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Interview of Frederick Hunt by Leo Beranek and Charles Weiner on 1964 December 18, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4688-1
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Life and career to 1965. Childhood and high school years, 1905-1920; undergraduate life and education at Ohio State University, 1920-1925; graduate work at Harvard University, 1925-1932; realization of his place in physics; research and problems with doctoral thesis; research on architectural acoustics and reflections on his teaching at Harvard, 1932-1945; cascade and frequency meter, relations in department, conflicts between teaching and research function, development of slight weight pickup and side wall support; war work on Navy acoustic mine sweeping project, National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) underwater sound projectr︣ecruitment, management problems, and dismantlement; instigating Navy postwar research in underwater sound; creation of the Engineering Science and Applied Physics department at Harvard, 1946-1965; development of the Acoustical Society of America since 1930s; assessment of his contributions; place of acoustics as a field of study. Also prominently mentioned are: Leo Beranek, John Bouyouvos, Percy Williams Bridgman, Emory Leon Chaffee, James Bryant Conant, Chris Engleman, Harvey Fletcher, William H. Klofan, Theodore Lyman, Philip McCord Morse, G. W. Pierce, Jack A. Pierce, Tim Shea, Alpheus Wilson Smith; Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Undersea Warfare Committee, and United States Navy.
The interviewer is Dr. Leo Beranek and assisting in the interview is Charles Weiner. It is being made for the Project on the History of Recent Physics in the United States at the American Institute of Physics. The place of the interview is the Faculty Room of the Lyman Laboratory of Physics at Harvard University. The date is December 18, 1964. We will now proceed.
Well, we might mention it’s a cold windy day outside with a suggestion of snow, not very much; and we’ve gathered together here in a place that’s somewhat warm by contrast.
It wasn’t at eleven o’clock this morning, I might add.
Well, I might just say a word about how I came into Ted’s life here, for one second—not that I’m trying to interview myself, but I came to Harvard University in 1936. And within a year, Ted Hunt found me as an assistant to him. I took Acoustics under Professor Hunt. And after two years at Harvard, one year in the courses of Dr. Hunt and acting as a part-time assistant, I became what you might call a full-time assistant. Now, I found Ted was one of the most interesting men that we had in the Laboratory, as a professor, as a teacher, and so on. And so it’s a great pleasure for me to have this chance to interview Ted. I’d like to start this off by just asking routine things I think we ought to get on the record—where you were born, and what your father did, and what kind of a school you went to, and who else was in your family, and some things of that sort.
Well, these facts are easily told. I was born in Barnesville, Ohio. The southeastern corner of the state, about 30 miles from Wheeling, West Virginia. My dad was a banker. He served in a small-town bank for about 70 of his 84—no, about 67 of his 84 years.
And I had one brother and one sister, both older. My brother, ten years older, who is still living in Ohio. My dad died in 1954. Mother is still living, and now 97. My sister died the week after giving birth to her only child, in 1932. Barnesville is a town of 5,000, sort of a shopping center for a farming community. And, of course, everyone went to the public school, because that was the only thing we had to go to. And I did, too. And my brother had preceded me at Ohio State University in Electrical Engineering. And it was natural that I, with his example before me—this led me to follow his track to Ohio State University-which was where one went to college in Ohio.
Could I ask you, before we get as far as Ohio, what you did with your time while you were in high school? Did you take an interest in anything mechanical or electrical that early in your life?
I’d say not a very serious interest. My brother went through the phase of motorcycles. And, of course, being ten years older than I was, he was an aviator in World War I, one of many who almost got overseas. He had finished his training and was stationed at Mineola on Long Island waiting for shipment overseas when the Armistice was signed. So in effect he had all of the fun and benefit of flight training without the hazards of trying to do it in Europe under war conditions. But his experience with these things fed back and stimulated my mechanical interest, though there were relatively few opportunities to give vent to this in the way kids seem to do nowadays.
Did you engage in any sort of business activity as a boy?
Well, I was the errand boy of the town in my tender days. I used to advertise this, and with a certain amount of enterprise, I think, on looking back at it.
Did you run a store for a while?
Yes, I started out running a popcorn machine and then moved upstairs indoors. This was a drug store that sold everything but drugs. And at the age of 12 I helped the proprietor’s sister manage the store while the proprietor went off to get married. And I wonder sometimes, even now, how one was willing to trust me with as much responsibility as that entailed at that tender age. I wouldn’t have trusted me if I had been in his position.
Well, did he know about your parlaying a 10-cent fife into something worthwhile? Maybe he wouldn’t have trusted you so much.
This was the start of that. It was while I was working in the store that I used to walk home, which wasn’t very far, after closing the store at night, playing my 10-cent fife on the way. A peripatetic flutist, as it were. And this gave the neighbors much amusement, but didn’t give me very much musical training. It was later that I parlayed this 10—cent fife up the line through the stages of a piccolo, to a wooden flub, to a silver flute, then sold the silver flute to buy a Model-T Ford and eventually in the middle 1920s sold the Ford to buy a raccoon coat.
The machine triumphs over culture and nature triumphs over the machine.
Yes, but the machine served its purpose. I drove that Model-T Ford I had rigged with overhead valves in 1924. I drove it 16,000 miles in the summer of 1925, learning about the West.
Now, was this after your graduation from college?
Yes, this was the summer after my graduation from Ohio State. And it took some persuasion to convince my parents that it was safe for me to make this trip alone. But they finally yielded on this point and so I did make the trip alone and found it a very salutary experience to live with yourself and only yourself for three months.
Were the roads any good then across the country?
Well, I forded streams in Missouri and remember coming upon the apron of the dam at Gila Bend, Arizona, just east of Yuma at 3 o’clock in the morning trying to avoid the desert heat and the road disappeared into the water. There were no lights. I couldn’t see, and I tried pebbles. And finally waited until someone came from the other direction and drove blithely through the water and this was the slipping apron of the dam and I indeed found it was passable.
What was the sort of itinerary of your trip?
I went west to Colorado Springs and drove the car up Pike’s Peak while it was still relatively fresh. Then headed South from Colorado through the Canyon Country and across the southern tip of California to San Diego and Yuma, then up the coast to Seattle, Vancouver, then looped back around and up through Lake Glacier Park to Lake Louise, Banff, and back to Colorado Springs, which closed the loop through Yellowstone, I might say, and then home across the prairies.
Did your folks believe it when they saw you drive up with the same car?
There was a good bit of skepticism about this.
Just as an added interest, have you any idea how much the whole trip cost to make?
Oh, I kept a little book of records on that—less than $400, I think. Just fresh from college I managed to sleep and take a bath at about 20 fraternity houses. I think I paid for two hotel rooms on the trip and many times slept on the road besides the car and I finally learned how to curl myself up so I could sleep in the car. It was a wonderful experience.
Ted, you followed a life that has been closely allied to radio and recording and so on. Probably sometime early in your life you encountered electrical things, an amateur license or something like that. Maybe you could tell us how you got interested in things electrical.
My brother had been playing with—of course he had been an electrical engineer—this was of course a major frontier. He was also playing with radio and this must have been in 1912. I think before he went to college. This was a spark gap induction coil, and it was a great thrill to transmit a message from the basement of our house to the basement of the neighbor’s house, three houses away. And my sister was very skeptical about this until I transmitted a message and she walked over to the other place to find out that they had really received it. When I was a senior in high school, I got interested in amateur radio myself and built a spark transmitter and had an amateur license. So I had an amateur license 80A. This was in the days before they annexed a W in front of the licenses.
This was before the days of G. W. Pierce oscillator, too.
Yes, this was about 1919 or 20, so that the vacuum tube was well established as a telephone repeater but I didn’t know about this and I did use one of the double ended cylindrical audiotrons and had a two-stage detector and one-stage amplifier. But I think I also eventually had a 5-watt tube as a C. W. oscillator but that was at the very end of my amateur activities, about 1921.
Did you get a commercial license?
Yes, as a freshman in college. Ohio State was a land grant college so we all had R.O.T.C. and the smart thing for an electrical engineering student to do was to enlist in the signal corps, and especially for one who knew the code because a considerable part of a freshman training for an R.O.T.C. signal corps man was to learn the code. So I wound up operating the sending equipment for the other students and our final examination in this part of the course was to take the examination for an amateur license which I’d had for a couple of years. So I persuaded the tester to let me try for a commercial license and with a little bit of grace on the part of the examiner, I made this, and so had the fun of holding a commercial operator’s license for one year. I didn’t try to renew it. You had to show some experience to renew it and this marked my valedictory on ham radio.
