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Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Leo Beranek Collection
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Interview of William Cavanaugh by Andrew Carballeira on 2017 October 21,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/XXXX
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In this interview, Andrew Carballeira interviews architectural acoustician William Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh discusses his family and childhood, his education at MIT, and experiences in the US Army. He describes his subsequent work as a consultant for Bolt, Beranek, and Newman designing acoustics facilities at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Air Force Academy. Cavanaugh then describes his work as an independent consultant after leaving BBN, and his role in the formation of the National Council of Acoustical Consultants. Finally, Cavanaugh discusses his writing on acoustics and architecture, particularly Architectural Acoustics: Principles and Practice, which he co-edited with Gregory Tocci and Joseph Wilkes.
So, when and where were you born?
I was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which is a suburb of Boston. We lived in Dorchester till I was about seven or eight. One of the significant things of my youth was getting my tonsils out. No, it was even before that. It was getting the measles, I think, when I was seven, and from that I developed childhood asthma. I had that. Outgrew it, I think, as you often do with childhood asthma, partially with the help of moving over to my grandmother’s house in Dorchester because when the doctor told my mother that “It would be nice if he could get into a high and dry place,” because all the tenements were so mil-dewy and not good for kids, especially with asthma tendencies, you know. So, when she heard high and dry, her mother lived right on Soley Street, Charlestown right about two houses from the Bunker Hill Monument, which is really on Breed’s Hill.
So, I went over there and lived with her until they got approval to move into the housing projects they were building. The ones in South Boston that my father wanted to be in were always…They had so many political connections to get in. They had like three-year waiting lists, you know, and then when my mother saw that, she just made an application. That would be near her mother. [Chuckles] So, that was how I got to Charlestown, and that’s where I did the rest of my junior high school and everything.
You mentioned Dorchester and then Charlestown. Before you went to school, did you live anywhere else?
No. I always thought that engineering was what I wanted to do, you know, building dams because they were building a lot of them at that time with funding from the government, and especially once Roosevelt got in and started pumping money into the Rural Electrification Department, new dams and all that kind of stuff.
Is that what attracted you to engineering initially, you think?
Well, that’s when I started thinking about, “Hey, I’d like to be an engineer.” I could see myself up on a bulldozer. I didn't know too much about what really was involved except I liked the idea of building things and standing up there. “I built this thing!”
Right! [Laughing] That’s one of the things that I think you see a lot in families that have come to the United States from places like Ireland and like Italy. My dad to this day always says—You know, we go to a cathedral in New York and he says, “Your grandfather, great-grandfather came over and he carved that.” And they tell the story as though, you know, “We built this with our bare hands,” but it was with 1,100 people working on it. But do you think that there’s something particular about that wave of immigration to the United States that happened at a time when the country was being built that kind of ties the history of building to the history of immigration? Do you have a feeling on that?
No, except that it was probably more the Irish tended to go to Boston because it was a better place than New York to go. New York was kind of really tough living—you know, a lot of mixture of all different…You know, some of the very rough areas that…Nobody wanted to go to New York if they could help it. They may get down to Ellis Island and get past the…Really, it was just a matter of passing the physical exam because they didn't want to let anybody in with any weird diseases and start a problem in the country. But I don't know. There was always somebody in my grandmother’s house that was a friend or a friend of a friend or an actual relative that was there until they got a job. So, they would be there taking up one of the existing bedrooms until they got a job, you know, and everybody would be trying to help them. “They’re hiring down here,” which is where I got my own attitudes for getting jobs later, is you’ve got to go look for them. They’re not coming to you by osmosis here sitting around your house here. So that’s my feelings on that stuff.
That’s really cool. What did your parents do?
My dad was—During the Depression, he and his brother Joe got in the express trucking business, and their plan of action, because there was a lot of work…This is in the ’20s now when they started. They had two trucks. Each one of them had a truck, and they of course had to pay the thing. But when the Depression started getting real serious in the early ’30s, they couldn't make payments on the trucks and everything, but their plan was to have these…beat the post office that was handling all the deliveries. So, it would take a couple of days for somebody to mail it even in the Boston area, you know, to get it even special delivery and everything. But they could do it the day they had to get it, so there were a lot of things that needed to be shipped to Springfield, Albany, New Haven, cities in Rhode Island and New Hampshire and all that. So that was their plan. In other words, they had the model for Federal Express and all those things back then.
Now my Uncle Joe, he stayed on and he developed a commercial laundry thing for shops and everything where they pick up. Once a week they go pick up all the dirty work clothes—you know, coveralls or whatever. They’d be down in his basement there folding them all up and getting them cleaned. So, he eventually got a truck to deliver, a small truck. You know, he didn't have the bigger one that they had before for their express trucking business. Then my father started driving a taxi cab in Park Square in Boston. He had a cab and this Jewish guy that he knew well. He had the hackney license.
Sure, the medallion.
The medallion, which are very rare. My father never could afford it, but he got in with this guy. The boss, the guy that owned it, he did from seven to seven in the daytime, and then my father picked up the cab, so it was going all day. Sometimes it was tough, you know, because there were just no cab rides, you know. He did a lot of this people that missed the bus, you know, some doctor that had an important meeting he had to get to and he was tied up at the hospital. So, he gets down there. “Can you take me to Worcester? Can you take me to Albany?” So once in a while he’d get a big job, but he didn't make much money. There were times when he was making less than $25 a day and sometimes there would be nothing.
It was tough times, but I didn't notice it and nobody seemed to notice it because everybody, at least in our economic class, was in the same boat. You know, they’re all looking for jobs and looking for this and that, and the only places that there were jobs open up every once in a while were the Ford assembly plant over in Somerville. That’s where Ford had an assembly plant, but they’d just open it up to do enough cars that they could sell and then leave an area, you know? So, some people would go down and get jobs there.
Then in my circumstance, I was living with my grandmother. Then the family moved over a couple years after that to the projects so we were all over there. I had started going up to the thing and saying the history of the Bunker Hill Monument, and going through the thing how the chief engineer of the Continental Army was stationed with Washington over in Cambridge there, and they were getting ready to do something because the British had control of the whole place and their fleet was in the harbor, which wasn’t a good place to have it if they ever…So the Colonials were anxious to get and they went up to…I think they won the Battle of something up around Vermont somewhere and the Canadian…You know, there was sort of a war that went on before our revolution there. They won that battle and they had about three or four big cannons that they hauled down to the rear and put them up on Dorchester Heights overlooking. The British saw that they could do a lot of damage to their fleet, you know.
So they hauled those cannons down from Vermont to Dorchester.
[Laughs] Can you imagine? Ten tons of iron or something like that.
Yeah, and no superhighways to go on.
With horses, right?
That’s incredible. So, you were interested in the history and you were—
So, I was always interested in history. I loved history and knowing where the hell these things all happened, so here I had an application of it. I got a job. There were all these…the big kids, we used to call them. You know, these are guys that graduated from high school. They’re up now in their early, mid-twenties and still haven't had a regular job. They’ve been on the CCC program the twice that you're eligible to do it. It’s a six-month deal. You know, they go around to all the national parks and state parks and do conservation work, which was a very good thing, in spite of what some of those bastards on the West Coast think about how it’s wasting government money. We should be out here with our free-reigning NRA-supported guns.
All right. So, my father went to work for the Navy Yard during…because he had worked when he was 17 years old. Since he was born in 1900, it was always easy to remember his birthday, and my mother was born in 1901, so it was easy to subtract one from the year, whatever year it was. [Chuckling]
So, he went to work in Charlestown at the Navy Yard.
At the Navy Yard as a ship fitter. He had done that when he was 17 years old during World War I, but it was a very short war. We were only involved for about a year, so he was out of a job and then he started this trucking business with his brother after that later.
So apart from work, what were your hobbies? Do you remember what you liked to do in your free time?
Well, one of the things I joined when I went over there was the Charlestown Boys Club, and they built the Charlestown Girls Club before integration days right next to it. [Chuckles] The Girls Club had the pool because I guess there was more money to put it under the building over there, and there was a long tunnel that you went from the Boys Club over there if you wanted to go swimming, you know. You could swim in the nude if you wanted to, you know, during the proper times, but I remember this long tunnel. Sometimes people would have to pee [laughing] and they’d pee in a corner somewhere, so there was always this miserable stench in that tunnel.
[Laughing] “I want to go swimming, but I don't want to walk there.”
“I don't want to walk to it.” But at the Boys Club they had a lot of good people, too—again, people on one of the programs that Roosevelt had put in. It’s amazing what things—and gave jobs to people. I took typing class. I hated it because I was A S D F J K. I’d go through all those exercises and I said, “I don't want to do this.” So, I joined the newsletter and I did a cartoon for it. How was that called? I think it was something because of a movie that I had seen. It was all this dog fighting, you know, the lightweight ship aircraft that were—I can't remember what they call that. I forget. I forget the name of it, but it was pretty good. It ran for about a year or so. But I was on the staff of the newsletter, you know, and I had to get my sheet. They had to be…The only thing we had were these blue sheets that you had to scratch in things, you know, and you typed on it. But then they put some kind of ink or something and run off copies, you know. So that probably foreruns some of my interest in some of the same stuff later.
