Willard L. Thorp

Professor Emeritus of Economics and class of 1920
Interviewed on March 23-28, 1978

Tape 1, March 23

Audio file

Tape 2, March 24

Audio file

Tape 3, March 28

Audio file

Tape 4, March 28

Audio file

Subject coverage

  • Career preferences from a variety of experiences
  • Early years of teaching at Amherst College
  • Memories of Richard Henry Tawney
  • Reasons for selecting Economics as a career
  • Graduate study at Columbia and initial work with the Federal Government
  • Association with Dun's Review
  • A Trustee of Associated Gas and Electric
  • Return to the Economics Department at Amherst College
  • Political aspects of working for the government
  • Service with the Department of state
  • Comments on secretaries of state and President Truman and John J. McCloy
  • Posts in Yugoslavia, Cyprus, and Bolivia
  • Comments on Amherst College Presidents: Alexander Meiklejohn, George Daniel Olds, Arthur Stanley Pease, Stanley King, Charles Woolsey Cole
  • Origins and operation of the Merrill Center for Economics
  • Closing of Merrill Center and return to Amherst College
  • Comments on Charles E. Merrill
  • Undergraduate days at Amherst College


[This transcript was produced at the time of the original recording and may contain errors or omissions. A transcript from an additional oral history can be found in the Willard L. (AC 1920) and Clarice Brows Thorp Papers]

Willard L. Thorp 
Taped at his home on Harkness Road, Pelham 
March 23, 1978 
Horace W. Hewlett 
For: Amherst College 

HWH: Willard, you have had a very versatile career: You’ve been in teaching, business, government, head of a school, acting President of Amherst College. I wondered in all that you’ve done, if you had any preference-- or did you find all of them satisfying? 

THORP: Well, I’ve been very lucky because in almost all these situations it was not normal-- I shouldn’t say crisis situations, but situations that were much more interesting than would have been the usual case. This has given me a great deal of difficulty about advising students, because the danger is that my own life, which has happened to be moving from unusual situation to unusual situation, may well not be typical. 

For example, when I was a student at Amherst, it was what many people would regard as the Golden Age of Amherst under President Meiklejohn. When I came back to teach at Amherst, as a full professor at the age of 27, my two books had given me a national reputation-- in fact, an international reputation-- and Amherst was still not organized in economics, so that it was an exciting period in economics here. 

Then my first period in Washington was with Mr. Roosevelt as part of the New Deal. I was in the Brain Trust then. Then when I went up to New York in business, I became the economist of Dun and Bradstreet, which never had had one. Then I became Trustee of the biggest public utility reorganization that there ever had been, the third largest utility system in the country at that time. I went back to Washington to the State Department when the State Department had very little in the field of economics, to face all the post-war economic problems. 

When I came back to Amherst in 1952, it was not only to teach economics, but to direct a new venture, the Merrill Center for Economics. After that there was a period in Paris as an ambassador, a senior fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations, jobs for the United Nations, and most recently, chairman of the Pelham Finance Committee. So there’s been a wide variety. 

Now, I would say, that among all these exposures, I would rate my experience in government as the most interesting, the time when I felt most responsible, when I felt most useful and when I was challenged the most-- because I had to build staff and we had a whole series of new problems. 

On the other hand, I would say my time as head of the utility system was in a sense the least interesting. 

HWH: That was Associated Gas. 

THORP: That was Associated Gas & Electric Corporation. That was the least interesting, because in the first place, a utility is less interesting than most industries because it has no product variety. It has a monopoly of its market; its prices are fixed by negotiation with government agencies rather than by judgment of the market; and in general, this particular job was exciting just because it was cleaning up one of the biggest financial messes that there had ever been. But I was happy to get out of it, once it got reorganized and was going to be normal. 

In between government and business I’d put the academic experience. My academic experience was almost always combined with something outside, so that it’s a little hard to sort them out. But there is a lot to be said for the opportunity of teaching and particularly in Economics. Teaching gives one a sense of understanding, of having worked out problems and understanding what the economy is all about. But there’s a lot to be said for then going out and having your whole theoretical structure smashed by the complications of actual life, and then coming back into the academic world and trying to put it together again. 

HWH: I’d like to go back to when you were a student at Amherst. That was 1916 to ‘20. The Economics faculty at that time was Walton Hale Hamilton and Walter Stewart and James Crook. I think that was the total department. And I believe that the earliest that a student could take a course in economics was in his junior years. You soon came back to teach for a year, I believe in 1921-22 after you got your Master’s degree at Michigan. Did you find teaching at that, I’d say, tender age quite different from trying to teach Economics say twenty years later? 

THORP: Oh yes. I think the most difficult time was the time when I came back from Michigan when I taught seniors who had been sophomores when I was a senior, and who knew me as someone who played in the College dance orchestra and on the tennis team and so forth. I had had very little academic experience as a teacher. That was really difficult. Then in some ways, as I look back on it-- and maybe I have rose-colored glasses about it-- I think that was one of my most successful teaching periods, because I started it by saying to the class, “I have taken this course” (this was a course in labor problems)... 

HWH: It was Labor in an Industrial Society? 

THORP: Well, I don’t remember the title, but at any rate, I said, 

“I’m one step ahead of you but that isn’t really enough, so you’re all going to have to work pretty hard at it in order to get anything out of this course.” It was a very bright group of students. I remember Carl Raushenbush was in that group. And the course really reached its peak come spring vacation, and there’s a story there, if I may tell it. 

I was called in by the President and told that there was an Amherst graduate named Rossiter, up in Concord, New Hampshire, the head of the Rumford Press, and that he had at one time been an administrative officer or in a high-level position in the Census Bureau. The Census (Bureau) had decided to have a series of monographs written about the 1920 Census and had asked Mr. Rossiter if he would write Monograph #1 on population trends. Mr. Rossiter, who was an active business man and kind of out of touch in general with the problem, had called for help to Amherst and I was asked if I would go up there and spend my spring vacation and a little more time if necessary and kind of ghost-write this monograph. Which I did. 

But the point of this is, merely, that I was away for a couple of weeks, and I left it with the students that they would run the course. And they ran it for those two weeks and all the reports that I had were that it was quite as good as it would have been if I’d been there. But I regarded that as a real achievement. 

That year I also taught the Social and Economic Institutions freshman course, which was the course intended to shock the freshmen, to make them realize that the ideas which they had inherited from their home and family were open to question. And we tried to make them-- this was, in a sense, the general theory of the Meiklejohn approach to education-- tried to make them skeptics. Not merely skeptics, but to go beyond it, to start by asking questions on any problem that you were faced with. I remember in that freshman class, one of the things I had them write was an essay on what the population of the United States would be in the year 2000. And so what? The reason I remember it is that one of the papers that came in, seriously, said that the United States will not exist in the year 2000 because the world will come to an end before then. This obviously was a student who could take a little “shocking.” 

HWH: You had freedom in conducting this course, I gather. 

THORP: This was a course which all freshmen, I think, had to take at that time. It was in sections. I think in that year Stacy May, Scott Buchanan, I don’t remember who else, were instructors also and we had a common program to cover, but it was entirely a discussion course for freshmen in small groups and, as I say, intended to get them to realize that almost everything had to be thought about. 

HWH: Did this come under the Economics Department? 

THORP: No, no. I think somebody ran it and I’m not sure but what that year Professor Gettell from the Political Science Department ran it. 

HWH: I was surprised to see that a couple of years after you left-- it was after Meiklejohn, of course, had left the College-- there was a great turmoil on the faculty with many leaving. Therefore, many places to be filled in one year-- I believe there were Rexford Tugwell, Paul Douglas, and Professor William Weld from Columbia--all I believe on... 

THORP: Borrowed-- they were borrowed. Well this was the time of the great exodus of people that left when Meiklejohn left. For instance, both Hamilton and Stewart were appointees of Meiklejohn and he, in a sense had built up the social sciences; I think Gettell, also, who was in Political Science. And this whole group was so enraged by what had happened vis-à-vis Meiklejobn that they left. Georgie Olds of course took over to try to pull things together again and had to operate through borrowed people. I think it’s worth noting though that in the Economics Department, when Paul Douglas came from Chicago, the University of Chicago, he brought George Taylor with him. And of course George Taylor has been in Amherst ever since. 

HWH: That was 1924 I believe. In your senior year Richard Henry Tawney was here for a semester. Did you happen to take his course? 

THORP: What happened in the senior year was that there was a course for twelve selected seniors who were social science majors, which was divided into four parts, and Tawney and Ernest Barker each had a quarter of it. I’ve forgotten, but I think somebody from Political Science and Walton Hamilton did the other parts. This was presumably the most advanced course in the social sciences. I remember Tawney coming in the first time and we were all sitting around a round table in the northwest corner of the third floor of Converse. (Those corner rooms had tables around which twelve students could sit.) We were all there and Tawney came in all by himself, in the door, and I suppose somebody told him where to come. We stood up and he stood there and nobody quite knew what to do; and then he marched in and someone pointed out a chair for him and we started. 

I also recall the great impression he made on us in about the second or third session, because someone read a paper-- I think it was on Hobbes’s Leviathan, but I’m not sure. The student read a rather long quotation and Tawney suddenly stopped him and said: “I think you’ve left a word out.” And of course, this was an ability which came through the English training which none of us could possibly have done. I certainly never could have done that kind of thing. Perhaps I could if I felt the sense had been very much changed, but to say a word had been left out from a quote was unbelievable-- and that had a terrific effect on us. 

The other thing in that course that I recall was the excitement we felt when Walton Hamilton produced the galley proof of the new book which Veblen had just written. And our assignment was in terms of reading through that galley proof. We had had Veblen in hard covers before that, The Instinct of Workmanship, and Theory of the Leisure Class. I think this was The Theory of Business Enterprise. But at any rate, this gave us all such a feeling of being on the inside, you know. 

HWH: Was Hamilton a friend of Veblen? 

THORP: Oh, Hamilton was. At that time there was a school of economists-- which included Hamilton and Veblen and a number of others, John R. Commons at Wisconsin was in it, Wesley Mitchell-- the ideas of it are still important. They more or less took the position that the neat Euclidian kind of analysis that classical economics had developed on the basis of certain assumptions about market operations and the character of people and so forth was useful, but it was so abstract that probably things that actually happened in the economic field were shaped more by what were called institutions, rather than through this very beautiful and easily taught body of economic theory. By institutions they meant not only things like the Federal Reserve Board and U.S. Steel Corporation, but they meant habits of thought-- the kind of behavior and values that a society had. This general concept has now invaded all social science thinking because it is clear that there are different cultures, and you have to make any analysis of how an economy works in terms of the culture in which it operates. 

I remember Hamilton saying to me once, when I said to him, “Why is it that we always start elementary economics with the feudal system?” He said, “Well that’s easy-- you want the student to realize that there is some other way of organizing it than the one that we have, which we’re going to analyze. You try to get him outside the analysis of your immediate environment by looking at another one.” Then he went on to say, “My great regret is that we haven’t got enough organized knowledge about slavery to use that as the opener, but I think it would be exceedingly valuable to any person starting economics to make quite a thorough study of a slave economy as an alternative way of organizing society.” 

HWH: That’s interesting. 

THORP: Well anyway, to come back and wind this up-- Veblen had perhaps gone further than anyone else at the time that I was a student in developing this general notion of habits of thought and obvious value systems like having-- oh because the average wealthy person couldn’t have the sort of estate that the British had, he might well put in his front yard a life-size statue of a deer-- it was this kind of motive-- he was interested in motivation-- and also interested in the impact that the machine was going to have on our whole economic organization. Well that was a part of this course, that we all, at least the dozen of us that were exposed to it, got here. 

HWH: Do you recall when you yourself concluded you’d like to make your career in economics? 

THORP: Oh sure. That’s a very interesting bit of Amherst history. I came to Amherst out of a Congregational minister’s home. 

HWH: In Oswego, New York I believe. 

THORP: Well I was born in Oswego but I went through grammar school in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and through High School in Duluth, Minnesota, and came to Amherst from Duluth. At any rate I had some thoughts that I might follow in my father’s footsteps, but I didn’t really have any clearcut idea about my future when I came to Amherst, because my father had always said, “You wait until you’ve done a lot of studying and you’ll judge better.” And freshman year was in those days pretty well cut and dried. I remember the courses that I had-- but you may not be interested-- but at any rate it is relevant to say that one of them was chemistry. I’d never had any chemistry, and I was quite excited about chemistry. At the end of my freshman year, I really thought maybe I should become a chemist. And I took a second year course in chemistry and the first semester was fine, but the second semester, two things combined to kill my interest in chemistry. One, we were working in the laboratory according to instructions. Step #1 is this, step #2 is this, step #3 is this; now you’ll know whether there is sulphur in this or not. If you find there is sulphur, go to square 3 kind of thing. 

HWH: Not to interrupt, Willard, but would that have been Howard Doughty and Hoppy at that time? 

THORP: The first year was Hopkins and I think the second year was Doughty. 

HWH: Maybe Zinn. 


HWH: He wasn’t here yet. 

THORP: No. At least I don’t remember him. The Hopkins course-- well, all chemistry courses in those days were lectures and laboratory. And there was no discussion of any real kind. I found it less and less interesting. 

Secondly, I had the misfortune somewhere along in that second semester of tipping up a hot test-tube to smell the gas coming off, and apparently the test-tube was heated enough so that when I tipped it up, the surface boiled. I got whatever the acid was over my face so that I had a round burn below my nose and all around my mouth; and I didn’t like that very much. Also I was in the public speaking contest and I don’t remember whether I even went through it. I knew I couldn’t possibly win, looking like such a mess as I was at that moment. So that killed chemistry for me. 

At that time I was in my sixth year of Latin and I decided I’d had enough Latin; I’d had a year of French and that had been enough French for me, because it was just reading. We never spoke a word of French the whole year. Stowell, could it be, could that have been the name? 

HWH: Could well have been, yes. (William Averill Stowell) 

THORP: At any rate we read little books-- The Voyage of M. Perrichon, I remember, was the first one we had. I felt great achievement to be able to read this silly little story in French. But I came back junior year and enrolled in economics and political science and mathematics, which I had become very fond of-- and was very good in math. I had Walter Stewart in economics and I just couldn’t have been less interested. I was quite excited about political science and math. So I came back senior year to take my two majors-- you had to have two majors then-- in political science and mathematics, and to my distress the courses came at the same hour and I could only take one of them. Well, mathematics was my special love and I’d had every other course in math, except Charlie Cobb’s most advanced one, so I gave up political science. Well the requirement for a major was that you had to have had a course in junior year and a course in senior year and a third course in one year or the other. To my great distress the only subject in which I could major and have a schedule where the courses didn’t conflict was economics. One was the one I’ve already spoken about, the Tawney, Barker, Hamilton, Gettell course, and the other was Labor Problems under Hamilton. 

Well, after maybe six weeks or so in that Labor Problems course, Hamilton asked me to come into his office. I came in and he said, “Here’s a big report that’s just come out of the Government on coal-- the Coal Commission Report-- and it’s got lots of statistical stuff in it. It’s got some new ideas such as bulk line costs and it’s beyond me, because I don’t understand this sort of thing, but I’m sure it’s important, and I would like to relieve you from everything except attending class for a period of time, if you will undertake to work this over and then come tell me what it’s about.” 

HWH: That was very unusual. 

THORP: And so he demonstrated to me that it was possible to use my mathematical interest in the economic field. After that had been done, he said, “I’ve got an idea-- let’s go to work on it, namely: maybe the Government ought to take over the coal industry, but obviously that takes a terrific amount of expenditure by the Government-- they couldn’t possibly buy the coal industry. But maybe if we figured it out on a basis of a long-term payment, and then we took the future payments far away and gave them a present value-- in other words the amount of money that you’d have to put into a Savings Bank to become that amount far away-- maybe the present amount of present commitment that the Government would have to make would be bearable. At any rate, you go to work to figure this out in dollars and see what comes out of it.” 

Well, I did. At some later time, I think when he was at Brookings, he wrote a book which developed this idea. Then somewhere around Christmas time, or shortly there after, he called me into his office and he said, “I just got a letter from Michigan and they say that they’d like to have two of our Amherst graduates come there to be instructors for a year. They are bringing two people from each of a number of places and it should be quite interesting because they have an elementary course of 700 to 1,000 students, and it breaks down into sections, and you’d have some sections in it, and they will pay you”-- well I’ve forgotten what, but maybe $500 or maybe $1,000, at any rate whatever it was, it was enough to carry me for the year. And he said, “We have been teaching you institutional economics here but if you’re going on into economics you’ve got to really know classical economics in a way that we’ve never taught you, because we don’t think the ordinary undergraduate from Amherst needs to have that professional knowledge. But one of the best and purest economists in the country is a man named Taylor, Fred Taylor, at the University of Michigan. And it would be an entirely new experience to you to have a course in economics with him.” 

At that moment I had no plans that were compelling. I had been thinking that maybe I’d continue in my mathematics and become an actuary, because at that time that was about the only thing other than teaching that directly used advanced mathematics. So Walton Hamilton seduced me into economics. It really was a straight procedure of happening to come through at the right time, with the right things; and so I am an economist. 

HWH: Was it arranged then that you study for a Master’s degree or did you decide that after you got there? 

THORP: No, I got there and this was then arranged. In the one year I taught, I guess I taught 16 hours a week, something like that. No, I think I only had three sections, that would have been 12 hours a week. Except there was one lecture a week that was given and I had to go to that, not to give it ever. And I took full-time courses, enough to get my Master’s, and I wrote a thesis all in that one year, there at Michigan. 

HWH: Busy year. 

THORP: Yes, it was a busy year. They had introduced in Michigan, for the first time, a course in Statistics, and it was given by the man named Carver, who’d been handling the insurance actuarial courses. This was the first year of the course and there were a number of interesting things about it. One was, we spent a long time trying to fit a smooth curve to the census records for population for every ten years, since 1790, that’s the first census, and coming up through 1920. It all went very well in terms of experimenting and one learned a lot of ways of doing this, because this was something that they had to do in the insurance field. You get people of different ages and you try to fit something so you can make predictions at intermediate points; and that, then, really got me going into statistics, which has been a secondary interest of mine up until recent years. Well, I would say that I ended my work in statistics when I got into international affairs. 

HWH: Was Walter Wilicox a figure at that point? 

THORP: Oh, Walter Willcox was the professor of statistics at Cornell, but what he was known for was that he was the country’s leading expert on the apportionment of members of the House of Representatives. And he used to come back here to Amherst and I would see him. Colston Warne knew him better than I, because Colston had Cornell connections. But I can remember Walter Wilicox announcing that he was never going to come back to Amherst unless he could climb to the top of the Chapel tower. And he used to do it. I think he did it when he was 100, or close to that. 

HWH: Yes he did. I know in his later years he had a course through his house that he followed, walking-- just for the exercise. It was laid out so he did a mile a day indoors. 

