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Interview of Paul Klopsteg by Charles Weiner on 1970 March 31, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4712
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Role in establishment of American institute of Physics (AIP) in 1931; relation between American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and American Physical Society (APS); views of Floyd Richtmyer and Karl K. Darrow. Physics in the 1930s, effects of the Depression. The Oersted Medal, 1934. Secondary school teachers and AAPT; fear within AIP of industrial domination. World’s Fair of 1933. Robert W. Wood, chairman of governing board of the AIP, 1941-1948. War work: chief of Physics Special Devices Div. of National Defense Research Council (NDRC). War’s effect on status of teachers. Postwar planning in physics; National Science Foundation, AEC, Bush Report. Chairman of Board at Argonne National Laboratories (ANL); structure of ANL. AIP-AAPT and large-scale fellowship support. Also prominently mentioned are: Henry Askew Barton, W. W. Buffum, Winston Churchill, Karl Taylor Compton, Morris Leeds, Alfred Loomis, Floyd K. Richtmyer, Robert Williams Wood; American Association for the Advancement of Science, Bausch and Lomb Co., Central Scientific Company, Century of Progress international Exposition (1933-1934), Commission on College Teaching, National Research Council (U.S.), Optical Society of America, Research and Technological institute, Review of Scientific instruments, Scientific Apparatus Makers of America, United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research, United States Congress, United States Congress Dadario Committee, United States Congress House Sub-Committee on Appropriations, United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, United States Office of Scientific Research and Development National Defense Research Committee, and University of Chicago.
I should start by saying that today is March 31st, and this is a recorded interview with Dr. Paul Klopsteg conducted by Charles Weiner at the Klopsteg home in Glenview, Illinois. I guess we’ve agreed that we’ll start by talking about the founding of AAPT, and I should ask if in rereading the account that you gave to Mr. Shaughnessy there was anything in rereading it that you felt you wanted to expand on or that was left out.
Well, I personally had very little to do with the discussions that led to the founding of AIP. My principal contribution probably to AIP was to keep Richtmyer aware of the fact that AAPT should be a founder member of AIP. He agreed, but he had many things to do, and It took quite a while before a decision could be made. So I considered that my function was once in a while to inquire of him about it, and of course eventually—I don’t know how long after the institute was founded—AAPT was recognized as one of the founder members.
When you were in touch with Richtmyer, was it through personal visit or letters...?
Letters and personal visits at scientific meetings. I saw him quite frequently and we corresponded. in fact, we had become pretty good friends during the years after the First War when he had close associations with the National Research Council in Washington. The principal association I had with him there was this: He was interested not Just in physics per se as a science for the extension of human knowledge, but he was interested pretty much in things in which I was interested, namely its pragmatic aspects, what could it do for society. And, of course, by that time I had come to Chicago.
I came to Chicago in I think the spring of 1922, came with Central Scientific Company. And, of course, my interest had been in electrical measuring instruments and because my interest was in teaching physics, my interest extended over the whole field of laboratory and research instruments in whatever science. And Richtmyer was interested in instruments. He was active with Paul Foote in the founding of the Optical Society, which again broke away from the Physical Society, because, in the view of some of the members of the Council. of the Physical Society, it wasn’t a sufficiently pure science.
So Richtmyer in the light of his interests was then engaged in establishing within the National Research Council a committee in which there were represented both the designers and manufacturers of scientific instruments on the one hand and the users of scientific instruments on the other. And it was his hope that through the activities of such a committee a better understanding might be gained by the users of instruments of the problems of the developers and designers of the instruments, and vice versa—that in turn, the people who produced the instruments would come to appreciate more the points of view and the needs of the users of the instruments.
Well, this may be an interesting bit of history, but it never amounted to very much. The committee met maybe once a year, but actually the accomplishments of the committee fell far short of what Richtmyer and I in discussing this had ever foreseen. So it can be written off at that point.
Do you recall who was on the committee?
The records of the Research Council would have to be consulted for that.
And this is in what time period?
I would say, as nearly as I can recall, about the mid 20s.
At that time was there any group such as the Scientific Apparatus Makers Association? They had already been in existence?
Yes. They came into existence in either 1920 or maybe a year before that, at the close of the First World War. And, again, Richtmyer had a hand in that—in the establishment of the Scientific Apparatus Makers’ Association. I think they still have their office here in Chicago. I’m not sure. I haven’t been in touch with them since I left the business back in 1944. But I think all of this started from your mentioning Paul Foote and the Optical Society. Paul Foote and Richtmyer were very close in their promotion of the Optical Society, and at this point I can’t speak with firsthand knowledge, but I do remember that Richtmyer—as is borne out in this interview with Mr. Shaughnessy—was quite concerned at first about having AAPT become a part of the Physical Society. He felt that was essential. And it took quite a long time to get him away from that point of view. But this point in retrospect astonishes me a little bit because he had the experience with Paul Foote in their activities that the Physical Society wanted no part of the Optical Society, and one would think that optics would be as closely related to physics in general as teaching would be.
So there is something in there that I don’t quite connect up. But perhaps the essence of it is that Richtmyer was a man of so many interests, and he was a man of such energy and ability to get things done that he was inevitably mixed up with all sorts of developmental things pertaining to physics no matter what. And I think that in part may account for the fact that he agreed to become identified with the organization of the AAPT, and of course the same continent to a lesser extent applies to Karl Compton.
They came in at a very critical stage.
Yes. They came in right there at that stage where it was an organization that was getting started independently of the Physical Society but on a completely open basis of friendliness toward the Physical Society. There were no comments of criticism of the Physical Society. That was their business. If they didn’t want the AAPT as part of the Physical Society, that was their right. Some of us thought they were wrong in that attitude, but it was all right. That was their privilege.
That’s covered in here where at the Boston meeting of the AAAS when AAPT and the Physical Society still met with AAAS, Richtmyer came from a meeting of the Council of the Physical Society, reported that there had been considerable interest in the fact that AAPT at that point had such a stimulating meeting in Boston, and apparently through Richtmyer extending the hand of friendship to the AAPT. That I think you’ll find in here.
The subsequent relations between AAPT and the American Physical Society...
Let me carry that a step further. I think I touched on It here. Karl Darrow was a little bit sticky about it, because he was imbued with the attitude of the Physical Society Council, so that when our secretaries had to arrange schedules for the annual Joint meeting, Karl was never too much concerned at first about having AAPT programs in a desirable place in the schedule. It took quite a number of years for him to get over that, but it was all friendly, and we recognized Karl’s attitudes toward physics.
Of course, that was soon resolved and Joint meetings were started.
I’m talking about the joint meetings, that It took a number of years... The secretaries of the AAPT always had just a little difficulty with Karl getting them arranged in a way which to them seemed to do justice to what the AAPT had to offer to the joint meetings. Of course, the Richtmyer Lecture started as a lecture before the joint meeting, and It has continued that way.
The formation of the institute itself meant that AAPT, which was just a fledgling organization, now had an additional responsibility in helping this new federation become established and supporting it; and individuals from the AAPT played a role in various ways, but through you on the governing board.
Well, I think you’ll find that I was the first representative on the governing board from AAPT. And, of course, for a long time the membership of AAPT was so small that it certainly didn’t rate more than one representative. But after Jack Tate’s retirement for some reason I was picked to become chairman of the governing board. And in the interval—I can’t give you the years, but I must have become chairman about probably 1939 or ‘40 and had been on the governing board continuously before that except for one or two years; there was a lapse—I’ve forgotten what It was. I succeeded Jack Tate. I think Jack retired.
I have the information here that It was 1941 when you officially took over and served...
Served until ‘46 or ‘47.
This says ‘48, but your valedictory was in ‘47, was at the meeting of ‘47. That was probably your last year. So, in other words, the term would have been to the beginning of ‘48.
I don’t remember the valedictory. I didn’t keep a copy of it.
Well, I have it here. We’ll talk about that, But in this period of the early 30s, when the institute was trying to become established and to manage some joint publications programs for the societies, was there ever a feeling that this federation might not work, that it might not hold together?
If there was, never heard it expressed. I never had any doubts but that it would develop and grow to the point where it could be self-sustaining, even though there were a few very difficult years after the Chemical Foundation withdrew its support. But I would say that the benefits of the publication program had by that time so fully been proved that this alone would be a strong incentive for holding on and making things work.
What was the attitude of other leaders of AAPT towards the institute? What mean is that can see people joining in this federation and yet having different motivations, some people thinking it would solve some organizational problems: membership, dues, subscriptions for journals and so forth; and can think of others being perhaps more interested in the broader aspects of the institute program speaking for the profession as a whole.
Well, the only comment I can make on that (again I have to dredge hard to dig it up)—maybe there’ll be two comments—is first of all, my interest in joining the federation for AAPT was that to me it represented a holding together of the various separate organizations of which the interest in physics was the nucleus. Although the Optical Society, AAPT, Society of Rheology, Acoustical Society were separate organizations, think AIP—the federation—gave them all a sense of really belonging to gather. Now, in some of the AAPT meetings, the only criticism I remember—and this came about from natural causes—AAPT itself was not financially very well heeled in those days; and when the policy was agreed upon to have only the institute journals carry advertising, there was some rumbling of criticism in AAPT because some of the members felt that they could improve their financial position much better if they took direct advertising in what was then the American Physics Teacher. They may have been right; they may have been wrong—I don’t know how much advertising they could have got.
Another cause for grumbling (I think I was treasurer of AAPT during those years) was the fee that had to be paid by the member society to the institute for managing the editorial mechanics of its journal. Some of the members who had relatively little appreciation of what is cost (and that’s certainly forgivable because few accountants have any appreciation of what is cost; they always argue about it) grumbled about it. Some years later, when the institute was able to afford it, I suppose, the board of the institute must have agreed with the Council of the AAPT to allow the American Journal of Physics to take advertising directly. See, I was out of it by that time, so I don’t know the details.
Apart from that, I don’t recall that there was ever anything but satisfaction on the part of members of the AAPT boards in being a part of the central organization.
What I meant, though, in addition to that (that’s very illuminating) was whether there was any interest in these broader activities that were being undertaken by the institute, For example, in their founding statements, the leaders of the institute and the board, assume, expressed an interest in working with industry to make them appreciate the role of physics and physicists more, to increase public understanding of physics, in addition to these internal functions, was surprised in reading the documents how this was pushed then,
I’m a little surprised to hear it now, because I‘d forgotten that.
Barton conducted a very vigorous campaign on the industry question.
Was that about the time that they brought in the industrial associates? Was this what led to that?
Yes, that was part of it. It was a many—pronged program. Let me ask something which is in a sense more general but will give you an opportunity to be more personally specific, and that is the effect of the Depression on science in the U.S., on physics in particular, on the organizations of physicists and on you.
