Dr. Bruce Old
573 Lowell Road

Age 80

Interviewed September 15, 1993

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.

Dr. Bruce OldI came to Concord in 1946, and I might go back a little bit. In 1935 I graduated from the University of North Carolina and entered MIT and studied metallurgy there, getting my doctorate degree in 1938. My father predicted there would be another world war and suggested I join the naval reserves so that I was in a better position to serve the nation should there be a war. I did in fact join the naval reserves in 1938 upon graduation from MIT. I then went to work for Bethlehem Steel Corporation in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and was there for about three years doing a research project in Bethlehem. I then received a call into active duty from the navy in August of 1941, which was several months into the war before the United States entered the war. It was an indication that people in Washington knew there was going to be a war.

I was ordered to the office of the Secretary of Navy in a special office called the Office of the Coordinator of Research and Development. This work put me in touch with top scientists in the United States and also England and was a liberal education in the fact that research and development was going to have a major effect on the outcome of World War II. Among the activities that I got involved in was our work on nuclear energy, which of course was extremely secretive at that time.

General Leslie Groves, who ran the so called Manhattan District Project, which was the development of the atomic bomb, was worried whether Nazi Germany was also developing bombs, and he thought of there was a race between the two nations that we had better find out what was the status of the German development. So he organized a group of four scientists to go to Italy on a first scientist intelligence mission that was ever organized. The scientists included were Jim Fisk, who was Vice President of Bell Laboratories, Will Allis, who was a professor of physics at MIT, Jack Gatsler, who was the professor of chemistry at Cornell, and myself. Actually, I was the camouflage of the mission because the navy had no part in the development of the nuclear bomb business. It was strictly an Army tactic, the Army Corp of Engineers. So General Groves was particularly anxious to have me go on the mission because he figured that would confound the Nazis intelligence. They couldn't understand how it would be a navy person's mission. So I went.

The other people got tired of waiting because Enrico Fermi had given us our targets. Most of them were physicists who were operating in Rome. We figured that if the Germans were developing a bomb they would draft Italian physicists and send them to Germany to work on the project. So if we found in fact these friends of Fremi were not drafted Germany, but living the war out in Rome, it would be an important indication that the Germans were not working at a fast pace and developing a new weapon. And that is indeed what we found and we had difficulty seeing these people because the Germans still occupied Rome. The Anzio beach head operation which occurred when we were there in Italy did not break out and allow our entrance into Rome. The only way we could get hold of some Fermi's targets was to have them kidnapped out of Rome by the opposite's services. Indeed they did bring down the PT boats from Rome. A couple of important subjects were interviewed and interrogated. We also interrogated Italians that had been in Berlin on the various missions, particularly some Italian air force people who were very knowledgeable and gave us a lot of important information. As a result, we went back to the United States about March of 1944 and reported to General Groves that in our opinion the Germans were not developing the atomic bomb. Therefore, this would allow Eisenhower to set his own schedule for the invasion of Normandy. Groves reported to Roosevelt, Roosevelt therefore told Secretary of War Stimson and General Marshall, who was Chief of Staff what our report stated and that the Germans were not developing the bomb so Marshall permitted Eisenhower to make his own schedule.

Our little office decided that if the navy were going to be a first rate navy after the war, we had to reorganize research activities of the navy. We started plotting on this, a bunch of us junior reserve officers. We wrote an outline of how the research ought to be organized for the navy department after World War II. We presented this to our Admiral, and he made a presentation to the secretary's office in the navy department. They did not accept our recommendation, but we persisted having nothing to lose because we were not planning on staying in the navy after the war. We wrote a bill and sent it the Senate of the United States establishing an office called the Office of the Naval Research. We were able to prevail this claim. Admiral King expressed no interest in forming an Office of Naval Research. He had his own methods for reorganizing the navy after World War II. We wrote a long report to President Roosevelt outlining how the navy should be organized. We had spies in Admiral King's office. One day one of them, his flag lieutenant who opened all his mail and came down to our office with a big fat report that came to Roosevelt about reorganization. Roosevelt had written across the report, "Dear Ernie, I made you Commander and Chief to fight the war not, underlined three times, to reorganize the navy department." We knew that King's information would not be carried out. FDR was apparently going to run the show. We worked through this office through contacts we had with the Senate and House that our bill which set up an office of naval research was considered by the Congress. Indeed in August 1946, just after the war was over, they passed the bill establishing the Office of Naval Research.

