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I.I. Rabi's Outline on the Atomic Bomb, 1945/6


This is a duplicate of a carbon copy document by I.I. Rabi, and is one of 35 documents1 relating to the development of U.S. atomic policy, October 1945-January 1946, that comes from the library of Caryl Haskins2, a close and long-time friend of Vannevar Bush, who worked with Bush throughout World War II at the OSRD, and was executive assistant to Bush at NSRD 1941-1945. Vannevar Bush, one of the most important scientist-advisers of World War II, foresaw the development of the atomic arms race in 1943, and by 1945 became a fundamental thinker and advocate of addressing the problem of atomic information control.  The 35 documents in this collection are–almost without exception–by aides and close colleagues of Bush  who assisted him in formulating the positions and issues, dating from October 1945 through January 1946.   They consist of background papers, drafts of proposals, informal studies, as well as mature statements of thought that would become implemented in the core of U.S. policy regarding the spread and control of atomic weapons.  They are generally carbon typescripts and necessarily of extremely limited distribution, generally have no letterheads, occasionally carry the authors’ full names (although sometimes only initials are used), and 18 are stamped or typed “Secret”.

The sheet by Rabi (1898-1988) is simple but interesting, and in 53 words outlines the issues of the atomic bomb–it is dated November 21, 1945.  IT was typed for Rabi by an assistant (“rb”), and at the bottom as being by Rabi.  Rabi of course played key roles in the development of the bomb, as well as playing a very crucial and critical role in the discussion of the future of atomic weapons. 


  • [These are the two copies of the Rabi outline–the second was Irving Langmuir’s copy. There couldn’t’ve been too many of these made–there would be the original, then perhaps six carbon copies. I any event, it is a rare thing.   $500]


1.  The other contributors in this collection include  President Harry Truman, Secretary of State James Byrnes, Dr. Vannevar Bush, AEC director Carroll Wilson, Alger Hiss, I.I. Rabi, William Shockley, Frederick Dunn, Joseph E. Johnson, Leo Pasvolsky, Philip Morrison, Col. Nicholls, William McRae, Admiral W.H.P. Blandy, George L. Harrison, and others.

2.  Ph.D. Yale ’30 (E.E. at 22), Ph.D. Harvard 1935; LL.D. Carnegie Institute Technology 1955.  He was research associate at MIT 1935-1945;  he was on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Army and Navy, 1947-8; Research Consultant to the Secretary of the Army, 1950; Executive Research Consultant to the Secretary of State 1950-1972  Haskins was on the board of Scientific advisers to President’s Truman and Eisenhower, and succeeded Bush as president of the Carnegie Institution (1956-1973).  He held numerous positions in industry (serving on the board of directors of Dupont Chemical, for example), was a member of the exclusive Council on Foreign Relations (nominating H. Kissinger to the board, for example), a regent of the Smithsonian and National Geographic Society, a fellow of the AAAS, and a trustee of the Educational Testing Service. 

3.  Rabi, who received the Nobel prize in physics, would serve on the General Action Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission following the war, and was later chairman from 1952 to 1956.   

“When I. I. Rabi died at age eighty-nine, many of the world’s leading physicists called him the “dean of world physics.” All physicists recognized in Rabi the mark of an unusual man; he brought together that rare combination of a physicist par excellence, a statesman of science with many tangible accomplishments, an advocate for science with direct links to people in high places, and a savant with uncommon wisdom. In 1938 Rabi discovered the magnetic resonance method and for this he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1944. Rabi could be tough, and his toughness sometimes made people angry; however, even at such times, he was universally admired.”–Dictionary of Scientific Biography, volume 24, p 191