On AAPT, suppose the Depression very definitely had something to do with the difficulty of recruiting members at this time. It was a brand-new organization in 1930, and the membership fee of $2 was a lot of money for the average teacher of physics. Somewhere in your files I think you have the paper from States which he dug out of the book of minutes which summarized the membership at the end of each year and which showed that by 1934 or ‘5, when the meeting in Pittsburgh occurred, the membership was of the order of 400 or so, and it seemed to have reached a plateau.
I would think that it could very well have been due to the fact of the Depression that the membership didn’t grow faster. And maybe the fact that the membership grew at all came about through the fact that teachers of physics were looking for jobs in those days, and they probably felt that belonging to an American Association of Physics Teachers would lend a bit of status to any biographical material they might submit and it might help them get a job.
But at the Pittsburgh meeting when came up with the idea for an award for notable contributions to the teaching of physics, which became the Oersted Award, And that was an idea (this I think is in the Shaughnessy interview) which persuaded me that it was a good one because it would have something more to offer the potential member than just being able to say that he was a member of a society. It might provide an incentive for him to try to work toward that award. I think it may also have stimulated the growth in membership which followed that dwelling on the plateau for a period, and then it began to go up.
At the Pittsburgh meeting we made an estimate of the possible total number of members who were teachers of physics in higher educational institutions. I think we came up with a total of 2400 who were then teaching physics in colleges and universities, And we felt that in a period of a reasonably few years we might achieve a total of 1800. Well, of course, all that was changed later by the Second War and the stimulus that gave to physics. So now the membership is only second to that in the Physical Society.
How did you go about making this estimate? I’d be curious to know how you do such a thing.
I think somebody Just must have sat down and reviewed catalogues of institutions and looked up the physics departments and got a representative number of institutions from which he could then make the estimate. I don’t know the details of it.
I think Richtmyer, if he was involved at all, was also involved in the American Association of Universities, and...
I know he was.
They were doing studies.
He was very much involved in AAUP and also on some committees of the American Association of Universities. And I’m suggesting that he might have had access to a lot of data which then would have been useful to AAPT.
That is quite probable.
He was chairman of a committee on the effect of the Depression on college teachers.
Your records would have to show it. I don’t remember whether Richtmyer was actually on the board of the AAPT in those days or not.
Getting back to the effects of the Depression, I assume there were discussions within AAPT of the effect of the Depression on the number of students coming in, on the number of jobs available, on cutbacks and so forth. Did AAPT ever feel that it was appropriate to take a role in finding Jobs for teachers and in improving the situation, in defending the standards and the status of the college teachers?
Well, if there was any such idea in the mind of any member of the board of the AAPT, I don’t remember that it was expressed. It certainly didn’t take any tangible shape such as the action of AIP to establish an employment service. If I were to make the best guess possible, which I’m doing, I would say that the board of AAPT took no steps to stimulate jobs for teachers of physics, to increase the number of jobs or to help physicists find jobs as teachers.
The organization at that time was, of course, still an infant organization, and it had no paid executive secretary; so that all the work that was done for the organization was done by people entirely on a voluntary basis. And, of course, some were more active that way than others. Some took the job seriously and others didn’t. So perhaps we could say that it was quite remarkable that it succeeded in getting done what it did.
That was a critical period in the development of physics.
In the Depression period, were you aware of any change in public attitudes toward science, toward physics?
Well, the public attitude toward physics in those days was... don’t think the public had much attitude, because it didn’t know what physics was, I’d say if you’d asked a series of questions of the average man on the street, he’d probably think it had something to do with M.D.’s.
In the traditional sense,
Yes. Except for the more intelligent ones who had gone to college and who had done a lot of reading, they probably had some appreciation. But the average college-trained individual who came through liberal arts... I wouldn’t say that the average person had had very much physics, because physics was not a course that very many students flocked to in those days.
In the discussions in teaching within AAPT, were the discussions then mostly directed toward teaching of people who were training to be physicists?
No, no. My recollection is that most of the discussions were on particular topics and how they were to be handled in teaching and particular demonstration methods and possibly apparatus for demonstrations for teaching. But the purely educational aspect of training of teachers for secondary school physics in those days never came up that recall.
So it would be the content of a physics course.
Yes, course content and methods of handling the instruction were the principal topics of interest. Of course, in those days, as this Shaughnessy interview indicates, it was very difficult for the AAPT board, even in the period of ‘35 to ‘40, to work out a rationale by which they could find a real place for the high school teacher of physics in the organization. The only qualification that covered them if they wanted to get in was that the membership was to be open to anyone whose interest in physics was primarily that of the higher education physics. Now, high school teachers had aspirations to become college teachers. If they did, they were welcome as members of the AAPT, But they were really second” class citizens so far as the early membership of the AAPT was concerned. Of course, they have achieved a real status in the AAPT now.
Well, with many of the college teachers involved almost full time in programs for high school, and with a journal which specialized in it.
Just getting back to some of the public attitudes...The reason that ask is a couple of events that the institute figured in in1934—a symposium called Science Makes Jobs. This was the title of it. It was a response to what was felt to be a criticism of science on the part of individuals or perhaps groups, saying that so-called scientific progress had brought about this large-scale technological unemployment.
We’re reaching that same stage right now, aren’t we?
I know, That’s what makes it of interest, Karl Compton and Millikan and others were involved in an institute-organized response to this. Do you recall any of the circumstances?
I don’t recall the conversations or the circumstances.
I have some documentation on it. That leads to another thing, the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. To me this symbolizes many things. First of all, it was the Century of Progress, and the theme was what science and technology has done and the benefits of it. And yet it occurred in the midst of the Depression. At the same time there was large—scale physics involvement, as we discussed before, through Henry Crew heading a group which consisted of others, including Gordon Fulcher.
Yes, they were responsible for the basic science exhibits, yes.
Were you involved in any way?
Not directly in the Fair. I was involved in that—you see, I was Central Scientific Company at the time, and they looked to me to have some of the exhibits constructed, although I suppose they had some people available, but they didn’t have the machine shop facilities that might be needed, so I worked with them in that way, of handling the construction of some of the things that they wanted.
Using the company.
Yes, having it done by the company.
I gather that this was about three years in the preparation.
Yes, it must have been all of that. I don’t remember: I think Henry Crew may have been in charge of that for a couple of years before the Fair opened. I vividly recall Gordon Fulcher’s agony working under Henry Crew.
Filcher essentially was working on it full time, and Crew was...
Yes, Filcher was really doing the work. Crew was the chief and Filcher was the indian.
And it was a satisfactory relationship.
Well, I suppose that one reason for it was that although Filcher was a very mature, knowledgeable individual, probably more knowledgeable of things of the world than Henry Crew—the fact that Filcher had been a cub under Crew in the physics department at Northwestern must have affected that relationship. Crew probably never got over looking at Filcher as a youngster who probably needed guidance and whose judgment wasn’t always to be trusted.
By the time they were through, I think about 90 exhibits were designed. I recall that some of them became a permanent part of the Museum of Science and industry.
That’s right. You see, the Fair ran for another season in 1934... And after that, the science exhibits went to the Museum of Science and industry, what happened to them after that I don’t know because only a small number, I think, ever were exhibited there.
I guess Harvey Lemon was the man responsible for the physics in the museum.
What, if any, was the relationship between this work done by Filcher and the work going on within AAPT? Fulcher’s work essentially was educational in terms of physics and some of it involved physics demonstration experiments. Was there any link that you recall, official or unofficial?
No, not that I remember. There was a committee, of which was a member at the time. Gaylord Harnwell remember as a member of that committee. Certainly, Filcher must have been on it. I don’t recall the other members, but that committee met periodically to consider suitable exhibits for the physics part of the World’s Fair exhibits; and it was at a meeting of that committee at the Loomis Laboratory that R. W. Wood came up with his famous story.
The anecdote that you related in the Science article.
But the purpose of the meeting was to plan exhibits for the 1933 Fair.
Yes. That committee was meeting at the Loomis Laboratory to consider exhibits for the World’s Fair.
I see you talk about it, You say that a committee was appointed in 1931. Who financed the committee? Was this a special fund made available for the Fair?
It must have been made available out of the Fair funds.
Had you known Wood or Alfred Loomis prior to that time?
Oh, yes. I had known Alfred Loomis quite well during World War I, and 1 had known Wood from the early ‘20s, I think. I remember visiting him at Hopkins. It must have been not later than the middle ‘20s that visited him there.
Was he as flamboyant then?
don’t know whether mentioned it or not. But the book, Dr. Wood written by Seabrook(1 think made a mistake in the spelling of the name in that paper, because I didn’t have the book available), apparently was written largely by Wood himself.
I see, an autobiography.
Because all the stories in there about Wood are just the way Wood used to tell them. had heard them numbers of times.
Now, Wood and Augustus Trowbridge, who was head of physics at Harvard, were great friends. So was C. E. Mendenhall. Actually, this story relates to Mendenhall rather than Wood, There was going to be a meeting of the Physical Society at Cambridge, and Mendenhall had been invited by Trowbridge to be his house guest during that meeting. Well, Mendenhall apparently was unacquainted with Cambridge, because when he got there he had to get directions as to how to get to Trowbridge’s home. And when he inquired of Trowbridge, the story Is that Trowbridge said: “Oh, my dear fellow, you can’t miss it, It’s the oldest house in Cambridge.”
Just like that.
I started to ask about Alfred Loomis as well. How did you come in contact with him?
Alfred Loomis was in the ordnance department at Sandyhook when I came there to take on research and development, principally on methods for measuring projectile velocities. So he and I worked together rather closely during those days and then after we moved to Aberdeen and continued there.
At that time he was active would you say primarily as an engineer?
Loomis, when I first knew him, was major in the ordnance department, and then he became lieutenant colonel up to the close of the war, I think. And since he was the military officer in charge of the small r & d division, my contact with him was through that.
Do you know how he got involved in that? Was this also because of the war emergency?
It must have been. I can’t answer that. I don’t know.
But then what was your subsequent contact with him prior to the 1931 meeting that you described at his laboratory?
Oh, just occasional personal contacts.
I’d be curious to know how he developed this large, well-equipped personal laboratory that he made available to people like Wood and others.
I wish I could recall the details of the story, because he told it to me. This house that he bought in Tuxedo Park had belonged to a stockbroker who must have been a somewhat bizarre character, because he had a phobia about mice. So when he built that house, he had all of the ground floors made of reinforced concrete-so that the mice couldn’t get in. Now, that’s the first part of the story that Alfred told me.
His wife had an urge to be an actress, I guess-—maybe not on Broadway, but anyway she liked to act and put on dramatic performances. So he built a small theater in this house with a stage and an auditorium.
Well, the concrete foundations were ideal for scientific instruments, for the use of scientific instruments. The point that escapes me now is how this place came on the market. There were some workmen in the house... This is part of the story I do recall. There were workmen in the house who were doing something.
They had their lunches, and something occurred which led the owner of the house to say, “I’m through with this. We’re shutting It up right now.” And Alfred said that when he bought the house years later for a song (I quote him when he said that), when he went into the house, here were the lunches that the workmen had brought in. So this fellow must surely have herded them out..
