TAPE 1, SIDE 1
MR. COLLINS: We'd like to begin this series of interviews by taking a look at your early family life and family background, and then move on to your early schooling and some of your early interests and your education at Harvard. Just to start off, why don't you give us your father's and mother's names and their backgrounds.
DR. SEAMANS: My father was Robert C. Seamans, I'm a junior, and my mother's name was Pauline, and her maiden name was Bossen. My father was a certified public accountant. I really don't remember back that far, but there was a time when he was a bank examiner, and about the time I was conscious of what he was doing, he was working in a brokerage house in Boston, and the Stock Market crash came along, and he was out of a job for quite a period of time, and finally went to work for a relatively small bank, in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the County Savings Bank. It was a bank that was actually started by my grandfather on my mother's side. And he had the job of helping people who could not meet their mortgage payments.
COLLINS: Was this an activity that was inspired by the difficult period that he must have gone through when he was unemployed?
SEAMANS: Yes. There was a time when, if you foreclosed, it wouldn't necessarily help the bank, because there was nobody there to sell these houses to. So there was a real economic reason for wanting to keep people in their homes, as well as a humanitarian reason. Father just worked with a whole bunch of different families in Chelsea to try to help them get through this difficult period. I can remember when things were starting to get better again, Father would get all kinds of homemade bottles of wine, and all kinds of things, from people that kept their homes, thanks to my Father.
COLLINS: How did your family get by in this period when he was unemployed? Is that something that you were aware of?
SEAMANS: Well, I was somewhat aware of it, because this is a time when I just started boarding school in the western part of the state. I can remember mother and father coming out to see me and saying that they weren't sure it was going to be possible to keep me in the school. At that time, the annual cost of keeping a boy in a school was $650, and they were just upping the amount to $750, and one of the reasons that mother and father went out there, was to talk to the headmaster, and say they didn't see how they could possibly pay the additional hundred dollars. I was allowed to stay on there for a while at the $650 level, I found out afterwards.
COLLINS: To continue on with your father's side of the family, is there anything of note you want to say about his father or his parents?
SEAMANS: My grandfather never went to college. He ran a hardware supply store in Boston, was actually from Exeter, New Hampshire. Father went to Harvard, and was very interested in architecture, but my grandfather figured that he had a bachelor's degree, that's more than you needed anyway, and he was not about to send him to graduate school. To go back a couple of generations, I think the member of the family that might possibly bear on this discussion was a fellow named Otis Tuft, who holds one of the original patents for the elevator, and also came up with the design of a double-hulled ship for safety purposes. This is in a period right around the Civil War. Right after the war, the buildings in New York started to go over five and six stories because of the elevator, and the then Prince of Wales is reported to have come over for a ride in one of Otis Tuft's elevators. It was quite unique at that time--steam driven.
COLLINS: That's very interesting. Let's take a look at your mother's side of the family from Courtland Perkins' mini-biography as you call it here. You have a few things to say about him.
SEAMANS: I just barely remember my grandfather Bosson. He died when I was six or seven years old. He was, I would say, a fairly unique individual, in that he was a businessman, who was involved with the Hood Rubber Co., the Pequoit Mills in Salem, and he also ran a bank. I should also say, he ran the Boston Lockport Block Co. which made great big shivs, great big pulleyes, originally for sailing vessels, more recently for cargo ships and for oil rigs and so on. I said he was the president of a small bank and he was also a judge on the local court, so I don't know--people didn't worry so much about conflict of interest in those days, but he certainly had his finger in a lot of different things. He was a person who was not very well; he had a bad heart. The first time he crossed the Atlantic was on a sailing vessel. I remember reading somewhere his account of sailing across. But he used to spend summers over there taking hot baths and other "cures", which was supposedly good for people with circulatory problems. I just want to make one point about my grandfather, which I think is sort of interesting. Even though he was going over for health reasons, when my mother and father would meet him and my grandmother at the [pier], my grandfather would always seem much worse than when he went overseas. He'd go back to his house and later on his apartment and be essentially bedridden, and after three or four days lying in bed, he'd start picking up the phone and calling the bank, and then he'd call his other business associates, and then he'd decide to have a board meeting in his bedroom, and before you knew it he'd be jumping in the chauffered car to go around and see what was really going on, and he would come alive again. To me, an interesting commentary on the importance of remaining reasonably active!
COLLINS: Yes. I guess the reason I asked you to talk about him a little bit, here I got the impression he had some kind of impact, made some very distinct impressions on you at that early age.
SEAMANS: Well, yes he did. I wasn't aware of all of his business dealings, but he played piano quite well, and he taught me the Lord's Prayer, and he always was reading four or five different books. I didn't quite realize that then either, but he liked to have one book on history and he liked to have a novel and I think a book of poetry, he was working his way through all of them simultaneously. I'd say that he did have an overall impact that grew on me as I became more and more aware of his various accomplishments.
COLLINS: You mentioned that he died when you were about six or seven. So when your father went to work for your grandfather's bank he had actually passed away?
SEAMANS: Yes, what happened was that my uncle, my mother's only brother, she didn't have any sisters either, just two in the family, took over a lot of the things that my grandfather had been doing, including the bank and the Boston Lockport Block Co., and so my uncle was actually running the bank.
COLLINS: I notice here in the Perkins biography that you were one of three children.
SEAMANS: Yes, I was the oldest, and I had a brother Peter, who is five years younger and a brother Donald who's eight years younger than I am, both alive and healthy.
COLLINS: That's good to hear. As you were growing up, did you have, since you were a little bit older than they were, did you have fairly close contact with them, similar interests, or did you sort of lead a separate life from them?
SEAMANS: Well, in the very beginning it was quite separate. I can remember the first time I came home from boarding school. I guess I was 13, and they were all at the door to meet me, and I remember very distinctly that I was amazed at how young they were. There wasn't a great deal in common. But we've developed a lot of common interests since then, and it of course worked out that I really got to know my brother Peter first, because he was going away to school and then college before Donny was. I must say that we weren't always very kind to Donny. The two older ones tended to gang up on the younger one. And that actually continued until my brother Donny got married, and his wife put an end to it. She's a very strong-minded person, and I think about the second time we started teasing my brother Donny, she really lowered the boom on us!
COLLINS: That's very humorous.
SEAMANS: Let me just tell you one little incident, which I thought was screamingly funny. My brother went to Bowdoin College, and I was driving through Brunswick where Bowdoin is located, not too long after Donny had graduated and after he was married. I knew they'd just changed presidents, and I don't know why, but I went into a Western Union station, it was right there in Brunswick, and sent Donny a telegram, signed by the new president, saying that as new president, I wanted to review the status of all of the graduates of Bowdoin and be sure that they really came up to the standards that I felt were important for the college, and I required all graduates to report to a local high school where they had to take a series of tests, to be sure that the college was going to honor their degrees. I told my brother to report to Marblehead High School at a particular time, and I signed it as the president. I remember, the gal at Western Union said, "Are you really?" whatever the man's name was, and I said, "Well, I'm not Abe Lincoln," and I seemed to pass muster, and the telegram was sent, and my brother got terribly upset when he got this message and started calling around. It took him awhile to figure out that I was the one who sent it, and he vowed he would never give me the satisfaction of knowing how upset he was. But I finally found out.
COLLINS: It sounds like he's endured quite a bit.
SEAMANS: He really has. That's the point of the story.
COLLINS: Let's turn to your educational background here a little bit. I noticed that you attended the Towers School.
SEAMANS: Right. That was a private elementary school located about five blocks from where I lived. I can vaguely remember my mother taking me to the school when I was just barely, I was not quite five years old, and I was supposed to go to kindergarten, they didn't have nursery school in those days. They took a look at me as I came in the door, Miss Runnette and Miss Luscomb who ran the school. I was clearly a lot bigger than all the other kids there, and they said, "He's so tall, start him in first grade," which I did, so I was always a little bit younger for thegrade I was in, but it wasn't because of any mental prowess. I happened to be a little bit taller. The school was imaginatively run. I'd say that, a lot of our contemporary schools do today what they were doing back then. It wasn't just a question of learning by rote, but a fairly creative place, particularly in the arts. We had a lot of school plays, where our poor mothers would have to make all kinds of costumes for us, and we'd be knights in King Arthur's Court or God-knows-what all, in these plays. We made a lot of things with paper mache. So, I feel that it was a very good basis of education there for going on to high school and beyond.
COLLINS: Is there any particular reason that your family chose a private over a public school, that you recall?
SEAMANS: Well, that's a good question. My first cousin, almost exactly my age, lived a block away, actually went to the Bowdoin school, which was a public school. When things got rougher financially, my brother Donny went to public school. I don't think I ever really discussed this with my family, but I guess they felt that the classes were smaller and I would get more attention by going to the Tower School. There was a sports program, which they did not have in those days in the public school in Salem at the elementary level. We played football in the fall, and then hockey on a fresh water pond in the winter, and baseball in the spring.
COLLINS: Were you interested in athletics?
SEAMANS: Very much so. We definitely grew up in that kind of a climate where if somebody didn't go out for team sports, they were queer, very peculiar, not manly. There was one father who had been quite an athlete in his days in Princeton, and he used to take us in to see the Bruins play hockey and the Red Sox and the Braves play baseball. We were current on all the great athletes at that time, and tried to pretend we were the same.
COLLINS: Beyond the sports programs and their interest in artistic endeavors, is there anything else that was noteworthy about the curriculum there?
SEAMANS: Well, they went in very strongly for Greek mythology, you know, Homer's Odyssey and so on, and went into it in great depth. We'd act out the stories, and we could recite a lot of the material. It became almost contemporary in your minds, because we could visualize the scenes pretty well, thanks to the school program. They also had quite a good language program.
COLLINS: Foreign language, you mean.
SEAMANS: Yes, in French.
COLLINS: During this period, outside of school, were you an avid reader and were your folks encouraging academic pursuits outside of the classroom, was that something that was part of family life at that time?
SEAMANS: No, I don't think we were, nearly as much as some of my contemporaries. The question might be, what did I do when I wasn't in school? Well, sports was one thing. I was a great electric train buff. Several of my friends were. So in the winter time, we'd go up in different attics and lay down track and run locomotives all over the place. In the summertime, starting when I was eight years old, I was sent off to Kingswood Camp in Bridgeton, Maine. "We are the jolly campers and we live in Bridgeton, Maine. Before we go, we'll let you know, we'll fight with might and main." Of course at camp there were lots of sports. What I really enjoyed there was the carpentry, a very good program, making model boats. That's also true back in the days at Salem. Some of my friends were very clever at making model biplanes. Actually, we had a weathervane over our house in Salem that I'd made when I was about nine years old, that didn't fall apart for at least a few years.
