William T. Golden Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
William T. Golden

Securities analyst during the 1930s; officer in the United States Navy, 1941-46; Assistant to the Commissioner, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), 1946-50; consultant to the AEC, 1950-58; Special consultant to the U.S. President to review organization of the Government's military-scientific activities incident to the Korean War, consultant to Director of the Budget, 1950-51; member of military procurement task force of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of Government (Hoover Commission), 1954-55.

Washington, D.C.
June 24, 1989 and August 1, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Appendix | List of Subjects Discussed]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened November, 1992
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Appendix | List of Subjects Discussed]

Oral History Interview with
William T. Golden

Washington, D.C.
June 24, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson

Summary Description:

Topics discussed by Mr. Golden include the policy-making role of scientists in Government; Atomic Energy Act of 1946; the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC); Military Liaison Committee of the AEC; Research and Development Board of the Defense Department; civilian control of atomic energy; Steelman report; efforts to establish the position of science adviser to the President; National Science Foundation; Scientific Research Advisory Board of the Office of Defense Mobilization; decision to develop the hydrogen bomb; the breeder reactor; military procurement task force of the second Hoover Commission; and the President's Committee on Defense Scientific Research.

Names mentioned include Fred Lawton, Charles Stauffacher, Elmer Staats, Lewis Strauss, William Webster, Vannevar Bush, James B. Conant, Mervin Kelly, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leslie Groves, Edward Teller, Robert Bacher, John Steelman, Donald Dawson, Detlev Bronk, Lucius Clay, Oliver Buckley, Charles E. Wilson, George Merck, Sidney Souers, R. Gordon Arneson, McGeorge Bundy, William Waymack, Sumner Pike, and Alan Waterman.


JOHNSON: Since we are short on time, Mr. Golden, I'm not going into some of the background that I usually get. That, I think, is in the printed sources. But I will ask what were perhaps the most important influences prior to your service with the government, influences on your values and your career.

GOLDEN: Well, I had always been interested in science and technology from earliest childhood. I became a ham radio operator and got my radio transmitting license when I was just 13 years old. That was the greatest sense of achievement I've ever had. You had to take a test; go down to the Custom House and take a test on code and also on some technical matters. They were mostly simple, but not for a thirteen year old. I got my station, my call letters 2AEN, and I was very proud and pleased. I was always interested in science;


and I was encouraged by my parents.

JOHNSON: But you went into something else, investment banking?

GOLDEN: Yes, and I decided to go into investment banking. I was also interested in other things. But in college at the University of Pennsylvania, I had to make my mind up and I thought of going to law school, medical school, teaching English, literature, a number of other fields including being a biologist or a physicist. All these fields interested me. I finally decided in the second half of my senior year, I'd go to the Harvard Business School. I won't go into the somewhat romantic ideas I had about what you could do on Wall Street, which I knew nothing about other than having read a few stories. But I had the idea that if you go there and if you have the right turn of mind, you can get into and out of businesses, if your judgment is right. My father had been a small businessman, in the woolen business, and he was necessarily very strongly influenced by seasonal things beyond his control -- the weather, the climate, the general business situation, things like that. I saw that, and I thought well, in Wall Street if you have the judgment and foresight you can get out of one business and into another business, and you can do it with any amount of money. I had $400


saved up from my college allowances, and that was going to be my capital. And it was.

So I was accepted by the Harvard Business School and after one year there, 1930-31, I was fortunate to get a job with in Wall Street in the depths of the Depression. And I was able to make some money. By having some money, you can have the freedom of deciding what you want to do, if you want to do other things. Briefly, that's it. I was very fortunate that worked out that way. I got a good job with honorable and very able people, as a securities analyst. After ten years there I went into the Navy in the summer of 1941 as a civilian expert under contract until I was commissioned as a lieutenant after a waiver was granted for my nearsightedness (2/20 and 4/20) but fully corrected by glasses. The waiver was granted by request of the Chief of the Bureau or Ordnance after several attempts by me to improve my test score by exercises.

