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Interview of Bart Bok by David DeVorkin on 1978 May 17,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Interview discusses, not in chronological order: early home life and schooling; undergraduate at Leiden, influence of Paul Ehrenfest, Jan H. Oort, Jacobus C. Kapteyn, Gerard Kuiper, Antonie Pannekoek, Ejnar Hertzsprung. Recollections of work of Georg Uhlenbeck and Samuel Goudsmit. Assistant to Peter van Rhijn at Groningen ca. 1928, work on various stellar and galactic topics. Move to Harvard, 1929, and atmosphere there under Harlow Shapley. Marriage to Priscilla Fairfield Bok; her contacts with William W. Campbell. Search for and interpretation of spiral auras of our galaxy; studies of stellar density distribution. Activities during World War II. Harvard astronomy group's difficult postwar transition; McCarthyism. Work on nebulae and globules. Comments on astronomy at Mt. Wilson, Tonantziutla, and South Africa. Origins of Harvard radio astronomy and National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and their funding. Move to Australia, 1956, and conditions there. Move to Steward Observatory of University of Arizona, 1964, and conditions there. Location of national observatory at Kitt Peak; management of Kitt Peak. Discussions of astronomy, education, popularization, employment, and organization. Also prominently mentioned are: Wilhelm Heinrich Walter Baade, McGeorge Bundy, Edwin F. Carpenter, Tom Cherry, James Bryant Conant, Arthur Stanley Eddington, Sergei Gaposchkin, Jesse Leonard Greenstein, Haro, David Heeschen, Ejnar Hertzsprung, James Jeans, Ivan Robert King, Bertil Lindblad, Antonia Maury, Nicholas Ulrich Mayall, Joseph McCarthy, Sidney McCuskey, Aden Meinel, Donald Howard Menzel, Robert Menzies, James E. Miller, Edward Arthur Milne, William Wilson Morgan, Edward Charles Pickering, Harry Hemley Plaskett, Nathan Pusey, Martin Schwarzschild, Willem de Sitter, Otto Struve; American Astronomical Society, Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy, Associated Universities, Inc., Boyden Observatory, Case Institute of Technology, Harvard College Observatory, Harvard Series on Astronomy, Indiana University, Mount Stromlo Observatory, National Science Foundation (U.S.), Ohio State University, Princeton University, Rijksuniversiteit te Groningen, Rijksuniversiteit te Leiden, University of Arizona, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, and University of Texas.
This is May 17, 1978. We've had a pause of about two days. We're now in Dr. Bok's home, continuing with his oral history. When we finished last time, you mentioned that you would like very much to discuss the Uhlenback and Goudsmit 1925 work on spinning electrons. Before we actually get into that, though, I'd like very much to start with the comments that you'd made about your wife's contact with W. W. Campbell.
All right. I'll begin with the Campbell situation. My wife was, along with Mary Shane and Donald Shane, about the last graduate student that W. W. Campbell had at Lick Observatory. And during the time that she was working under his overall direction, he became president of the University of California. Campbell was a very happy astronomer, very kind to my wife, who was a young delicate student and they got along marvelously. They gave a beautiful wedding present when we were married in 1929. I met him on three or four occasions, because Campbell was quite active in the International Astronomical Union. Then, towards the end of his life, about six months or so before he died, Priscilla was visiting California, and went to see her old teacher, W. W. Campbell, and he then complained how hard it was on him that his memory was going. Then she tried to encourage him, and said, "Don't feel bad," but he said, "It's just awful and I don't know how I can take it." Then in the end, of course, he committed suicide. The suicide was a very unhappy one, because he jumped out of a hotel window, if I'm not mistaken, or out of his apartment window, and Mrs. Campbell thought that was not a dignified way to end one's life. It was a rather difficult situation for a while there.
What was Mrs. Campbell's relationship with Campbell?
Oh, very good. She always used to say, "I learned my astronomy by osmosis." No, they were a very happy couple. A very happy couple.
But you mentioned Campbell himself was not too happy as president.
That's right. As president, Mrs. Campbell was very happy as the president's wife. Campbell felt he shouldn't have done it, and he told Priscilla that last day, "They made me do it, Priscilla, they made me do it. They had no right to make me do it, but they made me do it." And he felt rather bitter about the whole presidency thing, and he wasn't made for the sort of trouble that Berkeley was then just beginning to develop, you know, in the Post-World War I era. It was a not very happy period for Campbell. He was much happier doing radial velocities. And he and Kapteyn hated each other's guts. I presume you know that?
I had some hint about that.
Oh, more than a hint. Kapteyn gave his famous St. Louis World's Fair address, in 1904. There's a lovely story how Kapteyn arrived late at the meeting, and his good friend Simon Newcomb, all hair, all beard, beautiful and majestic, was president of the Astronomical Society, and was presiding. He saw Kapteyn coming into the hall, and Newcomb said, "There is my good friend Professor Kapteyn who has just arrived. I will stop proceedings for a moment and ask him to address us for ten to fifteen minutes on his new work on the Plan of Selected Areas," that Kapteyn had just got. So Kapteyn came on, to the front, mounted the podium, and said, "I do not wish to talk about the Selected Areas. I want to talk about the two star streams," and he developed the star stream hypothesis. And during that particular talk, he stated the famous sentence in which he said, "There are now, in the ledgers of certain American astronomers, data available that can prove or disprove my contention that there are two star streams." This was a very pointed reference at Campbell, for Campbell had radial velocities of all the brighter stars, which would have checked it easily. But Campbell (a) did not wish to give the radial velocities out prematurely, and (b) if he was going to publish it, he wanted to analyze it himself first. And he wasn't going to let that Dutch upstart Kapteyn do the analysis for him. Kapteyn had very good relations with George Ellery Hale at Mt. Wilson, but he was persona non grata at Lick Observatory. Priscilla was even a little scared to tell W. W. Campbell that she was marrying one of the Dutch school astronomers. But Campbell was always very nice to us.
Do you know anything more of that early situation? Because I know later on, when both Kapteyn and Campbell independently found that the radial velocities of stars increased with advancing spectral type, Campbell, in publishing his work, detailed in a number of long foot notes why he had priority of the discovery.
Oh yes. This priority fight went on. Campbell was very strong on priorities. There's one thing to be said on Campbell's side, that Kapteyn was not himself a great observer, but he always got other people to observe and collaborate with him. And then he felt that he had as much of a right to analyze it as anybody. He was rather conceited, apparently. And Campbell felt that the observers had the right to milk their own observations dry. And especially Campbell was very much aware about the danger of systematic errors in radial velocities. And there were very great dangers, in these early days, and he felt that he had not only the right, but the duty, to withhold publication, until all danger of troubles from systematic error in radial velocities would have been eliminated. Whereas Kapteyn felt in a hurry and said, "Come on, let me have them." But that's a famous sentence, "There are now in the ledgers of certain American astronomers data that can prove or disprove my contention about the two star streams."
Is that in print in his address?
I think so. I read it in the Kapteyn volume that Hertzsprung's wife, Kapteyn's daughter, wrote in Dutch. There it is described and told in great detail.
Would you feel that that volume in Dutch is of sufficient interest historically to try to have it translated into English?
Yes. At least certain sections of it should be translated. It would be good if one of the Dutch astronomers could sit down and sort of turn the pages and translate here and there, with some judgment. But I'm not sure that a complete translation is necessary. First of all, I don't think that there's enough interest left in Kapteyn, that it would make a book, you see, in translation. But that it should be recorded somewhere, very definitely.
Who do you think would be the right person?
If you could get Oort to do it that would be ideal. Another thing would be to get a Hollander like Wesselink or someone like that to do it in his retirement. Wesselink must have quite a bit of time on this hands. He is near New York. He didn't know Kapteyn, but he knows the whole situation very well. Wesselink was already astronomy student when my wife Priscilla stayed at his aunt's house during the IAU meeting in Leyden in 1928.
She stayed at whose aunt's house?
Wesselink's aunt's house in [???]. They had a fine thing, and Wesselink's aunt had a specially invited dinner party, where she had her bright young nephew along who was going to go up. And Wesse link said nothing until the meal was over. Then he said in a quiet, firm voice, in English: "My stomach is full." You know him from Yale, of course.
Yes. He's a very, very wonderful person.
Very nice fellow. He would be a very good one to do it, for example.
Very good. I know he has a copy.
I have a copy here, too, and it is probably still around Groningen. The book is not extinct. It was published by Noordhoff, the publishing firm in Holland, in Groningen. Now, to come to Uhlenbeck and Goudsmit. Shortly after I arrived in Leyden, Ehrenfest told us that Goudsmit was there already. Goudsmit and Dieke were both there, and Jan Timbergen who turned to economics and got the Nobel Prize a few years ago. They were all there, and Timbergen was Ehrenfest's chief assistant, and Goudsmit worked close with him and so did Dieke. Then Ehrenfest told us that there was now going to come one other person, and that was George Uhlenbeck. George Uhlenbeck had for two years been the private tutor of the son of the Dutch Ambassador to Rome.
The Dutch Ambassador to Rome?
To Rome. So he had lived in Rome. As a matter of fact, you might check this with George, but he saw Mussolini's big parade, when Mussolini took over Italy. So that's just about the time he was there. But George had been out of physics, and Ehrenfest said to Goudsmit, "It's up to you, Sam, to bring him up to date on the things that have happened in the past two or three years. For he is a very brilliant person." George did not have his doctorate then yet, but he wrote his thesis on statistical problems, Bose-Einstein and Fermi-Dirac statistics and things like that, the very famous early thesis. He was working on that one. Ehrenfest said, "Goudsmit, you help him out, and fill in the details." Then Uhlenbeck and Goudsmit got talking, and during those talks they developed the idea of an interest in the spinning electron and all that came with it. The spinning electron had been discussed earlier by Kronig, the German who was also in Holland, partly at Groningen, partly at Leyden. And apparently, as I understand it but I'm not sure, Kronig had the idea of the spinning electron, two ways, and talked at Ehren fest's suggestion about it with Pauli. Pauli told him, "That's the most stupid suggestion that I've heard, because electrons are very big particles, there's no room for that, that's just plain silly." Pauli discouraged Kronig from going through with it. This is one of the problems apparently the Nobel Prize committee has with it. The next thing, there was a physicist I think at Ohio State whose name I've now forgotten, who also had worked on the spinning electron and that general idea. So there were about two with it, and then Sam and George talked about it. And they were the ideal pair. I remember how the discovery was made. Sam lay on his back, on a table.
This is with everybody around?
No. But Ehrenfest said to us, "Boys," to Kuiper and Hoiter and me, "I'll open the door slightly, that you can see how great discoveries are made," and closed it again. Ehrenfest had a lot of fun about it. He said, "They are working on the idea" — we all knew what it was, the spinning electron. And then the way it worked was that George would fill the blackboard with very elaborate formulae, you know, to cover all the situations. And Sam would sort of give overall general instructions, "Why can't you do this, George? Can't you do that?" That collaboration worked out. Then they wrote it up, of course, got the spinning electron, and it caught on very, very quickly. But there's a famous story, by the way, that ought to be recorded some where, for this might be forgotten, and that is the one about Goudsmit's pre-doctoral exam. Have you ever heard that one?
That is one that ought to be carefully recorded. Sam Goudsmit had discovered the spinning electron. He had been working with P. Zeeman on magnetic problems in Amsterdam. And he was recognized the world over as a very good physicist, of course. He and the man from Cal Tech had written a book — I know him very well, he's the former dean from Cal Tech in physics. Anyhow, he and Sam had written the book on atomic spectra, how spectra behaved. So Sam was very well known. He had a good doctoral thesis written. But Sam always slipped up on things: he had not taken his oral examinations yet, the same sort of thing that Kuiper and I went through. There were always fights between the mathematicians and the physicists and astronomers. I was involved in that on a lower "victim" level. But Sam was involved in that, since he had refused to take courses. And the mathematicians said, "That man is not competent and we are not going to pass him unless he takes these courses." So Ehrenfest was faced with a difficult problem. You had to select one major field and two side fields. So for Sam, they selected practical physics as the major field; as the side field, theoretical physics; as the second side field, theoretical astrophysics. Well, the theoretical astrophysics was easily taken care of, because Jan Woltjier offered to help out (the father of young Woltjier offered to help out on that) and assigned Sam to read a group of papers by E. A. Milne. Therefore, Sam read these on the chromosphere and other things, and that went off all right, and there was a little oral exam. Then the oral exam was basically a confirmation of everything. De Haas examined him on practical physics, but Sam had done the things with Zeeman.
Who examined him?
Wander Joahhannes de Haas. So he did that part and that went all right. Then finally, Ehrenfest had to ask some questions, and Ehrenfest asked all sorts of questions. And Sam didn't know the answers. And Ehrenfest backtracked more and more, and was exceedingly sympathetic, tried to ask questions that Sam could answer. Finally Ehrenfest said to Sam, "Mr. Goudsmit, go to the blackboard and write down the Maxwell Equations." And Sam looked more cross-eyed than he looks normally, and became absolutely pale, and gave his famous answer, he said, "George always does that." That's a favorite answer in Leyden. But Sam got through anyhow. But that's a famous answer, "George always...." See, Sam would lie on the table, and then George at the blackboard, Sam says, "OK, write 'em up, George," and George would write the Maxwell equations. That's a famous answer in Leyden. Probably now forgotten by most people.
That's an important story.
A very interesting story — how the two of them did it together. And then, of course, Sam and George were invited to come to Michigan, where Randall was setting up this very strong physics department that had this famous summer school, among other things.
Randall set up the summer school?
The summer school. And he also got four physicists — there was Goudsmit, Uhlenbeck, La Porte, and one other one, I don't know who the fourth one was. I knew at one time. But there were four of them he got there, and that made what was at that time the strongest atomic physics group that there was in the United States.
Did you go to the summer school at any time?
I went in 1930 to the summer school. I mentioned it the other day. That is where I gave my paper on the way radiation passes through the shells around stars when I thought I was going to be astrophysicist, before Plaskett had read it.
You did then present the paper.
I presented the paper at a colloquium. And when the colloquium was over, Ehrenfest came up to me and said, "Bart —"
He was there?
He was there. There was quite a group. Fermi was there, Ehrenfest, it was a real powerful summer school, and Uhlenbeck and Goudsmit — there were about 150 really. That was the top summer school in the country. Lots of fun, too. And Ehrenfest, when it was over, came up to me and said, "Bart, Das hast dusehr schor gemacht...." That was the greatest compliment you could get. Then Plaskett turned it down, and I became a simple Milky Way astronomer.
Those summer schools, at least that particular one in 1930, I recall people saying that this was to introduce physics to astro physicists, or physics to astronomy.
No, no, that was part of it, but it was basically a school of physicists. No, no. I came in and was admitted because Ehrenfest wanted me there, and Ehrenfest was a good personal friend. Otherwise I might have had trouble. And then when I got there, they asked me to give a colloquium, and I gave a colloquium on the n Carinae nebula and how it operated.
There were a number of astronomers there. Milne was there.
Milne was there. I don't know whether he was there that year.
I think he came the year before, before I came. I think he was there in '29.
