Occasionally I get the chance to work with something in our collections that give me shivers, and the notebooks that astronaut Michael Collins used on the NASA Gemini and Apollo spaceflight missions definitely fall into that category. I mean, it isn’t often that you get to handle and scan items that have actually been in space! You can see the online collection here.
Michael Collins is probably most famous for his role as the command module pilot on the Apollo 11 Mission, the first manned mission to land on the lunar surface. Collins orbited the moon while commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin descended to its surface.
In 1989, Virginia Tech Special Collections was honored to receive his papers, which cover Collins’ Air Force career, training at the U. S. Test Pilot School and Experimental Flight Center, participation in NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs, and tenure at the State Department and NASM. While this collection has been heavily used by students and researchers for many years, it wasn’t until this past summer and fall of 2016 that we were able to get a large portion of it scanned and ready to go online. I’m really excited to get some of these items out there for the wider world to see.
Before the Apollo missions, Collins was also involved in the Gemini missions, serving as pilot of Gemini 10, launched July 18, 1966. During this mission, Collins and commander John Young set a new orbital altitude record and completed a successful rendezvous with a separate orbiting space vehicle, paving the way for modern day space vehicle maneuvers such as docking with the International Space Station. Another notable achievement from this mission was the successful completion of two spacewalks by Collins. Collins was the was fourth person ever to perform a spacewalk (referred to by NASA as an EVA, or Extravehicular Activity), and the first person to ever perform more than one.
After retiring from the NASA astronaut program in 1970, Collins worked for the US State Department and the Smithsonian Institute, serving as the first director of the National Air and Space Museum. The collection also includes many items related to his later work, as well as many items sent to him by adoring fans and space enthusiasts from around the world. What’s now online is just a portion of the collection, hopefully we’ll be able to get more up soon. You can see the finding aid for the collection here.
Some of us carry around images or a sensibility of the 19th century, often for no other reason than to be able to see or hear something and to instantly be able to say, “Ahh, that’s soooo 19th century.” OK, maybe not many of us. For one friend of mine, the slow-moving Connecticut River on a summer day and away from the sound of traffic was 19th-century perfection. We’re not talking nostalgia here, just the satisfaction of a fitting image. Perhaps nobody has offered a more fitting and memorable image of that century than Theodore Adorno, when he said, (in one of my most favorite quotes about anything):
“In the nineteenth century the Germans painted their dream and the outcome was invariably vegetable. The French needed only to paint a vegetable and it was already a dream.”
Don’t I wish I’d said that! My own images of the 19th century include a movement towards—if not culmination of—classification and encyclopedism, as well as the invention of complex or specialized mechanical devices. The dynamic of these two trends rush over the beginning of the 20th century the way a huge post-romantic symphony might be understood to have already overflowed its orchestral banks . . . but without yet doing serious damage to anything.
Romeyn Beck Hough (1857–1924) was a 19th-century American botanist and son of Franklin Benjamin Hough, the first chief of the U.S. Division of Forestry, a man routinely noted as the first leader of the American forestry movement and, sometimes, as the “father” of American forestry (along with Gifford Pinchot). The son’s work, The American Woods, pictured above, is the subject of this post because it seems, to me, at least, emblematic of these two trends.
The full title of the work pictured above is The American Woods: exhibited by actual specimens and with copious explanatory text, and for Hough it was his life’s work. Although he didn’t do the classification himself, he was very keen on comprehensive exhibiting and explaining based on the classification. He began working in 1883 on this project, which had as its goal nothing less than the representation of all American woods. Photographs, of course, would not be an adequate means for representing the wood, so in fine late 19th-century style, Hough provided actual samples of each . . . in three different sections, transverse, radial, and tangential. These specimens, thin enough to be translucent when lit, were, as Hough explained, “mounted in durable frame-like Bristol-board pages, with black waterproofed surfaces . . . and each bears printed in gilt-bronze the technical name of the species and its English, German, French and Spanish names.” As Hough said of the work, it is “illustrated by actual specimens, and being in this way an exhibition of nature itself it possesses a peculiar and great interest never found in a press-printed book.” In Hough’s obituary, William Trelease wrote of the use of the woods themselves as illustrations,”[they], unlike texts and drawings, never can become out-of-date nor be found to contain untruths except as the names applied in his day to the trees he sectioned undergo change with progressing knowledge.” (Science, Vol. LX, No. 1557, October 12, 1924).