I stayed throughout the war as a Lieutenant Commander until the beginning of '46. I was in the Navy Department a large part of those four and a half years, including an aircraft at time, although I was also out at sea, in both oceans, on a wide variety of ships including an aircraft carrier and a submarine. I had an invention which the Navy later used (and after the war patented for me) that was incidental to my


work, and which also had a technical flavor and mechanical-electrical interest. It was a cyclic rate control device for antiaircraft machine guns. A U.S. patent is an impressive looking document, complete with gold seal and ribbon.

I got to know something about the Government by being in the Washington scene. I had never been interested in that before, so the exposure did a lot for me.

JOHNSON: You were stationed here in Washington, D.C.?

GOLDEN: I was stationed in Washington, in the Bureau of Ordnance. I had additional duty in the Chief of Naval Operations' office, on war plans, and then in the Secretary of the Navy's office for additional duty. Then, I was at sea from time to time on everything from aircraft carriers to submarines -- but not very long on any of them. And I got to know people who had been in the Government. Some of the people I met in the Navy Department then had previously been in the Bureau of the Budget, and other places in the Federal Government.

JOHNSON: Fred Lawton for instance? You got acquainted with Fred Lawton?

GOLDEN: Fred Lawton, yes. He was Director of the Bureau of the Budget around 1950. 1 met him primarily through


Stauffacher and through Elmer Staats. It was Charlie Stauffacher who was Assistant Director, and Elmer Staats, who I met through Charlie. I met Charlie in the Navy. And that's how these things kind of worked.

Well, I had decided in the Navy that after the war I was going to look toward spending maybe half my time on not-for-profit activities that would be interesting and useful. That had been my idea originally when I decided to work in Wall Street and it was working out and I was really going to stick to it. I didn't want to try to be the richest man on Wall Street, or the richest man in the graveyard as the saying goes. So I told lots of people I'm prepared to work on things, without getting paid, that will be interesting and useful.

To shorten this a bit, the most attractive thing that came along quite soon after the war was the Atomic Energy Commission. Lewis Strauss, whom I had met and got to know well in the Navy, and who had been in Wall Street (but I had not known him there), was asked to become a member of the Commission. He knew of my interest in science and technology and in doing some interesting and useful work. He asked if I would come down and help him get it organized. He was one of five commissioners. He asked if I would come down for maybe three months, back to Washington.


Well, I couldn't think of anything more exciting than the AEC. I was there from the first day, along with the five commissioners and three other staff members.

JOHNSON: The AEC, established by the Atomic Energy Act.

GOLDEN: The McMahon Act that was passed that summer of 1946. It was during that summer, while my wife and I were driving around seeing the USA, we decided that when I got out of the Navy the first thing we were going to do was see the country, before I got into any ruts, new or old. You name the place, and we've probably been there. It was not long, but it was a wonderful experience. We spent seven months driving around the country (and parts of Mexico and Canada). My wife kept a daily travel diary and I had it typewritten and bound: "A Happy Journey."

JOHNSON: What was your position, your role then, in the AEC?

GOLDEN: I was Assistant to Commissioner Lewis L. Strauss.

JOHNSON: All right.

GOLDEN: I was always an independent in politics by the way. He was a very "Republican" Republican as you may know, and Harry Truman was a very "Democratic" Democrat, and


I have been a very "Independent" Independent always.

JOHNSON: And, of course, you were supporting the civilian control of atomic energy, of atomic weapons.

GOLDEN: Right.

JOHNSON: Did you believe at that time that scientists should be given policy-making roles in the Government?

GOLDEN: Well, I think that I didn't think of it that way, but I think I would have thought so to a degree, yes, as one component of the orchestra. A lot of scientists are very bright people but not very practical. I think now, and would have thought then, they should be a component of the policy-making and I think very much so now.

JOHNSON: Was it necessary to clarify the role of the scientist and the military in the control of atomic energy before steps could be taken to establish a scientific adviser to the President?

GOLDEN: I don't think that had any direct relevance. I should say it had a relevance, but I don't think that was an important element in deciding that there ought to be a science adviser to the President, regardless of how the division of authority would go with military and civilian people.


