Oral History Transcript — Dr. Lauriston Sale Taylor
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Interview with Dr. Lauriston Sale Taylor
Session I | Session II
Whittemore:Doctor Taylor was active in radiation protection from the 1920's up until the current time. Perhaps we could begin if you could just briefly say something about your family background and early schooling that might have led you in the direction of science?
Okay. I like to start off when Iím asked that my first ambition was to be a plumber. This was because I had spent some time at my grandmotherís home down in Virginia and there happened to be a plumber who lived next door and he had a whole yard full of pipes. My second ambition was to be an electrician, and that came about also as a result of experience down at my grandmotherís, this time with a cousin, a Graham Clayter, who was an electrical engineer with Roanoke Electric Power and Railway Company. I spent a week visiting with them, saw some of their power plants and some of their railway. This would have been, I would guess, I donít know exactly, I would guess I was about maybe ten or eleven years old, something of that sort, so this would have been 1912, roughly.
My father, incidentally, I think had a great deal of influence on me. His education was kind of uncertain in terms of what we think of today. For one thing, he had to go to work when he was fourteen years old because his father died. At that time they lived in Brooklyn; he got a job, worked with the United States Assay Office on Wall Street — I donít know what, a fourteen year old kid? But anyway, he got a job there and he also finished enough schooling to go to Cooper Union, which he went to some in the daytime but mostly at night, enough to graduate — I donít know what that means. I never heard him mention a degree, but that wouldnít mean anything; he might have had one. I never learned until after my mother died that she had a degree in something.
They werenít things that were talked about much. He then worked up to become first an assistant assayer, then an assayer, and, finally, he was the chief assayer of the United States Assay Office. I guess its still there; they may have changed it. But in the process of all this, he studied physics. I have his physics book. It was my first physics book also. Where I got into physics was by asking him a question and he handed me the book. Physics, geology, botany, zoology, I guess, were the main things — all of these natural sciences. He was quite competent in all of them but his final work was primarily in metallurgy and chemistry.
He left the assay office and worked at two laboratories. In the meantime we had moved out to New Jersey in a suburb. He had a laboratory in town, about five miles from us in Summit, New Jersey. That was a daytime salaried laboratory, I guess you might say. Another one he had at home in our backyard. We had a fairly large house and about an acre and a half yard, and very little built up at the time that he built that, before my memory. In fact, the building of the house was before my memory, so this was sometime I would say prior to about 1908, -07, -06, somewhere along in there.
Well, we got dabbles - all three of us - got dabbles of this. Also both my mother and father read a great deal and wrote a fair amount - mostly for family use and family records and so on, but they wrote and they read. My mother was a musician; she was a concert pianist, trained as a concert pianist, her degree was in music. My father was strong on history and he was a Civil War buff among other things. He knew the Civil War about as well as the people that write the books on it, I sometimes think.
Whittemore:Would he have had much memoiy of the Civil War?
Taylor:None at all; he was born in 1863. He read. Our library at home must have had, I donít know, at least 4-5 feet of shelves of books on having to do essentially with the Civil War. Well, anyway, because of his technical background he influenced me; because of his historical background he influenced my older brother who became a professor of history at Harvard. I donít know whether you ever read him. This was Charles Taylor. My younger brother went into business operations; he went into lithography. I donít think my father influenced him, but he knew a lot about it. Is this what you want? Iím not talking too much? Well, I put a lot of family into it. School? I just went to the public school. I was never a good student. I always had too many other things that were going on to do that, to really be a ďbookyĒ student.
Whittemore:Do you remember how they taught science at that time?
In high school, that was well after Iíd gotten into it, but Iíll tell you an incident of how they taught science then, but thatís way ahead of the story. They taught science through, I guess, normal school. You had a book and the book said things. You read some of the book and the teacher asked questions about it and so on. The teacher that I had - this was in physics in high school - he and I got into an argument in class on this. I thought it was going to undo me, but it came out all right.
We were talking about compound motion and the example was a man falling off the mast of a ship sailing at a certain speed. Where would he land? We ran through some laws of motion and the teacher said he was going to land in the water. I couldnít stomach that and argued with it. It became a slightly disagreeable argument. It got worse when I went home and told my father about that. He went back - this was in high school - he went back to the teacher. I donít know what be said to the teacher, but the teacher and I ended up by being good friends and never got into any more arguments.
Whittemore:Do you know what the teacherís background was? Would he have had much training in science?
Taylor:I doubt if he ever had more than one course in normal school, which is not very different from today, Iíll tell you. Not very different from what Iíve discovered.
Whittemore:Was there much science taught before the high school level?
Taylor:None. None at all. It was all straight book teaching.
Whittemore:Did you have any friends that were interested in science?
Yes, I did. I had several. We did various things together. One of them was what led me into my father's physic book. Well, anyway, I always enjoyed school. The fact that I got expelled twice before I was finished with grammar school doesnít mean that I didnít enjoy it. At least one of those times put me in an excellent relationship with the school principal, because he didnít like to expel children, but he didnít have any choice, I expect. Well, thereís another influence. In the first place I should say it sounds as if our family was well to do financially. It wasnít, not by any means. But we did things and had things that lots of other families didnít, just because of the way we did things.
We had a camp, for example. There was a lake about 35 miles up in the hills from where we lived in New Jersey, a thousand foot altitude, a lake eight or ten miles long. We had a tent camp there. My father had it before he was married. He was brought up in Brooklyn. He and his buddies would tent camp there. The family went to tent camp. I had my first tent camp summer when I was one year old. What we had were wood platforms up off the ground and tents with sidewalls. Later, we built up sidewalls about that high and a tent sidewall on top, so you could really stand up anywhere in the tent.
In the period that I knew it, it was the first of two camps, we had about eight tents. We had one tent about the size of this room [approximately 10 feet x 15 feet], a little wider probably, and another one which was essentially a fly, opened wide on one side, and then a shack that was storage in the winter and used as a cook shack or something in the summer. I spent every summer of my life, all summer, and the family did, at that lake until I left home for college in 1922.
That was when I had to leave home.We had a house that had three finished floors. The attic had a finished floor and it had an unfinished attic, a crawl space about five or six feet high in the middle, above that, just on the rafters. Those two things played a big role in my life; thatís why I mentioned them, both of them.
Whittemore:Was the attic a work area?
TaylorThe attic —- I had a laboratory and a shop, and we had some floor space there, if we wanted to, for trains, which we had later on.
Whittemore:Do you remember what was in the laboratory?
Taylor:Well, I have a picture of it I can show you. Well, Iíll tell you I had a hell of a lot of stuff because stuff from both laboratories, the one my father had in the back and the one he had up in Summit, New Jersey, constantly had stuff that was turning over and used and then thrown out. I got most of it. At least I got first crack at it. That kind of stuff. My high school algebra teacher, it turned out her father was a chemist, mostly in photography, I think. He died and she knew about my interest and she just loaded me with glass stoppered bottles from his laboratory. Thereís a couple of them that are lying down, that type of thing, up to bottles of that size. Most of that kind of stuff our children have now; theyíre collectorís items.
Whittemore:Was there any electrical equipment?
Taylor:My father had himself two boxes of electrical equipment, the standard soapboxes of those days, the kind that, later on, you stood on. It would be a wooden box about that size. These we kept in the ďchicken coopĒ in the basement of the house. We had a "chicken coopĒ in the basement. It wasnít an ordinary chicken coop. We called it that because it was screened with chicken wire. It had a gate on it and the gate had a lock on it. That was to keep me out of it, or anybody else, but I was the only one that was interested. That was kept in there, but I found a way to get into there through the wire without showing that the wire had been moved to one side. I got into those boxes. There were some gems in there. Some of those gems are now in the museum up in Schenectady: early telephone receivers, for example. I think I may have one of them left; Iím not sure. Lots of wire, old annunciator instruments. Do you know what Iím talking about when I mention that?
Whittemore:Why donít you describe them?
Well, back in those days everybody had lots of servants. Laboratories of buildings had lots of rooms. In order to communicate between them they had buzzer circuits between them and it would drop a little trigger and show room number so and so. Incidentally, speaking of servants, along with still not being very well-to-do people, we had three servants. We had to let one of them go. I remember this because it was very painful. We had to let one go because she insisted on more than five dollars a month, and we just couldnít afford more than five dollars a month. Thatís sort of typical of the period. These were some of the enormous flood of immigrants from Europe.
These that we had were Danish, Czechoslovakian. I remember we had one Danish and two Czechs; no, we had three Danish at one time, and a couple from Czechoslovakia. The first one we had was interesting. She was hired at the time when my older brother was probably only a few months old and still in Brooklyn. She died as part of our family in the middle 1940ís. She lived with us that long, probably forty-five years.
Now, there again, you see thatís an influence because with maids your parents had time for their children. Mother had time to read to us, to listen to us read, to make us write letters to closer relatives, to keep track of books, things of that sort. Today, the poor mothers canít do these things. Its a shame; they canít do it.
Whittemore:Do you remember whether World War I increased interest in teclmology and science?
Taylor:Well, I was very much involved in it, but was never very aware of science as a field. Which, incidentally, was one of the things that made trouble for me later in my education. I knew that there were laboratories. I had been in Edisonís laboratory. Thatís where I learned that Edison was not a scientist.
Whittemore:When was that?
Taylor:About 1914, about 12 years old. Thatís when I first questioned my father about the scientific approach to things.
Whittemore:How was it that you happened to go into his laboratory?
My father was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and they were having a conference of some sort there and I went. He took me and I was the only youngster there. I was about twelve years old. Various things. One, as we walked in to the laboratory past the entry gate, which, incidentally, is still there, because I went through it again this spring, they were taking motion pictures of the people as they came in. As this group — I donít know how many people there were there, maybe 75 people or something of that sort, a fair number — they showed a motion picture of people as they came in, samples of it, thereby establishing the kind of thing Edison was always doing: a record for the shortest time between taking a photographic film and showing it on a screen. That was a worldís record at that time and he let us know about it.
Then, in the course of the discussion — oh, I must say also, while it didnít make that impression on me at the time, Edison gave me my first X-ray tube. He asked me — I was the only kid there so he was kindly — asked me what I was interested in. At that particular time I was interested in what now can best be described as the discharge of gases in a vacuum, the discharge of electricity in a vacuum. It was the little geisler [spelling?] type tubes that they had in those days. Some of them fancy and some of them just straight tubes they used, I found later, for calibrating spectrometers. These were a couple of the things that had come from my fatherís laboratory.
I was pretty much interested in them. Iím not quite sure that this was a highly intelligent interest, but it was interest. When I mentioned that to him he said, ĎWould you like another vacuum tube?Ē When I said yes, and he had one of his men go out, and thatís the tube, which turns out to be a real collectorís item. There were two things that Edison — well, many things — but two things in particular that he discussed. One was how he went about getting the filament for his light bulbs. He had the idea — he had made filaments but they wouldnít last — what he wanted was a filament that would last. He found that carbonized material, carbon being a moderate conductor, depending on its nature, the nature of the carbon, the electricity and so on. What you normally carbonized to get a filament like that would be something of wood.
So he tried various woods that were around in the laboratory; nothing seemed to work. Some seemed to work better than others, but that was about it. So what did he do? He had money, I guess — he must have had money— he sent people literally all over the world to collect samples of every kind of wood they could find anywhere and bring it back to him. He cut it up into strips and run it through his carbonizing technique and tried one after the other. He cited hundreds or thousands of these damn things. I can remember at the time asking my father why he did it that way? ďWhat do you mean, whyíd he do it that way?"Well, it doesnít seem that he knew what he was trying to do, and indeed he didnít. The storage battery that he developed, very important for many years on our submarines, was done the same way.
He mixed chemicals and all kinds of odds and ends of metals together to see if they would take a charge and hold a charge, et cetera. You find he didnít know anything about the electromotive tables which were well in existence at that time. He just tried things until they worked. I wasnít sure I knew what a scientist was, but I knew that that was a crazy way to do things.
Whittemore:Do you recall any specific names of scientists at that time?
Taylor:Edison was really the only name to me. Oh gosh, somewhere I had a book that mentioned some British scientists. I remember the authors of the book, Comstock and Trolland, and this was a book about early scientists. By early, Iím now talking about science in perhaps the 1890ís, somewhere along in there. But science didnít mean much to me, as distinct from, letís say, engineering, and this led me into difficulty later on.
Whittemore:At what point after high school did you...?
My plans were pretty well made up before high school because of this experience with this cousin of mine, Graham Clayter, who was an electrical engineer. Later, he was president, I believe, of the Virginia Electric Power Company or something of that sort. Heís gone now. Anyway, I wanted to study physics. I'm not sure about that. At least physics fascinated me. I got into that, I think, largely through trying to set up a telegraph line between my house and that of a friend of mine who lived about half a mile away. We had out of this chicken coop box of my fatherís several spools of copper wire, then referred to as ďmagnet wireĒ. It was a rather fine size. Do wire sizes mean anything to you? Well, it was important because it was probably about a #22 wire, which is fairly fine wire so, therefore, it had a high resistance to the passage of electricity. There, we had batteries. Oh, by that time I had a lot of telegraph instruments.
The suburban home we lived in was fifteen miles out of New York. It was real country, much more country than right here [Bethesda, Maryland]. Practically the entire population would commute in, in the morning, and come out at night. Anyway, it turned out the neighbor across the street was in the Western Union Telegraph Company, had some job in there, and another neighbor around had something to do with the telephone company. As time went on, we found that we were right in the center of what became the Bell Telephone, or Western Electric Company then, residential area for their research labs. This ended up by having considerable influence.
This particular neighbor from Western Union had a number of old instruments, telegraph instruments that he had for some reason or other, and when he found I was interested in things like that he gave them to me. So I had half a dozen very nice instruments that had actually been in use and subsequently replaced by more up-to-date equipment. Also, he took my father and me in to the Western Union central exchange in New York. There I saw for first time what they called ďmultiplex telegraphyĒ. This was a system by which you could send ten, fifteen or twenty messages simultaneously over a single wire. Itís a system where you have at each end a commutator rotating which selects for a short period a circuit and then moves on to the next and goes so fast that you can run twenty things into that, and as far as the other end is concerned, theyíll come out, each one, as individual circuits. That was tied together by what they called selsyn motor drives, so that when this one turns in New York, the other one turns precisely, exactly and always with it. In that way you kept these synchronized; that was the secret of the whole thing. That kind of fascinated me.
