all, and I felt this was just undignified. Then, another thing that came along. We had a visit from Otto Struve to our house, and Priscilla and I asked Struve, who was a very old and close friend, to come over, and before dinner we stood on the verandah and looked at Boston and saw the lovely lights of the evening over Boston, and suddenly Otto said, "I bring a message from your colleagues. They have asked me to come and tell you that life would be so much simpler all around Harvard if you and Priscilla would stop supporting Shapley." That's the way it was put. Well, all these things together became such that I felt I couldn't really and shouldn't stay there.

DeVorkin:

Did Struve agree with them? Or was he just saying this?

Bok:

He brought the message. He felt awfully sorry later on that he had transmitted the message.

DeVorkin:

How did he feel about the entire condition at Harvard?

Bok:

He had a slight, overall fatherly interest. He tried to find a solution for it. McGeorge Bundy's solution was that I would get a job at a big salary, probably $30,000 a year; I was earning $16,000 at the time. I would become a professor in the School of Education. I would have a small radio unit for myself, but I would become the connection between Harvard and the newly established National Science Foundation, for which I had lobbied, you see, so I was in a good position to move in there, in matters of secondary education. And I told McGeorge Bundy: "Brother, I can do this. But I haven't the slightest interest in it. I want to go back and I think the sooner I go back the better, to the Southern Milky Way."

DeVorkin:

This was at the same time that NRAO was looking for a director?

Bok:

Yes, beginning to. But I had no job offers, no inquiries.

DeVorkin:

Would you have been interested in being director there?

Bok:

I'll come to that in a minute. I had no offer. Or a firm inquiry, let's put it that way. But I felt that I would be better off taking the Australian offer. However, let me continue this story, for it's rather important, the way we felt at that time. In 1955 around Christmas, I went to President Pusey, not to McGeorge Bundy, not to my colleagues, and simply said to President Pusey, "You might like to know, Sir, that I will be off your reservation a year from now." Pusey said, "Have you informed Dean Bundy and your colleagues about it?" I said, "No, Mr. President. That's what you get paid for." But I had no job offer. And I didn't get the job offer, from both NRAO -- a very firm inquiry -- and the offer from Australia, until May, '56. I said to Pusey, "There are two things I can do. If you don't like what goes on at Harvard (and some of my colleagues in the McCarthy era have done these things), you can jump out of a hotel window. I don't love Harvard enough to do that, I love my family far too much to do it. Or, you can resign before you have a job offer, and that's rather a firm way of indicating that you want to get the hell out of it." So Pusey was quite friendly. McGeorge Bundy was furious at me, that I hadn't come to him first. I had these close relations with him and his family and things like that. He was furious at me. And even now, McGeorge Bundy doesn't want anything to do with me, because he felt that he had offered the solution. And he especially felt just shocked beyond words that we would take a job at $8,000 a year when he offered almost four times as much. But Priscilla and I wanted to get back to the Milky Way.

DeVorkin:

How did the offer come through from Stromlo?

Bok:

That was a very interesting thing. I was nominated for the thing, without realizing it, by Joe Pawsey, who was the second in command at the radio physics laboratory of the CSIRO in Australia. And Joe Pawsey felt very strongly that Richard Woolley, the former director who then became Astronomer Royal, had been antagonistic to radio astronomy.

DeVorkin:

Really?

Bok:

Oh yes. He had some very strong opinions. One of the nicest stories about Woolley that I know came when John Bolton got the famous first observation of the Cygnus radio source, by reflecting it off from one of the heads of Sydney Harbor, and taking the reflection and the direct readings. He came to Stromlo and offered to give a colloquium on this discovery -- the first radio source had been discovered. There was a tea beforehand, John Bolton tells me, and when the tea was on, Woolley came over for the tea, and said to him, "John, sorry I can't stay. I have some very important things to do. I'm in the middle of computing an orbit for a comet, and therefore, I just haven't got the time to listen to your colloquium. Have fun." And that was the end. And the radio physics people had practically no staff members from Stromlo present, and it was downgraded as a low level colloquium. So they made up their minds, if there was to be a successor to Woolley, they would get someone who would be sympathetic and friendly to radio astronomy.

DeVorkin:

Woolley had gone down to Australia pretty much to develop instrumentation.

Bok:

Yes.

DeVorkin:

Why wasn't he interested in radio work?

