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Interview of Addison White by Lillian Hoddeson on 1976 September 30, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4960
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Family background and early education; studying chemistry at Occidental College. Work at Bell Labs (1930’s), the job freeze during the 1930’s Depression. Morgan’s work on dielectric constants. Columbia University, Rabi’s course, comparison of academic and industrial scientists. Colloquia and study groups, Darrow, Nix, Shockley. Transfer to Metallurgy Department, work on single crystals of zinc; The Bell Laboratories Record; work under Germer and Davisson, their experiments; work on carbon deposits on filaments using x-ray diffraction, Grisdale, W. E. Campbell. Evolution in role of basic research at Bell Labs; Kelly’s role; Buckley; Bell Labs conference (1954), AIP symposium. Awareness of work on copper oxide rectifiers by Becker, Davisson, Brattain; work on microphone carbon; Holden’s work on quartz; changes in the solid state program. Work during the war years; material research of Scaff and Grisdale; pn junction; technological application. Effects of war on solid state research, interactions with other solid state centers. Postwar years, work in Woolen’s group (1945), work in Wooldridge’s group; reasons for Bardeen’s leaving; Fisk’s group; development of transistor under Shockley.
This is Lillian Hoddeson. It is September 30, 1976 and I am interviewing Addison White at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill. Ad flew to the United States from Paris where he now lives, a couple of weeks ago. (turning to White) You are, I read, a native Californian, born in October, 1909, in what appears to be a rather small town.
That’s right, a very small town, Clovis.
Where is that?
Near Fresno, in the Central Valley.
Were your parents also from Clovis?
No, they were mid-Westerners. They had moved to California, where they met. They were married in 1906, as a matter of fact. My father was in the grape growing business.
Did he do that throughout your childhood?
Yes, I grew up on the farm, on the ranch, as they call it in California. It’s a farm devoted to fruit, but mainly to grapes.
Did your mother work on the farm as well?
Oh no, I think they were following the American custom of the woman working only in the house, as far as the farmer’s wife was concerned. She never worked outdoors.
I wonder where your interest in science and technology came from?
My father was very interested in responding to any and all questions that his sons asked him, and I would say he was one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever known. And so he led me, naturally, to a broad range of intellectual interests, although he was only a high school graduate himself. And this led me to believe from the very first days of my childhood that I would go on to college on my own. It was made clear to me from the beginning that that would be my own financial responsibility to go to college, unfortunately, because the grape business turned very bad in the mid 20’s. And so largely in the interests of satisfying general curiosity, I went to Occidental College, a small college in southern California, and took the gamut of courses, more or less, but settled down to major in chemistry, and minor in physics and math.
How did that happen? Had you had earlier experiences in these areas?
No. I’ll tell you precisely how it happened. It was that I needed jobs, and I could get a laboratory assistant’s job in chemistry. So that’s the only reason I majored in Chemistry. I had never any calling of any kind towards science, any more than anything else. I just was curious.
Did you go to a local high school?
Yes, a school in Dinuba, California, which is near Clovis. I went to high school there and was subject to very little stimulation, except by a woman who taught Math and took the unusual step in those days of trying to teach me a little calculus out of hours in addition to the standard high school geometry and trigonometry and algebra, but that’s all.
Why did she single you out?
As I said, I had better grades than most people.
In the technical courses?
In all courses. It sounds like boasting but I never got anything but an A in any course I took in high school or college. And that wasn’t so difficult either, because it was a really underprivileged high school compared to let’s say Bronx High School of Science here in New York.
My alma mater.
Is that your alma mater? Well, that’s a privilege to have gone to that school. And Occidental College was a Liberal Arts college, precisely what I wanted because it covered a broad range of subjects in a stimulating way. And you probably would be interested in knowing, I had intended during all these college years to go back on the farm, partly because my father had prejudiced me in favor of the complete independence of the farmer as regards his moral character, so to speak. This was the old, mid-nineteenth century Puritan ethic speaking. And so I had intended to go back to the farm until the Spring of 1930 when a man from Bell Laboratories was recruiting all over the country. His name was Heffner, I think. He was reporting to the chief of the Personnel Department at that time, whose name was Thomas. And he recruited at Occidental, probably for the first and last time in the history of the college because it is not a technical school. I was vastly tempted by the fact that I knew I would get a trip to New York paid out of it. And if the thing didn’t work out, I could get my way paid back again. This was frivolous but nevertheless was my real motive in becoming an employee of the Bell Laboratories with nothing but a Chemistry major.
Had you planned to go on to graduate school?
No, I never did, I had no plans.
You were then ready for a job when the job came.
Yes, I was ready and needy, you might say.
Were there other possibilities?
No, nothing else was offered.
It was of course a bad year.
It wasn’t yet bad. Nobody realized in February 1930 that the crash of ‘29 was going to have the impact that it in fact did. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have had 300 or so offers out for Bell Laboratories, of which 300 were accepted I think.
I was under the impression that Bell did expand in ‘29 and that then when the crash came, they stopped hiring.
People didn’t realize what was going to happen. The stock market was rising rapidly until about Nay, 1930. It didn’t get back to the old peak, it got halfway back. So it was difficult for a businessman to judge the future. It was only in the summer of 1930 that men began to glimpse what was going to happen, as I remember all this, and I was much interested in economics.
So then the freeze, that I have read about in various documents, must really only have begun in the summer of ‘30. It probably ran for only about five years.
Yes, the fact is that no one was hired on a professional level, as far as I know, in the spring of 1931. By that time it was clear that the difficulties were great. Sometime in ‘31, we went on a four day week from the five and a half day week, and that of course meant a proportionate reduction in pay. But I was lucky to keep a job, many men didn’t in the Bell Laboratories. Incidentally, it’s hearsay, I heard at that time the statement that the management of Bell Laboratories had to cut personnel by about 25%, because there was no engineering work to do. These men were just sitting around at empty desks. But they cut Research only about 10% because of the longer future; that is they knew that to have cut Research by 25% would have had a stronger bearing on the longer future of the Bell System. I heard that as a rumor and I suspect it could be documented, I don’t know how. You could document the fact, I believe, that the cut in Research was only about 10%, whereas it was around 25% in the Engineering department.
What were your expectations when the job at Bell was explained to you?
As I said, I had no conception, having worked only on farms and gardening jobs and dishwashing and so on around the college.
I’m trying to get a feeling for what the idea of an industrial laboratory meant on the outside.
I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had been put to work washing dishes. I just didn’t know. I had no standards. I was interested in getting a job, and that’s all.
How did you happen to be placed into Morgan’s group?
Stan Morgan. It was done rather arbitrarily by the personnel people when I came in. I had a major in chemistry, a minor in physics and math and so they decided. The personnel people had a lot of authority in those days, compared with now. I remember — I don’t remember who the man was — but he just marked me off and sent me to Morgan. And Morgan was absolutely astonished when I turned up; I don’t think he had any idea what to do with me. You see roughly twice as many people accepted positions at Bell as their statistics had predicted. I heard that, and again you just have my hearsay for it. So they had a lot more to dispose of than they had anticipated. And this I think was why Morgan was surprised when R. O. Grisdale, K. H. Storks and I all turned up to become members of his group.
Grisdale, Storks and you all turned up together?
We were all graduates of the class of 1930, and there we were, within a week or so of each other.
Did Morgan assign you to a specific problem?
Yes, he asked me to start studying the dipole moment of molecules rotating in solution, the Debye kind.
Did you have any trouble with that, given your limited training? Your graduate training began during your research at Bell, so to speak.
Not much. I studied a good deal, just informal study. I didn’t find it difficult.
Were you able to read Debye’s work?
Yes. What I read was an English translation of Debye’s book on polar molecules and it’s all set forth there, the Langevin expression, which Debye adapted to dielectrics instead of magnetics.
Did Morgan work closely with you?
Yes, he was the senior author on the papers that came out. Sure, he had to tell me things from the very first step. And the way it really worked was that I had very little experimental facility, and never did have. I had trouble with glass blowing, for example, I remember having to learn to do that, as compared to Keith Storks, who was very good at glass blowing when he came to work. But as to the theory and the planning of experiments, I felt very much at home in that kind of thinking almost from the start.
Did Morgan work with you on the experiment, or did he just get you started?
He just got me started. I would go to him when I didn’t know what to do next.