So, after Iíd been playing with telegraph instruments and Iíd broken off from my long distance line that Iíd mentioned earlier, I decided that I would try to send pictures that way. The idea of a ďpictureĒ at that time wasnít really a photograph but it was these copper plates that they used in magazines and so on, where you have high and low spots, the idea being if you rub a wire, if you rub a contact across one of those things it would touch the high spots and make a circuit and go over the low spots and miss it. What I did first was to try — those plates were everywhere at that time — filled up the plate, rubbed the plate over with I donít know what, it was a tarry stuff of some kind that I had, Iím not sure what it was used for, and then rubbed it down so that the tar filled up all the low spots and left the other spots bare. Essentially, it worked the other way around in the press. In the press youíd run it across an ink pad and youíd ink the high spots.
What I was doing was inking the low spots. Then I found that if I just lightly dragged a wire across it, it would make and break contact. By lightly dragging wire across you could make and break contacts. What it occurred to me to do, was to try two of these things operated together and send a picture. Well, in the first place I had no selsyn motors. Good God, I never got my first selsyn motor until the 1930ís. But I had a shop and normal, simple shop tools, a drill press and stuff of that sort, and mechano. What I made was two tables which slid on tracks and would oscillate back and forth, and this was driven — this was fed — by some screws — I could make long screws with taps and dies and so on — these would feed to be fed sideways. The main thing was to have something that would tie them together. Well, I didnít have anything electrical, but I tied them together about five feet apart —just so there was a clear separation — with just a steel bar.
The drive for this was an old electric fan that I was using for a motor. It was a fan that this cousin of mine down in Virginia had taken apart with me and put back together with me. It was my only motor that I had which would run on 110 volt, house current at that time. That was the drive for it. Well, then magnets at each end - no sorry, a magnet at one end. At the other end just a light wire that would attach to this feed, which would feed under it, and so on. At the other end a magnet that would pull down a pencil, which was all I used at the other end, and make the marks, and it worked, not very well, but it worked well enough. I was real excited about that, and thought that maybe I had something useful. I showed it to my father, who up to the time I showed it to him, didnít even know I was working with it. We were not in day to day contact on everything by any means. He was home a lot, but no time.
He was very ďun-patent mindedĒ, my father was, extremely iagenious. He probably could have been a rich man if he was patent-minded, but he wasnít. I suggested that I ought to get a patent for this. He pooh-poohed it and that was that. In the meantime I had become friends with the school principal— I was in the fifth grade of school at this time — Iíd become friends with the school principal, who earlier in the year had had to dismiss me from school. Then, when I finally got back in, we tried to be friends and confidants. I went to him to see what his idea was. Well, he said it looked like it would be all right, but he said after all youíre just a boy, and somebody else has certainly thought of this beforehand and patents are a lot of trouble, and that ended it. Iíve never been patent-minded since, Iíll tell you. The one thing in my life that I tried to patent had been thought about by somebody else, and there we are. Well, anyway, this was a sample of the sort of things that went on. This was just an engineering kind of a job.
Whittemore:You had mentioned that even before high school your career plans, your future plans, were set.
Well, I switched from — well, thereís something else, other things. This was one of the things that influenced me. Another thing that influenced me was that I got into wireless when I was about 11 years old or so. I had a wireless receiver set, and ultimately, with a friend, we built up a wireless transmitter, in fact, two of them, one in his home, and a larger one in my home, using some of his stuff. We had amateur radio licenses at that time, for code. So, I was interested there. So, what I thought I wanted to be, was an electrical engineer. I didnít know of anything else. I knew about physics before that, but it never ever occurred to me that there was such a thing as a career in physics.
Physics was something that you would need in engineering. Physics was fun and games and lots of things, but a life work in physics never ever occurred to me, unless I was going to go into teaching. I knew there had to be physics teachers, because they had them in school and I knew they were there. There had to be professors if there were teachers. But that was not something that I was going to have the least remote interest in. When time came to make a decision — several things. One, the family situation was such that even at that time there was a problem as to whether I could even afford to go to college. My older brother had paved the wrong way for me. He was a valedictorian in high school and also at Washington and Lee, where he did his undergraduate work.
He was a thorough-going student from beginning to end, and I didnít want to be like him. He was a good guy. So, that was one thing. Then, by that time, when it came to engineering schools, I had heard of MIT and Columbia. Iím not sure about any place else — oh, Iíd heard about Harvard — Harvard and MIT, which was before my brother was enrolled, early high school I guess, Iím not sure. But they turned out to be — well, leaving home, this was a cost that we just couldnít afford. But there was Stevens Institute of Technology, which was a mechanical engineering school and only a mechanical engineering school, which was located in Hoboken, NJ. When you commuted to New York, you took the train into Hoboken, and then went on to the laboratory. I ended up by doing that. I could go from the house to the campus in just about an hour.
It was a 15 minute walk to the railroad, 30 minutes on the train, and another 15 minute walk to the campus. A fair number of their students were people who lived at home and commuted to work. But that was mechanical engineering. My father assured me that mechanical engineering included electrical engineering. As I later learned, it does. Anyway, I didnít have much choice, as long as I would get some electrical engineering and some physics in there. You see I had no idea what was in store at that time. I donít know when that particular decision was made, but there were problems before that. I still today donít know why it was I went through high school in three years, but I did and I had enough credits to get into Stevens with that, just enough credits. But I did lack chemistry; that was the only thing I really lacked. So I applied for Stevens.
At that time, all you had to do was to apply on your school record. If your school record came up to some standard, I donít know what it was, they would accept you. So, they accepted me. Well, even when I argued I would be seventeen in whatever it was, two or three months, they still couldnít break the rule. So I was then stuck. Iíd been through high school and accepted for Stevens, but I couldnít go because I wasnít old enough. So, I said, well, Iíll take a year of postgraduate high school work. There was at that time what was known as Stevens Preparatory School, which was also located in Hoboken, a private school and not large, but presumably preparatory, preparing people for them. Now, that sounded like a real good deal. But, it cost money.
All along in here I had a small electrical business going. When this came along and I needed the money for that, I beefed up what I would accept in the way of work, electrical work, by hiring somebody to work for me while I was in school. I would work on weekends and so on, or occasionally at the end of the day. That was essentially to pay my way through the school itself, which, incidentally, was the damndest fraud of a school of anything Iíve ever gotten into. I donít remember it in any detail now, but the chemistry teacher, for example, was an ex-musician; the math teacher was an ex-minister. These were all retired people — they werenít necessarily retired — they were people who had tried something else and ended up in teaching; they just werenít worth a plug nickel. So, that was just part of my education. Okay, letís leave that for a moment.
How about backing up to this telegraph line that I never — thatís my real start — the telegraph line that wouldnít work. Another thing in that particular period — now this is in the early Ď10ís of the century. Automobiles did not have the present storage battery ignition systems. The automobiles had spark coil systems and they had large dry batteries — 2.5 inches in diameter, 6 inches long — six of those in a box. Those would operate spark coils. One bunch of batteries would probably run a car steadily, letís say, for a week and not much more than that. Then the battery voltage would be down enough so that the ignition system wouldnít work.
The batteries were taken out and a new set put in. One of the few cars in our area and one of the early cars was our family doctor, who had a car, and the driver who originally drove his buggy became the chauffeur. He became my friend before he had a car and I inherited all the dry batteries, so I was not short of direct current. Anyway, I set up a telegraph line using the ground for one part of the circuit and a single wire for the other which, of course, was a perfectly acceptable way of doing it. I set up high resistance relay at the receiving end and got nothing. So, I took that to my father. Father explained Ohmís Law. Are you familiar with Ohmís Law? Okay.
You being primarily a historian, I donít know whether you have any sense or not. He explained Ohmís Law; he pulled out his physics book, which I still have on the shelf, Gainouís Physics, a French physics book, which was the teaching authority when he had it, which was back in the early 1880ís. I learned Ohmís Law. Father didnít tell me how to solve the problem, he just gave me the book. I learned that, and a lot of other things. As soon as Iíd read a page or two about Ohmís Law, and understood what they were talking about, I knew right away what the trouble was: I didnít have enough voltage on the line for that high resistance that was offered by the ground part of the circuit.
So, instead of having what I probably had initially in the room, or in the house — from attic to basement, for example, just for fun — for that, as I recall, I would use maybe four batteries and I probably used four batteries on this other circuit. What I ended up, I donít remember, probably fifty, a fairly substantial battery. It worked fine; it worked fine. That introduced me to physics.Then I discovered that my father had — I knew he had but I hadnít paid too much attention to it — an electric motor that he had made himself in the 1880ís. Over the years, I donít always remember, various things had happened to it; it wasnít operable. That, I was able to fix up and make run. That took a fair amount of power out of my batteries. I could run it with my batteries, but it wouldnít run very long. It really pulled the voltage down from the batteries.
That was it. Now, all of this was essentially in the fifth grade era. Every once in a while, I try to figure out exactly how old I was and I donít know. I was born in 1902 — well, Iím not going to try to figure it out again. I have figured it and I keep forgetting, but it was somewhere around 13 or something like that.
Whittemore:When you arrived at Stevens Institute, what was their plan?
Taylor:When I arrived at Stevens Institute, finally, in the first year everything went along all right except physics. I didnít realize at first what the trouble was in physics. I understood what they were talking about and it wasnít anything that was terribly complicated. I knew some of it, but by no means at all did I have a broad coverage at that time, just from the high school. It was much better than high school physics. But, again, it was sort of being taught by rote and that bothered me. Another thing that bothered me was that we werenít taught to think. You were given a formula, rate times time equals distance. I donít remember what another formula might be. R times T equals D. Thatís it. Then youíd have another one that would involve acceleration, or you would have one that involved electrical units and power. Those were formulas given to you. Where they came from — no discussion. What they meant —no discussion.
Whittemore:I had already been taught a few of the simplest things, one or two of the simple laws and then how to derive the slightly more complicated ones from the simple ones. So I never remembered, I never memorized the more complicated ones; I only remembered a few simple ones. If I needed the complicated one, I would derive it, just on paper — usually on paper — or in my mind. Well, if I did it on paper, Iíd probably use whatever symbols occurred to me at the time. As it turned out, they werenít the symbols that we were taught in class. The problem was wrong, no matter what the answer said. I first realized this at the end of my first term of physics when I failed the examination. I had everything on it right, but I failed it because Iíd used my own symbols. After a great deal of argument, they let me have credit for that. God, that bothered me.
Then, at the end in the second year, there was a further problem because there was something I did which happened to be — I donít know whether it was just physics or what it was in — it may have been in chemistry or something else. What I had done was again not quite regular in the way that it had been taught to us by rote, but it was reasoned through and gave the right result, and was marked wrong. When it was marked wrong, I argued and the professor agreed it was all right. He went through and reexamined it and marked something else wrong. Iíve never understood why me. I learned later, though, why. The ďwhy" was that Stevens Institute could only handle in its classes so many people just went along. By the time it got to its senior year, in their senior year, they could only handle one third — I believe that was roughly the number — one third of the number that they took in at the freshman year.
As a matter of policy, what they would do would weed out two-thirds of their students in the course of moving along. I suppose this was an early stage weeding. I donít know why particularly; I donít think thereís anything startlingly good about my grades. But the final thing that blew me was in my sophomore year. There, I was taking what I was told, what was described in somewhere, as integral calculus. I got all the way through the first session, the first term, of that without ever seeing an integral sign, without ever hearing the word integration, without ever hearing that we were doing a summation type of process. We were using a little book about three-eights of an inch thick called Imaginary Trigonometric Substitution; that was the name of the book.
It was written by the head of the math department at Stevens, and the course was given by him. So it was his course, his book and his subject. I passed it, whatever it was, but I didnít have the faintest idea of what I was doing, how, why I was doing it. I could solve a variety of problems involving buildings and bridge structures and various things that needed solving using trigonometric substitution, but why in the hell, I never knew. I never found out. Well, in the meantime, quite independent of all this, I had made the acquaintance of a neighbor across the street, who lived there for some years before this occurred. We got together because he was interested in making up some wireless equipment. Bear in mind that this is about 1920.
You couldnít buy this stuff on the market at that time. You had to make it. I had a shop; he had ideas; we were working together, over at his house, in the living room. Well, I didnít know much about this man, but he worked for some company in New York. He was a technical man, and the thing he was interested in primarily was something to do with sound equipment; I didnít really know. He was working for some company called ďWestern Electric CompanyĒ. It turned out they had a laboratory in New York. It also turned out he was a physicist from MIT. Strangely enough, I didnít really find this out until I was just about at my witís end with Stevens Institute. I found out that what Iíd been studying was integral calculus. I said, ďIím just not going to go back to that school anymore,Ē and he said, ďI donít blame you.Ē
He said, ďYouíd better try to switch schools.Ē Then we went through the argument. It was money; it was all kinds of things. Well, it ended up in any case by my just simply leaving school. He worked at the Western Electric Company at 463 West Street in New York, which, if you knew of the industry, that was the mecca — I didnít know it — of research. One big research laboratory in Schenectady; there was one big one at 463 West Street: GE and Western Electric. He said he thought that I could get a job there, so he gave me the name of the personnel manager. I went in and saw him, discussed what my problem was and what I wanted to do. What I really wanted to do was to work for maybe about a year, and then back into college again.
Well, I ended up by doing that and started work within two or three days from the time. Iím sure Maxfield, my neighbor, must have said something because it was just two or three days between the time I went in and the time I got the job. The job that I got was in their most independent physics division that they had. They had one division that had a variety of things going on in it that didnít have any necessary relationship to the telephone industry. A lot did, and as it turned out what I was working on did, but there was lots of science on the side. Thatís where I got a job.
That completely reoriented me. I went to Columbia night school, worked there in the daytime and went to night school, and took integral calculus and found out what ďimaginary trigonometric substitutionĒ was all about, but also learned some calculus. ďImaginary trigonometric substitutionĒ is just one of the various methods and gimmicks that are used for solving integral equations, and thatís all there is to it. Weíd been doing integral calculus all the time, but we never would have learned anything about anything except how to solve types of problems. Amazing.
