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Oral History Transcript — Dr. John Trump

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Interview with Dr. John Trump
By Paul Henriksen

June 25, 1982

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John Trump; June 25, 1982

ABSTRACT: The interview concerns Trump's work at the MIT Radiation Laboratory during World War II in his capacity as the secretary of the Microwave Committee and a member of the Steering Committee. The interview discusses the impact of the war on Trump's research, the beginning of his involvement with the Rad Lab, his connections with the British Branch of the Rad Lab, Microwave Committee relations, the Radiation Lab's penchant for self-determination, discussion of fundamental vs. applied research, conflict between Lee DuBridge and Edward Bowles, physicists switching from one research group to another, cooperation between the military and the Rad Lab, and cooperation between the government, universities, and scientists


John Trump was secretary of the Microwave Committee after Edward Bowles was transferred to the Office of the Secretary of War, ca. 1943. He was also a physicist at the Rad Lab, but spent most of his time in administration and in England. He was on the Steering Committee for a short while. Contact with Lark-Horovitz. Lark-Horovitz wanted to publish a paper on germanium. Trump was with Office of Scientific Research and Development--Division D (Radar Division) as an advisor-assistant to Karl T. Compton. Concluded that Lark-Horovitz's work should not be published because it was "full of potential. K.K. Darrow thought otherwise, but publication was deferred until after the war. Incident took place around 1942 or 43.

Had contacts with Bell Labs and Bill Shockley on high energy electrons. War work was a five year break in his high voltage work. Worked with Van de Graaf at MIT before the war. At MIT just before the war. Did his masters work at Columbia and went to MIT in 1931. Did thesis work with Van de Graaf on insulating properties of high vacuum. Was a research associate at MIT. Was asked by Compton to help him with National Defense Research Committee work. Went to England to head the British Branch of the Radiation Lab in 1944. Applicational work. Good cooperation with the British.

Magnetron made it all happen. E. G. "Taffy" Bowen brought it over in his pocket. [Bowen was an Australian physicist working on the British radar project. He stayed in the U.S. as an advisor and scientific liaison for the British, after he came over with the Tizard Mission in 1940. Rad Lab modeled on what was happening over at Great Malvern and Swannage. BBRL invited by TRE to base themselves there. The BBRL had 60 Americans based in England.

Compton had Trump keep track of the work of Div. D and later the radio work. Trump took over for Bowles on the Microwave Committee. It was responsible for communication with companies. Did not dictate details, were not competent to do so. Each represented a certain sector of industry. Chairman tended to dominant the meeting. But DuBridge who was head of the RL had a large input, because the Lab dominated the research. Discussion of people on the Mic. Com. Responsible committee. Trump was responsible to see that reports were available. Like a board of trustees. Final approval rested with the committee. Mic. comm. stood between Rad Lab and contractors and the OSRD. Rad Lab made contracts independently.

Radiation Lab ran itself. Steering seeing that the radar was applied properly view. At the end of the war, they realized had accumulated. Eventually became the Rad Committee was involved with Rabi had the broadest point of that a vast amount of information Lab Technical Series.

Discussion of fundamental vs. applied research. Impression was that there was not much discussion on it. The laboratory was pretty well staffed with people who had aptitudes in certain directions. They knew what their mission was and if they were engaging in something which had the appearance of being fundamental, they were also aware that there was a possibility at least that it might produce usable information within a reasonable time." All research of a fundamental nature had an application behind it. People knew their job. In old books magnetron was a split anode device with a very little power.

Difficulty between DuBridge and Edward Bowles. [Bowles was the secretary of the Microwave Committee and an MIT physicist, who had worked on microwaves in the 1920s.] Bowles might have tried to dictate too narrowly what the RL should do. Bowles went to a more powerful position with the secretary of war. Switching of physicists from one research group to another. Physicists tended to stay where they were in the Rad Lab, example L. C. Van Atta in the Van de Graaf group. Some movement was possible, but best results were achieved when people stayed where they were. Scientists who went to the BBRL were chosen experts. Cooperation between tile services and the Rad Lab was very effective. Discussion of Trump's original mission to improve relations between the BBRL and the NDRC. Actually the BBRL's perception of NDRC dominance was a misconception, according to Trump.

Cooperation between government, universities and scientists. "I don't know what happened before the war, but it [the cooperative spirit between the government I the universities, and the scientists] was developed to a great extent during World War II... My impression was this was a shining example of how it could be done, and my impression is also that the British did a pretty good JOD, but rather admired the way the Americans did it. I think it is their appraisal that the Punericans did a rather superior job of cooperation and especially cooperation finally with the military. And at the tail end in April, DuBridge and Bowles came to Europe to see what was going on and the group of us were flown around to various commands to visit with people at all levels and it was very clear that we were doing, we were in very good rapport with the military at all levels. Whereas we also interviewed the so-called German inventor of radar and heard his tale which was totally different. The German scientists were not regarded by Hitler and the military did not consider them important and they were thrust into ordinary warfare and given guns and many of them disappeared before they realized that they were going to have a technological problem that needed these people.

So they were very late in trying out developments and also they were not able to follow the progress of the development of their equipment into operation use. They would deliver something and not find out until a month later how it worked, whether it worked at all, or whether it was ever used." One of the radar men in Germany was Dr. Karl Christ at the Lorentz factories, he had been active in a number of ways during war especially trying to figure out how the OBOE system worked and how to frustrate it. They had a great trouble detecting the signal, but they developed these sets to interfere with OBOE. A few months later they found out that the military had not even unpacked the sets. "At that point Christ said that he realized that the Germans had lost the war."