I guess most of my reading was associated with what I did in school, unlike some of my friends who did a lot more reading.
COLLINS: Really what I was driving at was that broader question, basically, how you spent time outside the classroom, and what your family interests were.
SEAMANS: I was also big with another friend of mine on radio, including crystal sets. I figured out how I could use one tube for amplification. This is back when I was ten or eleven years old. With a headset I reached the point where, first of all, I could actually distinguish stations. That was a great step forward. You couldn't tell what the music was, but you could tell it was music or you could tell it was somebody speaking even though you couldn't understand them. I reached the point where I could actually hide under the covers of the bed at night and listen to radio programs and pretend I was asleep if somebody came into the room.
COLLINS: So how did you come by the crystal set?
SEAMANS: Well, I was with a friend of mine who was actually making radios and went over and worked with him.
COLLINS: Were you a POPULAR MECHANICS reader?
SEAMANS: Oh yes, absolutely avid reader of POPULAR MECHANICS.
COLLINS: I assume that must have also been some inspiration for the model planes.
SEAMANS: Yes, definitely, it all ties together.
COLLINS: Let's take the next step. You prepared to go to this boarding school in Lenox. Apparently, your folks were casting around trying to decide where you should go for the next stage of schooling.
COLLINS: Can you talk a little bit about that?
SEAMANS: It wasn't discussed with me then, to the extent that parents now discuss with their 12, 13 year olds. It was presumed that I was going to go to the same school as my cousin on the Bosson side. He was quite a tiger, quite an athlete even at that age, and did very well in school. He went to Kent, which was a church school in Connecticut, where they emphasized scholarly endeavor as well as athletics. It was run by a priest, an Episcopalian named Father Sill who always appeared with white robes. There were church services every day. So I was taken out there by my father, and my uncle went along, to introduce us to Father Sill, and I actually stayed in the infirmary, along with some of the other applicants. We took exams in math and English and Latin, and then we had a physical, and an interview with Father Sill. I can very well remember going up into his garret, the stairs coming up at one end, and Father Sill, very imposing in his white robes at the other end smoking a pipe. He asked me a number of questions, and one of the obvious ones was to ask me if I was confirmed in the church and I said, "Yes." Actually I had been confirmed just a few weeks before. And he said, "What denomination were you confirmed in?" Well, as far as I was concerned, I just went to church in Salem and everybody went to the same church and I never really noticed what the denomination was, so I said, "I'm not quite sure but I think it begins with a P," and that's when he said, "Oh, you must be a Presbyterian." I said, "No, I don't think that sounds right," and he sort of hemmed and hawed and said, "You're not an Episcopalian, are you?" "And I said, "That sounds right, I think that's what I am." I came home from school several days later, and Mother was in tears. It turned out that she had just received a letter from Kent, that I had not been admitted, although they enjoyed "having Bobby there." They felt that I was a little immature, but they'd be delighted if I would reapply the following year.
COLLINS: Was it simply your response to Father Sill?
SEAMANS: Well, the letter didn't say that. But when I told the family about the meeting, they figured that was probably it. This was no laughing matter then, I might say. I think I got a very low mark in mathematics, but I will say in my own defense that I'd never seen any of the problems that they gave me. I think I got a 25% in the math exam, but did better in the English and the Latin.
COLLINS: Was your mother's strong feeling about it related to the fact that your cousin would be attending Kent and this was kind of a family thing?
SEAMANS: I think it was looked at as, the Seamans family not having done very well in comparison with the Bossons. And I think she was probably a little concerned about me too. But you know, in those days, with two cousins--one was Dave Bosson at Kent, and the other was Jim Seamans who got straight A's wherever he went. I was always being compared with them. I didn't measure up always very well. But it really didn't bother me very much, but I could tell that it was of some concern to my parents.
COLLINS: At this time, was your father unemployed or was that to come a little bit later?
SEAMANS: That's a good question. I would say that he was--
COLLINS: This would be I guess about 1930.
SEAMANS: Yes, I think it was '32, '31. I think he was employed then. I think the really low point was a year or so after this, when I was at Lenox School.
COLLINS: After your going to Kent and going through this evaluation, did you feel it was the place you wanted to go to?
SEAMANS: In those days, I thought I was going to be sent where they wanted to send me, and if they sent me there, okay, I'd go. I was sent to camp for four years. Nobody asked my views on that either. You sort of had the view, in those days, that you didn't have much control over your destiny, and you were going to make out all right whatever happened. But I was immediately whisked off to Lenox School, soon after the family heard "the bad news". There I met Gardner Monks who was the headmaster. They did give me a couple of exams, which were fairly perfunctory. I do remember that, in answer to one of them, I gave them a long tale about the Odyssey and so on. They asked me if I knew any Greek mythology, and I really gave it back to them, and I was accepted on the spot. I came back and I remember, the next day or soon thereafter anyway, going back into Tower School, and my contemporaries had big signs, "Welcome Bobby, congratulations for being admitted to Lenox School," and so on.
COLLINS: Was there in your parent's mind some sense that Lenox was not of the caliber of Kent?
SEAMANS: Yes, I think that was probably true, it was a somewhat smaller school. But it was a growing school. Gardner Monks (George Gardner Monks) comes from what might be considered in those days a top drawer Boston family, but he didn't go into banking or finance. He'd gone to St. Mark's, became a minister, and he was a great friend of Mr. Thayer, who had run St. Mark's, which was one of the most prominent local boarding schools. Mr. Thayer felt there was a need for a school that would admit boys who could not afford to go, for one reason or another, to St. Mark's, Groton, Middlesex. So this was looked at not only as a somewhat inferior school, but also a school for those who were less well to do. And it was a self-help school; we did everything. The students did absolutely everything except the cooking and the laundry--set the tables. I can wash a dish better than anybody I know. I made the mistake after we were married at being a little perturbed at my wife, her inefficiency in the kitchen, and I started to show her how to wash dishes, and I ended up washing them for three years, until I realized my mistake! But it was a remarkable school, and it certainly gave me a wonderful background, not only academically, they had some very good masters there, I realize now. But also I learned an awful lot about what it takes to live with others in close quarters. We swept the floors, we mopped, we had what they called "work holidays" on Saturdays when we wanted to be out doing other things, and we'd stay out there all day cleaning up the grounds and mopping the floors. I ended up there as one of the prefects of the school, my senior year. Ended up having to go around and inspect how other boys were doing their work and whether they made their beds and all that stuff.
COLLINS: Was this a kind of conscious philosophy of how to bring a boy up?
SEAMANS: Absolutely. And Kent had somewhat the same pattern.
COLLINS: So this was fairly typical for the time.
SEAMANS: Well, it certainly went a lot farther than the boarding schools in this area at that time. They still had maids and so on.
COLLINS: Let's talk a little bit about the curriculum and the development of your interests. Besides the episodes at camp, this is certainly the first extended time you spent away from home.
SEAMANS: This was really extended. I went in the middle of September, and I would not leave Lenox, except when my parents came to take me out to a meal, until the 20th of December. No weekends, no Thanksgiving coming home. You know, I remember going up there and figuring this is going to be almost 14 weeks; roughly a 250th of my whole life span I'm going to be up there incarcerated!
COLLINS: Is that the way you felt?
SEAMANS: Absolutely, yes. To me the fall was sort of a gloomy time, because it was going from, you know, the leaves on the trees and everything; all of a sudden it would get colder and colder, and we used to have a contest up there to see if we could go skating on natural ice, there was no artificial ice then, before Thanksgiving. That was one of the big deals and there would be some times when there wasn't very much ice, and we put our skates on in some of these little ponds way out in the woods somewhere, and you start running on the land and you'd skate as fast as you could over to the other side, leaving broken ice behind.
COLLINS: Daredevil tactics.
SEAMANS: Yes. But in the winter, Lenox is colder than Boston. We had quite a few years when we would have a lot of snow, and we'd have to shovel it off, we didn't have a plow, shovel off snow off the ice. We never used the snow to good advantage for skiing. Hockey was the sport, by God, you went out and played hockey. We shoveled the rink off first if there was snow on it.
COLLINS: Were family visits discouraged?
SEAMANS: Oh no. It's just that in those days there wasn't Mass Turnpike and it was a bit of a struggle, for my family, with two younger boys, to get out there.
COLLINS: Let's talk a little bit about the curriculum.
SEAMANS: Okay. I guess I struggled some with the English side of things. At school you tend to get a reputation in a given area, and then it's very hard to change that reputation. I got a reputation of not being too facile in the English language. Mr. Clark who was in charge of English--"Snark Clark", we called him--was always getting me in, going over my papers that weren't very well written, and I'd have to rewrite them. It was sort of a big drag-and very good for me, I must say. Whereas on the mathematics side, and the physics, chemistry, biology side of things, I really enjoyed it, and I did well enough in the mathematics. Another boy in the class and I who were clearly ahead of some of the others, started getting special problems that we worked on outside of the regular class routine. Mr. Monks, somewhat as an experiment, I guess, thought it would be a good thing if I took the then College Boards in math that were normally at the senior level, at the sophomore level. To do that, he had to give me in one week, after the school was over, the things that were normally done in the subsequent years. I remember taking it. I got an 85 on it. But I knew, as soon as I left the exam, I knew I'd made one stupid mistake or I'd have had 100. So it just came very easily, that's all, and as did the physics, particularly the physics, I'd say.
COLLINS: When you were at the Towers school, had you recognized your interest in this area?
SEAMANS: No, in the Towers school you were fooling around with numbers and arithmetic, and it's pretty hard to tell then, I think. But particularly when you get into geometry, and you had to prove things, if you got three different sized circles and you draw lines in a certain way, one particular line is going to go through the center of one of the three circles, that kind of a problem really intrigued me.
COLLINS: So the education really began to open up new areas for you.
SEAMANS: Absolutely. Then after that, the head of the math department at the school gave one other boy and myself special problems, because we'd gone beyond all the courses they had at the school.
COLLINS: We were just discussing your interest and success in the math curricula there. Describe a little bit what the science courses were like during this period.