[Laughs] And certainly in newsletter publishing!
Yeah, right, right.
Certainly with regard to the Newman Fund newsletter and several of the other ones. Now in school, I guess I have two questions. Was there a shop program? In high school, did you have practical skills and things like that? They would call it shop.
Well, they had two courses that everybody took in manual training at the junior high level. The girls took home economics which was really sewing and the usual…You know, they had projects. They were make-work projects, right? Like we’d make bookends, you know, and I remember that the instructor we had, he had a little thing going with the lady teacher of home economics. [Laughs] So he was always down there and then you’d have to wait for him to get back to check to see if you sanded it good enough for him. He always said, “No, a little more! Get that smooth! Get that drilling nice. Now I want it to feel like velvet.”
And then he’s back in the Home Ec room while you're sanding.
Yeah, we’re sanding away. We made that and then the second semester we had sheet metal work, so we got a chance to…I think I made a dustpan or something. So, you had these chances to do little manual stuff, but it was all helpful in your development. So, they had some good stuff going on.
That’s what it sounds like.
And good people to teach it because it was all being funded by keeping the country going and working towards finishing up the Depression, which never quite got finished out. But the war was brewing, you know, from 1938 on, and we didn't get involved till Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. So, it was really just four years of the war and so forth.
In that time period in your life, who would you say was the biggest influence on you who kind of helped you pick a direction?
I suppose my father because he believed in education. He believed that that was the key to the future, you know, and I always remember every time we moved, one of the first things that would go up in the master bedroom was his diploma, which was big, from the eighth grade public school. My mother went to St. Mary’s parochial school, and she had a big one from that, you know. That was always important, so he was always interested in me going to school. He didn't care what you studied; just get an education. That was his theme, which was a good thing to be built into your system. Nobody was pushing you to do anything, really. You just did it.
One of the things I forgot to ask you. Was it your grandparents that came from Europe or was it your parents?
Both. Both grandparents. My maternal grandparents came directly from County Cork in Ireland. That was a big shipping center, Cork, and my grandmother lived in one of the towns nearby, Middleton or something halfway between there and some other town, you know. I was thinking when I went over for one of those 8-day tours with my son John. I was saying, “Jesus, here I am. I’m doing the whole of Ireland in 8 days, you know, and seeing everything. My grandparents probably never got out of their own place to go!” They were there and then they decided to come…you know, probably because somebody else in the family went there and told them the streets were paved with gold, which they soon found out they weren't. So that’s the way my maternal grandparents, both of them, came over.
My paternal grandparents—that’s my father’s side—they went to England for a while, probably to work in the factories, you know. That was the period of the growth of the Industrial Revolution and it was all happening kind of in England. That was the big center, you know, because they had a big empire to feed and get sources of things for. So, they were there, and the history of what they did there and everything isn't very well documented. One of my brothers did sort of a study and he’s got the Cavanaugh side (my father’s side) pretty well all the way up two or three generations beyond us. The other one goes up and it sort of stops after maybe my great-grandfather on my father’s side. Just nobody had the information to…It wasn’t in the Bible where they used to put it in the old days. You know, all the information was in the Bible—when they were christened and when they were born and who the godparents were. These were all little notes.
So, you would have a family Bible that you would have kept your records in the margins and in the pages?
That’s the way—Well, I never did it, but my father did, you know. He was the record keeper and the organizer in my family, and I suppose it’s like that in a lot of families. One person gets interested in doing it, you know.
Where did you first go to college and what was your major?
Well, my only college I considered going to was MIT, and part of the reason for that was there was a Chinese boy in my class. His name was Richard Lee and he and I used to hang around together. While we were in junior high school and before that even, we talked about walking across the bridge and visiting MIT. This is after 1938…’43, I think. His older brother was going—He had a big family, you know, a lot of kids, and his older brother was going to be going to MIT, so we thought we’d think about going there ourselves. So, we took a trip across the bridge. You could actually—If you wanted to spend a dime or something, you could probably take the railcar that went over there at the time across the Prison Point Bridge because the prison was there instead of out in Walpole in the country. That was where the main Massachusetts State Penitentiary was.
Right along Mass Ave. there?
No, right on the bridge on the other side of the…It’s not much of a river there. It’s more of rail yards and everything, you know, and stuff like that, and it’s still pretty much that. It’s all industrial developed areas on outsides. So, we used to take quite a few trips because there was a lot going on over there, and you could see. You could talk to people about what they're doing. One guy’s in some Navy program, you know, where he’s going to get his degree in two years because they just keep on going till they finish and so forth. So that was the gem of the idea, and like I say, I was interested in civil engineering because that’s the only thing that I had been exposed to in my life up to that time, so I was going to take civil engineering and become a dam builder and all that, and that was it. That was it. Yeah.
You mentioned that there really wasn’t another choice in your mind beyond MIT. What made MIT the gold standard for you?
Well, because I knew I was going to commute, and it was an easy place to commute to if you lived in any of the Boston suburbs. If you went out a little further, like if you came from Hopkinton, you would have to think of some other way. But they didn't have too many facilities for living on campus. There was the east campus area that was just a little strip there behind Walker Memorial. Do you know that building?
That was the big social center. Then gradually it got built up on the other side, but all along Memorial Drive were dormitories and frat houses until they started building there and then they built the Saarinen building, which was the curved dormitory which was a unique new structure, and the Kresge Auditorium, which was a domed structure. BBN was heavily involved in both of those projects to deal with any acoustical issues. With Bob Newman being on the faculty, we were in on the ground floor of a lot of things.
I remember there was a big panic when they were finishing the auditorium. The seats were not in yet and if you…When they started doing some of the hammering work and everything else out on the floor before the seats went in, you’d go bang and [imitates echo of the bang]. So, we found that that didn't go entirely away, but as soon as the seats went in, it was pretty much gone, except when you walked down the aisles. You could notice a change in the quality of your voice because they were still getting a little bit of a thing, you know, flutter from floor to ceiling. I think that was just, “Well, we can't do anything about it, and who the hell is going to be walking down the aisles mostly except when you're going up to the stage or doing something? You're not going to do anything in the aisles.” So that’s what they decided to do, the thinkers on the thing, Bob Newman and others.
Now, were you a student when that building was being built?
No, I was working for BBN.
At MIT, were you in special clubs or were you really focused on academics?
I was mostly involved in part-time jobs. We’d always inherit some job that somebody had from…that was a senior. Like for example, there was a little group of guys that played basketball and I got roped in because I was tall and they thought I was…Really they just wanted somebody tall to get the ball and throw it to one of the guys that could shoot it. [Laughs] So, I was a feeder. The big event of my years working there, besides taking the course in acoustics that I did with Bob Newman, was really getting a good grounding in that. By this time I had already decided I was going to go into architecture, so I was in architecture. The reason I got into that is because there was a commuter student like me that had been drafted in 1943 and he was in the Air Force, active duty, for three years. He got out and he’s in the first year in 1946. He’s in the first year like me but commuting because he had a couple of kids at that time. He’s the one that sort of got me to take architecture because I was thinking of civil engineering because that’s all I knew and he said, “Oh, I think you’ll like architecture.” I took it and I did and I did well. The instructors were all good. The other big event besides taking architecture in my undergraduate years was meeting my future wife Ginny (Louise Virginia Huff).
That’s right! You two met at school, right?
Yeah. She was working on the Nautilus project, which was the big thing there. They had engineer firms like Jackson and Moreland in Boston, one of the big engineering firms, and they had a contract to work with Westinghouse engineering, which had their big plant or something out in the western part of Massachusetts. They were doing all the conniving with the people that were advising on how to build one of these atomic submarines, you know. So, she got a job there because one day she had been working in town in Boston. She lived in Wakefield because her father wanted to be as far from the Navy Yard where the young sailors were all out looking for a girlfriend or something—like he was! [Laughter] He married a girl from there.
[Laughing] He knew!
So, he knew.
He knew the tricks!
He knew what was on their mind. So, she had good references and when she went over, I guess one of her friends said, “Oh, I think they’re hiring over at MIT.” She went over and she thought she was going to maybe get a job typing. She could type. She had pretty good typing skills, so that’s all she expected. But the fact that her father was in the Navy and he was cleared for top secret and everything else made it easy for her to get clearance, you know? She had a good background and they hired her in there and she was the secretary for the head coordinator for Jackson Moreland.
So, coordinating the project between Uncle Sam and Jackson and Moreland?
And the other atomic physicists that were involved in the planning of the thing, yeah. I think that woman admiral was involved somehow in that team of people who were all together because it was going to be the first one, you know, and it had to go through the building and the trial runs and everything. So, she had a pretty good job. So, we were…I think I gave her a hope chest. In those days you didn't commit yourself because you didn't know what was going to happen, you know. I knew that I probably—You know, once the Korean War started when I was in my fourth year and I was down for my ROTC training and they’re just letting you try each position of seniority in a company. Then these older, experienced sergeants—they were master sergeants and some of them were officers, too—but they were the ones that served during World War II. They wanted to stay in, but they didn't need any so they had to go back to their enlisted rank if they had one. This was at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which was the engineer center. They moved to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri because the Korean War, they needed a lot of engineer troops, you know, because there was a lot of engineering work to be done on the uncharted roads in North Korea and everything.