Hmm. Maybe he found a mouse.
Maybe he found a mouse. But anyway Alfred said he bought it for a song; it was ideally suited for the experiments, and it was a beautiful mansion. I was his guest there several times before the meeting that I referred to. It was delightful.
What was his motivation in having this? He wanted it as a private laboratory?
Yes. He had a consuming interest in the experimental side of physics, and this is why, I suppose, he provided a place for R. W. Wood to bring his stovepipe spectroscopes into that lab, through which Wood sent a cat to take out the cobwebs.
Yes. That was a good description that he made there.
But I’ll tell you, a friend of mine whom you may know, Walter Orr Roberts, at Boulder, is still a close friend of Alfred Loomis, has been for many years, takes his annual vacation with him.
On the Mediterranean.
Yes, Italy, the Mediterranean, Hawaii, and I’m sure that through Walt Roberts you could get a lot of information about Alfred Loomis.
I’d like to visit him. I understand through Harry Barton that someone saw him recently, that he’s still at Tuxedo Park and he’s still traveling here and there.
He isn’t living in Tuxedo Park anymore, is he?
I think he is. I think he has an apartment in New York...
He still has that home in Tuxedo Park?
I think so. I may be wrong.
I had an impression that that had been given up-—I don’t know.
Maybe I’m confusing it. I think I’m thinking of someone else who does live there.
About a year ago I talked with Alfred on the phone. I was in New York with Walt Roberts on some errand for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Wait called Alfred on the phone, and I got on the phone with him. Of course, we had a very pleasant reunion on the telephone, and Alfred urged me the next time I was in New York to come see him, but I haven’t been back to New York. But I really ought to do that; I really ought to go see him.
He played an important role in many key developments.
Yes. And during the Second World War Alfred Loomis maintained a suite at what was then the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington for Vann Bush—whose picture is on the wall there—Karl Compton, or any member of the NDRC who needed to stay in Washington overnight. He himself, if he participated in the activities of the NDRC, it was entirely on an informal basis. He had no official position.
This meeting in 1931 was a committee then for the Fair supported by some fund for the Fair.
Yes, a committee for developing physics exhibits for the Fair.
There was a connection with the National Research Council with the Fair. I know that they had been involved and had been invited to advise and had appointed a very large group of about 400 businessmen—I assume industrialists and scientists as advisers. But I don’t know anything more about it than that.
I don’t either. I don’t even know whether I was on that group. I had many contacts with Henry Crew at the Fair before Gordon Filcher came in and many contacts after that. I used to be there very frequently. But whatever advising I did was entirely personal, not as a member of any large group.
Speaking about the Fair reminds me of the dramatic way in which it was opened. Were you present at that?
Yes. I think Philip Fox dreamed that one up. He was at that time the director of the Dearborn Observatory, the building of which still stands on the campus just behind the Tech institute building. I guess he figured out what star to pick that was far enough away so it would have taken the light a hundred years...
I think forty years in this case. It was the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition...
Yes, you’re right. From the World’s Columbian until 1933 is 40 years.
It was Arcturus. But did it actually go as planned? Were you there?
Yes, I was there.
Was it evening? I don’t know the details.
It was at dusk or just after dusk. I remember Philip making his speech and dramatically doing whatever was necessary to activate the lights from the light of Arcturus.
Do you recall that they pointed out the star?
Yes. My recollection isn’t too vivid, but knowing Philip Fox’s idea, I’m sure that he wouldn’t have omitted pointing out the star to the audience.
That was very dramatic.
There was another thing. There was a General Motors assembly plant on the Fairgrounds which supposedly was started in motion through cosmic rays. Do you know the background?
This I had no connection with.
Arthur Compton had been asked by General Motors to do something very dramatic, and he put Luis Alvarez to work on designing this set-up with the idea that cosmic rays had been around much longer than Arcturus.
This reminds me of another kind of public demonstration of scientific wizardry, and that was at the AIP inaugural dinner. I don’t know if you were present, but in 1931 there was a dinner for the press where Van de Graaff displayed his generator and created some sparks.
I don’t think I was there. But I did see the first Van de Graaff generator in that big shed at Round Hill, where the Van de Graaff generator was really two generators between which huge flashes occurred. But later on they used the ground as one terminal and had just the one. And then, of course, I knew Van de Graaff during the following years fairly well.
You mean at MIT.
At MIT, yes.
Another thing I’d like to ask about the 1930s: you did get a chance to travel around quite a bit.
A great deal, yes.
And were most of the Institutions you visited Universities’ physics departments?
Universities and colleges.
Did you get an impression then, or do you recall that the changes that were taking place in these departments and which ones in fact were sort of on top and which ones were coming up? And also in line with this, if maybe you can be more specific, what fields of physics were beginning to excite people?
I’m afraid I can’t contribute anything to that. I don’t recall.
Of course, being in the midst of it, you might not have thought about it because of what you were experiencing every day. Well, for example, nuclear physics in the 1930s.was beginning to take hold in a number of institutions. Do you recall any of the cyclotron projects?
Of course, all the nuclear physics in those days was based on limited amounts of radioactivity derived from radium and radon. I can recall only one anecdote, one instance, when the Physics Club of Chicago had a meeting. I think it was the year when I was president of the club, and we had Robert Millikan as the speaker. As I may have mentioned in that piece, Millikan was never known for having well-defined terminal facilities in his speeches—he just kept going on and on. And it was his comment that very frequently nuclear physics was printed as unclear physics, which of course in those days was correct.
There actually was an instance of a meeting in England where this did occur as a typographical error in the program.
Well, he referred to either that or something else that brought it to his mind in this talk that he gave to the Physics Club. I think he went on for an hour and forty minutes.
It’s funny about long talk—you remember the length of them rather than the content. This is usually what sticks in your mind.
It also reminds you of the Winston Churchill anecdote when he was not the speaker at an after dinner affair, He was sitting at the table while the speaker was droning on and on, and Churchill was getting more fidgety by the minute, Eventually he was seen to take a bit of paper and scribble something on it and pass it over to the speaker, and the speaker sat down instantaneously. So the meeting adjourned. And someone asked Churchill: ‘What in the world did you put on that piece of paper that had this immediate result He said, "Your clothing is undone."
I’d like to get back to instruments and ask about the Review of Scientific Instruments, the journal itself.
Originally that was combined with the journal of the Optical Society, and I would guess it was 1921 or ‘22 when the two parts of this combined journal were made separate. And if remember correctly, Paul Foote was editor of the journal of the Optical Society and the Review of Scientific Instruments. Or maybe Richtmyer became editor of the Review of Scientific Instruments. You could look that up. The SAMA, The Scientific Apparatus Makers’ Association, believe guaranteed the finances of the Review of Scientific Instruments over a period of years until it became self-supporting.
I don’t know about any earlier period, but I know that in 1939 they made a grant to RSI. Of course, it was through Richtmyer’s urging, think, don’t know if it was any earlier.
The RSI had been going for probably 10 years before the AIP took over, And don’t remember very much of what happened in the interval except that SAMA had guaranteed the financial situation for RSI principally through Morris Leeds, who was the head of then head of the Leeds and Northup Company.
This was in the pre—AIP period, you mean in the ‘20s?
Oh, yes. This was back really in the first or second year of the Optical Society and certainly the first year of OSA and RSI combined.
I didn’t realize that they had been involved earlier.
But Paul Foote will probably be able to give you a good deal of specific information, because he was directly involved as editor. I do remember that Foote and Richtmyer did cooperate a good deal at that.
There’s a brief history of the Optical Society. Well, It’s a lot longer than the AAPT history, but for me it’s brief in terms of the normal historical treatise. And I think it, as I recall, covers some of this. But in the ‘30s when the institute took it over through arrangements with the Optical Society as the official institute journal, where it also carried editorials and news of interest to physicists, did the governing board have much to say about the Journal itself other than the finances of it?
I don’t think so. It continued, didn’t it, under the aeges of the Optical Society even after the separation? Or was it entirely an independent journal when it came to AIP?
It was officially transferred, but then there was a controversy later on. Some people in the Optical Society were a little miffed at the thought of having given it up; and then it was all smoothed over and it was demonstrated that it had been legally done.
Well, the Optical Society people have been known, I think through the years, probably to be those who primarily were dissatisfied with things that went on at the institute. I mean expressions of dissatisfaction usually came from the Optical Society. This might be a study for a psychologist, I don’t know.
You’re implying that there were personalities involved rather than real Issues.
Oh, they had some hot meetings of the Optical Society right among the members. Christine Ladd Franklin, who was a woman professor at Columbia, who at the drop of a hat or before the drop of a hat, would proclaim that she had a theory of color vision; and then she would endeavor to discuss and disclose and comment on this theory. And some of the members of the Optical Society were completely fed up with it and became irritated at her. So she and one of the research people at Bausch and Lomb used to get at each other as no lady and no gentleman ever should.
Southworth from Bausch and Lomb?
I guess Kreidler was connected at one time.
The name escapes me, but I remember his appearance. He wore a beard and was quite dignified.
But anyway the Review of Scientific Instruments was an institute Journal throughout this period. The records show that it was quite a drain on the institute’s resources. It was a real money loser for a long time.
At the outset, yes; and I remember discussions about it. But I don’t recall their content. I don’t remember how it was eventually resolved except that the journal must have developed to the point where It no longer represented a drain on institute resources.
Yes, and either began to make money... Of course, the grant from the Scientific Apparatus Makers... I see in my notes that the full name is Scientific Apparatus Makers of America.
And that grant was a factor.
I’d like to ask how it was that after this period of being the AAPT representative on the board (you say with some brief interruptions) that you were approached then to accept the chairmanship of the board. Do you know why? And then the other question I would ask is why was it that you accepted? Do you recall the decision making involved then?
Well, if I had a list of who the board members were at that time, I could probably give a more definitive answer to that. I don’t recall whether there was a discussion, an executive discussion, at which I was asked to leave or whether the thing was all handled in a regular meeting.
Had you not been approached privately beforehand?
I don’t remember. It’s possible that Harry Barton talked to me about it privately. If someone talked to me about it beforehand, it would have been Harry Barton, I think.
What was yow attitude toward...?
Toward taking the chairmanship? Well, let’s see, I had been on the board for a better part of nine or ten years. What year was that?
‘41 according to the record that I have.
It may have been ‘40 actually, because in 1947 you refer to the seven years that you had served.
I think it was ‘40. Well, I don’t have any clear recollection of my reaction or why I was willing to take on the job. Maybe I was sort of a pushover to take on a job that had a challenge in it.
I ask because it was a particularly interesting period in terms of the institute, in terms of national problems.
It was an interesting period. I suppose at the time that I became chairman of the board, the Second World War had by no means developed yet... Let’s see, that was 1941, December, when we got into it, wasn’t it? So at the time that I was elected to the chairman of the board, we had no definite indications that there would be a Second World War.