Bok:

Well, he just had no interest. He was interested in optical work and theoretical work only. This is rather interesting. When I left, my successor was Olin Eggen, who was Woolley's boy, of course, in the early days. Eggen practically stopped all collaboration with radio physics. It happened again. But by now [Eggen left Stromlo in 1978.] the new director will undoubtedly come in all right. They don't know yet who it will be, but they have a very good acting director, Don Mathewson, who may very well be the final one, I don't know. He has already set up joint radio-optical projects. In my time, radio work was so strong in Australia that many of my students, just like my students in Harvard, didn't know whether they were optical or radio astronomers. And that is a very healthy state of affairs. Therefore, the modern leaders in radio astronomy in Australia, several of them, are former Stromlo students. John Whiteoak, for example, was one of mine. He wrote a thesis on Southern spiral structure from optical evidence and now is one of the leading radio astronomers in Sydney. So we have always had this mixing up on quite a big scale. That collaboration was very pleasant.

DeVorkin:

Let's talk about Australia, and how the conditions were for you to begin the liaison, and to continue to build Stromlo and build telescopes.

Bok:

I'll tell you one thing, first of all, that when I arrived there, there were five telescopes on Mt. Stromlo, four of which were not working.

DeVorkin:

Why?

Bok:

Well, the 74-inch broke down on the night I arrived, and had never been properly adjusted, and there were mirror troubles. The Schmidt telescope that was for Upsala Observatory was in very poor condition, and in boxes, and nobody knew what to do with it. There were bugs in the boxes, and they had to burn the boxes, and it was quite a complicated affair. The 50-inch telescope was out of order completely and unusable. The old Melbourne telescope. The Yale-Columbia telescope was being worked on, but was also in very poor condition.

DeVorkin:

That's the refractor?

Bok:

The refractor. And the 30-inch Reynolds telescope, that was the only one that was working, in a way, but not very good at all. So I arrived at Stromlo with things practically all stopped. But Stromlo had just been taken over by the Australian National University, and they wanted to build up astronomy and I started doing that and they supported me beautifully. And slowly we got all the things straightened out.

DeVorkin:

Did the funding come through the university?

Bok:

Through the university. Yes.

DeVorkin:

Did you ever apply directly for funds from the Australian government?

Bok:

Well, we had very good personal relations with Sir Robert Menzies, who was Prime Minister during the whole time I was there. Menzies was one of our best friends. He was the one who helped me set things up, he and Mark Oliphant. Mark Oliphant was the other one. Menzies and Oliphant were the two who really helped us along, to pave the way for the big Anglo-Australian telescope development that's coming along, and that's now of course a very strong one.

DeVorkin:

Did you develop Siding Springs while you were there?

Bok:

We certainly did. Yes sir.

DeVorkin:

What's the story behind that?

Bok:

Well, very simple. The minute I came there, I said to the university, and to Mr. Menzies for he was very important in these things, "Listen, the thing that always happens is that people wait too long before they set up a site testing survey, and then suddenly the funds become available in a great hurry and a place is picked hastily. I'm going to do it the other way around: I'll ask you to give me each year (I think it was 20,000 pounds) and we will set up and survey the whole Australian continent, and in about five years we ought to know what's what. If then there's money become available, all right, we'll move in that direction." That was a very good idea for Priscilla and I, and Arthur Hoag helped me on that. Oliphant was a big help in the university. We surveyed the whole continent, Alice Springs including Western Australia, the regions north of Perth, including also New South Wales, a number of places. The staff members and I took trips out to the various places. We even got various station owners, for five shillings an hour I think or something like that, to look at night for an hour, and see whether the stars were twinkling and how badly they were twinkling. Then later on we even set up some teams of two or three young students who would travel and set up equipment in various promising places, and do real seeing tests. So, I arrived in Australia in late 1956, beginning 1957, and by 1962, we really knew where the good sites were and where we ought to go. And Siding Springs was the most convenient one. Australia has no perfect sites because the mountains aren't high enough. In Siding Springs you are up 3,800 feet or something like that. You don't have the high mountains that you have in Chile. But within that limitation there are some very, very nice sites there. There was one thing that helped us along terrifically, and that is a story that might as well go in here, for that is one of the most interesting Sputnik stories. You'll remember, in October 157, Sputnik flashed into the air. And when Sputnik came about, I told all my staff members, "Now, don't worry, tomorrow morning we'll get advice from the United States. Smithsonian has that huge bureau working somewhere, and they will undoubtedly say, 'this satellite becomes visible at this position, goes at that rate, and what time and everything else.'" The next day came, and nothing came. And I got very mad. I didn't realize that everybody in the United States was running around like a chicken with its head chopped off, because the Russians had sent Sputnik No. 1 up with the wrong angle and the computers couldn't handle it. But I thought that the boys were holding out on me.

