William L. Laurence

William Leonard Laurence (March 7, 1888 – March 19, 1977) was a Jewish Lithuanian-born American journalist known for his science journalism writing of the 1940s and 1950s while working for The New York Times.[1] He won two Pulitzer Prizes and, as the official historian of the Manhattan Project, was the only journalist to witness the Trinity test and the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. He is credited with coining the iconic term "Atomic Age" which became popular in the 1950s.

William Leonard Laurence
William Laurence - cropped
Laurence on the island of Tinian before the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Leib Wolf Siew

March 7, 1888
Salantai, Lithuania (then Russian Empire)
DiedMarch 19, 1977 (aged 89)
Majorca, Spain
CitizenshipUnited States (naturalized 1913)
EmployerThe New York Times
Known forReporting on the Atomic Age


Laurence was born Leib Wolf Siew in Salantai, a small city in the Russian Empire that is now in Lithuania. He emigrated to the United States in 1905, after participating in the Russian Revolution of 1905, and he soon changed his name, taking "William" after William Shakespeare, "Leonard" after Leonardo da Vinci, and "Lawrence" after a street he lived on in Roxbury, Massachusetts (but spelled with a "u" in reference to Friedrich Schiller's Laura). He attended Harvard University (1908–1911; 1914–1915), the University of Besançon (1919) and Harvard Law School (1921) before receiving his LL.B. from the Boston University School of Law in 1925.[2] He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1913. During World War I, he served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

In 1926 he began his career as a journalist, working for The World of New York City. In 1930 he began working at The New York Times, specializing where possible in reporting on scientific issues. He married Florence Davidow in 1931.

In 1934, Laurence co-founded the National Association of Science Writers, and in 1936 he covered the Harvard Tercenary Conference of Arts and Sciences, work for which he and four other science reporters received the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Reporting.[3]

"Atomic Bill"

New York Times 8-07-1945 Rare City Edition
A front page copy of The New York Times city edition dated August 7, 1945 featuring the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.

On May 5, 1940, Laurence published a front-page exclusive in the New York Times on successful attempts in isolating uranium-235 which were reported in Physical Review, and outlined many (somewhat hyperbolic) claims about the possible future of nuclear power.[4] He had assembled it in part out of his own fear that Nazi Germany was attempting to develop atomic energy, and had hoped the article would galvanize a U.S. effort. Though his article had no effect on the U.S. bomb program, it was passed to the Soviet mineralogist Vladimir Vernadsky by his son, a professor of history at Yale University, and motivated Vernadsky to urge Soviet authorities to embark on their own atomic program, and established one of the first commissions to formulate "a plan of measures which it would be necessary to realize in connection with the possibility of using intraatomic energy". A Soviet atomic bomb project got started c. 1942; a full-scale Soviet atomic energy program began after the war.[5]

On September 7, 1940, The Saturday Evening Post ran an article by Laurence on atomic fission, "The Atom Gives Up". In 1943, government officials asked librarians nationwide to withdraw the issue.[6]

In April 1945, Laurence was summoned to the secret Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico by General Leslie Groves to serve as the official historian[7] of the Manhattan Project. In this capacity he was also the author of many of the first official press releases about nuclear weapons, including some delivered by the Department of War and President Harry S. Truman. He was the only journalist present at the Trinity test in July 1945, and beforehand prepared statements to be delivered in case the test ended in a disaster which killed those involved. As part of his work related to the Project, he also interviewed the airmen who flew on the mission to drop the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Laurence himself flew aboard the B-29 The Great Artiste, which served as a blast instrumentation aircraft, for the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. He visited the test Able site at Bikini Atoll aboard the press ship Appalachian, for the bomb test on July 1, 1946.[8]

For his 1945 coverage of the atomic bomb, beginning with the eyewitness account from Nagasaki, he won a second Pulitzer Prize for Reporting in 1946.[3] At the office of the Times he was thereafter referred to as "Atomic Bill", to differentiate him from William H. Lawrence, a political reporter at the newspaper.