One thing we might ask you is—as a boy of any age up to high school—did you consider yourself a sort of an outdoor boy or were you the kind who sat around and read books all the time?
That is a little hard to answer. I think that I was mostly out-of-doors. My brother and sister being ten years older, my parents were a little older, they didn’t pay much attention to me. They more or less left the children to raise me and they decided later that it was really the neighbors who had raised me. So I was in my neighbors’ yards as much as my own and I don’t recall having spent a great deal of my time at that age period on books. Neither Mother nor Dad were college-trained and we didn’t have a large library at home. So that I didn’t have there the same opportunity we were able to give our son and that is to have, in effect, a large reference library for him to work on at home. And I didn’t miss this. I wasn’t conscious of missing this but it was not a part of my childhood environment.
Did you have a buddy in grade school or high school that you were with an awful lot?
We had a—I wouldn’t say a tight little gang, but there were some six or eight contemporaries, all neighbors. Of course you couldn’t live more than a mile away from each other, and most of them were within a few blocks. And this gang was together almost constantly. One of these, whose father preceded my father as president of the bank, has now succeeded and is president of the bank himself—John Don Bradfield—and I guess he would rank as my closest friend throughout that period and I still regard him as a close and valued friend. This is where the names came from. In this gang, Ted was the nickname for Frederick and there were three of them I think around. Tom got the nickname Pete, for some reason that I’ll never understand. The nickname Ted was pinned on me at the age of three and since my father’s name was Fred, I’ve always avoided Fred as a diminutive for Frederick. And, Ted has stuck even if it confuses lots of people who address me as Theodore.
May I ask that since your parents weren’t college-trained, do you remember some of the educational background of your father and of your mother?
I think Dad didn’t graduate from high school and mother always was rather proud of the fact that she had graduated from high school. Still at the age of 97 I find her sometimes saying of some of the cousins and their children that “Oh, he graduated” and when she says he graduated she means he graduated from high school.
Had they lived in the town of Barnesville for many years?
Yes, they were both born there, and lived there all their lives. Only after my father’s death, mother finally has moved 30 miles away to the town of Cadiz—not Cadizz but Cadiz in Ohio and this is in order to be near my brother, because she’s in a rest home, so-called, where my brother can visit her every day.
I have one further question. Your dad did not graduate from high school and he was the president of the bank. Had he worked at the bank for a long period?
Indeed he had for a long period. As a child he was working in the railroad station, selling tickets, and the then president of the bank, always on the prowl for likely young employees, apparently had his eye on Dad, and stopped in one time and asked him to call and offered him a job in the bank. So dad went to work in the bank, I think between the ages of 17 and 18, and he never left it.
When? Would that be the 1889 date you gave me?
Something like that. Dad was born in ‘67. It was earlier than ‘89. I’m sure he went in the bank before he was 19. And he celebrated his 65th anniversary of his going into the bank while he was still alive and working.
Did you get the Ringling Brothers circus in town occasionally?
Oh, yes, indeed. I recall one time the circus was in town, and one of the boys in our gang came down and said, “Have you heard the excitement? They can’t control the elephants.” And it turned out that he had heard them make an announcement that a rain storm had been predicted and that they could not control the elements. So this caused a slight flurry. Yes, we had circuses in town and this was a great source of peripatetic excitement.
I was wondering—I think you told me one time—that you had entered college only about half-way through your 16th year of age. And I’m wondering how you managed to get to college so young?
Perhaps you could tell us about high school on the way to answering that question too.
I guess that in some fashion I had learned to read better than some at an early age and had sailed through first grade and my first grade teacher, who took an interest, suggested that perhaps I could skip second grade. This had never been done in our local public school. And I remember that she was going to take me to see the principal to read for him. And on the way to do this, she sat me on the steps of the vestibule of the old school building with the book I was to read from, and said, “Now, read this.” So I read a sample page for her before we proceeded on to the principal’s office—where I read for him. So I skipped the second grade. This put me one year ahead. And then I managed to do a little extra work in some fashion and finished the high school course in three years. So I gained two years on the normal 12—I did not enter early; my birthday is in February so I didn’t enter until the middle of the year of my 6th birthday. But I did telescope two years of it, and so I got to Ohio State a little early, in fact, very green.
I figure that if you did this extra studying, you probably didn’t indulge in school athletics.
I think I’d tried to play on the high school baseball team but wasn’t good enough—I was always too small, was the little squirt. The rest of the boys had 20-inch bicycle frames but had to have an 18-inch one because I wasn’t as big as they were. You wouldn’t think it now with my potbelly, but I was the little shrimp in those days.
I might remark that Ted is a sort of a thin-boned man—you’re not a man of heavy structure, bone-wise. Let’s see, was there any other incident in high school that you can recall?
Through the l930s I used to try and try to get my weight above 130 pounds. And during the war, I sat on my fanny and ate well and that started a very bad trend.
Didn’t you tell me one time you used to be able to go through a relatively small hoop or something?
Oh, a tennis racquet frame: you could step in it with one foot and bend over and go through it and take it off the other foot. You could do this, also, with a pool triangle.
I never heard of anybody else who could do this.
We had gymnastic equipment around, and I was always the agile one on the trapeze and this kind of thing.
There’s a whole tribe of triangular people in Southern Ohio.
I want to know what this pool influence was here?
Well, there’s a good answer to that.
Athletics, of course.
No, John Bradfield’s father knew that the way to keep the boys at home was to give them something to do. So he had an opportunity when one of the poolrooms was in financial trouble—and he bought a pool table, which they put in the attic of John’s house. So that we played pool in John’s attic in rainy weather, and the families knew where we were. A little later, they built an addition to the garage, and we formed a club which we operated all through our high school days; it originally started out as a gym club, and we had rings and trapezes and things. And, of course, later on we took those out and danced. This was a wise parent, providing a rallying place for the neighborhood gang. And it worked as well then as it does now.
What would the alternatives have been? What other recreation might you have found?
Oh, you could get in trouble with the gang out somewhere else in town, as some of the other gangs did.
Did you ever get involved in any incidents that would be classed as juvenile delinquency today? When I was a boy, we used to do juvenile-delinquent things routinely.
Except it didn’t have a title then.
We were the nice gang. On Halloween in those days, you dumped privies and you soaped peoples’ windows and so on. But ours was the gang that threw corn and didn’t do these things. So that I’m afraid that in the town we would have been the nice boys. We had a lot of fun though.
I hope we’re not through with the high school question, because I’m concerned about the subjects that you studied in high school. And, in particular, whether science was taught, and if so, how, and what your reaction was, and who the teachers were.
Yes, I took Chemistry and Physics in high school—a one-year course in each. The Physics was routinely taught and routinely received. It was easy. Most of these things were.
A year’s course, or a semester’s course?
No, a year’s course.
You kind of got through the doorbell wiring up at that time, I suppose.
Yes well, of course, my brother had done some electrician work. I remember particularly one house—of course, I was his assistant when he was doing his doorbell work. It’s hard now to judge the amount of exposure to that kind of thing that I had through my brother, but I think it was significant. He wasn’t trying to sell me anything. But I saw electricity at work there—radio at work, for that matter—and, of course, the motorcycle he used to ride gave me good exposure to that kind of mechanical monkey-business.
You took Chemistry, did you?
Yes, though, as I say, I’m not conscious of these having made much impression on me in high school.
Do you remember whether a text book was used in the Physics course?
Yes, there was a text book.
Do you remember the title?
No, I don’t.
Do you remember whether there were laboratory exercises for the students?
If there were, they didn’t make much impression on me because I can’t remember any of them now.
Do you remember any demonstrations?
There were some demonstrations, I’m sure.
There must have been mixing of light, you know, the rotating discs with colors on it to make white light.
I can’t now visualize any—I don’t have any clear memory of any experiments that were performed.
Did you take anything like Biology and dissect worms?
No, I never did that.
There was how much math in high school Math?