And this was in the West Street building?
Did you live in New York?
No, I settled in East Orange, New Jersey at first, because the only man I knew from my own school who worked with the Bell Laboratories lived there.
So you had to commute quite far.
You carried out dielectric constant studies basically, and you also worked on carbon?
Well, now let’s see. I didn’t work on carbon until I worked with Germer around 1939 or ‘40.
Why were these dielectric constants of so much interest at that time?
The general idea was to try to understand and improve electrical capacitors. Morgan had taken his degree under C. P. Smythe at Princeton in this field of dielectrics. But Morgan as a supervisor had a variety of other projects going forward. I think I was probably pursuing his personal research as much as anything. But, incidentally, let me say that Morgan is one of the finest men I’ve encountered, in his selflessness and his anxiety to promote the interests of the men who were working with him. So he did probably give me more credit than I deserved in the way of publications and the like.
Would you characterize these papers as basic or applied?
The dielectric properties of glycol is not a basic subject. We were trying to get at something very fundamental in the long run, though. And that was to understand molecular rotation in solids; we didn’t work with single crystals. But Yager measured crystalline, or again I should say solid comphor, and discovered that the dielectric constant was almost continuous through the melting point and dropped sharply at a phase transition at lower temperatures. And of course anybody who is interested in capacitors is interested in this high dielectric constant in solids which was in turn due to molecular rotation of polar molecules. And we did some work in an attempt to understand that. And I had an idea, a very heuristic kind of explanation, namely that what you needed was a more or less spherical molecule, such as camphor is, to rotate within the solid. And if you got a planar molecule, say like the chlorinated benzenes, then you might be able to get rotation around one axis of this polar molecule, but you wouldn’t get it around three axis. However, I didn’t pursue that to the point of looking at single crystals in the different directions, it didn’t cross my mind. It didn’t cross my mind you could make a single crystal with that kind of material. So that, I would say, was serious basic research for those days and especially in an industrial laboratory in the Depression, to support a project of understanding why these molecules rotate.
I get the feeling, and correct me if I’m wrong, that in some sense the Depression helped basic studies at Bell Laboratories on account of the -fact that the working week was shorter and people had more time to study basic science.
It didn’t affect me personally.
Did you go to Columbia?
Oh yes, I did. But I did it, not for the reason you suggest, but simply to promote my career, so to speak. And I did it during the working hours of the short working week.
Yes, but if you hadn’t had the short working week —
We worked from Monday through Thursday and so you say I should have gone to Columbia on Friday, but I didn’t because they weren’t teaching the classes then, this was around 1935. Stan Morgan, again illustrating his thoughtfulness, suggested that Dick Grisdale and I study physics. So we got Slater and Frank’s book on theoretical physics and we just went through it, the two of us, chapter by chapter. And I think we solved a good sampling of the problems. Probably we didn’t try to solve all of them.
Was such self study typical at the Laboratories at the time?
I can’t just say much about it. I was isolated, more or less, in a little chemical laboratory that was maintained at Summit at that time. Stan Morgan had his group divided between the two locations, West Street and Summit. And so I didn’t know very well what was going on at West Street. But as you well know, there developed later, a strong program of this kind when the new young men were recruited. But I think this was mainly Stan Morgan’s idea as far as I know, as of 1935. And then in 1936, it was probably he who suggested that Grisdale and I take a course in quantum mechanics under Rabi at Columbia. And so we did that during working hours.
This was not a degree course, just to learn?
No, it was just to learn. I can remember a couple of instances from that period. When I went to register, Rabi sighed and said, “Oh these men from Bell Laboratories.” And I think what he had in mind was that a number of people came and took courses that they couldn’t master. That suggested that there was a spirit of improving oneself even by studying in-hours at the Bell Labs. But I certainly passed that course at the end of the year. Another minor incident I remember: a man dropped by when he saw me working at the library up there and said, “Why don’t you go in for graduate work”? I said, “No, I can’t afford it.” And that was the end of it. I was married, you see, at the time. But later, as I began to understand the academic world better, I suspected that that man was possibly looking to see whether I would be interested in joining Rabi as a graduate student.
Did you remember who that was?
No, I don’t.
Since we are now talking about study attempts, let’s go a little bit further along this line.
Incidentally, Morgan is a good man to talk to. Perhaps you’ve already talked to him.
I’ve spoken to him. I really should speak with him again; I spoke with him at a much earlier stage.
I suspect you’ve heard a number of reports of his influence on affairs.
He’s very, very modest.
Yes, I know it. That’s exactly — you see what I mean. If I may say so, the typical aggressive university professor isn’t as generous with credit for the men who work with him.
I found him much more happy to talk about the work of other people than about his own work.
Exactly, that’s why I throve so much under his supervision, I think.
Were there many seminars in those days, many visitors from outside? Or internal seminars?
Oh yes, There was an organization called the “Colloquium,” which met once a week, that you’ve probably heard of.
Yes, you gave a talk to the Colloquium in ‘3L1. On the bearing of thermal phenomena on molecular rotation in solids.
That is about this business of phase transitions and the onset of molecular rotation. They were first order phase transformations, so there was a big heat effect. What I did at that stage, then, was to look through the literature for observed phase transitions, involving a heat of transition, among organic compounds, as the ones to study for molecular rotation, and found some in that way. I remember very sharply, among the sessions of that colloquium, one in which Bethe talked about the nuclear processes supplying energy to the sun, in the early days I think, of that concept. I think he invented the concept, or at least parts of it. So that was going on, you see. But otherwise I don’t know of anything of the kind you mention until Shockley, and Townes and Fisk and others organized, or at least had a lot of initiative in organizing, the seminars I went to later, say in ‘37 or ‘38.
Did you attend the Colloquium regularly?
I would go often. Of course it was held in New York, and I was working in Summit and so I probably went only when the topics were of special interest.
Quite a number of well known scientists came to the Colloquium. Sommerfeld came twice, for example.
Pauling and Debye also I suspect had been there.
Yes and Milliken, Rutherford —
In those days, if you will recall, the Laboratories had already had the Nobel Prize awarded to Davisson. Davisson was gentle, wonderful man and he was still working. So Bell was a magnet of physics, on a much lower scale say then Columbia University, I’m sure as of that time.
Do you think that the Bell Laboratories’ location so close to the docks played any role at all in bringing well-known foreign physicists to the Labs?
Well I think the location in Manhattan was enough to do it. I think it would have been just as attractive if it had been on say, Sutton Place. It wouldn’t have mattered as long as it was accessible from mid-town Manhattan, I think.
What about the role of K. K. Darrow?
That was important. His papers and his lectures were very illuminating. Well, it’s hard to put yourself in the atmosphere of those times, but he would explain things to the rest of us who wouldn’t have understood them as well.
Well, now, you said he gave lectures. I was under the impression that he mainly wrote articles.
I suspect that’s true. I say lectures without being very sure of myself.
He did give some of the colloquia. Is it fair to characterize Darrow in the early period as a synthesizer of the new ideas?
He was an interpreter. I am not aware of his ever having had an original idea of his own. And he certainly couldn’t work in the laboratory. His hands trembled, like this. So some managerial genius, back in the 20’s it must have been, after finding that he couldn’t work in the laboratory and didn’t have creative theory, put him to work on this job, or allowed him to work on it. I don’t know, he may have just drifted into it; but it was very helpful.
He had talent for it.
He was good at it. To illustrate his excellence in what you might call the literary field, which is what this is, granted his acquaintance with science: I heard him deliver a lecture at a session of the APS honoring Oppenheimer; he delivered the lecture in Latin! He managed it in such a way that the Latin meaning came through in an amusing way to his audience, because nobody knew Latin. I tell this to illustrate the quality of his mind.
Well, among the ideas then coming in then was the new quantum theory of solids. These I gather played a major role in the developments I’m studying, of solid state physics. I suppose you learned much of what you then used of that theory through the study group…
That’s right. Yes, what I got from Columbia was only the tools of quantum mechanics, but no application whatsoever to solids.
There exists no documentation at all for this group.
Not even notices, probably, because they were informal or sent around by mail, at the most.
So everything I know about it is just hearsay. People remember it a little bit differently.
I’m very interested in your recollections of it. I’ve learned so far that Shockley probably organized it.
I would think so.
