Richard G. Hewlett, historian, died at 92

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Richard Greening Hewlett, born on February 12, 1923 and died September 1, 2015, he was an American public historian best known for his work as the Chief Historian of the United States Atomic Energy Commission.

Richard was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1923. In 1941, he attended Dartmouth College, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps doing work related to meteorology.

With a number of other privates he attended Bowdoin College for a year, focusing on science.

In June 1944, he did work relating to using radar to track weather balloons, and eventually the military sent him to Harvard University to study in the electronics school.

In early 1945, he was sent to Western China as a radiosonde operator, sending meteorological information by radio to U.S. forces, which used them in planning bombing raids on Japan.

After the war, Hewlett attended graduate school in history at the University of Chicago, though he never completed his undergraduate degree.

He received his master’s degree in 1948 and his Ph.D. in 1952, writing his thesis on Lewis Cass, a nineteenth-century Michigan politician.

While he was completing his dissertation, Hewlett accepted a position as an intelligence specialist in the United States Air Force, examining open literature on factories in the Soviet Union.

Richard found the job tedious and in 1952 leaped at the chance to be a program analyst in the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), compiling classified progress reports from all of the many branches of the AEC for the Commissioners.

Richard later said that this job gave him a good general overview of the AEC and how it worked.

 

In 1957, Hewlett was contacted in order to find a historian to write an official history of the AEC, a pet project by Commissioner Lewis Strauss.

Richard was unable to find any academic historians interested, however, in part because science and technology were generally not considered an interesting subject of historical study at the time.

Because of his history backgrounds, Hewlett himself was offered the job, which he happily accepted, and became the first official historian of the AEC.

Richard sought out another public historian, Kent Roberts Greenfield, who was the Chief Historian of the United States Army.

Greenfield encouraged Hewlett to establish an independent review board of academic historians who would serve as a buffer between Hewlett and the government bureaucrats who would inevitably object to certain portrayals of past U.S. government activities.

Though he faced some initial resistance to the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Historical Advisory Committee, it was eventually approved by Strauss himself on the recommendation of one of Strauss’s favorite academic historians.

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