DeVorkin:

You mean, the Americans.

Bok:

The Americans. And I thought especially, my former colleagues at Harvard might have said, "Huh, why inform Bart Bok?"

DeVorkin:

Were they the contacts?

Bok:

They were the Smithsonian, of course.

DeVorkin:

That's right.

Bok:

Then, what happened? I got mad. And I said to the staff, "Come on, boys -- to hell with all these people in the United States. We have a good time service. We are going to time it. We have a good orbit computer in Brzybylski, Tony Brzybylski is a good orbit computer, he can compute its orbit, and we'll see what we can do."

Bok:

On the second night that Sputnik came around, the paper called me up and said, "Dr. Bok, are you going to photograph Sputnik tonight with your great telescopes?" I said, "Now, listen here -- you can't do that. Ours are not satellite chasers. They're not made for that sort of thing. But," I said, "it couldn't be done. Our engineer, and the man from the time service and Brzybylski have stolen, literally stolen the Schmidt telescope from Upsala."

DeVorkin:

You mean, by taking the time?

Bok:

Taking time that night. Had the plate ready. Westerlund, who was the boss man, didn't even know about it. He was already at Stromlo. But he didn't know about it. And they went over, and Brzybylski had calculated roughly at what azimuth it would come up, and there it came. And the engineer, Kurt Gottleib, got the satellite right in the center of his finding telescope. He was so excited before he opened the plate that he pulled the shutter too hard, and you can always recognize that photograph by a little wiggle. The whole telescope shook. And then we found that we had taken the first photograph of Sputnik No. 1. That made it possible to get a real good line on Sputnik. Nobody else had done that yet. So we were the first one, and in my office is a lovely photograph to have of Sputnik No. 1. The next day -- Australia is an informal country, and a powerful one -- the president of the Senate, Sir Alister McMullin, called me up. I had met the people. We had good relations (we needed them) with the government. And he said, "Dr. Bok, we in the Senate are getting mighty worried about what's going on here. We don't know what's coming off. You come over and tell us. And I'll tell you what we do," he said. "After our morning session today, I would like to have you come over about 6 o'clock. The Senate has its dinner upstairs and we all have dinner together, and I think we will ask the House to come in too. Will you please come over and tell us just what the hell is going on? We're worried about it. Is this a military thing? What's going on?"

DeVorkin:

So you addressed a joint session?

Bok:

Yes. By that time, we had developed the photograph and made some prints of it. So we had that one to show, and we knew the times pretty well. And so I spoke, while all the Senators and members of the House listened. But the Senate was in charge, and they took the picture. They said to me, "Do you mind if we take this picture and put it on our bulletin board? That shows these boys in the House that the Senate has power too, see." That was a very cheerful evening.

DeVorkin:

Were they seriously concerned?

Bok:

Very worried. They were very worried, what were the military implications? Could some of these things be put up to drop bombs and so? There were loads of questions. And one question I remember was in the way the nicest one. At one point, one of the people there said, "What sort of uses are there going to be for us?" And thank God, I had thought -- it hadn't been discussed much before -- about a communications satellite, and how they could hang in a permanent place and do all the reflecting. The members of the Senate and the House were all pleased that later on they could do this. But now, they had been told about this thing right from the beginning, before any other parliamentary body had heard about this possibility. Anyhow, that went on. Then at about 7:25 or so, Sir Alister McMullin said to me, he was presiding, "Dr. Bok, what time is Sputnik coming up tonight? What times can we see it?" I said, "Well, it's very difficult. We have no information. But my boys have been doing the calculating, and we think it is about 7:37.11 "Well," said Sir Alister, "I will appoint a committee, three members of the House, three members of the Senate -- so and so and so and so, etc. -- go outside and look." And there was a former school teacher from Melbourne who was chairman of this ad hoc committee, and then the committee left -- I thought, Oh God, if I'm off -- 7:39 they came back, and they stood at the door and said, "Don't worry, Professor, she is on time." And that helped us more. The Senate members, and all the future prime ministers were there, Holt was there, Gorton was there. Holt is the one who drowned, you may remember, and John Gorton was sort of the minister of science. So the people who were there that night never voted against any allocation for astronomy. That was one of the greatest things to have happened for us -- that that satellite came, boom, and they all said: "See, we aren't the country that does big things, but our boys know how to handle these things, and when we want to get answers to questions, they get answered, and we have direct access too." That meant very good relations, which have persisted practically up to the present time. For example, there was never any doubt about the building of a big telescope jointly with Britain. They wanted it all. And the only ones who caused difficulties for that were the scientists in the Academy. This is a rather interesting story. So, if I may, from here on I go a little farther, for this is a very interesting semi-political story. Menzies was always very easy and approachable. If I wanted to talk to the Prime Minister, I honestly could take up the phone and call him. That was all there was to it. And if he was free, that's fine. That's the way it worked. Anyhow, the old boy watched things very carefully. And in Australia, you have one thing -- when you get helped by the government, you are also watched. And if you have a disaster or something goes wrong, that would be spread all over the newspaper the next morning. So you had to be quite careful. Anyhow, Menzies had helped me along and had told me, one time, he said, "You just go around the world, Bart, and I'll arrange it. Take along one of your men, and get me a good price on that telescope. But I don't want one of these prices that says, 2 million dollars now, and then a year later it's gone up to 3. Give me a realistic price." We went around the world, and the old boy remembered it, and he said, "Keep the inflation in mind, for the prices will be going up -- what will it cost eight years or ten years hence?" I gave him a price of 12-1/2 million dollars, which was just the right one for the 150-inch, and the old boy said, "I don't want to have to go back to Parliament to ask them for more money. I like to know right away what it is. We have half, the British have half." So it's the Anglo-Australian telescope.