Robert d'E. Atkinson was also there.
Atkinson was there. Atkinson and Houtermanns were both there, as I remember, and there were the first sort of discussions that led to atomic transformations inside stars.
Were you involved in any of those talks?
No. I listened. But my involvement was then the emission nebulae and how they radiate and how the radiation goes out from them.
Right. We've already talked somewhat about the n Carinae thesis you worked on, but I was interested in the fact that you were using the pre-1900 plates that were found by Annie Cannon.
Basically, one plate.
Oh, just one plate?
One plate. There was one plate with a very good line spectrum that looked like an F Supergiant star, with some emission line borders a little bit like P Cygni. I wrote that up for the American Astronomical Society, and that is of course quite a spectrum. But I've forgotten when it was taken — 1893, '94 — and it was in the collection, and Shapley gave it to me to analyze. That has been analyzed much further by Chuck (Charles) Whitney, among others, and Martha Liller has worked on it. Their papers on it are really the more final definitive ones.
What about Aller's extensive work on n Carinae? How would you class that? Or was it a different direction?
That's more on the nebula than the star. Lawrence (Aller) was mostly interested in the radiation from the nebula just as he is interested in 30 Doradus and others.
That was an interesting story that you had about Aller's request for support to do that work.
Now, the first time it seems that you gave that paper on n Carinae was at the 43rd meeting of the AAS.
The one at Harvard on December 30, 1929.
I'd like to know if you recall that meeting. It seems it was very interesting.
Oh, it was a fun meeting. That's where we gave the famous Harvard Observatory "Pinafore," as part of an evening of singing. It was something that had been written by an astronomer under Pickering, and Shapley had found the manuscript, and it was all to the tune of Pinafore. And it told about variable stars, and how they were observed, and how people lost their data, and things like that. Shapley was always a great man for having parties in the Harvard Observatory residence, and that was one of the greatest ones we ever had. We all dressed up. I played a Professor Waldo from Brown University. I had to wear a tall stove pipe hat and everything. Oh, it was lots of fun. "Pinafore" has been written up very carefully, later on, in Popular Astronomy, by Peter Millman. So there is the story in the old Popular Astronomy a few years later that had the Harvard Observatory "Pinafore" in it. And Peter Millman of Ottawa, is the one who wrote it up. The year when I came to Harvard was a great year, the first year that the graduate school was working full scale, and there were about eight of us who came in as graduate students that year. That was a very, very famous year. And I had sort of a semi-dual status. I still had to work a thesis, but I was appointed more as a postdoctoral fellow, you might say. A complicated but very interesting period.
Certainly the atmosphere was an exciting one there.
In those days, it was very exciting. We had always lots of visitors coming. For example, LeMaitre was one of our steady visitors. I always remember LeMaitre and the Cosmic Egg. LeMaitre and I were good friends, he said, "Bart, I've had a funny idea. Maybe the whole universe started out of a single atom, and it exploded, and that's where it all comes from, ha ha ha, " it's a joke.
He said "atom"?
Yes. A single large atom. Then he came back two years later, and he had, "I now have a theory about the origin of the universe." And it was very interesting. The reason why LeMaitre felt so pleased about it: he was a priest, and he didn't like the sort of Quaker universe that Eddington started off with. In Eddington's, everything is smooth and even, and then there's a little ripple of density — a Quaker gets up and makes a few remarks, oops, dies down again, and then slowly, the Eddington universe develops. While LeMaitre always said that his universe really fitted his Roman Catholic prejudices and religion, because it started with a Big Bang at the beginning, and the good Lord really knew what he was doing. He created the thing and he just followed it back to the moment that the good Lord did it. So this went on with Eddington, and I was involved in one way because in the early thirties, I wrote a paper against Jeans. Jeans had a time scale for the universe of the order of 1012 or 1013 years. And I wrote a paper, which was apparently refereed by Eddington in England, for The Observatory, advocating a short time scale of 3 x 109 year. That paper was reviewed, among other places by Russian astronomers, especially by Kukarkin, and Kukarkin wrote that Bart Bok was a typical victim of his religious upbringing in the Dutch Reformed Church, because he clearly was at the end delighted that he had dated precisely back when the Universe got started according to Genesis. And I got very mad about it, and a few years later I calmed down and read the article again, and Kukarkin was quite right. The little Dutch boy had been the victim of his own prejudice.
Which article was that?
In the Observatory, '36, "Galactic Dynamics and the Cosmic Time Scale," Vol. 59, page 76. That's an article that I had a lot of fun writing. Jeans got so mad at it, when Shapley introduced him to me, Jeans pushed me away, gave me a handshake pushing me away, and turned away and didn't want to talk to me.
When was that?
That was about a year later. He came for a lecture to Harvard, and I wanted to meet him. But Jeans was furious about it. Jeans never understood galactic rotation. That was his problem too. So he was probably a little scared to talk to a little upstart who had said that this time scale wasn't doing very well. But he never understood the idea of differential rotation. It's rather interesting, for a man who was very competent, and then got more interested in music and sound and various other things.
Did you get drawn into the work on time scales from your contact with LeMaitre?
No. I got drawn into it from my own work on the stability and disintegration of clusters, and found that the loose open clusters had to be rapidly evolving things, and that it just didn't make sense to think that the Scorpio-Centaurus cluster would stay put in more or less one way or another for say 1012 years, but that it would go to pieces in a few times 108 years.
And that was in 1934.
Were you being encouraged to work along these lines by Shapley?
Oh, yes. Shapley was always very friendly; as long as you did intellectual work you could do as you wished. The only thing that Shapley wanted was that he felt that the Magellanic Clouds were his prerogative. So I wanted to work very much on the Magellanic Clouds. And that was not permitted. Right up to the end, he was always suspicious when I got into the Magellanic Clouds. For Shapley felt that he was the only one who knew how to deal with the Small and the Large Magellanic Clouds.
That's fascinating. How did Shapley run Harvard? I think I've asked you something like this, but I'd like to delve into it a little deeper.
Oh, he ran it very well and very efficiently. Before World War II, he was completely involved in Harvard. During World War II, he became involved in the United Nations establishment and UNESCO, and immediately after. And at that time, looking back at it now, it would have been better if Shapley had turned the directorship over to somebody else, for Shapley didn't have the time to give effective leadership to Harvard Observatory. And the decline of Harvard Observatory began really after World War II. Then Shapley should have become a Foundation president or something. But he should have had the courage to resign at that time. I wrote that up rather carefully in my biographical memoir for the National Academy, for I think it's a very important thing to see.
That is the memoir that's just out this year, 1978?
OK, so things like maintenance of equipment and other daily tasks?
They were not sufficiently taken care of. Also Shapley was not aware of the fact of how much the astronomers were going to depend in the post-war era on applications of technical developments. I remember when he came to visit my observatory in Stromlo where I had set up a very major workshop staff — I had a workshop staff of about 20, and Shapley got very annoyed at this and said to me, "Bart, what you ought to do, fire all these technicians. You only need two or three. And do some astronomy instead." And I had to tell him, "No, I'm sorry, this is the way it goes at the present time." But Shapley's opinion was that you have to use the money that you have for doing astronomy, not for building equipment. And he was very anti-developments in those days. That came in part because Shapley really hadn't had time to look into what the new opportunities and developments that came out of World War II were. So in a way, the years between 1929 and already before that apparently, and 1939 were the glory years at Harvard, when Harvard was a real leader and when Shapley was spending full time on it, and we all worked together. That was beautiful. Then World War II was of course a period of things being held in abeyance and people doing different things. And after World War II, Shapley became too much politically and otherwise involved. And while this was fine, he should then have had the courage to quit. They were the years in which then, for example, Yerkes Observatory and Hale Observatories came very much more to the forefront of things, and Harvard began to slip back. And toward the end, we had the coming of radio astronomy, and Harvard had a very nice leadership in that. Doc Ewen and Ed Purcell were close friends of mine, so I fell into it very naturally, after the 21 centimeter line, and then we set up this graduate school out of which have come practically all the directors of the big radio observatories now. There was Heeschen and Howard and Frank Drake and Campbell, Nan Dieter, and a whole slew of them. A dozen at one time, people who got their Ph.D.'s in radio astronomy. And those people have all played very key roles in the development of radio astronomy, and are continuing to do so today.
Going back in the staff in the golden decade, let's say, of Harvard — and of course I think it stretches out a little more than a decade on the early side — what was Shapley's relationship with the other staff? This is post-1930, 1932?
It was quite good.
With Mrs. Gaposchkin?
That was good. With Menzel was good, with Whipple was good. I had very close relationships with him, and was as a matter of fact for most of those years basically his assistant or associate director.
Yes. But even before that, I was deeply involved, and he talked to me a great deal. Shapley was friendly with the others. I think Menzel and Whipple wanted to have had more opportunity to branch out early on their own, for they saw the coming of all sorts of military things, and Shapley was not particularly anxious to have military projects at his observatory, whereas both of these — Menzel was oriented towards the Air Force, Whipple towards the Signal Corps especially — and they got very deep into the early military affairs. Therefore there was some feeling there that Shapley did not take advantage of all these great opportunities that were provided through military research.
What about Mrs. Gaposchkin's relationship, as Cecelia Payne?
That was very good. Shapley and Cecelia were always very close. Sometimes they got furious at each other, too, but that's all right. It was a very close relationship, and it settle down very much simpler after Sergei Gaposchkin entered the field and became Cecelia's husband. Sergei felt always very much against Shapley, for he felt that Shapley didn't recognize him as the great scientist that he was, and he was always a problem around Harvard.
Was her marriage a surprise to the staff?
Can you recount what went on?
Oh, it gets rather personal, because she came to our house and told us that she had met Sergei and she wanted to marry him, and met him in Europe, in Germany, and he was at that time very poor, but she felt he was very brilliant, and they were in love and they wanted to get married and there were financial problems, and how would he be brought over? There was a period when my time with Cecelia became a little more difficult, because I frankly didn't want to support Sergei. I still don't think he's a great astronomer. He's a very hard worker, competent in some ways, crazy in other ways, and a very difficult person to deal with. Therefore, there was quite a bit of bitterness going on, in those Sergei Gaposchkin days. Shapley was also not inclined to give Sergei the great opportunities that Sergei wanted.
I haven't seen them but I've heard that there were major articles, almost expose articles in the Boston Globe and other papers about Mrs. Gaposchkin — one of her statements about being married and a woman in research.
Oh, I'd forgotten that. Yes, that's right. I remember that vaguely but I was not involved in those, I would almost say, "thank God," but Shapley was quite deeply involved in it. And Cecelia very much wanted to have a Harvard professorship, which she got, of course, in 1955 or thereabouts.
A long time.
A long time. Yes. And Miss Cannon never got a professorship.
My wife Priscilla did a lot of work at Harvard, and didn't even want a job. We felt we were both better off if she was a free agent and could do what she wanted to do. And that was in part resented a little bit, that she did her writing and research and all that without getting paid a penny. And Shapley loved that idea. Shapley was always rather cheap when it came to hiring people.
There was another person that worked for Shapley during that period, Henrietta Swope.
She came from an extremely wealthy background.
Yes. Well, her father was the first one to have made an annual salary of one million dollars. The first one, Gerard Swope, the president of General Electric. He was the first one whose salary for a year was over a million.
I didn't know that. Was there any interest on Shapley's part on having the Swope family support various Harvard activities in astronomy?
Not much. Papa Swope made it very clear that he didn't want this, and Henrietta made it very clear that she was not going to be used in that way. She and Shapley worked very close together, on the galactic center and the variable stars, very competently. In World War II, Henrietta joined the Navy Hydrographic Office and made tables for navigation purposes. Then when she got back, she resigned from Harvard and went to work for Walter Baade at Hale Observatories.
That's right. And later on the Swope family did provide funds.
For a 40 inch telescope on top of Las Companas It's the Swope Telescope, the Henrietta H. Swope Telescope.
Oh, it's named after her?
After her. That naming was done I think only two years ago, long after it went up.
I want to finish off the thirties, and there's a number of very important things there. The Boyden Station had been set up.
But you became director in the late thirties?
Well, I was acting director. I was never director. The director was always John Paraskevolpolus. He was the director. He was a very firm director, a good man with instruments and a good man with getting observing done by order, but not a man of any ideas. He had no ideas of his own. He was a limited Greek astronomer who was a careful sort of top sergeant for Harlow Shapley, you might say, and managed the station. I didn't go down there until 1950.
OK, we'll talk about it then after we finish with the war. Fine. Your responsibilities as acting director?
They were never very clearly defined. My responsibilities as acting director was never very clearly defined. I had a strong interest in it. I used to correspond. But Shapley and Paraskevolpolus used to correspond very systematically, and Paraskevolpolus even numbered the pages of all his letters, so there are files of these letters, where they go from page 1 to page I think 5000 or something like that.
Where are these letters?
They must be at Harvard in the archives.
And these would be Paraskevolpolus —
— to Shapley, and Shapley to Paraskevolpolus.
In the thirties, you began developing a number of publications and work, one of which actually is not in your bibliography, on the popularization of astronomy and the state of astronomy.
Yes. There's not the popular astronomy one?
No. Your report on astronomy, Popular Astronomy 47, 1939, is not in your bibliography.
— I thought that was — we overlooked that.
Yes. Is it just something that you overlooked?
Overlooked, yes. I've never been very systematic, never had a catalogue to remember what I've done.
So you didn't put it off your bibliography for any reason?
No, I would have been proud to put it in. And I think when I have the next edition, I might get the reference from you, for I don't have the reference. I made my bibliography at the time when I was writing Harlow Shapley's biographical memoir, for he had never had a good bibliography made up, and Mildred Shapley Matthews, his daughter, who works here in town and lives here, is the one who did it, and had an awful time getting her father's bibliography together. So I said at that time, "Well, this seems as good a time to start my complete bibliography," and I put it in the style of the National Academy, so when I pop off and someone is asked to write a biographical memoir about B.J. Bok, then you have at least most of the homework done already, and it's ready to go to the printer, and someone doesn't have to spend months and months digging out where things are.
It helps. The Shapley one is very, very useful. These volumes of biographical memoirs from the Academy, are perfect reference volumes. Where you want to read about W.W. Campbell, or for example, I became chairman of the Gould Committee, and I wanted to know more about B. A. Gould.
When was that, when did you become chairman of that committee?
I'm out of it now. That must have been 1967. I was in it for several years. Then when Priscilla got ill, I turned it over to someone else, and Bissell is now the chairman of it. But then I wanted to read up about B. A. Gould, and found that Old Man Comstock had written his biographical memoir, for one thing they had forgotten to mention Gould's Belt. Everything else is mentioned by Old Man Comstock. There are stories there about Gould losing his daughter in the river in Argentina, and all these other horrible Gould stories: his fights with the people at Albany, of course. He went through some real traumatic experiences.
I just found Gould's letterpress books from Argentina, and I hope that we can organize them.
Let's get back to the thirties, and your report on astronomy and your general interest in popularization.