The project was planned as a 15-volume series to be arranged according to geography and released over a number of years. The first three volumes, first made available in 1888, represented the woods of New York, Hough’s home state. Each volume contained, in addition to at least 25 mounted and framed sets of samples, a booklet that offered the “copious explanatory text,” including a “systematic study” of the woods represented in the volume. This material described each tree’s physical characteristics, growth habits, habitat, medicinal properties, and commercial uses.
So, that’s the “classification/presentation” part. What about the mechanical? In order to exhibit samples at the required thinness, Hough had to invent the means to produce them! Of course. In 1886 he received a patent for a device that could cut wood to a thickness of 1/1200th of an inch, far thinner than required for The American Woods project. In fact, ever the entrepreneur, Hough’s purpose for the device as stated in the patent materials was, “to provide flexible wooden cards suitable for use as business or fancy cards, or cards for use in photography, the arts, &c. . . .” The following advertisement could be found inside early editions of The American Woods:
In another ad, also for the same “Wooden Cross-Section Cards,” the text reads, “It was found in the early experiments in sectioning and preparing specimens for AMERICAN WOODS, that the transverse sections of certain woods were of surprising strength and smoothness, and suitable for cards for commercial purposes.” Not the least of which was advertising The American Woods itself.
These were not the only uses for Hough’s wood slicing device. Back in the realm of botany and biology, Hough produced slides that could be used by magic lantern projectors allowing the fine detail of the woods to be seen and studied by groups of people. Lastly, using the capacity of the device to produce the thinnest sections, Hough also prepared slides for use with a microscope.
At the beginning of his project, Hough is said to have personally selected each tree that provided his samples. At least with regard to the 27 sets of sections that comprise the first volume, he writes in a November 1887 prospectus seeking subscribers:
“The author has been scrupulously careful about the identification of each tree, selected for the specimens, in the field, before felling it, while the leaves, flowers or fruit (one or all) have been obtainable, and he can vouch for the authenticity of every species represented.”
In 1889, The American Woods was awarded a grand prize at the Paris Exposition. By 1909, it had won medals at the Columbian Exposition at Chicago, Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle and the Elliott Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It was recognized as an essential resource and was reviewed as such.
Between 1888 and 1913, thirteen of the projected fifteen volumes were published in three editions at an initial price of $5.00 per volume. Extra or replacement specimen cards were available at $0.10 apiece, as announced inside the cover of several volumes. Hough’s aim was to “carry constantly a supply of such specimens.” Of the thirteen volumes, the first four covered the trees of New York and adjacent states, specimens in volume five were collected in Florida, parts six through ten represent the trees of the Pacific slope, eleven and twelve present the species of the Atlantic and Central states, while volume thirteen continued the collection of species from Florida.
Romeyn Hough died in 1924 before he could finish the project. What turned out to be the last volume in the series, the fourteenth, was completed by his daughter, Marjorie Galloway Hough, and published in 1928. It contained additional specimens from Florida. In all, the work presents 354 species and 1056 wood samples.
Special Collections has the first twelve volumes of Hough’s work. It is, for the most part, in fabulous shape. The fourteenth volume is particularly rare and we would like to complete the set, if we can.
But if The American Woods had a 19th-century genesis, its life and significance continued through the 20th and into the 21st centuries. In 1954, Robert Speller and Sons, publishers, determined that a large supply of Hough’s original samples still existed and were in the possession of Hough’s daughter, Marjorie. She supplied the specimens for a new edition of the work, published in 1957 and titled, Hough’s Encyclopaedia of American Woods. Eight new volumes of descriptive text was provided by Ellwood Scott Harrar, then Dean of the School of Forestry at Duke University, along with 16 volumes of samples. The samples were presented in much the same manner as the originals, three different sections of a single species mounted on individual cards.
This newer edition may be found in Newman Library’s general collection. Though perhaps lacking the charm of the original edition, it includes 385 varieties of trees and 1161 separate samples, thus including examples that Hough had not been able to present in the original editions, but for which he had specimens. In fact, as recently as December 2011, Jon Speller, son of the publisher, posted a website on which he offered a collection of nearly 1.2 million individual wood specimens comprising the remainder of Hough’s own collection!