Whittemore:What was the project you worked on?
The project that I worked on was the X-ray crystal structure of permalloy. Well, I didnít get into the permalloy side. Permalloy, incidentally, was the wrapping that they used, beginning a few years after that, on submarine cables that, among other things, made telephone transmission on submarine cables possible. This was just one of the many, many, permalloy projects going on, which was crystal structure. This also gave me a laboratory. I was a laboratory assistant, but the man I was working for had been a professor from Yale. He was there, sort of left over from having gotten into World War I research. Oh, I found out about research from all over and from every direction, as you can imagine, getting into that atmosphere.
His idea was, as far as possible, to tell a guy what he wanted, and not try to boss him; he allowed me to make mistakes, allowed me to find out things. He would sometimes, when I asked him a question, refer me to somebody else, so I got to meet other people around. There was lots of time there when all I had to do was to wait, sometimes for hours, while we were making a run on one crystal structure pattern.
Whittemore:could you describe in a little more detail exactly what the project was and what you were doing?
Taylor:What you had there was an X-ray tube, of which I still have one — that one thereís one. You pass a beam of X-rays through this metal, or through whatever the material is, not necessarily metal, and the X-rays are diffracted in a sort of fanlike direction. If you put a film in there, you pick up spots or bands, depending upon the arrangement. By analyzing those spots and bands, you could determine what the crystal structure was and some part of the metallurgy.
Whittemore:Do you remember what the exposure time was and what the voltage was?
Taylor:Well, yes. But let me say right off the bat, I had no background whatever for analyzing those final films. That was new, exploratory research. It was what McKeon, the Yale professor, was engaged in. I was providing him with what he had to work with. Bear in mind, I was just a kid with a couple years of college level education.
Whittemore:Did he explain to you at that time why it was he wanted these things?
Taylor:Yes. Oh yeah, I knew a lot about the project. Well, it would vary. Sometimes these things would be exposed for anywhere from hours to days. Most of them, you could turn them off at night and turn them on again in the morning. We never let anything run over night. We could have; if someone was there, we could have.
Whittemore:Was that for safety reasons?
Whittemore:Once you got a run going, you usually had hours during the day to do something else. As far as the project was concerned, I was worried because there was nothing else in touch with the project that I could do that needed to be done. I complained to McKeon that I had too much down time on this. He said, ĎWell, thatís all right. Have you got some other things you want to do? We have a library here, you can get books. If you have something else you want to work on in the laboratory, you can do that.í Wow! Imagine it.
Taylor:This was a period when I was much interested in the new wireless that was coming in because of the introduction of vacuum tubes during the war. Incidentally, thatís another story we should get into. So, with their support, I had this shop, this laboratory, in which I could draw things from the storeroom, do things. It was a wonderful laboratory. I did all kinds of things, mostly in radio work, which was the thing that I was fundamentally interested in.
Whittemore:Was this constructing receivers?
Taylor:I made receivers. I didnít try using any of the stuff in there. But I would take those out, make stuff or take stuff out with what they called a "package passĒ. Anything you wanted to take out had to have a pass, so McKeon would sign the pass and Iíd take these things home to try them, bring them back in, try them. This went on for eight or nine months.
Whittemore:What were you using to guide you as you were t!ying to put together the radios? Was it simply a set of directions or had you done reading?
Taylor:No, well, no, by that time I had gotten into this — well, I guess Maxfield, perhaps, had introduced me to a book which was at that time the only book that was known to be written about vacuum tube theory and circuitry, a book written by a man named Van der Beel from Holland. That I had read, and that was a very fundamental book. It was not a circuit book. There were no such things at that time, and there were no packages that you could buy and assemble, none of that kind of stuff.
Whittemore:Do you know how a variable condenser is made, with the plates that slide between each other? The first variable condenser I ever had, I had to make. You couldnít buy them. They had them in the laboratory, but you couldnít buy them on the open market. So, I had to make them myself. Some of the condensers that you needed, you couldnít buy any of that stuff. You couldnít just go out and buy any old kind of resistor you wanted. You could buy a few, but almost none. This was now, Iím talking about, 1920-21, roughly.
Taylor:How would you know exactly what kind of resistor you needed or condenser?
Whittemore:Well, if youíre working with the circuits, you had instruments you could use. They had boxes, resistance boxes, for example, that you could use.
Well, you had meters that you could tell — they did not have any of these portable test meters that we have today — but you had meters. You could work out what you needed, and thatís pretty much what you did. And a lot of it was just cut and dry, also.But, thereís a whole other gap in there, because before any of this happened, I had some vacuum tubes, and that is a whole different story, but important. In the early wireless days what you had for receivers was a chunk of gallina [spelling?] or silicon — thatís a metallic, crystalline material — and a point that youíd move around until you got it in some position; nobody knew why or what not.
What you were really doing was setting up a rectifier; the voltage and the current would go one way, and not the other. Thatís all it was, a rectifier. At best they were temperamental. During the war, I had a cousin who was working in what was then known as the Edison Lamp Works of the General Electric Company, I guess. Anyway, it was in Harrison, New Jersey, which was just part of Newark, I guess. He was an engineer there.
I had been in that plant in the early part, before we got into the war; I had been in that plant. They were working on making light bulbs. Among other things, that was the place where they developed the first automatic machinery for making light bulbs, or for making most of them. I had visited there. It sounds like I had relatives everywhere.
I didnít have relatives everywhere, but I had them in the right places. I remember on one of those visits him showing me how they would wire up these bulbs by machine. Well, thatís not one of the commercial type, but that kind of a bulb, they would make up as the household type. They would do all of that inside work by machine. The big question, then, was pitting man against machine, because the same company that was doing that had a big operation going on in Ohio, Cleveland area I think, seeing how they could improve their manual system.
These two systems, working within the same company, were competing. Ultimately they were going to use whichever system which was most economical. Well. I didnít understand that at the time, but Iíve learned about things like that since. I remember asking my cousin at the time of that early visit what their greatest problem was, because they werenít through. I expected it would have something to do with tubulation of the bulb, or Lord knows what. No, not that at all. It was having a filament that wouldnít last so long. He shook me to the roots.
ďYou want something that wouldnít last so long? You certainly donít spend time making something worse than youíve got.Ē Well, yes you do, and that was my first introduction to industrial economics. My cousin explained to me that they could make a filament that would last almost forever, as far as the filament was concerned, but a couple of things about it. If they made bulbs like that, theyíd make one round of bulbs and then people wouldnít need to have any more. They needed to make them to last a reasonable length of time, and then wear out and get new ones.
Also, it turns out these lamps' filaments, that will last indefinitely, draw more current, so theyíre going to be more expensive to run. That gets into another direction of economics. Furthermore, the color brightness, or the brightness color, of a lamp thatís running below its optimum would be such that its not good for the eyes. They knew all these things, or they knew about them at the time, and these were the economic and physical pressures that they were exposed to. Anyway, came the war, that place was closed up tight. Along in the fall of 1917, maybe the spring of 1918, pretty early on in the war, my cousin, knowing that I was interested in wireless, said they were experimenting with some equipment there, and there were rejects and so on.
They were a new type of vacuum tube — I donít know whether they called it that or not — that they were using for wireless to replace this detector. Would I like to have one? Would I! He ended up by giving me four. One tube was a standard large size tube; the others were about the length of my little finger and a little bit bigger than a pencil, peanut tubes. They had those at that time. He probably shouldnít have done this, but in any case he gave them to me and said donít mention it to anybody.
I didnít, for two reasons: because I was going to play with it with wireless, but, at that period, you werenít even allowed to have receiver equipment, World War I. You were not allowed to have equipment which could receive messages, which were only code, of course. So, I had this handsome radio antenna on the house that I had had to take down and that show Iíd taken down, because it was perfectly obvious it had been taken down.
Whittemore:What were they afraid of at that time?
Spying, I guess. We had some spy problems. In fact, one of our very good friends turned out to be one, a German spy. It was kind of silly. It was so that they couldnít communicate in. Surely somebody must have known it, I canít believe they didnít, because the thought occurred to me almost instantly that there was no way they could see your equipment, no way that they could take it away from you or stop you from doing whatever you wanted to in the house. What did I do with the wires that I took off of the big antenna on top of the house? I went into our upper attic and strung my antenna along the rafters in the upper attic, and connected them up, and sure enough, there it was.
I was getting messages. I couldnít read any of them; the code was much too fast for me. I never could understand any of it. There was no amateurish playing around; so it wasnít anything, except you did it. When I got these tubes, I knew right away what needed to be done. I had read enough somewhere — Iím not quite sure where that would have been, now that I think of it. It wasnít Van der Beer, because I didnít know Van der Beer yet. Anyway, I needed to rig up a circuit. For the circuit I needed to have a battery supply of somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 volts.
I needed to have a battery supply to light the filaments. All I would do then, was to just put this tube very simply in the circuit where I had the detector leads. I had all the auxiliary equipment from the other arrangement. The battery was a problem, because automobiles by then had storage batteries. No source of dry batteries anymore, and I sure couldnít afford to buy 100 volts of dry batteries. So, after discussing this with my father, he said, ďWell, you can make a storage battery if you just take two sheets of lead and put them in a solution of sulfuric acid, and you can run a direct charge through the thing. Some of that charge — you run a current through — and some of that is going to be left in a deposit on the surface.
When you have done that, you can reverse it and draw that current off it.Ē Thatís all storage batteries are, except theyíre made to handle large currents and last a long time. Out of a storage battery you only get a couple of volts. Iím not sure what the voltage is any more, but probably a couple, but itís not a factor. My father said ďIn my shop Iíve got a lot of lead wire.í I donít recall now what it was for, but he had a spool of lead wire just spooled up lying there, bare lead wire. He had test tubes. What I made was a rack that held, with holes in it, about fifty test tubes and took a single piece of wire, the holes were close together, down one side and over into the next, all the way along, so that it gave some voltage. I would have something on the order of 100 volts. I couldnít charge them with a hundred volts. If Iíd had a hundred volts to charge them with, then I wouldnít have needed them in the first place. So, I had to make a rectifier. Rectifiers werenít made in those days, either. So, there was a chemical rectifier that I learned about that would rectify at about 12 volts or something like that and 110 volts. Then I used that for charging these things in parallel and then discharging them in series.
The rectifier was made out of plates of aluminum and either carbon, I think, or lead. The other plate didnít make a great deal of difference; the aluminum was the important one, in a solution of some kind of soda. I donít remember what it was anymore. Those things would allow the current to go through in one way, and not the other. You could use four of those things, and you could get a sizable current at reduced voltage. At first, it worked all right, but no way could I get a hundred volts out of that. Well, I tried this out just on two or three batteries, my wire batteries.
I didnít have any instruments of my own that were sensitive enough to tell whether I was getting anything. But my father had a very sensitive voltmeter, millivoltmeter, that he used in connection with the thermocouples that he used in his furnaces in his laboratory. I charged one of these things for, I donít know, half an hour, and then took it off the charge, and tried a just quick touch with this meter, and sure enough it clicked. Then I was in business. I ended up by getting this put together, and I had charged this battery of mine for maybe 24 hours. I didnít have much in the way of instruments at that time, instruments that would tell me much about that. I coupled it up the way I should into my wireless circuit, closed the switch on the filament circuit, put the earphones on my head and I heard voice.
Whittemore:Had you heard voice radio before?
Taylor:Never. Voice radio — Iíd never heard it even discussed.
Whittemore:Had you done any tuning?
Taylor:I didnít do anything. This was just the way it was. That in itself was an enormous happenstance. It just happened. Well, it also turned out that what I was getting, was over a very broad band. But also, it just happened that the set was in that band.. Well, I just damned near died with excitement.
Whittemore:You hadnít even known that they were doing voice broadcasts?
Taylor:No, no idea it was being worked on. It literally had not occurred to me, or any of the people that I worked with — I mean kids, young people. I was about a junior or senior in high school at that time, probably a senior. Because I had these tubes, because I had an antenna which was violating the law, I couldnít tell a damned soul. I couldnít even tell this chap who had worked together with me, this was my school chum, for several years. I couldnít tell him; I just didnít dare tell anybody.
Whittemore:Did you know what the voices were about, what kind of broadcast?
Taylor:Yes. I found out what they were just by listening. What the voices were, were from an experimental station set up in Whippeny, New Jersey, which is — I learned that from what they said. Whippeny was out in the general direction of where we had this summer camp, so I knew it. Iíd never been there, because at that time it was not easy to get there by ordinary transportation. The other one was the West Street Western Electric Company laboratories in New York.
Whittemore:I was right straight on their path. You could almost draw a chord between the two places and drop a plumb on our house. That really wasnít important, but it was that close. They were transmitting over a distance of maybe thirty miles, and I was just about halfway between them.
Whittemore:You were discussing the radio station that you had picked up.
Taylor:Well, thatís pretty much the end of that story. I couldnít tell anybody, I didnít tell anybody. But after the war, particularly after I met this neighbor across the street, by that time we had experimental vacuum tubes. He got them from the Western Electric Company. You couldnít buy them on the market, readily. So what he and I would continue to do together at his home, was largely with stuff that came from the company.
Whittemore:You were working at the lab in New York City?
In New York City.
Let me back up one more step here, if I may, because you have two or three times mentioned war research. I knew nothing about really what was going on during the war, but I did my own. There were two things that I was interested in, that sounded like the ingenuousness of youth, which the public favored generally at that time.
One thing was the anti-submarine war, the submarine menace that we had. I thought I had some ideas for a submarine detector. I was working on these all through one summer up at this lake that we went to, a submerged submarine detector. It was essentially just a sensitive telephone transmitter with a wire pick up device on the outside, which I thought would work, but I didnít have any real good scientific reason that I can put forward for why I thought it would work. I used this, and I used it up at the lake because there were motorboats. I could pick up motor boats and I could track motor boats, with this thing. That was one thing.
