Oral History Transcript — Betty Compton
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Betty Compton; April 11, 1968
ABSTRACT: Early life on Ohio farm. College of Wooster, A.H. Compton, Compton family AHC’s academic and extracurricular interests; Princeton years 1913-16, associations and fellowships; marriage 1916; experimentation at Westinghouse Lamp Co. 1917-19, work on “large electron” leading to National Research Fellowship at Cavendish Laboratory 1919-20, associations with Rutherford and J.J. Thompson, living arrangements, weekly colloquia, recollections of Einstein; bringing in new faculty as Chairman of Dept. of Physics at Washington Univ. 1920-23, freedom of research; Guggenheim fellowship at Punjab Univ. 1926-27, organizing Kashmir expedition, observational work and other expedition details. Reaction to AHC’s Nobel Award 1927, Nobel address and trip to Sweden.
Session I | Session II
Weiner:We are talking now, in the spring home of John Compton and family, with Betty Compton, Mrs. Arthur Holly Compton. The date is April 11, 1968. This is Charles Weiner interrupting occasionally with some questions. I’d like to begin with a question about your early background and the events that led up to your coming to the College of Wooster in 1909, because it was at Wooster that you first came in contact with the Compton family. But what about the years before? Where did you live? What was the family life like?
Compton:I was brought up on a farm in Ohio near New Waterford and East Palestine. So I went first to a country school, Mount Pleasant. Being on a farm we had horses, and I had my own horse to ride. I rode to high school first at New Waterford and took care of my horse at noontime. I then had an Oklahoma horse which I named Tecumseh after General Tecumseh. I got myself very well known in the neighborhood because I was a rather wild rider -- I guess they thought -- and they kept telling my father: “Mr. McCloskey, that daughter of yours is going to get killed.” I somehow avoided that catastrophe. This horse had only been broken for the saddle, and so then I went on and broke the horse to the harness and to a buggy, and had great fun doing that. I was always interested in the animals -- the sheep particularly -- and would help my father at times. My father owned a number of farms -- four or five at the time: large orchards of fruit, apples and peaches and pears and cherries. And I had many dogs and cats. It was a really fine farm life. I’ve often thought that I’d like my children and grandchildren to have that. My son Arthur got more of it than son John did, but he would make a specialty of feeding the best apples to the pigs. I’d say, “Look at the apples on the ground. Why don’t you use those for the pigs?” “But, Mother, don’t you know that the pigs are my friends?” So he was going to give the best to his friends.
Weiner:This was many years later when you were on a farm?
Compton:That was later. That’s going ahead.
Weiner:How far was the farm in New Waterford from the center of the town?
Compton:Oh, about four miles.
Weiner:Was your father’s sole occupation farming?
Compton:Yes. He had four or five different farms and a stone quarry. He was a prosperous farmer, and then he started a bank in East Palestine. That is where I went for my second high school. I was first graduated from New Waterford High School. Then I went on to East Palestine where my father had started the First National Bank. He then made places there for his two sons -- both of whom were college graduates. One became the president and one the cashier. My father was Benjamin McCloskey, and Benjamin Firestone was his neighbor; and very often in those days Benjamin Firestone came over and said to Benjamin McCloskey, “Could I borrow a few thousand because Harvey and Robby are able to buy a little extra stock?” Well, it would have been wise if my father had taken stock in Firestone instead of taking the money back. When they began writing Harvey Firestone’s life they wrote to me to see if I had any of the cancelled checks. I said, “No.” When we cleared out Father’s safe we just burned all of them.
Weiner:Who else was in the family?
Compton:I had two brothers and one sister. Two of them went to Mt. Union College in Alliance, Ohio, and the brother next to me, Charles S., went to Wooster and was graduated in 1900 -- the time that President Goheen’s mother and father were there. He used to date Ann Ewing, who became Mrs. Goheen. So that’s the way I heard about Wooster -- through my brother Charles. Then in summertime my brother Charles from Wooster was with the athletic group that went up to northern Michigan to camp, and the Compton boys were on the camping trips there. And so my brother said to the Comptons, “I have a kid sister that’s coming to Wooster next fall. Look out for her.”
Weiner:Look after her or look out for her?
Compton:Look out for her. Well, “Be on the look-out and see that she gets initiated into college life.” So there was the beginning, you see.
Weiner:Who ran this camping ground?
Compton:Well, they went with Coach St. John, who was a coach of the athletic department at the College of Wooster. It was near the lumber camps. You see, this was the early days of the lumbering industry in northern Michigan. Then later they worked in lumber camps, too, both of them.
Weiner:Well, it was through the college, then, that they went on these camping trips. Was this part of the summer --?
Compton:The summer before; that would be 1908. You see, my brother graduated in 1900, 1901, when he went with the Comptons. They were in the same fraternity as well, so they knew each other.
Weiner:Was Arthur Compton already enrolled at Wooster or did he start the same year as you did?
Compton:Well, of course, his family lived right in the same block with the college, and his father was connected with the College of Wooster for 50 years as student and faculty.
Weiner:And ultimately as dean.
Compton:Oh, yes. But he taught many different subjects before. Philosophy and psychology were really his subjects, but he taught mathematics, and he taught English, and was a dean. In the early years of small colleges you had to be prepared to teach anything that was needed.
Weiner:And so it was through your brother’s contact… Was it with Karl and Arthur --?
Compton:Karl and Wilson.
Weiner:Karl and Wilson. That was the point that I was confused on, because they were on the camping trip through the college. They were already in the college.
Compton:Yes. Karl was there in 1908, but, you see, they lived across from the ΑΤΩ fraternity house. They used to throw snowballs at my brother going up the college hill, so he knew those Compton boys at that time.
Weiner:Then the decision for you to go to Wooster was pretty clear since your brother had gone there. Was Wooster the nearest --?
Compton:No, my brother and sister went to Mt. Union College which was nearer home at Alliance, Ohio.
Weiner:I meant to ask how large the town center of New Waterford was.
Compton:So small, I don’t know. It must have been not more than 500 or 700. It was quite small. We had the churches and the bank and the school --elementary, grade and high school.
Weiner:And was East Palestine larger?
Weiner:You graduated from two high schools. I don’t understand that.
Compton:Well, just as now you’d have a junior college --.
Weiner:I see. So you continued on in higher grades.
Compton:Yes. One was a three-year and the other was a four-year. So that shows the difference in the size of the communities.
Weiner:What did you have in mind to study at Wooster when you went? What were your expectations?
Compton:That’s a difficult question for me to think back on, because I just wanted to go on in English and -- I then later decided -- I didn’t decide before I got there to go on with Latin I don’t believe, but I did; I took four years of college Latin and then decided that I’d be prepared to teach Latin, which I did.
Weiner:You taught it at the high school level -- is that right?
Compton:I took four years in high school and then four years in college. And then when I came to teach, being the new teacher, I discovered that the German teacher had gone to Germany and hadn’t returned. So it was “Miss McCloskey, please take the German,” because they knew I’d been in Switzerland all that summer in the William Tell country. So I made William Tell live for them all right. I enjoyed it very much, but I hadn’t been hired to teach German.
Weiner:But you had studied German.
Compton:Yes, I’d had two years of it -- quite in contrast to my Latin background. But having had that experience in Switzerland in the William Tell country, I was prepared. I’ve had some interesting repercussions of that since. I was quite pleased and proud when they asked me to come to their 50th reunion of the high school preparatory class that I had taught in Ohio. Then they were able to tell me some of the things that had happened in class. And then they said they really had enjoyed so much the songs that I had taught them, the German songs, and German poetry. I had them well prepared for their college, too, because I taught them German script, which I was sorry that I had done on a number of occasions, because their English script was not too good and to have taught them the German -- that was more difficult. I had to walk the floor to keep awake after I had had a busy day of coaching girls’ basketball. That was another thing that wasn’t in the bond. And I coached the glee club. And so after an energetic day like that, to grade these German script papers was quite a trial.
Weiner:It’s difficult enough to read good German script.
Weiner:Where was the high school?
Compton:Well, that was about eight miles from our home there. It was near Salem, Ohio.
Weiner:I see. Salem would be the nearest town.
Weiner:Well, that would be in the first year after your graduation. You had spent your first summer after graduation in Switzerland.
Weiner:We’ll get back to that.
Compton:Yes, I continually get ahead of myself.
Weiner:It’s natural that you should because it’s a continuous story. These are not digressions. But getting back to Wooster, did the Compton boys look out for you as they had been instructed?
Compton:Arthur Compton and I met each other in 1909 at a freshman mixer in October, and at other times we’d meet each other at different socials. From then on we’d meet each other at different parties. I, of course, took a full course in music as well as my liberal arts course, and I found that this young man joined the choir after I did. And then I sang in the oratorio chorus, and then he joined the oratorio chorus. I was in girls’ glee club, too. Of course, that didn’t figure. So we kept meeting on these occasions, and he’d walk home with me to the dormitory from rehearsals and that sort of thing. Of course he was very busy with athletics as well because he got a letter in every sport.
Weiner:Yes, he had five.
Compton:It must have been five. And I got my letter sitting on the bleachers. That was in football and basketball. As a matter of fact, I still believe I have his football sweater.
Compton:It’s up at our place in Michigan. The grandchildren love to wear it. Sweaters don’t last that long nowadays.
Weiner:You must have taken good care of this one.
Compton:Well, no, it was a good sweater.
Weiner:Who else in the Compton family did you meet? When did you get to know Mary Compton?
Compton:Oh, yes, in the second and third and fourth years she was a chum of mine and was always then putting in a good word for her brother.
Weiner:What year did she graduate?
Compton:Well, she would have graduated earlier, but she decided to stay on another year and take a couple of graduate courses. So she and I went to some YWCA conferences together. We were tennis partners. By that time she thought her brother, being busy with athletics and studies and all, was perhaps losing out; so she kept a close eye on me. She didn’t realize that she was quite as obvious as she was sometimes.
Weiner:You probably didn’t mind.
Compton:Well, she thought I was interested in a young musician whom she could see had plenty of time and money on his hands, and she knew her brother had neither. So that was her reason, I think for worrying.
Weiner:Well, what was he concerned with other than athletics? Was he devoting much time to extra-curricular science activities?
Compton:Well, of course, there were all his sports. He was on the basketball and football teams and tennis -- on the track team; he threw the hammer. Well, he was involved in all of those -- and the music, of course.
Weiner:Well, those were all extra-curricular. Did science come into it very much?
Compton:Well, photography, of course, was one of his hobbies, and astronomy -- looking at the stars. His first purchase was to get a telescope. I guess that has been mentioned. He sent to get Sears-Roebuck’s best -- $2.98. At least they said it was the best for the money and the size, something like that. The photography led -- and I was in on that; I’d forgotten about that -- to the Halley’s Comet photographs. He did the photographs that went all over the country really. What he did was to rig up a clockwork to move the telescope lens at the rate of the earth’s rotation in order to get a clear picture, and because his clockwork worked he was able to get some of the clearest pictures that were made at that time. That’s the way he earned a little extra money, too -- selling photographs.
Weiner:Who would purchase the photographs?
Compton:The students. And then they were sent to the different bookstores.
Weiner:That’s fascinating. Was there much excitement on campus among the young people at the time about the coming of the Comet, and were people coming out to watch it regularly?
Compton:Yes. That was quite an excitement. That and the floods. I’d forgotten about that.
Weiner:During this period, did you take any courses in the sciences?
Compton:I had the same courses in beginning physics and beginning chemistry and in beginning biology that Arthur had, and the same in mathematics -- I went on up through calculus. We had the same professors, but, oddly enough, we weren’t in the same divisions. It didn’t work out that way.
Weiner:You mean the same sections --
Compton:The same sections of the same class.
Weiner:So you’d meet perhaps with the same teacher but at different times.
Compton:Oh, the same teacher, yes.
Weiner:But not at the same time.
Compton:No. So that the choir rehearsals and the oratorio rehearsals were the only times that we met regularly.
Weiner:It seems to me that the science courses that you mentioned are quite a few for someone not majoring in science. Was this a standard requirement?
Compton:Yes. I think I took one more course in math than probably was required, but the others were just the beginning courses.
Weiner:Chemistry, biology and physics?
Compton:Yes. Then Arthur went on, of course, and took additional courses in chemistry and physics which I did not take.
Weiner:You weren’t in the same sessions of these science courses together, but did you ever discuss the work that you were covering in the classes?
Compton:Well, yes. I remember he helped me write a paper. For English I wrote about the possibility or probability of life on Mars. I haven’t thought of that in a long while. We went to the library together. Then we met in the library and pored over some of those books.
Weiner:That was the time when Lowell, I think, had many published articles about life on Mars. There were a number of things being discussed on that.
Compton:I can’t remember what those were now. But we did discuss that.
Weiner:I see. Do you recall whether he studied languages at Wooster?
Compton:He had German and French.
Weiner:Do you know how much of that he had? I ask this because it helps to know what he was capable of reading in the scientific literature.
Compton:I have his grades. I think I can turn those (grade cards) up. I think that would be rather interesting. It would tell the courses and what grades in each course.
Weiner:Did he speak German or French, either then or at later periods?
Compton:Well, he could get along somewhat in German and in French but never fluently.
Weiner:And to just jump for a minute, with scientific colleagues in Europe, would most of the conversations be in English?
Compton:For the most part, except later. You see, both of our sons speak French like Frenchmen -- I mean they can think in French and Spanish and German. Son John, for instance -- we lived with him in Paris -- had a C.R.B. Foundation grant (that’s Committee for the Relief of Belgium at the time of President Hoover) -- and later he was the interpreter. You see, he had majored in mathematics and was a philosopher, so he interpreted for Arthur when he was with Louis de Broglie. Louis’ brother Maurice always knew more English. And when it came to talking about mathematics and into the realm of the philosophy of mathematics and science -- well, that was where John was just perfect. He just provided that link, knowing both the terminology and mathematics and philosophy. It was wonderful. They’d go down and have whole days with Louis de Broglie, down on the Seine.
Weiner:At Wooster when did it become clear that Arthur would go on to graduate school and into a science or an engineering career?
Compton:He was always interested and always clever with his hands in making apparatus. Of course, he demonstrated it by making about 2000 model airplanes to test wind velocities. And when he had satisfied himself that he knew something about it, then he made a glider, which he successfully went up and came down in three times. So you can see that he was able to fashion apparatus that would help him test things he wanted to know. I mean it just seemed to be natural for him. I don’t know whether that’s just hindsight now, but it’s not entirely.