JOHNSON: But you were thinking of a civilian scientist, as adviser, not a military scientist?

GOLDEN: Yes, very definitely. But the most important functions were things relating to military matters at that time. That's not so anymore. Now it's important but there are so many others. But then the focus of interest was on military aspects, military applications, and relevance, but not only that.

JOHNSON: Did you feel that the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 nationalized, or socialized, the production and use of atomic energy, and perhaps did this help prepare the way for an advisory committee to the President on science in general?

GOLDEN: Well, I think one thing it did, was to prepare my mind and acquaint me with a very wide range of the scientific community. I got to know them. So I think the answer is "yes," the existence of the AEC and the involvement of scientists in public affairs certainly did help. I hadn't thought of it, but yes, I would say it helped prepare the climate.

JOHNSON: The Military Liaison Committee, that was the contact between the AEC and the Defense Department was it not?

GOLDEN: Right.


JOHNSON: Did you have much interaction with the Military Liaison Committee?

GOLDEN: Yes, I did. As assistant to Lewis Strauss, I had a very broad charter. I was the only assistant; the other commissioners didn't have assistants, and I think I got along well with all of the commissioners, I think with mutual respect and friendship.

JOHNSON: The military was not lobbying for military control, none of the military people that you knew?

GOLDEN: No. The McMahon Act established civilian control. No, I never saw any signs of lobbying to undo what the Act had accomplished. But the Liaison Committee was very important, just as it sounds.

JOHNSON: In your interviews in 1950 the majority of your respondents seemed to feel the RDB, the Research and Development Board, in the Defense Department was not living up to expectations. But most of RDB's critics did not seem to have suggestions that would remedy the problem. Do you recall what might have accounted for this skepticism about the Research and Development Board? I think some of this does come out in the papers, but if you want to elaborate on it a little.

GOLDEN: Well, I think to give you a really thoughtful response to that would take some time. You stimulate


me to think back on those days when Bill Webster was the director, and I knew him well. I knew the cast of characters very well. You know, it's much easier to complain than it is to subscribe, so you've said that in other words, and that was true. I would just say that. There was room for improvement but it was a very useful entity and people wanted it to be more useful. Well, yes, it should have been.

JOHNSON: Sure. Apparently, there was some personality conflict between Vannevar Bush and the President, President Truman.

GOLDEN: Well, they were both very strong-willed people. I knew Van Bush; I got to know him quite well. He was very pleasant and helpful to me. I was quite a young man at the time (born in 1909), and he was helpful. He and Lewis Strauss were not the warmest of friends; they were polite and so on, but Van Bush was a very independent character. So was Harry Truman; and Lewis Strauss was, in a different way. So I think there were some, yes, personality tensions there.

JOHNSON: But did that retard progress toward important goals as far as you could see?

GOLDEN: I'm not mindful of that.

JOHNSON: Now Dr. [James B.] Conant, he appeared to favor a


very strong military role, if not control, in the AEC and he thought the "new OSRD" (Office of Scientific Research and Development) should be in the Department of Defense. Was that not an unusual position for a top-flight civilian scientist to take?

GOLDEN: I would really have to refresh my memory on Jim Conant's positions on these matters. In general, I think what you have said is consistent with my memory. As you stated it, if it's not overstated, and I'm not sure, he was unusual in that; yes, very much so.

JOHNSON: I notice you apparently were especially "sold" on Mervin Kelly, Assistant Director of Bell Laboratories?


JOHNSON: He was in industrial research, and not a university prof or a college president. Kelly recommended [J. Robert] Oppenheimer as an adviser. Was Oppenheimer under a cloud yet in December of 1950?

JOHNSON: No, but yes. Oppenheimer had always been suspect by General Groves, who had kept very close tabs on him and no doubt had him tapped and whatnot. But Groves also used Oppenheimer very effectively. They were a marvelous team, but General Groves was very suspicious, concerned, or mindful of early associations with Communists that Robert Oppenheimer had. There was


that, but at any rate, no charges had been brought against Oppenheimer at the time.

