Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Harrison Randall by David Dennison and W. James King on 1964 February 20, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4840-2
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Initial experiences with science during student years at University of Michigan; brief period as high school teacher; spent 1910 at Eberhard Karls Universitat in Tübingen under Friedrich Paschen, began work in infrared spectroscopy. Return to University of Michigan, 1910; appointment as chairman of Department of Physics, 1917, scientific contributions of faculty such as Ralph Sawyer, Samuel Goudsmit, George Uhlenbeck, Otto Laporte and others during 1920s; development of the department as a research institution and relationships among members. Establishment of the Michigan Summer Symposia in Theoretical Physics in the 1930s with visiting European physicists. Critical evaluations of former students. Also mentioned at some length are Nelson Fuson, John Strong, Ernest Baker, James Cork, Walter Colby and Floyd Firestone.
Well, Dr. King said that he played over the tape that we took yesterday morning and that it works very well.
You heard it?
No, I didn’t hear it; he did.
I played it over in the Union in the afternoon.
Oh, yes, I see. I don’t think you told me what you are going to do with the tape?
The tapes of these interviews are going into the historical archives at the Institute, and these will provide reference material for scholars, in the same sense that the biography which you are writing provides reference material.
Yes. And perhaps we can discuss that a little later, after the interview. But this is the kind of material we need because there are many things in a biography of this nature that is unavailable. Unless you have obtained this information from a biography or from an interview, it just doesn’t exist.
Well, Dr. King and I thought we might, for one thing, go over a little bit of the period, oh, say, the 1930s, when the department was developing and getting larger — I wouldn’t say getting larger but it certainly was developing in excellence during this period. This was the period of the symposia. Actually, there were very few staff additions during the 1930s, isn’t that correct?
You can’t come to me for that information; I don’t remember at all. Well, of course, after we got underway, the staff was fairly young. There were simply Smith and myself, I guess, that were really old.
Well, of course, Neil Williams was also about your…
Yes, he was my age.
When did Neil Williams come in?
He came in a year after I did. We were classmates in the university, except that he was in the Engineering School and I was in the Lit(?). And he practiced electrical engineering professionally for a few years, and then taught at one of the technical schools, a well-known one — I’ve forgotten the name of it. And then he came to the university about the same time; if not the same time, he came the year after I did, and we were naturally very close together.
I was trying to think of all I could remember from those days, and it seems to me that I remember a conversation with you in which you said that during the first few years that Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck and LaPorte and I were here, you had asked other department chairmen not to make raids on your young people for a couple of years. Do you remember any of that?
No, I don’t remember that. You mean around the country?
That’s right. If you did, I wonder how you managed to convince them.
Well, I don’t really…
I don’t think I manufactured it, but it’s difficult to say. Well, now, another interesting phase of the development of large departments is in a sense the development from the head of the department who really makes all the decisions is this was, I take it, the way it was when you first came in, to the present system of a chairman and executive committee which make the decisions.
Yes. Well, actually things were in my hands. I did form a committee and the committee met. I found as an actual fact that the committee always agreed with me, so…
It didn’t matter too much. Well, as I recall, before this committee was formed, you used to consult though quite frequently, of course, with Colby and Williams and then later, I think, with Ralph Sawyer and occasionally with myself on questions.
Oh, yes, that’s very, very true. In the early days, when we were first getting underway, Colby’s advice was exceedingly good and his judgment of men was very good. And Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck were Colby’s choices; he picked them out in Europe. It seems queer, but later after he retired, he had a career altogether different in Washington. What did he do in Washington?
Well, at the beginning he — after he left here I think in about 1948 — resumed some of the work that he had done during the war, which was with the Intelligence of the AEC, and ne kept on with that for two or three years. Then after that he went with the Academy of Sciences. He had an office there and it had to do with bringing over distinguished foreign visitors.
Yes. He’s just 10 years about younger than I am. We’ve been together in some ways in very intimate connection and then we, on the other hand, are so very different that we don’t ordinarily associate together.
During this same period, as I remember the development of sponsored research was going on. During the early ‘30s, my recollection is that there was industrial research for, oh, the auto companies, and Geiger did some work for the…
Yes, I think that might be explained a little at length. I believe in the part that physics could play in industrial research. I never believed what some of my colleagues in other universities did about pure physics; they wouldn’t indulge in anything except pure physics; to contaminate their work with industrial research was something to be avoided at all costs. And one of those men was the professor of physics at Wisconsin. What was his name?