Weiner:Well, I think it’s rather unusual for a young man of that age to be building airplanes and trying out new ideas in flight.
Compton:And he wrote then to Glen Curtiss, and Glen Curtiss was very interested in one of his ideas and even incorporated it in one of his planes. Then he wrote to the Wright brothers and they sent him messages back from Kitty Hawk, which he valued very much. His first actual article that was published any place was published in a magazine called Fly. He could have just as well gone on completely into aerodynamics, I should think. Those are clear evidences that he was working in that direction.
Weiner:As far as personality, then, how would you characterize him? Was he shy? Was he outgoing? Was he neither?
Compton:He was shy. He was not outgoing, but more thoughtful. You characterized him, I think, as shy and thoughtful.
Weiner:But at the same time he would take a step such as writing a letter to a very famous person if he thought he had something relevant to say.
Compton:Yes, but he was seeking information, I think, rather than giving it.
Weiner:How about his chums? Among the boys, with whom did he spend most of his time?
Compton:He had a couple of chums there who worked at the experimental farm, and then he worked out there. It was part of the state experimental station --the Wooster Experimental Farms. It would be under Columbus, Ohio, under the capitol of the state. So there would be a certain number of ideas that he would gather there, I suppose, -- by sort of an osmosis.
Weiner:Did he do this during the semester as a regular thing, or was it summers?
Compton:Well, mostly summers. They worked on the farm.
Weiner:How did you spend your summers?
Compton:On the farm, doing things. I helped take care of the sheep. Of course, that comes along later. After I had taught for two years, the third year my father was ill. He had lost his top farmer. And so I, instead of teaching the third year, and knowing that I was to be married in June of the year Arthur got his PhD degree from Princeton (this was on the 28th day of June in 1916), I went home and managed the farm until we could get someone. So all of my past experience came in well. I could help take care of the baby lambs that the mother would not own. If she happened to have one black and one white, sometimes twins, and she thought that was just one too many. So I’d have to feed one from the bottle. But I enjoyed that sort of thing, you see. And I had dogs, a sheep dog and a pug dog. Then I also had my own “Tag”, as I called the fox terrier who always went with me when I went riding, at my heels, you know -- a silly little dog whom I called a “tag,” because he’d tag along. This is going ahead. After I came back to manage the farm I took care of the washing of the wool and the shearing and the merchandising of the apples. My experience with that was rather interesting.
Weiner:You kept going back?
Compton:I had taught two years.
Weiner:You had gone back during the summers, though, while attending Wooster. You had gone back every summer?
Compton:Yes, I’d go off maybe to a YWCA convention or something, and be gone for only a few weeks. Then my first trip to Europe was when I graduated in 1913.
Weiner:I wanted to ask you about your mother. What was her role in the family?
Compton:Well, she was a very wonderful person who was able to do many things. Later she came to live with us -- well, that’s going ahead. She just was a very practical and an amazingly skillful person in doing sewing and homemaking. She was a real homemaker. Her father had been judge of Lawrence County, Penn., and she was one of a dozen children. My father was an only child. I, of course, became better acquainted with my mother and remember more about her after I came back from college and began my teaching nearby.
Weiner:Let me get back to another question. You were talking about Arthur’s chums at the time, and you said that he worked with some of the boys at the farm experimental station. But in general at the college, who was his closest friend that you recall? With whom did he spend the most time?
Compton:Well, Brooks Thorn and then children from the missionary homes. You see, as it often happened, there were people who were missionaries in Africa, India, China, and Thailand. When they were in these countries, the people who were in business in these countries sent their children to the elementary schools -- the same schools -- as the children of the missionaries; and when they are ready to go to college they want to go off with their friends and want to go where their friends go. And so they came to Wooster, and that’s the reason Wooster had such a wide spectrum of students from all over the world. That’s the way it worked out. One of Arthur’s very best friends was Bill McCandless, whose father was a medical doctor and was head of a large hospital in Canton, China. I think he always felt Bill McCandless was one of his best friends. But when they came to the college at Wooster, there were many from foreign lands; and so they had a home for boys and a home for girls. Very amusingly, they used to call it “the incubator” -- the boys’ incubator and the girls’ incubator -- because they were from far lands. And Mother Compton acted as the go-between for the students and their families in these countries for 35 years. The children would speak with her, come to see her, and consult with her. The parents would write and she would write in return to the parents.
Weiner:Was it a large group at any single time?
Compton:Well, it would be between 20 and 40 in each of those places -- oh, yes. And the boys’ “Inky” -- as they called it -- was just three doors from the Compton residence. So you see Arthur really got a world view -- as much as anyone could get at that stage.
Weiner:Talking about numbers, I meant to ask: What was the size of the graduating class? Do you remember how many?
Compton:I’ll have to check that, but it was about 270, I think.
Weiner:I just wanted to get the feel about the size of the school.
Compton:I’m going back for my 55th reunion. I’ll check that. [Only 80 alive in 1970.]
Weiner:How about Arthur and his brothers? I guess Karl was certainly there for some of the time while he went to Wooster.
Compton:You see, they all went to northern Michigan for the summers except for a couple of times when there would be some illness or something. So that’s how they worked for the lumber industry or in a saw mill. That was one thing. And Father Compton had had a go of pneumonia and they said he ought to be away in the summers because he was rather a tense person. So they looked over the map and decided where there might be a summer place that would be good for fishing. They decided on Otsego Lake just from the map. Father Compton wrote there. He wrote half a dozen other places, but the interesting letter came back from Otsego Lake. The postmaster was a character; had been an old lumberman, and he wrote such a very intriguing letter that they said: “Otsego Lake is where we’re going.” So they picked up the family -- little Arthur was only four years old -- and took them to this unknown place in northern Michigan. They went up by street car from Wooster to Cleveland and from Cleveland by boat to Mackinaw City and then by train to Otsego Lake. They got off the train with their luggage -- trunk with cooking utensils and tents and so forth -- and hired a boat and rowed across the lake and set up camp.
Weiner:How long did they stay?
Compton:Mostly 3 months [in the summer]. Thirteen years. They camped 13 summers on that camp ground and then decided they’d build a cottage. So with their own hands they built the cottage -- father and sons. So it was a rather cooperative family in that sense of doing things together. And then the summer they decided to build the cottage was the summer we were married, 1916.
Weiner:You must have heard the story about the origin of these trips to Otsego Lake from him or from the family?
Weiner:Do you recall any of Arthur’s impressions of the earlier years -- any other impressions --, things that he would characteristically remember about the years prior to the time that you knew him? About his family life, about his experiences?
Compton:I tented with them two years before we were married.
Weiner:Up there on Otsego Lake?
Compton:Yes. You see, we were married in ‘16, so it was ‘l4 and ‘15. And I went abroad with his father and mother and Mary in ‘13.
Weiner:I see. This was at the time of graduation, just after graduation?
Weiner:In other words, when you were teaching high school near Salem, you spent parts of those summers --
Compton:In Michigan. Yes.
Weiner:In 1913, how did it come about that you went abroad with the family?
Compton:Well, Mary was my chum. She was to be married in Switzerland. Her fiance was coming from India -- he was teaching in India -- and Father Compton would marry them in Switzerland. There were nicely-laid plans. But it so happened that about that time there were student riots (we’ve forgotten that there were riots back in that time). At the Forman Christian College and Ewing Christian College, and at Allahabad University there were these riots. So then Herbert Rice was not able to leave; he felt it wasn’t wise. So Mary and I traveled together. We had dresses alike -- we were just like twin sisters almost. So we traveled around through Germany and Italy and France and England until she had to leave. Mary’s former maiden English teacher was traveling in Europe at that time, and she said she would change her plans and be happy to go to India as the chaperone. And so she went with Miss Mary Compton as chaperone and saw her married in Naulakha, India, and then came back to Wooster; and of course I came back to start my teaching. Arthur had been working at Wilmerding all summer at Pittsburgh in the Westinghouse Air Brake Company.
Weiner:How did that come about? That was his first summer after graduation.
Compton:Well, it came about because Father Compton and the president of the Air Brake Company were classmates.
Weiner:Did he want that job or did he take it because he wanted the money?
Compton:Well, he thought he’d get some experience and he’d earn some money. I’m sure those were the two --
Weiner:What was the experience? What was it that he did?
Compton:Just working with the air brakes. He was right in on one of the assembly lines.
Weiner:This was a production job. He wasn’t acting as an engineer here?
Compton:Production -- that’s right.
Weiner:So his first job after receiving his bachelor’s degree was as a production worker in a factory.
Compton:Yes. In 1913.
Weiner:You were engaged, you said, a year before then -- 1912.
Compton:Yes. But we didn’t tell people about that very much. Then at commencement time my sorority group gave me a special daisy luncheon with great big field daisies. And they wrapped up a little note and put it in the heart of the daisy -- pinned it in -- as an announcement. It said, “Daisies won’t tell, dear. But this daisy said that Arthur and Betty are one day to wed.”
Weiner:This was kept within the group.
Compton:Yes. Well, that was the real announcement.
Weiner:Well, now, in planning for the future, in talking together, what was it that he had in mind as far as a career and as far as educational plans were concerned? Do you recall?
Compton:Well, that he needed to know more. Of course, it had been a dream for so long, ever since his youth -- this wanting to find out more about the wonderful substance of radium and so forth. There was just this unfolding interest. And then, of course, there was this finding out more about the action of electrons --
Weiner:Did he talk about this in terms of a profession?
Compton:Well, he talked of knowing more about it, I suppose. I wouldn’t know if this was a “profession.” But he always talked a great deal about his work with me. That’s the reason I’ve been exposed to a lot of it, which was rather surprising, because I’ve talked with other men’s wives and their husbands don’t seem to have talked so much.
Weiner:The wives in some cases may not have been as interested in this specific subject matter.
Compton:Maybe so, but at any rate it is rather surprising that he took the patience always to talk and to explain things.
Weiner:Was this also true in Wooster at the college?
Compton:Well, yes, as I think about it -- when we were talking about this.
Weiner:You mentioned this dream that he had from his earliest period.
Compton:Yes, at night when he was looking at the stars (I have the telescope) there was just always this dream that he would know more about these wonderful possibilities in the world.
Weiner:Earlier we were talking about his first learning of Madame Curie and radioactivity.
Compton:That was Karl and Father Compton at the dinner table in their home. They were talking about this very exciting thing that had been discovered by the Curies, and that’s really where he heard it first. Then soon he got hold of some of Rutherford’s things. Of course we had a very wonderful person in chemistry there at the time, Dr. Bennett, and he helped Bennett take x-ray pictures of bones. Mr. Bennett, though a Harvard man, hadn’t learned to be careful, and he got himself some bad burns. It’s a wonder Arthur Holly didn’t. But he learned to be more careful. When he worked with the x-rays he used a lead vest and a part of a lab coat with some lead in it.
Weiner:Of course very little was known then about the hazards.
Weiner:But this was one of the science activities that he participated in Wooster. And when he discussed the future with you he talked of continuing his education in order to pursue these questions he was interested in?
Weiner:Now when had you planned to get married? You knew he was going off to graduate school.
Compton:Well, that sort of troubled him because he felt that we shouldn’t have to wait that long to be married. Of course in those days -- 55 years ago --anyone I knew who got married at that time had to sort of stop their education. So I had enough Scotch Irish in me to say that I wouldn’t marry him until he got his degree. Afterwards he said many times that the only thing he regretted was that we’d lost three years.
Weiner:He went off to Princeton after that summer experience. Did you have a chance to see him before he proceeded to Princeton? In other words, he returned from Pennsylvania in the summer of 1913. Did you have a chance to see him?
Compton:No, but on the way back from Princeton when he was coming home for Christmas I think he stopped off for a day or so on the train.
Weiner:Did you correspond?
Compton:Oh, yes. You ought to see the letters. I don’t know how he did it. He wrote every day.
Weiner:You saved them?
Compton:Yes, most of them. It was very odd. I put them in an old trunk. It would be quite an antique now -- with the hair on it, you know, one of those cast iron trunks covered with calf-hide. I hid it under some lumber in the attic. That was my little place to hide it while I was away because I didn’t carry things like that around, and I didn’t want to destroy them. And then my niece, who is only four years younger than I am, evidently discovered them. So then she had them for a while. It’s a great saga. I have them now in northern Michigan, but I’m sure they’re not quite all there now, and I don’t know what she’s done with them and I don’t know whether she’ll ever tell me. I’m still probing.
Weiner:In the letters is there any discussions of his reactions to his work at Princeton and his experiences there?
Weiner:In that sense they would be quite interesting.
Compton:Yes, they would, and I’ll go back through them and read those parts because definitely there’s quite a lot --
Weiner:For example, he came into contact there with O. W. Richardson and with Henry Norris Russell, and a number of very great people.
Compton:Oh, yes. My, how he admired Henry Norris Russell. Mrs. Russell has just died here this last year, and I hear from the daughter, who has been a spastic all her life. She has an attendant all the time. And she writes to me as one of her best friends. It’s hard. I just can’t seem to keep up with all these people and do the things I’d like to do.
Weiner:On his reaction to Princeton --. He went there apparently with the intention of switching over to engineering. Was that his career aim? Had he discussed this with you?
Compton:At first I think it was definitely physics. And then during the second year he thought, “Well, I’ll go on then and get the M. A. here. Then I will transfer to Cornell and get the final degree in engineering.” And during that period, I think, was the time he gave up a fellowship that had been offered him. That was characteristic of him. Instead of just waiting to see and not telling anyone, since he thought he knew, he just gave up the fellowship. If he just would have waited, because it was a real hardship without the fellowship that last year…And before that he’d had the Jacobus Fellowship, which is the largest one they have here.
Weiner:Did he have that from the start?
Compton:No. He had that during the second year.
Weiner:Then who paid --?
Compton:I think he had a Proctor. I’d have to check on that. I can’t remember. But the Jacobus Fellowship came as the award for the second year, which was their largest one. It was either going ahead with the Jacobus or a Proctor, but then he turned it back; said no, that he would be going to another university. And then he decided in talking with Karl and others here (I think Dean Mage had a good deal to say about it) that he would finish in physics. But that caused him really financial hardship.
