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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of James Broxon by Albert Bartlett and Joan Warnow on 1974 September 21,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
This interview begins with a lengthy discussion of his family history, and more personal anecdotes emerge throughout the interview. After the family history, Broxon discusses his undergraduate education at Wabash College. There is a brief discussion of Broxon's Law, concerning the flow of electricity inside the sun and around sunspots. Broxon then goes on to discuss his scientific training at the University of Minnesota, his early experiences at Yale, and the construction of early ionization chambers. The subject then changes to a brief account of his time associated with the Manhattan Project, both in Chicago and Los Alamos. The interview concludes with a few personal reminiscences, prompted by photographs in Broxon's personal albums. Other affiliations discussed include Dr. W.F.G. Swann and Oliver C. Lester.
This is Al Bartlett. The date is September 21st, 1974. We are at the home of Professor James W, Broxon 945 14th St, in Boulder, Colorado. We’re talking with him, and also here is Joan Warnow from the Niels Bohr Library of the American Institute of Physics in New York City.
She was Margaret Anne Tyler. She was born July 4, 1827, and died June 9, 1906. James Broxon died February 28, 1896. I’ve written that in but my Grandfather James Broxon was born in Kent County, Delaware April 8. 1821, the only child of Daniel and Emilia (Ross) Broxon natives respectively of England and Scotland, Oh, and I think I have found where my sir-name Broxon originated. I did it by virtue of the fact that I had looked through some, a big Atlas in the library, and found a town in Cheshire named Broxton, and soon after that, we had a visiting professor here in the physics department who had come from England. So I approached him and asked him If he knew of any way whereby I might find whether this town of Broxton could be related to my family, He suggested that I write to the Bishop of Chester, because the town was in Cheshire and Cheshire means Chester County, See, Chester to the county seat. So I wrote to the Bishop of Chester. Well I don't want to bother to tell you all the details, but the Bishop knew nothing about it, he didn’t want to be bothered with its, so — have I told you this?
You told me this, but you go ahead. Go right ahead
It's too boring?
No, this is interesting.
The bishop passed my letter on to the archivist of Cheshire, I didn’t know there was such a thing, who apparently was also in Chester, and he was a retired military man,, and he had, time on his hands,, apparently, so he wrote me things that led to other things and so on, and he told me that my name, that that village had been named the way my name is spelled, Broxon, without the “T”, in Medieval times, and later the “T” had been added, you see, so it was on the map in our atlas as Broxton. I also somehow found the address of the genealogical society of London, and they gave me the address of a chap in London whose name actually was Broxton, and in that or other ways, I found that the Broxton family, which is not as ancient as Broxon, also had a coat of arms. And this chap apparently was not in the direct line so he didn't dare use the coat of arms, but he still was proud of the fact that there was one. And incidentally, he gave me one of the nicest compliments I've ever received. Instead of suggesting I was a brain, he expressed pride in the fact that someone who might be a distant relation of his was listed in WHO’S WHO IN AMERICA. Now, that made a much better impression on me. We exchanged a couple of letters, that’s been a long time ago. But from the fact that the archivist told me that Broxon was the name of that village in Medieval times, and what I have found about the ancestry of my Broxon grandparents, you see, I feel fully convinced that my ancestors, the near ones at any rate, did originate in Cheshire, and this archivist actually told me the names of towns in which he located wills among his records of persons named Broxon. And, they were towns other than Broxton or Broxon. I don't remember them. I retained his correspondence. I’m sure I didn’t burn it up, it’s somewhere. If I could have my wishes, I would like to go to Cheshire, and go to one or more of these towns in which they may have found wills of persons named Broxon and look at the tomb stones. That would be something I'd like to do. But I don't want to go alone, and none of my relatives except Del were peppy and were not too old, said "We’ll take you with us." But no one has volunteered.
Well, now we have your grandfather named Broxon, married to —
Margaret Anne Tyler.
Was he a farmer, or what was he at that time?
James Broxon? Well, as I told you, he was a farmer and a blacksmith and a carriage maker and a postmaster.
At that time already?
