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Oral-History:Bernard Finn

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== About Bernard Finn ==
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== About Bernard Finn ==
  
Bernard Finn was born in Syracuse, New York in 1932. He attended Cornell University in engineering physics, and after graduating, Finn worked at the Savannah River Project outside Augusta, Georgia for three years in a research facility. In 1958, Finn moved from engineering physics to history of science when he began doctorate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writing his dissertation on the history of thermoelectricity, which he finished while teaching at the University of Oklahoma. After receiving his PhD, Finn became Curator of Electricity at the Smithsonian in August 1962, a position he held until 2005 when he became Curator Emeritus. He also served as managing editor of the history of science, technology and medicine journal Isis. Finn became formally involved with the [[IEEE History Committee History|IEEE History Committee]] in a consultant capacity in 1971, later becoming an official committee member after serving as Committee Chairman from 1980-82. During his time with the History Committee, Finn was involved in important developments of both the Committee and the [[IEEE History Center|IEEE History Center]], including formalizing the History Committee in the late 1970s, approving the History Center, searching for Center directors, Centennial work, serving on the fellowship committee, the Milestones program, exhibits and moving the Center to Rutgers. Finn retired from the History Committee in 2006, but he continues to work on the Editorial Board of [[GHN:About-Stars|IEEE STARS]] on the [[GHN:About|IEEE Global History Network]]. Finn also received an IEEE Centennial Medal in 1984.  
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Bernard Finn was born in Syracuse, New York in 1932. He attended Cornell University in engineering physics. After graduating, he worked at the Savannah River Project outside Augusta, Georgia for three years in a research facility. In 1958, Finn moved from engineering physics to history of science when he began doctoral work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writing his dissertation on the history of thermoelectricity, and  teaching at the University of Oklahoma. After receiving his PhD, Finn became Curator of Electricity at the Smithsonian in August 1962, a position he held until 2005 when he became Curator Emeritus. He also served as managing editor of ISIS, the journal of the History of Science Society.  Finn became formally involved with the [[IEEE History Committee History|IEEE History Committee]] in a consultant capacity in 1971, later becoming an official committee member. and serving as Committee Chairman from 1980-82. During his time with the History Committee, Finn was involved in important developments of both the Committee and the [[IEEE History Center|IEEE History Center]], including formalizing the History Committee in the late 1970s, approving the History Center, searching for Center directors, Centennial work, serving on the fellowship committee, the Milestones program, exhibits and moving the Center to Rutgers. Finn retired from the History Committee in 2006, but he continues to work on the Editorial Board of [[GHN:About-STARS|IEEE STARS]] on the [[GHN:About|IEEE Global History Network]]. Finn also received an IEEE Centennial Medal in 1984.  
  
In this interview, Finn talks about his education and career at the Smithsonian, but mostly his involvement with the IEEE History Committee. He discusses his decision to move from engineering physics into the history of science, as well as in interest in museum work, and how he came to be Curator of Electricity at the Smithsonian. How he came to be involved with the IEEE is also covered, along with his early status as consultant, working with the Committee as an historian rather than engineer, and how he eventually became chairman and a full member of the History Committee although Finn never became an IEEE member. Finn talks about the changes in the committee over the years, including the coming of a more formalized structure and more independent meeting schedule. He also discusses the development of the History Center, including the debates over whether to fully commit to the idea of a Center, and the search for a director. The tenure of the four directors the Center has had so far – [[Oral-History:Robert Friedel|Robert Friedel]], [[Oral-History:Ron Kline|Ron Kline]], William Aspray and Michael Geselowitz – and the different emphases and projects of each director were also covered. Finn stresses the importance of the support given to the Center by IEEE staff, and the dedication to the project which extended beyond the Centennial year. He discusses the evolution of the Committee and Center, the importance of models such as the AIP Center, and the outreach of history to IEEE members and historians. Finn talks about many of his colleagues, including Jim Brittain, Eric Herz, Bob Multhauf and Joyce Bedi.  
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In this interview, Finn talks about his education and his career at the Smithsonian, but mostly  about his involvement with the IEEE History Committee. He discusses his decision to move from engineering physics into the history of science, as well as an interest in museum work, and becoming Curator of Electricity at the Smithsonian. How he came to be involved with the IEEE is also covered, along with his early status as consultant, working with the Committee as an historian rather than engineer, and how he eventually became chairman and a full member of the History Committee although Finn never became an IEEE member. Finn talks about the changes in the committee over the years, including the coming of a more formalized structure and more independent meeting schedule. He also discusses the development of the History Center, including the debates over whether to fully commit to the idea of a Center, and the search for a director. The tenure of the four directors the Center has had so far – [[Oral-History:Robert Friedel|Robert Friedel]], [[Oral-History:Ron Kline|Ron Kline]], [[Oral-History:William Aspray|William Aspray]] and Michael Geselowitz – and the different emphases and projects of each director are also covered. Finn stresses the importance of the support given to the Center by IEEE staff, and the dedication to the project which extended beyond the Centennial year. He discusses the evolution of the Committee and Center, the importance of models such as the AIP Center, and the outreach of history to both IEEE members and historians. Finn also talks about other people, including Jim Brittain, Eric Herz, Bob Multhauf and Joyce Bedi.  
  
== About the Interview ==
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== About the Interview ==
  
 
BERNARD FINN: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, 10 November 2010  
 
BERNARD FINN: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, 10 November 2010  
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Interview #561 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Inc. and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey  
 
Interview #561 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Inc. and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey  
  
== Copyright Statement ==
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== Copyright Statement ==
  
 
This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.  
 
This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.  
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Bernard Finn, an oral history conducted in 2010 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
 
Bernard Finn, an oral history conducted in 2010 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
  
== Interview ==
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== Interview ==
  
 
Interview: Bernard Finn  
 
Interview: Bernard Finn  
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Location: Washington, DC  
 
Location: Washington, DC  
  
=== Background, Cornell, Savannah River Project ===
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=== Background, Cornell, Savannah River Project ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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And then not being exactly sure what I wanted to do, I took a job at Savannah River Project, outside of Augusta, Georgia-Aiken, South Carolina, run by DuPont at the time, making tritium and plutonium, those good things. But it was really a pretty good job for somebody with just a bachelor’s degree. I was barely qualified for going down there. I was with a bunch of PhDs, but they were all chemists. So, in a way I gave an extra dimension. The construction phase in the early part of that facility had gone by, the production reactors, there were five of them, were churning away, and I was assigned to basically a research facility, which included a mock up of the big reactors. We did occasional jobs for the production people. They wanted to change the loading, and emphasize this, or do something else. And we’d do tests in our zero-power complete mock up of this deuterium moderated, enriched uranium reactor. Much of the time we were on our own so we’d develop our own projects. For a young engineer, out of his element in many ways, I was just one of the boys. And it was always completely boys in that facility, about 15 or 20 of us, and we were all equal, whatever our academic background. Sometimes, I’d have a project and a couple of them would help me, or someone else would take the lead. Anyway, it was a good experience. But it was unsatisfying in ways that perhaps are related to my days with the humor magazine.  
 
And then not being exactly sure what I wanted to do, I took a job at Savannah River Project, outside of Augusta, Georgia-Aiken, South Carolina, run by DuPont at the time, making tritium and plutonium, those good things. But it was really a pretty good job for somebody with just a bachelor’s degree. I was barely qualified for going down there. I was with a bunch of PhDs, but they were all chemists. So, in a way I gave an extra dimension. The construction phase in the early part of that facility had gone by, the production reactors, there were five of them, were churning away, and I was assigned to basically a research facility, which included a mock up of the big reactors. We did occasional jobs for the production people. They wanted to change the loading, and emphasize this, or do something else. And we’d do tests in our zero-power complete mock up of this deuterium moderated, enriched uranium reactor. Much of the time we were on our own so we’d develop our own projects. For a young engineer, out of his element in many ways, I was just one of the boys. And it was always completely boys in that facility, about 15 or 20 of us, and we were all equal, whatever our academic background. Sometimes, I’d have a project and a couple of them would help me, or someone else would take the lead. Anyway, it was a good experience. But it was unsatisfying in ways that perhaps are related to my days with the humor magazine.  
  
=== Wisconsin and History of Science ===
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=== Wisconsin and History of Science ===
  
 
After three years, I got married, and drove to Madison, Wisconsin, where I was enrolled in a program in history of science.  
 
After three years, I got married, and drove to Madison, Wisconsin, where I was enrolled in a program in history of science.  
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And the marvelous part of the Junto meetings, which now is true of many of the national meetings, is you go there, and all of a sudden you’re on a first-name basis with your professor, and all these other people whom you’ve read about and know about, especially in the history of science. It was a pretty small group at that time, and then here they all were. And you’re drinking beer with them, and you get to know them reasonably well. A marvelous experience the Junto was.  
 
And the marvelous part of the Junto meetings, which now is true of many of the national meetings, is you go there, and all of a sudden you’re on a first-name basis with your professor, and all these other people whom you’ve read about and know about, especially in the history of science. It was a pretty small group at that time, and then here they all were. And you’re drinking beer with them, and you get to know them reasonably well. A marvelous experience the Junto was.  
  
=== University of Oklahoma ===
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=== University of Oklahoma ===
  
 
But anyway, I knew Duane from one of the meetings, and I think he said, “Barney, I’m going to be off in Europe next year, would you like to come to Oklahoma?” And I did. That was teaching - Duane taught four courses. Well, it’s not that he taught four courses. He taught one course four times because they had small classes. And rather than have a lecture class where there’s 75 or more people, you had individual classes of 25 or 30. That was exhausting I can remember. I had three courses; they were Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and they were identical. This is the history of science from the beginning - the first semester was up to the Renaissance, the second semester more or less up to the present.  
 
But anyway, I knew Duane from one of the meetings, and I think he said, “Barney, I’m going to be off in Europe next year, would you like to come to Oklahoma?” And I did. That was teaching - Duane taught four courses. Well, it’s not that he taught four courses. He taught one course four times because they had small classes. And rather than have a lecture class where there’s 75 or more people, you had individual classes of 25 or 30. That was exhausting I can remember. I had three courses; they were Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and they were identical. This is the history of science from the beginning - the first semester was up to the Renaissance, the second semester more or less up to the present.  
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We’ve all done that. And just repeating yourself, first class, you’re sort of struggling with it. Although I’d done this with Irwin, or watched him do it, it was new to me. Duane had very complete notes which were very helpful. The first class, I was sort of getting into it. The second class, hitting my stride, and the students, they’re responding and feeling good. And the third class, exhausted. And then, twice a week, I taught the whole thing in one semester, I think primarily for engineers. And that meant four classes on those days. Anyway, I finished the dissertation down there. Norman’s a wonderful town to be in, if you want to be out in the boonies, and a little bit away from places. And young, married and everything else, it just worked out well.  
 
We’ve all done that. And just repeating yourself, first class, you’re sort of struggling with it. Although I’d done this with Irwin, or watched him do it, it was new to me. Duane had very complete notes which were very helpful. The first class, I was sort of getting into it. The second class, hitting my stride, and the students, they’re responding and feeling good. And the third class, exhausted. And then, twice a week, I taught the whole thing in one semester, I think primarily for engineers. And that meant four classes on those days. Anyway, I finished the dissertation down there. Norman’s a wonderful town to be in, if you want to be out in the boonies, and a little bit away from places. And young, married and everything else, it just worked out well.  
  
=== Going to the Smithsonian ===
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=== Going to the Smithsonian ===
  
 
At Norman, they were good enough to give me, in’61, partial expenses to go to the annual meeting of the History of Science Society. This is back when we did it between Christmas and New Year’s. It was in Washington. They offered me half my expenses, or airfare, or something like that, which was, I recall, $40. I came to Washington. I may have had some prior correspondence, but not much, and I met Bob Multhauf, and he basically offered me the Smithsonian job as curator of electricity, more or less on the spot. We met, I can't remember the details. And then, I had to come back in the spring for a formal going over by the Secretary, Leonard Carmichael, who interviewed every new Curator at the time. And anyway, I passed that, and came here in August of ’62, to the Smithsonian.  
 
At Norman, they were good enough to give me, in’61, partial expenses to go to the annual meeting of the History of Science Society. This is back when we did it between Christmas and New Year’s. It was in Washington. They offered me half my expenses, or airfare, or something like that, which was, I recall, $40. I came to Washington. I may have had some prior correspondence, but not much, and I met Bob Multhauf, and he basically offered me the Smithsonian job as curator of electricity, more or less on the spot. We met, I can't remember the details. And then, I had to come back in the spring for a formal going over by the Secretary, Leonard Carmichael, who interviewed every new Curator at the time. And anyway, I passed that, and came here in August of ’62, to the Smithsonian.  
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The other thing that appealed to me was, whatever I did here would have, could have, not just national repercussions, but international. Here, you’re sitting in the Smithsonian, the National Museum, and you’ve got this audience out there. And that has really proven to be true, whatever I’ve done. I’ve been involved in a number of projects that are both national, like the IEEE, or, well, again, like IEEE, international in scope. And much of my work, almost all of my work since I’ve retired, which is now four, five years has been in terms of these international activities. It’s really satisfying. And there’s no question, with the Smithsonian name you go almost anyplace, and you get a good response.  
 