That came in part through my work in the Association of Scientific Workers, which I felt was something that was very much needed. As I think I told you the other night, but I don't think we had the recorder, I said once to committee: "A, I was never a Communist, and B, I was never asked to become a Communist, and C, if asked I would not have accepted." But I was very interested in work on the social implications of science, and my interest in fighting astrology has come out of that.
How did you get interested in the committee itself? Was it through Shapley?
Shapley principally, but there were a lot of young ones at Harvard who stuck together, and Harold Urey had been one of the organizers of the thing, along with Shapley and various other people. The younger group got together at Harvard and said, "We want to turn this into a live organization and have some activity." And I said, "Well, for popularization I'll do the report on astronomy." Then I also started a committee on astrology under that. We worked on things like a charter for scientists, how they should behave and all that. Some of this was published in Science, I've forgotten where. But we had quite a series, sort of a charter for science ready. Then the biologists were interested in lots of biological problems, and we had a group of consumer interests, and we worked with Consumers Union in their early stages. There were, later on it appeared (and we didn't mind if we had known it) people who were Communists in those days. And therefore the Association of Scientific Workers became one of the blackballed things that McCarthy went after and that all state committees went after, for the people who were involved in this work. For example, I remember once an FBI investigation, where the man said to me, "Dr. Bok, you have shown a great interest in the United Nations." I said, "Yes, of course. But since when is that an un-American activity in any form?" For he was inquiring about what un-American activities I had been involved in.
When was this?
That must have been 1946, '47, when things began to brew. And then his remark was, "Well, there are people interested in good causes for various reasons. But to us in the FBI, if someone is prematurely interested in real social or political development, that to us in the FBI is indicative of something." That was a good way of taking care of it, see? So the fact that I argued for the "S" in UNESCO (UNECO) at the end of World War II was clearly, in all sorts of McCarthy-like affairs, held against me. That was a typical dangerous activity, and a decent scientist didn't do this sort of thing. And that was a very unexpected, to me a completely unexpected reaction. I'd never thought that this would happen. I thought I did my duty. And I still do it. For example, I speak out against astrology about every ten years, and the last time I did it pretty effectively. We got this long statement out that The Humanist brought out, you know, and we have a little book against astrology. So I do continue to have a real interest in fighting it all.
In the thirties, what prompted you to direct your attention to astrology in particular? Were there others at Harvard or was this a personal interest?
No, not at Harvard. But there were many of us who were then members of the American Association of Scientific Workers. We talked about it and frankly we looked for projects that were related or dealt with the social implications of science. And that meant that we looked into consumer problems. I mentioned a moment ago already, we looked into matters of popularization of science. And also, the fringe dangers like astrology, and how to inform the public properly about that. I have had two very interesting experiences in the American Astronomical Society. In 1940 I became a counsellor of the American Astronomical Society, and tried then to get the Council of the Society to issue a statement that there was no basis for astrology. And at that time, Robert G. Aitken was the president. And Robert Grant Aitken ruled it out of order. He said: "Astronomers must not take any interest in these fake sciences, because if we do that, we lay our selves open to all sorts of criticism. Therefore, we must not do this. It's below our dignity to do it." When I became president of the American Astronomical Society, '71 or thereabouts, and then, lo and behold, I tried again. I tried to get the Society to make a statement, and I got exactly the same negative vote from the Council. The Council said, "No, it's below our dignity to pay attention to this sort of rot."
In my mind it's not a question of dignity. I'm not asking from a biased standpoint, just asking in general, what are your arguments to these people then for astronomers paying public attention to it?
I feel this, that we as astronomers are basically hired by the public — public funds or university funds — and that we are given very great privileges, in exploring the universe and other things. We also happen to know better than most people what the arrangements of stars and planets in the universe is. Therefore, it is part of our job occasionally to enlighten the people, and let them know, is there anything to this? Yes or no. The public doesn't quite ask for that, but they want that information. And the young people especially need it badly. The young people who now come in, who do believe in astrology, feel that if all the astronomers keep mum, then they must have the feeling too or the astronomers don't object to it. And many of them even confuse astronomy and astrology for a long time. At the present time, we have had these clear statements of objections. If I do it over I would word it differently — I mean, not quite as strong as that. Anyhow, it's just as well to shoot your mouth off and to let it be known that there is no basis in science for it. To let it be known that we know the distances, the arrangements of the objects in space, that we know that the constellations are chance groupings of stars at all sorts of distances — to think because a constellation looks like celestial twins, that it therefore has a special effect on life, is just plain silly. I don't worry about the older people, but I'm very worried about the younger people. The younger people deserve to have available to them, each generation at the proper time, information that there really is no scientific basis for astrology. Then if you believe in it, you do so on your own. You are in my opinion a bloody fool. That's very simple. But you certainly have no good foundation for it. And I try to do this every ten years, if I can. And when the opportunity came a little while ago, I did it, and had a lot of fun doing it — got my mailing list made up by drinking a bottle of beer and going to the Astronomical Society (Membership List) and marking 200 names of people I thought would be interested and might be at home. Then I took the list from the National Academy of Sciences, listed another 150, 200 of my friends, and without knowing it we had I think 18 Nobel Prize Winners, but that was purely accidental, that they came in.
Do you feel, in your objections to astrology and the dangers that you see in it, that there is a feeling that the determinism that seems to be the basis of astrology is basically repugnant to your philosophy?
Yes. It is basically repugnant because we have to make up our own minds, and we do not need fake guidelines as to how to make our own minds up, when we have to face personal decisions. And that is really the worst thing that comes in there — the people whose lives are run by astrology depend on these fake predictions and so. The astrologists even themselves, for example, say that these daily horoscopes that they give are useless, because they claim that if you do it, you have to do it right for each person for each day, and it's different depending on the birthday. And this business: "Today is a good day to do this," they know is fake. But they all make a lot of money. The newspapers sell it, and they sell a lot of newspapers because of astrology predictions, and it is part of the weakest thing in our society, that we depend on this silly fake predictions to embark on our lives, rather than make our own decisions. Elizabeth Maggio had a very nice story. One morning, when she was acting as something or other for the local paper, she forgot to put the astrology column in the paper. She was responsible for that for one or two days when somebody was on holiday. And she forgot to put it in. The telephone rang all day, from people asking about it. That was missed more than anything else, any other feature that they had ever had. And one woman called up and said, "You've got to read me the predictions for today. I do not know whether to go out shopping, yes or no, what should I do? What should I do in my house? Should I write letters? I know nothing, I'm just lost today. You can't do this. You must read it to me."
It's a bit frightening how completely people can be guided.
When The Jupiter Effect came out a number of years ago, did you read it?
No, but I've heard quite a bit about it.
What's your opinion about it?
I don't really know. But I must say one thing, I like to give a blow to astrology every ten years, and then forget about it. For example, I have no desire to give up working on globules and star formation, and start making statistical tests of astrological predictions. That, I think is just a waste of time. All I want to do is, every ten years speak out firmly and say, "OK, folks, there ain't nothing to it, don't come to us for support for there is no scientific support that I know about. " And then you get into awful trouble, of course. It's not an easy thing to fight it.
No. But your convictions are very strong.
Oh, very strong, yes.
Are some of them from your religious background and up bringing in any way?
I don't think so.
You mentioned the Dutch Reformed Church.
Yes. Well, I was not that strong in it, but I went to Sunday School and all that. But that didn't enter into it. No, really, it came in when the Association of Scientific Workers started. We looked for a real project, where science was impinging on the social life of people, and felt as scientists we had duty to throw some light on it. That really all grew in the 1930s.
OK. On this report on astronomy, you said a very interesting thing. Some of your work is based on correspondence with other astronomers.
Then you stated that the lack of popular books on astronomy in the period 1900-20 was due to the fact that astronomy was changing very rapidly during that period, and you indicated what the changes were. This is a very interesting observation.
There were very few popular works in that period. By now, of course, there are lots of them again. But there was a period when there was very little. That's the question I was going to bring up. There are a lot of popular books now. Is that an indication that change is not as great now?
No. It means that people are more interested and more aware of it. And I think that because of atomic physics and the atomic bomb, and the spectacular results of astronomy that we have had which impinge upon physics, astronomy is more in public attention than it used to be.
So it's not a direct correlation with how quickly astronomy is changing.
No, I don't think so. No. By now, I think, the quick changes stimulate more popular writing. When something new comes out on Black Holes, you may be sure that two or three people write a book on Black Holes again. That's the way these interests go. But in some fields, like for example the field of the Milky Way, the field Priscilla and I had, there, our book has been the only semi popular book now for 40 years. Somebody sometime will write another one. There are some borderline cases. Charles Whitney wrote one on history that dealt with it. There was one fellow who even wrote an historical book and called it The Milky Way, and I threatened to sue him.
That was Jaki.
Yes. I got very annoyed at that, for I thought he had no reason to use the title, when our book had had that title for so long. His is the Milky Way, and then you read on, where these editors show "the history..." and so forth. But I got very annoyed at that book, for it was entitled just like ours: The Milky Way. And then it had some subtitles that softened the blow a little bit. The Harvard Books on Astronomy, that whole series, was one that we set up, Shapley and I set up very deliberately. He and I were the first editors of that series.
That was my next question. It seems to be working out very nicely. Because you made that very strong statement just at the time that the Harvard Books came out.
The Harvard Books came in the following manner: someone came from the famous Blakiston Co. who had been editing medical books. They wanted to enter the semi-popular astronomical field, and I had had lots of requests (and I still keep getting them) to write a textbook, to beat Russell, Dugan and Stewart, or to beat Abell or to beat so and so.
All through the years?
All through the years. It goes way back, yes. I've always had to beat Baker or beat this and that — it went on for years and years. And I always made it clear that I didn't want to do that. Not that I couldn't, but that I just didn't feel like it. Then the man from Blakiston came, and said he didn't want to have a textbook, but he wanted something that would take fields. Then the idea of the Harvard Books came.
Did he approach you first?
Yes. He went to see Shapley and Shapley sent him to me. I was sort of the trouble shooter for Shapley, semi-assistant director, so Harlow would say, "OK, see Bart Bok first and then we'll talk to you." Then the Blakiston people did it very nicely, and we had a very good fortune in World War II, because Blakiston had among its publications an obscure little book called The Red Cross Handbook. And The Red Cross Handbook was published in terrific numbers just before World War II, and the paper allotment of publishers was based on how many sheets of paper they had used during the years before Pearl Harbor. And Blakiston was way on top. And Doubleday Doran bought the Blakiston Company and all that came with it, simply because Doubleday Doran needed paper for its other books. Then they had all the Blakiston books, and the Blakiston books all went out on the Garden City list to drugstores. Then Doubleday Doran found a very amazing thing, that all the Harvard Books on Astronomy never came back. They were put on drugstore shelves to get rid of, and they got rid of them. They were all bought by people.
They were sold in drugstores?
In drugstores for a while. Yes. Because they wanted to get rid of that excess stock from the Blakiston Company, and then, Doubleday Doran said, "There ought to be something to these Harvard Books. They sell pretty well." Lawrence Aller's first edition, Aller and Goldberg, sold almost out overnight. But that came a little later than ours. That was just the beginning of the war, and that sold just practically overnight, when they put it on the drugstore list. Then Doubleday Doran said, "We don't want to stay in this," and then Harvard University Press took it over, and did it very, very nicely. And the relations with the Harvard University Press are beautiful. For example, they made a contribution to Priscilla's memorial bench, $150, that sort of thing, "to one of our favorite authors," as they put it.
At this time, you were already writing other monographs.
The Distribution of the Stars in Space. They were more technical. They came by invitation from Otto Struve, who had become a very great close personal friend, and who was editor of that series of monographs.
These were still intended to be used for advanced training?
Advanced training. I was very much involved, right through my whole life, in graduate work, graduate and undergraduate training in astronomy. But the monograph tended more toward the graduate training, of course, whereas the Milky Way was written with interested amateurs in mind, especially for reference reading in beginning courses, and then also for the bright boys in secondary schools who wanted to know about certain fields of astronomy. And this seems to have worked out beautifully for our book on the Milky Way, and for books like Aller's Atoms, Stars and Nebulae, and Whipple's The Planets. Shapley's Galaxies was not as happy a book, because Shapley wrote too much about his own things, and Shapley had a strong dislike of Hubble and Hubble of Shapley, too, and there is not enough based on Hubble's work. Hubble clearly, in the later days when Shapley had so many outside interests, was ahead of Shapley and did very much better astronomy than Shapley did.
I certainly would like to ask a few questions about that, but let me ask you about one of the volumes that was listed that I've never seen one on — on Stellar Interiors and Evolution. Martin Schwarzs child was supposed to write this?
Yes. He never wrote it.
He just didn't write it?
Oh, there were always long delays. The Harvard Series was not an easy one to operate. I remember Campbell and Jacchia wrote the one on variable stars. Poor Leon Campbell got so upset about Jacchia that he would come into my office trembling and white and would say, "I have done this and this chapter, if you want to show it to that man, go right ahead." That sort of thing.
Oh no —
Oh, there were very difficult times. Baker and Demitroff had some horrible fights about their book on instrumentation and optical affairs. Even Priscilla and I had some good strong arguments about the Milky Way, in the beginning. This is a rather nice story. Maybe we ought to get this on here. Priscilla and I were working on the writing of the book on the Milky Way, and she had a little room upstairs where she did all her writing. We lived in Lexington at the time. The cleaning woman would say to her, "Upstairs you go, you've gotta go to work, don't just sit here and talk to me." And she worked very hard at it, and in the beginning we had eight chapters in the book. We agreed that I would write four chapters and she would write four chapters, and that we loved each other dearly, no problems. Then, after we had gone through this for about five or six months and the writing was getting under way we said, "Now, you take my chapters, I'll take yours, now we get a better homogeneous book." Well, Priscilla stood one day in front of the fireplace, saying, "If you want to change things that way, my part can go in the fireplace right now." She didn't do it. But that was really the most critical time that we ever had in our married life, trying to meld these two times four chapters into eight chapters. But I think it worked out, and later on we did much better. We had fun about it. But I tell you, the writing of a joint book is not always easy, if you've got strong feelings about it.
Who wrote which chapters?
Well, she was mostly interested in basic observations, in those times, stellar positions and things like that. I was more interested in the interstellar medium and the overall structure of the galaxy. She wrote about moving clusters and things. So we had a division. And there is one famous review that Dirk Brouwer wrote, that Priscilla loved. Dirk Brouwer wrote a review for Sigma Xi of the first edition, and his review was one of these reviews, "this part is OK, that part is a little weak, and this part is really too speculative and shouldn't have been put in." When he got through he had praised every chapter Priscilla had written, and he had damned every chapter I had written.
He probably knew beforehand. Did he?
No. But Brouwer's interests were more like Priscilla's — mathematics, celestial mechanics, fundamental positions, fundamental proper motions. And mine was more the speculative, you know, about the spiral structure of the Milky Way, is there any, and how they run. It was, for Brouwer, too speculative. He wanted more the solid astronomy, you know, like the real equations of motion and things like that.
We were talking about distribution of stars in space, and we'll get to that in a moment. I'd like to ask you about Shapley's relations with Hubble, and how that might have affected research and relationships between Mt. Wilson and Harvard.