Weiner:You mentioned that he had such great respect for Henry Norris Russell.
Compton:There again I think it was the sky; it was astronomy, because I think that always stirred him. The workings of the universe just triggered a lot of response in him.
Weiner:Well, his subsequent work in cosmic rays is especially relevant to that.
Weiner:But of the people at Princeton would you say that Russell was the most impressive to him? Or were there others?
Compton:Well, he did his research mostly, I think, with Lester Cooke and then with O. W. Richardson. I think they have his notebooks with O. W. O. W. was -- I don’t know; I’m not going to enlarge further on that.
Weiner:You don’t feel that there was a close relationship in any way established?
Compton:I don’t think that it was. Of course Dean Magie had a close relationship with him. They called him “the noble dean.”
Weiner:As opposed to the other dean, all the other deans.
Compton:It’s interesting, though, when you think back now over the background you have after living through those days -- why students would speak of him as “the noble dean.”
Weiner:Rutherford visited Princeton in 1913. When you dig into those letters you may find some account of that visit. It would be most interesting to see what he thought of Rutherford’s visit and how he reacted to it.
Compton:Oh, yes, because that was the next high point -- hearing Rutherford.
Weiner:This I gather was an important influence on his subsequent interests. Now, during the summers while at Princeton did he return home? You mentioned, of course, that you saw him Christmas vacation his first year of graduate work, but what did he do the summers between semesters?
Compton:In ‘11 and ‘15 he was at Michigan -- at Otsego Lake.
Weiner:Then in ‘16 you were married, and, of course, that was when he obtained his degree. I remember an account that someone tried to talk him out of getting married at that time so that he could take advantage of a fellowship which they had secured for him. Do you remember that?
Compton:Yes, very well. That was Dean Andrew Fleming West, “63 inches around the chest.” There was a nice little song that Arthur used to sing in his bath. Well, Andrew Fleming West said, “Compton, this is a two-year fellowship. Now, if you don’t take it you will never again have the chance to do what this will mean to you.” Arthur just said, well, it would take a good deal of thinking over, to make him change his mind. Then Andrew West went on to say, “But, Compton, you know, you can be married any time, but you can’t have this trip. It’s not open to a married man.”
Weiner:The trip was to where?
Compton:It was a two-year traveling fellowship of some kind from here.
Weiner:Was it Princeton funds?
Compton:I don’t know that.
Weiner:Was it for traveling abroad or only in this country?
Compton:Abroad. He said, “You won’t get abroad. If you get married you won’t get abroad -- not for a long time if ever.” He was making it very strong because he wanted to make his point. I have a nice couple of books that West gave Arthur on Lucretius. West evidently felt that he was so promising that he ought to have every opportunity that he could have.
Weiner:He didn’t feel that marriage was an opportunity.
Compton:Well, but Dean Magie heard about it. He said, “I hear Andy West has been trying to discourage you from getting married. Don’t listen to a word that Andy says. You just follow the dictates of your own heart.” That was what Dean Magie told him, which he didn’t have much difficulty in doing because he had made up his own mind that he would not consider doing that trip.
Weiner:Do you recall anything else about the Princeton period before we get onto the next stage? During this period you were teaching high school, and then during the last year you stayed at home to help on the farm, and he was really developing his work in x-rays at that time, beginning a number of studies. Do you recall anything else about the work that he did at Princeton and his reaction to it?
Compton:Well, his experiment with the earth’s rotation, proving the rotation of the earth with his rotation ring, which is here. Have you seen it?
Weiner:In the Palmer Lab, isn’t it?
Compton:Have you seen it?
Compton:Yes, it’s in the Palmer Lab. We wrote to them from Washington University, and they said, “Well, indeed, we’re going to keep it for our own museum.” So we’ll have to have it copied, I guess. It’s a simple thing to copy.
Weiner:And he did that. We know some of the other details. It was during this period that a number of interesting things happened in physics, and that’s why perhaps those letters would be important, because in 1913, for example, the Bohr atom came out; Einstein’s work was coming out again in this period; and apparently Karl Compton was working with O. W. Richardson during this period on the photoelectric effect.
Compton:Yes, very much.
Weiner:And so these are the kinds of things it would be good to know more of. I recognize that probably it’s difficult for you now to say what went on in Princeton, but you might have the letters that would fill in.
Compton:I think so, or some little comment in one of his letters that would bring it enough to the surface that then I might recall something.
Weiner:But then let’s get to the end of the Princeton period when in fact he was getting his degree. You had already made plans that as soon as he received his degree you would get married. That was pretty much settled.
Weiner:What about the first job, though? When did that come about, and how did it come about?
Compton:Well, that came about through Princeton as well. Professor Anthony Zeleny was having a year off from the University of Minnesota, and he was just looking over likely young men to go out to the University, and he selected Arthur as the one for Physics and W. W. Cumberland in business and finance as the one for economics. Anyway, he and Bill Cumberland were in graduate college together and knew each other very well. They were both married and came out to the University of Minnesota together. We knew the Cumberlands very well. Then Al Waterman was his roommate here at the Graduate College. It was very interesting because Al really gave the whole graduate college men a course in music while they were there because he played on the piano and also he helped them (he could improvise things) in group singing. He’d write the different parts for it. He was very clever musically.
Weiner:Did you know him at all during that period?
Compton:Only at the commencement time. Of course Arthur had always mentioned him. They were very good friends, and they went camping together. That’s right -- he went on one of those with Al during the graduate period.
Weiner:He went to Michigan.
Compton:No, Maine. It wasn’t full time in Michigan. I should have recalled that, but I didn’t -- not until we came to it. Al Waterman was a legalized Maine guide, which is something to be proud of. But at any rate at times he was taking Karl Compton and then later the men with their sons -- Wilson Compton and his sons -- but that came later, still later; I’m confusing that. But Al was a good friend of theirs.
Weiner:Do you remember any other friends or classmates at Princeton that he was particularly close to?
Compton:Clarence Gamble. Clarence, I think, was the only person who had a car at that time. So he drove Arthur and Al to New York a couple of times for opera. I remember that. That was a Gamble of Proctor and Gamble. There were Clarence Gamble and Sidney Gamble.
Weiner:They weren’t in the sciences, though, were they?
Compton:Well, Clarence, I wouldn’t think so. I don’t know what he studied. I can’t think of others.
Weiner:No one else in the sciences who later went on? There may be many. You’d have to look at a list perhaps. I think I even have a list of graduating classes at Princeton.
Compton:Have you? Oh, Paul Foote -- P. D. Foote. He’d also be a good person to talk with.
Weiner:He’s in Washington, I think.
Compton:Yes, I have his address there. P. D. would be a good person to talk with. Let’s see who else? McKeon at University of Minnesota. I don’t know whether McKeon is still living. He was with the Navy, naval research. And Tate. He wasn’t at Princeton. He was at the University of Minnesota.
Weiner:I want to talk about that in a little bit. Well, that gives me a feeling for it. By the way, before we leave Princeton, your husband mentioned that C. G. Darwin independently came out with something very similar to his dissertation topic, and so at the very end he had to take a look at the subject to make sure that it was in fact different.
Compton:That wasn’t Darwin. Wasn’t that Debye?
Weiner:No, that was later, I think, when Debye did that. I think it was C. G. Darwin. I’m pretty sure of that. Let’s see where that came from.
Compton:I don’t know about that.
Weiner:I think he mentioned it in The Cosmos: “Personal Reminiscences.”
Compton:I remember Darwin saying that he remembered hearing about Compton when he was in a fox hole talking with a fellow in the First World War, about something that man Compton had done. I remember Darwin speaking of that when we were dinner guests of his in his home: “Compton, the first time I heard about you was in a fox hole.”
Weiner:I think there’s some mention that they were working on a similar topic, as is often the case. So there was the question of their making sure what the difference was, and it worked out well. I think he covers it. (The Cosmos of Arthur Holly Compton, p.27) Well, then, you came to commencement before the wedding.
Compton:Yes. Now, Al Waterman’s father was the head of the physics department at Smith College. They came down. I remember his father and mother were as interested in meeting me as was I in meeting them. They said, “We’re sorry but Al hasn’t found his girl yet.” Then he went out to teach physics at the University of Cincinnati, and there he met Mary.
Weiner:His father was Frank Waterman, wasn’t he?
Compton:I can’t remember.
Weiner:And who from the Compton family came in for the commencement?
Compton:Well, of course, Karl and Rowena were here.
Weiner:And his parents came, I’m sure?
Compton:Well, now, let’s see. I guess so. This other book will tell you that. Did you get it? (James R. Blackwood, The House on College Avenue: The Compton’s at Wooster, MIT Press, 1967).
Weiner:Yes, but it stops at 1913.
Compton:Oh, it stopped by getting us on the train to go to Karl’s wedding. There we are. And that was in New York State, and from there we went to Europe, and then Arthur went to Pittsburgh to work for the summer.
Weiner:Right, but I don’t think the book mentions that.
Compton:No, but I mean I was trying to get that straightened out. I think they must have been here.
Weiner:Anyway then the wedding took place in New Waterford?
Compton:Yes, on the lovely farm on Locust Hill. Arthur and my niece and several of us went out -- We had beautiful ravines on the farm -- and picked bushels of maidenhair fern, the most beautiful you’ve ever seen. And the whole neighborhood was interested in the wedding, and they all sent in great clothes baskets of roses. I don’t think anyone had ever seen as many roses together in that area before. So we made a huge screen of maidenhair fern with roses. Then Father killed the fatted calf and had the wedding dinner. And after that there was a serenade, which was in the form of an old-fashioned country serenade. People came from 50 to 100 miles around for this serenade, with bells, ringing bells. It was quite a happening for the area. Then instead of going off for a wedding trip -- my father wasn’t very well, and hadn’t gotten anyone to take the place on the farm -- we stayed on. We pitched our tent on down near the stream on the farm and stayed on until early August and then went up to northern Michigan -- after we felt we had things running in good shape.
Weiner:You were essentially camping out on the farm as a honeymoon.
Compton:Yes, and then we went up to Michigan and camped the rest of the time while they were building their cottage. Arthur drove the well for the new cottage. And that cottage now belongs to Karl Compton’s son and his wife, the one who is a science master at Exeter. He is C. Arthur Compton. I was a little dashed when Karl decided to name his only son for his younger brother when Arthur had a son Arthur. I thought, “There’s Arthur’s Arthur and then Karl’s Arthur. Now this is going to be very confusing.” But finally I made up with reality and said, “That’s all right. I’ll just get credit for all the Arthur Comptons.” Which happened, by the way, because in Washington I met Saltonstall, the Senator, and he said, “Oh, I’ve just met your son down at Exeter.”
Weiner:The summer then was spent camping in one place and another. Then when did you go to Minnesota? When did you take up residence there?
Weiner:I meant to ask something else before I move on, too. Was there quite a bit of excitement because the man you were marrying was a physicist? Did he have that as a title? Did they know that he had a Ph.D. in physics, and did this create some stir?
Compton:You mean in my area?
Compton:I think just a moderate ripple. My father was known as an influential and prosperous person. I think it was chiefly the family friends around there who reacted.
Weiner:I was just curious about the reaction to the idea of a physicist at that time. The Minnesota job came about through Zeleny.
Compton:He chose three from Princeton to go out with him.
Weiner:Well did this represent a real attempt to build up the department there?
Compton:Oh, yes, very much. His brother was head of the department at Yale.
Weiner:I’m glad you mentioned that because I constantly get that mixed up.
Compton:John Zeleny was the one at Yale, and Anthony was the one there. It was a very interesting first year there with frozen milk and bread delivered to the door with the milk bottle tops about 2 inches above the glass. I got interested in a Thursday musicale with some of the faculty wives, and Mrs. Zeleny was the accompanist. It was a very interesting first year. We saw a number of the engineering people as well as the physicists and chemists and mathematicians.
Weiner:What were the expectations on going up there as far as the position itself? Was the primary interest research?
Compton:We had several offers. They tried to get us to go to Lake Forest outside of Chicago. Even in that early day they were going to build us a house. They thought that would lure us, you see -- just being married we would like to have a home. But I think Arthur felt actually that the University of Minnesota would be a better place to go from.
Weiner:What other places made offers? Do you recall?
Compton:North Carolina, I think, and Duke University did. I don’t know why there should have been any others, but I think those were the ones.
Weiner:On what basis then was the decision made to go to Minnesota?
Compton:Well, a better opportunity. It was a more complete department, I think. I don’t think he was ready to get himself in charge of something that he would have to solidify, so to speak. That’s just my off-the-top-of-my-head feeling now.
Weiner:Who were the most prominent men in the department? You mentioned Zeleny.
Weiner:Tate was there, yes.
Compton:McKeon, Foote. Let’s see: I came upon a picture of that. Henry Erikson was the head of the department. He was wonderful -- Henry A. Erikson. He was the one who came around when Arthur was having trouble with one of his experiments, and he said, “well, how’s it going today?” And Arthur said, “well, it’s not coming out.” He said, “well, had you made up your mind how it was to come out or something like that?” Well, Arthur said he thought he had an idea how it was to come out. He said, “Well, the way things are is always more interesting than the way you think they’re going to be.” I think he put that in some place. Did you read that?
Weiner:Yes. And it reminded me that Merle Tuve told me a similar story about a professor at the same place. I don’t know if it’s the same professor, but he told him something very similar, which he considered to have been an important influence on him.
Compton:“The way things are is always more interesting.”
Weiner:You mentioned Foote and McKeon, but I thought you had mentioned them earlier as having been at Princeton, in the class at Princeton.
Compton:Oh, I didn’t mean to infer that.
Weiner:They were not classmates, but they were fellow faculty members, colleagues at Minnesota?
Compton:Yes. Well, W. W. Cumberland was at the graduate college. Cumberland was here at the graduate college and was called out there. He was one of the three.
Weiner:Who was the third again?
Compton:Well, I wonder if Foote wasn’t the third one. I think it was Foote, W. W. Cumberland and Arthur. If I see that picture again, I’d know, but I can’t recall any more definitely.
Weiner:There was a man at Minnesota whose name was Oswald Rognley? You don’t recall that name?
Weiner:He may have been a student there. I think his name appears in the papers somewhere.
Compton:I don’t recall anybody by the name of Oswald.
Weiner:That was his first name. Do you recall anything about the size of the staff and what the breakdown of responsibilities was in the department of physics?