I think it’s interesting, Willard, that in your class there were three of you who came to teach at the College-- you, of course, Ralph Beebe and Lim Sprague. And for Lim and Ralph, they spent their entire career here at Amherst. But getting on with you, you went back and got your Ph.D. at Columbia, I believe, in 1924. Meantime you taught, I gather on the side, at the American Institute of Banking, then you came back to Amherst in 1926 and were here for six full years. Then you went off with the Government, though I know you worked with the Government even during your last year of your first term as full professor. I have it that you were Director of the U.S. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce in 1933 and ‘34; at the same time you were a member of the Federal Alcohol Control Administration. This was in ‘33 and ‘35. In ‘34 you were Chairman of the Advisory Council to the NRA. I think it’s remarkable that, I won’t say it was a tender age, but you were a relatively young man and with real responsibilities. Now this was probably your first work with the Government, though you probably had assignments between ‘26 and ‘33. 

THORP: If you want me to talk about this period I can fill in a few... 

HWH: Yes, I’d very much like that. 

THORP: I did mention the name of Wesley Mitchell as having been one of the institutionalist group and I’m sure that Walton Hamilton called me to Wesley Mitchell’s attention. I got to Columbia in the fall of ‘22 to begin graduate work for my Ph.D. and the following January became Wesley Mitchell’s research assistant in the National Bureau of Economic Research. This was a post World War I organization that had been set up by people who had been in the Government dealing with logistics and had come to the conclusion that the Government needed to have, or that the country needed to have, much better statistical knowledge if it were going to have to meet crises or problems like the War. We just didn’t know what this or that changed requirement for goods and services would do to the economy. So they set up the National Bureau of Economic Research with Harvard, I can’t think of his name at the moment, a Harvard professor of Economic History, and Wesley Mitchell as the joint directors. (It was Edwin F. Gay who was at the time President of the New York Evening Post.) As part of the Bureau’s program, Wesley Mitchell was going to continue with work about business fluctuations, business cycles which he had started when he was at the University of California. One of the things he wanted done was to have all the available statistical material that represented time series, in other words, not just to know what the statistics were for a given year but to be able to have the production of shoes year after year after year, so you could see prosperity and you could see depression and examine the sequences of change in the various economic sectors. And so my first assignment under him was to hunt down and put in a whole series of loose-leaf books any statistical series that I could find, with a detailed description of its coverage and definition. Of course a good many of them were known, but there was a lot of others where a trade journal, for instance, may have published a record of some industry that had never gotten into the public attention. Remember this is the ‘twenties, and the ‘twenties was just really the beginning of what is one of the intellectual revolutions in the social sciences, namely the injection of quantitative measurement and quantitative techniques-- that’s when the use of correlation first came into being, and a lot of added statistics began to get involved in this. I can come to that a little bit later, because I was in the middle of that, too. 

For this project I had a couple of assistants and a corner of the economic research room in the 42nd Street, New York Public Library, and I went there to work myself, and to keep them going. For the necessary period I took courses at Columbia. When the residence requirement was achieved, I became full time on the National Bureau staff. I’m the only person still alive who was on its staff in that early period. I’d already published one book, which is a story in itself, that I’d written the summer that I was in Washington, which was the summer after I graduated. That was how I was paid off for the Rossiter job which I described above. I was given a job for the summer in the Census Bureau. I found some unique data and wrote a Census monograph about them. Professor Edwin R. Seligman (Eustace’s father), at my Ph.D. exam asked me about that monograph, “Mr. Thorp, I don’t find any footnotes or any references to other studies in this.” Wesley Mitchell, who was my sponsor, said, “But Professor Seligman no one has ever had such material. Mr. Thorp found it hidden away in the Census Bureau and no one’s ever been able to write on this subject before.” And Mr. Seligman said, “Not even the Germans?” 

Well, to come back to the National Bureau... 


THORP: At some point in the process of collecting statistics for Wesley Mitchell, he said to me that it was tragic that there weren’t records for a number of countries going back into the past, because he was sure that business cycles, in other words prosperity and depression and prosperity and depression, were a phenomenon which could be demonstrated to have happened at earlier times. And I said, “Well there aren’t statistics, but there must be in the literature references by people about more unemployment, prices falling, etc. The newspapers must have information. One should be able to deduce from, not exact quantitative material, but descriptive material, something about the variations in business conditions in earlier periods.” And he said, “Well that’s an interesting idea. Why don’t you make a try at it?” 

So I spent two years-- I’d done my work at Columbia-- in the 42nd Street Public Library digging through all kinds of material. I found some wonderful sources; for example, the economic officials of the Foreign Office of the British Government, all around the world in various countries, would send back every year a report on the economic conditions of the country to which they were assigned. So you had already collected at least an initial statement and some of these were very good, some weren’t. But one of the things which the British did do in their colonies in general was to develop some basic statistical records. And the United States Government in the same way had reports which they used to publish from various countries about the state of events. Then there were newspapers, there were diaries, there were financial records of various sorts. At any rate, all this ended in my publishing a book with Wesley Mitchell in which he wrote the foreword (or at least it’s attributed to him-- I had something to do with writing it), but at any rate it’s a book called Business Annals and it carried the record in the United States and in England back to 1790, year by year; in France to 1840; and Germany, I think, to 1866; and then for about a dozen other countries from 1890 up to whatever the terminal date was, probably 1924 or ‘25. (The last year in the record was 1925. The German record went back to 1853 and the Austrian to 1867.) And this book was also something new. So that at that point in my life I was the world’s leading authority on what were called Central Office Groups, which is what I had studied in the Census Bureau, namely, cases where a company operated more than one establishment. Then also this book very quickly went all around the world as an exciting new book in the business cycle field. 

Then there was an odd little bit of my experience that I ought to tuck in here. I’d gotten a little bit weary of the New York Public Library, but I was still running a staff there, and I was asked by a man who had been at Columbia getting his Ph.D. when I had, if I would be interested in taking his place as the chief statistician for the New York State Board of Housing. I agreed, and I had a year in the New York State government. The New York State Board of Housing was a brand new enterprise intended to work out what were known as limited dividend corporations providing low-cost housing, the idea being that you’d invest your money and the State would give concessions on taxes, and there would be controls over the rent levels, and that various slum areas could be rebuilt on this new financing basis. And I made a whole lot of studies for them, but then I was approached by Georgie Olds as to whether I would come back to Amherst. I did, but I continued on the National Bureau staff until ‘33. (I went to New York frequently and spent most of my summers there, living in the Amherst Club on the corner of 37th Street and Lexington Avenue.) 

When the National Bureau did a mammoth report, called Recent Economic Changes, for a Commission for which President Hoover was the chairman, I did one of the chapters for that particular study. Much of that work was done in Amherst during the summer of 1927. I brought an assistant here, Albert (Jim) Abrahamson, who became Professor of Economics at Bowdoin. I can recall our going down and meeting with President Hoover and other people in Washington to report the consequences of this study. And it’s one of those things that is just as well not greatly publicized, because this came out in ‘29 and if you read it through, I think you would conclude that the United States was in fine shape. 

HWH: That leads to a question that I didn’t mark down here, Willard. Your activity on behalf of the Government has been in appointive jobs; I don’t believe you’ve ever run for office, except perhaps in Pelham-- maybe you did in Amherst when you were on the faculty here, but you’re known as a Democrat and I think you would say that you are a strong Democrat and you’ve been appointed to very significant jobs in the government by Presidents. I believe your first appointment, aside from on a board or in some administration, was when you became Special Advisor to the Secretary of Commerce and that was in 1939-40. 

THORP: Now wait a minute. I don’t know what you mean by first appointment, for after all, I... 

HWH: I say, other than to a board or as director of an agency. Here I believe you were Special Advisor to the Secretary of Commerce, and I don’t know whether it was Jesse Jones or Harry Hopkins, in that period. 

THORP: That particular job was at the end of Jesse Jones’ tenure and was mostly as advisor to Harry Hopkins. I don’t think you ought to distinguish it from a number of the others that I held. Well, maybe you should. I’ll tell you about that one anyway. (But first, I must say that I was in Washington from 1933 to 1935 and held a number of different positions then. The return to the Commerce Department was a part-time arrangement and I commuted for part of each week to Washington.) At that point I was Chief Economist for Dun & Bradstreet and was developing a whole series of economic analyses and building up a brand new magazine which is still published, but which I was the originator of and the designer of. 

HWH: Dun’s Review

THORP: Dun’s Review. When I went there Dun & Bradstreet had two little paper things that reported on, oh, livestock arrivals in Kansas City and things like that. The company spent no money for advertising and Mr. Whiteside, who was the head of it, who’d brought me there because we’d worked together in Washington in the NRA, told me to wander around and see what I could do that would be useful. One of the things that occurred to me was that Dun & Bradstreet had a lot of information that ought to be utilized, exploited, helpful to the public, and that it spent nothing for advertising. So he said I could have $100,000 a year to get a magazine going. 

And so it got going. It was a monthly magazine, with photographs and all that sort of thing. I wrote an editorial every month and discovered how awful it is to have a writing deadline that comes along regularly. So I was busy in New York City when the call came from Washington that a new study of monopoly had been authorized by the Congress and that something called the Temporary National Economic Committee, Commission I guess, was authorized by Congress-- it included three senators, three members of the House, and six Cabinet officers. It was to organize studies of monopoly, size and business practices, and it was going to have hearings. A friend of mine, named Leon Henderson, was the head of the staff. At any rate, to make a long story short, Isadore Lubin, who was another friend of mine in the Labor Department, then Commissioner of Labor Statistics, and Leon Henderson, who was attached to the TNEC, and myself, handling the end from Commerce, were kind of the troika that drove the thing along. It ended up in, I don’t know, six feet of shelves. I wrote one of the reports in it. But this was mostly organizing, getting other people, organizing the Commerce Department. And I commuted to Washington. 

Mr. Whiteside was a great patriot. Anything the Government wanted from Dun & Bradstreet it could get. And so on a sort of dollar-a-year basis, I think, I went down there. I’d put in a couple of days in Washington-- two or three-- and the rest of it back in New York, every week. 

Then Harry Hopkins was taken sick. He had a summer home-- well I don’t know that I’d say summer home, but a cottage-- over near Annapolis and he was over there. He turned the Department of Commerce over to three people, though we frequently reported to him. The Assistant Secretary of Commerce was the head of Life Savers, his name was Noble, Edward Noble. He was the front man. I was the substance man. And there was a third fellow whose name I don’t remember, but I could probably find it-- who was the political man. Of course Harry Hopkins still was the Secretary of Commerce, but Edward Noble went to the Cabinet meetings-- well, I went to a few of them, not many. But we kept the Department going. 

I remember one of the things that took a great deal of my time was the problem of what questions should be asked in the 1940 Census. This was the first census on which the Government wanted to ask questions about income and there were all kinds of battles. I can remember Senator Tobey and the Hill getting very steamed up about this, and I, having to explain before a Committee on the Hill and to two lovely, old women who came down from New Hampshire to the hearing and were horrified that anyone was going to ask them about their income, as to how little damage this would do to them because this would be strictly confidential and so forth and so on. 

That double-duty (D & B and Commerce) continued until I became involved in Associated Gas and Electric and had to pull out of the government at that point. There, of course, I was appointed by a Federal Judge. 

You’re quite right about the fact that I was not really in politics as such. I was elected to the School Committee in Weston, Connecticut, when I lived in Weston, but that’s the only elected office that I’ve had. My Pelham office, even, is an appointed one by the Moderator. However, I am prouder of the fact that I was elected twice as an Alumni Trustee. 

HWH: Yes, Willard, I was coming to that, and you were the only one who served two terms with just a year separating them. I had meant to ask you earlier if you had Charlie Cole as a student when you were a teacher at Amherst. 

THORP: No. I didn’t even know Charlie Cole in that whole earlier period. I must have met him, but I have no recollection of it. I mean at some point when I came back here, because I used to come up to Amherst quite often. After all, my first wife’s mother lived here then, and we used to come up, but I don’t have any recollection of knowing Charlie until, I guess, until he was President. I may have met him a little bit before then. 

HWH: Well we are about to plunge you into your activity with Associated Gas and Electric. It seems to me that you did have a student or two at Amherst that you brought into working there, Al Friendly being one, I believe. Would you comment a little on what you had to do at Associated Gas? 

THORP: Well, Associated Gas & Electric was one of the two great utility empires built up during the ‘twenties, the Insull empire and the Hobson empire. These were possible because the early electric companies were essentially local, and what these two people did was to assemble a multitude of little local companies into much larger systems. And the way in which they tended to do it was to buy one local system, let’s say for $500,000, and then say that because it belonged to the system it was worth a great deal more, so they would then sell bonds and maybe preferred stock for $1,000,000, based on that same property. Then they would go ahead with the million dollars and buy something else. There was a great deal of pyramiding so that a corporation would own another-- you’d have the stock of Corporation X owned by Corporation Y, which in turn would be owned by Corporation Z. As a matter of fact, there was one curious situation in which A owned the stock of B, B owned the stock of C, and C owned the stock of A. And in such a situation there is no conceivable way in which you can value those stocks, because the minute you change the value of one, it changes those of the others and so forth. 

Well, the Hobson case was a case in which he had had a tremendous selling organization, so that when I became involved there were 400,000 people who owned common stock in the top company. In most cases they had originally bought, let’s say, a bond or preferred stock in an operating company, and then a salesman would come to them and say, “Now Mr. Hobson is a little worried about your investment, it’s just in this one company and he’s willing to exchange for your stock, stock in the company that owns it and owns another one, so that you’ll have diversified value.” Then the next time round he’d say, “Now here’s something that pays a higher dividend,” and so forth. He gradually moved people up into the top company, and all of this on a very highly over-valued base of the operating companies. Paying interest, excessive preferred stock dividends, plus inordinate service charges, meant that the operating companies ran on very tight budgets. They were wonderful operators-- they could fix things up with rubber bands and baling wire and keep using boilers that had long since outlived their decent life span and so forth and so on. 

Well, this wasn’t just an operating situation, it was one in which there were a great deal of shenanigans. Hobson had set up a dozen different service companies in Delaware-- one for accounting, one for taxes, one for labor advice, one for engineering, and so forth-- and these companies out of Delaware serviced companies in other states. Well, the regulation of the operating companies was on a state basis but there was no way in which the state of Pennsylvania could check on whether this bill that came from a Delaware outfit was a legitimate bill or not, and the net result was that the companies were milked heavily by this device. As a matter of fact, we figured out and found that Mr. Hobson worked seven or eight hundred days a year according to the bills that were sent out. 

Then there were other things where securities or notes, things of that sort, were used perhaps doubly, so that the security might be switched. The record tuned up all sorts of irregularities and some basic lawsuits from a great many people. 

But, it was the third largest utility system that looked as if it had a billion, four hundred million of assets. It had something like 25,000 employees. This was about as unexpected a job for me as when I was appointed Director of the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, where, as a simple college professor, I suddenly found myself running a Washington Bureau with a couple of thousand people in it, never having run anything more than just a little research staff at the National Bureau before that. Suddenly I found myself there as one of three people involved under the Federal District Court. I had a fellow trustee in the Associated Gas & Electric Corporation, named Dennis Driscoll-- a sweet person, at least 20 years older than I-- who had been a member of Congress, and when the Public Utility Holding Company Act was being considered by the Congress as part of the New Deal legislation to prevent people like Insull and Hobson doing their sort of thing, he discovered that the telegrams that he’d received were obviously fraudulent, because he had had a bunch all from people whose initials were in the first four letters of the alphabet. And this was part of what put the legislation over. 

Just getting started was a problem. There was no staff. Obviously the top people under Hobson had to be fired. One person I brought in was an Amherst man who I put in charge of the Operating Companies. That was Ed Morehouse, who at that time was teaching Utilities in the University of Wisconsin. For my personal aide I brought in another Amherst man-- Al Friendly. In Washington, in ‘53 in the Department of Commerce, I had brought in Al Friendly and Dick Gettell, who later became President of Mount Holyoke, to be two people in my office associated directly with me. They could go and look into anything (that) I wanted someone that I trusted to look into. Al Friendly came for a year to be with me at the Associated Gas & Electric. Al Friendly believed in journalism. He was successful; this was his great love. He worked with me on the theory, which I think was true, that a period of time working in the particular set of problems would make him a better journalist. When he came with me at Associated Gas & Electric, he had just won a Nieman Fellowship and he turned it down to come and work with me in New York. 

HWH: Al always contended, when he talked about how to become a journalist, that it’s better to learn some aspect of a profession or business than it is to go to journalism school, and he bore out that practice himself. 

Well Associated Gas & Electric took you, I think, six years. 

THORP: That’s right. There were a certain number of people who insisted when I took it on that it could last my lifetime, that this was such a complicated situation that it would. 

There was the new legislation, the Public Utility Holding Company Act, which meant that a lot of this system had to be sold; and that you can’t just do overnight. It’s a hard problem. The Utility Holding Company Act virtually says that an electric power company must be just an electric power company. Well, the Associated Gas & Electric system, coming out of the ‘twenties, had any number of other things-- it had a lot of street car companies because street car companies which didn’t do too well ran up bills and finally were taken over by the power company, so that we had a bunch of streetcar companies; we had water companies; we had amusement parks; we had dairy farms because presumably this was land that might be useful in hydroelectrics; we had coal mines; we had whorehouses, because they were frequently at the end of the trolley line, interestingly enough. And this was a major clean-up job. Beyond just the complications of the job, there were people who wanted it continued in bankruptcy, or rather in reorganization-- this is technically different from bankruptcy. There were people that wanted it continued there because during that period of time you didn’t have to pay interest on your bonds and you could probably get away with not paying taxes, and therefore, you had all that money which you could plough back in and put the property in shape, you see. So I had many investment bankers who would come and argue that we ought not to complete this particular job. 

This was also an education to me in another respect, namely, state governments. After all, the regulation of utility companies as to the rate structure is all a matter of negotiation with state governments, public service commissions. Now some of the public service commissions were really very high-grade with excellent staffs. I remember that was true in Pennsylvania as far as the Utility Commission was concerned, but on the other hand, in Pennsylvania, Mr. Hobson hadn’t paid his taxes for many, many years. He’d managed to get into this or that legal controversy, or something, so that one of our problems was to work out with the Federal Government and the State Government taxes. The reason that this suddenly came to mind was that whereas the Pennsylvania Utility Commission was high-grade, when it came to taxes we had to change lawyers in order to get the right law firm to work with the tax authorities. 

Same thing was true in South Carolina. I can remember going down and meeting with the Public Utility Commission and wanting to have some changes in the rate structure and they said, who are your lawyers-- and I told them, and they said, well, we’ll see if we can put you on the schedule. And nothing happened. And I went down a second time and the same thing happened-- who are your lawyers? and I told them-- it was one of the top law firms there-- and so I asked the lawyers-- I said look, how do we get around this and they said well we’d better have thus and so law firm in this with us and then we’ll be able to do it. Sure enough, we got right on the schedule when we had the other... 