DeVorkin:

Was 12-1/2 the total price?

Bok:

Yes.

DeVorkin:

So then, you split it?

Bok:

Yes. In two, yes. It came to more because there were more new auxiliary instrumentation developments, and that, therefore, added another three of four million to it.

DeVorkin:

When you asked him for more money, how did he react?

Bok:

He had by that time retired. He just died a few days ago, day before yesterday.

DeVorkin:

Oh, I didn't know that.

Bok:

Yes. He had retired. And he said, "Now I can help you in your lobbying, because I'm a free man, I don't have to find the money anymore." Then there came a very interesting thing -- 1965, the Academy story. In 1965, we were all ready. The British had agreed to have a conference, you know, both government representatives and astronomers, and to set up a joint committee to work out the details for building the telescope. And then Menzies did one thing, and that he should do. Menzies went over to the Academy, wrote a letter to the Academy, and the Prime Minister said, "Did the Academy wish to make any comments on this proposal before he would proceed?" That was simply what you might call a courtesy from the Prime Minister, to recognize the Academy. And then the Academy wrote back a very stuffy, stuffed shirt letter, in which they said that they would like to take this opportunity to hold it under advisement, to appoint a committee that would look into the 12 major projects which Australia had under consideration, and that committee promised to sort them out in order, including one which was a flower garden on top of Mt. Koskiusko, I remember.

DeVorkin:

Mt. Koskiusko? The Polish hero?

Bok:

Yes. Anyhow, they had Mt. Koskiusko in Australia, and this went on, and the Academy said, they would report to the Prime Minister in two, and not more than three, years, in what order these things would be done.

DeVorkin:

Years?

Bok:

So, in two or three years, the Academy offered to report. And that was an exceedingly difficult situation for Menzies. It was of course an impossible one for the astronomers, and something had to be done. Now, in Australia, there is always a very great feeling for the power of the establishment, and the Academy was a young one, but already, a stiff organization.

DeVorkin:

Were you in the Academy?

Bok:

No, no, of course not. I was an American citizen. I had no formal relations with the Academy at all. But I was at that time president or vice president, I forget which, of the Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy Section in the equivalent of the AAAS here, called ANZA, the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, and I had to give a presidential address. So I decided I would give a presidential address on the future of astronomy in Australia. Fortunately, I had very good relations with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and they heard that there was a real fight brewing between Bart Bok and the academy, and that Bart Bok would speak out against the Academy. So the Australian Broadcasting Corporation sent one of their top men over and they said, "Bart, you need a soap box from which to do your story. We have the soap box." And they gave me an hour of television time, and televised my presentation to ANZA, and showed it in every one of the capital cities of Australia.

DeVorkin:

When was this?

Bok:

That must have been 1964 or '65. Around that time.

DeVorkin:

It would be marvelous if we could get a videotape of that.