SEAMANS: I'd say that the biology, which was our sophomore year, and chemistry was our junior year, my recollection would be they were pretty routine, sort of what you'd expect--you know, you dissect a frog. So I went through them, and I guess they were somewhat intriguing, but the course that I found really interesting was my senior year in physics, where again I had Mr. Monks, the headmaster. You know when we started, we couldn't use differential equations. We weren't at quite that point mathematically. But we were getting into problems of that sort. You know, take a beam and you put something on it, and you have the coefficient of friction, you pick it up and when does it start to slide? Problems of that sort. But taught in a very imaginative way, not just sort of going by the book. I would say that, to sum it up, Mr. Monks had made quite a deep impression on me. It just happened that his interests were in math and physics and so on. At the same time he was the headmaster and also a minister-- so I saw him in a lot of different ways. Every year we had courses in sacred studies, as well as going to chapel every day. It ended up with a very informal course that Mr. Monks taught when we were seniors, where we actually met after supper Sundays. We were allowed to smoke in those days so it was a fairly smoke-filled room, and one of the subjects that used to intrigue included when I'd tell them about Lenox was the issue of, "how do you know when you've met the person that you want to marry?" That was a very interesting question. At that time girls were certainly of interest to us by then, and one of the tests that we came up with, I remember, was, how would she look at breakfast? Not, how does she look when you're taking her out to a dance. I found out that was a pretty good test.
COLLINS: Given the religious training of the school, it seems like there were probably some more spiritual or substantive kinds of questions.
SEAMANS: Oh, of course. I should confess that I was not always the most thoughtful of students in sacred studies. There was actually one time, I guess it was my sophomore year, when my parents were called to come up because I had done so badly in sacred studies, and I had actually been caught playing cards when I was supposed to be taking an exam. I'd done absolutely no work in Bible studies, and I could see no reason to take the exam--if I hadn't done any work, I didn't see any reason to try to pretend I had. So a couple of us were in the back of a big classroom presumably taking this exam, but we were caught playing cards. Although we had a lot of sacred studies, it was not a strict school in the sense that cards were forbidden or anything of that sort. It was just that we hadn't really done very well in our sacred studies.
TAPE 1, SIDE 2
COLLINS: Okay, you were just recounting the episode in which you were not properly fulfilling your religious studies. How did your parents feel about that?
SEAMANS: They were extremely upset with me, and made it quite clear. And I will say that I reformed to some extent.
COLLINS: Just to go back and clarify a point--was Headmaster Monks your instructor in mathematics during this period as well, for your geometry courses?
SEAMANS: Yes, he was. I was getting straight A's in that. And I was getting E's in sacred studies. Before the year was over, I will say, I got the sacred studies up to a passing grade.
COLLINS: You mentioned that Mr. Monks was an influence on you. In what specific ways did you feel like he affected your thoughts?
SEAMANS: Well, he encouraged me academically, in the particular areas that he happened to teach. He had an influence on my sense of values. There was one time, don't ask me why I did this, but I'd come in from football and I was the last person to leave the locker room, which was down in the basement of the main building in which a large percentage of the school lecture halls and some of the dormitories were located, and I saw a big switch, and just for the heck of it I pulled the switch and turned all the lights off in the whole school. Whereupon there was an inquiry, as to who perpetrated this thing. As I remember it, it was taken up in the dining hall. We were all going to stay in the dining hall until the person owned up who did it, so I confessed, and that weekend I was given the job of going down to a dam for the hockey rinks, that tended to leak. They were earthworks, and it was necessary to dig a trench in this dam all the way around and put clay in so it would stop the leaking. So my job was to spend the whole weekend, maybe several weekends, down there digging that trench, and the thing that made the impression on me was that Mr. Monks came down there and worked with me.
SEAMANS: This was the headmaster of the school.
COLLINS: Was it his responsibility to appoint the prefects? You mentioned that in your senior year there you were made prefect.
SEAMANS: Yes, he really made the selection. I guess he may have asked some of the other masters, but he did pick me.
COLLINS: So clearly he'd developed some respect for you, over that period of time.
COLLINS: What did you do with your summers while you were at Lenox School?
SEAMANS: I can't give you the exact time sequence without writing down some dates, but I believe it worked this way. I went off to camp, as I mentioned before, summers, when I was in elementary school, and then there was a summer which must have been, before I sent off to boarding school, when we were living in Salem. As I said, things were getting tough then. And it was pretty warm over in Salem. Obviously nobody had air conditioning and so on. And I remember, the middle of summer, father had said that he had rented a house in Marblehead, which is right on the ocean, where we could go sailing and swimming and stuff, and we had it for six weeks. I remember, I went over and looked at this house. It did not have any plumbing, on the second floor, had no bath tub. What you had to do was to heat water on a stove and carry it upstairs and fill the tub. It had a tub; it didn't have running water. The kitchen was an awful mess. I can remember going over, before we even moved over, and helping my parents paint the kitchen. It turned out that the house grew with time, and one of my brothers lives in it today. You couldn't possibly recognize the house now as the house we originally lived in on a rental basis. It's even been moved onto a new site. But that's when I really started playing a lot of tennis and sailing in the summer. All the kids then, I'm talking about age 10 and up, sailed in a sort of a one design kind of boat in Marblehead Harbor called a Brutal Beast, and we'd go charging around the harbor racing and bumping into the big boats at anchor, and that's what we did in the summer. I actually ended up owning aslightly larger boat with a friend. We'd go out and sail and race every day we weren't out there playing tennis.
COLLINS: This has been a long time interest of yours, sailing.
SEAMANS: Yes. I remember, we got a new boat, this friend and myself, and after about the first month, we thought we were doing really well, because we were always coming in last, but in one particular race, we could still read the name of the boat on the stern of the next to the last boat. We figured, that's really a great accomplishment. Before we were through I think we won every cup you could win, after a few years at this.
COLLINS: Going back to the school, you mentioned that you had taken the College Entrance exam in mathematics at a fairly early stage. When did you take that exam again or did you take it again?
SEAMANS: No. I of course didn't take a math exam again, but I had to take, I think, four exams my senior year. Of course, one of them was in English, one of them was a foreign language, one was physics. I may have only had to take three because I had the math already. I don't quite remember. There was sort of amusing wrinkle in English, because I was admitted to Harvard, that's the only place I applied to. For a long time I figured I wanted to go somewhere other than Harvard, because my two uncles went there, my father had gone there, and I kept saying, "I want to go to the University of Wisconsin," with no real rationale for it except that it was reasonably far away from home. So I finally applied to Harvard, and I was admitted, but on top of that, I was admitted with a high enough grade in my English that I did not have to take the normally required English my freshman year in college, which meant I had an honor in English on the College Boards. This was absolutely incredulous, because my cousin Jim Seamans who went to Exeter did not get an honor in English and he had to take the required program at Harvard. We both went to Harvard our freshman year, and everybody was absolutely sure that what had happened was that somehow the two examinations had been swapped. But anyway, that's what happened. So I was admitted, and it might have been better if I had had to take the required English course, because it was one of these courses where you have to submit a theme or a paper every single week to develop writing skills.
COLLINS: Right. What role did the Lenox School or Headmaster Monks take in trying to place the students in universities, was that something they took an active role in?
SEAMANS: Oh yes. We'd stay at the school after the school closed, and we'd have a special program that lasted, I don't know, the better part of a week, and we'd have a sort of preparation for the exams, you know, telling us what the exams were like, looking at previous exams--taking them for practice. In those days they were not True and False kind of thing, they were pretty darned substantive questions that were asked, and I guess, on the English exam, there was a question about books. "Some are to be read for pleasure, other books are to be read in depth", I can't remember the exact quotation, but there were four categories of books. What we had to do was to select four books to prove this thesis was true, or to disprove it. I used four books of the Bible, which I guess staggered them, to prove this, and Mr. Clark who was our teacher at Lenox was also involved with correcting College Boards, and he told me this afterwards. Of course he didn't correct the exams from the boys that he had actually taught, but he did tell me that there was somebody he knew quite well who ended up with my paper and read my answer and was quite amazed by it, and actually showed it to Mr. Clark. My answer was based on the sacred studies year that I was studying the Bible in some depth.
COLLINS: Kind of a mixed year there.
SEAMANS: Yes, that's right.
COLLINS: After the exam results came back, did the school take an active interest in helping to place students in the universities, was that one of their roles?
SEAMANS: If they didn't get in where they wanted to go?
COLLINS: Well, I don't know, did they ask students where they might go and what other places they might like?
SEAMANS: As a matter of fact, they did something that was very controversial. They decided fairly early on which boys at the school were college material and which weren't, and there were boys there taking sets of courses that were aimed not at going to college. When some parents found out that their boys were in that category, you can imagine how much hell they raised. So they not only were concerned with people going to college and what the good entry points might be for their particular ability, but also with those that they felt really didn't have the capability of going.
COLLINS: You indicated that you had a passing interest in going to the University of Wisconsin.
SEAMANS: I'd seen pictures of the lakes and the beautiful girls, I guess.
COLLINS: You also mentioned that it was something that was far away from home. At this point you'd been away from home for four years. Was there a sense you wanted to sort of distance yourself as part of growing up?
SEAMANS: I considered I was still pretty close to home, even though I was away for 13 1/2 weeks, I was still in Massachusetts. I guess it wasn't a question of being away from home as much as getting to some other part of the country. No, I'd say that my home life was a happy life. I mean, when I'd come home, Mother would roll out the carpet and we'd have steak for dinner the first night, and I was really welcomed home, no question about that.
COLLINS: Yes, I didn't mean to imply otherwise, it was just a sense of what that life was like, spending all that time away from home. When it came time to be thinking about going to a university, I guess you had early on, through osmosis from your family considered Harvard.
SEAMANS: Yes, I'd been to Harvard-Yale football games with my father and walked around Cambridge, and I knew Cambridge pretty well. I'd come to dances here. I had friends who lived here. So this was not foreign at all.
COLLINS: So your thoughts as you were preparing to leave Lenox were, when did you make the decision that you were going to Harvard? Before you left Lenox?
SEAMANS: Oh yes, you had to. You had to apply just after Christmas, as I remember it, in your senior year. I think it's the normal time still. And so I put in the papers and then took the exams, and then some time in July, I actually heard, and you had to do other things like apply for a room and a roommate. Actually there were three of us, it was a very small class at Lenox, I had I guess only 23 in my class. Three of us went to Harvard, and one of them was a senior prefect, and he and I applied to room together at Harvard and we got a room together.
COLLINS: As you were thinking about going to Harvard, clearly you'd done very well in sciences and mathematics at Lenox, so you obviously were probably thinking about pursuing the same course of study at Harvard?
SEAMANS: No, I don't think I was that smart. I sort of looked at college as a mirror image, slightly expanded, of what I'd been doing in school, and I didn't really think in terms of fields of concentration to a great extent. When I went to Harvard, most people were taking five courses of which four were for credit, but where I didn't have to take the English, I took five for credit, and these were pretty much a mirror of what I'd been doing at school. Of course I took math and French, and I did take an English course, an advanced English course. Did I say physics? I took that. And incidentally, I found that the education I'd received at school stood me in very good stead. I had very little difficulty my freshman year. My friends were wondering what their field of concentration should be. Of course I was, too. I knew by then I had to pick a field. The question was, what should it be? I found, towards the end of my freshman year, there was a field that was called engineering sciences, and I did explore it. And found that there was a summer course in surveying that I could take, which I actually took between my freshman and sophomore years. I went to Squam Lake and took my first engineering science course for my field of concentration.