Well, the institute had already started in 1940.,. I believe, to think about it. For example, in a report presented in February ‘41 by Harry Barton in the Directors’ Reports, he says: “It has been difficult to determine what the defense service of the institute properly should be.” So certainly by that time...
Now, tied in with that is the fact that the National Defense Research Committee, with Bush as the chairman, was established in 1940. And at that time I was invited to be in Division D-3 Instruments. I think I mentioned that in an anecdote of Karl Compton; that we met with him in Washington quite frequently. And when we tried to get clarification of the definition, what was the job of this division, which was under his particular supervision as a member of the NDRC-we said one day: “Karl, what is an instrument?” And his answer was: “Anything that doesn’t belong in any other division.” And then later when things were reorganized, and became director of Division 17—Division 17 Physics—the definition of the responsibility of that division could have been exactly the same, anything that didn’t belong in any other division.
It says chief of Physics Special Devices Division.
That was from ‘41 to ‘45 after serving in the instrument section of the NDRC.
That’s right. You see, the whole thing was reorganized in 1941, when it became not NDRC but OSRD, of which NDRC was one of the divisions. Another was the CMR, Committee on Medical Research. And then a third division was added later. This was the division that dealt with problems in combat areas, the overseas problems. I’ve forgotten what that division was called. They always manage some kind of a trick name for some of those things. don’t recall that one.
But it was a field services kind of a thing.
Yes. And it was under that division that in 1944 first went to Hawaii to finish up a job that Karl Compton hadn’t been able to carry out because he was required back in the States, So spent something like five weeks in Hawaii interviewing the generals in charge of the armies that were being prepared for action in the Pacific. And then got back from that in May, and then in June went to Australia as a member of that division to relieve George Harrison, who was stationed in Australia. was there from June until October in ‘44.
The Office of Field Service of the OSRV.
Yes. Now, here, you see, was my office in New Guinea, with the staff and a few visiting firemen.
Let me just note that this picture is in the book, Combat Scientists by Peacemeyer and Burchard.
Yes. John Burchard, I guess, is still in Cambridge. He was connected with MIT.
Oh, I met him in Italy by chance at a conference. Anyway, the thing we’re talking about is opposite page 135. It’s a picture of your group.
Yes. You see, we had some WACs for secretaries. And this is Dr. Kirk Stevenson, who had been one of technical aides in Division 17, so he came over. And he sort of took over after left in October of ‘44 to come back to the States. And he went on into the Philippines and into Japan with the group.
Your concern in that war period was with the prosthetic devices, or did that come later?
That came later. That started in 1945.
I’m looking for one other thing here. Here it is. This was in New Guinea.
Interesting. You’re very fashionable in your jeep. know we have the book in our library. I’d like to look at it again. I’d forgotten about it.
The Office of Field Service—that was it,
So your personal involvement in the war took you to many places. What happened then with your other role as chairman of the board of MP? Could you do both?
No. George Harrison succeeded me as chairman in ‘47. You see, took over this job for the National Research Council when the surgeon general of the Army asked in January of 1945 that the Research Council appoint a committee to consider the “standardization of artificial limbs. This then came to occupy so much of time time, I became so involved in that, that it seemed prudent to have the chairmanship of the institute pass on to someone else, And George Harrison, whom had relieved in Australia from an existence which he didn’t enjoy, so I think he was willing to take over the chairmanship of the institute on that ground.
But I meant earlier, though, when you were in war service on these various committees and projects.
Well, I was not full time active on those. I still carried on my responsibilities at Central Scientific Company until 19144. So it meant, for instance, a weekly trip to Washington. made that very frequently. And wherever it was necessary would take more time off to travel around and visit projects that were being carried on.
So then the institute had its annual board meetings throughout this period.
Yes, was in a position to attend those not withstanding the preoccupation with the work of NDRC and OSRD.
I’d like to review a few of the developments that had taken place preceding your taking over as chairman in about 1940. One of the things I noted in the directors’ report for 1936 was the fifth anniversary of the institute, Of course, there were a lot of activities then to interest industry in physics, with the aim perhaps of stimulating jobs for physicists and research support, too.
But in the Directors’ Report for 1936, apparently there was some kind of a backlash beginning, I gather, because he referred to the fact that some of these efforts aroused, and here I’m quoting him, ‘acute concern in the minds of some who fear industrial domination, destruction of a healthy atmosphere for fundamental research, this kind of thing.
And then in an editorial in RS, they attempted to allay these fears. And at the board meeting he said: Our primary function is the support and encouragement of fundamental research. Neither activity is detrimental to the other. They’re mutually dependent. Do you recall what the source of criticism was?
No, I do not, but can imagine, without being able to recall, that there were people in SAMA who might have developed a certain amount of apprehension about the institute of Physics getting into this domain. It would be thoroughly unwarranted and illogical for them to do that, but in SAMA there were people whom would characterize as little men, people of very narrow horizons. And if they felt real apprehension, it came out of ignorance rather than anything else, know we had that problem when I became chairman of this committee on prosthetic devices and artificial limbs.
The industry of some 350 members in this country were people of very narrow horizons, and they were all indivualists as nearly as I could tell. And their attitude was that there was no need of setting up any kind of committee to look into artificial limbs. ‘All they would have had to do was come to me, and I could have told them all about it.” This was the very narrow attitude.
What was the motivation in starting this SAMA in the first place? You said that it started after the First World War,
The motivation, as I recall it, was I should say primarily the fact that universities and colleges could import scientific apparatus and instruments duty free. These were coming in from countries where the labor rates were very much lower, and so it made pretty difficult competition for some of the manufacturers here. That eventually developed into optical instruments only. That was about all that was really involved, where the microscopes made in Germany competed with Bausch and Lomb and Spencer Lens Company, which became American Optical.
In the meantime, of course, there had been, I suppose, other selling points which resulted in the willingness of quite a number of the manufacturers of scientific apparatus for laboratories to join in an association. It developed primarily under John H. Roberts, who was one of the three principals of Central Scientific Company: Howard McConnell, John Roberts and Herbert Arms.
John Roberts was in charge of the sales for Central Scientific Company; and being in charge of sales and being one of the three partners, he could see probably sooner and more clearly the effect of foreign com’ petition in optical instruments and other instruments with American industry. And so I’m pretty sure that he took the lead in getting the SAMA established. He was a good salesman, and I suppose that had something to do with bringing people in. It started as a small organization. I don’t know what it includes today—I’ve been out of it since ‘44—but it included manufacturers of industrial control devices.
For instance, Minneapolis Honeywell was one of the members. They made thermostats for house heating and thermostats for other things. It included Babcock and Wilcox, Those are two of the industrial concerns. Of course, it included Bausch and Lomb, Spencer Lens Company. They were active in the origins of SAMA.
If you had to characterize SAMA in a short descriptive phrase, would you say that it was primarily a trade association?
It was a trade association.
In terms of its objectives.
Yes. Morris Leeds of Leeds and Northup was one of the broader minded members. He was a man of great education and perceptivity. And it was under the leadership of Morris Leeds as president of SAM that the association was motivated to support RSI to the extent that it did.
And the support that they gave in 1939, for example, was for certain specific objectives that the institute hoped it would accomplish with the money they gave. They only gave, I think, $1500.
That wasn’t very much.
It was expected to subsidize editorials and articles in RSI, to improve relations between users and makers of scientific apparatus.
This comes awfully close to what Richtmyer had in mind in that National Research Council committee.
They do give credit to Richtmyer. They said that up until the time of his death he had played a role in this.
Do you have a record of the year of Richtmyer’s death?
This was a report in 1939, and so he must have died in ‘39, because it was presented at a meeting in 1940... I think it’s probably ‘39. [November 1939].
Getting back to some of these other aspects of the institute’s involvement which preceded your chairmanship, another thing in connection with industry was the 1936 anniversary meeting of all of the founder societies—a joint meeting—which Is the first time this had taken place. And then out of that grew... The papers were on applied physics, physics in industry, and there was a book published on it. Is there anything about that that you recall?
This wasn’t the book on temperature measurement?
That came out of what I was leading up to, that there was then a series of smaller meetings on specialized subjects which had been proposed by Buffum from the Chemical Foundation, so apparently they were still connected at that time. One of them was a symposium on metals, which was held at MIT—all sponsored by AIP. And then there was another one on temperatures.
Yes, I remember attending the meeting which resulted in the book on temperature measurement. But I have no specific recollections of any of the details pertaining to those.
Buffum was an officer of the institute for a while, and he was present at the meetings certainly-—you had dealings with him.
Yes, he was present at all the early meetings that I attended.
What was your impression of him? I have no picture of him in my mind as a personality.
I must say that I only vaguely remember him. I do recall that in the conversations that we had at the meetings, If one of the members of the board (no industrialist members of the board) made some comment which perhaps raised a question of doubt about the economics of business or something like that, Buffum very promptly set him straight.
You mean economics in terms of philosophy or politics of It, or in terms of business sense?
Well, in terms of business sense I would say more than anything else. But this is very hazy. It doesn’t really reflect his personality to any extent. I really don’t have too much of an impression now of his personality except that everybody on the board just simply had to look to him for comments on any things that the board was considering that would cost money, because he was the fellow that supplied whatever deficit funds there might be.
But he was also for a time responsible for the AIP budget.
Yes, at the same time. It would be doing him an injustice if we didn’t recognize that he was as enthusiastic about the Institute of Physics as a viable organization as any member of the board.
Do you think that his presence on the board because of this special role had a restraining effect on the development of new programs and innovations? I mean other than just the financial limitations?
No, I would hardly think so, because the members of the board in those days I think pretty freely spoke their minds on these things that were not related to the finances. Again, I’m sorry that my recollection is not more clear, but whatever there is left of it, I don’t think that Buffum’s presence imposed any restraint on the members of the board in discussing the function of the institute and what plans and programs It might follow.
It occurs to me that in the normal course of an organization’s history, that the relationship between the paid staff, the full time executive officers, and the governing board would change as the experience of the executive staff builds up and as in fact they are very knowledgeable about day-to-day activities. I assume that this happened somewhere in this early period.
Oh, yes, of course. The board was pretty much dependent on whatever information was provided by the director and the board chairman, with whom the director always worked pretty closely.
And did you see a difference in style between the Compton-Barton team and the Tate-Barton team?
No, I can’t say that I did.
This brings us to the period...
Of course, George Pegram was treasurer of AIP through those years; and his presence on the board provided, I think, continuity and balance that was very valuable.
I guess he took over when Buffum gave up that position.
There were a few other things going on just before you took your position as chairman. One of the things was a survey that was made of industrial research. The institute in 1939 was cooperating with the National Resources Planning Board.
Yes, there was a National Resources Planning Board.
And this strengthened its relationship as well with the National Research Council—that is, it strengthened the institute’s relationship.
I would imagine that this cooperation with the Planning Board must have been tendered by the director and the chairman or by the director with whatever the chairman could contribute.