Two years of Algebra and a year of Geometry. I recall telescoping this into three years. In college you took Latin. I took two years of Latin, and overlapped two years of French. So that I had two years of French in high school but only two years of Latin. Well, I remember Caesar—we had an excellent teacher for my first year of Latin. She taught us Latin grammar and really taught us Latin grammar. As a consequence, reading Caesar was easy, this you did at sight. Except in the days when you can spot in advance that you’re going to have to read the review, so then you would read the lesson at home; otherwise, Caesar was sight-reading, thanks to an excellent first-year course in Latin grammar.
It seems that a year of Chemistry and a year of Physics plus several years of math, even by today’s standards, is unusual.
This was not unusual there. I wonder if I’m wrong-maybe it was one year of algebra and one year of geometry.
But even the chemistry and physics, was this required?
No, there was a commercial course that you could take if you were not going to college. And the college preparatory—well, it wasn’t called “college preparatory”—but the regular course ordinarily had Latin; and I think they were supposed to take either Chemistry or Physics. One or the other. I took both.
How about Drama, Public Speaking, and that kind of thing?
No Public Speaking, there. I wound up taking a course in public speaking at Ohio State for one term, and scored high on the first speech we gave. And then got a low grade in the course because the professor said you were good in the beginning and you never improved any.
Terrible mistake, then.
I learned some fundamentals about preparing speeches but not much—I didn’t improve my delivery.
I got heavily disciplined for one of my early speeches where I said that an after-dinner speech—I did this in front of a mixed class and a lady teacher—had to be short enough to be attractive and long enough to cover the subject.
Lincoln’s prescription for a speech—like a woman’s dress.
I’d like to ask another question about the high school: was it a consolidated high school; that is, did it serve many of the rural areas?
Well, it wasn’t called a consolidated high school, but it was the only high school within, let’s see, you had to go 25 miles to get to Cambridge, Ohio, or Wheeling—I guess Cadiz was 30 miles to the north—so it was the biggest high school in that neighborhood, but there weren’t any buses to bring people in from 15 miles away and so it served all the people that were going to the public school in town.
How large was your graduating class, approximately?
My first reaction is say a hundred, but I’m not sure whether I’m remembering the numbers I read in the hometown newspaper of the present classes. But it wasn’t more than a hundred, and I think it may have been half that.
It was probably in between, you know, just judging from the size of the population.
It was integrated—I remember in 6th grade engaging with one of the colored boys in a school debate, and I was so foolish as to back Washington in a debate about which was the greater man, Washington or Lincoln. And he took Lincoln, of course, and cleaned me, soundly defeated me.
Were there many colored people in your class?
Oh, I think there were two to five—no, it must have been four or five, I’d say, about their percentage in the population. And never any question of integration.
There were no problems that you were aware of, no racial problems? Hunt; No, there were no racial problems.
Now, Mr. Weiner, can you think of anything else we ought to ask about high school?
Well, I think that the basic thing that I was interested in was the physics and the chemistry. At this point you don’t remember it making a particular impression. Perhaps when we talk about Ohio State.
In a sense—before I even entered high school—through my brother’s influence, I knew that I was going to study Electrical Engineering.
That’s an important point.
I can hardly remember back to a time when I didn’t know that I was going to study something electrical.
That would explain your electing to take both chemistry and physics.
Yes, as I said, there was no question about that. And as for what influenced me, these were just the things you did on the way to doing this.
In fact, you said that when you were 10 years old you were sure that you remember, recalling that age, yes?
There was nothing about these courses, evidently, that was particularly inspiring, but at the same time, nothing in them to deter you from that career goal.
No, that was just the thing you did on the way.
Oh, we ought to ask the obvious question—what kind of grades did you get?
I guess was a high-B man, not the A student. I wasn’t the Valedictorian or anything. But I got good grades and I can answer this question about my college grades too. I was a B+ man. I think I got into Phi Beta Kappa by a fluke, a marginal case, you know.
In high school and in college were you better in the science subjects than in the other parts of the curriculum?
Not particularly. At Ohio State I sort of backed into a five-year arts-engineering program, and spent two summers taking wholly arts material to fill up that part of the program. I remember in the fraternity house, the boys in the College of Commerce and Journalism would sweat and swear at the course in economics. The pre-medics would swear at the course in Physiology. So I took the course in Economics one summer and I thought it was a breeze. You had to learn a vocabulary, but then it was just plain, simple reasoning of the kind that you did all the time in science; and once you learned their jargon, the rest of it was simple, so I got very unpopular around the fraternity house by telling them how easy this Economics course was. The same was more or less true of the course in physiology.
You had a new medium, a new vocabulary to get. But then it was just a question of applying some logical principles that we’d been using in engineering all the time, and so this was easy. I recall a final examination in the physiology course; the professor was, I think, was a little Puckish, he passed out these final questions. I read them and started chuckling. And I began to get frowns from everybody: Why are you laughing—this is no fun—this is no laughing matter. But I could see that not a single question dealt with anything that we’d covered in class, not a one. So I just said: Well, what he’s doing, he wants to see if we can apply what we learned in class to these questions. That’s a good game too—so I went to work and wrote out my story. And wound up getting a B+ in the course, instead of an A; but the professor of this course was one of the men on the Phi Beta Kappa selection committee, and he spoke a good word for me, which, again, is one of the ways I got in.
I heard you mention the word “fraternity,” now I know that in the Midwestern schools the fraternities have been very important in the campus life and, also, in social prestige. You might say a little about this subject.
The fraternity has played an important role in my undergraduate life. My brother had been a Sigma Nu when he was in college—Sigma Nu is a National Fraternity. And due to the delays on account of his war service and a bout of pleurisy that he’d had which killed a whole year—I mean, a case of a four-week sickness killing a whole academic year—he graduated in the spring of the year when I entered. So that he was fresh in the minds of the fraternity, and so I was pledged Sigma Nu as a freshman although as a very underage greenhorn from the country, I don’t think I would have been attractive to a fraternity on any other grounds than having had a brother who had served the fraternity well. The upshot of it was that being very young and very green, the living in the house with boys who were more extrovert, more outgoing, more worldly, provided me with an opportunity to grow up—provided a kind of growing up paternalism that I hadn’t had at home and might not have found in college if it had not been for that. So I have a very warm feeling for what the fraternity did in helping me grow up. Since coming to Harvard, Harvard not having fraternities, I’ve had almost no contact with them, so that this is another chapter in the life. I think the role of the fraternities at places like M.I.T. is not at all the kind of a role it played for me at Ohio State. I’m not even sure what it is at Ohio State now. But at that time, I have a very fond feeling for what they did for me.
Can you remember your first year’s courses, because it seems to me that one leaves a relatively simple life in high school and enters into an express-train kind of life in college. The first year must have impressed you that way.
Yes. Old Billy Evans was the chemistry professor, mathematics, physics, and I think there was “English for Engineers.” I entered as an engineering student.
What year was that?
Fall of 1921. I don’t remember what else there was that first year. Oh—engineering drawing.
You had only one non-science course then.
The first year. The normal thing was that you took two terms of engineering drawing. Generally, I got good grades in everything except the engineering drawing. This required a skilled execution with the hands. And I got Cs in this course.
But your handwriting is not illegible, by any means.
No, but neither is my drafting professional. The third term of drafting was descriptive geometry. For this, you only had to have the lines in the right place, they didn’t have to be pretty, so I got an A in the descriptive geometry. And then you went back to the 4th course in drawing which was design; but there they had to be pretty again, so I went back to Cs. So I could put the lines in the right place, but they weren’t very professional in appearance. The normal thing was to take two Shop courses in the summer after the Freshman year, and then space out two more Shop courses during the Sophomore year. Ohio State went on the Quarter plan, and the first summer—and the summer after my Freshman year; I had two semesters; then the Quarter plan was instituted. That meant that the first summer was full-fledged academic quarter. A shop course was four hours and there were two terms in the summer. So if I took morning and afternoon, I could get all four shop courses off that summer, and that was a good thing to do. So I took all four shop courses one summer. I picked up that little scar through being foolish with a lathe.
Ted is pointing to a scar that’s on his left hand, between his thumb and his index finger in the soft, fleshy part.
With a square nut on a dog in the lathe, I was foolish to try to back a reamer out of a hole with the tail stock—and you don’t do that.