Or Foster Nix, or the two together.
The two wrote a joint paper.
Yes, on order-disorders transformations in metals and alloys —
— and so it is very likely that they could have collaborated in this.
Is it the kind of thing they might have done together?
It is, yes. Now Foster Nix, as a matter of fact, in my opinion, knew very little of quantum mechanics. He was a very good experimentalist. He and Shockley, in fact, the two of them, complemented each other very well. But he had a lot of initiative. So I’d bet that’s a good explanation, although I’d forgotten it, that those two were the prime movers. I’m afraid I don’t remember when these various men came in. Shockley was certainly among the first, in 1936. Who else, do you remember?
Nix was there earlier.
Oh, he was there from 1930 on. Much earlier than that, as a matter of fact. 
That I don’t remember, but he was certainly there before ‘36. The people in the study group: Nix, Shockley, Brattain, Holden, Howell Williams?
I’d forgotten that.
Bozorth may have come to just one or two meetings.
I just don’t remember that either.
You don’t remember Bozorth coming regularly. Later on Fisk joined, but not until later; he didn’t join the Labs ‘til ‘39.
That’s probably true.
And the same is true of Townes and Wooldridge. Later on Burton came also, this was in ‘39 or ‘40.
Yes, when he first came to the Laboratories.
And Alan Holden, and you, of course. Gerald Pearson came to a few of the meetings too.
I don’t think so. Gerald is a genius, practically, but his forte is not theory, so I imagine he didn’t come very much. I do remember a couple of people who didn’t stay with the Bell Laboratories. One was Gordon Hull, I think his name was. And I can’t say much more about him than that. He went on to the university world, before the War started. And there probably were two or three others who I can’t remember now. Because the group constituted — maybe, my memory is — of a room containing ten or fifteen people, typically.
And one person would play lecturer.
Yes. We’d have to take our turns to lead the meeting. I remember having led one, for example, on matrix multiplication, among other things. I just presented some examples to show the set of logical operations. And that’s all I did. Now we needed that in connection with, which of these books did we need? Tolman? I doubt it. Well, it’s an alternative approach to the whole theory of quantum mechanics, as you know. Incidentally Pauling and Wilson, placed their emphasis on the Schrodinger approach, that I always felt I grasped better. So this was something I needed to know about, I felt, just to be able to read other papers. I doubt if I ever used it.
You don’t think you used it in your own research?
Were you there when they went through — Mott and Mott and Jones?
Mott and Gurney?
Tolman’s Statistical Mechanics?
The Pauling Book?
Oh, no, Pm sorry I’m confusing you. It was when I was studying with Rabi at Columbia, that I studied the Pauling and Wilson.
But I know that some Pauling Book was used in the study group.
I don’t remember that.
Somebody thought that was so.
They may be right because it is a long time ago, as I warned you in my letter.
Do you feel that this contributed in any important way to your research?
The whole seminar, the whole business was absolutely vital to my personal progress in the Bell Laboratories.
In what way?
Well, let’s see. I worked briefly with Davisson and Germer on electron diffraction, which broadened my understanding including crystals. I learned how to interpret electron diffraction patterns, simple ones. Then I was transferred to the Metallurgy department because I didn’t want to stay in Physics. I had the feeling, the justified feeling, that I was inadequately prepared to compete with fellows like Shockley and the like. And so I was transferred to Metallurgy, worked very briefly.
Did you go and request a transfer?
Who did you speak to?
Yes, let’s see. I was explicitly assigned to Davisson and Germer on a loan basis and I think it was a program of Stan Morgan just to broaden my background and experience. Loan isn’t exactly the word, I went on to their Organization chart in Physics. But after a couple of years I said, “Well, I’ve spent some time here, now let me come back.” And what they did was to bring me back into Metallurgy, which of course was not altogether to the Management’s displeasure because there was a fairly antiquated management in the Metallurgy department. And they needed some new blood, let’s say. And so I started to make single crystals of zinc in an effort to understand crystal slip and the like in crystals and didn’t get anywhere at all because it was experimental. Then the War came along, and I was lent to work with Jack Scaff. He was a supervisor who was concerned with germanium and silicon, as you probably know, especially with silicon, at that time. And that was where I had the chance to apply what I had learned in this study group combined with what I had learned with Rabi, because at the time I went into that group they were doping silicon with the group five or three elements and hadn’t the faintest idea why these elements produced n or p type behavior, which they did recognize. And they didn’t have the faintest idea why for instance you tap a tungsten point against a silicon surface in order to bring you the rectification characteristics.
So I was able to bring in the physics in two ways. All I needed to do was to look up Wilson, which I could read, and more than that, Mott and Gurney for the properties of doped-semiconductors. And Mott and Gurney also had the explanation of a metal-to-semiconductor contact rectifier in terms of an insulating barrier. And my contribution here was to reinvent the Schottky barrier, where you don’t have any insulator, which of course, had already been published, but in. Germany. And we didn’t know about it. And, this was in 1939 when we didn’t get the German journals. So this really gave me my first opportunity to make any contribution of any note — I felt it was a contribution — to the war effort and to the understanding. And I think it helped the silicon and germanium work considerably. It helped people like Pfann and Scaff and Theuerer to understand what they were doing. So that’s the way in which it helped me.
Was this seminar we’ve been discussing very special in the Laboratories, or were there similar seminars that you know about in other divisions?
None that I know of at all. It’s a research department kind of approach to things. What had happened, I think is that these young Ph.D.’s were introducing what is essentially an academic concept into this industrial laboratory. The seminar, for example, was privileged in that we started at let’s say a quarter of five, when quitting time was five. And also we had the right to have tea and cookies served to us from the cafeteria, which is all part of the university tradition, but unconventional in the industrial laboratory of that day.
How long did the seminars run after hours?
They would run at least an hour and a half. I remember we’d get out and have a drink at Walter Brattain’s apartment, which was nearby, or at one or two others, and then we’d be off to dinner by around 9 o’clock, every Thursday night.
You obviously had to prepare for your own presentation whenever that came. But did members prepare for the other seminars as well?
I feel that they did. The discussion was lively. And it couldn’t have been that way without the people reading and trying themselves to understand the material before it was presented at the seminar.
Now I’m just pulling out a series of papers. These are all part of the work that you did in Morgan’s group on related subjects.
Essentially all about this molecular rotation.
Your articles in the Bell Laboratories Record: Did you write those, or were they written by staff people?
I wrote the articles I don’t recall the exact mechanism, but Stan Morgan would generally be the man who’d respond to the Bell Labs Record request for material in his area.
Was the Record widely read by people in the Laboratories.
I think it was widely read in the Bell System, but as you know it doesn’t maintain scholarly standards. We were forbidden to have footnotes and it was put on a very elementary level of discourse, I thought. It served its purpose, it was a house organ. It survived the Depression, incidentally, and Alan Holden said that was one of the political triumphs of all time, that whoever was running this was able to keep it going. He was working for it in the early thirties. But it did serve a purpose in maintaining understanding in the operating companies who were paying for us.
You were moved over into Germer’s group in —
— in 1938, wasn’t it. Or was it January 1, 1939. It was the latter.
Certainly by March, ‘39, you were in his group.
It was January 1, 1939.
Storks was already there. And it was, you mentioned before, Stanley Morgan’s idea, to move you over there. There you began to work on deposited carbon on filaments.
My conscience hurts me now, I didn’t give enough reference in these articles to Dick Grisdale, who was depositing this mesomorphic carbon on quartz slabs, flat slabs, for the purposes of our experiment. Dick was trying to synthesize microphone carbon by depositing mesomorphic carbon on tiny spheres of silica. And what I was trying to do was to find out the structure of the deposit, but on flat surfaces.
And you were using for this then the X—ray diffraction technique?
Electron diffraction, because they were quite thin. We were interested in what turned out to be a kind of two-dimensional crystal individual layers like those of graphite but laterally displaced. And so therefore, it was appropriate to use electron diffraction. In any case, we didn’t know what else to do. At the start we didn’t know what we were dealing with, and for all we knew we were dealing with some very thin phenomenon on the surface. So that’s why we did this work.
Was this the problem that sent you over to learn the electron diffraction technique?
