BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Jennet Conant, author of "Tuxedo Park," who was Alfred Lee Loomis?
JENNET CONANT, Author, "Tuxedo Park": Alfred Lee Loomis was a tycoon who lived in Tuxedo Park in the '20s and the '30s, and he made a fortune on Wall Street. And he pursued his hobby, which was physics, and he ended up playing a very large role in World War II.
LAMB:: How did you get interested in this story?
CONANT:: Well, in a sort of a curious way. I had a great uncle who was a chemist, who worked for Loomis in his laboratory, which was housed in a mansion in Tuxedo Park, for about 15 years. And he ended up writing a novel about his experience there that was called "Brain Waves and Death," and it was based on the brain wave experiments that Loomis was doing at the time in his Tuxedo lab. And "Brain Waves and Death" was published in 1940, in January of 1940, just as a lot of experiments and war research was being done in this country and abroad.
And it was a very scandalous happening in the life of my grandfather, who was then president of Harvard, and involved in a lot of the war research. And so it was a family story that I had always heard about, and I decided to look into it, and that led me to Loomis.
LAMB:: Now, there's a picture right here, I believe, of your grandfather.
CONANT:: That would be James B. Conant and his wife, Patty. And that is when he was president of Harvard in the '30s.
LAMB:: Who's the fellow down here?
CONANT:: That would be William Richards, who was my grandmother's brother. And he was a professor of chemistry at Princeton, and he's the author of the book, though he wrote the book under the pseudonym Willard Rich.
LAMB:: Now, how did you first discover all this?
CONANT:: Well, he committed suicide in 1940.
LAMB:: Who did?
CONANT:: Bill Richards, the chemistry professor from Princeton who wrote the novel. And his brother also committed suicide, and it was a rather famous event in my family's life that these two very brilliant brothers would commit suicide. Their father had been a Nobel Prize-winning chemist at Harvard and chairman of the department. And my grandfather had married the Nobel Prize winner's daughter and was a chemistry professor and then went on to become president of the university.
So Bill Richards's suicide, which corresponded with the publication of his novel -- the novel was published about a month after his suicide -- was a terrible event in my grandparents' life because my grandmother was devastated. It was a tragedy. The circumstances surrounding his death were very mysterious. He'd been working for Loomis for 15 years. And this novel, which was a Roman a clef -- it was very thinly veiled and somewhat scandalous about Loomis's personal life, and detailed all the eccentric professors and experiments that had gone on in this private laboratory. And my grandfather, I think, took steps to see that the novel was never published. It was too late, and the novel was published, but it was very hushed up.
Anyway, this over the years gained great lore in my family's life. And every time somebody died and we were at Mount Auburn cemetery, my father would take us to the grave and go, "That one committed suicide this way, and that one committed suicide that way." And as a small child, I was always fascinated by these gruesome events. My grandparents never spoke of them, and you were not allowed to mention them in their presence.
And I never lost my fascination for that period.
LAMB:: Now, what is the relationship of your -- either your family or all of this to this man right here?
CONANT:: Henry Stimson?
CONANT:: Henry Stimson's no relation to my family, but Henry Stimson was Alfred Loomis's first cousin. And Alfred Loomis's father had left the family in a scandalous divorce all -- they didn't quite get divorced. They were on the brink of divorce, but he left his mother when he was a young boy. And Henry Stimson was the son of his mother's brother, but he was 20 years Alfred's senior.
And he became Alfred Loomis's surrogate father, and he was in charge of his money. He was in charge of making all the decisions on young Loomis's life, and he was a lifelong mentor. And so during the war years, when he was actually Secretary of War to Roosevelt, this was essentially Loomis's mentor, father figure, closest friend. And so it meant that he had ready access to the White House, and it was one reason he was so powerful during the war.
LAMB:: Now, Henry Stimson had been Secretary of State and Secretary of War earlier, and he was a Republican.
CONANT:: Yes. He was a lifelong Republican. He'd been Secretary of State twice under two administrations, the second one being Hoover's. And he'd been Secretary of War, and he served in World War I. And he was 70 years old when he entered the White House under Roosevelt as Secretary of War. So he was -- you know, he was a sort of revered figure. He was a very stern, stiff old Yankee. I don't think he ever could have won a popular election. In fact, he ran for governor of New York and lost resoundingly.
But he was really a greatly admired and respected leader, and that is why Roosevelt went, basically, to the opposition to draft him as Secretary of War. He brought in a very famous war cabinet, which was largely Republican, many figures from Washington -- George McBundy, Patterson, many other figures. It was just a brilliant war department, by all accounts. And they were largely Republican.
LAMB:: You've gone through an enormous amount of stuff. Let me -- let's kind of go back over a few of these things. First of all, in your case -- where were you born and raised?
CONANT:: Well, I was born abroad, but I was raised in Cambridge and...
CONANT:: ... Massachusetts, and surrounded by many of the scientists and figures that are in the book. I grew up with many of the scientists. George Kistiakowsky, who's a famous Harvard chemist, was a very close family friend, and he figures prominently in the book, as well. He worked for...
LAMB:: In what way?
CONANT:: ... Loomis, was very close friends, best friends, with my great uncle, Bill Richards, who wrote the novel. And he and Richards were both drafted by Loomis as young professors at Princeton to come work as laboratory hands in this deluxe private laboratory in Tuxedo Park. And they worked there as young men. And then later on, the friendship was still very close between Loomis and Kistiakowsky, and he has probably helped Kistiakowsky no end in his career and had given him money for research.
And Kistiakowsky came to him later on with reports that he had heard from other European scientists about war work being done by the Germans, particularly in the area of building a bomb -- uranium fission research. And he reported this to Loomis, knowing that Loomis was phenomenally well-connected not only in the scientific establishment but politically. And he wanted that information passed to the top, and Loomis did, in fact, pass that information to Vannevar Bush, who passed it on to Roosevelt. And it's part of the reason why uranium research moved as quickly as it did in this country, was this nexus of scientists, many of them who had worked for Loomis at Tuxedo Park 10 years earlier, in the '30s, at this laboratory.