Oh, I don't know when. But this is reading from the book — "James Broxon was born in Kent County, Delaware, April 3. 1821, the only child of Daniel and Emelia (Ross) Broxons natives respectively of England and Scotland”. So, I have Scotch ancestry. His father was a farmer and died when our subject was but nine years old." “Commencing in the fall of 1836, James worked on a farm in Fayette County, Indiana, for three years, and the succeeding three years, he served as apprentice to Jeremiah Jeffrey, a blacksmith. November 25, which I have corrected to November 27, 1842, he married Margaret “A” and that “A” means “Anne" Tyler of Fayette, and then started a blacksmith shop of his own. In the fall of 1845, he had located on 80 acres of unimproved land in Task County near Logansport.” That wasn’t Broxon Corners. "Erected forge and followed his trade in the spring of 1854 he moved to this township, which is Jefferson Township."
Now we have your mother's parents...
Well, I need to get the Bible to be extremely accurate about that, I suppose, but — why don’t you stop it. I’ll go up and get the Bible. This is my fathers. My mother kept records in it. My father didn’t write anything but his name. My father’s full name Is William Chester Broxon. He was born June 21, 1861. My mother's name, she has it written here, Anna Victoria, but according to the War Department, Victoria Anne Gillespie, born August 13, 1863. I guess that’s all we want from that.
I just wanted to know about — it was your mother’s parents that we were originally thinking of.
Well, my mother's parents were Grandfather Gillespies. I believe his name was Charles Henry Gillespie. I don’t know how to prove that, but I believe that is correct. And her mother’s maiden name was Dempsey,
I believe it was Sarah Anne Dempsey. My mother’s father —
And I believe you said, came home on leave and saw her.
My mother told me that, yes. And that was a common thing in those days, as I told you also — a man here on the faculty wrote a book about it. His only penalty was that they didn’t pay him his wages for the time he was gone,
I'm now trying to remember what marvelous little stories you talked about before we had the tape recorder on. We want to go back to your childhood, when you were born. We covered it to some extent this morning, but could you tell us where you were born?
It was not in the three story house which contained the post office, but it was in a smaller house I was told, on the corner of my Grandfather James Broxon’s at Broxon Corners.
How many children were there in the family did you say?
Oh yes, in our family. My mother enabled me to be born, as I told you, despite negative advice of her physician, and I was child number 10. I’d have to go back to the Bible again to be sure, but as I recall, six of them died in infancy, and my sister who’s still living, is number 12, so my mother had 12 children altogether. Only five of us grew up to be adults.
Let’s talk about when you went to school. When you first went to school, you were six years old?
I think I remember that correctly. That was at [???] St. You didn’t have pre-school as you do now or kindergarten, not in the country.
What was your school like? One teacher for [???] grades?
Oh, [???] grades, all the were. That little school house up there where [???] taught, that had [???] [???] grades, but in Kansas, they had wooden school houses, you see. In Indiana you had red brick school houses,
Well, how about the second grade?
Second and third in one year, that’s about — that’s better than the two years in the first grade,.
Well, that’s the way you started then, second and third grade in one year,
Right, and then you moved.
We moved quite a bit you see. My father was either a farmer or laborer.
Add your mother; she’s the one who kept the family records.
Yes. I don’t think my father ever wrote anything but his name, that I know of.
So the whole family moved to Lawrence, for your fourth grade?
Not to Lawrence.
Lawrence Farms, that's what it was.
Yes. George Lawrence had this big farm in [???] County, Kansas, where my wife attended the university too.
So back and forth, until finally you were assigned to [???] High School.
Well, there wasn’t much moving. We lived there, so that I went there in the 4th grade, you see, after this nice lady teacher, the teacher that taught me second and third grade in one year. I wish I could remember her name. Then the fifth grade, we went back to where I started.
At Broxon Corners?
No No. I never lived at Broxon Corners after I was born. My father owned a little 27 acre farm in Allen County, just about a mile and a quarter from the Allen County line. And we walked a mile across to the country schoolhouse. That’s where I started school. I had a man teacher, who made me spend two years in Grade 1.
Then you returned to that school.
In the fifth grade, with my classmates. That did a lot for my morale.
I think that first grade teacher was the only man teacher I had in grade school.
The woman teacher in high school who was so encouraging — please tell us.