In his autobiography, Richard Feynman mentioned William Laurence standing next to him during the Trinity test. Feynman stated, "I had been the one who was supposed to have taken him around. Then it was found that it was too technical for him, and so later H.D. Smyth came and I showed him around."[9] Nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein has called Laurence "part huckster, part journalist, all wild card ... improbable in every way, a real-life character with more strangeness than would seem tolerable in pure fiction." [10]

In 1946, he published an account of the Trinity test as Dawn Over Zero, which went through at least two revisions. He continued to work at the Times through the 1940s and into the 1950s, and published a book on defense against nuclear war in 1950. In 1951, his book The Hell Bomb warned about the use of a cobalt bomb – a form of hydrogen bomb (still an untested device at the time he wrote it) engineered to produce a maximum amount of nuclear fallout.

In 1956, he was present at the testing of a hydrogen bomb at the Pacific Proving Grounds. That same year, he also became appointed Science Editor of the New York Times, succeeding Waldemar Kaempffert. He served in this capacity until he retired in 1964.

During his later career, he received honorary doctorates from Boston University (Sc.D., 1946), the Stevens Institute of Technology (Sc.D., 1951), Grinnell College (D.H.L., 1951) and Yeshiva University (D.H.L., 1957).[2]


Laurence died in 1977 in Majorca, Spain, of complications from a blood clot in his brain.[1]

Call for revocation of 1946 Pulitzer Prize

In 2004, journalists Amy Goodman and David Goodman called for the Pulitzer Board to strip Laurence and his paper, The New York Times, of his 1946 Pulitzer Prize.[11] The journalists argued that at the time Laurence "was also on the payroll of War Department"[12] and that, after the atomic bombings, he "had a front-page story in the Times"[13] disputing the notion that radiation sickness was killing people."[7] They concluded that "his faithful parroting of the government line was crucial in launching a half-century of silence about the deadly lingering effects of the bomb".[14][15]

In their 1995 book Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial, Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell assert, "Here was the nation's leading science reporter, severely compromised, not only unable but disinclined to reveal all he knew about the potential hazards of the most important scientific discovery of his time."[16]

Books by Laurence

  • Dawn Over Zero: The story of the atomic bomb. New York: Knopf, 1946.
  • We are not Helpless: How we can defend ourselves against atomic weapons. New York, 1950.
  • The Hell Bomb. New York: Knopf, 1951.
  • Men and Atoms: The discovery, the uses, and the future of atomic energy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959.