LAMB:: I've got just for the -- this is a very expensive C-SPAN graphic here that -- this shows right here where Manhattan is and...
CONANT:: Tuxedo Park is...
LAMB:: ... Tuxedo Park's how far away from Manhattan?
CONANT:: Forty miles northwest. It was -- in those days, actually, it took just as long to get there, in those days, as it does now. There was a much more efficient train then that ran. It took you 40 minutes and didn't stop. Now, you -- there's a slow boat that goes, and many stops. And it was a 45-minute drive, so it was quite accessible. It was always a sort of gilded suburb.
LAMB:: People listening -- why should they care about Alfred Lee Loomis?
CONANT:: Well, Alfred Lee Loomis was really one of the top scientific generals of World War II. He was appointed head of the radar division by Vannevar Bush in 1940 because he had been conducting secret radar research at his laboratory in Tuxedo Park in 1939, at Bush's request, really. We were not at war yet, and the government couldn't do things overtly. There was no congressional funding for this research because America was not involved in what was then seen as the European conflict.
And so much of this research was done by universities, and they were strapped for cash in the '30s. And Loomis was a private financier who was willing to bankroll research privately. And Bush turned to him and said, "Look," you know, "if you've got the time, the money and the resources, would you do me a favor and look into something called microwave radar" -- that's very high, powerful short-wave radar -- "that we think is going to be quite important in the next war, and we ought to be looking into?"
And so Loomis undertook a privately financed study of microwave radar at his laboratory in Tuxedo Park. A year later, in 1940, when the Office of Scientific Research and Development was founded by Roosevelt and Bush was put in charge, Bush immediately tapped a number of men to be his scientific generals. My grandfather, James B. Conant, was his deputy, essentially his number two...
LAMB:: By the way, who is Vannevar Bush?
CONANT:: Vannevar Bush was a very famous engineer at MIT and just a brilliant scientist in his day. He had invented one of the early computer systems. He was a mathematical genius. And he was tapped by Roosevelt to basically head up the civilian-based war effort, a scientific war effort. It was a preparedness effort that he spearheaded before America was actually in the war.
But at that point, we knew -- everybody in government knew it was probably inevitable that we would have to fight, but politically, it was not palatable. So Roosevelt could not really yet talk to the American public about entering the war, but we knew we had to start becoming prepared. And our military was way behind -- our army, our navy, our radar. We were not in the fight, and we were woefully behind.
LAMB:: Your grandfather, James Conant, was president of Harvard what years?
CONANT:: He was president of Harvard, basically, for 20 -- more than 20 years. He left in '45 to become High Commissioner of Germany.
LAMB:: And what impact did he have on the whole Manhattan Project, the building of the atomic bomb?
CONANT:: Well, he was basically -- the title was administrator of the project, but he was the civilian liaison between Roosevelt and Oppenheimer. And he was basically -- ran the Manhattan Project from an administrative end.
LAMB:: And who was Oppenheimer?
CONANT:: Oppenheimer -- Robert Oppenheimer was an absolutely brilliant physicist from Berkeley who was tapped, basically, by Groves and Bush and Conant to run the Manhattan Project...
LAMB:: Who was Groves?
CONANT:: ... to build the bomb.
LAMB:: Who was Groves?
CONANT:: General Groves was in charge of the effort to build a bomb during the war.
LAMB:: Back to either your grandfather -- by the way, did you ever know him?
CONANT:: Oh, very, very well! He didn't die until I was 18, and we were extremely close to him. And I spent many, many summers -- his home, which was a vacation home in the mountains in New Hampshire, was our vacation home. So we spent all of our summers with him. And in Cambridge, we spent a great deal of time with him. So...
LAMB:: Do I get the impression it was near Hanover, near Dartmouth?
CONANT:: Yes. Well, originally it had been in Randolph, and then later, as he retired, he was given a chair at Dartmouth, and then he moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, and that was where the home was.
LAMB:: So where did you find these photographs and these -- all the -- what kind of goodies did you find in boxes in your grandfather's house?
CONANT:: Well, it's funny. As a teenager -- I guess at 17, I had been aware that my grandfather was growing ill, and I knew that it was my last chance to spend time with him. So I spent the summer -- my last summer in high school, before I went off to college, I spent the summer there, essentially working with them, helping out, reading to my grandfather, who at that point couldn't read anymore.
And I used to rummage -- because I was curious -- down in the basement when they were napping, to see what I could find. And there were reams of old diaries and letters and correspondence. So I had a fairly good working knowledge of what was available, but of course, it wasn't -- you weren't allowed to speak about it when my grandparents were alive. My grandmother was devastated about the suicide of her brothers, and it was just an unmentionable subject.
But I had taken a pretty good inventory of many of these old steamer trunks that they had, that they had used to go back and forth in Europe, and they were filled with letters and photographs. And long after their death, a young Harvard fellow named Jim Hershberg was writing a biography of my grandfather. This was in the '80s, and I was a reporter then at "Newsweek."
And my father phoned me and was asked if I would be interviewed for the biography. And I said then, "Don't give him the stuff on this period because one day, I think I'm going to get to it." And so my father didn't turn over everything. And then after the biography, I believe, a great many of the papers were handed over to Harvard, and my grandfather -- my father kept Bill Richards's papers that had to do with this secret laboratory in Tuxedo Park and the photographs and -- and journals and things relating to it.
So I knew I would get to it, and so it was sitting in Hanover in a steamer trunk when I finally got around to it.
LAMB:: When did you get around to it?