— oh, gee — she’s the one whose father was a lawyer, and whose grandfather was the county superintendent of schools. He was her grandfather and then he was named professor of education and what, philosophy?
Psychology, at Wabash College. Val Warden, who was an acquaintance of mine, he taught a little course in agriculture, there wasn't much... science in it. We had regular mathematics and maybe we had a course in high school physics, but I’m not sure.
What hobbies did you have? How did you pass your time?
There was no trouble passing time on the farm, there was always work to be done. You do the chores. You learn to feed the pigs and the chickens and milk the cows and all that stuff.
And run equipment?
You learn about a plow and harrow. At harvest time, my father, as soon as I became old enough, always had me run the binder... shocking stuff.
I don't recall particularly hard work but we always had to keep things going. This is all the horse and buggy days. The first car I ever had any contact with was a step-uncle bought a Ford which now would be called a Model T. They didn't call them Model T In those days; he took me for a ride one time.
Do you want to tell us how you got into Wabash?
I mentioned it. Presbyterian godfather who had been superintendent of schools, was named professor at Wabash. And she knows it. She was very capable... In all my high school courses, she thought I ought to go to college, and she had been there, knew the courses and I applied.
Oh, they never did anything negative. They always approved I think of everything. I think I told you that when I did finish high school, my father had a stable, and you know about [???] or you ought to. He raised, I remember specifically 350-360 in cash, and let me have the money in my buggy. So this is the way I started to Wabash College. And from there — I don't think I ever received more money from home. I started in working as soon as I got there, got a room job, did janitor work. Stoked the coal furnaces... did household jobs. But I sent my laundry home by mail, and my mother did my laundry, and patched things, we used patching quite a lot, and she continued to do that when I was in graduate school, until I was married, which is when I first came here.
Did you know when you went to Wabash, what kind of work you would — did you have any idea about what kinds of courses you wanted?
I don’t think — maybe I had a physics course in high school, but I’m not at all sure. But I did. I know take physics in my freshman year. I think the rest of it was specified, everybody that age. Foreign languages, I took German. I don’t think I decided on a major immediately, but I do remember, I worked under Professor Chapman and chose a major very early, if not my freshman year. I’m uncertain about the freshman year. I know, when I was a junior, I became assistant in physics. There's one other chap, you know about Phi Beta Kappa? You know about junior Phi Beta Kappa? If you make, if your grades are high enough, you may be elected to it in your junior year at some places, not everywhere, here they can’t, but they can be elected the first instead of second semester of the senior year. At Wabash, they had a Phi Beta Kappa chapter arranged so that if your grades were sufficiently high, you could be elected in your junior year. Wabash — the wife of a faculty member here, who was elected in New York her junior year — but at Wabash, not more than two people could be elected from any one class in the junior year. I was the class of 1919, you see, that year, class of 1915, and one other student and I were elected in our junior year Phi Beta Kappa. He was, probably a little brighter than I. I also felt that it was a bit more of an accomplishment for me because I was earning my way through, and he was a wealthy man. But at any rate, when I was a junior, he and I were elected Phi Beta Kappa in our junior year, and if nobody was elected in the class preceding or the class following, so that makes me think that it was a pretty special honor.
Very special. (inaudible )
Yes. Three boys and three girls.
And the following year?
There were only four in the junior year that year. Then in the sophomore year, which is the one in between, when I got this honor, it was larger.
What about Wabash College, when you went to college? How many students were there? Roughly?
Oh, I still have my Wabash photograph, of the class. As I recall, there were about 350 students all together.
Your classes must have been very small.
Did any of the science students, this other physics major for instance, go on and become professional physicists?
Unfortunately, he died quite young. Despite his father’s having plenty of money.
This Professor Chapman, was he — did he teach all the physical science courses?
The physical science courses were physics. Oh, chemistry was a different department. There were many more chemistry students than physics students, chemistry was more popular than physics.
So you entered [???][???]?