It wasn’t clear what was going to happen, although all we were instructed to do from the United Nations was push them back. Push the North Koreans back. But by this time, somehow the Communist Chinese entered the fray and they were ready to give plenty of troops to them. They were sort of coming up against the lines there and that’s when Harry Truman said, “No, we’re going to do what we’re charged to do by the United Nations and no more.” MacArthur saw it as an opportunity to wipe out the Chinese Communist army before it ever got too big to have to worry about later. So that’s the story.
Now I guess that’s about it from my memories of the thing, except that like I said I had part-time jobs. They were always building some kind of an exhibit somewhere and they’d get the architectural students—put a sign up on the board there, you know, “Needed: Five students that can devote some time,” so many hours a week, you know. I got into a lot of those. We had exhibits like that of coursework and stuff that was down in the big Building 7 where the real entrance to the university because the only time you used the main one out front there was when you're having a graduation.
Right, exactly. The ceremonial entrance.
Looking back on your time at MIT—and I think I know the answer to this, but who would you say was the main person there that really inspired you?
I think Bob Newman in terms of the grasp of the architectural acoustics applications that I was interested in. Dick Bolt was there, but he was a little on the flighty side and he seemed to be flitting from one thing to another, one interest area to another. He went to Washington, too, to one of the departments there that was concerned with advanced study and stuff like that.
Sure, sure. Were you involved in political and civil causes when you were in school, when you were in college, or did your interest in activism kind of come later?
It came later because I was committed to my career as a reserve officer, engineer officer. You know, I didn't have any political feelings or otherwise. I wasn’t ready to kneel down when they were playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” or anything.
[Laughing] Right, right. Unless you have anything else to talk about in the MIT years, here’s a softball for you. Looking back, would you go to the same college?
Oh, absolutely. I became a big booster, you know, through the alumni fund activities and everything. I saw that I probably would never make a lot of money. At Bolt, Beranek, and Newman I was one of the second generation leadership that got a modest number of shares. They split a couple of times and it was like I had [unintelligible], but every time I needed money, that was my one resource I had then to sell shares. They were always down at a low point when I needed to get $500 or $600 for one of the kid’s tuitions, you know. I didn't influence, except that I was encouraging them going to school. Do whatever they want, just like my father influenced me that education is the answer to your stage in life, you know. So that’s about it on that.
OK. Did you go for a master’s or Ph.D. or did you stop?
Well, I got an opportunity to go to Yale. I went down for an interview and they sort of selected me, but I just was so tired of commuting and five years of sustained energy and effort that I said, “Well geez, I can always do this when I get off active duty later.” So, I just declined the opportunity, but it was offered to me. So, I could have gone and stayed out of the service probably because if you were going to school, you could get - even if you had an obligation in the reserves - you could say, “Well, I’m going for future education,” and they were encouraging future education. But I didn't feel like I was that kind of a student—you know what I mean? - that I would be willing to do just that. I was one to get going on working, doing my active duty time. Four of us in my family - my older brother and myself and two younger brothers - they all were serving during the entire war. Two of them were in the Seabees, the Navy construction group, and they were stationed in Morocco. They were rebuilding the original air base that was built for the World War II air support for Patton and his troops that were moving west to meet the British and kick Rommel out of Africa, so they could be free to go to Sicily and Italy and then move up.
My grandfather served with a tank destroyer battalion in Africa, before they went on to Sicily.
Oh, yeah. So, he would know.
He would know that same group of people.
Yeah, he knows that. He was probably sort of…unless he got along well with Patton. [Chuckles] He wasn’t somebody that…He was busy doing his job, you know?
Right, exactly. Something of a no-nonsense guy from what I’m told.
Did you do any teaching while you were at school as a TA or teaching any classes or did that come later?
No, that came later. Let’s see. I’m trying to think now. That was later. That’s after I started working for Bolt, Beranek, and Newman after my two years of active duty. Then I took the job with Polaroid and then I started thinking about the opportunity to go with Ranger Farrell’s—“Oh, it’s the greatest place for architects to work! We’re working with all the great architects.” It’s then that Bob Newman tapped me on the shoulder a couple of times and said, “I’ve got a class I want you to teach on Friday,” and the course was three one-hour lectures a week and quizzes and exams and everything else. I’d say, “Well, have you got your notes? Can you give your notes of where you are?” and he says, “Oh, don't worry about it. There’s always somebody in that class who’s really with it. Wait till that—and they’re usually right early. So, you just corner them and say, ‘Let me see your notes,’” because he said he didn't keep notes on the classes. He knew what he was going to teach and he had it all in his mind, you know, of how he was going to teach the course. He was writing articles and everything, but he was not a rigid note taker, you know. He had a lot of case histories that he could tell a story of and get across the point in a nice, understandable way, and they loved everything. The word of his courses spread around MIT, and a lot of people that were taking other subjects that heard he was a good teacher and they needed to fill one slot just took the course because they heard he was a good teacher and he was!
Were the case histories a big part of his method? Was he a real rigid theory guy or was he a practical guy?
No, he was practical, all practical. Oh, yeah. He was getting the principle across by showing you an actual example and in a sort of humorous way, sort of bringing across the main essence of what’s involved, you know. He’s trying to get everybody to think that way because it’s such a wide area of problems that you're dealing with. You have to sort them out in your own mind.
Yeah, and the area of the problems is really wide from a physics perspective, but we all have the perception of these things. We’ve all experienced these situations that he describes.
Yeah, right, right.
That’s a brilliant way to teach. Just to get it onto the record, I know of your extensive military service, but I have a couple quick questions to document those things. Were you ever in the military? [Laughs]
Yes, I was. I was on active duty after I received my commission in the US Army Corps of Engineers, and I was assigned to the New Training Division at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. That was a position I was expecting would last a couple of months, you know, a couple of times through basic training. Every second lieutenant was lined up to do teaching. They were the ones that had training in it and could sort of make a lesson plan up or get a general lesson plan and adapt it to their own thing. So that was what I was expecting to do for a couple of months and I expected then I was going to be gone over to Korea to serve as a combat engineer commander. So, I’d start off and then go up through the ranks as a leader over there, and I didn't ever get going. They didn't need officers; they needed bodies of trained people to run the equipment because when they finished basic training, all the shooting and saluting things and basic military courtesies—how to follow orders because you can't run like a democratic organization there and get an opinion of everybody before we move out.
[Laughing] “How does this make you feel?” Right.
So I had a lot of good experience in those kind of things at Fort Leonard Wood because I was always…There were always…When they set it up, it was dominated by regular Army people that were a lot of them from the South and had different ideas on what equality was, you know. So, each training company was set up. One black company—you know, all the black guys were in Dog Company (D)—and the other three companies were mixed of everybody else, you know. We got inspected a short time after I got there, and there was a big thing that they were violating the presidential order that Truman had put out by having this segregation within the unit. It was supposed to be all spread out. This is how the Army can do it, you know? They said, “Next weekend we’re going to move all these people, spread them out into the other three companies. So, there will be four companies, but all integrated,” and it was done.
That was in the early ’50s, right?
Yeah. That was…Well, it had to be ’52.
Right. That’s what I was thinking.
’51 I went on active duty and this happened—Well, it could have been late ’51. Yeah.
Okay. So that would have been probably, what, 10 or 15 years before Brown v. Board of Education in the country.
Oh yeah, yeah.
The Army integrated 15 years before that by executive decree.
By executive order of President Truman, who had the guts to do it.
His only problem was MacArthur, who was running his little fiefdom in Japan, had his way of doing things. He thought this was the time to get the Chinese while they were gettable. So that never happened and thank God it didn't happen because there are people now that are still kicking around that will say that was a mistake because we should have done that. In other words, we should have created World War III, you know, at that time while it was winnable. Now it isn't winnable. I mean it’s only negotiable.
And it sounds like one of your main services to your country was by educating people—again, kind of showing people how to fulfill the role of the Army engineer who would be called on by their country to build things and to fix things in the field, in the battle theater.
Right. It’s as simple as that. Yeah.
So while they might not have needed more officers, they needed a lot more people with skills and they looked at you to help deliver those.
Well, we appreciate your service.
Well, you find you don't have to be looking. I was involved in my early days as a rifle instructor teaching all the functions of firing and how to take the weapon apart and clean it and maintain it and all these kinds of things. They were important, but I never did that before. The only gun I ever saw was down at Revere Beach. Those were the places where you shot and if you got a couple of things, you might win a little teddy bear or something to give to your girlfriend.
[Laughs] Right. Beyond basic training, did you do specialized instruction, or coming from MIT, did you already have most of what would be required of the Army Corps of Engineers?
