Scientist of the Day - Henry DeWolf Smyth
Henry DeWolf Smyth, an American physicist who spent most of his career at Princeton, was born May 1, 1898. Smyth was part of the American effort to build an atomic bomb during World War II, and he was commissioned to write the first public history of the Manhattan Project, which was released on Aug. 12, 1945, just days after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The purpose of the report was to make the public aware of just what had transpired over the past five years in the development of nuclear weapons. The report was initially released as a lithographed typescript, in a small edition of 1000 copies, and it was intended that the first part of the title, Atomic Bombs, would be added in red by a rubber stamp. But most copies were never stamped, leaving the rather dull subtitle to become the title: A general account of the development of methods of using atomic energy for military purposes. The report was then immediately reprinted by Princeton University Press in a smaller format with the title Atomic Energy for Military Purposes, and most surviving copies have the Princeton imprint.
The publication, whatever its title, is almost always referred to as the Smyth Report. At the Library, we have an original lithoprint issue, and it is inscribed “To the Linda Hall Library, Henry DeWolf Smyth, December 12, 1973” (second image), and loosely inserted are an autograph letter from Smyth (fourth image), and a brief typescript timetable (fifth image).
If you go searching for copies of the Smyth Report, be aware that the Library of Congress spells his name “Henry De Wolf Smyth”, and if you search for “Henry DeWolf Smyth”, you may come up empty. It is pretty clear from his letterhead how Smyth intended his name to be spelled (fourth image).
The photograph, taken around 1944, shows Smyth (left) with E.O. Lawrence, inventor of the cyclotron (sixth image).
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.