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Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science that Changed the Course of World War II.

By Jennet Conant. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. 330 pages. $26.00.

The "Wall Street Tycoon" in the title refers to the millionaire Alfred Lee Loomis. The "Secret Palace of Science" was his private laboratory of science at his mansion in Tuxedo Park, 40 miles northwest of New York City. It was a meeting place for the most visionary minds of the 20th century. The Loomis laboratory operated from 1926 to the winter of 1940 and played a significant role in the development of radar technology and in nuclear research credited with changing the course of World War II. President Truman awarded Loomis the Presidential Medal of Merit, the highest civilian award, for his contribution as "one of the leading scientific generals of the war." The King of Great Britain awarded him the British Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom. Loomis was a lawyer, businessman, investment banker, physicist, inventor, and philanthropist. His true passion was science. A listing of his scientific publications and patents follows the book's epilogue.

The author's great-uncle William Richards, an accomplished chemist, had worked for 14 years at the laboratory. His suicide in 1940 on the eve of the publication of his novel, Brain Waves and Death, created a mystery for his family. Richards' book, written under a pseudonym, was a thinly veiled account of the scientific laboratory at Tuxedo Park and of the scientists who worked there. The novel and an unpublished short story found in the effects of William Richards about a scientist working to create the first atomic bomb were confiscated by James B. Conant, Richards' brother-in-law and Jennet Conant's grandfather, on the grounds that they were too close to the truth. Through the influence of both James B. Conant and Loomis, the novel quickly dropped out of sight, since it was personally embarrassing to both families (it hinted at an extramarital affair by Loomis) and highly sensitive from a national security perspective.

Jennet Conant's book draws on private, unpublished papers and photographs from the Loomis and Conant families, as well as from the archives of other key scientists and government officials. Part biography, part history of science, part family memoir, it is a tale of the way America brought together the scientific resources to help fight and win World War II.

When war broke out in 1939, Loomis recognized that radar technology would be crucial to the outcome. But in 1940, the Army had ignored radar's potential for defensive action and could not be interested in sponsoring any research. The Navy had developed its own detection devices, but was woefully short of funds to do further research. Through his close relationship with Vannevar Bush, former Vice President of MIT and head of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., and with his first cousin Henry Stimson, who would serve as President Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of War, Loomis was invited to attend top-secret meetings with representatives of the British government. In the fall of 1940, at a conclave at Tuxedo Park, a British delegation, known as the Tizard Mission, demonstrated that they were considerably farther ahead in radar research than the Americans. But in the midst of a battle for survival against the Nazis, the British desperately needed American help to develop and manufacture the new technology.

In November 1940, Loomis shut down his lab in Tuxedo Park and moved his operation to MIT in Cambridge, Mass., where on 11 November 1940 the MIT Radiation Laboratory--the "Rad Lab"--opened to establish the feasibility of microwave radar. With the help of his friend Ernest Lawrence of the University of California, who had already won a Nobel Prize for inventing the atom smasher, Loomis assembled a team of the nation's most gifted young physicists. They helped develop radar devices that helped save London from the blitz, eliminated the threat to North Atlantic shipping from German submarines, and later were effectively used against the German V1 rockets.

By the fall of 1942, when Bush, Conant, and General Leslie Groves took steps to form the highly secret atomic bomb development program, which was then known as the Manhattan Engineering District (later the Manhattan Project), they had to look no further than Loomis's Rad Lab for a readily available pool of brilliant minds to draw on. The author's grandfather, James B. Conant, the president of Harvard University, became the administrator of the Manhattan Project. Loomis took charge of coordinating the radar division. The Rad Lab formally closed on 31 December 1945. It had produced over a hundred distinct radar systems. Most of the physicists returned to their university jobs and resumed their careers as professors and research scientists.

The book's Epilogue highlights the subsequent activities of Loomis and many of his key associates. One wishes the author also had included a list of acronyms and abbreviations, as well as a "family tree" showing the affiliations and relationships of the personnel discussed in the book, which would have made this well-researched, well-documented book a bit easier to follow.

History buffs will enjoy reading this relatively unknown story of the role Alfred Lee Loomis, Wall Street tycoon and amateur physicist, played in financing and mobilizing civilian scientists. Their development of radar systems and work on the atomic bomb played a key role in winning World War II. Additionally, this reviewer especially recommends the book to today's industrialists, research scientists, physicists, and engineers who work with and for the military services and the Defense Department, including members of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and to those elements of the military services responsible for considering technology applications to service needs and requirements. Tuxedo Park will be of interest to a variety of readers.

Colonel Arthur C. Winn, USA Ret., former member of the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College.
COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Army War College
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Author:Winn, Arthur C.
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2003
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