Yeah, I think I had most of the skills that were needed to do whatever they wanted me to do as an officer and teach everything. So, I taught some advanced subjects and then next thing you know, I was a Committee Chief of the Rifle Instruction Committee. So, I wore the white hat and made sure everybody was up there at 5 or 6:00 in the morning and ready to march out to the field because we didn't have many vehicles available. All the World War II stuff had been sold in surplus places somewhere, so here they are in a thing that they thought was going to be just a six-month temporary duty; turned out to be 38,000 people killed in the two, three years’ war, most of them in the first year before they really built up the resistance, the troops. Reserve units were called on active duty and so forth.
What was the highest rank that you achieved in the service?
My final grade was colonel, full colonel bird—bird colonel, as they call them. I really got that by luck because the problem in the reserves was the higher in rank you got, you always had to have a position to call for the next higher grade, and they’re fewer and fewer the longer you're in. I was working and building my career in acoustics and consulting and I decided once I made major, I figured that’s probably it. Then I took a job. I was looking for a job and they had a mobilization unit which was full of people like me that were looking for a higher position but didn't have the schooling necessary yet, all these advanced courses in leadership and national politics and all this kind of stuff. I had to take those, so I was taking those for several years and then next thing you know, I’m in for lieutenant colonel, you know, the silver leaf.
Then the next thing I happened to go on is they were having trouble. Now this gets us up into the Vietnam era. The problem in Vietnam primarily, besides losing a lot of lives, was really how far they were going to go in this takeover. The military commanders were giving President Johnson a lot of conflicting information about what was doable. With another 300,000 troops we can take care of this, you know? It never was enough, and you had a very dedicated group of people that were willing to go with no equipment and walk through the jungles and get into tunnels and give up their lives, kind of like the terrorists, some of the dedicated terrorists. So that was the status of things.
Well, to change gears a little bit beyond your service, did you go to any like technical schools or business schools, or between MIT and the Army, did you get about enough school?
Between that I had enough school. My time was fully consumed.
All right. So, then we can get right into professional career. You already mentioned that after college, I think you mentioned your first job out of school was Bolt, Beranek, and Newman. Is that right?
Well, the first one was Polaroid. Polaroid for a short time. I was an assistant engineer helping the engineers that took care of these work orders, which were to set up 12 new offices in this department or that department in one of the old factory buildings they were taking over all over Kendall Square area. It was a nice job. I got plenty of overtime because they were paying me, you know, over 40 hours. I got all kinds of extra time if I wanted to do it, you know. So, I was doing that until my friend Ranger Farrell entered upon the scene. He invited me and Ginny over to his apartment in Newton and wanted to talk about possibly going to work for…He had just started at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, and he gave me this pitch that “You would enjoy working with all the major architects,” Saarinen’s office and all the greats. So that was how I shifted over, and it was no problem because I still didn't have any direct links to a job in architecture. I had no experience yet, though I think that I was probably equipped to get a job. But things were kind of tight after the Korean armistice and finishing up and it was hard to get it. It sort of meant a change of lifestyle from what I felt I was ready to do. You know what I mean?
Sure. Sure. So, you were at Polaroid for four or five months before Ranger Farrell.
When you were hired at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, what was your title initially?
My title was consultant. I think it was just consultant because all the projects were all consulting. So, we had senior guys that had been there for a while participating in the profit-sharing plan that they had and stuff like that. I sort of inherited Jack Purcell. Purcell Noppe is a firm in LA that went out to start the LA office. They went out and they went to… Jack Purcell and Dick Bolt went out first to explore the whole West Coast area and what’s the best city, and architecturally, they felt there were more good architects in San Francisco than Los Angeles. But that’s where the business was for the other aspects of acoustics that were being dealt with—aircraft noise, traffic noise, and all the rest of this part of BBN’s overall thing. The decision was made by the board of directors that it would be in LA, so they would benefit from that and they did. They did very well and were involved in a lot of good stuff that fed back. All this stuff always fed back to the architectural projects because a lot of them involved all these other areas, you know. So that was how that sort of evolved.
What would you say was the capstone of the work that you did at BBN? What were you most proud of in terms of a project or what you might have contributed?
Well, there are a couple of projects that come to mind. One of them was an early one that I was involved with. We had a contract with the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to provide the acoustical criteria for a new aeromedical biological acoustics facility, and that was going to be a place that would have an anechoic chamber, various reverberant test rooms, semi-reverberant test rooms, individual test rooms to do a lot of stuff related to measuring and understanding the sound due to aircraft that was getting noisier and noisier all the time as they got more powerful. Jack Purcell became like the project manager. He saw that actually preparing a set of preliminary drawings on the facility with the suggested specifications would be a better way to go than to try to write a report that would say what the criteria are, and we produced a beautiful report. I might have a copy of that, so where the hell would it be? I think maybe…[Looks for report] Oh, good. The small drawings are here. That’s a cross-section. That’s the…
Anechoic test chamber.
That’s Drawing 1, and that’s just a perspective of the whole building and all the laboratory space on here and some of the higher space like the anechoic chamber will pop up.
These are all hand-drawn, huh?
These are all hand-drawn, mostly by me and a couple of other guys.
And the concept was a box within a box, but this is the first time, to my knowledge, that it’s ever been done to this level up to that point, you know?
Oh my gosh!
And you notice these. That’s a concrete box within a concrete box, and that meant we had to understand the load deflection characteristics of this area that’s taking all the weight. So, we had all kinds of little experiments out there with different densities of fiberglass, different kinds of fiberglass, and what we were trying to find is something that wouldn't keep on squeezing down forever, you know, that would break the fibers and then it would level off and be able to hold the load.
Right, and still be a little elastic.
Yeah, and that’s what we got. Of course, those are just normal spaces servicing these. Like here there was a place where you could put a sample in there and test it and make a semi-anechoic chamber that could be fully…That was all poured right in the thing, the design of this diffuse surface here.
Was it like a variable acoustic design where you could turn the panels around and move them around?
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Or you could put absorptive material on some or all of them. So, you know, the whole idea was that they were trying all kinds of different things, mostly designing better earmuffs to deal with the kinds of new aircraft they were building that were going to be noisy. This had to be protected because the goddamn airfield was right nearby. That’s why it wasn’t something they could do somewhere off to the side. It was on the base property, you know?
So, two full widths of concrete, and do you recall what it was? Was it 6 inches? Was it thicker than that?
Oh, I don't know. It probably wasn’t—
I was just probably—I’m sure there’s a specification.
Probably 8 inches. Probably…I don't know. Yeah, here’s the plan here. You come in here and here’s the anechoic chamber that pops up in here. There’s Section A, which is going right through here and comes out over here.
So rather than say, “Here’s a specification for all these different rooms,” you just present them graphically.
Yeah, and it was the only way we figured we could really get it across to them. Jack Purcell had to go out to these meetings every week and talk to all these guys that we knew from being around acoustics, you know, who were working for BBN or with us on some things. This is the whole damn building all designed, and that’s the basement plan. So, there’s really only two floors. Oh, there’s one floor of mechanical up on top of this noncritical space, and that’s where the air conditioning systems. So, we ended up giving them really a good set of preliminary working drawings.
Yeah, and then they really just had to do all of their construction drawings. You really kind of gave them a full DD set, it looks like.
I think the details will show in there. These are the outside exhaust and coming down from the mechanical room or something down to here, all carefully thought out and checked and double checked.
It’s like you’ve always counseled. It’s a lot easier to get it right in the design than to try to solve it after the building is built.
That’s right. It was very thoroughly done here. Now let’s see.
Full details of the wedges, huh?
Here’s the detail of the doors, big, heavy doors with these rubber gaskets on there so when it closes and this whole section of the wedge just went off on tracks, and the wire floor was down here, you know?
I think these look like…I think these are 8-inch concrete walls up here, 8-inch, 6-inch air space—you know, 4.5 or 5 inches air space. We detailed the hell out of everything. When Jack would go up, they kept, “Now what about this detail? How do you build that?” and everything. These guys didn't know anything about this stuff, and Jack Purcell already had his architectural license because he was older. You know, he was probably maybe eight or ten years older than me. These are all the sections, so all those diffuse walls, that showed the…You know, just to make it as diffused as possible, a lot of different size things here, and then make it all so you could pour it in one pour, this inner box here.
So, it was actually…The concrete was poured to have all these different elevations and sizes.
So, you actually built your kind of pre-Schroeder Schroeder diffuser in the concrete.
That’s a very cool concept.
Let’s see. More details.
Detail for the door gasket?
Yeah. That’s a typical type A door.
What is the honeycomb lattice? What is that there?
That was just to…They were supposed to be sand-loaded too, sand-filled. All voids to be sand-filled. So, it was sand-filled and stuck to the outside skin with mastic and just a heavy goddamn door. That’s all.
Gotcha. Okay. How long were you guys involved with this project to prepare this set of drawings?
I think it was about six or eight months.
Okay. That’s an enormous amount of work.
Oh, yeah. Typical ventilating penetration. Typical electrical penetration where you put a box on here and all the fixtures here, and you plug in here or here, you know. Oh, and here’s the mechanical system. We even had to hire a guy who I knew that was in a mechanical engineering company, and he did the design of this thing under our jurisdiction, you know.
Yeah, and that probably had to be quiet, right?
Oh, yeah. It had to be quiet and no crosstalk, you know.
Were you already using the NC scale at this point?