I have had the pleasure of showing the set in Special Collections to students, researchers, and woodworkers alike. The American Woods is a remarkable achievement. An unparalleled resource of its time, it remains an exquisite thing of beauty. It should then come as no surprise that in this century—in 2002 and again in 2013—Taschen, an art book publisher came out with The Woodbook, a volume that contains high quality photographic reproductions of all the original specimen plates from Hough’s original volumes, along with selected drawings and text.
Neither vegetable nor dream, of this century and each of the prior two centuries, and representing a lifetime of work, Hough’s The American Woods remains a testament to the beauty and utility of a fine piece of wood.
One of the great things about working in a place like Special Collections is that “discovery” can be an everyday occurrence. I’ve written at this blog—either obliquely or directly—about this dimension of the job, as have many of my colleagues. Whether the find is a promotional flyer for D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a journal from an arctic expedition, a letter written by Victoria Cross (one of several pseudonyms of British writer, Annie Sophie Cory), or a copy of The Great Gatsbyautographed by F. Scott Fitzgerald . . . there is always some excitement even if you know that the discovery really may mean that you haven’t seen the item before. Someone else, perhaps a colleague, likely a predecessor, may have very well known about the book, letter, paper that you’ve just “discovered.”
So, several years ago, when I was perusing the part of our stacks that deals with aviation (the TLs for all you library-folk out there), I saw for the first time a nondescript book with a rough, brownish, handmade paper cover and pages that were clearly handmade, a book with a lot of age on it. When I opened up the book, this is what I saw: L’Uomo Volante per Aria, per Acqua, e per Terra. Novissima Invenzione di un Anonimo Italiano Dell’ Anno 1784. In Venizia Presso L’Amico Dell’ Autore.
Roughly translated: Man Flying over the air, water, and land. New Inventions/Innovation of an Anonymous Italian of the Year 1784. In Venice at a Friend of the Author’s.
Most translations of the title that I’ve seen are close variations of this. Could be “through air” or “on water” or “on land,” I suppose, but the date is clear; that it was published anonymously is clear; and it is completely clear that I’d never heard of this work. A quick check showed that no English translation exists. A handwritten note on the inside front cover, reads (translated), “The author is Count Carlo Bettoni.” Again, he was unknown to me, but a little bit of investigating confirmed that is known to be the author of the book . . . and that only six copies are listed in Worldcat. This is the kind of discovery, a felicitous thing, that drives curiosity! That the two languages of the book, Italian and mathematics, are languages in which I am less than fluent, did nothing to quell my desire to know more.
So many things to investigate! What do we know about Count Bettoni? A few quick searches on the book title indicate that an individual named Giuseppe Avanzini contributed the mathematical content of the book, but what do all those equations seek to describe? Even more tantalizing . . . Worldcat shows that four of the six copies listed also include illustrations or folding plates! Our copy does not. The year of publication, 1784 is, itself, interesting. Only in late 1782 did the Mongolfier brothers of France start their experiments with balloons, with the first untethered balloon flight with a human aboard occurring on 21 November 1783 in a system of their design. It is fair to say that the early and mid 1780s saw the craze of ballooning emerge—especially in Britain and France, but also in Italy—as a popular craze and a seductive possibility for scientific investigation. Apparently, Bettoni took part, but he also seems to have let his imagination range over . . . what, improved methods of transportation over land and sea, as well?
Bettoni was born in 1725 to a wealthy landowning family in what is now Brescia in the Lombardy region of north Italy. The aptly-named [?] Biographical Dictionary of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1842–44) describes him as “a nobleman passionately fond of science, and a munificient patron of scientific men.” In 1768, he founded the Academy of Agrarian Brescia and, apparently, conducted experiments to protect mulberry trees from a rampant epidemic. In some circles, (see A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World . . . Digested on a New Plan by John Pinkerton, vol. 4, 1809), and as a result of these experiments, Bettoni was credited with discovering a new silkworm! Bitten by the ballooning bug in 1783, Bettoni went to work with Avanzini on what would become L’Uomo Volante.
