Functionaries—office bearers in state institutions or corporations—often disappear in histories, overwhelmed by more prominent actors. The second American utility to sign a hefty contract for a nuclear power plant, Commonwealth Edison (headquartered in Chicago) has left little trace on why it did so in 1955. It seems I could examine its annual reports over the late 1950s in the Library of Congress, but even if I was to go to that extreme effort, would they say anything meaningful?
Who were the key players within Commonwealth Edison at the time? In my book’s draft I focus on its recently elected chairman, Willis Gale, if only because some of his public statements made their way into newspapers or congressional hearing records. But I also came across the name of Murray Joslin. There is actually a stub of an entry in Wikipedia about him. He was a 55-year-old engineer at the time in question. His name is sufficiently familiar to me to have come up a few times in my reading, but I never paid much attention. All I have left is the following snippet from the rambling 1965 interview, tucked away in an archive, of Sam Untermyer, the “inventor” of Com Ed’s purchased reactor:
Murray Joslin crossed the spark plug behind the whole thing. He recognized that it had to be done, that it was coming, that we needed a Fifth Street of the Atomic Age, really.Untermyer, Samuel. 1955. Comments from Untermyer (August 1965). “Transcripts, Set 1, Vol. 2,” Box 1, Information Division, Sound Recording Files, 1952-1968, RG 326. NARA-GL, Chicago, Illinois.
I’m not sure what Untermyer meant, to be honest. So who was Murray Joslin? What was his influence on the fateful decision to buy a GE reactor in April 1955? What was his subsequent role? I’m sure I’ll never know and I haven’t included him in my book.