Yeah. Yeah. That was well underway there. Here’s the mechanical floor here. There’s an elevator that goes through the two floors, you know, sort of a service elevator.
Sure. Wow. That’s cool.
Well, they hired a real architectural engineering firm to do it and they gave them these and we didn't get one call of how to do it. They just got their fee and did the set of drawings and we go through all this same stuff on it.
Right. This answered all the questions. This was everything that had to be built.
Wow, that’s cool.
So that’s my big first job, okay?
Now I don't know if you want to take that. I had some…I think I had a set of 8.5×11, which would be easier for you to manipulate. That’s the original drawings as they got designed.
Is that what they called these (sarcastically)?
Wow. That’s cool.
Now you don't have to take them all, but I mean you might take a couple of these. You could shrink them down to 8.5×11 without losing anything.
Just take a couple of typical sections, more than one showing the… You know, you don't have to have them all. It’s just…
But especially that 3D section showing the whole facility, and then some of the details that are kind of stunning.
Yeah, this one here.
Yeah, that one is stunning.
That’s a nice one. You know, the floor plans, it might, say, would be nice to put a package together in 8.5×11 and it still would show the three floor plans: the roof with the mechanical room above and then the basement and then the first floor.
Yeah, that would be great if you wouldn't mind. I would love to have copies of just a couple of those, and I’ll give you back everything. I’ll make photocopies of everything.
I think just that one section may be enough, you know? You don't need to get into… These are just more and more details.
I think this section really kind of conveys everything in just one drawing.
Yeah, yeah. The section, this little perspective, and the three floor plans.
Now the next important job—I only worked on important things.
Right, right (smiles).
I worked on whatever was chargeable like everybody else. My next task was to become the BBN consultant on the Air Force Academy, and that lasted, well, two or three years. I used to go out once a month, sometimes more depending on how progress went, and I’d sit there with all the design team members. So, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, the architect, and Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill had a big firm. They had a big New York office that was the main office. They had one in Chicago and I think one in San Francisco and were doing all kinds of work at that time—tower buildings all over the big cities and everything. They needed some guidance on the Air Force Academy because it was a new academy, and they wanted it to be better than any of the old-style academies—solved all the acoustical problems and everything.
They were all pretty routine, but I used to go out once a month and I’d sit there with all these senior designers. I’d be sitting there and Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill builds more like boxes, details, and they would have like perspective isometric drawings at full scale of the way they want to turn the corner of the building—you know, whether they would have a shadow line. Would it be concealed, you know, the joint, and all these possibilities. They were always asking me my opinion and I’d give it to them, even though it wasn’t acoustic. [Chuckling] If it was acoustic, I would have told them, right? So, they would say, “So what do you think, Bill?” and I’d say, “I like that Scheme A. That seems to me to be really nice. It’s better than the one they did on a previous building that’s already under construction now.”
So, one day, Walter Netsch, the senior designer of the Chicago office, called me up and he said, “When you get through today, I want you to come up here to my office. I’ve got an important question for you,” and your question was going to be, I found out, the shape of the chapel. The chapel was going to be the final construction of all the buildings. They had a little small jet engine test cell in the teaching complex and a lot of classrooms and everything and a lot of mechanical noise issues of crosstalk and mechanical noise control that were all routine almost, you know. But this one thing was going to generate a lot of public facility because they were already getting people—Indiana limestone. They wanted that to be the main structure for this building, okay? Probably Vermont wanted the granite from the state of Vermont. Every state had their own idea of what ought to be, and some of the western states, they wanted sandstone, you know, red sandstone or something. So, it was really going to be a problem.
So, I got up there just before I was going to leave. I think my taxi was going to leave for the airport about, oh, 6:00. I’d get on a late plane. So, I got up there and he comes in and we’re on about the 17th floor of this Palmer big building. I don't know if it was a hotel or what, but it was a mixed-use building. It was way the hell up in the sky and geez, I’m looking up and you can see other buildings way off in the distance.
But he went up and he carefully pulled the shades, you know, pulled them down so nobody could be taking a picture of it from what we were…He goes over to a cabinet behind his desk. He unlocks it and brings it out. He’s got another box in there that was locked. It was about that long and it was like a 1/32-inch scale model of the original concept for the chapel. The original concept were these tetrahedral shapes that all came up to a point, you know. They’re up and then they had some open-structured ones. There was a circular chapel that was going to be the Jewish chapel, and then the rest of them would be a little shorter version of the main Protestant chapel was going to complete the thing. It was about maybe a third of the other chapel, you know, based on probably scientific studies of loads of people going to the Academy over the next 100 years or something.
So, he puts it up on his desk, and then there was a little place for me to look in. I could look in at several different points, and I thought about it for a minute. I says, “Jesus, this is beautiful! This is everything we would want you to do, all this diffusion,” right? The joints between the panels were going to be stained glass, you know, so there were all these strips, and then these floating tetrahedral things that came to a point up in the top. I said, “You know, it just couldn't be any better acoustically.” That was my opinion. “Thank you very much, Bill,” and he…I said, “The only thing it’s got to come to grips with—where are we going to put the loudspeakers?” So, he had some drawings there and he pulled them out. I said, “Jesus.” One of these tetrahedrons was directly over the middle of the pews that were going to be going up and down the back. They were going to have a big organ in the back, you know, and this thing, and they definitely did not want any loudspeakers hanging.
Okay. They didn't want to see them?
So, I had to be thinking about what was going to work, and that’s the only thing I could see that would work. Dave Klepper came up with a design and we got this goddamn thing that I think we had behind a screen. We had a low frequency unit every third one of them in the smaller high frequency. You know, it was just pointing right straight down through this, and it was right directly over the middle of the thing. So, it promised to work out beautifully, you know?
You had really good direct coverage right above people.
Yeah. Now we never had any contact during the construction phase because SOM, one of their retiring guys turned out to be the guy to follow up out there. He was going to move out there and retire and be there for the construction of all the buildings, so they didn't need us. There was nothing to do for a while. I mean we’d go out there and make measurements if we wanted to on things as they were completed, but they didn't seem to be anything that was— You know, most of the problems were all straightforward, and the only thing that wasn’t was the chapel. They didn't want us out because they didn't want anybody out there that looked like they’re measuring because it’s not working. You know what I mean? [Laughs] They thought if anybody got the word, “Oh, they must have problems in there. Oh, it’s not going to work,” the next thing you know, the word had spread that they’ve got problems.
Was that typical on government projects where they were very territorial about them?
It was just that one. It was just that one. That was the only one like that.
Okay. Now how long were you at BBN?
I was at BBN for exactly 17 years. And at that time, I had been thinking about leaving because there were starting to be issues that I was not in agreement with some of the positions that they—You know, they wanted to put two people as…They were going to reposition the duties of all the main principals, the original principals, and they had in mind new managers for each of these, but two people. You’d have a double thing, and I don't know how many times I used to tell people that look at, we have enough experience. They already had this problem where they’d have two people in charge of the psychoacoustics group, and one of them would leave within a year because he didn't like what the other guy wanted to do and they couldn't come to agreement. So, I said, “I just don't want to accept it,” you know.
That happened one more time when I was already now appointed…I was appointed to…No, I hadn't been appointed. I was still in this double thing, and I went home and I said, “Gin, I’m going to leave,” and she said, “Do what you want to do, Bill.” It was a good time to leave because in the early ’70s…That’s when I did, June of ’70. I was going to work a full year from the previous year and then just say, “Well, I’m going to start my own consulting business, and I hope we can be friends forever,” and that’s what I did.
So, I came in the morning I was going to quit, and what I used to have is I used to have a meeting with the K Factor Group. Now the K Factor Group was a mark of achievement there that you shared in the profits of the firm, and if we were all busy, which we were always in the architectural acoustics noise control business, you know. As a matter of fact, we even changed it, under my management, to the Architectural Technologies Division of Bolt, Beranek, and Newman because we had a lighting group and we had a theater consulting group headed by Tom Dekhatani. The theater group was also taken care of by Russell Johnson, who was going to the data office.
I didn't know that.
Yeah. He was going to be running the new theater group with this Tom Dekhatani, who was a theater guy. You know, he knew all the theater stuff.
Sure. Was Russell a theater person at BBN… or was he always acoustics?
He was trained as an architect [but specialized in] acoustics. Oh yeah, it was all acoustics in our concert hall. I mean he did his studies under Eisenhower and other people down at Yale and he was good. He was well-versed in all this stuff, but he was a procrastinator extraordinaire. He drove clients nuts. I’d get more calls from people where we had these halls going up in every province of Canada. The same architect was doing two or three of them and another architect here, but he was always late in getting an answer to their “Is this okay?” you know. He wanted to think about it more, and he’d drive you crazy. I said, “Look at. I’ll get him to respond to you, but I can't put my head in his head.”
So, when you made that decision to leave and go out on your own, had you already met Larry Copley, or did you already have an idea of what direction your business would take?
Oh, no. No, I knew that he worked for Cambridge Acoustics, which did all underwater sound stuff under the founder of the firm. What the hell was his name now? He was a big name in underwater sound acoustics—you know, the guy that wrote…His son was the guy that wrote Perfect Storm [Junger].