Compton:It seems to me there were about six of them. That’s what I vaguely remember. I’d have to look at that picture again before I’d recall anything further.
Weiner:And the position was an instructorship?
Weiner:Do you recall the salary range of that in those days?
Compton:I should, but I don’t.
Weiner:That may be available in department records. How about your getting adjusted. You mentioned participating in some of the community life. But where did you live, though? They didn’t build you a house?
Compton:We lived on Oak Street Southeast where the tram car goes screeching around the corner.
Weiner:Is that close to the University?
Weiner:This was rented quarters?
Weiner:What about teaching responsibilities there? Did he have a heavy teaching load?
Compton:They always had heavy schedules in those days. I don’t know: 12, 14 hours.
Weiner:These were generally undergraduate courses?
Compton:I don’t remember.
Weiner:Do you recall the general reactions that you had, that both of you had, in coming to the University of Minnesota and taking up a new life there as a professional?
Compton:Well, it was a great step forward. It was a great experience, starting there. We did have interesting friends and participated in some of the musical events, I in the Thursday morning musical, and both of us then joined a chorus. We sang in one of the downtown choruses just because we wanted to sing together.
Weiner:This was during the first year. Did you have long range expectations of staying on at Minnesota or was it a temporary appointment from the start?
Compton:Well, as far as I can recall now, it was our first post. I think we did intend that we would be there longer than we were. But with the war on, we were then pulled away to Westinghouse Electric.
Weiner:Can you explain a little more about that?
Compton:So we were there then for one year and then went east to Pittsburgh. But Arthur was loaned then to the government for a good part of the time and was working on airplane instruments. I had the original turn indicator. I wish to goodness I could find it. I have the feeling that one of his students when they were helping pack up things there at Chicago might still have it around some place. I might put in a blind ad offering a reward for that, because I’d love to have that original turn indicator. [Turn indicator is in St. Louis.]
Weiner:Was it a small device?
Compton:Yes, about that high. That was the forerunner of the Sperry gyroscope, and I was always proud of that. So he was flying down at Newport News. You know about that, don’t you?
Compton:And trying out this turn indicator to see how quickly it would react after a side slip and this and that.
Weiner:Is that when Sperry came through on a visit?
Compton:No. This was Major Mendenhall. He put it in Major Mendenhall’s hands. The Mendenhall who now is president of Smith is the son Tom. Tom’s father was Major Mendenhall.
Weiner:Charles Mendenhall, who was a physicist and who was up at Wisconsin. I see. And he was Major Mendenhall because he was in the Signal Corps at the time?
Compton:Yes. So he tried this thing out. And it’s a wonder Arthur ever came through alive. Those crates were so flimsy. Eighteen-year-olds were flying those crates. Did I ever tell you about that? There was one severe drop. He said he had many of them, but this one particular one -- he felt his diaphragm had just left. When he came down his young pilot leaned over at the next table and said, “Hey, Jim, how do you get out of a tailspin?” Evidently the young fellow had tried everything and had leveled off enough so that they didn’t smash when they came down, but they came mighty near it.
Weiner:This was during the period when he was working for Westinghouse but on loan to the government for the war service. I missed something here. You said that the reason the Minnesota stay was foreshortened was because of the war. It wasn’t clear how that affected the Minnesota stay and how the transition came about to work for Westinghouse in Pittsburgh.
Compton:Well, I think there was a combination there. I put myself back those 55 years quite well enough at the moment. I’d have to think back and cudgel my brain a little bit on that. I think he felt that if there was going to be a wider opportunity it was in the engineering area where he could operate, and therefore it was inviting in that sense. And then this was also a time when he would be able to be more practically useful in the war. I think there was this ambivalence there.
Weiner:By this time it is 1918 that we are talking about. June, ‘17 would have been the end of the first year at Minnesota.
Compton:Yes. So it wasn’t as evident as it looks now, was it?
Weiner:Did he know anyone at Westinghouse who made the contact and made the arrangements for him to come? Could this have been related to his connection with Westinghouse a few years earlier?
Compton:There was, but I don’t recall who.
Weiner:This wasn’t the same division at Westinghouse. That wasn’t the air brake division.
Compton:Oh, no. This is East Pittsburgh. Let’s see -- who was there? I can see some of the people in my mind’s eye. I can’t think of them, though, now.
Weiner:But you moved there after the first of the year.
Compton:We moved to Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, to Mt. View Place. Then our first son was born.
Compton:On the 12th of June, 1918.
Weiner:When you say he was on loan to the government for war work --
Compton:That’s the way I remember it. I don’t know. You’d have to find out who some of these people were.
Weiner:I think there’s probably something written on it, too.
Compton:His notebooks, of course, are there; and it’s in those notebooks that you find some of these patents. Those are the Westinghouse notebooks that will have some of the patent things in them. Do you have any Westinghouse notebooks?
Weiner:Yes. There are not too many notebooks. But they relate to scattering experiments that he was doing from March.
Compton:Yes, that’s when he decided, wasn’t it, to do these different experiments on sodium vapor? It was later that he started the fluorescent. That was later after he came back from England.
Weiner:I think the ones from this earlier period are these large ring electron scattering problems. We’re resuming now after a break for a delightful, refreshing snack with some good tomato juice and other things. At the time we left off we were talking about the period in Pittsburgh at Westinghouse. There are a couple of questions I don’t think we covered. The first was to just pin down, if you can, when it was that you arrived there. It was in 1917 some time, but I’m not sure whether it was the summer or the fall.
Compton:It was the fall.
Weiner:The fall of 1917. The other thing I wanted to know about that is whether you recall anything about Mr. Compton’s characteristic style of work at that time. He published a very important paper on the large electron, a very significant paper.
Compton:I can tell you a good story about that later.
Weiner:I want to hear that story but I also want to know how the work on that was done. That would give me an indication of his style of work. Where was it done? Was it done at home? How did the ideas develop at the time?
Compton:He worked both ways. He was, as I say, a disciplined worker. Most of the things he did were disciplined. How he learned to be such a disciplined person I don’t know. It’s a rare person who achieves the type of discipline that he had. But he did work at home. He liked to have a board on his chair, one of these work boards, you know, and he wrote. Whether we didn’t have a desk, I don’t remember. When he went to work at Westinghouse the men took walks at noon, played cards at noon. I mean there was always some sort of diversion, too. He was really in one way a constant worker and in another way a relaxed worker. He knew when to relax, which was again I think a rare quality to have.
Weiner:Was it a regular work day?
Compton:Oh, yes. Of course at Westinghouse it was a regular time that you got to the lab, at nine, and then you were out, I guess, at five.
Weiner:What were the sorts of things that he did during those working hours?
Compton:He was doing experiments. Wasn’t he trying all these different gases?
Weiner:Yes, it was during this period that he did that.
Compton:It was some time then when he started to make glass. He got himself an electrical thing that you melt the glass in.
Compton:A crucible, and then he made about 200 kinds of glass. Someone had said -- maybe it was Mr. Conant -- that there just wouldn’t be any glass that would be able to contain sodium vapor. There just wasn’t one. And so I think he set out to make one and he did.
Weiner:What of the work on the paper on the large electron? Did that come out of the daily routine?
Compton:He worked on and off on that paper. He wouldn’t be working for the most part on Westinghouse time, but on his own time. That was the thing he was most interested in when we first got there. But the getting there was really something. I don’t know whether you want anything on that or not.
Weiner:That’s part of it.
Compton:Well, if that was the thing he wanted to do next, I said, “Let’s do it.” Well, we didn’t have any money to do it. I said, “Well, there are several ways we could do it. I’ll stay home with son Arthur, and you go on for six months or seven months, whichever you think it will be.” And he said, “No, I will not do that.” I said, “All right, then we’ll all go.” And I borrowed the money from my brothers, because if that was the thing that needed to be done next, we’d do it. But meanwhile he was trying valiantly to get help from a National Research Council fellowship. He wrote this letter to Bumstead at Yale, and Bumstead said, “Compton, can’t you find a place? I’d be glad for you to have one, but can’t you find a place in the United States where you want to do this?” Arthur said, “No.” He said, “Well, that’s too bad. I’d like to see you get that.” He said, “On second thought, put in your case. It may help somebody else.” So Arthur patiently, as always, and carefully, made his case. And it was such a good case evidently that at the next meeting they voted to make him a National Research Council fellow abroad.
Weiner:This was a new precedent.
Compton:It was, and I was very much pleased to think that he’d blazed a trail for all of those who followed, how many hundreds of them. And it was such a crucial time for us, too. At no other time would it have been quite as much help as it was then. So I paid back my brothers.
Weiner:In coming to Westinghouse was there any financial incentive?
Compton:Oh, yes. Considerable.
Weiner:They paid far better than the University.
Oh, yes. It must have been a couple of times as much right off, first thing. And of course that may have figured somewhat in our thinking that maybe then we’d be able to make our trip abroad sooner. I mean you never know quite how these things work out and the ramifications of them. The big electron reminds me that while at the Cavendish Lab I was invited to come to the colloquium, and Professor Rutherford announced -- it was on the bulletin board too -- that A. H. Compton was going to talk on the electron. Rutherford was so clever in the way he announced it. He was so genial about it -- always brusque but genial, you know. He said, “Now I really want you all to listen very carefully to what this young man has to say on this, the big electron. But, you know, you don’t have to believe it all.” The way he said it captured their attention right away, and they listened -- you would have heard a pin drop the way they listened.
And then there was a great discussion. But I thought, “How cleverly that was done by Professor Rutherford.” If he had just announced the subject, it would have been different, but “listen very carefully, but you don’t have to believe it all.” Then Lady Thomson was wonderful to us. Right away she sent over a crib, the one “G.P.” [Sir George Paget Thomson] had slept in and her daughter Joan, for Arthur Alan; and she also sent a high chair that went to three sizes -- down a little low chair and then three heights -- and a mail cart. She was Welsh, and she had this Welsh mail cart that her maids had wheeled “G.P.” and Joan in. You held the handles like a wheelbarrow, and it had two big wheels, and you pushed it ahead like that. And she sent people around to call on me and so forth. And they invited us to the Master’s Lodge. They just couldn’t have been nicer to us. And the Rutherfords also. I remember on Sunday when Lady Thomson said, “Oh, Dr. Compton, won’t you let us hear one of those weird college cries?” That was in her drawing room at Trinity Lodge. Well, he did not perform, but later he gave an example of one he ought to have given her perhaps: “K-thud, k-thud, buckets of blood,/ Look out for us, we’re bad!” Something like that. He ought to have chosen a very strong one. Oh, dear.
Weiner:He spent a full year there at the Cavendish Laboratories. Whom did he work closely with?
Compton:Well, that was interesting too. Here was Professor Rutherford’s room, and here was Arthur’s room. So in order to go into Rutherford’s room, Rutherford had to come through Arthur’s room. And so going and coming, they were always meeting, which was just wonderful, you see. It couldn’t have been better. So that worked very well. And we saw J.J. though Arthur didn’t see too much of him. Then there was that famous time. Did he ever write that up, I wonder? When G.P. came down from Manchester and was getting some of the opposite of what his dad had got and had pictures of his results, and J. J. was just as pleased as punch -- bringing it out of his pocket and showing the pictures that G. P. had made. Arthur commented when he got home: “He wouldn’t have been so pleased if somebody else other than his son had found those results.” It was really very amusing.
Weiner:But his work generally was done alone. I mean he had his apparatus and it was set up.
Compton:Oh, yes. He was really built to be a lone worker, because he planned on doing everything himself. He didn’t plan like some do of having a lot of research helpers. He planned on doing it himself. He would blow glass to meet any idea he had. He made his own x-ray tubes -- I told you that. The General Electric were always very generous, though. They would give the materials. No university could afford to order a single x-ray tube, just one tube with a molybdenum target, or a single tube with a tungsten target, with a certain thickness of tungsten; but they would draw it out to his specifications and give them to him. So he had that advantage.
Weiner:They would give them to him rather than sell it?
Compton:I think practically they thought that was a simpler way than putting it through channels. It might have been that they thought they were getting off easy rather than having to make them, I guess. As far as I know it was a very small amount at least, whatever it was. I don’t know about that.
Weiner:At the Cavendish Laboratories do you recall any contact with C. T. R. Wilson?
Compton:Oh, yes. He was a most silent man, and his wife was a little less silent. Of course we saw his cloud chamber.
Weiner:What was the life like there compared, say, to the life at Minnesota? Was there a community there in which you got involved?
Compton:No. You see, it was after this horrible war. The place was just packed with students. Every young man who could hobble was back -- colonials as well as English. It was depressing. First you had to get over that because there were crutches at every corner, and canes, and there were legs missing and arms missing. It was horrible. And just no place to live. You see, a letter came after Arthur had written and decided we’d go willy-nilly on our own. He wrote to Professor Rutherford and said he would like to come. The answer to it we didn’t receive until we were in Cambridge and it was forwarded from America to us, saying, “Dear Compton, you would be most welcome in my laboratory, but I can’t honestly know where you would live. I just can’t honestly tell you that you ought to come, because I don’t know where you can live. Everything is so filled up.” We were on his doorstep.
Weiner:And you solved that problem through the help of Thomson?
Compton:We walked the streets. Well, first we went to the Blue Boar. We were there two weeks, and we had to get out because the races were on and everything was booked. They said we could come back then after another fortnight. Then we went to the Red Lion, and then we went to the University Arms. We went from pillar to post.
Weiner:With a small baby.
Compton:Yes, and no washing facilities except the bathtub. I said that I could vie with any of the G.I.’s wives in telling tales. Going over was horrible. We were on an unreconditioned troop ship. I’ll never forget the smells on it. Once I said to Arthur, “You watch Arthur a minute,” and I went to the rail. He said, “Arthur, you’ll have to look after yourself,” and he went to the rail. So those were real troublous times.
Weiner:But exciting, too.
Compton:But if that was what we wanted to do, we had to do it. Then Lady Darwin was wonderful to us, too –- Charles Darwin’s mother. You see, they were all accustomed to having nursemaids, and they all said, “I hope you have a good nurse for your baby,” and I said, “I hope I have. I’m really taking care of him myself.”
Weiner:A different style.
Compton:We kept pushing him along the Cam River in this mail cart. Just now I have a lovely letter from G.P. Thomson. I think I have a copy of it in there. I’ll get it for you. He was so pleased about the book, “The Cosmos of Arthur Holly Compton.”
