Oral History Interviews

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

Edward Condon on working for a Senator.

Oral history audio excerpt

Edward Condon on working for a Senator.

Condon:

Now, by that time, there had been a lot of agitation, that the Senate really ought to have a special committee on Atomic Energy, and Brian McMahon, although he was a junior Senator in his first term, took a great interest in it and sort of made it his baby. I don't think he had to fight for it because the old time Senators were treating at arm's length. They didn't quite know what to do about it. So a resolution was passed that established that committee, and he proceeded to have a staff, well, really, just two or three people, the staff, nothing like it later became. The Chicago group at Westchester, which was all friendly to me, carried on a kind of campaign like is often done, of sending telegrams to McMahon, which were supposed to look as if they were all independent, views coming from different parts of the country, but they were all people urging that McMahon choose me as scientific advisor, which he did. Then James R. Newman—who wrote that book The World of Mathematics that was so successful, he was a Columbia-trained lawyer—was legal counsel to the committee. And the two of us worked together regularly. Except for a fellow that did more or less just clerical work, we were the staff. Well, it was soon—let's see—so that got started, to have McMahon head that committee, and McMahon had chosen me for the science advisor and Newman for legal counsel.

Then of course I had to be confirmed. In the meantime my nomination, I guess the call had been sent up by Truman for head of the Bureau of Standards, and I had to kind of wait for confirmation. So that came about the 1st of November. Now, in point of fact, they were not long drawn out hearings and controversy sort of thing. It was amusing—this came up one day on the floor of the Senate, and McMahon requested the confirmation, and nobody said anything except Senator Taft. He said, "What's the hurry?" And McMahon replied with some vague statement, as they so often do, about it having something to do with national security and atomic bombs, and Senator Taft immediately withdrew his objection, so I was confirmed in about five minutes. And that was that.