Of course, that was just trash as far as what they were already doing at that time. The other thing that I got into was developing a projectile for destroying barbed wire. That led into some other interesting things. This was a projectile which was fired. It was patterned after a standard projectile. I have the one in my collection by the front door that I patterned it from. After it was fired the sides would open down and arms would fly out about that far on each side, and thereby, coming down in a field of barbed wire, would clear out that much barbed wire. Well, that was better than just a shell coming in. It would clean out a lot more than just a shell coming in and going into the ground as it does. Well, there were so many obvious things about that that were stupid. Among others, of course, was that the way you got rid of barbed wire, even then, was to explode a shell; the fragments are what cut the wire. They clean out a lot of wire.
But I learned something about shell ballistics and gun ballistics and so on. In the process, I wrote to the ordinance department, the war department, about this. They sent a young first lieutenant out to the house to see this gentleman who had produced this. He was absolutely flabbergasted to find a kid fifteen-sixteen years old. But, it also turned out, they probably picked him because he was in the ordinance department, but he was rooming in a home about two blocks away from us. Back in that time, all these neighborhoods opened their homes because they had people coming in from all over the country, that were used in various things in the New York-Newark area.
Gee, everybody that had an extra room, back in those days, had some young officer staying with them. This was one of them. That particular story led into a great variety of other things I got into, including, in 1940, being asked to set up a proximity fuse program for bombs and rockets, which I got into. I ultimately ended up in the Air Force doing things that started way back in World War I, as far as my initial experience is concerned. Its kind of fun to tie those things together.
Whittemore:You were at the lab in New York after leaving Stevens?
Taylor:Right. Well, at the laboratories, then, I met all kinds of people. Then I found out, also for the first time, that where we lived in Maplewood was almost the center, the hub, of senior Bell Telephone and Western Electric people, scientists in this big organization in New York living out in Maplewood. The next door neighbor, whom we simply knew as Mr. Buckley, was director of a branch of research at the laboratories. I was assigned in his division. That was a pure accident; he didnít know me from Adam beforehand. McKeon lived nearby, this man I was actually working with. I donít know whether the names Davidson and Germer [spelling?] mean anything to you. Davidson was a Nobel Prize winner; he lived just through, across the street from us, the next street over. That was the community that we were brought up in. itís interesting; if I had known that sooner, a lot of things might have been changed. Anyway, I then found out there was such a thing as a career in physics. I got advice, and ended up, then, by going to Cornell and majoring in physics.
Whittemore:Just to finish up with the laboratory, how much had you known about X-rays before you had this job?
Taylor:Nothing. Iíd read about them. Oh, there were some other funny connections in there, too. When I told my father what I was doing, he said, ďHave they given you any caution about X-rays?Ē I said ďNo, not particularly, except they just told me not to stand in the beam and that was it.Ē Well, the beams that came out were really kind of small beams, but nevertheless they were beams. He said, ďWell, X-rays — you donít want to get too much X-rays.Ē Thatís about all he knew about it. ďWell, what do you know about it?Ē I donít know much about it, but,Ē he said, ďone of my metallurgy jobs involves the salvaging of parts of X-rays tubes that are made by a Macklick [spelling] Company,Ē at that time when they were using platinum and tungsten tubes. He said, he had the job of salvaging the platinum out of these tubes for reuse. In the process of that he had learned about X-rays. The next day I went in and spoke to McKeon. McKeon said, ďWell, yeah, you shouldnít stay in the beam,Ē but he didnít think there were enough X-rays around to anything to be concerned about. ďBut, if you want to try, put some films around someplace and see if you show any blackening on the film.Ē
Whittemore:Well, we had all kinds of film around, and I essentially made a belt of films - they werenít very big pieces — around this tube and ran it and every damned one of them was black. In spots. Then, I measured some at the desk where I worked, and you could find in some positions you would pick it up and in other positions you wouldnít, so there were tiny leaks. Well, it turned out that this tube was in a big brass cylinder with lead lining. That was part of it. The lead lining was fastened to the brass by screws on the inside, so they were brass instead of lead, and a little hole. Every one of those was a leak.
Whittemore:Did you figure this out at the time?
Taylor:Well, I found that out by exploring around. I traced every one of these things down and eliminated them gradually. When I found a thing like that on the brass — well, I could tell on the brass because, a brass cylinder about a foot in diameter, screwed from the inside. You could see where the screw came through, and it was then just smoothed off. Well you could see, if you put a film there and youíd get a spot.
Whittemore:So, what I would do would be to tap a little lead on it with some putty or stick-em or something or other. It was all patched up with things like that.
Taylor:The bottom was worse, because underneath was a transformer. The tube sat on top of it. I donít have a tube here. I have exactly that kind of tube, but itís up in the attic. Itís something like that tube in there, except that tube has a lead glass shield around it. The lower end of it would be down toward the transformer, and the other end of it was fastened at ground level to water, cooling it by water. No voltage up there; at the bottom end there was about 30-40,000, roughly 30,000, volts from the transformer to the cylinder. Well, that was hard to shield because of the voltage, and, in fact, it really wasnít much shielded, so there was scattering down to the floor and back out. I ran a complete survey there and made quite a few changes in the whole thing. That was my first experience really working with X-rays.
Whittemore:Did McKeon react when you came back? Did you tell McKeon about the leaks youĎd found? Oh, yes, sure. He was not only interested; he was concerned. He just had figured that since this was bought as a finished device, complete device from General Electric Company, that it must be all right. He just didnít think any further than that. So, whenever that was, that must have been about 1921 perhaps, I did my first X-ray survey.
Taylor:Well, I had tried some other things beforehand. I guess, as a matter of fact, this warning my father gave me wasnít my first warning about X-rays. Actually, that probably occurred, in fact, did occur, in high school, because I had this tube [the X-ray tube which Edison had given him, spoken of earlier], then, but no source of voltage for it. I had two sources of voltage. One was an induction type spark coil that we used on our motorboat. That would give a light spark at about 20-25,000 volts.
Whittemore:This is the Edison tube?
Yes, the Edison tube. This spark coil just gives a spark; its whatís used in ignition systems, 20,000 volts. It would make a spark about that long; thatís roughly 20-25,000 volts. This friend of mine with whom Iíd worked, school friend, he had more money at his fingertips than I did. For his transmitter, he had bought a Sorg-Arsoa [spelling] transformer, which was a 20,000 volt transformer. That was a fairly powerful — that was really a power transformer. That could give a heck of a wallop. I had that. I tried both of those with the X-ray tube. I donít know what I was trying. All I could tell was that in the tube there was a slight glowing. They were gas tubes to begin with. There was a slight greenish- yellow glow in there. And that was that.
Well, at that voltage, it didnít make too much difference, even though it was very thin glass. There probably was not enough radiation getting out at that voltage to get through the glass, and if it did get through the glass, not very much of it would reach as far as I am now from the glass [about five feet]. So, I donít think I was ever harmed by it. But, when my father found out about that — no, he didnít find out about that.
I did all I could and didnít find out anything. But, in school they had one of these old-type Wimshurst machines that they used back in the early part of the century. This is the huge glass electrostatic machine that would generate up to 70 to 80,000 volts. I got the physics teacher — they had it for some reason in the physics lab — I got the physics teacher to let me see if I could fix that thing up and run it. Gee, I was getting sparks like this; I was getting whopping high voltage.
Whittemore:About a foot and a half?
Taylor:Well, probably not that much. Maybe 10 inches. That was a lot of voltage. But itís what they used for their X-ray tubes in the early days. It was working fine, but then I made one of my fatal mistakes. I mentioned it to my father. That was the time that he first mentioned X-rays to me.
Whittemore:Had you brought the tube into school and connected it up yet?
Taylor:No, no. I just mentioned how excited I was and what I was going to do. No, that never got even tried. It might have added some to my X-ray vocabulary if I had, I donít know. After the job in New York you went to Cornell?
Whittemore:I went to Cornell. There I had some problems, because to study physics I went, not to the engineering school, but to the arts and sciences, I guess, the arts college. There were problems there.
Letís see. First off, when I arrived in Ithaca, I went almost straight from the train to the hospital. I wonít go into details; it turned out I had malaria. I lost two starting weeks, the first two weeks of school, and lost about 25 pounds. I was down to less than a hundred pounds in weight. So that was not too auspicious. The person that was assigned — well, I had gotten in touch with the physics department. They were aware of my problem. I certainly wasnít physically able to do anything useful. They asked one of the professors, a Professor Gibbs there, to look into my situation, which he did. They found that, one, the arts college would not give me any graduation credit for any of the work that I had done at Stevens Institute or Columbia.
I would require four years of residence credit in order to get a degree. However, they did not require — or they would allow me to use a number of the Stevens Institute subjects that I had to satisfy some of the standard requirements. I donít remember exactly what they were, but there were certain required things that you had to take somewhere along the line. It seems to me it was something to do with either English or history; it had to do with one or the other. Yes, history was one of them. I had had an interesting course in history at one time. I got satisfaction credit for that. But, so, in the process of all this it meant that I started in — while I was a freshman as far as the college was concerned — in my freshman year I got one or two subjects that were normally junior subjects.
This was the way it went. By cutting out these things, I got more time for physics and math, without having to spend time on the usual. And there was another mistake I made, because I took the wrong advantage of that. I should have taken a course in economics; I should have taken a course or something or other in history. There were several of these things. I concentrated much too heavily in physics and mathematics. In fact, I took nothing but physics and mathematics and required courses. That was a mistake, in hindsight.
Whittemore:Was that what most of the people planning a career in the sciences were doing?
Taylor:No, no, not at all. To get a degree with a physics major, you would be required to have something like 30 hours, 30 hours perhaps was the minimum, 30 or 40 hours of physics, of 120 hours total. The rest of that was divided up with the mathematics, chemistry. Oh yes, chemistry — I took no chemistry. Iíd had some chemistry, and satisfied the minimum chemistry at Stevens, so I had no chemistry. I had that one other elective; I took geology. That was fine; I loved geology. It was completely lopsided. I ended up with, I donít remember now, but it was something like 60 or 70 hours of physics and math, and a whole lot of other things totally missed. That was just a stupid mistake, and it complicated things later on.
Whittemore:They knew — well, there was a Professor Murdoch there. Why Murdoch took me under his wing, I never knew. Somebody from the Bell Western Electric probably knew him. Oh yes, this neighbor of mine, who was the head of that research division, was a Cornell man. He must have gotten in touch with somebody, because several things happened to me there that I never could account for.
This Murdoch, who, among other things, taught, I donít know what they called it, but it was essentially exploratory research. This was a course where the people come in; there were a number of experiments that you could try out; theyíd got the equipment to do them; if you had some ideas of something youíd like to try out yourself you can do this with whatever equipment you had — sort of an introductory experimental research program, a wonderful approach. He was a great guy himself. He kind of fathered me along. I guess I had explained to him that my financial status was pretty shaky, so that I was probably going to need to work some.
So, I got a call from the journal. The big U.S. journal of physics was the Physical Review. It was started at Cornell. Three of the people who were among the original organizers of that and the physical society were still at Cornell. I had a telephone call from Professor Merritt, who was one of those and happened also to be head of the department at that time, who said that they had all of the - they had two series — of the first series of Physical Reviews, they had thousands of copies of that and they wanted to assemble those as best they could, to see what they had and put them in complete sets and wondered if I would be interested in just doing this as an after school job, for which they would pay 25 cents an hour, which was not bad wages at that time. God, this was great. [Mrs. Taylor] Lunch is served. [Lunch break]
Whittemore:You were discussing your years at Cornell with Professor Murdoch.
Oh yes, this Physical Review. Twenty-five cents an hour, and I expressed an interest in reading some of them. He said, ďWell, when youíre through, if thereís a full set, you can have a full set.Ē So, I went through them and, Lord, there were hundreds, thousands of these damned things piled up there in one of the unused laboratories. When I got through, there was one full set. Others were pretty near full, and some that were pretty sparse. When I got through, he asked me if I had picked out a set.
I said ďWell, no, because there was only one.Ē He said, ďI promised you a full set, and if youíd like to have it, its yours.Ē Then, in the middle of my sophomore year, I got a call from a different professor, it happened to be a theoretical professor, who said that I had been recommended to him, through the Hetcher Fellowship group, to work with him on an experimental project as a research fellow. These are normally — in the middle of my sophomore year — and theyíd never before had one less than a graduate student, a formal graduate student. Man, did I ever jump at that, and stayed with it for two and a half years.
Whittemore:What was the project?
The project was the specific exciting power of fluorescents. This was a test of whether when you excited fluorescents in a fluorescent liquid whether there was measurable fluorescence on the long wavelength side or the short — I donít even remember — one side or the other where it was not thought to be true. He had a theory indicating there should be. We worked for two and a half years — I did and it came out the way that we — or that he — expected it. It was a very nice piece of work. That got me into all sorts of things. it got me right into the physics department, for one thing, where I got to know all the professors. It got me not only a laboratory to do that, but a laboratory I could use for myself. It got me into measuring extremely small currents.
One of the big problems — this was mostly an optical problem — but the only way that we could work was with a photoelectric cell, and that required pushing quadrant electrometers to the absolute limit, which ended up with Compton electron ray, which I had to make up, or have made up myself, in the shop. You couldnít buy one at that time. We had various visitors through the place. Karl Compton was a visitor one time, when I was concerned with this. He spent about two hours with me, down in the laboratory, sitting down just like we are now, talking electrometers and current measurement. God, things like that donít happen any more.
Whittemore:How old was he at that time?
Taylor:This was 1924, approximately. I think he was president of MIT at the time. I knew Arthur Compton through his work and later met him and had some dealings with him back in the Ď30ís. However, I did not join him when he asked me to in 1942 or 1943, whenever it was, 1943 I think, because I had already committed myself to something else. SInce he could not tell me what I would be working with anyway, I knew what I would — well, I didnít know exactly what I would be doing with the Air Force, either, for that matter — but at least I had more of an inkling than he gave me of his work. So it goes. Well, I guess without going into details, this is now where I ran into a problem because I had not branched out enough in other courses at Cornell, because I started in graduate school. In the meantime, I started what was subsequently accepted to be my PhD. thesis. I started that in my senior year and published some preliminary papers on it.
Whittemore:What was the topic?
Taylor:Well, it was oscillation historesis in semiotic vacuum tube circuitry. It was that type of a problem. There were two other people doing PhD. theses. All three of us were in some form of what we now think of as electronics and would never think of as a PhD. thesis. So, I went into that and then—
Whittemore:Did you develop the topic on your own or was it suested to you?