CONANT:: Well, about five years ago. I'd always intended to, but I had a career as a journalist, and it seemed a huge step to write about physics and the war. And I just kept thinking, "Well, when I'm older, I'll get to it." And then my father had some heart problems, and I realized that if I didn't get to it quickly, I would lose one of my best sources. So I started taping my father, interviewing him and getting him to recall that period and the early war years, 1939, 1940, what was going on in the household, the research, the pressures of the scientific research that was being done, the tremendous secrecy that my grandfather and the other scientists were operating under.
And then I also started collecting the papers. And that was about five years ago, and it took me about two years, really, to focus on Loomis as the subject, in part because many of my uncle's papers were destroyed by my grandmother. She knew biographers were coming, that graduate students would be writing about him, and she was very embarrassed by the personal tragedy. There's -- manic-depression runs through the family, and it's been devastating. And she did not want it known, and she burned a great number of the letters, and she tore passages out of diaries.
And the record was so spotty, I didn't think there was enough to sustain a book on him. But as I was doing the research, I became fascinated by the laboratory where he had worked for 15 years in Tuxedo Park, and I kept asking people, "Who is this guy, Loomis?" And nobody could tell me. And that's when I thought, "Well, there has to be a story here," and -- and that's how the book took shape.
LAMB:: And as you found out, there's a little bit of everything. There's a picture here. I want you to tell me who this woman is right here.
CONANT:: Well, Loomis turned out not only to be a brilliant Wall Street financier and physicist, but he had quite a colorful personal life because he'd married a Boston society lady and had done all the right things and was really sort of a member of that sort of gilded "Mrs. Astor's 400" set in New York. He was a blue-blooded Wall Street type.
LAMB:: That picture...
CONANT:: Very proper.
LAMB:: ... wasn't the woman.
CONANT:: No. And he ended up taking up with his protégé's very young wife -- she was some 25 years his junior -- in a very long, secret affair that began in the last '30s in Tuxedo Park and ran right through the war years. And they had -- he built a separate house in Tuxedo Park called the Glass House. Ironically, it was literally a glass house. It was an experiment in -- sort of in efficient heating and sort of one of the first solar houses, and it had all glass walls, but it was very isolated. And it became a meeting place for him and his secret lover. And her name was Manette Hobart, and she was married to Garret Hobart, a young sort of amateur physicist who was very wealthy, who lived in Tuxedo Park, who was the grandson of a former vice president in the McKinley administration named Garret Hobart.
LAMB:: Garret Hobart III you're talking about. And you have a photograph here that excludes somebody in the picture. Who is in this picture?
CONANT:: Well, this is taken, actually, at the Hobart compound in Maine. And then think it's been -- it was taken in the late '30s, and that would be when Manette was still married. She had two little boys then, and Loomis was married to his first wife and had three small children. And they were carrying on this illicit affair for years and at that time were definitely involved. And somebody cut Garret Hobart out of the photograph. He would have been the oarsman in the rear there.
LAMB:: Now, people of my era might remember another Loomis, the son of Alfred Lee Loomis, Henry Loomis...
LAMB:: ... who was Voice of America head...
LAMB:: ... USIA head, president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
CONANT:: And many people will also remember the older son, Lee Loomis, who was, like his father, a fairly savvy Wall Street guy. And then he raced yachts, like his father, and won the America's Cup gold. So he's quite well known, as well.
LAMB:: One of the interesting things that I found in your book is that one of your sources that you quoted a lot was the son -- Henry Loomis's first wife, Paulie.
CONANT:: Yes. Women have long memories!
LAMB:: Well, explain something like that. How -- why would Paulie Loomis, who is no longer married to Henry Loomis, talk to you about this?
CONANT:: Well, first of all, part of the problem is virtually everybody is dead, so I -- you know, as you saw from the book, it's letters, it's diary entries, it's journals. I mean, thank God people wrote people fabulous correspondence in those days, and you're able to piece together what was going on daily, weekly from those things. And many of the conversations were very important, and they were done by letter. People did not tend to speak on the phone as much as they do now.
But most people from that period are gone. Very few men are alive. Henry Loomis is the only one of Loomis's three sons who's still alive, and he's very ill.
LAMB:: Where's he live?
CONANT:: He lives in Florida, and he has a -- sort of a degenerative brain ailment, and so he is not really able to recall clearly what happened in the past.
What I did discover, however, is that the women live forever. And many, many of the wives of these scientists -- George Kistiakowsky's -- well, it's his third wife, I believe, who's still alive, Elaine Kistiakowsky. Several of the scientists' wives are alive, and many of the ex-wives are alive. And Paulie Loomis was married to Henry for, oh, 40 years or something. They got married very young, in the middle of the war, in their early 20s. And she had a phenomenal memory.
She was also quite a woman. She had flown great, big airplanes. She had ferried personnel back and forth across the country. And because she was a pilot and very good at navigation, she and Loomis immediately hit it off. And she was very, very close to him. In fact, he stayed close to a number of his sons' ex-wives, who I think he actually preferred to his sons, to some degree. And his relationships with his sons was fairly fraught, but he was very close to the wives, and then the ex-wives.
So she -- she was -- she recalled the Tuxedo lab very clearly. She'd been there many times. And she was a wonderful story teller.
LAMB:: The -- one little nugget about Henry Loomis. You say that during World War II, he was responsible for preventing America from bombing Kyoto?
CONANT:: Oh, it's a very odd fact. But it was a very close family, and during the war years, young Henry had been -- because he'd worked, actually, for his father in Tuxedo Park, doing the secret radar work -- and you have to understand radar was a brand-new concept. Microwave radar wasn't known by anybody. It had to be mobilized very, very quickly. And after Pearl Harbor -- he had been on a naval ship in Pearl Harbor, and he was there in Hawaii, so he -- they quickly sent him to a radar station in Hawaii, where he began training far more senior officers in microwave radar, which they put up very quickly in Hawaii after Pearl Harbor to bolster their defenses.
