Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 8

This is the eighth volume in the series of Memorial Tributes compiled by the National Academy of Engineering as a personal remembrance of the lives and outstanding achievements of its members and international members. These volumes are intended to stand as an enduring record of the many contributions of engineers and engineering to the benefit of humankind. In most cases, the authors of the tributes are contemporaries or colleagues who had personal knowledge of the interests and the engineering accomplishments of the deceased.


This is the eighth volume in the series of Memorial Tributes compiled by the National Academy of Engineering as a personal remembrance of the lives and outstanding achievements of its members and international members. These volumes are intended to stand as an enduring record of the many contributions of engineers and engineering to the benefit of humankind. In most cases, the authors of the tributes are contemporaries or colleagues who had personal knowledge of the interests and the engineering accomplishments of the deceased.


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  • T. KEITH GLENNAN 1905-1995


    Thomas Keith Glennan, a man of many talents, a visionary, an inspired leader in whatever undertaking he selected, died from a stroke on April 11, 1995, at the age of eighty-nine.

    His career encompassed many diverse activities in which his engineering background, his management skills, and his power of persuasion were most valuable. Starting as an engineer and a manager in the motion picture industry, he served at various times as director of a defense-oriented laboratory, president of a major technology-oriented university, and president of a research laboratory management organization. Public service, high on his agenda, included responsibilities as a commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Whatever his position, his commitment was total.

    Keith Glennan was born in Enderlin, North Dakota, on September 8, 1905, the son of a railroad dispatcher. He spent most of his youth in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, graduating from the public schools in 1922. After a short stay at Wisconsin State Teachers College, Eau Claire, he entered Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University in 1924 and graduated cum laude with a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1927.

    As with many other college graduates, Keith got more out of Yale than a college degree. In the course of working his way, he met a noted Yale economist, Thomas Sewell Adams, whose daughter Ruth he married. Their union in 1931 provided Keith with never-ending loving support in family and career.

    He entered the motion picture industry—the "talkies"— with Electrical Research Products, Inc., starting with the installation of motion picture sound recording and reproduction equipment in theaters at home and abroad. In England, where he was manager of Western Electric Company, Ltd., with a staff of about three hundred, he found that he had a taste and a talent for administration of a complex technical organization. At age twenty-three this was heady stuff. His responsibilities increased with expansion of the company's foreign service areas. Upon returning to the United States in 1930, his assignments took him into commercial motion picture production. During his five years at Paramount, he was first operations manager and then studio manager where he provided the logistics necessary to allow the studio's creative teams to stage their productions. He was credited with introducing departments of engineering and of industrial relations to the film industry. In 1941 he became studio manager of Samuel Goldwyn Studios.

    Responding to wartime needs, Glennan joined the Navy Underwater Sound Laboratory in New London, Connecticut, and became its director in December 1942. The laboratory was operated by Columbia University under contract with the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). The laboratory was part of the OSRD family of wartime research and development laboratories. As director, he was brought into contact with others also involved in research and development in the public interest. His contacts with the enlarged company of scientists, engineers, and public servants proved to be most useful in his future undertakings.

    With the termination of the war in Europe, Glennan resigned his position to return to the business world. After two years with the Ansco Division of General Aniline and Film Corporation of Binghamton, New York, he looked for new challenges. Whatever mission he undertook, his objective was to make a difference, to make a positive contribution in a short time.

    The presidency of Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio, was neither the first nor the last challenge that Keith Glennan accepted. His goal at Case was to make it one of the top five or six engineering schools in the country. The physical plant was expanded and improved. The creation of an engineering division enhanced the institute's reputation as a scientific and technical institution. Case programs emphasized mathematics, chemistry, and physics, and to provide a broader education, a humanities program was geared to the interests of engineers. The institution grew rapidly in enrollment, physical plant, endowment, and prestige.

    In his visionary way, Glennan recognized the merits of affiliating two great academic institutions, Case with its science and technology programs coupled with Western Reserve's liberal arts, law, and medical schools. Glennan and John S. Millis of Western Reserve initiated the process that culminated in Case Western Reserve University in 1967.

    Although dedicated to Case, Glennan could not refuse the call to Washington by two presidents—Truman's in 1950 to become a commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Eisenhower's in 1958 to become the first administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). For each assignment of approximately two years, he took leave from Case, but continued close contacts.

    The period of Glennan's tenure on the AEC was one that required major decisions to be made—the U.S. response to the emerging nuclear weapons program of the Soviet Union, the need for a second weapons development laboratory, the relationship between the Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission involving "civilian control" of nuclear weapons, and the role of private industry in the development of nuclear power. He was an active participant in all aspects of the commission's deliberations.

    In the late summer of 1952, the AEC started to focus on the need to inform the next president of the United States on AEC programs and long-term goals. Day-to-day issues squeezed out long-term planning. To quote the AEC history, "Glennan, who was always seeking a higher perspective for looking at Commission business . . . suggested that the commissioners get away from Washington for a few days to consider some of the broad questions." Conference "Topnotch" held only a month before Glennan's return to Case was a great success. It provided an opportunity for the commissioners to work together toward common goals and a basis for informing the incoming president.