That had a lot to do with my later career because it brought me in contact with top scientists because after the war the nation had to re-establish its activities and basic research and the only money that was available was this money through the Office of Naval Research. That office was given the credit for re-establishing the whole basic research posture of the United States following World War II. We got credit which I thought was earned for really helping the nation with its science posture. Well, that gave me an interest.

After the war was over, I went to work for Arthur D. Little in Cambridge. I had been in contact with them during the war and actually in connection with the work they were doing on national defense. I was attracted to Boston in part because I had married a girl from Newton. So we decided to move to the Boston area. We moved to Concord, Massachusetts from Washington after the war. I worked for Arthur D. Little commuting from Concord. We naturally were brought into the Concord public school system because we had children, ultimately five. They all attended the Concord public schools, and also one or two of them in Middlesex School. I became interested in what they were getting in the way of science courses. Fortunately, I was made a member of President Eisenhower's Science Advisory Committee in Washington. One of the things that Committee was interested in was science education. Professor Zacharias put together a series of books and lectures on what he called the new physics or physics as he thought it should be taught at the high school. So I helped introduce that to the Concord public school system and to Middlesex School. Ultimately, I got asked to run for the school committee of Concord which I did not knowing how much work that entailed. It's a back breaking job, about once a week for about eight hours. Then there are special cases and special committees in addition.

This was a period where the so called neighborhood schools were being formed, and I got on the site selection committee. I had to select sites for various neighborhood schools, and we had to build them. Also the high school was growing out of proportion as it were. The neighboring town of Carlisle had very poor high school facilities, so we dreamed up having a Concord-Carlisle District School Committee. It meant building an adequate high school. So again Eleanor Spinney and I spent time on the site selection committee to select a site for the high school, which interestingly enough was on the town dump, on Brister's Hill around 1955. We had to work through the towns on getting the two towns, Concord and Carlisle, to accept the regional school concept. The budget for the joint high school was by far the biggest sum of money on any single project Concord and Carlisle had ever been involved in. We had to work through citizens' committees to convince the two towns that this was a logical and worthwhile investment. In fact, we said it was the best investment they could ever make because what could be more of an investment than intelligent children carrying forward in the future, and with the changing world, new science, we really needed a first class high school. Despite the tax burdens, it is to the credit of the town passed all of our recommendations.

Anna Manon, Don Sinclair, Winthrop Lee, and Eleanor Spinney -- it was a very intelligent committee. Interestingly enough it was before the days of open meetings. We thought we operated much better than not having open meetings because we were very frank in our interchanges. Often we disagreed but we kept debating until we reached that agreement. That's difficult to do with a lot of people sitting around watching you. I don't know that we could have done all the things we did.

The work I was doing at Arthur D. Little took an interesting turn at one point because Jim Fisk, who had been on the Alsos mission with me to Italy, became the director of research in the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission about 1947. He asked me if I would be the head of his materials section of his research department. I was reluctant to do that because I just started work with Arthur D. Little and I had some important assignments there. We reached an understanding whereby I could spend half my time in Washington as the head of the materials division of the Department of Research. This meant I had to spend most of my life on the federal express train between South Station and Union Station. It was a very difficult time period, but again it was a very rewarding experience because I had a very large budget to do the material development to permit what we hoped to be an age of nuclear power plants building around the United States.