Oh, they were very strong. At one time, in the Hubble days, it was almost difficult for me to go to Mt. Wilson, because I was identified with Shapley. The Mt. Wilson group had a very arrogant aristocratic attitude towards these upstarts in the East who thought they could do anything. So Mt. Wilson always was difficult to deal with. Later in life, I became very good friends with Hubble, and Hubble was very, very kind to me. But in the early days, "ooff." Hubble would have nothing to do with anyone associated with Harvard or with Shapley. Shapley had good relations with some. Walter Baade, for example, he always had very good relations with.
With W. S. Adams?
You didn't have relations with Adams. Adams was a good sort of semi-political person. Adams was always very pleasant to me. I didn't really suffer from it. With Hubble, I did, for a little while.
In what way?
Well, I wrote a paper that Hubble got very furious about. He had written that the overall distribution of galaxies in the universe was uniform. And I wrote a paper to show, in 1932 I think it was, in the PASP if I'm not mistaken, on the distribution of galaxies that indicated clustering.
Harvard College Observatory Bulletin, No. 895 .
Yes. And then there is article a year later or so, or two years later, in the PASP about it, too. That showed that Hubble's own data indicated that there was a basic indication of clustering, and that it was not just an even overall distribution, but a clustered one. Hubble got so mad at the article that he never read it, and for three of four years wanted nothing to do with me. That's all right, you go through that.
How was Hubble's research? How careful were his counts?
Oh, very. He was a good competent worker. And I think, looking back at it now, you can say he did a far more important and better job than Shapley has done. We have written it up in a little book, the Hubble and Shapley things, that was published here, and it is available in the university free of charge, from the dean.
The book is: Man's Place in the Universe, Changing Concepts, by Bok, et. al., edited by D. W. Corson, and the publisher, College of Liberal Arts, University of Arizona, 1976.
It was given for free distribution to members of the University of Arizona Foundation, who helped financially. But it's a pity it's never been published in any formal form. But you can get a copy by writing to Dean Rosenblatt.
You wrote a chapter, "The Universe Today," and in there you discuss Shapley and Hubble.
The whole business, of what I know about it — how it differed from Shapley's — I put a lot of time into that one.
Very good. It's a very good book to have. We certainly would want to have it for our library.
Yes. Dean Paul Rosenblatt, he is the one who has copies on his shelves. I don't know how many he has left. For example, I just had a letter about it — Martin Schwarzschild wanted 25 copies for a class he gave, and got 25 free of charge, and Martin loved the article on Shapley and Hubble. He had his whole class read that and argue about it. This one, combined with the biographical memoir tells the whole story as far as I know it about Shapley, and Shapley's place in astronomy.
That's very good to know. Getting back to your monograph, Distribution of the Stars in Space, you mentioned at the time, I'm quoting from page 123, "the eccentric location of the sun in the galactic system is the only well-established fact that we have about the nature of the galactic system, other than its rotation." Could you sort of expand upon the state of knowledge at that time? I know you were searching for spiral arms.
We were searching for spiral arms very, very much. I failed at that, and Bill Morgan, following with Walter Baade, were the ones who really succeeded, and they have got the deserving everlasting credit for it.
What were the limitations?
The limitations were that I didn't realize that the spiral arms would be only neatly laid out by the most luminous O and B stars, and I still tried to bring the A and F stars in, and nothing worked out from that. But I did have one major spiral feature, for which I get credit a lot, and that's the Carina arm. And the Carina arm is still the best one of the lot. That is a major feature, all right.
I certainly am going to get to that, because later in the sixties, you pointed out the reinterpretation of the Oort-Westerhout interpretation of the arms.
Yes. But the trouble was that in the whole period up to the 1960's, I was the only astronomer who looked at the South for spiral structure.
Yes. Bill Morgan has never been to the Southern Hemisphere. Jan Oort paid no attention to the Southern Hemisphere and the Carina feature took a long time to be recognized — before it got into people's noodles — that it is a very major spiral feature that you see from about 2000 parsecs from the sun, way out to about 8 or 9 thousand, optically. It's a beautiful one. It has a long string of beads of very good H II regions and O and B stars and other things.
You had this in a paper 1955, "Association of O and B Stars in H II regions in the Southern Hemisphere."
You did that with Wade?
Yes. That was with photographs. And that was a very useful one, for there I got the feeling that the spiral features on the whole were almost better laid out down South than up North. You see, the sun feature is probably sort of in between. It isn't even a real spiral arm that the sun is at the inside of, but it is sort of a little branch arm. When you look at other galaxies you see these things. But there are two or three major arms. The Sagittarius arm has a major section. The Carina arm, a very major section. The branch arm with the sun, from Cygnus on towards Orion, is a major one, and then the Perseus one, beyond.
This is a bit like Scheherazade. "The dawn came, and she stopped talking." And then turn the tape, and then the evening comes again, and then we start all over again.
Right. I know it's out of chronological order, but I'd like to get this down when it's in topical context. In 1959, you wrote a letter to the editor of the Observatory, and in there you criticize or provide a reaction to a paper by Oort and Westerhout, on spiral structure. You believe in the reality of the Perseus arm and expanding 3 KPC arm, but not at that time the Orion and Sagittarius arms in the manner given by them.
Yes, that's right.
And you propose the alternative at that time of the Carina- Cygnus arm.
Yes. That was a good experiment but it didn't get far enough. The data was so incomplete, you know. What you have in Carina is a very funny situation. I wrote it up better I think in another article in Beer's Vistas in Astronomy, No. Vol. l or 2. That was a better presentation. But the diagram that I did in '59, I don't want reproduced any more, for that was not a good diagram. The gap was too great between the Cygnus-Carina arm. I sort of got the feeling, when I saw the Milky Way first from the South, when I went through the Panama Canal and stood on deck, that you could practically see an arm stretching from Carina, through us, right on to Cygnus in the other end. And that was a nice picture. But the gaps are too big.
You wrote it that way, in fact. You wrote very romantically about it.
Yes, I've always done this. I've always believed in being romantic about things. You can see that, how I got my best globular photographs, smelling the perfume on a handkerchief sent for Valentine's Day. And the bird photograph that you have is a Valentine's Day photograph.
I certainly hope we can put that into the interview. Let me clarify some things. You say you were going through the Panama Canal on your first trip South?
No. that was in 1933, when we had enough money to go to California. There was a simple American line that had freighters, and that advertised that for $220, you could start from New York and go on the Santa Cecelia, of the Grace Line. And the Santa Cecelia was a freighter with 120 passengers on it, and you could go, for $220 with all meals, through the Panama Canal, stop off in a lot of little cruise ports on the way, go to San Francisco, and get Pullman first class back with your meals paid to New York. We took that deal on, and then Priscilla and I went, and Johnny Bok was still a little baby and our daughter Joyce was inside Mommy's tummy, that sort of thing. We had a wonderful trip through the Panama Canal. I visited Mt. Wilson and Lick, and Priscilla visited her parents in San Pedro, and we stopped at Yerkes on the way home, and the Grand Canyon. It was the "Grand Tour." And on that one, I wanted very much to go through the Panama Canal So that I could see the Carina region and the Southern Cross. Then I got terribly impressed with the fact that it is natural to see the Carina arm as a major spiral feature.
Did you do writing on this trip, or just enjoyed yourself?
We principally enjoyed ourselves on that trip. Well, with Johnny Bok along at age 2-1/2, there isn't much chance to do writing. But the writing came later. And for example, in The Distribution of the Stars in Space, I have it, I think. I have it in the first edition of The Milky Way. Looking at it, the spiral feature in Carina was fine. The Cygnus one was an obvious one, too, but the connection that I thought there might be between the two was not right. That's the way I would put it.
And Morgan deserves all the credit for having, with his O-B study, very carefully outlined sections of spiral arms, but in none of Morgan's pictures do you ever get a feeling that there is a Carina arm. Poor Bill Morgan has never known what n Carina is, what the Carina nebula looks like. He's always looked at the northern O-B stars.
How did you feel? Can you recall your first reactions when the spiral structure was announced by the radio astronomy people in advance?
No, that is not the way it really was. Morgan's was first. In 1951, Christmas, at the Cleveland meeting. And Bill Morgan did a very nice thing. He called Priscilla and me over to his room in the dormitory, and the three of us sat on his bed, and he let me have the data and the complete story, the day before, what he was going to tell the next day. Very sweet of him. He knew that it would come as quite a shock to me. And then at the meeting, Struve was presiding, and Struve did a very nice thing. He asked me to sort of make comments, the first comments on the paper, and they were: that this was a great day in the history of astronomy. Which it was. Oh yes. So that was in a way not easy. But we had these very good personal relations. And Bill just came in ahead. I had just come back a short time before from South Africa, and in South Africa, in a way, I had missed the boat, you might say. I had concentrated on the Carina studies, which all made sense. But the overall picture, I didn't have. And it was Morgan who had it. But that was handled very, very nicely. It only led to very much closer personal relations with Morgan and with Struve both. It was very nicely handled. The boys could have said, "Well, Bok doesn't know what he's talking about this is the way it is. His things are all wrong." But it wasn't done that way at all. We were all searching, and seriously searching, and hoping that one of us would get it, and I hoped that I would get it, but I didn't.
Did you think of the spiral arms as possibly the regions of formation at that time?
Yes, a little, but I thought about spiral arms more as regions of concentration. I really had the mistaken picture that the A and F stars would be sufficiently numerous, and that they would get it. Baade's work had pointed out [that this was the wrong way]. I listened to Walter but I should have listened more carefully. He had pointed out that in other galaxies, the O and B stars defined the spiral arms. And Baade made quite an impression on Bill Morgan, and Bill Morgan listened to Baade and did the O-B search.
When did Baade make that observation?
Oh, already in 1947, '48. When he did his work on Andromeda, he said, "The blue stars are the ones. The Supergiant blue stars indicate where the spiral features lie."
So this was well after his population paper in '44?
Yes. Oh yes. There was one symposium where there was a paper by Baade and Mayall which is quite famous. But Mayall had really nothing to do with it, except that Walter said, "Hey, Nick, I can't go to that symposium, will you present the paper?" I think it was in Paris, the symposium, or something. So Baade and Morgan really deserve all the credit for having resolved the overall broad spiral picture of our galaxy.
Then the radio data that came in.
They came about the same time. And then Oort came to Princeton. I saw the radio data first in Princeton from Oort, and Oort had the spiral features, but that was after the Bill Morgan thing had come out already.
It was after the publication.
Yes. Morgan's was hardly ever published. The diagram was only published in Sky and Telescope. Morgan practically never wrote a paper about this.
Why was that?
I don't know. Bill Morgan doesn't like writing papers. And he said, "Well, in Sky and Telescope, the diagram shows where they are." But it's very difficult. I always thought that Bill would then write a real technical paper for Astrophysical Journal. It never came.
That may be why I had the impression that the radio material came out first.
That may very well be. But you will find it in the report of the Cleveland meeting of the American Astronomical Society, which was between Christmas and New Year, 1951. That is the time when Morgan announced it. Then in '52 came Oort with his picture, and I remember Oort told me first about it at a meeting in Princeton. I think that must have been in 1952, April or May or something like that.
What were you at Princeton for?
Just some chance visit, that we were there, passing through, seeing Oort. Oort had been a long close friend of ours, of course. So Morgan deserves all the credit for spiral structure. The radio picture really came very soon afterwards, but they came later. And then it took, of course, a long time before anybody did anything further about the Southern Sky. That took a very long time.
Could a lot of the delay in the search for spiral arms also have been the difficulty in really identifying absorption?
Yes. That came in very much. That was part of it. The other thing that came in was that if you look at the modern spiral diagrams of our galaxy, and leave out the spiral arms that prejudicial people have drawn in them —
— prejudicial people?
It's a very well-known form of prejudice. Let me see if I have a copy of The Milky Way where we put a good diagram in that illustrates this. [pause]
This is the diagram in your latest edition.
The latest printing where we added one diagram. I added Madame Georgia's diagram, at the end of the chapter on spiral structure in the book. There was an opening there and that was a fine one to put in. If you look at that diagram, there are beautiful spiral arms drawn in, but if you take that diagram without the spiral arms, you see a hell of a mist. I mean, the drawing of spiral arms is subjective. There are all sorts of ways little branches come out — but how do you tie them together? And therefore, I think that is, I use it in my lecture, it's one reason why I have rather stopped worrying about spiral arms in our own galaxy now. It's just too diffuse, with uncertainties in distance, plus the fact that there seem to be little places where spiral features are formed, others not — and it's very difficult to trace it in detail. You really must have a look at that diagram. Sometimes if I had nothing to do I would copy only the dots and the crosses in it and leave the lovely spiral arms out, because if you imagine that you don't see it, then, it's not a very clear picture at all. And if you look at quite a few galaxies, and imagine that you have only six or eight thousand parsecs you can also get just a hell of a mess very often. So spiral drawing is not a simple thing. There are a number of features now that are clear, and I think the three that I mentioned — the Carina arm from about 2200 to about 8000 parsecs is very clearly outlined. The Sagittarius inner arm is outlined, but runs into a terrible mess in Norma, very messy. Then the Outer Perseus arm is clearly outlined, and then there is the little connecting branch, the Cygnus-Orion arm. But to see an overall pattern in our own galaxy is a very tricky semi-impossible thing to do.
What about the discrepancy between Northern and Southern hemisphere observations in structure?
That is beginning to be eliminated now, more and more.
Are there systematic errors?
No. Probably different properties. Different arms have different properties. There are some lovely color pictures of spiral arms. I have a set at the observatory that Jim Rae has made, and it's interesting to see, even in clear spiral galaxies, how certain parts of arms are brownish, other ones completely blue. You see all sorts of different things appearing.
This is the false color process?
Well, we've talked a good bit about spiral structure and there are lots of other things to talk about. You continued work through the thirties and forties on the galactic density gradients. We've talked about those a bit before, I believe?
I've always been very interested in what happens perpendicular to the plane.
Yes, that's right.
And that is now becoming again one of the key issues, and the symposium on galactic structure that they will have at Maryland will pay very careful attention to that. McCrae and I wrote a paper about that whole problem. I'll tell you a story about that. It was in 1941 before the New York Academy.
The New York Academy of Sciences, called the "Fundamental Properties of the Galactic System."
Yes, that's right. At Grenoble, at the IAU, we had a recent meeting, where they spent a whole day talking about the halo of the galaxy. Loads of papers. Loads of bitter fights and all sorts of things.
The size of the halo?
The size of the halo and the gradients. Donald McCrae, I met him that night, said, "I'm sorry, Bart, I should have come to that meeting but I had conflicts and other things."
This is Grenoble in '76?
Yes. And he said, "What was really new that happened?" I said, "Donald, the best thing you can do is read again the paper you and I wrote together in 1941. That's more up to date than anything there." So the whole business is in a messy situation. There are now these suggestions from P.J.J. Peebles and G. Ostriker that there may be exceedingly massive haloes. The whole galaxy may be embedded in a huge massive halo, and that the spiral arms and what we see as the Milky Way are just a little detail of the whole galaxy.
How do you feel about that?