The other thing that appealed to me was, whatever I did here would have, could have, not just national repercussions, but international. Here, you’re sitting in the Smithsonian, the National Museum, and you’ve got this audience out there. And that has really proven to be true, whatever I’ve done. I’ve been involved in a number of projects that are both national, like the IEEE, or, well, again, like IEEE, international in scope. And much of my work, almost all of my work since I’ve retired, which is now four, five years has been in terms of these international activities. It’s really satisfying. And there’s no question, with the Smithsonian name you go almost anyplace, and you get a good response.  
  
=== Early History Committee Work, Oral Histories ===
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=== Early History Committee Work, Oral Histories ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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Well, I feel good about that, because I think I had something of a role in helping to preserve and get them transcribed.  
 
Well, I feel good about that, because I think I had something of a role in helping to preserve and get them transcribed.  
  
=== Formalized History Committee, Projects ===
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=== Formalized History Committee, Projects ===
  
 
It was clear that we were in an unsatisfactory situation. And then, and you can help me on this, there was a formal change. There would be a History Committee that would meet separately - it all has to do with internal IEEE.  
 
It was clear that we were in an unsatisfactory situation. And then, and you can help me on this, there was a formal change. There would be a History Committee that would meet separately - it all has to do with internal IEEE.  
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Well, I’m delighted that you got that because he was a critical element at that time. And he and I were the historical representation on this Committee, and the rest of it was all, old time, most of them, old time engineers.  
 
Well, I’m delighted that you got that because he was a critical element at that time. And he and I were the historical representation on this Committee, and the rest of it was all, old time, most of them, old time engineers.  
  
=== Committee Proposal, History Center Approved ===
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=== Committee Proposal, History Center Approved ===
  
 
The question came up as to whether we should be doing something more. And Jim and I were knowledgeable about what other groups were doing. It was the chemical engineers doing their thing, and then the computer people, and the mechanical and civil engineers, and the physicists. And so, it seems to me, every meeting, for three or four years anyway, we’d talk about this. And then we said, oh, what the hell, let’s do a study and see what’s out there. And that was - What’s his name?  
 
The question came up as to whether we should be doing something more. And Jim and I were knowledgeable about what other groups were doing. It was the chemical engineers doing their thing, and then the computer people, and the mechanical and civil engineers, and the physicists. And so, it seems to me, every meeting, for three or four years anyway, we’d talk about this. And then we said, oh, what the hell, let’s do a study and see what’s out there. And that was - What’s his name?  
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Yes, to the Board. And, it either happens or it doesn’t, and it happened. I suspect the Board - I don’t know, because I was not there - the Board was appreciative of doing something well, and doing it right, and I suspect they were more amenable to that than they would have been to some sort of part way solution. So that was that. And then we recruited for a Director.  
 
Yes, to the Board. And, it either happens or it doesn’t, and it happened. I suspect the Board - I don’t know, because I was not there - the Board was appreciative of doing something well, and doing it right, and I suspect they were more amenable to that than they would have been to some sort of part way solution. So that was that. And then we recruited for a Director.  
  
=== Center Director Search Committee, Center Program ===
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=== Center Director Search Committee, Center Program ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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<flashmp3>561 - finn - clip 1.mp3</flashmp3>
  
 
Then maybe that’s the question. What was the program that you or the History Committee, in general, wanted staff to implement?  
 
Then maybe that’s the question. What was the program that you or the History Committee, in general, wanted staff to implement?  
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And then, for the historian, it was the notion that here’s this enormous resource of people who know about, who were part of history, and that you now have access to them personally and to their papers.  
 
And then, for the historian, it was the notion that here’s this enormous resource of people who know about, who were part of history, and that you now have access to them personally and to their papers.  
  
=== Center Models, Archival ‘Go-Between’ ===
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=== Center Models, Archival ‘Go-Between’ ===
  
 
Our examples were the chemists and the computer people, and the physicists, the American Institute of Physics.  
 
Our examples were the chemists and the computer people, and the physicists, the American Institute of Physics.  
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'''Finn:'''  
 
'''Finn:'''  
  
So, there were examples out there, which we simply weren’t prepared to do without that kind of a permanent organization. And then it’s a matter of what it is that the incumbent is going to pick up on. The Directors, Robert, and [[Oral-History:Ron Kline|Ron [Kline] ]], and Bill [Aspray], and Mike [Geselowitz], they’re all different. It’s all hindsight, and maybe, things sort of jell because they jell, but at least looking back on it, it seems to me that they each fit well into what was going on in that period, and helped us just at the point where we needed that kind of help. And Robert’s, of course, was to get the thing going. He was very good at that. He had some ideas himself. He had experience in exhibits, and so, therefore, he did that. And we did the, let me see, the [[Archives:Lines and Waves|Lines and Waves]], does that come -  
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So, there were examples out there, which we simply weren’t prepared to do without that kind of a permanent organization. And then it’s a matter of what it is that the incumbent is going to pick up on. The Directors, Robert, and [[Oral-History:Ron Kline|Ron [Kline] ]], and [[Oral-History:William Aspray|Bill [Aspray] ]], and Mike [Geselowitz], they’re all different. It’s all hindsight, and maybe, things sort of jell because they jell, but at least looking back on it, it seems to me that they each fit well into what was going on in that period, and helped us just at the point where we needed that kind of help. And Robert’s, of course, was to get the thing going. He was very good at that. He had some ideas himself. He had experience in exhibits, and so, therefore, he did that. And we did the, let me see, the [[Archives:Lines and Waves|Lines and Waves]], does that come -  
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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The two that I’m thinking of, one is the Lines and Waves, and the other is the [[A Century of Electricals|Centennial exhibit]].  
 
The two that I’m thinking of, one is the Lines and Waves, and the other is the [[A Century of Electricals|Centennial exhibit]].  
  
=== Eric Herz, IEEE Professionalism ===
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=== Eric Herz, IEEE Professionalism ===
  
 
But what we couldn’t, what we didn’t anticipate, and what turned out to be enormously important, was the role of Eric Herz in all of this. And, more particularly, the chemistry between Robert and Eric. There was talk about where we should be. Even at that point, I think, it was should the Center be at a university or at the headquarters. In hindsight it was very important that it was at headquarters. And very important that he was right down the hall from Eric. He’ll tell you about this, because I get it secondhand. I saw what was happening, but from the side. And Eric, Eric has a question, he walks down, he asks Robert.  
 
But what we couldn’t, what we didn’t anticipate, and what turned out to be enormously important, was the role of Eric Herz in all of this. And, more particularly, the chemistry between Robert and Eric. There was talk about where we should be. Even at that point, I think, it was should the Center be at a university or at the headquarters. In hindsight it was very important that it was at headquarters. And very important that he was right down the hall from Eric. He’ll tell you about this, because I get it secondhand. I saw what was happening, but from the side. And Eric, Eric has a question, he walks down, he asks Robert.  
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And Eric respected that as he should; it was built into his psyche that he appreciated that. And therefore, the kind of support that he gave to Robert, and to our whole enterprise, was enormously important, and, it really wouldn’t have happened, I think, the way it did, and maybe not at all, if we hadn’t - Well, you’ve got to have the support of that person. But we really did get it. It was very important.  
 
And Eric respected that as he should; it was built into his psyche that he appreciated that. And therefore, the kind of support that he gave to Robert, and to our whole enterprise, was enormously important, and, it really wouldn’t have happened, I think, the way it did, and maybe not at all, if we hadn’t - Well, you’ve got to have the support of that person. But we really did get it. It was very important.  
  
=== Committee Chairman, Centennial ===
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=== Committee Chairman, Centennial ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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Yes.  
 
Yes.  
  
=== Robert Friedel, Corporate Communications ===
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=== Robert Friedel, Corporate Communications ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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But again, getting back to bringing special skills, he was obviously critical in establishing the Center, of keeping relations, good relations, with the Committee, either initiating programs or of implementing those that the Committee wanted done.  
 
But again, getting back to bringing special skills, he was obviously critical in establishing the Center, of keeping relations, good relations, with the Committee, either initiating programs or of implementing those that the Committee wanted done.  
  
=== Exhibits, Professional Staff ===
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=== Exhibits, Professional Staff ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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Okay, you’re absolutely right. And here’s ’77, which is Bob Belfield. I don’t know where Bob is now, he’s Canadian. He did a compilation of museums in the country, including private collections, private museums, if you like, that had electrical devices in them. It remains a somewhat useful document of where these things are.  
 
Okay, you’re absolutely right. And here’s ’77, which is Bob Belfield. I don’t know where Bob is now, he’s Canadian. He did a compilation of museums in the country, including private collections, private museums, if you like, that had electrical devices in them. It remains a somewhat useful document of where these things are.  
  
=== Fellowships ===
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=== Fellowships ===
  
 
And we had fellowships. When did they begin?  
 
And we had fellowships. When did they begin?  
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[Tape 1 ends, Tape 2 begins]  
 
[Tape 1 ends, Tape 2 begins]  
  
=== Centennial Exhibit, Books and Medals ===
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=== Centennial Exhibit, Books and Medals ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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Yes.  
 
Yes.  
  
=== Communications and Microelectronics Exhibits ===
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=== Communications and Microelectronics Exhibits ===
  
 
One other exhibit during this period that the History Center newsletters list you as co-curator of was an exhibit on microelectronics.  
 
One other exhibit during this period that the History Center newsletters list you as co-curator of was an exhibit on microelectronics.  
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The exhibit ended up with a bunch of questions of “what does this mean?” The theme of the exhibit was related to our movement toward social history. It was a history of the telephone and telegraph, but we were saying what does it mean, what are the social consequences of people being able to talk to people, and all that sort of thing. And at the end, we were looking at new technologies coming in, and asking what were going to be the social changes in the future. And microelectronics clearly would have something to do with that.  
 
The exhibit ended up with a bunch of questions of “what does this mean?” The theme of the exhibit was related to our movement toward social history. It was a history of the telephone and telegraph, but we were saying what does it mean, what are the social consequences of people being able to talk to people, and all that sort of thing. And at the end, we were looking at new technologies coming in, and asking what were going to be the social changes in the future. And microelectronics clearly would have something to do with that.  
  
=== Early Archival Work, More on Milestones ===
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=== Early Archival Work, More on Milestones ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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I really can’t say much. This is something that, obviously, Robert knows a lot about. It was something that the Committee certainly supported, that this was an important thing to do. And again, there’s a difference between the IEEE archives and any other material that might come in. So, we’re really talking about that.  
 
I really can’t say much. This is something that, obviously, Robert knows a lot about. It was something that the Committee certainly supported, that this was an important thing to do. And again, there’s a difference between the IEEE archives and any other material that might come in. So, we’re really talking about that.  
  
'''Hochheiser:'''
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'''Hochheiser:'''  
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Right. We’re talking chiefly about records of the IEEE.  
 
Right. We’re talking chiefly about records of the IEEE.  
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Yes.  
 
Yes.  
  
=== Ron Kline, GE Archive ===
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=== Ron Kline, GE Archive ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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It was a subsidiary library, and they had been told to dump the books in the Mohawk River, or whatever, but probably because of the previous action they were aware of the Smithsonian’s interest and offered to send them down here instead. It was a mixed bag, but there was some pretty good material there. Then what else with Ron?  
 
It was a subsidiary library, and they had been told to dump the books in the Mohawk River, or whatever, but probably because of the previous action they were aware of the Smithsonian’s interest and offered to send them down here instead. It was a mixed bag, but there was some pretty good material there. Then what else with Ron?  
  
=== Continuing the Center, Committee and Continuity ===
+
=== Continuing the Center, Committee and Continuity ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
Line 1,158: Line 1,159:
 
Right. They were on for a three-year term. And maybe they missed one year because they had to go to something else. It’s very hard to develop continuity there. That’s what I was, I was continuity. When somebody asked a question about how is this supposed to work, [Laughter] the director of the Center could, of course, answer that to an extent, but I, I had more continuity.  
 
Right. They were on for a three-year term. And maybe they missed one year because they had to go to something else. It’s very hard to develop continuity there. That’s what I was, I was continuity. When somebody asked a question about how is this supposed to work, [Laughter] the director of the Center could, of course, answer that to an extent, but I, I had more continuity.  
  
=== Edison After Forty Exhibit ===
+
=== Edison After Forty Exhibit ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
Line 1,200: Line 1,201:
 
She went over there and searched through the files and came up with images to complement those from ETL. And then, we co-curated this exhibit as a traveling exhibit with maybe 40 or 50 pictures and raised themes about how he has done his seminal work at Pearl Street, and then goes on to West Orange, and he says he’s going to do ten times as much, but he didn’t. Well, why? Well, because he was involved in other things like cutting ribbons and giving interviews. Because he got married to a younger wife, who had different ideas about what he should be doing. And anyway, we put together an exhibit. I think we had two copies of it, and it circulated for four or five years. And last I knew, one version ended up at the Edison home in Florida, in Ft. Myers. But, it’s still on the web. So, you can find it there. Just go look at Smithsonian, Edison After Forty, and there he is. So that was a very good collaboration. Fun and also good stuff.  
 