No. I went over there to broaden myself. And then I suppose I had something to do with picking up this problem, I don’t remember. We were always looking for problems to which electron diffraction would be applicable. I did quite a little work on analyzing tarnish products on flat metal surfaces designed to represent, let’s say, metal contacts in telephone offices. For men like W. E. Campbell. And I was able to identify a number of compounds, copper sulphide, I remember, as one. But most of this is not original work, it was just diagnostic.
How closely did you work with Germer? You wrote some papers together with him.
Oh, he and I worked closely together. Germer was in there strictly as a supervisor; he wasn’t in the laboratory a great deal. But he and I really worked in a collaborative way, there was no doubt about it. In this paper about the structure of carbon, I can remember working on the abovementioned problem of mesomorphic carbon, where I tried to compute the pattern to be expected from certain assumptions. I did it wrong.  And Germer knew that he would have computed it wrong, so he got Davisson to do it for us. So in that case, it was a real collaboration and Davisson was always the best of us, by far. So when we couldn’t do something, he did it as in this particular case.
You all reported to Davisson?
Yes, but I was reporting to Germer as a group leader.
Did Davisson supervise?
No, but Germer went to him when we had a problem and Davisson solved it.
Was Davisson also doing his own work at that time?
Yes, he was, but I don’t know what it was.
Were you able to choose your own problems, working under Germer?
Very largely, yes. Because you see I had been put there as a kind of transmission belt between the chemistry laboratory and physics laboratory and Germer didn’t care much about whether I worked on black carbon or rate of oxidation of copper. He was interested in the physics aspect of these problems. And I was interested in finding problems which were significant to the chemistry laboratory. So I think it is in that way that I picked up this carbon problem.
And were you continuing to report back to Morgan about what you were learning?
Oh, no. I probably kept him up to date, but in no very intimate way. For example, Grisdale worked with Morgan. I’m pretty sure I talked only with Grisdale and Grisdale undoubtedly reported to Morgan.
Would you have lunch with Grisdale? Would you speak together informally in the laboratory?
Yes, we’d have lunch together, but I don’t think we’d talk business very much. Maybe a little.
Would you spend part of the working day with him?
Not typically. I’d see him once a week in connection with this work.
Were there others you worked with as closely as that?
Campbell, W. F. Campbell, who was out at the Murray Hill –- I’m sorry, at the little Summit laboratory.
What was he working on?
He was working on tarnish in central offices. Contacts.
(Examining paper on rate of oxidation.)  This is a general problem, abstracted from the tarnish problem. I am pretty sure I originated the idea of doing this work, but it was as a result of my contacts with Campbell that I knew it was an open question.
I am interested in a general movement that I see again and again and again in the Laboratories where applied problems of interest lead to very basic insights into physical science. I wonder if you could comment on this. For example, it’s been said that the original Davisson and Germer experiments were an outgrowth of a patent fight between Harold Arnold and Irving Langmuir over the original high vacuum audion.
I don’t know about that. What I’ve heard about that work was that they were trying to measure the interaction of electrons impinging on metal surfaces, or the interaction of impinging electrons with metal surfaces. I think they were 50, 100 volt electrons; they began to act in a very odd way in reflection. And I’ve heard that Davisson was traveling in Europe that summer, say, ‘25, ‘26, ‘27, somewhere in there. And heard about DeBroglie’s equation which had just then been originated. And he cabled back to Germer to try out this equation on the experimental results and thus they discovered electron diffraction, by a much less elegant method in a way than Thomson with his transmission experiments. But I think they published first. This is an example of a study of what was really an applied problem, I believe, suddenly yielding very fundamental results.
It’s my impression that in the earlier days essentially all the fundamental work at Bell derived from applied problems.
That’s certainly true.
Things were very different by the ‘60s when you wrote your Physics Today article.  There was an evolution in the philosophy of research.
Yes, that’s right. The Laboratories became very proud of the Nobel prize that came along in 1937. And so I’m sure that the management learned by experience of some of the values implicit in fostering basic research. I can remember, when I was being recruited, how proud the recruiter was of the discovery of electron diffraction. So this had an effect, that very fundamental result.
There were other fundamental results in that period.
The work of Johnson and Nyquist on thermal noise and of Black on feedback. They were all very much in the interest of applied science.
So you’re suggesting that once these basic results came out, people in Bell Laboratories management began to realize that basic research was something they should be doing all the time without worrying about immediate application.
In this general connection, I had the following experience in l954, attending a conference of men from all over the Bell System on social subjects; e.g., to listen to Max Lerner, or labor-union leaders, and the like. Sitting at a luncheon table with a group of these Bell System men, I discovered how extraordinarily interested they were in an expression of a philosophy like that which I express here, (vd. footnote) namely that if anybody is responsible for a technology 20 years from now, he must do basic research. I mean, there is no other way out if he’s responsible, to put it bluntly, for the company profits twenty years from now.
The key is awareness. In order for them to be responsible, they have to be aware.
Exactly. And these statements all seem to be self-evident. And they were to these men who were commercial types. And so thereafter, I was in a position to do some work on the kind of thing that I’ve always liked to think about, namely policy and economics and so on. I was in a position I found from then on to present essentially this line of thought to any visiting Board of Directors from any operating company with regard to our programs in the Bell Laboratories, and it was convincing. Now I presented that to this group here at the American Institute of Physics (vd. footnote, p. 20). But what I was really interested in, as you probably remember, was to try to persuade the academic people who were there —
Was this presented at a meeting?
It was a meeting organized by the American Institute of Physics, but a lot of industrial people and university people were there.
— a symposium on the role of training physicists in industry organized by the American Institute of Physics.
I was anxious to persuade these men that we did offer opportunities for basic research — many, as you know, academic types are just not aware of that, even yet — and tell them why in such terms that they couldn’t help believing it. And that was the purpose; that’s why the particular distribution of emphasis here.
Do you have an extra copy of this?
I don’t, I’m sorry to say. Maybe you can get that Xeroxed. It expresses a formulation of the philosophy which I’ve had going for all these years, as you pointed out.
I wonder who was most active in causing this research philosophy to become so important at Bell?
I haven’t had a chance to look at all of this book that’s in the process of being written but my own view of it, which is based on experience rather than documents, is given here on pages 13, 14 and 15. 
You say Kelly put the idea forth in the mid ‘30s. Do you know why you thought that? I’ve heard this now several times but have no documentation for it.
Let’s see. I can remember some things that could be checked. The story was that every one of these young men that were hired from 1936 on, these young physicists, was interviewed by Kelly himself. And this suggests that he was now the prime mover in the policy, but it’s only a suggestion. Now you could check whether as a matter of fact they were all interviewed by Kelly, if you get in touch with them. You remember, nobody had been hired for six years and suddenly there’s a little money.
Wooldridge, Shockley, Fisk, Townes…
If Kelly personally interviewed every one of these men, that’s not common practice. He was then the Director of Research and that was a rank equivalent to the Vice President in charge of research, I think, in the organization chart of that day. Such a man does not ordinarily involve himself in this way. He had in my picture of it — this is all imagination — a few tickets to hire people at last and he couldn’t wait to carry out the policy that he’d — I’m picturing this — been reflecting on for some time. And The Bell Laboratories had this awful mess of heterogeneous materials to understand. I got trapped into two or three efforts to understand these things, I mean trapped myself in these efforts, which weren’t successful. I should go back a bit. All any manager needs to do is to judge which alternatives that are proposed to him are sound. So it’s quite possible that somebody in the Research area proposed this course of action to Kelly. But as far as I knew his subordinates of that day, this seems unlikely. They were often too interested in their own technical work, and this isn’t any way to form policy.
What about Buckley?
I had once heard of Buckley saying that what he did whenever he got a promotion was to figure out what this boss wanted and give it to him. This, of course, is the way to get promoted, if you’re good enough. But it isn’t the way to formulate independently thought out policy. So I’m guessing that it was Kelly.
Did you know Kelly?
Oh, I encountered him a few times, sure. He was a very vigorous fellow, as you no doubt heard. He had very positive ideas and I admired him, but feared him, as I think most everybody did. I think I’m implying that he was the kind of independent, intransigent spirit, capable of introducing a revolutionary policy as I think it was, the way he was able, whatever else is true, to recruit several Nobel prize winners, two I guess, Townes and Shockley. Later, he could delegate this recruiting to others. I just can’t imagine who else was capable in 1935 of selecting men of this much talent in this field so relevant to the communications business. So that’s my reason for saying what I say in this text here. (vd Footnote, p. 21) I think the words I used are something like the following: “It seems that,” or something of that kind indicating that I know it can’t be documented. Now I understand it is difficult to get at all of the documents. Someday, if one could see all the papers that Kelly wrote about those days.
