President Emeritus Julius Adams Stratton dies at 93


A memorial service will be held in the fall for President Emeritus Julius Adams Stratton, an eminent scientist and educator who died June 22, at the age of 93.

Dr. Stratton was president of MIT from 1959-66 and chairman of the board of the Ford Foundation from 1966-1971.

Dr. Stratton had been associated with MIT continuously since his enrollment as an undergraduate in 1920, a period of great growth and change at MIT that paralleled significant and far-reaching developments in the fields of science and engineering. Interdisciplinary centers for the earth sciences, the life sciences, space research, materials science and engineering, and advanced engineering study were established and buildings erected to house them.

In addition, he served several administrations through a variety of national boards and committees, participated actively in professional and scientific organizations, and was a trustee of a number of educational and cultural institutions.

Howard W. Johnson, Dr. Stratton's successor, said in a statement,

"Julius A. Stratton's association with MIT spanned more than 70 years, from his days as an undergraduate until his death. His impact and influence on the Institute and all of its parts was a deep and positive one. A distinguished physicist and electrical engineer, his commitment to high standards and insistence on quality performance was a notable characteristic of all that he did and everything that he accomplished. As a professor and as the 11th president of MIT, his lifetime of exemplary achievement will be remembered and revered."

Dr. Paul E. Gray, MIT's 14th president and now chairman of the MIT Corporation, said, "As professor, the first director of the first university interdepartmental laboratory, provost, chancellor, and as president, Jay Stratton provided distinguished, wise and compassionate leadership to the Institute during a time in which the relationship between the research universities and the federal government was in flux, and the complexion and mission of MIT was also in transition. Jay's strong commitment to the arts and humanities at MIT was particularly important in a period when those activities were first flowering."

President Charles M. Vest said, "Jay Stratton's leadership in science and academia helped shape not only MIT, but institutions throughout the nation. Personally, Jay and his wife Kay were extremely gracious to us when my wife Becky and I came to MIT from Michigan in 1990. Their kindness, their friendship, and the value of their counsel to both of us have been inestimable."

Dr. Stratton's personal characteristics and values were described in an anecdote told by an alumnus and recounted in MIT in Perspective, by Francis E. Wylie, director emeritus of the MIT News Office. The alumnus recalled that Dr. Stratton, his physics professor, once arrived at the classroom and announced, "There will be no class today. I apologize. I have not prepared." Mr. Wylie commented, "There are innumerable ways for a professor to cover up in such a situation-such as giving a quiz. It is characteristic of Stratton that he would not bluff, and this may have been the only occasion in his life that he was not prepared. Earnest and thoughtful, warm yet dignified, impatient only with bad intentions or sloppy work, Stratton was well qualified as the president who would guide MIT into its second century." [Mr. Wylie is director emeritus of the MIT News Office.]

Dr. Stratton's centered on the developing field of communications and communication theory in the 1920s. In 1941 he published Electromagnetic Theory (New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1941), a volume widely acknowledged as a classic in the field. Italian, French, and Czechoslovakian editions have been published.

As World War II approached, and MIT established the Radiation Laboratory in 1940 as the center for radar research in the United States, Dr. Stratton joined the staff as a member of the Theory Group and worked on the development of LORAN (Long Range Navigation), which by the end of World War II covered nearly a third of the globe with radio beams enabling airplanes and ships to determine their location. In 1942 he went to Washington as an expert consultant to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. When communications for ferrying planes across the North Atlantic proved unsatisfactory because of the proximity of the magnetic pole, he went to Labrador, Greenland and Iceland to study the problem and subsequently recommended a very low-frequency system. In this post he served also as chairman of committees to improve the effectiveness of all-weather flying systems and of ground radar, fire control and radar bombing equipment. He visited North Africa, Italy and the United Kingdom to study radar bombing and to assist in planning the use of radar in the Normandy invasion. In 1946 he was awarded the Medal for Merit for his services.

The Radiation Laboratory demonstrated impressively the value of interdisciplinary research and, as the end of the war neared, Dr. Stratton and others sought a way in which its momentum and program methods could be sustained for peacetime research. This was effected through the establishment at the Institute of a new Research Laboratory of Electronics, of which he became the first director. Its form of organization was so successful that it soon provided a pattern for interdisciplinary research in a variety of fields at MIT, and its example was followed at other institutions as well.

While serving as director of the laboratory, Dr. Stratton continued to be active as a professor of physics and became increasingly involved in the affairs of the entire Institute. In 1947 he was one of five chosen by the faculty to comprise the Committee on Educational Survey, appointed to review the state of education at MIT, in the light of post-war developments and circumstances. He was chiefly responsible in 1949 for the final preparation of the committee's report, which reaffirmed the original concepts of the Institute, the principles of limited objectives and faculty unity, a continued strong commitment to undergraduate professional education, the partnership of education and research, and the importance of graduate education. In addition to reaffirming the status of science, engineering, and architecture as integral parts of the Institute's mission, the committee recommended that the social sciences and the humanities be strengthened within the context of MIT. In accordance with this recommendation, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences was created in 1950.