When was that? The class of 1919 —
I graduated from Wabash In 1919. Yes, this was after World War I. It tells in my biography what made that possible. But I think I mentioned Dr. Lewes MackIntosh took us down and had them hire me to teach mathematics. And I had several classes in mathematics, very heavy schedule, compared to regular courses. And then my professor of German became ill, I think — I have to further look at my biographical sketch, to see — in my junior or senior year. That was Professor Cane, n Wabash, became ill and I was hired to teach my own class in German. Isn’t that strange? I never expected to be paid for it at all, but after it was over, Professor Cane — the professor of mathematics, whose name I can't recall now, asked me if there was something he could get for me by way of payment. And I had — when I went to college, I had nobody to pay for me, anything of that sort, but they had what was called a [???] Club. No, worse than that, Barb Associates. It was short for Barbarian. And a cousin of — she was a student, his name was Mark Rhodes and he took me to this Barb Association Club, and they invited me to join that year. I did some hashing there. Oh, by the way. I did hashing also at [???] both there and when I was a graduate student.
Does hashing mean waiting on tables?
Right, I guess that slang is too old for you.
That's a term that they use here. I’d never encountered that term back East, for follows who work say for board or board and room by waiting tables. We always spoke of them as waiting tables. And when I came here, I found the term hashing. (crosstalk)
Anyhow, there you were in the Barb Associates.
Yes, Mark Lewis got me into that. That later became a [???] something member of what was called, something association of [???] clubs which was the national organization on non-Greeks. And then later on, a chap came and — I became corresponding secretary, so I had more than the normal person to do with it. We applied and were admitted to Lambda Chi Alpha, and at that time, this is just the time when Professor Kean asked the professor of mathematics to see me about what might be done to compensate me for my efforts in teaching German. And I mentioned the fact that we had affiliated with the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, and I didn’t get the fraternity pin and he amazed me by getting me the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity pin, set with little pearls and diamonds. So I still have that fraternity pin. I haven’t worn it for many decades. But that was an innocent [???]? I felt sorry later when he died. He didn’t live very long. Oh. something else may be — I told you, I think, about being in the original group that worked at the University of Chicago in what was called the metallurgical laboratory there, part of what was more widely known as the Manhattan Project, that made the atomic bomb. In recent years, I have felt humiliated, apologetic and so on by the fact that someone published a paper in Japan, a Japanese scientist, an astrophysicist published a paper in which he referred to a published paper of mine in PHYSICAL REVIEW, in which I had — well, when I was working on cosmic rays here, I first worked in what is called Broxon’s Law you know, but I didn’t do appreciable cosmic ray work there. But I worked in that field. I had to construct apparatus and we had a mechanic named [???] who was very good, I think, by the way, he (inaudible). Let's see, now. Then I set up a high pressure apparatus, an ionization chamber, with which I measured the ionization current [???] with a quadrant of electrometer which was a struggling affair in the basement of what is now the auditorium, but wasn’t called that... Macky Auditorium of University of Boulder in the basement of that, I had the high pressure ion chamber, mounted on a steel support, so that I could put around it if I liked a lead shield, three inches thick. I knew that would quench the tons and so on. And then that was mounted inside a water tank, 14 feet long and 15 feet high, so I could put water — of course, I had a canopy over the lead to keep it dry. I had to pour in water until [???] all this [???] and so on. And I had a quadrant electrometer, and recording equipment, and recording equipment. I took continuous records of the cosmic ray intensity, as measured at that place, over quite long periods. Then I started trying to correlate it, to see whether I could correlate the cosmic ray intensity with the barometric pressure, atmospheric temperature, and everything I could think of that I thought we ought to... Let’s see, I think also the magnetic.
What year was it that you set up this apparatus?
I’m not sure; I know I came here in ‘22, yes 1922.
As I recall it, it occurred to me to correlate with the terrestrial magnetic field, and all I had to go on was; material taken from magnetic observatories, which was published I’ve forgotten now, there is one in California, where the...