See also


  1. ^ a b "William Laurence, Ex-Science Writer For The Times, Dies". New York Times. March 19, 1977. Retrieved May 26, 2008. William L. Laurence, a science reporter who was the only journalist to witness the historic nuclear blast at Alamogordo, N.M., in 1945 and later the only newspaperman permitted to fly on the atomic bomb mission over Nagasaki, Japan, died here today of complications from a blood clot in the brain. He was 89 years old.
  2. ^ a b http://search.marquiswhoswho.com/profile/200010892384
  3. ^ a b "Reporting". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  4. ^ "Vast Power Source In Atomic Energy Opened by Science; Report on New Source of Power". New York Times. May 5, 1940. Retrieved February 17, 2009. A natural substance found abundantly in many parts of the earth, now separated for the first time in pure form, has been found in pioneer experiments at the Physics Department of Columbia University to be capable of yielding such energy that one pound of it is equal ...
  5. ^ On this incident, see David Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939–1956 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994): 59–60.
  6. ^ Sweeney, Michael S. (2001). Secrets of Victory: The Office of Censorship and the American Press and Radio in World War II. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 196–198. ISBN 0-8078-2598-0.
  7. ^ a b Evans, Harold (2003). War stories: reporting in the time of conflict. Hawkhurst: Bunker Hill. ISBN 978-1-59373-005-5. During the development of the atomic bomb, project director Gen. Leslie Groves secretly hired William L. Laurence, a highly respected science reporter with The New York Times, to act as the project's official historian. Laurence eagerly accepted the job – his scientific curiosity and patriotic zeal perhaps blinding him to the notion that he was at the same time compromising his journalistic independence. After the bombing, the brilliant but bullying Groves continually suppressed or distorted the effects of radiation. He dismissed reports of Japanese deaths as 'hoax or propaganda.'
  8. ^ According to this source, "[Laurence] had the unique distinction of riding in the bomber that carried out the Nagasaki mission." See Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record, the Office of the Historian Joint Task Force One (New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co., 1946): 172.
  9. ^ Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman (W.W. Norton and company, New York, 1997. p. 135)
  10. ^ Wolverton, Mark (August 9, 2017). "'Atomic Bill' and the Birth of the Bomb". Undark Magazine. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017.
  11. ^ Amy Goodman and David Goodman. "The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media that Love Them". Hyperion, 2004, pp. 296–298.
  12. ^ Groves, Leslie R. (1983). Now it can be told: the story of the Manhattan Project ([New ed.] ed.). New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80189-1. It seemed desirable for security reasons, as well as easier for the employer, to have Laurence continue on the payroll of the New York Times, but with his expenses covered by the MED
  13. ^ Laurence, William L. (September 12, 1945). "U.S. Atom Bomb Site Belies Tokyo Tales: Tests on New Mexico Range Confirm That Blast, and Not Radiation, Took Toll" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved March 18, 2011.
  14. ^ William L. Laurence. Dawn Over Zero: The story of the atomic bomb. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946, p. 224. Quote: "mine has been the honor, unique in the history of journalism, of preparing the War Department's official press release for worldwide distribution".
  15. ^ Amy Goodman and David Goodman, "The Hiroshima Cover-Up: How the War Department's Times man Won a Pulitzer"
  16. ^ Mitchell, Robert Jay Lifton & Greg (1995). Hiroshima in America: fifty years of denial. New York: Putnam. ISBN 978-0-399-14072-3., quoted by Goodman, Amy and Goodman, David, "Hiroshima Cover-up: How the War Department's Times man Won a Pulitzer", [1].

Further reading

  • Keever, Beverly Deepe. News Zero: the New York Times and the Bomb. Common Courage Press, 2004. ISBN 1-56751-282-8
  • Weart, Spencer. Nuclear Fear: A History of Images. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

External links

1937 Pulitzer Prize

The following are the Pulitzer Prizes for 1937.

1946 Pulitzer Prize

The following are the Pulitzer Prizes for 1946.

Anna Goldfeder

Dr. Anna Goldfeder (1898 – February 15, 1993) was a pioneering researcher in the fields of radiology and cancer treatment. Born in 1898 in Poland, Goldfeder studied at the University of Prague and worked at the

Masaryk University before earning her doctorate in natural sciences (D.Sc.) in 1922.

She was invited to conduct research in the United States, and immigrated in 1931. During her 66-year

career as a research scientist, she worked at the University of Vienna, Harvard University,

Columbia University, Lenox Hill Hospital, the Rockefeller Institute, the

New York City Hospitals Department and the Department of Biology at New York University Washington Square, where she was director of the Cancer and Radiobiology Research Laboratory.Goldfeder is known both for her role as a pioneering woman in advanced scientific research and for her many accomplishments as a researcher. Autumn Stanley, member of the Institute for Historical Study (Berkeley), writes "The contributions of this distinguished Polish-born researcher to cancer therapy in general and to radiology in particular can scarcely be overestimated." Goldfeder created a strain of white lab mice, named X-GF (after her initials), that is resistant to both natural and lab-induced cancerous tumors and is widely used in experimentation. She discovered that radiation treatment could (in mice) completely destroy a malignant tumor without otherwise harming the subject; she also improved use of lead shielding, and discovered that the effects of radiation varied with the emission medium. Sol Siegelman, writing a tribute to Goldfeder in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, wrote:

"I should like to note briefly just a few of her contributions to provide at least a slight indication of her originality and foresight. (1) Anna Goldfeder was one of the first to succeed in establishing tissue culture with human epithelial cells -- an achievement made even more monumental by the fact that it was accomplished prior to the introduction of antibiotics. (2) She was one of the first to identify the importance of ensuring isogenicity of the host in attempting to obtain useful therapeutic and biological information from tumor transplants. (3) Anna established the therapeutic value of fractionated and localized radiation in treating tumors and showed that cures could in fact be obtained using animal models. These results had a significant impact on the design of protocols for clinical radiotherapy. (4) She developed the famous XgF strain of mice, which were highly resistant to spontaneous as well as to induced tumors. These mice became a useful experimental tool for the analysis of questions related to both the cure and the cause of cancer.