You don’t do it successfully.
So it caught and wiped a nice little slot there.
You had to go to a doctor and get stitches—or did you?
Oh, yes, one of the curious moments of flash photographic vision—it’s happened to me once or twice—this thing comes along and you look and for a moment I have a perfectly clear picture of a clean slot about the size of a lead pencil in the fleshy part of the hand there before any blood started to flow. Then, you see the first pulse of arterial blood spout into it. And the mechanical shock was enough that there was no pain associated with it—it hurt more when they pulled the stitches out, five days later, than it did at the time. But I had to have my hand bandaged then, so this interfered with my finishing one of the patterns in the wood shop. So I didn’t get any excuse for that, I had to finish that pattern during the fall term. But by cleaning off all four shop courses, I had some open places in my schedule in the sophomore year, and this was where I could begin to put in some of the extra courses that eventually made up this five year Arts-Engineering program.
In your second year, did you start picking up some arts courses?
Yes—I don’t remember now whether it was the philosophy course, but I think it was the philosophy course that year.
Did you continue your French and pick up some German?
I didn’t get any German—I should have, but didn’t. And I regret it very much because I never had a formal course that would provide some drill in German grammar. But I did take another one-quarter course in French-and even wrote a French sonnet—but this fortified the French very nicely. But, alas, I didn’t get any German, either in high school or college.
Now, lets see: we get into the sophomore year a little here.
Well, we did mention Physics in the freshman year—do you recall anything?
The normal thing in the sophomore year, you took the special—by this time there was differentiation, so that the Electrical Engineers took a special two-quarter course in Electrical Physics; and I took this. Then, it was that year or the next year, I took a course in Gas Dynamics. The thing I remember is that Professor Heil could write on the blackboard as fast as he could talk. If you copied what he wrote on the board verbatim, if you could have photographed it, you’d have had a beautiful set of notes. And what is now called Bremsstrahlen, he told us about, and ionization potentials and this kind of thing.
Usually in math in these colleges of that time, the freshman year gets something like Algebra and Trigonometry—
And, somewhere you must have gotten some trigonometry.
Well, in analytical geometry, the professor started out by saying that he assumed that we had had a course in trigonometry and he would proceed on that basis, and a few of us gulped because we hadn’t had it and we picked that up on the run. We did analytical geometry. Then, in the sophomore year, Ohio State was experimenting with breaking up the second year of calculus according to aptitudes and interests; and I was in this special course taught by Professor Bohannon. And Bode, he’s now at Bell Labs, I’m not sure whether he was in this class or whether his father was a professor there. But he is an Ohio State contemporary. And Bohannon was a busy-haired, shaggy-dog kind of person with a salty sense of humor. And he said feeding some of this kind of stuff to engineers is like feeding cactus to cattle-or something like that. He had some colorful figure of speech to indicate that he was dishing out some rough stuff for the engineers.
But you did get calculus?
This was the sophomore calculus. Later on, I took a course—it would now be called “foundations of algebra,” a sort of an advanced algebra but not functions of real variables, if you know the distinction. And this was interesting but not particularly—
You got determinants and that kind of thing probably.
I don’t think we did, as a matter of fact; this was more the philosophy of things: that you used different ground rules for algebra—the notion that the simple algebraic rules are just conventions, after all. You might get some different conventions.
Did you get involved in Drama in college?
No drama. As a sophomore and junior I tried out for manager of the football team and worked my head off as a junior to no avail, that is to say I did not get selected as manager of the team for my senior year. And when I look back on it I think this was very wise on their part because I was an awfully young greenhorn at the time, as I see now these college football managers have to be pretty worldly and savvy boys which I wasn’t even then. I was still too young.
Were the games an excitement in those days?
Oh, indeed, yes. Ohio State was big stuff in the Big 10 then. And one of the thrills I remember as a candidate manager, I was weighing the boys in and out of the game and Butch Pixley was the captain of the team during my junior year. And he was about 280 pound guard. And he lost 14 pounds during one Illinois game by my weights in and out. And they finally managed during the end of the season—they managed a special play for Pixley. Pixley was going to carry the ball so they pulled the guard out of the line and gave him the ball. This 280 pounds in a college man then was pretty good beef and he wasn’t very fast but he was awfully determined and he took that ball and just walked ahead about 16 yards. And he had enemies draped all over him before he stopped, and when he had finished his 16 yards, he just collapsed. So they took Pixley out after that, he had done his job. We also had a little 160 pound center who you wouldn’t think could survive but he was a wiry good performer.
Well, I’ll ask you a couple more questions about college and then I think we’ll take a little rest. First of all, this period in college is always a period when men are sure to be interested in girls in some way. You haven’t said anything about your social life. About dances, parties, fraternity parties, dating and all that kind of thing.
I was too young for this kind of nonsense for most of my college career. I think the spring formal season for my junior year was about the first time that I got my own date and it was during the summer after my junior year that I really found out that girls were fun. And I was pretty busy during my senior year and on that western trip following my senior year, I didn’t have much opportunity, so I had a lot of ground to make up when I reached Harvard in the fall of 1925. So I proceeded to make up some ground during the next few years.
We’ll get to that a little later. I want to finish off college. Did you have any conflicts with professors ever, or did you sort of sail through smoothly?
No, I don’t think I had any real conflicts.
No run-ins with the administration in any way?
No, in fact I recall with affection the secretary of the engineering school, Miss Glasgow. There’s always one of these people who run the school. The deans think that they run it, but the secretary in the office is the one who runs it. And I would turn up with my schedule card before each new quarter began, and Miss Glasgow would say, “Well, what is it you want to do now? Let’s see if we can find a way for you to do it under the rules.” And, this was because of course I was carrying schedules that were heavier than the normal schedule which was 18 hours. I think I averaged between 20 and 21.
This was classroom, or laboratory contact with the teacher?
Well, what they call an hour is supposed to mean a contact hour, yes. And the normal was three five-hour courses and the engineers took 18.
You usually had a lab in it.
Usually a lab in it somewhere. And usually I took one more three-hour course or equivalent so that I averaged about 20 or 21. And this was irregular, but Miss Glasgow always found a way to let me do what I wanted to do.
What do you remember about your commencement day in college?
This was sort of uneventful. I got this in the five-year program, with the three summer schools. I had finished four academic years at the end of the summer term preceding what would be my senior year in electrical engineering. So they had a convocation at the end of each quarter. The summer convocation wasn’t much shakes, you see, so that my first bachelor degree—Bachelor of Arts—didn’t have much fanfare associated with it.
Is that in August, l924?
Yes. It was that summer since I was a graduating senior in arts—they made a Phi Beta Kappa selection, at each quarterly convocation—and because it wasn’t a very big convocation, I think this is part of why I slipped by there. Then having my bachelors degree, during my senior year in electrical engineering, I could hold a graduate assistantship in the physics department, so I was a graduate assistant in physics and with the kind smiling of Professor Alpheus Wilson Smith, he let me teach a class. It was not just run a laboratory but I got to lecture to a bunch of pre-medics during my first year with a Bachelors degree of arts, while I was still a senior in electrical engineering.
Lets’ backtrack a bit. Evidently some of your college experiences in physics, prior to this time, influenced you to look into physics as a graduate assistant anyway. Can you tell us a little about it—concentrating now on the physics, on the courses and the content as you remember it, and the instructors and the labs. Can you give us something of the flavor of this?
Well, I took an electrical measurements laboratory with Alva Smith—there were two Smiths—Alva Smith was a fussy kind of experimentalist and we had an electrical measurements laboratory. I remember I wrote to the company in Malta, that made these S-rectifier tubes. Remember the S-rectifier? It was a gas rectifier. It turned out that C. G. Smith on whose Ph.D. committee I eventually sat, was the one who had responded to my request and they sent me some sample tubes, so I made some measurements on these tubes in this junior electrical measurements laboratory. I took the course with Blake who was the X-ray man, no relation to the F. G. Blake who was my student and peer. And Heil I mentioned, and Alpheus Smith who was chairman of the department and, say, my principal advisor in that respect.