She went over there and searched through the files and came up with images to complement those from ETL. And then, we co-curated this exhibit as a traveling exhibit with maybe 40 or 50 pictures and raised themes about how he has done his seminal work at Pearl Street, and then goes on to West Orange, and he says he’s going to do ten times as much, but he didn’t. Well, why? Well, because he was involved in other things like cutting ribbons and giving interviews. Because he got married to a younger wife, who had different ideas about what he should be doing. And anyway, we put together an exhibit. I think we had two copies of it, and it circulated for four or five years. And last I knew, one version ended up at the Edison home in Florida, in Ft. Myers. But, it’s still on the web. So, you can find it there. Just go look at Smithsonian, Edison After Forty, and there he is. So that was a very good collaboration. Fun and also good stuff.  
  
=== Moving to Rutgers, William Aspray ===
+
=== Moving to Rutgers, William Aspray ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
Line 1,410: Line 1,411:
 
Easier for me to get there, both easier and more difficult. That’s a good question. You weren’t next to the management anymore. And that, that made a big difference. It was inevitable, and Eric wasn’t going to stay forever anyway. So, it took us a little bit out from the center of power. But, at the same time it gave us space. Certainly the space was a big thing. And having the connection with the university, and access to graduate students, and things like that, I have no question that this was the thing to do. And it opened up all sorts of possibilities for enlarging. I mean, again, the timing was about right. It may have taken a couple of years to determine that was the way to go, but kudos to the IEEE for saying all right, fine, we’ll do that. I mean, I couldn’t believe how much money we spent on getting the Committee together. [Laughter] That’s a big deal, especially twice a year now. To me, it was the Institute’s way of saying we believe in this. That’s important. Well, it’s obviously important. Regardless of what other programs they gave emphasis to, the fact that we’re on par with other committees in terms of the support the Institute gives us. That’s very good.  
 
Easier for me to get there, both easier and more difficult. That’s a good question. You weren’t next to the management anymore. And that, that made a big difference. It was inevitable, and Eric wasn’t going to stay forever anyway. So, it took us a little bit out from the center of power. But, at the same time it gave us space. Certainly the space was a big thing. And having the connection with the university, and access to graduate students, and things like that, I have no question that this was the thing to do. And it opened up all sorts of possibilities for enlarging. I mean, again, the timing was about right. It may have taken a couple of years to determine that was the way to go, but kudos to the IEEE for saying all right, fine, we’ll do that. I mean, I couldn’t believe how much money we spent on getting the Committee together. [Laughter] That’s a big deal, especially twice a year now. To me, it was the Institute’s way of saying we believe in this. That’s important. Well, it’s obviously important. Regardless of what other programs they gave emphasis to, the fact that we’re on par with other committees in terms of the support the Institute gives us. That’s very good.  
  
=== Staff Growth, Wheeler Gift ===
+
=== Staff Growth, Wheeler Gift ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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Yes.  
 
Yes.  
  
=== Center Conferences, Aspray Leaving ===
+
=== Center Conferences, Aspray Leaving ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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This reflected his interests, and at the time I thought we might be going too far - but it was nice having more than a couple of historians on the committee, and in retrospect it probably made sense to beef up our computer competence. Less emphasis was placed on some programs, like milestones, which were designed to connect us to the membership.So yes, I think it would be fair to say that there was a feeling of, of moving backwards a little bit, or moving back in another direction.  
 
This reflected his interests, and at the time I thought we might be going too far - but it was nice having more than a couple of historians on the committee, and in retrospect it probably made sense to beef up our computer competence. Less emphasis was placed on some programs, like milestones, which were designed to connect us to the membership.So yes, I think it would be fair to say that there was a feeling of, of moving backwards a little bit, or moving back in another direction.  
  
=== Mike Geselowitz and Rutgers ===
+
=== Mike Geselowitz and Rutgers ===
  
 
I don’t know that that had any effect on the selection process of a new Director. Again, I was also a member of the Selection Committee. And I’m beginning to remember a few people who may have been interviewed. But I don’t think that we consciously said, no, we’re not looking for a certain type, or we’re looking in some other direction. There were, I think there were three candidates at the end, Mike [Geselowitz] and two others - I can remember one name, I can't remember the other.  
 
I don’t know that that had any effect on the selection process of a new Director. Again, I was also a member of the Selection Committee. And I’m beginning to remember a few people who may have been interviewed. But I don’t think that we consciously said, no, we’re not looking for a certain type, or we’re looking in some other direction. There were, I think there were three candidates at the end, Mike [Geselowitz] and two others - I can remember one name, I can't remember the other.  
Line 1,638: Line 1,639:
 
Yes.  
 
Yes.  
  
=== Virtual Museum ===
+
=== Virtual Museum ===
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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Right.  
 
Right.  
  
=== GHN and STARS ===
+
=== GHN and STARS ===
  
 
'''Finn:'''  
 
'''Finn:'''  
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No, certainly my article was peer reviewed by someone with the appropriate expertise to be in a position to do that.  
 
No, certainly my article was peer reviewed by someone with the appropriate expertise to be in a position to do that.  
  
=== Make-Up of Committee, Evolution ===
+
=== Make-Up of Committee, Evolution ===
  
 
'''Finn:'''  
 
'''Finn:'''  
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Well, in that case, I’m going to turn off the camera.
 
Well, in that case, I’m going to turn off the camera.
  
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Revision as of 13:35, 16 May 2012

Contents

About Bernard Finn

Bernard Finn was born in Syracuse, New York in 1932. He attended Cornell University in engineering physics. After graduating, he worked at the Savannah River Project outside Augusta, Georgia for three years in a research facility. In 1958, Finn moved from engineering physics to history of science when he began doctoral work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writing his dissertation on the history of thermoelectricity, and  teaching at the University of Oklahoma. After receiving his PhD, Finn became Curator of Electricity at the Smithsonian in August 1962, a position he held until 2005 when he became Curator Emeritus. He also served as managing editor of ISIS, the journal of the History of Science Society.  Finn became formally involved with the IEEE History Committee in a consultant capacity in 1971, later becoming an official committee member. and serving as Committee Chairman from 1980-82. During his time with the History Committee, Finn was involved in important developments of both the Committee and the IEEE History Center, including formalizing the History Committee in the late 1970s, approving the History Center, searching for Center directors, Centennial work, serving on the fellowship committee, the Milestones program, exhibits and moving the Center to Rutgers. Finn retired from the History Committee in 2006, but he continues to work on the Editorial Board of IEEE STARS on the IEEE Global History Network. Finn also received an IEEE Centennial Medal in 1984.

In this interview, Finn talks about his education and his career at the Smithsonian, but mostly  about his involvement with the IEEE History Committee. He discusses his decision to move from engineering physics into the history of science, as well as an interest in museum work, and becoming Curator of Electricity at the Smithsonian. How he came to be involved with the IEEE is also covered, along with his early status as consultant, working with the Committee as an historian rather than engineer, and how he eventually became chairman and a full member of the History Committee although Finn never became an IEEE member. Finn talks about the changes in the committee over the years, including the coming of a more formalized structure and more independent meeting schedule. He also discusses the development of the History Center, including the debates over whether to fully commit to the idea of a Center, and the search for a director. The tenure of the four directors the Center has had so far – Robert Friedel, Ron Kline, William Aspray and Michael Geselowitz – and the different emphases and projects of each director are also covered. Finn stresses the importance of the support given to the Center by IEEE staff, and the dedication to the project which extended beyond the Centennial year. He discusses the evolution of the Committee and Center, the importance of models such as the AIP Center, and the outreach of history to both IEEE members and historians. Finn also talks about other people, including Jim Brittain, Eric Herz, Bob Multhauf and Joyce Bedi.

About the Interview

BERNARD FINN: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, 10 November 2010

Interview #561 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Inc. and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Bernard Finn, an oral history conducted in 2010 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Bernard Finn

Interviewer: Sheldon Hochheiser

Date: 10 November 2010

Location: Washington, DC

Background, Cornell, Savannah River Project

Hochheiser:

This is the 10th of November, 2010. I’m here at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, with Barney Finn, Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian, and a very long-time member of the IEEE History Committee.

Finn:

Indeed, indeed.

Hochheiser:

If we can just start with a little bit of background. Where were you born and raised?

Finn:

Born in Syracuse, New York, July 16, 1932 - a little while ago. I spent the first 12 years of my life up there, and moved with my family down to suburban New York, Westchester County, just after the war. My father had gotten a job in the city. And I ended up going to Cornell, back north. I got a degree in engineering physics from Cornell. Among other things, I was editor of The Widow, which is a humor magazine there, and the beginning -

Hochheiser:

Not an obvious thing for an engineering physics major.

Finn:

Who knows? [Laughter] Anyway, it’s pertinent, perhaps, if for no other reason than it was the beginning of a fairly long editorial career. I’ve done a number of editorial jobs one way or another. And it’s something I’ve enjoyed very much, as a matter of fact. Whether that’s pertinent or not, I don’t know.

And then not being exactly sure what I wanted to do, I took a job at Savannah River Project, outside of Augusta, Georgia-Aiken, South Carolina, run by DuPont at the time, making tritium and plutonium, those good things. But it was really a pretty good job for somebody with just a bachelor’s degree. I was barely qualified for going down there. I was with a bunch of PhDs, but they were all chemists. So, in a way I gave an extra dimension. The construction phase in the early part of that facility had gone by, the production reactors, there were five of them, were churning away, and I was assigned to basically a research facility, which included a mock up of the big reactors. We did occasional jobs for the production people. They wanted to change the loading, and emphasize this, or do something else. And we’d do tests in our zero-power complete mock up of this deuterium moderated, enriched uranium reactor. Much of the time we were on our own so we’d develop our own projects. For a young engineer, out of his element in many ways, I was just one of the boys. And it was always completely boys in that facility, about 15 or 20 of us, and we were all equal, whatever our academic background. Sometimes, I’d have a project and a couple of them would help me, or someone else would take the lead. Anyway, it was a good experience. But it was unsatisfying in ways that perhaps are related to my days with the humor magazine.

Wisconsin and History of Science

After three years, I got married, and drove to Madison, Wisconsin, where I was enrolled in a program in history of science.

Hochheiser:

What led you from engineering physics to history of science?

Finn:

It was feeling that I was not satisfied with what I was doing at Savannah River. I enjoyed myself. Some of the work was really fascinating. And one way to go would be to go back and get a PhD in physics, or something like that, so I’d really know what I was handling there. But there was something more. I never had a course in history of science; barely history. But, it just seemed to me, that I needed to understand what I was doing. That if I could understand it historically, maybe I’d have more fun at it. And, that’s the way it worked out. Because we went to Madison, which, of course, is a delightful place.

Hochheiser:

As you know, I did my doctorate there as well.

Finn:

I remember that now. And we had a wonderful time there. We had a nice apartment out, not too far from the football stadium. And my wife got a job at the Student Union. It just worked out well. The History Science Department was separate from history which for me was good, because otherwise, I was woefully, inadequately prepared for pursuing graduate work in history. Irwin Hiebert was my major professor, a terrific guy. And the rest of the group were fine. Marshall Clagett was one of the reasons that one might go there. He was away that first year at Princeton. He came back, and I took a course from him the second year, and then he was off again permanently. But, I still remember very clearly that although it was a PhD program from the beginning, after two years, if I wanted to, I could have gotten a master’s, and just stopped. And I remember seriously considering doing just that, in the sense that I felt that I now had gotten what I came for, that I really felt that I was a better engineer, at least potentially, for having this kind of background. And then I had this moment of reality, that, hey, you’ve got two years invested in a PhD, all you need is another year or two and that will open up all sorts of possibilities that you would not have otherwise. And so, I went on, and my dissertation was on the history of thermoelectricity, which I assure you was pretty interesting actually. But, and you know this because you’ve been through it, history of science at Madison in the ‘50s and ‘60s - I went up there in ’58 - was about as internal as you can get. It was a history of ideas.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Finn:

And these ideas were scientific ideas. They were international, and that’s the way it was taught, and my dissertation was similarly structured. And there’s a lot to be said for that. But it really was quintessential, whiggish internal history. When I got out, I was looking for a job. In a year, I’d done most of my research and had gotten somewhere in the writing of the dissertation. And at that point I had an offer from Duane Roller, who was teaching at Oklahoma. He was taking one of his periodic sabbaticals to go buy books in Europe for the Degalier Collection. I knew Duane, and this is an important part of my education at Madison, through the [Midwest] Junto meetings.

Hochheiser:

Right, as did I.

Finn:

And the marvelous part of the Junto meetings, which now is true of many of the national meetings, is you go there, and all of a sudden you’re on a first-name basis with your professor, and all these other people whom you’ve read about and know about, especially in the history of science. It was a pretty small group at that time, and then here they all were. And you’re drinking beer with them, and you get to know them reasonably well. A marvelous experience the Junto was.

University of Oklahoma

But anyway, I knew Duane from one of the meetings, and I think he said, “Barney, I’m going to be off in Europe next year, would you like to come to Oklahoma?” And I did. That was teaching - Duane taught four courses. Well, it’s not that he taught four courses. He taught one course four times because they had small classes. And rather than have a lecture class where there’s 75 or more people, you had individual classes of 25 or 30. That was exhausting I can remember. I had three courses; they were Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and they were identical. This is the history of science from the beginning - the first semester was up to the Renaissance, the second semester more or less up to the present.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

We’ve all done that. And just repeating yourself, first class, you’re sort of struggling with it. Although I’d done this with Irwin, or watched him do it, it was new to me. Duane had very complete notes which were very helpful. The first class, I was sort of getting into it. The second class, hitting my stride, and the students, they’re responding and feeling good. And the third class, exhausted. And then, twice a week, I taught the whole thing in one semester, I think primarily for engineers. And that meant four classes on those days. Anyway, I finished the dissertation down there. Norman’s a wonderful town to be in, if you want to be out in the boonies, and a little bit away from places. And young, married and everything else, it just worked out well.