Dr. Stratton's wife, Catherine N. Stratton, joined in many of her husband's concerns at MIT, particularly with respect to the arts. Her efforts brought into being a loan/lottery program through which students can obtain original works of art for their campus residences. MIT's Council for the Arts was created in 1971 as a result of her work and more recently she was instrumental in developing an annual seminar series for the MIT community on successful aging.

In 1949 Dr. Stratton was appointed MIT's first provost and received an additional concurrent appointment as vice president in 1951. He was named chancellor in 1956 and became acting president in 1957, when President Killian was appointed special assistant to President Eisenhower for science and technology. In January of 1959, Dr. Stratton became president, with Dr. Killian appointed chairman of the Corporation.

Born in Seattle, on May 18, 1901, Dr. Stratton and his forebears represent a remarkable span in American history. His grandfather was born in 1799, and his father in 1844, in Jefferson County, IN. At the age of nine the latter, with his mother and brothers and sisters, traveled in a covered wagon over the Oregon Trail to the Northwest, where the father had already staked a claim.

When Dr. Stratton was a small boy, the family lived for a time in Dresden and Berlin, where his mother continued her study of music. He began his school days there, acquiring a knowledge of German that later was to prove useful. As a teenager in Seattle he developed a keen interest in the then-new field of radio and built his own set. Too young for military service when World War I began, he hoped that the Navy might overlook his age if he qualified for a commercial radio license, but the war was nearly over before he was ready. However, he secured a post as radio operator on Pacific coastal vessels and then on a ship carrying rails for the South Manchurian Railroad. Returning through the China Sea in a typhoon, young Stratton received an SOS from another ship loaded with Russian refugees which had been blown ashore in Japanese waters. Trying to aid the distressed vessel, his own ship, the Western Glen, went aground. Though it managed to extricate itself, it was not soon enough for him to reach home in time to apply for admission in the fall of 1919 to Stanford or Yale.

He entered the University of Washington but after a year there decided to go to MIT, which he had learned about from a fellow student. Typically, he shipped as a radio operator on the Eastern Pilot, bound for New York by way of the Panama Canal, and arrived in Cambridge in September 1920, to find that tuition had been increased by $50 to $300 and that he would be allowed virtually no credit for his freshman year at the University of Washington. He was determined to finish in three years, and the necessary overload did not permit much time for anything but study. He did, however, serve as secretary of the Radio Society which operated a transmitter with a signal powerful enough to be received in Hawaii. His last trip as a commercial radio operator was in the summer of 1922 on the President Madison, its destination China and the Philippines. He was graduated from the Institute in 1923 with an SB degree in electrical engineering.

In spite of his technical training, Dr. Stratton had developed a strong interest in the humanities, and he enrolled first at the University of Grenoble and then at the University of Toulouse with the intention of undertaking a doctoral dissertation on the influence of science on French literature. But the pull of science and engineering was too great and he returned to MIT for graduate study in electrical engineering. His master's thesis was completed in time for the degree list in January 1926.

Next came the award of an MIT Traveling Fellowship in Mathematics and Physics, which took him to Zurich for doctoral study at the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). There he worked under Peter Debye and received an ScD degree in mathematical physics in January 1928. An assistant professorship in electrical engineering brought him back to MIT. In 1930 he transferred to physics, where he became associate professor in 1935 and full professor in 1941.

Much of his research concentrated on the propagation of short waves, about which less was known than the long waves then generally employed in radio transmission. His work and that of his colleagues on microwaves foreshadowed later efforts in the development of radar and the burgeoning of electronics after the war.

His early years in physics coincided with a revitalization of that academic department, pressures for which had begun to emerge in the late 1920s and which, with the arrival of physicist Karl T. Compton as president of MIT in 1930, became a major Institute goal. New and far-reaching developments were taking place and the urge for reform and the study of physics for its own sake rather than simply as a service course for engineering students was given further impetus by the ideas and aspirations of young faculty members who, like Dr. Stratton, had recently returned from advanced study in Europe.

In addition to Electromagnetic Theory, Dr. Stratton was the author of many articles and technical papers and of Elliptic Cylinder and Spheroidal Wave Functions with P.M. Morse, L.J. Chu and R.A. Hutner (1941), and Spheroidal Wave Functions, with P.M. Morse, L.J. Chu, J.D.C. Little, and F.J. Corbato (1956). Science and the Educated Man, a collection of selected speeches, was published by the MIT Press at the time of his retirement in 1966.

His years as a faculty member and administrator were marked by a deep concern for the individual and a genuine interest in students and their problems. He led major efforts in curriculum revision and in the development of the residential program, including a dormitory for women, apartments for married students, and increased recreational and athletic facilities. In 1965 the new student center was named, at the request of the students, the Julius Adams Stratton Building.