During my sophomore year I guess part of the junior—it must have been about my junior year—I originally thought that I was going to use this extra time and these extra credits to get a masters degree. And by the time I got along to the junior year, I saw this wasn’t going to work. It would be better to make this a double five-year arts-engineering bachelor’s degree combination. And somewhere along the line I just decided that pure physics wasn’t going to be my dish quite. But still, even then, for the electrical engineers, I wasn’t practical enough. I was interested in the fundamentals of why things worked more than the practical engineering. So that physics and engineering was the right combination. And it hadn’t crystallized into any sharper focus at that stage—not the sharp focus that it acquired during my first year at Harvard, which you’re about to come to maybe.
One final question on the undergraduate training—you mentioned laboratories. Presumably you worked with other students in the physics classes. In the lab and then again outside of class was there much discussion about contemporary developments in physics, either exclusively among the students or perhaps with some of the faculty? Did you read journals during the period?
There was what we now call a journal club. I seem to remember this mostly during this year was serving as the assistant, and this met every week or two, and with somebody to report on some publications. I don’t have any more clear memory of it now than that it existed. And I’m not aware of any particular bull sessions. Of course, living in the fraternity, the bull sessions we had weren’t on physics. There were lots of them, but there weren’t any other physicists or engineers in the fraternity house. So you didn’t do your gossip there. And I tried to encourage our first year graduate students to get together with their colleagues and have some of these bull sessions but it wasn’t easy—they don’t seem to do it very often—and it wasn’t easy for me in college either.
What were some of the so-called hot developments in physics that you may remember now from your undergraduate days? What were some of the exciting things?
Well, this was the period when quantum mechanics was very hot but I don’t recall that it made much of an impression on me back there then. Blake was the X-ray man interested in some quantum theory, but I don’t recall this—I don’t recall quantum theory being—it certainly didn’t play an important role in my training there. It may have been available—there may have been more of it there than I was aware of. But later, reconstructing the ‘20s, you date the beginning of the hot developments in the early l920s. There was a lot of ferment just around 1925, which is just about the time I was making the transition from there to here. And within four years of the time I left Ohio State, the physics department did an almost complete turnover. Alpheus Smith stayed on, but what you might call the rank and file of the department almost completely turned over. And this may be related to this ferment. In other words, in some respects it was probably what you would call an old-fashioned physics department. In fact, I’m sure they did up-grade themselves within the next five years, but I can’t say: “Ah, yes, things were boiling back there then.” They may have been but I wasn’t aware of it.
I might interject some words at this point while we’re sitting here and give a little description. I have, of course, worked with Ted for many years, and as we sit here. Ted is in sort of one of his favorite positions, turned part-way in the chair with his left arm up on the back of the chair. He likes to always turn the chair sideways and not sit in the chair straight-on if he can help it. And I remember down in his office, when I was here, he had a large, rather low-seated lounge chair, leather-covered—with a reasonably low arm on it—and he would normally sit sideways in it with his arm either on the back of the chair—I’m not sure he could reach it now or not—but he had his left leg over the arm, always, his left leg that took the place then of this. Ted, as I remember, I always wore a white shirt; I don’t remember any colored shirts to speak of, and usually his one-colored ties. I don’t remember any gaudy ties on Ted historically. And also, I think Ted has traditionally worn gray suits, from my memory. It’s always interesting talking with Ted because he is very expressive. This is analysis in front of you here—he has a very expressive face, going from smiles to thinking seriously. And as we’re talking this afternoon, Ted dredges up the past by looking into the distance. And when he is looking really hard, he tends to focus his eyes as though he’s trying to get them in focus on this distant point. And Ted is a chain-smoker. I think I remember him smoking constantly as a student, and as I remember, he always had a lighter. He didn’t use matches very often.
Mechanized right from the beginning—which Ted handles with a little different way than other people use lighters. He uses two hands usually to open the lighter and get it going while some people do it with one hand. And these little observations on the record might be interesting to hear.
That’s interesting. I put on a white shirt today specifically because I’ve been departing from the white shirt custom for the last few years. I reverted to fit your pattern. Also, I got in the habit of wearing a red necktie early in the war, there were stressful situations then and this was kind of an anchor so I stuck to the red neckties for a long time. I’ve even relaxed from that in the last few years but I thought today I’d better put on a red necktie again.
It shows that you are more secure now.
More secure. This is my little blanket.
I think we ought to take a few minutes rest before we enter into Harvard, [Interval] We’re resuming after a short break of five or ten minutes. We’d like to explore deeper this period after your first degree in which you did some teaching and try and get from you what you thought it meant to be a student of physics. When you were thinking of physics, was it a theoretical or an experimental kind of physics? And another question to ask related to this is, what did this Professor Smith have to do with your choice of graduate work? What part did he play in it?
Well, I must explain that the graduate assistantship meant that—as a holder of a degree I could be employed although I could not have been employed as an undergraduate without a degree. And ordinarily graduate assistants would grade papers, conduct laboratories, and so on. And it was my special pleading with Professor Alpheus Smith that earned me the relatively unusual chance to conduct this course for pre-medics. And I don’t know yet why he yielded to my request except that I’m glad he did. I’m not sure about the orientation, I know that between the sophomore and junior year, I abandoned the notion of trying to get a masters degree. Somewhere along the line I thought I wanted to be a theoretical physicist and I think that before I reached this year of being a graduate assistant that I had come to realize that this was not my dish, that this called for more mathematical insight and training than I had or was likely to get. But I was still pointed in the general direction—I was still biased toward the why as far as the engineering was concerned and the why of engineering seemed to be physics. And I don’t think I knew really about the career except that I was going to do more in these areas.
As Leo Beranek is well aware when I did reach Harvard and discovered the Cruft Laboratory, as a mode of education poised midway between engineering and physics, jointly supported by both—this clicked. This was my place, halfway between engineering and physics. As Professor Pierce used to say, the physicists call me an engineer and the engineers call me a physicist. And so this was the halfway life that I’ve been in and it fits me. From the engineering side you’re a theoretical longhair. From the physicists side you’re a practical engineer. And so you sit, trying to keep track of what the physicists do and then trying to make it useful. I don’t know whether that deals with the question of career orientation. Now, you mentioned Professor Alpheus Smith. In the spring of 1925, I considered 4 places for graduate work—University of Chicago, Princeton, Harvard and I’ve since been a little confused as to whether the fourth one was M.I.T. or Caltech. But it was a Tech and I think it was Caltech.
In all events, there were reasons in 1925 for picking each of these. But Professor Alpheus Smith had taken his Ph.D. at Harvard around 1900 or 1902, I think he was a contemporary of Professor Theodore Lyman’s, and he allowed his prejudice to come through and he urged me to come to Harvard. So that, in the absence of any better information, I followed his suggestion and applied to Harvard. And after my western trip in the summer of 1925, I landed here in the fall of 1925, and I’ve been here ever since. It’s a very simple occupational record, dull maybe, dull and unvaried, but this is where I’ve been.
When you arrived here at Harvard, what professor first came to your attention, what shaped you the first year? The first year is always very important.
I took some courses in Cruft and took a course in mechanics. I took a course in advanced calculus with Billy Fogg Osgood.
Using his book?
Using his book yes. And the course that’s now 208, the advanced dynamics, with Oliver D. Kellogg, the potential expert. And I think two of the Cruft courses. I found out very quickly that my two years of math at Ohio State were not as good preparation for the advanced calculus as the two years of mathematics that the Harvard undergraduate gets. I was in trouble in the calculus course. And I was by the same token in trouble in the dynamics course. So my first year grade record was pretty lousy, to put it bluntly. I persevered and took some more, the second year I took the vacuum tube course.
This was Chaffee then?
How much older is Professor Chaffee than you?
Oh, dear. About 20 years.
He looked like a very senior man.
Yes. I think I’m right about that 20; pretty near it. I think that second year I took Professor Pierce’s radiation course, his electric waves. And I don’t remember whether I took the acoustics course that year or not. I rather think I did. Anyway, in the middle of that year...
Your second year.
I’d signed up for the second semester of the vacuum tube course. And the lab instructor for that second half—course—I rather think that this was when Fred Drake left—Fred Drake of the Browning & Drake system.
They had a radio tuning circuit.
Glenn Browning and Fred Drake.