COLLINS: This engineering science program, was this the program that all engineers would go into, or was it something that had a more generalist approach to engineering?
SEAMANS: It was a generalist approach to engineering. I was going to tell you a little bit about the engineering science program at Harvard, which was quite unique. I think the first time I heard of engineering sciences was when I found that in most fields of concentration, there were what were called divisionals, where in your senior year you had to take a comprehensive series of tests in your field of concentration. There were two fields that did not have this requirement. One was engineering sciences, and the other biochemistry. So a lot of people were thinking of possibly going into engineering sciences for that rather poor reason.
COLLINS: Was there any particular reason for excluding engineering sciences from that requirement, that you're aware of?
SEAMANS: Well, in all the other fields of concentration, there were graduate students living in the dormitories who could serve as advisors in those fields. I'm not sure that engineering lent itself so well to that form of study, where you're supposed to meet with your advisor, and let's say in English, discuss what particular field of English you're interested in. Your advisor would give you books to read and so on. It would be outside of the regular academic program, where you're just supposed to be developing an interest in studying in that field. I don't think engineering lends itself so well. I found when I got to MIT that the style of teaching in engineering science at Harvard was very similar to the style of teaching at MIT, where it's much more routine. Where each week you have certain specific assignments, and you have to keep up as you go along. In some of the programs at Harvard, you may not turn in anything until the end of the term. I don't think you could teach engineering that way. I'm not sure you can teach English very well that way either, but that's the way it's done.
COLLINS: Just to be clear, at that time could you have gone into say a program in electrical engineering or mechanical engineering, or was the whole program engineering sciences?
SEAMANS: That's a good question. I don't think we could at the undergraduate level, and even at the graduate level, there weren't too many specialties. Actually one of the very important programs that Harvard had then, I think it was maybe the leader in the field, was sanitary engineering, which was looked at as how to deal with sewage and so on. It wasn't looked at as an environmental program. Maybe we'll come back to this later, but after I graduated, I had of course to decide what I wanted to do, and I gave a lot of thought to going to medical school, but I finally ended up going back to Harvard to concentrate primarily in aeronautical engineering. I think I could have obtained a Master's but I'm not sure at that time that they had a doctoral program. But the extent to which you could concentrate as an undergraduate I think was really quite limited. You definitely got your degree in engineering sciences and I think that was the beauty of it, from my standpoint, that you didn't concentrate too soon. So in my case, I got into electrical, mechanical and aeronautical engineering and quite extensively into civil engineering, including the surveying program. I didn't get into thermodynamics to a great extent, but I got some of that. So it was a pretty broad engineering background. The faculty was fairly small, but they had some remarkably good people. Den Hertog taught at Harvard in mechanical engineering, during the war he became a captain in the Navy, and he came back and headed up the department of mechanical engineering at MIT, just to take one example.
COLLINS: I notice that a name that was mentioned in your Perkins biography was Bollay's name.
SEAMANS: Yes, Bill Bollay.
COLLINS: Is that the same Bollay that developed the detector technology?
SEAMANS: No, I don't think so. He's an aerodynamicist. Yes, and he had his doctor's degree from Caltech working with von Karman, and after the war, he came back and worked for North American, and started up a whole division which became known as autonetics.
SEAMANS: You know, once I got into that program I knew there was one area I was really interested in. Engineering science in general, but in particular the aeronautical, I found really fascinating. He was a very good teacher, and one of the other people, individuals in that program, was Alan Puckett, and he went on to Caltech and then became a chief executive of Hughs Aircraft.
COLLINS: Perhaps you didn't have this perspective at the time, but what did you feel as you were going through this undergraduate program that you were being trained for? What would you be able to do with your Harvard education?
SEAMANS: Well, it sounds almost incomprehensible, but at least, from my own standpoint, I didn't have a very clear picture. It was a stage of my life when it was expected that I would go to college, and I did. It was a question of getting a degree. It was a question of finding courses that I enjoyed taking. But the application of them to a professional career was very, very loose in my mind, if it existed at all.
COLLINS: And your teachers did not encourage that type of thinking?
SEAMANS: I guess by the time I got into engineering science, I could begin to see the ?, I mean, I stood on top of ant hills one summer, so I could tell what a surveyor had to do. I definitely did not think of myself as being a surveyor, but I found I really did enjoy the final month that summer, after we'd surveyd a big area. We had to draw a contour map, and various benchmarks, and then each one of us had to lay out a railroad, and there were certain constraints on the railroad, where it had to stop and start and what the grades could be and what the spiral easement had to be to get into a circular turn. The trick was to build the lowest cost railroad you could, which meant that the land fills had to equal what was going to be cleared somewhere else. In 1938, I traveled in Europe with my family, and I saw the Reich Autobahn, all those new very special highways, which we did not have in this country at that time. I could see that the design of a highway system for this country was something that was bound to happen, and I could see that that might be a very interesting career. So I guess I thought of it to that extent.
COLLINS: Besides your coursework with Bill Bollay in aeronautics, what other course that you took stands out?
SEAMANS: Well, the Den Hartog course in mechanical, you know, making the pieces work together and so on. I found that interesting. I don't think I tied it in with a career particularly. Then there was a professor named Hartline in civil engineering, who just happened to be a classmate of my father. He was my advisor, too, so that was a fortuitous circumstance, because he was very thoughtful in his discussions with me, particularly after I graduated, when I really had to wrestle with what I wanted to do. Dawes in electrical did not teach a very stimulating course. He was more involved with power machinery and that side of it. We all got a big kick out of him, because he would explain how the Westinghouse Company had been stumbling for months on a problem, and then would invite him to come out. All these stories were always the same. After an hour and a half of reviewing the data, he was able to straighten them out. After you heard that story a few times, you began to realize, it might be a figment of his imagination or a story for students. But that was the first time I really got into the whole matter of complex variables and things of that sort, which I did find interesting.
COLLINS: I was going to ask, concomitant with your interest in applied engineering courses, were you taking mathematics?
SEAMANS: Oh yes. Yes, I did. I took Math A in my freshman year and what was called Math 2 in my sophomore year. They went very easily. I enjoyed taking them.
COLLINS: Were you also taking basic science courses to complement that?
SEAMANS: Well, I took a course in chemistry. I'd say my freshman year in college was almost the same as my senior year at school. I was taking a similar kind of a program. My lifestyle was not identical, I went to a party or two and so on, but reasonably straitlaced kind of, study at night and go to classes in the day, and I did try to compete at football and hockey and baseball. I didn't do very well, but I felt, you know, that's part of your life and by golly, you get out there and play the game. Sophomore year was really different. I realized that I needed 16 units to graduate, and I got six the first year, and so I wondered why I had to go to [college] for four years? Why not go through in three years? I had taken a summer course, you see, so there were six units and I was just a sophomore, I only needed ten more.
COLLINS: The summer course was the surveying course?
SEAMANS: It was the surveying course, yes, and that counted for one full credit. So five courses, my sophomore and junior years, and that's all it would take, and I'd graduate in three years. So then I thought, well, while I'm about it, why not take six courses? So, against everybody's advice, I took six courses my sophomore year. But that was also the year that I had a new vision of what life could be like, by going to parties, etc. It was a time when in college things sort of opened up that way anyway. As undergraduates we were invited to many, too many dances and my idea was that I was going to go to everyone I was invited to and have a good time at each one. Nobody to this day really knows, I guess, what happened, but I got very little sleep. Sometimes I wouldn't go to bed at all. I remember going into class with my tuxedo on and stupid things like that. I was still taking the six courses. I did pass them, but in some areas I didn't do very well. We had relatives in Europe and my grandmother went over every year, and she thought that her grandchildren ought to get another kind of an education. We ought to know more about Europe and our relatives and various things, so it was a complicated arrangement that involved being in Europe for three months, the first part of which I was with two friends bicycling in England. We went over on the good ship COLUMBUS which was a German vessel. We went steerage, and we ate at the third sitting, and we stayed up all night and all of a sudden we were in Plymouth, England, in a pouring rain. We jumped on our bicycles, and that was the first time that I really had gone through the experience of really feeling lousy, when I was away from home. After the first day I felt very faint, and very peculiar, and went to a doctor, and he said, "You've had too much life on board ship. I recommend you take it a little bit easy tomorrow and everything will be all right." The same thing happened all over again, and it was eventually diagnosed that I had rheumatic fever which was affecting my heart. So I finally left my friends, and joined my parents, who by then were in Berlin. I did have a chance in joining them to do something on my own, namely, to fly commercially across the English Channel, which I found quite good fun.
COLLINS: Was that your first airplane flight?
SEAMANS: I think it probably was, yes. Then I had a couple of days in Paris on my own, and I met a couple of girls I knew, and that was an interesting experience, and then got on a train and went to Berlin, got in a taxi at the Berlin station and arrived at the Hotel Bristol without enough money to pay my taxi fare, but fortunately I saw one of the family there who bailed me out. I'd gone to a doctor, a heart doctor actually, in London, and I told my parents and they insisted I go to a doctor in Berlin, and to this day we don't know whether the doctor was trying to kill an American or not, but he said, "Oh, fine, what he needs is to do some mountain climbing." So later on that summer, we ended up in Switzerland. We went to Zarmat at the foot of the Matterhorn. There was one time when we all got roped to climb the Breithorn, which is almost as high. While going across snow fields I had to tell my uncle--we had guides and everything--obviously there was something very badly wrong, and so one guide took me back to the hotel. And the situation didn't get any better. We came back on an Italian line, had a good time and all that, but I felt lousy, and I got back and I really felt, I don't think I've ever been so sort of strangely tired. I'd sleep all night and I'd wake up and I'd be just as tired in the morning. I went to a doctor called Cadis Phipps. He was a depressing cardiologist, and he started talking about my endocarditis and so, my third year at college was very different from the other two. I found I could not exercise. I'd go out and try to row a shell, for example.
COLLINS: At this time you hadn't been diagnosed as having rheumatic fever?
SEAMANS: No. I had a heart murmur from scar tissue on the valves. I wasn't supposed to exercise, but I'd try and go out and row just a short distance and I'd feel terrible. I had a lot of friends who'd go skiing. I knew I couldn't ski, so I'd go off with them skiing, and I took up photography, so I'd take pictures of them. I'd try to get far enough up the mountain where it was interesting to take some pictures. But I spent more time studying, certainly than I had my sophomore year, and by then I was in my field of concentration, so I finished up my final year, which was the third year at college, really getting some good grades, A's and a couple of B's, mostly A's. But it was all in the engineering science field by then.