    The role of industry in the development of nuclear industry was not clear. Government controls, including classification and control of nuclear material, complicated matters. Glennan had long urged industry to become more involved, and in April 1953, former Commissioner Glennan announced the formation of the Atomic Industrial Forum, an organization of businessman, engineers, scientists, and educators interested in the development and applications of atomic energy. Following several metamorphoses, it now exists as the Nuclear Energy Institute.

    Glennan's second leave of absence from Case was at the request of President Eisenhower to become the first director of NASA. The President's Science Advisory Committee had recommended that all nonmilitary space efforts be assigned to a strengthened and renamed National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Glennan's condition of acceptance was that Hugh Dryden, then NACA's director, become the NASA deputy director. A major achievement in the early years was bringing together the facilities and the expertise of the staffs of NACA, the Navy Vanguard project, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. The planning, design, research, development, and procurement of the basic tools and facilities carried out by the new NASA provided a solid base for the space launches of the Kennedy period. As he had done during his tenure as an AEC commissioner, he supported a strong role for private industry, this time for communication and satellites in space.

    Glennan's diary reveals how clearly he understood the tenor of the cold war atmosphere of the late 1950s. "I came to realize," he recalled in 1990, "that we couldn't have a program at all if we didn't have one that was exciting to the people. That was the reason for manned spaceflight. But I was interested in what the law required us to do for the benefit of mankind." He fashioned a program that incorporated a healthy human spaceflight element with a solid science and application basis. With the change to the Kennedy administration, Glennan returned to Case.

    Keith Glennan was devoted to Case. It had grown and flourished under his guiding hand. Even while in Washington, he kept in contact. For Case he envisioned greater things to come and to be done, new directions, development fund drives, and the merger with Western Reserve. These were not to be overnight achievements; he concluded they should be the responsibility of a successor.

    In 1965 Glennan became president of Associated Universities Inc., the nonprofit organization that operates the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) for the Department of Energy and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) for the National Science Foundation. BNL and NRAO were operating successfully under strong directors, and the prospects for new projects where the corporation's expertise might be applied were bleak. Stimulated by Glennan, the trustees, during a retreat considered long-range objectives for the corporation. The resulting consensus was that while open to new endeavors, the corporation should, for the present, concentrate on its ongoing activities.

    Throughout the years Glennan was active as a director of numerous public and private organizations. He was a member of the National Science Board and the Atomic Energy Commission's General Advisory Committee. He was a trustee of The Rand Corporation, a trustee of The Aerospace Corporation, and a consultant to the Department of State and the Department of Energy (DOE). For State he produced a report on technology and foreign affairs that emphasized the vital role played by science attaches in the embassies; for DOE he headed an advisory committee on a new reactor for the production of special nuclear material and tritium; for the Exxon Corporation he chaired a committee to advise on the application of nuclear material safeguards to the AVLIS process, a laser separation process for enrichment of uranium.

    In 1970 he was appointed U.S. representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by President Nixon and became heavily involved in international affairs. The Eisenhower Atoms for Peace initiative in 1953 gave rise to making the peaceful benefits of atomic energy available to all nations that refrained from developing or acquiring nuclear explosives. The IAEA was established to ensure that the member countries abided by their agreed upon undertakings. Glennan was a most active participant. When Congress limited the U.S. contribution to the budgets of the United Nations and its affiliated agencies to twenty-five percent, he intervened with congressional leaders who appreciated the role of the IAEA in the administration of nuclear material safeguards and obtained an exemption for the agency. He recognized the importance of strong support if IAEA's technical assistance programs for developing nations and sponsored such studies even to the extent of obtaining external funding. The United States had an important leadership role in the AIEA and provided an excellent and respectful representative, both nationally and internationally.

    As previously stated, Glennan undertook tasks where he believed he could make a difference. When he had achieved his goal, he moved on. He resigned as ambassador to the IAEA but continued his strong support of its programs. He was convinced that more and better information was needed for the legislative and executive branches of government and for the public concerning the crucial role of the AIEA in the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Obtaining private funds, he sponsored studies under the aegis of Resources for the Future (RFF). This activity resulted in a widely distributed publication entitled The Nonproliferation Role of the International Energy Agency. Responding to Keith's enthusiasm, the National Academy of Engineering investigated setting up an international network involving foreign academies that could interact on a nongovernmental basis in support of international safeguards. Private funding that was required for NAE sponsorship was not forthcoming.

    Glennan's initial effort with RFF became a continuing program under the Atlantic Council. This program now encompasses the entire field of nonproliferation and, through discussion groups, brings together experts and other interested persons in the Washington community. T. Keith Glennan received many honors. He became a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1967 and served on the Academy's Council (1969 to 1970) and on the editorial board of the Bridge (1983 to 1986). He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His honorary degrees are numerous. His government recognition includes the United States Medal for Merit (1946), the NASA Distinguished Service Medal (1966), and the Department of State Distinguished Honor Award (1973). He received the Henry DeWolf Smyth Statesman Award in 1988.

    A memorial service held in May 1995 touched on Keith's career, but, more important, it reflected on his philosophy and values. The messages were conveyed by family members in words and song and by quotations from his diaries and from his letters to his children and grandchildren. We who had worked with him professionally were privileged to share this with his wonderful family.

    Few individuals starting with an engineering degree have contributed to so many diverse fields of endeavor as did Keith Glennan. In spite of declining health, he continued to make a difference.

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