Taylor:No, I developed that on my own, and then I suggested that, and they took it. They accepted that, and because of my ties in there, I took my qualifying examination and my language examinations all in my first year of formal graduate work. Then I discovered that in order to get an advanced degree I had to put in three full years of physical residency, no matter if I did nothing but sit on my tail the whole time. That really bothered me.
Whittemore:How far advanced was the dissertation project at that point?
Almost, essentially complete. It had never gone through the review as a dissertation; thatís about the main thing that it missed. There were two or three papers that came out of it. Two or three, Iím not sure. So, the question — I just didnít feel like sitting on my tail. They offered me a job in the physics department as an assistant, to stay on. This would be a sort of a managerial type of job. This would be because I had found them a glass blower from the Bell Laboratories where I had worked — a glass blower that worked with me and was getting ready to retire and I brought him up there.
And I found an instrument maker, the same way, from there and brought him up to Cornell. This was still while I was an undergraduate. So, I was up to my ears in there, and they offered me a job of that sort, and then later a teaching job, though I guess that was not specific. I didnít quite know what to do. I looked into commercial jobs somewhat. I did a number of job interview visits. Rickmeyer was then my... Oh, I forgot to say in that last year I got another, different research fellowship. This was working with Rickmeyer on X-ray absorption coefficients. Thatís where I got into X-rays, really got into them.
Whittemore:What would that work have consisted of?
Taylor:That consisted of building a spectrometer, building a high voltage source and the ionization equipment and so on, measuring the absorption of metals, absorption edges and so on, much of which hadnít been done at that period. That was fairly new, exploratory. Was this just a theoretical project or was he doing this to develop standards?
Whittemore:This was entirely experimental. Rickmeyer was a straight experimentalist.
I should remark, incidentally, Rickmeyer told me some years later that after Cunard [the professor who had developed the experiment on fluorescence Taylor had worked on earlier] had finished his job — Cunard was a theoretician and Rickmeyer was an experimentalist — Rickmeyer asked him what he had really learned from this experience with this experiment on the exciting power of fluorescence. Cunardís answer was immediate, he said. ďNever to try another experimental job.Ē
Well, in discussing my dilemma with Rickmeyer, he said he had just gotten a letter from a Dr. Foot at the Bureau of Standards, saying that they were starting a new radiation X-ray program at the Bureau, and desperately needed somebody to do this. Rickmeyer said, now this is sort of halfway. He described the Bureau of Standards. I knew some of the people but didnít know anything about the Bureau. This was halfway between industry and the university; you might try it for a year or two. It sounded like that to me, and so I applied and was accepted and I went down there for a year.
Whittemore:Where were they located at that time?
On Vaness Street. Do you know where the University of the District of Columbia is now? Thatís their ground; thatís where it was. Their administration building is right where my high voltage laboratory was. I hate those people. [Laughter] My voice is getting thin. Do you want any? Well, the long and short of that was that when I got down there, there was a person there I did not know personally, but I was familiar with his X-ray work. That was Hunt, who had been in on the Duane-Hunt quantum cutoff of the spectrum. I knew that name well, and he was there. I was told he was doing X-ray spectroscopy.
Well, that sounded great. Anyway, I would try it for a year and even left a great deal of my gear in the attic of the physics building in Ithaca because Iíd be going back there. When I got down there and found Hunt, after I checked in with personnel, to be informed that he was leaving at the end of the week. That was his last week there. He had taken a job at the Bell Telephone Labs in New York. Iím not sure; it was probably still Western Electric Company, but I always think of it as Bell.
So,that was that. So, I said, well, Iíll check with Doctor Foot, who was the section chief. The section man there was Paul Foot, head of the section, Fred Muller — I donít know if you know the Foot-Muller combination in the early days of atomic physics. They wrote the first book on it, right after World War I — and a man working with radioactivity, an L.F. Curtis, who by coincidence was also from Cornell. There werenít many people in the whole damned country at that time who were fiddling around either with X-rays or radioactivity. It just wasnít one of the big subjects. So, I went to see Foot, and I saw him. In fact I had known Foot; he was one of the few people I had met before.
He was leaving in two weeks. He was going to be director of research at the Carnegie-Mellon labs in Pittsburgh. ďWell, who will be taking your place? ďFred Muller.Ē That was the senior guy. ďIíll see Muller.Ē ďWell, Mullerís off on vacation; heís just left. He always takes four weeks.Ē They had four week vacations in those days. He was gone. So there was nobody there. I went to see the division chief, and met him. Normally I would not have met for six months. Oh, yes, I left out one important point. I found out from Hunt that I wasnít down there to work on X-ray spectroscopy.
Thatís what he was interested in, and he was being subtracted from that, to work on something to do with radiation dosimetry for cancer therapy. He was pretty vague about it himself. That was what I was being brought down there for. Then I knew darned well I was in the wrong school. I went over to see Foot — I mean Skinner, the division chief and explained the quandary I was in, but, however, I had made a promise to come down and I would stick with it. I would certainly stay out the year, but I would strongly recommend that he begin recruiting someone else, and I would help him find somebody else. I probably knew the few X-ray people that were around at that time. Well, that was the deal. Oh, I spent the rest of the summer, that was the middle of July, up until about October.
Whittemore:What year would this have been?
Taylor:1927. In the meantime I learned about some other people that were connected with physics and the medical profession; we would now call them radiological physicist. There were several of these around. Duane was one; he was also well known in physics. A man named Failla, he was a physicist, but he was steeped in biology. He had an Edith Quimby working with him, a woman who was a physicist, and a doctor in Cleveland clinic, and one or two in Philadelphia.
Whittemore:These would mainly have been physicists that then moved into medicine?
These would be physicists who had moved into this for one reason or another. I donít know if they were booby-trapped into it like I was. I spent about three months reading the literature, and kept encountering some of their names, and then the European names, and ran into several areas that struck me as being critically in need of work, and one or two that which were just plain wrong, which was interesting, because I was an absolute novice and did not have any mistakes to unlearn. Some of these things, I donít remember specifically what they were now, were just obviously wrong.
By October I saw there was at least a yearís work to keep me busy just getting something started. They didnít have any apparatus. I figured that they needed a 200,000 — oh, they had one piece of apparatus. They had a lead room, about two thirds the size of this one [10í x 15í] except a higher ceiling, in which they had a 300,000 volt mechanical rectifier source of voltage, water coolers and two tubes. This was patterned after a radiographic installation that they had up at Watertown Arsenal near Boston — the type of thing you would use for radiographing things like artillery shells and heavy, heavy equipment.
Whittemore:Was this using film or a fluorescent screen?
Taylor:Film. This was a room that was so fixed that the X-rays — there was at least a quarter inch of lead; every screw was covered with lead; it was a beautiful job. No way, whatever, that you could use it; I never found any use for it at all in dosimetry because there was no way you could use the measuring apparatus inside; it would be drowned in stray radiation. The only way you could do it was outside, but there was no way to look into it, even through lead glass windows, and reasonably see anything. I put some windows in but it was a total loss. Nobody seemed to know why it was built; it was brand new. Thatís what they thought they would use — it certainly wasnít designed for it — but thatís what they thought they would use for this dosimetry problem. So, the first job I had to do was to build from scratch a 200,000 volt DC generator, a filtered day to day state.
Whittemore:You built from the generator on up?
Taylor:That turned out to be less of a gamble than I thought, because the first job I had to do with Rickmeyer was to build the same kind of circuit, though only for 70 kilovolts, but it was the same principle, but under much worse conditions in the sense that we had to use makeshift. It was troublesome, but it worked. For this one I had money to buy the kind of equipment I needed and put it together in a useful way. I put the X-ray tube in a container that we could take the radiation out in a narrow beam.
Whittemore:How much of a budget did they give you?
Taylor:I have no idea. That program was started under what they call a line item appropriation. Most appropriations at the Bureau get things bulked together and you bet a certain amount for certain class. There was a line item. Now remember that particular figure, that was $30,000, and that was a hell of a lot of money in those days. It was to start up and organize and carry out a program in X-ray measurement and X-ray detection. I donít remember the exact wording of it, but that was the essence of it.
Whittemore:Do you remember who it was that would have instigated that program?
Taylor:Yes, I very much got into touch with them and worked with them. This was the radiological groups on the outside. There was: Duane, actually, was one of the people; a man named Ernst who was an MD radiologist; there were Failla, that I mentioned, from New York, Glasser from Cleveland, a couple of MDs that were good physicists still. It was a good crowd. However, it was the sole crop in the United States, maybe a total of about ten people. There was absolutely nobody else around, and I was the brand new boy on the block as far as they were concerned. It was good to work with.
Whittemore:Do you remember what their concerns were at that early stage? Why it was that they wanted the government to be doing this?
Yes. It was double-barrelled. In the first place, the Coolidge tube had been developed and put into use in 1916. They had 200,000 volt tubes that were on the market, and high voltage equipment, alternating mechanically rectified high voltage equipment that was in use. There was great disagreement if they wanted to measure the amount of radiation that was being received by a tumor. How to measure it? How to compare it with measurements made in some other clinic or hospital or laboratory or whatever? How to compare it with a dose to a tumor in a slightly different position in the body? With different energies available, if 200,000 volts wasnít available where they were at that time? There was a deep international disagreement on what constituted a proper dose for a given cancer.
There were no accepted physical measurements at that time. There were a number of instruments that had been made, but they were not consistent with each other. There were not more than a small number of each that were made. Incidentally, there is a sample of each of those up in the Countway Library [Harvard Medical School] right now, those real old ones. Well, thatís what it is roughly on the measurement side. On the protection side, well, protection was recognized as an absolute, but you couldnít do much about protection until you could measure.
You had to solve, at least roughly solve, the measurement problem, which we did relatively quickly, even if unofficially. On the protection side, the real problem was that because of the use of the Coolidge tube in World War I, so many radiologists had lost limbs and ultimately lost their lives, and in spite of various things done to protect themselves, there was serious concern that unless they could do something about that, they might have to forego the use of X-rays entirely. That was the alternative that the radiological profession was fighting against.
So, it was double-barreled, but first was the measurement. Before you could measure, you had to have some equipment, so my first job was, first, to get the equipment. While that was being done, develop, not what was to be the final way of measurement — there was lots that needed to be known — but apparatus or equipment with which I could explore what the parameters were, design parameters. Then, the systems for making comparisons with other laboratories — all these things which seem almost trivial today, its hard to realize they were so exploratory and so confusingly used, particularly by the medical profession. Theyíre not scientists.
Ernst, who was the chairman — they had a standardization committee of the Radiological Society of North America. Eddie Ernst was the chairman of that. He was a rattle-brained radiologist. He didnít know anything about physics. He knew what he wanted to be accomplished; within the society he was an organizer type. He did not hesitate to take the problem up with anyone and everybody. He just chased the people here in Congress and in the Commerce Department.
Heíd go right straight to the Secretary - he wouldnít deal with anybody less than the Secretary of Commerce or chairman of an appropriation committee. How old was he at this time? He must have been about fifty somewhere. Heís been gone quite a long time. He didnít know what he was talking about so far as dosimetry was concerned. This didnít make any difference; he had the drive. Duane and Failla and the other people in place; they provided the knowledge. He got it done, a great guy. Well, letís see, whereís that leave us?
Whittemore:Was this similar to what other people in the Bureau of Standards were doing, in terms of standardizing and measuring?
Taylor:That was the basic purpose of the Bureau of Standards. Well, as the name implies, itís to provide standards for whatever, but before you can provide any kind of standards, youíve got to know how to define it; youíve got to know how to measure it, how to define the accuracy, and so on. The Bureau of Standards covered everything, from the inch and the meter and the quart and color and God knows what all.
Whittemore:So, it was a normal sort of mission?
Taylor:Oh, yes. Oh, youíre thinking in terms of the Bureau of Standards as against the Public Health Service?
Whittemore:This is a little too early for that, but whether, as you were working within the Bureau of Standards, to other people around you, did this seem to be afairly typical project or was this unusual?
Typical. I donít know. I really donít know how to answer that. I would say it was fairly typical. Never touched it with X-rays before. They did have a standards program for radium and radioactivity. That was a little bit different, but was again a program in which I had no part. The radium, as it was used mostly at that time, was in little platinum seeds, a couple of millimeters in diameter and up to a centimeter in length, sometimes a little longer, filled and sealed with radium — radium chloride or radium sulfite or something. Every single sample that was used in every patient in the United States went through the Bureau of Standards.
They had developed a standard based on some preparations made by Madame Curie. The radium she supplied went to three laboratories: the Bureau of Standards, the Physikalische Technik Reichstenstaff in Berlin and the National Physical Laboratory in London.. There may have been more, but those three had the three basic ones that she had prepared and compared. These were glass contained and the measurements were all compared against measurement made with those. A comparison technique.
Whittemore:How would they have done these comparisons?
Taylor:They had an electrometer on a bench like an optical bench. The radium standard would be in a little tray at one point. They would make a measurement with it. Or, on the everyday basis, they had secondary standard — they did not trust themselves with that glass one — they had a secondary standard that they would put in there. The unknown preparation would be put in, they would time the fall of the gold leaves — literally, a gold leaf electroscope in a lead box. They would time that. The whole thing was geared to that particular geometry, that particular kind of shielding, bench, scattering in that particular laboratory. It might not be the same as the one in Berlin, but it was easy to compare between them. That was a good if very rudimentary system.
Whittemore:So, there was no attempt to quantify units, it was just comparing?
Taylor:Thatís right. The radioactivity units — there were no units involved. Well, I say there was no unit the Curie unit was expressed in millicuries. These measurements were in millicuries, or fractions or multiples of millicuries. The millicurie itself which was supposedly tied to a physical quantity — mass — of radium.
Whittemore:But in practice they were comparing the Curie standard and whatever the sample was?
Yes. Now, that's quite different from the X-ray standard. In the X-ray standard you were measuring the radiation. You had to find or devise a system which would measure the radiation in some quantity in a way that could be physically described and physically set up somewhere else and give the same result. Furthermore, it had to meet qualifications which made the measurement compatible with its ultimate use. You could have made a standard system for measuring X-rays by drilling a hole in a chunk of steel, and putting a probe into it, and measuring the ionization in that.