I don't believe it. It doesn't seem to me to be right. The argument they use, that spiral arms could not exist unless there was this stabilizing affair, has made no impression of me, because spiral arms are not permanent features anyhow. They are local features that get stirred up, and go on a big basis for a while, but they keep on changing and doing things over. So I'm not so impressed with the opinion that there would be no spiral features if there weren't this settling huge thing over it. I don't think it's dynamically very sound. But I would like to have an open mind on that one for the future. But the way it looks now is that at least we need to know a lot more about the high latitude distribution. And frankly what has happened, people have not — but now this is changing — put in enough time with detailed careful photoelectric photometery, to get really good multicolors and other things. This is being remedied. Just yesterday, I referred five proposals for the research in the South. Three of the five dealt with high latitude distributions near the South Galactic Pole. So things will get straightened out, but they have not yet been straightened out. And, therefore, there has been a lot of quick rapid stuff, by people who try to say, "This is what the distribution seems to show," without taking the time to calibrate carefully the photoelectric systems, which is a lot of work.
In that paper in 1941, you indicated that it was an improvement of Oort's 1932 work on stellar distribution, and that your improvement was possible on the basis of more star counts and more mean parallaxes by van Rhijn and yourself.
Mean parallaxes. Yes. And very little has happened since that time. For example, to get mean parallaxes means a great deal of statistical work but a large number of precision proper motions, colors and magnitudes sorted now according to spectral type. And this is just beginning to happen now. First of all, people can go much fainter now with the new image tubes and all the image strengthening devices, the infrared plates and all that. So there are many changes in techniques coming in, but they have not been fully taken care of. Frankly, if I were younger, I would have two or three places where I would go to work. High latitudes are one of them. The other one is the Magellanic Clouds, where too little research is being done at the present time, and it's very deplorable that, with all the Southern objects available, people haven't moved in on the Magellanic Clouds and cleaned up lots of things that need to be done. The majority of Europeans don't even know, when they go South, that there are Magellanic Clouds. I had one man asks me at La Silla, a distinguished Dutch astronomer: "Is there any work left to be done on the Magellanic Clouds?" Andre Muller said, "Is there any good work that still can be done on the clouds?" And the answer was, "Yes, the whole works. Nothing has happened on them." So there are many things that one can work in. But I think the Halo problem, worked on by Ostriker and Peebles is important. They have drawn attention to the need of many more data, farther from the plane than we have it. And we can get that now.
Right. I'm interested in that meeting by the way at the New York Academy in 1941.
I never got there.
Oh, you weren't there?
I was going to be there, but we also were going to Mexico and I was inoculated against typhoid and the inoculation took my temperature up to 103 degrees, and kept it there for the three days of the symposium. So McCrae was there at the symposium.
The interesting thing that I can just see from the Proceedings — there were nine people involved, and five of them were Dutch.
This seems to be a very "nationalistic" interest.
Yes, that Milky Way interest has always been a nationalistic Dutch interest. Yes. And that goes back to Kapteyn, of course. Kapteyn, and then Oort helped this along in no uncertain way, you know. And it is only now, with the coming of the Westerbork array, that the Dutch have really blossomed out into galaxies and are getting more and more away from the Milky Way.
OK. At that time you indicated you were inoculated for the trip to Mexico, and that seems to have been quite a meeting in itself at Tonantzintla at the National Observatory. Were you involved in that?
Not the meeting. We were there to help them set up the observatory. Priscilla and I went together there, with our children, very early in the game, not so long after the big revolution, and the establishment of Tonanzintla came about because of the Mexican Revolution. Don't you know that?
Oh, there is a lovely tale. One of Mexico's heroes was Luiz Enric Erro. He was a revolutionary who, in the early days of the big revolution, used to smuggle guns from Cuba to Mexico. Then Cardenas became President, and he was a great admirer of Erro. Cardenas called in all the people who had helped. Erro by the way was the man who wrote the third article of the Mexican Constitution. He wrote it principally to get the separation of church and state and teaching. The schools should be free from religious bias. And then when that was all done — he's still very famous, has streets named after him and so — Luiz Enric was an amateur astronomer. He was deaf and had hearing aids, and Cardenas had sent him first to Paris to get a modern hearing aid. After that he said to Luiz Enric, "What can you now do? We want to reward the people who aided the Revolution." And the majority of them would have said, "We want to have a hacienda in the name of my wife." That used to be the common thing to do among the revolutionaries. And Erro said, "I would like to have a National Observatory for Mexico."
That full name again?
Luiz Enric Erro. Not Haro. Haro was a young newspaper writer who interviewed Priscilla and me when we arrived in Mexico in 1941.
And he became the famous astronomer?
Oh, yes. So Cardenas said, "Well, Luiz, I will be glad to do it, but how you going to do this?" Then Luiz Enric said, "I have been a variable star observer. I know Leon Campbell very well, from corresponding with him, and I have corresponded with Harlow Shapley, and I'm sure that Harlow Shapley will help me out." And Shapley did. He helped out by getting a Schmidt telescope for him and a few other things. Then Erro and Shapley worked out that it would be a good idea for the Bok family to spend three or four months in Tonantzintla, and advise him how to set up this observatory. So in the summer of '41, about four months before Pearl Harbor or so when the Germans invaded Russia, that period, the four Boks went in their Ford and went to Mexico and stayed in Puebla and had a wonderful time. We had a fine time there. We enjoyed things and helped to start Tonantzintla Observatory.
You met Haro at that time?
We met Haro only as a reporter who came to interview us. And then a little later in '43 or so, a group of young Mexican astronomers including Haro came to the United States, and then Haro did do two years of what you might call graduate work with me at the Agassiz Station, or the Oak Ridge Station then. That's where he developed his search techniques for White Dwarfs, you know, from blue and red photographs.
He started with White Dwarfs. I didn't realize that.
He started looking for White Dwarfs, as one of his first things.
What's the origin of that interest, since he ended up looking for very early type stars?
But that came later, with the same techniques. And also he used them for O-B stars, later on.
I see. White Dwarfs at that time, certainly at no time during that time were thought to be young stars?
No, but he was interested in searches, for red stars or white stars, and with some of our telescopes at Agassiz Station he developed nicely the techniques of doing that by multi-color photographs, photography on plates, with different filters and so.
I would have thought that in Haro's association with you, and the fact that by that time you were getting very interested in globules and identifying them, that he would have immediately gone to the younger stars.
Yes, but he never worked on globules. He had a sort of a remote interest, liked to hear about them, but he never worked on them.
Isn't that interesting. The first picture that you showed me when I came into your office the other day was your association of an Herbig-Haro object with a nebula.
He doesn't know this yet. I haven't had time to write it to him yet. Oh no. That's right. He didn't discover the Herbig-Haro object either, that one. That was discovered by Schwartz. I have with me somewhere here, that I brought in this morning, the papers that show how poor the other photographs are, of that globule.
The early photographs were very poor. They couldn't show that object?
Very poor. You see vaguely there's something there, but that's all. And by now, you see it so nicely.
Since the war has already developed very definitely by that time, let's discuss how you participated in the war effort, and your work with United Nations and the formation of UNESCO. Which shall we take first?
Let's take the war first. I can be quite brief. I was not a con scientious objector, but I didn't like war. And I don't like to think about people being killed and dying and all this, and contributing to it. I had a request, through Nick Mayall, to work on projects in the Radiation Lab at MIT, and I said, "No thank you." But I did become very deeply involved in navigation, teaching and writing, and that I felt is a positive thing one can do. For example, I wrote the little manual on navigation in emergencies that goes in all life boats, and that one was a very nice thing to have done. I also wrote a book called Basic Marine Navigation with Francis Wright. It came out of a course that we prepared for the Army Engineer Amphibian Command who were constructing all the landing boats in the Pacific. And I was called in by the Engineers, after the famous debacle at Casablanca, when the French Navy ran smack into the middle and killed thousands of American boys who were in landing boats and didn't know how to navigate, and they made all the obvious mistakes. So I became the chief trainer for the Pacific of navigators who would learn to navigate from island to island and long distances with landing barges, and were involved in the whole Pacific theatre.
Who were your military contacts?
They were all in the Engineer Amphibian Command. That was a new command. The Navy hated me with all the hate they had to muster, because the books that I wrote were written for people who could add, because there are twice as many people who can add as people who can subtract, and therefore, we divided them up into people who could add and subtract, people who could add, and people who could not even add, and we taught them all navigation. Therefore, we never used a trigonometric term in it, and we tried to do all our calculations with addition only. And if we got over 360 degrees, they'd cut off 360 degrees, they could do that. Those books were very popular during that time. They are still being used in part, and are mostly out of print, but there's still a course at the Planetarium in Boston, that's based at the Science Museum, on Bok and Wright's Basic Marine Navigation. So that was the first thing I came in to. Then the Coast Guard called me in.
Were you a civilian, working for them?
Always as a civilian, yes.
What was the military organization you were working under?
Always the Engineer Amphibian Command. We had courses for them that were under contract with Harvard University, and Harvard University even gave the people who had taken the three weeks course with Francis Wright and me a Harvard-signed diploma, signifying that they had taken a course in navigation at Harvard, and they were very proud of it. The briefcase that I carry is still one of the gifts that came out of that group. So it was a very, very nice and very effective thing to do, too, which was pleasant to have. When that was over, I became deeply involved with the Coast Guard, and there I was called in as a navigation expert, but instead of that I became the chief expert on how to avoid fires for the Boston office because they were afraid that the whole of Boston Harbor would be blown to kingdom come, with the munitions loading. I had a lot of fun with navigation, especially with teaching of navigation. I taught a great many Navy people, too. So mine was principally teaching and writing and sending things out that way. I got a nice commendation from the Admiral of the Coast Guard and things like that. Those things were very cheerful that way. Then towards the end of the war, I became very interested in the new United Nations, which included some of the people who had worked with me in the Association of Scientific Workers, both at Harvard and MIT. There was a United Nations Educational and Cultural Organization, and we started propaganda from the American side to put an S in there, which was helped out from British side too. The two were together, got the S into UNECO — as UNESCO. Then after that was over, I became Chairman of the Committee on Science in UNESCO of the National Research Council, and that was a very powerful committee. It was the chief State Department Advisory Committee on Science in UNESCO, and we had some awfully good people on that. Roger Revelle was, for example, one of my members. Merle Tuve was one of my members. Detlev Bronk was my principal boss. He was the one who promoted it. And that committee of about eight distinguished physicists, mathematicians, biologists especially, helped set up a great many of the programs. Gene Weltfish was in there, the anthropologist from Columbia University. That was a powerful cheerful committee to be chairman of. It was sometimes difficult and we fought each other and we argued, but we settled on a lot of support of the International Scientific Union, the first studies of the preservation of the catchable fish. We got involved in the setting up of science institutes under UNESCO. We were in on the whole business from the ground floor.
Since you were dealing with Tuve, Revelle, Bronk and the NRC, were there any interests in domestic funding for basic research?
Well, I was an early lobbyist for the National Science Foundation. But that was a separate issue. I was especially involved in the Kilgor days. Senator Kilgor from West Virginia had a bill that almost made it, in the early Truman days already, before the final bill came in with Alan Waterman going over. But even now, I am considered in many ways one of the pioneers in the National Science Foundation. The Harvard 60-foot radio telescope was one of the first NSF-sponsored and NSF-paid major developments. It was partly initiated by the Office of Naval Research. That one came, of course, after Ewen and Purcell had discovered the 21 centimeter line, but NSF was one of the first ones to come with a grant on the order of I think $200,000, which was then a phenomenal grant, on a total budget of three million a year. So I was very deeply always involved in maneuvering to try to get some sort of a National Science Foundation.
What kinds of maneuvers did you use?
Oh, I went to Washington. I worked with the Office of Naval Research. Roger Revelle and I got acquainted already during World War II, towards the end, because Roger was assigned the task, by the Office of Naval Research, of finding out what the astronomers really want. And Roger came to see me, dressed as a commander of the Navy, and looked very Navy, Navy uniform and everything. And when he left I said to my secretary, "Well, that's the last we see of him." Then I found out that he was a member of the ONR advisory committee that helped all the things get started.
Who in ONR decided to ask the astronomers? Was that Revelle?
Oh no, that was higher. Some Admirals. There was one Admiral who especially — I've forgotten his name now — loved me. And he had Doc Ewen and I build a model of the radio telescope that we wanted, and the Admiral came to Harvard to listen to all the proposals. And his aide-de-camp or whatever you call him was there, and took me aside and said, "Dr. Bok, the Admiral is a great believer in science. I can assure you, he thinks science is wonderful, is useful, and it ought to be furthered, and ONR ought to come in. But, the Admiral also likes to see a little hardware for his money. Your radio telescope is just what he likes." Of course, then, for $200,000 at that time, you got a piece of hardware.
What year was that?
That was 1952.
You don't remember the Admiral's name?
No, but he was the Admiral in charge of the Office of Naval Research. And he loved the little model we had. You could move it around to see how radio telescopes work. ONR funded the beginning study and then NSF took over. Alan Waterman and I were close friends, so that helped a good deal.
Talking about the changeover from military funding to nonmilitary funding, you mentioned before that there were other faculty at Harvard who were very much in support of military funding?
When did the differences of opinion on the Harvard staff begin to develop? Was it in the forties?
I didn't see the signs. We left in February, 1950, to go to South Africa. So in the end of '49, I felt I lived in a very happy atmosphere. When I came back in the middle or end of '51that was a hostile unpleasant atmosphere.
Do you think it would have been different if you hadn't gone to South Africa?
I haven't the slightest idea. There had become a terrific development of ambitious people who wanted to have Shapley's job. And I had always thought that I'd either stay at Harvard and get the job of Shapley, or I got the Boyden Station, and that would have been all right. I wouldn't take part in the overall general management but I run the Boyden Station. Then when I returned, I found they had maneuvered so far that they had terminated Harvard's contacts with Boyden Station and tried to kill it off, and that's one of the reasons why I felt I didn't belong there any more.
Who did that?
That was McGeorge Bundy in consultation with Menzel and Whipple.
In 1948, I understand, you had the chance to go to Michigan.
Yes. I played with that, but I've frankly even forgotten it — now that you mention it — that never figured, for all I remember. The one that really figured was the offer that I mentioned the other day, of the University of Chicago and Arthur Compton. That was 1940-41, about. I had the chance to go to Michigan but that never really appealed to me, for I also had the chance then already to go to the Boyden Station. And I felt that it was so much more desirable (both Priscilla and I loved the Southern Milky Way) that we get in on the Southern Milky Way. So, that one, I never paid much attention to Michigan. How did you know this? I didn't know anybody knew this.
Well, we've been interviewing a lot of people as you know. I guess Goldberg took that position. But the position looked like it was a very good position, a very large growing department. Did you have any talks with Shapley about this?
A little, but I'm rather vague about it. First of all, I don't remember that it ever came to a real firm offer. I have a feeling it was more in the nature of an inquiry, whereas the Chicago one was a very firm offer. But this was, "Would you like to be put on the list?" and I said, "no" because my whole mind was filled up with really getting to Boyden Station and doing good work there on the Southern Hemisphere.
Right. I know you resigned your appointment at the NRC to go to Boyden.