Bok:

Oh yes. Well, they must have it. Anyhow, then this went on, and in that talk I pointed out very clearly -- and the president of the Academy was sitting in the audience, pale white -- Tom Cherry, he's died since, but Tom Cherry sat there looking white and furious -- that this project for the big telescope for Australia had been uppermost in the minds of the astronomers of Australia, radio and optical, for a long time. They all wanted it. That Parliament had been informed of it and the Parliament had been most sympathetic to it; that the Prime Minister was in favor and wanted to act, and the people of Australia (I'd done an awful lot of lecturing an dthings like that) were all behind it. And I said, "It is not the function of an Academy to stop it. It's the function of the Academy to accelerate this and make it possible, that it can be done. And if you listen to this Academy proposition of getting this three year delay, the whole project will die." And I said, "You've got to go ahead!" That then changed the thing, and the Academy withdrew, but they were furious at me. Then the president of the Academy wrote an exceedingly nasty letter to me. It said, "Dear Bart, I think that you should realize that you have offended the establishment with your unfortunate action in favor of your telescope. I think that you should realize that you have outlived your usefulness to our country, and the sooner you go back where you came from, the better it will be for all concerned."

DeVorkin:

This is from Cherry?

Bok:

From Cherry, president of the Academy, on Academy stationery.

DeVorkin:

Do you have that letter?

Bok:

No. No, I never save letters. But the Academy has it. Oh boy. So, that letter came.

DeVorkin:

This is the Academy in Australia.

Bok:

Yes. So, what happens was very simple. I had offended the establishment. Well. I knew Mr. Menzies very well by then, but you can't go to a Prime Minister and say, "Have I offended you?" So I didn't know quite what to do. And then came King Bhumibol from Thailand, who helped out.

DeVorkin:

Who?

Bok:

Bhumibol. Don't you know the King from Thailand with the beautiful wife, Sirikit? Oh, that's quite a family. Anyhow, the King of Thailand -- the King of Siam, call it that, who in his early days had run a jazz band very skillfully -- came on an official visit.

DeVorkin:

He's the one from Harvard?

Bok:

Yes. That's right. Anyhow, he came to Australia, and then in Australia there were some problems I remember -- groups that wanted to demonstrate against him. When you don't know what to do, you always send them over to Stromlo. So the King came to Stromlo and had a fine time. I remember he talked with Priscilla about the fact that the two of them were in Harvard and at Cambridge at the same time. We had a fine time with him. And then there was an official luncheon for the King, and that luncheon was a very critical one, because that was in the Great Hall of the University House, and they had an orchestra playing in the rafters, you know, Henry VIII music, that sort of thing. All the professors had their academic gowns on. Everything was all set up. They had arranged it this way, that the official party, the vice chancellor, the chancellor, the King, various people, governors and the Prime Minister, would all march in a procession, and the professors would line the sides of the hall, where they walked through to the luncheon. And the music played, and there came the official party. And I stood dressed up in my Harvard gown, with my Harvard cap and hood, and we all looked fine.

DeVorkin:

A Harvard gown, even though you had your degree from Holland?

Bok:

That's something else.

DeVorkin:

OK, I'm sorry.

Bok:

All right. So there they came, and the party came on. And Sir Robert Menzies loved to tell the story. Sir Robert Menzies walked along, and he said that I looked magnificent. I always looked magnificent in my academic dress, but that day I looked just perfectly wonderful, and I felt "an arrogant soldier of the Queen," that sort of thing, I mean, as I walked along. And then here he came past me, and I stood on the right, and he was on the right side. When he came to me, he never looked at me, but his fist shot out at me, ponk, and he poked me in the belly and hurt me, actually, poke! And then he said as he walked on, "You are a bad, bad boy." Then I knew I had not offended the establishment. Isn't that a wonderful way?

DeVorkin:

I don't understand how you knew you didn't. This is Menzies?

Bok:

Menzies came along, poked me in the belly and says, "Bart, you are a bad, bad boy," and walked on.

DeVorkin:

He was sort of just kidding?

Bok:

Oh yes. And I knew him well enough. And after that I knew that everything was going to go on. There was no need to call the Prime Minister, the Academy was short circuited. And now the Academy has done a very nice thing. All the old fogies have died. They have now made me, less than a year ago, the first United States American foreign correspondent of the Academy, and the rest of them are knighthoods and lords and things like that, and then I am at the end, and they have now given me a special Selby Fellowship, that will make it possible for me to travel 2-1/2 months in Australia.

DeVorkin:

When is this planned for?

Bok:

That's for September, October and the beginning of November. Springtime in Australia.

DeVorkin:

Oh, that's marvelous.

