Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Walter Cady by R. Bruce Lindsay and W. James King on 1963 August 29,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Early interest in science; Brown University 1891-1896; Carl Barus; Universität Berlin 1897-1900, thesis work with Emil Warburg; American students in Germany; Wesleyan University 1902-1946. Early American Physical Society meetings, Arthur G. Webster. The piezo electric resonator and the frequency stabilizer, work on Rochelle salt crystals. Lawsuits regarding patent rights; independent inventors versus big corporations. Excerpts of family history, societies, list of outstanding students, list of patents; about Hans Jaffe, Frank Dietz, Frederick Slocum, the Langevin-Curie scandal. Avocations, old violins; disposition of his early apparatus, inventions, diaries; reasons for moving back to Rhode Island. Also prominently mentioned are: Clark, Albert Wallace Hull, Walter Kaufmann, Henry Parker Manning, Albert Abraham Michelson, A. M. Nicolson, Max Planck, Poulsen, Edward Bennett Rosa, Heinrich Rubens, Schwartz, George Wood Vinal; Scott Laboratory, and Western Electric Company.
Dr. Cady, here is some material which Dr. H. T. Babcock sent in: a report on Anti-submarine supersonics, which was presented to the National Research Council in May (1) 1919. It contains something very interesting in that when he speaks of the oscillator that they were using which apparently was a quartz steel sandwich affair, he says that, “these quartz steel projectors function electro-mechanically with real and reactive power very much as a divided circuit having a condenser in one branch, a loading resistor and condensing substance in the other” and this was fairly early. I wonder if you could comment on this. Take a look at it tonight and comment on it.
Yes, I’d be very glad to.
We thought this had a little bearing on what Van Dyke did with you at Wesleyan later. In other words, this might be a very good illustration of the fact that government reports don’t achieve any communication power because they just don’t get around.
I’m quite sure that Van Dyke had never heard of this. This is almost like a definition in words of an equivalent circuit; a condenser with PLC in parallel with it. That’s precisely what Van Dyke worked out.
That’s what rather buzzed us out.
Here are some figures that I took out of this family history that I am writing and it covers what I did in World War I and World War II, with a sketch through the years of the ‘20s.
Is this being duplicated? How available do you want to make this?
I’m having about 30 copies mimeographed. My brother Jack told me they tight like to have a copy of it at the Historical Society.
I should think they would and certainly the Brown Archives would like to have it too.
I’m doing it primarily for my grandchildren and the rest of the relatives that might be interested in the subject.
Could you leave a copy at the American Institute of Physics?
Oh yes, it will be some months before it’s put out, I’m having some illustrations put into it.
This is splendid, simply splendid.
What these pages are is family history covering, as I said, W.W. I and W.W. II.
Do you say anything about your background here in Providence and about your parents? Were they themselves natives of Rhode Island?
My father was born in Providence, and moved to the house on Power St. with his parents and brothers when he was a child. My mother was born in Somerset, Massachusetts.
You were born in that house, weren’t you?
Yes, I was born there.
The background of a person and where a person comes from is always interesting to know.
I have a bibliography here and list of societies that I have belonged to at different times, and also a list of patents. I’ve never really considered myself an inventor. It was just a big hobby because a research laboratory happened to have some devices that looked as though they might be practical and there’s a list here of the patents.
I hope that you had more luck with some of these other patents then you did with the patent on the crystal frequency control.
The others were not very productive in cash if that’s what you mean. In W.W. II I did think up a certain cut of Rochelle-salt that could be put to use in underwater transducers and I assigned that to the Brush Company in Cleveland, and I think I raked off something like $1000.00.
Was Burwell connected with Brush at that time; do you know Russ Burwell? He went out there as head of, the president of Brush Cleverite. I’m not sure if he was there at that time.
Well, I just met him slightly in those days, I have contacts with their present chief of research, Hans Jaffe.
Yes, he’s a very important figure in this crystal field.
He came to this country as a refugee -- he had Jewish blood in him and I think I gave him his first job in this country through one of those international agencies and so he served me for several years at Wesleyan. I have a very high opinion of him, in fact, he compiled quite a lot of material on the Rochelle-salt chapters in my book. I’ve kept in touch with him ever since; he called on me a few times in Pasadena and I expect to leave some of my old Rochelle-salt Notebooks to him because he had a hand in compiling them. I have here a report from The Bureau of Standards on a test they made on my earliest resometer. They had it before I had the frequency control and I was getting a set of resometers ready to take on ny trip abroad which was in 1923 when I made comparisons of my quartz standards with the frequency meters in the Government Laboratories in Italy, France and England.
Was this NBS report made in 1923?
The Bureau of Standards Report, I think, was dated in 1920, let me see. “Bureau of Standards, September 11, 1920.” I also have various reports of experimental work that was done at Key West and New London on antisubmarine work when I was cooperating with the Pupin Group from Columbia.
Could we copy this material for our files?
Yes, if it will be of any use to you.
Oh, very definitely, yes indeed.
Here is a list of some of my outstanding students. I think I’ve already said something on this.
Yes, yes you have already given us a copy. Some of these people I know or have known rather well; Harrison, Hulsizer and Holton. Frank Dietz, of course, is here in Rhode Island now at the University; he’s doing some very nice work on underwater sound. I don’t know whether you follow his work. He must have been one of your younger men, I guess.
He was not one of the early ones; he was with me in the late ‘40s. He helped me with some work I did for Radiation Laboratory. They were developing a Radar Trainer and wanted me to make an estimate of the energy being used, so I gladly took that job. I did most of the experimental work at Wesleyan with occasional visits down to Cambridge. Let’s see, who was the man? Rosenberg, I think, was in charge of that. Here are some data on experiments in New London telling you various tests that were made with the Rochelle-salt receivers that I made. At that time, for some reason, I suppose a good reason, they decided not to start in immediately using the transmitter as a receiver but they were only getting the characteristics of the transmitter. They wanted some means of making quantitative tests of the signal for different distances so that’s what I made the Rochelle-salt receivers for. In the mean time the Western Electric Company of the Bell Laboratories had made some receivers of their own design which were not piezo-electric, and they wanted to run them; we took them out in the same boat and made tests.
Were these magnetic-type telephone transmitters?
They were more or less special microphones having diaphragms tuned for resonance at 50,000 cycles together with amplifier circuits and so forth; to compare with these I used the Rochelle-salt receivers and as a matter of fact the Rochelle-salt turned out to be a couple of orders of magnitude more sensitive.
I think I remember -- they had a membrane with a little rod and then a cup full of carbon granules; the carbon granules would rattle and you would get as much as in a telephone device.
Basically it was like a carbon microphone. If you don’t care to look at this, you can take all of it if you like, just return it to me in the course of time -- that’s all I’m interested in. I don’t know whether I told you that I came to know George Wendell at Columbia very well. He’s the man that gave their first physics course, general physics. He had some fine demonstrations.
When was he flourishing? I don’t remember him at all.