Let me say right here that I think that was a tragic episode for the United States that those kind of charges were brought against Oppenheimer who was a very talented, albeit somewhat inscrutable, man; who also had a kind of arrogance, which led him to think that he was above the rules in some ways. It got him into trouble, and he lied, and the like. But I think that the bringing of the charges and the revocation of his security clearance were unnecessary. His clearance could have been just left to run off. I think it was a tragic misfortune for the United States, for American science; it divided the camp. There was a clash of personalities underlying all of this. That's an aside.

JOHNSON: Did you interview Edward Teller at the time?

GOLDEN: Well, yes, I knew Teller. I've known him. I don't recall whether I had an interview with him in that collection or not. I don't think so; but I had known him before.*

JOHNSON: Was he ever considered for that role of science adviser?

*Edward Teller is not listed among those individuals interviewed by William T. Golden in 1950 51.


GOLDEN: I don't think so, not to my knowledge. No, I don't think so. Certainly not by me. It was a very informal situation there in the White House staff and the Bureau of the Budget, the way these things came about. I made my recommendations and Truman took them, presumably took them with him for the weekend; came back on Monday, "approved HST." When Harry Truman had confidence in somebody, like he did, of course, especially in Dean Acheson, he delegated. He had confidence and he went along.

JOHNSON: And Teller, of course, became sort of the antagonist to Oppenheimer and that...

GOLDEN: That came a little later.

JOHNSON: Yes, after the Truman period.

GOLDEN: The conflict of personality was underlying. That was not an issue at that time of my job for President Truman. I got along well with both of them.

JOHNSON: One question that seemed not to come up in your interviews was that of possible conflicts of interest if a corporate executive were to serve as science adviser. Would it not have raised questions if an executive of Standard Oil, DuPont, Monsanto, or such were to be selected for that position? Was there concern at all?


GOLDEN: I don't think so. The climate was different in those days. You know, it certainly was not of any significant concern, and in my opinion it shouldn't have been if you are dealing with honorable people. It wasn't at that time. But it's different now.

JOHNSON: Getting back to Oppenheimer, according to your memoranda on December 20, 1950 he took a position against a science adviser to the President; later he changed to a kind of a neutral position, and then he had "no confidence that any one man could have a comprehensive knowledge of even the major directions of military research and development." But he came around to accepting the idea of adviser as sort of a "Minister without Portfolio."


JOHNSON: Oppenheimer was not in favor of a "new OSRD," which would have been an idea carried over from World War II.

GOLDEN: That's right. That was one of the questions that was put to me: should we reestablish the OSRD? I said, "No, you should not reestablish it."

JOHNSON: Robert Bacher -- I was going to ask if he was a protege of Oppenheimer's, but it was Robert Serber I was thinking of. What do you recall of Robert Bacher?


GOLDEN: Robert Bacher was one of the members of the first commission, one of the first five commissioners, a physicist. He and Oppenheimer had worked together at Los Alamos. They knew each other, and I guess quite well. Bacher was a very thoughtful man, and one of the most effective members of that commission. I realized it as soon as I saw him; he had my great respect and admiration for an open-minded thinking machine.

JOHNSON: Well, apparently Bacher, Oppenheimer, and Charles Lauritsen were all very much in favor of a strong grants program, in the NSF.


JOHNSON: To train new young scientists and post doctorals, too. But Oppenheimer said that basic research could not really be categorized by areas "covered and uncovered."

I think Oppenheimer did see the problems of trying to categorize basic science at least for purposes maybe of an advisory committee, or adviser to the President. He apparently just felt that would be such a difficult job that he wasn't sure anybody could really fill the bill.

GOLDEN: I think that's right, and it was a difficult job. My feeling was that it's better to do as well as one


can than to have nothing, or to have some elaborate kind of committee structure. But he came around to be fully supportive, Robert Oppenheimer did, as you will find in those memoranda.

JOHNSON: I notice that John Steelman preferred to have somebody with industrial background. I wonder if you have any idea why that might be...