Florida was an interesting case. Florida had no Public Utility Commission for the state, but each community regulated its situation, and interestingly enough, the state representatives from each one of these communities were retained by the power company in case an important lawsuit would develop. That’s the way they put it, but it meant that the power companies among themselves had virtually the whole Florida legislature on retainer at that point. 

Well, I cite this merely as part of the educational process that goes on as one moves around from one place to another. We did manage to rebuild it. This involved working with the Federal Court, with the SEC, and then with a whole series of committees representing different sets of securities. This is a very complicated legal operation in which some law firm will represent the bond-holders of one particular bond issue: and the other law firms represent other groups. And of course in the end, you’ve got to pretty well satisfy all of them that they’re getting their fair share in whatever valuable assets come out of it. So that it’s a real labyrinth to work through this kind of thing and it takes an exceedingly good staff. 

We couldn’t get any law firm to become our lawyer because it was such a big job and the fees would be set by the court. No law firm was prepared to get that far into uncertainty about its compensation, so we had to make our own law firm. And I got a man from the Yale Law School, named Throop, to be Chief Counsel, and he brought in among his assistants another Amherst man who became one of our key people. All I can think of is Isaacs and that isn’t right. I wish I could-- Oh dear-- well it will come to me and perhaps I can put it in. He died not long ago. He was-- Israels, Carlos Israels. Wasn’t far off to say Isaacs. Carlos was in charge of one of our very important phases in the law with respect to one of the major subsidiaries and for that. believe it or not, he hired a budding young lawyer named Clarice Brows, and that’s where I met my present wife. She was on the staff, she was the only lawyer appointed on the staff that I didn’t interview before she was appointed. She talked with the other trustee, but I was away somewhere or other, and that’s the way we met. 

HWH: I hadn’t realized that. Did you close the whole thing up in six years? 

THORP: What happened was, that we completed our program, a program for reorganization. Then it had to go through approval by the Court, the S.E.C. and so forth, and in that program I was to be the Chairman of the Board of General Public Utilities Company which was the emerging company, taking over all the property and issuing new securities to replace the old securities for those who got any-- the 400,000 stockholders never got a penny out of it. Even many of the bondholders only got partial compensation. When it was all cleaned up and a proper balance sheet was prepared, it was clear that the assets were not equal to the various claims on them. There were endless hearings before the S.E.C. and the Federal Court, but the plan was finally approved. 

I learned, I guess at the New Deal time, that since I was normally an active tennis player and a golf player when the courts were soft, and always had been pretty physically active, that the desk world that I was in was not for me. So I finally ended up regularly going to one or another health club, having exercises, having massages, having steam baths, and that became a habit so that even when I was at Associated I did it. I went down to the Athletic Club that was down near the Battery-- our office was down near the Battery-- I went a couple of times a week. That was because, at that period, I was living up in Connecticut and spending two hours a day coming down and two hours a day going back-- all winter except for weekends I wouldn’t see Connecticut except in the dark. So I had to do this kind of thing to supplement. This didn’t of course take much time; they know how to deal with you so that in an hour you’ve gotten a pretty complete re-working by the experts. But I should say this was a very busy and very strenuous time. 

Before the last steps were taken in the reorganization, I got a call from Washington from Will Clayton as to whether I would come down and be his deputy in the State Department. I went to the Federal Judge and the Federal Judge said, “No, you can’t leave at this point because the commitment is that when this plan is approved, you will be head of the Board until the first Annual Meeting when the stockholders will elect a new board.” So I reported this back to Washington, and they said, “Well, all right you can be the Chairman of the Board; after all, public utilities are an essentially local operation, they aren’t foreign.” And I said, “Well, but this system’s got the Manila Electric in the Philippines.” And they said, “All right you can come. We will just make sure that anything to do with the Philippines will bypass you, so that this will prevent any conflict of interest.” So I continued as Chairman of the Board at Public Utilities Corporation for a while, even though I was down with the State Department, and I went up and presided at meetings and so forth. 

But then there finally came a point where I had to resign, I just couldn’t do them both. As a matter of fact, I’ve never known whether there was a conspiracy with someone who wanted to take my place or what, but I was visited by one of the members of the Board who said that in the growing concern about conflicts of interest he wondered whether I shouldn’t resign. And I did. 

The new corporation is now one of the leading utilities. Of course in those days, I don’t think there were more than about fifteen to twenty public utility common stocks on the market. One of the interesting things that I did while I was a trustee came when we had to dispose of the Virginia Public Service Company which was part of the system-- I think that’s the title, it was a Virginia company anyway. This involved putting a value on it, and it had never been in the market-- it had never been sold-- and the Virginia Public Service Commission and the SEC were concerned about what the value should be. I worked out-- I took really a month’s time-- and worked out an evaluation using the latest statistical techniques of simulation to a market value whereby you gradually eliminated the differences among the companies that had stock valued on the market until you got a theoretical company with the same characteristics as the Virginia Company. In other words, suppose you were concerned with taking into account the size of the company: all right, you plot the known values of companies of record from the small to the large, comparing stock price and size. Then you read off from that line where it would be if it had been the size of the Virginia company. 

This went to the SEC and I testified at hearings and hearings and hearings and hearings trying to explain this approach and defend it. They, they, the other side, put in a conventional valuation adding up all the nuts and bolts-- this is what the company is worth because it cost this much to build it. 

We lost on the decision, but we won in terms of impact, because over time this general approach, now very much improved over my first efforts, has opened up a whole new approach to valuation. In a way that was the high intellectual spot of my period in the Associated situation. But also the experience gave me a lot of knowledge about courts, because we had to go before the judge on a great many of the things-- on hiring everybody, for example. He would be more involved about the amount we were going to pay to an added secretary than he would about whether or not this bond issue of $400,000 was the right way to finance it. But at any rate, that was a very interesting bit of the experience. 

HWH: It was a professor’s dream of having taught so many areas of economics, now to be thrust into the position of not only being responsible for them... 

THORP: Well, of course, you suggest something that is worth commenting on. When I first came back to Amherst as a full professor, the slot which I filled was not labor problems, because that was the thing that Dick Merriam taught; I filled the slot that had not been really Hamilton’s, but Walter Stewart’s, namely, I filled the slot of the financial side of the economy, so that I taught a course that dealt with money and banking, corporation finance, accounting, and so forth. 

This sounds as though it might have been a business administration course, but it wasn’t in any sense. For instance, in accounting, you can pick up some things that an accountant thinks about, but that really are economic problems. For example, you can take the question of depreciation and make it clear that for accounting purposes you have to put a number in that represents the depreciation. Now how do you decide that number? That’s a valuation problem. So you get into the whole problem of the relationship of cost and demand and you can be talking about depreciation, but you’re in economic theory in no time at all. 

I used to have my students each take a corporation-- and we built up a file of corporations’ Annual Reports-- and I would assign them a question about what can you find in your report about the way in which this company is considering getting out and getting into new activities?, should this be encouraged or not? Well, anyway, this was a good background course from the point of view of something like Associated Gas. 

On the other hand, I think that the most amusing thing in terms of preparation is the jump from an entirely domestic activity into international affairs, which was the next jump. 


HWH: This is the second session with Willard Thorp, on Friday, March 24, at his home. 

Willard, when we talked yesterday I made a comment about your political affiliation as being a strong Democrat and I think it might be well if you commented further on the meaning of that. 

THORP: Well, I’d like to because I think my experience in the political world is somewhat unusual. I must say that I was not interested and not involved in any way in the political world, even through my period in Amherst. Part of that I think was because in the ‘twenties the government was essentially a political animal acting in a number of specific areas, like running lighthouses and things, but it wasn’t really involved very much in economic problems. For example, when I studied Public Finance under Professor Seligman, the head of the Economics Department in Columbia and Eustace Seligman’s father, we spent most of the time on two problems. One was, when was something to be regarded as a fee and when should it be regarded as a tax? And the second one was, whether or not a stock dividend was income. But at that time the Government take was so small compared with the economy that no one talked about it in terms of its impact on the individual’s ability to make a go of life, or in terms of the government as having responsibilities towards the economy. And I suppose that was part of why I never got pulled particularly into anything that might be regarded as political. 

I knew a little bit about Massachusetts politics because my first wife’s father not only was a great Shakespeare scholar and Professor of English here, but was I think the leading Republican in the Massachusetts legislature and in a Constitutional Convention. And I had a little information about the political world from him. 

But at any rate, when I came back to Amherst in 1927, I registered as a Republican. The reason was that in my judgment the way you registered merely indicated which primary you wanted to vote in and at that time Amherst was overwhelmingly Republican and it made no sense to throw away one’s ability to affect the local political scene by registering in Amherst as a Democrat. As a matter of fact, just to indicate how unimportant all this was to me, I couldn’t tell you how I voted in any of those earlier elections, I don’t even know whether I voted for Calvin Coolidge or not. Perhaps I’m glad not to remember. 

At any rate, when I went to Washington in connection with the New Deal, I was a registered Republican, but nobody asked me and nothing was done about it. I thought of myself as coming in to deal with a whole series of problems. I don’t know that I’ve said that I went down there, originally, at the request of the American Statistical Association to be one of a small group to study the statistical work of the government with particular reference to trying to recover from the damage that had been done by the Hoover administration in their efforts to hold down government expenses. In the early ‘thirties they had stopped a lot of statistical work that was being done. And I only got into the government because I was assigned to study the Department of Commerce. After a month of investigating the statistical work of the Department of Commerce, I was called in by the Undersecretary and asked if I would be interested in becoming the head of the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce. And that, because they were under pressure by the Democratic National Committee and by an individual, a candy manufacturer, I think, in South Carolina-- something of that sort-- that they wanted to fill it as quickly as possible and I seemed knowledgeable on what were the key activities in the Commerce Department, so they asked me to come in. 

Well, that involved me immediately in the political world because the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce had very little Civil Service relationship. Most of its jobs were free jobs in the sense that they could be appointed without going through Civil Service examination. It’s interesting that my good friend Isador Lubin, who became head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was completely tied up by Civil Service so he couldn’t change more than two or three people in the entire Bureau when he came in. Between March and July when I came in, there had been a man in the Department of Commerce as a hatchet man, who had tried his best to throw out almost everybody and make jobs there for the Democrats. Now remember this is ‘35-- this is when there were 16 million unemployed in the country-- and when the Democrats took over it seemed as though almost all those 16 million came to Washington to get jobs from the Government and we were under terrific pressure with respect to taking on Democrats. But I wasn’t going to operate on this basis and I worked out an arrangement which I presume had been done before, I doubt that it was my invention, saying to the Democratic National Committee, I’ll be glad to have you nominate three people; I’ll study them and if any of those three will fit the job to my satisfaction I’ll take him. But if none of them do, I’ll hire somebody myself without coming back to you about it. And that situation was the one that controlled. I don’t know that I need to get into the question of my being approved for that job. After nine months, because of a whole series of odd events, the President withdrew my name and so I never was ratified by Congress. Do you want the story of that? I mean that’s not Amherst in any way. 

HWH: It’s not Amherst, but let’s get it on the record. 

THORP: All right. One of the sad errors which I had made was that a bright young fellow, not too bright but a young fellow, came in and insisted that he should have a job because he brought in endorsements from, oh, I don’t know, 20 or 30 Senators. And one of them was the Chairman of the Committee that had to ratify my appointment, Senator Stevens. I said to this fellow, I want to see your whole record so I can study it, because I will not appoint you because you’re a Democrat, meaning that that wasn’t an adequate basis. He reported to Senator Stevens that I had said that I wouldn’t appoint him because he was a Democrat. And it’s very interesting to me; this is one of the few cases where just the emphasis on an individual word completely changes the meaning. And he kept buzzing around and stirring up Senator Stevens, and they kept delaying. They had me up for hearings. They discovered I was a registered Republican and to a Democratic Senator to be a registered Republican makes you absolutely unacceptable. I tried to explain why this had no significance except the matter of the primary, but no matter what, I should have been registered as a Democrat. 

At any rate, Senator Stevens finally polled the Committee-- the Democrats on the committee, not the Republicans. My strongest supporter there was Senator LaFollette who was a Progressive, really-- neither of the standard parties. Senator Stevens polled the Democrats and said, “If everybody else votes against Thorp, will you join the group?” And each man said, “Why yes, if everybody else is going to, I’m not going to hold out.” And so Stevens then called the White House and said to the White House, “I’ve polled the Committee and everybody on the Committee is going to vote against Thorp.” And the White House, which at that time was very much involved in other much more important problems, withdrew my name. 

Well, that didn’t take me out of Washington; I was already involved in a lot of things-- I’d been one of the five that drafted the new Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, for example; and I had of course a great many friends there, and by that time, interestingly enough, Walton Hamilton was there in the Department of Labor. So I went into the Department of Labor for a month or two and then went over, and it’s rather interesting, into the National Emergency Council where I was head of the Consumer Division. I didn’t know much about consumers’ problems, other than any general economist would. This was before Colston Warne had gotten involved in it; I think Consumer Reports started a year or so after this. And he was in labor problems up to that time, so I hadn’t the benefit of discussing all of this with Colston. He didn’t teach a course in consumer matters until ever so much later. 

One of the interesting characteristics of the New Deal group was that there was a very explicit effort to deal with each problem, taking into account the interest of the consumer. There was, for example, a special consumer group at NRA; there was a business group and a labor group and the Consumer Advisory Board. And in a later period of my time in Washington, I was Chairman of a group which consolidated the three in order to review policy problems. 

But what happened was, that in the National Emergency Council they had set up a Consumers’ Division for the purpose of building up some kind of grass roots support for the consumer representatives in Washington, because consumers weren’t, in general, organized in the country in any way. And Dex Keezer, who was an Amherst graduate [‘18] had been active in that group, and I went in for a few months as head of this Consumers’ Division and traveled around the country trying to stir up interest in people and get consumer groups organized. It is interesting that things like that were done without the slightest political or, perhaps I should say, partisan contact. I never knew whether I was dealing with Democrats or Republicans; I was dealing with people that were interested in the consumer problem. And except for this matter of appointments in the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, I had no immediate contact with political people in government. 

Well, at any rate, this period did make a real Democrat out of me. I was very enthusiastic about the federal government's entry into the field of, being concerned with, the total economy. This fitted into my business-cycle thinking out of past studies and I came to know, of course, a good many members of Congress and I came to the conclusion that, while I certainly didn’t like every Democrat and I did like a lot of Republicans, that the Democratic Party, as such, was something that I had more sympathy with than I did with the majority of the Republicans. I certainly was an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Roosevelt and the New Deal. I had been arguing for government action for some time and was disgusted with Mr. Hoover’s failure to face the deteriorating situation. But I still thought more in terms of program than of party. 

Well, at any rate, when I left in 1935 and went up to New York with Dun & Bradstreet and later the whole Associated Gas and Electric thing, there was no political activity or even connection involved in that. I was appointed trustee without any question about my party connections. I was appointed by the Federal judge on the recommendation of the SEC and I already knew a number of people who were on the SEC. It was not a strange thing for them to suggest me. 

Well, it was at that period that I began to know Clarice, and Clarice is an intense Democrat. She had just turned 21 at one of Mr. Roosevelt’s elections and had made speeches, well over 160 speeches, and traveled all around New York State, knew the Roosevelts, Mrs. Roosevelt, and knew most of the leading women in the Democratic group. And it’s not surprising that with fairly continuous exposure to her I became more aware of the importance of party in politics. 

HWH: I think I have, too. 

THORP: Well, then what happened next, was that I came into the State Department. We haven’t talked about that part of my life yet, but I might just as well put into the record at this point that in the whole period that I was in the State Department there was nothing partisan in the sense of employment of people. I didn’t know the party affiliation of anybody who worked under me, nor did I ever ask anybody what party he belonged to when I talked with him about a job in the State Department. Now I think it’s fair to say that if one had to bet, one should have bet at that time that almost every economist in the country was a Democrat, in fact almost every intellectual was a Democrat. So that the chances were-- but the question was not asked and this seemed to me a matter or real interest. On the other hand, under the Eisenhower regime, my old friend Arthur Burns used to call me to ask about possible economists in various special fields, because I knew ten times as many economists as he did, and he would ask me what party does he belong to and I would always say, “I haven’t the slightest idea.” And he would say, “Well, I can only appoint Republicans.” So that you got a different point of view. 

Of course, my point of view, being in the economic field and working in the government, was that I was not an expert in second-guessing Congress or in political reactions or what would appeal to voters. My job was to advise the people above me as to the advantages and disadvantages of this or that solution to the problem in economic terms; and that someone else should decide whether or not that program should go ahead. Frequently, I did observe the political world; for example in the New Deal, when we proposed a new treatment of tariffs in the Reciprocal Trade Agreement Act, the deal that got that through the Congress was with Senator Key Pitman, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee handling it. Key Pitman got the so-called silver legislation in which the government supported the price of silver. The silver legislation was abhorrent to all economists, but on the other hand this was the political deal that brought it about. 

I think people frequently have a notion that the Government always is intensely partisan and they see the Cabinet and the top group of people being brought in pretty much, but not always, belonging to the party of the President. And they don’t realize that it does happen, though I don’t know how generally it happens, that whole blocs of the government may be pretty non-political, at least in the individuals that operate in it. 

HWH: I’m glad we do have that on the record and I think it does point up the next phase of your career. We ended yesterday with your domestic activities in Washington and elsewhere. And today we begin, after your comments just now, with your international activities. Those lie actually, I believe, from 1946 until 1952 when Eisenhower came in, which was a shift back to the Republican. Whether you left because you chose to or whether it was the policy of the administration at that time, I don’t know. We may come to that. But let’s get into your activities after World War II. I believe you were appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs in 1946. 

THORP: I was there for a while as Deputy Assistant Secretary. The Assistant Secretary was a man named Will Clayton from the firm of Anderson Clayton, at that time the largest dealer in foreign trade in cotton, particularly. The State Department had had very little in the way of any economic staff; as a matter of fact it was because of our setting up the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act in ‘34 I guess it was passed then finally, that there had to be some economists and there was a chap named Herbert Feis who was the economist and he gradually built up a little staff to work on this particular Act. 

During the war the economic problems were handled largely by new and specialized agencies set up to buy goods and sell goods and handle shipping and do all sorts of things that were the international economic aspects of the war. The State Department gradually got more and more involved, but when the war came to an end, it became obvious that there would be a massive number of economic problems that would have to be dealt with. Mr. Clayton came in to develop this and a Harvard professor named Edward Mason, who had been in OSS, came in to help him because Clayton didn’t know the professional economists particularly and Mason did. Mason, however, did not want to stay in the government and so I got a call from Mr. Clayton, saying, “I understand that your job at Associated is now about finished; could you, would you come down and talk with me?” And so I went down to Washington and then he asked me if I’d come and be his Deputy. 