Yeah, the son, but he didn't want to have anything to do with acoustics or scientific stuff. He wanted to write and he wrote chapters for books. He had two books in mind—one of them, the world’s most dangerous professions, you know, and he was going to take up firefighting in forests, stuff that’s going on up here now. That was one of them, and he even got a job with some tree surgeons to learn all the tricks and trades of taking trees down and cutting them and all that stuff. That’s how he did his research, you know. So, he was quite a guy, you know, and his father was going to—We were having a meeting in Fort Lauderdale and they were going to have a meeting and honor his father. He was sort of ready to retire, but people like that, they never retire. They just do something else for a while. They don't run the company anymore; they just get out of doing that and have fun.
Do whatever they wanted to do, right.
Yeah. In any case, he went ahead and one of the publishers took his book of all these dangerous professions and he said, “That’s a little complicated. Why don't you just take the fishing chapter, the one about fishermen, the Gloucester thing, and write a thing?” He wrote that as a chapter in some magazine, and it was a big hit. They all wanted to see something, and then the movies got interested in sponsoring it and they had all these great actors doing it. It was a great movie, anyway. They just had it down here recently.
Yeah, it was a good movie.
So, when you decided to kind of go out on your own, you had a family at this point. You were a married man. You’d had a stable career working in acoustics.
I had my five kids by that time.
Five kids, and something in you had a certain amount of bravery to go…Was it an entrepreneurial spirit or was it a spirit of “I just don't want to work under someone else’s rules”? What was it?
No, no. I don't mind working under rules. I just want to do it the way I think it ought to be done, you know? I was always able to do that, even in jobs I had at BBN until I got to be up in the managerial class.
Right, right. Yeah, I can understand that.
So, you know, then you start running into people that have different plans. You know, BBN had hired a couple of people from the Harvard Business School and they had different ideas. They wanted a five-year plan from all of us who ran groups, and I was running the Architectural Technologies Groups, which we had five offices at that time, you know. It’s a complicated business, running it, you know.
I mean it’s one thing to like what you're doing and doing it, but still trying to convince other people in other groups that have different ideas what’s the best way. I said, “I’m not going to give you a five-year plan. It’s going to be more of the same we’ve been doing for the last five years, only better!”
[Laughs] That’s the plan!
That’s my plan. I says, “Now…” So, they were kind of pissed off at me for not cooperating, you know, but I didn't care. I was ready to do it. I mean I was running projects all over the place and feeding them off to other people that I thought could do them and monitoring how they were doing. You know, we had a good group of…I don't know. Geez, we had probably 25 or 30 people in the Cambridge office. That was the head office, and then we had offices in New York, Chicago. All of this is covered in Eric Wood’s book.
I mean the promotion of architectural acoustics during the period I was working there, and then when I left, I was one of the companies that they cited as people that worked for BBN that left and started their own thing. There are quite a few of those because they were leaving for one reason or another.
Let me see if I can frame this so it makes sense. I got involved in other consulting firms by being asked to sit on the group that was examining the idea of coming up with a National Council of Acoustical Consultants, so they wanted us to join, but sort of on their terms. These were basically anti-BBN people that were annoyed that BBN is getting all this work and we should be getting some because we’re as smart as they are, and we can do it better or whatever.
So, Jack Purcell and I used to meet at the Acoustical Society meetings, which was like every six months. They would have a luncheon meeting of the formation group for the National Council of Acoustical Consultants. They went through all of their discussions and everything else, and it was pretty clear that they didn't want BBN to dominate the new group. They were afraid with all the…We were sort of coming up with proposals like, “Well, how about one vote per office?” You know, they had five offices. Why not? They operate sort of independently in terms of consulting. This would make sense to us, but that didn't work. They didn't like it. So, we made all these kind of proposals, and then they decided when they got together. They decided…[laughter]…“We’ll go with a…” because we can't come to agreement. But I assured them when we said, “Well, it’s not going to work out. It just doesn't work for us. We’re a group of individuals consulting just like most of your group there. We collaborate with each other. We have joint projects and we’d be doing the same kind of thing, but you guys don't want to do that. So, we’ll…”
Now I joined NCAC right away then because I could. I was free to. I was by myself now. I was a one-person consulting office, and I kept that William J. Cavanaugh, Consultant in Acoustics. I paid dues on it for the whole time I was out there in the real world, you know. Let’s see. That was back in the early ’60s because NCAC was formed 1963, I think. I think that’s on the newsletter there.
I bet it is. [Looks for newsletter]
The front page, down on the bottom there somewhere, “Established.”
Oh, right. “Established 1962.”
Yeah, that’s it. Okay. So that previous discussion applied to that period there where Jack Purcell and I were deciding on it. Now I left BBN in 1970. Right?
Right. That’s what, eight years after NCAC was kind of formed.
Was formed, right. But I tried to maintain good relationships with them even then, you know, because I knew most of them and I didn't have any problems with any of them. I said, “We’d be happy to collaborate with anybody,” and this never happened because they were so anti what we stood for. They were afraid of it dominating their group, you know. So, when I finally left, the first thing I did was join and they welcomed me. I could tell from their first meeting that they kind of wanted to know all the dirty secrets of BBN, you know, and I’d be a negative person. I said, “That’s where I learned everything I know. I learned how to be a consultant and I’ve done it fairly well over the years and I’m going to continue that. So, don't count on me for being an anti-BBN member of the NCAC. I think that’s a big mistake.” They accepted me anyway and I guess I got in. I got in the door. Then I started having these other relationships, first with Copley because we each got a request from…I think it was TAC that had a project out in Minnesota. It was the new health professions building.
What is TAC?
The Architects Collaborative. They were looking for a consultant, and I don't know who the one…But they couldn't come to agreement on whoever it was. It might have been BBN. I don't know, and I never found out. I didn't try to pursue it because I didn't care.
[Laughs] Right. That made that easy.
So, Copley called me up and he says, “Would you want to go in jointly on this?” and I said “Sure. My only problem is I’m going to Houston to the Acoustical Society meeting and I won't be back till Friday night.” He says, “Well, it’s due Monday, you know.” I said, “Well, if you can go collect all the drawings, I can meet you Saturday morning and we’ll whip up a proposal just like I’m still working at BBN,” because he didn't have any experience working with other firms or anything. So, he took me up on it and we put our thing in. We got a nice note saying, “Thank you very much for your interest, and we’ll try to consider you for other projects.” So, we both said, “Hey, we did the right thing. We got a proposal in. They know we’re in business and we’ll be happy to do anything they want.”
A week later, we got another call and apparently, they couldn't come to terms again with whoever they selected on the details of the collaboration. They said, “Are you still interested? Can you still do it?” and we said, “Yeah.” We took it on, and he was very good in mechanical and noise and vibration issues and in general, the stuff. He was learning a lot of the general architectural stuff fast because they never did much of that at Cambridge Acoustics. So that’s how that went.
So, we joined this collaborative thing. We joined NCAC. Then that didn't last too long because he was getting divorced and he had other things and he couldn't handle the extra thing. By this time we had hired Greg Tocci because Dick Lyon called me. He said, “We’ve got a guy working for us that likes to do what you guys do.” I said, “What’s his name?” and he said, “Greg Tocci.” I said, “Jesus, that must be Arthur Tocci’s son,” because he was always telling me about his son who was studying acoustics, first at Tufts when he was getting his undergraduate degree and then at MIT where he was getting his master’s degree under Dick Lyon.
And Arthur Tocci was a mechanical engineer?
Yeah, Fitzemeyer & Tocci.
That is Arthur Tocci’s company, Fitzemeyer & Tocci?
Yeah, that’s it. Yeah.
I did not know that.
Now he’s passed away since then, but the company is still going under one of Ed Fitzemeyer’s sons.
Wow. I didn't realize that.
Yeah. So that’s the chronology. So now here we are. I’ve got these two memberships going on. One of them is my individual practice in case I ever wanted to use it, but I figured I was trying to tell everybody else to join; I said I should join myself with my own. Then any relationships that I have, I’ll try to talk them into doing it, and it was not hard to talk Greg into it. He was very happy. I said, “We’ll be 50-50 partners, Greg. You’ll be the general manager and I’ll be the chairman of the board.” We didn't have a board yet, but we…The first call we got was from Brion Koning. He had seen our ad in the telephone book, you know, acoustical consultants. He had just come up from taking a year of schooling down at Embry-Riddle University in Florida, and left when his mother got sick. He had been working somewhere else as a salesman and he did better in that. So, I think he figured out he’d be better off in a sales-related job, you know.
So, he calls me one day and I’m the only one in the office, me. Greg was out somewhere. He told me this story. He said, “I live in Dover and I’ve just come back to this part of the country. I see that you do all the kinds of things that Bose does and I like that. I like all their…” I said, “Well, we do it sort of in a little different way. We don't have any products. We just consult.” But here my mind is going we’re doing so many of these little environmental impact studies of hard projects and road additions and all that stuff and I says, “Holy shit. I’m tired of going out.” Greg and I used to split the nighttime duties of trying to get the lowest hours of environmental noise.