COLLINS: This was again kind of a cross section of the engineering discipline?
SEAMANS: Yes, exactly. I tried to graduate with honors, in addition to going through in three years. My advisor, Professor Hartline, was very good about it and he was pushing very hard. But I'd done enough stupid things my sophomore year, in subjects not in my field--I took a course in psychology, for example, which I thought was a lot of baloney and told them so. So I didn't get honors, but I completed my studies as of the end of my junior year. The next summer my health went sort of from bad to worse. I ended up going out West on a ranch and I felt terrible out there, and called Dr. Phipps, and he said I'd better come back home. As soon as I got back home, I was put in bed, for an indeterminate period of time. That obviously had quite an impact on how I viewed life, to be, literally, in bed absolutely all the time. But people were so generous of their time, coming to see me and everything, that I got to know a lot of people a lot better than when I meet them casually. My family really did a super job of trying to figure out, how to deal with this problem, because as far as I was concerned, I'd had it. I was never going to be able to do anything much again. They thought what they ought to get was the best heart doctor that they possibly could, and by then we knew that maybe Dr. Phipps was a great doctor, but he was not our doctor because he couldn't explain to us what was going on in a helful way. And after a lot of investigation, they found that Paul White, who was a very famous cardiologist, was THE best doctor in the field--you know, the King of Sweden would have a problem, they'd call on Paul White. The question was, how to get him to come from Boston to Salem to see me. By sheer coincidence, our next door neighbor was Paul White's roommate in school, and through that mechanism Paul White came. I actually participated in the decisions, and I felt that was the right thing to do, but I told my family, for goodness sake, don't tell me the day he's coming, because I was sure that it would tend to make me apprehensive, you might say, and then he wouldn't necessarily see me under the best conditions. I'll never forget his coming in the room. I had pictures of sailing and skiing and everything all around the room, and he came in and commented on the photos and I said, "I guess I'll never be able to do that sort of thing again." He said, "Well, how do we know? Let's take a look." So he got out his stethoscope and listened, and his first words were, "That's a really peppy sounding heart." Hehad more tests run, and then, I started getting out of bed. I had five minutes the first day and ten minutes the second day, then fifteen minutes, and reached the point where I was allowed to go out the front door and walk back in, and then I was allowed to walk 100 yards down from the house and come back in, and then I walked all the way around the block alone. It was a long, long process.
COLLINS: So at that initial session, was he able to diagnose this as rheumatic fever?
SEAMANS: No, but he finally did. I say finally, I mean, after more tests--they didn't have the equipment then to really tell definitely, but if there had been penicillin in those days and I could have had it about the end of my sophomore year, that would probably have solved the problem. The damn trouble in those days was that this infection starts eating away on the heart valve. If you are fortunate, finally the disease is cured, but you are still left with a valve that doesn't work very well. It was some time after, maybe three or four years, it seemed ridiculous to waste Paul White's time on me. I was playing tennis all the time and everything was going very well. I felt I should have my semi-annual checkup. So I went to one of his assistants, a Dr. Conger Williams. It wasn't until I came back from my days in Washington, 35 years later, that I went to Conger, who was then about to retire, and he said, "You might be interested in these cards. These are all the cards that Paul White kept on your case. I threw away most of his paper, but I couldn't bear to throw these away." He started talking about my illness and he said, "We weren't really quite sure what to do in your case when you were still in bed". I guess Paul White had talked my case over with Conger Williams, and they evidently almost decided to take me into a hospital and start running catheters into my heart to try and determine what was going on. In those days that was pretty extreme, and thank God they didn't do it.
TAPE 2, SIDE 1
COLLINS: We were talking about your illness. So it must have been, as you indicated, a real shock for you to go from this very active life, a life where your activity had to be rather severely circumscribed, and you were saying, you had some pretty strong feelings about what you were going to be able to do in the future.
SEAMANS: I thought my life was going to be pretty limited, that I would not be able to go mountain climbing or skiing or play tennis. At the same time, there was a chance to do a lot of reading. I had several friends who were in the medical profession, and they brought me material that I read. I started thinking in terms of shifting from engineering into medicine, on the assumption that I could get up and around again. Six months actually went by fairly fast, and so all of a sudden I was mobile again, so I went to the graduation exercises with my class. That summer, in order to determine what to do next, I went back to Harvard and took courses in biology and botany, which I had to take if I was going to go to medical school.
COLLINS: You were still actively considering that.
SEAMANS: Yes, I was, right, and it was a very pleasant summer. I think one of the great experiences in life is to go to a place like Harvard in the summer. It's a very different kind of a student body, obviously a lot of teachers coming back, high school teachers as well as faculty from other colleges. You know, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I enjoyed particularly the course in biology. So by the end of the summer, I found I could be quite active again. I'd started playing tennis again. I found I could do that, with lots of encouragement from Paul White. Paul White was of the school that when you have a heart attack, you don't put people in bed for the rest of their lives. It's much healthier for them to get out and around and do things. So, when September rolled around, I obviously had to make the decision, what to do. I talked to Professor Hartline, who had been my advisor as an undergraduate at Harvard, and he was a wonderful sounding board. He didn't tell me, obviously he couldn't tell me what to do, but he pointed out that engineering was a very good background for medicine, if I wanted to follow that route. But I guess the final determining factor for me was that I really felt that I'd taken very naturally to the engineering science. I thought I had really no difficulty getting top grades, and that was sort of one indication of how I might make out professionally, whereas in the other, call it the biology area, I got reasonably good grades, but it was going to be more difficult. It didn't quite come as naturally. Things didn't quite fit into the framework as neatly in my own mind. So I decided I would go back to Harvard to do graduate work, particularly with Bill Bolay in aeronautical engineering.
COLLINS: Just to backtrack a little bit, as an undergraduate, how many courses were you able to take with Bill Bolay?
SEAMANS: Well, two, really, but it was throughout the year, one course in the fall, one in the spring.
COLLINS: So you basically had had one course in aeronautical engineering.
SEAMANS: Yes, one unit out of the 16 I took in college was with Bill Bolay. The same is true of Den Hartog, and if you want to pursue it, I can tell you what happened very quickly. Thereafter I was still not quite sure I could take a full load, so I actually signed up just for two courses at Harvard. A very good friend of mine, classmate of mine, was also taking the same course. I think we started let's say on Tuesday, and Wednesday morning this friend of mine said, "Hey, I wonder if we are doing the right thing? Shouldn't we actually, if we are really interested in this field, be at MIT for the graduate work rather than staying here at Harvard?" Because we'd found out by then that, first of all, the course that Bolay was going to give was not very different from what we'd had as undergraduates. The other course that I wanted to take was going to be given Fridays and Saturdays by somebody coming up from Hartford, from United Aircraft, and my friend quite rightly said, "Look, if you go over to MIT, you're going to have the people you want there all the time. They are on the full-time faculty, not adjunct professors. He said, "I'm going to go over to MIT this afternoon to see the dean of admissions; do you want to come along?" It was one of those things where I said, "Sure, why not?" I really knew very little about MIT, surprisingly.
COLLINS: So you had not heard, as an undergraduate at Harvard, about the relative strengths of their two engineering programs?
SEAMANS: You'd be amazed how ignorant almost everybody at Harvard is of MIT, whereas at MIT, you'd be amazed at how defensive a lot of people are about Harvard, particularly in the School of Business Administration. Their goal is to be as good as Harvard, kind of syndrome. So anyway, we went over and went into Dean Tresher's office and he said, "okay, boys, tell me a little bit about yourselves," and we both gave him a quick summary. He said, "You two boys did quite well at Harvard. I think we can get you started here as sophomores, although there may be a few deficiencies."
COLLINS: You mean as an undergraduate standing as a sophomore?
SEAMANS: Undergraduate. So, boom, we both stood up and said, "Well, we're not interested in starting all over again towards a Bachelor's degree. And he said, "Well, maybe I'm under-estimating the extent of your engineering background. Here are some forms you might fill out, and you go around to various departments here and see how much credit they'll give you." So I took the form home. My friend said, "I'm going to stay at Harvard." I took it home and read it, and filled in not only what I'd done at college but what I'd done at the high school level. I filled all that out. I found it was pretty good fun. I'd go around to a department after reading the catalogue first and I'd bargain with them over what the equivalent courses were at MIT, and they'd write them in and sign them, so I quickly found out I was well beyond the sophomore level, and I ended up, my last stop in course 16. Everything is by the numbers at MIT, and that was aeronautical engineering, as it was called then. Professor Smith was the acting head of the department, because Hunsacker, who was the head of it, was down in Washington, Smith said, "I just can't understand why you want to come here as an undergraduate. Why don't you come here as a graduate student?"
COLLINS: When you were going around, were you thinking of coming there as an undergraduate?
SEAMANS: Yes, but maybe as a senior. I could visualize another year, let's say, and get a Bachelor's degree. I liked what I saw as I went around MIT, I must say. I walked up and down the corridors and could see all the different labs and machine shops, and my God, I couldn't believe there were so many different alternatives and possibilities, compared to the one little building at Harvard, Pearce Hall. So I said, "Well, you know, I really don't want to come here as an undergraduate unless it's absolutely necessary, before going on and doing graduate work." "I don't think it is," he said. "We can admit you here to the graduate school. Let me call Thresher." So they ended up in quite an argument, on the phone, and at one point he said, "Have you had descriptive geometry?" I said, "Sure I've had it." Anyway, he hung up, and when he hung up he said, "Well, we can admit you here to graduate school." I later learned, incidentally, that it's the prerogative of each department whom they admit to their graduate school. Thresher really had cognizance only over the undergraduate admissions. But then I said, "Well, all right, now, how long do you think it will take me to get a Master's degree? You've seen my record and so on." He said, "Well, you know, you haven't really had very much aeronautical engineering, so you are going to have to do a lot of work here to qualify for a Master of Science degree in aeronautical engineering, unless," he said, "you care to specialize in instrumentation." And I said, "Well, what is that?" And he said, "I'm not really exactly sure, but there's a person named Dr. Draper who teaches it, and why don't you go around and find out from him?" And I said, "Well, how long do you think it might take to get the Master's degree in instrumentation?" He said, "I'm not really sure, but I think you might get it in a couple of years." And so--
COLLINS: Why were you interested in a certain speed in completing you Master's?
SEAMANS: That's a good question. Well, three years did seem like a long time, though, to get my Master's degree.