The confusion in my title comes because in order to keep him in Washington, a new position was created which made him Undersecretary for Economic Affairs-- and when he became Undersecretary for Economic Affairs, I then was moved up to be Assistant Secretary. And then later, he left, and his place was not filled. They didn’t keep the post of Undersecretary and I continued as Assistant Secretary, the top man in economic affairs. 

There were problems about my coming to the State Department, but at any rate I decided to do it. It wasn’t easy because I was getting $60,000 a year... The salary was $10,000 in the Department. So I gave up the $60,000 and went down to $10,000. Luckily I had some savings. On the other hand, my parents had to be aided in their support, I had various other obligations-- and if you have a salary of $60,000, you’re used to living in a different way and on a different scale. But at any rate I went broke in the government once before. I don’t think I said earlier that when I left in ‘35, I had borrowed the limit on my life insurance to stay in Washington for the two years that I was there. After all, I had been a professor at Amherst when salaries were not high, and my Congregational minister father did not provide me with any backlog, so I didn’t have much savings when I went to Washington at that time. At that time I went to Washington on an $8,000 salary and just about lasted the two years, because the allowance for expenses was virtually nil. 

To come back to the State Department, the immediate problem was to build a staff, because there were a lot of post-war things to settle, there was the settlement of Lend-Lease, there were aid programs before the Marshall Plan, and I ran three different aid programs. There was the new United Nations set-up with all sorts of new angles to be discussed internationally dealing with economic problems; and there were treaties to be worked out with the other countries and more-- the Peace treaties at the end of the war. 

We were lucky in that these temporary agencies like the FM (Foreign Economic Administration) were closed down at the end of the war, and I managed to collect out of them various people who had left the academic world and come to Washington and who were willing to stay, not permanently, but a little longer, at any rate. And so we built up rather quickly what I think would have been admitted by everybody as the best economics staff in Washington. It was a marvelous group: Galbraith, Walt Rostow, Clare Willcox from Swarthmore, Paul Nitze. As I say, none of them were there on a permanent basis really, but some of them did stay on. And then of course, there was the old staff of people, a few of whom were still there though not many. And so we went to work on these various problems, and I found myself just swamped with responsibilities of various sorts. The first big one was to go to Paris and head the economic group in the delegation that worked out the Peace Treaties. 

HWH: That was in 1946. 

THORP: That was in 1946. Paris was still suffering badly, though we didn’t suffer too much, because the area in which we were was allowed to have heat every day, but most of Paris had only certain days a week when they had electricity. And to my great disappointment this was a period when there were very limited dairy products, so that I don’t think that at any time did I get what I thought of as those wonderful desserts that should be available to one. We would have two weeks when we would have pears; and two weeks when we would have cherries and so forth. And the only alcohol that we could get was brandy. By this time I’d learned to drink. I had never, never drunk at all until after Prohibition ended, and I think it was an irony that I was on the Federal Alcohol Control Administration since I had been brought up to be an ardent prohibitionist. 

HWH: Could I just ask you, in your activities early on with the State Department, you had assignments in addition to your regular responsibilities, such as Representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council. You did that for a number of years I think from ‘47 to ‘50. You were also Alternate U.S. Representative to the U.N. General Assembly. 

THORP: Two of the assemblies. Only two. One was in Paris. 

HWH: Was it difficult to take on these added responsibilities in addition to your day-to-day work? 

THORP: Well, Clarice says that there was a year in which there were only two Sundays that I wasn’t in the office. And there’s another kind of responsibility that really was in a sense an offset because it was so different and yet it was important. In the period of the development of the Marshall Plan, well even before that, in the Aid Program periods, distinguished people-- prime ministers, ministers of finance or whoever it might be-- would come to Washington to try to get this or that out of the government. I would normally be the person that he was going to deal with. The net result would be that his ambassador would give a dinner party, maybe someone else would, and I would have to represent-- Clarice and I would have to represent-- the State Department. 

This became particularly burdensome when Mr. Marshall was there with Bob Lovett as his Deputy. Secretary Marshall would never go out to a social event unless it was for a visiting head of government. As a matter of fact he left his office early, four-thirty almost every afternoon. Bob Lovett had only one kidney and he used this as an excuse for not going out, and I was the third ranking person in the Department. 

There was one time when both of them were away when I was acting Secretary of State. At that moment a very big shift took place in our Palestine policy and I’ve always been afraid that someone would dig out the cables and find out that I signed the cables not knowing that the Secretary of State’s name is put on all cables that go out from the Department. This is to protect the bureaucracy in a sense and it’s sensible. If an ambassador gets a cable, if he knew that this little fellow down the line had written it, he might not pay as much attention to it as if it comes signed by the Secretary. 

To get back to the point, oh dear, where on the road was I, that I jumped off? 

HWH: You were called on so many times to represent the Department. 

THORP: Well I wanted to add the social responsibilities. These were important. What would happen would be that there’d be a dinner, a beautiful dinner, in an embassy, maybe 20, 40 people-- no, usually in the 20s I would say-- and after dinner the men would separate from the women and it might be that I was going to negotiate the next day with this fellow whom I’d never met before. We would then sit around and get a little bit acquainted. Or, it might be that we’d met before and we could really get down to do some serious talking and that would make it possible frequently to talk without being formal across the table with all our staffs sitting around. We could be much franker than we otherwise could be. Even the cocktail parties were useful. I might have had an ambassador in and said, “Now this is something we’re concerned about-- take it up with your government, we’d like this to happen.” And it might be two weeks later, and I wouldn’t have heard from him, and I wouldn’t want to make it so important that I would call him in again, or even telephone him about it, but if I ran into him at a cocktail party I could say, “By the way-- has anything happened yet about this and that?” And the cocktail party was just as in the U.N.: these are places where you have the chance to talk with people from other governments without its being on the record and it’s generally known that you can deny that you said this or that, because this wasn’t an official statement by you, you see. And so your official personality didn’t say it; you were just someone else at the cocktail party who said it. Although that problem almost never came up. I would say that there were weeks when Clarice and I went out five times to dinners, and maybe there were late afternoons when we went to four cocktail parties at which we circulated rapidly and didn’t drink-- I should add parenthetically that Clarice was very popular in Washington and that added to our social busyness. She was extremely valuable in this job of mine. People discovered that she was intelligent and so they would oftentimes take up with her things that they wanted to get into the government somehow without having it formally come in. She even had people come to her to talk about how they could defect from the Communist embassies who would never conceivably talk with me about it, but they would talk with her and let her then carry the ball either to me or to the right person in the Department and so forth. 

Actually, I found this very useful and the net result was that she would go with me wherever it was at all possible. She went to the U.N. sessions, for instance; she would attend the sessions, too. There would be lots of wives around who would go shopping and so forth, but Clarice would attend all the sessions and sometimes attend delegation meetings. But this whole side of it was something that we both greatly enjoyed and, of course, it did terrific things to our knowledge about gourmet food, because the embassies compete and they also are very eager to give you their national dishes. 

HWH: From our experience I think Clarice has visited some of their kitchens. 

THORP: This situation of our going to the U.N. finally came to an end-- for instance the Economic and Social Council and the U.N. General Assembly-- when Dean Acheson called me in one day and said, “Now I’ve just been checking over, and this last year, we think you were away five months out of the year. And that being the case, I think you’ve got to make a choice. You either have to be here and run the Economic Division in the Department or I’ll make you an Ambassador-at-Large and you can then attend even more things for us abroad.” Frankly I was quite good at the international meetings because I don’t get excited. I’m not likely to get into a row. I’m apparently pretty persuasive, and of course I had the great advantage in that period of preparing my own instructions. The Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs gave the member of ECOSOC his instructions as to what to do, and I had a free-wheeling kind of situation in the international world that was quite extraordinary. 

This was in part because the Secretaries of State, there were four that I served under, all were quite willing to leave economic problems to me unless I felt I ought to come to them. My theory was that 90% of the economic problems I should never hear about; they should be handled by the people down below. They would be applications of existing policy. I felt that 10% should come up to me, and that I should decide 9% out of the 10%; and there’d be 1% left over that I would take to the Secretary of State; and then maybe 1/10 of 1% would go to the White House. I don’t think people realize the importance of the White House in a government with specialized Cabinet posts and therefore specialized bureaucracies. There are a lot of problems on which there is perfectly honest disagreement as between one department and another. Let me give just an illustration to make the point clear here. 

The President had the authority to reduce certain tariff rates. We, in the State Department, wanted to reduce the tariff rate on maraschino cherries because the Italian government had asked us to do that and this was consistent with our general policy. The Italian government at that time was having real trouble in doing something which it could report to the Italians that it had done of benefit to them. DiGasperi was the head of the government and he was someone that the U.S. government wanted to support. On the other hand, there are maraschino cherries made in the United States, primarily in the northwest, Oregon for example. So the American maraschino cherry producers went to the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Agriculture said you can’t do this to the cherry growers in Oregon. 

HWH: Willard, this is just about over... 

[END OF SIDE 1, TAPE II. Beginning of Tape II, Side 2]

THORP: So you have a situation in which the State Department wants to lower the tariff on maraschino cherries, and the Agriculture Department says no you can’t. Both are perfectly understandable, and there’s no way you negotiate this out-- you can’t say, well, we’ll lower it half the distance, or we’ll let in half the cherries at the lower rate-- well you could, but that doesn’t satisfy either group. So that kind of problem goes to the White House. Or, we had to negotiate all the arrangements for United States airlines to get into foreign countries, and foreign airlines to get into the United States. This was a State Department responsibility, it came under me. I had experts, but in the last analysis I was responsible for working out the basis on which planes could come to and go from the United States. This occasionally got us into a row with the Federal Aviation Authority, and I remember one or two cases that went to the White House in which I went over and argued our position. I think one case was an agreement with Mexico that was up. But this is an essential part of government operation, because after all there’s almost no public decision that doesn’t benefit some people and cost other people something. And therefore, unless it can be worked out between the groups, why that’s got to be settled somewhere. That’s Mr. Truman’s “The buck stops here.” Of course it doesn’t, because now the Congress frequently steps in and tries to change a decision. 

HWH: You mentioned earlier you served under four Secretaries of State. At this period, I believe it was Byrnes, Marshall, Acheson. 

THORP: And Stettinius before that. 

HWH: Stettinius, yes. 

THORP: I didn’t serve under Cordell Hull, although our Committee that worked out the new tariff legislation in 1933-34 met with him about it; in a sense it was his aegis under which it came. But I did serve under the others and they were four very, very different Secretaries of State. 

HWB: Did you have any preference? 

THORP: Well let me tell you about the differences. I didn’t really have much to do with Stettinius because he was there only briefly after the end of Mr. Roosevelt’s regime and Mr. Truman appointed a new Secretary of State a few months after he came in. But I did have some dealings with him and my impression was that he was relatively ineffective, that you would go and present an idea to him, he would agree with it enthusiastically and say it must be done, but then, if it was going to be done, you had to do it, he didn’t, somehow, contribute to it. And I always found it a little bit odd that the one contribution which I can recall-- he presided at the San Francisco meeting where the U.N. Charter was drafted-- the only real decision that he made in connection with that conference, and this is really a nasty kind of catty remark, was to decide that the back curtain there should be the blue which is now known as the United Nations blue. And the story in the Department was that he tried a lot of colors, he had white hair, tried a lot of colors and decided that was the one that would make the best background for him sitting in front of it as chairman. I’m sure that’s probably not a true story but it was one that was circulated in the Department. But I regard him, as far as I know, as not being an important person. 

The next one was Mr. Byrnes. Mr. Byrnes had spent his life as a Senator. Now one of the things that has to happen if you’re a Senator is you have to make decisions and vote on thousands of things about which you can know very little. And you build up ways in which you decide how to vote-- either talking with other people or saying to yourself, “I’m very clever, I’ve got common sense, this is the way it looks to me,” and voting. In a few cases, staff work has been done in preparation and of course there is the process of education by lobbyists. But still, the Senator has to say yes or no most of the time without staff or expert help. Our problem in the Department with Mr. Byrnes was to try to get to him before he made up his mind about something. He didn’t hesitate at all to make a decision, but he wasn’t used to having a large, expert staff. Remember the whole idea of Congressional staffs is something which is quite recent. In those days the staff in a senator’s office was very small and kept busy with correspondence and serving constituents. And so Mr. Byrnes would consult his friends, for instance at the Paris Peace Conference, Vandenberg and Connally were invited by him to come over there, and he used them to advise him-- of course that was a wonderful period because if Connally and Vandenberg agreed on anything in the foreign field the Senate would vote it-- a very different situation from what is true of the Congress at the moment. Parenthetically, I sometimes used to sit in with Committees when they were drafting legislation and we had wonderful cooperation back and forth with the Congress. I had one assistant who was specially close to them. But to come back to the Secretary of State, Byrnes was a problem and we had to set up our own spy system to know what problems were coming to him and to get there first. 

Secretary Marshall followed what I guess is a straight military procedure. On any problem he wanted an analysis on one page, and you had to struggle somehow to get the facts and alternatives and all the detail on one page; he could approve it or disapprove it-- you placed “yes” and “no” spaces down in the bottom corner of it which he would check. He was very dependent upon his staff. Not that he didn’t make up his own mind about it, but the staff was right there and had a great chance to express itself. We salved our conscience about the inadequacy of the one-page by interpreting it that there should be one page that summarized, but then we could attach added information to it which he could look at or not as he wanted. He had his one-page requirement, but we met our own standards by that device of appendices. I have sat behind him in meetings of the Foreign Ministers-- they used to have fairly regular meetings of the Russian, French, British, and American Foreign Ministers-- and it was interesting that the other three would talk right off, but he much preferred to have one of us behind him pass up a little note to him to indicate what the American position as we understood it was on the particular thing. He was very careful about it. 

On the other hand, there were times when, and I learned this the hard way, times when one ought not to advise him. I was in his office one day and he had just gotten word from somebody in the Chinese hierarchy, second or third man, this was before Chiang Kai Chek left the mainland-- you remember Marshall spent a year over there virtually trying to get the Communists and the Nationalists together-- and this letter came to him and said, “I really think Chiang Kai Chek is going to come out with some new lines along the directions that you urged him to do and I think maybe we’ll finally get back where we ought to be.” And he said to me, “You know I’m awfully sorry, I wish we could do something to help, but you know there’s such a big inflation there now, that I don’t see how we can give them any aid.” And I said, “Well, I don’t think the inflation ought to matter. The aid we would give would be by shipping materials, food, and clothing and various things to them; and if that would do anything, that would help on the inflation, because that would mean there’d be more goods available and the prices might not go up quite so much. But at any rate the goods as goods would be the thing that would help. Dollars don’t help until they’re turned into goods.” I gave him a little economic lecture. And he said, “Well, how much could we send them?” And I said, “I don’t know, I haven’t worked out a program.” And he said, “Well about what would it be?” I don’t remember now, but I think I said something like sixty million dollars a month, something of that sort. The next day we were up testifying on the Hill (I sat beside him) in connection with the Marshall Plan, second year I think, in the House this was, and a member of the House said, “Mr. Marshall, before we talk about Europe, I would like to know what you’re planning to do about China.” And Mr. Marshall without batting an eye said, “We’ve got a program that we’re developing and we’re going to give them aid, maybe something like $60,000,000 a month.” And so I went back and we worked out a program. 

HWH: Was he a friendly or an austere man? 

THORP: He was austere in the office. I heard him chew out the colored boy who was his messenger in a way which just had no connection with his normal personality, but it was the military dealing with the private that hadn’t been there when the bell had been rung. Even though he’d been off on a message, he should have been there when Secretary Marshall wanted him. On the other hand there was a time when he was going to give a speech somewhere, and a draft of the speech was brought to me by one of the people on the staff who just said, “Look, his speech has got this in it that’s just wrong. We can’t say this, it shouldn’t be done.” I’ve forgotten whether what was needed was just to eliminate a paragraph or put a substitute paragraph in, but at any rate I found out that he was going to go by private car, a private railroad car, to wherever this was, and that he’d already left the office, had gone down to the private car in the railroad yards. But his secretary said, “I think he’d see you if you go down to the railroad yards and find out where the car is, he’s there.” So Clarice and I went down just to give him this, and there he was all alone in a kind of transportation I’d never seen before. I explained what was to be done, and he said, “Well, of course, here’s the manuscript, you fix it up.” So I fixed it up and then he said, “Come in and sit down for a while.” And Clarice and I went in and I think we must have stayed two or three hours. He just told stories and was just as fascinating as you can imagine a person could be-- this was just a different personality, he shed being a general, he shed being Secretary of State, he was just a person who’d had an interesting life and who got talking, he started talking about various things and we just sat there. I would ask a question once in a while, but mostly just for the purpose of keeping him going. 

HWH: Wish we could have taped that! 

THORP: Yes, that would have been a fascinating thing to have taped. Acheson was the most satisfactory one to deal with, because if there was a problem about which the Department had to develop some line of policy, he would get the four to six people who were related to that problem, the top people, into his office and sit around the table and talk it out. And frequently he would come up with something none of us had thought about as a way of dealing with it. He was very imaginative, but he just wanted every bit of help he could get. It was a matter really of not seeing people separately, which was the normal way-- I mean A would have an appointment at 10 o’clock and B at 10:15 and so forth. This was to get A and B there at the same time and talk it out with them. 

HWH: He struck me too as probably having a delightful sense of humor. 

THORP: Oh, he had a wonderful sense of humor. He was a marvelous story-teller and a very high-grade person. I had great affection for him and his wife. She was and is a charming person, too. She was a very good artist. But I would say, of the four there is no question in my mind but that Acheson was more nearly one whom I was happy to serve under, let’s put it that way. I’m not making judgments about who was the wisest man in terms of policy. And, of course, I also must say that I had very good relations with President Truman. And my judgment of him was that he was a much bigger man in many ways than was the impression of the time, though I think as time has gone on that he is more appreciated. But there were curious things about him. I remember going into his office once along with the political officer who was working on Germany, the new so-called länder. And the State man spread out on the table the map that he’d brought, on which the boundaries were marked out, and Mr. Truman said, “Well, I’d like to see what the boundaries were before.” And the immediate answer by the man was, “Well I’ll send right across, I’ve got it there in the Department, I’ll send right over and get it.” Mr. Truman said, “Oh no, wait a minute,” and he went to his desk. You know the bottom drawer on the right in all desks is a double size drawer; he pulled that open, and it was full of folded maps, and he pulled out a map of Germany, and there it was. I must say he really knew much more than I did about geography, and I’ve always thought I was pretty good at it. Another time I had to go over to take up a problem that the Department felt he ought to know about. It was a question of getting copper out of Central Africa and a project had been developed to build a railroad that would come out a port on the East side of Africa at a place called Lorenzo Marques in Mozambique. The problem was that this involved Portuguese territory-- the railroad would be largely in Portuguese territory before it got up into Kenya-- and we weren’t on very good relations with Portugal at the time. But the point I want to make was that Mr. Truman said to me, “Does it follow the Limpopo River?” Now, to me, having been brought up on the Just-So Stories of Kipling, the “great, gray-green, greasy Limpopo River, all girt-about with fever trees,” was, I thought, a completely imaginative poetic phrase. I didn’t have the slightest idea there was such a thing as a Limpopo River-- but there is. And Mr. Truman knew about it. He took me across the Oval Room to where there was a large globe and pointed it out to me. While the Limpopo does not reach the Indian Ocean at Lorenzo Marques, the railroad was to join it a bit inland. 