That's right, but that was only fair, and that was done in a very amicable way, simply I said towards the end, "Well, boys, I'm going to be away for a year and a half to go there, therefore it makes no sense for me to continue and try to do this by remote control. Somebody else take over." It was a very powerful group — John Nicholas, the zoologist from Yale, was deeply involved in the whole UNESCO thing. Ralph Cleland from Indiana was in it. He was one of the great botanists of the period. And then Roger Revelle, who was then principally the man who talked to me about the preservation of fish catches. Merle Tuve was on this committee. Three or four others.
Certainly those names are well known.
Well known. It was quite a group, and I was the chairman, and boy, it was a hard group to hold together. Merle Tuve would resign in the morning, get furious at all of us, walk out, say, "I'm through with this committee, good-bye! I'll write my letter of resignation this afternoon." Get up and walk out.
What were the issues?
Oh, I've forgotten. All sorts of little issues of international institutes, which one should refer the first. Merle was very strong; when he wanted something, he wanted it, and if he didn't get it, he became furious. Then in the afternoon he'd come back, he'd say, "I've thought it over. I started writing the letter. You're the damndest bunch of friends that anybody can have, but I still like most of you as you are. I thought I'd come back."
You worked with many of these people in the mid-fifties in setting up NRAO.
These things came in.
To finish up your research in the forties, you were working on Monocerotis in the Milky Way region, finding it a very nice smooth region to work in, and this is from a paper you gave at Tonantzintla. But then in '47 came, I guess, your major statement about globules.
Yes. And that came in a very interesting way, with Edith Reilly. Now, Edith Reilly was basically a spastic. I've forgotten what disease, she had one of these spastic diseases, and couldn't handle anything. She couldn't handle photographic plates and so on. Anyhow, she had one of these awful diseases. She could hardly walk and hardly talk and all that, but was terribly persistent. And she came to me one day and said, "Dr. Bok, I want to write a paper with you. I want to have you and me write a paper together. I'll do anything for it." Then I thought: now, what do you do with such a person? You can't give her photographic plates to measure, you know. She had trouble in even writing. And then I thought about it and said, "Edith, somebody ought to take a good look at how we classify dark nebulae. And there may be some interesting things there that people are missing." I had the feeling then that dark nebulae would figure in star formation and that they ought to be looked at. I gave her all the photographs I had, plus all the atlases I could find, for those she could handle without breaking anything. And then we had generally every day a sort of an hour session together, and we got interested in these little dark nebulae and the somewhat bigger Barnard objects. Then, I couldn't think of a name for them until one morning, the milk bottle arrived from Buttrick's Dairy. And I opened the milk bottle up, and there floated around these little butter globules. And I thought, "My God, my things look just like it!" They were separate as these were. So that's where the word "globules" came from. Then we wrote a brief paper in the Astrophysical Journal, and that paper has now become one of the real famous ones. We had two types of globules, the little ones and the bigger ones. The little ones, I still don't know what they are. They're there all right but I don't know what they are. But the bigger ones now of course are right in the center of things, with radio astronomical work. We published the paper I think in '47 or thereabouts. And by twenty-five years later in the early seventies, there were only three people working on globules — Karen McCarthy with me and Elizabeth Sim in Edinburgh, Liz Sim. She and I are kissing kin and very good friends. We were the only ones, even five or six years ago. Then the radio astronomical work appeared, and plate sensitization began to pick up, and so I counted the other day that there are about sixty people now working on globules. So it has suddenly become a fashionable topic, which is very cheerful. And people listen to me. When I wanted to talk about them at the Geneva Symposium on star formation, at that time, I wasn't even given time. George Field said, "No, we're not going to worry about those things, Bart. We have more important things to do."
When was that?
How did you feel about that?
I felt mad. A little. But Priscilla had died the year before, and I came principally to learn what was going on in the field. And I found that there had been some very well established "establishment" rules of what was kosher and what was not, and everybody knew precisely, stars were formed only in huge dark complexes, you know. Steve Strom was in on that. George Field, George Herbig, they were all in there, and they did their thing, and the globules didn't count and neither did the work on the Magellanic Clouds, where I pointed out that star formation takes place without benefit of low temperatures and without benefit of dust, in clouds of atomic hydrogen. So there are all sorts of things going on. Since then, I've made up my mind that I'm going to spend my time on that one, and the propaganda is working rather nicely now.
Have you had contacts with Lyman Spitzer and his research?
Oh yes. Not so much in the past few years, but before that, very intimately. Lyman Spitzer's interest in interstellar problems developed in part at our house in Belmont, where Lyman Spitzer came as a guest very often, and where we had meetings with graduate students and undergraduates that Priscilla and I organized. In one year we went after interstellar matter.
In 1940, he was at Harvard.
Yes. That's right. In that period, we used to have sessions with hot chocolate at the end of the night and coffee and doughnuts, with all the graduate students and students. Then in the later forties, of course, George Field entered the picture in the same way, and he was also involved in it. And then Lyman and Whipple and I, the three of us — when Whipple and I were still very great pals — set up the Harvard Observatory Symposium for the Harvard Centennial where I talked about the globules, along with various other things. And Lyman was in that, and we had even a more useful period that Lyman and Whipple and I called a pre-symposium, to talk about what we were going to talk about at the symposium six months later. That's very nice.
Is there a record of that pre-symposium?
No, I don't think so. That was just very informal. But we had a definite pre-symposium to go over what was going to be discussed. So Lyman and I have always been close friends, you know, and got along beautifully. Lyman can take me with a little grain of salt. He sort of looks at me. He was not one to come out, for example, in favor of the globules as being real. No, no, he looks me over: "Now, take it easy, Bart, take it easy." But we have been always very, very good friends. I saw him here, for example. He was here at the Gehrels Symposium in January this year.
When Spitzer was at Harvard for a year he worked on his planetary filaments, a very, very famous paper.
It seems like he'd gotten some of the ideas in conversation with you.
Well, quite a few. We had very wonderful times with Lyman there. Lyman was still a bachelor and used to come over, Priscilla liked him and we saw him at the house very often and we talked and talked and talked about these things.
He developed an interest in the morphology of galaxies somewhere in the early forties. And part of that led to some early papers, three papers I believe, that gave very, very tentative ideas that would support Baade's later concept of populations, 1944.
Are you familiar with Spitzer's later interests at all?
No, no, I can't say that I have. Walter Baade used to say, "The Boks are the most pathetic couple I know. They are stuck in the local swimming hole. They never go to any places of interest."
When did he say that?
Oh, that was long ago. "They are stuck in the local swimming hole, they have a fine time swimming around there, but they never look beyond. They never go to any places of interest."
Well, I know you went to one place of interest and that was Boyden Station.
Yes. Shall we have a glass of sherry, now that it's 5 o'clock?
We're digressing a bit after a short pause —
— and a glass of sherry.
Momentarily, we're skipping from the fifties up to 1975 to talk about the planetarium.
Yep. And the thing I would like to say is that, four days before Priscilla died, there was a meeting in the Planetarium. MIT, Michigan and Dartmouth together built a telescope that is on top of Kitt Peak now. They had a joint observatory, those three places, and this is quite a thing to have, and so there was a ceremony. First of all, there was going to be a dedication on top of the mountain. Priscilla and I were invited. Then, the second thing that happened, the day before, there was a big dinner, at which Barry Goldwater was present — a good friend of mine (not politically, but otherwise a very good friend of mine — we write each other the "Dear Bart, signed Barry," letters, and I'll tell you about a good one at the end of this if you remind me). Anyhow, Barry Goldwater was to speak, and Priscilla and I were invited to that. And then the third thing, there was a symposium about identifying X-ray sources, in which all three institutions were interested. These invitations all came separate. I said to Priscilla, "What are we going to do?" "Well," said Priscilla, "I am now a sick woman. And we might as well realize that. I cannot drive up to Kitt Peak and stand in a ceremony waiting for the telescope to be dedicated, waiting for big shots to arrive. Then I would just faint and make a hell of a nuisance of myself. So I'm not going to the dedication." She said, "I am not going to go to a big dinner, especially if Barry Goldwater is speaking. I'm not going to be there, because my dander will go up and that's bad for me, so we can't do that. But," she said, "I ought to be thoroughly ashamed of myself. Here I am, the author of a book on the Milky Way. What do I know about X-ray sources and their identification? At the age of 80, practically nothing. I should be ashamed of myself. You and I are going to that symposium on X-ray sources." So we arrived early at the Planetarium, where the symposium was to be held, before the Planetarium had been opened. The symposium was to start at 9:15. We arrived there at 8:30. For Priscilla was very weak by then. She died four days later. This was November 15th. So we went there, and we arrived at the Planetarium before anybody else was there. I said, "Priscilla, we are going to go in a few weeks, for we don't know when a massive heart attack is about to appear — we are going to be at the dedication, but I'd like to show you one thing. There is a lovely composite Milky Way that you and I worked on. Blown up beautifully. It is a lovely thing to see." So I had the boys turn on the lights, on that little corner there with the composite Milky Way. Priscilla took a look at it, and tears appeared in her eyes, and she said, "If I should appear soon before St. Peter, I think I will ask for a place right there," and she pointed to the n Carinae nebula. She said, "Then I can see all this ...." [Phone rings] I'll go on with this in a moment.
OK. I'll turn the tape over.
So we accepted the invitation for the X-ray Symposium. And Priscilla had looked at the big panel, and said, "That's where I'm going to ask St. Peter to give me a place. Then I can see stars forming before my eyes," she said.
Then we went to the meeting. She was seated in a chair, about third row over. If I'd known you were coming to the Planetarium, I could have shown it to you, because what happened was, she sat there and worked awful hard to try and understand it. And it was a good symposium, semi-popular. She could get it all straight. And by the time it was over, she was so tired that she said, "Take me home through the back door immediately. I'm going to faint soon otherwise and have trouble." So I took her away. And you know what the Planetarium people had done? They put on her chair, the only marked chair in the whole Planetarium, a little plaque, cost three bucks — "Priscilla Bok, November 15, 1975." And November 19th, she died. And that's it. One of the loveliest memorials to have.
That's a beautiful one. And the chair is there, and I take the grandchildren and the children there. The children don't come so often, but the grand children come more. Now, we come back to the earlier days. Where are we now?
We are at about 1950, and your year or so in South Africa. What we would like to do then in this session is finish up your years at Harvard. That'll be another half hour.
You went to South Africa, 1950. Things were really changing there politically. The Nationalist period began in 1948.
Oh, I wrote an article about that for Harper's Magazine. Maybe you ought to look it up. It must have been 1953 or '52 when it was published, because Eric Larrabee had been one of my students at Harvard. He was then the big shot editor of the thing, and he asked me to write one. I wrote an article there, and told people how it had all happened, and what the dangers were. And I told them too, "There is going to be an unbelievable blow...." Anyhow, what happened was, I wrote there and said, "There is not going to be a blow-up immediately. It will take at least 25 to 30 years before it happens," which wasn't a bad evaluation, looking at the way things are going now. But I told them, "It's an impossible situation." I loved every element of the population. I stayed at an Afrikaner family's house. I speak their language. I had a good time there. I love them each individually. But as a group, they make a hell of a mess of living together. We had a maid in our apartment who was the daughter of one of the Basutoland kings, the black ones. Basutoland, which is now Botswana, it's one of the independent territories. We loved her. She loved us. We got along with her. But together, they make such a hell of a mess, of living together.
Was apartheid just beginning?
No, it had developed.
It had developed already?
Oh yes. Apartheid had developed centuries before, but they had just begun to name it "apartheid."
Ah, in other words, the national identification was just beginning, but the segregation had already existed?
Yes. That's right, yes. Smuts died while we were there. That's to say, the liberal element that looked for compromise between blacks and whites. Smuts was the famous General, General [Jan] Smuts who was Prime Minister of South Africa, who was the great general during World War II. He was used by the British and the King and the Queen used to invite him all the time. So General Smuts was the great Afrikaner liberal, the head of the Liberal Party, which then went way over into eclipse after he died. Anyhow, that defines the era. Queen Elizabeth was just about to be Queen but that's about it. She'd just arrived there. We hadn't had the Coronation yet, that's right, George was still on when we were there, that came two or three years later. In Australia we arrived when the Coronation was all over. Anyhow, we were there in a very interesting time. The article got published in Harpers and was read with approval by lots of people. But one of the letters that I keep on tap is one in which one man said, "I admired Bok when I was his student, in the beginning course at Harvard. He has now become a dangerous neo-Fascist." I've always kept this as a handy reference, in case McCarthy would ask me what I was. It's nice to be called once a "neo-Fascist," because I had said, "There is not going to be a revolution tomorrow in South Africa. There's not going to be a big revolution in Africa very soon. But within 25 or 30 years it will come," and that wasn't so bad. Anyhow my "neo-Fascist" predictions have come true pretty well.
Who was the fellow?
I don't remember. It was a former student who must have taken Astronomy I with me, and who wrote an article and said, "That just goes to show that scientists shouldn't meddle in politics. They don't know what's going on."
Did you have extensive political contacts when you were down there?
Yes, for a very interesting reason, that we took our children with us, our daughter Joyce and our son John. And our son John was a student of Sam Baer, McGeorge Bundy, and William Yendel Elliot, which is quite a combination to the people who know who these three are, from Harvard. And the three of them told him, "Yes, John, you go with your family to South Africa and you prepare an undergraduate thesis on the origin and development of the Nationalist Party." So he did, and it became so famous that it was almost published. It was published finally in mimeographed form, you know, with 50 or 100 copies or so. But it almost became a book. And John Bok did one thing, at my suggestion. He learned to speak Afrikaans, which was very helpful, so he got the ear, of all the Afrikaner ministers in the pre-Vorster government. So I knew a lot. I stayed at an Afrikan's farm. Old Boot Stein was the nephew of the famous President Stein who during the Boer War was the President of the Orange Free State. The son of that President Stein was head of our visiting committee. So we were exceedingly strong in the political Afrikaner group. My picture appeared on the piano in the Stein family at least 15 years later, for I was there 15 years later and there my picture was still on the piano. They may have dusted it off, but it was still on the piano, anyhow. So we had some very, very nice times, and got to know all the Afrikaners very well indeed. Also, we did some good work there.
You had a number of students come down with you?
Yes. One of them is dead now — Ugo van Wijk, who was quite famous at Maryland for a while and at Princeton earlier, but was not given a permanent Princeton appointment, a very competent boy. He was Dutch, and he died from after-effects of having had hepatitis in New Guinea without being treated, that kind of thing.
How did he end up in New Guinea?
Oh, he was a Dutch boy during World War II. He didn't die there, he died when he was at Maryland, but during World War II, the Dutch sent him over and gave him a three weeks course to become an administrator to administer a thousand square miles of area where he was the governor — handed out life and death and sentences, things like that — to be judge.
And he got sick?
He was very sick there, and the only one who could read his temperature was he himself, and he stopped, he said, at 104. So he became weak and he died in Maryland a few years later. The other one is very famous now. He is the present incoming President of the American Astronomical Society, Ivan King was with me there. Then the other ones who were there were A. Cox, Carl Henize, John Irwin — quite a group, quite a few. We had wonderful parties altogether. We did a lot of observing, working on the Magellanic Clouds. I worked on variable stars and star colors near the galactic center.
