Samuel W. Stratton NISTs first director,
a farm outside Litchfield, Illinois, in 1861, Samuel W. Stratton gravitated
not toward animal husbandry, but to farm machinery and new mechanical
devices to facilitate farm work.
In 1880, young Stratton sold a colt he had raised to finance his first
year of college. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1884
with a degree in mechanical engineering and was appointed instructor
of mathematics and physics. In 1889, he became assistant professor of
physics and electrical engineering.
In 1892, he joined the new University of Chicago and in 1900 became
a full professor. Stratton eventually received six honorary doctorates.
Part of his research included a new form of harmonic analysis, a device
for high-precision measurement of electrical frequencies.
Commissioned in the Illinois naval militia unit, he served during 1898
as a Navy lieutenant in the Spanish-American War.
Stratton was brought to Washington to help write legislation for the
establishment of the National Bureau of Standards, predecessor to NIST,
and head of the Office of Weights and Measures in the U.S. Coast and
Geodetic Survey. He appointed NBS' first director when Congress established
the laboratory in 1901.
Known rather formally as Dr. Stratton to his friends, he quickly became
the "Old Man" to the young scientists on his staff. He was
said to be outgoing and accessible without a trace of affectation. A
great champion of technology and research, in 1902 Stratton told a House
committee: "If we are to advance, we have to create original things."
After heading NIST for 21 years, Stratton became president of MIT in
1923. There, he expanded research in engineering and industrial processes,
pure science and new fields of applied science.
In 1926, he returned for NISTs 25th anniversary celebration. Asked
to recall the greatest accomplishments under his direction, he cited
"the influence upon manufacturing of the introduction of scientific
methods of measurement and methods of research."
Still apparently hale at age 70, Samuel Stratton died suddenly of a
coronary occlusion in 1931.