Going to the Smithsonian

At Norman, they were good enough to give me, in’61, partial expenses to go to the annual meeting of the History of Science Society. This is back when we did it between Christmas and New Year’s. It was in Washington. They offered me half my expenses, or airfare, or something like that, which was, I recall, $40. I came to Washington. I may have had some prior correspondence, but not much, and I met Bob Multhauf, and he basically offered me the Smithsonian job as curator of electricity, more or less on the spot. We met, I can't remember the details. And then, I had to come back in the spring for a formal going over by the Secretary, Leonard Carmichael, who interviewed every new Curator at the time. And anyway, I passed that, and came here in August of ’62, to the Smithsonian.

Hochheiser:

And you have been here ever since.

Finn:

Yeah, I’ve been here ever since. [Laughter] For me, it was an ideal situation. I was not that much into teaching. I enjoy teaching now, I’ve done it, I’ve been teaching a seminar in recent years. But it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. The museum work seemed to be just about ideal. And again, going back to my humor writing days, it just seemed to offer all these opportunities for reaching out, for using different media. As, indeed, it does. There are down sides, but it really is a marvelous opportunity if you enjoy getting out and getting to people that way.

The other thing that appealed to me was, whatever I did here would have, could have, not just national repercussions, but international. Here, you’re sitting in the Smithsonian, the National Museum, and you’ve got this audience out there. And that has really proven to be true, whatever I’ve done. I’ve been involved in a number of projects that are both national, like the IEEE, or, well, again, like IEEE, international in scope. And much of my work, almost all of my work since I’ve retired, which is now four, five years has been in terms of these international activities. It’s really satisfying. And there’s no question, with the Smithsonian name you go almost anyplace, and you get a good response.

Early History Committee Work, Oral Histories

Hochheiser:

Now, if we can switch focus When did you first become aware of or involved with IEEE?

Finn:

I was trying to think about that, and I’m sure you’ve got it someplace in the records.

Hochheiser:

What I have in the records is when you first had formal contact with the History Committee, which is ’71. Is there anything before that that I don’t know?

Finn:

Perhaps not. I’m sure they must have approached me, because I don’t think I would have known to approach them. They were just looking for somebody; it was logical to come to Smithsonian for a person. And at that time it was Haraden Pratt, who had been Chairman of the IRE History Committee for years. That was the beginning of, basically, of continuous relationship, with maybe a couple of minor breaks, but a continuous relationship, up until when I retired. [Added afterwards: The records show that I had correspondence with Pratt as early as 1964. I’ll try to add further information to this record as I continue to search through files.]

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

You’ll see me on the list, but in the beginning, I’m not a History Committee member.

Hochheiser:

You’re right. From’71, I think to ’79, you’re listed as a consultant to the History Committee.

Finn:

Right, right.

Hochheiser:

And one thing I was going to ask you was, what does that mean?

Finn:

Well, it meant that I didn’t have to be approved. [Laughter] No, it meant that I didn’t come up for re-election. It was, it was sort of an ex-officio position, if you like. And this is in spite of the fact that I was - Well, another thing in my favor, if you like, was I was not, am not, a member of the IEEE. And yet I was Chairman of the Committee on at least a couple of occasions. So, that was the beginning. And, in those days, we met at the time of the annual meeting. It was a very unsatisfactory situation. They were all engineers on the Committee, they were deeply involved in the Society, and we would meet at the annual meeting, between ten and eleven o’clock, or a couple of hours on the second day, or whatever it might be and then, that was it. And people were off doing other things. Occasionally we’d have some sort of a program activity. That was very occasional where we’d do some presentation, or sponsor a talk, whatever. But it was very difficult. We’d discuss projects. That was no problem. One of the big projects going at that time was oral history, so called. And it was - You can help me on this. Somebody who was doing this on the fly, a whole series of oral histories -

Hochheiser:

I’m going to throw out a name, Polkinghorn, something like that?

Finn:

That sounds right.

Hochheiser:

Frank Polkinghorn. I know he did a number of oral histories in the ‘70s.

Finn:

Yes. Well, what did he have? He had a tape recorder.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Finn:

You just had me sign a document, he didn’t have that, a release form, and no transcript, and that continued. The tapes were kept here at the Smithsonian for whatever reason. And the issue came up, should we transcribe them, and, yes, of course, but there was no money to get it done. Whether they were of any value, that was another question. And frankly, I don’t know what happened to them.

Hochheiser:

That I know. They are, they’re up there.

Finn:

Okay. Transcribed?

Hochheiser:

A lot of them had been transcribed before I got there. But I found some that had never been transcribed. And of course, there were some for which there were no permission forms, and then it’s tracking down heirs. Now, there’s something like 475 oral histories. And obviously we’re doing one today, we still do oral histories. IEEE has these up on the web including all of those that were done back in the ‘70s.

Finn:

Were these interviews valuable?

Hochheiser:

Well, like anything, some of them are extremely valuable, some of them are less, but were they worth doing and keeping? Absolutely.

Finn:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

There’s this wonderful interview with Vladimir Zworykin, talking about how he sold television to the Russians, among other things. So, there’s good stuff on those. It was a worthwhile project

Finn:

Well, I feel good about that, because I think I had something of a role in helping to preserve and get them transcribed.

Formalized History Committee, Projects

It was clear that we were in an unsatisfactory situation. And then, and you can help me on this, there was a formal change. There would be a History Committee that would meet separately - it all has to do with internal IEEE.

Hochheiser:

Politics.

Finn:

Yes, and where you are in the organization, and who you report to, and whether you get staff assistance, and how much of it. And also whether there was a budget, the early History Committee had no budget. So, if I went to meetings, it was on the Smithsonian, and not on the IEEE. Then the change was that now it was a formal committee, or whatever, of the organization. And we met separately, once a year.

Hochheiser:

And this is still in the ‘70s?

Finn:

Must be in the maybe late ‘70s, yes.

Hochheiser:

Yes. I’m just trying to get the chronology. And I think that makes sense. The Committee got more formalized, expenses were paid, you met separately, before there was professional staff.

Finn:

Right. But it was still just a committee. And those were interesting times. In that period, some important long-term projects were initiated, including I’m pretty sure the Milestones. I can be proven wrong.

Hochheiser:

That’s - there may have been discussions. The first milestones are approved around ’83.

Finn:

All right.

Hochheiser:

I guess, what I’m trying to figure out is, what happened before Robert Friedel arrived and there’s staff versus what happened afterwards. And of course, I’m asking you [to] rummage back in your brain to things that happened decades and decades ago.

Finn:

I was hoping that you had all that. [Laughter] Well, anyway, it’s a transition period. But we were serious and we were talking about big things. One of the projects I remember that came up, although it comes up again and again, was a biographical dictionary on electrical engineers. The civil engineers had done a dictionary and couldn’t we do something like that. Expand the oral history program. Get involved in the exhibits. I’ve forgotten whether it was then or just after, sponsor a television program dealing with wonders of electrical engineering, and that sort of thing. All pretty unrealistic, in terms of our resources and the support we were getting from the Institute. When did Robert come?

Hochheiser:

Robert arrived in August of 1980.

Finn:

’80? Oh, okay. All right, then we’re talking, let’s say ’78, maybe.

Hochheiser:

Okay.

Finn:

Or so. The other person who was on the Committee there with me at the time, and very important in all this, was Jim Brittain.

Hochheiser:

Right. I’ve spoken to Jim, and Jim sent me some written recollections. He had put together a manuscript autobiography, I think for his use. And he suggested, rather than my coming down to North Carolina to interview him, since he had already written his recollections up, he’d send them to me, which he did.

Finn:

Well, I’m delighted that you got that because he was a critical element at that time. And he and I were the historical representation on this Committee, and the rest of it was all, old time, most of them, old time engineers.

Committee Proposal, History Center Approved

The question came up as to whether we should be doing something more. And Jim and I were knowledgeable about what other groups were doing. It was the chemical engineers doing their thing, and then the computer people, and the mechanical and civil engineers, and the physicists. And so, it seems to me, every meeting, for three or four years anyway, we’d talk about this. And then we said, oh, what the hell, let’s do a study and see what’s out there. And that was - What’s his name?

Hochheiser:

Mike Wolff.

Finn:

Mike Wolff. Mike Wolff was asked to do that. And Mike came up duly with a proposal, well, in the fall, whenever that date was, ’78 or 9, I guess it must have been.

Hochheiser:

Mike’s report was written in ’78. I know, because that we do have.

Finn:

Okay. You got a copy of it? Because for a while we couldn’t find one, and I had a copy down here.

Hochheiser:

Well, I’ll have to go back and check.

Finn:

Well, anyway, it should be in the file I’m giving you. If it’s not, and if you need one, let me know. So, Mike did this report. This I do remember almost as clear as yesterday. It came up before the Committee, and he had three levels of involvement. He said, more or less, do what we are already doing, and beef it up a little bit, and ask for a little more support. And then the second level was a slight upgrade. And then the third was get full-time staff, get a historian, and really act like we think this is serious business. And so, we sat there and debated it. And I remember very clearly, and it would be interesting to see if Jim did on this, that basically Jim and I sat back and let the engineers do the talking. Because this was their business. And it was not for us to say, I mean, obviously, we had ideas, but if it was going to happen, it’s was going to happen because the engineers wanted it. And I think that both [Frederick] Terman and [Jack] Ryder were on that Committee at that time. And that’s about as powerful a duo as you can get. They had both been IEEE Board Chairmen in the past. I think, one of them, I’ve forgotten which, was chairman of the History Committee at that point. Anyway, the decision was made, if we’re going to do this, we’d go all the way. And those two in particular pushed it, and then I think it was Jack who took it up afterwards too. He may have been Chairman of the Committee at the time.

Hochheiser:

And he took it up to the IEEE Board.

Finn:

Yes, to the Board. And, it either happens or it doesn’t, and it happened. I suspect the Board - I don’t know, because I was not there - the Board was appreciative of doing something well, and doing it right, and I suspect they were more amenable to that than they would have been to some sort of part way solution. So that was that. And then we recruited for a Director.

Center Director Search Committee, Center Program

Hochheiser:

So, were you then on the search committee?

Finn:

I’m sure I was. I think I was on the search committee for all of the Director searches. I’m pretty sure of that. And I can’t, if you reminded me of some names, I’d try. I don’t really remember. I mean, it was an honest to God search, and we got some good applicants. Do you know who the other ones were?

Hochheiser:

The unsuccessful applicants?

Finn:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

No. I certainly have never seen any records to indicate who applied for that initial search in ’79, ’80.

Finn:

The records I’m giving you - It’s a mixed bag, but I’ve got many meetings. I have the printed records. But on a lot of them, I’ve got, if you can stand it, my scrawl of notes and miscellaneous things. And a lot of that won’t be understandable, and maybe not legible. But if you’re looking for particular things, if that meeting is in there, it may be that my notes would give you some references there. I’ll look some more. I may have some other papers around.

I knew Robert quite well. He had been at the Smithsonian, doing some archival activity and had worked for me on the Edison exhibit which opened in ’79 whether that gave me a bias or not, I’m sure it did. I had, certainly had, a gut feeling this was really going to be a good appointment and it was.

Hochheiser:

Yes, since you knew him. Did you or the Committee have expectations as to what the first Director should be doing?

Finn:

It’s hard to say. Well, implement the program. [Laughter]

Hochheiser:

Then maybe that’s the question. What was the program that you or the History Committee, in general, wanted staff to implement?

Finn:

Well, I know that we saw the Committee as a link between the professional historians and the engineers. And that we would bring some professional, historical thinking to the Society, in terms of educating the members, letting them know about history. And, in general, involving them in what we were doing. Well, that was the prime target. Involving them, that was a part of bringing history to them. The milestones, from the beginning, were things that had to be initiated by individuals, by sections because we didn’t want to impose on them and say, hey, you’re going to do a milestone at West Orange, or something like that. It was, do something, and you do the research in order to get them involved in history and interested in history, as sort of a hands-on experience.

And then, for the historian, it was the notion that here’s this enormous resource of people who know about, who were part of history, and that you now have access to them personally and to their papers.

Center Models, Archival ‘Go-Between’

Our examples were the chemists and the computer people, and the physicists, the American Institute of Physics.

Hochheiser:

The American Institute of Physics?

Finn:

A good example [of] collecting archives and doing programs. Now, in fact, we did not see the purpose of the Center to collect that kind of archival material. That was too big a job for what we were doing at the time. We could be a go between to see if the Smithsonian wouldn’t want it, or a university. We did, as I recall, have the notion that we might be a repository of last resort.

Hochheiser:

Which is what the AIP does.

Finn:

Although, they go after biographical material, I think, more aggressively.

Hochheiser:

And I try very hard not to do that; it’s a matter of resources.