Maybe so. Oh, one of the things that I did there — I felt that the terrestrial magnetic field was largely influenced by solar flares, and there wasn’t much available — there are areas of sunspots available on various days and that sort of thing. And I think the maximum magnetic field intensity of sunspots, But what I thought might be important would be the magnetic moment of the sunspot. I thought I would like to know the magnetic moment for the sunspots, not just the area So I made the simplest possible assumption that I could think of, that the magnetic field of the sunspot was produced by an imaginary magnet, with the axis along the radius of the sun, pointing toward the middle of the sunspot — which of course would be an approximation for currents of electricity flowing in circles probably inside the sun in the neighborhood of the sunspot. [This is what has been referred to as Broxon’s Law] And on that basis, knowing the maximum field intensity, at the center of the sunspot, which was published and the area of the sunspot, which I reduced to an imaginary circle, I computed the magnetic moment for the sunspot. And I found some correlation between my computed magnetic moments and my cosmic ray intensities. But, I acknowledged that one mathematical thing was wrong with it, that according to the situation I imagined, the magnetic field did not vary over the area of the sunspot, as the California observatory people had found that it did vary. And of course I noticed that before anyone else noticed it. Then, quite a long time later, I think after I was retired, (or kicked out, depending on how you look at it), I was amazed — never would this have come to my attention because I was a little out of touch then, but one of my students pointed out to me that he had seen my name in the Japanese journal and a Japanese astrophysicist had carefully measured the magnetic fields over the areas of sunspots, and had come to the conclusion that actually, they agreed more closely with what I had found, with my simple little assumption, than they did with the previously published data found by the observatory in California. And now — I’m just leading up to this, this is the climax — he was nice enough then to call this somebody’s law, guess whose? So I lived long enough to have somebody refer to something I did as “Broxon’s Law!” And it was a Japanese person who did it. What do you think of that?
I think that’s fine. There was something you wanted to say though, about how you felt humiliated about it. Why is that?
That a Japanese person did it, and the first atomic bomb wiped out people in Hiroshima, Japan. Now, didn’t he heap coals of fire on my head? But I guess that’s the thing I am proudest of.
Yes. I sent you this copy of the abstract I think within the last 12 months. In the BULLETIN OF THE AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY, where there was a reference to Broxon's Laws, I sent it to you and asked you if you'd seen it. No, I asked you if it was named for you, and you sent a note back and said, "Of course”.
You were at the point where you were at Wabash and how did you ever think of going on to the University of Minnesota?
Oh, because I did so well at Wabash, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa my junior year. Probably other professors — the IQ — thought I ought to go on and do graduate work. So I wrote to various places and Minnesota was the first one that offered me a job, the first one I thought I liked — no, I think some other did, I think Kentucky or somewhere. But Minnesota attracted met and when they offered me that job, I took it.
Who was there in the physics department?
Well, Professor Tate — yes. He was among the most prominent. And Dr. Swan was my research director. W.F.G. Swan, and when we graduate students were being clever, we called him "Woofgis," It was William Francis Gray Swan, and he was educated in London, I think he graduated there at the University of London. He was very good, I think, I was under him, I'd gotten my master’s degree just like that, no trouble at all, but when it came to doctor’s, he gave me something that literally couldn't be done, and it took me a long time to prove it.
What was it?
I’ve forgotten what now, but he’s the one who got me eventually onto cosmic rays. But he started me first on something that even he admitted couldn’t be done. So I worked on it, wasted a couple of years on it, and then, I had all my credits you see and all my courses, everything but the thesis for the PhD degree, and was that humiliating. I was held back four more years. So instead of getting my PhD in ‘22, as I should have done if it had just depended on courses, I didn't get it till ‘26. I knocked myself out and finally convinced Professor Swan it couldn’t be done. Meanwhile, Professor Swan had moved on from Minnesota to — I think he was a year at Chicago, wasn’t he?
Yes, that’s right.
And then he went on to Yale, and when he became fully convinced, when I convinced him by finding a published paper proving that what he wanted me to do couldn’t be done — I can't even remember what it was now — he got me an instructorship at Yale, and I got leave of absence to go (from the University of Colorado).
Let's go back — you came to the University of Colorado briefly, before going to join Swan at Yale, right?
Well, I came here in August of 1922, and I persuaded Vera to give up her job as director in charge of the Duluth branch of Minnesota State board of health, though her salary was greater than mine here, and come and marry me in Denver, where I met her at the train on December 16, 1922. I had a friend here who took me to Denver to meet her. Don Bennett, you didn’t know him?