As long as everybody did the same thing youíd have something, but it would have had no relation to the way that radiation was being used in air or in soft tissue or in bone, or so on. So, the measurement needed to be made, it was agreed, in free air because the atomic constitution, on the average, of free air is not terribly different from the atomic constitution of the body. So thatís the reason the air is used as the standard in measurement.
Whittemore:You described the instrumentation you developed to generate the X-rays. What type of instrumentation were you developing to do these measurements?
Well, the first step in that was what we call a free air ionization chamber. Itís essentially a pair of parallel plates in which you could define a volume of air in the middle from which you would extract all of the ions that are produced in that volume — or if not precisely in that volume, in a volume that the geometry of the chamber would define for you. Thatís essentially it. Now, weíre going to get fairly complicated here for a general article, for these things are well, well covered in my own literature, as well as many other peopleís. The first free air chamber that we had at the Bureau of Standards was essentially a parallel plate ionization chamber. The plates were — I donít remember exactly — roughly 12 by 20 inches, something of that sort.
The beam would pass centrally between them, no part of it striking any of the plates. The beam was defined by a measured orifice. One side of the ionization chamber was just a plain solid plate and that had a high voltage on it. The other side was made up of three plates: a center plate that was connected out to an electrometer, and then a plate on either side along the direction of the beam, which were called guard plates. That was to ensure that the field in which the measurements were made was straight across. If the guard plates were too narrow, the field would bulge outside at the edges. That bulge would progress into the center plate and you would not have a defined length of column there between the collector plate and the high voltage plate.
Whittemore:So part of your work was measuring how those plates should be positioned to obtain consistency?
To find out what distances you needed, what separations you needed, and how to dimension something of that sort. The Germans had made one — I don Ďt think weíd better get into it — but it was operated under pressure, which was a good idea up to a point. The whole ionization chamber was a little device 5 or 6 inches in diameter and 10 inches long. It operated under pressure so that the dimensions could be smaller. The first British one was — oh, I donít remember — but, anyway, it was bigger than that. The first one that we arrived at in Washington was completely free air, and was about twice the size of the British one. It was contained in a lead box a foot wide, 15 inches high, or more, and at least two feet long and was really heavy.
It was covered with a minimum of an eighth of an inch of lead. It was correct, but it was only good for use in the laboratory. The thing in particular that I introduced at that time was a way of correcting that field distortion by putting a series of wires around the chamber and a graded potential across it. So if we had 2000 volts across the chamber and tea guard wires, there would be 200 volts between each of them. That reduced the chamber size down to something that was about 6 inches cubed, and then with a small case around it which could be close to it. That was something that was manageable.
Whittemore:That still had the eighth inch of lead around it?
Taylor:Yes. You canít get away from that. Thatís known as a guarded field ionization chamber. Are you still using Countway? Countway [Library] has a series — no, thatís not the right bunch. I donít know whether they have a bound set of my publications or not. I think they must; Iím not just sure. But theyíre pretty well-described, and itís pretty hard to do it, without, at least, a blackboard.
Whittemore:Would this have been still within the first year of your being at the Bureau of Standards?
Taylor:No. It took me about a year to build up enough laboratory. Iím not quite sure how the dates run along. Letís see — this was about 1930, the end of 1930 would be the time when that was essentially complete, about three years.
Whittemore:At what point did you decide you were staying on for longer than a year at the Bureau?
I decided that fairly soon. After I had met these people and gotten into the field, and found out what the field was, I became absolutely fascinated: one, with the overall problem and the need for it, and the likelihood that a solution could be found. In the meantime my section chief was back. He supported me in just about everything I did but never bothered me with anything. The division chief was the same way. I went to the division chief along about May or so of the following year.
I asked him how he was coming along with recruiting someone to take my place. I guess I told him — I donít know which way it went. At one point, I asked him how he was coming along, and he said they had not made any progress. I said ďWell, if itís all right I can stay on longer if you need.Ē He said, ĎWell, as a matter of fact, we havenít even tried. It just,Ē he said, ďseemed to me that you were happy doing what you were and we havenít made any move.í ĎWell,Ē I said, ďyouíre right and Iíll stay on indefinitely"
Whittemore:Did you move your material down from Cornell then?
Then I moved what was left of the material down at Cornell. I had trouble, because, among other things, I had been given by Professor Merritt — at the time I was doing this Physical Review business I did a sorting job in his library — he gave me a slew of books. Those books were among the stuff Iíd left. I didnít have enough money to pay to ship those darned things down, so I had to just leave the books, and shipped the stuff I needed to live with. The next time I was in Ithaca — no it wasnít the next time — but the next time I got into that building, really, was about five years ago and the stuff was not there any more. Well, things really were moving fast. In the fall of 1927 got a call from a doctor in town saying that there was a Doctor Kaye in town from the National Physical Laboratory in London that was in town, and wanted to visit with me. I knew Kaye by name; he was one of the early workers; he was active in X-ray field in 1910.
I was familiar with his work; I had probably read everything he had written at that time. He was in charge of the British standards program, and he wanted to come out and see me, for Godís sake. He was in my mind one of the real big shots abroad, and Iím still the new boy on the block. Kaye came out, and we had a wonderful time together discussing things. Then, he pointed out that in the following year, 1928, they were having an International Congress of Radiology, and there would be a meeting of the International Commission on Radiation Dosimetry, I believe it was called.
That meeting I knew about, and that was that. I knew that meeting was scheduled and they had a committee set up, and I never gave it any further thought. Kaye said that they were also going to start for the first time a similar commission to deal with radiation protection, and that he was the honorary secretary of that. He wanted to know if I wanted to be a member of that commission. Thatís not the kind of thing you hesitate on, so, of course, I agreed. But, I pointed out, that I was not sure I could get the Bureau to send me. I didnít know anything about the Bureauís plans then. I found out soon enough. In general, not many people went abroad from the Bureau.
When they did, it was usually people who had put in 15 or 20 years of some kind of outstanding work, and their sort of reward was to go to some foreign meeting. I did not know this at the time; I didnít know anything about it. But I suggested that if Kaye wanted me to take part in that, he probably should speak to the director of the bureau. I did not think even the division chief was good enough for that. Kaye said he would do that. He did and much to my amazement the director said I could take part in that. He did that while Kaye was still in the country. I didnít know that right away, that he was still in the country, or in Canada, Iím not sure which. But anyway, I was told by the director that I could be a member of that, and attend a meeting at which it would be formed — it wasnít even formed at that time — in Stockholm in July of 1928. Well, then I saw Kaye again. He came back through Washington. I had no idea why he was switching around. By that time he knew that I could go — the director had told him I could go.
Kaye wanted to know how was my language in French and German. Well, I said I donít know. I could read French and German adequately, but I had never really tried speaking it. I did not tell him that I failed 18 hours of German in college even though I passed my qualifying exam. I said, ďI think probably all right.Ē ďWell,Ē he said, ďyou know I donít speak any of either.Ē Then he said, ďHow would you feel if you started over a little before this conference, and stopped to see a couple of people in France, and a couple in Germany to see if you could persuade them to be members of this commission. They know about it and so on, but none of these people have agreed. Maybe you can convince them.Ē Absolutely absurd. Well, I discovered when I got there that I could speak enough to convince them, so I recruited a Frenchman and a German to go to this meeting up in Stockholm.
Whittemore:Who were they?
Taylor:The Frenchman was Iser Solomon and the German was Gustaf Grossman.
Whittemore:Were they physicists or medical people?
Taylor:Solomon was a radiologist; Grossman was director of research at Siemens, which was a top level job.
Whittemore:Kaye gave you a letter of introduction to these people, or did you just arrive on their doorstep?
Taylor:No, I was in touch with them; there must have been something or other through Kaye. There were two more. These were the first two that I tried. If one agreed, I didnít see any use in trying another one.
Whittemore:So Kaye was trying to get basically one person from each country?
That was the basic idea. Well, we discussed that a little bit when he was in Washington, because the units commission was set up differently. The units commission was set up with an allowance for two people from each country which sent delegates to the Congress. There were fifty countries that sent delegates to the congress, so nobody knew how many people would show up at one of their meetings. They had no experience with this since that commission had been formed at the first congress, and some of those people that were ultimately on it were there, but not all of them, and there was nothing in between. Nobody knew how many were going to be attending that congress, and therefore, how many would attend as members of that commission.
It turned out to be something like thirty people, almost none of whom knew anything about the subject at all, dosimetry. Well, it seemed so obvious to Kaye and me that that kind of commission would just be a fraud, that we agreed, again in Washington, to set the number at about six. I canít remember whether we stuck with six or maybe seven, but anyway, it was started small, and it was kept small until after World War II. It was enlarged a little bit then, but not much.
I became a full-fledged member of the measurement commission, the units commission or whatever they called it, after the meeting in Stockholm. I was not a member of it during the Stockholm meeting; I became a member right afterwards. At the first meeting that I attended , which was three years later, there was something like forty people. It was just a quagmire. But they managed to get something done. The people had at least enough sense to keep their mouths shut some. They met, for one day only, during the course of the congress, with no advance preparation to speak of, probably some correspondence — there was some correspondence. That applied to both commissions at that time; they were just one day meetings. Anyway, that was the startup of the ICRP.
Whittemore:What was discussed at that first meeting in Stockholm?
The first thing was to try to see what they could adapt in the way of some kind of protection standards or guidance or whatever they wanted to call it. ďGuidanceĒ hadnít been developed then; ďstandardsĒ they probably called it. They had several things that were offered by different countries. The ones that were best known at that time were British. The Swedish ones were so nearly the same as the British. The British ones were initially produced in 1912 or 1913, and then they were revised in 1921, or somewhere along in there. The United Statesí American Roentgen Ray Society adopted essentially the British. The Roentgenological Society hadnít adopted any.
The Radium Society hadnít adopted any. In fact, one of the problems was that you bad several American groups - the Roentgen Ray, Roentgenological, Radium Societies and the American Medical Association — all felt they had a finger in this but none of them had anything to offer. That was another reason for changing the mode of operating. Germany also had conflicting viewpoints. All of these countries had something, but not across the country as a whole, and not between all professional organizations.
Whittemore:Was there much difference in terms of the effect it would actually have on protection between different countries or within a country?
Taylor:Well, as I said, the Swedish and the British were so nearly alike, Iím sure theyíre patterned. The Americans were copied from the British; they said so. The Germans, I donít remember. The German pattern was structurally different, but as far as the substance was concerned, there were no essential differences. And in fact, what the Commission adopted in Stockholm for its first report was almost exactly the British. They made a few modifications, and the Germans supported them, so that went through all right.
Whittemore:Could you describe when you returned to the United States and you began setting up the American committee?
Well, yes. It was quite evident at the meetings in Stockholm that unified recommendations were not being put forward by the professional organizations in the United States or in Germany. I donít know about the other countries; I think that they were largely limited to one professional society in each, whereas the Germans and the Americans had several. One of the informal recommendations that was made, not officially in their report, but was made by the honorary secretary, who was Kaye, was that those countries that had more than one organization properly concerned with radiation protection, work together, or put together whatever was necessary to draw up a unified set of agreements as to what should be adopted in the way of protection recommendations.
It was on the basis of that, that I took up with the presidents of three main societies — Roentgen Ray, Radiological Society of North America, and the Radium society. I got in touch with the president of each, explained what had been happening, pointed out that I was suggesting that we set up some kind of advisory committee that would bring representatives together, at one spot, of each of the organizations that were concerned with the problems of radiation protection. Well, measurement was included in that, too, except that protection was the big problem, so, for quite a while, there were some separate bodies working on the measurement side, which did not cause any great difficulty. It was finally agreed that weíd have those three societies, and the American Medical Association. We wanted to include the manufacturers in on this and they didnít have any single organization that they could agree upon or that could be identified.
Whittemore:Why was it that you wanted the manufacturers?
Well, because they were the ones who make equipment. They have to be — you can make all the recommendations that you want for safety, but if you are impractical about this, nothing will happen. You want the manufacturers there so that they can tell you right away when things can be done, and when they canít be done. They undoubtedly have ideas themselves for particular physical arrangements for things. After all these manufacturers are smart people. The main problem with the manufacturers would be to find someone. You had a slew of manufacturers — I donít know how many there were — half a dozen at that time. Any one you picked would be opposed by the others. It was discussed with several — if not all, I donít remember — of the manufacturers, certainly several.
It was suggested that we have a representative, or two I donít remember that either — no more than two, maybe just one — no, there would be two representatives from each professional society, and two from the manufacturers. The manufacturers would each nominate and send these in to me. They were supposed to keep it independent as far as they were concerned. They would send me two nominations. I would put these together in a list and then send the whole list out to the manufacturers and have them vote for two, and try to at least start off by picking the one that had the most votes, unless they were just too scattered. This worked all right.
The manufacturers were just as interested in this as the radiologists, because this affects what theyíre going to be doing. There was much better collaboration between manufacturers and the professional organizations than I think exists today. Among other things, nobody talked about conflict of interest in those days. Now you cannot even blow your nose in a manufacturerís office without having somebody accusing you of some kind of conflict of interest. It didnít exist much in those days.
Anyway, there was one person that was recommended by almost every group, and that was Coolidge, inventor of the tube. He was director of research at the General Electric Company at the time; I believe he was, maybe not. But if he wasnít, he was the assistant director. But, professionally known and admired. I suspect, but I donít remember, that almost everyone voted for Coolidge. At the moment I donít remember who the other one was.
Whittemore:Was Coolidge a little reluctant to take this on? I remember some correspondence of other people saying they would ty and talk him into it.
Taylor:Gosh, I donít remember.
Whittemore:Had you met Coolidge before this?
Taylor:Oh, yes. I knew Coolidge. I knew Coolidge quite well and had met him while I was still a graduate student. To build the equipment for Rickmeyer we had had to bum a transformer from Coolidge, and that is when I met him. I knew him slightly. I donít remember. If there is something about it in the correspondence that would tell more than my memory at this point. But in any case not only did he accept, but he also accepted the position as chairman of it, initially, which I thought was a good idea. There was no great rivalry; the chairman could have been Failla or Glasser or somebody else, but Coolidge was a person who was widely respected by everybody, and deservedly so because he was an absolute model of honor.