Anyway, all of a sudden, Professor Chaffee was without a lab assistant for the spring term. And he asked me, while we were walking across the yard to lunch one day, if I would be willing to help him in the laboratory in the spring term. I said I would be delighted to. And that afternoon I went over to the school and dropped a course which I had planned to take. I think I’m right on the dates that this was my first employment at Harvard with this quarter-time job of running the laboratory of his vacuum tube course that year. It’s possible that this was the third year instead of the second. There is a period in those first three years when my grades were bad, and there was a question of whether I should be discouraged and formally urged to go pursue my education elsewhere.
That doesn’t sound like Professor Chaffee.
And I convinced Professor Chaffee that I could do this and would. And so I did.
May I interject some questions which are speculations in a sense that you can fill in. I presume that at this time there were two buildings of importance right here. There was the Cruft Building, which was a small almost a cubicle-shaped building with two large radio antennas on top, and the Jefferson laboratory which was an old kind of Civil War building, from the 1880’s. And I suppose you had classes in both of these and had to walk between them as well as the yard.
And you lived nearby.
Well, the first year lived in a rooming house on Kirkland Street with a nest of lawyers as it turned out, a miscellaneous collection of people who came to the same rooming house. And, my roommate was an Ohio State alumnus who was studying law. The two boys in the next room were both law students. And in their second year in the law school they formed a law club that rented a house and ran a table and I was the only non-lawyer allowed to eat at this place. But as their buddy helped them so that during my sophomore year, that was during the third year in the graduate school. That was the Cancery Club. I would be at lunch with some of the younger lawyers and picked up enough of the lingo from my buddies that I’d argue learnedly about the rule of the Shelley case and this and that until finally they would get me in a corner and would always retreat by saying: “After all, I’m not in the law school.” This used to annoy the boys very much because they thought that they had been led up the river by an amateur. After that first year on Kirkland Street, I moved into Conant Hall and lived in Conant Hall for the rest of my pre-marital career, not uneventfully because I quickly ran out—rather ran through the allotted span of time and stayed on only because I moved in with the proctor and lived two years with the proctor, which extended my allowable life, and finally succeeded in marrying out of Conant Hall.
Were there three years allowable normally?
Three years or four. And think I stayed seven total.
Now you spoke of Professor Pierce, and I can well believe he must have been a great influence because he was certainly the great man of the Cruft Laboratory. He sort of even built it with his own will, didn’t he?
Yes. He built Lyman, too.
That was later, though.
Yes, I think you might say that Pierce rebuilt. The Cruft Laboratory was originally planned as a high tension electrical laboratory. It was to have a central bay two or three floors high for testing high voltage transformers and after the plans were well along, they decided to put the towers on. This was Pierce’s doing. They had to change the framing of the building and you could still see the place where it was designed to have the central part cut out to make this two-story compartment in the center. But then they framed it so that the legs of the towers were carried down through on stout pillars and when they were investigating bomb shelters during World War I, the framing of Cruft made it one of the safest places in the community except, of course, the hazard of knocking the towers themselves down. Yes, Pierce was the strong man in Cruft. But I think I rather quickly had—more quickly than a couple of years—seemed to have more to do with Professor Chaffee than with Pierce. Pierce was the acoustical person and eventually I wound up, primarily, running the laboratory. There was a year or two when I was the only carry-over man who had any previous experience with the laboratory in Pierce’s underwater signaling course, so that this preserved my job as a laboratory instructor because nobody else could carry over this background.
You speak of a long time between the time you came here and the time you got a doctor’s degree. You might give a little history of that span of years. What were you doing in each of those years?
Part of the time I was spending the two years I had gained in high school by skipping grades. That is, I was growing up in this period of time and exercising the information I had acquired during my senior year at college about the fact that girls were fun. This was part of the distraction. The second was that although we are not now permitted by our modern rules, I was employed as a full-time assistant long before I finished my work for the doctorate. Salary was very modest. In fact, when I got married, I got raised from $2,200 to $2,400 a year; as a full-time employee, I didn’t have to register as a graduate student so that—being not registered, not being held to account for formal research courses, yes, I could do research in what time I had left over. But there wasn’t anybody to check up and I guess it kind of became understood that I was working with Professor Pierce but he never seemed to pay much attention to this and I didn’t pay much attention to it either.
He was your thesis advisor.
Eventually and formally. Although I think he only found out during the last two or three months what I was working on. I picked two different thesis topics that aborted, that is, I aborted them because I decided that they were not good topics after spending a year and a half on one of them before making this decision. Since then the subject matter has been the subject of several books so that I’m not sure that was a wise decision. And so eventually I thought this nonsense had gone on far enough and that I better get a thesis written.
What were the two aborted topics?
One had to do with the measurement of the impedance characteristics of an antenna at the other end of a transmission line, essentially transferring the impedance measurement from one end to the other of a transmission line; and to the degree of approximation that I was then prepared to tackle, this was a cut-and-dried problem, answers were known. You just had to do it experimentally and this didn’t seem like anything worthwhile. If one had taken into account the interaction between the antenna and the end of the line, the departure from ideal—this is what the books have been written about—this would have been a problem of stature. I’m not sure I could have handled it then. I’m not sure I can handle it now, as a matter of fact. But this was not what I did and so as I was prepared to handle the problem, it looked like one that had no surprises, so I dropped it. The other one had to do with a method of calibrating condenser microphones with an impedance bridge, with a capacitance bridge, and this one, I think could have been made to work but I worked on it enough to convince myself that, even if it worked, it wasn’t a very good method of calibration and so I dropped it.
Now, let’s see, you entered Harvard in 1925 and you received a master’s degree along the way?
Yes, I should tell you about that. Fall of 1925, fall of ‘26, fall of ’27, middle of 1927, this is two full years and I haven’t got the masters degree. Got all the courses but I still haven’t passed my language. So here’s that German that I didn’t take before. So I decided, all right, lets do something about this. So, I think it must have been shortly after Christmas in my third year that I decided to learn German, at least enough German to pass the examination. So, for four weeks, at about 18 hours a day, I did German and I found somewhere a thin book of German roots, suffixes and prefixes and someone borrowed it from me or stole it and I’ve never found another copy of it. But this was the gold mine, because with the roots and the examples of what to do with the roots, the suffixes and the prefixes and a little imagination, you could work your way through the German nouns. So I immersed myself in German and did nothing else, holed up 18 hours a day for four weeks and I took the exam and flunked it. So I studied for another week—Professor Lyman gave these examinations then and I don’t know what he thought at the time, but, bless his heart, he allowed me to take it again a week later and passed it. And then, unfortunately, had no occasion to use it for the next ten years; so that my German is still very thin and shaky. I can make my way through some of the big words, the nouns, but the connectives and the prepositions and the structure that one learns in a drill of German grammar, alas, I never did get that and didn’t get it in my five-week boning period. I did pass the reading exam in five weeks.
This qualified you for the masters?
This finished the master’s degree, so I got this in the spring of 1928, three years.
We might point out that it was the same when I was there: no thesis was required for the master’s degree.
Can we backtrack a minute on the courses you mentioned specifically, on the course in radiation and so forth. Can you give us some recollections of the teaching characteristics of the professors and of the content of the courses?
Not much about those, but I could mention a couple of others that had more interest. I was fortunate in that I took the course in physical optics with Professor Lyman and I think this may have been one of the last times he taught the course. And this, of course, was going to headquarters as it were. I signed up for a course in electric networks. It was given by Professor Kennelly, Arthur Kennelly.
Oh yes, the Heaviside-Kennelly layer man.
This was academic opportunism, because after about four or five weeks exposure to Kennelly and a chance to see him in action, he was not a good teacher, sort of high-schoolish and pedantic. He had to leave to attend one of these international congresses in Egypt, a Radio convention and so on. And K. S. Johnson from the Bell Laboratories came up as a visiting lecturer to teach the course in networks. So that we learned about electric filters, net electric filters from headquarters with K. S. Johnson. He brought all of the mimeographed stuff from the Bell Laboratories and so on.
This was not being published by them.
It was not being published by them. This antedated both Johnson and Shea’s books, but had much of the materials in it. So I thought that this was very fortunate in that I had an exposure to Lyman and to Kennelly and a chance to get the networks from the Bell Labs man. I’m trying to remember—I think by this time I was employed so I didn’t have to register for the courses so I audited one of Bridgman’s courses.