He had been recently married, and he and his wife went with me, and I had been best man at the wadding of a former roommate, in which the bridesmaid lived in Denver, and they referred me to their minister, who was Presbyterian, and my best friend drove me to his place, and he married us, and we took a street oar into — Interurban — and came back We lived first at the house of [???] He was a lawyer, and he took us to the Boulder [???] for dinner.
— still downtown.
Now, in ‘24, after I'd labored for two years, I had been two years working at Minnesota after my master’s, and then I worked two more years here, on the thesis. It couldn’t be done. And by that time Professor Swan was willing to admit that he had assigned me something impossible. So he had gone from Chicago to Yale, and he got me an instructorship there, and I got a leave of absence for one year here. And we bought a second hand car, a little red Buick roadster, four cylinder, and drove back there, and that was very nice, because in those days, if you were on the faculty, even if you were only a lowly instructor like net you could drive on the campus and park, and real students, whose fathers were multimillionaires, wouldn’t dare drive on the campus... But that’s when Professor Swan started me on cosmic rays, which were not then called cosmic rays. Even my first — well, they were called [???] which is German for radiations. Or [???] which means penetrating radiations. I think I called my first paper penetrating radiations. He started me then working with some apparatus he had brought from Minnesota that he had had made up there by a mechanic — oh say, I liked him. He called himself a double Dane. By the way,, not only did I have friends, a lot of Scandinavian friends, both Norwegian and Swedish, but also Danish. He said he was a double Dane. His name was Dane. His name was Christian Dane and he was Danish — Professor Swan had brought the apparatus which had been used by a Miss Downey who has gotten a doctor’s degree on it, and I used that at Yale. I got out a paper on that, which the faculty at Minnesota then accepted as thesis for my degree, and then I went back for graduation.
Who were some of the people you knew at Minnesota?
Oh, I had a lot of Scandinavian friends, and I had a Chinese and a Japanese friend there. I was closer to the Chinese friend than I was to the Japanese. I still have the trunk of the Chinese friend, Chan was his surname. His trunk is still in our basement. And the Japanese, who is Fuku Shima, he was married. He had a Japanese bride sent over, which was customary in those days, and they went back to Japan then, but he soon died and she wrote me about it. It’s customary there when a mate dies, to get notes from people, so I wrote a little friendly note to her. He was there.
Was he a graduate student?
Oh yes. He sent his son here.
I know, I remember his son here, and I remember when he came here to visit his son, and I think perhaps you introduced me to him. And how about Buchta? He was a student at the time you were?
At Yale — wasn't Ernest Lawrence a young student there?
Did you know him?
Oh yes, I outranked him there. Then later he outranked me.
What was he working on at the time you were there?
Darned if I know now. Ernie Lawrence.
Were you impressed by him as a student, do you remember?
He was a nice fellow, I liked him.
I have a photograph of him at the time.
He came from very humble circumstances in South Dakota,
Would you like a photograph of me at that time?
I certainly would.
I don’t have one, but I have an old [???] book in which I have photographs pasted, if you want to copy anything.
Sure, I'd love to.
I sure looked better than I do now.
Well, let’s see, then you left Yale, you came back —
I was only there nine months. But I was — that's one thing my biography In WHO’S WHO doesn’t yet make clear. It just says I was at Chicago on leave of absence, 1943-44. That sounds like a 12 month period. I was there 18 months, from January ‘43 to June ‘44, and were we proud of that June, ‘44, because our beloved son got a degree, a PhD degree there, in June, 1944, at age 17. Wouldn’t you think his parents would be proud? [This can’t be right. The son has an MD from Colorado. It may be a BA or BS from Chicago].
Inaudible. Is this his photograph up here?
The one over here, who is way overweight now, and there too.
But this happened —
Oh, that's when Bill got his MD here. He got his MD here. That’s Vera and Bill and I. Mrs. Lovejoy across the street took that picture of us.