Finn:

Exactly. We didn’t want to get bogged down in that. It’s hard enough dealing with the archives of the Institute itself. We had been discussing, in meetings, things like, as I mentioned, exhibits, and biographies and other programs. And if milestones hadn’t come before, it was something that was there because the other engineering societies had done that.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

So, there were examples out there, which we simply weren’t prepared to do without that kind of a permanent organization. And then it’s a matter of what it is that the incumbent is going to pick up on. The Directors, Robert, and Ron [Kline] , and Bill [Aspray] , and Mike [Geselowitz], they’re all different. It’s all hindsight, and maybe, things sort of jell because they jell, but at least looking back on it, it seems to me that they each fit well into what was going on in that period, and helped us just at the point where we needed that kind of help. And Robert’s, of course, was to get the thing going. He was very good at that. He had some ideas himself. He had experience in exhibits, and so, therefore, he did that. And we did the, let me see, the Lines and Waves, does that come -

Hochheiser:

There were several exhibits at that time.

Finn:

The two that I’m thinking of, one is the Lines and Waves, and the other is the Centennial exhibit.

Eric Herz, IEEE Professionalism

But what we couldn’t, what we didn’t anticipate, and what turned out to be enormously important, was the role of Eric Herz in all of this. And, more particularly, the chemistry between Robert and Eric. There was talk about where we should be. Even at that point, I think, it was should the Center be at a university or at the headquarters. In hindsight it was very important that it was at headquarters. And very important that he was right down the hall from Eric. He’ll tell you about this, because I get it secondhand. I saw what was happening, but from the side. And Eric, Eric has a question, he walks down, he asks Robert.

And the other thing that was very important, and this speaks, I think, for the IEEE in general, I mentioned this before, in terms of their view of how they responded to our proposal, the proposal that Jack Ryder took to them, was they’re professionals. This is a professional society. And therefore, they appreciate other professionals. I mean, couldn’t give a damn about history? But, if you’re going to do history, there are professional historians. You don’t do it yourself, you get a professional in there to do it. And Robert was a professional historian of technology.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Finn:

And Eric respected that as he should; it was built into his psyche that he appreciated that. And therefore, the kind of support that he gave to Robert, and to our whole enterprise, was enormously important, and, it really wouldn’t have happened, I think, the way it did, and maybe not at all, if we hadn’t - Well, you’ve got to have the support of that person. But we really did get it. It was very important.

Committee Chairman, Centennial

Hochheiser:

Another thing that happened around this time, in 1980 you became Chair of the Committee, from being a consultant.

Finn:

Yes, okay. [Laughter]

Hochheiser:

Did that -

Finn:

I don’t think so. I was looking at the papers the other day, and it didn’t strike me then - Well, maybe as a feeling, it may have occurred, just to the - Well, in ’80, okay, so Robert’s already there.

Hochheiser:

’80. That’s right. It’s occurring. You became Chair at the beginning of ’80.

Finn:

Mm-hmm.

Hochheiser:

Robert arrives in the middle of ’80.

Finn:`

Yes.

Hochheiser:

So, without knowing it’s true, it looks like things are somehow coming together and meshing. [Laughter]

Finn:

Yeah, I think that’s true. And whether I sought it, or whether it was just my time, or whatever else that I, I don’t - That’s an interesting point as I look back. And Robert may have some feeling for it as well. Ask him.

Hochheiser:

Yes and I will ask him.

Finn:

Yes, raise that with him. But certainly, the fact that he and I knew each other, both of us being historians of technology, it made for, I’m sure, very easy communication during that period. And then, I certainly would have been especially supportive of him in ways, not that the Committee wouldn’t have been otherwise, but if an engineer had been Chairman, it might have been different. Let me put it that way.

Hochheiser:

Yes. When we’re talking about around the time Robert started, was there any thought given that early, four years out, to the approaching Centennial?

Finn:

Oh, yeah, sure. Oh, absolutely. I’m sure that must have been - I’m almost willing to say that the reason we had the Wolff report and everything else was because we were looking forward to that. And that the argument to the Board would have been in terms of that. I mean, it’s hard to believe that it wouldn’t have been. Let me put it that way.

Hochheiser:

Certainly that tends to be when organizations think about history.

Finn:

Yes.

Robert Friedel, Corporate Communications

Hochheiser:

How frequently, and in what ways, did you maintain contact with, and talk to, and work with Robert, once he arrived on the scene?

Finn:

Well, of course, I mean, the meetings were still annual.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

But they were now separate from the other meetings. And I don’t know if we were getting paid yet. I guess we must have been at that point, that’s a good point. I guess we met in New York. I’ve got to believe that Robert and I communicated. But one thing we all lived through, we, you and I, and this operation at the time we’re talking about, is a change in corporate communications. When I came to the Smithsonian, everything was by mail.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Finn:

If you want to make a long distance phone call, you’ve got to get permission.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Finn:

[Laughter] Yes, that’s through the ‘60s and into the ‘70s.

Hochheiser:

Oh, yes.

Finn:

So, it’s not as if I’d be picking up the phone and calling Robert, and whatever. And no faxes, and certainly no emails. All that has changed and made a real difference. There were the other societies, History of Science, History of Technology, which I attended.

During that period - we were talking about my editorial experience - I was managing editor of Isis from almost the day after I walked into the Smithsonian. Bob [Multhauf] had been appointed editor of Isis and he sort of looked around and said, Barney. [Laughter] So, for his three terms, 15 years, I was in that position. And that meant I went to all the meetings, and that also meant that I was in contact with an awful lot of people. I was in charge of book reviews among other things. And that put me in contact with a lot of people that Robert [Friedel] would have been in contact with as well. But yeah, outside of the meetings we certainly had a personal relationship. A personal/professional relationship that was parallel to the operation there.

But again, getting back to bringing special skills, he was obviously critical in establishing the Center, of keeping relations, good relations, with the Committee, either initiating programs or of implementing those that the Committee wanted done.

Exhibits, Professional Staff

Hochheiser:

On exhibits, since that was certainly one of the major things done during the years, what can you tell me about the Lines and Waves Exhibit? You’re sitting here at the Smithsonian. Did you play a substantial part in that?

Finn:`

I don’t think so. I mean, it’s a topic that I have some special knowledge about.

Hochheiser:

Yes, I know that.

Finn:

We undoubtedly discussed it, and I may have supplied some graphics. But my recollection is that it was pretty much his own thing. We’ve got a copy around here someplace, and there’s a book that still exists. And , obviously Robert’s a much better person to - [Laughter]

Hochheiser:

I’ll ask Robert tomorrow. From your perspective, does anything come to mind about the exhibit work? There were three exhibits from this period that I came across records of.

Finn:

I think the main thing I can say is that I was strongly supportive of his producing exhibits. I thought this was a proper thing for the Center to do.

Hochheiser:

How did having a professional staff change the way the History Committee operated?

Finn:

Yes, well, it meant if you talked about something, it might actually happen. [Laughter] Especially with somebody at that stage because it’s not as if you had a separate budget that the Director was then going to implement in some way. It was going to happen, he was going to do it. So, there was interplay between the Director and the Committee. This still happens much that way, of course. Especially in terms of IEEE, I think there’s a real difference here, in that other committees have staff representation, somebody who implements for them. And indeed, before that, I remember Reed Crone was our staff person. Great guy. But I think he was a staffer on half a dozen committees.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

And so, he’d come to the meetings and he’d take the notes and write them up or do whatever else, but he wasn’t going to implement. He didn’t have the budget for it, it wasn’t his responsibility, it wasn’t his interest. It was entirely different with this Committee and I suspect from the rest of the IEEE in that the Director has a dual role. He has this traditional role of the management part of the IEEE. But, at the same time, being a historian, he’s the implementer. He either does it himself or oversees somebody else who does it. So, it’s an entirely different sort of operation. And so, Robert was responsible for that. Now when we hired Joyce and Bob Casey - From the beginning, was it a three person? Pretty quickly.

Hochheiser:

Not from the beginning, but pretty quickly. But certainly both Bob and Joyce Bedi joined not too long after Robert arrived.

Finn:

Well, that makes sense. We may have had authorization for the three people -

Hochheiser:

Yes. First you want to hire a Director, and then let them, certainly, play a leading role in choosing the assistants.

Finn:

That certainly was what we were looking for out of the Wolff report - the Center would have the kind of core that could carry us forward. Joyce gave us the archival competence and then - No, it was Bob doing the archives. Joyce was a curator, wasn’t she? [Ed. Note: Nancy Perlman did the archives, and left in 1982.]

Hochheiser:

Joyce had a whole different series of titles. I think she was originally photograph curator.

Finn:

I think that was it.

Hochheiser:

Her title kept changing.

Finn:

Anyway, it gave you people there who could do the work. And that meant the Committee could suggest something and then they could respond and say, yes, we can do that. Or say, we can’t do that. Because it wasn’t as if you said, oh, we’ll do that, and we’ll go out and we’ll spend $50,000 or whatever. And then, there was a whole bunch of programs evolved out of this, which you have a better list of than I do. The milestone program has undergone little shifts and turns over the years, but if there was something before, I think it really occurred after this business. There were some fights, some strong discussions in the Committee over the years about the role of milestones and what we’re doing with it. But I think that it was closer to being at the core of what, at least I felt, the History Committee, and the Center, was all about. Because it encouraged a very strong link between members and the History Committee. And then we begin to get increasing access to money, especially from the Life Member’s Fund.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

And this is before the foundation. Even before the establishment of the Center we had a summer intern at the Smithsonian, paid for by the Life Member’s Fund. And we did an archival search of materials related to electrical engineering in repositories around the country. At that time you’d go to the Library of Congress and search through their whatchamacallit -

Hochheiser:

NUCMC?

Finn:

NUCMC. And today you just go to Google, not to Google, but you go to the NUCMC website, and it’s all there.

Hochheiser:

It’s all online.

Finn:

Anyway, and so, this was the report [Holding it up] done by David Hounshell. And the date on this is 1973, November.

Hochheiser:

So, this is something the History Committee is doing long before there was staff?

Finn:

You’re right. There we are, evidence.

Hochheiser:

It’s a very good one.

Finn:

Very good. Good document.

Hochheiser:

And probably why I’m not as familiar with those.

Finn:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

They’re before there was a staff in place.

Finn:

Okay, you’re absolutely right. And here’s ’77, which is Bob Belfield. I don’t know where Bob is now, he’s Canadian. He did a compilation of museums in the country, including private collections, private museums, if you like, that had electrical devices in them. It remains a somewhat useful document of where these things are.

Fellowships

And we had fellowships. When did they begin?

Hochheiser:

Those begin a little later, towards the latter part of the ‘70s.

Finn:

Okay, good. we did have these programs going, and -

Hochheiser:

So, there were some programs the History Committee was able to do, even without staff.

Finn:

And real money, but from the Life Members.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

And it would be good to see where those started. The fellowships were good and of course continued. That’s been a continuous program. These internships, the summer thing, that’s perhaps reasonable, why not? But for the IEEE to support an academic fellowship, a pre-doctoral fellowship, that’s pretty good stuff.

Hochheiser:

And it still does.

Finn:

Yes, they remain. But, back then, before we even had the Center. So, that really says a lot for that early Committee. That we were doing things. Not just talking about it. So I take all that back. [Laughter] Well, we also talked about things that we didn’t do.

Hochheiser:

There were a lot of things that you were not able to do without staff.

Finn:

Yes. If you have problems trying to date that, let me know, because Robert wouldn’t know that either, necessarily.

Hochheiser:

I’m pretty sure that the records, at least of the fellowship, are complete.

Finn:

There are certain things I remember we didn’t do. Speaking of fellowships, after we had done maybe a half of dozen of these, I remember us saying, why don’t we find out what happened to these people? Are they still in the field, and so on?

Hochheiser:

Well, I haven’t done a complete study, but an awful lot of the fellowship winners are people who I do know are still in the field. [Laughter] And have gone on and done a variety of significant things in the field.

Finn:

The Committee, because of the way it was structured and everything else, we often got bogged down in talking; we had talked about the wording on a milestone, for an hour. [Laughter] And the fellowships we had, of course, a Subcommittee on that.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

Probably half the time I was a member of that Committee. The number of academics that were a part of the structure was not many, so it was not unreasonable. We lacked official guidelines, though generally agreed to focus on the excellence of the person and the excellence of the proposal. But the proposal needed to be electrical in nature.

Hochheiser:

And historical in nature.

Finn:

And historical in nature.

Hochheiser:

I know, every year, we seem to get at least a few proposals that are not acceptable, because they’re not -

Finn:

Yeah, that’s easy.

Hochheiser:

They’re not historical in nature.

Finn:

But you probably should let them know beforehand.

Hochheiser:

Well, people don’t necessarily pay attention.

Finn:

But it always seemed to me that, while the academic profession and my museum were moving in the direction of treating history of technology as social history, the IEEE because of where they’re coming from, as engineers, ought to be more interested in supporting fellowships that get into the nuts and bolts a little bit. Now, one can argue either way, but that was my thought. As opposed to a cultural history that talks about lighting or radio or whatever else, but where the technology is almost irrelevant to what you’re dealing with. And at least when it comes down to a choice, not you rule out one over the other, but that there’s a certain weight given to it.

And the other thing, getting to what you just said, I thought it important to consider whether there was some evidence that the candidate was going to continue in this vein, that this wasn’t just a little portion of the dissertation that happened to deal with radio and that he/she was simply never going to return to the topic again. At the point when I stopped getting involved, these issues still hadn’t been resolved.