COLLINS: That was the standard length of the Master's program at MIT?
SEAMANS: No, the standard for the Master's is one year. But because I had very little aeronautical, to get the Master of Science in aeronautical, the presumption that he was making, which was correct, I think, was that if I wanted to get into aerodynamics, I really had quite a few courses I'd have to take to qualify. Because the way it's rigged, you have prerequisites for the graduate courses. I wouldn't be allowed to take certain courses without taking the undergraduate courses. I wouldn't get any credit towards the Master's, but I just had to take them first to take the course I needed. And so I really was pretty excited about what I'd seen, and I went home and told my parents I was not going to go to Harvard, I was going to go to MIT. I think they were quite upset, really, that I'd been fluctuating so much. First I was going to be a doctor, then I was going to Harvard, then suddenly all within about ten days I'm going to MIT.
COLLINS: What were their expectations? Were they satisfied to have you go into the engineering profession, or would they rather have seen you go into some other profession that other family members had pursued in the past?
SEAMANS: It's awfully hard to know what parents really expect. I know mother always hoped that one of us would be a doctor and one a minister. She was quite open about that. I think she thought it would also be good if one of us was a lawyer.
COLLINS: The usual things.
SEAMANS: And I think she was awfully pleased that I seemed to be so interested in medicine. I don't think my parents really knew what engineering was all about. I think they looked at it somewhat perhaps askance. They knew it was an honorable thing to do, but they weren't quite sure what it was going to lead to, and what I'd end up doing throughout my life, which was, I'm sure, a big question in their minds. It wasn't something I could help them on, because I didn't have a very good idea either.
COLLINS: I know that during the thirties in the basic sciences, for people who went into say physics or astronomy, they were usually made aware that there probably weren't many job prospects for such people, and I wonder whether you had the same kinds of impressions as you went through the engineering programs?
SEAMANS: Anyway, I actually did transfer, and then I went around to Doc Draper's first class, which was 1641, basic instrumentation at the graduate level. I don't know if you know who Doc Draper is or have heard of him?
COLLINS: Sure, I know of Doc Draper. I've never met him but I certainly know of his work.
SEAMANS: Well, I think everybody who's heard about him and realizes all that he's accomplished--are surprised when they first meet him. Of course, now he's an old man, but he was quite short of stature, and fairly heavy. He tended to be overweight. And just one of the most dynamic people you'd ever meet. I mean, he came in and he was bouncing around. When he came into this first class, he had a green eye shade on, because he'd been working somewhere else, and he started right in. He said, "All right"--the room was absolutely packed with students, and Perkins was one of them who was there, and he said, "Now, let me just tell you something." He said, "I'm delighted you are all here, but let's not kid ourselves. If you're going into this profession, you're never going to make a lot of money. Just face it right now, You're not going to have money for race horses or for buying mink coats for babes." He said, "But you'll have a hell of a lot of fun." That was almost, I think, the words, right at the very beginning. He said, "You'll be lucky to earn $10,000 a year."
COLLINS: So how did you feel about that quick and dirty assessment of your prospects in the profession?
SEAMANS: Well, at that point $10,000 seemed like a lot of money to me, so I didn't worry very much. And the following year when I started working at MIT, I had an annual salary of $1500. But that's getting a little bit ahead of the story. So anyway, I took courses with Doc Draper. I did go back and take one fundamental course, I guess it was called aeromechanics, with a Professor named Freddie Rauscher. Wonderful course. Then MIT didn't give me any credit for my physics at Harvard, so I had to take freshman physics. But I was allowed to take a course called 8012, which was the whole freshman year crammed into two and a half months.
COLLINS: Why would they not credit you for the Harvard physics?
SEAMANS: I just took the freshman physics, Physics C. That was probably all right, actually. Although I found it very upsetting, and people at Harvard when I tell them about it say, "Well, that's MIT."
COLLINS: The reason I ask, there's a perception at MIT at this time that the science and engineering courses at Harvard were certainly not up to the rigor of MIT.
SEAMANS: Oh, absolutely. And you know, MIT is trying to catch up with Harvard in some areas, but they feel quite superior to others. So I found that I enjoyed every course, and I found I could get 100 in every one of the physics exams. So I finally talked them into not requiring me to take the spring course in physics. I took an electrical engineering course in LaPlace transforms, which stood me in very good stead, in place of taking sophomore physics, and lo and behold, when May rolled around, I'd taken all the courses I needed to for the Master's degree.
COLLINS: Well, when did you begin to understand what a Master's degree in instrumentation meant, what the focus of such a program was?
SEAMANS: Well, I'd say that it came pretty fast. I mean, one of the wonderful things about the graduate school at MIT was, it didn't take long to see what the profession is all about. Doc Draper was running the Instrumentation Lab then, and he was bringing us material right from his laboratory work, into the classroom. He obviously wasn't bringing any of the classified work, but he had been working with the Sperry Gyroscope Company on vibration measuring equipment. In those days, with propeller aircraft, the field of vibration measurement was extremely important. So we were working on accelerometers and vibration pick-ups and all the electronics that go along with it, and I could see that this was a field that was becoming increasingly important. I could see that the possibility would exist either to work for an aircraft company, which would have the problems, and try to minimize the vibration, or I could work for an instrument company which was making the instruments that permitted the aircraft company to tell how the aircraft was really performing. I guess before the year was over we got into essentially all the major instruments that are required to pilot a plane, to navigate a plane, to test a plane. A fascinating business, with definitely plenty of professional opportunity in industry, or opportunity to stay at a place like MIT. I already knew quite a bit about the NACA, and there was a possibility of going and working for the government.
COLLINS: When did you first become aware of that?
SEAMANS: With Bill Bolay, we used a lot of NACA reports on propeller efficiency and all kinds of stuff. We'd go back and drag out Technical Reports until we found the right set of curves to get a performance figure for such and such a variable pitch propeller.
COLLINS: So you may have become familiar with Bob Gilruth's name even in that early period, because he was publishing reports certainly by the late thirties.
SEAMANS: Oh sure. Well, I actually knew Bob long before I went and joined NASA. I knew quite a few of the key NACA people. I actually ended up on the NACA subcommittee of stability and control in '47 or '48.
COLLINS: Just to clarify in my mind, the Instrumentation Laboratory primarily did work related to the aviation industry and aeronautical engineering. Did they do instrumentation for any other types of activities?
SEAMANS: Yes, the other side of the Instrumentation Lab, and the classified part of it, was working actually at that time for the British Navy on anti-aircraft fire control. The reason they were working for the British Navy was that the U.S. Navy decided it wasn't worth working on. They didn't need it. Their gunnery people were good enough; they could train their guns well enough, that they could hit an airplane without any fancy sights. It wasn't until Pearl Harbor that all of Draper's work that had been going on for the British was suddenly, by fiat, turned over to the U.S. Navy. Just to give you just a quick summary of Doc Draper, he's a Stanford graduate in psychology. I think he got his Master's degree at Stanford as well. He came through Cambridge on a lark, stopped at MIT and decided he wanted to study there. Before he was through, he took more courses for credit at MIT than anybody has ever taken before or since. I know he took one degree in chemistry, and I think he got his Doctor's degree in physics, and he became very interested in propulsion and engines. He found that there weren't instruments available that would tell him how the engine was performing. One of the first instruments he developed was designed to measure the instantaneous pressure in a cylinder, when the explosion took place, to get the full cycle of pressure inside that chamber. He developed the instruments and they were manufactured by the Sperry Gyroscope Company. There was a time when all the Pan-Am planes would have these instruments in them so the pilot or flight engineer could flip around and see how all the cylinders were actually firing. That's how he got in instrumentation. He was also a pilot, and he became interested in gyroscopes and horizon indicators and things of that sort. From there, since he was in the Army Air Corps, he became interested in the fire control kind of problem of aiming its guns. Coming back to the 1940-41 year, MIT was far and away the most exciting academic year I'd ever had. The whole business of LaPlace transforms, I can remember taking that course. I can remember spending a whole weekend on the theory of the complex variables. Suddenly I realized how the mathematics really worked and the power of it was quite a revelation, quite exciting to realize the kind of problems I could solve with electronic circuits and various other things. So then, okay, after spring term was over, there was a brief period when I went back and started doing some sailing, and met my future wife, through her older sister and brother, and ended up doing a quite a bit of sailing with them in Marblehead. I just sort of dropped by MIT to take a look at what I might do for a thesis in the fall. I went into Doc Draper's office, and he said, "Well, look, would you be interested in starting in right away if we paid you for it?" He said, "You'd come in here as a research assistant." He told me what the job was, and it was to further the development of some vibration measuring equipment for the Sperry Company. Well, needless to say, the thought of actually getting paid intrigued me very much. It's very common now at the graduate level. It's very uncommon for people to pay their own way. In those days, it was fairly uncommon to get paid.
COLLINS: How exactly were you supporting yourself at MIT in that first year?
SEAMANS: My parents paid the bills, my tuition, and I lived at home.
COLLINS: You were supported the same way when you went to Harvard.
SEAMANS: Yes, I never had a scholarship. I never had to go out and actually earn the dollars myself. I did offer. I told my parents I'd be happy to be a waiter if they wanted me to, to help earn some money, and they said that they preferred that I not do that, since it wasn't necessary, I did make a point, when I went to Harvard, of living in the lowest cost room they had, which was the middle of Thayer Hall. The cost for the year of living there was 85 bucks. So I started work as a research assistant in August, and my boss, according to the hierarchy in the department, was somebody named Oldfield. He was nicknamed Barney, for obvious reasons, because in those days you could still remember the famous race track driver. His real name was Homer. And he was in the Army Signal Corps, and he was called up in early September. I was down in the basement of the building with all this vibration stuff, and right near where I was working there with a steel pad that was set in concrete, measuring the vibration of things. This was where the overall trash for the building would come out several times a day, right by me. It wasn't very attractive, but it was a lot of fun, I thought, to actually get some good hard data. And by gosh, it would check out with the theoretical data. Working with Doc Draper was exciting and some of the people he had in the lab there, and the other more senior faculty there were a great group to work with. So early on we had this line of endeavor, but he sent me over to a couple of friends in electrical engineering, and I introduced myself, and one of them was Edgerton and another one was Greer, and another one was Germashausen. They started EG and G, a very successful company. And I found out that there was an amazing number of really competent people working at MIT. The scope of what was going on at MIT, compared to what I'd experienced at Harvard, was, at least in order of magnitude, greater, the depth and the scope and so on. And when Barney Oldfield left, Doc came to me and said that instead of being a research assistant, he felt I could help on the teaching side as well, and he'd like to have me as an instructor. So starting in September, I helped him teach 1641, to the extent that I graded all the papers and things of that sort.
