The lure of a new tech

Early 1949, four years after the end of the World War, seven years after the first reactor went live. Atomic energy is locked behind barbed wires – it’s for making bombs. American utilities – the private or public firms that generate electricity for ordinary Americans – are naturally fascinated by the prospect of harnessing this new technology, but they know little more than the cautious statements in the press. Philip Sporn, head of American Gas & Electric, one of the big utilities, has more cachet and access than most. Here he vents to David Lilienthal, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission:

 . . . it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to evaluate the Commission’s utterances in regard to cooperation with industrial organizations. It is now nearly two months since our meeting in January, and nearly three months since your letter of December 14, 1948 . . . Today the status of action on my request is just about where it was when the first inquiry in this matter was made by our industry group two years ago. I do not want to think that the time and effort devoted to dealing directly with the Commission on this problem has been to no purpose, and I would be grateful if you would advise me frankly whether or not there is anything further I can do to bring this matter to a constructive and early conclusion.

Feel his frustration! The doors to atomic energy don’t begin to open for another half decade. The irony is that when the doors open, it’s Philip Sporn who dips his toes in most cautiously, it’s Sporn who ends up being a sceptic.


Sporn, Philip. 1949. Sporn to Lilienthal, Mar. 10, 1949. Folder “Correspondence – Advisory Committee on Cooperation Between Electric Power Industry and the Commission,” Box 1, Entry 1, RG 326, National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

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