Right. Well, that evolved into a very important role for the director in the Office of Scientific Personnel.
Well, when you took over, though, although you said that in your mind It wasn’t clear that the U. S. involvement in the war was imminent or that physics would play a very strong role in it, by the end of that year...
Well, in another year that became very clear, within the year. Of course, in those days, prior to 1940, very little money had ever been appropriated by the Congress for the military to make significant developments in the way of the instrumentation needed for armament and arms. In fact, there was a period of years after the First World War when I doubt that any money was spent by the Army and Navy, let alone Air Force, for research and development of things that they would need if war came.
So when the Second World War came, it became a mad scramble to catch up. The devices for the range finders for the large-caliber guns, were bought in Germany. Of course, no further development was needed. Bausch and Lomb could copy the German models. But there had been nothing in the way of original development of things to aid the military forces prior to 1940. since the First World War.
For a number of years when I was at Central Scientific Company, I tried to urge, with what authorities I could get hold of, that It was highly Important for the government to line up industries on which the government could call for the production of certain very crucial things If war should come. And I think in the few years before 1941, an occasional training contract was made with an industry to make certain things.
What do you mean by training contract?
Training the industry to make certain things that the government badly needed for the conduct of war If war should come. But It would be interesting to see how much money was appropriated by the Congress for research and development of the departments that made up the Department of Defense in the years from 1918 when the First World War ended to, let us say, 1938 or so when there was some evidence that war might not be impossible, that war in fact might be becoming imminent. I would imagine offhand that the amount of money devoted to R&D in those years would be a fraction of what is now being contracted out by any one of the services, a small fraction.
Now, the involvement of industry is one thing. It may have been on a small scale, but it probably goes back to World War I. Someone has an article that I haven’t read thoroughly that’s just out in one of the historical Journals which tries to trace the industrial connection with the military from the period after the war, and so there are some new perspectives that are coming out.
That is for the period after the Second World War?
No, between the wars. Your comments are very interesting in this regard, from your perspective. But it’s another question when you’re talking about the involvement of a scientific discipline rather than an industry. By the time of this annual report presented in February of 1941, there’s an awareness that the discipline itself is going to be involved, has a role to play, and has already been asked by various government agencies...
This must have developed through the establishment of NDRC in 1940, because I would doubt very much that anyone in responsible positions in these government agencies would have had very much appreciation of the role that the disciplines might play except possibly in such things as the Bureau of Public Health, which is what they called it before HEW became a department. There I imagine there had been contacts between the Army, Navy and Air Force on the one hand and the people in the Bureau of Public Health on the other.
These contacts with AIP were through NDRC and NRC committees and so forth, and very soon the AIP was to find manpower data for the Roster of Scientific and Specialized Personnel.
That’s right. That was at the beginning of World War II. Leonard Carmichael was the man in charge of the roster I think during most of the war period. And then M. H. Trytten was Harry Barton’s assistant, I believe, on the manpower and personnel in NRC. Now, where was the roster? What agency was it connected with?
It was NDRC, I think. I’m not sure about that.
I don’t remember that. I wonder whether it was taken over by NRC and assigned to the manpower division where Harry and Trytten were. But I don’t remember just where Leonard Carmichael operated in those years.
I think I can check that easily. At any rate, at the time you became chairman of the board, it was shortly after that Barton had a full— time involvement in Washington to set up the Office of Scientific Personnel, and the AIP staff was involved, too, on a contract basis on the manpower question. There was a committee at the institute. I guess it was called the War Policy Committee.
Yes, this is the committee that I tried to think of before, the War Policy Committee.
Do you recall the composition of the committee?
No, I remember that Oliver Buckley, president of Bell Laboratories, was a member; Harry Barton, of course. But beyond that my memory goeth not. But it’s on record somewhere.
Yes, I think I can easily get that. It seems to me that the questions the committee would be concerned with would relate to...
Would relate to the contribution that physics as a whole might be able to make to the war effort.
But at the same time the effect of the war on physics, I’m sure, would...
That, of course, would also be part of the considerations.
One of the problems, I notice, was the deferment question— of how physicists could be more effectively used...
Yes. I know that that was much discussed. I know that either Harry or Trytten or both had a great deal to do with the selective service office in those days. And I wonder whether Leonard Carmichael wasn’t involved in that. His tie-in with the roster might have been part of that activity. I don’t know whether this War Policy Committee left any record of the minutes of its meetings. I should think it must have.
Harry Barton and I are going through these files. We started a while ago. I think there should be some materials on that. It seems to me that the other major problem that was at least referred to in the reports of that early period, ’40-‘41—was the character of physics as a profession. Now, do you recall what prompted this kind of inquiry? There were two questions, it seems to me, that were raised.
I remember the question: the character of physics as a profession. And what was the other?
Well, what the role of the institute should be. Some of the question came because labor unions were becoming involved in the professional and technical fields.
That’s right. ClO had come into the picture, and, as I remember, it was CIO before it joined AFL that was the overall labor organization in which some of these professional unions began to grow up.
I have no specific instance in the minutes about it, just that the question had been raised by the American Physical Society for the AIP to look into in terms of what is a physicist, what are the standards, what are the responsibilities, and so forth?
Yes, those were questions that were asked. But for the answers, I should imagine one would have to find the minutes or the records of the meetings at which the questions were discussed.
One of the things that interests me about this is that when the APS asked the AIP to study this issue about the opportunities and responsibilities of the profession of physics—that was the way they put it— some specific questions were raised, One was regarding the teaching of physics in high school, which is the kind of question which, as you pointed out, came up within AAPT; the vocational information regarding career opportunities for physicists and so forth; whether there should be minimum salaries, whether anyone should take a position on this; whether the profession should be represented with spokesmen in regard to national issues in Congress, legislation that would affect physics.
It seems to me that these came up independently of the war, and that they were brewing in the late ‘3Os anyway.
Yes, think that is correct, that they did come up independently of the war; and think probably they were launched by the activity of some of the C10 unions. I know that at Central Scientific Company there was an approach from an organization that called itself the Society of Chemists, Engineers something and Technicians. It was a sort of a catchall group. They said engineers; I don’t know whether they really meant full- fledged engineers as would come out of an engineering school or not.
But anyway it appeared that even the people who were employed in the shop were qualified to be members of that union. They had an election while I was at the company which they lost, and then they had another election later which they lost. So that union did not get in. Later, however, after my departure from Central Scientific Company, the management agreed with an AFL union to have its members join an AFL union—I’ve forgotten which one. But that would not apply to the physicists or chemists or the higher rated technologists.
A question that’s logical to me is: was there any interest expressed by these high-level people, by the physicists, chemists?
No, not particularly that remember. No, I don’t think so. I think in those days people who were engaged in university work, college work, really never had any thought of joining a labor union, as they are doing now, I think they regarded the dignity of their work beyond that of the people working in shops, and they had a vision and an ambition to influence the people whom they were teaching to achieve in learning what their abilities were capable of enabling them to achieve.
Of course, to go back of that, in the days when I was teaching, the thought of entering a union was the farthest possible removed from my mind. It never even occurred to me, even though the pay was pitifully small,
Apparently this was enough of a threat or an implied threat...
It must have been that something like that was a threat that at that time probably merited being taken cognizance of.
One of the things which comes out in this period which is surprising to me was that the beginnings of the concern with the post-war planning for physics had begun to take place just as we were getting into the war.
Would you repeat that?
I stated it in a rather complex way. I was surprised to learn that the interest in post-war planning started with the onset of the war; that at the same time that the institute was getting involved in war work and the country was getting involved in war in 1941, the executive committee of the AAPT expressed concern to the AIP regarding the post-war adjustments of physicists and offered to cooperate with AIP to prepare for the period after the war. This is 1941.
Yes, have some recollection of that.
I just wondered what had prompted this. First of all, physics was not known to plan that far ahead in any event. And then, of course, this was some kind of vision into the future that life was going to...
Yes, this was prior to the famous Bush report, Science, the Endless Frontier.
Yes, by several years.
So it must be that some people in the AAPT board, recognizing the number of physicists who were getting into war work, began to feel some apprehension about what would happen to them after the war, can’t explain it in any other way.
I guess one of the things is that there was a large—scale disruption of the profession that took place, because everybody was involved in the war, And the question is: how do you put the pieces back together again? [pause in recording]
We’re resuming now after our refreshments and refreshing break. The point that we were discussing just when we broke off was the concern with post-war adjustment of physics—the needs and the opportunities for physics at the end of the war—even though the war had barely begun as far as American involvement. During the war there was a conference on post-war physics held in Philadelphia, Now, don’t have much information on it. know the result.,.
Do you remember under what auspices it was held?
NRC sponsored it, NRC auspices; AIP did it. It was held in 1944 in May. It was a Conference on the Problems of Physics in the Postwar Period.
Yes, that was before the war was over.
It interested me, because the Policy Committee that existed at the Institute then discussed the results of the conference, and out of it came a study of the organization, the objectives and the functions of the institute. Do you recall what brought that to the fore?
I can’t tell you, because that was the year I spent in Hawaii and Australia, I was not present at the conference.
In 1941 there had been planned a 10th anniversary meeting-again a joint founders’ society meeting—but this didn’t take place, I think, because of the war, And so the feeling that I get from this is that the 15th anniversary of the institute was soon approaching, and perhaps there was a general need any way to reassess its organizational structure.
That could very well be.
And the impending end of the war provided a special need to do this, because it was clear by then that physics had changed. I begin to see, though, in these discussions that I’m reading about, an increased emphasis on teaching; that now teaching has come into its own.
Teaching has come into its own, yes. And could never have dreamed that the great amount of exceptionally fine work would come about through the work of the commission of AAPT. think that that is probably unique among the sciences, isn’t it? The work of the commission on college teaching.
I don’t know that there’s anything exactly structured in that way.
They have been examining it in other ways.
I think so. I’m not familiar with parallel things. There certainly have been parallel attempts in curriculum development programs.
But was thinking that the beginning of the recognition of teaching as a major problem for all of physics came about at the time of the war because of the need to train many many people who would be working in some of the large laboratories, the radar laboratory and other places; physics courses for people in the services. And there was an increased shortage of physics teachers apparently because of the draft and because many of the physicists were off in war work. From reading reports I get the feeling that that really turned the tide, And other physicists who had been ignoring those questions before now felt that they were priority questions.
I have very little feel for that, I just don’t know. do know that back in the ‘30s the teacher of physics—-well, let’s go back into the ‘20s, then we’ll be safe—was certainly second in the pecking order in relation to the man who was doing research. If there was a teacher whose research consisted of the endeavor to improve his own ability to teach, this didn’t count as research, Only the other kind—namely, working on nuclear physics or spectroscopy or whatever the fad happened to be at that time—that was the thing that really gave status to the physicist. Now, what you were saying implies that probably the teacher has arrived at a somewhat higher status in relation to the research man as compared with his status in those days. But I would say from what little observation I have been able to make in the last few years that he is still in the pecking order sort of a second—class citizen.