Bok:

So this is a story with a very happy ending. Modern Prime Ministers would never conduct business that way, but Menzies always had this lovely semi-imperial way to do these things. He was quite a man.

DeVorkin:

So you never had funding cut off.

Bok:

No. Nope.

DeVorkin:

The only question I was going to ask about that was to be sure that we had the name of the broadcasting company.

Bok:

Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC. That is national, like BBC, this is the Australian one.

DeVorkin:

I see, so we could actually contact them.

Bok:

Oh yes. And they know me very well. When Priscilla and I came back to Australia in '73, we had met old friends everywhere there. We came to Perth, and in Perth I thought, "Nobody will know me there." And there were five people who knew me. Out of the rafters came somebody who said, "Well, Dr. Bok, nice to see you back again." Australia did some very nice things. They gave me once six half-hours to talk about anything astronomical I wished. It was almost like a course.

DeVorkin:

The people themselves, how did they accept astronomy?

Bok:

Oh, very, very nicely. I did a rather interesting thing there. You can't give too many lectures, but I decided that I would give three lectures each month, one lecture in the Canberra region, at a school or what; one lecture in one of the capital cities; and one lecture in the countryside. The lectures in the countryside paid off better than almost anything else that we had, because we got the country parties strongly committed to astronomy. I hadn't realized, when you give a lecture in the country, there is generally a niece or nephew of a Member of Parliament there. And the Members of Parliament got perfectly indoctrinated by the school children and the other ones that came in. I had a rule in the country that I would offer to talk for any organization that would listen to me, I got the Lions Clubs and the Rotary -- all those. But I had a price, and my price was that in the afternoon, I would be permitted to address the local high school, and I did, in country centers, with our site testing -- it was very easy, all over the country. And that helped to give us a foundation not only in the Liberal and Labor Party, but even very strong help in the Country Party. There was a Parliamentary debate on the future of astronomy that lasted for three hours in the Parliament one time.

DeVorkin:

When was that?

Bok:

That was 1963, about. And that is available in Hensard, all recorded. Hensard is the official record of the transactions of the things that happen in Parliament. And they had a three hour debate on the future of astronomy in the House.

DeVorkin:

What were the pros and cons of that?

Bok:

No. It was a special trick that Menzies did, first of all, to help astronomy, and second, to help himself. The Prime Minister wanted to go and meet his grandchildren who were coming on the boat from England, and he and his wife, Dame Patty, had decided that they would go to Perth and take the ship from Perth to Sydney with the grandchildren. But an Australian Prime Minister who is away from Canberra has to be very careful, because he might find that by the time he is off the coast in Melbourne, that the opposition party has thrown him out, you know -- Dirty Parliament, dirty tricks, and so he might have been out. So Menzies very carefully prepared a series of discussions on what the meetings of the House would do. He laid it out, and then he decided that this was a good time to talk on the future of astronomy. But he had to find a reason for doing it, and the reason was a very simple one that he found. He was a smart cookie. Sir Robert said, "Australian National University wants to build up Siding Springs near Coonabarrabran. These astronomers want to own land right in that region there, to build a big observatory." Now, the country has been very suspicious of the National University in Canberra. They had written into the law that established the National University (for the state universities were very jealous of their rights) that the National University could never own land outside the Australian capital territory. So they had to have a simple law or amendment allowing this to be done. He set the law up and then he said, "Now we'll have the debate," and they had a very well organized debate, and it was a beautiful one. If we had more time I would tell the whole story.

DeVorkin:

This is in the record?

Bok:

That's all in the record -- '63, 1 think it was. And I was present there, and got one of the honored seats in Parliament, and they had a discussion. And out of the discussion it was clear that the Country Party man said, for example, "You always think of we boys from the Country Party as growers of wheat and sheep and things -- we know the stars much better than you boys in the dirty city. We know what's going on. We love astronomy. Dr. Bok comes to our part of the country and he lectures in our schools. He tells us he gets better questions from the boys in the country than he gets from the boys in your dirty city. You don't know what's going on." So we had strong country support. The Labor Party support helped us to get the 150-inch, for we had asked first for 120-inch. The tough Laborite member, who later on became Minister of Labor in the whole thing and was a real tough "warfie" from Adelaide, spoke up and said, "We have lots of discussion in this Parliament whether we ought to have the 120-inch or the 150-inch reflector. Now," he said, "as everybody knows, the astronomer has to sit at the prime focus of the telescope. If you have a 120-inch, the cage has to be small and the man has to have his elbows close together. With the 150-inch there's a little room. For crying out loud," he said, "up in Australia we are proud of our big boys. Give them a little elbow space. We'll have no more discussion whether it should be 120 or 150 -- give them 150-inches, stop arguing about it."

