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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Laurence Batchelder

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Interview with Dr. Laurence Batchelder
By Kenneth Rolt
At his home in Cambridge, MA
November 12, 1989

Transcript

Session I | Session II

Rolt:

I know that you review the underwater sound transducer patents for the Acoustical Society (Journal)…

Batchelder:

I’ve been reviewing patents since about forty-seven (1949).

Rolt:

So you’ve had a lock on underwater sound transducer patent reviews? Have you ever had real battles with anyone concerning your patent reviews?

Batchelder:

In one case we had to agree to publish a corrected review. The correction was to eliminate one sentence of criticism. I felt the criticism was justified, but he (the inventor) thought it was going to hurt him financially. You don’t often have trouble like that. Usually they (the patents) aren’t very deep in theory. Some people say they turn to that section the way they turn to the comic page section in the newspaper. A number of times discussions have come up… when the society is short of money, looking for ways to economize, they’ve surveyed the membership several times and the response has always been ‘keep it going.’ Well I sometimes criticize the way they (the patents) are written. When I was still active at Sub Sig, I was down in Washington with the patent lawyer on some case, and he was quoting me on some technical matter, and the patent (examiner) attorney in Washington said “Oh, we know him (Batchelder), he’s the man who criticizes the patents.” So they read it (the Journal) too.

Rolt:

What year did you receive the gold medal?

Batchelder:

In 1985.

Rolt:

Well, one plan is to try to interview as many of the Gold medal recipients, or anyone else who might have something to contribute to the History of the ASA.

Batchelder:

One fellow you might want to interview, I think he’s still alive, is Floyd Firestone. He was a very important leader, and he was editor of the Journal. And he retired under unfortunate circumstances, He stuck in a little short poem he wrote (into the Journal) in which he used the word nigger. And people objected to that. About the same time, we had a picnic somewhere at a meeting, and he took a picture of Leo Beranek drinking beer out of a bottle. Some straightlaced people objected to those two things.

Rolt:

I think that was at a meeting in Texas.

Batchelder:

It was. So Floyd quit. I don’t think he should have quit, but he did, he objected to being criticized. But he did, and if he’s still alive and alert maybe someone should interview him. I don’t think he was a gold medalist, because his time had come and gone before the gold medal started. The gold medal started with Wallace Waterfall, at the 25th anniversary (of the Acoustical Society). The medal was about to be instituted at that time, and they awarded the first one to him. And it took some doing. I was on the council, and we did it without his knowing. For the council to do anything without Wallace knowing about it was remarkable. Hallowell Davis was the president and he got us together in some corridor and we decided we would do it, and from then on we conducted the business by long-distance telephone. All the details were worked out up on what was called Project X or something like that. At the banquet for the 25th anniversary, Hal Davis asked the members of the Executive Council to stand, (and he said) “Those in favor of Project X say aye.’ We all said aye, and then Hal presented the medal. He had no knowledge of it at all. It was very appropriate to give it to him. It also broke the rules I think, because in those days the rules were every even-numbered year, or every odd-numbered year, or every-other year, we broke the rules to do that. That was quite a banquet we had, Hal conducted it very well…

Rolt:

Who are some of the other people that you recall in the years you’ve been associated with the Acoustical Society?

Batchelder:

Vern Knudsen was very prominent, he’s dead. Ted Hunt was very prominent, and he’s dead. Most people my age have (died).

Rolt:

How old are you?

Batchelder:

Eighty-three.

Rolt:

One of the other things I wanted to ask you about was that in the encomium for your Gold medal it mentions that you were a member of the US Navy Technical Mission, and you received a commendation from the U.S. Navy for your report “Sonar in the German Navy.” So you spent some time in Europe after the war?

Batchelder:

In 1945, just when the Germany collapsed, the Navy assigned technical experts in all fields to see what the Germans had done in the fields, and I was chosen for sonar.

Rolt:

Had you been to Europe before?

Batchelder:

Yes, I had been before the war, because Sub Sig had a plant in France that built some sonar. But this was in the spring of ‘45. We were wearing the uniform, and traveled under Navy orders. We went to Paris where we had a lovely headquarters in deluxe hotels, and lived on food supplied by the Army and cooked by French chefs in this luxury hotel!

Rolt:

They had very, very good anti-sonar coatings on their submarines. Did you have anything to do with that?

Batchelder:

Yes, that was one of the things I investigated. It was rubber, two sheets of rubber pasted on the side of the submarine.

Rolt:

According to a thesis of a friend of mine, the coating was called ‘Alberich’ and it was taken from a German folk tale about a dwarf who possessed a cap which would make the wearer invisible.

Batchelder:

The Germans had cover names for all their developments, and most of them were taken out of Wagner’s operas. One of my military escorts on the biggest trip, was a musician who knew Wagner’s operas like a book. So he was very good, he put those names together, and he’d find some names missing from the sequence, and he’d ask these Germans ‘what about so-and-so?’ (Otherwise) we wouldn’t have heard about it.

Rolt:

How long did you spend there?

Batchelder:

I spent five months altogether. I went over in June and came back in October, which was longer than most people but I wanted to do a thorough job.

Rolt:

Did you ever spend any time at sea, during sea trials or testing on a surface vessel or on a submarine?