I didn’t intend to imply that...
I didn’t mean that you intended to imply it, But in your observations, one could infer from them that this might be the situation, that maybe the teacher has risen to the point where he no longer needs to feel that he’s a second-class citizen compared with the research worker. But this I would still doubt.
I think that if anything, there’s been a greater appreciation of teaching and a recognition that the role of teacher and researcher is very often a joint role performed by a single individual.
This is true for some people, yes. Some of the very fine teachers are people who have made a great contribution in research but who are sufficiently interested in the youngster to teach, say, a freshman class and do an excellent job at it.
I raise this because in the discussions of post—war planning there was the suggestion that there would be a greater need for physicists after the war. This would mean an increased demand from industry and a new demand by government and therefore a need to increase the physics population, and therefore teaching is viewed as the important thing in this whole pipeline. This concern was not only shared by AAPT but by the rest of physics. This I think was the important transition.
Do you recall some of the discussions that followed from this post-war thinking? The ones on professionalization, which had to come to grips with the institute’s responsibility toward physicists in terms of minimum standards and so forth. We talked about how this came about. One of the reasons was the feeling that labor unions were attempting to speak for physicists in some cases, and there may have been other reasons why this came about. But it seems to me that the outcome of the discussion was an interesting one, and that is that the institute felt it would limit itself to its former role and that it would not be for the advancement of...
Approximately when was...?
This is 1945, ‘46.
Yes, I do recall some of that, that the position of the institute was that it would limit itself to its former role. I think the point was also made by someone that if it were to engage in the economics of the physicist’s activity, it could very possibly lose its tax-exempt status. This was also a concern of the American Association for the Advancement of Science during the years that I was on the board there.
Do you recall whether there was pressure from within any of the member societies that the institute take a broader role?
I don’t recall; I don’t know.
One of the things of course in the post-war period is the atomic energy legislation. There were people taking public positions. The institute made an office available for a meeting of the Federation of Atomic Scientists but itself took no role. What I’m trying to get at was if you recall whether this was any kind of big squabble internally.
No, I don't have any recollection that there was any big squabble internally.
Because the decision is clear that it wasn’t to go in that direction.
We haven’t arrived at the post-war situation following World War II beginning with the Bush report.
That’s what I’d like to get into.
We were beginning to talk about post-war planning, not in the sense of internally within the institute but in the larger sense that you mentioned—-and that is the preparation of the Bush report. Why don’t just let you start on that in terms of what you recall.
Well, at the time the Bush Report was prepared I was still... Do you have the date of the Bush Report?
Was this ‘44, and then the Steelman report was a little later? I’m not sure whether it was ‘44 or ‘45.
I have an original copy of the Bush report and a couple of the reprints. July 1945 it was issued.
But it was in the works...
Yes, it had been in the works. Now, July 1945.. We’d had D-Day, and the war in the Pacific was still going on. The surrender of Japan came about August.
Yes, Hiroshima was August 6th,
So this was issued between D-Day and VJ-Day. Well, one comment that I think is quite pertinent to this is that we had no national policy for science, that is, in 1945. At that time a great many of the scientists from the universities had done their stint for government and were returning to their former posts and had become accustomed in the course of their work for the government to having had plenty of money to support what they were doing. A relatively small part of their research during the war was so-called pure research. It was largely mission-oriented as the Washington bureaucrats like to term it—namely, research with a specific objective. And can see that many of these people getting back to their institutions would feel somewhat lost both because of the lack of funds to which they had become accustomed, and because after two or three or four years of being away from their labs, it would take some time for them to get back into the swing of their research.
I think that in part the recommendations of the Bush report took this into consideration and took the position that a great deal of money would have to be provided by government to support basic research after the war—I suppose because scientists had become used to having a lot of money for the kind of research they were doing, basic or not.
This report goes on to say after we have no policy for science, “the government has only begun to utilize science in the nation’s welfare. There is no body within the government charged with formulating or executing a national science policy; no standing committees of the Congress devoted to this subject. Science has been in the wings. It should be brought to the center of the stage, for in it lies much of our hope for the future. That’s the end of the quote from the report.
I can't help but wonder, since I was involved after the act establishing the National Science Foundation eventually had been passed and signed by the President and things began to move.. Of course, the Science Foundation was delayed in getting its start because of the Korean War, which came on. And so the appointment of a director was delayed until think December of 1950, and it really didn’t get underway until 1951, and its budget was $350,000 or something like that. But the idea that pervaded the scientific community then was that government would come to the aid of basic science, and of course it did through the years, because each year the amount of money made available for distribution for basic research through the Science Foundation grew by a factor the first few years of 5O or more, and then later the limitation of $15 million for the Science Foundation was abrogated in an amendment to the act, and no upper limit was set. So that in a relatively few years the amount available for all the activities of the Science Foundation exceeded $500 million.
Now, all of that was not for research—I’d say a fraction of it, maybe 30 or 40 was for research and the rest was for related activities. But let’s say that $150 million became available over a period of 10 years, say from ‘51 to ‘61. This was a terrific rate of growth of money for the universities to support research. That was tremendous, because before the war there were few universities that had funds other than might have come out of certain gifts that were made to institutions as an endowment, the income from which was used to support research. in other words, at the time the war started, few institutions had more than the kind of money that had to be hidden in the annual budget of a department. After the war, it became perfectly obvious that the government was now supporting basic research.
Now, my misgivings about this were first that I doubted the ability of a government agency, even the Science Foundation, with which I was connected, to proceed with enough wisdom to administer these funds so that they might be expected to provide the kind of intellectual return out of research in basic science that anyone who knew anything about it had the right to expect. in other words, the funds were granted to the people who became professional writers of grant proposals, many of them, And many of the researches were pedestrian—they’d never set the world on fire. And I think it’s quite to be doubted whether the results of many of the researches done in those years after publication, going into the archives, will ever be discovered and brought out of the archives again.
So from the standpoint of one who is somewhat practical-minded, have to say that I’m afraid that much of the money that went into basic research after the war did not yield the returns that the nation had the right to expect, if the nation in fact had the knowledge and wisdom and intelligence to expect anything of it.
Now, the National Science Foundation became a bureaucratic institution, because each year the proposal for the appropriations to be heard before the subcommittee on appropriations became larger and larger and larger. And if the subcommittee on appropriations cut down on the amounts that it actually recommended for appropriation, then there was a feeling of great deprivation in the National Science Foundation. “We should have had this money. Look what we could have been doing with it."
Actually, I think I would hold with the subcommittee on appropriations in not letting the thing just go right through the blue sky, because with amounts up to $400 and $500 million to be doled out all over the country, I’m sure there wasn’t the wisdom and experience to do this doling in the best possible way. Now, this is just a personal feeling that I have about it.
Now, one of the results of this open-handedness... Of course, many institutions wouldn’t consider it open-handed. One of the very famous scientists who is now in the public eye at one time said that “Whatever the government contributes, it isn’t enough; it should be more.” But my observation now is that the amount of money that came out of government grants to the institutions encouraged the institutions more and more to hire physicists, chemists, other researchers to be members of the faculty, many of them without teaching responsibilities, and just develop a big research operation.
For what reason? Well, I suppose to gain distinction through publication of research papers, and what else? Not that the presidents of most of these institutions had any strong convictions that no matter how much basic research is done, more should be done. I don’t think that any of them carried their philosophy to that point. I think they just wanted a large, distinguished staff, and they wanted plenty of money to maintain that staff.
This isn’t history anymore, maybe we shouldn’t go into it; but now with the restriction on funds by the Congress for research, you hear all sorts of screams from the universities because they can’t any longer support these researchers in the style to which they have become accustomed. This is probably heresy from the standpoint of most of my colleagues in physics. Well, I’m not a physicist anymore, as a matter of fact. My physics is far too old for that. But I say it may be heresy for me to question whether we need to go ahead on an unlimited basis to carry on basic research. Sure, the urge for knowledge is there. The urge to climb mountains is there because the mountains are there. But what, in fact, is the benefit to society of much of the work that is being done by these big government grants? It would be exceedingly difficult, it seems to me, to demonstrate any value out of the results of many of these researches that have been carried on under government grants.
Let me ask you a question on this to understand you better and also to relate it to something that, goes back to the immediate end of the war. The assumption that, was made in many of the arguments that were made for large-scale government funding was that a healthy, well-supported research establishment could produce basic knowledge that someday has application, although it’s not immediately seen. And secondly, you have a prepared scientific cadre available.
Yes, this is the argument that was always used before the House Sub-Committee on Appropriations.
I was just wondering what your reaction to that is in terms of what your comment is now.
Well, I think that the fellow who supports all of this work, namely the taxpayer, cannot be severely criticized if he asks, “What am I getting for this money?” And if he asks that question, and somebody knowledgeable about the research picture endeavors to answer it, this person who is endeavoring to give the answer is going to have a very hard time of it.
If a Congressman asked us at the National Science Foundation in the early ‘50s when I was there: “Will you bring us a statement of what has been accomplished with the funds that we have recommended for appropriation?”—that’s very difficult to do. I mean you can look at the publications which report the results of basic research. What do you do with it when you read it? You’d have to be endowed with the spirit of prophecy to be able to say whether this at some time in the future is going to be of benefit to society. All you can do is say, “Well, our experience in the past has been that much of the work that has been done has eventually after 15 or 20 years been turned into something beneficial to society.”
But whether this mass of stuff that has been published with these huge government funds would run the same course, I don’t know—I would doubt it. So much of it has had to be put in the archives that one sort of boggles at the idea of ever discovering it again and seeing what has been done. Maybe the researchers of the future will find it and bring it out and turn it to practical value—I don’t know.
Now, the researcher himself doesn’t feel that anything of value needs to come out of what he does. In fact, some of them would feel rather scandalized if it were turned to practical results—especially among the mathematicians who sit on top of the pyramid. If any of the work they have done is turned to practical use, they feel very sad about it.
Was any of this thinking and any of these types of problems discussed in the early days of NSF in terms...
Well, in the days when I was there the amount of money available for such research was probably not enough to make it a serious problem. We had to search thoroughly among the proposals submitted to find some that in the estimation of our advisers from the scientific community and in the estimation of the program directors merited a grant of so and so many dollars. We had to look hard. And I suppose that under those conditions the outcome is likely to be more fruitful, if I may use that word, in the way of results that at a time not too far distant might be turned to benefit the society—whether it be material or economic or benefit by way of health or other social benefits really doesn’t make any difference so long as it’s beneficial.
Was there any consciousness in the discussions in those days of the role that the Foundation was supposed to perform regarding the setting of national policy in science and goals in science?
The charter of the Foundation—namely, the act under which it came into existence—was written in a way that was very difficult to interpret. The director, of course, was responsible for trying to carry out whatever instructions or mandates were written into the act. But in his opinion it was not the responsibility of the Foundation to examine what was going on in the other government agencies and to ride herd on them or to be a critic of what they were doing. So nothing of that sort was done even though members of Congress wanted it done. And I think under the Daddario Committee the act has been revised so that a step forward has been taken to more clearly define the role of the National Science Foundation in the general picture of government policy and operations in science.