COLLINS: What course was that?
SEAMANS: That was the instrumentation, the basic fundamental instrumentation course that I mentioned earlier. And there was a lab course that went with it. I'd go into the lab and make the set-ups for the experiments that were going to be carried out by the students. The following spring, I actually ended up in front of a class doing some of the teaching.
COLLINS: Is it possible for you to recall the basic structure and content of that instrumentation course? I'm just curious what that must have been like, because it was probably an unusual kind of course.
SEAMANS: Yes, it was unusual because it was based solidly in mathematics. Second order differential equations had a big bearing on analyses. There was an attempt by Doc throughout everything that he did try to simplify the mathematics so you could get useful generalized ideas about how things would perform. Instead of trying to squeeze the last tenth of 1 percent out of the mathematics, he felt it was better to make some assumptions that would permit a better understanding of the physics and what had to be done to improve the performance of the equipment. Another way of saying the same thing is that he was a great believer in following two simultaneous paths, one a theoretical path and the other an experimental path. He kept matching them up as he went along, and that way, determined from the experiment what the important parameters were, so he could weed out the unimportant mathematical terms. But with the mathematical, he was able to get out a better prediction of how the equipment would operate making the hardware to test it. In this way he would inch along both sides of the street at once.
COLLINS: All right. Let's try to lay this out in a little different fashion. The content of the course, to try to understand the physics of the particular device, and what you were trying to do was to use the instrumentation that you had built to get a better sense of how that device performed. So what was the correlation between improving performance and designing instrumentation in the course? Am I picturing it correctly there?
SEAMANS: Let's say that you want to measure the vibration of a propeller blade. There's no way you can hang a ruler up there to measure the vibration, you have to take along your own reference. What you do is to take along a baby seismic system, the same kind of thing you use when you're measuring earthquakes, but what should the parameters of this little seismic system be? Well, you've got to have some feel for what the frequencies of vibration are of the propeller blade, and you've got to be sure that the natural frequency of this seismic element is less than that, so that in effect the seismic element will be stationary at these higher frequencies, and you'll be able to make the measurement. But you may have some vibration that's at the natural frequency of the seismic element, so you've got to figure out how you can put in some kind of damping, so that the element won't resonate and go hogwild and the reference will be lost. Well, this interplay between what it is you're trying to measure on the one hand, and what you can physically attain with the seismic system was the kind of interplay that we were examining in the course. To analyze it, you can do that pretty well with a linear second order differential equation. So there were lots of parameter charts that were drawn up, sort of non-dimensionalized with frequency on one side and the measurement you're making on the other side, for various non-dimensional parameters of damping, and to understand how those charts were made, and then to use those charts. I think the final problem we had in the course was to design a vibration pick-up, based on the understanding that we'd developed throughout the year. Even before we got into something as specific as that, we'd get into the philosophy of measurement, and where the errors come from. These are systematic errors that come from the kind of analysis I referred to, but these are also uncertainties in measurement. To take a simple example, a ruler can only be read with a central precision. You can't take a ruler and measure down a millionth of an inch. So somewhere along the line is an uncertainty that relates to the precision of your eye and a few other things, and these uncertainties, do they follow a normalized function, or what kind of distribution are these uncertainties likely to have? Doc had given a lot of thought to such terms as error, inaccuracy precision, and resolution. What do these words mean? And so we got into a lot of that kind of definition to begin with, and then got into some of the mathematics behind it, and then got into a whole series of examples. The following spring, got into the analysis of gyroscopic devices, where you have to get into vector analysis. If you're going to measure motion in space, with respect to what? You have a moving earth. And so you had to go back to what was called inertial space, and inertial space is that space for which Newton's Laws hold. From that came the understanding that was used for the flight instruments in the conventional airplane, and also was necessary for an understanding of how to build a fire control system and ultimately become the foundation for the development of inertial navigation, which was ultimately what the Instrumentation Lab developed for the Apollo program. It permitted the astronauts to navigate from the earth and get off on the right trajectory, if you will, so that when the moon approaches, the Apollo would be just 50 miles or so to the left of the limb.
COLLINS: Yes, during this time, as you were beginning to get immersed in the MIT program and get excited about the course work, did you keep in touch with your friend who decide to stay at Harvard, and have some sense of what students at Harvard were doing? Did you have a community of friends who had other experiences as graduate engineering students?
SEAMANS: Of course, that turned out to be a very volatile period, because Pearl Harbor came very soon after I became an instructor, and people were signing up for the services even before then. Then right after that the draft, and we were very busy at MIT, and I guess the answer to your question is, no, I didn't keep up very well. But over time of course I bumped into them.
COLLINS: Well, that raises another kind of question. During your time at Harvard and certainly as you came into MIT, how aware were you of ongoing events in the international community, and did you have any concerns in that respect, or how you felt about it? Certainly you mentioned you went to Europe in 1938.
SEAMANS: Yes, I was going to start there, actually. I can remember when I first got to Berlin, but even before getting there, even on the railroad train and so on, you couldn't help notice that they weren't all conductors walking up and down the corridors. There were soldiers and when I got to Berlin, one of the first things my uncle said--my father hadn't come over yet. My mother and my uncle and my grandmother and a couple of my cousins, and my brother Peter were there--"Not too far from the Bristol Hotel is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. When anybody goes by the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Heil Hitler." He said, "You've got two choices. Either you Heil Hitler when you go by, or don't go by. Those are the only two choices. But the situation here in Germany today is such that, you cannot fool around." There was tension in the air that you could sense, there'd be some of the military on motorcycles, and of course I didn't know enough to know they were SS troops, a lot of them. They would literally try to run you down as you crossed the street. We started hearing stories about Americans who were having their cars ripped open--stuff like that. I met some friends in Munich one night, and went out to the Hofbru Haus, and one of the things that's very sacred over there is the Hofbru Haus. They have a lot of these wonderful mugs, and one of the things you don't do is to try to slip them under your coat and take them out, steal them. And this damned fool, one of these friends of mine, had had quite a bit to drink, and we're standing on the sidewalk outside, trying to get a taxicab, and damned if the mug he had under his coat didn't fall on the pavement and break. All the Germans around sort of turned and saw this, and started to move in on us, just as a taxi drove up. So we opened the door of the taxi and pushed this friend of ours in the door of the taxi. It had an open roof, and before we could control him, he put his head up through the roof and imitated Hitler, like this. We yanked him down and the taxi driver tried to get us out of the cab, but we yelled, "Get us out of here, keep going, drive on." The feeling of that crowd, you could tell that they really wanted to get at us physically. When we got down to Nrenberg, two things happened. We were driving and we went over to the airport, and you could see their fighter planes landing every minute. I'd never seen so many airplanes. There was a castle up on a hill, and later we went up there. It was a horrible place where they had an Iron Maiden, you know, a lot of stuff like that. It was a museum of horror, really. By then we'd seen all signs "Juden Verboten" all over the place, people walking around with the armbands that indicated they were Jewish. A man came up to us and he said, "You've got to help me. I have a daughter who's a wonderful pianist, and I'll do anything, anything, to pay you back if you'll help get her out of the country." He said, "Things are worse than what you have seen inside that museum." So by the time we finally got to Switzerland, I can assure you it was a great relief.
TAPE 1, SIDE 2
I almost forgot the time. We were driving along one of the Reich Autobahns, very near the Czech border. I was driving our Plymouth and my mother and grandmother and brother were in the car. We came over a hill, and in front of us were a very large number of soldiers with motorized equipment, trucks and motorcycles. We had to stop since they filled the road; had to wait until they let us pass through. So as I said, when we finally got to Switzerland, there was no question that it was a very volatile situation in Germany. I did not get to the Sportzplatz in Berlin to hear Hitler give a speech, but while I was there I heard him on the radio, and you could tell how he could whip a crowd up into a frenzy, and it was a very, very scary situation. And then of course Switzerland was very benign. But then when we got to Italy, we saw the same kind of thing on a lesser scale, but there were a lot of Il Duce signs all over the place. I never saw him give one of his speeches, he usually addressed people out-of-doors in a great piazza, but we again, could see some of the things that were going on in Italy. And then actually I guess, by the time we got home, the Germans were moving into Czechoslovakia.
COLLINS: Did you have any understanding of the German language?
SEAMANS: No, unfortunately.
COLLINS: To go back to your recounting of the man who wanted some help in getting his daughter out, were you able to render any assistance? How did you handle that request?
SEAMANS: Well, I guess we hadn't really expected that kind of thing to happen. We knew that there were a lot of things going on. We as tourists couldn't possibly understand them all, and we really didn't know whether that person was fake or not, whether we were being set up, and so we didn't help, anyway.
COLLINS: That kind of thought crossed your mind, that you should be very cautious in how you responded.
SEAMANS: Absolutely, and then when we got to Switzerland, we started hearing all kinds of tales of people, Swiss people who had been in Germany and some had tried to help and gotten into trouble trying to help. We heard of Germans who would try to get some valuable metal, gold or silver or something, in the dark of their cellar and make a fender out of it and try to get across the border and out of Germany with reasonable resources for the future. But in hindsight, I guess the guy was right, that things were even worse than they appeared to be.
COLLINS: When you came back to the United States after that summer, what certain feelings did you carry back from that trip, and do you know how they might have affected you?
SEAMANS: Well, I was in my junior year and I didn't want to think about it very much. Then the following fall, just at the time that Dr. Phipps put me in bed, was when the Germans went into Poland, and so I listened to the German attack as I lay there in bed. It did not come as a great surprise to those of us who had been over there.
COLLINS: Was there a lot of high feeling on the Harvard campus about these kinds of things?
SEAMANS: Oh yes, very strong feeling, and very different from my own, because the feeling on the campus was, we're not going to get involved in this thing. And let's see--let me get my timing right on this. It was at my graduation that we had an event called the Ivy Oration in the stadium, and the 25th reunion class also had some kind of a speech. A graduate from the class of 1915 talked about World War I and how they had done their share and it was up to the new generation to do its share, and people ended up throwing beer cans at him.
COLLINS: This is most of the student body?