GOLDEN: Well, John Steelman had done a report before my time there, but not so far before, and the Steelman report, in several volumes, really didn't enter into my work at all. I met him once, and that was all. He had withdrawn and he was not involved. As far as I know, he was not consulted. He may have been, but not to my knowledge. It was a very informal group there, of Lawton and especially Stauffacher and Staats. There were few of the President's staff people; there was [Donald] Dawson, the personnel director. It was just a little group. It was a wonderfully enlightening experience for me, and quite easy walking around those halls.

JOHNSON: The Steelman report was part of the background briefing or background information that you used -- or did it offer much help to you at all?

GOLDEN: Not very much, no. It was a useful document, but


it did not enter into my thought processes particularly at all.

JOHNSON: I noticed Conant continued to favor a committee over an individual adviser, and he believed the National Academy of Sciences should be made more useful, including recommending names for adviser or the committee, and that the RDB must be strengthened. You told Conant that he and Oppenheimer "were the principal, in fact, virtually the only non-agreers to the idea of a scientific adviser to the President."

GOLDEN: Yes. But then Oppenheimer came round to be quite supportive. I don't remember about Jim Conant. Really he was not in opposition. You're ahead of me because you've looked at the record more recently.

JOHNSON: The Killian Review Group Conferences at the RDB in mid-December 1950 apparently resulted in a recommendation agreeing with your own, that the position of science adviser to the President should be established. You submitted your recommendation for such a post to the President on December 29, 1950 -- although I think that the memo itself was dated December 18.

GOLDEN: That sounds about right.

JOHNSON: Yet, on January 3, 1951 the National Science Board


of the NSF voted to oppose the plan for a science adviser to the President. The Board feared the science adviser post would reduce the status of the NSF and interfere with its funding. Then in February, the next month, the National Science Board dropped its opposition to the science adviser and decided that emphasis should be, of course, on nonmilitary research.

Now, it's not quit clear to me why this flip-flop occurred. Do you recall the nature of that controversy?

GOLDEN: Well, of course, I was not on the inside of the National Science Foundation, although I had been influential in the selection of the members of it, and very influential, as it turned out, in the selection of Alan Waterman to be the director. Very important on the National Science Board was Detlev Bronk. You've not mentioned his name, but Detlev Bronk was strongly influential in bringing the Science Board around to accepting this document.

You'll find that there is an article, which you may have, by Bronk, that appeared in Science many years later.* [It deals with] the genesis, or origin, of

*Detlev Bronk, "Science Advice in the White House: The Genesis of the President's Science Advisers and the National Science Foundation," Science, Vol. 186 (October 11, 1974), pp. 116-121, reprinted in William T. Golden (Guest Ed.), Science Advice to the President (New York: Pergamon Press, 1980), pp. 245-256.


the Science Adviser and the genesis of the National Science Foundation. Something like that was the title. That's, I think, quite an important document. It gives the history very clearly from one who was right on the inside. It's in my first book.

JOHNSON: In fact, I have a note here concerning Detlev Bronk, and his article on "Science Advice in the White House," in a special issue of Technology in Society, Volume 2, 1980.

GOLDEN: That's where it was reprinted. Yes.

JOHNSON: He claims that General Lucius Clay, Assistant Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization, was the one who changed the idea of an independent science adviser to the President into a committee within the Office of Defense Mobilization. Yet his view was in a minority among the 160-plus persons that you consulted. Do you know why or how Clay had so much clout, apparent clout, in getting this view accepted?

GOLDEN: Well, Clay was a very strong man in the Office of Defense Mobilization. What was done, ultimately, was a compromise. He accepted the idea of a science adviser, an individual who became Oliver Buckley, but had him located in the Office of Defense Mobilization rather than directly reporting to the President. What I


negotiated out of that was that, first, there would be a single science adviser, with a President's Science Advisory Committee, which I had recommended. But I accepted the compromise that he be located in the ODM, as it was called, but that he would also have -- he or she I'd say now, but I wouldn't have said then -- should have direct access to the President as well. That is the way it came out and is so recorded in the press release that announced the appointment, and so on.*

Now, why Clay had such clout, he was a very strong man. He had had a great reputation rightly as a military man, and he had made the conversion into civilian status quite effectively, which few military do so well. He later went on to be a corporate head. He was strong and able, and influential therefore. So I was disappointed in that, but was glad to get out with a compromise in the negotiations with the Budget Director and the President.