And anyway, so he rose quite quickly in rank for a very young man. But at that time, or throughout the war years, Stimson, who was his namesake -- his name was Henry Loomis. He was named after Henry Stimson, his godfather. He saw him quite often. And on a chance visit -- he had been in Kyoto, Henry, and had studied Japanese art and was a great fan of sort of the ancient civilization.
And he had been going on and on about this to Henry Loomis. [sic] And shortly after, there was a meeting that Henry Loomis [sic] attended with Groves and Conant and others, Oppenheimer, to discuss where the bomb sites for the first bomb would be. They -- there was originally a feeling that it would be industrial sites, but one of the original sites had always been Kyoto. And Henry Stimson piped up that this would not be a good idea, and he went on, quoting Henry -- young Henry Loomis, about the wonderful temples and art work there, and the site was moved to Hiroshima.
LAMB:: Now, you said you were born overseas. What country?
CONANT:: I was born in Seoul, Korea, and I actually lived for several years in Tokyo.
LAMB:: And what was that -- why were you there?
CONANT:: Well, my father is a bit of an inventor and an amateur scientist, as well, and he worked for years for Peter Goldmark at CBS Labs. And they were at that time trying to invent the first videotape machine, and so he was back and forth to Japan all the time, doing research. And we were based there for four years.
LAMB:: When did you come back permanently to the United States?
CONANT:: I was a teenager. I came back in '74.
LAMB:: Where'd you go to college?
CONANT:: I went to Bryn Mawr.
LAMB:: What'd you study?
CONANT:: Philosophy. Greek philosophy.
CONANT:: It was the best department. Actually, I really studied it at Haverford College, which had a wonderful philosophy department and a brilliant faculty. And I followed the faculty.
LAMB:: And then what?
CONANT:: Well, like most philosophy majors of the day, law school was the only way to make a living. And I thought I would go to law school. And a friend of mine said it would be an awful pity, and why didn't I go to journalism school for a year. All the credits counted towards law at Columbia. It was a joint degree program. People like Benno Schmidt and Fred Friendly taught 1st Amendment at the journalism school, and it was a way to ease into law school.
It was a one-year master's, and I thought that sounded dandy. So I applied to both the law school and the journalism school, and I was admitted to the journalism school I think under some sort of program because they thought I was going to be a lawyer because I had no training in journalism, no interest in journalism.
I was famous in my journalism class as the only person with no prior experience. You know, you had to list all of your jobs, and I had Greek philosophy major, and that was it. And so I was a source of quite a lot of ridicule the year I was there. And I fell in love with journalism, and I never looked back.
LAMB:: Where did you work up until now?
CONANT:: Well, I got tapped -- actually, while I was at the journalism school, I was very lucky. I got hired by "Newsweek" partly, I think, because of my travel background and my living abroad and my languages. And I went to work for "Newsweek," and I stayed there for seven years. It was like getting a Ph.D. in journalism, and I held every job while I was there. But because of my background, for several years I was the science and technology reporter because I'd grown up in Tokyo and with scientists. So I covered Apple and IBM and, you know, Gates and Steve Jobs in their infancy and had just a great run, so...
LAMB:: And in the front of the book, you dedicate this to two men, "For Steve and John." Who are they?
CONANT:: Steve Kroft is a "60 Minutes" correspondent. He's my husband. And John is our 8-year-old son.
LAMB:: Where'd you meet Steve Kroft?
CONANT:: I was doing a very critical piece on CBS, which was rumored to be on the verge of being bought -- well, sold, scuttled, really, by Tisch. And it was a very low point in CBS's fortunes, and I was...
LAMB:: You're talking about Larry Tisch.
CONANT:: Larry Tisch. And I was under armed guard, as it were, at the affiliates' convention in Los Angeles because I was not supposed to speak to anybody having to do with CBS. And I was surrounded by CBS PR people. And I ran into Steve there. I was introduced to him by a mutual friend, and he was working on a "60 Minutes" piece on one of my bosses at the time, Tina Brown, who was at "Vanity Fair." And I had worked for "Vanity Fair" for some time, at that point. And he said, "Well, I'd like to interview you." And I said, "Well, I'd love to interview you." And that was that.
LAMB:: What year was that?
CONANT:: That was -- oh, that's a trick question. That was 11 years ago. What year was that?
LAMB:: And you have an 8-year-old son, John.
LAMB:: And there was -- actually, I remember seeing books in the book stores with your husband and your son a couple of years ago.
CONANT:: Oh, yes. A photographer snapped a picture of the two of them, and it was on the cover of some father and son book, yeah.
LAMB:: Back to Alfred Lee Loomis. How long did he live?
CONANT:: Oh, he didn't -- he lived to be 78. He died in the '70s in Easthampton, where he retired.
LAMB:: And where was he born?
CONANT:: He was born in New York. He was -- he was really a lifelong New Yorker, and he had also spent his summers in Easthampton, as Stimson had his family home in Huntington, Long Island. So they were very much of a Long Island family. And Loomis was really -- considered himself a Stimson. In the letters, family letters, they always refer to him as sort of a Stimson. "Living a long time, as Stimsons' do," somebody says in a letter. And they were really, in many ways, a Long Island family.
LAMB:: Where did he go to school?
CONANT:: Well, he went to a military academy and then off to Andover and then, in true Stimson fashion, you had to go to Yale and Harvard Law. It was a well-beaten path by Stimsons. Henry Stimson had done the same thing -- Andover, Harvard -- Yale, and then Harvard Law School.
LAMB:: How did he then make his money?
