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Interview of Ralph Sawyer by Charles Weiner on 1970 September 24, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4856-2
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Sawyer’s role in Optical Society of America, comments on A. Hardy and OSA internal crisis; changing conceptions of the Optical Society reflect changing nature of the field (1930s); Sawyer’s relation to the AIP as Chairman of the Board and Acting Director; disputes over Institute functions -- role of Hutchisson; comments on role of director, overview of AIP orientation.
Just to identify the tape, I will say that this is another interview with Dr. Ralph A. Sawyer by Charles Weiner and today is September 24th. We are in the Physics and Astronomy Building in Dr. Sawyer’s office, at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. And what we want to discuss today is your involvement, your role and your knowledge of certain events in the Optical Society and in the American Institute of Physics. Let me ask, if you remember, when you joined the Optical Society?
I can find that out in just a minute.
The specific date is not important. I just wanted to find out if you joined it because you felt it was important for your research work. What kind of a feeling did you have about the Optical Society as compared to, say, the American Physical Society?
My membership in the Physical Society goes back to about 1922, I think. I joined the Optical Society in 1926, and for a simple reason: when I did my doctoral dissertation at Chicago (I finished it up in 1919), spectroscopic papers were not published in The Physical Review. My thesis was published in the Astrophysical Journal, which was the only journal at that time that published spectroscopic material, although an abstract of a paper presented by Millikan at a Physical Society meeting in New York in 1918 appeared in the Physical Review. The Optical Society, however, was interested in spectroscopy, although if you look at the early Journal of the Optical Society you will find that they were interested primarily in color, geometrical optics, and physical optics. But I joined the Optical Society because of their interest in spectroscopy, because spectroscopic papers could be published there, and you will find that most of my early papers were published in the Optical Society. You might look at the bibliography and see.
Yes, I will. It would probably be in the 1920’s that we are talking about that you joined. It would be after your degree, not as a student?
Yes, that’s right. My first paper in the Optical Society Journal was 1926. I see previous to that they were published in the Astrophysical Journal. There are two Physical Review Abstracts in 1924; and short letters in Science and Nature in 1925 and 1926 — but I began publishing in the Optical Society in 1926.
Was there a difference in the type of work that you were doing which dictated that you publish more there? Did that paper represent any departure in the things you were doing?
It was part of the same pattern?
Yes, that’s right, it was all spectroscopy. My work at Chicago, my thesis, was with R. A. Millikan who was very prominent in the Physical Society. He was annoyed that spectroscopy did not appear in the Physical Review. After I finished, I. S. Bowen was his next student in spectroscopy, and Millikan’s prestige was enough to bring spectroscopy back into the Physical Review. And I see that I had a paper in the Physical Review by 1930, and from 1930 on for a number of years then I did publish in the Physical Review because it was the bigger journal.
Did this have anything to do with the fact that spectroscopy was coming back into the notice of people who were concerned with quantum mechanics and with nuclear physics, especially?
The publication of spectroscopy in the Physical Review indicated that it had become apparent that spectroscopic analysis, the series analysis of spectral lines, did give information on atomic structure, and so this made it of wider interest to physicists.
I think we did get into that in our earlier session. But, when you joined the Optical Society, you were saying that you did so because it gave you a sense of community of interest because of your work in spectroscopy and these were people who not only were willing to appreciate spectroscopy but apparently who were doing the same thing. Was that the case? Did you find that at meetings you would talk to people about spectroscopy?
Yes, you would find people at that time who were interested in spectroscopy. My first paper in the Physical Review was 1930 — that would be after I had been in Germany in 1926 and 1927 as a Guggenheim Fellow and had started doing analysis of spectral series with Paschen. It was just at that time when the Bohr theory was coming along.
At that time, do you recall any of the meetings of the Optical Society in these early days before you became involved actively yourself? There were some joint meetings — you know, there was one in 1936, I think — a joint meeting of all the AIP member societies which was a special meeting. I wonder if you recall that. The Optical Society, The Physical Society, and so forth, met together, but ordinarily their meetings were separate.
When do you think that was?
That was 1936.
That would have been the Fifth Anniversary of the Institute.
Yes, that was the occasion of it.
No, I don’t remember much about that.
But did you see the Optical Society as being more of your primary professional organization than the American Physical Society?
Yes, that is certainly true. I always attended at least one meeting a year of the Physical Society, but I never felt that I was really active in that as I was in the Optical Society.
I see, and you were active because it related most closely to your own research interests?
Now, as far as when you began to play a role within the Society, the earliest we can find is that, in the records you have here, in 1951 you were serving on a committee for an award, the Adolph Lomb Committee for the Lomb Medal. Apparently, you must have been Chairman of it because you were writing on behalf of the Committee to Meggers who was president of the Society.
In the thirties — of course, these were the depression years anyway — the membership in the Optical Society was nearly constant at about 500 or 600 members throughout. If you look at the chart of the growth of the Optical Society, at the figures, you will see that a big change in the size of the Optical Society took place about 1941 or 1942. And this was actually due to the entrance into the Optical Society of applied spectroscopists.
Where had they been previously?
Nowhere. I think there had been no actual society for them, and finally the Optical Society stimulated by George Harrison began to welcome them. This action doubled the size of the Optical Society in a very few years, as you can see, and it was shortly after that then that there was a feeling in the Society that the applied spectroscopists should be represented on the governing board. This was the reason that I was nominated and elected as a member of the Board of the Optical Society in 1941.
Does this imply too that the number of people working in applied spectroscopy had increased a great deal?
It had increased very rapidly, yes.
And the primary reason for that was a combination, I would think, of things, of industrial uses — what else would you attribute it to?
It was because of the growth of spectro-chemistry, or determination of chemical composition of metals and other substances. Places that were very active in this were the University of Michigan, M.I.T. and Pittsburgh, and to some extent Rochester. It was largely because of the work of Duffendack and myself in spectro-chemistry at the University of Michigan and of work in several Detroit industries that the second local section in the Optical Society was the section in Detroit which was organized and which was taken in in 1947. I think this was partly because in 1945 the people in Detroit started a society called the Michigan Society of Spectroscopy, and the Optical Society felt that this would represent a bad split in the optics field unless applied spectroscopy could be brought in into the Optical Society. So the Detroit section came in in 1947, the Niagara Frontier came in in 1948 and the Ohio Valley came in in 1948. These were all made up of people who were basically interested in industrial spectroscopy and spectro-chemistry.
