The hard-driving, controversial Father of the Nuclear Navy
Hyman Rickover was born in Poland in 1900. He and his family emigrated to the United States in 1906, fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms. Rickover graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1922 and soon became engineering officer on a destroyer. After a tour on the battleship USS Nevada, he earned a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. Transferring to the submarine service, he later qualified for command on two submarines. After commanding a minesweeper, he was in 1939 assigned as assistant chief of the Electrical Section of the Bureau of Engineering in Washington. In April 1942, he was sent to Pearl Harbor to organize repairs to the electrical power plant of the battleship USS California. Later, he was assigned as chief of the Electrical Section in Washington. Just prior to the end of World War II, Captain Rickover was assigned to command a ship repair facility on Okinawa. Following the end of the war, work began at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory on development of electrical power generation via nuclear power. Rickover as assigned as deputy manager of the project. It was there that he first envisioned the use of nuclear power on naval warships. Working outside the chain of command, he convinced Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and Secretary of the Navy John Sullivan of the importance of the project. Rickover was assigned to head the new Nuclear Power Division of the Bureau of Ships. In 1949, he was assigned to serve simultaneously in the Division of Reactor Development of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Supervising efforts to drastically reduce the size of nuclear reactors and adapt them to shipboard conditions, he overcame opposition within the Navy to construct the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. Many nuclear-powered vessels followed. Rickover demanded and got dictatorial control over all aspects of the Navy’s nuclear program. Through special Acts of Congress, he served on active duty until 1982. He made numerous enemies throughout his long career, but all respected his dedication, determination, and ability.