Poaching physicists

In early 1955, Walter Zinn, head of Argonne National Laboratory, was a key player in the US push into nuclear energy. Engineers were moving into the domain of the physicists but even then, nearly a decade after the end of World War II, much was unclear about the behavior of particles and substances in the midst of fission. Experienced, capable physicists were like gold and Bernard Spinrad, Zinn’s Head of Physics, was at the forefront of Argonne’s work.

On March 21, Zinn wrote to Miles Leverett, an engineering manager in General Electric’s nuclear power division, and a former Manhattan Project colleague:

Dear Miles,

It is our fixed policy not to interfere at all with an approach to any of our people about changing jobs. I appreciate your writing to me about your intention to approach Dr. B. I. Spinrad. Dr. Spinrad is one of the most important people in our reactor physics program. . . . We would be badly hurt if we lost him. . . . In any case, I wish you no luck at all in approaching Dr. Spinrad.

Yours truly,

W. H. Zinn, Director

When I read this, my thought was “Ha!” The letter says much about Zinn the person, the experts’ marketplace in the mid 1950s, and the emerging industrialization of nuclear power.




Zinn, Walter H. 1955. Zinn to Leverett, Mar. 21, 1955. Folder ‘Reading File, March 21, 1955’, Box 119, Laboratory Director’s Reading File, 1949-1957, RG 326, National Archives Building, Chicago, Illinois.