JOHNSON: You mentioned Oliver Buckley, who was the first chairman of that advisory committee.

GOLDEN: He was the first science advisor, yes.

*The press release issued by the White House on April 20, 1951 states, "Eleven of the nation's top scientists were named today by President Truman to a Science Advisory Committee of the Office of Defense Mobilization, to advise the President and Mobilization Director Charles E. Wilson in matters relating to Scientific Research and Development for defense." Also see below.


JOHNSON: Wasn't his title Chairman of the Science Advisory Committee?

GOLDEN: Yes, it was.

JOHNSON: Was it understood then at the time that he could report directly to the President as well as to the director of ODM with Charlie Wilson, "Electric Charlie" Wilson.

GOLDEN: That's right.

JOHNSON: I guess what you've already said was that he could report directly to the President without going through Wilson.

GOLDEN: Yes, that's correct. And the document of appointment states that.

JOHNSON: Somewhere along the way, apparently in February of 1951, you began referring to an Advisory Committee on Defense Scientific Research as if it were no longer feasible to refer to a science adviser to the President. So there's perhaps a little change in emphasis; or was there any kind of change in emphasis by putting Defense in that title?

GOLDEN: Yes, there was a little because it was in the Office of Defense Mobilization, and because actually what started all of this was the outbreak of the Korean


War, in the summer of 1950.

JOHNSON: June of '50.

GOLDEN: Yes. That caused some Congressional leaders to press President Truman: "What are you going to do? The scientists were so great in World War II, shouldn't you reestablish the Office of Scientific Research and Development?" The President thought about this, and talked to his staff. Then, they turned to me and asked if I would study the question and advise the President as to what ought to be done about reforming an Office of Scientific Research and Development, or what. It was the outbreak of the Korean War that was the...

JOHNSON: Was the idea initiated in Congress? Was it a joint committee in Congress?

GOLDEN: No, it was Congressional leaders.

JOHNSON: Some Congressional leaders.

GOLDEN: [John] McCormack was one of them, and there was something called the "Big Four," and they would have been the leaders.* I would have to stop and think of the names, but they had an influence with the President and seemed to be pushing him. I learned this from the

*In 1950 the "Big Four" included, besides McCormack, Congressman Sam Rayburn, Senator Scott Lucas, and Vice-President Alben Barkley.


Budget Director and the Assistant Director. So, they were stimulators of the President.

JOHNSON: Of course, in December 1950 the Chinese intervened; so the fortunes of the war turned, and we were on the defensive. In fact, the UN forces were being shoved back rather rapidly. Did that kind of create a sense of panic on this, or urgency?

GOLDEN: Oh, no, no.

JOHNSON: That didn't add to the sense of urgency, as far as you remember?

GOLDEN: Well, that might have, but I don't recall that there was a dramatic surge. It wasn't like Pearl Harbor, or Sputnik.

JOHNSON: On March 7, 1951, Robert Oppenheimer agreed with you about the usefulness of such a committee. You disagreed with him, however, on the need for this committee to have relations with the NSC, the National Security Council, and JCS, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on matters of common interest. You said these organizations would have matters of their own to keep them busy, and so apparently you were telling Oppenheimer that you didn't think this committee should get involved with the NSC and JCS.


GOLDEN: Well, I don't know about that. I'm rather surprised to hear that. I would really want to read all of what I said because I think that's out of context. I'm surprised by that, because I expect I would have thought there should be a closer interrelationship, and so I really had better read what I said about that. If you'll give me that reference, because I think what we're going to have to do, if you think it's worth your time, is continue this over the telephone if you're prepared to do that.