HWH: Did you have any dealings at this time with Jack McCloy when he was High Commissioner of Germany? 

THORP: Oh yes, I saw Jack-- dealings with him started before that when he was head of the World Bank. He ranked in the diplomatic hierarchy very close to where I ranked, and, therefore, quite often, at a dinner party-- by quite often, I would say two or three times a year, maybe, no more than that-- I would have his wife as my partner, and he would have Clarice as his. He and Clarice used to fight over many aspects of politics because she regarded him as a Republican who mouthed liberal opinions and supported reactionary candidates. 

At any rate we saw Jack then. There were a few times when I got involved in the German problem because there would be a situation in which, on the spot, the four occupying powers couldn’t agree and particularly the three couldn’t agree-- the British, French and ourselves-- and each representative on the spot would hold to his position, and so finally the governments would say, “Well we’ll just take it out of your hands, we’ll have a diplomatic decision about this.” And in two or three cases-- one had to do with the currency, one had to do with the treatment of the Ruhr-- I, in a sense, took over. This was before Jack had the degree of authority which he got later, this was when it was primarily in the Army’s hands. You see Jack came in after the Army, when the Army was sort of set back; in the early period the Army was doing it. But I saw him from time to time in the government, sure. There were very few Amherst people around and this is a very interesting thing. Amherst people somehow had not gotten into the Federal government on any considerable scale. In my day Jack McCloy and I; I don’t remember anyone else. 

HWH: Joseph B. Eastman 

THORP: Well, he was earlier, as was Chief Justice Stone and President Coolidge. 

HWH: And later, Phil Coombs, of course. 

THORP: Well, sure, Phil was in a few years later, that’s right. Phil was in earlier, too, as a staff man on an early study of resources. 

HWH: Did you bring him in for that? 

THORP: No, no. This was a special Commission to study the availability of natural resources and he was on the staff of it. Well, I presume there have been a lot of cases like that; after all Jim Nelson has been serving in government as an advisor on transportation problems, and I did a lot of work on Anti-trust in the government. When I was at the Commerce Department, I was involved in a number of the top anti-trust suits because the court had decided that the Justice Department couldn’t negotiate with the guilty parties to try to find the solution. So Thurman Arnold asked me if I would be a go-between, and so I would talk with each side and shuttle back and forth and finally come up with a proposal. One was the first big case against the movies. We did that. I remember that was the most important one, but anyway, . . 

HWH: I note that soon after the War, and soon after this period of your career, you were involved with posts in the Ruhr, Jugoslavia, . 

THORP: Well the Jugoslav one was an interesting one. The Jugoslav problem arose when Jugoslavia cut its relationship with the Soviet Union. It really took a terrific chance, because it imported and exported to the Soviet bloc, period. It had almost no trade with anybody else. It got its food from the Soviet Union, from Russia, and this was a perfectly normal process as a member of the communist bloc. And suddenly, when it pulled out, Russia put an absolute iron curtain down between the bloc and Jugoslavia. To keep it afloat, we had to move in. There was a three-man commission of a Frenchman and a Britisher and myself. We suddenly had a difficult problem about that. First, in finding out what they really needed and then, in the second place, finding how we could finance any aid from the U.S., because they couldn’t get any help under the Marshall Plan since they didn’t belong to the European group-- one of the requirements of the Marshall Plan was that the recipient countries would set up an organization to try to figure out how to reduce their difficulties among themselves. We finally persuaded the Export-Import Bank, where I sat as a member of the Board-- the Secretary of State was technically a member of the Board, but he never went. As far as I know, I always went. We got some money out of Congress, but it was an interesting case. These things, you just take on, you have to stuff yourself with knowledge and information. You have your experts with you to make sure that you’re not doing something contrary to whatever the facts are in the case. But I think the kind of thing is typified, the kind of situation that a person like myself was in, is typified by the case of someone shortly after Eisenhower came in and Dulles became Secretary of State. I was succeeded by a trust company president from Nebraska. Dulles said he didn’t want an economist in the economic job; he wanted a businessman. Well, there have been businessmen who would have been just as good as an economist, but this fellow was a sweet person, but absolutely ignorant about anything foreign as far as I could ever find out. At any rate, one of the bright fellows down the line told me when I ran into him, shortly thereafter, that he was going to leave the Department. And I said, “Why are you going to leave the Department?” And he said, “Well, I like to work out solutions and I used to do that and I would send the proposals upstairs and I would send them up with the knowledge that I didn’t know the whole picture, that I just knew my little corner of it. And that upstairs it would be reviewed and if it was good it would be used, and if it wasn’t, it would be forgotten. And therefore, I felt quite free to make my contribution. But now I do that and it goes upstairs and it goes on, right on into the works. That means that I have the final judgment on this, and I shouldn’t, because I see it from just my little shop down here with its particular angle. And the net result is that I’m just very unhappy with having my recommendations taken without a broader judgment.” I think that’s an interesting picture of how an organization really should work, you know, and I think we had it working that way. 

HWH: Just to break off the, perhaps the chronology, Willard, later after you had come back to Amherst and started the Merrill Center, you had several specific jobs. One of them I remember was the mission to Cyprus, which seemed to me and I think to many people to be almost a hopeless situation. I recall your talking about it when you returned and I think you pretty much said that yourself. And in addition to the situation there was the language problem. Are you at all surprised by recent developments in that area? 

THORP: No, no, I’m not surprised at all. I never have understood the British. I can see why they took the action of approving the Cyprus constitution because they were so sick and tired of Cyprus-- trying to keep peace there. It was a very unfortunate situation in which they were, but the constitution was so written that it was bound to enhance the differences between the Greeks and the Turks. It created so many places that could become difficult that-- for instance, the one big hope would have been if there’d been a central educational system so that at least the youngsters would realize that the other youngsters weren’t monsters. But actually what happened was that the constitution set up something called the Greek Community and another called the Turkish Community and all the education funds were distributed to the communities for them to operate their own separate educational systems. So that this meant that the one hope was not operative because the Turks and Greeks were so different in terms not only of language but in terms of religion, in terms of family habits, domestic law, that it was very difficult to see how it could work out. 

Well I went there specifically to help Cyprus work out a plan for an economic program. Furthermore Dag Hammarskjold also felt that it was such an unstable situation that he wanted to have someone there who would be available to try to pour water on any spark that seemed to be about to start an explosion. 

HWH: This was a U.N. Mission. 

THORP: This was a U.N. mission. Dag Hammarskjold was a very dear friend of mine and Clarice’s. 

HWH: You brought him here. 

THORP: We brought him here to Amherst. He stayed in this house. When he was here he got an honorary degree; he spoke at the opening reception that was held at the Merrill Center. He was a many-faceted person; once he took Clarice and me for a night on the town in Paris! We went to various nightclubs and he was just a delightful person. Once, Clarice and he discovered holes in each others knowledge, with the amusing result that she used to send him cartoon books by people like Abner Dean and William Steig, and he would send her avant garde books at Christmas-time. We had great affection for him. 

He asked me really to go to Cyprus just to be there for the initial period. We got to Cyprus within two weeks of its becoming independent and had a little staff and we were supposed to tell them merely how to go about making an economic plan, but the Archbishop very quickly began to put off all kinds of economic decisions on the basis that he couldn’t act on them until he had the plan. So things being set up that way, I decided that we would produce an economic plan. I must say the staff that I had, except for one or two people, was incompetent so that it finally ended up with Clarice and me doing virtually the whole job. But it provided the economic policy line for Cyprus. They didn’t have any experience in running a government, so the nice lady lawyer who was head of the Department of Justice would call me up and say, “I’ve just discovered that I’m in charge of the prisons. I don’t know anything about prisons. The British have always handled the prison problem. What do I do? How do I get help? I cabled the U.N. and they sent an expert out at once. 

Or the head of the Foreign Office called and said, “I’ve just got a cable from something called UNICEF and they want to know how much we’re going to contribute to their budget for next year? What’s UNICEF? Do we HAVE to contribute? What’s the smallest amount we can contribute?” 

Or the, I don’t remember who it was but it must have been the commerce fellow, called me and said, “We’re in a terrible hole because the British have always run our power plant and the Constitution says that government employment shall be 80% Greek and 20% Turks and there aren’t any Greeks and there aren’t any Turks who can run it. How do we get around this?” So I explained to him that many governments got around things like that by contracting out rather than employing, and he should get hold of the Englishman that he wanted and give him a contract to operate the plant. 

That was an interesting period. We were there three months. Cyprus had no library except the British and American Embassy libraries. It had had no experience in parliamentary procedure because there had been a riot some years before and they’d burned down the President’s house, well not the president’s house then but the Governor’s Palace. He was so enraged by them he said, “If you are a people that have so little understanding of civilization as this, you can’t govern yourselves, so we’ll abolish the Parliament.” And from that time on Cyprus was run entirely on the basis of edict by the Governor. The banking law of Cyprus read somewhat as follows: “The banks of Cyprus shall operate under regulations established by the Governor.” Period. The British Colonies had wide variations in the degree of internal and external responsibilities and division between the British government and local. Most of them had some kind of parliament to deal with local problems, but this was an extreme case which made it all the worse from the point of view of turning it over to completely non-integrated groups. 

Well I could go on like this to illustrate what has become well-known now. Another example, after about a month the Cyprus soccer team was to play Israel in a World Soccer Tournament and then came up the problem: there used to be a Greek Soccer League and a Turkish Soccer League and how should the members of the Cyprus team be chosen? It finally was decided, since the place was really run by the Greeks, that the top Greek team would play and we went to the match in their stadium and there were Greek flags flying, not Cyprus flags. The only Cyprus flag was when the head of the House of Representatives in their new Parliament drove on to welcome the Israeli team in a car that had a little Cyprus flag sticking up from the fender. 

HWH: You must have had to learn an awful lot awfully fast. 

THORP; Well the two cases where I had major responsibility-- Cyprus and Bolivia-- are both very simple economies, so that one can see what are the main requirements and so forth quite quickly. In the Bolivian case I was only there two weeks, but I really felt that at the end of two weeks I had full understanding of the Bolivian economy. It is also much easier if one comes with such backing that all doors are opened and there is an eagerness on the part of the government and private groups to make sure that the situation is understood. The problems and possible alternative strategies come out quickly if one can have many private conversations. 

HWH: Now that was on behalf of the U.S. government. 

THORP: That’s right for Bolivia, but Cyprus was U.N. The Bolivian case was when President Kennedy asked me to take it on because there was a division in Washington as to whether Bolivia was a rat-hole so that we should just stop giving aid to it, or, because it and Mexico were the two places in Latin America where democratic governments had come out of revolution, that we ought somehow try to keep them afloat. And I don’t know how it came about but I was called from the White House and asked if I would go down and look into the situation and then come back with whatever seemed to be the appropriate position for the U.S. Government to take. Two of my former State Department people went with me. The three of us flew down, were there two weeks and came back with our recommendations. 

I was quite impressed with Kennedy, I’d had those two meetings with him and I’d met him before. I’d had a little talk with him at Brandeis. There was a period when I was a trustee of Brandeis and he was there and spoke at one of their various convocations-- that was when he was a Senator. In reporting back to him after the Bolivia trip, I was impressed by questions he asked-- I judge people oftentimes in this kind of situation by the questions they ask. They can’t be expert. Mr. Roosevelt was a past master, it seemed to me, of getting to the key questions on which a decision should be made. This was something Mr. Eisenhower hadn’t the slightest ability at doing; he couldn’t analyze a problem in any way that seemed to me to make sense as far as I could learn from people that I knew. And he ducked a great many problems. Friends of mine then in the government would take a problem to him and he’d say, “Well go see the Attorney General and see what he thinks,” that kind of thing. 

HWH: I think he had the habit that his former chief, General Marshall, had in the military and that was to insist on a very brief one-page summary and recommendations. 

THORP: Maybe so. 

HWH: Willard we have so much more to talk about. We’ve been at it now for about an hour and a half. I certainly want to talk to you about your duties as a U.S. Ambassador to the Development and Assistance Committee. 

THORP: Well, I’m perfectly happy with the various subjects that you think are useful. I have a feeling that I can fill in with some things that more directly relate to Amherst rather than just making it a matter of my own education. I regard my life as really continuing education. 

My father had a very interesting theory about his life. He was a Congregational minister and he used to say that in something like six years he felt he could save all the souls in any given community that he could reach, and that, therefore, the ideal arrangement was for him then to leave, someone else to come in the hope that he could conserve all those that Dad had managed to gather in and add some more. And Dad would go on to another place where there were fresh challenges. 

I don’t think that I really planned my life at all. Things seem just to have happened. I’m not sure how much what I’m about to say is rationalization, but I must say that I am happy at the fact that I, in general, haven’t stayed at any one operation steadily for much more than six years as it turns out-- although my connections with the National Bureau were much longer and even with Dun & Bradstreet, but after all I went on to something else. But I have the feeling that one learns most of what one can learn from a situation at some given point and to keep a lively mind one has to keep finding new stimuli or new problems. I’ve just been lucky in that I’ve been able to do this, but I think, also, I would have a tendency in almost any job to get bored with it. I don’t know if that’s true because it depends on the job, of course. Jobs themselves frequently change, but it’s easy to reach a point a little bit like the one Charlie Cole reached as President of Amherst College when he once said to me that the boys come in with something that I’ve talked about with student generations three or four times before and I have a hard time to be properly interested in the old new proposal. 


HWH: Once again I’ll introduce this, our third session. This is Horace Hewlett with Willard Thorp at his home in Pelham on Tuesday, March 28, 1978 

Willard, I’m sorry I goofed but I’m glad we caught it early rather than at the end of the tape. [Machine was not functioning.] 

It’s unusual in that you were a student, a teacher, a Trustee at Amherst in six administrations: beginning with Meiklejohn as a student in 1916, then again as a teacher in 1921-22, then Georgie Olds coming in when you came back to teach as a full professor, followed by Stanley Pease, then Stanley King for part of his administration, Charlie Cole, and then for a brief period with Cal Plimpton. I wondered if you would comment on the College itself, the differences among these gentlemen and how their administrations might have affected both the faculty and the administration. That’s a fairly large order. 

THORP: Yes, I’m afraid if I really try to exhaust my recollections about Amherst over this period of time we’ll have to extend our schedule in rather lengthy form. 

I came to Amherst when Meiklejohn had been here several years and had already built up the social science departments. I’d not realized that this was a relatively new development, but it was so new that I soon got a sense that in the College there was some division between the social scientists and the old-line people who had real doubts as to whether these things did belong in a liberal arts college. 

I think one of the important forces in this was a distinguished Trustee named Woodbridge (Amherst 1889). I knew him somewhat and have heard him say that economics and most of the other social sciences should not be taught in an undergraduate college at all-- because he believed that the students were not sufficiently mature to be able to deal with these subjects. Of course, since at that time only a small percentage of the students went on into graduate work other than those going into Divinity School or Law School, this really meant no social science for most of the undergraduates. And yet I’m quite sure that he took this position seriously, and it had a great deal to do with the fact that real social science, other than the initial freshman course (Social and Economic Institutions, known as S & E!), but I mean specialization into the disciplines, did not begin until junior or senior year. In most institutions around the country, depending of course on the character of their curriculum requirements, but in most of them it was either freshman or sophomore year that one could take economics or political science. Sociology, of course, didn’t come into Amherst until ever so much later and I think it’s still questioned by at least some members of the faculty-- although for other reasons. 

Well, Meiklejohn gave a tone to the College. A little hard to separate him from some of these new people who had come in but he chose them. The idea was that a student shouldn’t be thought of as the blank pages of an encyclopedia to have a mass of information put into his head. The thought was that the purpose of the College was to try to transfer him into a thinking person, a puzzling person, a skeptical person, a question-asking person; and that while of course you did have to have substantial background in any field, that was not the primary purpose of education. 

It’s a little bit like the justification that used to be given for Latin. It wasn’t that anybody needed to know Latin, but that Latin did two things: it required you to do some thinking to put these unusual language requirements together so that you could understand what the dative case was and when you used it; but also it gave you an awareness of the differences in language and also the relationships of language. I know when I had Latin under Billy Cowles, who was a great Latin teacher, he made it exciting, not so much because of the technical details of the language but of the kind of content, and the sort of thing that could be done to speak exactly. I can remember his lecturing on poetry as it appeared in various languages and the kind of impact of the character of the language. In some languages it would be almost impossible to write a poem where the words rhymed; in others it was terribly easy because so many words came out with the same ending. Incidentally, for the record, as I doubt if it appears in any record anywhere, I won a prize for translating Catullus into English poetry and the prize, I still have, a little book of somebody else’s translations of Catullus given me by him. He, of course, was not a Meiklejohn person, but there was no conflict as far as he was concerned. 

Of course, the introduction of social sciences did dilute to some extent the elections in other fields and that, of course, in any academic institution raises problems. 

HWH: If I could interrupt, that may be one of the reasons why in economics, for example, a student could not take an economics course until his junior year. 

THORP: Well, that may have been the reason. Of course, this also meant that they didn’t have to have as big a department. However, it is true that over time, as the requirement for the Classics was reduced and finally done away with-- in my day I don’t remember whether you had to take one or two years of Latin after you came, having had four years before you came. At any rate I took two years, I know, because then it began to have these added meanings. It wasn’t just a translation matter. It had much more substance. After all, you read Julius Caesar and you didn’t really get much out of Julius Caesar of substance, but when you got to reading Tacitus and Plautus and Ovid and some of these literary... 

HWH: Horace. 

THORP: people this all was quite different. 

I remember a few things about President Meiklejohn. One was that he used to have boys in on Sunday afternoon, sit around his study fireplace and talk. I went a great many times. I shouldn’t say great many, I suppose I went ten times. But I recall how exciting they were and how often a very simple point was one that one had never thought about before. I can recall, for example, his saying, “How should one define an academic subject? When you say you’re studying economics, how are you going to define economics?” And we struggled with that and then we moved to another problem and so forth. Pretty soon it became obvious that if you defined it by the content, you found yourself over lapping terrifically. In economics one of the problems is the labor supply; this gets you into the problem of migration, migration gets you into races, into Psychological and physical capabilities, in terms of social structure and psychology, biology, political science, and so forth, so you’ve gotten out of economics although it’s still a part of the subject. And we finally came to what’s a perfectly obvious conclusion, but at that moment it came as a bright light to me-- namely, you had to define it by the kind of questions you were asking about the world. Hamilton’s definition of economics demonstrated this: an examination of why we all are as well off as we are and why are some better off than others? But we are the subject matter of every social science and some other social science could perfectly well say, how do we get along together?, how do we avoid conflicts with each other?, and then you are into political science. Well, that’s just an illustration of the way in which this general approach showed itself. 