How about Kemble?
I took thermodynamics with Kemble, what’s now the undergraduate thermodynamics course, then taught as a graduate course. One anecdote that happened during the thermodynamics course. The airplane carrier Lexington, the then Lexington, was being built in the Four River shipyard. Kennelly took the class down to see the turbines of the ship. This was a big turbine installation and we were studying thermodynamics. We went to the yard where we received the security monkey business, this is way back in 19—must have been ‘27 or so, and Cady, Professor Walter G. Cady’s son who since has died, Cady and I got detached from the party on board the carrier and I was never quite sure whether this was accidentally on purpose, but apparently the class was not going to be taken to see the turbines, they were going to be taken on a tour of the ship somewhere else. So we got lost and went down in the bowels of the ship three or four more decks and somebody asked what were we looking for, we said we were with the party that was being taken to see the turbines. “Well, I don’t know where the party is, but there are the turbines.” So, we looked over the turbines and eventually made our way back up to the deck and meantime the class was over at the exit gate wondering what had happened to us. We later joined them and they said, “Where have you people been?” We said we had been down to see the turbines. So we were the only two members of the class that got to see the turbines, which we did by the process of detachment from the official party.
Now let’s see, we were coming on in this period after the master’s degree and sort of working full-time and doing some effort toward the thesis, I’m sure. What was the thesis about, now?
Well, I want to tell you one other thing about the thesis. Roger Hickman was my contemporary. He had been here one year before I think it was and had then gone away to Earlham College in Indiana and had returned to Harvard the same year I did. This was Professor Nimno’s first year at Harvard. And so Hickman and I were close together and both interested in electronics and early in 1932, I recall a discussion that Hickman decided that he was not going to get married until he got his doctor’s degree, because if he did, he might not get his degree. And, after having reviewed my own situation, I decided that maybe I’d better get married so I would get my degree. Well, the upshot of it was yes, I did get married in the fall of 1932 and piled into the task with the backing and support and encouragement of my wife and finished the bloody thing up.
I want to ask you a thing or two about this getting married period in 1932. I understand that this was no long courtship; that your wife had been in Europe and came back for her brother Steven’s wedding long about the Fourth of July and somehow you got caught up in this wedding.
Yes. Steven brought his sister out to see me at Conant Hall one Sunday afternoon. Hickman knew about my predilection for blondes and said, “Well, guess she’s blond enough,” and so I squired Stevens sister through the wedding ceremonies and kept her amused for a week or two after that.
Was it Steven who put her in contact with you or Roger?
Yes, Steven. He told her that she had to meet Ted Hunt and she said why do have to meet Ted Hunt? and he said, yes, you’ve got to meet Ted Hunt, and so he brought this off. So I told her in the middle of July that we were going to get married and she thought I was joking.
That was two weeks later, you see?
I said that we could wait probably until September if necessary, but not any longer. And she went home and decided she had to—her father said she had to have her tonsils out, he wasn’t going to turn her over to me with bad tonsils and then he got sick and almost died with pneumonia; but she still thought we were all joking. I knew we weren’t, so we got married the day after Thanksgiving.
25th of November in 1932, is that right?
Yes, one of the smartest moves I ever made.
And she was a Washington girl and I understand, however, that her mother had died, is that right?
Yes. Before she had made this European trip she had nursed her mother through a sad case of cancer which started behind the ear and spread, so that, more or less as a relief from having spent almost a year nursing her mother, she made this European trip.
We might indicate that this is the reverse side of the reel, the second track.
We were interrupted while we were getting you married. You had mentioned that because of your wife’s mother’s death just prior to her going to Europe that she had apparently left Washington and you were about to say something about Philadelphia and then the tape stopped.
Yes, her mother had come from Philadelphia, and the family church from way back, a generation or two earlier, had been the Gloria Dei Church which is now in downtown Philadelphia near the waterfront—a very old church and a very nice church—and her mother had suggested once that it would be very nice for her to be married there. And since her mother had recently died she didn’t want to have a big home wedding so the compromise was that we would get married quietly in Gloria Dei Church in Philadelphia with only her father and her brother and a few others in attendance. And it turned out that all of her old school friends in Washington said that they weren’t going to let her get married alone, so finally we had a very fair sampling of Washington people who made the trip up to Philadelphia for our wedding. And my family surprised me by showing up en masse, although I had not expected them to do this. So we had a fair-sized wedding party on neutral ground, as it were, in Philadelphia.
I understand you even took over a whole wing of the hotel to house these people.
Almost. The Drake Hotel was extremely kind to us and gave us an upstairs suite for the wedding breakfast so-called. This was an unconventional wedding in the sense that Katherine and I were the managers. We shipped her father back to Washington and shipped all the rest of the guests off, including finally her maiden aunt who lived in Boston. And then we paid the hotel bills. We were the last to leave the hotel.
I understand you had a long honeymoon trip afterwards.
Yes, a long honeymoon. This was on Friday. It was the coldest weekend of the year and we drove straight to Boston as fast as we could go, which meant two days and a half then. The hometown paper at Barnesville described this as: “After the ceremony the couple left on a short motoring trip through New Jersey and the New England states.”
I’ll finish off this sort of personal interlude here, before we get back to science, by asking where did you live and who were some of your neighbors.
We had found a second floor duplex house on Kirkland Street just across the street from where I’d lived as a first year graduate student. We had the second floor of this house, and the ground floor was occupied by Professor Wilmer L. Barrow, who then was teaching at MIT, and strangely was one of the only people in the world who had published on the subject of my thesis, namely, the use of frequency modulated signals in acoustical measurements. Our neighbor to the rear around the corner was Professor Philip M. Morse who later published the well-known text on vibration and sound.
And the president of MIT right at this moment.
Yes, J. Stratton was another neighbor. Of course, in those days there was no television for distraction and people called on people in the evening. You spent some time socializing with your neighbors and friends. Since people have dispersed to the suburbs, this custom only happens on state occasions nowadays, but we used to play bridge with our friends and we saw more of this circle of MIT people almost than we did of Harvard people.
Speaking of bridge, I imagine you sharpened your bridge in the fraternity house at Ohio State.
Not much, bridge wasn’t very popular back then. The boys played poker occasionally but there wasn’t very much bridge then. It caught on during the thirties, at least in my circle.
Now, we are interested in having some sort of a review of the faculty that you came in contact with here while you were working towards your doctorate.
I have mentioned Professor Pierce and Professor Chaffee in Cruft—they were the faculty people in Cruft. Assistant Professor Robert F. Field was, in a sense, the laboratory measurements man in Cruft, and I recall one time saying to Field: “I want your job.” He smiled very cordially and sympathetically, but sure enough, in due course, I got it. In this period leading up to my doctor’s degree, Casey Black was a senior laboratory instructor, ahead of me. When he left, about 1929, I was the senior laboratory instructor, working under R. F. Field. This was the Cruft group, and these were the people I saw most. In the physics department there was Professor Lyman, who, even then, was still the director of Jefferson Laboratory, but Professor F. A. Saunders had become the chairman of the department of physics and he continued to serve as the chairman until he retired in about 1938. In the physics department there was Professor E. H. Hall, of the Hall effect, who was still active; Professor Duane, the x-ray specialist, was active. Of course, Professor Bridgman—I won’t say was at his height, but he was certainly thriving. I recall there was a very nice custom once each year, Professor Bridgman would always be scheduled for the Monday afternoon colloquium. This was Professor Bridgman’s annual report to the department on his activities in the high pressure field during the preceding twelve months.
And every year the pressure built up.
Every year the pressure went up and, we saw there reports of some of his automatic seals. I recall his first description of his apparatus for producing shear under high pressure, a very ingenious method by which the sample seals itself. It was always a dazzling, very impressive show to hear Bridgman trot out his latest ingenious attacks on the high pressure field, year by year. Professor Kemble was an active member of the department. Professor Oldenberg came early in the thirties.
He was scoring lines on grids, these glass sheets.
Yes, ruling gratings. In those days, in fact, until the war, the staff in the Cruft Laboratory held joint appointments in the department of physics and the graduate school of engineering, so that Professor Pierce was a professor of physics and professor of communications engineering. In the engineering school Hughes was Dean in the early part of this period and was succeeded in the early l930s by Professor Harry Clifford.