George Wendell goes way back in the early part of the century. In fact, I think I met him in Berlin, because as I remember it he had taken his degree recently at Leipzig and visited Berlin on the way back. I came to know him first then, and we became friends so I always looked him up whenever I went into New York for one of the Physical Society meetings. Then he was put in charge of that course for many years. When he gave it up, I don’t remember when that was, in the ‘20s or possibly the ‘30s, they approached me whether I wanted to be his successor.
They wanted you to move to Columbia?
The funny thing about that was I never had taken part in a complete course in General Physics, except as a stand-in once in a while. Yet in spite of that they wanted me to consider going there. Well, I couldn’t see that, I didn’t want to devote my life to a career of teaching general physics.
Wouldn’t they have given you other opportunities? Didn’t they try to bait the work a little bit?
I don’t remember how far we got into that though I’m certain we must have taken up the question of research. Anyway, whether wisely or not, I made up my mind I liked it better at Wesleyan. We were speaking yesterday of the advantages of a small college but of course I realize only too well what some of the disadvantage are: Not having a lot of expert associates to take worries to, to say nothing of the equipment.
You have had some remarkably good colleagues there; Van Dyke and Eaton have both been very strong teachers and Van Dyke a very good research man too.
And then they had some good mathematicians there that I came to know very well. They helped me out sometimes, and as far as my own particular psychology is concerned as I look back I’m very glad I stayed there. I feel there is a real place for a certain type of man who can do good work in a small college and Heaven knows there are going to continue to be small colleges and they do need good people in their Physics Departments.
I meant to ask you more yesterday about Fred Slocum. He was your colleague there for many years though he died somewhat prematurely, I think. Did you have much association at Wesleyan and was he interested in what you were doing in Physics? Was he interested in going to your laboratory and were you interested in what he was doing in Astronomy?
I don’t remember that I ever took him over to the laboratory and showed him my experiments at all, and I don’t remember that he ever showed me his results at the observatory. His work had mostly to do with parallax. That’s a branch of astronomy that our telescope at Wesleyan was competent to follow up, so he went into that.
You know, at the time of the first World War he came here to give a course in Navigation because he was himself a master mariner and had all the licenses to navigate ships all over the world. He came from around my native place; I think he came from either Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. Maybe he was even born in New Bedford, I think at least he came from that general section.
My guess would be New Bedford.
I think he was born in my hometown, New Bedford, and apparently took a great interest in sailing and ships in general. The President at Brown managed to get him to come back here to handle the course in navigation for our navy unit and I took the course with him at that time. After the war, the President tried to persuade him to stay at Brown that year and set up a whole program for Nautical Science as he thought this was going to be a big thing after the first World War. I think Slocum wanted to do it, but the curious thing is that the interest in it died down almost immediately after the war. We didn’t get any students and he finally decided the best thing to do was to go back to Wesleyan and resume his astronomy. Then, somehow or other, he got cancer or something and died relatively young.
He retired the same time as I did, I think that was in ‘48. They gave us all a big banquet and invited some of our friends and colleagues from other colleges there as guests without telling us who was going to be there. When I arrived I found out that Hull from General Electric had been invited because someone had remembered that I was associated with him but, Slocum was the only one of the five not present as he was in his last illness. He had cancer you know.
Rather sad because he has been a rather noted astronomer throughout the country and the world for his work on parallax.
Well, he died only about a month after that retiring party.
Dr. Cady, there were a few points in yesterday’s discussion that I neglected to pick up and I wonder if we could take a few of these right now: First, your impression of Pierre Duhem, the French historian of science.
I don’t remember that I met him. Did I say so yesterday?
No, you didn’t mention having met him but you mentioned him in your book and you state that he laid some of the foundations for the later development.
All that I know of him is through his publications and I think we had a little correspondence together. I’m not in a position to give any estimate about him.
I suppose you did have a great deal of correspondence with Langevin?
Yes, I had lunch with him in Paris one time when I was there and I found him a very pleasant person to associate with. We got to talking about the resometer and the crystal oscillator and he said, “Oh, you know, I never thought of that.”
He did think of the sonar idea; he had it.
Oh yes, he’s been called the father of ultrasonics.
I suppose this should probably be off the record. There was you know, a great deal of scandal about him and Madame Curie. Did you ever hear about that?
Oh yes, I remember having heard about it at the time.
Paul Curie is said to have committed suicide, the others have the story that he got run over by a street-car.
Langevin certainly doesn’t look like a playboy, but you don’t have to in France.
Well, it was Barus that told me about it a long time ago. I had heard that from Loeb.
Langevin ran through tragedy in the latter part of his life. You know about his patent, somewhat like mine?
No, I did not know.
It was absorbed by the Bell System; they went back and tried to convince the court that Langevin’s patent or application was not valid so that Nicolson’s work prevailed. I don’t know what the legal expression for it is, but anyway, the court decided that Nicolson technically anticipated Langevin. Nicolson never would have started in on this work if it hadn’t been for the reports that reached this country of what Langevin had done.
They certainly tied a great deal to Nicolson and apparently managed to get away with it. Did you know Nicolson personally in later days after it (the litigation) was over?
Oh yes, after the litigation had started I was in New York one time at a meeting and Nicolson invited me up to his home; he lives up on Riverside Drive with his 2 sisters. And in the course of our conversation, he said, “Cady, I want you to know I’m very indignant over this situation, I never did think of the crystal as a resometer or an oscillator.” I have that right from the horse’s mouth, you see.
About then did that happen? Was that in the 1930s, 1940s?
It was in February, 1925.
Well, this is very curious because it shows that the work claimed for the man was not his own, and he was more honest than the company that was employing him, probably.
Another question that I would have liked to ask you yesterday is how you happened to publish in the American Journal of Science in the early days. You seemed to have preferred publishing there to the Physical Review. I think your first publication in the Physical Review was in 1912 or 1913.
Yes, several of my earliest publications, before the days of crystals, were on various forms of Electrical Discharge, and one reason perhaps was because it was published down home near Yale. At that time, of course, it was a journal in very good standing and I wasn’t the only physicist by any means that continued to publish in the American Journal of Science.
How did you happen to get interested in this arc discharge work which Arnold for example did with you and others also?
Yes, Arnold was my first helper on that. When Arnold became a graduate student and worked for a Master’s degree he wanted to do his thesis on this subject.
Was Arnold a Wesleyan man?