HWH: When Meiklejohn invited students in, I’m sure he was selective in which students he invited. 

THORP: I presume so. I haven’t any idea about which ones. 

HWH: It’s probably not a case of trying to... 

THORP: I don’t think he tried to cover the whole student body. Of course, he had a problem that his wife didn’t participate in the community at all. I don’t know that I ever even knew what she looked like. I probably did, but she wasn’t certainly as active as most presidents’ wives and not as conspicuous, let’s say. This must have had some bearing on the kind of entertaining he did. Of course, in those days faculty entertained students at a great rate and the same thing was true when I was here later,because of the fact that virtually everybody on the faculty had a domestic servant. And this made a great difference. You could have twenty students in on Sunday evening, give them cider, you wouldn’t have them for supper although you might. At any rate it was no burden on you or your wife, this was taken care of. This, I think, had a great influence on the degree of entertainment. I know in the last period that I was on the faculty I did occasional inviting, but I was much more apt to ask students to come in and talk with me in the office because having them here in the house meant that Clarice had to take care of it. 

We did, incidentally, develop at that point a carry-over from a Washington experience, a practice that we had. No, it isn’t really a parallel. Let me just say what we did at that time in Amherst. We frequently would invite two students whom I thought would go together well, that I had in class, and another faculty couple. That meant that you weren’t limited, yourselves, to contact with the students and if they weren’t too outgiving you could talk with the faculty couple and it worked out quite nicely. 

To get back to Meiklejohn, I had a course with Meiklejohn. At that time he taught in the Philosophy Department and one of the subjects that I took with him was logic. And I remember that he insisted that we should understand the syllogism, which I think is a perfectly reasonable requirement of any educated person. He may not know that he’s talking in terms of a syllogism, but it’s elementary logical thinking to know that, when you’ve got statement A and you’ve got statement B, whether you can conclude statement C or not. And this was a big class, I think it had something like sixty in it. Every session he gave us a syllogism problem until everybody in the class got it right. This is very interesting, because it finally got down to maybe two or three wrong, the rest of us were thoroughly bored with the syllogism and this took up five minutes or so of class time, and it turned all the rest of us into insisting that those who were failing would somehow get this straightened out because we didn’t want to keep this going for longer. 

HWH: Was this seniors largely in this course? 

THORP: No, I think it was a sophomore course. I think he took it for half the year and Newlin took it for the other half of the year, as I remember. 

One other thing that illustrated the kind of thing that we did there was something that I’ve used over and over again in speeches to Alumni, because like many people on the faculty we took turns on the alumni circuit and I had my periods of doing a lot of it. He put to us this problem: you have a jackknife which was given to you by your grandmother, and the blade gets broken, but you find a new blade and you replace it. Is that the same jackknife or isn’t it the same jackknife? And he suggested other changes so that it wasn’t a matter of whether it was an important part of the thing, but it was different, but when was the knife the same, when was it different? And this was a fascinating, I think this was one of our earliest, I’d almost say metaphysical, exposure that we had at that time in Amherst. It’s still a knife, I can still whittle with it, but it’s not the same knife that my grandmother gave me. Well, I used to tell the Alumni when I spoke to them in various cities, how Meiklejohn put this problem to us and we used to debate it at great length, and I applied it in terms of Amherst: Amherst is changed, but can you say that it’s not the same Amherst? It led into a kind of analysis that was rather useful, especially for alumni who were worried about the changes that took place. 

When I came back in 1921, the one-year period that I came back to teach, the dissatisfaction with Meiklejohn was coming to a head in the faculty and I guess in the Trustees, though I had no contact with them. At that time I was in real trouble because I was pursuing Professor Churchill’s daughter. He was one of the leaders in the anti-Meiklejohn group. I clearly belonged to the Meiklejohn group, but it didn’t have any meaning to belong to it, we had no way of doing much about it one way or the other. I did discuss it enough with people to come to the conclusion for my own satisfaction, at any rate, that in general the opponents and defenders of Meiklejohn were not meeting each other at all on the level of their disagreement, that the defenders felt that he was being attacked for his educational policies because they felt the attack came largely from the old senior professors in Classics and English Literature and so forth-- not all, Manthey-Zorn who was in German was a strong Meiklejohn supporter. But at any rate, the defense was at the idea level. The attack was to a very large extent on the, you might say, the performance level ranging all the way from the question as to whether Meiklejohn had been an accurate reporter back and forth between the faculty and the trustees-- of course it’s virtually impossible for anybody to really answer-- to the fact that he’d run up bills in town, and that his wife didn’t really belong to the community, and things of that sort. At any rate he left, and I left-- not related in any way because I’d only been appointed for one year to fill in for Hamilton who had a sabbatical. 

HWH: And he left after you. 

THORP: He left the next year. 

HWH: Well then came a very different figure into the presidency. 

THORP: And then came Georgie Olds. I have to start by saying that Georgie Olds was one of my very favorite professors. I had quite a number of them and I had more professors than the usual student because most of my time I took six courses because five didn’t keep me busy. I would take a sixth course and therefore get more exposure. I think once I dropped a course-- I started a history course with Gallinger and found him just reading from his notes and I left. It’s interesting that at a later point in his teaching career, he became quite a popular professor. He stopped teaching the way he had. 

HWH: I had him as a junior and enjoyed his course very much. 

THORP: Two people who changed in the middle of their careers in Amherst were George Taylor and Gallinger. Both of them started out as pretty poor teachers, not greatly respected by the community and so forth, and both of them ended up as people with standing and George Taylor, particularly, as one of the pillars of the faculty when he really had his change in life. 

Well, Georgie Olds taught me math in my sophomore year, and I might say mathematics goes all through my mental processes. It was my great love and in Amherst it certainly was-- I won the Math Prizes both freshman and sophomore years with Sprague taking second place both years. 

HWH: You said last time that you had considered going into mathematics, rather than economics. 

THORP: Well Georgie Olds taught me the second year. He was very nice with me, too. The incident that I remember that I appreciated most was that we had a daily test, and you kept a running score on your blue book, that you’d now taken 13 and you’d had 13 right, or whatever it might be; and there were several of us that were running very close to having a perfect score. After all, if you were mathematically inclined and had prepared your lesson there was no excuse for not getting it anyway. One time in class, though, we had our books and started to work on them and just sort of to rest my neck or eyes or something I swung my head around and I saw the answer on the book next to me. I knew the answer, this wasn’t a surprise to me, it wasn’t something where I was looking for help; but nevertheless, I went up to the teacher (Dean Olds) afterwards and said, “I’m very sorry I hadn’t put the answer down when I saw it on the paper next to me and I’m afraid you’ll have to mark mine as wrong for this one.” And he said, “Oh no, I’ll just not count that in your total plus or minus-- we’ll just skip this one.” Which I thought was a very understanding thing. As Dean he had the great reputation of being a wonderful person, the students were very fond of him, and yet he could be quite tough, tough in the sense of enforcing what needed to be enforced. In those days there were rather unpleasant things like the requirements to go to Chapel and the requirements to go to church which were the requirements that I think irritated everybody and probably irritated him more than anyone else. 

Meiklejohn was wonderful in chapel. He led Chapel quite often. He very seldom read from the Bible, although he did occasionally. He was much more likely to read a bit from Epictitus. I remember one thing that he did several times, because there were several appropriate times. If we had a terrific snowstorm and therefore a large number of students took their chapel cut that day-- we had one cut a week and when they added up you had that many cuts a semester-- he would read a poem by Lord Dunsany which is about a priest who, in a storm, went to offer mass in his little church and only an ox came. But he and the ox had their service in the storm. I think it was an ox, it may have been an ass, but at any rate that was the kind of nice little touch that happened in Chapel. Not that anybody loved Chapel, because it was early in the morning, it was before the first class. It got you up and you had to get going and I think probably from that point of view it was a useful part of the regulation of one’s life. 

Well to come back to Georgie Olds, my undergraduate days included the World War I period and Georgie Olds gave a course in navigation which really didn’t teach you much about navigation as such, about actually operating a ship, but did deal with the mathematics that you needed to have in terms of taking a sighting from the sun, and allowing for parallax and a whole lot of things of that sort, so that I remember that. One of the reasons why he was such an attractive teacher was because he would relate a particular mathematical concept or formula to some kind of use, often enough so that you didn’t feel as you did with Charlie Cobb, that you were living off in pretty much a world of abstraction, but it was somewhat related to the real world in which you were. At any rate, he was the one who contacted me about coming back after they had had a series of temporary appointments in Economics. I remember all the economists except Crook left when Meiklejohn left and it was filled with borrowed people, or temporary appointments, or one thing and another for several years. Dick Merriam was, I think, the first person who came in who really stayed for quite a while-- George Taylor may have been. He came with Paul Douglas from Chicago. Then I came. 

I remember that Georgie Olds said, “You know, there’s one hurdle you have to cross before you can be appointed and that is you must go and call on Dwight Morrow.” Dwight Morrow was a trustee at the time and apparently had indicated some interest in the filling of positions in the Economics Department. Well, this wasn’t difficult because he was in New York and I was in New York so I did go and see him. As far as I know all his judgment about me was made very largely just on my looks because almost all the time was spent in his lecturing me about the world as he saw it, and there was a minimum of any questioning of me as to what I knew or thought or what I was like. But apparently I passed, and so I came up to Amherst at $5,500 a year which was above the minimum full professor salary at that time and which I was happy to do. 

Part of why I came, though, was that I went around to see Wesley Mitchell at the National Bureau of Economic Research and said, “I have this offer at Amherst. What do you think I ought to do?” And he said, “I think you ought to take it.” And I was a little set back, because I was there at the National Bureau, still working there, even though I was also working for the New York State Board of Housing. And he said, “Well there is no better way in which one can really be free to do whatever research work he wants to. It has to be subsidized by a place like Amherst.” And he said, “You can still continue on the National Bureau staff while you’re at Amherst, if they’re willing, and we would expect you to come down rather often and perhaps spend a good deal of your summers here.” And so I accepted and came to Amherst. 

I have no feeling about Georgie Olds as President. He didn’t want to be president; it wasn’t his kind of job, really. He was a personnel man in the finest sense, concerned with people and their problems and not an executive, organizer, fund-raiser, planner kind of person. 

HWH: I think this quality was recognized by the faculty as much as by students, too. 

THORP: You couldn’t get mad at him. Part of this also was because he didn’t take strong positions. This is again, you see, not being the executive. He was just very nice and his problem really was to fix up a place in which a lot of feeling still ran high. Not every defender of Meiklejohn left, after all. One of the strongest ones was Eli Marsh, for example, and he stayed on indefinitely; and Manthey-Zorn stayed on-- there were a number of them. Of course there were some twenty or thirty students who refused to take their diplomas, but they were away, and as far as the student body was concerned they were no problem. The student body is short-lived anyway. But there were still some difficulties of adjustment and Olds was an ideal person for riding the short-term crisis that was there. I would doubt if you could regard him as having had any great impact on anything except keeping the College going and calming down the difficulties and healing the wounds. But I must say he’s someone for whom I always had, and always will think of with great affection because he was an exciting person as a teacher and a very nice person as one to have contacts with. 

He was followed by President Pease. President Pease came out of the Classics Department and he was, also, like Olds, it turned out at any rate, not the type that makes a good college president. I can demonstrate this by the fact that when he announced he was going to leave, I knew him well enough so that I asked him why he resigned, because all of us thought everything was going along perfectly well here at Amherst. There wasn’t anybody suggesting that he resign that we knew. And he said, “Well, Willard, when I found myself getting up in the morning and saying, ‘Oh dear, I wonder what awful problem’s coming up today,’ I knew I wasn’t in the right job.” 

HWH: That’s a good enough reason. 

THORP: It’s a splendid reason. It’s not the kind of reason that one can give as a public reason, but I think he was absolutely honest. This illustrated, at any rate, his judgment that he wasn’t in the right spot. He went on to Harvard and then he could carry on his botany and his teaching and from all that I have ever heard became an important person in the faculty at Harvard without the same horrible responsibilities that he felt that he had as President. 

HWH: Was there any closeness between him and a segment of, if not all, the faculty, or was he fairly remote? 

THORP: I couldn’t answer that but my guess is that he was fairly remote. He was remote as far as my contacts-- well of course the faculty at that time was small enough so you knew everybody. When we came up here, every member of the faculty-- every tenured member of the faculty-- called on us. We returned the calls on them. In those days whoever the head of a department was was responsible for helping any new person to catch on. Each one had his orientation course from the head of his department, and if he, by chance, was a little bit out of step with the faculty procedures at the time, it would be quite likely that the head of his department would call it to his attention. I would think that in those days some extreme form of dress which was permissible today would probably have been protested about-- things of that sort, and advice about dealing with students and what not. 

At any rate, the faculty was much more of a unit, the departments were all so small that you couldn’t live within your own department. You were forced into social life with other people. There was an active Faculty Club, not only active with monthly dinners where it was almost compulsory to go and where the programs were usually quite entertaining. People who went away knew that in all probability that they’d be asked to speak about their experiences when they got back, and so they would accumulate tidbits that they thought would amuse the faculty. But there also was the afternoon at the Faculty Club, which in that early period was not just a limited number of pool-playing people, but a lot of other people came in and talked seriously about various things over tea and coffee. Of course, the Faculty Club as a social center late in the afternoon degenerated into just a limited number of people who felt they already knew all they needed to know and therefore weren’t busy on maintaining their academic standing. 

HWH: That’s the club that was located then at Webster House, corner of South Pleasant and Walnut? That red brick two-story building? 

THORP: No, I don’t think it ever was there. At this time it was where the Kirby Theatre is now. It was the Hopkins’s house I think. 

HWH: Because I remember as a student going down to play bridge with Tony Scenna and George Funnell. 

THORP: Oh well, the brick house was a faculty dormitory. That was not the faculty club, that was the Bachelors’ House. Later the Bachelors’ House came to be on College Street, but that was it at that time. That’s why you went there. No, it was over where the theatre is now. 

HWH: Yes, and they moved that house. 

THORP: It had a big basement, big enough so that the sixty or so people could get in. I remember I had to speak a couple of times. But it was something which everybody went to and we saw each other and you didn’t eat in groups. You formed in line upstairs more or less at random and you sat at random, except for the people at the head table. 

HWH: Long tables, too, as I recall. 

THORP: Yes, long tables. And there was always roast beef-- very good food. It must have been catered, because of course in those days the College didn’t have an eating center. Everybody went out to private boarding houses. 

Well, I went off I guess shortly after-- I don’t know, was it a year or so after-- trying to think how the dates ran. I left in ‘33 really. 

HWH: Well, Pease left in ‘32 and Stanley King came that fall. 

THORP: So I had a year with Stanley King and Stanley King gave me my leave to go to Washington, but I had just the one year while he was President. However, my contact with him was resumed before I came back because I was elected as a Trustee. But that was, at first, during the war period. One of the times that I was elected as a Trustee I was not nominated by the Committee but by petition-- that may have been the second time. At any rate, King during the war period virtually took over the administration of the College and there were so many negotiations that had to be done with the Government and so forth that I would say my recollection of that period is that the Trustees, while they existed and they met, were largely in the President’s hands even more than usual, and I think it is usual that the Trustees ratify whatever the President has decided to do. And how much they are involved in it depends upon the way in which the President puts it forward. But the Trustees are not an originating group. My experience with them is for two terms, two six-year terms. I would say that in most all of those situations, unless the President came in and said, “Now here are two alternatives and I just don’t know which to do,” or unless you have a very important public relations problem like what to do about the Mead Art Building: should you put it where the Stearns Church was, and if you put it where the Stearns Church was, what do you do with the Carillon that’s in the steeple of the Stearns Church? I don’t know how many meetings there were when the Trustees struggled with the problem of what to do about that. Usually the Board followed the President’s lead. 

HWH: And I believe the Chairman of the Board then was Alfred Stearns. 

THORP: Yes, that’s right. But that was a good kind of problem. I don’t think the President took any, I don’t remember him as taking any position, because this wasn’t the kind of thing where the President had any more expertise than the rest of us had. Even the Trustees’ wives got involved in that problem as to what would or wouldn’t look well, or meet the sentimental requirements and so forth. At any rate, I do remember the first Trustees’ meeting that I came up to, King meeting me and, in an attempt I think to be sort of humorous, said that he never expected to see me there. He was sure that I wouldn’t be elected. 

HWH: I would comment that you’re the only case where an alumnus was re-elected a Trustee by the alumni in the minimum time required. You have to let a year intervene between your service and you were a Trustee twelve out of thirteen years. 

THORP: Have there been people elected twice? 

HWH: I don’t know of any. I think back in the ‘teens there were, before my time. (Added later: there were not.) 

THORP: I didn’t know that there ever had been. But it was a delight to me. I liked to be a trustee. I liked to come up to Amherst. I’ve turned all my files over to the College of my trustee period, though much of it I’m sure that the College has, because there were lots of minutes and things of that sort, so that I have no way of helping my recollection. I must say that my experience as a trustee left me with a knowledge of certain incidents where there was a real problem. One outstanding one was the question of possible Communists on the Amherst faculty. That was a difficult problem as it was in many cases, and we did have people who at least for temporary periods had been in Communist groups. What was the College to do about it, ranging all the way from that they ought to be thrown out to that the College should give them strong support and provide them with lawyers and one thing and another. I would say that on the Trustees though, because McCloy and Seligman and Plimpton and I all felt that it was quite irrelevant to the problem of tenured people in Amherst if they were good teachers, if they were competent, the fact that twenty years before they had been in a cell in Harvard was irrelevant and we weren’t going to take any action about it. As a matter of fact, assistance was given in a few cases where it looked as though there would be a problem. In one or two, it was possible just to stop the whole thing before it got any distance at all. But there were other members of the Trustees who weren’t as civil libertarian in their thinking. 

HWH: I think it’s interesting that your trio of compatriots in that with you were all New York lawyers. 

THORP: Well, actually, Eustace and Francis and I were almost all the time in agreement, and frequently, if there was a question, it was some of the business people, maybe from the Midwest or something, that would raise a question that had to be dealt with. We also joined in very strong support of Charlie Cole when there were any problems that he needed support on, which wasn’t very often. 

HWH: Well that brings us to his administration. 

THORP: Yes, I think the King administration was one in which I always felt that his strong suit had been to weather the war without having the loss of faculty and the loss of students either impoverish the College or prevent its picking up again. And King had laid the groundwork for several things that were terribly important. One was the form in which the fraternities would be allowed to open again, having been really shut down for the war period. 