[Tape 1 ends, Tape 2 begins]

Centennial Exhibit, Books and Medals

Hochheiser:

Perhaps we can talk now about the various historical activities held in conjunction with the Centennial of the IEEE. We very briefly mentioned the Centennial exhibit. What, if anything, do you recall about that?

Finn:

We’ve got a copy of it, by the way. Do you have copies?

Hochheiser:

Yes. One of the things I found most interesting, beyond the content, was the format. How did one come to the idea that rather than do a traveling exhibit we should -

Finn:

Do a poster exhibit?

Hochheiser:

Yes. And do hundreds of copies, so that it could be widely distributed? That struck me as very clever.

Finn:

Yes, I think I can probably claim some credit, if you like, for that. But there’s a model for that, and that’s the Einstein exhibit The AIP, I think, had sponsored an Einstein exhibit, which was a poster - I don’t know but I think they had a couple of different forms. Anyway, a big part of it was a poster show that I think they gave away all over the country. Maybe they sold it, and I’d forgotten. But, I’m fairly certain that for me, at least, it was a model. And it seemed to make a lot of sense. As opposed to trying to - from a practical point of view, a circulating exhibit is a big pain in the neck, and somebody’s got to manage it, and everything else. Even if you don’t have objects in it, it’s just a big problem. And a poster show, run it off, roll it up, and ship it out. We got paid, we did sell it, didn’t we? Or rent it or something?

Hochheiser:

Yes. And it was a sliding scale. It was one smaller price for IEEE members, a larger price for IEEE organizational units, and a still larger price for people completely outside IEEE.

Finn:

Yes. In terms of putting the thing together, I’m pretty sure that was, that was Robert, isn’t it?

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Finn:

Yes, okay. I’m pretty sure that he did that. I mean, he had some help there, of course, with Joyce and everything else, in terms of graphics. I probably contributed, we’ve got an enormous amount of graphic material here. But otherwise it was, I’m pretty sure, his baby.

Hochheiser:

To what extent, if any, did you or the Committee get involved with other Centennial activities? Did you play any role in the two books that were IEEE published? McMahon, on the one hand, and Ryder and Fink, on the other?

Finn:

I remember talking about them in the Committee meetings. I think the Ryder book, he just wanted to do that. [Laughter] And it came up in the meeting that we do a book for the Centennial.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

And how do we do it and should we have a picture book, or should it be a serious book. And we said, no, it should be a serious book. My recollection is that we played a critical role in choosing Mike McMahon and giving general oversight to his project. And he was going in a direction that not everybody in the group was happy with. Many felt that the book should popularize the IEEE more than just be a scholarly history of the place. Also, it took longer than we had anticipated.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

In the end, when it came out, we published it. Nobody was unhappy with it. That’s I think, background for why Jack then said, okay, well, I’m going to do this. And nobody said no. I don’t know how that was financed.

Hochheiser:

I guess if you’re a powerful enough person in the organization as Jack was. I know some people like that in today’s IEEE.

Finn:

Right.

Hochheiser:

The money has a way of being found. [Laughter]

Finn:

And it was good too. I think the pair of them was terrific, it was really terrific. One thing, in speaking of the Centennial, and just a personal note, that I I really appreciated, the IEEE gave out medals.

Hochheiser:

Yes, Centennial medals.

Finn:

Yes, Centennial medals. And for all I know they gave out 1,000 of them, I don’t know. [Laughter] But they gave one to me and one to Jim Brittain. I just felt very good about that. It’s nice. But then that gets back to the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian, throughout my career, and certainly in those early years, had no problem in my doing things like getting involved in IEEE, and putting time and even budget into it. I just felt personally, and I think I spoke for the Institution, that this was what I was supposed to do. This is a group, it’s doing something that’s interesting to us, is valuable to us, and that we ought to be supporting. I’ve still got the medal someplace, of course, and I really appreciate it.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Communications and Microelectronics Exhibits

One other exhibit during this period that the History Center newsletters list you as co-curator of was an exhibit on microelectronics.

Finn:

Oh, I was looking at that and trying to remember what that was all about.

Hochheiser:

Yeah.

Finn:

I think it was related to an exhibit here. When was this?

Hochheiser:

This was when Robert was still there.

Finn:

Robert was still there.

Hochheiser:

This would have been ’83, ’84, time frame, I guess.

Finn:

I had an exhibit here on communications. It was called Person to Person.

Hochheiser:

Person to Person. I remember it.

Finn:

And it opened in 1976, the centennial of the telephone. But it was both telegraph, telephone, and then sort of an aftermath. So, although Bell and the telephone were very important, it included other technologies. The ending of that exhibit, when the exhibit opened, was still a work in looking towards the [future]. The digital electronic, or the microelectronic age was still early. Although, by ’74, you think it’s really been around for a while. But in terms of our collections, and looking at it historically, it was young - and not well represented in our collections. And I was anxious to include in this final section something about it. And I think that I persuaded the IEEE History Committee to help me in developing an exhibit unit that went into that exhibit. Did it travel in some way? Was there something else that happened there?

Hochheiser:

Well, I know it first opened here, and then I don’t know what happened to it afterwards, because it’s not mentioned later. [Laughter] I really don’t know the answer to that.

Finn:

Ask Robert about this.

Hochheiser:

Well, of course.

Finn:

And then, get back to me at some point. I recall there was a little brochure that we produced. But, I think of it in terms of what we put on here in the museum -

Hochheiser:

And how it fit into the context of the larger exhibit here.

Finn:

The exhibit ended up with a bunch of questions of “what does this mean?” The theme of the exhibit was related to our movement toward social history. It was a history of the telephone and telegraph, but we were saying what does it mean, what are the social consequences of people being able to talk to people, and all that sort of thing. And at the end, we were looking at new technologies coming in, and asking what were going to be the social changes in the future. And microelectronics clearly would have something to do with that.

Early Archival Work, More on Milestones

Hochheiser:

What can you tell me about the beginnings of the archives of the IEEE in this period? I know a woman named Nancy Perlman was hired for a year or two to work on that.

Finn:

I really can’t say much. This is something that, obviously, Robert knows a lot about. It was something that the Committee certainly supported, that this was an important thing to do. And again, there’s a difference between the IEEE archives and any other material that might come in. So, we’re really talking about that.

Hochheiser:

Right. We’re talking chiefly about records of the IEEE.

Finn:

Right. The name is familiar, but I can’t picture her. Was she before Joyce?

Hochheiser:

Yes. You can’t recall her. Basically, the records indicate she was there for about two years to do the initial organization of the archives. After a few years as History Committee Chair, you were succeeded as Chair by Harold Chestnut.

Finn:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

Can you tell me anything about him?

Finn:

Not really, no. I remember him, and I knew these guys. Some of them were giants in their fields. Which, even though my field is history of electrical engineering, or electrical technology, most of my interests were in [the] nineteenth century, and people like Jack Ryder and Harold. [Laughter] I remember Harold, I remember talking with him and dealing with things, but I, I don't remember what his field was.

Hochheiser:

For the most part, these were people you saw once a year at the meetings?

Finn:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

Yes, that makes sense. Can you think of anything else to add about the establishment of the milestones? We kind of moved in and out about that.

Finn:

I can only think more generally. There was debate over whether there should be a single milestone category, or whether there might be international, regional and national groupings. And that’s come up and down over the years. I think that the business of getting the locals involved has been a sometime thing. And I think it’s even more a sometime thing today than it was.

And the one I recall that I thought was just sort of the exemplary case of getting the locals involved was the Richmond streetcar. I don’t know what help they got, or where, but they produced a really good packet of material on that. There were other examples. That’s the sort of information that we, at the Smithsonian, often obtain when we get volunteers or amateurs involved in helping with research. Oftentimes, the amateur does a better job than the professional in certain areas. They dig out stuff that we can’t be bothered with, or that we can’t find, or that we don’t know about, or they have family interests, and all that sort of thing. So, there are some really good examples within the milestones. The advent of the web has had some important consequences. By calling on electronically available information the sponsors can put together a substantial package which can be easily circulated to the committee and, if the milestone is approved, can be posted for all to see.

Hochheiser:

In the last couple of years, it’s just become so easy.

Finn:

Yes. But I think it’s too bad, to my mind, that there’s less tendency to look for other kinds of evidence - and if such material is supplied it may not end up on the milestone website.

The milestone program has gotten more international, which is very good. But to a large extent - both in the US and internationally - activity often depends upon some individual who pushes, and all of a sudden we’ve got five milestones in Boston and - [Laughter]

Hochheiser:

And that continues to be the case.

Finn:

As it should be. I support that.

Hochheiser:

Yes. And there’s some things that, as a result, there are some things that are not milestones, that you think really should be. But if you can’t, if the local section isn’t interested -

Finn:

The alternative, as has been discussed, especially in recent years, is that the Committee or a subcommittee of the History Committee should begin identifying milestones. And then go to the locals and say, don’t you think you should do this, or, we’ll do it for you. That makes sense if your purpose is simply to identify a bunch of milestones. But it doesn’t make sense if your purpose is to involve the locals. And I, personally, I think the latter is what it should be all about.

Hochheiser:

And ultimately, the only extent to which there’s been any change is societies can now propose milestones, as well as sections.

Finn:

Oh, that’s fine. And that, to me, would not make any difference.

Hochheiser:

But still, it has to be from the bottom up.

Finn:

Yes.

Ron Kline, GE Archive

Hochheiser:

What can you tell me about Robert’s leaving in ’84?

Finn:

Certainly nothing traumatic. He would have been there three years. I don’t think he ever had any intention of making it a life career, and we didn’t expect that either. And so, getting back to the differences among the directors. He had done what we wanted him to do or what one would want him to do. To get the thing up and going, and especially create this trust. I can’t emphasize more that he created an impressive operation so that Eric, and the IEEE, could say, hey, this is a good thing to do. And, so then we got Ron. I can't remember the details of that, and who else had applied. But he brought in the connection with the engineering community. He had that.

Hochheiser:

Right. Because he was originally trained and spent eight years as a working engineer.

Finn:

Yeah, terrific. And I think that’s just really what we needed at that point. We’ve settled down, we’ve got our basic programs and let’s implement them in ways that will keep the interest of our members. So, I felt really good about that.

There’s one incident I remember - I was thinking about it before you came - about Ron’s period. He became aware that GE, in Schenectady, was about to throw away significant archival material.

Hochheiser:

I’ve got a problem here.

[Tape cuts out at 20:51.6, restarts at 21:39.4]

Hochheiser:

So, you were, you were telling me about GE?

Finn:

They (meaning upper management) were getting ready to cleanse the library of what was considered irrelevant material, and they were not sensitive to pleas from within the organization not to do it. And so, Ron called me and in tandem we sent letters to the uppity-ups, however far up in GE, saying, don’t do this. And he signed his letter with the IEEE, and I signed my letter, Smithsonian Institution. And, dammit, it worked. Maybe something else was going on, but every indication [was] that that was enough to persuade them to do [it]. And then the archives, I think, were preserved up there. And then we ended up getting a bunch of books from GE as well.

Hochheiser:

This came from the same facility?

Finn:

It was a subsidiary library, and they had been told to dump the books in the Mohawk River, or whatever, but probably because of the previous action they were aware of the Smithsonian’s interest and offered to send them down here instead. It was a mixed bag, but there was some pretty good material there. Then what else with Ron?

Continuing the Center, Committee and Continuity

Hochheiser:

Well, after ’84 and the Centennial is over, do you recall if there was any discussion in the IEEE that, now that we’ve celebrated our Centennial, maybe we don’t need a History Center anymore?

Finn:

No, I don’t. It may have happened. And I think we cut back a little bit, didn’t we, from our three person -

Hochheiser:

To two for a while.

Finn:

Yes, but no. And furthermore, Eric was still there, right?

Hochheiser:

Eric was there into the early ‘90s.

Finn:

Again, you may find something different at the IEEE.

Hochheiser:

Basically, it’s just that I’ve known other cases where historical activities are ramped up for an anniversary - and our anniversary is over, and now we’ve done our history.

Finn:

Oh, sure.

Hochheiser:

So, it just comes up.

Finn:

No, I think that we were established, and we had programs going, and they were continuous programs. That’s the advantage of having old timers on the Committee because, they’ve been muckity-mucks in the IEEE, and they’re well respected. So, if you needed to pull a chain someplace, those guys knew where to pull it. I mean, I wouldn’t have. I didn’t have the slightest idea.

Hochheiser:

But since there were all of these old IEEE members on the Committee?

Finn:

Oh, yeah, absolutely. They’re there.

Hochheiser:

And that’s part of what the Committee needed -

Finn:

Absolutely.

Hochheiser:

- to know. There were plenty of people there who knew it.

Finn:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

And you and Jim could provide the historical aspects?

Finn:

The point is, at most maybe we had two historians on the Committee, one of which was me - maybe occasionally more, but that was about it. And uh -

Hochheiser:

Yes. I know there were various other people who passed through at one point or another.

Finn:

And it was difficult. Bernie Carlson was on it, and -

Hochheiser:

I think David Hounshell was on it for a bit.