Oh yes, he was, I think, my first assistant there and I spotted immediately that he was a very bright boy. So when he came up as a candidate for his master’s deqree and wanted to do some thesis work I suggested he do some work on the electric arc between metals. That was the time when a lot was being written about the carbon arc and especially the hissing-stage of the catbonarc and all that sort of thing. But not much had been done about Metallic arcs, so I told Arnold he’d better get busy and make up some samples of copper, iron and other metals, maybe get their characteristic curves and see what happened. He hadn’t been at it very long when he burst into my office and said, “Professor Cady, I want ou to see my donuts.” Well, he had an iron arc going in the next room and it gave off a hissing sound. In fact, there was a little picture associated with it; when you looked at the base of the arc under a magnifier through a filter, what you saw was a little ring of light about a millimeter in diameter; instead of being a single fixed spot you could definitely see that it was a very small spot circling around in a small circle. The first two or three of my papers had to do with the analysis of that. I figured out there were different oxides that were forming and some of the oxides became hotter than others; the discharge fell into a circular motion on the surface of a molten globule; the pitch of the sound varied with the current. I don’t think anybody has been interested in it since, but it was a real effort and it’s quite an interesting one. I followed it up with G.W. Vinal, later of the Bureau of Standards. He was also one of my boys, I hope I mentioned him. Then he and I discovered another form of discharge, by passing a small current between two metallic electrodes in air. We found that with a DC voltage in the neighborhood of 1000 volts, we could maintain the discharge over a small gap of a fraction of a millimeter and that as the current increased to a certain amount, the discharge broke from a glow to an arc, but it was periodic and we had a high-frequency discharge. Of course, it was generated automatically by the DC voltage and we found it had the frequency of about 250 thousand or so. We also found it gave off radio waves that we could pick up in another building by radio, and that the frequency was determined by the characteristics of the DC line, and that I could control the frequency by interposing an inductance in certain places and so on.
Was there a patent of this?
No, I couldn’t say there was; it was published, of course.
Did you figure you had a scheme for changing DC into AC?
I’d call it a form of DC into AC. I called it the glow-arc discharge, and I still scan the section on discharges in the pages of the Physics Abstracts to see if anyone has done anything new on the glow-arc, but I never found anyone interested.
This is probably related to plasma oscillation.
I suppose, though I doubt in that day whether the word plasma would have been applied. That came many, many years later, so I had to work with the concept of the day.
Did you do any work in piezo-electricity before the meeting in Washington?
No. To me, like everyone else, it was a scientific curiosity.
You entered the problem of piezo-electricity through your work on submarine detection then?
Quite so. I had been thinking of the submarine problems before the meeting in Washington. I thought up various magnetic devices. One thing I was going to do was to mount on the deck of a ship a Hughes induction balance with big coils with a current flowing through them and if the magnetic field in one was not exactly the same as in the other then the coils became unbalanced. I thought of a submarine with a lot of iron in its construction off there, and that if we rotated the big balance on the ship we might come up with something. Well, I think the sixth power law comes in rather forbidding it. But I was thinking along those lines and came to the conclusion that if I could only think of a good way to generate powerful ultrasonic-waves under water with a frequency high enough for the beam to be directed, that would be a good way to pick up the submarine. Then came the call to Washington and immediately I grabbed hold of the piezo-electric idea because it seemed to be just what I wanted.
At that time there was still some interest in ordinary acoustic mechanical devices. Do you remember the Broca tube -- just a rubber nipple on the end of a hollow tube? Was there still any talk about that when you were brought into the picture?
Yes, I came upon it all. I was told while I was working with Hull up in Schenectady that some of their people had been to Nahant. They were carrying out tests there under water and they found that there was no better receiver that they had at that time than an empty rubber tube with a plug at the bottom end pushed down into the water.
Dick Fay of the Submarine Signal Co. -- you probably remember him with M.I.T. -- did some of that early work. We are going to publish a little article of his showing some of the pictures of these early underwater hydrophones as they called them at that time. They were purely mechanical in nature and not electrical at all.
These were resometers?
Effectively these were acoustic resometers. They were fairly sensitive to certain frequencies but on the whole the sensitivity was very low and not controllable very well. You could steer them; they made a raise so you could use the binumeral effect and steer them and focus on sound.
One GE-man that was doing work in acoustics was W.D. Coolidge. He was working on the actual range with Broca tubes, while Hull and I were doing the high-frequency work.
You produced in that article a very fascinating account and I was very happy to have it. I think it’s splendid to have that available. Why don’t we say something now about the book itself? Did you want to raise some questions?
Well, there’s one other question I should like to raise before we get into the book and that is: How did you pass from a resometer which is loosely coupled to an electrical circuit to an oscillator? I’d like to understand some more about the tools which enabled you to do that. How did you obtain the understanding of the conditions for the control of the circuit by means of the crystal? I know they controlled the crystal by the circuit bill. You turned it around presumably by means of the feed-back process.
I stumbled upon the resometer purely by chance. I’d been exciting quartz rods, some of them no more than a millimeter long, in longitudinal vibration, and I had a number of them labeled each with its own particular vibration frequency. I had noticed of course that the resonance was very sharp, but the frequency standard idea was a pretty obvious deduction that anybody ought to have made after getting along that far; and one night when I was getting ready for bed it suddenly flashed upon me that here I had these things sharper in resonance than any tuning fork. Why shouldn’t a series of them be made in different frequencies that could be used for calibrating frequency meters and such things? And that is when I wrote the paper for the Physical Society on it. At that time I never thought of having the reaction of the crystal control the frequency. Then came a curious thing. After that meeting I got to talking with Arnold and telling him about my resometer work and he asked whether it might not be possible to contrive a circuit with a crystal in it that could have its frequency controlled or stabilized by the crystal. I started in immediately, and it wasn’t very many days before I could get stabilization and finally complete control. I had one circuit that had no coil or condenser at all. The only inductance and compacitance was that of the crystal, together with a three-stage amplifier. I have only come upon one single case in the literature where anyone else ever used that particular circuit and that was Pierce, who, of course, devised the circuit named after him. Pierce was a trained engineer.
Did you ever discuss your work on oscillation with Hull? The reason why I’m raising this question is that Hull had worked on the oscillations of a circuit.
Yes. Hull also had the megnetron job.
Megnetron came a little later, didn’t it? I was wondering if there had been any influence of Hull’s work on oscillations of a circuit and your work on the oscillation of a circuit and a crystal.
No, I don’t remember that we had any conversations along that line, in fact I didn’t see very much of him after World War I except occasionally at meetings, though I was at his home a few times.
By this time circuit oscillations were fairly well understood - is that right?
Oh, there was a pretty big literature on that.
That’s why those electric circuit theories are applied to acoustics and in other ways?
The math formula was all there ready to be transcribed. It might have happened the other way; the acoustics equations might have happened first and then they would have been taken over into electricity.
C. W. Stuart hoped that would be the case but he never won out. How well understood at the time you were doing your work on crystal oscillations was the feeding back of the mechanical effect on the electrical constants of the circuit? Was this common knowledge or was it more or less confined to a few men?
I don’t believe it was common knowledge. Of course as soon as you know the electro-mechanical circuit characteristics, especially the piezoelectric, so that you can attach an electrical network to a mechanical system and replace the one by the other, then any engineer will be able to tell you what would happen if you could make a combination of the same RL and the same C that quartz has for example and build it with R as low as for quartz. Of course, you wouldn’t need to use a crystal; you could do it purely electrically.
I guess you could make something that approached quartz by working down the temperature to an absolute zero but it’s much easier to cut a little slab of quartz.
How much association did you have with the problem of getting the Quartz?