Born in 1753, Avanzini studied theology and mathematics at Brescia, while preparing himself for the priesthood. He came to Bettoni’s attention and had gained recognition for his skill as a mathematician by the time he collaborated with Bettoni on Thoughts on the Government of the Rivers (1782) a work that reported on the practice of planting specific kinds of trees along riverbanks to impede erosion and decrease the dangers of flooding. They would work together again after L’Uomo Volante on a large and unfinished project to produce a topographical map of the area surrounding Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy located about halfway between Brescia and Verona. Whatever the nature of the collaboration between the two men, it is clear that the substance of the mathematical element Avanzini contributed to L’Uomo Volante and to other projects, was the work of a man who would go on to become professor of mathematics and, later, of physics and applied mathematics at the University of Padua. His work, primarily in the area of fluid dynamics, would earn him membership in the Italian National Academy of Sciences (Società Italiana). While I am not qualified to judge the quality and appropriateness of the mathematics in L’Uomo Volante, I would guess that it could be evaluated seriously.
The Enciclopedia Italiana di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti describes L’Uomo Volante, in one of the few characterizations I have found, as “miscuglio piuttosto audace di prosa scientifica e di progetti palesemente utopistici” (translated as “a rather bold mixture of scientific prose and blatantly utopian projects”). The Enciclopedia, also known as Treccani says that Bettoni, an “agricultural and technical aviation pioneer,” was the first to propose a dirigible balloon and a system of propulsion based on rowing. Other sources also suggest his is the first recorded version of an elongated airship, a spindle-shaped balloon, rather than the spherical balloons either in use or proposed at the time. (The use of the word “dirigible” suggests a rigid frame, but I do not know if this is part of the Bettoni/Avanzini design.)
Of course, there were plans for the more typical version, as well, but with some accommodation for steering and/or propulsion.
There were also two drawings included for water travel, one involving an elongated system of paddles:
Bastimento volante per acqua (anche Kraken de’ legni nautici), Ship flying through water, Tav. 1 (with permission: Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica “F. Datini”
Bastimento volante per acqua (anche Kraken de’ legni nautici), Ship flying through water, Tav. 2 (with permission: Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica “F. Datini”
But now, when we come to land, well, this giant-sized hampster wheel really got my attention! Check it out!
So, should we ignore this work that seems to have garnered little attention over a couple of centuries? Is it the work of a wealthy amateur scientist (read: crackpot) whose mathematician colleague lent his skills for a free ride? Is it to be taken seriously? Doesn’t someone want to translate it? Is this the basis for a thesis or dissertation just waiting, screaming, in fact, to be tackled? Surely, some student in the history of science and technology wants to rediscover Signori Bettoni and Avanzini. Ladies and Gents, Studente e Studentesse . . . step right up!
I started working with Special Collections in September. I wasn’t sure what to really expect. I had previously done artifact analyses at my high school, but the work I have done here has been a bit different. The majority of collections I have worked on with Special Collections are either Civil War related or Engineering related. Both types had their own quirks. The Civil War soldiers and writers thought it was necessary to store hair in their letters and the engineers took few good pictures, though both were surprisingly good at sketching.
As I read through each collection, these people’s lives, I consistently learned something new. I organized and processed a collection by a Chemical Engineer from Alaska who produced rocket fuel and science fiction. His name was John D. Clark. In addition, I organized the files of an Aerospace Engineer named Blake W. Corson, Jr. I found these two men particularly inspiring because they both believed it was their responsibility to serve the people around them with the skills they had. In engineering classes we are taught many things, part of the curriculum are ethics. Part of ethics are to use the skills you have to better the world. Both Clark and Corson embodied these ethics and consistently strove to make the communities surrounding them better. Corson, for example, created multiple documents detailing a better waste management system for Newport News, Virginia, that he eventually mailed to President Jimmy Carter. As I uncovered more documentation on these men I learned a great deal about their lives and I grew to admire them.