Did any of the other agencies feel threatened in any way?
Not in the days when I was there. For instance, the Air Force set up its Office of Scientific Research, which was practically stealing the name of OSRD, and they went ahead on the basis... Always the justification was: if the subject under research is of interest to the service, then the service may support it. Well, this was under a huge Mother Hubbard. Anything could be done under that attitude no matter how abstruse. Even mathematical research could be done under that even though it had no application to what the Air Force needed, And, of course, each of the divisions in the Defense Department-Army, Navy, Air Force— each carried on its own research,
What about the non-defense agencies, the various government agencies that in one way or another were involved?
HEW? Of course, they had been carrying on supported research for some time in the medical and health field. So they were not affected, in fact, there was pretty close cooperation between HEW and the Science Foundation. The only comment that would make there is sort of a parenthetical comment: that we had people in the Science Foundation who were watching what HEW did; and if they did something which they thought the Science Foundation ought to do, then they girded their loins and fought for it, And so some of the things that the Science Foundation started to do, I think, were needless because HEW was already doing them.
What about the relationships within the Science Foundation in terms of the problem of administering a large foundation of an unprecedented type with large public funds, and yet the decisions as to which specific project to support being made by scientists?
Well, Allan Waterman’s policy was: we are not going to mastermind science in the Science Foundation. It is up to the scientists to tell us what they consider to be the needs of research on the one hand or education on the other—education and research—or information. That was another branch. So what we had was advisers in the various fields of science, advisers to the program director in each field. The program director was in a position to submit to them as review panels the proposals that were submitted, and then from the review panel either meeting in Washington together or by mail submitting their appraisals, and then it became the responsibility of the program director to decide who was to receive grants and how much.
Well, this was probably a perfectly rational, logical way of handling these relatively limited funds that we had at that time. Of course, as the funds became more opulent, shall say, the care with which proposals were reviewed probably deteriorated somewhat. So that proposals of smaller merit, even though one probably couldn’t apply any tests of merit—that had to come out of experience—but I’m sure that as the funds increased, the research that was done probably deteriorated in the overall picture as to merit.
This is a system of judging by the peer group.
The other system then which began to take over in a small way was the system of making bloc grants to departments in the universities. There was every reason in the minds of the bureaucrats with whom we dealt (in the Science Foundation—we had them there, too, because they came out of other agencies to run the administration and so on), to insist that this was the way to do it; to have the Science Foundation get its advice from the scientists, to have a complete record so that nobody could go on the back trail and find missing footsteps and then question about it. in other words, part of the operation was to be able to justify hi the files—comes the investigation, justify in the files what was being done. With bloc grants that isn’t so easy. You sort of relinquish control of the funds that are made as a bloc grant to a department and let the department administer it and then make a report as to what was done with it. Well, that is loose control from the standpoint of a government bureaucrat.
Did they fight that?
Oh, with so much money coming in, the bloc grants became inevitable because of the amount of work involved in examining every single grant and making a decision and agonizing over it. It just became too great a load without expanding the personnel way beyond what it was, and it was already getting very large.
How do you describe your role in the Foundation at that time in regard to this group of professional bureaucrats on the one hand and then the scientists on the other?
Well, I was first assistant director and then soon became associate director for research, because then the responsibility devolved on me to review and examine the recommendations that came up from the program directors and then pass them on to the director for his signature or return them to the directors for whatever additional things might be done or to turn them down or something of that sort. That was my function in those days.
Now, I’m sure that after I gave up that function, after four years of helping in getting things going in the Foundation, that job of associate director became far too big a job for one man to do, as I’ve described it— of reviewing all of the individual grants and passing judgment on them and examining them to see whether the program directors had overlooked anything and being thoroughly careful that anything that got through to the institutions couldn’t be questioned, whether a grant was made to someone who belonged to an organization which the Attorney General had declared subversive and things of that sort. That was always loaded with dynamite, because if a Congressman discovered that, he would really raise a stink about it, as they did on a few occasions. Where these things came up, they were grants for... Well, I think there was one research grant that came under that after I had left. But primarily they were grants of fellowships for graduate study or post-doctoral study.
You’re implying that different criteria would be used for judging those, because they were more vulnerable to criticism than the ones for a research grant.
That’s right. The graduate student looking for support by way of a fellowship—you couldn’t really explore very far unless you got an FBI field report on him, and even they were unreliable. I don’t know what was done since this was outside of my department. I don’t know whether they ever got FBI field investigations on applicants for fellow ships or not. But I do remember that there were several embarrassing cases where someone who was a member of the Communist Party in those days had received a fellowship.
There was nothing in the law per se that prevented it.
No. I don’t think so, but I’m not positive.
There are some fellowships where there is a specific form that one has to sign and others where they don’t have it. But in general in this role that you performed, did you have to mediate sometimes between the professional administrators of the program and the scientific...
No, that was always a matter that was left to the institution.
I mean within NSF, between the program directors and the budget people.
No, there was no problem of that sort.
They didn’t act as a restraining force on you or on Waterman?
No, not at all.
The relations were good then.
Oh, yes. We had very fine relations all through the organization while was there.
This period, of course—you’re talking about 1951 through 1956; that’s the period of your...
Well, it was a little shorter than that. It was ‘51 to ‘55, and then again for one year in ‘57, and after that I served merely as consultant to the director. It was about four years when I was having full time responsibility as associate director.
At the same time that you were involved with the full time position at NSF, you were chairman of the board at Argonne National Laboratory.
That preceded it,
It didn’t overlap?
No, it didn’t overlap.
That wasn’t a full time commitment.
I was chairman of the board at Argonne approximately 1947 or ‘48, somewhere in there.
I have it from ‘48 on.
I was on the board of Argonne and chairman the third year, probably in ‘50.
And now was this at the time when Argonne was starting?
It was at the time that Argonne was developing. It was already a good-sized operation and was getting funds from AEC each year, both for support and expansion of its activities.
Was there any feeling at Argonne that this was an experiment in the sense of how science is organized, how it’s done?
No, that question never really came up on the board. The function of the board at Argonne was to advise and consult with a director who, when I was on the board and was chairman of the board, was Wally Zinn. I think he resigned a year or two after my term was over. Well, we were called upon to visit the different operations and come up with any suggestions we might have. We heard the report of the director and made comments on that. I think on occasion probably some of the members of the board were able to make suggestions that were helpful.
Who was responsible to AEC for the running of the lab?
I see. So the Governing Board in this sense wasn’t really a governing board. It was more of an advisory committee. I’m trying to distinguish between the functions of...
Yes, governing board was something of a misnomer. You see, the University of Chicago was the contractor, and Argonne was operated by the University of Chicago really. But Governing Board was a misnomer. It didn’t really govern and set down what areas of research were to be undertaken. That was the director’s choice in his discussion with his associates.
But did the director serve at the discretion of the board? That’s what I’m trying to establish.
No, I think the director served... Well, he was on the University of Chicago payroll, because the laboratory was operated by the University of Chicago.
He was not responsible to the board; this is what I’m trying to determine.
He was not responsible to the board in that sense, because the board had only advisory capacity. For instance, if the board had come to the conclusion that the director was incompetent, it could only advise the University of Chicago and suggest that he be replaced. The board itself could not directly say that he should be.
And your advice would be, say, in an extreme situation of that type, to the University rather than to AEC?
Yes. It would have been in that case. Now, AEC came up from Washington. . mean they came up with ideas as to what it was they wanted the Argonne Laboratory to do. Well, that was entirely up to them, and it had to be reviewed by the University of Chicago; it had to be reviewed by the staff of Argonne to see whether it was within their capacity to do it, f it was, the board would certainly approve it, f it wasn’t, the board might take the position: “This is outside of the scope... or "It represents a new field to tackle and it would require more funds than are available” or something of that sort. But it had no other function except to examine and advise.
Now, during this post-war period we forgot for a moment the AAPT and the AP. We did talk before about the need they felt to anticipate a post-war change, and one of the big issues, at the time of ‘46 anyway, was the idea that individual members of member societies become members of the institute.
And it seems to me that that was one of the things that grew out of the post—war planning, but ‘m not quite clear why.
I‘m not quite clear why at the moment, There was a feeling back in the ‘40s and again the date isn’t at all clear to me) that the constitution and bylaws of the institute (it must have been during my term as chairman) needed revision, And, as I recall it (I may be wrong about this), I was the principal draftsman of that revision. The only thing I remember about it now is that the individual memberships were established in that change. But that is really the only thing that at this point remember.
The reason offered was that it would increase the unity of the profession. I don’t know if a new threat toward fragmentation had been felt and they felt that this was a new way to give people a stake in the institute.
I think the latter was probably the more significant; that there were many members of the founder societies who had very little contact with AIP; they could develop no feeling of belonging to a profession. This was one of the reasons for starting Physics Today, you know. And think that the feeling of the board at that time was that if... Let’s see, members of the founder societies automatically became members of the institute, didn’t they?
And if there were people interested in physics and not members of the founder societies, they could still become individual members of the institute?
I think associate members.
Yes, something like that, And my recollection is that it was hoped, if not felt, that this would produce a greater felling of togetherness in the whole group of physicists.
You referred to it in the talk that you gave to the governing board at the time of your retirement as chairman in 1947, that the new constitution and bylaws which were conceived in 1944 at the Philadelphia Conference of Physicists and then were subsequently developed. You said then in ‘47. that “they proclaimed the unity of physics and that they provide a foundation for as grand a structure as we may dare to imagine and build.”
I didn’t have a ghost writer, either. I didn’t recognize that as my words. I must have written them. Was that a long speech or a short speech?
It’s the report of the chairman, and it was published in RSI, so it’s a page and a half. It ends here, and then there’s the director’s report. I’ve summarized it. You made the basic point that in the period of the preceding seven years, although you were not claiming credit for it, the institute had accomplished certain things.
First, the financial problems were under control compared to the l930s. when the institute was preoccupied with them. Secondly, the new building was planned, funds were raised, and was subsequently occupied and had become very important for all of physics. And then the third point was about the new constitution and bylaws as a very important thing.
Yes, I don’t really remember very much about this valedictory address.
It was usual at a governing board meeting for the chairman to make a statement of this type and then for it subsequently to be published, but I think this was a special thing marking the end of the period.
Yes. Well, could I get a copy of this?
I’d like to have a copy and read it again. Maybe I ought to read it again now so that I won’t be contradicting myself in anything that I say.
I think I’ve sunned up the major points that you made. You did say: “As we view the jobs ahead, would we venture to say with any assurance that the least important is to help develop in our body of individual members an increasing sense of responsibility as good citizens towards social and political problems.” in other words, you were calling for physicists’ playing a role in these things.
