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Biographical Memoirs: Volume 61
September 11, 1884-July 23, 1981
BY STEPHEN H. FLETCHER
TO CHILDREN OF FAMOUS PEOPLE, a parent is just a parent. So it is oftentimes surprising to grow up and realize that your father was an important and well-known scientist. When I was a boy, I was frequently told that my father, Harvey Fletcher, was a great man, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I learned he had made enormous contributions to the field of acoustics and atomic physics as a teacher, researcher, and administrator.
My father was born on September 11, 1884, in Provo, Utah, of pioneer parents. Provo was then a small town in Utah Valley near a freshwater lake surrounded by high mountains. As my father recalled:
As I looked across Utah Valley, I thought that the tops of the mountains that I could see in any direction marked the end of the world where people live. On the other side of these was the great ocean. There were cracks in the wall that held the ocean back, so that the water from the ocean leaked through and formed the various streams that come down from the mountains.1
This musing and philosophizing about the world around him characterized my father's life. However, he had no ambitions to be a scientist. His father, whose trade was building houses, had only four months of formal school