HWH: Occupied by military 

THORP: Occupied by these various outside groups that were supporting the College in the meantime, although there were still undergraduates during this period. I must say that as far as the undergraduates were concerned, the idea that they would share in and get some of the benefit of these other groups was not very great. Most of the groups they couldn’t share in, but the Army did send people here to train the undergraduates. I remember visiting one of the classes because that was something Trustees were allowed to do, and it was absolute nonsense, it was as though the teacher was saying, “Now you should realize that there are some countries that have no access to the sea. Do any of you know of any country that is all land-bound for instance?” It was that kind of level it seemed to me in the session that I heard. 

Well the other thing of course was that King recognized that he had not been able to do much with the problem of the College curriculum. He had strengthened the College, he had built buildings here, and I would say that also he had made some excellent appointments on the faculty. King doesn’t get enough credit for that. He was a good business manager, he made excellent appointments. He had his blind spots. I would say that the degree to which he allowed Paul Weathers to direct various aspects of the campus life was unfortunate. Paul was not even a good financial man; I was on the finance committee and there were certain elementary things about handling a portfolio that Paul refused to do because his way made the portfolio look better even though it was poorer. Perhaps I ought to illustrate that to indicate what I mean. 

Suppose that there was a bond which had been bought for $100 and it paid 4% and at that time to earn 4% looked pretty good. Suppose, however, that that particular company proved to be so strong and that bond to be so good that the bond went up in price to $110. In that case the bond was no longer earning 4% on its current value, it was earning three and a fraction. What you’d do of course under normal circumstances would be to say, well, I’ll sell that bond and get my $110 and I’ll buy some other bond that will give me 4% and my income will now be 4.4% because the extra $10 is now producing income. But Paul preferred to keep the accounts and reports on the cost, original cost, and therefore pretended that bond was still earning 4%. I argued that over and over with him to no effect because that was what helped-- I mean he wouldn’t say this was the reason-- but it was what helped the “looks” of the College portfolio. Well anyway there were things like that. 

HWH: One other thing Stanley did that I know Charlie felt very strongly about, as one of his last acts, he persuaded the Board to make Paul an ex officio member of the Board. 

THORP: That wasn’t quite one of his last acts. He did that somewhat earlier. Paul was on the Board a good deal of the time and it meant that Paul, who always had Heinie Kingman stay at his home, and, I guess, maybe was close to several other Trustees, would be on the Board and you couldn’t really do much about the financial side because he would be there and he would already have discussed it with his close friends who were classmates. But it wasn’t just that. 

He was also in charge of the housing, the allocation of housing, and he was in charge of-- well let us take another sort of area where I know how badly he did it. That was after the Merrill Center was sold, or before it was sold, it had lots of valuable things inside, and his initial agreement to sell it just let all the contents go along with the house. Clarice jumped in on the sale and got a substantial increase before the final settlement for that. But a lot of the things were taken back to Amherst and given to various people on the faculty and to the salesman from the agency that sold the estate that were not a matter of any kind of record, and it always bothered me that apparently there was this kind of abuse of the responsibility, the feeling that he could give things away, and he did. Well I don’t like to... 

HWH: Well let’s get on to Charlie. 

THORP: Charlie came in along with the New Curriculum. I would say that I would put Charlie with Meiklejohn as the two presidents in my knowledge who really made a difference to the College. 

The New Curriculum was an idea that wouldn’t be worth anything unless it had just the right people to carry it out. It was a stroke of brilliance to bring Arons here. He had all sorts of new ideas about teaching physics and about including mathematics along with physics and about giving the students in the laboratory a problem and not saying do this and this and this, not doing the sort of thing that turned me against chemistry, but giving them the problem and, if necessary, some hints perhaps, but making them do the puzzling about how to measure this or how to determine that this is so. And then along with that there was the whole shift in the notion of English-- that English was to be a subject which should be thought of as communication. Charlie instituted the idea that when the Instruction Committee came to Amherst, as it regularly did for Washington’s Birthday weekend, that the Trustees and their wives could go to any classes that they wanted to. Charlie got this through the faculty with some difficulty, but nevertheless the faculty agreed to it. So we would come up and we’d be given a list of all the courses that were meeting on these two mornings and then we would fan out and visit them-- no organization, so it might be that some weren’t visited at all and some other had two or three people go. At any rate it was a very exciting thing-- I think that made a tremendous difference in terms of the Trustees who had this kind of exposure to the College and I’m very sorry that it finally had to end. The point I was going to make was that one of them that I visited was by Ben DeMott and Ben DeMott, after a little preliminary, said, “Now suppose that A says to B, ‘You know this was just like a Sunday morning.’ What would you interpret that as meaning?” And he went around the Class. There were twenty in the class and he got twenty different meanings. It was such an interesting way-- you couldn’t do this class after class after class, of course-- but this was early in the semester, February, and he was just pointing out to them that when you said a word to somebody, or gave a metaphor to somebody, that it wasn’t by any means a real communication with that person. 

HWH: Was this in English 1? 

THORP: Yes, this was English 1. 

HWH: Ted Baird has pointed out that one of the great reasons for the success of English 1-2 was its connection with Science 1-2 and Arnold Arons-- that he taught the same way and almost paralleled English 1-2 in his approach to the subject. 

THORP: This was something, something which nobody can organize along with the necessary faculty except the President. Charlie of course had the background of teaching at Amherst. At the same time that Gail Kennedy and his group, but really Gail, worked out the plan on behalf of the faculty, Charlie was head of a parallel committee of alumni working on the same problem. I don’t know the extent to which they agreed. Gail’s product was published-- and I never knew quite what the alumni had to say, though I probably saw it. 

HWH: Charlie’s group report was published by the Alumni Council, called “Amherst Tomorrow.” 

THORP: This meant that Charlie was already thinking in curriculum terms and of course he was exceedingly good for this. He had taught at Amherst; I don’t know whether he immediately succeeded me but if he didn’t, there was just a short gap. 

HWH: There was just a year between your going and his coming. 

THORP: So he was an Amherst man, he knew the Amherst faculty as it existed before the war, and I think a historian has to wander over many more disciplines than the average academic person has to, so that this was a broadening thing. And Charlie had a skill at persuasion which offset to some extent the fact that at that period he looked like an undergraduate, almost. 

HWH: Well I can’t think of anyone who could have explained what the College was doing to Amherst constituents the way Charlie did. He was so articulate. 

THORP: It’s very interesting. Again, Meiklejohn and Charlie were the two exciting people to listen to in an Alumni group. But Meiklejohn would be very likely to take some idea and develop it-- it might be related to Amherst, but he wouldn’t report as directly on Amherst as such, whereas Charlie, of course, felt that Amherst was his total operation. Although he had any number of invitations, Charlie was unwilling to participate in this or that organization or even in government advisory work-- he did that once or twice, but not intensively-- because he did feel that Amherst was a fulltime job. 

HWH: It was during his presidency, of course, that you came back. That was in 1952 and you were on a half-and-half basis, as I recall; you were teaching here for a semester, and the other semester you were conducting the summer program at the Merrill Center. And rather than go on to Cal, let’s stay with Charlie for a minute-- your relationship with him, some of the factors in developing the Merrill Center. 

THORP: I had gotten to know Charlie well through being a Trustee here, and whenever he came to Washington, which was fairly often, he would very likely come and see us-- maybe have a meal or maybe come in for an evening or something-- so that I kept very closely in touch with him and he did with me. Of course, I was head over heels working in the State Department at that time. I was abroad or away quite a lot, but I did read in the papers that Charlie Merrill had given his estate in Southampton to Amherst College and it was to be used in the field of Economics. I was curious about it, but didn’t think much about it, wondered what it was going to be. I don’t know whether it was immediately thereafter, that Charlie talked to me about it, I guess it was some months because of course it must have taken quite a while to work out the details of the gift and all that sort of thing, although they were trying to do it to get it within the tax year I think. Charlie came to see me and this was when I was thinking seriously about leaving the State Department. 

I had accumulated some savings while I worked in New York for the Associated, but my divorce reduced them substantially. I’d just about run out of having any backlog left and so Clarice and I had decided that we would leave just before the next presidential change took place. I didn’t want it to look as though I was leaving because of the presidential change, especially if it was another Democrat-- I wouldn’t want it to look that way. I’d have had to leave if a Republican was elected and that happened, so I would have had to leave later. But I decided the summer before that it was time for us to leave. We were down to having enough money to carry us six months, and I felt that was about as far as I wanted to use up my assets. This was mostly because of two costs that we had; one was the time abroad when the government expense allowance didn’t begin to cover costs; and secondly, that I took Clarice with me on a good many of my trips and the government made no allowance for that, so that was entirely at our expense. It was worth it, I’ve never regretted it. As a matter of fact, the Government ought to have paid not only her expenses but some salary. She was very useful not only to me but to other members of the various delegations of which I was head. Somehow, foreign delegates were willing to tell her things which they weren’t willing to say publicly or to a U.S. official. 

Word got around and I began to get offers. I was offered the second job in the International Monetary Fund which at that time I think paid $50,000 tax free. I was offered a professorship at the University of Rochester where they wanted to start a freshman course of international relations. It was sweetened by the promise that I could have side income as a consultant for two of the largest firms in Rochester. (The discussion about this was with Sol Linowitz, of whom Clarice and I became very fond.) I had a couple of business offers-- it turned out that my experience in Washington was marketable. And Charlie came in and asked me if I’d take over this new idea of using Mr. Merrill’s estate. He talked in terms of setting it up as a graduate school operating during the summer. I thought that was a nonsense idea. 

HWH: By “he” you mean Charlie? 

THORP: Charlie Cole. Charlie Merrill had just given it to be used for economics and he wanted to know eventually what it would be. He was prepared to pay the bills for its operation whatever it was. Charlie Cole had this idea of a graduate school and I felt that that was nonsense. In the first place, any graduate school needs a very elaborate detailed library, which would have been impossible there. In the second place, there already were plenty of outstanding graduate schools around, and most graduate students if they weren’t going to a summer school at Chicago or Harvard would be using the time for writing or research. Anyway, for the kind of life that you think of as a graduate student having, the Southampton environment wasn’t particularly attractive, because they should be working a little more than one would be likely to do there. 

So I came up with the idea, that the way in which people in economics met together in those days was at conferences which were usually two days and sometimes two-and-a-half days long, in which A would state his position and B would state his, and challenge A, and A would repeat his position and B would repeat his and then they’d pack up and leave. If it only were possible to get A and B to be together for a longer period of time, sooner or later they couldn’t escape each other and they’d have to come out with some kind of common understanding, at least they’d understand why they disagreed. And so my suggestion was that we operate in two-weeks periods, taking a problem, an economic problem-- foreign trade, financing of the arts, whatever it might be-- and bring the top people from all around the world-- twenty of them to arrive at an agreed conclusion, no asking people to come with prepared papers to present, just here are the top people who already know the subject that you’re bringing them in to discuss, and have them sit around the table. This is what we did. 

Before I go on to talk about how this idea developed in practice, there were problems which were not easy-- how to make the Orchard over for its new function. The place itself, as you know, was a Stanford White building, a beautiful building. It sat in 16 acres with large elaborate gardens at the back. It had an enormous music room with a full-size organ. There were large bedrooms which could be used for doubles and half-a-dozen tiny bedrooms over the kitchen for the help. There were no pictures or books and none of the rooms had desks. We could not handle all of our group plus the four boys (I’ll tell you about them later) in the building, but there was a small house in the back that we fixed up so it was a kind of dormitory. It had no furniture whatever and an inadequate bathroom. So there was a lot to do-- remodeling the plumbing, furniture to buy, etc., plus such non-simple matters as installing a telephone switchboard. Luckily, Charlie had tied Clarice into the operation by putting her on the payroll as my executive assistant, and she worked all these problems out. We kept the gardener and several assistants to take care of the outside and one secretary completed the permanent payroll. 

For the summer, we brought four maids down from Amherst and environs. Also, Clarice spent a lot of time in the early spring with the Dean and the Economics faculty selecting four boys who were usually honors students in economics and were ending their junior year. They would be called Associate Conferees and did all the odd jobs-- chauffeuring, taking laundry out, showing people where the tennis courts were, meeting trains, etc. They were allowed to sit in on all the sessions and they got to know the conferees. Actually the conferees were interested in them because they were curious about undergraduate life at Amherst. The boys, maids, and secretary took their meals in the Main House where we kept a cook for them. 

We subscribed to the leading social science magazines so that we could build up a file. These the Amherst Library could not let go out of its hands but it would let me borrow any books I wanted from the Amherst Library to take down there; but the Amherst Library was in all these fields inadequate for this kind of group. So I would buy what I felt were all the books that ought to be there, and then they would all come back to the Amherst College Library, so the College on the library side did all right. 

I was given a membership in the Shinnecock Golf Club, which was then one of the high level, restricted golf clubs in the country. We had the special privilege of unlimited rights to take guests, which was something which had never happened before, but Mr. Merrill arranged it so that I had these privileges. We had the same opportunity at the Tennis Club, and then of course the beaches, although we never used the Beach Club because there we felt it would be unfortunate to mix our mixed bag of characters with the people-- many vocally bigoted and quite offensive-- at the Beach Club where you’d see the women with JEWELRY on in their bathing suits and so forth. 

Now we can come back to what happened there. One more physical detail. At the end of one wing, there once had been a squash court. It had been reconstructed with French doors cut into each side to serve as a bar when there was a garden party. The College made available a dining-room table which it once received and which fitted into the room and could take enough Amherst chairs to seat all the conferees and leave extra space for the boys. 

I would choose a problem, then I would select and invite the people-- government, business, academic, whoever was appropriate, the people from abroad-- and we’d be there two weeks. The first morning the whole morning would be spent by asking each person to say what he felt were the key problems in the field. What did he want to talk about? Then I would work out an agenda and we would then go on and, for two weeks, we would talk together. I would preside, maintain order, make sure that we didn’t just chase the rabbit too far away from the central problem that we were working on, and hope that in the two weeks time we could have had some clarifications, some increased understanding, perhaps some advances in visualizing further steps. This was a brand new idea. The conferees were enthusiastic. That helped recruit and the group were top-level. I always tried to find some of the youngsters who had the greatest promise and bring them. 

HWH: You mean professionals? 

THORP: Professionals. So I would be in touch with graduate schools. Every once in a while a graduate school would tell me that so and so was one of its most promising graduates, he went off to such and such a college, we’ve never heard from him since. Then I would try to find out and at least in one case that I know, we brought a fellow to the Merrill Center who had gotten side-tracked into administration in his institution which was one of the main colleges, M A I N E colleges. He became excited again and got back into economics and really moved ahead. He needed to be waked up, back into the intellectual world. 

Then of course there were others in a position to take action as a result of the sessions. I know when we had one of the top people from the Bureau of Labor Statistics there on one of the problems, she went back and changed part of their statistical work in order to make it bear on the particular matter that people were excited about. 

Then we also experimented in some other different ways. For example, Kingman Brewster, while at the Harvard Law School, had worked on the problem of the extent to which the anti-trust laws should apply to an American company when it is operating abroad. Of course, this is an age old problem, because it used to be true that in Germany companies in some industries were required to belong to this or that cartel and there was nothing illegal about it. Because of the expansion of American operations abroad, the application of American rules to them in other countries was coming to be quite a problem. He was writing a book about it and some way or other it came to my attention. In talking with him, we agreed that since this was something that would probably lead to revision of the law, or at least clarification of the law, that rather than for him to write a book presenting his ideas and publishing it and then have all the experts attack it one way or another, why not get the experts together first, before he published it. So I did get ten or so of the best economists in the anti-trust field and ten or so lawyers mostly from New York who practiced in this field, and we had a two-weeks session. I must say my admiration for Kingman Brewster has been so high since then, that I urged Amherst to make him president of Amherst, except Yale got to him first to be its provost. The main point was that he realized that this should not be something in which he played a big part; so A would criticize this in chapter 6; and instead of his arguing with him about it, Kingman would say, “Well, B, what do you think of that?” Or I would-- we took turns at doing it. So that it was a broad discussion. And actually he rewrote the whole book after this. 

One of the men who was there who was on the Brookings staff was so impressed with this, that with his next book, he tried the same procedure. But he was not able as Kingman was to handle it properly and it became just a lot of bilateral debates. A fellow would raise a question and the author would answer it, so there was no reason for it being a meeting at all; it could have been just a series of separate sessions. 

Another unusual case. When McGraw-Hill was approaching its fiftieth anniversary, they decided that they would publish a book on the future trends and consequent financial problems of higher education. Dex Keezer, Amherst 1918 I think, was the economist at McGraw Hill. He had been at one of our sessions, and he suggested that they would be glad to finance having a number of papers written on this subject if we would undertake a session at the Merrill Center for that. The result was a book with most of the papers and a summary of the discussion. That, I think, is the only session that we ever had where conferees had written special papers before the session started. We had one other session on a manuscript. 

HWH: Did you choose the subjects they would write about, or did McGraw Hill? 

THORP: Oh we did this jointly. The other book case was one that had been done at the National Bureau of Economic Research on philanthropy, in which a man named Dickinson had tried to estimate the amount of philanthropy in the United States. This gets you into very difficult definitional problems and evaluation problems and so forth. We had a session and worked that book over. Those were the only two. Most of our sessions though had no preparation of specific material. 

Now as far as Amherst was concerned, of course Mr. Merrill paid for all of this, I’m sure. That was my understanding. Clarice, who was the manager of the whole business, sent the bills up to the College and the College paid them. Whether the College asked Mr. Merrill to give it a payment for its management or what I don’t know, but at any rate it must have run up to quite a bit because for the people from the United States, mostly, we paid their expenses to and from; for people from abroad, if from Europe, we gave them $3,000-- in those days that persuaded anyone from Europe to come. And of course all expenses were paid while in Southampton. 

HWH: I would think so. And what a lovely place to come to. 

THORP: Yes, it was a nice place. We had, in all, Clarice would know the exact figure, something like 530 economists who were there, well, I shouldn’t say all economists, we had a few historians, we had some political scientists. It’s hard to classify a businessman, but we had that many people. And I think they came away with a great enthusiasm for Amherst. 

HWH: The chief battleground, as I recall, however, was the croquet court. 

THORP: There was a beautiful croquet court and that was very popular. Matter of fact, the gardens and the whole place were lovely. It had had at its peak period twelve gardeners. We cut the staff way down, but we maintained the whole garden nevertheless; and the net result was that not only were there beautiful gardens, but there also were always many, many vases of flowers around in the house and so forth. It was a luxurious operation, but on the other hand it was very rich in the conference itself. 

The afternoon before we started at the very beginning, there was a reception for the Amherst Trustees, leading Southamptonites and friends of the Merrills, and such conferees as had already arrived. It was a beautiful day and we had it out-of-doors. Shorty Ells [Arthur F. Ells ‘02], then Chairman of the Amherst Board of Trustees was there and spoke briefly. Mr. Merrill was supposed to speak but Mr. Merrill wasn’t well. I don’t know whether in fear of the speech or what, he just wasn’t able to come at all, so Bob MacGowan, his son-in-law, read a little statement from him. The main speaker was Dag Hammerskjold who had just become head of the United Nations. As I have said before, he was an old friend of Clarice’s and mine. As an economist, he was able to speak with authority about the need for much new thought in the field of economics and the contribution which the Merrill Center could make by encouraging discussion among the leaders in the field. Incidentally, when Amherst College gave him an honorary degree, he and his bodyguard stayed with us in Pelham. He was unwilling to be an in-and-out participant and stayed for several days in order to have some sense of belonging to Amherst. 