Clifford was Dean when I came.
Yes, he still was. I know that Clifford was Dean when I got my degree. I think Clifford must have taken over about 1932 or 1933. Professor Dawes, Professor Berry...
I’m not sure whether Professor Casagrande had come yet or not. Hartline was there. Comfort Adams was there in electrical engineering, and Harvey Davis was still there. I recall sitting in on his course in engineering thermodynamics one year. Professor Lyman never changed. He seemed always the same, the proper Bostonian, and he was a very kind and very generous man. In 1931, I think I attended two meetings of the Acoustical Society of America—the fifth meeting in Camden, and I think the next one was in Rochester. Professor Lyman administered what was called “a small travel fund” from which funds were made available to help pay my expenses to go to these meetings. As it turned out later, the travel fund was Lyman’s back pocket. To the best of my knowledge I have not missed a meeting of the Acoustical Society since that fifth meeting in Camden. It was at that meeting that I met Harry Olson and Wallace Waterfall and started a long train of acquaintances with the personnel of the Acoustical Society of America—Pat Norris, Abbott. Ernie Abbott and I walked out on the bridge over the river between Camden and Philadelphia on the night of that meeting and discussed our plans for our futures in acoustics.
What year did you join the Acoustical Society? What were your first Journals?
I think it was almost immediately either after or before attending that meeting.
So you missed only a few volumes?
I bought the back numbers so I have a complete file. I think I joined in 1931 as I recall.
We never have found out about your doctor’s thesis. I have tried on this a couple of times now.
In the laboratory work for Pierce’s course it seemed to me that we ought to do an experiment on reverberation, so I tried to do one. And I used a condenser microphone which was an exact replica of the original condenser microphone developed by Wenty at the Bell Laboratories.
It was a large one.
A very large one, yes, 6 by 6 inches in diameter and an inch and a half thick and it weighed about 6 pounds of brass and with a stretched brass diaphragm. The amplifiers we used were two World War I Signal Corps amplifiers in tandem. They weren’t supposed to be used that way, and I found out why after the experiment was over. I discovered that when followed by a second like amplifier the first one was a better microphone than the condenser attached to the input circuit of the first two. But whether it was the condenser microphone or the amplifier box that was picking up the sound—it did pick up sound and the sound decayed and so did the output of the second amplifier—so we performed the experiment. Though we had trouble due to the fluctuations and one solution for this was to swing the microphone or to do something, and the something that was easiest to do was to: vary the frequency. And the question was: How far should you wobble the frequency? So I set out to investigate this, and this turned out to be the thesis, On the Use of Frequency Modulated Signals in Reverberation Measurements. So the thesis really grew out of the attempt to make a laboratory experiment work better than it did.
By this time, the Lyman Laboratory had been built between Jefferson and Cruft.
It was just being built in 1931.
For this work understand the reverberation chamber you used was the new room in the corner basement of Lyman.
That’s correct. My experience with this venture—I used a commutator sampling method to measure my decay curves. It was my translation of a method used by Norris and Andree. This put me in a very receptive mood for appreciating the development by the Bell Laboratories of the high speed level recorder, which they described about 1932 or 1933. And this launched me then on the second venture which was to devise methods of recording both frequency and amplitude as a function of time, recall that when I was working on this—I guess this must have been about Christmastime of 1932—the AAAS met in Boston, and it was a bitter cold week. Dr. Harvey Fletcher from Bell Laboratories was visiting and I showed him our laboratory equipment.
He was Director of Physical Research; he was a great man down there.
Yes, I asked him what fraction of one’s effort should be devoted to the development of automatic recording equipment. It seemed to me I’d been spending a long time on apparatus and not much time on getting numerical results, and I was looking for comfort. I remember very distinctly that Fletcher said, “It is profitable to spend 90% of the time you are willing to assign to a first venture on the development of apparatus for getting the data quickly, because in the last l0% of the time you can get more data with the automatic machinery than you could have acquired in that whole time by hand.” And he said, “When you get through, you’ve got the machinery to do some more work.” So this was a considerable encouragement to me and this fortified my natural interest in instrumentation which has continued to be a strong interest.
Now you come up with this thesis and then you try to walk down the aisle with it for a doctorate, and what happened?
Well, alas, I hadn’t decided whether to submit this thesis to the graduate school of engineering for an S.D. or to the physics department for a Ph.D. So I made up title pages, one for each, and put them in my briefcase and came to the lab that morning to make some inquiries.
You found your thesis adviser.
Yes, I found my thesis adviser, but he sent me to the main office because he didn’t know the answer to my question. And it turned out, alas, that I couldn’t turn this in to either department because I hadn’t satisfied the residence requirements. I had only been here for eight years—I guess seven years at that point. This was a great blow.
What were the residence requirements?
You had to pay for two years of tuition and you had to have academic credits for 16 half-courses, this representing two full years of course work. I think I had only 14 half-courses of credit because I’d been hired as a full-time student, so it wasn’t necessary to register to take courses. You could audit the courses while you were employed as a full-time student. So if I had to wait a year to fill out the residence requirements I might as well turn it in to the physics department; I selected that title page and did turn it in that morning. That afternoon—or maybe it was two days later—someone found out that I had paid the two years of tuition and if I just asked Professor Pierce to register me for a research course retroactively for the term just completed I could have satisfied the formal requirement and could have had the S.D. in 1933 instead of the Ph.D. in the spring of 1934. So I had another year to serve in a state of suspense with a completed thesis submitted and the final exam passed and everything approved except that for the physics department I had to pass another minor field in advanced mechanics, which I did the following fall, with Professor Franzo Crawford. Meantime I had this research cooking on the instrumentation for frequency and intensity measurements.
What frequency are we talking about?
Audio-frequencies, and I was particularly interested in recording the pitch of speech or singing. I didn’t realize, the relevance of this to the Vocoder because they hadn’t invented the Vocoder yet but it turned out to be relevant. So then I asked Dean Clifford whether, since I had already satisfied the field requirements for either the engineering school or the physics department, if I wrote a completely independent thesis, whether I could qualify for an S.D. in addition to the Ph.D. And he didn’t see any reason why this couldn’t be done so he addressed inquiries to the graduate school office and the Dean of the graduate school didn’t see any reason why this couldn’t be done, so he said, “Yes, it can be done.” So I proceeded during the fall of 1933 and early 1934 to write a second thesis which I finished in the spring in due course.
After all, the second one comes much easier than the first one, and submitted it to the graduate school of engineering in the spring of 1934, and Professor Hartline scheduled the final oral examination. And about that time, someone in the graduate school making up the commencement program, noticed the duplication of names and said, “This man Hunt is down for two degrees. Which one does he want to get?” The answer to that was simply that he wanted to get both of them. “Oh, but you can’t do that, can you?” But the Dean said you could. The question was referred to a higher authority, this being President Conant’s office. The president considered this question very briefly, that is, someone asked him the question, “Can you?” and he said, “Of course not, let him decide which degree he wants.” So I said, OK, we’ve satisfied the Ph.D. a long time, we’ll stand on that. Dean Hartline then asked me if I would be willing to withdraw my thesis that I had submitted to the engineering school, and having gone through the pain of preparing this, I said, no, I thought I would not withdraw it. They could cancel the scheduled oral examination, which they did, but I would stand on my submission. So I have two theses on file in the library but only one earned doctor’s degree.
I am surprised at this because I had thought that there were people at Harvard who had gone through engineering and then later gone through philosophy or something like that and gotten two degrees.
I think that if one came here from another institution and was starting in a new field, this would be allowed. But the official view was that they could not conceive of a complete independence of two lines of qualification, there had to be some overlap.
That probably is something of a safe assumption if you are looking at history in general.
Under the present rules I would see no reason why this shouldn’t be allowed, but in all event, it wasn’t. It gave me a particular added fillip of satisfaction when President Conant later gave me my honorary degree. I said that was the second degree that I earned back in 1934.
And Conant was the man to give it. That was very appropriate.
He was the man to give it. I feel sure that he never was aware of this, that he passed this off casually in 1934.
You might appeal this issue under the new President now and get a third degree.
No, I’m satisfied. I’ll stand pat on what I’ve got.
We are pausing in the interview now—recessing—and we will resume within a few weeks.