Metals turned out to be one of the most difficult technical problems that the age of nuclear energy faced. It was a very challenging assignment. We had laboratories, the so called government laboratories like Oakridge, Los Almos, and Argonne and Hanford National Laboratories where we had materials research underway. We also had an extensive series of contracts set up with universities such as MIT and University of California, Stanford, Columbia etc. I had the problem of approving of all the various budgets which gave me an overall understanding of what was going on. A few years later that led to another interesting situation when MIT decided that the so called nuclear laboratory there should be set up as a separate function. The Atomic Energy Commission agreed with them and shifted the transfer of the metallurgical lab to some industrial company. One of companies which was approached was Arthur D. Little. Since I knew quite well what was going on in the laboratory, I was assigned the job of trying to see whether indeed Arthur D. Little could take over that operation. We formulated a type of contract which Arthur D. Little dreamed up and which the Atomic Commission had never considered before and that contract called for our being able to utilize the laboratory facilities for industrial work as well as for work for the Atomic Energy Commission. Setting it up that way we would pay an appropriate overhead fee to the Atomic Energy Commission for the use of the equipment and facilities. This way we contented that the laboratory personnel would have a career which would allow them to grow in the future rather than being completely dependent on one government agency, which would narrow their industrial potential. So we formed a company called Nuclear Metals Inc. We included in the formation of the company the Allegany Ludlam Steel Corporation as a minority stockholder because we expected some of our developments would be useful to industry at large, and therefore would be manufactured in full. Since Arthur D. Little was research and development rather than manufacturing we wanted a manufacturing partner.

The third partner was Al Kaufmann, who had been director of the laboratory, and whom I had known ever since my days as a doctorate's candidate in 1935 because he and I were the only two doctorate's candidates in the materials department at that time. We were delighted that the Atomic Energy Commission chose our proposal. We started operating in Nuclear Metal's laboratory. We knew it was an inadequate laboratory and soon we expanded in space near MIT and also knew that was just temporary and what we really wanted to do was build an adequate laboratory for the company to grow and prosper.

Since I had been involved in the school committee in Concord, I recognized that Concord needed an increase in its tax base, and I thought Nuclear Metals would be the type of company that would bring citizens to the town of the type that we would welcome, mostly professional staff. So we started looking around for some land in Concord. There was an old so called gun powder storage site that a Mr. Dan Hayes owned. It was zoned for industry. Finally we were able to convince Mr. Hayes that it would be a good thing to sell some of his land for the construction of the laboratory to bring Nuclear Metals into Concord, which indeed happened. Cap Jenny, who was a well known Concord citizen, built the laboratory and a fellow named John Quincy Adams from Lincoln was the architect, and then Selectmen then, Whittemore Brown, Harold Smith and others, were very pleased to welcome us to the community. So that's the way Nuclear Metals got to the town of Concord. I was the first President and an attractive young senator named John F. Kennedy came out to dedicate the laboratory and make the opening speech.

The connection between MIT and the Manhattan Project began with the Manhattan Project run by the Corps of Engineers and headed by General Groves had a number of contracts around the country with universities in addition to the famous national labs such as Oakridge, Los Almos, Argonne and Hanford and one of the contracts was with MIT. That laboratory did work on uranium metals, the processing of uranium metals, and also did work on metals important in the weapons business such as beryllium and also zirconium and thorium. The work was coordinated with work going on in Argonne, and there was a lot of interchange of information between the Argonne lab in Chicago and the metallurgical lab at MIT. I think MIT did no work on plutonium, but Kaufman was a contributor to the solution of a number of the metallurgical problems which the Manhattan district faced so it was an important contributor in the war effort.

I'm not sure who first noticed the halfnium impurity of the zirconium for a nuclear fuel clatting, whether it was Kaufman or not. The separation of halfnium from zirconium was accomplished at Oakridge National Laboratory. The fabrication of zirconium for clatting nuclear fuel elements was something that the metallurgical lab and Nuclear Metals were working on.