DeVorkin:

Who was he?

Bok:

I have forgotten his name now.

DeVorkin:

Let me ask some other aspects about your Australian work. Did these public lectures and your traveling the country help in bringing people into astronomy professionally?

Bok:

Oh yes.

DeVorkin:

Was there ever any difficulty in finding people?

Bok:

No. I'll tell you how I did that. I started the first summer course for undergraduates at the state university. They would come for the summer to Stromlo. And out of that group have come about fifteen, by now, very good Australian optical and radio astronomers. That worked very nicely. But when I started it, the Registrar of the National University said, "Have you heard what Bart Bok is doing? He is taking little boys and girls off their mothers' hands for the summer, and he has a little summer camp arrangement. That's not what a National University is for." And I said to him, "Brother, it's the only way you start graduate schools in this country." And that worked. Later on, we were very good friends, there was no problem, but in the beginning, they thought it's the craziest thing to do, to take freshmen and sophomores from universities. But they have turned out to be the real kernel for the whole later development of optical and radio astronomy in Australia.

DeVorkin:

Where did you get support for that?

Bok:

From the National University.

DeVorkin:

They did give you support.

Bok:

In general. Oh, they looked down their noses at it and kidded me about it, but it worked out fine. And when the first two from the group got their doctors' degrees, the Registrar came especially to the dinner that was being given for them, to toast them and say, "I was wrong. I talked about little children, but little children do grow up."

DeVorkin:

Did you ever have a need to bring in people from let's say the United States?

Bok:

Oh yes. Walter Baade spent half a year with us, for example. Harlow Shapley spent two months with us.

DeVorkin:

He was lecturing?

Bok:

Right, lecturing and being with the students and conversing with them. Oh yes. Every year, we had three or four major visitors. The National Science Foundation and the Fulbright people helped out and brought people over who spent a year with us. Lawrence Aller spent, for example, two years with us or a year and a half anyhow. So that, we did very well. Australia had a very liberal sabbatical leave policy, by which people every five years get a year off with full salary and travel paid. And that's necessary to keep in touch. So the contacts with the United States and with Britain were very, very close. Britain came in very strongly too, of course.

DeVorkin:

To finish up this phase of work, when did you begin to realize that you weren't going to stay on there indefinitely?

Bok:

On the day we arrived, I had talks with Menzies, the Prime Minister then, and Mark Oliphant who was the dean of the school or director of the School of Physical Sciences in the university, and told them that we were coming to Australia and would stay there for ten years, more or less, and that then Priscilla and I wanted to go back, and that we would want to go back to the United States because our children and grandchildren were there. That was very clearly brought up. The vice chancellor of the university knew it too, so this was a well-known fact, that in ten years we would go back. And I had already had then an offer from the University of Arizona, who had said, the day before at the dinner, when we stopped off at Arizona to advise them on the future of astronomy on our way to Australia -- stopped a week off there at the invitation of the president of the University of Arizona. And we had a fine time talking about things, and then we told them that in the long run we would probably want to retire to Arizona because we liked the country. And then the vice president for research said, "Now, listen, Priscilla and Bok, why don't you come after ten years to the University of Arizona and earn an honest living with us for a while before you retire?" And this is the way it happened.

DeVorkin:

OK, we'll take that up. I have two questions to ask you at the end of this session -- not about Australia, but things that have come up as we talked. First, I'd like to have maybe a few more comments about the meetings in 1955, '56, the National Science Foundation, where AUI was being considered, to run NRAO. I believe there was a point in time when the astronomers were not sure they wanted AUI, and someone from AUI stood up and said some very strong things, basically, "We're here if you want, but we're here if you don't want --" -- do you remember?

Bok:

Yes. That was Lloyd Berkner, and Lloyd Berkner was very clear when he spoke and very honest. He and I worked very close together, for I felt from the beginning on that AUI was a very good organization to run this and that it was silly to set up a new consortium and start building completely from the beginning. So I was always very much in favor of AUI. There were some strong objections, and right ones, from the West Coast people, who felt that we made a mistake putting the observatory close to Washington. And they wanted to have it set up under Cal Tech or Berkeley, something like that.

DeVorkin:

Who were they, do you remember?