Was that Mendenhall?
Yes, Mendenhall. Well, I never believed in that. I was sitting in with a group of men — they were older than I — and they were discussing the fact that they thought they should limit the number of Ph.D.s in physics that they turned out because there was no opening for them other than in teaching, and I didn’t believe that at all. While they were talking about six or eight, we had here at Michigan a dozen or 18, and I’d found out that our Ph.D. men who went into industry and succeeded in it were very happy in it. I thought there was an unlimited future for them.
Was there a very great demand for physicists in industry, say, in the ‘20s?
Well, it was just beginning, just beginning, but it seemed to me that the prospects were quite without limit, and I didn’t think that I should limit the number of people who came up and wanted Ph.D. degrees on the basis that there was no opening for them, because I was sure there would be.
Now, in those days, the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, most of the sponsored research which we did in the department was for industry and not for the government. That is correct, isn't it?
Well, yes, I think that’s right and the understanding was that if we undertook a job for some industry that it had to be in a field we ourselves were interested in and the department would be strengthened by having that field developed. And they were to furnish a first-classed man, not in the staff but from the outside, someone that we’d bring in, to carry on all the work. He was to do all the work, supervise all the work. But over him there would be one member of the staff who was familiar with the work and in that way would see that the department was represented in the work and acquired whatever advantages might come from it.
Did the funds from this kind of research go into the Physics Department or did it go into the university as a whole?
I don’t think so, not at that time anyway. I know that it went on until we had several of those researches going on whereas each one had a man at the head of it, like Geiger…
Geiger and Abbott.
And Abbott, yes. …I found out that I couldn’t look after them as much as had to be done, and they were getting money for it and I wasn’t getting a cent. So, I think for a while there was a charge put on for me. No, I don’t know how much that was.
Well, my recollection is that White did everything on his own, kept his own books, and when he thought a department had a claim on some of the overhead money, some of the funds that had come in, why then he allocated it. But he was the sole judge of that.
Well, I had some percentage of it in some way or other. It was under our control, not his, until the Depression, and when the Depression came I had no money at all to keep these men going, and White did have money, so he took over them. After that, the Engineering Research was in his hands and we dropped off as fast as we could.
If I might just give my own version to see how it compares with you, it started out, this sponsored research, as pure industrial work. Geiger’s work was on vacuum cleaners; Abbott was talking about the surfaces in machining operations for the auto industry; Barker actually went down to Pittsburgh to take the infrared spectrum of the steel furnaces, and so on. And during the late ‘30s, when I was a member of the executive committee, as I remember, there were quarrels that began developing — let’s say arguments — between the department and White, representing the Engineering Research. And this was because in a sense the industrial character, the volume, everything, was increasing, and I think we were beginning to turn at that time back towards what you might call basic research. This didn’t actually take place to full extent until after the war, but, you see, at the moment we have a huge volume of sponsored research but every bit of it is basic research and none of it is industrial. So, here is this problem of a transition between pure industrial and pure basic, and I think that the quarrel that developed between Engineering Research and ourselves in the late ‘30s must have been part of this transition period.
I daresay it was, yes.
Because it was very industrial at the outset. I mean, it was not really much of what we would call basic research. Well, let’s see, I’m not sure how far more we can go in this direction. I’m afraid I’m talking more than I’m getting Professor Randall to talk.
This is part of the record, too.
One of the remarkable things, Mr. Randall, was how you were able to keep everyone in the department happy, although we were quite different.
They weren’t all happy as an actual fact. Kent wasn’t happy. Meyer wasn’t happy, and I think, as I’ve thought of it in recent years, I was probably wrong. I refused him promotion to full professorship, and the reason was that he had done very well in his research and in his publications, and then he had written a very excellent text in light, and he was then in what I would say was the height of his career. And then he didn’t do anything, as far as I could see; he just stopped. Well, I thought he should have kept on.
I know some of these things…
I’m sorry in a good many ways, because he’s such a nice man, and to have been cut off with an associate professorship seems kind of tough.