Whittemore:Did he attend all of the meetings through the thirties?
Taylor:No. He didnít. That got changed, and it was changed without any great difficulty. No, he was at the first meeting, and maybe at the second meeting. At that time he proposed that I be made chairman and carry on. I had been doing all of the secretarial work in any case. So, thatís the way I got into it.
Whittemore:Was that because he did not have the time for it, or was losing interest?
Taylor:Probably a question of the time it was taking. The job of director of the General Electric research laboratories, or even assistant director, was time consuming. This other was time consuming, too. I suspect that, among other things, you might say that I was the only person in the crowd who was getting paid to do this. I mean, that was almost part of my job.
Whittemore:What was the relationship between the Bureau of Standards both in terms of the amount of time you were spending on this, and yet I know you wanted to keep the committee distinct from the Bureau itself?
Taylor:I spent whatever Bureau time was called for on all of these things. I never heard a question asked.
Whittemore:You were talking about the Bureauís view at the time you were starting.
Taylor:Oh, yes. Well, as time went on I became involved with all sorts of groups of this sort, and that was part of my job, so if any question was ever raised, I never heard of it. I never heard any discussion about the fact that officially we were keeping what was then the Advisory Committee on X-Ray and Radium Protection, that we were keeping that officially not a part of the government structure. They understood why, and that was apparently a first time innovation for the Bureau; they had done that with other groups.
Whittemore:Were there many advisory committees?
Taylor:There were some, but I donít know how many. There were some. So that was never a problem.
Whittemore:Why donít we jump ahead a little bit. Maybe you could mention just a little bit about in the 1930ís the problem of electrical safety? I know in your writings you have descriptions about the need for insulation Yes. Well, electrical safety is something that today has essentially disappeared as a problem.
Taylor:Until roughly 1930 most of the hospital X-ray equipment, the tubes, were operated by what they referred to as mechanical rectifiers. Do you know what I mean? Okay. Itís hard to describe except that a high voltage rectifier is a rotating switch which is synchronized with the alternating current cycle. It alternately takes one half of the cycle and then the other half, and puts them out on the line in the same direction, because the X-ray tubes, while they are self-rectifying, you canít put much of a load on them and self rectify, so you used always a rectified voltage. Well, those are wonderful things to behold because there are all kinds and manners. I could regale you with some wonderful photographs of them. Noisy; fireworks; very effective, but also very dangerous. The high voltage lines from those things were all out in the open.
Whittemore:Were they insulated?
Insulated but on pipe. Are you familiar at all with what one of those looked like? You must let me show you one or two of them then, because these lines run out. In one of the laboratories I had a set of parallel pipes. These were pipes, 3/4 inch pipes, held down by insulators hanging from the ceiling, fortunately a high ceiling. These could be connected to any one of half a dozen different generators. This was when we were concerned about generator characteristics. If you walked under these pipes with this 200,000 volts a meter or so over your head, your hair stands up every time you go under it. But you donít be afraid because you knew it isnít going to hit you - usually.
Beginning in about 1930 they developed high voltage cables. Then the transformers could be put into enclosures and the voltage brought out by cables. They would have tube rectifiers, instead of mechanical rectifiers. These would be tubes in oil right in with the transformers and so on. The tubes themselves would be made with metal to glass seals. That tube right there is the first commercial tube that was made with heavy glass metal seals. Now that one still operates in the open, but you can get some feel for the type of tube as compared like the one up by the ceiling.
Whittemore:You mentioned new equipment that was available for the laboratories. Do you think the hospitals were upgrading their equipment as quickly?
Taylor:The mechanical rectifiers stayed in the hospitals at least until 1940, I guess, probably some after that. It was expensive to replace them and they were pretty satisfactory. They were noisy, but the rectifier tubes required replacement; they cost several hundred dollars apiece. There were a lot of reasons for changing, but there were also a lot of reasons for keeping. They stayed around for a long time. I donít remember when we dropped our last recommendation about high voltage protection, probably not until after the war would be my guess. Iíd have to look in the NCRP reports to find out. Is that what you were getting at?
Whittemore:Right. That was a recollection of the fact that the electrical safety we donĎt tend to pay much attention to today was a major issue back then. How much of the problem with electrical hazards was related to the amount training X-ray technicians might have had in the hospitals at that time? Maybe you could talk a little bit about what you know of the people who were running the X-ray machines in the hospitals?
Well, yes. I canít tell you too much about that in terms of training in general. Certainly back, if weíre staying before 1940, I doubt at that time there were any training schools for X-ray technicians. There may have been, but I donít ever remember hearing of any. They were generally trained on the job, more or less. I donít know what their training schedule would have been.
Iíve known quite a number of them. The doctors themselves were very conscious of this. The apparatus was electrically designed to make it pretty hard to get yourself electrocuted. Youíd have to sort of do something deliberately foolish in order to get into trouble. There were really very few accidents during my period of work, though there were lots of early ones — or a modest number of early ones.
Whittemore:Maybe you could talk a little bit about how the committee efforts to promote awareness of radiation safety were received by the medical profession as a whole?
Well, bear in mind that the effort to get this protection and measurement business on the road was strictly a medical profession effort. They were the ones that had the problem, and they were the ones that pushed it. I would have guessed that, aside from them, it would not have been pushed at all. They were very supportive. The people that were participating in the programs — by 1940 there were probably 30 people in this country, non-radiologists, that were mostly physics types, that were in this work. In fact, they had begun even to be organized a little bit beginning around the middle 1930ís. The physicists had active roles in the professional meetings of the radiological societies, particularly the Radiological Society of North America.
That was the younger of the two major societies. It was the larger. It was the most energetic, call it the most activist, by comparison, in their methods. As a society, they were promoting collaboration. There was always a session or two at their annual meeting that was exclusively radiological physics, protection and measurements. It was the Radiological Society that set up the first what we then called registry of radiological physicists. This was essentially a certification procedure for certifying the adequacy of radiation protection and radiation measurement personnel.
That was done within a committee of the Radiological Society of North America. I happened to be chairman of it at the time. All of that has now become the role of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, which must have 2000-3000 people by now that do this. They are highly organized. Iíve even heard talk about them asking for separate billing procedures for medical hospital work that theyíve become involved in. They have a college, to handle their political matters, I suppose.
Whittemore:In the 1930ís, in the records, thereís some mention of an attempt by the manufacturers who wanted somebody, maybe the Bureau of Standards, to begin testing equipment to make sure it was adequate. That was something you decided not to undertake?
Taylor:I donít remember much about it, because it never came about, at least during the early part. The manufacturers wanted this. I suppose, from their point of view, it would give some a good competitive position. But basically, one couldnít really see a need of it and, two, it looked like that was getting us into an industrial testing and certification program, which was not the sort of thing that the Bureau engaged in then. You know itís just barely possible, the way the Bureau has been reorganized in the last couple of years, that if that kind of a proposition had come to them, they just might take it on because they are now working very closely with industry, whereas before they always worked pleasantly with industry, but at armís length so as not to appear to be favoring one against another.
Whittemore:Could you speak a !ittle bit about some of the individuals that were active in the committee, such as Newell or Failla?
Bob Newell was one of two radiologists that was on the original committee that I mentioned that was in being when I entered the field. He was from Stanford, I think. There was another one along with him: Ed Chamberlain, who was also from out there. I think he was from the University of California. I may have their schools mixed up. They were both exceedingly capable people, both radiologists, but both had an excellent knowledge of physics and biology, and engineering, along with their radiology.
Because they were on both the protection and measurement committees, they were perhaps one of the finest stabilizing influences that we had. We had some radicals now and then. But those guys were sound and stable and conservative, but were also of a type that would recognize a good idea if it came along or listen to good ideas as they would come along. Theyíre two of the finest people I ever knew in this field. Theyíre both gone now, Iím pretty sure.
Whittemore:Failla was working in New York?
Failla? Giaccino Failla was at what was then the Memorial Cancer Hospital in New York connected with Columbia, I believe. They had the most progressive radiation program probably in the country in that period, both in radium and with Xrays. But his specialty, you might say, was radium, and be was sharp as a tack with X-rays. He was an ingenious person. He was a physicist and, I think, an engineer. Iím not quite sure. Certainly, if he wasnít trained as an engineer, he certainly was a good engineer, along with being a physicist. He had established a reputation in the field I think as early as maybe 1920. He was involved in the bringing of radium into the country, and had worked with Madame Curie. He also was a person held in great respect.
Incidentally, he is also one who did not become a part of the Manhattan District operation as such. I never knew what his views were on that. He worked with them; he was cleared for them; he worked for them in an advisory capacity. He was the first person that the AEC got in when they organized as a commission, the first person they went to, to set up a program in biophysics. Thatís when I got into that program, because his job was to set up the program, not to do it. He got me to do it, which I did, and got out as soon as I could. That was my sole connection with the AEC. That remark is not intended to carry any implications at all regarding his attitudes or capabilities; itís just the way he chose to operate, because he was much leaned upon. I think he probably felt he could do more as an independent person rather than as a person that was tied down by government rules and regulations.
Whittemore:At the very end of the 1930ís was there some discussion of tile genetic effects of radiation?
Taylor:Yes. The discussions of the genetic effects of ionizing radiation started really before the end of the 1930ís. They started at the beginning of the 1930ís with Herman Muller who did these definitive experiments with the fruit fly, and who became so imbued with the necessity for doing something in his opinion that he just carried on a real energetic activist type of program, highly critical of the medical profession. In fact, he criticized practically everyone around except himself. I knew Herman very well; we were real good friends, but it used to worry me because he was so sincerely and honestly of the opinion that these views of his were overwhelming and that something had to be done about it.
Whittemore:When did you first meet him?
Muller? I think I met him first in 1931, way back, shortly after he did the experiments. In fact, if I recall correctly, and I just have it in the back of my head, that it was in Europe somewhere that we encountered him just a matter of a few days after he had heard himself that he had been given the Nobel Prize. Iím not sure about the dates on this. But anyway, there it was. This was crucial and, in fact, so apparently important and so generally plausible, that there was almost — I donít know how to describe it — a rush on the part of people involved to do something to recognize its importance in the field of protection. The NCRP [National Committee on Radiation Protection] at that time actually ... Well, another person came into the picture, a man named Henshaw, Paul Henshaw, I believe, who then ws with the Public Health Service, came into the picture.
This stirred up feeling within the Public Health Service to the point where the NCRP actually developed a recommendation in about 1940 or thereabouts that would have lowered the permissible dose by a factor of roughly ten — I believe Iím correct — in order to meet what Muller felt was called for, for genetic reasons. This was done, it turned out, at a meeting at which Failla was not present. When Failla found out about it, he immediately opened up opposition, largely on the grounds that we really did not have the knowledge that we thought we had. The thing was in a state of intense debate. Also, we worked out for the first time some kind of arrangement with the NCRP and the Public Health Service. Up to that time the Public Health Service never showed any interest at all, publicly, in the radiation problem.
They had two people, Sealy and Cowie. Sealy was a physician, Cowie was a physicist, who did some experiments and made a bit of a splash, but the institute did not pursue anything further. Well, anyway, the whole proposal simply got lost because in the summer of 1940 I got sidetracked from radiation work into the program that I was asked to develop leading to the development of a proximity fuse for bombs and rockets, similar to the one that was being worked on elsewhere for rotating projectiles. So, practically overnight I walked out of X-rays and stayed at my desk in the process and converted it to ordinance.
Whittemore:How was it that they had come to you for that kind of work?
Taylor:Well, that question is often asked. I canít answer it. I had no experience with ordinance as such that anybody around here or in the government knew about. I had had some in a minor sort of a way during and after World War I, but that was it. I really donít know. The person in charge of the rotating projectile fuse was a Dr. Tuve at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. He was asked to start a project for the rotating projectile fuse, and I suspect he was asked for no other reason than that Vanaevar Bush, who was the president of the Carnegie Institution at that time, was a boss of sorts of Tuve, and Tuve had made himself a fine reputation for the development of unusual things. Thatís probably why he got into it. Tuve in turn was the one who first spoke to me about it. So perhaps he is the one who was responsible for it; I donít know.
Whittemore:Was it after this that, you mentioned earlier, Compton approached you about the Manhattan Project? Could you briefly describe what happened?
Yes, well, let me tell a few things in between there. This was in the late summer of 1940 that I got started on the other, and worked on that program developing fuses and then also later in charge of all of the field test work and proofing of these things. My group was that. I donít know what that was, probably 75 people or something of that sort, not a large group. I stayed with that. Then, by the spring of 1943 this had become a huge program at the Bureau. In addition to the type of fuse that my group had initially developed, another group which had started later had developed what turned out to be a superior one that operated on a radar principle. So, I gradually drew out of that, and was assistant chief of that new set up. This brings us up to about February or so in 1943. At that time I was approached from an entirely different direction, this time by a colonel in the Air Force, supported by a lawyer.
The colonel turned out to be a lawyer, too, as it developed. Anyway, they gave me a long story about how the British were solving the submarine problem and some of the aircraft problems by means of what they called an operations research procedure where they had civilians attached to the military organizations, and they cited some statistics as to things they had accomplished, particularly in submarine warfare. It went on and on like this until I finally got to the point where I finally said, ďGee, this is sure interesting, but whatís it got to do with me?Ē ďWe want you to undertake to start an organization like this for the eighth fighter command.Ē
The lawyer, as it turned out, was already the head of a similar effort for the eighth bomber command, and they wanted one for the fighter command. ďWould I do it?Ē I agreed to do it, and had to recruit my own people. I wonít go into details on that, for itís a whole story, but you can find it in the red book incidentally [memoirs deposited with Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard University]. I had just about committed myself to that and I got this call from Compton. I knew Compton very well, but he obviously couldnít tell me anything. Iím sure that if I hadnít been committed, I would have at least listened to him through, and things might have been different. But I had just committed myself to this other and didnít feel it was right to.
Whittemore:When would this have been?
Taylor:Well, I donít know exactly, but it wasnít very long. It was only from late March or early April until June that I had to recruit a group of six or eight people and leave. I left very nearly the first of June, so it was sometime between April and June.
Whittemore:Did Compton mention whether it would have been in connection with radiation safety?