Goldfeder was also known for her devotion to her scientific pursuits. Long past the age of mandatory retirement when Delafield Hospital in New York was closed, Goldfeder was unable to convince city officials to relocate her laboratory. Rather than close, and with some self-funding, she remained in the abandoned building for two years before she secured enough grant money to move her work to New York University facilities. She established, with a bequest, the Dr. Anna Goldfeder Scholarship award for Ph.D students at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.


Bockscar, sometimes called Bock's Car, is the name of the United States Army Air Forces B-29 bomber that dropped a Fat Man nuclear weapon over the Japanese city of Nagasaki during World War II in the second – and last – nuclear attack in history. One of 15 Silverplate B-29s used by the 509th, Bockscar was built at the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Plant at Bellevue, Nebraska, at what is now Offutt Air Force Base, and delivered to the United States Army Air Forces on 19 March 1945. It was assigned to the 393d Bombardment Squadron, 509th Composite Group to Wendover Army Air Field, Utah in April.

Bockscar was used in 13 training and practice missions from Tinian, and three combat missions in which it dropped pumpkin bombs on industrial targets in Japan. On 9 August 1945, Bockscar, piloted by the 393d Bombardment Squadron's commander, Major Charles W. Sweeney, dropped a Fat Man nuclear bomb with a blast yield equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT over the city of Nagasaki. About 44% of the city was destroyed; 35,000 people were killed and 60,000 injured.

After the war, Bockscar returned to the United States in November 1945. In September 1946, it was given to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The aircraft was flown to the Museum on 26 September 1961, and its original markings were restored (nose art was added after the mission). Bockscar is now on permanent display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio, next to a replica of a Fat Man.

Frederick C. Bock

Frederick C. Bock (January 18, 1918 – August 25, 2000) was a World War II pilot who took part in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945.

Bock attended the University of Chicago and went on to enroll in a graduate course in philosophy.Upon the entry of the United States into the Second World War Bock enlisted in the Army Air Force, becoming a pilot.Bock flew missions from India to China over the Himalayas, a route known as the hump. He also participated in air raids on Japan flown from China.

Gobind Behari Lal

Gobind Behari Lal was an Indian-American journalist and independence activist. A relative and close associate of Lala Har Dayal, he joined the Ghadar Party and participated in the Indian independence movement. He arrived the United States on a scholarship to study at the University of California, Berkeley. Later, he worked as a science editor for the Hearst Newspapers. In 1937, he became the first Indian to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Ground zero

In terms of nuclear explosions and other large bombs, the term "ground zero" (also known as "surface zero") describes the point on the Earth's surface closest to a detonation. In the case of an explosion above the ground, ground zero refers to the point on the ground directly below the nuclear detonation and is sometimes called the hypocenter (from Greek ὑπο- "under-" and center).

Generally, the term "ground zero" is also used in relation to earthquakes, epidemics, and other disasters to mark the point of the most severe damage or destruction. The term is distinguished from the term zero point in that the latter can also be located in the air, underground, or underwater.

John Joseph O'Neill (journalist)

John Joseph O'Neill (1889–1953), of the New York Herald Tribune, along with William L. Laurence of the New York Times. Howard Blakeslee of AP, Gobind Behari Lal of Universal Service and David Dietz of Scripps-Howard, won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Reporting "for their coverage of science at the tercentenary of Harvard University."He is also the author of Prodigal genius; the life of Nikola Tesla (1944), published in 18 editions in German and English. and several other non-technical books on 20th century science.