CONANT:: Well, because his father had first separated from his mother and then died when Alfred was in college, he felt the burden of having to support his mother and younger sister. And so I think science had always been his first love, but he could not pursue it. In those days, science was not -- certainly not a profession that someone with no money went into, and it was not a lucrative profession. It did not hold promise for any fortune. So he got his degree in law and joined the very proper New York firm of Stimson and Winthrop, which was Henry Stimson's very, very much of a white-glove law firm, and did very, very well very quickly. After -- he left to -- to enter the war, World War I. And after World War I, he went on to Wall Street. He could not abide going back into the war -- into a sort of slow Wall Street firm.
LAMB:: You have a photo here of him from World War I.
CONANT:: He -- in many ways, World War I was a pivotal moment in his life because he had really gotten onto a very proper start in this white-glove law firm, and he was following very much in Henry Stimson's footsteps. And he had been molded by Henry Stimson, and he was, you know, a very nice, proper corporate lawyer.
And then World War I came, and he enlisted. And he was -- because he was -- had this incredible bent, this sort of engineering, mechanical sort of inventing bent and had always played with mechanical devices and was very gifted, Henry Stimson saw to it that he was steered to the Aberdeen Proving Ground. He had an instinct that this young fellow would -- would thrive there. And in fact, he did, and he proved himself such an excellent study in -- in sort of tanks and weapons and defense systems that he was very quickly made head of development and research at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.
And while he was there, he just proved very gifted at advancing systems that were already there. He made several advances in a recoilless shooting canon. He worked on -- funny, at that point, Edison was a very old man and had all kinds of notions about explosives. And it was his job to test many of Edison's wilder notions, some of which he said almost got them killed.
But in the process, there was no proper means at that time of measuring the velocity of shells fired from guns, which meant, practically speaking, you didn't know how long it would take for them to hit the target. And there were various systems for measuring that were very bulky and cumbersome, involved a lot of equipment, very slow, and not practical in the field.
And he and another scientist came up with a device called at that time Loomis Chronograph. It was later called the Aberdeen Chronograph, which was a very sophisticated, advanced system for measuring the velocity of shells. And that was his first invention, proper invention, I suppose, and he did later get a patent for that.
And I think that whet his interest in science for life, and he would then return to it as soon as he had the money.
LAMB:: So World War I, he was out of there in 1919 or so?
CONANT:: That's right, he was out of it in 1919, and his sister had married a Yale classmate, actually the fellow was a year or two younger.
His sister, Julia Loomis, had married a very, very promising young banker named Landon K. Thorne, Landon Ketchum Thorne, and he was quite the salesman. And by the time Loomis came out of World War I, Thorne was already known in sort of the "Wall Street Journal" and the newspapers as a real up-and-comer, a sharp-eyed deal-maker, and he was considered to be one of the most promising young security salesmen on Wall Street.
And he had his eye on a firm called Bonbright and Company, which was a very sleepy firm. Most of its big clients had sort of lost their money, and it had sort of lost its way. And he and Loomis partnered up. He talked Loomis into quitting the law firm and joining in with him, even though Loomis was not at that point a banker.
And they took over Bonbright in a kind of bloodless coupe, and they took it over and went right into public utility financing. And over the next 10 years, they would become the absolute leaders in public utility financing on Wall Street and would write over 15 percent of all the securities issues, billions of dollars in deals, and became phenomenally wealthy and powerful in a very, very short run in the booming 20's.
LAMB:: How long did he stay in that business?
CONANT:: He stayed with Bonbright -- he steered Bonbright to this tremendous success, and then in 1929 he and Thorne, because they had been underwriting most of the deals and were intimately acquainted with the market fluctuations as they made these public offerings on these enormous superpower companies.
They felt that the market was out of control. There last offering was a United Corporation, an enormous superpower. It was done with Morgan. It was one of the biggest deals of its day, and it went for a huge price -- much higher than they had thought it deserved.
And they felt at that point that the market was out of control. They very quietly began pulling out of the market and putting all their holdings in cash. And when Black Thursday hit, 1929, they were sitting on a mountain of cash, and they proceeded to do very well then in subsequent years along with -- there were other financiers, Bernie Baruch and a few others, who profited in the Depression years when others really lost everything.
And Loomis is estimated to have made about $50 million between '29 and '34. And really, I think, once he had that fortune, he wanted to return to his old love. He had been doing science all of long, sort of in a backyard laboratory and then a larger one in Tuxedo Park, and he quit Wall Street. He resigned from every board. And in 1934, at the age of 47, he became a physicist full-time.
LAMB:: Age of, did you say 47?
CONANT:: He was 47.
LAMB:: There's a picture of Tower House. Where is this?
CONANT:: That was the mansion that he bought in Tuxedo Park. He actually bought it in 1926. It was about a mile from his family home, which is another stately mansion, where he lived with his wife and kids.
And Tower House was a crumbling old mansion, and he gutted it and turned it into a state-of-the-art deluxe laboratory. He put the most expensive equipment in the world in that laboratory. That was equipment that at the time universities could not afford.
He bought three Shortt clocks. They were very famous astronomical clocks, the most exact clocks in the world. In fact, Big Ben is a Shortt clock. They were fabulously expensive. He bought no less than three for his laboratory.
And over the years, in the late 20's and throughout the 30's, while he worked on Wall Street doing the day, he would go back to Tuxedo Park on weekends and do experiments in physics with this fabulous equipment it this basically private scientific playground that he had built for himself.
And during this period, he would send first-class tickets and invitation to all of the most famous European scientists, basically the men he wanted to sort of play with and study with. He met them on trips to Europe he had made with a very famous American physicist named Robert Wood, who he had met at Aberdeen, and they had sort of teamed up.