You did work on variable stars?
There, just a little bit, a few R.R. Lyrae variables, yes. Not discovering variable stars.
So this is not close to Hertzsprung's work?
No, no. Hertzsprung would have never thought of it. That was an exceedingly happy and effective period. We got the first Baker- Schmidt, under very difficult conditions, adjusted and mounted in South Africa, and got some very fine pictures with that particular telescope. I did a lot of photoelectric work, and Priscilla did work on colors and magnitudes. We had generally a wonderful time there. Then we came back to Harvard, and we found a completely changed atmosphere. Whereas when we left, it had been a cheerful farewell party, with everybody singing to us and cheering. And when we came back, the first thing that happened was, Fred Whipple said, "Let's have lunch together and talk things over."
Wait a minute, I wanted to ask a few questions about your work in South Africa. In your paper, "Colors of B Stars in 5 Regions," this is what you did with van Wijk, you were using the photoelectric photometer built I guess by Linell and King, on the 60-inch Rockefeller Reflector at the Boyden Station. You didn't find evidence of emission nebulosity around early-type stars, and you felt that this made the case for spiral arms in the regions studied much weaker.
That's right, yes.
Was this a sort of a step in the wrong direction?
What happened there?
I don't know, but there was no evidence there. We didn't have, of course, as sensitive photographic plates as you have now. And it would be well to check it. But at the time we didn't find any. No.
You were doing photoelectric photometry?
Did you have specific band passes...?
No. Photoelectric was for the star colors. And photography was done with the red-sensitive plates, and they were the early ones, before the 09802 and other ones had come in — the infra-red plates, the 103 AR plates. They were not overly sensitive, but we tried with those and filters to photograph it.
OK. One other question about that. You mentioned that your work in South Africa was supported by the Guggenheim people, Harvard, American Philosophical Society —
Yes, and the Research Corporation.
No. The Research Corporation is a national organization. And that is based in New York. Charles Schauer is the man who ran it in those days.
I didn't realize that was the one. I know the national one.
Charles Schauer was our contact.
All these different sources of funding, did you organize them?
Yes. That was quite a chore. And I made trips to New York beforehand to get the money. In those days there was no National Science Foundation. So you couldn't go to the national government. You had to do it privately. Mrs. Agassiz helped out. Fund raising in those days was very different from what it is now.
What was it like?
Well, you had to go around. Didn't I tell you the story about Mrs. Agassiz and the money for the big radio telescope?
No, but that would come a little later, wouldn't it?
But I can tell the story right now very nicely. It shows you how fund raising was done. Mrs. Agassiz' husband, George Agassiz, was a great friend of Percival Lowell and a believer in the Canals of Mars. George Agassiz had died, and Aunt Mabel was the sort of custodian of the Agassiz fortune, and there was a hell of a lot of money in the family. But the rule was that the interest of the major income would go to the Agassiz Museum of Zoology at Harvard. That was the one that the famous Louis Agassiz had set up centuries ago. Then, what happened? Aunt Mabel was permitted to spend basically the interest from the interest. But even that came to about 50 or 60 thousand dollars a year. And Aunt Mabel had lots of nephews and nieces to look after who all came to her, but she also loved Harvard Observatory, and she liked Harlow Shapley very much, and she was very fond of Priscilla and me. So once a year, Aunt Mabel used to invite Priscilla and me to come to her house to talk over the needs of Harvard College Observatory. And we knew when that happened, we would have to have ready a proposal that cost $5,000, and she would approve it. But it was done in a very systematic Bostonian way. She would say, "Priscilla and Bart, come over and have tea with me one afternoon. Come about 4 o'clock." That's the way she put it. And then we drove in our car from Boston or Belmont, wherever we lived, around to her house, until 3:59. And at 3:59 we went up the driveway. The minute we got up the driveway, 3:59:30, we were in front of the doorway, and the butler with the white tie would open the door and welcome us, and then we came in. Then Aunt Mabel used to be seated, she was then about 80, she had lost her hair but didn’t believe in wigs so she had a hat on in the house, and sat with her little black hat on at her little table. Then we had a cup of tea. And the cup of tea with the cookie was over, Aunt Mabel used to say, “Bart, will you now please tell me what has happened at Aggasiz Station especially and at Harvard Observatory and in the South.” Then I explained what happened. That went on until about 4:20.
Did you talk about differences of opinion that you had with the other faculty?
No, no. This was simply success stories, to tell Aunt Mabel what we had done. Later on, I talked these things over with her too. That’s how the Bok Prize got formed. But that’s something else again. Aunt Mabel then would say, at one moment,”Now Bart, have you any specific needs where you think I might be able to help out?” Then you would bring forward a spectrograph for this telescope, ot something, and then you knew it had to cost about 5000 bucks. That was just about par for the course that she could afford and could do relatively easily. So then that went on until about 4:35 or so, and then, suddenly Aunt Mabel would say, “I have asked my butler to get a special bottle of sherry out.” George had been to Portugal at one time and brought back some glorious sherry. It was a lovely golden sherry. And she said, “I took a bottle out, “ — it came with cobwebs on it and all the other things — “Priscilla, you and I like orange juice, but Bart loves sherry, so Bart can have a glass of sherry.” Priscilla loved sherry too, but never got any of George’s good sherry. So we sat there. And that would go on. Then she’d talk about George and his interests. Then at 4:55, I used to say “Well, Aunt Mabel, it’s about time we think of going home, “and she would say, yes. 4:58 we’d get up. 4:59, we had our coats on. And 5 o’clock, the butler waved us out. Now there, came the next time when the 21-centimeter line had been discovered, and this is a lovely tale.
This is already ’52?
This is a lovely tale. It follows the earlier one. I went to Aunt Mabel and said, “There is this new 21-centimeter hydrogen line that’s going to revolutionize Milky Way research. There is no money around Harvard, but we want to ask you, can you help? We need first of all a small radio telescope which will then help us to get the bigger one from the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research, but we need this telescope very urgently. Will you please give us $25,000 this time, for we need more money.” So, Aunt Mabel listened to me carefully and said, “Priscilla and Bart, this is a matter I have to think over, for $25,000 is more than I normally have. $5,000 I can do, $10,000 maybe — $25,000 will take some thinking. I’ll get in touch with you.” She got in touch with Harlow Shapley and said “Harlow, I want you and Bart to come with me in my car and make a little trip.” We didn’t know what was what, but when Aunt Mabel said she wanted to make a little trip, you made a little trip. She had an opera Cadillac. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one? 1925. The chauffeur sits out in the cold unprotected, like on a horse carriage, and the passengers sit in the back, and the head lady communicated with the chauffer by a speaking tube, and blows in the speaking tube. The chauffeur seemed to know where we were going to go, and we started driving from Harvard Observatory along Mr. Auburn Avenue. And then we came out near the cemetery, and the chauffer knew where to go and turned left, and then when we were on one of the side streets and there was the big cemetery gate, he stopped at a place where it was clearly wanted. No Mafia. This was just Aunt Mable on a morning tour.
Did you say, no Mafia?
No Mafia involved – sounds like a Mafia case, where you put them right beside the cemetery. And Shapley and I were quiet. Very little was said during this whole procedure. Then when we got there, Aunt Mabel said, “Now, listen, Harlow and Bart. I’m going to tell you something. I’m going to give you the $25,000. But I am the silliest old woman. When I write a big check, I like to be not far from where George lies buried. He lies there.” It was right next to the plot. Sensible she didn’t want to go in the cemetery and make a fuss. No. Just from the outside. “OK,” she said, “Bart, look me straight in the eye. If I write this check for $25,000, then will you promise that the telescope will always be known as the George R. Agassiz Telescope? I don’t want to have future generations give all the credit to his grandfather or his father. George deserves the credit himself.” I said “Yes, Aunt Mabel.” And she wrote out $25,000. Here you are.” Then she did a very nice thing for me. When I left to go to Australia, Aunt Mabel said “This university is the darndest place. Unless I do something about it, they’ll forget you, Bart, in two weeks. A year from now, nobody will ever know you were here. I know what a selfish place this is. I’ll fix it. I’ll give McGeorge Bundy $10,000, tell him to invest it wisely, and he can do that. Then I’ll tell him every year we are giving away money to a graduate student and we call it the Bok Prize.” Then Priscilla fixed it up that it was both for Harvard and Radcliffe for a new Ph.D., under 35 years of age. And last6 week, it was a Radcliffe girl, Sandy Faber, whom you probably know. I tell them at Harvard that all those people who normally have had prizes named after [them] are generally from Putney, Vermont, who write: “In memory of my dear father who died at the age of 94 in 1871 or something like that.” But I am listed there; it’s the Bart Bok Prize. This is very nice, and each year I come back, and I say, “I clearly come from the grave. Look how red my face is. That’s because I love in the Hot Place.” I have a lot of fun doing it.
That’s a marvelous story.
The cemetery. That’s real old New England. Yes.
For the end of this discussion, let's recount the radio astronomy then at Harvard, and within that, the development of NRAO and hte association that you had with it, especially the meetings that NSF called in '55, '56.
That's quite an assignment. But I go right through it. First of all, when the 21 centimeter line was discovered, I was still in South Africa. But when I came back, I was exceedingly interested in it. And I found that no one at Harvard University paid any attention to it. The only thing that I got was that Menzel adn Whipple said, "Bart Bok, you've got to get away from you willy Milky Way, and start worrying about something else. You need to bring in money. Otherwise Harvard cannot support our researches. Why don't you get involved in meteors and the upper atmosphere, instead of using them on teh Milky Way and this silly 21 centimeter line. These slugs act like things that come out of guns, projectiles, and therefore the Signal Corps will gladly support you for that sort of research. And then if you have a little extra time, you sneak in a little time on your darned 21-centimeter line."
"Sneak in," that was the way it was suggested. Anyhow, I didn't like this idea. But I did feel that I wanted to start radio astronomy, because both Ed Purcell adn Doc Ewen, who had been involved in the whole discovery, where very interested in it. So was I, and I saw what the potential was for Milky Way research. So what happened? In the end I got 12 graduate students who all came.
Twelve at once?
Well, there were about ten at once. It was all in a period of four or five years. One was David Heeschen. Frank Drake, Ed Lilly, Cochu Menon, the Indian who worked on the dark clouds in Orion adn got the whole hydrogen picture there. And then there were others, Nan Dieter was in on that group, Bob Davis. Twelve altogether that came in on that group. I said to them, "This field of radio astronomy is going to blossom out, it just can't be helped, you know." We had the first of the Dutch things. I said, "Its time has come. I'm going to train you, boys adn girls, in two ways. First of all as radio astronomers, but second, as optical astronomers too, for then you know much better what's going on in the sky. You can identify things." And that group is now, as you know, a very powerful one in present day astronomy. They practically run the whole bloody thing in radio astronomy even now — Dave Heeschen, Bill Howard. Dave Heeschen is the head of NRAO. Frank Drake runs the one at Arecibo, you know. Jesse Greenstein, who worked with me and became quite interested, is involved in the one at Cal Tech. Ed Lilley runs the radio astronomy at Harvard. So that whole group has a terribly important place in radio astronomy even now, twenty-five or so years later.
How did you get support, when you did not want to go in the direction of military funding? Was this all the Agassiz support that you've mentioned?
Yes. Partly Agassiz, partly the National Science Foundation helped out. I said, "We are going to build up radio astronomy and do it right." And then there came a move on to start a National Radio Observatory, that was initiated in the National Science Foundation. But we had put in quite a bit of propaganda for it from Harvard's side.
Now, in addition to you at Harvard, on the faculty, was there anyone involved?
Ed Purcell and Doc Ewen, but no one in astronomy showed any interest, and they thought it was a very silly elaborate way. "The Science Foundation was never going to amount to anything," they said, "It will never have any money. The money is going to be with the military." That was made very clear to me.
Who in the Science Foundation first voice interest, to your knowledge?
Alan Waterman. Yes, and Waterman was a good friend of ours. Then in there was Jerry Mulders and — Peter van de Kamp was involved. But before Mulders there was another one. Mulders was the one who helped us a whole lot in the whole thing.
Kistiakowsky was involved?
No. Kistiakowsky was not involved. He was a good friend and great helper later on. But anyhow in the Science Foundation there was a man named Seeger, and Seeger was the brother of the famous singer, Seeger, by the way — Ray Seeger was a brother of Pete Seeger. Anyhow, we had a good group of people who were interested in it, and we felt strongly that the radio should be done. Lloyd Berkner, who was then President of Associated Universities, Inc., AUI, and who had built up Brookhaven National Laboratory was always very interested in radio astronomy. He and I had been friends sort of for a long time and knew each other well. And he asked me to be involved in the committee that would advise how to set up a National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Priscilla was very interested in it. We also made some little exploratory trips.
To where? We were told that AUI wished to set it up not in the West. Looking back at it now, maybe that was a mistake. They wanted to set it up within easy reach of Washington.
Was that the criterion?
That was one of the first criteria. In a valley where there would be minimum disturbance from aircraft radio noises adn other things and television. We went exploring, and we found Greenbank.
Were you the one who found it?
I was involved in it. It was really found by a group from NRL. They had a group they put out on a serious basis to do it. Ned Dyer was deeply involved in that one, by the way. But we were the ones who sort of supervised it, and made trips once a month to the various places, and we looked at various sites. We had one in Virginia, and discarded it because the television reception was too good. Then we came to Greenbank, that valley down in West Virginia. That was in fairly easy reach and it had very low radio disturbance noise. Then Lloyd Berkner, Richard Emberson about hom you may have heard ( he was the one who really was the executive officer for Lloyd Berkner on all these things. He had been a student at Harvard. That helped a good deal), my student David Heeschen, Ed Lilly in part, and Priscilla and I went out, adn we traveled around and we looked and looked, and we finally located the Greenbank place.
Was this before the NSF meeting in 1956?
Yes. Before. That meeting came around Christmas time, and we did our exploring beforehand, and by 1956, we had it pretty well straightened out where we wanted to go. There were two meetings at that time, one on radio astronomy in Washington, and another one that the American Academy adn the AAAS sponsored in Boston, and that was in the worst weather in Boston ever, 20 below zero for a whole week.
The meeting I was thinking of is dated August 17, 1956, the National Science Board. That was a meeting called by NSF to discuss the management of NRAO.
Oh no, that was a later stage. We had an earlier symposium in Washington, where everybody from the West came. I remember Lee DuBridge said, "I'm not going to go to Boston around Christmas." So we had a meeting where Lee DuBridge presided, and another meeting in Boston where I think Merle Tuve presided or something. I was deeply involved in the Academy too.
Very good. Very good, because it was non-military. It was clearly National Science Foundation supported, you know, with a little help still from ONR, who were then bowing out of the whole thing and leaving it to NSF. I felt that if I didn't support that, I couldn't support any government support. And then I liked Lloyd Berkner and trusted him, and I had a real fine time working with that whole group. I've never regretted this either.