Finn:

Right. They were on for a three-year term. And maybe they missed one year because they had to go to something else. It’s very hard to develop continuity there. That’s what I was, I was continuity. When somebody asked a question about how is this supposed to work, [Laughter] the director of the Center could, of course, answer that to an extent, but I, I had more continuity.

Edison After Forty Exhibit

Hochheiser:

Any other things you recall from Ron’s time?

Finn:

Do you have any questions in there? I just don’t differentiate.

Hochheiser:

When I interviewed Ron, one thing Ron talked a lot about was the amount of time he spent trying to work with the peer centers like the AIP and the Babbage.

Finn:

Okay. Ron wasn’t as interested in exhibits as Robert had been. That’s not surprising. But, it seemed to me that he had some other influence on the direction of what was going on. But I can’t put it together now.

Hochheiser:

One exhibit that did occur at that time that the record indicates had you as a co-curator, with Joyce, was one on Edison after the electric light.

Finn:

Okay. That was a good exhibit. I’m trying to think what the involvement of the IEEE was on this. In 1985 I was approached by the ETL Testing Laboratories (similar to the better-known Underwriters Laboratories).

Hochheiser:

I know what you mean.

Finn:

Anyway, they, for whatever reason, had books of photographs of Edison at their headquarters in upper New York State. Anyway, I went up there, and they offered these to me, to the Smithsonian. There were maybe a couple of hundred photographs. And some of them I’d seen before, but most of them not. And they were all later, after Pearl Street. I took them and brought them back down. Then I said, there must be something to do with these. I came up with this notion, well, what do you do after you’ve done everything? And so, [I] came up with this idea of Edison after the electric light. And then I enlisted Joyce to help with that, because she was really good with photographic archives and was familiar with those at the Edison site.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

She went over there and searched through the files and came up with images to complement those from ETL. And then, we co-curated this exhibit as a traveling exhibit with maybe 40 or 50 pictures and raised themes about how he has done his seminal work at Pearl Street, and then goes on to West Orange, and he says he’s going to do ten times as much, but he didn’t. Well, why? Well, because he was involved in other things like cutting ribbons and giving interviews. Because he got married to a younger wife, who had different ideas about what he should be doing. And anyway, we put together an exhibit. I think we had two copies of it, and it circulated for four or five years. And last I knew, one version ended up at the Edison home in Florida, in Ft. Myers. But, it’s still on the web. So, you can find it there. Just go look at Smithsonian, Edison After Forty, and there he is. So that was a very good collaboration. Fun and also good stuff.

Moving to Rutgers, William Aspray

Hochheiser:

Another thing that came out of Ron’s years, although some of them didn’t get published, but there were a number of historical guides, a Guide to Archives Collection, a Guide to Oral History.

Finn:

That’s right. These were things that came up in the History Committee, but I can’t really say much more than that.

Hochheiser:

What was your, or the Committee’s, reaction to Ron’s decision to move on to Cornell after three years?

Finn:

My recollection is that, that’s about right, three years and out. And then I think I do remember thinking a little bit about this, whether it was as a group or personally, that it was a good thing. That you didn’t necessarily want somebody there forever. And we were going through different stages. And now we had somebody in the academic world who was knowledgeable about the IEEE. I may be reading back into it, but I think that was my feeling at the time.

Hochheiser:

Well, that’s what oral history always is. I’m asking you today to look back on things that happened in the 1980s. And of course it’s filtered through -

Finn:

Yes, and I reinvent what I did, and - [Laughter] Okay. No, but I am pretty sure that - I mean, certainly, there was no animus or anything like that, but I think, we, absolutely, Ron, this is the thing for you to do, and we’ll find somebody else.

Hochheiser:

Now, this - was it this that led to re-examination of the Center? I know, at the end of this process, the Center was moved to Rutgers.

Finn:

Yes. Well, even from the beginning there was a notion, are we in an academic environment where we serve the IEEE, or are we doing it vice-versa. And as I said earlier, it was absolutely essential, in retrospect, and I think we knew it at the time, but certainly in retrospect, that we started out at the IEEE. But then, the quarters were cramped. If we were going to expand at all, it was almost impossible to do at that location. And then we really needed to start thinking about an academic setting or another setting. At some point I think the IEEE may have offered us Piscataway, and we said no, that’s not exactly what we had in mind. Even in Ron’s tenure we were thinking in that direction. And therefore, the decision for the next Director was colored by the fact that we were considering moving. And indeed, in interviewing these people, it was, no, we won’t necessarily be here.

Hochheiser:

Two things. First off, the records indicate that there was a report prepared on this, I think by Terry Reynolds?

Finn:

Yes. That was good. It’s always nice to have a report. And especially if it reinforces what we want to do. At the time I thought that Terry didn’t understand the Center well enough, and reading the report I wanted to say, my God, no, Terry, that’s not really what we’re all about, which is hardly surprising. But that’s, I think, basically irrelevant to what happened.

Hochheiser:

But that did not play a crucial role in the decision.

Finn:

Well, I think it probably helped the decision. His comments on our programs were less important than the overall opinion that we should be in an academic environment. That it served a purpose of saying, hey, this should have an academic thing.

Hochheiser:

Now, there was little or no gap between when Robert left and Ron arrived.

Finn:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

But there’s a two-year gap, approximately, between when Ron left and Bill [Aspray] arrived, and while Joyce is Acting Director.

Finn:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

The question - I mean, the obvious answer is, because you were rethinking these things - is why Ron was not replaced [as] quickly as Robert had been?

Finn:

Yeah. Good question. I think that we were - When does the Reynolds report come in?

Hochheiser:

I believe around ’87. Just about the time Ron was leaving.

Finn:

Okay.

Hochheiser:

I could be off by a year, but not more than that. It’s in the same period.

Finn:

Yes, it’s not after Bill comes, it’s well before.

Hochheiser:

It’s definitely well before Bill comes.

Finn:

I think, basically, this is a period of wondering what we were going to do, whether we were going to take this next step. And if we weren’t going to take the next step, then the chances of getting somebody like Ron or Robert, somebody out of an academic setting, with a PhD, was probably, at that point, not very good. We may have interviewed a few people, I’m not sure. That’s in the record. It should be. So Joyce took over. We were pleased with Joyce in many respects. And if we had decided to stay in New York she probably would have been asked to continue, and she probably would have accepted.

Hochheiser:

I remember that.

Finn:

Of course you would, I think. So it was, it was not easy on her when the decision was made to go elsewhere. That much I recall. But if we were going to go elsewhere, that did imply a major commitment. So, I guess the decision was really made before Bill came.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Finn:

There was certainly a question of where we were going to go.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

And I guess basically you could say that that was a period of not knowing what we were going to do, and that decision took two years to make. It could have gone the other way. And that Joyce was interim for that period. But now, how that decision was made, I guess the Reynolds report obviously must have been important in it. I really can’t remember. But I’m sure that - Let me reconstruct that.

Hochheiser:

Of course.

Finn:

Unable to make a decision, you do what you often do, you say, well, let’s get an outside expert in to tell us what we should do. Whether that’s the History Committee saying that, or whether it’s management saying that, or sort of a combination of, we can’t decide, what do we do, and okay, will you give us whatever number of dollars to hire this guy to come in and look at us. So, we do that, and the recommendation comes in, and the recommendation was yes, to go academic. I can't remember the details, I haven’t looked at it recently. But all I know is that, yes, the recommendation was fine. The understanding of which programs, and, he didn’t have much, as I remember, much truck with the milestone program, and was more interested in things the academics would be interested in. But, in terms of what happened, this is all pretty much irrelevant. The report served its purpose, which was to get us out of New York, into an academic setting. And then, then Bill was hired to do that, or to be Director.

Hochheiser:

He was hired with the understanding that part of what he knew he was going to do was oversee the movement of the Center to a university.

Finn:

Right. And if this doesn’t happen, uh, he’s elsewhere.

Hochheiser:

He would not be interested?

Finn:

That’s correct, yeah. So, there was this condition, which is reasonable. We talked to others, Cooper Union, I think, and Brooklyn Poly. And then Rutgers, maybe Brandeis, I’m not sure, and Georgia Tech. There was a broad search, and there was really interest out there. Rutgers was obvious, I mean, in retrospect. The Piscataway connection, the closeness to New York, everything else, made a lot of sense.

Hochheiser:

Yes. And the Edison papers being there.

Finn:

Edison papers.

Hochheiser:

Yes. When we need to go over to Piscataway for meetings now the whole weight of the IEEE is in Piscataway. It takes ten minutes to get there. It’s trivial.

Finn:

Yes, I think it took a little persuading on Rutgers’ part. And this was not an easy thing for them to take on. And whether Bill twisted arms effectively there, whether there are other people who did it, I simply can’t tell. But all I know is that we’re talking about different directors serving different purposes. And Bill clearly served that purpose, both in getting us there and then of moving in a direction towards more of the academic activities.

Hochheiser:

Yeah. And certainly, if you look at the projects that started coming out of the Center during his term. Yes.

Finn:

The conferences, which have continued and I think have been very important.

Hochheiser:

Big oral history projects.

Finn:

Yes, big oral history.

Hochheiser:

Getting funding from the NSF for a study of computer science support by NSF engineers as executives, a big oral history project on the Rad Lab. These are projects of a different nature than had been undertaken earlier.

Finn:

Yes. And I think that’s good. You’ve got to test the waters. Even, even if you don’t go full all out, you might try this and then decide, that’s as much as you want to do. I think we tried that and we decided, yes, well, maybe not quite as much or whatever, but we can do oral histories, and that they’re really meaningful, and important.

Hochheiser:

Was there a feeling, after a while, on the parts of some people in the IEEE that the Center had moved too far in an academic direction?

Finn:

Not that I heard.

Hochheiser:

Of course that’s all I’m asking you.

Finn:

Right. I think within the Committee, I mean, myself, yes. Because I’m closer to technology, I had a better feeling for the milestone project then probably Bill did. But, I wouldn’t say a big deal either way.

Hochheiser:

In what other ways did being at Rutgers change the Center?

Finn:

Easier for me to get there, both easier and more difficult. That’s a good question. You weren’t next to the management anymore. And that, that made a big difference. It was inevitable, and Eric wasn’t going to stay forever anyway. So, it took us a little bit out from the center of power. But, at the same time it gave us space. Certainly the space was a big thing. And having the connection with the university, and access to graduate students, and things like that, I have no question that this was the thing to do. And it opened up all sorts of possibilities for enlarging. I mean, again, the timing was about right. It may have taken a couple of years to determine that was the way to go, but kudos to the IEEE for saying all right, fine, we’ll do that. I mean, I couldn’t believe how much money we spent on getting the Committee together. [Laughter] That’s a big deal, especially twice a year now. To me, it was the Institute’s way of saying we believe in this. That’s important. Well, it’s obviously important. Regardless of what other programs they gave emphasis to, the fact that we’re on par with other committees in terms of the support the Institute gives us. That’s very good.

Staff Growth, Wheeler Gift

Hochheiser:

Another thing that happened during Bill’s years was the size of the staff grew substantially.

Finn:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

Where you had two people in New York, now, you’ve got Rik Nebeker, and Andy Goldstein, and Dave Morton, and Joe Tatarewicz, and a series of post docs.

Finn:

Right. And that wouldn’t have been possible in New York. I mean, you couldn’t have a post doc there. But you really couldn’t support it in the way you could at a university.

Now, at someplace in here, just before that, comes the business with the Wheeler Gift. And I think that’s an instance of the Center acting within the IEEE in a way that was important, using its internal clout to make something happen that might not have happened otherwise. In terms of staying in New York, one possibility was to become custodians, to ride on the back of the Wheeler Gift.

Hochheiser:

Okay. Briefly, and I know what it is, but for the record -

Finn:

The Wheeler Gift was a collection of books that had been purchased by an American engineer, Schuyler Skaats Wheeler, mostly electrical technology, that had been put together by Latimer Clark, a British electrical engineer. He (Wheeler) gave it to the AIEE with conditions that it would always be with the AIEE in New York. It was kept as a rare book section in the very active IEEE library. Well, the IEEE library was getting into financial problems, and they were spending a lot of money copying things for a lot of people. They had been a big service to the engineering community which no longer was needed, and was costing money. They were basically going to shut down. My recollection is that we made an argument that the Center might take over some or all of the space occupied by the library and keep the Wheeler Gift. This may have been really under Ron, I’m not sure.

Hochheiser:

No, it was under Bill.

Finn:

Oh, Bill? Really? Okay.

Hochheiser:

I have a whole file from Bill about the disposition of the Wheeler Gift.

Finn:

Okay. Well, I could be wrong, but it seemed to me that there was a point where we were at least dreaming of the possibility of assuming responsibility for the Wheeler Gift and staying in New York - which logically would have occurred before Bill arrived. But the only real point I’m making is that if it hadn’t been for us, for the Center, that collection might have been disbursed, and it ended up going in one piece to Linda Hall or -

Hochheiser:

No. The New York Public Library.

Finn:

New York Public, okay.

Hochheiser:

Everything - Basically, the overall Engineering Center library, everything went to Linda Hall, all the runs of journals and things, except the Wheeler Gift. The rare book collection went -

Finn:

One condition, it had to be in New York. Wasn’t that one?

Hochheiser:

Right. Basically, one of the conditions of the gift was that it had to be in New York.

