Gordon Gould (SHS 1937)


Gordon Gould is the first Distinguished Alumnus to be nominated by a Distinguished Alumnus. Roger Hull, President of Union College informed the committee that does such things that Gould had been honored by his college a year or so earlier and that surely his high school should be proud of him. We are.

Gould grew up in Pittsburgh. His father was the founder and senior editor of Scholastic Magazine. His mother urged him to read books on Thomas Edison. When he was twelve, his family moved to Scarsdale. In Scarsdale, Gould was considered a scientific genius, repairing neighbors’ radios and generally showing an inventive bent. He graduated from Scarsdale High School in 1937 and was offered a scholarship to M.I.T.. For financial reasons, however, he enrolled in Union College. Later he earned a Masters Degree from Yale and became a graduate student at Columbia. His work there was interrupted by World War II. From 1943-1945 Gould worked on the Manhattan Project, but his alleged left wing interests led to his dismissal.

Much of the rest of his life revolved around his work on the laser and his defense of his pioneering work in the field. Almost everyone accepts Gould’s claim to have coined the term laser. It stood for “light amplification by stimulated emissions of radiation.” A number of scientists asserted that their ideas in the area came first. What followed was a thirty-year court marathon. In the end, Gould won. Although his lawyers earned fees of 80%, the remaining 20% left him a wealthy man. For Gould, the most important outcome was his ownership of the patent.

In 1991, Gould was elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech he said, “You have to be encouraged to try things, even if they don’t work.”