None directly. At that time it became very important to find sources of quartz and eventually they began to make quartz crystals artificially. At first it was the problem of getting them and Brazil became very important for a while. Well, they also found quartz in some parts of this country, but it looked as though the only good specimens would have to come from Brazil. We began to ship them from Brazil until the ships got torpedoed and then they flew them up by air. I remember that at the Bureau of Standards in those early days they had bushels of big chunks of quartz, some of them as big as two fists, and they plunged them into oil to see if they were clear enough. That was the first stage. Threw out most of them, saved up some others to be cut up. Well, whether the General Electric Co. got their quartz supply through the Bureau of Standards or independently, I don’t know. But they were having them cut up with a diamond saw and the earliest crystals that I had to work with were sent to me by Hull from G.E.
Well, let’s talk a little about your book which everybody recognizes as the international authority on piezo-electricity. We were all very pleased that it’s coming out in this second edition. When did you first think about writing such a book?
My first idea was to write a little monograph. It was around 1928 or so that I wrote that bibliography on piezo-electricity which was published in the IRE proceedings. And then in the early ‘30s I began to think of writing a monograph. I thought it might be interesting to write a monograph of 100 pages telling about what I had done and summarizing the whole subject. I happened to sit next to Richtmyer one day at one of the Physical Society meetings somewhere or other and told him of my idea of publishing a monograph and he said why don’t you write a full- size book and we’ll publish it in the International Series. That was really the stimulus that I had to write a full-sized book.
He was the editor at that time?
Yes. So from 1933 to 1946 it was my principal activity, with some experimental research outside, and I had a great deal of help from Hans Jaffe when it came to the Rochelle-Salt problem. That was the beginning of ferro-electrics. I sent various chapters to other people for them to look over and criticize. Hans Mueller helped me out considerably with that; he was at Harvard.
I suppose no one else did any of the actual writing -- you wrote the whole thing by yourself?
Yes, though there were some portions of it, especially on the Rochelle-Salt Theory which had been started by Mueller, and developed further by Jaffe, and I copied from some of his notes that he gave me almost verbatim, but I’m responsible for the writing of the whole thing.
It is very beautifully written book and I think your introduction of the historical material made it even more interesting to many people. This was an interesting thing not often found in a technical treatise.
Well, I felt it was pretty important to do that because it was a new subject. It was not as if it were just one more textbook on electricity or magnetism or anything of that sort.
There are not many technical books that have quotations from Hans Sachs at the beginning of a chapter or from opera like “La donna e Mobile.”
In preparing the revised edition I found one rather inopportune, so I cut that out; the rest of them are all there.
There is only one other book that I could think of at the moment that has done that and that is one of Harold Jeffrey’s books, the one on scientific influence. He’s also done the same thing with his book on the theory of probability using quotations mostly from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
Some of my quotations may seem pretty far- fetched but then again there were some of them that were so apt that it was almost as though their authors had written them for my particular purpose.
I’m glad you’ve saved those for this new edition. You said that it’s going to be divided into two parts. Is there some kind of logic to the division or did they just decide to divide it into two equal parts?
Well, it just so happens if you split it at the exact center there is more or less a natural break there and I think the second volume begins with the discussion of ferro-electrics.
Have you tried to extend the bibliography for the second edition?
Oh yes, a good deal has happened since 1946. I haven’t covered the later bibliography in all the minute details, but I did write a new appendix for several sections, one new section on recent progress in ferroelectricity, and with the appendix there is a new bibliography of some pages, I don’t remember how many. I hope that may tempt some people to buy the book.
Have you any idea when it will actually appear?
They told me that it will be late in 1963. There’s one more batch of proofs that still have to come to me; I don’t know why they’re so late about it. They sent me a copy of the proposed blurb which was so bad that I practically rewrote it all.
Is Circer still running that Dover Business, you have some association with him?
Yes. I saw him personally on the subject. Since then I haven’t corresponded so much with him. There’s a man named Appelbaum who seems to be editing that particular branch.
Did they actually photograph a good deal of the older book?
Oh yes, this is almost entirely photographic.
Except for your new sections.
Yes, you might say that there is hardly a page where I haven’t done something. It might have been to substitute one word for another, make a little change, numerical value, or something of that sort. In a number of cases, I wrote several new pages instead of merely writing a new paragraph to replace an old one. But I was always careful to see that the paging remains the same throughout the whole book.
Your essentially new material is in the appendices.
I’ve changed the symbolism somewhat. For example, the symbols for stress and strain in the new edition are no longer Voigt’s because they are obsolete now; I now use T & S and also other symbols now universally adopted.
Did you have an opportunity to look up the figures on your teaching load at Wesleyan?
I looked through some old diaries and found entries like this: “Took over the course in 8 physics, began this morning.” I didn’t say what 8 physics is about, probably Optics. I can’t remember all that, I guess. I did write down somewhere: Among the courses that I taught were a little of General Physics. Perhaps I had taken over for a few weeks to substitute for somebody but I never gave an independent course in General Physics. Among my standard courses were those in Electricity and Magnetism. I think one of my first textbooks in that was the English book by Starling. Remember that one? A very good book; and then when Page and Adams came out I started giving a course in Modern Physics and for that I used the Richtmyer text. Then I gave a course in Theoretical Physics for a while, a standard course that would be like a second year Physics course. I never gave any courses that would be counted as graduate courses in a graduate school. Richtmyer’s Modern Physics is customarily taught to undergraduates, not only to graduates.
I think so. That book has been modified as you know. Kennard revised it and then more recently someone else from the West Coast came in, I don’t remember who. [T. Lauritsen of Cal Tech worked on the 1955 edition.]
I haven’t seen the latest edition but I remember when Kennard revised it. Willoughby was at Cornell at that time and he helped Kennard prepare that edition.
I think that’s a very much used book. It has a very interesting historical introduction too.
Richtmyer was a good writer; he wrote good English. Speaking of Willoughby, I think his name was mentioned in our correspondence a little. I don’t know whether you know that’s my son’s name. I didn’t know whether you were interested in getting any data about him. You see, he was only 46 when he died.
You sent us some material.
I think I sent you some material. Yes, in case any questions come up I think I can give you all the information you may need.
That will be fine.
That’s the field anyway that I taught at Wesleyan. I think the first year I was there I gave a course in Electricity and Magnetism plus a lab course in which there were lectures occasionally. Whether I gave still another course in that first year I don’t remember. Anyway, the list of topics is what I just told you.
The standard load was something like three courses, I suppose?
I think the standard load was two courses meeting three times a week each and a lab course and the lab involved meeting with the whole class, with lectures, and they took notes and so on. I don’t remember whether I used a text in the lab work or not.
You made the first chapter of your book a historical one. Did you find any use for the history of science in teaching Science?
Well, I always tried to enliven my lectures whatever the subject was, with historical information, perhaps a little anecdote or perhaps a little about the life and career of some scientist.
This perhaps is a good time to bring up the subject of your avocations. You never included in your brief autobiography your interest in music and interest in ornitholoqy. Do these things date back to your boyhood for the most part?