Finn:

Yes. I remember this wasn’t just casual stuff. We did a survey of the Wheeler Gift.

Hochheiser:

Yes, and the survey started in Ron’s term. What had happened was, the books in the gift had just been integrated with the rest of the library.

Finn:

That’s right.

Hochheiser:

The first step, and this is why you’re thinking of Ron -

Finn:

Bringing it back, yeah.

Hochheiser:

Was to recreate the Wheeler Gift.

Finn:

Right, right.

Hochheiser:

What books came from the gift, and therefore, were subject to the terms of the gift.

Finn:

Yes.

Center Conferences, Aspray Leaving

Hochheiser:

Yes. What can you tell me about the establishment and operation of the conferences the History Center started running during Bill’s term?

Finn:

Yes, Bill’s term. I attended two or three or four of them. They were interesting. I think the notion was that they should include about half academic[s] and half engineers. That’s what the Center is all about, so I think that was well done. The intimacy of them. I remember the one at Amherst. I didn’t go to the one, was it Charlottesville, the computer one?

Hochheiser:

Williamsburg. I didn’t go to that one, either

Finn:

And I was at the one in St. John’s. It’s always hard to know what these conferences really mean. [Laughter]

Hochheiser:

As you put it, as an IEEE conference, the bringing together of historians and engineers interested in history.

Finn:

Yes. The IEEE knows about meetings. It’s important to bring engineers to meetings so they can give papers that nobody listens to, or some people listen to. And so, it was something that I think they understood, and Bill sold it to them however it was funded. And including, getting young people from the IEEE and from elsewhere there. So, yeah, conceptually, the meetings themselves I thought were good. Again, I like the notion of, the contained business, where you’re not off doing six other things, but you’re really talking to each other during that period. And as far as I know that was Bill. I’m sure the Committee talked about it and passed on it and everything else, but -

Hochheiser:

But it was Bill’s idea.

Finn:

Yeah. Good thing to do.

Hochheiser:

Anything else you can think of from Bill’s tenure?

Finn:

Not unless you remind me.

Hochheiser:

We talked about some of the quasi-academic projects. We talked about the conferences.

Finn:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

The move to Rutgers, getting grad students.

Finn:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

Then what are your recollections of the circumstances of Bill’s leaving?

Finn:

He got a better job offer. That was my impression Again, he had been there, what, five years?

Hochheiser:

He was there a total of seven, ’89 to ’96, as long as his two predecessors combined.

Finn:

Yes, so, it’s not surprising. Like the others. Anyway it happened, whether there was any back and forth with the management on that and so forth, whatever.

Hochheiser:

Yeah, I’m obviously asking you for your perspective.

Finn:

Yeah, from my perspective, it was not surprising.

Hochheiser:

Did the Committee take Bill’s leaving as an opportunity to reexamine the directions in which the Center should be going?

Finn:

I wouldn’t say consciously. I mean, certainly we talked about the more academic turn of it. And there was, I was reading and just looking at notes, there was some discussion of it. But the Committee itself, the History Committee, had changed. That was of some concern to me and to a few others.

Hochheiser:

Changed in what ways?

Finn:

This reflected his interests, and at the time I thought we might be going too far - but it was nice having more than a couple of historians on the committee, and in retrospect it probably made sense to beef up our computer competence. Less emphasis was placed on some programs, like milestones, which were designed to connect us to the membership.So yes, I think it would be fair to say that there was a feeling of, of moving backwards a little bit, or moving back in another direction.

Mike Geselowitz and Rutgers

I don’t know that that had any effect on the selection process of a new Director. Again, I was also a member of the Selection Committee. And I’m beginning to remember a few people who may have been interviewed. But I don’t think that we consciously said, no, we’re not looking for a certain type, or we’re looking in some other direction. There were, I think there were three candidates at the end, Mike [Geselowitz] and two others - I can remember one name, I can't remember the other.

Hochheiser:

That’s okay.

Finn:

And as it turned out, we got a different type [of] person. But I don’t think that was by design. That’s just the way it worked.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Finn:

There are several things that are different about it, but one thing where I think Mike very consciously made an effort, that Bill did not, was the connection with Rutgers. My impression, and you can correct me on this, was that Bill was not all that interested in getting involved in Rutgers type activities. And it probably wasn’t all that important for that first three or four years. But I think it became increasingly important because Rutgers was putting out real money for us. And times were getting rougher and not easier so that the fact that Rutgers was continuing to support us, and the Edison papers, for that matter, was not easy for them. And especially if they couldn’t point to things that we were doing for them. So Mike, when he came, made a greater effort, a different effort, anyway, to reach out. Especially to the engineering community.

[Tape 2 ends, start Tape 3]

Hochheiser:

You were talking about how Mike really worked more on the relationship with Rutgers.

Finn:

Yes.

Virtual Museum

Hochheiser:

In what other ways did the Center evolve in the years between when Mike arrived in ’97 and when you left the Committee around your retirement?

Finn:

Yes. We started having two meetings a year. [Laughter]

Hochheiser:

We’re meeting this weekend.

Finn:

Yes. Oh, the virtual museum.

Hochheiser:

Which came and went.

Finn:

Came and went, yes. And I mean, that was a real - that was Emerson [Pugh] again, I believe, right?

Hochheiser:

And Ken Laker.

Finn:

Yeah, that’s right, Ken Laker. Exactly. And they twisted my arm - it was easily twisted, I guess. Well, they recruited me, that is, not just as a member of the Committee, but in addition, for support on that. And I was reluctant. I felt this was reaching a little far, and I wasn’t at all sure. I think it was Emerson or somebody, several years before, who had been pushing the television series on electrical engineering. And I was really dubious about that. It just never happened. And I had some of the same feeling for the virtual museum. But I began to think about it and then began to feel a little better towards it. And anyway, we got money, or they got money for a meeting, which was at the Smithsonian. And I got in touch with my museum friends who came, some from Europe, together with a few academics, and we met in the east conference room, right below where you and I are sitting right now, and it was a really good meeting, a two-day meeting, talking about issues involved, and how it might be done. The minutes of that meeting must be around someplace.

Anyway, it was the sort of thing that you do when you’ve got a big project coming up, you bring in all the experts, and you have a meeting, and you send them away, and you rip up the notes and go ahead. [Laughter] Although I think there were some good ideas that were produced and were probably influential. And I still think it could have been done well. I don’t fault anybody, particularly here, except that I think we got the wrong person to be responsible for it, what’s her name, who is a very nice person, and - The name will come to me.

Hochheiser:

Kim Breitfelder.

Finn:

And Kim had - there were two or three skills necessary here, and she had one of them and that was education, and contacts with schools. And they’re very important in defining the audiences and determining how to address them, though as it turned out I’m not sure that the VM was really designed for that particular audience. The second was some knowledge of electrical engineering history. Really. You can’t just sit there and accept proposals. You’ve got to understand what they are, and what they’re supposed to be saying. And the third was computer skills. Preferably to be able to do the some of the web design so you don’t have to go outside every time you want to make a modest change in the website. That gets terribly expensive. And not only that, but then you never get what you want, and you can’t change it easily. So, I think it was simply not structured right.

As it evolved, we had a number of meetings, mainly concerned with “exhibit” topics. Partly because Kim (understandably) didn’t have an overall vision, partly because of limited funds, progress was slow. One solution was to let topics be determined by the societies, with the societies paying for them, which inevitably led to an eclectic approach. My personal concern, which was the element that attracted me to the project in the first place, was that this was a “museum.” A museum has objects in it. Well, we don’t have real objects. But what I got excited about, in my own way, was here you can have exhibits using objects from museums all over the world and bring them together in what in any real museum would be a fantastic exhibit, and things that you couldn’t afford to bring together, but here they are. Instead what we had was a lot of text illustrated with a few pictures.

One very positive feature in the VM exhibits was contained in the animations, which were often better than what a real museum might have. But this wasn’t enough. I was really sorry. I was sorry to see it not work, having gotten that far. And I think it could have been very good, it still could be, perhaps.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Finn:

And here it is on the screen. Well, somebody sees that and says, I’ve got to go to the Volta Museum and see this, the real thing. Anyway, that was maybe, maybe a little pie in the sky. But, it’s a way of museums advertising themselves, on the site, and our drawing on them. But I realize that it’s because Kim had a problem; at that time, museums were reluctant to give her photographs. She just wasn’t somebody who could write so and so at the Science Museum in London, and say, would you please let us have these photographs. I can do that, or somebody like me, somebody who can project a sense of authority and knowledge of the subject.

Hochheiser:

Right.

GHN and STARS

Finn:

Now we’re doing - And this is really after my time, although I’m involved, the Global History Network, and more particularly, the STARS Program.

Hochheiser:

Right, right.

Finn:

And again, Emerson calls me up, and says, Barney. [Laughter]

Hochheiser:

I know - I have an article up there also, partly because of Emerson.

Finn:

Yes. He enlisted Mike Williams and myself to be the editorial trio. It’s one of the advantages of being Emeritus, I don’t have to come to the meetings. [Laughter] I can just stick in my two cents. I must admit, on this I was dubious. And I told Emerson at the beginning that I really wasn’t interested, and then I said okay. That was when the Committee was first formed. And I said, okay, but just for a year, and after that I’m out, you don’t need me. Well, we got to the end of the year, and it was, wouldn’t you like t[o] write something, and wouldn’t you like to continue on the Committee And so, I’m content with that. It’s not that much of a burden. And, frankly, you can’t sit back and carp at something and say that it’s not going the way you like it if you had an opportunity to help shape it. Emerson is fun to work with. [Laughter] It looks to me like it’s getting some momentum. And I look at the Global History Network overall, and just like Wikipedia, it’s great to have that information and the interaction. And it has done what we wanted the milestones to do, and wanted the VM to do, which was to get the membership involved.

Hochheiser:

One key thing there for the membership is this firsthand history section.

Finn:

Yes, right, exactly.

Hochheiser:

Get members to write in there, and we can reach far more people that way than we can by going out and doing oral histories.

Finn:

Yes. And it’s a wonderful thing to get that kind of personal contact. And it’s not a matter of getting everything right, it’s a matter of -

Hochheiser:

It’s their story.

Finn:

Yes, it’s their story, and it’s right from their point of view. Anyway, that’s all good. But I think that the notion of essay contributions that are reviewed and which carry an imprimatur is an excellent addition. I don’t think I know where it came from, but I’m sure it was Emerson’s idea.

Hochheiser:

The STARS program is very definitely Emerson’s idea

Finn:

Yes. But, we debated many of the details, he and Mike and I, with input from Rik and perhaps you and others. The main concern is whether people are going to write them. An early proposal was to pay for articles. I think it’s evolved in a way that’s appropriate, that this is an activity that people do out of professional responsibility and pride. And that’s the way it should be. And hopefully people, will get some form of academic credit out of their contributions.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Finn:

It’s quasi-peer reviewed.

Hochheiser:

It’s peer reviewed, but not blind peer reviewed.

Finn:

Well, a lot of other publications aren’t blind peer reviewed.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Finn:

I’m not concerned with that.

Hochheiser:

No, certainly my article was peer reviewed by someone with the appropriate expertise to be in a position to do that.

Make-Up of Committee, Evolution

Finn:

We had a couple of meetings, big meetings, on the future of the Center that represented my last real involvement. There were two - review of the Center, and where do we go from here. Critical issues included money and the makeup of the History Committee. And one thing that came up was the number of historians on the Committee, whether it was one or two. And the last thing I saw was that we were pushing for, yes, two, and I think it ended up being one.

Hochheiser:

Well, this year there’s four including Hal Wallace.

Finn:

Okay, then I feel good.

Hochheiser:

Basically, it’s gone down, and it’s gone back up.

Finn:

That’s good, you don’t want too many either. [Laughter]

Hochheiser:

You want historian’s expertise, but it has to be an IEEE Committee. Looking back, is there anything you can think to say as a whole about the evolution or achievements of the History Committee and the History Center?

Finn:

It’s one of those things that I look personally on as something that I was very pleased with the opportunity I had. I am grateful that the Smithsonian allowed me to, or encouraged me to, participate.

It seems to me that it’s been a continuous work in progress. What we never achieved - and it’s still possible - we never had a [Arnold] Beckman or somebody like that come along with tens of millions of dollars and say, here’s your endowment, and go ahead and do this. On the other hand, that kind of money comes with strings, inevitably, even if they’re not obvious. And I think I see that in the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Of course, it’s not just Beckman money now, it’s -

Hochheiser:

It’s gotten bigger.

Finn:

Yes. So, and I think that there are problems in a way, but it certainly would be nice to have that additional funding. But, for God’s sake, these have not been, especially the last few years, have not been easy. And the fact that the IEEE continues to find a way to support the thing, and especially Rutgers, given the situation in New Jersey, this speaks to some skills on the part of the Center Directors and whoever else is a part of that negotiating effort between - it comes up every five years or so, so it’s not something that’s written in stone. And I think, to Mike’s credit, for programs at Rutgers, and substance. So, he has a base, we have a base there, and we’re not just somebody sitting on the sideline.

Hochheiser:

Anything else you want to add?

Finn:

I’m so pleased that you were able to join the team.

Hochheiser:

So was I.

Finn:

Yes. I was, when I heard it, I was very pleased.

Hochheiser:

Well, in that case, I’m going to turn off the camera.