I said I’m ready to hire him right now and I’ll tell Greg that I did, and he was our first employee. How about that, huh?
That’s incredible. You and Greg had such a successful partnership over, was it 30 years together?
What was it that helped you identify Greg as someone who would make a great partner in that business? I mean you offered him a 50-50 share basically out of school.
Oh, he had about five years’ experience because he worked for Cambridge Collaborative for a couple of years. He just liked the kind of work that we did, and he knew what it was from his father because his father was probably always telling him, “That Cavanaugh is a pretty nice guy. He’s the expert on acoustics” for all the projects that I used to tend, you know.
So, I could tell. You know, I could tell that he was smart, and I could tell that he was a little careful because he didn't want to commit himself to anything too…Like one of the first jobs I got, we had a call from LeMessurier. I don't know if you remember LeMessurier, the—
They were the structural engineers that Doug worked with when we were doing all these shaking stair projects and these two mass dampers that we were putting under the stairs and then got rid of the shaking. So, we were called on this apartment building, kind of an upscale apartment building in Brookline, and the thing was some kind of intermittent shaking of the building. It was visibly shaking some of the artifacts and things they had on glass shelves, and they were worried about the building was going to fall down or something, you know. So LeMessurier reviewed all this. He says, “This is overdesigned. We have a big setback for safety when we do occupied buildings,” you know.
So, I went over with Greg and we did our usual thing. You know, we turned off all the equipment sequentially and geez, it was still coming on every once in a while. I said, “It’s got to be something around the area here, Greg, so let’s take a ride.” So, I went down to my car and Greg and I patrolled the area. We just happened to run into a Dydee Diaper laundry service. It must have been, oh maybe a whole block away from the building, but it was all these big dryers and washers that were washing all these crappy diapers, right? That’s what it was. Every once in a while it would shake itself off the hinges or something and you’d have this big bang. [Chuckling]
So that was it and all we had to do was Greg got his first lessons in going and talking to the client to say, “You’ve got a bad problem here. These houses, all these upscale apartments are going to be complaining when they find out from one person—and we’re going to tell where it’s coming from because we know.” They said, “Oh! Well, thank you very much,” and they were happy to have it. Greg helped them devise a solution. I think they did something that would turn them off safely earlier before they started really jumping.
Yeah. So, whatever it was, it was in Greg’s ballpark that he…So he felt good. [Laughs] He didn't have to do any studies.
What instrumentation did you own at the time as a company?
As a company we had very little instrumentation. We had bought…We had one H8 Scott—you know, A-scale meters. That was my own personal copy that I bought when I started my own thing, you know. That was all we had, but that was enough to do just some simple measurements of A, B, and C scale. We never used B, but A and C. That gave us the good picture and then we could sort of estimate what it might be over the whole frequency range from those two limiting values, you know. We drew up some of those charts that you see there. Every 10 dB there’s a list of very quiet and quiet and noisy and somewhat noisy and bad noisy. We put it all together and used that in a lot of reports and everything from there on out.
Sure. So, you brought Brion Koning on as your first employee.
First employee, and then we started, you know, not really carefully looking, but thinking that the work was starting to flow in better. It looked like we could probably use people, but we’d sort of wait till they showed up, you know? The first one to show up was… Who the hell… Who was the guy that did our…Dick Glazier. I had this concept here we’d have these relationships with other consultants. Dick Lyon was one of them that was up in our Cavanaugh Tocci stationery as an associated consultant, and Dick Glazier. He was on there and a couple of other people. We had even Dave Egan. You know, anybody that wanted to be [unintelligible], we’ll use them on certain projects that they’re interested in doing, and that worked out pretty good for a while.
It seems like some of the structure that you and Greg put in place was so you wouldn't have to micro-manage people and allow them to pursue their own interests and methods. You had associated consultants and they were to manage their own affairs.
That’s right. They would be senior people that could deal with their problems. They don't pass them on to other people.
So, of your time at Cavanaugh Tocci, what are the projects that you're most proud of? What’s the work that you're most proud of from that? Because it’s another 25 years of work there, I think, right?
Yeah, yeah. I think…Let’s see now. Gosh, there were a lot of projects that I was responsible for. You know the blue book?
The so-called blue book that I had my grandson Andy…not Andy, but Lauren’s son, the youngest one. Jared.
Oh, yeah. Jared, right, because he worked there.
It was a summer job. He was looking for a summer job. I said, “Maybe we can use you because I’ve been trying to get them to digitize all the old jobs that we never set up in our digital system that we have now.” So, it was hard to go back and find things unless you scoured through the ratty blue book. And Jesus, he came up and he fixed some kind of a plan and next thing you know, we had it all done. He still had a month to go on his summer job, but he was fast, you know, and he was accurate. So, I just told Patty and Don, “Just keep him busy. I mean he’ll do anything you want. He’s got a part-time job!” He’s like me bringing around… “What are we doing? What can I do next? Sweeping the floors?”
A strong back and a good work ethic will take you far. [Laughing] What was your…I mean Cavanaugh Tocci did every kind of project in acoustics, it seems, and that’s probably unique, even in the field of acoustical consulting, to have such a wide breadth. I know that was something you always kind of counseled to acoustical consultants that were getting their start of try to be a generalist first. Try to approach…Let’s try to see all the problems.
Right, and if you need help, there’s plenty of help around. People will be more than happy to collaborate with you on a particular project that they can do better than you probably and want to have another one to do, especially if it’s something they’re good at. So that whole concept of the associated consultants should only grow, but it sort of petered out after a while. You know, it wasn’t happening anymore. Then Tony got this opportunity to go with McKay…
Conant or is it Brooks?
Brooks. Brooks is the third one.
McKay, Conant, and Brook it was, and then McKay, Conant, and Hoover, I think.
So, I think Mr. Brook walked away there.
Yeah. Right. I guess he got an offer and I said, “Well, look at, Tony. If I were you, why don't you consider it? I mean it depends if you want to go out and live on the West Coast. That’s a big decision, especially where all your contacts are out on the East Coast. But I know Ron McKay well enough to say he’s okay,” and I did. I told him and they hired him and next thing you know, it became McKay, Conant, and Hoover. Yeah. So that was that. Problems are melting away! [Chuckles]
Right! But the culture, I think, that you and Greg created at Cavanaugh Tocci was one where you didn't leave feeling bad. You left saying, “This is my next thing that I want to work on.”
Yeah. Right, yeah.
And I know that Tony retained such a love and respect for Cavanaugh Tocci because of that attitude.
Yeah, right. Yeah.
I know that that’s how all of us alums feel about it.
Yeah. Well, I think it’s easy to do. I think it’s…with most people, and then some people have more trouble. Maybe [some people don’t] feel that same solidarity with the people [they] work with.
Right, and what’s so interesting is that I think there’s a generational difference there whereas I see your generation as familiar to me from knowing my grandparents well. There was never a sense of class—that we all had work to do and we’re all here to work together. Just because I move a pencil and you move a typewriter, I’m not better than you; I’m here to build a shop and have a job.
I felt that came across very clearly with you, and I remember one of my first days in the field with Greg. Everything I had heard about Greg was this is an MIT-educated physicist who helped start a company looking at some of the most difficult problems in sound and vibration. He showed up in a suit and there was a spring that was misaligned on an air-handling unit. He reached into his bag and put on the full coveralls and pulled it over his suit and crawled on the ground and stuck a business card in the spring and made a sketch down there. He showed as much respect for the guy that let us into the building as the guy who was maintaining the unit and changing the belts as he did for the president of that company, and that was a culture that was pervasive in the company that you built, that respect for working people.
You know, I think I tried to do that and not have a thing where you go out and “We’ve got to hire a technician to come back here and measure this.”
Right, that all of the people that worked here, these are all qualified people.
I think that’s a culture that pervades today. When someone says, “We’re going to send someone out,” they say, “We’re going to send an engineer out.” They don't say, “We’re going to send a technician.” They treat people as equals. Maybe that’s something that’s common to acoustical consulting, but that’s not common to most people’s experience of work, you know, to be treated with that dignity in that way. It’s remarkable. Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about with Cavanaugh Tocci? Because I have some questions about your publications and some of your other areas of activity.
I think that’s about it. I mean you know, I treated every project as one that we tried to do our best, no matter how small, because there are so many instances over my whole career that I have found that some rinky-dink church project that didn't have any money, but they had a person on the board of advisors. They advised them they ought to call Cavanaugh Tocci because they knew Cavanaugh or they knew Tocci from some project that we worked on sometime in their past. You know, to that client, that project is the most important one they’ll probably ever do in acoustics. So, you’ve got to go along with that and understand why they feel that. That’s the only time they’ll be on the church committee or something or whatever it is and have this problem that the choir leader is complaining about the terrible acoustics in there and they’re listening to the organist complain that it’s not even as loud as…[Laughing] It’s not as reverberant as they want it and it never could be, but somebody’s got to tell them that it’s only got this much volume. The big thing is volume and then the absorption of the boundary surfaces, you know. So that’s an important lesson among the lessons I’ve learned over the years, you know.