We had been going about three or four days I think and a committee from the Conferees approached me and said, “We are finding that we want to have notes to remind us, but the process of keeping notes interferes with our full participation. Can’t we figure out a way of dealing with that?” And I said, “Sure, let’s do it.” Well, it ended up that a different conferee took the notes for a day, and then they were typed up, mimeographed that night, and given out the next morning. No effort was made to revise or change them. This, however, turned out to be unsatisfactory because they were so different according to the habits of the various authors. One person would write voluminous notes, another would take just a few, one would suggest we then talked about so and so and not say what was said; so after that first year, I paid one person who kept the notes consistently through the whole summer. I think the College library has a file and I have a file. 

The Thursday before a two-week session broke up, our last evening session, we had a special party. Ordinarily we didn’t serve liquor excepting weekends; there was a bar in the Irving Hotel for those who had to have some, but that night we would have a party. Clarice would put on an elaborate spread of fruit and cheeses and other delectables. There would be all sorts of unexpected things that would go on after that-- maybe some singing, we once had a Welshman who just delighted us all singing Welsh songs. And I would always sing a ditty summarizing the subject matter that we’d covered and the notable incidents that had happened. 

HWH: With guitar. 

THORP: With guitar. Once we had a mock commencement and two people made wonderful speeches of nonsense, with graphs to illustrate and so forth and so on. It was a mixture of fun and seriousness, and I must say that we still continue to hear from some of the people and hear how they remember it. 

For some years, while it was going on and a little while afterwards, when the American Economic Association met as it normally does in Christmas vacation, Clarice and I would attend and have a suite in the headquarters hotel, and one evening put on a get-together party. We’d send an invitation to all Merrill Center conferees. Of all those who were there, I think all would come. It was one of the outstanding things. When the Merrill Center finally ended, it no longer had a budget. The reunions were expensive and Mr. Merrill was no longer alive to pay for them, so we had to give up the idea. 

HWH: We’re about at the end of this tape. I have two or three little questions I’d like to ask you. 


HWH: This is a continuing tape with Willard Thorp on Tuesday, March 28, 1978. 

Willard, we were at the point where you commented that the budget for the Merrill Center came to an end when Charlie Merrill died, and I presume you were about to go further with that. 

THORP: Well, I’ll do that, but I do want to come back to one other connection of Amherst faculty and such people with this. 

But I should say that when Mr. Merrill died, he left Amherst a very substantial chunk of stock, or rather partnership at that time, in Merrill Lynch, but it said nothing in his will with respect to the Merrill Center. I have no question in my mind but that he did expect that the College would continue the Merrill Center. He thought of this as part of Amherst College and not as a separable thing. But it wasn’t mentioned in his will, which was not a very detailed document anyway. The Trustees were uncomfortable about this, because they didn’t feel that the Merrill Center was really a full part of Amherst College-- it was related but a distant relative, perhaps one should say. They felt that here was a substantial cost-- I suppose it must have been something like $100,000 a year to run it, maybe more. I never was able to add it up or never tried to; I probably could have, but I wasn’t sure about what the College charged for handling it at the College end. At any rate, the Trustees consulted with me about continuing it, and the impression that I have was that the Trustees felt they did have to continue it in any event for a little while-- couldn’t abruptly end it upon Charlie Merrill’s death-- but that one way of defining this was that they would continue it as long as Clarice and I would operate it. I must say that consistent with my experience in other parts of my life, I was about ready to end this particular job. 

HWH: How many years had it run? 

THORP: It ran nine years. Mr. Merrill died in 1956. We closed the Center in 1961. 

HWH: Longer than the usual seven. 

THORP: Yes. My feeling about it was twofold. One was I had now invited virtually everybody I knew and some people I hadn’t known before. I had had a general principle, though it had some exceptions, of not inviting a person twice. I felt this was really a bonus for being an economist and that coming to Southampton was something that ought to be spread around fairly widely. Secondly, it was getting harder and harder to get people to come. The good people in Europe were now being invited by universities all over to come over for a year and they would get invited two years in advance, three years in advance, because this was when there was a teacher shortage in the United States. Universities were growing and where could you find any experienced people? You could get plenty of people just out of graduate school, but you wanted to round out your faculty and so more and more borrowing was going on from abroad, so people in Europe weren’t as free to come for a summer. Nor were they as eager. They’d been in the United States. Also, the economists themselves were more and more getting involved in summer jobs for the government, going for AID to Brazil or something or other. Or had been given money by some foundation like the Ford Foundation to do a research job on which they were already behind schedule, and they would say when I’d invite them, “Look, I can’t come because I’m behind my schedule, and if the Ford Foundation finds that I’m taking two weeks off to do this,”-- of course they wouldn’t have objected at all, but this was an excuse. Plus my internal feeling: We had covered the leading economic problems pretty thoroughly, and when you start to take up a problem again that you had discussed six years before, not so much had happened in the thinking about that problem. Oh, there were occasionally ones where there’d been a major shift in the underlying situation, such as the foreign exchange picture, for instance, but a great many other problems had had almost no change in either the thinking about them or the problems as you define them. On the other hand, I had already talked with Charlie Cole about people to take over in case anything happened to me, and I had thought up several so that he had a list of names. I don’t know whether he passed those on or what happened to the list, but at any rate it doesn’t matter now. I didn’t feel that this was something that was unique to me, although Charlie did. Charlie Cole felt that there just wasn’t anybody else who’d had the domestic and foreign experience and background that I’d had, and he was very doubtful about whether anybody else could do it. 

HWH: You commented in our last discussion, Charlie said that you were preparing for this job from the day you were born, with all the various experiences and people you know. 

THORP: Well at any rate, what happened was that it was terminated and I came back to Amherst College for two years and taught both semesters, and then suddenly got an offer to go to Paris on another job which was very appealing, so that’s what happened. 

To come back, though, to what I hadn’t said before. One was that a good many of the Amherst faculty came down. A few came as regular conferees, all the Economics Department had been there. Some had been there more than once. Arnold Collery was there the very first year and I think came back as a rapporteur one year. The others had been there, too. 

HWH: Did Colston Warne join you? 

THORP: Yes, Colston was there one time. There were other members of the Amherst community that came down shortly after the sessions were over in the fall. Clarice and I would stay on for a few weeks, so that there were more members of the faculty who at least had been in the place for overnight or for a few days. The faculty and administration, I should say. 

HWH: Yes, we counted it as fortunate to have been included. 

THORP: Then of course we were in charge of the place, that is, neither the Amherst College Building and Grounds nor anybody else had anything to do with it, so we had to run it. There was of course a full time gardener who lived in a house on the place, but we went down all through the winter from time to time to make sure everything was all right-- that was a regular part of the job. 

Charlie Cole came every year. He would fly down from Northampton and stay overnight or over two nights. He would sit at a session; he would talk with everybody; he was a great hit. This was just the right thing for him-- these people were people who wanted to talk with him and he enjoyed talking with them-- so that he contributed really to the feeling, although this was usually only one of the groups that was there during the year. 

I didn’t mention that the groups began to think they ought to do something for Clarice and me, and we did succeed in getting a couple of the groups, maybe three, to buy paintings or to give us money for us to buy the paintings for the Mead, so Mead has several paintings that came from the Merrill Center Conferees as gifts to Amherst College. That always seemed to me rather nice. 

The next President of Amherst had just, I think, one year of coming down and he was a catastrophe because he didn’t know anything about economics or any other social science. He sat at the table with Clarice and kept asking her what this word meant and what that word meant and so forth, and I would say that the conferees were quite dismayed to meet the President of Amherst-- this wasn’t his... 

HWH: It’s not his milieu. 

THORP: His milieu at all. 

HWH: I had meant to ask you, Willard, if Charlie Merrill had ever interceded in any way in the operation of Merrill Center. Did he ever express any preferences or was he ever critical? 

THORP: I would say he was amazingly willing to let us carry it on. When I was appointed, my understanding is that he told Charlie Cole he didn’t want to meet me until after I was appointed. Clarice and I went down to Palm Beach, never having seen him before, and had a period there which almost led us to think we’d better pull out of it. Everything seemed awkward to us at first. However we gradually came to get along fairly well and ultimately he seemed to be fond of both of us. We suspect that one difficulty was that his daughter never adjusted to his having given the Orchard to Amherst. He invited us to dinner several times and more frequently we went to his house on the shore for luncheons or cocktails. I think he was a bit embarrassed with me-- Charlie Cole had undoubtedly built me up to him. Once the wife of a top business executive complained to him for supporting an activity run by a former associate of President Roosevelt. He told me about it as a good joke. He took a real interest in the Center. We always gave him a complete list of the conferees and he would invite a few of them to come with us to see him. We never invited him to a regular session, but from time to time, we had visiting lecturers in the evening, although I had less and less of it because I found that, as happens in the College, the chances are fifty-fifty that the lecturer will misjudge the level of his audience. Here were top level people, but some lecturers would talk about things everybody around the table knew. On the other hand, when we had someone like Franz Pick down for the evening, the leading expert in the world on black market operations in foreign exchange and in gold and so forth, everybody was very excited about it. And Charlie Cole once gave one of the lectures there. I don’t remember what it was about, but he did it. 

For those evenings, we frequently invited Charlie Merrill to come and he would sometimes. He’d sometimes bring three or four other people with him for that, because there we would sit around in the library and the speaker was very informal. 

HWH: Did Win Smith ever come? 

THORP: Win Smith came several times. When Win came, he joined us at the conference table and seemed to enjoy it very much. He and Charlie Merrill were a fascinating pair. If I had to describe them in just a thumbnail sketch, I would say Charlie Merrill was an “idea” man. Win Smith was the man that would march behind him and stamp on nine of the sparks and blow on the tenth one. And this is the way they worked. But Charlie Merrill was very humble. He would tell me stories about how he made a million dollars this way or that as a great joke on how it happened. He would claim that it didn’t show any skill on his part. For example, he told us once of getting into a petroleum operation in Canada. The name of the outfit was Merrill Petroleum. He decided, after a while, it was going along pretty well but he thought he’d get out of it, so he decided he would sell the stock publicly, and he offered half of it for sale in Canada and half of it for sale in the United States. Well, as a result, half of it was sold, which one didn’t go I don’t recall. I imagine it may have been the American part, but I don’t know. At any rate, he was left with half of a company-- he had tried to sell it all. Within six months it turned up marvelous new discoveries of petroleum and the stock just went up so that his half was worth ever so much more than the whole would have been at the price that he offered it at before. He would tell me stories like that as demonstrating how it wasn’t skill. 

One of the years he was excited over the idea that Merrill Lynch could expand its idea of being available to people by having mobile brokerage offices. You fix up a bus and it will be in Larchmont, Monday, and in Scarsdale, Tuesday, and so forth and there’ll be someone there who will have contact with the head office. Someone comes in and wants to know about a particular stock right away, then they can get some information on it; if they want a detailed analysis it can be sent to them. He thought this was going to be a great idea. I think they did try it, but as far as I know it never really blossomed into being a full scale thing. The thundering herd would have been something then. 

HWH: That reminds me of Fritz Bedford-- you remember him, he was president of the Atlas Corporation. He took a DC-3 and fitted it out with all of Atlas’s products and activities and flew all over the world with it. 

Willard are there any other things you’d like to say? I’m very grateful to you for having spent all the time you have with me. 

THORP: Well I’d like to say a little bit more about my undergraduate days. 

HWH: Good! Great! And when you do, would you include in it some comment about how fraternities operated at that time? 

THORP: Oh sure. As an undergraduate, you arrived in Amherst by trolley. That was the main contact, usually from Northampton. I was coming to Amherst from Minnesota, so my train came to Springfield, then I changed to a train to Northampton, and then I came to Amherst. 

My recollection is that when I got off the trolley-- though this may not have been right, this may not have been until the next morning-- I was taken into College Hall, and in College Hall was given my appointments to visit all the fraternity houses. Once you started, you had little cards just the size of a calling card for each fraternity noting the time you were to be there. You had half an hour in each fraternity, and you went around, presumably to all of them, perhaps starting in the afternoon or the morning after you’d arrived. Each fraternity had half an hour and a fellow from the next fraternity came to fetch you and you went on and on. Each one of course tried to persuade you as to why you should join it, at least they did with me, because I’d had a pretty good high school record. The net result was that I was offered membership in every fraternity as I met my appointments except by the one local fraternity which I think probably felt it would be a waste of their time to try to do it. Then, at each one, they would ask you to make another appointment with them, and you kept going round and round over a couple of days, gradually narrowing it down. I think I got it down to four, and then I decided I couldn’t make any decision rationally. It’s just going to be on the basis that someone’s a better salesman than another is, so why don’t I join the fraternity my father belonged to? It wasn’t that I had any feeling that it was better, but I picked Chi Phi as against Psi U, Alpha Delt, and Deke. 

At that time Chi Phi was in an old wooden house, but they had a new house in plans which since then has been the Chi Phi house, so that I think my junior year I moved in and lived in this brand new house. That had some appeal, of course. As freshmen, everybody lived in dormitories-- I was in South College, the north side of South College, and had a roommate from Salem by the name of Carter White. Carter White was the most naive member of the freshman class, I think. He was a Deke, and somewhere along about junior year he called me from Tommy Walsh’s and said, “I can’t decide which of two raincoats to buy, will you come up and help me decide?” But I think the most interesting bit of naiveté which could have perfectly have happened to me, was that there was an auction down just off the campus in the backyard of some house, and Carter inadvertently raised his hand and found himself the purchaser of a garden rake, and a garden shovel, and I don’t know what else for something like twenty five cents. And those things stood in the corner of our room. 

Well, we freshmen were immediately given the treatment by our fraternities. The fraternities took us over. We reported every morning and every evening. In the morning you reported to some senior to whom you’d been assigned. Mine was Jay Estey, his father was of the Estey Organ Company in Brattleboro. His brother, Joe Estey, who was, I think, in my Class, my delegation, died rather early. I used to have to report to Jay every morning at 7 o’clock to do whatever he wanted me to do. All that I remember of what I had to do is that I had to polish his golf clubs every day, and then I had to write a letter each day to a girl at Smith which was to be very amorous. It presumably would come from him but was signed “from an unknown admirer,” you see. 

We came to the fraternity house in the evening and in the evening we were put through stunts. One thing we had to do was to learn all the Amherst songs, and that meant that individuals would sing and you’d get paddled if you didn’t sing it well or you couldn’t remember the third verse or whatever it might be. And we had various other kinds of stunts that we would be asked to do, whatever they could think up. 

One night we all reported and were blindfolded and put in a wagon-- of course there were no automobiles-- and driven endlessly a great distance and then dumped in the black of the night and left out there in the wilderness to find our way back to Amherst. But you know, all of this served a purpose in that it provided a common experience to this little group of a dozen of us, and we weren’t a dozen people who ever would have become intimate friends, but at least we had a common experience that kind of tied us together. 

There were other things that tied the freshmen together because there were a series of College events. I can’t even remember just what, but there was one where there was a flag rush in which the flag was up on top of a pole about eight feet high, and around the pole there were mattresses, wrestling mattresses, that made a big enough ring around it so that one person could be up on top. The man on top was a sophomore, and the problem was for the freshmen to get the flag within a certain length of time. Of course the pole was surrounded by all the sophomores and you went after them and tried to get it. I don’t remember anything more about that one. 

HWH: There were also the freshman beanies. 

THORP: Oh yes, we all wore our little green caps, and we all had to say hello to everybody, we sat in the gallery in Chapel, and there was a real class feeling. The intramural sports were in large part inter-class sports, so there were class hockey teams, class football teams, class baseball teams, that played together, which wasn’t a very satisfactory way to do it, really, because where it was a team play, the seniors had had much more experience playing together as well as being heavier and bigger. 

We ate in boarding houses. I must have eaten in four or five boarding houses during the whole period of my exposure to Amherst. The one I remember best was run by Mrs. Blair, Roy and Earl Blair’s mother. It was where Lincoln Avenue meets Northampton Road on the south side, and Roy and Earl were both Chi Phi’s. 

HWH: And brother, Wesley. He had graduated in 1915. 

THORP: Earl was a senior and Roy was a sophomore when I came. Earl was an extremely good tennis player, and since tennis was one of the areas in which I was interested, I knew him quite well. But there were tables for four, and one dashed down there and ate. Freshman year, I just went down the hill from the dorm and there was some boarding house about the second house back. That was wonderful, except when you’d crammed in your breakfast and had to run up the hill to get there while the bell was ringing. The Chapel bell was organized so that it rang with different speeds at various intervals during the fifteen minutes before Chapel, so that you could tell about how you were doing by the way the bell was ringing. That was of course a very helpful idea. 

Incidentally, speaking of the Blair dining room, it was interesting that when I came back from my one year as an instructor I lived in Pratt Dorm with Malcolm Young, who worked in the Library. We had a suite together-- one of those nice situations, a sitting-room and each had a separate bedroom-- Malcolm Young and I and Francis Fobes and the new astronomy man, Warren Green, had a table for four in the Blair boarding house. That was Warren Green’s first year at Amherst and he was one of the most depressed people I have ever known. He had come from one of the great observatories and he’d been told about the Amherst equipment. He got here and found it was in shambles. Davy Todd had gone off very often to observe eclipses and he would cannibalize some equipment to take, and then some parts would get lost or something. There were crates that had been standing around with equipment in them that hadn’t been opened for years. Poor Warren was trying to make head or tail out of that. Francis Fobes was just engaged in his first venture in printing. He had bought a printing press, and he’d bought type. His theory was that if he wanted to give examinations in Greek, the thing to do was to have a printing press-- otherwise you had to write it all on the blackboard. He would set me a word that I was to produce a limerick for at breakfast the next morning. Then he finally printed a broadside four inches wide and eighteen inches long of all these limericks that I had done, which I think was the first thing that came off his press. He was a delightful person. 

HWH: Was he living in Pratt then? 

THORP: He was living in Pratt. The press was down in the basement. 

I don’t remember too much about my academic first year, although I made a very good record. I do recall one incident with Stark Young who taught me freshman English. Apparently I went to sleep in his class, because I remember coming to and seeing him standing beside me at my seat. He’d left the desk which was raised above the floor, and walked down the aisle and he’d taken my book, which was a book of early English ballads and poems, and had written in the front of it, “Quondoque Homerus dormat.” Sometimes Homer nods. And went back and resumed the class. Of course the class was terribly curious about what he’d written. 

[END OF TAPE 4, Side 1.] 

Final transcript made November 1978 Retyped edited copy October 1979