Yes, I can see that I might have said that all right.
And it was precisely at this time that the institute took a position on secrecy as affecting—the extreme forms—the freedom of research and publication.
Yes. Of course, It took quite a while for AEC to get away from its almost pathological concern with secrecy. During the time when I was on this Bugus panel investigating the security in the AEC, I remember down at Argonne Laboratory they had two locations.
One was the old location in the forest preserve, and the other was the new location where they were building the buildings. And it was a matter of traveling a mile and a half or two miles. And they were experimenting at that time with the physiological effects of the injection of plutonium, and they were using rats for that. It appeared that plutonium was in the category of secret or even beyond secret—I’ve forgotten whether it was that or not.
But the classification of plutonium as a material was secret; so that if it was necessary to transport one of these experimental rats with plutonium in it from one laboratory to another, a courier was required, because only a courier could transport material that was classified as secret.
This was anticipated in 1946 when the AEC legislation was being discussed, and that’s why the institute stepped out of its role and took a stand on it.
What about AAPT during this period, the immediate post-war period? Was there anything especially significant about their activity? I imagine there was a tremendous increase in the number of physics enrollments.
Yes, there must have been.
And at the same time the institute was talking about a shortage of teachers, and this was partially helped by pre-doctoral fellowships and by research grants from the very agencies we’ve been talking about to the universities, which provided graduate students with some support, and they were also used for teachers. This I’m sure had a tremendous impact.
Well, you see, I was off the board of the AAPT at that time. I’d served my term. And so I don’t really know what went on, and I suppose something could be gleaned from the minutes of the meetings during that time.
So far they don’t really show too much about that kind of issue. I have the feeling that that concern was left to the institute. This was one of the activities that was felt to be within the institute’s domain—the concern with large-scale fellowships. And the institute helped get a system of pre-doctoral fellowships started—at NRC with a Rockefeller Foundation grant.
No, at the Science Foundation, after I left—-I’d say about ten years ago—Dick Bolt came in. I think his principal function was planning for the future. And one of the things he did was to study the production of Ph.D.’s in the different sciences. And his extrapolation indicated that we would be far short by, I think, 1970 was his target year—so far short of having enough Ph.D.’s that something really would have to be done to increase the number. Well, at the present time, out of every 15 new chemist Ph.D.’s, one will get a job, or if they’re very lucky, maybe two. In physics the number is about 25. So if we regard the present needs to be exemplified by this experience, then we overdid the production of Ph.D.’s.
Yes, I think it’s a secondary effect of money for research.
Yes. Money for fellowships and money for research. That’s right.
Let’s get back for a moment to your own career. You left Central Scientific Company. I’m curious to know about your decision to leave Central Scientific and then the subsequent affiliation with Northwestern.
I was asked by the people at Northwestern to come there to take over the administration of the Research and Technological institute and to run the graduate program in the Technological institute. This I did in 1911, and stayed with it until my retirement in 54 with the exception of the times that had to be away in Washington.
But what was the function of the Technological institute? Was it degree granting?
Well, the University grants the degrees but the Technological institute became the unit within which all engineering was encompassed- civil, chemical, mechanical, electrical, etc. And it was named Technological institute simply to have a name that would encompass all of this and maybe more, The physics and chemistry departments are up to the present located in the institutes building that you saw. Sometime in the near future they will begin work on separate buildings for physics and chemistry out on the lake-fill campus, so that each will have its own building. And then the space now occupied by physics and chemistry will be taken over by the engineering and technology activities.
Now, the expansion of the institute-that new addition that I showed you came about a number of years back when the advanced research agency of the Department of Defense wanted Northwestern, the faculty in metallurgy, in solid-state physics, in physical chemistry and in the various disciplines that had to do with the properties of materials, to engage in a large program of research on materials. And they provided the funds for building the addition in which expansion could occur to take over this research. And that is what has happened. I think Northwestern was either the first or the second of the universities selected for this.
When was this? You told me when we passed the building when the new addition was put up.
Did I tell you this?
Yes, you gave me a date.
I do not recall that.
Was it within the period that you were in charge?
No, it was after that. This was after 54. I would say offhand it was probably 6l or 62,
Once you were involved with Northwestern, other than the time you spent away on many national projects, what was the nature of your duties? The most important things that you did for the institution?
Well, naturally it amounted to administration, supervision of research projects and assisting where it appeared desirable or necessary, assisting in finding enough funds to do the research, and then on the other side of the picture, the graduate studies: we had 30 or 40 graduate students working for their doctors’ degrees. This required a certain amount of examination and discussion of the curriculum and a certain amount of conferring with the dean of the graduate school to keep everything going smoothly.
And you retired from that, real retirement, not really...
Well, I retired from that in ‘54, and then back in the middle ‘60s the president of the University asked me to come back on a year-to- year basis, and I said, “I’ll do It for a year” to serve as his adviser on the development of the science and engineering departments. And the year stretched out to two and a half years, and then fortunately they found a man who could take over. He became dean of sciences or some such.
Let me ask a final question. In reflecting back over your entire career, what are the things or the thing that gave you the most personal satisfaction?
The thing at this point that stands out as a great source of satisfaction is, I think, the reward of the effort I made during the ‘20s to get an organization started in which the physics teacher could feel that he had a place in physics. Before that, he couldn’t feel that. He was looked down upon by his research colleagues.
And It exists today, so it’s a continuing kind of satisfaction. And would you also say that that Is the thing that has had the most Impact on science, or would you identify other particular aspects of your work?
Yes, I think that It would be quite proper, as I review the picture, to say that that has had more impact on physics than the period I spent helping the director of the National Science Foundation to get things going there. Of course, it’s difficult really to make comparative appraisals of those two things. Now, of course, I shouldn’t completely overlook my 22 years on the board of directors of the AAAS.
We haven’t even talked about that.
You see, I went through the three chairs—-president-elect, president and chairman of the board. And then after another two years, they asked me to come back and serve as treasurer so that I could sit on the board, which I did until last May. As I look back on my service on the board of the AAAS, there was a good deal of uncertainty on the board— let’s say ten years ago—-about what really was the function of the AAAS.
I participated in the so-called Arden House Conference. Maybe you know about that, we drew up I think a very carefully thought-out statement of what the AAAS might do. Then after that, the board still had some feeling of uncertainty, so in one of the meetings (don’t misinterpret what I’m telling you; it’s just a statement of what happened), as I was thinking about this arid having been one of the participants of the Arden House Conference, it seemed to me that what the board ought to do to get its bearings would be to look at the purposes of the AAAS as stated by its founders.
And those purposes were clearly stated. At that time I think I was president, so I couldn’t propose It, but I passed it on to one of the members. I wrote out what I thought ought to be done—namely, that standing committees ought to be created and appointed whose responsibility it would be to look after these thing which the purposes as stated in the constitution required of the AAAS. And that was done, And only one of those committees was discontinued.
Now, if I can recite them: one of them was to promote the understanding of science or the welfare of science by way of greater interaction among the scientists. One of them was to promote a better understanding of science and its purposes. Another one was to examine into the impact of science on society. This is paraphrased, but this is essentially it. I think there were four.
There were four standing committees. One of them folded after a while, because the chairman wasn’t paying much attention to it. This was the one of promoting interchanges or communication among scientists. Of course, that has long since been so well taken care of through more meetings and more publications and so on that there really wasn’t a function left for them that existed back in the days of the founding of the AAAS.
There is a committee on meetings, though.
This I something that came out of the establishment of these standing committees.
I serve on that; that how know.
Yes, And the committee on the impact of science on human welfare, or whatever the name of it is, was the one that Barry Commoner has sparked; and it’s taken very seriously as his responsibility; and of course a great deal has come out of that committee.
Also, the Committee on Public Understanding of Science. That’s a big job. That’s a job that the Science Foundation has been interested in. think Bert Atkinson has done something to provide funds for organizations to do that. But actually there are so many ways of approaching this question of the public understanding of science, that it still is sort of a can of worms. But that, I would say, would stand second in the self-appraisal that make of what did in my career.
You mean the entire service of your involvement.
Yes, the service rendered to AAAS and particularly the service of being a participant in the Arden House Conference and coming up with this idea that there should be standing committees to carry out the functions as stated in the purposes in the constitution.
Iin reflecting on the changes that have taken place in the AAAS since you first became involved on the board, do you think that that period you’re referring to was a crisis period and in fact it found itself?
Well, I wouldn’t call it a real crisis, but it was a period when things were sort of drifting along more or less routinely, and there wasn’t really very much spark to it.
I think the biggest thing that happened to the association... Well, two things. One was getting Dael Wolfle as executive officer and two, getting Phil Abelson as editor of Science. Because after Phil took over, the number of subscriptions to Science and the growth of membership in AAAS just expanded tremendously. Of course, a decision had to be made about Science and the Scientific Monthly. There were two publications that AAAS brought out. The decision eventually after a great deal of discussion was to combine the two in Science—to discontinue the Scientific Monthly but to run review articles of some length in Science every once in a while to take the place of what the Scientific Monthly published.
Well, that was done. And then there was added, when Phil Abelson came on, this section of news—primarily what goes on in Washington in the Congress and elsewhere in the agencies with respect to science. I think every Congressman reads it, and everybody of importance in all of the agencies reads it. So it has become I think a real influence in the Washington picture.
It has a tremendous circulation.
Yes. I think the last time checked, the press run is now 160,000.
I‘m glad that my question about the things that gave you satisfaction and that had impact brought out the AAAS story, because really had neglected to ask about it although had it on the list.
Well, my interest in the AAAS I suppose came about through my general interest in the whole scientific field. That’s a simple way of putting it. It isn’t as simple as that. But as reviewed the AAAS board year5 ago when Moulton was executive secretary, I knew many of the people who were on the board; and at that time (that was prior to ‘44) I said to F. R. Moulton one day: “Why isn’t industry represented on this board, because industry has a big stake in science and you have only academic people?” And as happens sometimes, if you make a suggestion, you get caught in it; and the first thing knew I got on the board. And I stayed with it probably too long. I think my membership on the board exceeds in years by quite a number the membership of any other member of the board in the history of the association.
Well, during the period that you were involved it has emerged as very influential, but not always in the same direction, as an organization It’s very prominent.
Yes. Of course, one of the good things that has been done in the last few years is to put in Walter Berl to sort of take over the responsibility for the annual meetings and exhibits. And Walter is doing a good job.
He works me very hard as a member of the committee. Well, I think we’ve covered a tremendous amount of ground. It took many hours, but considering the number of years we covered...
Interview with Dr. Paul Klopsteg conducted on January 27, 1963 by Donald Shaughnessy at the American Institute of Physics.
Richtmyer was President of the AAPT 1937-39, and Vice-President 1935-37, and therefore a member of the Executive Board for four years from 1935-9.
The two journals were first published separately in 1930. Paul Foote was editor-in-chief and Richtmyer assistant editor-in-chief for both the earlier combined journal and the two separate journals.