SEAMANS: Oh yes, you're not going to see us going over there and getting killed. Of course, I think it's probably true that those who were the most vocal were probably the first to volunteer when the chips were really down. I don't claim that I was so damn smart, but I had seen enough of what was going on in Europe to realize we might have to get involved. These were substantive reasons for trying to stop Hitler. But I don't think there was a very general understanding. Of course Lindbergh got himself trapped at that time by the Germans. They gave him all kinds of awards and showed him what they were doing. He took the tack, you may remember, of America First, and that the Germans were so far along that it was ridiculous to try to do anything about it; we ought to learn to live with them, with the Nazis, rather than try to fight them. And for that he lost his Colonel's commission. But then he turned around and did a terrific job for the government. He's the one who got the B-24 line going in Detroit. He went out in the Pacific and actually flew combat in a P-38, in order to straighten out some of the design problems of the P-38. It was a turbulent time, and I guess nobody really could foresee everything. My father's 25th in 1941, coincided with the Battle of Britain. The question then was, whether the British could hold out or not. Eddie Warner was a classmate of my father's, and he had been on the faculty at MIT. He was well-known in aeronautical circles, and he had just come back from London, and came to his reunion at Harvard. I can't remember whether he actually gave a lecture on the subject, but it was talked about whether or not the British could hold off the Nazi air armada or not. He'd been in London through the worst of the blitz. I'd say that the impression I had at that time was that the British would be damned lucky to make it. The Germans were probably going to be able to knock out their Air Defense, invade Britain, and take over the country.
COLLINS: Clearly you were keeping up with these events, and it was a very turbulent time. Did this have any impact on your thinking about graduate school?
SEAMANS: Yes. Let me be sure of my timing here. During the summer of 1940, this is before I went to graduate school, I went around to the Navy Yard. I talked to Paul White about it, to see whether he thought I could go into the Navy or not, and he said, "Well, you know, it doesn't hurt to go around and try." So I went around to see if I could get in the V-7 program in the Navy.
COLLINS: What was the V-7 program?
SEAMANS: That was one of the programs where if you had a college degree, you'd end up going to training camp. I think they had one in New York. Before we were through we had one at MIT, and there was one in Chicago. It was a 90 day program and you'd end up an officer in the Navy. However, I didn't get through the physical. Curiously enough, my rejection didn't relate to the fact that by then I'd had rheumatic fever. I got tripped up on the color blind test. The Navy had just started to use Japanese charts, with a whole bunch of colors on them. A recruit would be asked, "What number do you see?" The number might be purple against a green background. I did very poorly on those tests. I couldn't believe it. I said, "I'm not color blind." That was at the time when they were just shifting from using different colored swatches of thread, over to these charts. So the doctor brought out samples and said, "What color is that?" "That's green, that's red." I got them all correct. But he said, "By these charts you're color blind." So I was rejected.
COLLINS: This was before you went to the MIT graduate school.
SEAMANS: Yes, it was. It was that summer. And so I got my parents to arrange an appointment with an eye doctor, Dr. Dunphy, to tell him my sad story, and he tested me, and he said, "Well, you're color blind." So at least at that time, when they had all the officers and men they wanted, I didn't have the chance to enlist. Later on, as things developed, everybody was getting drafted, and by then I was an instructor--I got involved in classified work for the Navy, then for the Air Force, and MIT had a system where they had to rank-order all the people of draftage, whom they wanted to keep. This information was used by the Selective Service. I believe MIT had me in their top ten.
COLLINS: The top ten was in the whole graduate school?
SEAMANS: All the people employed by MIT.
COLLINS: Did this include faculty of draft age?
SEAMANS: Yes, all those who were of draft age. I got to know Colonel Davis when we were working on an Air Force sight for aircraft. I explored with him the possibility of getting into the Air Force. He said, "No, you're doing more good staying at MIT." But it was not an easy time because my brother and my brother-in-law were in the Navy. But I ended up, as the war went on, doing quite a few jobs for the services. I went off one time on an aircraft carrier to help de-bug some equipment. I did quite a bit of flying with the Air Force, going down to test ranges. But I never did get into the combat areas.
COLLINS: Your brother Peter must have been pretty young, 18 or something when he went into the service.
SEAMANS: Well, he actually went to Harvard and he was in the Navy ROTC, and he got his degree from Harvard in two and a quarter years; they speeded up at that point. He ended up on an LST getting ready to invade Japan. My brother-in-law who married my wife's sister was on the TEXAS. When the invasion took place, he was in their biggest gun turret for three days solid, I think. They had orders if things got really bad on the beachhead, they were going to actually put the TEXAS right on the rocks, plow right in there and put it on the rocks, and use it as a little island. My wife's brother was a Navy doctor and after the war my brother Donny ended up in the Army.
COLLINS: You were at the Instrumentation Laboratory or aware of its activities, before the United States entered the war, and certainly you were more intimately involved in their activities after we got into the war. Did you notice a fairly significant difference in the atmosphere and character of activity at the lab?
SEAMANS: I wasn't in the classified section until we were in the war. But the tempo with Doc Draper was always pretty high anyway. When we were really engaged in the war effort, I remember that we decided that we'd all take Christmas Day off. It was literally a seven day a week job. Sometimes I'd leave in the morning and I wouldn't come home until the next afternoon.
COLLINS: This was probably in the '42-44 period.
SEAMANS: Yes, it was very intense. Not only was I involved inmilitary R&D, but I taught the instrumentation part of the V-7 program at MIT. They were there for three months, but they split them up into two groups of 50 each, and the instrumentation part was five days a week, for six weeks, and there'd be a new group. I taught that course alone, for 13 consecutive sessions.
COLLINS: That must have been a bit mind-numbing at times.
SEAMANS: The first time I gave it, I was probably the youngest person in the room, and there were some smart asses in the back of the room who knew that, who came for our industry--the Sperry Gyroscope Company for example. They'd start trying to ask impossible questions or difficult questions, and I learned very early how to deal with them. I'd find out who they were, and then announce to the class that we were very fortunate to have Mr. Joe Smith from the Sperry Gyroscope Company with us, and I said I was inviting him to give one of the lectures. I found that they very quickly shut up.
COLLINS: What I'd like to do is save more detailed discussion of your time with the Instrumentation Lab for next time. And sketch out at this point the kind of atmosphere during that period, and your reaction to these broader events.
SEAMANS: Of course, one other thing was going on then. I met my wife, and we found it very helpful to go off bicycling. Gasoline was getting to be a little bit difficult, and by getting on a couple of bicycles you could get away from a lot of family. We came back from bicycling one time, driving along in the car with the bicycles on the back, when we heard about Pearl Harbor. We were married in June of '42, and by then it was very difficult to get gasoline, so we had to set up the timing for the whole affair based on what the Boston to Maine train schedules were. By then my cousin Jim Seamans, whom I mentioned previously, had shifted over from Harvard to go to Annapolis and graduated from Annapolis in January of '42. Two weeks after he graduated he was on the destroyer TRUXTON with a convoy, when they rammed into the rocks in Newfoundland, and he was one of two officers who survived. The ship hit the rocks; he was down below when they hit, and off watch. And he got on his life jacket, came up on deck and held onto the railing as the ship, tossed by great waves, was gradually being forced over on its side and then broke in two. Finally when it started to roll upside down he swam for shore. It was a horrible blizzard with these great seas and all covered with diesel fuel hence very aromatic. He can remember approaching the beach and trying to get out, and the waves tending to suck him back out, when he heard somebody say, "I'll be right there, Bud," and that's all he remembers. He woke up in somebody's farm house with frostbitten feet and hands. They said he wouldn't walk again. He ended up as one of the ushers at our wedding, so by the time we were married, people were already starting to come back who had been through some of these experiences. When we announced we were going to be married in March in Washington, my roommate came over from the Navy Yard, and he was there and I rode back with him on the train. I was going back to Boston. He got off in Philadelphia, and by the time of our wedding the ship he was on had been not only sunk by a German submarine, but they had actually killed every one of the survivors, so the impact of the war was very evident by June 1942.
COLLINS: Let's start winding up. I want to backtrack to raise a couple of questions. I want to be clear when your first year at MIT--how was your health at that point? Did you have to keep a fairly restricted level of activity, or were you able to get into the swing of carrying a full course load?
SEAMANS: I misspoke earlier. When I said my third year at Harvard I was at home, I was wrong. I actually was still in the dormitory at Harvard. But that first year back, when I was at MIT, I was living at home, and so I was living a pretty orderly life, and even though the studying was pretty intense and the time I was putting in on it was pretty intense, I really felt well and I did not have any difficulty with my health. And I really haven't had any since from that problem. I've had some other minor difficulties. But that all went very well, and--you know, when I have to go for physicals, I have to tell them about my heart murmur and of course the doctors always become interested and they start listening, and particularly back in the days when Dr. White was so well known. Dr. White tested me and found something, they want to see if they can find the same thing to test themselves, not me. So there was always a very intense interest along that line.
COLLINS: The last thing I want to follow up, I remember reading your interview at the Kennedy Library, that John Kennedy was a classmate of yours at Harvard. I wonder if there were any other people you might want to mention from that period who were your classmates, and then later went on to prominence in one field or another?
SEAMANS: Well, one of them was in the news today, by the name of Don Regan. Although I didn't know him at all, Don Regan was one of maybe 10 percent of our class who lived at home. His father died when he was very young, and he not only earned his own way, but helped to pay for his family's expenses. It was obviously a vintage class with a lot of great people in it. Don Hornig was a member of the class, and Don was the man that, before they set off the first experimental nuclear bomb in Nevada, Oppenheimer said, "You know, I just think we shouldn't leave that bomb sitting up there in that tower. We're going to explode it tomorrow. But there ought to be somebody there all night." And Don had the job of sitting there all night.
COLLINS: You're kidding! What an interesting footnote to one's life.
SEAMANS: I guess you can figure he was probably pretty safe, but even so! ... In regard to Don Hornig, he was in the process of becoming Kennedy's Science Advisor, when Kennedy was assassinated, but he did become Johnson's Science Advisor, and then some time later he became the President of Brown University. He's right here in Cambridge. We certainly had our fair share of great doctors and lawyers and so on. But I can't seem to think of anybody in public life. A few Congressmen. Toby McDonald was Jack Kennedy's roommate. He became a Congressman from this area.
COLLINS: What do you recall about the approximate size of the Harvard class of '40?
SEAMANS: We were a class of just about 1200. A lot of us took Government A when we came to Harvard, and I remember Professor Holcomb saying, "Look to your left, boys, look to your right. One of the three of you won't be here when you graduate." We graduated two-thirds of those who started. He also said, and this was following up on the other discussion, this was in the fall of 1936, he said, "Get out those brass buttons and get them shined up. You're all going to be in the military before you know it."
COLLINS: This was in '36?
SEAMANS: Yes. That didn't bother us as much as the thought that some of us might not be graduating. Yes. Both things he said in '36.
COLLINS: Okay. I think, for next time, what we'd like to do is take a little closer look at your time at the Instrumentation Laboratory, and go from there, I think, for that session, to focus your thoughts and prepare for that. Thank you very much.