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Homer J. Stewart Oral History Interview with Shirley Cohen (supplement)

 Digital Record
Identifier: 2016-02-17-000150


  • Other: 2016 February 17


Two interviews with Homer J. Stewart, aeronautical engineer and Caltech Professor of Aeronautics, 1942-1980, and Caltech alumnus (PhD, 1940). The interview by John L. Greenburg is in four sessions in October and November of 1982. A supplemental interview was conducted by Shirley K. Cohen in November 1993. The first interview covers Stewart's youth and education (B.Aero.E., University of Minnesota, 1936) and his early interest in aeronautic technology. Comes to Caltech for graduate study in aeronautics, 1936-1940 (PhD, 1940); courses with faculty members W. Smythe, R. C. Tolman, E. T. Bell, M. Ward, H. Bateman. Comments on critical roles of Theodore von Kármán and Clark Millikan in establishment of graduate program known as GALCIT [Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology]; creation of GALCIT wind tunnel for testing; advancement of aeronautical engineering education; and linking of GALCIT to burgeoning California aerospace industry. Von Kármán's identification of new technologies; his bridging of industry and academe; similar integrating approach applied to founding of Jet Propulsion Laboratory [JPL]. Discusses GALCIT's role in the development of commercial aviation in the 1930s. Appointment to professorial rank (1942) and wartime teaching and research on meteorology; comments on Irving Krick at Caltech. Discusses beginnings of rocketry at Caltech and his own pioneering contributions; work of Frank Malina and H. S. Tsien. Postwar separation of Caltech and JPL and formation of NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration]; takes half-time position at JPL. 1950s top secret work for government on guided missile and satellite programs, including Atlas, Polaris, Jupiter; various controversies over competing missile designs, especially Vanguard, during space race with Soviets. Advising on Apollo lunar program. His work on windmill technology. The 1993 interview captures in fuller detail Stewart's memories of his service to government agencies and congressional committees during World War II and the years of the Cold War. It includes further reminiscences of Von Kármán and Clark Millikan, and other Caltech colleagues Maurice Biot, Fritz Zwicky, and Howard McCoy; the Caltech wind tunnel; details of airplane design; and observations on the establishment and growth of California's aerospace industry. A list of Stewart's government and industry affiliations is included as an appendix.

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