Well, I think that was in accord with the general university policy of those days. Now, the policy has changed and the great decision comes between an assistant and an associate. If you become an associate professor, then you will almost certainly become a full professor. I know there were difficulties all right, and Professor Randall had in many ways a much wiser and a more forward-looking attitude than many of the others. I’ll tell you one that I regret now, although this is a conversation I had with Mr. Randall — oh, this must have been about 1937 or ‘38. I think you had taken me home in a car and we were stopping to talk, and you asked whether it would be a good idea to make a great effort and try to get Fermi to come here on the regular staff and what did I think of the idea. Well, this was characteristic you see; you would ask various people. At that time, I had the feeling that there was a certain amount of tension existing in the staff, not bad at all but a certain amount, and that bringing someone else in at what would have to be a very superior position would make quite a good deal of trouble. And so, I was kind of advising against it, not very strongly, but at least advising against it. And I remember your phrase to me, “Well, there were times when one just had to boldly take a chance on these things and go on ahead.” Now, actually, nothing came of it. I don’t know whether you went forward on this or not.
I never did ask him to become a member; I don’t know now why not.
Well, I should have advised you to go ahead, you see, but I guess I was caught up in just the small everyday frictions…
I worked very hard for everybody who was on the staff. I think most of the men realized that I was doing it so that when things came up that would normally produce difficulties, they accepted them.
How did you solve problems in the department when there was friction in the department, because sometimes in a department personalities develop to a point where…
I don’t think friction ever developed to the extent that people weren’t talking to each other or were making difficulties for each other in one way or another. So far as I know it never happened.
That’s quite true. It never happened. I’m talking about, oh, just the everyday feeling about things, and this was a question, you see of judgment. Was it worthwhile in inviting Fermi to come in that it would indeed risk a certain increase in the inherent tensions that were always there? Was it a risk that was worth accepting, and at the moment, I thought, at that time it was not. If I were doing it now, I certainly wouldn’t say that, but this was my impression at that moment.
That one time, the question of Fermi coming here, came to a halt when Mrs. Fermi’s father, who was an admiral in the Italian Navy was very sick, and he didn’t want to leave. So, it may be that at that time I really did think that he might join the staff. I don’t have any definite recollections of asking permission to put him onto the staff.
I don’t think it went further than just these discussions that you had. Well, one of the things that you were very successful with, and that is a constant problem now in the university, is the problem of developing loyalties to the department and to the university. These young people who come in initially have no inherent loyalty at all; they are perfectly willing to move anyplace, wherever the opportunities are the greater, and it’s hard for them to realize the steady progress which we’re making here. I think we do get a good deal of that across but it’s a constant problem, I think in all departments of the university, and it’s more acute than it was earlier. But you were particularly successful in developing this kind of loyalty.
Dr. King wrote down some names of physicists of this era and I wonder if you might be interested in commenting on any of them. First, I notice that he has put down whether you want to comment on any of your graduate students whom you think have been particularly successful.
(laughter) Of course, we have one illustration here. And then we have Ralph Sawyer who is Dean of the Graduate School here. And, well, we have a full professor of physics at the University of Illinois, Dayton, I think. He was one of Sawyer’s first students and Sawyer had a second one at that time who is now head of the Experimental Research Department of General Motors, or he’s head of one of the research divisions. I haven’t been able to remember his name though.
Is that Martin?
Martin. Yes. And, well, we have men all over the country.
Yes, I was thinking more particularly of people who worked with you, such as John Strong, who was one of these.
Oh, yes, John Strong is now head of one of the experimental divisions at Johns Hopkins. He worked with me particularly in developing large artificial crystals. There’s Nelson Fuson, who is now head of the Department of Physics at Fisk University. He was born in China; his parents were missionaries, and he had in him not only a very strong scientific sense but the missionary sense, too. So that he would not be satisfied with a position in a department like this, but he finds that, as head of the Physics Department at Fisk University, it is just what he wants. He feels that he is doing something besides teaching physics to those Negro students down there. In fact, the wife of the president told me that the first year he was there; he wanted to revolutionize everything so that everybody did everything together, that there would be no sort of layers of rank to be seen in the university. Now, who else?
Well, one might go back to Strong? Of course, one of the things we remember him for is in connection with the growth of the crystals, but actually what Strong was doing for his thesis was developing with you an infrared spectrometer. That was the essential part or his thesis.