Weiner:Did you travel to any other places in England? Did you see W.H. Bragg or did he come to the Cavendish Laboratories?
Compton:Sir William was the president of the British Association, and he was the president of the British Association when Arthur spoke at Toronto at the meeting. That was the Duane controversy, and Sir William asked to have a special meeting afterwards, and it lasted three or so hours just on that point. And who was the physicist from Calcutta who did the work on the opalescent mixtures? Anyway he was very dark just as black as could be, but he had a beautiful Scotch accent. He would be asking questions from the back of the hall, and it was so disconcerting to have this person, black as coal, with this delightful Scotch accent. He was the one who said, “Compton, you answer questions well; you’re a good debater, but the truth isn’t in you.”
Weiner:This was Raman, and that was back in the early ‘20s.
Weiner:Just getting back to life at the Cavendish, do you member traveling anywhere in England, going out to London? Did you go to Oxford?
Compton:Yes, we went to London, but we didn’t get to go very much. The transportation wasn’t there. Then I’d keep walking the streets to get another place to live. You see, we went from one place to another until it came to the end of December. The Red Lion where we were then was going to close so its people would have the holiday. So then the widow of the former dean of Trinity offered to take us into her home out on Headington Street, a very nice home. Her husband had died, and her only son had been lost in the war. Something we didn’t know when we went there -- of course she wanted to do a kind deed -- was that she was receiving automatic writing from him (the son). So you know that the atmosphere was not particularly calm. We’d be sitting eating breakfast, luncheon or dinner, and suddenly she’d get up and go to the corner and start writing. Well, I thought, “We can’t take this,” so I started walking the streets again with young Arthur. You see, Arthur Holly would be off to the lab then. Lady Darwin would offer suggestions, and I’d stop there first, having been sent by her, and then I would not leave that door until they gave me a suggestion of someplace else to try. That’s the way I went day after day. I finally found a place. A man had been returned after having been hospitalized, just able to be returned home but wasn’t able to do much. So his wife said that they would give up their bedroom and a dressing room to be our living room, and they would double up down on the first floor -- they’d give us the second -- and she would cook our meals and bring them up to us. That was going to be a big improvement, so we did that. A. H. and I went back to see the place several times later when we were in Cambridge.
Weiner:The same place was still there?
Weiner:That must have taken a good deal of your time, getting settled.
Weiner:What month did you arrive?
Compton:I think it was the very last week of September or the first or second of October.
Weiner:And had you proceeded directly from Pittsburgh to New York to the ship?
Weiner:In other words, when the Westinghouse job was completed, you went directly there. So you were at Westinghouse Electric.
Weiner:Yes. And you were there through a good part of September of 1919.
Compton:I suspect so. We might have had an extra week or two in between there to take things back. We put some things in storage, and then we took some things back to Ohio.
Weiner:Do you remember anything about the procedures at the Cavendish Laboratories. Were there regular weekly colloquia there?
Compton:Yes, a colloquium every week.
Weiner:Did you go sometimes?
Weiner:Was it the usual practice for the wives to go?
Compton:No, it wasn’t. There weren’t too many wives. Now, for instance, McCauley was there from Tasmania, and he was not married. I saw a picture of the graduate students not long ago. That would be something you would be interested in.
Weiner:They would get together then, and you would be one of the few women.
Compton:One of the few women, oh, yes. There was a woman physicist or at least she was a mathematician from Gerton College. Women were just beginning, you see, to assert their newfound freedom. Actually they couldn’t make us out because neither one of us, Arthur and I, smoked or drank; and women then were just smoking all over the place. That was their debut. So I think they wondered a little about those odd Americans.
Weiner:Did you understand what was going on at these colloquia?
Compton:Some of them I followed, but I don’t think I would have been able to recapitulate much of it.
Weiner:I wasn’t going to ask you that. I was just curious.
Compton:Well, I was interested. As I say, Arthur always talked to me a good deal about that, so you see we’d go on discussing it.
Weiner:What was it -- a formal thing? Or was there a great deal of discussion?
Compton:The times that I visited I can’t remember much more than mild discussion. I don’t think they were ever too excited over things. At no time was there any more than that large electron. That sort of got them.
Weiner:You told me about the introduction. Then the presentation probably was an effective one in order to stimulate discussion. What was the nature of that spirited discussion that took place? Was it mostly doubting and challenging?
Compton:Questioning, yes -- questioning. I suppose it was equivalent to doubting.
Weiner:Do you recall anything that made a big sensation that year, anything in terms of the scientific developments, any visitor or any news that people were really stirred up about? Were they discussing Einstein at all during the period that you were there?
Compton:I can’t remember that.
Weiner:These are hard things to remember, I know. How about Barkla? He was over at Edinburgh. Did you meet him?
Compton:I don’t recall that I did. Arthur might have. I didn’t.
Weiner:He met him later anyway.
Compton:Yes, Arthur met him later. He was not a good example in the sense of having a discussion with someone really. He was more feeling what he had to say was right rather than anybody else -- I have a feeling.
Weiner:How about the Continent? Did you travel on the Continent that year?
Compton:We did other times. [We went down to Brighton-by-the-sea and we had a wonderful trip to Italy.] You see, we went to Becquerel’s anniversary. That was the first time after the war. That was when Einstein was appearing, and nobody knew what was going to happen when he appeared in the great hail in Paris.
Weiner:There was an ovation for him.
Compton:We were there for that. On that same trip Arthur and Einstein and one other -- we went to the French night clubs, night places. Of course Mr. Einstein always had this aura of standing hair and he was always the dramatic center of any scene. I can still see them looking at us when we came in because of this dramatic individual. But he was great fun. You see, we’d seen him in Berlin when we were there and then at Princeton and in Chicago. He stopped at Chicago twice to see us there. There was one period of ten years that Arthur and he had not seen each other, and Arthur said the first sentence was just a continuation of where they had left off ten years before. He said it was fantastic; he just couldn’t believe it himself -- to have such a memory as that.
Weiner:Who else was in that night club group?
Compton:I wish I could remember.
Weiner:When you left England you went back directly to Washington University, but the arrangements had been made before you left Pittsburgh. How did that come about?
Compton:This committee from Washington University came to talk with Arthur -- Alex Langsdorf, Sr., and Professor Bubb, a mathematician, and Dr. Evarts Graham.
Weiner:We were talking about the committee from Washington University coming to Pittsburgh. You were telling me who was on that committee.
Compton:Yes. Alexander Langsdorf, who was the dean of the engineering school, and Dr. Evarts Graham, who represented the medical school as the professor of surgery and was outstanding because he was the one who did the first lung operations -- took out the first lung -- and did a gall bladder dye. There were a number of things that he was responsible for. The third was a Professor Bubb of mathematics in the engineering school or rather in the mathematics department. They hoped that he would come right then. They wanted someone. They were looking forward to building up the department.
Weiner:They were a committee in charge of what?
Compton:The University Committee in charge of selecting somebody for the physics department.
Weiner:It’s interesting to me that they came to Pittsburgh as a committee. That’s a very powerful persuasion. Had this been preceded by some letters?
Weiner:Do you know how they came to him in the first place? Had his name been recommended by someone?
Compton:I don’t have any idea. Alexander Langsdorf might know. I’ll ask him. He’s at a retirement home. I see him every month.
Weiner:It would be very interesting to know why it was that they came to him and if someone had made a recommendation. When they came to Pittsburgh what did they have in mind? How many people were they going to add to the department?
Compton:Just the one.
Weiner:Just the one in physics.
Compton:They already had somebody who was very aggressive and who wanted to be the head and they didn’t want him to be the head because they didn’t think he was good enough. I believe that was part of it. And so they really wanted to get somebody they thought would be. I can’t imagine why they thought of Arthur at the time, because he would not have seemingly had enough reputation to have them give him an offer like that.
Weiner:Wouldn’t he have been considered very young, too?
Weiner:But they did. And what was their reaction when he told them of his plans?
Compton:Well, he said definitely he was not intending to stay in the country. He was going to go to the Cavendish Lab for a year, and then he would consider what he wanted to do. Somehow Alex Langsdorf -- I don’t know; he’s a very persuasive person -- prevailed. I’m amazed myself when I rethink it that we would tell them that if they wanted Arthur to come it would have to be the year after next. Why they would accept it instead of going after someone else, I don’t know.
Weiner:And they did accept it? Everything was settled before he left?
Compton:I think it was sufficiently settled. I’ll have to ask him why and under what terms. We’ll find out. He’s got a memory like a rope -- Alex has. He’ll remember.
Weiner:But it was clear to you when you were in England that you would be returning at the end of the year to Washington University.
Compton:I suppose it occurred to us it would be a good thing to have something to come back to if you had no money.
Weiner:Then there was probably some correspondence, or something that you might be able to locate, something from that year that would say, “I’m on my way back, and I’d like to talk about plans for the future.”
Compton:Marjorie may know that.
Weiner:You see, we do know one thing. You know these notes that were made aboard ship on the way back on the Mauretania, where the research tasks were outlined?
Compton:Yes, the plans for research problems to start on.
Weiner:These were all, I gather, things that he wanted to do in his own personal research. They were all extensions of what he had really been doing somewhat in England. But I would like to know, if someone remembers, what it is that the others at Washington University had planned for the department. Had they promised a research budget? Were they going to expand? What were the inducements?
Weiner:When did you come back to Washington University? Was it October, 1920 or earlier? The notes on the ship were somewhere in there -- September or October.
Compton:We were back in September. There must be a good deal of correspondence because his first appearance before a St. Louis audience was to be his talk before the St. Louis Academy of Science, and the arranging was done by letter. The president -- he was a Princeton man -- was a professor of law, Tyrell Williams. Then after we arrived in September, the rest of it had been done by telephone, and these two men had never met each other. So all plans were made for this night, and we took a little box of slides and got on this street car that went mmuugh, mmuugh, mmuugh up and down. It was really horrible. We both felt a little bit green when we got downtown. Then we went to the hall and we were in good time because we’d started early. I had gotten a babysitter for that night. So we sat down about in the second row quietly, and in bustles this person, you know, and looks around. “Young man, can you run a lantern?” And Arthur said, yes, he could. “Will you run the lantern for the lecturer this evening?” And Arthur said well, yes, but since he had to give the lecture, it would be simpler if somebody else did the lantern work. Well, Tyrell just burst into laughter, and from then on we were firm friends. He and his wife just took us under their wing, gave us receptions and dinners and saw that we met everybody on the faculty. You see, Arthur as head of the physics department -- well, every other head of a department was either old enough to be his father or grandfather. So it was very nice to be introduced all around, else we wouldn’t have got to meet all of these nice people. But that was funny.
Mrs. John Compton:The sequel that I’ve always heard to that story is that it was at that moment that A.H.C. began to grow his moustache, to attain the look of age and wisdom.
Weiner:The look of a lecturer anyway.
Compton:Yes, though he had really started growing that in England because he was coming back to a department with three people in it older than he; so he felt that he had to have a little stature of some kind. He so carefully cultivated that little bit.
Weiner:What about the lecture for the evening? What was it on? And how was it received?
Compton:Well, I’ve got the slides.
Weiner:Do you remember what the subject was?
Compton:No, I do not remember.
Weiner:Was it a popular audience?
Compton:Well, it was the Academy of Science.
Weiner:So these were scientists but not necessarily in the same field.
Weiner:Did he bring people with him to Washington University? I know that G. E. M. Jauncey was there and a man by the name of Hagenow. Where did they come from?
Compton:Well, Jauncey had been a student of Sir William Bragg’s in either Manchester or Liverpool.
Weiner:It was at Leeds.
Compton:Leeds, all right. Jauncey was an Australian, and he’d got himself a little mixed up at Leeds in some political things. I think people here in this country were a little bit touchy at that time, too. They thought that since he was mixed up in political, things, he might get into trouble; he might make trouble for the University. But when Arthur communicated with Bragg, he got an okay from Bragg for him; and anyway Arthur said he was willing to risk it because after meeting him he felt that he was a person who had real potential. And he did have.
Weiner:You said political things. Do you mean he was a public figure in politics?
Compton:I think he took an unpopular stand on something; I don’t know what it was. We knew at the time, but I don’t know now at all. It would be like someone might be afraid and say, “oh, well, he’s got Communist leanings,” or something like that, you know. He was really fine, though. He was a good lecturer; his students liked him; he was a very faithful worker and was original.
Weiner:Well, then, he was part of the building up of the new department.
Weiner:How about Hagenow? Was he already there or did he come later?
Compton:No, I think he was there. I don’t think that Arthur brought him in. He was culturally a very interesting person, much more so than Jauncey. He played the violin beautifully, and he had really a more cultural background.
Weiner:Getting back to Jauncey, when was it that he came? Did he come shortly after you came in 1920?
Compton:Yes, it must have been during the same year. That ought to be in the records. Mrs. Jauncey is living in Boston now with her daughter.
Weiner:Jauncey worked closely on the details of the Compton effect, and it would be interesting to know the nature of this collaboration.
Compton:And Hagenow, too. They both did, but I can’t tell you anything specific about that.
Weiner:What was the atmosphere at Washington University? By this time you could compare it to Minnesota and the surround atmosphere of Minneapolis, the Westinghouse situation, including the Pittsburgh atmosphere, and the Cavendish Laboratories. How did Washington University compare to the other places?
Compton:Well, you see, in the first place they had no physics building. They hadn’t yet attained enough stature to have a building. So Arthur did his work in the basement of Eads Hall. It wasn’t until we left there, after three years, that an anonymous donor gave Crow Hall. That was Mr. Mallinckrodt, who liked to give things anonymously. He said, “I’m not going to have another Arthur Compton leave for lack of facilities.” So he gave Crow Hall and named it Crow because Crow was the man who went to Jefferson City to get the charter for Washington University.
Weiner:What about the relationship with the other people on the faculty? There was this difference in age. Were you involved in the social life, though?
Compton:There was quite a difference in age. And there was some difficulty as there was a man there who had been there for some years whose wife was overly ambitious, and she had decided that her husband was to be head of the department. So it wasn’t as comfortable as it could have been because she was really quite difficult and didn’t make it any easier the first year.