I have copies of some of his published work.
Yes, but that wouldn’t help you. Men aren’t going to say that kind of thing in a talk or paper.
Kelly’s personal and company files, haven’t turned up yet.
I can understand why the process of formulating policy must be kept secret. Otherwise it’s like trying to operate a corner grocery store without concealing your plans from your competitors. When the documents become old enough, they become harmless in this respect.
In any case, Kelly’s papers haven’t a yet surfaced.
Well, that’s too bad, because it may be there is something in there to document this.
I would like not yet to leave this ‘38-‘39 period. There are some very interesting things, on these charts. (See chart) You’re now working in Davisson’s group, and there we have Becker’s group, 328G. Were you aware in that period of the important work these people were doing on copper oxide rectifies and so forth?
I was close to Brattain and I knew Gerald Pearson and respected him. Brattain and I were personal friends and played bridge together for example, and we would gossip about the scientific problems. I can remember that Shockley got involved in trying to use radio tracers to help understand the oxidation of copper. And Brattain, I don’t know the connection, but Brattain would surely know more about it and somewhere I’m fairly sure a paper came out about that. Of course, I may be mistaken.
It might have; I haven’t yet spoken with Brattain.
I may be mistaken, too, about the fact that somebody got interested in using radio tracers to understand copper oxide rectifiers. As I say, Brattain would be sure to know more about it than I do.
Here under Fletcher is the group of Shockley, Nix and Wooldridge —
These were the young stars,, you might say; Nix wasn’t so young, but he was regarded as a star.
The other two were right out of the best graduate schools?
Yes, that’s right, in 1939.
They seem to have been put there and just let loose.
That’s right. That’s what this kind of an organization chart suggests and it was true.
I glanced through the correspondence case file for this group in that period. From that it looks as though they were doing quite modern solid state physics.
(Referring to a paper by Nix and Shockley) Nix was the prime mover in that.
It grew out of Metallurgy. Nix had been involved in that and he got Shockley involved. And Wooldridge, worked on the theory behind television — as he tells it, almost entirely in the library.
I remember thinking of Wooldridge as a very able man in our seminars, but I don’t remember what he was doing at all until after the War.
He was working on secondary electron emission, televisions and magnetic sound recording. Later on during the War he did radar work.
My only contact, really, with these men was by way of frequent lunches with Nix, never with Wooldridge, maybe very occasionally with Shockley. I was off in another part of the building working on this electron diffraction. And I should add, through the seminar.
Did you know Nix well in those days?
Yes, he and I were pretty good personal friends. And Alan Holden. He and Alan Holden and I used to go out to lunch, I remember in 1932. I remember that because it was an election year. But my own reaction, as I indicated before, was always to be much more interested in talking about other things then about science.
Do you know whether Townes joined this group in the next years?
He was at the meetings, certainly, at the seminars. I don’t remember becoming a very close personal friend of his.
I haven’t spoken with him yet.
I think he would be a good man to talk to.
He seems to have been a little bit in the background. He almost immediately got involved in the war work.
That’s right. Now here’s an incident that I can remember about Townes; This was during the war years. I was by then working on a sub-division of the Manhattan Project which was being carried on at West Street. I remember that Townes came around and expressed a good deal of unhappiness with what he was doing, whatever it was, and wondering if I didn’t have a better job available in this area. I had then become the supervisor of a very small group. I didn’t have anything suitable, it was a highly developmental sort of job. I don’t remember anything more about Townes — his work then moved out to Murray Hill and I was working at West Street — except that he started this microwave spectroscopy here at Murray Hill, certainly at the Bell Laboratories, using the microwave technique that had been developed during the War. But the minute he got a chance, he left Bell Labs because he was unhappy. And of course as his subsequent career suggests he was right. He’s always been a good friend of Bell Labs. As you know we own the laser patent, through his and Schawlow’s joint efforts.
I have just one more question to ask you about the work that you were doing with Germer on the study of carbon. Somewhere, I think it is in that article with Gait, you refer to microphone carbon as the first important solid state electronic material. I wonder if you could explain that to me.
By 1880 the standard telephone set used microphone carbon in the transmitter. And this carbon is a semiconductor, and thus an electronic material in the usual sense. But the quantitative physics of microphone action of the carbon is not understood to this day.
This is another one of these examples where some very specific application material that was used in an application — led to studies that were very much more fundamental.
Those studies (See Footnote, p. 17) all turned out to be fruitless as far as any major improvement is concerned.
Major improvement of technology?
On the other hand, the vacuum tube filament studies led to a great deal of basic research.
The existence of the electron tube was absolutely vital to modern physics before the semiconductors came along. But still, to this day, we do not understand the oxide coated cathode, which is the one commonly used in technology. It’s true, however, that Davisson and Germer were looking at, I suppose, secondary emission, in these bombardments of the nickel surface which led to the electron-diffraction experiment. But I set forth what seems to me to be a common theme in all this, almost all of this early work, in that document (See Footnote, p. 21) which hasn’t been subject to scrutiny yet by my colleagues, as far as I know. But, in any case, the theme is that when you need non-linear kinds of electrical behavior, up until the time that Kelly made his policy, you found this kind of behavior only in heterogeneous messes, like the oxide-coated cathode, like the transmitter carbon, like the silicon carbide varistor, like the copper oxide rectifier; they are all messes. And nobody really understood any of them, and Kelly was the first man to see what to do about it. Or somebody, if Kelly didn’t do this, they needed to invent a man who did. There is one exception among those early materials, and that was the work that Holden did, Holden and Bond, mainly Holden, on quartz, on other kinds of piezo-electric crystals for transducers. That was something you could get your teeth into from the scientific point of view.
That was also stimulated by —
— by the technological need.
Did you interact much with Fletcher?
Oh, no. He didn’t interact much, but there would be sessions in his office, I suppose once a year, at which I, at any rate, and I assume the other people, presented the results of their work. So he did try to keep up in that sense. But otherwise, there was no interaction with him on my part.
No, I was completely unknown I’m sure at that time to Kelly and Buckley.
I’d like to go back to the discussion we began earlier about Mervin Kelly’s idea that the way to go was to focus on basic underpinnings of solid state phenomena. By the end of the ‘30s this was well established at Bell; at the beginning of the ‘30s it wasn’t at all.
That’s right I didn’t know of it, for example. I don’t remember ever hearing anyone state a policy of this kind in the ‘30s. But I have no reason to suppose that others were not aware of an explicit policy. I would expect that men would be cautious about stating publicly a new policy, if there was one. I think an able manager is inclined to be cautious in getting cut on a limb, i stating what he is about to do. And in any case, policies often evolve gradually.
The case authorization for the three new groups that were established in 19145, before the transistor, all explicitly indicate fundamental studies.
Yes, but why? Do they say why? You probably have documents that belie what I just said and if so, then you have got what it takes.
I have only the cover statements of those case authorizations. Here is the cover sheet of the case authorization, for the solid state group. “Employing the new theoretical methods of solid state quantum physics and the corresponding advances in experimental techniques, a unified approach to all of our solid state problems offers great promise,” etc. They want to achieve a unified approach to the theoretical experimental work of the solid state area.
Yes, that’s quite an explicit statement, isn’t it? I agree with you. It suggests an understanding of what they were willing to state.
This is only an excerpt.
Yes, so I go along with you completely on that interpretation of the history, but this is quite a bit later than 1935. And so quite a number of things that happened during the war years might have increased the management’s confidence in fundamental science, including the rising influence of Fisk, for example. You can see from this organizational structure I was way out of touch with policy forming people, so I don’t really know.
I’m not even sure that the people who were on top knew what was going on. When I spoke with Wooldridge, I asked him whether he was in on the discussions that led to the organization of these three groups; he was after all one of the three new directors. And he said no. Kelly called a large meeting in one of the big rooms and said, “Now Monday you will report here, and you’ll be there” and so on. Many were quite flabbergasted.