JOHNSON: Well, I didn't have too much left here. How many more minutes do you have?

GOLDEN: I've got about three or four minutes. I'd rather, if you're prepared to do it -- we know each other now -- to call you on the phone. You could put your recorder on, if you want to and we can carry on almost as well. I'd rather do that than just truncate this. I really would like to look up the reference you just said about NSC and me and Robert Oppenheimer being in disagreement about that.

JOHNSON: The date is March 7, 1951.

GOLDEN: Well, that's good enough. I'll find it. Why don't we recess at this point.



Since Mr. Golden was short of time on June 24, '89, we decided that we would finish this interview with a telephone conversation on August 1, 1989.


Second Oral History Interview with William T. Golden, August 1, 1989, Washington, D.C By Niel M. Johnson, Harry S. Truman Library.

JOHNSON: I have Mr. Golden on the telephone. I'll start out by summarizing a couple of reports that you did which are in our collections. One report was directed to President Truman on December 18, 1950 in which you argued for a scientific adviser to assist the President on scientific matters. The second report was a memorandum entitled "Program for the National Science Foundation" that you submitted to the Director of BoB [Bureau of the Budget] in February 1951.

I might just summarize by saying that your memo seems to emphasize the value of basic versus applied science; the establishment of a scholarship, fellowship and grants program; and compiling an inventory of basic science projects in the United States.

Then, another major concern was the Research and Development Board [RDB] in the Defense Department and the need to overhaul it. I think that's the subject we want to get into. Again, I have some introductory comments before I get to this question. Your memos of conversation on the RDB indicate general dissatisfaction with the RDB among leaders in American science. There are implications that it suffered from inter-service rivalries, paperwork overload, excessive size of the staff, and maybe even some incompetence


among . . .

GOLDEN: Maybe some what?

JOHNSON: Some incompetence among staff members. Well, it was kind of a bureaucratic overload; that is the impression I get. And there apparently were problems with controlling its budgets and finances, and so you suggested two deputies under the director; one to review and approve budgets, and the other to deal only with scientific matters.

You had a number of discussions on this issue in January through March of 1951, and you found general agreement on a need for revamping the RDB. Another suggestion that you came up with was to make the RDB advisory only, with no general authority. On April 19, 1951, you submitted a memorandum to Robert Lovett, Deputy Secretary of Defense, about the Research and Development Board.

GOLDEN: What date was that did you say?

JOHNSON: April 19, 1951. And you recommended George Merck as a new chairman for the RDB and the one to reorganize it. But I look in vain for a description of your proposed radical changes in the organization of RDB, and my question is, "Was such a report prepared, and if so, are any copies available of that?"


GOLDEN: Well, I would not want to rely on my memory of almost forty years ago. I do have in front of me a copy of my volume of memos. Would you tell me again the date of what you referred to, on my memo about the RDB?

JOHNSON: Well, April 19, 1951 was your memorandum to Robert Lovett.

GOLDEN: Let me find that here. Okay, page 427. We'll see how well this is numbered. Your question is whether there is in existence, whether I wrote my observations in greater detail, is that it?

JOHNSON: Yes, basically.

GOLDEN: A copy of that can be found. I won't keep you waiting while I read these two pages of my memo, but does it indicate that I have written a more detailed proposal?

JOHNSON: No, I don't necessarily get that indication. There are clues and hints in some of your memos of conversation about the type of problems with the RDB. I've mentioned some of these concerns and I just wondered if a formal report, or memo, was prepared on that particular situation.

GOLDEN: Well, would it be sensible, Dr. Johnson, for me to


make a note of this, and look at this and then call you back in a week or so? I'll be away the balance of this week.

JOHNSON: I'll be gone until the 29th of August. I'm going to be gone until the end of August. But there's no rush. If you want to call me back in September and if there is a report like this, we might want to make it an appendix, or get it into your collection here.

GOLDEN: At any rate, let me just jot this down -- some of the things I ought to look into, and try to get back to you as soon as I can. The first thing then is page 427, my memo to Robert and the RDB, and the question is do I have any more detailed description of what I recommended?