Weiner:The implication is that Washington University was selected because it was out of the mainstream of physics activities, and Mr. Compton felt that he would rather be away from places like Harvard where he might be influenced by other People. He said specifically in the “Personal Reminiscences,” that in Washington he would be free to pursue his own work in the way he wanted to do it.
Compton:In his own way.
Weiner:This is a very interesting approach because very often people go at it in the opposite way. They want to be in on things --
Compton:Where things are going on.
Weiner:This implies two things. One is that he was unhampered; he was free to do the things he wanted to do. But what about the stimulation of colleagues, though? Was this a problem? Did he feel isolated?
Compton:I think it’s apt to. I don’t know that at that period that it was going to work any special hardship, but I think in general it would because you really have to have colleagues.
Weiner:Of course he worked with Jauncey, though.
Compton:Yes, Jauncey was very stimulating really, and so was Hagenow. They were both bright and could pick right up on things and in discussion. I think Jauncey was just wonderful as a discusser.
Weiner:It seems to me then that during this period there may have been contact with others through two possible ways. One is through visitors --
Compton:C. G. Darwin came to visit us there.
Weiner:And you had met him, of course, when you were in England. Is there anyone else you recall during that period?
Compton:Darwin is the only one at the moment that I seem to recall.
Weiner:How about through correspondence?
Compton:He corresponded with Bragg quite regularly there. I mean there was quite an exchange of letters. It’s the sort of thing that afraid we never saved because when all of these letters were sent down from the University of Chicago –- There’s a man there I want you to ask and see what he knows. He does a lot of science writing now. You would know his name.
Compton:No, he’s not there now. He’s in Washington, D. C. He writes sort of flat-footed things. He’s very outspoken.
Weiner:You said outspoken.
Compton:Yes. Now, Ralph helped pack up our things to send them down from Chicago to Washington University. So I would like you to ask Ralph Lapp about this original bomb site, this bit of glass with a drop of oil –- this turn indicator. Ask him about it. Get him to describe it to you. That’s what I want.
Weiner:I’ll talk to him. I’ve never met him, but it’s easy to do that.
Compton:He’s an all-right fellow.
Weiner:Also about that period, how about Debye? Did he know Debye personally in any way? Did he know his work?
Compton:Yes. I don’t know at what point, but I know they did correspond, and of course we saw Debye in Switzerland years later when he was at Zurich. He just recently died, didn’t he, last year?
Weiner:About a year or two ago. By the way he’s been interviewed by the quantum physics history project.
Compton:They did get tapes from him?
Weiner:Not only that. At Cornell they were doing extensive autobiographical interviewing. I don’t know how far they got.
Compton:Will that be open for you to use?
Weiner:Yes, yes. I will use it up there. I generally don’t like to swap these things around the country; but if I go to visit the library, then I would be able to use it.
Compton:Will you be able to get copies of theirs for your library?
Weiner:If we decide to work it out that way. I feel it should only be done if there’s a real need for it, rather than duplicating things all over the country. Getting back to that period, does the name Plimpton ring any bells, S. J. Plimpton? He did some work in a similar field in October, 1920. You didn’t know him as a personal friend?
Weiner:Do you recall if there was any talk about Einstein’s work during that period?
Compton:Oh, I’m sure there always was intermittently, but I can’t pinpoint it.
Weiner:This was the period of the scattering work, and we have the notes showing that in fact he was going to pursue this on the way back from England.
Compton:You mean that notebook?
Weiner:Yes. Do you recall anything about this work? Was this a period of excitement in terms of knowing that he was on to something and that he was getting somewhere? This was when he was involved with the NRC committee that produced the report in 1922, which was the first publication of the findings on the scattering. Then there was the April, ‘23 meeting of the American Physical Society.
Compton:Was that in New York?
Weiner:That’s what I don’t know. It seems to me it may have been in Washington. The spring meetings were generally held in Washington. [It was held at the Bureau of Standards, Washington, D.C.].
Compton:Yes, they were. The other meeting, the one of the Millikan controversy, was down at Atlantic City.
Weiner:That was the AAAS meeting of December, 1931. I’d like to get into that later, too. But do you recall Duane? Had he been out to Washington University?
Compton:I don’t know. Those were the Chicago days --
Weiner:I meant to ask when it was that the change was made to Chicago? It was the fall semester of 1923, wasn’t it?
Compton:Yes, of course it was.
Weiner:I see. So Duane came to see the results in the fall.
Compton:Yes. No, I don’t think we had any dealing with Duane at Washington University. I mean I don’t recall them. That wouldn’t say that there weren’t any.
Weiner:I was going to ask one more question before we leave Washington University. Then maybe we can decide where we go from here. And that is how the change came about -- the decision to leave Washington and to go to Chicago -- because, after all, the decision had been to work unhampered, to settle in the kind of atmosphere in which one could pursue work. Apparently this was true, at least on the surface of it, because a lot of very fine work was done during that period. But what came about then to make this transition?
Compton:Well, as far as I know, there was just very little money to do further work there in spite of Arthur’s being able to make things himself, as he was. I would feel that it probably was on the two counts of greater facilities and the fact that Michelson was there (A.H. was to take Millikan’s place, you see, with Michelson). I think it was more inspiration from colleagues and better facilities: I should think both of those were factors. And of course there was a better salary, too. I mean all of these were elements I should suspect at the moment. I wouldn’t know of anything else. You see, Michelson still had quite a reputation.
Weiner:He was certainly highly respected for all of his precision measurements. Did you go to any of the meetings during the period of Washington University, any of these physics meetings in other cities?
Compton:I was not at the Atlantic City meeting of AAAS. We had a meeting in St. Louis of the National Academy, but that was not during those first three years. That was later, wasn’t it? I don’t think I had an opportunity then to go to meetings so much.
Weiner:Do you recall when this British Association meeting at Toronto took place? Was that while you were still at Washington University?
Compton:I remember that meeting very well, but not when.
Weiner:That I can check. [Summer 1924]
Compton:You check that. You’d better find it out rather than have me guess.
Weiner:The question that I really wanted to ask was: Were you at that meeting?
Weiner:That’s where the continuation of discussion took place.
Compton:Oh, yes. That was great. All the little groups talking together, you know. There was great excitement in that meeting.
Weiner:Were there people taking sides? Was there a partisan atmosphere?
Compton:Yes. And Bragg, of course, at the British Association meeting, wanted to be so fair on the whole thing. He wanted this extra meeting and said they’d go on as long as they needed to. There ought to be other people who were at that meeting. I wonder who’s living now who was at that meeting.
Weiner:There may be people at Toronto.
Compton:Later that man from Toronto came -- where? Did he come to MIT?
Weiner:There was a man by the name of Foster who was there.
Compton:I can’t remember his name now. Do you remember any names?
Weiner:No, but we can check that out. But do you remember the presentation? Did each one make a presentation and then there was a discussion, or did they have a chance to cross-examine one another?
Compton:Well, I remember a presentation. Yes, there was discussion back and forth. You’d think I’d even remember more about it, but I guess things dim out as time goes by.
Weiner:I think I have a way of checking that later. [See Nature, “The Scattering of X—rays,” 114, p. 627; Disc, 627-628, Oct. 25, 1924. J.A. Gray took part in discussion.]
Compton:There was a great mood of excitement, though, in that meeting -- I suppose more than at any other meeting that I remember going to.
Weiner:And this was a special session called to help resolve this issue. You don’t recall what the feeling was of who had won the debate.
Compton:No, it was nip and tuck at that time. Raman had said, “Well, you seem to be able to answer the questions but I don’t believe it.” Afterwards he practically apologized for that. He said, “Oh, Compton, that was in the heat of the discussion. I really didn’t mean that.” Later Arthur had a chance to keep Raman and Bhatnagar from India from each other’s throats in India. Oh, my, that was another hot thing. You really felt you had someone who was going to commit murder practically at that point. Raman, in front of the prime minister, had spoken up. You see, Bhatnagar was responsible for about eight scientific institutes being formed in India -- laboratories: a physics laboratory, a chemical laboratory, a textile laboratory, about eight or nine of them. And it was at the opening of the chemical laboratory at Poona that the Prime Minister spoke. And Raman got up and just as much as said, “This is foolishness, laboratories like this. You’re just pouring money down a rat hole,” something strongly like that. Well, here was Bhatnagar who was responsible, and here we were dining with the two of them just as mad as hops. I can see Arthur walking down between them yet, down the road, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. Bhatnagar said, “Raman, haven’t you any sense? Don’t you know enough not to say that in front of the Prime Minister? Here we’re hoping to interest him in further laboratories.” “Well, I believe that.” It was horrible.
Weiner:That was when, in ‘26?
Compton:Yes, it was the year of the All India Science Congress meeting. Was it in ‘26? We were there in ‘26.
Weiner:Right, but then you were there very often.
Compton:We were there four times.
Weiner:We were talking basically about the period in Chicago, and we talked about the British Association meeting in Toronto, where at the request of Bragg the discussion continued between Compton and Duane. That was in the summer of 1924. Now, there’s a general question I’d like to ask you about this period. It seems to me there was a great deal of good work being done and a great deal of recognition beginning to be given. I want to know if you felt that this was a new stage -- coming to Chicago, having done some work that was a focus at several meetings and the center of controversy. Did you feel that it was a new period in terms of status within the profession?
Compton:I think he worked all the harder, as far as I could tell. I don’t think there was any so far as I could discover.
Weiner:There was no change in the work.
Compton:No, I know what you mean -- no change in his commitment to the work except a further commitment to search out and search further.
Weiner:Was there any feeling of satisfaction because recognition was being given by people in the field?
Compton:I don’t think so. I mean I didn’t quite sense that. Maybe I ought to have sensed something, but I didn’t.
Weiner:In this period in Chicago, what was the relationship with Michelson?
Compton:He was very cooperative at any time. We found out some of his little idiosyncrasies such as putting all of his mail in his desk drawer and not looking at it. Then a month or so later down the line, if he wanted to clean out the drawer, then it was too late to do anything about it, so he just put it in the wastepaper basket.
Weiner:I heard a story from Ralph Sawyer, who was a graduate student at Chicago. He said that the graduate students used to race for that wastebasket because all of the good reprints and papers and so on were in Michelson’s wastebasket.
Compton:Yes. And of course Tom O’Donnell and some of the others tried to save some of these things. It’s amazing in these universities, ours as well, how many things are thrown out. Tom O’Donnell said he had rescued a number of Michelson’s things from Michelson’s office that were being burned out there in the University side lot which ought not to have been. It’s just like we were very unwise in getting rid of a number of things which would be valuable bits of information if we’d kept them.
Weiner:O’Donnell saved many of these things.
Compton:Yes, Dorothy’s working on it. Has she got a publisher yet? She’s been quite worried about that because she hadn’t up until six months ago. [Michelson’s daughter.]
Weiner:I think that’s about when I saw her, and she hasn’t done much more with it as far as I know. I mean she’s almost finished, but I don’t know if she’s had a good response from a publisher so that she’s willing to do more work on it.
Compton:I don’t know what the status is. I mislaid her address. She gave me her New York one, too, so that I could get in touch with her. She was eager for me to get in touch with her. She wrote Miss Johnston, and thought we’d give some help, but we really didn’t have any special help we could give except through Tom O’Donnell.
Weiner:She’s been in touch with him. Well, at Chicago, other than Michelson, was there much contact with Gale in the department?
Compton:Oh, yes. Henry was head of the department, you see. During Henry’s time -- do you remember the three people who had unbelievable names who were on the meteorological journal? Gale, Hale, and Frost. Isn’t that unbelievable?
Weiner:I know the picture of them sitting on the steps of the Ryerson Laboratory.
Weiner:And who was there in that department at the time? Allison had not yet come.
Compton:No, Dempster. He was a fine person, a good physicist and a good friend.
Weiner:You weren’t there in the department very long before you were off to India.
Weiner:This was on a Guggenheim fellowship. How did the desire to go to India come about? I can understand a desire to take a year off, but it’s not entirely clear why a year in India.
Well, there were a number of reasons. Of course Arthur’s only sister was in India, which was a drawing card. We’d always been interested because she had been there since 1913. So she being a good friend of both of us, we wanted to go. Then Arthur had always thought that Kashmir would be a very valuable area of altitude and latitude for cosmic rays. So as we were leaving he added a note to Martin Benade and Bhatnagar, and of course the other man was Nazir Ahmad. Nazir had just got back; had got his Ph.D. at Cambridge in physics. A.H. said that some time they ought to arrange to have an expedition up into Kashmir because of the location; it would be excellent for some cosmic ray readings. As a matter of fact, they took him all too much in earnest immediately. We were already started on our way, so they couldn’t get in touch with us, but they were all excited and they went busily about making plans for a scientific expedition into Kashmir without our knowing anything about it. My husband was far from being a cynical person, but he rather cynically said, “Yes, of course, they’ve made all the arrangements. They know how many coolies and how many pack animals and all, but they’ve just forgotten to think of the apparatus,” a little thing like the apparatus.
So when we got to Bombay we wired up to them that we were safely in Bombay, but we wanted to go up to Darjeeling and to give us a week or so and we’d be up in Lahore. Well, we got an answer back like lightning saying, “Omit all plans and thoughts of Darjeeling at this time. All plans laid for Kashmir expedition.” ‘Well,” Arthur said, “what’s this?” Then as he began to ask, why he found out that they knew a lot of what they wanted to do but they didn’t have the apparatus; and that’s when he got word to Raman, and Raman was up in Darjeeling. Raman came all the way down and put his laboratory at Arthur’s command and all of his men to try to make some apparatus that would work. And I think the Indians will never forget Arthur Compton, at least for one thing. He went out with them into the bazaar, just an everyday bazaar, and bought a hookah bowl and made a scientific instrument out of it. Of course the thing that was even more remarkable was that it worked. He put a gold leaf down in it and made an electroscope. The other things that people tried to make didn’t work very well. They did something to submerge in the water, you know, and it sprang a leak; somebody had to make that. So the least likely bit of apparatus worked. I can still see their eyes -- to have taken this hookah bowl and make a scientific instrument out of it. Well, at any rate, that was a very interesting thing. Son Arthur was on that, and I was the only woman. I think maybe you’ve read something about that, haven’t you?
Weiner:Yes. In general about horseback and you going on up ahead with Nazir Ahmad because the two of you were the best horseman and horsewoman.
Compton:Well, yes, I was the only woman on all these expeditions.
