Oral History Interviews

Interviews that offer unique insights into the lives, works, and personalities of modern scientists

Frederick Hunt describes how he came up with the word "sonar."

Oral history audio excerpt

Frederick Hunt describes how he came up with the word "sonar."

Beranek:

Now could you outline your principal big projects?

Hunt:

Yes, jumping to what was accomplished, we directed our attention early to what could be done to improve the equipment that was already installed on the ships. The New London Laboratory more or less tried to design new equipment from scratch. We concentrated on what you might call add-on bolt-on black-box additions. In this connection we developed the split-lobe comparison methods, bearing deviation indicator, which saw a lot of service and which enhanced the performance of the destroyer sonars very materially. Incidentally, I coined the word sonar.

Beranek:

Oh, really. That’s very interesting.

Hunt:

I didn't invent sonar. Echo ranging was an old art, but the word sonar — that was my word. And it had an interesting background. We devised it originally to attach to one of our particular apparatus developments. But I knew this was too good a word to spend on our specific piece of hardware. So somewhere '42 or so the Navy enlisted men—there was more glamour to applying for ratings as a radar man and we heeded something to glamorize the job of the sound operator. So, with the connivance of Chris Engelman who you may remember...

Beranek:

I certainly do. He was a commander, and later a captain.

Hunt:

Yeah. Chris was in the Bureau of Ships at the time and he talked to me one time about how could we make the job of sonar operator sound more glamorous to these people. Well, you need a name. So I sold him sonar. And Engelman wrote the letter which got passed up the line establishing sonar as the designation for underwater sound locating gear. Now, at the moment, the acronym escapes me—we had the word and then we invented the words from which it was to be derived. And he had a different set of words than I had originally.