Could I interject a story that I once heard about W.F.G. Swan, and maybe you can say whether you’ve heard it or not, but the story was that Swan and R,W. Wood were visiting, and R,W, Wood was in Swan’s laboratory. And Swan asked Wood about some question in optics, and Wood replied, "Oh, well, that’s answered in my book. And Swan said, "Well, I’ve got a copy of that around, here somewhere,” and started to look around for It. And Swan looked and looked, and they finally found the book, and you know, Wood’s PHYSICAL OPTICS book is a very thick book, and they found that Swan was using Wood’s book to hold up a liquid nitrogen bottle under a vacuum trap.
I never heard that.
I guess this was probably down — Swan was later at the Bartol Institute, wasn't he?
Did you ever meet R.W. Wood?
I don’t recall. I know I met Millikan, because there was a special cosmic ray assembly, out at [???]?
When was that?
Oh. I can’t remember.
Out in California?
Yes, Cal Tech. I remember, a relative, a cousin of mine, came down to meet me. Did I ever tell you that I had an uncle who taught in Leadville in the 1880's?
That certainly was long before I was born. Yes. And he studied law while he was at Leadville, was admitted to the bar in Colorado, went back home to Indiana, was admitted to the bar, went there in a big depression and he couldn’t afford to practice law, so he got himself a political job. He was secretary to — here I’m a little bit shaky. I think it was the Governor of Wyoming. It may have been Governor of Utah. And when he got a chance to buy a newspaper cheaply, and he shifted over to the newspaper business, and this course in I mentioned. I think he was born In Utah. I know she was born after they were at Leadville. And he ended up with a chain of about a half dozen newspapers, centered in California, and they were living there when I attended this meeting.
You continued to work in cosmic rays at University of Colorado?
Yes, this. I remember you telling me about the meetings of the Physical Society, perhaps in Washington, when the debate was going on between William Duane and Compton, apparently for a long time Duane did not believe the Compton Effect or was unable to verify it himself in his laboratory, and that there was debate on the floor of some of the sessions of the American Physical Society, and I have a recollection that you told me that you remembered when Duane finally acknowledged that he had been in error, that in fact the Compton Effect was as Compton said it was.
I don’t recall. The only time I ever saw Duane I think was when he came here, when the university celebrated its, what, 50th birthday?
Yes. When he got an honorary degree here.
That would have been a natural thing. I don’t remember the degree.
Well, it would have been in ‘26. The 50th anniversary of the university would have been in 1926.
Nobody ever gave me one. Tuve has received several, as I recall.
Zeleny was somebody that was at Minnesota, wasn’t he?
Was he a professor?
Yes, he was a professor, and he had been chairman, as I recall. They called them chairmen instead of heads when I was there. Erikson was the chairman when I was there. I think he was somewhat older. There were two Zelenys. He was a brilliant man too.
What was the physics department like when you came here?
Dr. Oliver C. Lester was head of it. Dr. Pietenpol was next in line. There weren’t very many.
I saw in the alumnus that somebody else had died that you may remember, and this was Charlie Metz.
Yes, I remember him. I remember the name. I don’t remember very much about him.
Well, I knew Charlie at Los Alamos, and he was an analytical chemist. He had a PhD in chemistry from University of Colorado. And I first heard about you from him, because he said he’d had classes with you, and I remember very clearly, him telling me that you were the best teacher he’d ever had.
Oh, thank you, maybe that’ll help, make an extra mark.
He said he’d had lectures in magnetism courses from you. I was disappointed to see this notice of his death. I guess he’d retired from Los Alamos and was living in Santa Fe.
Oliver C. Lester died June 3rd in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was 73.
As of June 3—
Oh, he was only four years younger than I.
Survived by his widow, Dorothy Belle Lester, and a son and daughter. I read this, but I didn’t pick that name up at all, and I didn’t — I should have recognized that name. I should have, I can remember when Dr. Lester died because he used to bring, he subscribed to NATURE and some other journals that we didn’t have regularly in the library, and he used to come into the Hale Building with his own personal copies, after he’s looked them over, and he’d put them on the shelf in the library. I can remember him. I think he died in ‘51, ‘52. But I can remember talking with him. He was most interesting. He told of some of the radium projects that they were working on here, and I remember one times he just told me about having some grams of radium, and I sort of gulped and said, "Do you mean milligrams?” "Oh no," he said, "grams, son. Grams of radium.” Well, he worked with the company that refined radium for medical use in this company, and the ores were mined on the western slope, the — the same ores they mine today for uranium — and then they were processed, the ore was partially processed at the mouth of Boulder Canyon. Then he said they were processed further in Denver, and finally the final preparation for medical use was in Pittsburgh.