Yes, I can’t remember the time when I wasn’t interested in flowers or birds. Mother was quite active in the Audubon Society and she used to go on many bird walks and I used to go with her. My particular interest was recording the songs of birds. I used to take a pitch pipe when I went out to walk and when I heard a bird singing I wrote it down, and tried to get the right pitch and place it in the right octave as far as possible. I have a record of, I think, 80 American birds.
You never tried to make any recordings with an actual tape recorder?
No, that’s been done a lot.
Pierce did a good deal himself in the latter part of his life and wrote an interesting book on birdsong.
I buy records sometimes now with birdsong which I compare with the record that I have.
Could you match the sound with the pitch-pipe? Is that what you did?
Yes, I’d listen first and then try to identify the pitch; there’s nothing exact about it.
You must have an unusually good sense of pitch.
A curious thing about that is that I acquired the sense of absolute pitch; I didn’t have it naturally. But after the hundreds of times that I brought that little pitch pipe up to my mouth and blew in at the end, I found when I went through the motion of bringing it to my lips I knew what the sound was going to be. I could hum it or whistle it and get agreement within a pretty small fraction of a semitone with the actual sound. I think I’ve lost that since then but at that time I found that I didn’t really have to go through the action of blowing a pitch pipe but I knew before it touched my lips what it was going to be. And then came the time when I didn’t actually have to move my arm and bring the pitch pipe up, but just imagine myself doing it, and I would be able to tell that exact pitch without going through the mental process.
Did you ever happen to know Dr. Kellogg at Cornell? He did a lot of work with recording bird sounds.
Yes, I think on one of my visits up there I met him, but I didn’t come to know him well at all.
Allensworth I know, yes.
You were also interested in bird banding and migration. Did you ever look into the theory of this and are you interested in various suggestions that have been made as to how birds navigate and so forth?
Oh, in a general way, I’ve been interested in reading about it in the magazines but I haven’t made any intensive study of it. I began banding birds around 1929 or ‘30 and continued in Pasadena for a while; I did quite a little banding, there. It was only about two years ago that I gave it up and turned in all my bands and records.
In bird banding did you study birds that already had been caught and banded by someone else so you could tell about their migrations?
It had always been one of my ambitions to capture a bird that had been banded by somebody else; I never did.
But you must have had records of people that located the birds that you banded?
Oh yes, there was quite a large number of cases where I would receive from Washington a card telling me of a bird bearing such and such a number which according to records I had banded, and had been taken at such and such a place; some pretty far bandings. One of My Morning Doves that I had banded in Pasadena, for example, was taken some 400 miles away in Mexico and a report of it got back to Washington, somehow, I don’t know how, and they notified me. It was quite a thrill.
You wrote a few popular articles on this, did you not?
I think so, I forget what they appeared in. I guess it was most likely “Bird Lore” or the “Audubon Magazine”.
Here are two articles in “Bird Lore”.
What year was that?
1911 and 1912, items 18 and 19.
“Some Experiments With a Bird Nursery,” was one, and “A Note on the Screech Owl” was in 1912. Two or three, not very many.
It’s interesting to note that Fred Saunders was interested in ornithology too. Did you know that?
Seems to me we swapped yarns once or twice but I have no definite recollection of it. We really never had regular correspondence or anything of that sort.
Were you associated with any societies that were interested in this?
Yes, I think it’s called the American Bird Banding Association and they used to send around a little mimeographed news sheet once a month or so. I may have made some contributions to that. I don’t recall now. While I was in Germany studying I used to go out looking for German birds and I’ve got a lot of records of German bird song in my notes.
Have you kept up your interest in musical performances at all over the years? You spoke about playing a mandolin at college and so forth.
Oh, less and less as time went on. Up to the time of my mother’s death which was in 1922, I used to play duets with her. She was an expert pianist and one of my brothers played cello and I played violin, so we used to play the Mozart and Beethoven trios, but I had less and less opportunity to from then on. I have two old violins that I want to sell.
Are these really ancient?
One is a real old Italian violin. The trouble is there are so many old Italian violins which are not genuine. Italian violins have curious labels on the inside dating them a century or two back. I’m trying to learn whether this was genuine; it was given to me by a friend of the family.
I have one that my grandfather gave me. It’s suppose to be an eighteenth century violin but I’m very skeptical about it.
Well, that’s the trouble. I took this to a dealer in Pasadena and he looked it over. It’s one of those old fashioned violins that have a mosaic on the backside and a little Latin inscription all around the edge. Well, he showed me one that he had on the shelf that also had a little mosaic on the back and he looked at the label on the inside and said it might be genuine but there are so many that are false that you can’t be at all sure; I think he offered me $250 for it, but I’m hoping I’ll get more than that some day. I haven’t played it for a long time; I used to continue playing violin, also mandolin and guitar duets with my brother until not so very many years ago.
Have you ever become interested in Hi-Fi?
Not particularly. One of the reasons I don’t attempt to play any more is on account of my hearing. My ability to hear and recognize high notes is down.
Do you know what your threshold is at the moment?
I don’t think it’s over 2500; it’s very low. Last evening I used my hearing aid, walked out on to our porch and I could just detect the sound of crickets chirping; without the hearing aid I couldn’t hear it at all. So that’s not such a very high pitch, in fact, I’ve done quite a lot of work on the dependence of pitch and also of pulse-frequency of the cricket upon temperature, up and down the coast from here to Washington, and I did a little on the Pacific Coast. They have a different species there, the chirps don’t fit into the same curves. Dolbear at Tufts, a great many years ago, worked out an equation relating pulse-frequency to temperature. Without knowing that he had done it, I made a lot of records, assembled them and drew up an equation which reads...well...as you would expect it, in good agreement with Dolbear.
Were you interested in the temperature effect on pitch too?
Yes, I don’t think Dolbear did that; he only gave the effect of temperature on pulse-frequency, but I used to go out and take a thermometer with me and hang it up as near as I could get to where the cricket was and so I would get the temperature, the pitch, and the pulse-frequency. I found the pitch is not so reliable an indication of the temperature as the pulse-frequency is.
How often do you use the hearing aid? You don’t need it in ordinary conversation, do you?
Well, it might be better if I did put it on, I brought it along as a matter of fact, this morning. Also it is supposed to accentuate the high notes when you put it on a certain setting. Still, I don’t find usually that it helps enough to be really worthwhile.
How long have you been using this?
When did I first get it - -it must have been about six or eight years ago.
What kind is it -- is it a Zenith?
Yes. So you see at the same time it intensifies the high notes it intensifies all the surrounding noise. So I find it just about useless in a restaurant where there are noises going on. I’ve practically stopped going to lectures now as I don’t understand what the lecturer says enough to make it worthwhile and the general discussion is still hard to get, but in a quiet place like this I have no great difficulty in understanding.
I was told once if a person has poor hearing it is an indication that his hearing will be limited further, so he should start using a hearing aid before his hearing becomes really bad. The reason why is because of this background effect, and he should exercise his ability to discriminate what he wants to hear from the noise of the background while he still can because he may lose that as time goes on. Do you think this may be true?
Maybe, I don’t know.