Batchelder:

In this country, yes. We used to go to see a lot on ships. The Navy always had one destroyer for sonar testing and experiments. We used to spend a lot of time at sea. I remember back at Sub Sig before the war there was a girl, a Harvard- Radcliffe girl who had studied physics, and she came in asking for a job at Sub Sig. And I interviewed her. I said ‘it’s such a small company we have to hire engineers who could do everything, go off to sea on trials and that kind of things.’ She said she’d love that, and I don’t doubt she would have!

Rolt:

I don’t think the Navy would have gone for that.

Batchelder:

They might in these days, but boys and girls work together in a way they never didn’t used to back then.

Rolt:

So she never wound up working for Sub Sig?

Batchelder:

No. She had good credentials. And later, when the war came we would have grabbed her because she was free from the draft. We always worried during the war about people getting drafted. We usually managed to get them exempt, but we couldn’t always do it.

Rolt:

You worked on BDI indicator, nearfield calibration, air-towed sonar for blimps and helicopters. That’s interesting. Were those towed and then dipped into the water?

Batchelder:

Yes. I guess they still have them. The biggest problem we had with a sonar towed by a blimp was the noise of the blimp, the structure-borne noise would travel down the cable. But I guess the solution to that was to put a vibration mount where the cable was attached to the fish.

Rolt:

Was this from the engines running?

Batchelder:

Yes, blimps are not quiet.

Rolt:

Did you ever consider Ph.D. studies after you master’s?

Batchelder:

No, I got married instead. G.W. Pierce wanted me to stay on for a doctorate, but I got married instead. The teaching at Harvard was much better than at MIT. When I gotten a master’s degree in one year, I was missing a lot of things I should have had. So I went to MIT summer school, one summer, and took several courses there. I was shocked at quality of teaching.

Rolt:

Really. Were the people teaching in the summer the same (as those teaching during the school year)?

Batchelder:

Well maybe not always…I remember I was taking a course in structural mechanics and the instructor assigned us an assignment every day to learn certain pages in the textbook. And he meant learn them by heart. So I read those pages and was tangling with a theorem in that I understood perfectly well. So I was prepared. So the next day he (the instructor) told us to write out the proof of the theorem. So I wrote it out and handed it in. He graded it and said it was wrong. So I returned to his office and said “did you read this statement, I thought this was a perfectly good proof?” He said “you didn’t letter your figure the way it was lettered in the book so I knew you hadn’t learned it.”

Addendum:

The following is an autobiographical note written by Laurence Batchelder (circa 1972) upon receiving the first Distinguished Service Award from the Acoustical Society of America, 29 November 1972. “Sonar means Sound Navigation And Ranging, and includes all the practical uses of underwater sound in both peace and war. Detection of submarines is the best known use, but sonar is used more often for navigation of ships, sounding the depth of water, measuring the speed and distance run, and in various other ways that promote safety at sea. I retired from Raytheon Company in 1970 and have had nothing to do with sonar for a long time, and am not familiar with the recent improvements that have taken place. In recent years, I have devoted my time to the development of acoustical standards, both national and international, which are an important basis for reducing and limiting the obnoxious noises that plague modern civilization, The noise of aircraft near airports, the noise of traffic in cities and on the superhighways, the noise of construction machinery, etc., are all straining the nerves of those who must live and work in the vicinity, and interfere with essential conversation. Intense noise damages the hearing of workers who must be exposed to it over long periods of time. Standards for the measurement and control of noise are being written by international and national organizations of many countries.

In this effort, I have been (for 10 years) Chairman of the Electroacoustical Commission. I am a former chairman, and now leader of the USA delegation to the Acoustics Committee of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). These responsibilities require frequent foreign travel. I am also Chairman of the Acoustical Technical Advisory Board of the American National Standards Institute which coordinates the corresponding acoustical standards at the national level in the USA.” Laurence Batchelder prepared his own obituary during his illness, and this was, for the most part, used by several major newspapers. His most timely quote was that he retired in 1971 at, as he put it, “the age of statutory senility.” He was born 26 October 1906 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and died 18 April 1990. Batchelder started reviewing patents for the Journal of the Acoustical Society in 1949, and reviewed (according to the ASA) 3035 patents for the Journal. Mr. Batchelder had 23 U.S. patent on sonar and related apparatus. A memorial session for Batchelder is planned for Thursday morning, 2 May 1991, ay the 121st meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, Hotel Omni, Baltimore MD. A copy of Mr. Batchelder’s resume is enclosed, along with a summary of the collected works of Batchelder which are at the Submarine Signal Division, Raytheon Company, Technical Information Center in Portsmouth RI 02871. This list was furnished by Mr. Leon Warren of the Sub. Signal Division of Raytheon.

Among those items listed, it the publication list by Batchelder. One item not included in this list is the book which Batchelder obtained while in Germany, and then translated to English during 1945—1946: Heinrich Hecht, Die Elecktroakustischen Wandler (The Electroacoustic Transducer), (J.A. Barth, Leipzig, 1941). The actual book was donated to the Godfrey Lowell Cabot Science Library, Harvard University, by Mr. Batchelder. The book is so rare, according to Harvard, that “they were unable to find any location for this title listed in the largest electronic library database available in this country.” The translation manuscript, as written by-hand by Mr. Batchelder is in my possession. The title is shown above, while the translater is listed as “Laurence Batchelder, M.S., Engineer, Submarine Signal Company, Boston.”

Session I | Session II