Wasn't there an effort around that time among optical astronomers primarily to at least get the government to identify optical needs too? And this led to some differences.
There were all sorts of differences. I don't keep records, and my memory isn't that good about it. But we felt that what we ought to do was get up a radio observatory first. Then NSF could do all the other optical projects that they wished. But the optical astronomers were not going to ride in on our coat tails. I felt that I had trained a bunch of very good people who could run a radio observatory adn who knew plenty of optical astronomy on the side and that there was no need for me to apologize for doing pure radio work when you had people of the type that came in. Then Lee Hayworth came into it very strongly too. He was then the director of the Brookhaven National Lab, and later on became the NSF director. He and I were very close friends, because it was Lee Hayworth who wrote me the letter inviting me to be the first director of NRAO. At the same time, I already ahd the invitation to come to Australia.
You were offered the position as director?
Why did you turn it down, again?
I had at the same time been offered the position of director of Mt. Stromlo Observatory in Australia, and I felt frankly that I could run Stromlo and Australian optical astronomy, working with the radio astronomers in Sydney, very well.
Radio astronomy was already well established there?
Very well established there. It was then the leading country. And the radio astronomers had nominated me for the job of director of Stromlo, by the way. Joe Pawsey had done this. And then, I felt that if I went and took on Greenbank, that I would have to always depend on advice from electronic engineers, for I am not trained in difficult advanced electronics, and even now today I would find this difficult. I would always have to depend on other people to help me, whereas I felt that I could honestly run Stromlo and knew what I was doing. So we decided then against that. And that was in a way, looking back at it, perhaps a pity, for then, instead, they got Otto Struve as the first director. And that, frankly, was a great mistake, because Otto knew less about radio than I did, and that was in a way a disaster period for him, a disaster period for the place, until he had the good sense to appoint Dave Heeschen his assistant director. Then Dave became the full director, and after that, things worked out OK.
Why couldn't they have appointed Heeschen first?
Heeschen was very, very young.
They were all too young.
When we took my student Dave Heeschen along on the site selection he had no doctor's degree yet. He was going to get his doctor's degree in eight months. Then he helped me with the exploring. And I said, "Dave, I think I can get you a job at this place." But that was all. You do't take a graduate student who hasn't finished his doctor's degree, and give him the directorship, no.
Others, Ewen, Purcell?
Well, Purcell didn't want it and Ewen didn't want it and Merle Tuve didn't want it. He would have made a very good one, for he was fixed up with Carnegie. There were many people who didn't want the job, frankly. And there were no trained young radio astronomers in the country. Frank Drake got his doctor's degree three months after Dave Heeschen. So this whole gang that looked like ready for teh end, Ed Lilley was the only one who ahd his doctor's degree, and he would have been a disaster if he'd been appointed, for Ed is always — he still is — basically a ham actor who loves doing all sorts of things.
Grote Reber wanted the job, but Grote Reber of course is no administrator, and everybody knew this, you know. There was a fellow at Ohio State — [Kraus].
He built the Ohio Survey?
Yes. And Harold Weaver had just spent a year with us at Harvard to learn a little radio astronomy and get under way. Jesse Greenstein was mentioned, but Jsse didn't want to leave Cal Tech. It was just a very complicated thing. They did try to get Joe Pawsey from Australia later. That almost happened. Then he had a brain damage case and died a very short time after he'd been made the offer. Then in the end in 1962, Dave Heeschen, got the job, adn that was a good solution. But by that time Dave had grown up, and was no longer the little boy that he was in 1955. But we did provide, from our Harvard Graduate School, an excellent core group of real powerful radio astronomers who knew optical astronomy too. I was so glad about that. And then I felt when I went to Australia that the Harvard Graduate School would continue as it was. And it fell to pieces completely.
Tom Gold was brought in.
Yes, but Tom Gold didn't build any radio astronomy. And then there was nothing, until later on with the molecular boys, Palmer and Zuckerman adn that whole group came in.
Morton Roberts was there.
Morton Roberts was fired by Harvard.
Oh, I didn't know that.
Morton said, "Always the greatest thing that happened to me is that i was not given tenure at Harvard." And he was the obvious man for all sorts of things. And Mort Roberts was let go! Had no job for a while.
When was that?
That must have been 1963 or thereabouts. Oh, these things, looking back at it — but Mort Roberts was not considered "worthy" of Harvard appointment.
Was Bolton ever considered for the NRAO?
Yes. And Bolton almost was in, but it didn't work out. I forget quite what the reasons were, but Bolton was very clearly considered. Paul Wild was mildly considered. They looked at some of the Dutch ones. They thought about van de Hulst, and that didn't work out, and all sorts of things happened. Did you know that van de Hulst got the latest Bruce Gold Medal?
No, that's good news.
It's a little secret. It's still a secret.
OK> When will it be out?
No problem, we don't process that fast. Going back to that meeting I mentioned in August 1956, you did participate. You provided a paper on radio astronomy research in the United States.
Berkner and Emberson and Tuve and Waterman all were involved. There were about 38, 40 participants including Shane and Bolton and Nassau, Menzel. One of the biggest questions seemed to be the question of a serious split between optical and radio astronomers, I mentioned before.
The question settled on the control of the facility, and whether AUI separately or jointly was going to control both radio and optical facilities. The astronomers seemed to be quite against any kind of separation.
I was very strong against that. From the beginning I insisted that anyone I trained, anyone I had to do with, had to know both optical adn radio, that was very important — and still is. And it hasn't happened yet, quite. There are still these gaps. But the group that I had trained, for instance, Dave Heeschen wrote his doctoral thesis abot star counts in Ophiuchus. Had nothering to do with radio. He also did the splitting of the 21-centimeter line from the galactic center. But his basic interest was originally optical. He and Ed Lilley wrote a paper counting stars in Gould's Belt, and doing radio data on Gould's Belt. So I had dedicated my whole group to the idea that they had to be good optical astronomers and good radio astronomers, both.
So you certainly felt that the two interests should be together.
Yes. And if the two of them were apart, you would get a radio group that does interesting little experiments — one flash in the pan after another one. A major thing. Then nothing happens. You need the optical ones to say, "Why do we want to look? And where do we want to look?"
How do you think radio astronomy has progressed? In which direction?
There is a constant danger that it will get separated again. It is interesting that people get involved in radio astronomy and ignore the optical. There is a very much more dangerous thing, that the optical, which are still a bit more numerous, will be very snooty towards the radio astronomers, and simply consider them "minor assistants who helps us out in little problems when we have a special problem." The molecules may well break that down even more. But also the quasars have helped a great deal, becase in the quasars you have to have both optical and radio to now what the hell you are doing.
Exactly. Yes. Well, have we covered to a reasonable extent your years at Harvard?
Certainly, I think we have done pretty well for the years at Harvard. The reason why I quite, I might give, for there were complex reasons. The first reason that I quite is that my colleagues made me feel that Milky Way Astronomy was a silly field to be involved in, when there was plenty of military money in other areas. That was number one. Number two is, that my colleagues tried to make me stop supporting, as they put it, Harlow Shapley. Shapley had been accused of being a dangeros Communist by McCarthy and all that, you know — one of the 100 Communists in the State Department, he was on that list and all sorts of things. Shapley had great difficulties. And Menzel adn Whipple and Cecelia all turned against Shapley.
Yes. She did it quietly. But she wanted her professorship, period.
Who was the loudest?
The loudest was Whipple. The second loudest was Menzel. Did I give you the Menzel quote? I'll put it better here again. Menzel said, "I've often been asked in past years whether or not Shapley was a Communist. At this stage, I hope no one asks me again." that sort of thing went on.
Was Menzel already in control at that time?
When did he become director?
I've forgotten. It must have been 1953 or '54 when Shapley quit.
After you came back.
Were you expected to be director?
No. I expected to either be director, or head the Boyden Station. And I wanted the Boyden Station more than anything else. And then they plled the rug out from under me, and when I came back I found the Boyden Station had disappeared.
Why did they get rid of it?
The Harvard Corporation's argument was that it was a bad idea for Harvard University to own real estate so far from the home base, where you couldn't keep an eye on it. That was the official Corporation point of view.
Do you think that was some sort of an attitude set up by Menzel?
Yes. Oh yes, very clearly. And McGeorge Bundy tried to sort of pacify things, and didn't know how to do it.
He offered you that job in the School of Education.
That job, yes. And then the next thing that happened was the Smithsonian came in. And I felt that the Smithsonian was not the thing that Harvard needed. It would have been much better for Harvard to be a little pooer, fight out its own problems and run a good graduate school in astronomy, instead of going to the Smithsonian. I didn't want a big bureaucracy with several hundred people moving in on the observatory absorbing the observatory, and I felt sure that that would kill the graduate school. I don't know if I told you the story, but I would like to record this one. It's a rather nice one. We came back here in 1966. There had been a review in '65 of teh order in which the graduate schools in astronomy were arranged, and Arizona didn't figure, it had no graduate school. In 1971 there was a second ordering of that same type, and the University of Arizona, where I'd worked hard to set up a graduate school, came in number 5, and Harvard came in number 6! And that night, Priscilla and I sat in this chair and this sofa, and we both got drunk on very strong martinis! (laughter) But that was exactly what I had predicted would happen. You lose your standing among the graduate schools, you know. And then, this has now come back under George Field, you know, and Leo Goldberg already. Their emphasis is getting away from getting overhead "money-money-money — all the time more." They are now more in the educational direction again. I think things are going pretty well, though they have troubles now, very serious financial problems at Harvard. Harvard Observatory has had to fire 30 percent of its staff.
Because they didn't get a large space contract?
Yes. And that went down from 1-1/2 million to I think 700 thousand or so.
It's very serious.
Yes, it is, very serious, those things. I'm not involved. For I'm just an old age pensioner, ain't got no money, and don't need much — I do pretty well all right.
So all these things precipitated your leaving. But you had a number of choices.
I had two basic choices. I had other ones, because, when you have 55 graduate students like I had, your graduate students are like your children, and they get very nervous about "Pap, Mama, what are you going to do next year?" So I had all sorts of indirect inquiries from California. I had an offer already then from the University of Arizona, which was very nice to have.
Even in the late fifities?
Yes. But I didn't want it. But then what we did, we promised that in the end, we'd come back to settle in retirement in Arizona. And the vice president for research said at the dinner party, "Well, Priscilla and Bart, I hope that you reconsider and that you comeback in ten years, and earn for the next ten years an honest living with us."
So you really had the idea that you'd come to Steward Observatory eventually.
Yes. After Australia. But we wanted to spend ten years in Australia, and see what we could do to set up real big Southern Hemisphere astronomy, with a major telescope, and do our own work on the Southern Milky Way, and on the Magellanic Clouds, that we wanted to finish.
Certainly. Just one final question for this session. Were you in contact with Carpenter here?
Oh, very much. Since 1938. Carpenter became a close friend of mine by '34, '35. And Carpenter came to our place, stayed with us in Lexington, and invited me out. I used to be a Harvard Club lecturer. I'm a reasonably good popular lecturer. I used to give Harvard Club lectures here and deal with schools and drum up school kids. And when you became a little more famous in that field, you got more and more offers from the desirable places to go to. And in the middle of winter these places are: Tucson, Phoenix and California. We used to call that "the kerosene circuit," because the lamps go on kerosene, they had kerosene lamps. Then there was the "Southern circuit" — Atlanta, Memphis, Houston. I used to get that one occasionally. We used to call that "the Boubon circuit." And so you had these very nice circuits you went on, and I liked Tucson. First of all I loved the climate, being a born Dutchman. Second, I liked Carpenter. Third, during the Depression, Carpenter always had one postdoctoral fellowship, the only one practically in the country. He had a Steward Fellowship that was very nice. Jesse Greenstein had it one year, Jim Armin Deutsch had it for a year. There was a whole group of them through the years that helped. So there was placement, graduate student supply, and then they began to talk about a possible major observatory here, that later on became Kitt Peak. And I helped all I could to find the places here where it could be done, in a preliminary fashion. So in 1946 we spent a month here as the guest of the university. That's rather interesting. And I knew all the people — President Harvel, when he was still an instructor; Dean Lodes when he became dean, and the whole thing. I knew the whole works here very well. And therefore, when we came back from Australia, coming here was almost automatic. Yes.
Carpenter had some contact with Henry Norris Russell.
So did all of us.
Yes, certainly, but he had a rather negative contact. I've been trying to trace it down.
Oh, I don't know that. I've heard that there was something about double stars? I remember but it never interested me. I wasn'ted involved with either Russell or Carpenter. I don't remember having talked either of them ever about that. Carpenter had rather a difficult time. I've forgotten why this was. He was not liked at Lick.
This is what I'm trying to understand.
I don't know who would know about it. Mrs. Carpenter lives in town, down the street. Maybe you ought to go and see her. If you have time, you ought to drop in on the old lady. She's not so old. She's about 75 I think. Exceedingly firm, very clear, outspoken. She's trying to write up Carpenter's complete works, but I don't think it will ever come out. There wasn't enough to write about anyhow. But she has had plans of doing it. Carpenter was involved in establishing the Desert Museum, among other things.
Oh, he was?
Yes. Very strongly. They were early, you might almost say, exiles, who were sent to this part of the world.
That's what I'm trying to understand, because in my efforts to understand Henry Norris Russell's life, Carpenter seemed to be one instance where Russell had taken a dislike to him, and then Carpenter had no choice but to come out here. Have you heard this?
Yes. That's what I've heard, yes. That's what Carpenter told me once. It was not only Henry Norris Russell. The people at Lick didn't like him and the people at Harvard didn't like him. He was basically a Harvard-based boy, you know. He came from New England. He had a hard time. But he was always very pleased that Priscilla and I liked him. And Mrs. Carpenter likes us. She was here for lunch a year ago or something like that.
I'll stop it here. We'll contine Friday morning. Thank you very much.
Pop. Astronomy (1930) Op. Cit.
Observatory 59 (1936) p.76.
Harlow Shapley. Biographical Memoirs. NAS (1978).
Campbell “Wade.” Ellen Bouton, NRAO 8/2005.
Atoms, Stars, and Nebulae (Blakiston, 1943).
Nature 133 (1934) p.578
NAS Memoir on Shapley, by Bok (1978).
PASP 67 (1955) p.103 with C.M. Wade
Observatory 79 (1959) p. 58;Observatory87 (1967) p. 250.
Observatory 79 (1959), p. 58.
Vistas in Astronomy (Pergamon, 1956) Vol. 2, p. 1522
In May 1978, University of Maryland
APJ 90 (1939) p. 249; Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 42 (1941) p. 219
”The Milky Way in Monocerotis” PASP 10 (1940) p. 45
”Small Dark Nebulae” APG 105 (1947) p. 255 with E. F. Reilly.
Centennial Symposia (Harvard College Observatory Monograph #7, 1948). Papers by Bok, Whipple, Menzel, Spitzer, Greenstein, Russell, Struve, Petrie, Eckert, Whitford, Stebbins, Schalen, Shapley, etc.
with U. van Wijk AJ 17 (1952) P. 213: Harvard Reprint #45 (2nd Series).
Museum of the Sonoran Desert near Tucson.