Weiner:And then Mr. Compton kept up the rear just in case any packages fell off.
Compton:The men on the expedition were all amazed, to think that Compton would allow his wife to go dashing off like this on horseback, because we knew our horses and we had a great time. When we’d come to a meadow after we’d been climbing, why we’d just gallop ahead. They thought this was very strange. You know, it wasn’t the way they would do it there.
Weiner:Were there mostly Indian scientists on that expedition?
Compton:Bhatnagar was on it, the Hindu who had won a very big prize for an oil cracking method, and he gave it all to the University of the Punjab in Lahore. Later at the partition, of course, he left and was down in New Delhi and helped found all of those different laboratories. Then there was Nazir Ahmad and Martin Benade, who is now in Chicago. He was head of physics at Forman Christian College in Lahore.
Weiner:This is the father of –-
Compton:Of A.H., who was named for my husband and A.H. was pushed in the pram that son Arthur was. I loaned it to the Benades for their A.H.
Weiner:I know the [A.H.] Benades. They were neighbors of ours in Cleveland.
Compton:Really? Well, now, she comes from St. Louis. You know he was sent to Kanpur, India with representatives of nine different colleges.
Weiner:That was about two years ago.
Compton:Yes, that’s right. The father.
Weiner:Was his name Martin?
Compton:Martin. We called him “Jim.” He had been in Princeton in the seminary when my husband was in the graduate college, and they used to play handball together.
Weiner:I wondered where they knew each other from.
And Mrs. Benade was from Wooster, from our college. Her brothers went to Wooster. She was a McGaw from India. Her brother is an outstanding doctor in Cleveland -- I forget what his particular line is. But, at any rate, there was Benade and we’ve named the others. Oh, there was Kashmiri Lal Buddhiraja, and he was great. He’s back there. I saw him last summer. I made my fifth trip to India last summer. This was a very disastrous trip in some ways. One of our men died up the mountain. I had been doctoring him because he had a cold. I was helping him do some things because I was doctoring him, and I put on him Arthur’s heavy woolen hosiery and a woolen sweater. He had come up not properly clad for the high mountains and for that time of year. We found out later that he was the eldest brother, and he was homesick for the mountains, and he got his younger brother to allow him to change places with him so that he could be up in the mountains. He wasn’t properly clad. He had only sandals, and so I gave him this wool hosiery and everything and doctored him as best I could.
I had no idea he was dying though he thought he was dying. But instead of calling the Kashmiri or the Mohammedan or the Hindu, he called the missionary, Benade, and said, “I think you will do what I want. I’d like to have you take my body back to Shrinagar to my family.” So Jim promised he would. We could all have lost our lives on that trip. We got caught in a blinding snowstorm. It was later than we ought to have attempted the trip but because of their eagerness to do this project, they had planned it irrespective of the time of year. We did get down safely, and we were met by this man’s family -- six brothers and some other members of the family. Word had gone on ahead that we were coming; they’d sent a runner on. They said they wanted restitution for his body. Well, it so happened that Kashmiri Lal Buddhiraja’s father was a judge of the high court, and so he was able to help us out. We did the right thing and yet did not get into real trouble. Of course it wasn’t our fault; it was just that he never should have gone up in the first place. His brother then did confess that he’d allowed him to take his place. Anyway it was a very sad happening. And cold. Oh, how the wind did blow up there. It blew our tents over. We were up about 13,000 feet, something like that.
Weiner:What month was this?
Compton:It was the end of September.
Weiner:So just when you arrived you went directly on.
Compton:That’s right. It didn’t give us any time in between. There wasn’t any time to be lost. So it was a good trip in some ways, but it was really a difficult one in other ways. That’s when we had these talks. There are some awfully interesting things there that I think Arthur must have told some time. That was when Nazir Ahmad said to Arthur: “You don’t know how lucky you are, Compton.” You know that story.
Weiner:I want you to complete it now that you’ve started it.
Compton:“To have a wife who understands what you’re doing.” And Arthur said, “Well, that’s very nice, but what’s so unusual about that?” And he said, “Well, consider my case. When I was ready to go to Cambridge for my graduate work, my family said, ‘Nazir, you should get married.’ And I said, ‘It wouldn’t be fair to the wife whom I’d marry or to myself if we’d go there. She’d have no friends if she went with me or she’d be with the family if she stayed back.’” So he got them to allow him to do his graduate work before he was married. When he came back with his degree, he said, “Now, Nazir, you must be married.” So they went to hunt around for a wife. And in the circles where his wife could be chosen and was to be chosen, it happened there weren’t any that could read and write. And Arthur said, “Well, what happened? What did you do?” “Well,” he said, “they selected a very attractive young lady and we were married, but it hasn’t worked too well.” So that’s what he was saying –- “somebody who understands what you’re doing.” He has been in the government, and I don’t know whether he was allowed to take another wife or what has happened -- he had another wife anyway. So I don’t know what’s been in between. We corresponded with him. But when I was there the last time, we didn’t see him because he was away. He was supposed to be in Karachi when I was, but he He’s the one who told the interesting story that every scientist knows about the ninth camel.
Weiner:This expedition itself took how long from the time you bought the hookah bowl and made the instrument to the time you got back?
Compton:When they made the instruments -- that was a week. And then by the time we got up Shrinagar, that was two. And then we were on the mountain less than a week. We stopped at a dark bungalow going up and coming back. We weren’t up there, in the mountains, of course, more than maybe eight days. But we were three weeks getting there and getting back.
Weiner:Getting to the point where you started the ascent up the mountain.
Compton:Yes. Beautiful mountains. These were the Pir Panjal Range, and we went up Tash Madan which is across from Nanga Parbit. You hear about this mountain almost more than any other of the Pir Panjal Range because it’s perfectly beautiful. People lately have been climbing it.
Weiner:How many were in the party altogether?
Compton:Well, we’ve named the scientists. We had about 20 ponymen and pack animals. And then there were two graduate students in addition to Kashmiri Lal. That would be three. There were four; Benade made five. There were about nine of us on the expedition and at least 20 or 25 helpers.
Weiner:That’s quite a crew.
Compton:Yes, Young Arthur also. He went up on that.
Weiner:How old was he at the time?
Compton:Oh, he was just a youngster then of about 8 or 9 years. Let’s see: When was this?
Weiner:This was ‘26.
Compton:1926, all right. He was born in 1918. So he was eight.
Weiner:That was quite n experience for a young boy.
Compton:It was. He just loved doing things like that. He got to go across the Arabian Desert on a modern magic carpet -- the first air route from London to Karachi. He just thought that was wonderful.
Weiner:Once you were at the site on the top of the mountain, what was the procedure?
Compton:Set up camp first and try to keep your tent down with as many rocks as you could. It was very windy and cold. Then get your fire started and get some food ready and get people stoked for the night and the plans made for the next day. Then you tried putting the thing they had made down into the water. It wouldn’t stand the pressure.
Weiner:The water here was a spring of some kind?
Compton:Yes, but what I mean is that when it went down (this was a deep lake), it couldn’t take the water pressure.
Weiner:The idea was to have this at the bottom of the lake so that you could measure the cosmic rays after having passed through this distance.
Compton:But it didn’t work.
Weiner:What other observations were made?
Compton:Well, this other with the electroscope.
Weiner:That was on the surface, though.
Compton:Yes, and that seemed to work.
Weiner:How would this be done? Let us say you were explaining to me all there is to do.
Compton:Well, you always have a high energy source that you check with it, and then you take your high energy source away off behind rocks someplace, and you know what your distance is and everything. And somebody else works it out for me.
Weiner:But the high energy source here was what?
Compton:A bit of radium.
Weiner:And you took readings on these?
Compton:Oh, yes. Always on these. I had less reason to take them as much because I had to help with some other things this time. But on the others, of course Arthur and Arthur Alan and I were a working unit. We’d be on four hours and off eight. We did that as a family. That’s always something that’s going to be a precious memory, to have done it as a family. Son Arthur, I think, feels that way, too. We did that in the Andes. We were up higher in the Andes.
Weiner:That was in the ‘30’s, in 1932.
Compton:Yes. There are others who were on that: Mr. and Mrs. Norm Hillberry, and the William Jesses. Norm did quite a job on that.
Weiner:But on this particular one you worked around the clock then in shifts. What would it be that you would record and how would you record it?
Compton:Just in notebooks -- yes, the notebooks. I haven’t seen them for years. You probably know more about them than I do now.
Weiner:I’m just curious about the procedure there. And what was the intent of that expedition? Was there some particular effect you were looking for at that time or was it just because this provided a good opportunity to have experience with the apparatus?
Compton:I think it was because of the opportunity in that area, in the latitude, it was the altitude, too, but chiefly the latitude.
Weiner:Had cosmic ray observations ever been made before from that site?
Compton:No. I think the brightest idea Arthur ever got was to get himself out of the basement room laboratory watching a spot of light going across a scale, and get himself traveling around the world. Don’t you think that was a bright idea?
Weiner:Well, you said originally that he was interested in things on a large scale, and he started out in astronomy, too.
Compton:Yes, because then he could put these bits together, and use the earth as a big magnet. You couldn’t make a big one like it in the laboratory.
Weiner:When you returned from this expedition, you still had most of your year to spend in India.
Compton:Oh, he lectured all over India.
Weiner:Was that the intent, to do that?
Compton:Yes, that was the first intent.
Weiner:I see. So the Guggenheim award was for that purpose, to deliver a series of lectures in India.
Compton:Yes. And to do what he could on his writing. They gave him a wide latitude to use the time as he thought fit.
Weiner:Do you know how that Guggenheim came about?
Compton:Henry Allen Moe could tell you. I just got a letter from Henry Allen. I talked to his wife in New York when I was there three weeks ago. He was very devoted to Arthur. Arthur was on his small committee to choose all of the final Guggenheim Fellows for years. And we’d get all of these special delivery and big packages. He did a lot of that. It’s amazing, I think, to think back over how many different kinds of things Arthur did and did them well. I mean I just don’t see how he did it.
Weiner:When did that broader involvement start -- where he was called upon to take responsibility beyond his own work? Did that start in the late ‘20s, do you think, after world recognition had come?
Compton:Well, yes. He felt very definitely that he had a responsibility. I hope that “Science and Human Responsibility” will be published separately -- the people who took part in that really made a contribution.
Weiner:Getting back to that year in India, what else did you find of interest? Were there other cosmic ray expeditions in that year?
Compton:Yes, down in South America --
Weiner:No. I mean the year in India, during 1926-27. The base of operations was Lahore, wasn’t it?
Compton:Yes, but of course he lectured in all the other cities -- as well as the University of the Punjab. Oh, one thing on that first trip. We went to the All India Science Congress. We went to another one later. We went down with Sir Jugadish Bose and Lady Bose to the Sind Valley, and there they were doing excavating and finding mighty interesting things. You see, these were pre-Sumerian things they were finding there. And because Sir Jugadish and Arthur were the two speakers at the All Science Congress, they just handed us things they were digging. We didn’t even have sense enough at the time to know that they were something that shouldn’t have been given away. We got some anklets, and I gave Arthur two old girls in sculpture that he prized very much, and one of them is better than what they have in the British Museum. Well, at any rate, nothing was going to be too good for Arthur and Sir Jugadish. Of course he was sort of a national hero. As a botanist he also had done science. Did you ever look up his name? You’d find something very interesting.
Weiner:Is his middle initial “N”? There is someone with the last name of Bose who was known in physics with Einstein.
Compton:Yes, well, this fellow is known in physics. You’ll find something very interesting about him. He was doing something then in botany with the heartbeats of plants. He showed it on the screen, the palpitation. Then he would give the plants something and they’d rise up, then a sedative and they would wilt. Botanists were saying, “Oh, that’s rubbish, rubbish,” and like that. You could hear them at the side. He was really almost a hero for a group. That was very interesting, that meeting. Here he was sitting on a red velvet, high-backed chair, you know, almost like a king. Well, he and Arthur spoke from the same platform there. But really it was so interesting.
Weiner:What city was this in?
Compton:That was in Lahore, at the All India Science Congress. You can find it under that. Of course then partition came a lot later, you know. Our brother-in-law was the head of the largest university in the world there during this partition. He had been over there so many years. He and my sister-in-law were next-door neighbors to Mr. Nehru and Mrs. Pandit while in Allahabad, and Mr. Nehru was in jail off and on most of the time. Allahabad was the junction there of the Jumna River and the Ganges -- a very holy place because that’s where the great Kummahlas, the great pilgrimages, took place. There’d be as many as four million people on that pilgrimage without the benefit of sanitation.
Weiner:Did you see any of these?
Compton:We were not there for the big ones, but we were there for what to us was a big pilgrimage, and we saw enough to know what it might have been like.
Weiner:And young Arthur went to school there then.
Compton:Yes, and flew kites there with the boys. I thought he would fall off the roof, like some of them did. He was a little vixen then.
Weiner:What kind of a school was it?
Compton:It was a school for English students. It was mostly British. I did a number of things. I went out to investigate schools in the country with a college friend of mine from Wooster. In the morning we’d inspect a little old mud school, and then we’d come in in the afternoon to a beautiful purdah party where the women had on these very beautiful saris and their beautiful jewelry. They’d come with the veils on so that no one could see their faces, no one except their husbands. The contrasts in India continue to be vast.
Weiner:It was during this period in India that the Nobel Prize was brewing, because the Prize was for 1927; and in fact you were in India a good part of 1927. Was there any indication that you had that anything was going on?
Compton:No, I can sure tell you that or we never would have come back over the stormy seas in September if we’d known anything about that. Oh, it was stormy -- such stormy seas. We almost lost Johnny [on the trip returning from Sweden]. They took me off the ship in New York and put me into the hospital on a stretcher, and I had my Christmas in a hospital in New York. Every intern came around to have a look at me. They were so surprised to think that I was young, because they thought my husband must be old to get the Nobel Prize. It was very amusing.
Weiner:You mean to say that this was during a pregnancy that you were going up and down mountains in India?
Compton:No, this was on the way home.
Weiner:I see. I thought it was later. Before we talk about 1927 from the end of September on, is there anything else about the experience in India that we haven’t covered that you think is of particular interest?