Well, I wonder if I could ask a few general questions. If someone were to ask you a few general questions about what were the points in your life that you would consider to be the turning points, what would you say?
I don’t remember any one dramatic incident that I could mention. I could mention various items here and there where I had the good luck to make contacts with a certain particular person or when someone suggested a line of thought to me, but I don’t know of anything else.
What are some of these suggestions of lines of thought that you found useful?
Well, do you mean in personal contacts with people or...
Either in personal contacts or in terms of your work in science -- either read or heard or something someone has informed you of.
Well, I think it’s rather difficult to answer that, but I might say off-hand that my answer now might be very different from what it would be if I thought it over carefully.
Does any of your early apparatus exist?
Yes, I suppose so, at Wesleyan. For instance before there were oscillographs -- capillary-oscillographs that could be used for lecture demonstration purposes -- I made a mechanical device for drawing sine curves. I think it’s listed in the bibliography somewhere. I had a train of gear wheels that could generate either a fundamental or the third or the fifth harmonic or any combination and they were mounted on the lecture table; I had a big sheet of paper on a vertical board, as I turned the crank a rack-and-pinion drew this board across and the class could see as the paper moved from right to left a little pencil went up and down in full view and drew a curve. And I cut the gears so that the curve they saw was a certain fundamental as it made either one big sine wave or variable amplitude, or one of these two harmonics, also with variable amplitude. I could also make a combination of the two and show the fundamental with the harmonic riding on it. Well, I found that very useful in teaching alternating currents.
This was actually manufactured by some instrument company, wasn’t it?
Yes, what was that firm? Somebody out in Chicago, I think, advertised it and put it on the market but I never heard of anybody who bought it.
Does any of your early piezo-electric apparatus still exist?
I have quite a lot down in the house and I think that they must have some more of it at Wesleyan. I wrote to you and asked whether Brown would care to have any of these early relics.
Have you made any disquisition of them in your will, what you want to have done with those things
I’ve mentioned they are to go to Brown. Since then, I’ve been told that I might be approached some time to see if I could release some of the early things for use in a museum somewhere. Does the AIP have any need for any of these things?
We don’t have a place for a museum at the AIP but I’m sure that the Smithsonian would be interested in some of these. If I may, I’d like to write and mention this to the Smithsonian.
I’d appreciate it if you did so. I don’t want to have them scrapped and I would like to have them go where somebody might see them once in a while.
Very good. Have you given any consideration to the ultimate disposition of your papers, that is, your correspondence, and your diary, your notebooks and so on?
No, I have all those diaries. I thought they would stay in the family because most of it is a purely personal record. I’ve never formed a habit of making extended comments on the philosophy of life or the experimental work that I was doing in my diaries. They merely are a record of events and also of letters that I wrote.
How about the correspondence you had in relation to your patents?
I’ve got a shelf that high of folders that have to do with the whole patent situation, correspondence with lawyers, correspondence with the patent office and the various steps that took place in the litigation.
That material is very valuable historically and I hope that you can give some consideration to the eventual preservation of it. I’m sure there are many places that would be interested in that.
I’m glad to hear you say so because I was going to mark that to be destroyed after my death.
If I may I should like to express my interest on the art of the American Institute of Physics for that material as well as any of your scientific notebooks.
As for my personal correspondence here and abroad, of course there was quite a little of that but I’m afraid I never did attempt to keep it in one place and it was spread out among files with lots of them running over the years. I’m afraid I may have even destroyed some of it when I moved away from Pasadena but if you’ll write some time a memorandum at your leisure and tell me what type of things the AlP or anybody else might be interested in I would be glad to hear from you.
I will do that. Now, if I may, I have one rather long question which I’d like to end up with: Why do you expect to ultimately write a detailed autobiography and why are you interested in that?
I am writing the family history for my grandchildren, as far as I’m anxious to go, and I shall be glad to get that off my hands. I don’t want to see anything of the sort again.
Barus wrote quite an extensive autobiography, both personal and scientific, and we hope ultimately to do something with it. I think it’s a very interesting thing to do but it’s obvious different people look at it differently. Some enjoy it very much and some find it rather tedious to go through all that.
Well, Barus is big enough and well enough known so that there are some reasons for his doing a thing of that sort. Here’s a little ar tide that came out in the Wesleyan Alumnus some time ago.
May we borrow that? I would like to copy this if I may.
All I ask is that I get it back.
When was this?
This is 1950.
Here are some notes on Willoughby’s career. You might want to take those also. Yes, I will just put them together. Here is some correspondence, that is a copy of what I sent you; my assistants, The Bureau of Standards, Supersonic vibrations, this is the account of the New London work. This is my bibliography and you have all that. These are not only the bare list of papers but there are some comments on them and positions held in addition to those I sent you. This contains, looking down over the years, the names of people I’ve been associated with in one way or another, but I think you’ve gotten all that. My acquaintance with J. J. Thomson, for instance. I met him a number of times. His son, G. P. Thomson was at his home one day when I was there but those were just chance occasions. It would be different if I had any correspondences or intimate connections.
This is also of interest, may I borrow that?
Well, the only thing this would mean to you are the names underscored in red. Here are the names of some persons and dates. For instance, in July 1937, when I was entertained by the Physical Society in London and they gave me their Duddell medal, you know. Among the people whom I met on that occasion and remembered particularly were: Vigoureux, Fowler, Hartshorn, and D. W. Dye.
They were people all interested in Ultra-Sonics, at least Vigoureux and Dye anyway. Fowler was a spectroscopist, wasn’t he?
Yes. The meeting was for the whole society and Fowler was among them. He was one of the well known figures; I happened to get his flame noted down.
A very congenial man as I remember.
Yes, I remember him very pleasantly. Rutherford I met once, he entertained me at dinner at Cambridge. He also called on me one time in Middletown.
Now, I think that’s very interesting.
I don’t know why it should be. In connection with the tests of quartz, do you remember the time when they wanted to take the raw quartz chunks, all broken on the outside and put them into something that would enable them to identify the Optic Axis? I had a device to help here; a chunk was put into something like a gimbal arrangement that could be controlled by handles on the outside and by turning those and pushing them up and down you could orient the crystals while immersed in oil in all sorts of directions. Then in the meantime there was an optical system; looking down through it at a lamp in the bottom you could see the light that came up thru the crystals as modified by the optical properties of the quartz. And all that you had to do was push the specimen around; after you had gotten o that you knew what to expect, you could tell which handle to turn to improve the image until you finally got a certain characteristic picture. It was a trigonal image which indicated that you were looking along the optic axis, and to a fraction of a degree you could make the adjustment and then begin cutting the crystal up into slabs. Well, I made that apparatus as described and sent it in to the Government with a report, but about that time the X-ray technique was being perfected and as soon as that change came along they could do all this and a great deal more in a short time. I guess you would have liked this, I wish I had marked all these things whether they were carbons or what was being sent into you.
No, I don’t have a copy of this.
That had some plans that I had one time for future research.
Now may I borrow this?