He was financing Wood's studies, and Wood was teaching him physics. And Wood was really a brilliant, eccentric figure. Very colorful, very well-known in Europe, very highly regarded. And they would offer these invitations to Marconi, Eisenberg, Einstein, and they would say, here's a first-class ticket. We'll pick you up in a Rolls. You will come to this fabulous mansion, and you will be hosted at a fabulous scientific conference, and black-tie dinners every night, and April Haraman (ph) will drop by for drinks. And then we will do physics during the day in this state-of-the-art laboratory.
And the Europeans understood this concept, because it was very common in Europe for famous scientists to have laboratories in mansions next to their manor houses. Darwin had had one. Very famous British physicist named Lord Raleigh had had one, Thomas Merton, another famous physicist, had an enormous laboratory built in a mansion right across the river from his estate.
So this was a concept that was very familiar to Europeans. It was also very common in France. And they would come -- they would accept his invitation, and one by one they came to Tuxedo Park throughout the 30's -- these are the Depression years. American universities had no money, and they would be sort of on a lecture tour.
So they would accept this first-class steamer ticket. They would come to Tuxedo Park and give a talk. 40 or 50 famous scientists from around America would convene in Tuxedo Park. And then they would go on there lecture circuit, but they had been well-financed already by Loomis.
Of course, Loomis gained quite a worldwide reputation in a decade or so, that he did this. I mean, he knew everybody in the world of physics and biology and chemistry.
LAMB:: How many homes are there in Tuxedo Park?
CONANT:: Well, it's actually quite a small area, but you mean, of these mansions? I couldn't tell you.
LAMB:: Yes. I mean, when you talk about Tuxedo Park, what are we talking about in terms of...
CONANT:: You're talking about 6,000 acres. It's quite a small area. But in the turn of the century, when it was first settled by this tobacco heir, Pierre Lorillard, it was setup to be the most elegant resort, sort of hunting and fishing community, and it was first dubbed as a short-season place between Newport and New York. You were supposed to go there in the fall and shoot, and have this fabulous hunting mansion.
And it then became a gilded suburb by the time Loomis arrived in the 1920's.
LAMB:: What's it like now?
CONANT:: Well, these enormous mansions were built, you know, 60,000 square feet, 40 bedrooms. They had to have 25 servants to run them. And it was impractical by any measure.
It was virtually decimated by the crash. It was really -- it was Morgans, it was Vanderbilts, some Astors, Gullats (ph). It was really New York banking money and railroad money, and it was devastated by the crash of 1929. Many, many houses were scuttled, burned, because people couldn't pay the taxes, or they lay empty for so many years that they were uninhabitable and later torn down.
LAMB:: During those years, he was married to Ellen Farnsworth, and this is a picture of her right here, at his wedding.
CONANT:: That's his society wife. She was the prettiest debutante of her year in Boston.
LAMB:: What was happening during those years? What was his relationship to her?
CONANT:: Well, you know, she was a classic product of her day in Boston, actually very similar to my own grandmother.
They were from very learned families. They were well off. Their brothers went to Harvard, and they were schooled at home. They were educated in Greek and Latin. They read French and German and Italian. They knew opera. And they couldn't do anything.
They couldn't boil water. They were utterly impractical creatures, and quite thwarted because they were very bright. And they tended to produce singularly neurotic women. And Ellen Farnsworth was no exception.
She was really far better educated than most women of her day, but utterly unable to run a household. She couldn't function at all. She always had to have five Irish maids around here, to dress her, to bring her tea. And she spent many, many afternoons prone, in her bedroom, taking various sorts of draughts to calm her nerves. And she was quite a handful.
And a very old-fashioned woman, considering that she married a very energetic, sort of forward-looking man, who would later become a scientist.
So, they were ill-suited.
LAMB:: Did she have any idea that he was having this ongoing affair with Minette?
CONANT:: That is very difficult to say. When you think of how small a community it was, and how often they saw each other. This young couple, the Hobart's, had a house right near theirs, in Tuxedo Park. He had pretty much taken Hobart on as the director of his laboratory. Hobart didn't need to work. He was very wealthy. It was sort of a hobby for him, an occupation. And he was interested in science, as Loomis was.
And he ran the laboratory, and Ellen Farnsworth Loomis pretty much adopted Hobart's young wife as a daughter, almost. So they would have had dinner several times a week. They vacationed together. They took cruises together. They were very, very close.
LAMB:: For how long did the affair go on?
CONANT:: Nobody knows exactly when it began, but it probably had begun by '38 or '39. And they -- it was in secret, pertinently.
LAMB:: You said that Alfred Loomis had a signaling device of mirrors or something, that let her know that it was time for the get together.
CONANT:: Yes. There houses were across Tuxedo Lake from one another.
Tower House was on a very high hill, and it looked down right across Tuxedo Lake, to the shoreline, and the Hobart house was right on the cliff. And he developed a system of mirrors where they could flash each other to indicate that they might want to meet at the Glass House, this separate, third structure that he built as a guest house, and it became pretty much their private hideaway.
Most people believe that Mrs. Loomis must have known. She hated the Glass House, and Alfred would not allow any of the household staff, cleaning staff, to enter the house.
LAMB:: Or his wife.
CONANT:: Or his -- well, she wanted no part of it. But it was off limits to everybody except a few of the Tower House scientists, visiting guests, and I think that it's very likely that Mrs. Loomis knew what was going on.
In those days, of course, it wasn't that uncommon and you didn't say anything.
LAMB:: In 1945, April the 4th, near the date that FDR died, here is the wedding picture, including this, whatever that -- what do you call those things?
CONANT:: It's a muff.
LAMB:: A muff.
CONANT:: That would be a fur muff. In fact, I saw the actual suit. The Hobart family still has it, the size two Bonwit and Teller black suit with white rabbit cuffs and collars. Quite an item.
LAMB:: And where is this taken?
CONANT:: This was a shotgun wedding in Carson City, Nevada.
He married Minette. He shocked everybody by marrying Minette the day of his divorce -- later, the same day of his divorce, in 1945.