I can remember something about that time, and that was the time when the older department heads, then called sub-departments, were displaced. That took some doing when you consider the inertia in some organizations. Bozorth, for example, had been a department head. Goucher had been a department head. I don’t remember who else. But this was essential; and a tragedy from the point of view of these men, to put other kinds of men in charge of these groups. But Kelly did that.
It must have caused a lot of bitterness.
I’m sure it did. I personally always felt that no man in a supervisory position has any rights whatsoever vis-a-vis the benefit of the people in his group. But the tradition is in organizations, very largely, to protect the people already in responsible positions too long. I think it was a stroke of enormously good management on Kelly’s part to be brave enough to face the tears and all the rest of it. One of these men wept in my office after this happened. I’m sure it was an essential part of what by this time had become a revolution.
And then you were moved into Wooldridge’s place and you had people like J. B. Johnson working under you.
Yes, that’s right. Johnson wasn’t bitter about these things at all. No, he’s a prince of a fellow. Too bad he isn’t alive, he could probably remember some of these things.
There were several themes that led into this re-organization, this big move to establish a solid state program. We talked about Kelly’s ideas and about the learning of the quantum theory of solids, although I guess the latter was not nearly as important as Kelly’s administrative position.
I think you are quite right to concentrate on this reorganization. I had quite forgotten.
So far we have discussed two factors: the trend towards more basic research that took place in the ‘30s and that Kelly had a great deal to do.
Yes, he was responsible whatever else you say. I think he probably was the prime mover, too.
And we have also talked a little bit about the impact of the new theories in physics that changed people’s understanding of their aim in the work that they were doing — now they aimed to understand the phenomena in a more basic way. We have also discussed a little bit the materials research that was going on, perhaps not enough. It probably was just as important as the other two factors, for example the work of Scaff and Grisdale.
Grisdale didn’t succeed through one matter of chance or another in making vital contributions of the kind that Scaff and his group in Metallurgy did.
Do you feel that was an accident?
Well, I know one thing that was true. Dick Grisdale was a good friend of mine, because we started out together from the first. He had a violent temper and he couldn’t get along with people. So, as a result, he seldom retained able men in his groups. And you may notice in later organization charts that he is just out there all alone after somewhere around 1955 or 1960. But Scaff and the metallurgists did some first rate work. They spoke of silicon as a metal in those days, apparently because it took metallurgical techniques to handle it. And they made some absolutely vital contributions —
— Through the silicon ingots Scaff produced containing the pn junctions.
That’s right. It was just an accident when they found the pn junction. What they were really setting out to do was to set a relatively uniform kind of material by freezing from the bottom, I think it was. It could have been from the top, it doesn’t matter. The point was to get it to freeze not in a lot of granules disseminated throughout the melt, but an orderly way, starting at one end. That is to say, you had the purest material coming out first and then less and less pure and finally you often get a pn junction by accident as you continued this freezing process. Well, that gave the kind of material which made it possible to control the manufacture of silicon point contact detectors for radar. That was what it was all about. And that’s where I was able to make some contributions to the understanding of what was going on. None of this was published; it was the War years. It was just that I was the first one who came to that group who understood quantum mechanics and A. H. Wilson and the like as applied to semiconductors and all I had to do was to just get familiar with the work and elucidate these things. I did some experiments. And what is reported of it is all in war memorandums which were secret at the time and which have never been published. And which by and large were not original. But it was original to that group who were classical metallurgists. Well, that’s one example of the application of quantum mechanics, of the quantum view of solids to technological problems.
It also illustrates the importance role of the War in this field.
The War was a very stimulating experience.
People often say that research stopped when the War began, but it didn’t seem to have been so in the case of solid state physics.
No, I think you are right. The object of all the work was immediate applications. But it did put us in possession of a technology, microwave technology for example, which Townes was able to exploit at the end of the war and which might have come along anyway, but it would have been much later if it hadn’t been for the war needs of radar technology. And it put us in possession of much purer silicon. Toward the end of the War I got out of this project, and went into New York. But toward the end of the war, the metallurgists had gone on to germanium for the microwave point contact rectifiers and so they had learned how to purify germanium and it was germanium, purified but doped, in which Bardeen and Brattain discovered the transistor effect. So there you are, that materials work was vital and vastly stimulated by the war years.
Can you think of any other important influences that we have left out? We have discussed the War materials research, microwave techniques, the focus on silicon and germanium in making purer and more perfect polycrystalline ingots, Kelly’s influence, as well as the new physics and the new general emphasis on basic research.
I would put the rank order a little differently from yours. Probably you didn’t apply a rank order.
I didn’t, but if you’d like to try to rank them.
I personally think the availability of the new physics and Kelly’s policy decisions outrank the other factors which you mention which would have occurred anyway, and which occurred all over the rest of the United States, more or less.
I see. You were in Davisson’s group working with Germer until l9l. Then where did you go?
I went to Metallurgy immediately after that. That would have been Chemical Laboratories. Yes, that was still Chemical Laboratories at this stage.
I seem to be missing a chart or two.
You went right from Davisson to Schumacher? You have a group in metal physics?
Now that does skip something; it skips the interval during which I was reporting to Scaff in fact, but to Ellis on the chart.
I don’t have that chart here, but I’m sure I can get it.
What accounts for the charts you have (April 1, 1944) is that Foster Nix, in his independent way, managed to get a project introduced into the Bell Laboratories as the War was just coming on, because he was well acquainted up at Columbia and took over an aspect of the diffusion membrane problem for Oak Ridge, or more directly for Columbia, for the SAM people there. And then he got an opportunity outside the Bell Laboratories and left. So they took me off this work with Scaff and put me in charge of this group, whose cover name was Metal Physics, in order to liquidate the project as soon as possible. It was clearly just an embarrassment to Bell Laboratories, so that’s how we landed in that.
During the War did the research atmosphere change much? And if so, how?
Oh, very much so. None of us engaged in any seminar activities that I know of from the minute the War started. And I had no intention of doing it. I can remember Alan Holden proposing another seminar after the war had started, after I got involved in this war work, the earlier phase, the semiconductor part of it. And my reaction was, this is what I’ve been studying for, now I’m going to apply it, because we were working a 50 hour a week or something like that. I don’t remember the exact hours; we worked about an 8-1/2 or 9 hour day and then on Saturdays we’d work a 7 hour day, something like that. And so we didn’t have any energy left for anything else. So the atmosphere was very different, but the achievements that turned out, as you say, had a real bearing on what happened later.
Were you paid more for any of this?
Just in proportion to the amount of work, which was worthwhile.
Was there more interaction during the War between Bell Laboratories and other laboratories because everybody was working together in a common effort?
It might have been so. I remember we went up to the Radiation Lab when I was working on the semiconductor part of it, a group of us, to talk about silicon rectifiers, the Radiation Lab at Cambridge, I guess it was under M.I.T. But we were exposed to contacts with those men up there — Zacharias, e.g. Then when I got on this other project, the nuclear weaponry —
— under Schumacher —
— I had a lot of contacts with Columbia people. Mainly with Libby, he was our appointed contact. Dunning a little. Urey, at a distance.
Would they visit the Laboratories?
Well, now let’s see. Remember this is in West Street. I can remember an occasion when it happened that one of our men found a solution of one aspect of the diffusion membrane problem. He was not a member of the technical staff at the time he did it, but he soon became one, MacNair; he has died since then, a young fellow. And I can remember our reporting this fact to a group of visitors, including Urey, but I’m not sure. So there was a lot of interaction with other laboratories, that’s right, always within the narrow filed of the specialty, of course, because there was a great deal of secrecy in all of this work.
You mentioned Columbia and M.I.T.. Were there others, as well? What about Purdue?
Yes, that’s right. I guess in connection with the semi-conductor work. That’s right. Lark-Horovitz was out there, that’s right. Now, Lark-Horovitz was in electron diffraction before the War. I think Lark-Horovitz got involved in the germanium silicon business during the War. I know there was some conflict of patents; there were some suits involving patents.
What about the University of Pennsylvania?
Frederick Seitz. Now was he there then?
I’m not sure. I’ve heard from at least one person, although I haven’t found any documentation of it, that Seitz was a consultant for a period. Does that seem right?
All I remember clearly is that he visited Schumacher while I was working on the semiconductor part of this work and that we reported our results to him. I don’t remember necessarily that he was a consultant, but he had some right to hear what we were doing. That’s all I know.