Yes, Sir. That’s a little thumbnail sketch of my “career” and some of the principal events in it.
All right, I’d like to use it as a check.
Yes, to check it against the other things. Well, I think that completes all that I have to worry you with.
Let me phrase my last worrying question which is in regard to patents: Do you think the patent system is a practical system? Do you think it has any use in the present day?
Well, personally I still do, though certain matters of it should be open for active discussion. This is one of the topics that we’ve discussed in these sessions that I told you about yesterday in Washington; whether the patent system has outlived its usefulness, conditions have changed so. One big thing that causes the discussion is the concentration of inventing effort in big corporations. It’s different from the days when the inventor used to be out in his shop, in the yard or in the attic somewhere and work independently and made a new kind of can-opener. Now the man’s a member of a team and if something patentable is involved, even the members of the team can’t say perhaps who is the man who should have priority over the rest.
Well, doesn’t the individual inventor have a role anymore?
Of course, in theory the patent is a monopoly of the inventor, a monopoly for the use or sale for your invention.
For a certain period of years.
For 17 years, yes. One of the complaints now is that this priority of 17 years which you get for a patent is so short, in comparison with the copyright for example. In some countries the copyright on a book lasts for life and you have a monopoly for as long as you live.
May a patent be renewed? You may renew a copyright once, I believe, in this country; so that extends the book right. A patent may not be renewed again.
I think not. The comments always refer to the 17 years of a patent and that’s bad.
I think at one time perhaps a century ago, it was possible to renew a patent if you could prove to Congress that you had not obtained the just profits from your invention through some reason. Then it was up to Congress to pass an Act enabling you to obtain a patent again. But I’m not sure whether this is done anymore.
Speaking of a patent being a monopoly, that word monopoly as attached to a patent may work, has sometimes worked, so it’s said, to the disadvantage of the inventor. When Theodore Roosevelt was president the idea of attacking monopolies was prominent and ever since then it’s been almost a tradition of the courts to be down on monopolies. Now along comes the independent inventor who invents something that one of these big companies covets but instead of buying it or giving him royalty for it they try to prove that the idea originated in their works, and so the case comes before the courts and the courts’ conscience seems to go through some such mental process as this: “Oh, this is a patent that’s being attacked, is it; well, a patent’s a monopoly; now, of course, there is a frown upon monopolies, therefore we better give the decision to the corporation rather than to the inventor, because we can break down a monopoly that way.”
Of course, the large corporation has a tremendous advantage. They have an entire battery of patents. They patent here, they patent there. Around comes an independent inventor such as yourself; he has one patent. Now all they have to do is look among the battery of patents and they say “Ah, here’s a patent that this invention from the outside will interfere with or might interfere with, so all that we have to do is prove that we have already come into this area in some way. If we can do that, then we can say that this man from the outside is interfering with our previous patent.”
There’s one very clever device by which they can bring one of these old patents of theirs into the area of contention and that is the “Doctrine of Inherency,” and their contention that Nicolson anticipated my invention was not based upon anything that he had said in his claims or specifications, he had no claims on the subject at all but he had drawn a certain figure No. 11. He showed a big Rochelle-Salt crystal, with three electrodes incidentally, but these electrodes are connected in certain ways to the filament and the plate of the circuit) and they said the oscillating property is inherent in the circuit. Their circuit had the crystal incorporated in it as Nicolson shows in his Figure 11. They contended that the crystal must necessarily react on the circuit, and if it reacts on the circuit it will be in such a way as to tend to stabilize and control the frequency. They got away with it.
This is a bottomless pit. You could draw anything out of that. It seems like saying that the whole “Modern Atomic Theory” was invented by Democritus, it was all there and he should get the credit; all you have to do is keep on deducing.
If they happen to be the first to represent a crystal connected to a vacuum-tube circuit, there’s hardly a single application filed under electricity, just a measuring device or tool or anything else of which they could not say it was inherent in that circuit to act that way.
As long as this “Doctrine of Inherency” is in effect I should think this would weaken the patent system itself because the basic idea of a patent should be a disclosure of an advance in the art. It should be a disclosure of a kind showing that anyone else can do the same thing. Well, I’ve heard the “Doctrine of Inherency” defended by people for whom I have respect. I cannot give you now the grounds for it but they do assert that there are certain circumstances under which you can appeal to what is inherent in a circuit to do with certain things so apparently one isn’t in a position to turn thumbs down on all types of inherence. Personally, I see no reason why a doctrine of the sort should ever be admitted but it certainly is.
This leaves the door open to a speculator’s patent. In other words, you can pick a patent on something that need not be practical. It may be possible to work out the details later.
You call those Defensive Patents.
Defensive; that sounds better. But a company or a large corporation could be in a position to create many of these defensive patents if they see a technical breakthrough. They might guess in which direction research is going and create a battery of these defensive patents, and then by the doctrine of inherency they’re covered.
This doctrine of inherency was pushed to this extent by the Bell System. They rewrote Nicolson’s application, they got a reissue of his patent with a lot of new claims and these new claims were verbatim copies of claims for my patent.
I must say that the ethical character of that is extremely dubious. I don’t see how they really have a leg to stand on from the ethical standpoint. When I first heard your account of their copying the claims I was wondering whether the lawyer did this in order to make a case for interference or do you think it was simply a matter of direct copying?
I think the appearance of Nicolson’s reissue on the claim copied from my claims were contemporaneous with the interference suit itself. As soon as my patents were issued and the claims had become public the Western Electric Co. or the Bell System whichever it was, had their claims for a reissue of Nicolson’s patent and at the same time the interference against me.
Who was the lawyer for the Bell Telephone Company?
Let’s see, was it a man named Ira J. Adams? I recall that name but I don’t remember whether he was the lawyer for the Company or a man who might have had some correspondence and anyone that had to do with that, and the signatures of whoever announced to me the interference; I don’t remember who it was, I could look it up if you want to know.
I would be quite interested.
I’ll see what I can find as we go along.
In this chapter from Rines, Robert Rines.
He’s the son of David Rines who was my attorney.
Yes. He mentions on page 12 a man by the name of Bailey at Western Electric. Is this the Bailey who is, I believe, the executive treasurer of the IRE?
Oh, I don’t think so; no I don’t think so.
This is another man. If this doctrine of inherency when applied to scientific discovery in general were in order, we would never know who discovered anything. For example, who discovered X-rays? Roentgen? No, it couldn’t have been Roentgen because Crookes actually had it all, you know he was working with the cathode-ray and he found the photographic plates in a box near the tube and they became fogged. Well, actually what he did was to move the plates further away so they wouldn’t get fogged but he discovered X-rays by the Doctrine of Inherency. It was all there, and after Roentgen’s discovery was announced I understand that there were half a dozen physicists all over the world who said of course we had observed this.
Lucky he didn’t have his destiny in the hands of the Bell Telephone System.
Well, this has been a most useful discussion and I want to thank you very much for having been kind enough to spend some time with Dean Lindsay and myself discussing some of these matters.
I appreciate your interest in the matter. I am curious to know what’s going to become of this.