Yeah. That will be a big takeaway for me from today. Yeah. That’s a great quote. Tell me more about your publications. I’m aware that you’ve published—and I’m looking at your full-length resume here, which I believe actually contains an extensive list of papers and publications there.
You can count them up or something if you want.
We’ll want to have time.
Now they only go up to 1970, which is when I had this…Is it dated in the back? Yeah, yeah. No, 2006. Yeah, that’s when I had to update it to do something I was always going to do when I got around to it. But I had to get…because Leo and Greg nominated me for the Sabine Medal. Yeah, so that was why.
Right. That needed to be done at that point!
So, there were more than that, but you could sort of make a…It’s broken down into two kinds of projects. One of them, there’s an actual piece of publication associated with it that can be looked up on wherever they…
For the record, we’re looking at a very small type, about seven or eight pages of papers and publications. These publications range between full-length books, working as an editor to solicit chapters from renowned experts. Also, here we see probably 100 papers presented at different societies, in different trade publications which really cover the gamut of the built environment from schools to hospitals to hotels to concert halls. Many of these papers have humorous topics like “How to Ensure Bad Acoustics in Ten Easy Steps,” and many of these papers and books are generally referred to as standard references in acoustical consulting firms throughout the world. I know walking into Acentech we see two books that are either written or edited by Cavanaugh and Tocci. Your most recent book that you and Greg edited together…
Yeah, the second edition.
The second edition. Could you just tell us the name of that and kind of what the inspiration for that was?
Let’s see. The first edition was published in… It’s got to be on here. I think…
I’m sure it’s in there. Let’s look it up. [Looking for it]
I don't know what the hell I’m doing this for. I’ve got it right over here.
[Laughs] The book’s on the bookshelf.
Better than trying to find it in that small print.
Yeah, this ten-page list of publications. [Looking] There we go. This I haven't seen before. This is a classic reference text in architectural acoustics. This is Principles and Practice of Architectural Acoustics edited by Cavanaugh, Tocci, and I believe Joseph A. Wilkes is the other editor?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Or is that on the second edition?
Yeah, that should be.
This is the first edition that I’d seen that appears in Chinese. We’re also looking at…How many languages has this book been translated into?
That’s it. Okay.
That’s the only language, and that’s because the publisher, John Wiley, wanted to try to make inroads with the Chinese government on books because they were notorious about stealing other publications. They thought they’d try the nice route and sort of practically give it to them if they would play ball, you know, and get publications going in China with Chinese publishers and printers and bring work to them. So that was their good thing, but it’s kind of an interesting to look at your own book. [Laughs]
I know the book well and I know the figures, but the text looks different than I’m accustomed to! [Laughs]
Yeah. Yeah, the text would be hard to follow, I tell you.
Right. So, who was the inspiration for sort of curating a book with this diverse range of topics in architectural acoustics?
Well, it evolved, you know. With Joe Wilkes, I did a chapter for a publication that he was doing, an encyclopedia of architecture. You see, he did a lot of stuff for… Anyway, he was the editor-in-chief of some kind of a publication usually related to architectural stuff, and then I got to know him through a joint meeting where I was giving a paper on something and he was looking for authors, you know. He liked me and I showed him some of the previous stuff that I had done like the chapter I did in a book called Building Construction. That was really an expansion of this. This was going to be a chapter in the encyclopedia, and I would get people to do articles on the other aspects of it, essentially the ones that are in mechanical noise and vibration control and exterior noise and this, that, and the other thing. So that was published and that was successful.
Then I said, “Well Joe, why don't we do a book just on acoustics? We’ll get it all in and it will be directed towards the architectural profession at the basic level because that’s where it’s needed,” because unless you can get to architects designing buildings with something much less than a technical presentation that’s going to turn them off right away, you won't reach them. So that was my thought, and that came down with this first edition edited by William J. Cavanaugh and Joseph A. Wilkes. It was just the two of us, and that was published in 1989 copyright. 1989. John Wiley and Sons. So that was the first edition by me and Joe Wilkes.
Greg was going to be one of the authors of the chapters, and I did my usual introductory thing giving the big picture. Rein Pirn was going to do one on—who worked for Acentech and previously with BBN—very fastidious guy, careful and everything from South Africa. All their bios are in here in the front somewhere. “Acoustical Materials and Methods.” That was to have a whole chapter on acoustical materials and acoustical in the broadest sense, not just fuzz materials. There’s more to it than fuzz. Then “Building Noise Control Applications” by that eminent author Gregory C. Tocci. Chapter 4 was “Acoustical Design: Places for Listening” by Gerry Marshall and David Klepper. They were guys that I knew well and did a beautiful job on that chapter. And one on sound reinforcement systems by Jacek Figwer, who was a BBN employee. I don't know exactly when he left, but he left sometime after I did. He formed his own company, Figwer Associates in Concord out of his house.
Okay. I didn't realize that.
Yeah. And Chapter 6, which was another interesting one, is “Recent Innovations in Acoustical Design and Research,” and that was Gary Siebein and his mentor Bert Kinzey. These guys were down in the University of Florida, and I had run into them all the time. I knew he was a good guy to do it…Gary Siebein, anyway. He was always exploring new things. He was well into acoustical signature spaces—what do you call it?
Impulse response convolution, all of that stuff.
Yeah, yeah. So, he has a very good feel for it, and he had a lab that was doing that kind of work if he could get funding for it from time to time.
Right. He was big on scale modeling. He must have been one of the big practitioners of scale modeling.
Yeah, yeah. He was one of the ones that used it a lot, and he developed some techniques, you know, using Newman’s stuff—I mean, models and a spark gap source.
Yeah, that’s the thing that I remember…
Yeah, and all that stuff.
…and then somehow figuring out a way to scale the properties of the materials relative to the—
Right. That book was fairly successful, I think, although expensive. I mean I was always trying to keep them down to less than $100, well less—you know, more like $50 or $60—but I knew that costs were always going up. Shortly after it went out, the AIA chose this book for their professional development program. I don't know if it’s in there anywhere in that listing. But it was done for the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, so it was a book that they should be understanding these principles in order to get their architectural registration. So that was that, and they just took it just as is, no changes at all. They just borrowed the whole thing with my permission and Joe Wilkes, and they just republished it and we got a lot of comments, good comments from people that were using it. You know, “It’s the best one.” “I didn't know that you could do…” So, it was well received.
Because your book, the original version, the ’89 version, that’s actually after Egan’s Architectural Acoustics book coming out, right?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. All of Egan’s books, starting with his notes on architectural acoustics, were ones that I was always encouraging him to publish. I said, “You’ve got to find a publisher that wants it and then try to sell them on it and tell them how good it is,” and refer to the introduction that I wrote for him, which was all positive, saying, “He’s doing what architects like showing in figures that are meaningful to people designing buildings. They’re not too interested in text. They’re really interested in explanatory figures,” and that’s all his book is, is full of all these figures. He’s had three or four editions so far. That’s the story of that book.
Then comes the second edition of Architectural Acoustics: Principles and Practice, edited by William Cavanaugh, Gregory Tocci, and Joseph A. Wilkes. So, we elevated Greg to his rightful position as thing and I wrote the preface for his signature, so he would be elevated even higher than just an ordinary collaborator in the book. That was published…
That’s after I had joined the firm because I remember we all kind of pitched in to help make this book happen.
Yeah. Oh, yeah. We were—
’05 or ’06 probably.
This was published in 2010.
Oh, okay. Well after that.
2010, yeah. So 2010…1989 is the other one. Is that right?
Is it ten years? No. Let’s see.
21 years, so it was getting to the point where it should be published. This one, now all three of the partners had passed away—no. Two of them, except Leo who lives forever. [Laughs]
That’s the truth.
2016, October…Okay. So that’s the story on the books. Those are the main big publications, but there are a lot of them in there that are just little rinky-dink things, you know. But these are the big ones.
Well, I know that we’ve gotten everything that I was thinking I wanted to share with the world about you. It’s my opinion, and tell me if you agree, that we’ve really kind of chronicled your career in acoustics pretty well, I think.
Well, I’ll just close it out. I have just a quick closing comment. This has been a great pleasure and a real honor to have the chance to spend the day with you and get to hear about your life’s work and to hear all these great stories. For me personally, you’ve given me so many great opportunities. I owe knowing what an acoustical consultant is to you and the business that you built, and speaking on behalf of everyone who is doing this career that you kind of paved the road for us and helped explain it to people, I can't thank you enough. It’s been a great pleasure to spend the day with you. Thank you very much.
And I thank you, Andy, for your friendship over the years. I can't think of anybody better to ask me questions about what I’m all about. I’ve clarified a little of that today just talking to you.
Well, thank you so much for the opportunity.
[End of interview]
Transcript approved October 21, 2019 (v2b). As Edited by Andrew Carballeira, Josh Brophy, and Greg Tocci. Approved for Publication by John Cavanaugh, Co-Trustee and Personal Representative of the Estate of William J. Cavanaugh.
Editors Note: Bill Cavanaugh passed away on July 14, 2019, surrounded by three generations of Cavanaugh’s. He leaves a treasured legacy of family and good work, marked by a spirt of collegiality and community service. He will be missed by the many people whose life he touched.