Our department was in the Hale Building, called Hale. It’s right on what's now called Broadway. Physics had the lower part of it. We had the basement, that’s where I had my office then, next to — And then the upper floors were occupied by biology. I worked in that building for 30 years.
Do you remember more of the people who were there?
I don't know. My biography says I was instructor the first year. I don’t know how long it was until I got promoted. But with old Lester, I was the only one called instructor. It seems to me, while I was here.
You enjoyed teaching?
Oh, I considered my job to be primarily teaching. I felt that if one really wanted to amount to anything he needed to do some research on the side and research was not easy to do on the side in an institution like this, because we didn’t have a lot of money. (off tape) [Broxon was really the only member of the faculty of physics who maintained a research program through the 20s and 30s here. He published regularly in the Physical Review and similar journals.]
I wonder if they explained the purpose of the project once you arrived? You didn’t understand —
Oh, I had no idea what it was about until I got there and talked to them. Everything was really secret. People didn't write anything about it, and as I told young, they then told me that the government would pay for moving furniture. I went to telephone my wife, and she rented our house here to the chap who as I recall, taught Navy on the campus. Can't think of his name now. She brought what furniture she thought we would need to Chicago and I found an apartment near the university, so I had my family with me there in June.
June of ‘44?
As I recall, I went there early January of ‘43 and that was June, 44. When I went, I didn’t have any idea I would take my family. Someone decided that a man would feel better if his family were with him..... I think I remember my salary there. I think it was $6785.
A year. And then my initial salary here was $2000.
I’m also interested in getting back to the bomb project. I have a feeling the reactions you had to [???] were probably shared by a number of people, don’t you think?
It was [???] as I recall. And I couldn’t talk with my wife about it you.
But the understanding which I think was general, the belief that the Germans were working on the bomb, seems to have been pretty well spoken about. [???] knew about it, certainly other people did.
Yes, I didn't work on anything like that until he made it a patriotic duty.
I was at Los Alamos in the period ‘44 to ‘46, and we were constantly fearing that the Germans were working on this, and I remember a time or two at the weekly progress meetings, I think it was theatre No. 2 on the east part of the reservation there where you had to have your passes to get in, and J.R. Oppenheimer presided, and it seems to me that very frequently, Oppenheimer would report on some of the latest hints or information that they’d gotten through intelligence sources on the Continent about German progress in this area. And I think it turned out, in retrospect, that theme were overdrawn. It turned out that the Germans had not made progress like we feared they had, but nonetheless it was there and was a constant worry to everybody.
Oh, here I am, in my room.
These are wonderful.
Turn the lights on here.
This is a sweetheart I had, when —
— one of the girls that —
— this is the landlady, where I earned my way for ten years. Oh. here’s my — here’s my father and mother. Oh, here I am. This is my young sister, That’s I, at [???] High School.
Jim, you don't have — (crosstalk)
No, No. that’s a train, the old...
You say, this is Malcolm Hylan here on the right. Who’s the visiting...?
That I don’t know.
Do you know the date of this?
Isn’t it written on the back?
No, that’s what I was going to ask you.
You might ask Alma Walz, she is still living —
— whether she’d know.
And Mrs. Hylan’s still living.
Oh, that’s right, I saw her.
She’s on the hospital, by the way. She’s had some serious knee operation. You know, she’s limped for many years.
I didn’t know that, but I did see her early this summer, had to for some reason, I don’t know why. This is boring, isn’t it?
No, it’s not, it’s fascinating.
This was — I forget, the Chinese or the Japanese friend. He’s Oriental. At Minnesota.
Do you call this whole —
This was the so-called fraternity house. This was the front of it. Oh, here I am, back here.
Then you continued this, through the Minnesota period.
Oh, George Clifford. This fellow and I are the two who made junior Phi Beta Kappa. And as I said, the class before ours and the class after ours, didn’t have any junior Phi Beta Kappas. Here’s an older [???] back.... inaudible....