LAMB:: He's 57, she's 36?
CONANT:: That's right.
LAMB:: Did they ever have children?
CONANT:: They did not. She had two very small children. Her children were much younger. Loomis' children were out of college and, in fact, they had all just returned from the war, all three of them.
LAMB:: But she named one of her children...
CONANT:: She had two sons, two small boys. At that point, they would have been about 6 and 7, and her youngest son was named Alfred Lee Hobart, in honor of his beloved godfather, and that was always a source of some scandal.
LAMB:: But what happened in New York society after they married?
CONANT:: It was considered very shocking. I actually interviewed a number of people that still were sort of younger members of Bonbright and Company and Wall Street firms, that remembered the scandal surrounding the divorce and wedding. And it was just not done.
You did not divorce your sickly society wife. You certainly did not try to put her in a mental institution to get her out of the way, which is what Loomis at one point attempted to do with his wife when he was seeing Minette.
And it was also seen a bit as stealing the wife from his very proper protégé -- his best friend. And also, because they had been in his employ, there was some feeling that he had been marrying an employee. She had worked for Tower House as well, part-time, as the secretary, during the war years, and that was just not done.
It was so scandalous at the time, that many of his lifelong friends, Henry Simpson's peers, the heads of Winthrop, Simpson and Putnam, at that point a very, very powerful law firm, literally snubbed him. People he had known his whole life wouldn't speak to him, turned their backs on him. And he was really a social pariah for some years.
LAMB:: Is there anything particularly interesting about the fact that these following four people have endorsed your book on the back? Kurt Vonnegut, Timothy Ferris, Stephen Ambrose and Ken Auletta. Are they friends? Did you ask them to do that, or was it the publisher?
CONANT:: Kurt Vonnegut is a friend. And because he's written so brilliantly about World War II, in fact was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and he was somebody I spoke to quite often when I was writing the book. He has a house in Sagaponack, and I see him very often in Long Island during the summer. And he was tremendously supportive, so I sent him the book. I knew it would be of interest to him.
Ken Auletta is a great friend. And because he writes about great corporate tycoons and figures for "The New Yorker," we thought it would be appropriate.
Tim Ferris and Ambrose are two of the authors that my editor, Alice Mayhew, at Simon and Schuster, has nurtured along, and so that was her choice.
LAMB:: Who's in this picture right here?
CONANT:: That's a very famous photograph that was taken in Berkeley, and that is when the group of physicists were meeting at Lawrence and Loomis's request, to discuss the financing of the big atom smasher.
LAMB:: Alfred Loomis, all the way to the right. Your grandfather in the middle, James Conant?
CONANT:: James Conant is the one with his hands up in the middle. Loomis is on the far-right. Let's see if I can -- then there's Vannevar Bush, who's in the middle there under the blackboard.
LAMB:: With the glasses.
CONANT:: Ernest Lawrence is all the way on the far-left. I believe you have Karl Compton, sitting right next to Loomis, and Arthur Compton is next to Lawrence. And it was, I think, taken by John (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
LAMB:: When you hear the name Ernest Lawrence, is that the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory?
CONANT:: Yes, it is.
LAMB:: And located where?
CONANT:: That's located in California. And Ernest Lawrence was a Berkeley physicist. And he happened to visit Tower House in 1936. He was just one of the many physicists who came for a conference there.
He was already, in 1936, a formidable figure. At 1930, he had invented the Cyclotron, the first atom smasher, and he was, you know, achieved international acclaim by then.
LAMB:: What's this picture of?
CONANT:: That is a picture of, I think, the 60 inch Cyclotron, which was an even larger atom smasher, which he then built at Berkeley.
And he had raised money for something called the Rad Lab, or the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley. It was a very, very famous physics laboratory where he was experimenting with high accelerated particle beams and very high voltage generators, which is essentially what the cyclotron was.
And Loomis and Lawrence took an immediate liking to each other 1936. They literally became best friends over that weekend. And by the end of the weekend, Loomis was completely onboard in terms of wanting to back Lawrence's research.
Lawrence, this is the 30's, was in constant need of money. Here he was, a brilliant physicist. He was eager to get on with building these machines. And he spent more than half of his time fundraising, traveling the country, trying to get corporate big wigs and Rockefellers and people like that to give him money, scrounging for parts and supplies, and any kind of funding he could get to pay for the kind of physicists he wanted to have work for him at this giant research laboratory he was putting together at Berkeley.
LAMB:: What is LORAN? Who invented it? What impact did it have on the war?
CONANT:: Well, LORAN stands for Long-Range Navigation device. It was -- everything that was done during the war by Alfred Loomis was really done in the field of microwave research. Very powerful microwave transmitters.
But there was one exception. When the British came over with something called a cavity magnetron, this very powerful generator that would allow them to have microwave radar systems for the first time, and they created the MIT Radiation Laboratory, the MIT Rad Lab, to build these powerful microwave systems that were based on the British cavity magnetron.
Everything was done together with the British, and the idea essentially, the basis for the systems, came from the British. They brought with them all of their years of research that they had done in the 1930's, and their experience, called the Tizard Mission.
LAMB:: Who is this crowd, right here?
CONANT:: That is in fact in front of the Glass House, the secret hideaway house in Tuxedo Park. And that is the Tizard Mission, and that's in the fall of 1940.
LAMB:: Which one is Taffy Bowen?
CONANT:: Taffy Bowen is this happy-looking fellow right next to Ernest Lawrence, and that's Loomis on the far-right, at the MIT Radiation (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Ed Bouls (ph) is next to Taffy Bowen.
LAMB:: And he was British?
CONANT:: Taffy Bowen was a brilliant radar pioneer. He was British, and he had helped build the chain home system, which had guarded London during the Blitz.