I was also reminded of my on mortality, many of the people who I now hold in high esteem are dead. Every collection I have processed was for someone who died. Many were eloquent in the way they worded their thoughts others went from talking about an execution to the minced pies they were eating. In my opinion some of the soldiers were heroes and some of them weren’t and some of them just wanted to see their families one more time. The engineers are heroes in their own way as well. Both were key cogs in the space agency machine working towards the goal of getting rockets off of the ground and making better aircraft for the military. All are dead. Sometimes I do not notice that these people are buried somewhere near their families or in an undiscovered grave waiting for the next Civil War historian to discover them. When I remember these things I remember why I sit at a desk for a minimum of two hours at a time writing a person’s name once or even a hundred times. The idea is that this person will be remembered and their distant relatives might find their names. They will be found as a relic from the past that a family can reminisce over or claim as their heritage. I am glad that I have been a part of that process, even if only for a little while.
Since I have talked a lot about the things that I have processed I want to give you an idea of work I do. The steps seem repetitive, but I actually find the work relaxing and remedial. As a processing intern, my responsibilities have been relatively straight forward and simple. I wanted to end on these steps because they are the dictionary definition of what I do as opposed to my personal definition of what I do.
Step 1: Look at files. Read the files if they do not span longer than a cubic foot of box.
Step 2: Organize and catalog each document in the collection. Personally I color code with plastic clips.
Step 3: Review organization and file order, reorder.
Step 4: Label each folder with a box number and folder number.
Original materials. One-of-a-kind documents. This is what one expects to find in Special Collections. Any Special Collections. All Special Collections. It is our business. But every once in a while, you come across a unique document and, “surely,” you say to yourself, “there must be another copy of it somewhere.” Yes, it is unique because it is a particular individual’s copy, maybe with his or her annotations, but this can’t possibly be the only copy that exists! And then you find out, maybe, it is. Could the proceedings from the first Rochester Conference on High Energy Physics, part of the Robert E. Marshak Papers, 1947-1990, be such a document?
The first Conference on High Energy Physics to be held in Rochester, NY took place on 16 December 1950. It was organized largely by Robert Marshak, then the new chair of the Physics Department at the University of Rochester. Marshak had started at Rochester in 1939 and, following the outbreak of the war, worked first in Boston on furthering the development of radar and then, in Montreal, contributing to the British effort to produce an atomic bomb. In 1944, he joined the American atomic effort at Los Alamos, where he was a deputy group leader in theoretical physics. With the end of the war, however, inquiry into the realm of nuclear and particle physics no longer needed to be restricted to its practical aspects.
That first meeting in Rochester followed by 20 months the last of the three Shelter Island conferences that had been organized by Robert Oppenheimer between 1947 and 1949. Marshak, who attended these meetings and at which he first proposed the influential two-meson theory, described them as having been “limited to a small number of theorists, with a couple of ‘token’ experimentalists,”* nearly all American. The goal for the Shelter Island meetings, which involved approximately 25 attendees, was to assess the post-war status of particle physics and to provide an outlook for future developments. Marshak’s vision was to invite a more equal mix of theorists, accelerator experimentalists, and cosmic ray experimentalists and to make the meeting truly international. The increased emphasis on the experimental aspect of the field reflected not only Marshak’s interests, but also the fact that five new high-energy accelerators had been built in the U.S. since the end of the war—including one at Rochester—and they were producing results.
An early proposal for the Rochester conference was sent to the University of Rochester’s provost, Donald Gilbert, on 11 January 1949, before the last of the three Shelter Island meetings. The proposal was for a five-day event that included a one-day trip to the accelerator facilities at Cornell. It came with a request to the university for $7500. A letter written by Marshak to Joseph C. Wilson, head of The Haloid Company (which would become Xerox Corp.), dated 22 January 1950, makes clear that funding for the proposal would need to come from private sources.
By the fall of 1950, the conference was planned as a one-day event and scheduled for 16 December. The Physics building on campus would remain open the following day for post-conference meetings/ presentations and Professor Wolfgang Panofsky extended his visit for a week to include a public lecture and special colloquia on new frontiers and recent experiments. A first round of invitations to general attendees may have been sent out in late October or early November, as the earliest acceptance among the materials is dated 7 November. Another general invitation in the collection is dated 29 November. Invitations were sent to approximately 100 top physicists as well to interested representatives of local industries, including Haloid, which provided financial support for the conference.