Slater was a consultant during the war.
That I don’t think I was connected with at all. Debye was a consultant for quite a long time, but I had no contact with him after I left the dielectrics work. I heard him give talks, but I was in a different area.
He must have been quite old by then.
He seemed vigorous.
Right after the war, in ‘45, you were moved under Wooten, along with MacNair.
Yes, now what happened, is that we succeeded in liquidating our part of the Manhattan Project, but on the upbeat, so to speak, instead of humbly. So then I was transferred to work with Wooten on oxide cathode problems in the magnetron and the klystron tubes, actually before the War ended. In both detecting and emitting radar signal, the tubes need oxide cathodes and they were always causing trouble, so I got involved in that. Hannay, incidentally, who is now Vice President, came in on that group. He isn’t listed there, but he came in, I guess perhaps after the War.
I don’t have the continuation of that, but he came in. So that’s how you and Hannay and MacNair got to write your paper on “Semi—conducting Properties in Oxide Cathodes.”  You also delivered a paper with MacNair in ‘47 on “Electrical Conductivity of Alkaline Earth Oxides.” 
I don’t remember where that was, — American Physical Society. Well, of that work, as I mention in this other write-up (See footnote, p.20) turned out to be wrong. The oxide layer is so complicated that actually what we were measuring most of the time was the conductivity of the pores in the oxide. We thought we had guarded against that by doing this work in an atmosphere of helium. But for some reason that I don’t understand, (I still don’t understand) the helium didn’t inhibit the pore conductivity. And the fact was, we were just measuring the conductance of the electron gas in the pores as others were able to prove later. That, of course, was regrettable because it meant that many men had to put in a good deal of extra work. And it was quite a number of years before we became persuaded that this was so ——that what we say here was not so. And that’s the place where my defective training in physics played a role. If I had been really trained in physics, I would have I’m sure, detected this failure in the first place.
I noticed that in this paper the footnotes certainly reflect the work you did in the seminar. Or is that just coincidental?
No, I was participating quite deeply in this work. I’m sure that I’m responsible for some of those footnotes. Hannay was well trained in quantum mechanics, too.
Let’s now skip to the l947 organization. Have we left out anything important about the earlier reorganization?
I don’t think so.
You were moved from Scaff’s group to the group under Wooten, is that right? (See chart) Then you were moved to Wooldridge’s group, when he left BTL. How did that happen?
The fact is that I moved from Wooten’s group to become head of the work on physical electronics. Fisk had left to go to, well to Harvard supposedly, but actually to the Atomic Energy Commission, and Wooldridge had left to go to Hughes. I had been working on the oxide cathode; people thought it was good work; so did I. And so it was a desperate move; it was done in desperation, I’m pretty sure, because there was no one else to lead these young and able men. There were Hagstrum, now a Department Head; Herring, now a Department Head; Hornbeck, now a Vice President, McKay, now an Executive Vice President; the late, J. P. Molnar, a past Executive V.P.; and Bob Newton, a theorist who later left Bell Laboratories, but who was young and able. So, what was the management to do? The way I think of it is this: that the war years and the immediate aftermath did provide an opportunity for older men, like myself, to get into responsible jobs by default. And I always thought of this as kind of a period of caretaking until the younger men had the experience and until one had been able to pick those among the younger men who would be good managers. And this is what happened among these men. What would happen, was that in the course of the years, they were transferred out into say development areas, mostly into development. And they obviously were able to bring a level of sophistication and judgment to the management of the company’s affairs which had not been available before that. But it takes years to do this.
So that’s what constituted my opportunity to come and manage this group and of course it gave me an opportunity to put into effect my feelings or my philosophy in any case, which I’d developed in the few management jobs I’d had ahead of that time; which is to devote myself entirely to the fostering of the careers of the men in the group, rather than do any work of my own. I didn’t like the technical work, anyhow, so it was easy for me to come to this conclusion. And, I can remember Bill Shockley saying to me one day, I’m not sure quite apropos of what, but essentially he said, “I’m not a supervisor, I’m a physicist,” and what this meant was, Bill well nigh wrecked his group in spite of his wonderful talents. Before long we had lost Bardeen, we lost Gibney, who was a chemist, an able man. Let me remark explicitly when it came to the question, who gets to exploit the invention of the transistor, who gets to write the book “Electrons and Holes in Semiconductors” — Shockley… Shockley was an inspired physicist. I’ve never encountered a more brilliant man, I think. And he just wasn’t going to sacrifice that in the interests of the members of his group. So, once the transistor had been invented, he went to work on the hole-electron theory that went along with it and I don’t know quite how it happened, but Bardeen wasn’t working on that theory. And naturally, this is exploiting a position of power in a way that I think is unforgiveable in a manager. It is hard for a physicist who really feels a calling; it’s hard for him to resist it. So Bardeen left. That was a great blow to the Bell Laboratories I think because that second Nobel Prize that he won would have been to our credit too. So that is why I say that that was the philosophy I was employing in making this group thrive, and I think it’s fair to say that it did thrive. But my own approach to that was only possible because I wasn’t interested in doing the science myself. Now, other men…
The other group seems to have disappeared. The Electron Dynamics Group, that was originally the Fisk group —
Well that group was probably engaged in — let’s see, what could have happened? That was magnetrons. Clogston and those men were all working on magnetrons. Now what they did after the War, I don’t know. This is 1946. It was probably headed by Millman after Fisk left and if you want to do research I suppose you could find out where those men went. Millman and Pierce went into a completely different part of the Research Department. Pierce was an Executive Director for years. He wasn’t, probably, at that time. And then traveling wave tubes came along and Pierce was much concerned with them and Kompfner came in and worked with him.
You mentioned that during the War the seminars and study efforts became less frequent.
Or nonexistent. After the War, did they then begin again?
Oh, immediately, on a much amplified scale. And during working hours. Shockley was a prime mover in this I think, but Fisk and Wooldridge and all the rest of them were very much in support of this policy of getting more and more into the University mode of operation for these research people.
Was Kelly in the background here also?
Kelly was supporting it; he knew what was going on.
Did he ever attend any of the seminars?
No, he had no interest in, you might call it, the technical details.
And did the interactions with other institutions — university and industrial laboratories — increase or decrease?
I think they probably increased, especially with the universities. There was a deliberate policy: producing the kind of results that would lead the university men to beat a trail to our door, which was now beginning to be implemented. I can’t give you many examples. I guess what I remember is that beginning around l98 when the transistor began to be a subject of teaching and everybody in the Bell Laboratories needed to learn more about it, Shockley and others would conduct these seminars.
No, just for the group — study groups. This group that I had — we had our own — what was it? We’d have a weekly seminar on physical electronics and related topics; someone would talk about his work every week. This is internal interaction and it was well understood by this time that when it came to an argument with the Patent Department, the Research men won, because the Patent Department had been put in under the Research Vice President. That was an important feature of the organization.
I hadn’t realized. That’s very interesting.
Now, let me think. I can recall an occasion, it was probably K. G. McKay, no, I know what it was, it was Dean Wooldridge before he left the company, and Ahearn and Ken McKay had done some work on electron bombardment; no, alpha particle bombardment of diamond. And they were looking at the pulses of conductivity that this induced in diamond. Well nothing much came of that directly, but McKay carried the project on to produce the first radiation counters in silicon and germanium. And of course, that’s a big thing now. Well, the question was to publish this diamond work, but the Patent Department wanted to hold it up in their usual way; they were undermanned and they weren’t putting a man to work on the job. So I wrote the patent, claims and all, of course very inadequately, but it put them on the spot. They had to do something about this pink document I submitted to them and we got the patent out quickly and we published, because it was so absolutely vital to my charter, that, I pretty clearly understood by then, that we publish just like a university. And the reason I was able to get away with that was, as I say, because the Patent Department reported to the Research Vice President. Now that, of course, needs to be checked.
Were you aware of the experiments going on in Shockley’s group that led to the transistor?
I was aware of what was going on until December, 1947. And then suddenly I didn’t hear anything about it. And I wasn’t conscious of that for several months until the transistor was announced. But it was announced within six months, or seven. And that’s a pretty good record I would say.
What was your response?
Oh hearing about it?