I think that was right, that was probably true.
And in a sense, wouldn’t you say that that spectrometer is the forerunner of all of these commercial spectrometers, like the Perkin-Elmer and so on, that it was the one which really…
Do you remember any particular features of that spectrometer that make it unique?
We have to change the tape.
…So that you had spectra that were overlying each other, higher orders on top of lower orders. And then radiation from that complex spectrum sent through a prism which separated out the different arcs.
Now, can we go back here to the Strong instrument. The Strong instrument though — it was his thesis, I think, but on the other hand, I think it was your design in getting it going — was a pure prism, instrument, as I remember. Was it not true that one of the principal features there was to obtain fairly high resolving power with the prism? That was the special feature of that spectrometer, which made it good.
We even went to the point, didn’t we, of going through the prism by a mirror and then coming back. I’m not sure but what we didn’t have — we went through a prism, and then instead of hitting a mirror, we went through a half-prism, the plane face of which was silver. So that instead of backing up a prism with a plain mirror, we used that half-prism and gained the refraction of a third prism, so in fact we were working with three prisms. Is that clear?
Yes. And, of course, one of the things that became necessary then was to be able to calibrate this instrument carefully, because up to this point, I guess, prism instruments were very rough in what their wave lengths meant.
That’s true. There were certain fairly well-established points, temperature points: the boiling point of mercury and the boiling point of sulfur and things of that sort. One Sunday afternoon I was working in the laboratory and was calibrating a thermometer with the boiling point of mercury, and while it was getting to constant condition, I was at the balance doing some weighing, and saw from the corners of the aluminum weights I saw little trees growing right out. Well, now, people have said that mercury vapor was awfully poisonous but I never felt anything from that.
Maybe that’s what makes you live long.
Well, you know, the university came around a year or two ago, hunted all over the floors for various small globules of mercury that may have been spilled because it was so poisonous.
Well, some of the names that are down here — I don’t know whether you especially would like to comment on them — Michelson. Did you ever have very much to do with Michelson?
Personally, I never had anything to do with Michelson, except to ask him to make lama me some of his plates, and be agreed to do that. But, beyond that, I don’t know. I know I wrote to him and had his reply, but I can’t remember meeting him personally and certainly I wouldn’t say he was an acquaintance of mine. But Milliken I knew much better.
Well, you might want to comment a little bit about your acquaintance with Millikan.
Well, I wouldn’t…
That was during the period when he was at Chicago, or was it…
Yes, that was when he was in Chicago. My acquaintance with Millikan wasn’t at all close. I was entertaining him and Mrs. Millikan here once at dinner over at the Union, and right in the midst of the dinner, one of the cords that go to my hearing aid broke, so I couldn’t talk with them at all. That isn’t much of a comment on Millikan. He’s too well known for me to comment upon him. He didn’t have much influence on us in the department here, as far as I know.
Except that he was probably the one that recommended Ralph Sawyer to you.
Oh, no, I don’t like that at all. There’s a story going around that a couple of the men got to know him before — I don’t know — outside the university. The reason I brought Sawyer here was the fact that he worked out a method of measuring spectra down to 900 Angstroms, and he did it during the year when Millikan was largely away. I knew he did that and it seemed to me that if he did that while Millikan was away, he was a pretty good man. I went after him for that reason. Now, as far as I know, nobody had anything to do with recommending him to me.
Let’s see. The next name down here is R. W. Wood.
Oh, yes. I knew R. W. Wood fairly well. Oh, I say fairly well; I guess that’s an exaggeration. I knew him, I’d met him several times, and I knew his head better than I knew him. That was Professor Ames at Johns Hopkins. Ames was a scholar rather than a research person, and he liked to have things neat around, and Wood was an experimentalist who was — how do you say it: his laboratory was all which way — anything but neat. So, they didn’t get along, and Wood complained about Ames’s cleaning things up. I didn’t know Wood too well. I thought very highly of what he did.
I’m just trying to remember if there were some other connections, but I can’t think now.
Did you know Professor Rowland at all?
