Edward Teller Obituary
Edward Teller, 95, the Hungarian-born physicist who blended a persuasive personality with keen scientific creativity to become known as the father of the hydrogen bomb, died yesterday in California.
A man of intellect who was deeply involved for decades in the great public issues of his day, he placed his personal stamp on much of the history of his times.
He was a naturalized U.S. citizen who had been driven from Europe by the rise of the Nazis, and he helped lead the U.S. effort to design and build the atom bomb during World War II.
After the war's end, when many of his fellow physicists, for a variety of reasons, appeared to show little enthusiasm for designing and developing the next and more powerful stage in nuclear explosives, Teller worked with steadfast vigor to persuade the nation's leaders to push ahead with the hydrogen bomb.
Some specialists insisted that a co-worker deserved at least as much credit as Teller for the H-bomb. But respected figures in the scientific community said his contributions to the concept of the bomb, in tandem with his often lonely efforts to see that it was built, earned him paternity.
In the 1980s, undaunted by the controversies that continued to swirl around him, he was credited with playing a major role in convincing the Reagan administration of the value and feasibility of developing a space-based defense against nuclear missiles. This was the Strategic Defense Initiative, whose prospects remain uncertain.
He also was a key figure in the proceedings that stripped J. Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the team that built the A-bomb, of his security clearance.
Teller's testimony at the proceedings, in which he maintained his belief in Oppenheimer's loyalty but complained that he nevertheless distrusted Oppenheimer's behavior, polarized intellectual circles and remains a subject of debate to this day.
Possessed of a personal charm and gift of persuasion that was acknowledged even by his many adversaries, the bushy-browed Teller was a forceful advocate for his beliefs almost to the end of his life, which began in Budapest in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
He was a child prodigy with mathematical abilities apparent from an early age, and he witnessed the turbulence that beset Europe with the outbreak of World War I.
After the war, he left his native land to study in Germany, then a center of science and culture. He earned his PhD in physics under the famed Nobel prize winner Werner Heisenberg and was a member of the community of scientists who revolutionized physics by developing and applying the quantum theory. Ultimately, he came to Washington and was a professor at George Washington University in the 1930s.
Physically vigorous despite losing a foot in a streetcar accident in Germany, Teller had been an avid ping-pong player. He was a music lover who played Mozart late into the night at the facility in Los Alamos, N.M., where the A-bomb was built.
He had a sharp wit, as well. Once, after he had suffered a stroke, he was asked by a doctor trying to assess his condition if he was the famous Dr. Teller.
No, he declared, "I am the infamous Dr. Teller."