We will transcribe this information and I will send a copy to Dean Lindsay and a copy to you for your corrections or if you want to make additions to it. then you are perfectly free to make additions. Then the corrected copy will be kept in our files at the Institute and of course you will receive a copy yourself as will Dean Lindsay.
So this is not intended for publication but for filing so that future generations can refer back.
That is right; this will be part of the historical material that is being kept at the American Institute of Physics. We are very pleased that we could have this interview with you. This actually is the first of our interviews and I think we have gotten off to a very good start.
You must have a long list of people you have to get acquainted with.
Not yet, but I’m hoping we can do more of this, this coming fail.
Well, if any question come up, I’d be glad to look over my papers and give you any additional information if I can.
Thank you, we may be back sometime in the future and ask you a few other questions.
How soon might that be?
It would be at least six months or so, something like that.
Well, as far as I know, I shall be right here for quite a long while -- the rest of my life.
It’s nice that you are here, Walter. We’re glad to have you in the neighborhood of the old college and to feel that you’re so close that you can associate yourself as much as you’re interested in with whatever is going on at Brown. It’s very nice to have you here. I don’t know why you decided to come to this cold, bleak New England when you had such a pleasant place to live as Pasadena, but then I guess that Pasadena has its drawbacks now, with the smog and all.
Yes, it does. That’s one thing but it’s certainly not the climate that attracted me back here. My family had broken up there, my grandsons moved away, and Helen found the place too big to run, so she and my granddaughter have an apartment themselves. The family is broken up so that I only see them occasionally and, in the meantime, I have an interest here -- my old home to come back to, you see.
Your brothers are both in good health, are they?
No. Jack has arthritis very badly, besides being even more deaf than I am, so he isn’t able to get around very much anymore.
He doesn’t do much with his architecture now?
Will is the tough one of the family, he seems to take everything.
He’s the chemist, isn’t he?
Yes, and he still does a lot of editorial work.
Let me thank you too, Dean Lindsay. You’ve certainly conducted the interview.
Well, it has certainly been a pleasure indeed to be associated with this project and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I hope we haven’t tired you out with all these questions.
It’s been a kind of relaxation.
That’s nice if you’re able to take it that way.
You may he seeing more of me. I’ve been meaning ever since I moved East a few months ago to look up a lot of things I wanted to in the library.
Yes, feel quite free to do that. If I can help you in connection with anything, don’t hesitate to come to me and I’ll be glad to do what I can to assist whenever there is anything you need.
Do you have Physics Colloquia here which admit outsiders?
Oh yes, we have a colloquia during the academic year, usually once a week. I find frankly that these things are not as interesting as they used to be. The trouble now is not only with the nature of the Physics but with me I suppose. It is true that there is a tendency to go more deeply into High Energy Nuclear Physics, and it’s rather elaborate, rather narrowly specialized. I find them not so interesting so I don’t go as often as I used to though they do try to bring in some speakers in other fields, notably Solid State Physics, because of the interest here in Solid State Physics. You might well be interested in some of those lectures especially if it happens to be a well known man as it would be occasionally. I always try to get somebody here at least once or twice a year who would talk about History of Physics or Philosophy of Physics in which I’m interested. I must say that I don’t go to any of the colloquia anymore. In Math -- it’s become boneless because that has become so highly specialized. There was a time when I liked to listen to lectures in that but that is all gone by now. On the other hand there are many other lectures in which I’m sure you might be interested. Recently one of our physics people who is now Dean of the College, Robert Morris -- I don’t know whether you know him, he was one of my students and then became Professor of Physics, Chairman of the Department and now he’s Dean of the College for undergraduates -- started a project, which he called Faculty Lectures, in which various members of the Faculty would try to explain in fairly popular fashion the things that they were doing and the fields in which they were interested. This has been fairly successful, because even the wives of the faculty members have come and have enjoyed these things. They’ve been rather gentle in character. I think that will be continued and you might be interested even with your hearing problem. I don’t think you’d have trouble because they are not large groups, no more than 50-100 present at one of these things and I rather think you’d enjoy keeping in touch. For example, lectures on Psychology and Bioloqy and so on...
If my hearing permits I’m sure I would be.
Then of course, there are the usual concerts, recitals and so on, which you might like.
Sometimes I would like to meet somebody in the Mathematics Department and talk to him about my circular tractix theory that I told you about.
Yes, of course, Professor Adams who was my contemporary and is still active -- he’s getting a little close to retirement and he’ll probably stay on till seventy -- is interested in all kinds of the older mathematics. He’s found himself rather lost when it comes to Topology and so on, but you might like to talk with him. I’m sure he’d be delighted to talk with you.
He was Chairman for many years, in fact, he was, like myself, one of Richardson’s pupils. You, of course, remember R.D.G. Richardson. Adams was one of his pupils and then you probably remember Albert Arnold Bennett who was in the class here of 1910. His father was a much earlier graduate of Brown who was a Baptist Missionary in Japan, I think. Well, he became Professor of Math here and retired about a little over ten years ago, perhaps twelve years ago. He still teaches -- he’s teaching in Boston College now -- and commutes from Providence up there to Boston. He’s very interested in the older math too, and geometry in particular and you might get a hold of him. You don’t remember him, I guess?
No, I don’t. He was there at the time when I was going away. The professors of Math that I remember in my day were, first of all, Professor Manning. He was a very good man.
Manning lived to be a very old man; he was 95, I think, when he died. He was deaf even when you had him but he became very deaf and I think he got a hearing aid in the last ten years of his life but he never seemed to make very good use out of it. He stayed quite active up to 90 anyway, and after that he didn’t do too much as I remember.
I remember two others who didn’t become as distinguished mathematicians as Manning did: one is Davis.
His son has become well known; Harvey Nathaniel Davis became President of Stevens Institute.
Oh yes, I do know him. Also I remember there was Professor Clark with his long flowing white beard.
I’ve seen pictures of him but I’ve never met him; he was too much before my time. Manning, I understand, was said to be the first one who ever gave courses in what you would call Advanced Math at Brown. That is Function Theory that you mentioned having had with him. Previous to that they had only the standard old-fashioned calculus and differential equation stuff but nothing on function theory. Of course, Manning was also very interested in four-dimensional geometry. As you know, he wrote quite a large treatise on geometry of four dimensions; for its time it was considered quite an interesting piece of work. But that’s old and all out of date now.
Professor Clark’s class was a good place to take a nap, if you had stayed out late the night before. There would be some poor guy stuck at the blackboard with a problem and Clark would spend twenty minutes patiently standing aside of him and saying nothing else to his class and eventually there would be nothing to do but to go to sleep.
These reminiscences are always very interesting indeed.
Oh yes, there is one thing I must not forget to do indeed and that is to congratulate you on the Gold Medal you received a little while ago.
Well thank you very much; that’s very kind of you. I can’t understand how anyone decided to do it but on the other hand you shouldn’t examine these things too closely but just be grateful for whatever happened.
I don’t have any difficulty at all in discerning why they should.
It’s very kind of you, Walter, to say so.