Interestingly, in a hand-written reply to a request that he participate in some of the post-conference discussion, Richard Feynman wrote:
O.K. I’ll stick around a couple of days more and talk things over. We’ll worry about what the lectures are later. In the meantime something general like ‘Field Theory’ or something will do as a title I guess. You make the title, I’ll talk on it.
Three sessions were scheduled for the day-long program: a morning session dealing with experiments with nucleons, chaired by Abraham Pais; an afternoon session on experiments with mesons, chaired by Robert Oppenheimer; and an evening session chaired by Hans Bethe on experiments with photons and electrons. In a June 1970 article for “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,” Marshak wrote:
There were three sessions of invited papers at this first Rochester Conference, chiefly experimental reports on nucleon elastic scattering and meson production by nucleons and photons. Theoretical discussion on the experimental findings was useful, but I do not recall any breakthroughs.
The manuscript of the proceedings begins with a 6-page summary of the morning session written up by R.S., possibly R. Scalettar, a colleague of Marshak’s from Rochester’s Physics Department. What follows are approximately 120 pages of marked-up typescript, a transcript of the day’s presentations and discussion. As is clear from the manuscript, the day’s events were recorded on audio tape, which provided the basis for the transcription. (The fate of the original tape is anyone’s guess.) In addition to notes on various pages regarding “reel” and “side” numbers, the following note is found very early in the transcription of the morning presentation:
about 3 minutes of Ramsey’s speech is not available to us at this point because the plug to the recording machine was kicked out of wall.
Is it comforting—or, perhaps, simply humbling—to recognize that our knowledge of this conference of the most esteemed representatives of the most advanced technology of the day depended, in part, on the recognition that an electric plug had been kicked out of the wall?
There is also the following note from the person producing the transcript:
(broke tape at this point, after spending nearly two hours learning operation of machine and taking notes. It took from 30 to 45 minutes to learn the machine and listen to the speech once and the rest of the time was taking notes, a few words at a time and rewinding frequently when I couldn’t keep up or missed a word. B.)
There is some indication that written proceedings were to be distributed to the participants in the conference. It remains unclear whether this was done, but it appears doubtful. John Polkinghorne, in his 1989 book, Rochester Roundabout: The Story of High Energy Physics, states unequivocally, “No Proceedings are publicly available of the first Conference.” (p.198). I have found no others. In his 1986 book, Inward Bound: Of Matter and Forces in the Physical World, Abraham Pais, a participant in the 1950 conference, notes his thanks to Robert Marshak for “making available to me an unedited transcript of that meeting.” (note, p.461). These are, presumably, copies of the typescript held here in the Marshak Papers. Lastly, in June 2014, a set of the proceedings of the First through Seventh Rochester Conferences on High Energy Physics was sold through Bonhams auction house. The description specifies:
Vol. I: mimeographed typescript draft with ms corrections, in 3-ring binder, with ms note to Abraham Pais from Robert Marshak, founder of the Rochester Conferences. (http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21652/lot/130/ last viewed 10 July 2015)
Can we presume that this is the copy Pais refers to in his book? Are there any others? Perhaps not.
Marshak’s initial conference grew to become the event of lasting and international significance that he envisioned. The Third Conference, held December 18–20, 1952, had 150 participants, had governmental support for the first time, and included scientists from Great Britain, Italy, Australia, France, Holland, and Japan, among other countries. The Sixth Conference, held in April 1956, saw the attendance of the first Soviet delegation. The following year, 300 scientists from 24 countries attended the Seventh Conference, which ran for 5 days. It had become what John Wheeler, physicist from Princeton, called the “premier opportunity for the physicists of the world to exchange ideas.” After the Seventh Conference, the newly organized High Energy Commission of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) decided to establish a three-way rotation for the annual conference with the 1958 meeting in Geneva and the 1959 meeting in Kiev. In 1960, the Tenth Conference—lasting eight days and with 36 scientific secretaries also participating—was back in Rochester, but for the last time before the officially named International Conference on High Energy Physics left permanently for more varied venues and a biennial schedule.
In 1970 Marshak left Rochester to become president of the City College of New York, and in the fall of 1979 became a University Distinguished Professor of Physics at Virginia Tech. He retired as Emeritus University Distinguished Professor in 1987. Robert E. Marshak died on 23 December 1992.