JOHNSON: Right, and if you have any knowledge of whether this type of reorganization ever took place. That would be fine.

GOLDEN: Let me jot that question down here then.

JOHNSON: All right.

GOLDEN: I'm writing down this question: Do I find any more details, comments by myself about this. Second, was any action taken; and third, if I don't know, who might know who's still alive; that's the real question. So


I've got that down on that.

JOHNSON: Okay. Then I notice the last memo for file that you have in your collection is April 26, 1951. Is that when you considered your assignment to be completed?

GOLDEN: Well, let me look and see. April 26: "I've had relevant conversations with the following this week." Is that the one you're referring to?

JOHNSON: I believe that's the one.

GOLDEN: Yes, that's the last one chronologically, and it certainly looks as though, because I was so brief there, that I was winding down. I can look it up, but I would guess that from the look of this that that would be so. In fact, I see here, Friday, April 27, among the people I spoke to, "See Stauffacher" and I put "wind-up" in brackets after it. As he was the assistant director of the Bureau of the Budget with whom I had very close association, that looks that way.

JOHNSON: Well, we can say the end of April it appears that you wound it up. Did you return then to the AEC as a consultant?

GOLDEN: Well, yes, I remained as a consultant to the Atomic Energy Commission for some years. I would have to look it up.


JOHNSON: I think it was to 1958.

GOLDEN: But that was very much part-time. I then went back to various board memberships and the like.

JOHNSON: I see, yes. I notice Lewis Strauss was a member of the AEC from 1948 to '50 and then was a financial consultant to the Rockefellers in 1950. In 1953 he was named chairman of the AEC. Do you recall what kind of a relationship Strauss had with President Truman?

GOLDEN: Oh, yes. His relations with President Truman were quite cordial. There was an intimacy and a mutual confidence that was encouraged by the relationship that Admiral Strauss had with Sidney Souers, also a reserve Rear Admiral, who was a very close associate of President Truman. He would have known him from St. Louis for many years and who was, after a career in the Navy in World War II, the first head of the National Security Council.


GOLDEN: Admiral Souers and Strauss were quite friendly, in a mutually respectful way. Admiral Souers and I had a very close relationship, I think growing partly out of that.

JOHNSON: Do you know why he resigned there in 1950 from the



GOLDEN: No. I think he had, for quite some months, been building up to resigning, but why he chose that particular time I don't know. In fact, I was gone already at that time. But he had been talking about it on and off. He mentioned to me that well, he wanted to pick a time to retire from the commission, so he had been brooding over that. But I don't know why he picked that particular time.

JOHNSON: I see. R. Gordon Arneson, who was assistant to Webb, says he was persona non grata with Admiral Strauss.

GOLDEN: R. Gordon Arneson said he was persona non grata with Strauss?

JOHNSON: Do you recall anything about that?

GOLDEN: No, I don't recall. Admiral Strauss had rather clearly defined judgments about people. I just don't recall what his feelings were about Gordon Arneson. Of course, I remember Gordon Arneson, but I don't recall that.

JOHNSON: Strauss, I understand, did lobby for developing the hydrogen bomb.

GOLDEN: Yes, he did.


JOHNSON: Were you involved in any discussions about that with Admiral Strauss?

GOLDEN: Well, I was involved very much in conversations about that "Super" as it was called in those days. It was just in the normal course of our conversations and considerations at the Atomic Energy Commission while I was there. Then, I wrote a letter to Admiral Strauss which was in the general documentation, I find; I handwrote him a letter in September, 1949, a classified, top secret letter from Florence, Italy which I sent by the diplomatic pouch. That was written immediately, immediately the day after, or the night of, the announcement by President Truman that the Russians had exploded an atomic device.

I wrote him, setting forth why I thought active steps should now be taken to go after the hydrogen bomb on our part, while also carrying on concurrently negotiations with the Russians, to try to prevent the necessity for actually making any such weapons. In other words, I wrote, urging that we go ahead with the r