Throughout the years he was an ardent spokesman for the nourishment of quality and a protagonist of the first-rate. He championed the importance of science at all levels of education and the need for humanistic studies in undergraduate scientific and engineering curricula. Above all, he believed firmly in the need for special institutions with well-defined objectives and "an intellectual environment in which imaginations are stirred, which fosters confidence that worthwhile things can be done, and where feelings of freedom and security go hand in hand with a sense of obligation and loyalty."

When Dr. Stratton reached mandatory retirement age in 1966, he was elected a life member of the MIT Corporation and was a life member emeritus at the time of his death.

In 1980, through a gift from William R. Hewlett, vice chairman of the Hewlett-Packard Company and an alumnus of the Institute, the Julius A. Stratton Professorship in Electrical Engineering and Physics was established to be occupied alternately by a faculty member from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Department of Physics.

In 1966 Dr. Stratton became chairman of the board of the Ford Foundation, which ended with his second retirement in 1971. Here, too, he was remembered for the extraordinary breadth and warmth of his relationship with the staff, as counselor, source of inspiration and friend. Of his 16 years of service as member and as chairman, a trustee resolution on his retirement said in part: "He has demonstrated in every word and action the meaning of the standard to which he has held us all: that we are here to serve not our own ends but those for which the Ford Foundation is chartered. He leaves the Foundation stronger than he found it, and all who care for its work are deeply in his debt."

Dr. Stratton returned to Cambridge in 1971 and in recent years had devoted his time and energies to the preparation of a history of MIT, with particular emphasis on the background of its founding and its development and growth in the 19th century.

Dr. Stratton was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 1950. In the early 1950s, Congress was pressing for a loyalty oath for individuals receiving federal research grants. In 1955, when the Academy was asked to consider this question, he was appointed chairman of a special committee known as the Committee on Loyalty in Relation to Government Support of Unclassified Research. The Committee outlined criteria for government policy with respect to such matters and recommended against special loyalty requirements for those involved in unclassified scientific research. Its recommendations were accepted by the Eisenhower administration in 1956.

Dr. Stratton served as vice president of the Academy from 1961 to 1965 and during that period chaired an Academy committee which led to the creation under its aegis of the National Academy of Engineering, of which he became a founding member.

He was a member also of the American Philosophical Society and the Council on Foreign Relations; a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science; a life Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; a member of Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi, and an eminent member of Eta Kappa Nu.

He was a Life Trustee and Member of the Corporation of the Boston Museum of Science and member emeritus of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, of which he was a director and member of the corporation from 1973 to 1979.

He was a member of the National Science Board from 1956 to 1962 and again from 1964 to 1967, resigning when he was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to serve as chairman of the newly established Commission on Marine Science, Engineering and Resources. After a two-year study the commission issued a landmark report, "Our Nation and the Sea," that resulted in the formation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency as the central focus for marine activity and in the establishment of such programs as that of Coastal Zone Management. In 1969, he was awarded the Marine Technology Society Citation and was chosen Man of the Year by the National Fisheries Institute. He received the Individual Distinguished Achievement Award of the Offshore Technology Conference in 1971 and the Neptune Award of the American Oceanic Association in 1979.

Dr. Stratton also received the Distinguished Public Service Award of the United States Navy (1957), the Medal of Honor of the Institute of Radio Engineers (1957), the Faraday Medal of the British Institution of Electrical Engineers (1961), the Boston Medal for Distinguished Achievement (1966), the Silver Stein Award of the MIT Center of New York (1967), and the Bronze Beaver of the MIT Alumni Association (1968). Dr Stratton held 17 honorary degrees from colleges and universities in the US, Great Britain and Canada.

His decorations included that of Commander of the Orden de Boyaca of Colombia (1964), and Knight Commander, Order of Merit, of the Federal Republic of Germany (1966). He was an officer of the French Legion of Honor (1961), an Honorary Fellow of the Manchester (England) College of Science and Technology (1963), and an Honorary Member of the Senate of the Technical University of Berlin (1966). In 1966 he was the recipient of the first Julius Adam Stratton prize for cultural achievement awarded annually by the Friends of Switzerland to Americans or Swiss citizens who have studied or worked in each other's countries and whose achievements exemplify the fruitfulness of this exchange.

Dr. Stratton is survived by his wife, Catherine N. (Coffman) Stratton; three daughters, Catherine Nelson Stratton of London, Mrs. Lew (Cary) F. Boyd of Newbury, MA, and Mrs. Laura Thoresby of London; and a granddaughter, Caroline Stratton Boyd.

Remembrances may be sent to MIT (Treasurer's Office, 238 Main St., Cambridge 02141) for undergraduate scholarships in memory of Julius A. Stratton.

A version of this
article appeared in the
June 29, 1994

issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume
38, Number
37).


Topics: Obituaries

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