DuBridge, Lee A. (Lee Alvin), 1901-1994

Alternative names
Birth 1901-09-21
Death 1994-01-23

Biographical notes:

Lee DuBridge was President of the California Institute of Technology from 1946-1969.

From the description of Space Research, 1958. (Jet Propulsion Laboratory Library and Archives). WorldCat record id: 733095203

DuBridge was President of Caltech.

From the description of No Shakeup in JPL Management Due, 1964 Feb. (Jet Propulsion Laboratory Library and Archives). WorldCat record id: 733096493

From the description of Confirmation of Conditions for Relations Between NASA and JPL : letter to Hugh Dryden, NASA, 1961 Feb 21. (Jet Propulsion Laboratory Library and Archives). WorldCat record id: 733095760

From the description of Objectives of the Space Program : text of speech, 1965 May. (Jet Propulsion Laboratory Library and Archives). WorldCat record id: 733099027

From the description of NASA-JPL Relationships : letter to T. Keith Glennan, NASA Administrator, 1959 Aug 14. (Jet Propulsion Laboratory Library and Archives). WorldCat record id: 733096432

Lee Alvin DuBridge (1901-1994). Physicist. Professor of Physics (Chair), University of Rochester (1934-1940) where he designed and oversaw construction of a (8MeV) cyclotron that led to the discovery of the proton-neutron (p-n) reaction; director of MIT's Radiation Laboratory (1940-1945); president, California Institute of Technology (1946-1969).

From the description of Papers, 1932-1986. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 81192578

DuBridge was President of Caltech. Pickering was Director of JPL.

From the description of Transfer of JPL from Army Ordnance to NASA : press release, Joint Statement by DuBridge and Pickering, 1958. (Jet Propulsion Laboratory Library and Archives). WorldCat record id: 733095994


Lee Alvin DuBridge, president of the California Institute of Technology from 1946 to 1969, was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on September 21, 1901. He majored in physics at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and received his PhD in 1926 from the University of Wisconsin. The subject of his thesis, the photoelectric effect, continued to occupy him during his first postdoctoral years, initially as a National Research Council fellow at Caltech under Robert A. Millikan (1926-1928), and subsequently as assistant professor of physics at Washington University, St. Louis. DuBridge co-authored Photoelectric Phenomena (1932) with Arthur L. Hughes, chairman of physics at Washington University, and later published his own book, New Theories of the Photoelectric Effect, in 1935.

Meanwhile, in 1934, DuBridge was recruited to be the new chairman of the physics department at the University of Rochester. There he and S. W. Barnes designed and oversaw construction of an eight-million electron-volt (8 MeV) cyclotron, the most powerful instrument of its kind in the United States at that time, and only the third in existence--the other two were located at Berkeley and Princeton. The cyclotron led to their discovery of the proton-neutron (p-n) reaction.

In the fall of 1940 DuBridge was called to a still larger scientific and administrative enterprise: the founding directorship of MIT's Radiation Laboratory (the "Rad Lab"). At this time, the importance of radar to military achievements had already been demonstrated in Europe. The Rad Lab would be responsible for the development and manufacture of most of the Allied forces radar capability for the remainder of World War II. Several accounts of the Rad Lab have been published, most significant among these Henry Guerlac's Radar in World War II (1987). Researchers should also consult DuBridge's own unpublished memoir of his time at the Rad Lab at the Caltech Archives and the diary of his London trip in 1943 in his papers. In 1942 DuBridge was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

After the war, DuBridge returned to Rochester, but his stay was to be brief. He was soon persuaded by Max Mason, his former professor from University of Wisconsin and a Caltech trustee, to take on the presidency of Caltech as successor to Robert A. Millikan. In the twenty-two years that he was to occupy this position, DuBridge left an indelible mark on Caltech. He began with solving the multitude of problems attending the transition of the Institute from wartime to postwar research. The hiring of new faculty, the procurement of federal sponsorship for basic scientific research, and the creation of a new administration were among these activities. In the latter category fell the recruitment of Robert F. Bacher to be chairman of the physics division and ultimately Caltech's first provost. During Bacher's tenure, Caltech's physics program was preeminent and boasted several resident Nobel laureates: Carl Anderson, Richard Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann and William A. Fowler (Fowler received the prize in 1983 but did his Nobel-winning work in astrophysics during the Bacher-DuBridge years). DuBridge presided over the dedication of the 200-inch telescope on Mount Palomar--then the world's largest optical telescope--and the formation of the joint Caltech-Carnegie Institution of Washington council to run the Palomar and Mount Wilson observatories.

In 1952, Caltech began the building of its own one-billion electron-volt (1 BeV) synchrotron. Outside of physics DuBridge also promoted the expansion of other divisions. He supported new directions in biology, building from a strong foundation in genetics under Thomas Hunt Morgan and George Beadle to include molecular and behavioral biology, through the work of Max Delbürck and Roger Sperry (all four cited biologists were also Nobel laureates). To Caltech's programs in chemistry, geology and planetary science, and in engineering DuBridge brought new financial and administrative support, new faculty and new ideas. Under his leadership, Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was converted to the peacetime business of unmanned space exploration and transferred to the newly created NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), while retaining Caltech's management.

DuBridge was active in many professional, educational and civic organizations. He also held prominent posts in Washington, beginning with his tenure on and eventual chairmanship of the Presidential Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) in both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations (1951-1958). Upon his retirement from Caltech in 1969, he was called back to Washington by President Richard Nixon to serve as his science advisor (1969-1970).

Lee DuBridge was married to Doris Koht DuBridge, and they had two children. After his wife's death in 1973, he married Arrola Bush Cole. DuBridge died of pneumonia in Duarte, California, just east of Pasadena, on January 23, 1994, at the age of 92. His admirable personal and intellectual qualities made him effective both as a leader and as an eloquent spokesman for science, technology and education. He has been called by one Caltech trustee "a towering figure in Caltech's history and in the world of science and engineering." For a fuller account of his life and science, including mention of advisory positions, board memberships and awards, readers should consult the Biographical Memoir by Jesse Greenstein (National Academy of Sciences, 1997).

Charlotte E. Erwin, Associate Archivist, July 2000

From the guide to the Lee A. DuBridge papers, 1932-1986, (California Institute of Technology. Archives.)


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