My story is not a reliable history authenticated by documents and research, but rather one lived and remembered by a witness and participant.
Back in the dark ages--before World War II escalated beyond what the press called the phony war into deadly bombings of Europe's cities-- the U.S. government, if my recollections can be trusted, took little or no role in subsidizing science. Of course, the National Academy of Sciences had been established during the Civil War, and the National Research Council during World War I, but, though they convened scientific get- togethers and awarded fellowships, I never heard of their pinpointing directions for scientific research except during wartime.
When World War II broke out in Europe, the NRC initiated some contracts for what was then called "defense research"--and the Psycho- Acoustic and Electro-Acoustic Laboratories resulted from that initiative.
Sometime in October 1940, Smitty Stevens and Leo Beranek were invited to a meeting called by the NRC to discuss the effects of a continuous din on the performance of men working in airplanes and tanks, and what might be done to lessen both the noise and the effects. Apparently their names had been suggested by Hallowell Davis and very likely Ted Hunt or Phil Morse. I've heard it said that, when Smitty and Leo were asked what kind of budget they would need to complete these studies, they came up with the brave figure of $3,500. After their more experienced mentors upped the figure to $35,000 (for six months of intensive research), the two of them returned to Cambridge confident that they would see the mission through in the allotted time.
That is where I came in. I had finished college, studied a little music, and completed half of a two-summer course in typing and shorthand. Armed with 6 weeks spent learning some ropes in my father's small factory to enable his bookkeeper-secretary to get away for a couple of weeks of vacation, I jumped at Smitty's offer of 6 months in a real job and the chance to accumulate some real experience. So I arrived on the third floor of Emerson Hall in early December 1940--just a year before Pearl Harbor--feeling altogether ready to take on Harvard. Harvard's readiness for me was another matter.
I won't bore you with the details of the systems I found lacking at Harvard, but a few tales may illustrate our shared state of innocence.
The search for a place where we could produce our hundred-plus decibels led us to the sub-basement of Memorial Hall, where nothing but some obsolete machinery stood in our way. After a few weeks of purchasing