No more speeches?

In March 1954, Oliver Townsend from America’s nascent nuclear energy organization, the Atomic Industrial Forum, wrote to Walter Zinn, head of Argonne National Laboratory, asking him to attend a May meeting. Zinn responded:

I do not like to make speeches. My reaction to speech-making is mostly based on the fact that there is hardly ever any new information available, and I am rather weary of repeating the old material. . . . I am willing and happy to participate in a panel discussion or other meetings which only call for extemporaneous remarks.

This aside is too slight to use in my book but it intrigues the heck out of me, for Zinn did like to give speeches, or, rather, he gave many speeches. He was much in demand. His speeches were a tad awkward but always earnestly full of real information and genuine opinions. Why rant against speechifying? I think the key is that there is “hardly any new information available.” This is a man who came to scientific maturity within the hotbed of the Manhattan Project, surrounded by brilliance and huge fresh ideas. Yes, it seems to me that Zinn was at least partly driven by intellectual curiosity: please don’t bore me, he was saying.


Zinn, Walter H. 1954. Zinn to Townsend, Mar. 31, 1954. Folder ‘Reading File, March 31, 1954’, Box 98, Laboratory Director’s Reading File, 1949-1957, RG 326, National Archives Building, Chicago, Illinois.