A Tribute to Harvey Fletcher

from Autobiography of Harvey Fletcher,
published for his descendants (1968)

Dr. Harvey Fletcher, distinguished scientist and engineer, trail blazing investigator of the nature of speech and hearing, noted for his contributions in acoustics, electrical engineering, speech, medicine, music, atomic physics, sound pictures, and education.

Born and raised in Provo of pioneer parents, he received his early training at the Brigham Young University, and graduated in 1907. Continuing study at the University of Chicago, he, with Robert A. Millikan, measured the charge of an electron. This fundamental research contributed great[ly] to the field of electronics which led to the development of the radio and television industry.

Upon completion of his studies at the University of Chicago he was awarded a Ph.D. summa cum laude, which was the first ever granted by the Physics Department of that University. Showing his loyalty to his church and alma mater he returned to Brigham Young University and was appointed Chairman of the Physics Department. At that time he was the only faculty member at BYU to have a Ph.D.

After five years teaching he was advised by Joseph F. Smith to accept an offer at Western Electric Company in New York. Here he was assigned to do research in sound. His genius began to blossom and he was appointed Director of all Physical Research at Bell Telephone Laboratories. He published 51 papers, 19 patents, and two books, Speech and Hearing, and Speech and Hearing in Communication which are accepted treatises on the subject. He guided the development of the Western Electric Hearing Aid, the first such device to use vacuum tubes. The hearing aid has given comfort and increased capacity to hundreds of thousands al over the world. He developed a group survey method using recorded sound of decreasing volume which has wide acceptance in schools throughout the nation. He aided in making the telephone a pleasant and useful tool for mankind. He was the first to demonstrate stereophonic transmission and stereophonic recording. In 1939 while working with Leopold Stokowski, he presented a concert featuring stereophonic recording to a capacity crowd in Carnegie Hall in New York. The Salt Lake City Tabernacle Choir was heard singing in three dimension[s] to this vast audience.

Dr. Fletcher has an enviable record of achievement and honor. He helped found the American Acoustical Society and became its first president. He was elected an honorary member of this society - an honor which at that time was shared by only one other man - Thomas Edison. He was president of the American Society for Hard of Hearing, an honorary member of the American Otological Society, an honorary member of the Audio Engineering Society and an honorary member of the American Speech and Hearing Society. He was awarded the Louis E. Levy Medal for physical measurements of audition by the Franklin Institute in 1924. He was president of the American Physical Society which in the leading physics society in America. He was elected vice-president of the America Association for the Advancement of Science in 1937. He is a member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and an honorary member of Sigma Pi Sigma. He was the first Utahn and Latter-Day Saint to become a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is also a member of the National Hearing Division Committee of Medical Sciences. He was given the Progress Medal Award by the American Academy of Motion Pictures in Hollywood. He acted as National Councilor for the Ohio State University Research Foundation eight years.

Few men of American Science have been so widely recognized. He has received honorary degrees from Columbia University, Stevens Institute, Kenyon College, Case Institute of Technology, and the University of Utah.

Dr. Fletcher's greatness does not lie in the field of science alone. Being endowed with deep humility and faith in God, he served ten years as president of the New York Branch of the LDS Church and in 1936 was set apart as president of the New York Stake. His guiding hand has been responsible for generating a spirit of enthusiasm, integrity, and spirituality in the lives of thousand of young students and scientists who have directly or indirectly felt the influence of his work.

Dr. Fletcher attributes much of his success to his wife, the former Lorena Chipman. They have [six] boys and a girl. Stephen received his degree in Law at Columbia University. James, Robert, Harvey, and Paul have each received Ph.D.'s.