Compton:It was a very good year in many ways because we went out in the country and camped when they were doing an itinerating mission. A couple of men from our mission were out there. We went with them and camped outside the villages, and we would go in for these meetings, and one was a great big fellow from Kansas, a beautiful violinist. He lives in Florida now. So we would go out for ten days, something like that, from Lahore “itinerating,” as they called it. There’d be somebody along who played one of the instrument and somebody who sang. It was very interesting to us because we went into villages. These different things that we did got us normally in contact with people where we would have no way of getting contact otherwise. This man would go ahead, and he’d get them all in the courtyard someplace; they’d all bring out their beds, those charpies, and be sitting on them. You saw the people as they lived in their homes and the things they ate and you ate the same things they ate. It was an education. Arthur often said that that first trip to India was to him a good part of his education.
Weiner:And you combined there the scientific work with the work that your sister had been doing -- missionary work as well.
Compton:Yes, missionary work. They’d been sent out under the Presbyterian Board on education work. It was a combination, and we met many British and many English-Scotch and people in those areas. It was a total kind of education. It really was.
Weiner:That came to an end in September when you came back over the stormy seas. The ship went by way of New York?
Weiner:What route did you take around the world?
Compton:No, that isn’t right, ‘27. Yes, we were on ship, but what I told you was when I came back on the ship after the Nobel ceremonies. I realized when you asked the question afterwards that I should have made that plainer. You see, Johnny was born in ‘28. So I was pregnant when we came back on the ship, but it was after this earlier return from India.
Weiner:I see. That makes sense now. Then coming back from India you went directly to what port in the United States?
Weiner:And then did you proceed back to Chicago at that time?
Compton:Yes. We got our notification through the Tribune. They tried to reach us. We’d gone via Boston. They always sort of held it against Arthur for a while. What is it that’s in Boston -- the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He went there and spoke to them. He had put it off because we were away. And they always said, “Well, you never told us about it.” But we didn’t know about it. We then took the train back to Chicago and went to the Park Plaza Hotel and were feeling very woozy and opened up the Tribune and there it was in the editorials.
Weiner:And you had had no word of it prior to that?
Compton:No inkling of any kind. Word had come to Chicago, but they didn’t know how to reach us. They said we were either on the ship coming back or some such. They didn’t know that we were going to Boston to give this talk.
Weiner:And no one in Boston knew.
Weiner:What month was this? Now the notification comes out around the first week of November.
Compton:Well, then this must have been early November. I think it still comes out then, because November 10th is supposed to be the date it’s announced. But then we were getting back.
Weiner:So then you were back late for the fall semester anyway.
Weiner:What was the reaction? Do you recall what happened? Who saw it first?
Compton:We were both sitting there, and I don’t know. I can’t remember. I think maybe I saw it first, but I even remember that. Isn’t that something?
Weiner:Did you believe it?
Compton:Well, I was so amazed, I didn’t know what to do, so amazed. So then he went over to the University and got the notification and everything, and then we had to face going back. I remember my doctor saying, “I suppose you have to go.” I said, “Of course I do.” He said well, he’d give me what medicine he could. And John Timothy Stone’s son-in-law was just coming back from Vienna after doing his OB and gynecology work there, and so he was very helpful on the trip back. They had to feed me intravenously. Really, I forget all about these things. It’s not been a quiet life.
Weiner:I’d like to explore this first notification. Had this thought ever entered his mind? Did he ever discuss the possibility that his work would be of such stature that it would get this kind of recognition?
Compton:No. He wasn’t a person who really talked about himself or put himself forward in any way at all. He was a very unassuming person in every way.
Weiner:We were talking about the notification of the Nobel Prize.
Compton:Yes, this was rather an odd way of receiving the word.
Weiner:You said that this came as a surprise; that it wasn’t characteristic for him to be thinking of this type of recognition. He apparently didn’t even know that he was being considered.
Weiner:What was the reaction then in the department itself at the University of Chicago?
Compton:Well, everybody seemed to be very elated over it, more so than we were at the time because it was horrible to have to start and go back over that stormy ocean again. I mean it was really something to consider. And we’d always traveled together and done these things together, and he wouldn’t have felt right if I didn’t come with him; so I would up and do it even though it was a risky undertaking because I’d had some difficulties after son Arthur was born. We had lost a baby daughter and baby son in between. So it was taking a life in our hands, but I felt we should do it. So coming back, being so ill and not knowing what was going to happen, that was kind of…But, at any rate, while we were there, the man who was assigned to help us -- what was his name? [Manne Siegbahn]
Weiner:Someone from the Swedish academy?
Compton:Yes. He still is. He visited us in Chicago three or four times, and we’ve visited him in Sweden since. His wife is Karen Siegbahn. He was so good to us. We’ve had amusing times with them. He didn’t know his English very well the first time he was with us in Chicago, and I had a dinner party for him. He didn’t understand too well and people couldn’t speak with him, and people weren’t quite at ease, and I was sorry because I wanted them to be at ease. Well, his neighbor at the table -- we’d been seated -- said, “Are you a married man?” And he kind of looked up and said, “Sometimes.” Everybody laughed and that broke the ice and the party was a success. He had thought that the question was, “Are you a merry man?” You know how some people say “married.” “Are you a married man?” “Sometimes.” Well, anyway, that was Manne Siegbahn. We were firm friends from that time on, but then he took awfully good care of us and took us all around to things. Of course the only thing our son Arthur, who was the only one here then, wanted to know when we got back was whether we ate off gold plates at the King’s. We had to tell him that we did.
Weiner:Getting back to the reaction to the announcement of the Prize, I imagine telegrams and letters came in from all over.
Compton:Yes, they did. And of course waiting for us there were half a dozen or so. This must have been within three days of the time when the announcement was made, you see. And of course they couldn’t understand in Boston why Arthur gave a lecture there and never told them. Well, we understood because we didn’t know it.
Weiner:What was Michelson’s reaction -- do you recall?
Compton:A very nice one. Oh, he was pleased, just visibly pleased. It was very interesting. When we left to go back then in less than a month and they gave a dinner for Arthur, he said, “Now, Compton, when I went there” and he told his story. Do you know it? About the six different kinds of wine?
Compton:And then Swedish punch. “Well,” he said, “when they asked me to give a speech, I said, ‘Will they understand me if I give it in English? And they said, ‘It will be better if you give it in German.’” He said, “Well, I don’t speak German well enough, but by the time I’d had six kinds of wine and some Swedish punch, my mentor told me the next day that I spoke very good German. Now, Compton, you must be very careful. Since I went to Sweden for the award, the spectrum has been greatly broadened, and no telling how many kinds of wine there’ll be. So be careful what language you speak.”
Weiner:That was a unique position to be in, to have two out of the three American Nobel winners in the same physics department.
Compton:It was, wasn’t it?
Weiner:And of course Millikan had received the Prize while he was, I think, still in Chicago, too.
Compton:When he got it, yes. Then he went to California.
Weiner:So that I can imagine that Michelson, who had received it 20 years earlier, felt proud.
Compton:He did; he did. He was feeling very fatherly towards us, as it were. It was very nice. He helped us get our nice big house there. He said, “I hear that these people” he named them –- “their two children are going to be married this summer. Compton, you better try for that house.” I was abroad then and I told him he couldn’t go ahead on any house that didn’t have a nice fireplace.
Weiner:Very good, and I’m sure you got it.
Compton:It had two very nice fireplaces. But Michelson went with him to the door to say, “Now, don’t you want to sell this house?” Well, they hadn’t thought of it, and they hadn’t put it in the hands of anyone because their two children were just going to be married that fall and summer. But that started things, and so they sold the house to Arthur, and so Michelson helped us get the house.
Weiner:Of all these congratulations that were received, were there any that had special significance -- any that meant more to him than others?
Compton:Well, he had some from India. Honestly, what I ought to do and I would like to some time, if I ever get time to do these things -- I’ve got a suit box full of things. I ought to look through those. Now, you see, that would bring it back. There’ll be some interesting things in there. I haven’t seen that in 41 years!
Weiner:Is it in Michigan?
Weiner:It’s at home?
Compton:Some place down there.
Weiner:What about the preparation for the Nobel address itself? Now, this apparently was done in advance. Do you recall --?
Compton:Well, I don’t think he worked especially hard on it. He did just like he always did -- he did a good preparation and that was it. He didn’t fuss particularly on his talks, but he always did an honest piece of work, whatever he was trying to do. That’s really what you can certainly say about him. He didn’t slight things, and he didn’t fuss like I would.
Weiner:I remember reading the address. It was a straight forward clear exposition.
Compton:Oh, they listened! They could hear him! That’s the reason, I think. I think he told the story of Marco Polo. When Marco Polo came back to the cultured Venetians he told about the Chinese taking a bath every day. They’d found a kind of stone that would burn. [It was coal. See 2 Vols. Marco Polo.]
Weiner:So Siegbahn helped you get settled and showed you around and you went to all of the festivities.
Compton:Oh, yes. And there was the most beautiful hoar frost on all of the trees. It just sparkled like diamonds. Rarely ever here do I see such brilliant sunshine on such sparkling trees. And I was not feeling well either. So if I remember some of those things as being particularly beautiful, you can see how impressive they were. Unfortunately when I’ve been pregnant I’ve always had pernicious nausea, which most people have never heard of.
Weiner:I’ve heard of pernicious anemia.
Compton:Well, this was pernicious nausea. Even three days before John was born, I was giving up my food. Well, it was learned later that I was Rh-negative, which no one knew, you see, at first. Fifty years ago there were lots of things they didn’t know.
Weiner:Of course, if you’d known you were Rh-negative, it wouldn’t have done any good because they didn’t know how to handle it.
Compton:They didn’t know how to deal with it maybe.
Weiner:Despite this sickness at the time, did you get involved in all the ceremonies, though, and all of the pomp and things?
Weiner:Did you both enjoy this?
Compton:Yes. And my husband’s brother and my sister-in-law went, the Wilson Comptons. They got a great kick out of it. They really enjoyed it. I sat in the box with lovely Mrs. Fibiger. Her husband was next to my husband the most handsome one there. He was a cancer specialist from Denmark. And Mrs. Fibiger wept the whole time of the ceremony. I wasn’t feeling very well, but I wasn’t feeling like weeping. Her husband died two months almost to the day after getting the prize. He died of cancer. So she had reason, but I didn’t know it then. She knew it. Then they teased my husband. They said he was the only one who talked back to the King. He was given the award by the King. Anyway, I don’t know -- that’s what someone was teasing him about.
Compton:Why, of course. Why shouldn’t you respond in a courteous way? Of course, you saw the medal.
Compton:And just now I got word back from Medalic Arts that they’re making the two red velvet affairs and replicas of the Nobel medal.
Weiner:How long did the ceremony and all of the surrounding festivities last? How long were you actually there at Stockholm?
Compton:I don’t know. We were there four to five days.
Weiner:Did you have much conversation with C. T. R. Wilson at the time?
Compton:No, not very much. We did not only on the occasion of the giving of the Nobel Prize. The ceremonies were in this music hall and then the banquet. Then two days later they each gave their lecture if they were prepared to. Sometimes they don’t give it until later, but Arthur gave his. He saw C. T. R. there and spoke to him there. There wasn’t much chance for additional conversation. Arthur got to go around more than I did because I chose not to, to save up, try not to use any more energy than possible. He did go with the Siegbahns, so I don’t know quite. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about that. I would like to look up that box, though, with the letters, etc.
Weiner:I think it would be very interesting.
Compton:Because there’ II be the letters. I hadn’t thought about them.
Weiner:Very often people on those occasions say more than “congratulations.” They may recall events of the past and so forth.
Compton:They personalize it.
Weiner:And so I think it would be good to see who wrote.
Compton:I think so too. I will put question marks around that -- Nobel Box.
Weiner:After the ceremonies did you visit other European cities?
Compton:We got back as soon as we could. We went down to Malmo. We had to come back on ship again, you see. They were not flying then. And there were stormy seas.
Weiner:Was this December?
Compton:Yes, they give it in December, December 11th, isn’t it?
Weiner:Sometime in early December. So you came back. Was there much of a reception in America when the ship came in?
Compton:Well, in New York, you see, there weren’t many people we knew that knew we were coming back there. At least we were keeping it as quiet as we could, just hoping to have this blow over so that I would come through it all right. It’s a real wonder that I did. Arthur brought a little Christmas tree to the hospital there in New York, and, as I said, every intern and every doctor came down around that way looking. Tom Caldwell I think was the doctor who knew us there and who gave us some of that information. But I didn’t move -- hardly breathed -- for six days in order to be sure that I would be alright. And then we had to send word to son Arthur. We said, “Mother and Daddy and the electric train are going to be late.” He’d learned to be quite responsible. He was staying with friends in Chicago. He looked very crestfallen when they gave him the, word first and then he said, “Well, if they can’t come, they can’t,” and he went out to play. I said well, that was the best philosophy; if we’d helped instill it into him, why that was good.
Weiner:And then after spending this time in New York and getting back on your feet again --
Compton:Then John was born prematurely. [May 17th, 1928.]
Weiner:In New York then?
Compton:No, in Chicago.
Weiner:And you came back from New York by train to Chicago.
Compton:After Christmas. It must have been the first of January.
Weiner:You relaxed a bit then, I imagine.
Compton:Well, I tried to. We had only one idea in mind.
Weiner:I think that next time I’d like to take it from here and talk about some of the new adventures in Chicago. During this period there was consulting work being done for G.E. I’d like to explore that.
Let me make a few notes because I couldn’t find the others.
Report cards are in Olin Library Archives
But he made drawings to change the airbrakes and had conferences with the chief engineer
Papers written with Oswald Rognley: (1917) "The nature of hte ultimate magnetic particle," Science, 46:415-18. (1918) Abstract of above article in Phys. Rev., 11:13-34. (1920) "Is the atom the ultimate magnetic particle?" Phys. Rev., 16:464-76. See also footnote, The Cosmos of Arthur Holly Compton, p. 425 (23:32).
The position had been offered to Karl Compton, who recommended his brother. Source: Chancellor's files, Washington University.
Chancellor's files, Washington University, give details of negotiations and conditions of acceptance, specifically adequate space and research funds.
Page missing from transcript
See Chancellor's files, Washington University; specifically inadequacy of support for Physics Department.
Compton archive at Washington University contains letters of congratulation upon award of Nobel prize, details of ceremony, etc.
In 1927, Johannes Fibiger (1867-1928) was awarded the 1926 Nobel Prize "for his discovery of the Spiroptera carcinoma."