In 1953 he observed a feature on the Moon, on western shore of Mare Crisium, which he interpreted as a giant natural bridge, but it turned out to be an illusion. Now this illusion is known as O'Neill's Bridge.


Laurence is an English and French given name. The English masculine name originates from a French form of the Latin Laurentius, a name meaning "man from Laurentum". It is possible, although unlikely, that the name of Laurentum is derived from the Latin laurus ("laurel").The French feminine name is a form of the masculine Laurent, which is derived from the Latin name.

List of Pulitzer Prizes awarded to The New York Times

Since 1918, The New York Times daily newspaper has won 125 Pulitzer Prizes, a prize awarded for excellence in journalism in a range of categories.

March 19

March 19 is the 78th day of the year (79th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 287 days remaining until the end of the year.

March 7

March 7 is the 66th day of the year (67th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 299 days remaining until the end of the year.

National Association of Science Writers

The National Association of Science Writers (NASW) was created in 1934 by a dozen science journalists and reporters in New York City. The aim of the organization was to improve the craft of science journalism and to promote good science reportage.

In June 1934, John J. O'Neill, William L. Laurence, Howard W. Blakeslee, Gobind Behari Lal and David Dietz formed NASW as a press association with Dietz as its president. Several others joined the association. The NASW incorporated in 1955, pledging itself to "foster the dissemination of accurate information regarding science through all media normally devoted to informing the public". Leaders of the NASW have been freelance and staff reporters for a majority of US newspapers, wire services, magazines, and broadcasters.

As of September 29, 2007, the organization reported having 2,549 members and claimed to be the largest organization of science writers in the world.

Each year since 1972 the organization holds the Science in Society Awards to "provide recognition — without subsidy from any professional or commercial interest — for investigative or interpretive reporting about the sciences and their impact on society." The organization considers granting awards in four categories: books, commentary and opinion, science reporting, and science reporting with a local or regional focus.

Pulitzer Prize for Reporting

The Pulitzer Prize for Reporting was awarded from 1917 to 1947.

St. Elmo's fire

St. Elmo's fire (also St. Elmo's light) is a weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a coronal discharge from a sharp or pointed object in a strong electric field in the atmosphere (such as those generated by thunderstorms or created by a volcanic eruption).

St. Elmo's fire is named after St. Erasmus of Formia (also called St. Elmo, one of the two Italian names for St. Erasmus, the other being St. Erasmo), the patron saint of sailors. The phenomenon sometimes appeared on ships at sea during thunderstorms and was regarded by sailors with religious awe for its glowing ball of light, accounting for the name. Sailors may have considered St. Elmo's fire as a good omen (as a sign of the presence of their patron saint).

The Great Artiste

The Great Artiste was a U.S. Army Air Forces Silverplate B-29 bomber (B-29-40-MO 44-27353, Victor number 89), assigned to the 393d Bomb Squadron, 509th Composite Group. The aircraft was named for its bombardier, Captain Kermit Beahan, in reference to his bombing talents. It flew 12 training and practice missions in which it bombed Japanese-held Pacific islands and dropped pumpkin bombs on targets in Japan. It was the only aircraft to participate in both the bombing of Hiroshima and the bombing of Nagasaki, albeit as an observation aircraft on each mission.

After the war ended it returned with the 509th Composite Group to Roswell Army Air Field, New Mexico. It was scrapped in September 1949 after being heavily damaged in an accident at Goose Bay Air Base, Labrador, the year before.

Waldemar Kaempffert

Waldemar Kaempffert (September 27, 1877 - November 27, 1956) was an American science writer and museum director.

Winston H. Bostick

Winston H. Bostick (March 5, 1916 – January 19, 1991) was an American physicist who discovered plasmoids, plasma focus, and plasma vortex phenomena. He simulated cosmical astrophysics with laboratory plasma experiments, and showed that Hubble expansion can be produced with repulsive mutual induction between neighboring galaxies acting as homopolar generators. His work on plasmas provided evidence for finite-sized elementary particles and the composition of strings, but this is not accepted by mainstream science.

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