No, no. I was a student when he was at Johns Hopkins and I know how impressed I was with the fact that his ruling engine was down in a hole in the ground under the ordinary floors of the building in order to be free from vibrations and temperature changes while he ruled his gratings. He was just beyond me. He was — oh, yes, isn’t he the man that said at the examination when somebody asked who the first physicist in this country was, “I am.” Some of his friends afterwards said, “That wasn’t altogether becoming of you to say,” and Rowland said, “Well, I was under oath. I had to.” I don’t know how much truth there is in that. Well, you can see, David, I’m more or less a lone man. I never used to in all my experimentation work with other people; I never studied with other people. While I knew these people, I’m not a person who readily makes friends. I don’t know how to make friends.
Well, I can appreciate that because I think I’m much the same temperament. While I am acquainted with a great number of people, I’m afraid that this is where lots of it stops. I might just go back over one thing once more is that the usual situation in physics is that original work, the original ideas, all come when a man is quite young. I can remember Goudsmit making the remark, and he probably has to you as well as to me, that no one ever does anything that he hasn’t dreamed of doing before he was 25 years old; that his tools get better but that the things that really motivate him are all early. And yet, when we look at your career and the many things that you’ve done, they seem to start at the age of 40 and not in the twenties at all. Have you any way of accounting for this?
Well, all right, but I think you’re giving me too much credit. I don’t think that I’m the type of man that Goudsmit was talking about. I’ve done a great many things and I’ve developed them, but when you come right down to it, what have I actually started that was itself new?
Well, I can tell you one thing, and this, again, is one of the things I remember in conversations with you much earlier, and that is that you had the dream, the campaign, the motivation that you wanted to measure spectra in the infrared with as great accuracy as spectra were being measured in the visible. This was something that has never been done, and you did it for the first time, and from that sprang a great whole area of research. Here was something which demanded imagination.
That’s true, but I don’t regard that as an achievement of first rank.
Oh, I think it is, though. I mean, all new areas opened up with this notion that you’re going to…
Well, Bohr discovered the existence of an electron. I regard that as an achievement of the first rate.
Well, there are various kinds of first rates.
Well, I’m glad you feel that way about me.
When you were in your twenties you certainly couldn’t have had any notion about trying to improve the accuracy of resolving power in the infrared because you hadn’t really started in this field at all in your twenties, had you? Actually, you weren’t doing any research when you were 25 years old.
Well, let’s see. No, I didn’t do much of any physics. I was teaching in high school when I was 25, in fact until I was 28 years old. All that time Millikan was in Berlin working while I was teaching high school; I always thought he had a big jump on me.
It’s very remarkable that with this start, without having opportunities of seeing what was going on at this point, that later, at the age of 40, you were able to really catch on and go into the forefront of research. I think that’s a remarkable thing, and perhaps of even the same kind of remarkableness is that after you retired you started in a new field of work.
I brought you some material on that work this morning. I’d like to have you look it over.
Very good. Well, actually, I think maybe I’d better be on my way. I think I probably…
I’m interested in your impressions of these various men; for instance, Professor Dennison was asking about R. W. Wood, Michelson and Millikan. Did you happen to know Theodore Lyman at Harvard?
Yes, I liked Lyman very much. He was a very modest individual. I’m no mixer and I have an inferiority complex which keeps me from associating with these people. I could have become well acquainted with these people that you’re talking to me about if I’d been normal. I just don’t. When I go to a meeting I stay by myself unless somebody comes to me. That’s a very big handicap in many ways. And then I don’t know when I first became deaf so that I couldn’t hear, but that has been a big handicap, too. It’s only recently that these better hearing aids have been developed, and even now I get along very well with you or three of us; if there were five or six people here and all talking, then I would be in trouble right away.
So, this does make it difficult when you can’t follow a conversation. I think you said Professor Firestone made your first hearing aid. Is this correct?
No, I said that he was interested in this line of research; he had nothing to do with my hearing. No. He made binaural problem of hearing his first research, and after that was finished, as I told you, I suggested that he go into high frequency radiation, and he’s made a fortune out of that.
Well, I’d like to go way back to Professor Reed. You worked for him and did infrared work under him.
I had my work in light under him.
How did this start? Did he have a personal interest in infrared work?