Bok:

Greenstein was very strong for that. Greenstein was the principal one. Harold Weaver was still a bit on the young side then, to swing his weight around. It was mostly Greenstein who was opposed to bringing AUI in too strongly, and making it an all-eastern affair. I don't know whether that was a mistake. In some ways, for example for millimeter astronomy and for other things, it would have been perhaps better to have started in the West. But AUI and NSF wanted to have it fairly close, as they were involved, and it seemed like the quickest way to go about it.

DeVorkin:

When did it become evident that another corporation was going to be needed for optical astronomy? Why did that turn out that way?

Bok:

I don't know, because by that time I had left the United States and I worked 100 percent for Australia. I worked also 100 percent for Australian-British collaboration, and quite a few of my friends in the United States didn't like this, especially Whitford. Because Lick Observatory wanted at that time to have an association between Lick Observatory and Australia, and Whitford almost made me feel as though I was a traitor for not supporting this and supporting the British-Australia liaison.

DeVorkin:

This was already in the sixties.

Bok:

In the sixties, yes.

DeVorkin:

I know that Lick had an expedition and site survey down there.

Bok:

That's right, and also, Horace Babcock came over. But Horace was never so strong for the collaboration. He was thinking more about doing a Carnegie project; the thing that he has now done in setting up in Las Companas. But Whitford felt that I had really betrayed my American interests by not having a California-Australia combination. And I felt that I worked for the best interests of Australian astronomers, and for better or for worse, they were very firmly tied in with the British, and the British wanted it, and it was my job to work for that and not for the other.

DeVorkin:

Did you have any tie with the early interests of the ESO people?

Bok:

No. But I heard a great deal about it through Walter Baade, who was the one who originated the ESO affair.

DeVorkin:

He and Oort.

Bok:

He and Oort together did it. And Walter Baade was with us and talked about it. But there was never any idea that Australia and ESO should work together. I did try to bring some of the other ones to Australia, but that didn't work out, simply because the climate there is not good enough and the mountains aren't high enough. You may talk all you want to, but when you compare Australia and Chile, Chile beats it, period. That's all there is to it -- seeing conditions and all the rest.

DeVorkin:

I hope we can talk more about that later, but one final question. Last night you mentioned that there was an interesting story about W.W. Morgan, the "W.W.W."?

Bok:

Oh, that was just a cheerful party that we had. The Greensteins gave a party, and at the end of the party, Bill Morgan came there, and we all got a little tight, and we all sang songs: how we all "loved W W W W W Morgan," and that was one of the things. Then the group went off, and the next morning, the Greensteins and I, Naomi and Jesse and I had been invited to the Struves to dinner. When we arrived Struve looked exceedingly cross. Some of the Greensteins' friends who had been at the party had run off the road somewhere, and had run in the middle of the hot-house that the chief mechanic had at Yerkes. And there was hell to pay, and he had called the police, and the young couple had been sent to jail in one of the nearby towns, I've forgotten what town it was.

DeVorkin:

This was in the early fifties?

Bok:

Early fifties. So, there were cheerful parties, that's all I wanted to indicate.

DeVorkin:

That's marvelous. There was something you mentioned, in your Association of Scientific Workers, that you singled out the Ladies Home Journal for something in 1938 -- what was that?

Bok:

The consumers' group undertook to analyze all the false statements that were in the advertisements in one issue of the Ladies Home Journal. And boy, when you look at it, you know -- for toothpaste, all the false claims -- that was the beginning of truth in advertising. They prepared a report and said, "We'll take a sample issue of the Ladies Home Journal." We could have taken any other magazine. And we analyzed a dozen of their full page, big advertisements.

DeVorkin:

What was your part in that?

Bok:

I wasn't involved in that. No, no. But I went to the meeting where they discussed this. That was it.

DeVorkin:

OK. Well, thank you very much for this session. It's certainly time now. And I hope to see you again soon.

Bok:

Fine, fine. OK.

DeVorkin:

Did you want to make a statement about the use of this tape?

Bok:

Oh yes. I would like to say that anyone who wants to listen to this tape is free to do so, and there will be no need to ask my permission beforehand. So any time you want to have it used by someone, it's fine. If I'm still alive, would they do me the courtesy of dropping me a note and saying, "We have been listening to it, we'll use it for this and that."

DeVorkin:

We're going to transcribe this tape, and we want to send you an edited version --

Bok:

Fine by me.

DeVorkin:

(???) for your comments.

Bok:

Fine, very fine.

DeVorkin:

Thank you.

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