Remembering Doc Edgerton

One of the great things about growing up the libraries of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was getting to work with retired faculty. No one ever seemed to really retire at MIT! Most retained their office or lab space, continued their research, and still used the libraries. 

One of my favorites was Harold “Doc” Edgerton, professor of electrical engineering. Doc, also known as Papa Flash, transformed the stroboscope into a tool for sonar and deep-sea photography. Jacques Cousteau used his equipment in shipwreck and Loch Ness monster searches. Like many MIT faculty, Doc was a student there, getting an advanced degree in 1931 and never left.

His high-speed photography also became a new art form and his short film on stroboscopic photography won an Oscar in 1940.

Stopping Time: The Photographs of Harold Edgerton. Le Temps Arrete: Les Photographies De Harold Edgerton. An Exhibition Organized From The Permanent Collection. International Center of Photography, New York City for the Arts America Program of the United States Information Agency. National Archives Identifier 88693888

I would frequently see Doc in the library or crossing campus. Always a smile and greeting and if you provided any kind of service for him, he would reach into his jacket pocket and extract one of his milk drop postcards as a thank you.

I remember the afternoon in January 1990 when word reached me that Doc had died suddenly at lunch at the MIT Faculty Club. It was like a member of the family passing on. And Doc was an important member of the MIT family.

To this day, I try to follow Doc’s philosophy:

“Work hard.  Tell everyone everything you know.  Close a deal with a handshake.  Have fun!”

7 thoughts on “Remembering Doc Edgerton

  1. He was my neighbor at 100 Memorial Drive, and it was always a thrill to find myself in the elevator with him! The ready smile from a truly ‘great’ man was always a delight, and it was a privilege one night to listen to him tell tales and show pictures of the search for the Loch Ness monster with Jacques Cousteau. Thanks for the memory! (Merry Christmas, David!)

  2. This is a wonderful remembrance of a technology pioneer. It is these human stories that the Archives helps keep alive.

  3. When I was 8 years old, my Dad, a professor at MIT, brought me to attend a dazzling lecture by Doc Edgerton in the 1960s. He was truly inspiring.

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