Although the conference that began with Marshak’s small one-day event is now being held around the world, it is still commonly referred to as the Rochester conference. The proceedings of that first meeting are now publicly available, likely for the first time.
All of this material and more will eventually find its way to this department’s platform for digital content, Special Collections Online, but until then, for this material, this post will have to serve in its place.
*Marshak, Robert E., “Scientific impact of the first decade of the Rochester conferences (1950–1960,” in Pions to Quarks: Particle Physics in the 1950s, Laurie M. Brown, Dresden, and Hoddeson, eds., New York: Cambridge University Press, 198
It’s graduation weekend and maybe you’d expect us to serve up some nice photographs of past graduations, the whole pomp and circumstance thing. Well, certainly congratulations to the graduates!!! But, no, we’ll have no old caps and gowns this time. No historic commencement addresses. Not this year. After being in Washington, D.C. this past weekend, I was reminded of a small part of Virginia Tech history—Montgomery County history, really—that just might offer some bragging rights to graduates and alumni alike. Of course, some might shrink from this decades-old bit of business, but I get that, too.
Look around this campus and you’ll see the Virginia Tech name and/or logo on many different kinds of objects. Banners, posters, rings, flyers, diplomas(!), buildings, and signs just to mention a few. But how many universities have had their name emblazoned on a Boeing B-29 Superfortress? That’s right, 99 ft. long, a wingspan of 141 ft 3 in, and a top speed of 365 mph . . . and “Virginia Tech” written right across the nose. How did this come about?
In May 1944, The Techgram, a V.P.I. publication, ran its first announcement for a war bond drive that, if successful, would result in a B-29 named “Virginia Tech.” This effort was administered by the war bond committee of Montgomery County. It ran from 12 June to 8 July and was part of the fifth nationwide War Loan Drive. Over $500,000 in Series E bonds would have to be sold in or attributed to Montgomery County for the drive to be successful. (That’s nearly $7 million in today’s money!) The article also claimed that if the required total was reached, an attempt would be made to have the bomber’s crew be made up entirely of Tech graduates.
By 8 July, the drive was still $75,000 short, but purchases reported through 31 July could still be credited towards the necessary total. An article in the 15 July issue of The Techgram reminded readers that purchases from folks outside of Montgomery County—especially from university alums—could be counted towards that figure. The 15 August edition announced, “Soon a bomber named “Virginia Tech” will be flying against enemies of the U.S.” The drive had been successful, though as later articles would announce, the plan to have only “Techmen” serve onboard the new airplane was not feisible.
The “Virginia Tech” (serial number 44-61529) arrived on Tinian in the Pacific at the end of May 1945 as part of the 45th Bombardment Squadron, 40th Bombardment Group, 58th Bomber Wing, 21st Bomber Command. First Lieutenant C. Thornesberry was listed as the airplane commander. “Virginia Tech” was first deployed on 7 June on a mission over Osaka, Japan. It flew eight missions over Japan that month, each lasting approximately 15 hours. It continued to fly with a variety of crews until the war ended following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August, respectively. (The only atomic bombs/nuclear weapons ever used during wartime were, of course, dropped by B-29s. That’s where the potential ambivalence comes in.) On 8 October 1945, “Virginia Tech” received orders to return to the States via Kwajalein to Mather Field, California. Under the command of Captain John Mewha, it arrived home sometime around 14 October and by the end of November 1945 was assigned to March Field in southern California.
Whether or not the “Virginia Tech” flew missions in Korea is unclear, at least to me. How long it kept its name is also unclear. In the post-war era, nose art and named designations for individual aircraft started to become less common than they had been during World War II. We know that when B-29 serial #44-61529 met its end in 1951, it was part of 22nd Bomb Group, 19th Bomb Squadron, a unit that did serve in Korea. We also know, according to US Air Force accident reports, that on 2 April 1951, while stationed at March Field and under the command of Captain Max G. Thaete, the B-29 formerly(?) known as “Virginia Tech” crashed in the California desert, about 20 miles ENE of Desert Center. An engine fire was reportedly the cause of the accident. No one onboard was seriously injured, but the airplane was damaged beyond repair.