And at the same time you pointed out that when the discussion of local sections had come up earlier that the attitude of Arthur Hardy, the Secretary of the Society, was that even though they had special interests they had to share the over-all aims of the Society. But this doesn’t mean that the local composition necessarily had to represent the spectrum of interests — it could very well be people who were exclusively interested in applied spectroscopy, but willing to accept the larger goals of the organization.
That is certainly so. The first Chairman of the Detroit Section was Rassweiler from General Motors, who was certainly an applied spectroscopist, and other names who’d been active in the Michigan Society of Spectroscopy were Edgar from Federal Mogul, Shields from Packard, Boettner from Wyandotte Chemical — they were all applied spectroscopists.
What effect did the War have on the activity in applied spectroscopy, because the membership figures that we are talking about in OSA which jump in that period, you say reflects the entrance of the applied spectroscopists? But did the War have any effect on increasing the demand for people in that field?
Yes, let me find the membership — you have the membership figures?
Mine is the overall ones which give not every year, so that the one I have here gives 1943.
Let me find that. The number of members grew all right straight through the War as you can see. It grew very rapidly. There was an increase in applied spectroscopy, certainly, during the War. The reason I went into the Navy was because of my interest in applied spectroscopy. The Navy wanted me to install equipment at the Naval Proving Ground. And I’m sure a good many laboratories during the War that had to do precision work in alloy steels and other metals found that spectro-chemistry was the way to measure and to control the composition.
Do you recall any shortage of people in the field which would have prompted the government to support some emergency training programs?
No, I don’t.
Because it would be an interesting thing to see if the Optical Society itself was asked to do anything of that sort?
Not to my knowledge.
Now, your entry in Optical Society affairs as a result of the growth of involvement of applied spectroscopists occurred during the war period. Were there regular meetings of the Board during that period?
I don’t have a file of the Board meetings of that period. However, Society meetings were held at least once a year.
When do you recall getting involved in a serious way in terms of having to do with the Society and with its issues, because during the War your mind was on other things?
I was a member of the Board in 1943 and 1944 during the presidency of Pfund, because I remember meetings where he presided over the Board. I became active in the affairs of the Optical Society when I was elected Vice-President, which meant that I was President-Elect of the Optical Society, in 1953. That also brought me on to the Board of the Institute of Physics.
Yes, you went on the Board of the Institute as the OSA representative in 1954, which would have probably been appropriate because their appointments are made around March, timed with the annual meeting.
Yes. The things that I remember best about being on the Board of the Institute of Physics was trying to get better relationships between the Optical Society and the Institute of Physics. You’ll find from the letters of Hardy that about the only thing he was willing to have the Institute do was help in publishing the journals. He did not want them to collect dues or carry on any activities for the Optical Society. He felt that he was competent to do that. The Society had been a small society up until about 1940 when it began to grow very rapidly.
Was he in fact able to handle these functions when it grew so rapidly?
Yes, he had a very excellent assistant, Miss Beman, who in fact I think did a large part of the work. I don’t know who employed her — either he or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology must have employed her — I don’t think the Optical Society paid her salary. She was his secretary and also a member of the Society and she handled a large part of the work.
But, a large part of the work — let’s say that the membership in 1943 was 1900 — that is hard to keep up with, I would think. When you were on the Institute Board, was there unanimity in the Optical Society in terms of what its relationship to the Institute should be in those early years of 1954 and 1955?
I think there was. There was complaining by Hardy that you will find in this letter from Hardy.
I would like to cover that. Let’s talk first about the Optical Society before we get into the other part of AIP. Hardy is going to come into our story constantly now, so we might as well talk a little bit about him. I don’t know that there is really very solid documentation of his style and his approach and his relationships within the Society, so it would be good to talk about that — to describe what kind of a man he was and how he saw his role in the Society and how others reacted to it. We might start by talking about his particular research interests and then lead into these other topics.
Hardy’s research interests were in applied optics, especially photography, color, and photometry. He is best known for his development of a spectrophotometer, which was built by General Electric Company, and which I think is still on the market — so that he was in applied optics, but not in spectroscopy except in this way. He was a pretty positive and methodical man, and he was Secretary of the Society for seventeen years. I don’t think anybody else wanted the job. It obviously got to be more and more work. Hardy grew up with it and had a good secretary and was able to handle the job. And I think enjoyed it.
It was the only position of continuity in the Society, wasn’t it?
Yes. In those days, the President did hold office for two years. A man would be Vice-President for two years and then President for two years, so that at least he would have four years connection with the affairs of the Society.
But in his role of being the continuing officer, did he try to prescribe to the incoming officers what the affairs of the Society should be, what the precedents are, what the protocol was?
Yes, I think he felt it was his duty to educate each President. He wrote the minutes and you will find correspondence about what form the minutes should take and how detailed they should be. You will find a letter from me saying that in my experience with a good many meetings and committees minutes varied from telegraphic form which gave only actions carried out to the Congressional Record which was a detailed verbatim report of everything that took place. Hardy used to write pretty full minutes. The only objection people had to them was that sometimes people felt that they represented Hardy’s opinions rather than what was actually said—that they were not always completely impartial.
As far as his opinions, were there very often differences of opinion between Hardy and other members of the Board, and, if so, on what kinds of issues?
I don’t remember any marked differences of opinion up until the time that I was President. Then there was a feeling, as you will find in the letters, that the Society had gotten so big that the Board of Directors should be enlarged to give better representation to all fields of optics and that there should be another Vice-President appointed, and other changes. So there was a committee headed by Walter Baird which made a report on the subject. The thing that brought matters to a head was a meeting of the Optical Society at Lake Placid in October 1956. We met at Lake Placid because Hardy wanted to meet there. He felt the Society ought to have some of its meetings in places away from the distractions of big cities and that we should have one meeting a year somewhere in some small place. He pretty much insisted on having the meeting at Lake Placid. It was not a very convenient place to meet in those days. Both the train and plane connections were poor. I found out too late that the Lake Placid Club had a discriminatory policy about membership which caused a little trouble. You will find correspondence about that. The report was brought in for changing the by-laws of the Society.
The Board discussed this and Hardy announced that he was going to retire from MIT in a couple of years and he would retire then as Secretary and he would like to get everything in order, and he wasn’t quite ready to write the new constitution, but he’d do it in the next year or two. Finally, there was a motion, I think by Walter Baird, and unanimously adopted that there was to be a change in the by-laws which meant changes in the structure and so on. When the minutes came out of that meeting, it turned out, according to Hardy’s minutes, that there had been no adoption of such a resolution but that it had been the sense of the meeting that this kind of change should take place. This precipitated trouble — in fact, I remember there was trouble while we were at Lake Placid. After the Board meeting I had retired. I was in my pajamas and bathrobe and I was waited on by a delegation from the Board who insisted that we should get together immediately and have a meeting to discuss the by-law action and Hardy’s position that he wanted a couple of years to plan the society’s reorganization. We did have a midnight meeting to discuss the situation without Hardy. As I say, when the minutes came out, they said there were one or two things that were reported to be the sense of the meeting. There was immediate objection. You’ll find correspondence, letters from Baird to me, and from Tousey, and one or two others saying that they could not accept this.
I wrote a letter to Hardy in which I said that it was the opinion of myself and of the other members of the Board with whom I had talked that there had been a positive action, that it should appear in the minutes as an action, and that the by-laws should be so written up. You will find a letter from Hardy saying that my letter had been a peremptory order from me, and that he felt this was not proper — it was not a Board action — and that the situation had now come down to a matter of confidence in him. Unless the Board of Directors supported him, the writing up of these by-laws should be his last action for the Optical Society. The Board of Directors voted unanimously to support my position. So then Hardy did write a letter of resignation, and I think while we regretted losing a long-time faithful officer, most people felt his usefulness had ended. You will find the correspondence where we looked around to get a successor.
It was Gibson who took over.
Right. Gibson had been a past President of the Society and had much interest in it, and he agreed to take over temporarily. You will find that I had to do a little diplomatic work with Miss Beman because she was loyal to Hardy. At one time she threatened to quit and call in packers and ship all the papers out in a box. This was ironed out, and she did help with the transition very well.
How did the by-laws get done? Were they done as ordered? Did Hardy have any subsequent connection with the Society?
The by-laws were turned out. When the next Society meeting was to be held, which was in New York, you will find correspondence between me and Harrison and others about trying to honor Hardy and recognize his long service to the Society at the banquet. He refused to attend the banquet. It was perhaps just as well because, as he said, what could he say about severing his connection with the Society.
So he didn’t come?
He didn’t come. Hardy was given the Frederic Ives Medal at the Columbus meeting in October 1957. This was following his resignation. It was during my presidency and I presented it to him. It went off very well, actually.
He had resigned a year earlier? Was it in 1956 or was it in the first year of your presidency?
He resigned in January 1957.
But the Ives Medal was following then. And he retired, and what is the rest of the story with Hardy? He’s not alive now?
Yes, he is.
I didn’t know. It would be interesting to see what he is doing these days. He retired from MIT then a few years after that? I have no information.
Yes. I haven’t seen him for a long time. He hasn’t attended another meeting of the Optical Society, I believe, since the one at which he got the Ives Medal.
Was this a case of someone who grew up with a Society, felt a deep loyalty to it, but was unable to recognize the need for change?
I think it was a failure to recognize the need for change or rapid growth of a Society and the need to recognize new fields and new activities.
Well, you think of Karl Darrow who came up in the early days of the Physical Society but was able to adapt very well to the need for change. Although he had certain resistances to it, he was at the same time as innovative as anyone else to adapt to new circumstances. But I guess it is a matter of temperament.
It is partly a matter of temperament; but I think it is partly a matter of the job that Darrow had at the Bell Telephone Labs. His job there was to keep in touch with the development of physics, and he wrote review articles and one or two books on modern physics. Up to the time he retired from the Bell Labs, he was very well informed on developments and progress in physics. So he couldn’t be, I think, as narrow as Hardy was.
You mean because of his broad technical view?
The overview of the content of the subject?
Yes, he was interested in theoretical physics although he did an experimental thesis with Millikan, which I think maybe was the only time he ever had his hands on any research equipment. He worked with Millikan on one of the phases of the oil drop experiment. Millikan had a number of doctoral dissertations then on viscosity of various gases and various problems that had to do with the determination of the charge on the electron.
And Darrow’s books and his review articles every year are still the best source for an historian to know what was going on at the time because he was able to put together these things beautifully.
Yes, he was one of the best-informed people certainly, and he was basically a theoretical physicist. He had had a remarkable education of several years in Europe before he came to the University of Chicago. We were at the University of Chicago together. He got his degree the first or second year that I was a student there.
Yes, we have an interview with him which gives his personal background. Well, now, getting back to the Optical Society itself, the big change that occurred, or at least one of the changes that occurred, during your presidency was the expansion of the Society to take into account the many interests which now could be joined under a single Optical Society. Where did the pressure come from other than from applied spectroscopy, which we talked about earlier? What other groups were coming under this umbrella of the Optical Society which led to the pressure to change the by-laws and to change the concept of the Society?
There was principally pressure from applied spectroscopists. But there had always been applied optics in the Optical Society, right from the very beginning with people like Nutting who was the first President. He was an illumination man. And Adolph Lomb was Treasurer from 1916 to 1931, and he was succeeded by Kurtz and then Graeper who were also Rochester people but they weren’t spectroscopists. The Secretary in the old days was Paul Foote, and later I. G. Priest and L. B. Tuckerman — they were all interested in applied optics, of course, but in the more classical fields like optical instruments, color, and radiation.
And so the by-laws themselves when changed actually reflected the situation that had already begun to occur?
Yes, I think so. It was a move to recognize the great increase in size of the Society more than anything else. I think Hardy didn’t like that. I think he liked the old small meetings. Who didn’t? A lot of people still remember the meetings of the Physical Society on the lawn of the Bureau of Standards.
Right. Even in the thirties it was getting beyond the idea of a small club. Because you look at some of those pictures and they are pretty sizeable groups even then. What other problems do you recall that you faced in your presidency — the kinds of things that don’t show up in the history of the Society formally — but were there any things that you recall in terms of the relationships within the Board, other than the Hardy affair?
No. As far as I can remember I got along very well with everybody on the Board. I don’t think there was any difference of opinion.
Were there any crises during that time in finances, for example, or publications? When you look at the figures, this was a period of rather stable development of the Society. The time period too – it’s before the big Sputnik business in the country and renewed support to science — so it is sort of that post-war settling in period in the mid-fifties. But I wonder do you recall — were the journals OK, were the finances OK?
I don’t remember any problems at all in those days.
So they were not particularly turbulent years in the history of the Society?
No, that’s right.
You were fortunate. Well, you had your share of it, I guess, in this business about the by-laws.
I think the old-timers in the Optical Society probably think of Walter Baird and me as the people who brought in the big changes in the Society, who recognized the big growth, increased the size of the Board, increased the responsibilities of the officers and financial support of the officers. Mary Warga came in just at the end of that, you know, as Executive Secretary, and that office was set up as a result of these changes.
Your term, as we discussed once, is the only one in the history of the Optical Society which up to that time had gone over two years. This was a result of the new by-laws?
The new by-laws arranged that the president should come into office on the first of January rather than at the October meeting, the fall meeting of the Society, and also changed the term of the president from two years to one year. This had the result that I was the last two-year president and I actually served from October 1955 to January 1958.
What was the reasoning behind the one-year presidency rather than two years?
I think again it was recognition of the large size of the Society and the need to recognize more people as president and vice-president.
But was this coupled with a strengthening and modernizing of the business functions of the Society so that the president in a one-year period can
We brought in Mary Warga as Executive Secretary — that was one of the basic changes. A strong central office was set up. Gibson realized right away that it was just too much to expect any volunteer to do it as a side-line.
That was good planning considering the subsequent growth because if it wasn’t apparent then in a relatively stable period, it would have been pretty bad if the growth had occurred and no planning had taken place beforehand.
And a committee headed by Walter Baird was responsible for planning most of this development.
I see. That was under your presidency?
Yes. I remember his plan scared me at first. It looked to me that it was going to cost us a lot of money which I wasn’t sure was in sight. This didn’t lead to any financial problems actually. It led to the translation of the Russian journal Optics and Spectroscopy in 1959 and the founding of the Journal of Applied Optics in 1962.
Now this raises a question regarding the relationships with the Institute as far as publishing journals. I don’t know if we ever talked about the Reviews of Scientific Instruments developments, where a dispute had occurred over the transfer of the journal to AIP from Optical Society in the early days?
That was done before my presidency.
Yes, but I think it came up once again. Maybe that was after your presidency?
Wallace Brode brought it up once or twice. He insisted that the Reviews of Scientific Instruments really belonged to the Optical Society, and the transfer had never been really formally approved and recognized. At that time the Reviews was making a little money. Right now we’d be glad to give it back to the Optical Society.
That’s true. But in the first years that the Institute took it over it was almost bankrupting the Institute.
That’s right. It was a burden to the AIP and then it began to pay its own way for a while. Right now it’s more or less of a liability, I think.
We are resuming now after a brief intermission, and the thing that I want to get into now, after having covered those years of your Presidency of the Optical Society was your relationship with the American Institute of Physics. You went on the Board of AIP in 1954 as the Optical Society representative and this, you explained, tied in with your vice-presidency of the Society. What was your idea of the Institute beforehand? Before that you were a working physicist of quite good reputation, with major responsibilities, recognition within your own field, but how did the Institute come into your life, if at all, prior to that time?
I don’t remember really any contacts with the Institute at all. My publications, as you know, were in the Society journals, and I think felt, as a good many physicists do now, that they are not touched very much by the Institute except that they get bills from the Institute now.
And sometimes they get a late magazine. So that when you came on the Board, did anyone give you an orientation, either from the Optical Society end or from the Institute end, or did you just come and start in?
I don’t remember any.
But, when you came on, Harry Barton was still Director, and Fred Seitz was Chairman of the Board. I am curious if you recall anything about the relationship of Barton and the Board at that time.
No, I really don’t. For the first two or three years, it seems to me, I used to attend meetings of the Board and of the Executive Committee to which I was immediately elected. I had very little contact in between meetings. I was about like a member of the Governing Board now. I developed relationships — with Waterfall (of course, he was pretty much my connection) — and then Hutchisson, but I don’t remember much with Barton.
That would be with Waterfall because of the business end connected with the Society and then with Hutchisson because soon after his arrival you became Chairman, and so you would have had a very close working relationship.
I don’t know why I became Chairman. I remember I was asked if I would accept the chairmanship, and I can’t remember now who asked me. It must have been Michels, as Chairman of the Nominating Committee, but I don’t remember. And replied that I was on my way around the world and that I would not even be able to attend the meeting of the Executive Committee. That meeting was on the 3rd of April in 1959, and I had had to go to Formosa as an adviser on nuclear matters to the Minister of Education at Taiwan. I came on around the world, and I think I cut my trip around the world short by one day, and flew all night from Madrid and got into New York early in the morning to attend the Governing Board meeting.
And that was the meeting at which you were elected Chairman?
Yes. I had told Wallace [Waterfall] I just couldn’t be at the Executive Committee meeting and I might get in late to the Governing Board meeting and they might not like this. And he said, oh, on the contrary, they will think it is good to have somebody with international activities.
Starting off with a very glamorous approach. The jet set kind of thing.
It wasn’t the jet set. That was the last year of piston planes.
All night from Madrid must have been a long night.
That was a hard trip. I went around the world on piston planes. Around the world in eighty hours in the air.
Well, when you were approached about the Chairman of the Board, did you have an idea of what would be required of you and what kind of a period the Institute would be entering?
I don’t remember that I did, no.
This was mostly through private discussions, though, with individuals. Again, just a little earlier than that, when Barton resigned, there was the search for a successor, and I am curious to know what was desired — whether you recall any discussions in the Board, or whether this was more of an Executive Committee kind of a decision?
I think it was an Executive Committee decision. The search was made by a committee of the Executive Committee.
I learned something in looking through Hutchisson’s history of the activities, realizing that many of the things that we say came in with him as if he had brought them in, had in fact started just in the period prior to his coming.
Yes, Barton was actually pretty active. He had been working during World War II, of course, with Washington activities, manpower, and so on. The thing that really changed the American Institute of Physics was, as much as anything, the fact that money, Federal money, became available. The Institute never had any money at its disposal to carry on the kind of activities that developed under Hutchisson. And the reason they developed was that Hutchisson, having been Vice-President at Case, knew something about dealing with the National Science Foundation and Federal money. He knew that money was available and he began to push for expanding the activities of the Institute — with quite a number of people on the Executive Committee and the Governing Board more or less dragging their feet. They thought of the Institute as primarily a service activity which existed to do things for the Societies that the Societies couldn’t do for themselves, and they did not interpret this as carrying on public relations and history and educational activities as Institute activities. And I think Hutch really pushed these things through himself. You will find that people from the Physical Society were not very much interested in this. They couldn’t care less, I think, really. And the Physics Teachers felt that this was encroaching on their activities a little bit. And the Optical Society did not see much interest in these activities. Hutch really brought them in because they were his interests and he knew where to go to get the money to do it.
Some of them had started — for example, the public understanding of physics had started when the Institute started in 1931.
Oh yes, this was an avowed purpose of the Institute.
But the only record that I’ve come across of a specific effort, other than the early ones, was in 1955 when there was — advice was sought, a public relations firm was hired to do an opinion poll of what people thought of physics and how you could help them understand more about it. And it was a recommendation then that a full-time position be established for public understanding, and an advisory committee was appointed. So the groundwork for that, which I would say was a continuing interest of Barton’s, had already been laid in about 1956. He had started public relations activity, gather that he had started the education activity on a preliminary basis in 1957 before Hutch came, but then that was the year of Sputnik too, which ties in with increased funding, especially for educational matters.
And that was before there was much advertising income. Physics Today was a financial burden. If you look back in the old minutes, you will find the Board used to discuss how much money they could afford to put in per member into Physics Today. It would be $1.50, $2, or $2.50 a year or some trivial sum like that.
But soon after that, Physics Today then became income-producing, which made possible many of these other activities as a matter of fact.
Yes, to a large extent it was the advertising income that made these activities possible, and then later also the income from Russian translations.
I notice that, in this period, apparently the lack of interest or commitment of many of the member society representatives on the Board must have gotten to the point where the Director anyway — and I don’t know if you were involved in this or not — felt that it was necessary to get a statement from the Board, a resolution in support of these activities, because in 1962 you see the Board passing a resolution saying that the Institute should expand its efforts in the area of public understanding. And they emphasized basic research –- “to increase the public’s understanding of the need to support basic research, public understanding of physics in general, and that the Institute should get more involved in public affairs as well as performing more of an interdisciplinary role bringing the various groups within physics together.” Now this was a rather positive statement that the Board made and I wonder if that really solved any problems. Do you recall any of the discussions in 1962?
No, I don’t. I would have to look at the minutes to refresh myself on that.
I gather it was sort of a reaffirmation of what was already going on. It was sort of a vote of confidence.
Yes, it was already going on, and there was always a little hesitancy about it and whether we could afford it. I remember saying through those periods — it seems to me at almost every meeting — that the first obligation of the Institute was to handle the publication and dues collection, the business of services to the Societies, and that had to take priority over other things. I don’t think Hutch was really quite enough in touch with the mechanics of these service activities. As you know we got pretty far behind both in publication and in subscription fulfillment.
What would have been required there would have been more of a business orientation, you mean, to modernize the accounting procedures? That did eventually occur.
Yes, we brought in Jerry Gilbert in January 1962. But I want to show you some other things.
We are talking about the problems in 1962.
Well, shortly after I became Chairman of the Governing Board, there were acute problems between the Societies and the Institute with regard to subscription fulfillment and dues handling and so on, which got quite acrimonious, particularly with the Physical Society. The Optical Society was a little unhappy but I had enough influence in the Optical Society, I think, to keep them in hand or fairly quiet. But not with the Physical Society. Quimby and Darrow were both pretty vociferous and harsh in their statements. I remember a meeting of the Governing Board in the spring of 1962 when I was Chairman of the meeting, and I had in my hands Hutchisson’s resignation as the Director and a demand from Quimby for time on the program to denounce Hutchisson’s administration. This took quite a little maneuvering while the meeting was going on between me and Seitz and Quimby, so that the final outcome was that Quimby did not denounce Hutchisson and Hutch did not present his resignation.
And the issue was on the services. Was there any feeling that the Institute was doing other things when it should be tending to its basic knitting?
Possibly a little, yes, that Hutch was not giving it enough attention although I was pushing on it all the time. The trouble in services was bad advice. The addressograph that we had was inadequate for the size of the job we had to do and then when we first went into the punch-card system that was recommended and sold to us, it was not adequate to handle it. And the basic trouble with both of them was that we’d got to the point where we had to get out a mailing list every day for a different journal and there was no time to make corrections in the mailing list. If you stopped to make corrections in the mailing list, then you were late in getting out the mailing, and it was an impossible situation until we got in Jerry Gilbert in January 1962 and got a system that was adequate. Andy Uszak, as Associate Manager of Circulation and Alan Borden, as Manager of the Data Processing Department came in with Gilbert.
Who was in charge prior to that time? How had that function been handled? I’m just trying to think of what area it came under. Gilbert’s position didn’t really exist before then. There was no one else in that particular spot.
Wallace Waterfall was Treasurer as well as Secretary and Sistina Greco was Manager of the Circulation department.
Curious if it was a case of growing up in a tradition where you had less members and less volume.
It was a case of out-growing the situation and out—growing the facilities.
But it had gotten to the point on this issue, you say, that the relationships had almost broken down. Was there ever any time then when people were doubting the whole concept of federation, when they were willing to give up the idea of AIP?
I don’t think so.
So it was always a question of being convinced that AIP should provide the services, but just trying to improve, sometimes with negative criticism.
I think so. You will find in Hardy’s correspondence several years earlier that Hardy didn’t think that there was any need for the Institute to collect dues, that he and the Treasurer could handle that all right.
Didn’t we talk of a time when Hardy had threatened to pull the Optical Society out of AIP?
Yes, I think he did.
When was that? That was before your involvement?
It was, yes, because I don’t have anything in my correspondence about that.
But that issue in all of these kinds of disputes never came up later from your experience — of anyone withdrawing?
I don’t remember that it did.
I don’t mean only the Optical Society, but also the other societies. We will break now but later, when we pick this up, I would like to get on to a lot of other things in the Institute itself. We’re resuming now after a break for lunch at the Michigan League, which was very good. When we left off we were talking about some of the disputes within the Board in 1962, regarding the problems that were being faced by the Institute in providing services to the member societies in the area of circulation, accounting procedures, and so forth. And I think that in Elmer Hutchisson’s history of that period he then outlines the various modernization procedures that went into effect, and the problems with them. The thing would like to ask is whether this discussion that you have just told me about before where the representatives of the Physical Society felt pretty strongly that the Institute was negligent in certain areas was tied in any way with this resolution that the Board passed in 1962 which tried to clarify the rules of the institute and said specifically that it was desirable for the institute to expand in the area of public understanding of physics, support to basic research, its role in public affairs and in interdisciplinary activities. Do you know whether there was a linkage between the two?
Yes, it took place at the Board meeting in March 1962, which I mentioned just before lunch, where Quimby had demanded a place on the agenda.
It seems to me that it is an interesting thing: what produced that statement?
Largely to forestall Quimby’s remarks, I had arranged with Hutchisson’s help a discussion of the role of the Institute with prepared statements by two or three Board members on each of the topics you mentioned. It was as a result of this discussion that the resolution you referred to was made by Havens and passed unanimously. Hutchisson was naturally sensitive about the criticism of his work and this action postponed his resignation.
In fact, he did resign two years later.
And that resignation was finally rather sudden, too.
And that didn’t flow out of any particular crisis that you know of?
No, it didn’t. I think it was largely health. He had had a kidney removed and had been very ill, and still has to be careful. I know I didn’t have much warning that I was going to step in there as Acting Director. I stepped out of the Graduate School Deanship at Michigan on the last day of September and into this job on the first day of October of 1964.
How long before that was there an indication that he would be leaving? Do you recall that?
No, I don’t, but I think we must have had a little bit of warning. I didn’t find that in the correspondence that I was looking at.
And then a Search Committee has been appointed?
Yes by the Executive Committee approval at the meeting of 6 December 1963 of my nominations.
I remember now, Bruce Lindsay was Chairman of the Committee on Selection, and from what I saw, the first thing they did was to take a look at the broad purposes of the Institute: what its functions should be? Because, in order to determine what qualifications were desirable, what kind of a job description had to be drawn up, you had to first define the Institute, and things had changed through the years so that there was a need to do this. That is a document that I haven’t seen, as far as the statement of the purposes at that time, but the main points I know were that the Institute’s emphasis should be on publications, though the broad purposes for which the Institute was intended should also be pursued. But the primary thing was the publications. That was the Search Committee, and we’re saying now that we don’t know when it started. It was some time prior to October when you took over as Interim Director and then the new director was appointed the next year. Well, less than six months away, I guess. It would have been when you gave that up which was on March 31 at the Governing Board meeting, but it means that Williams was found several months before that.
Yes, it was some little time before and there was some little overlap there. He was appointed December 1964. He was at the same time President of the Optical Society that year. And there was some little discussion about that, whether this was a good thing or not. It was the Optical Society people who recommended him for the directorship because they knew that he was leaving…
Some Connecticut place that he was associated with.
Yes, he was the Vice-President at Perkin Elmer. My impression was that he got to be a kind of vice-president without portfolio. I think his job disappeared. The OSA people thought that he was available and would be a very good person. The Physical Society did not know him at all. I don’t know that he had ever even been a member of the Physical Society. Perhaps he had, but I remember I arranged a dinner meeting in the basement of the old Statler, opposite the Pennsylvania Station, in the dining room, with Williams and Havens and Quimby, so they could meet Williams and they took to him. It was vital that the Director should be acceptable to the Physical Society as the largest society by far. They had never met him at all, but, in talking with him, they approved of him, which was really the final step.
And he had no acquaintance with AIP beforehand — he wasn’t involved in any of the committees or anything?
No, he’d never been on the Board at all.
Similar to Bill Koch, for that matter. Now before he died, (which was in June, he was the Director for about 15 months then), did he really have an opportunity as you recall to really get started on very many new things? And also, perhaps you could comment on how he took to his responsibilities in that year? How his style and interests differed from the other directors that you had had some acquaintance with?
Well, he was a good deal more extroverted than Hutch or Barton, certainly. And he did a good deal more travelling. Wallace will tell you, as I will, that he and I used to worry about it. We thought that he was doing too much travelling, that he ought to give up some of the travelling and spend more time in New York and not have to work night and day. This was in spite of the fact that we didn’t realize that he had a diabetes difficulty. I didn’t realize diabetes and heart trouble went together regularly. You may remember when he died there was some difference of opinion as to whether he had died of a heart attack or a diabetic coma.
I remember that. His concentration at first was on the information activity.
Yes, he was very much interested in that. He was the one who got that started.
It is interesting about that because the pressure did not come from the member societies who supposedly would be served by some information system, but it came from the Institute itself. The institute was, I guess, more familiar with the publication problems and there seems to me a contradiction here. At the same time the societies were saying that the Institute should be primarily on publications and those kinds of problems, yet there was very little interest in this new modernized approach to publications.
That’s true, and I don’t think there is any overwhelming excitement about it now. The average research physicist is not terribly concerned about it. He works in a narrower and narrower field and he thinks he is able to keep up with that.
I guess maybe he is because you define your own communication networks. During that period of Williams’ directorship, of course, all the other activities were going on at the Institute. There was no particular financial crisis or anything else during that period?
No, I don’t think so. In those years we were running ahead, and things were “on the make.” I remember always commenting when the budget was made out that we would get a budget together that we thought was balanced with a little to spare and practically every year we would come out with a bigger positive balance than we had figured on. Things were almost always going better than expected. We had some extra expenses on the change-over to punch-cards and so on. We had to put on a lot of extra help to catch up and we did pay for this. We did not charge this to the Societies.
I think it was during that period that some of the Societies were even given a rebate, despite the fact that the Institute was paying for this change-over.
That is right. It was felt that the Institute should carry part of the Societies’ cost of cleaning up the backlog.
In the period of your interim directorship between Hutch’s leaving and Williams’ coming, were there any unusual problems that came up?
I don’t remember any. You can see in the Annual Report for that year, in which I said that I was just trying to keep things going on an even keel.
Here Wallace Waterfall’s role was very important, I think, because he was the continuity.
He was the full-time man really. I was called half-time and I was there, I guess, about half—time, or on the telephone here—one or the other.
By that time you were freed of your responsibilities here — those committees on the list that you showed me — so the timing was perfect. Then the crisis after Williams’ sudden death in Europe put you back into the position of Acting Director. I imagine that was a very demoralizing situation generally and for the Institute management in particular.
Well, we had little or no warning. I remember Wallace called me and said they’d had word from London that Williams was sick and that he and I might have to look after activities, and the next day he called me again and said that he had died. I said: “I’ll be there today.” I didn’t know I would be Acting Director then, but as Chairman, I thought I’d better be there. I grabbed the next plane out that I could get.
I guess the concern then, after the immediate shock of it, was about the future of the Institute — not that it was in doubt — but after a vacant position and then a search, to immediately have to go back into that would have been a terribly demoralizing thing, and the odds would have been against it.
It was discouraging. We had a long list of people we had looked at before and nobody that appeared to be very appropriate on it.
So you were Acting Director for almost a six-month period there — actually for more than six months — from June 10, 1966 to December 27.
When did Williams die?
I think the end of May 1966.
There was a little break in there where Wallace and I as Chairman and Secretary were handling the business. Then we had the list of people we had looked at before. It didn’t look awfully promising. I forget who brought up Koch’s name. I knew him because at that time I had a half-time job in Washington for the National Academy of Sciences managing the advisory panels to the Bureau of Standards and Koch was chairman of one of the divisions there. And in this case it happened that Bill Havens knew him quite well because they were in the same field, of course, in nuclear physics.
So, in this case, it was getting back to the Physical Society orientation.
Yes, although Bill had never been active in the Physical Society. I don’t know that he had ever served on many committees. He certainly hadn’t been on the Council.
Had he been interested in the publications and information aspect beforehand? That was one of the first things that he did.
No, I don’t think that he had. He had been busy in his work at the Bureau. I was a little surprised he was willing to leave it because they had just moved out to a new site in Gaithersburg and he had a nice new laboratory building which was very much better than anything he had ever had before. I thought he would have considered that a challenge to expand in his work. On the other hand, he felt that this was a good time to change, and undertake a new field.
Perhaps the Institute was a bigger challenge, in the sense that not only was it new to him but it really needed someone at that time to take over.
I spent a lot of time with him in Washington in my office there talking with him about the problems of the Institute and about getting along with the Societies and so on. It’s different than any other organization.
Yes, I think you need to have a tremendous sense of diplomacy.
It requires a certain amount of diplomacy.
But also not losing identity, not forgetting that the Institute has some independent existence too.
I stayed on at AIP as a consultant, I think partly because Bill thought that I knew the Society situation better than he did and could help on that.
I would like to talk a little bit about Wallace Waterfall and his continuing role. His orientation in the Institute has been to really attend to the business affairs in the Institute and to sort of be the watchdog of everything.
That is right. He is the watchdog and he’s the only one, before Jerry Gilbert came, who supplied any business background to the Institute at all. Barton had had no management experience. He grew up with it. Hutch had been the Vice-President at Case, which was then a small school. So Wallace has been sort of the balance wheel and the watchdog, and he worries with me, you know, about these matters a good deal.
I gather his experience was a limited kind of experience in the sense that he got into the business aspects of his professional work completely unprepared. He had had technical training but no business training but was thrown into it and learned it in that way. Now, I want to ask a general question about the responsibilities of the Chairman of the Board. In addition to doing the legal things and calling meetings and so forth, the Director, as the Institute is set up, is responsible to the Board, and therefore is responsible it is implied to the Chairman of the Board. And I guess this has been interpreted in different ways by different directors in terms of the amount of communication that occurs between the director and the chairman, assuming that if you communicate with the chairman you are also communicating with the Board. Was there any difference in this relationship of the director to the chairman over the years that you can recall?
No, I was Chairman for about five years before I became an Acting Director and that was a period when I was extremely busy here at the University. I only showed you what I was doing in 1964 and 1965. I could dig out what happened in the years before I was managing the research activity. My secretary said that after I became Vice-President for Research I spent two-thirds of my time on that and one-third on the graduate school. What perhaps she overlooks was that before I became Vice-President I was Chairman of a dozen different committees that administered different research activities on the campus. I was Director of the Phoenix Project which built the nuclear reactor and laboratory and I was heading a number of different research executive committees. That was the reason they made me Vice President, I guess. They thought I was doing it anyway through these committees, so I got off some of these committees. This was a time when research money at the universities was growing by 15% or 20% a year, in the same way that Federal support was growing. I spent quite a lot of time in Washington and elsewhere, so much so that one of the Regents at a Regents’ meeting greeted me as the “pirate of the Potomac.” He wanted to know what I was working on at this time.
That is very good — a phrase for our times. This involvement limited your day-to-day relationship with the Institute.
Yes, I didn’t have too close a relationship with the Institute. I wasn’t there very much except at meeting times. I’d get letters and telephone calls and so forth from Hutch. It was after I became Acting Director and from then on, since 1964 for the last six years, that I have had a closer relationship certainly than preceding Chairmen. The other Chairmen I think treated the Governing Board as like a Board of Directors which met once or twice a year to consider policy and to act on questions of policy and budget that were brought to them, but, as you know, I have taken a pretty active role. I have had to. We had brought in two green directors, who took hold and worked very hard — I think harder than Hutch actually. They were stronger than he was.
The Board itself — other than these kinds of disputes that you have mentioned — generally it has been smooth sailing in terms of the Director having responsibility for the programs, working out the details, making sure that the budget balances, knowing what the Board’s expectations would generally be and then meeting those, while at the same time trying to convince the Board that some new program which might cost more money has merit. Let’s put it this way: have the Board meetings ever been stormy, other than this one that you talked about?
No, they never have, and that one wasn’t stormy either. The storm was all behind the scenes.
A potential storm.
Yes. And with the last two directors, they both realized that I knew the Societies and the Societies’ situation pretty well and could advise them what the Board was likely to do and say. And it is almost true that the Board has never turned us down on anything we have brought in, and this was partly because Wallace and I were able to anticipate the situation a good deal.
Sort of to anticipate the response and prepare for it.
That is the only way to run this kind of a business.
This is a final thing that I would like to ask unless you can think of other things to bring up — a sort of over-view of the AIP orientation and relationship with the physics societies and the physics community as a whole. In your years of association with the Institute, have you noticed any change? In other words, is it sort of a continuing kind of an understanding that the societies — their membership — just look at the Institute in a certain way, and expect certain things from it? Or have you seen a transformation in this where there is some kind of different attitude toward the Institute that has developed over the years? These things may go in cycles, I don’t know.
There has been a difference, certainly, with the growth of other activities in the Institute, in information and history and to some extent, public relations, and manpower. Those things have taken more time and energy in the Institute than they used to, and the Societies, think, have kind of an ambivalent position here. They like to see these things done but they don’t want to feel that they are being taken away from the societies, for example, education and manpower from the Physics Teachers. In fact, all of the societies think they have an educational function and duty, so there has been a little feeling that there is some encroachment on the societies or this reason the societies have been a little hesitant about increasing their support of the Institute. And then, on the other hand, the feeling that these ought to be done and the societies didn’t have the money or the staff or the personnel to do it. The Physical Society, in particular, has taken a position on which I think you have heard Darrow quoted as saying that it exists to hold meetings for the presentation of papers and to publish an archival journal.
Do you think that is still the case in the Physical Society?
Well, not quite, they have been pushed a little bit more into the main stream of social consciousness.
I would think that this is true.
They have resisted this change as you know — they have resisted to a certain extent discussions of social problems at the Physical Society meetings. I think myself it is proper that they have resisted this.
But this ambivalence that you talk about has at the same time provided support for an ever-increasing amount of Institute involvement in these so-called extra activities.
I don’t think anybody would like to see these things cut off. I think most of the societies are friendly to this. They must have been — they voted for it.
They voted to raise their own contributions.
Would you say that the answer has been that at the same time that these activities are developing on a relatively small scale, the Institute’s activities in the publication area have gone ahead, have not been hampered, and, as a matter of fact, have become rather sophisticated and rather efficient, so that the argument that the other activities are detracting from the basic function is not used?
Yes, except that there is complaint that publication is slow. The Institute is always the whipping-boy when the publication falls behind regardless of several other reasons, such as the author’s delay in getting back galley, and the editor’s delays in reading the papers and approving them, and the publisher’s delays in getting them off the press.
But the argument is not used that the Institute is behind on publication matters because it is spending its time on these other things. This is an argument that I have not heard.
No, I haven’t heard that recently.
And even in the 1962 discussions…
Except for this letter of Darrow’s which I showed you that he didn’t want to see the Institute undertake anything more until they straightened out the publication and dues mess.
Well, that was at a particular crisis. I think we have covered the ground that I had in mind here. When I look through more documents there will be specific questions, but you have given me what I hoped you would — the over-view from your perspective and you have clarified certain aspects of your own role, so someone in the future, for example, reading the list of officers and all this would understand more about it.
My role has been different. We are looking for a new Chairman now. I told Dick Crane that he had been considered a possible chairman. He said we’d have to twist his arm pretty hard. He didn’t have the time. It looked to him like pretty near a full-time job. I said, no, it wasn’t a full-time job, what I’d been doing was more than just being Chairman of the Board. I’d been acting as a consultant and advisor to two new directors.
You would say that on a long-term basis this is not an appropriate role for a Chairman. It was just a special circumstance.
I think so, yes. I think the new Chairman will, by virtue of necessity, be somebody who can’t devote a great deal of time to it and will have to do it as Fred Seitz did, for example, from his Washington office by telephone. It is going to be different, I am sure. I have done more than simply act as Chairman of the Board in the last five years.
It has been a very important period, not only because of the several changes in directors, but because the institute was taking off on several new activities. It represented a complete change of slope.
And it happened that I was free at the time. If I hadn’t done this I would certainly have done something else.
it could very well have been that you could have gotten involved in these things even if you weren’t Chairman of the Board. They might have called on you for this kind of help. It is interesting to separate those functions.
The new Chairman will, I am sure, be a younger person who has other responsibilities which he is not going to give up. It will be quite different.
Is there any term fixed for the Chairman of the Board?
Certainly, it is an annual appointment.
I know that, but there’s no limit?
Seitz was Chairman for a number of years as I recall.
Yes, and I’ve been Chairman somewhat longer, but again by virtue of the circumstances.
I think you have clarified a good deal about that position in general and about your service in it in particular and about some other events in the institute and the Optical Society.