Elias Snitzer

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Elias Snitzer

Template:TOCnestleft Elias Snitzer


In 1945 Elias Snitzer graduated from Tufts University with a degree in Electrical Engineering.[1]

Supported striking students

Twenty University of Chicago campus leaders met in April 1949, to demonstrate their support of the striking students at the City Collage of New York. The strike was called by the CCNY Student Government to protest alleged discriminatory activities on the part of two faculty members. It was further provoked by the action of the city police force in breaking the student picket lines and arresting several of the student pickets. The meeting adopted a resolution endorsing the strike.

Those Signing the statement were:[2]

Plus the University chapters of,

HUAC testimony and aftermath

Snitzer was teaching at Lowell Tech. in the period from 1956-1958. In n the spring of 1958, He was subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee "as a consequence of the fact that I had been very heavily involved in left-wing politics as a student at the University of Chicago." [3]

I was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee when there was the last big sweep on the part of that committee. And they called up everybody they could. My understanding of it was that what they were attempting to do was to save an investigating committee in the state that was about to be de facto eliminated by having its funds cut off. And the net result was that they subpoenaed everybody they could to make a big show in Boston. And I refused to testify on the grounds of the First Amendment concerning my political beliefs and associations. There was a little bit of bombast in what I did. If I had to do it again, I probably would have done it a little differently.
But essentially I would have done the same thing. Anyway, the net result of that was, I was teaching at Lowell Tech and I was suspended first at Lowell Tech at the time that I was subpoenaed, and then subsequently I was in a hearing before the Board of Trustees of Lowell Tech. I lost my job. I was canned. That case was taken up by the AAUP and it was finally settled some years later. The [Lowell Tech] Administration had to change their procedures so that whatever had transpired that was considered a transgression on academic freedom would not take place again, and they had made proper procedural steps and commitments to take care of that. And then they also had to have some kind of restitution to the aggrieved parties, and in this case it was myself and another fellow named Dave Fine. Officially it's to allow the person to have his job back. But neither Dave or I were interested in going back. At least I wasn't. I can't speak for Dave; I don't remember Dave's attitude. I don't think he was interested in going back. But I had no interest in going back there because things were going very well at American Optical at the time all of this was finally cleared up. There was a cash settlement. Not very much, a few thousand bucks, that was all. Anyway, that's how it went. So I was unemployed! And I was interviewing in various places. I must say at that time that I got a lot of help from friends. I got calls from all kinds of people who told me the job possibilities that were available. I got a lot of consulting work; I consulted at a number of places.
I had a little job at High Voltage Engineering, where I did metal filing of matching networks that go on microwave plumbing. And then I did a little theoretical work for them where they wanted to beef up a proposal on the Stanford Linear Accelerator. They wanted a calculation done in the case where you have just barely relativistic electrons and what happens to the space charge distribution. In short, whatever I could do. I did a lot of tutoring. The word was sort of out by then to a lot of people. I must say that year, before things settled down where I actually got a job at American Optics, was a very chaotic period, but there were an awful lot of people who just kept bringing work to me, so to speak. And my income actually went up slightly, not that I made that much at Lowell Tech. But it was just the combination of various things. But it was a very aggravating time; it was a very difficult time because my wife was pregnant with our fifth child. So anyway, when the job at AO came along I didn't hesitate about taking it. I felt pretty comfortable about taking it.

American Optical

In 1959 Snitzer began working for American optical, which later became an important Department of Defense supplier.[4]

When Snitzer started at American Optical, he was hired by the Director of Research, Dr. Steven MacNeille. Dr. Steven MacNeille had been brought to American Optical to be Bryan O'Brien's assistant. American Optical at the end of World War II had been fairly successful financially. They made a number of important optical components for various optical instruments. Their traditional business had been the ophthalmic business, which was lenses and frames, but also ophthalmic instruments, microscopes. They also had a theodolite. So they were looking to expand the scope of their business, and they felt they should get a broader, scope of business because they had money to invest, basically. And they thought that the way to do this was to bring in an accomplished and well-known optical scientist, and that was Bryan O'Brien. After Bryan O'Brien was hired, he didn't last there very long because the top management of the company had changed. Steve MacNeille was on board at the time, and Weldon Schumacher was president then. And so Steve under Schumacher was made the Director of Research. "And Steve had been in that position for perhaps three or four years, something of that sort. He had a research program going which included a variety of things which I would say by and large were kind of typical of what you'd expect a research of a company like that to be involved with. They were a company that was in transition in the sense that they had an old established product line relating to ophthalmic instruments; microscopes, ophthalmic products in general, and then a desire to get into the new things, which tended to be more tied to what you might call electro optics. They had a program there with some of the optics on the Sidewinder missile, for example. These tended to be more involved with the military hardware, and had a fair amount of electronics as compared to the previous types of instruments that they worked on. There was more electronic involvement and more of this being of the nature of hardware to be supplied to DOD."