Never mentioned a thing. I hadnít the faintest idea. I did not learn about the project, even a hint of the project. Oh, I had a hint, and I didnít know what, and my imagination wasnít good enough on that. I was recruiting people for the fuse program, and I called up people that I knew, young people, to see if I could get them to come to Washington to work on the fuse program. I would call up Joe Dokes, and ask if he was home; he couldnít do it. He was in some program. But several of them were away. Where could I reach them? P.O. Box so and so, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Or Clinton. Tennessee, or Hanford, Washington. Well, I didnít know anything about any of those places; they didnít mean a thing in the world to me. But, what did mean something to me was that all of these people that I was calling were nuclear physicists.
That made me suspicious of something, but my imagination did not go any further than putting radium in bombs and dropping it around or something like that just to make the ground untenable. That was as far as my imagination went. So before the war, as far as you recollect, there was not amongst your group much discussion...? Before the war? Absolutely none. Tuve and his group were working on — incidentally, Tuve and I worked together on many things back in the 1930ís, largely of a developmental nature. We were back and forth a great number of times. There was talk about fission, and oh, I guess Iíd heard something about maybe fission and bombs, but there wasnít any serious discussion that I recall. But I wasnít moving in those circles. These were the circles that had people like Teller, Gamow, those would be a couple of local guys.
Incidentally, I was on the selection board which selected Teller for his first job in this country, to be with George Washington University, downtown. Well the first that I knew about it [the atomic bomb], Iím guessing now, was about April. I was called into Paris by somebody I only knew by name, a fellow named Gaudschmidt. But he, in calling me in, used Vannevar Bushís name, and I had on a number of occasions while I was in Europe with the Air Forces I had had occasion to visit with Bush and discuss things with him on what we were doing in the Air Force and what needed doing by some laboratories. Anyway, with Bushís name mentioned, I went into Paris. Sam Gaudschmidt who, as I say, I didnít know, declared he wanted to discuss something of the highest order of security, not to be mentioned, and then he told me we were developing a nuclear bomb for use during the war. He did not say anything about the status of it.
They had obviously looked me up, because there were no security calls or discussions between when I got the message from him, and the time I went in. What they wanted was this. See, the war was beginning to wind down; we were in the edge of Germany. I had about 25 or so professional people, including a fair number of physicists and engineers and so on. Also, part of the work we were doing, we were moving into territory right on the heels of the army.
Some of the areas were still being mopped up when we moved in. They wanted to know if I could lend them a couple of my men to go into certain areas that the army was headed towards, to get in and go to certain places and look up certain people, and see what they could find out, and at the same time to do the same myself because I was moving into some other areas and was up front a good deal of the time. So, that was the knowledge about it.
Whittemore:How much detail did he tell you in order for you to know what it was you were supposed to be looking for?
Taylor:He wanted any information — he did not tell me much detail. He knew that I knew about fission; he inferred I knew about heavy water, and I knew about the general kind of equipment that you thought might be useful. I had two very good physicists with me; I had to tell them what they were looking for. He left that to me, so there were three of us that knew this at the time. The further interesting thing is, I myself never encountered anything that I thought had any particular bearing on it. If the others did, I donít know it, but they could well have and I still wouldnít know it, because our agreement was that we would not discuss any of this among ourselves any further. If there was any information to be passed back, get directly in touch with the ALSOS mission, which was in Paris. I told them that would do it.
Whittemore:At what point did you return to the Bureau of Standards as a civilian?
Well, the war finished the seventh of May or something like that. I was way deep in Germany at that time, Weimar I think, or Leipzig, Iím not sure. Frankly, I did not expect to get back until September. I felt that with all the military rank, and I had only a simulated military rank; my rank was only good if I got captured and for messing and bunking purposes. It worked that way. But I got a call to come back and got back home about June 1 or 2. So I got back fairly fast.
They wanted me back because — I thought this was going to be to get moving for a new group out to Japan, and I wasnít too happy about getting into that, but that wasnít what they wanted, fortunately. What they wanted to start up a new operations research effort for what was then to be called the continental air command, the overall defenses as far as air was concerned for the country. Well, the war ran out of itself at that point. It took me until January of 1946 to get everything cleaned up and get out.
Whittemore:I was wondering if you had any recollection of when you first heard of the dropping of the bomb itself?
Taylor:Sure, I heard about it. I was sitting down in my office at Boiling Field Air Force base; I heard it the same time everybody else heard about it. I was the only person around there that was not particularly surprised.
Whittemore:Did you at that time have any sense that your prewar work with radiation safety would become involved with a new era of atomic energy or had you thought that was something left behind? When you learned about the atomic bomb, was there any sense in your mind that radiation protection might be an area you would move back into?
My plan was to go back into the radiation work and pick up where I left off. There was no argument about that and thatís what I did. I did not given any thought that was related to my activities and the AEC or weapons programs. Well, happy days. As soon as I got back to the Bureau I was in it up to my ears in other ways. I was promptly made coordinator of AEC relations with the Bureau, damn paperwork; I was in charge of AEC security among workers, not just radiation workers, at the Bureau arid recruiting like hell then to build up a new staff which had been pretty well decimated during the war. Oh yes, stopped along the way.
The betatron had been invented. Stopped along the way to agitate, first to persuade Condon, the new director, which didnít take much persuading, that we should have one. I went down for an appearance before Congress to defend this; I was still in uniform at that time, when I was stopping by the Bureau on the way home from Boiling Field. Well, anywavs, then in 1947 or 1948. I dont remember exactly, the AEC asked me to join their staff for the purpose of starting up and organizing a biophysics program.
This was the program I mentioned that Failla had been asked to consider. Iím not sure to consider to what extent. He is probably the one that put them up to me on this, so he wouldnít have to do it. I stayed with that, but I made it clear that I did not want to do that on a long range. I went to the Bureau of Standards, which was in a lull at that time. The main thing I had to do was set up goals, keep track of goals, to keep track of the goals, to handle the funding, and to start the training programs that had been set up at Oak Ridge, Rochester, and the University of Washington at Hanford — I donít think Brookhaven was in it yet at that point; Iím not sure.
Whittemore:This would have been training for what job?
Taylor:This was to train what became known as health physicists.
Whittemore:How much of a program was already in existence from the Manhattan Project? Were you starting from scratch?
No, not at all, not from scratch. The person who had been brought in to them initially for that was Herbert Parker from Hanford. A brilliant guy, a good organizer, he was the first outsider brought in. Compton had one of his own people, a man named Wollin, sort of try to get something started, but Wollin pretty well dropped out of the picture when Herb Parker came. I guess Parker was perhaps recruited by a Dr. Stone, a radiologist.
Iím not sure; there was Cantril and Stone. These were two well-established people, very strong. Parker worked with Cantril. I donít know the sequence of things in there, except that Parker was the one. Parker recruited several people, and along the line that he recruited was one Karl Morgan, who has since picked up the cudgel for Health Physics as an organization and organized that as a professional group. But Parker is the one who really started it in the Manhattan District.
Whittemore:So you were with the AEC for approximately a year?
Whittemore:And then you came back to the Bureau?
Then I came back to the Bureau. Even while in the AEC, I was on the edge of recruiting for the Bureau; I was being consulted and they knew I was planning to come back and we were adding people. When Condon came in, I was trying to add. I forget what we had in 1940; I had 4 people maybe 5, 4 or 5 only. I had taken one of those with me in the Air Force; one died; one died right after the war, so there wasnít much left to build on. As we were building up, I was aiming for half a dozen new people.
As soon as I approached Condon, the new director and whom I had known for some years in the past, as the new director he said "double itĒ, which was the way Condon operated. So off we went. This went on. It got to the point where what had been one section became a group of sections, a laboratory group with five sections, or something like that, with section chiefs at the head of each. Then, I donít remember the year, 1951 perhaps Ď52 maybe, Condon left, and Astin, who had been my right hand man in the fuse program, I had recruited him for the fuse program, he was named Director of the Bureau.
What had been the Atomic Physics Division became the Atomic and Radiation Physics Division, and I was made the head of it. It had then thirteen sections, of which six sections were in atomic physics and seven sections in radiation; each of which had about 125 people in it. It stayed pretty much that way until 1960 roughly, I guess; I'm not too sure of dates here. When we set it up with the Atomic and Radiation Physics Division we set it up with the idea that 125 was enough for one division; it was set up so the two groups could be separated in the middle, without disjoining anything.
The only problem was that we did not have at that early time anybody in sight for the Atomic Physics part of the Division; I could handle the Radiation Physics part but there was nobody for the Atomic Physics part. In the meantime we recruited, letís see — yes, we recruited one individual for one of the sections, a fellow named Brandston (sp?), a brilliant young man. He began to show signs of management. I think it was about 1960 we then made the split in the division. He became the head of that division and I went back to being just the head of just the Radiation Physics Division. I stayed at that until — when was the Bay of Pigs? 1962? — the Bay of Pigs was what did me in. The country was mobilizing as you may remember. If you didnít, it sure mobilizing was around here.
A good example was that fact that we went down to the bay for the summer for a couple of weeks. We got pushed off the road, blocked off one of the main road, down there for military business. This was tank and amphibious craft that kept us blocked for over an hour as these things went through bumper to bumper. Boy, they were doing it then, at that time. Anyway, when I got back, they said they wanted me to take on the Associate Directorship of the Bureau, and I did. I had refused it once. At the time that we split the division they had made a similar offer and I didnít want it then, either. But they beat me over the head with these pigs. That thing of course blew up. I stayed with it long enough to be decent and then I retired. Thatís sort of my story. I wanted just to go back to the years after World War II.
Whittemore:If you could describe how was it the AEC came to the MJRP for its guidelines instead of just establishing its own?
Well, the NCRP was in existence. Parker had been a member of what then was the Advisory Committee. It was not a new organization. It had made specific regulations for radiation workers. In the absence of anything else, there were no other specific recommendations made by any knowledgeable group at that time. There was no government concern with this; the government had done nothing in this direction at all. The only things in existence were the recommendations of the ICRP or the NCRP. The ICRP was recommending two tenths of a rem per day; the NCRP, well, what was the Advisory Committee, rather, was recommending one tenth of a rem per day, a factor of two on the conservative side. That was what the AEC officially adopted.
However, for their working standards they set their own standards within that at a tenth of that — more or less and roughly, however. They undoubtedly varied from it here and there. But they set the Advisory Committee figure as the one which was, as far as they were concerned, officially what they were working against. Itís not very different to the system now. The official federal government standard for radiation protection is 5 rem in a year and 5(n-18) [Taylor is referring to the formula setting the maximum cumulative dose over a lifetime]. Iím not sure what the status is of this latest part 20 [of the Code of Federal Regulations]. It may be in effect now or it may not be; thatís going to change it. But then they require all their plants and power plants and all that to operate at some less.
So I find, for example, Pilgrim, which I visited a couple of weeks ago — a month ago — their working standard is only a tenth of that, not five rem in a year but five tenths of a rem in a year. If they go over that, thatís their internal problem. As far as the government is concerned if they donít go over five, the five is the official figure. The government would surely step in if they consistently went outside the one they say theyíll stick with. Thatís the way it was in the Manhattan District. Well, it was perfectly obvious, without any ties to the Manhattan District, that if we, if this Advisory Committee was going to stay in the radiation business it was going to have to consider a whole lot of new kind of problems and the people who knew about those problems were in the AEC.
I think at this time this was before I was on their staff. This was in 1946, right after the war, the first meeting we could get after the war. I still had not had any connection with it [the AEC]. The group that we brought together were mostly non-AEC people. And it was decided right then and there to expand the area of coverage and the number of people and so on. By that time we had some idea as to who — a lot of new people had been developed.
Whittemore:Was that the point at which Muller was added to the committee or was that a few years later?
Taylor:I donít remember. Probably not at that juncture, but I canít be sure, Itís probably in the records; itís undoubtedly in the records somewhere. I donít think so. I donít know whether Karl Morgan was in there at that first meeting; he might have been. I don't have the records of those things any more. Itís probably in my black book [Lauriston S. Taylor, Organization for Radiation Protection: The Operations of the ICRP and NCRP, 1928-1974 Washington, D.C.: U.S> Dept. of Energy, DOE,TIC # 101241, 1979] somewhere. Lets not drop Muller completely yet. Does that answer what you had in mind?
Whittemore:I think so. One thing I remember in the records was also some discussion of a labor dispute and a strike at Oak Ridge over radiation standards. Was that what prompted the AEC to seek an outside committee?
I donít remember ever hearing about that; undoubtedly it did, and I donít remember it now. That had nothing Iím sure to do with it. No, it was started right from the very outset. Letís see, the first committee was — this was the first report the committee put out, but it doesnít say who was on that very first one, but this includes Shields Warren and Karl Morgan from the AEC, and then groups represented: Bureau of Standards, National Electrical Manufacturers, American Medical Association, RSNA, Roentgen Ray Society, International Commission, and that was it.
So, this was, with the exception of Warren and Morgan, it was essentially the original group. See the names. Yup, the names are all the original group that was called back to meet and make the decision. And this is the Committee as it was set up at the time the first report was issued in 1949. So I canít say just what the procedure was. But Muller — Muller was, for all of his being sometimes a pretty testy little guy, he was highly respected. And his work was of course, too. However, well not however, but it should be pointed out that his influence on the thinking, not only on the NCRP, but also the ICRP of which he became a member, was strongly along the lines that the genetic effects of radiation were the most serious biological consideration as far as protection was concerned.
Now, that was based largely on work he had done in the late 1920ís, and continued of course steadily all the way through, pretty much the same. It was applied to Drosophila eggs, which is a fruit fly. As far as I know, that work has never been, you might say, undone or seriously contested. But in the meantime they started this huge program at Oak Ridge where they had several hundred thousand mice — I wish I could think of the name of the guy — he and his wife studied this mammalian animal program with that size and sample and extending over years. This was reported more or less finally about 1962; at least enough was out so it wasnít changed much.
That undid Mullerís conclusions as far as the human race was concerned and that has stuck. That made, then, the biomedical aspects of radiation injury more serious and the one against which specific steps had to be taken. The genetic question as a whole would be essentially taken care of in the process because the requirements for the cell protection were going to be much more severe than you could reason for the genetic considerations. Thatís about it. I hate to cut you loose like this.
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