Arthur D. Little began Nuclear Metals as a subsidiary and Helga Holst was the treasurer of the ADL during the search for a site. Arthur D. Little was not a rich company, but we had a profit sharing trust which was putting away some money and had some capital funds, so that when we started looking for land, we were really thinking the purchasing of the land would be done by the so called Memorial Drive Trust, which was the profit sharing trust and retirement trust for the ADL staff. Helga Holst, a Concord resident, was treasurer of Arthur D. Little and he was also involved in the financial end of the profit sharing trust. So Helga and I together searched for this land and negotiated for the sale with Dan Hayes. The actual owner of the property was the Memorial Drive Trust.

There was an Industrial Sites Commission set up in the town at the time that we were considering purchasing the land, and they found ADL a very suitable client and in the 1956 town report, they indicate their enthusiasm. The report of the Development and Industrial Commission said their efforts were eventually rewarded in an organization with an excellent reputation and background that seemed to measure up in every way to the standards of what Concord might reasonably demand of any enterprise opening in the town, and that was Nuclear Metals.

I was President of Nuclear Metals from 1954 through 1957, at the same time being associated with Arthur D. Little. The assimilation of Nuclear Metals by Arthur D. Little was not all peaches and cream. The staff of 121 people at Nuclear Metals when we took over had most of their working lives been affiliated with MIT, and they had a single contract with the Atomic Energy Commission which allowed them to work at their own pace and they didn't have to worry about the payroll. The payroll was always there. That's not the way Arthur D. Little had to exist. We had to work very hard being sure that we satisfied all of our clients. By and large, this required a great deal of overtime work for which overtime we were not paid. Therefore the sort of work ethic was quite different between the two organizations. Especially so because MIT had a union too. So getting people to change their work ethics involved potential union conflict. Fortunately we were able to overcome that because we offered the staff a profit sharing trust such as Arthur D. Little had, as an alternative to the union. They accepted that I believe unanimously.

Another problem we had was they had expected Arthur D. Little would be a rich uncle and be able to purchase a lot of expensive equipment that the laboratory would like to have. They were slightly taken aback to find that ADL was not able to afford much expensive equipment. So we had that little problem to face.

We kept the same staff in the move from Cambridge to Concord. We were worried that there might be severe commuting problems. Fortunately, we lost very few people. Most of the people who had a commuting problems, let's say from the South Shore, were able to relocate.

The ground breaking took place in September of 1958 and the actual dedication was on October 24, 1958. We expected Jack Kennedy on the day of the dedication. We had invited him to come and be the main speaker. Of course, he wasn't as famous then as he is now. His method of operation was pretty much as he arranged it. When the moment for the dedication ceremony arrived, there was no Kennedy. Everybody got nervous and about fifteen minutes went by before we heard a whole bunch of sirens. Sure enough the state police were escorting Kennedy to come and make his speech, which he did very calmly, not apologizing for being late. He gave a good talk. We went to the Concord Country Club afterwards and had a very nice luncheon. It was a very pleasant October day.

There was an open house to view different exhibits. We had some equipment working, some extrusion presses and other quite impressive equipment, that we had as a result of the Atomic Energy Commission investment in the laboratory facilities. This was still all government owned equipment. Over the years we probably got to the point where we purchased it at a depreciated value.

The laboratory had a very modern look for that time period. We preserved trees from the neighborhood to keep the site attractive. The media was lyrical in the write ups about the laboratory. Everything nuclear had a magic aura until we ran into later in life a bunch of people who fought nuclear activity. It never reached its potential for power the way it seemed following World War II. I still think it will someday. I think science became the new frontier after World War II. Industrial research was really not practiced at all broadly prior to 1946. In fact, total investment was on the order of $500 million a year, which was extremely low. Now it's in the $20 billion range. In the period over the next 40 years, investor research grew many fold and many corporations established for the first time R&D operations. The advances of science during World War II were given credit for having triggered this whole expansion.