Well, I couldn’t say in what hail I was located at the moment, but I was of course enormously excited. When I had been working on semiconductors back in 1942 or so, I can remember Harold Friis saying, “Now all you’ve got to do is get a grid down in there and you’ve got something.” And of course that was the concept of the transistor.
I didn’t know that he was doing that.
Oh, no. He was, you see, he was very much concerned with the radar detectors. So that is an example of how people in the Bell Laboratories worked with each other. I remember, I worked hard on trying to reduce the noise in these semiconductor devices. We had no measuring equipment here, so we’d tap up a bunch of rectifiers — point contact rectifiers — and we’d go down to Holmdel and measure them. And Harold Friis would have everybody down there, including any of his own people in his office — a large office — and we’d have lunch together. So Harold Friis was very much in touch with what was going on. And I heard this remark of his.
I’ve heard that Becker also was saying things like that.
He might have been, I didn’t hear him.
And also Shockley, during the mid ‘30s.
Yes, I think he probably did.
So, that idea seems to have occurred to a number of people at the same time, but it was difficult to demonstrate.
It may have spread from one person to another. I don’t know where Friis got the idea, but he was propagating it, certainly.
The invention of the transistor of course had a major effect on the work of the Morgan-Shockley group. Did it affect your group at all?
Yes. Fisk had left and Ralph Bown, a man whom I enormously respected, was then our Director of Research. This illustrates the point that Fletcher was not himself very active in managing what we were doing. Ralph Bown came around one day and said to me, “You ought to try to get your department — your subdepartment — somehow to help with this transistor project.” Well, I knew what that meant, it meant to lend some of my men. Now every manager is able to interpret these things to his own satisfaction, but I honestly felt that we’d lose some of these people from BTL if they were subject to arbitrary direction by Shockley, so what we did was to find transistor-related projects that they could work on independently of Shockley. And one of them was, well I helped actually helped Dick Haynes understand an experiment he was doing while Shockley was away, and talked with Conyers Herring about it, and Herring came up with a theory of propagation of conductivity pulses in semiconductors. Ken McKay came up with electron bombardment of silicon, as I was just saying, and before long we were contributing. We kept the group organizationally separate on the one hand and on the other hand the transistor work strongly influenced what we were doing. And later it became clear, in the course of very few years, that this physical-electronics work needed to be liquidated, very largely because it was becoming less relevant to communications than solid-state physics.
About when did this occur?
It took us ten years to do it, because I believe in doing these things in an orderly way. By the time it came to completion I was in charge of the division.
So mid ‘50s, late ‘50s.
Yes. Homer Hagstrum still runs the department which inherited this charter, because what he was doing was still very much worth doing. But gradually, as opportunity arose, these other men got into other fields as I say. Herring became a general theorist, of course he was involved with everybody anyway. John Hornbeck went over to some development work. J. B. Johnson retired. Ken McKay and Molnar both went over to the development departments. But it was in an orderly way, I thought. And you have to be orderly it seems to me in conducting a research enterprise; you don’t tell men to quit something, you offer them an opportunity which they are honestly free to turn down.
(Thumbing through publications) Now this work here on the application of thermodynamics to oxide cathode problems — This other is on dielectric polarization.
That must be earlier.
Was this oxide cathode work done while you were a department head?
Yes. It was a holdover from the work I had done under Wooten. It’s a rather pedestrian exercise actually, if you’ll look at it. Nothing but the application of standard thermodynamics in an effort to guess what reactions are likely from a reducing agent in contact with barium oxide. Nothing original in it, but it was published in the Journal of Applied Physics, I think, or someplace like that.
It looks like a perfectly fine contribution.
Well, it’s useful, but it’s not science really. It’s technology, it’s applied science, which is where it’s focused.
I was impressed by the fact that it seemed that you did it while you were the director of a large group. I wondered where you found the time.
As I was saying, I exercised absolutely no technical direction over anything that was going on here; I spent my time trying to foster it in ways such as I’ve mentioned. One of the obvious ways is to see that the people get recognized and get good raises. And that takes time. But, not so much that I had no time left over for this other work.
And then you moved over into the role of director of chemical —
Chemical physics, I guess, that’s right.
— ‘53 to ‘58, and then Executive Director of Research.
Yes. Physical Science.
And during all this time you were working on this policy of basic research that we discussed a little bit earlier, formulating it in a logical and convincing way. Yes, among other things the problem, of course, in such positions is to form judgments as to how you distribute your resources and how you get the resources. And so a lot of that time was spent in defending budgets, in…well now, take again the example of rate reviews. It’s extremely important to perform them thoughtfully and absolutely secretly, but in such a way that they could be defended if every man in the place knew about what was done and said. And so you spend time thinking about how to do that. And you have a philosophy — try to develop a philosophy of what you are aiming for in a rate review. And incidentally, Bill Shockley and Jim Fisk made a fine contribution soon after they came into these positions here in working out an octile system designed to estimate the rank-order of all the men under a given Vice-President with respect to merit; a comparison of this rank-order with that of salaries determines the objectives of the salary review. Well, that’s a long story and doesn’t have anything to do with your problem here, I think, it’s the kind of thing managers spend their time doing.
It’s interesting. It’s a step in the evolution of the philosophy towards the one of the present. I’m cutting off my study at a certain point, but it’s still interesting to hear where it went. I would like to discuss one other issue with you: Kelly College. This occurred in the same period that the graduate training became more intensified.
That’s right. That again was something Kelly supported, a very expensive thing that he supported.
Did you participate in this?
No, not at all. You need men with an academic background and academic contacts to conduct that kind of an enterprise. But I’m sure again that Fisk, and I suppose Shockley, had a lot to do with that. Shockley perceived very early the desperate shortage of people trained to understand what this modern theory of solids was all about, and to apply it, after the invention of the transistor. You’d need an applications man here, you see. And university graduate departments don’t naturally produce such men. Or didn’t then; they do now.
I think that the hiring of Bardeen and Herring in ‘45 — Herring really began in ‘46, although he spent some time at Bell in ‘45 — was a turning point of some sort.
Bardeen and Herring seem to be different from Shockley in that they were not quite so much device oriented.
No. It’s true. Now, what you say is interesting. I think Fisk probably had a good deal more to do with broader interpretation of our basic research policy than Shockley himself alone would have exercised. But Shockley was an extraordinary man. I realized that when I wrote this chapter here (See footnote, p. 21). And I’ve criticized him, and I think justly so, for his brutal insistence on being a good physicist. But when I wrote this chapter, I realized clearly for the first time how vital his technical judgments were in directing the work that I was in charge of it, his intellectual power was such that when Shockley said something, I recognized that it was right. Then I tried to put it into effect without destroying the esprit de corps. And we were able to do it. And when he left, the great contributions to transistor technology by the Research Department ceased. Now, to some degree, that was because — that’s getting into another subject — because the development area under Jack Morton had been well implemented with people and the responsibility simply disappeared, I mean was shifted to them, quite properly. But, nevertheless, our major contributions came under Shockley’s intellectual domination. So, he’s a genius, and as you know, from his subsequent history, a flawed genius. But, nevertheless, in physics he was superb. Incidentally, it’s interesting to comment that a rigorous theoretician doesn’t always like the way Shockley solves his theoretical problems. The rigor apparently is not there. I’m not capable of judging these things. But his intuition, physical intuition, is unbeatable.
Is that all, then? I’ve talked at great length and perhaps I’ll be surprised at the way some of these things look when written down.
We can always change the transcript, if we don’t feel it is accurate. I have found this discussion extremely useful, and want to thank you again.
Well, I thank you for what it’s turned out to be.
Nix joined Bell Labs in 1929, after having worked there earlier in the decade, before he went to Germany for his Ph.D.
See page 495 in "The Structure of Black Carbon," J. or Chem. Phys. 9 (July 1941).
Electrochem. Soc. Trans. V. 81 p. 305-319 (1942).
"Physics in teh Communication Field," Phys. Today 13: 30-31 (Jan 1960).
Reading from a preliminary version of Chapter 9 by J.K. Galt and A.H. White on Solid-State Electronic Materials for Bell History, Volume II.
J. Appl. Phys. 20 1949.
Am. Phy. Soc. Bull. V22 p. 16, May 1, 1947.
At this time I was project director for all of the materials work on transistors, much of which was development-oriented work in the Chemistry and Metallurgy laboratories. This arrangement doesn't show up on the organization chart.