Secrurity issues

Snitzer told American optical about his problems with HUAC;[5]

And before I was hired, I had an interview. It was probably more than one occasion, I remember a couple of events that had taken place. One was, I met Steve MacNeille. I did discuss with him the fact that I had appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and the consequence of that. And I did it on the context that, from what they had described of what they done, I felt that they should know that I would not be able to get government security clearance. So to the extent that they had a position in their organization, which did not require clearance, then I could be considered. That was the general policy I had if I were interviewed by someone who seemed to be serious about me, and who seemed to be a decent guy in the way in which they treated me and so that there would not be any unrealistic expectations about what part of the organization's activities I would be involved with. That's as much as I would tell them. Usually, in fact in all cases, it was enough. I remember Steve not feeling that there was any particular problem. I think part of that was because of his own sentiments. It sounds kind of corny, but I always considered him to be a very noble guy, and I think he was very distressed by all the government security clearance stuff that had transpired and a lot of the injustices that had taken place as a result of it. He just was a very, very decent guy, and I think he felt genuinely distressed about the fact that people who might have a contribution to make in technology were excluded from doing so because of government security requirements being inappropriately applied. It wasn't that he was opposed to security requirements; he just felt it was not done fairly. So apparently he saw the basis for proceeding with American Optical making an offer to me...
I don't know the exact chronology, but basically it was the following: there are a number of government contracts that American Optical had in-house that required clearance. I think most of these were through the Navy. Steve MacNeille he had informed the Navy, or whoever else it was, that they wanted to hire me, and the word that came back from the Navy was yes, you could hire him, but he could not work on classified work, which was standard. And then Steve said "Well give it to us in writing," and they did. I don't know whether they had to be pressed to do so, but they did. The significance of that is that there was a legal structure, all of it said yes a person could work in a place. If you didn't have clearance, you couldn't work on classified work. But in fact what happened was, if there was some classified work being carried on in the area, that person would not get a job anywhere in that area.

Help from Victor Weisskopf

Before starting work at American optic, Snitzer had some security problems at MIT. far left scientist Victor Weisskopf stepped in to try to help;

One reason why I say this is because after I had left Lowell Tech, I then got a job at MIT. I was told I was hired there; this is in the Computer Components and Systems Group. At the time a security officer at Lincoln Lab was on vacation...

Well, what happened in the case of MIT was, here's this Computer Components and Systems Group, and they had done some very nice things. Dudley Buck was one of the people there; he had invented the cryogenic memory element, which I don't think is an important device today, but at the time it was viewed as a very important potential device, and was being pursued actively from a research point of view. And then the Security Officer from Lincoln Lab came back from vacation, and apparently he said I had to go. I discussed it with a person who was my boss at the time, who I must say, was a very nice guy. I suppose he felt he was not in a position of being able to influence the course of events very much. He was more a guy who viewed himself as someone in the middle, and didn't have much latitude but to respond to whatever pressures that were brought to bear on him. At least that's the impression which he gave me, and I believe that that's the case. People always have choices, could do other things, but in fact it was not something of his making, nor was he prepared to stick his neck out in an extreme way like Steve MacNeille, who stuck his neck out in an extreme way, in a sense that he pressed the Navy to give him in writing that there would be no objection to my being hired provided I didn't work on classified stuff. I remember at the time then going to visit various people. I went to see Victor Weisskopf. Weisskopf apparently raised a lot of hell. He was very willing to shake up the system for me to keep the job. There were some other people who were not as good. I won't go into that, but Weisskopf was really very good. And then I had some potential jobs. Just at the time I started at AO, I had a potential job at Harvard. I actually had two places. There was a possibility of a job with Gold in astronomy. And then there was another one with Livingston on the electron accelerator — it's not a linear accelerator, but the accelerator program that's right near the applied physics, Pierce Hall.

McGeorge Bundy

McGeorge Bundy was also sympathetic and helpful;[6]

It's sort of set back near where the museum is for glass flowers. Anyway, that required consideration by the Harvard Corporation. And then I saw McGeorge Bundy on a couple of occasions. McGeorge Bundy, I must say, was very willing to hire me. He felt that there was no problem. He struck me as a very savvy guy who understood the political situation he was dealing with. He was not dealing with a potential spy or anything of that sort, and he made that very clear right off the bat. However, right at the same time, they had had some incident of somebody who was in either Slavic Studies or Russian Studies or some social or political science activity who had been identified by the FBI as someone who was engaged in some sort of espionage. So there was a dismissal and a lot of publicity about it. And that's about the same time that my name came up, and of course he had the obligation to relate to the Harvard Corporation people who were making the decision that I had "a political past." And they turned it down. And he apparently fought very hard to get me appointed. And then, a curious thing happened with him afterwards. He felt very badly about it, and he wanted to give me a hand. So he said to me at one point during a telephone conversation: "You know, to help you out, I'll write you a letter and say you got a job at Harvard. Provided you don't take it. And you can use it maybe to get a job elsewhere." I should have said yes to that, but by that time I had already firmed up the job at AO and I said, "Well, I don't think I need it." It would have been a delightful thing to have had. He's a decent guy. And a guy who appreciated my situation, and certainly a person who was not swept up with any hysteria about the Russians infiltrating all of our institutions, etc. Anyway, I'm drifting off. I was hired by AO.



  1. http://www.ieee.org/organizations/foundation/donors_archive1.html
  2. Chicago Maroon April 22 1949
  3. [1] Interview with Elias Snitzer by Joan Bromberg in Cambridge, MA 6 August 1984
  4. [2] Interview with Elias Snitzer by Joan Bromberg in Cambridge, MA 6 August 1984
  5. [3] Interview with Elias Snitzer by Joan Bromberg in Cambridge, MA 6 August 1984
  6. [4] Interview with Elias Snitzer by Joan Bromberg in Cambridge, MA 6 August 1984