No, I don’t think he did. I don’t think he had any interest in it at all. He went over to Germany and in one year obtained a Doctor’s degree at Jena. And Jena at that time, and perhaps even now, is a city where glass is manufactured, and he became interested in glass. He brought back with him a very fine prism that he picked up there, and after he came back taught sound and light in the department. I had, I think by that time, been up and taught in Saginaw and then came back for advanced work, and Reed had been in Saginaw as principal, so he sort of had an interest in me for that reason. We got along together very well. He was interested in my going to Germany, and I named my younger boy after him. I felt toward Reed and Paschen — well, if you read over what I wrote — I feel greatly indebted to those two men.
What do you feel was their greatest contribution in terms of your own development? What do you feel it was that they did that contributed to your own development?
Yes, I did. I had my first real strong feelings about my work under Reed. He did that for me, I’m quite sure.
Did he come and work with you in the laboratory? Was he a good supervisor?
When I first knew him he was just back from Europe, and I was taking my first course in physics, and the lecturer was Professor Carhart, the head of the department, but Professor Reed came in and showed some experiments, which interested me a good deal. He, apparently, thought he saw something in me and I think he tried to develop it.
How about Professor Paschen? You said that you owed a considerable amount to him?
What was it that you owed to Professor Paschen?
Well, the fact, I guess, that he was the first spectroscopist, I would say, at that time, not only in Germany but in Europe, anywhere. And he not only treated me as an experimentalist but he treated me as a friend, and his wife was exceedingly good to my wife and my children. We were over there for the better part of a year and, subsequently, we kept up a correspondence as long as he was alive, and I still correspond with his granddaughter now. She sent me pictures of her children, so… I have that feeling for that family, almost as if it were my own. They had very hard luck. Paschen’s boy was one of the Germans the Russians sent into Siberia; they never heard from him after that, and he was left simply with his daughter. I hear from her, but it’s her daughter that I correspond with.
Well, Paschen had a close relationship with his graduate students then or with the men who worked in his laboratory; he had an intimate relationship with them. Was this usual?
Well, I went over there, and we were the first Americans who ever appeared in Tübingen. The city wasn’t very big and I was a professor, and he treated me as one. I didn’t know the slightest thing about spectroscopy when I went over there more than what I knew when I got out of the high school, and out of those conditions you wonder that a man would have turned out to be so friendly at the end of just one year.
Well, this is very remarkable.
Yes, it is. I don’t altogether understand it, but that’s the way it was. But I worked awfully hard during that year.
Did Professor Paschen have many graduate students, or were you the only one?
I don’t know. I don’t think you’d say he did. I can’t remember any I got well enough acquainted with to see them. No, I don’t think he did have very many. He had, though, a very large lecture section in which he showed experiments, and the work went into what we at that time thought at that time were our beginning graduate courses.
Did Professor Sommerfeld ever come to visit Paschen?
No, not as far as I know. In fact, Paschen wanted to come to America — he was very curious — and the regents had appointed him to a lectureship here, and then he was elected to the presidency of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt and couldn’t come. Then the war came on and, unfortunately, he was in the Russian zone of Berlin, and one winter he died with pneumonia; he didn’t have any fire in his apartment.
Let me ask a very general question. You have had many very important achievements. Which of your achievements do you feel has given you the most pleasure?
Oh — well, I think the work that I — is represented in the far infrared perhaps. I was doing that right up to the time of my retirement. I retired in ‘42, and I presented the material in this as a presidential address at the American Physical Society in 1937. That was three years before I retired. And I think I enjoyed that sort of thing most of anything, though when I was young I was carried away with just measuring expansions. Anything of that sort I became intensely interested in. There’s one thing about all of this which is very, very seldom mentioned and that is one’s wife, what she has to do. As an actual fact, I don’t think my career would have been anything at all like what it has been if I hadn’t had the kind of wife I have. It seems too bad that in my write-up of myself I didn’t mention her, but I didn’t think just a paragraph at the end was adequate, and since it wasn’t adequate, I didn’t see that anything could be done.
I think you mentioned in our discussion yesterday that she had been quite important in establishing a good tone in the department.
Oh, yes, I would say that is very, very true. There were some very difficult situations in the department, and the fact that they didn’t break the department open and cause a good deal of hard feelings was largely due to the fact that the women all liked each other largely through my wife’s getting them together. I think they got together every month. They liked each other and they didn’t allow trouble to develop.
Well, I want to thank you, Professor Randall.
Well, it has been quite an experience for me.
Well, I hope it hasn’t been too unpleasant.
Oh, no, no.