And he and Cocroft and a number of other top British radar specialists -- Cocroft was a physicist in fact, were tapped by Henry Tizard and charged really by Winston Churchill to go to America with all of Britain's top military secrets, and this very precious invention, the cavity magnetron, which held the future for very powerful new radar devices -- to smuggle them across the ocean to America, and see if they could not convince the Americans, in exchange for all these military secrets and technology, to aid Britain by building these devices.
Britain had done tremendous work, but they were under siege from Germany. They didn't have the men. The didn't have the materials. And they didn't have the money to develop these scientific ideas any further.
America was not in the war. We could not really publicly support them. But we could privately continue the research that they had started, and that is what Churchill was hoping for.
It would later develop and flourish under something called the Land Lease Act, and that gets very complicated. But this was basically a backdoor way of getting American support.
Loomis personally invited them to Tuxedo Park. They unveiled this cavity magnetron in Tuxedo Park. Loomis privately financed some early research in radar, and then Roosevelt gave them a very large grant, and they started this private laboratory at MIT to actually build most of the radar systems that were put on virtually every airplane and submarine during the war.
During this time, Loomis developed the notion for something called LORAN. Whether or not it was based on ideas that he may have gleaned from the British, nobody knows.
The British had a rudimentary system called GEE, that bore many similarities to what LORAN would later become. But GEE was not among the ideas that was disclosed to the Americans, so it is not clear whether he extrapolated some of this information from the British and then made the necessary leaps to what this system should look like, whether he came up with it spontaneously, which is not incredible to believe -- because many radar systems and devices -- people had most of the knowledge and it was coming up, popping up, similar devices all over the place.
It was sort of right at the bursting point.
Anyway, he developed this notion for a long-range radar system, kind of a grid system, where you could track vessels at great distances. And it became one of the most important navigational devices during the war, and is still used today.
LAMB:: By the way, who went on then to found the RAND Corporation?
CONANT:: Well, Loomis worked with a number, obviously, of brilliant scientists and administrators and lawyers in putting together this giant laboratory and running it, all during the war. It was a massive operation.
LAMB:: You said 2,000 people at one time.
CONANT:: At its height. And millions and millions and millions of dollars in congressional funding, and they issued hundreds of thousands of contracts.
I mean, the number of devices, commercial devices, that came out of that laboratory. And these were contracts that they were writing by the hour, by the month, and they needed very sophisticated lawyers and businessmen to run it.
One of the lawyers that he hired was a San Francisco attorney named Roland Geyser (ph), who became Ernest Lawrence's closest friend as well. And Geyser (ph) founded the RAND Corporation and asked Loomis to help be a founding member of it. And he and Geyser (ph) laid the groundwork for what became the RAND Corporation.
LAMB:: This is off topic a little bit, but who bought Hilton Head, S.C.?
CONANT:: At the height of his Wall Street fortunes, he and Landon Thorne, this would be 1930, were living very large. They went through a period of sort of -- well, we're familiar with it from the 80's, when tycoons start spending their money. And they bought an America's Cup yacht, which they raced in 1930. That was -- only sort of Vanderbilt's and Astor's did that in those days. Syndicates and millionaires was unheard of -- for two individual tycoons to take on such a large expense.
And the following year, 1931, they decided to buy Hilton Head Island, 20,000 acres plus. A huge tract of land. It was then largely uninhabited island. There was no bridge. It was only reachable by boat. And they bought it as a private hunting and fishing reserve, and they had it for nearly 20 years.
LAMB:: About out of time, but I want to ask you about your grandfather, James Conant, former president of Harvard for 22 or 23 years, whatever. In the end, even though he was involved in the Manhattan Project, did he want to drop the bomb?
CONANT:: I do think he wanted to drop the bomb. I mean, "want to" is a difficult term, but at that moment the prevailing wisdom was, we were war-weary as a nation, and I think that the feeling then was that you had to do something to shock the Japanese into backing down.
I think they did want to drop the bomb, the first one, anyway. However, after the war, my grandfather was among the scientists that became very remorseful. And with some of the Los Alamos scientists, he founded the Society for the Prevention of Nuclear Proliferation.
Loomis and Lawrence went the other way. They never suffered from any remorse about their role in the development of the bomb, and they proceeded to push for the development of the H bomb, which my grandfather was adamantly opposed to. So they split very much in the 50's.
LAMB:: When did they shut Tuxedo Park down?
CONANT:: He shuttered Tuxedo Park in '40, when he went off to start the MIT Radiation Laboratory, and he never really properly returned. And then he sold it in the late 40's.
LAMB:: When did he die?
CONANT:: He died in 78.
LAMB:: Of what?
CONANT:: He had a stroke and dropped dead, literally on the spot. They found him on the floor.
LAMB:: His wife, Minette?
CONANT:: She lived for a long time thereafter, and she actually -- Loomis had asked an old protégé‚ of his from Tuxedo Park, one of the scientists who had worked there for him, if he would look after Minette after he died. And she then married him a year after Loomis's death.
LAMB:: What was his name?
CONANT:: I was afraid you would ask me that, and I can't think of his name. I'll think of it in a minute.
LAMB:: This book, for you, what kind of an experience was it?
CONANT:: You know, it basically had endless pleasures, because the character of Tuxedo Park, that community, was great fun, as a backdrop. Very cloistered, WASPy, sort of gilded environment. The most unlikely place for somebody to start a secrets physics laboratory where he would invite the brilliant scientists of Europe. And then of course all of the fleeing Jewish scientists who came in, much to the horror of his neighbors, as they came to Tuxedo Park to visit Alfred Loomis.
So you had this wonderful locale, and then this very grand, complicated, eccentric character, so it was a great sprawling tale.
LAMB:: Our guest has been Jennet Conant. This is what the book looks like.
"Tuxedo Park," all about Alfred Lee Loomis, and we thank you very much for joining us.
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