All the government agencies worked together toward accomplishing the atomic bomb and the results of the Manhattan project were viewed as the trump card of peace. I still feel that you can credit the existence of a nuclear arsenal with preserving the peace from World War II until today. It's just so powerful a weapon that nobody wanted to be responsible for unleashing it on either side, the Russian side or U.S. side. I happen to think history will look at the nuclear weapon development in that light.

I was in college at the University of North Carolina, by happenstance with a young man named Brian M. Grant, Jr. from Atlanta, Georgia, better known as Bitsy Grant, who in his freshman year which was a year prior to my joining the university, had won the National Clay Court Championship. He was a phenomenal tennis player and he used to take me around to tournaments as a friend to watch his play and sometimes to analyze what was going on. For example, since he was such a short man, he was only about five feet six, he had difficulty covering the net. Therefore, at times he asked me to chart where he hit approach shots in coming to the net and how his opponent tried to pass him, whether he tried to go down the line across court or whether he tried to lob. In those days in the big tournaments, they played the best three out of five sets, and there was a rest period between the third and fourth sets if it went that far. So I would go to the dressing room during these breaks and show him how his opponent was trying to pass him. This sort of gave me some background in analyzing tennis, and when I moved to Concord after World War II, I found that most of my friends were of an age whereby they played only doubles. I had never played much doubles so I didn't understand the tactics of the game.

I went to the Concord Public Library to find a book on doubles and there wasn't one. I followed up and went to the Boston Public Library, the New York Public Library, and finally the Library of Congress, and I found there had never been a book written on doubles. So at that time, the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline was holding the national championship in doubles, so I started going to Longwood to study how the best players played the game. I made many charts -- where they hit the serve, where they returned the serve, how they tried to open up the court to make winners possible, their whole tactics. After about four years of this, I indeed was able to write the draft of the book on the game of doubles. At that time, the top players were Australians, such as John Bromwich, Frank Sedmen and Kenneth McGregor, and I therefore went to Henry Hopman, who was the captain of the Australian Davis Cup team, and asked him if he would like to write a book on the game of doubles with me. I could tell from the look on his face that he was absolutely horror stricken at the idea, and what he was trying to do was to get rid of me as fast as he could. He did by saying, "Oh, no, I'm much too busy. I'm writing a book on Australian Davis Cup history."

So a few minutes later, I went up to Billy Talbert whom I consider the best U.S. player of doubles, and he looked me up and down the same way Hopman did, but he said, "I notice you have a notebook under your arm, does that mean you have written something?" I said, "Yes, as a matter of fact, the book is just about written." So he said, "Well, you send it to me at my home in New York and I'll read it and tell you what I think." I was able to deliver the book to his house, and I was fortunate that within about two days he contracted infectious hepatitis which as a diabetic was dangerous because the diets were quite different, so he was forced to go to the hospital for a week. He took the notebook with him and had a chance to really read it. About a week later, I was in New York again on business and I called and his wife answered the phone. I gave her my name and said that I had left a notebook for her husband to read, and I wondered what was happening. She said, "Thank God you called. He's been sleeping with that God damn notebook under his pillow every night because he's so afraid he'll lose it."

That's the way it started. Billy and I took the book to five different publishers without success, and finally he was lunching one day on Wall Street when the president of MacMillan and the president of Henry Holt were dining at the next table. They both asked him if he had a book for publication. They had heard that he did. They both accepted the book. That was embarrassing too, but we finally picked Holt to be the first publisher. That book, which many of the publishers had said was too much like a textbook to sell, became the best selling book ever written on tennis. It sold a little over 50,000 copies. Therefore, we were asked to write a book on singles in the same format. That also sold over 50,000 copies. Then we wrote one on stroke production and how to hit the ball. My wife Bunny did all the illustrations of stroke production methods. Finally, we wrote one called "Tennis Tactics for Singles and Doubles." That was the end of our time. It was very difficult because I was on the school committee and the president of Nuclear Metals and trying to write a doubles book on tennis all at the same time.

Mounted 26 Jan. 2008; revised with image added 8 May 2013. -- RCWH.