So, the next time you speak with your friends from some other university and you’ve unaccountably run out of things to say about Virginia Tech, you can ask whether their school has an airplane of the type that brought World War II to a close named after it.
And if you’ve never seen a B-29, there is only one still in flying condition (named Fifi, by the way) and it flew over Washington, D.C. just last week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of V-E Day along with over 50 other WWII warbirds.
Or, if you’re just needing to see a photograph of a Virginia Tech graduation . . .
Arthur Ballard Massey arrived in Blacksburg in 1918, ready to assume his duties as associate professor of plant pathology and bacteriology at Virginia Tech and as a researcher with the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station. Just 29 years old, the Albemarle County native had already served as an instructor of botany at Clemson University for three years and as assistant botanist at the Alabama Agricultural Research Station for five. His tenure at Virginia Tech would span 40 years.
Educational requirements for careers in academia were not as stringent a century ago as they are today, and despite holding only a bachelor’s degree until 1928, Massey devoted most of his first decade at Virginia Tech to instruction. He taught all of the university’s bacteriology courses until 1924, and in that year was assigned to teaching full-time. In 1935, Massey became a botanist in the Virginia Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, a position he would hold until his 1959 retirement; Massey’s duties during these years became much more focused on research rather than instruction.
In a 1992 biographical sketch, Professor Curtis W. Roane wrote, “One might describe Massey as a complete botanist. He taught and conducted research in many phases of botany but he excelled in the taxonomy of Virginia flowering plants and will be most remembered for his collections and records of this flora.” Massey found the university’s herbarium to be a particularly useful teaching tool, and during his tenure, the herbarium steadily expanded. Massey is credited with adding 25,000 specimens to the collection, and in recognition of his contributions, the herbarium today bears his name.
While serving as chair of the Virginia Academy of Science’s Flora Committee, Massey cofounded the botanical journal Claytonia, a forerunner of today’s Virginia Journal of Science, and he worked with colleagues from the University of Virginia in establishing the Mountain Lake Biological Station. Perhaps most significantly among his accomplishments, Massey added greatly to the literature on the commonwealth’s flora, publishing such works as The Ferns and Fern Allies of Virginia (1944), Orchids in Virginia (1953), and Poisonous Plants in Virginia (1954).
In addition to several of these publications, Special Collections holds the Arthur B. Massey Papers (Ms1962-002). Among the papers are a number of essays and other works written by Massey and others on various botanical subjects. The collection also contains photographs and lists of trees on the Virginia Tech campus, valuable resources for studies of the campus’s arboreal history and landscape development.
Also among the papers is an undated essay by Massey titled “Wild Flower Conservation.” In it, the botanist warns that exploitation has endangered a number of native wildflower species:
We have inherited, to a large degree, the notion that the native plants growing in the fields, meadows, and woodlands, the great out-of-doors, are there for the first to come (first come, first served, never mind who follows). Thoughtful Americans are awakening to the realization that some of our most interesting native plants are becoming rare and well nigh on to extinction… By education and example we need to develop a wild flower consciousness and a true interest in their conservation.
Though the conservation of natural resources was no new concept at the time (the American conservation movement having its roots in the late 19th century), the paper was written years before conservation would enter the mainstream of American consciousness, and it shows a growing realization among naturalists that valuable species were being irrevocably lost to careless overharvesting. While Massey’s little essay is hardly a landmark in environmental thought, it expresses views that the professor undoubtedly shared with students through instruction and with peers and the public at large through his writings and outreach, influencing the viewpoints of those he taught.
Here in the New River Valley, we’re fortunate to live in a region of abundant biodiversity. Though the landscape has altered dramatically since the arrival of the first Euro-American settlers, it remains in large part a healthy ecosystem. The preservation of this ecosystem remains the living legacy of A. B. Massey and the many naturalists like him who have encouraged us to learn about, to engage with, and to value the living things that we see around us every day. That’s something to keep in mind as we venture outdoors and enjoy the colorful changes that spring brings to the surrounding fields and woods.
And if you’re unable to get outside, pay us a visit, and we’ll be happy to pull some of the many books we have on the subject of flora (local, national, and elsewhere), a small, colorful sampling from which you can see below: