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WHOI Office of the Director records, (Paul McDonald Fye)

Identifier: AC-09.5

Scope and Content Note

The records of the WHOI Office of the Director, 1958-1977 (Paul McDonald Fye) consist of 84 cartons (103.25 linear feet) of records which span the years 1942 to 1979, with the bulk of the material falling within his years as director.

Records from the 1950s overlap the directorships of his two predecessors, Edward Smith and Columbus Iselin (boxes 19-25), and also contain material from the 1940s when Iselin first served as director (boxes 28-29). All the records from Iselin’s brief second term from August 16, 1956 to May 31,1958, were assimilated into the records of Fye’s administration. Records from the 1960s were the most organized and filed almost annually in a more uniform pattern. After 1970 the organization of materials became less consistent and apparent, and unnamed series were given the name of Activities series. In addition, files at the end of Fye’s administration include materials from the administration of his successor, John Steele, which are contained in three series: Past Employees (1970-1979), Executive [Committee] (1956-1979), and Staff Council (1962-1979). The Past Corporation Members & Trustees series and part of the Personnel series (box 101) are jointly the records of Paul Fye and John Steele.

The Executive and the Activities series were initiated at the start of Fye’s term, and many new series appeared throughout his administration. Folders that are restricted, specifically personnel files have ‘R’ placed at the end of the folder title.

While processing the collection, folder titles were often abbreviated, however in the box listing they were spelled out for clarification.


  • (1942-1957), 1958-1977, (1978-1979)

Language of Materials

The records are in



Closed/Restricted: materials are only available to the Office of Origin for thirty years, after which they may only be viewed by the Office of Origin or with permission of the Archivist.


Copyright: Permission to publish material from the collection must be authorized by the Institution Archivist.

Administrative History

Paul McDonald Fye (1913-1988) served an unprecedented nineteen years as the fourth director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution from 1958-1977. Fye first came to the Institution in June 1942 as a chemist on a wartime project to help develop underwater explosives for the US Navy. He served five years as Research Supervisor then Research Director of the Underwater Explosives Research Laboratory (UERL), later known as Project 7, succeeding Bright Wilson ( Harvard University) and Paul Cross ( Brown University). During the war the UERL operated as a kind of institution within the Institution, during which time Fye became well acquainted with Iselin. Following the war he returned briefly to teaching before joining the US Naval Ordnance Laboratory in White Oak, Maryland in late 1948, serving first as Deputy Chief and Chief of the Explosives Research from 1948 to1956, then as Associate Director for Research from 1956 to 1958.

William Von Arx, a long-term WHOI scientist, described the varied leadership styles of Fye and his predecessors:

Henry Bigelow thought that a “proper” oceanographic Institution should always have “wet footprints in the hallways”, and Columbus Iselin, who (commuting in his Risk across Vineyard Sound every day), said “a boat is the best way to go to work - it leaves your problems ashore at both ends of the trip.” Columbus was a “concerned citizen” about naval problems and used Vineyard Sound as a “good place to think about the Navy,…because it keeps the problems in context.” And WHOI, itself, was then a part of the Ocean Context.

At the end of World War II hostilities, we all wondered if our jobs would continue. ONR saved us with the claim that “the best defense in time of war is an unused idea!”…Later on, [ Allen] Waterman [first chief scientist of ONR] used a similar thought to justify NSF. Thus encouraged, WHOI people returned to oceanography as natural science, with traditional biological, physical and chemical explorations being expanded to include marine meteorology and geophysics. And except for instrumentation, engineering programs were still to come.

Dr. Bigelow always spoke to us with academic authority, Columbus [Iselin] as a naval advocate and colleague, Admiral Smith as an administrator, and Paul Fye as a facilities and management director…the ‘times’ determined their functions. As block funding declined, and project funding took its place, the role of scientific leadership had gradually been removed from administrative concerns, and business and legal ‘accountability’ became important as the proposal-grant system turned the best of our scientists into entrepreneurs (with payrolls and overhead to meet). As Washington ‘called the shots’, research operations became ‘big’, well-defined, very expensive, technically sophisticated, and well-organized into ‘programs’; which provided mainly static observations of the natural world. 1

In the late 1950s, the Trustees of WHOI were looking for a new director to replace Columbus Iselin. James S. “Spike” Coles was appointed to chair the new search committee, which included Detlev Bronk and Jerry Wiesner. Although Fye had been largely absent from the Institution for ten years, several trustees including Coles knew him from his underwater explosives research days and remembered his drive and energy.

In the late 1950s, the Trustees, and Dr. Iselin, realized that the Institution had grown to the extent that an effective administrative organization was required. They also realized that leadership for further growth was necessary if the nation’s needs for expanded oceanographic research were to be met, and if Woods Hole was to remain one of the nation’s leading marine science research centers. A laissez-faire attitude had worked well when the Institution had been largely staffed by part-time scientists who held full-time jobs at various universities. These scientists had been working in a broad new interdisciplinary field with loosely defined goals and boundaries. The year 1957, however, required a new outlook.

In 1940, the scientific staff had numbered 18 (of which 15 were part-time). The annual budget was $104,400. The plant consisted of the Bigelow Building, and one small dock for the 142-foot ketch Atlantis and the 40-foot workboat Asterias . By 1957, there were 65 full-time scientists and technicians, plus 106 support personnel, 8 buildings, 2 research vessels, and 2 docks. Operating costs in 1957 were $2.5 million, and $2.4 million of this came from the Federal government with the attendant complications of red tape, contracts, and auditors.

If the Institution was to gain a greater measure of independence in its programs, it became obvious to the Trustees and Members of the Corporation that, in addition to more effective administration, more money would be required from private sources to meet operating costs, build an endowment, and construct new facilities.

Such were the perceptions of the task desired of the Institution’s leadership in 1958, when Paul Fye was asked to become the Director. The Trustees saw in him a scientist who both understood how to develop research and how to create the atmosphere for it, a man familiar with oceanography even though not trained in it (how many were in the 1950s?), and an administrator acquainted with the maze of Navy and other government funding and budgeting processes.

Paul had demonstrated two special talents that were to be extremely valuable to the Institution. The first was the ability to administer a scientific research enterprise – to bring together a group of diverse scientists and provide an environment within which they could work, including floating laboratories operating thousands of miles away from Woods hole for months on end. The other was as an expositor of science to nonscientists, with the ability to interest them in the sciences. It was the successful businessman or entrepreneur who would provide the independent resources needed by Woods Hole. Before support could be forthcoming, there had to be some understanding of the science on the part of the benefactor. 2

During Fye’s first years as director, oceanography underwent an era of growth. Sputnik, and the revival of science and education it encouraged, spurred part of that growth. Other factors that had a national impact and pushed for more oceanographic research included the National Academy of Sciences’ report, Oceanography 1960-1970, and a series of articles by Everett S. Allen of The Standard-Times on the state of oceanography in the US in the late 1950s.

Although Fye made yearly visits to Woods Hole during his decade away, his return as director made him aware of certain changes in oceanography. The most obvious and expected changes were the new techniques and instrumentation: the use of drift buoys and neutrally buoyant floats; the use of the tow chain to enable continuous recording of the thermal structure; and the use of an airplane as a research vessel. Another change signaled a move from descriptive to applied science, and involved a more sophisticated type of thinking being done, in the use of models, particularly in large-scale circulation studies and in wave investigations, and a much greater acceptance of theoretical studies. The most significant change involved the addition of a group engaged in beach studies, marine meteorology, hydrodynamics and theoretical work.

During his first year, funds from the International Geophysical Year (IGY, 1957-1959) continued to help the Institution weather a rough financial period, and enabled WHOI to carry out an ambitious program with Great Britain’s National Institute of Oceanography. IGY also resulted in a new high international cooperation among scientists worldwide. Arnold Arons represented WHOI at IGY meetings in Moscow and Columbus Iselin attended the second meeting of the Special Committee for Oceanic Research (SCOR) in Paris. Iselin also represented WHOI on the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Oceanography (NASCO), headed by Harrison Brown, which stressed the importance of marine sciences to the country.

Also during his first year Fye temporarily moved WHOI headquarters to New York for the first International Oceanographic Congress (IOC) at the United Nations, where many WHOI staff members met with 1,200 oceanographers from around the world. He attributed much of the Congress’ success to Mary Sears’ hard work in organizing the event. Another timely event that generated national interest included Admiral Burke’s approval of the US Navy’s TENOC (Ten-Year Oceanographic) program.

Additional funding for WHOI came in 1959 with a three million dollar grant from NAS for the construction of the first research ship to be built in the 1960-1970 program, to replace the original Atlantis. The new ship Atlantis II arrived at WHOI in January 1963. Jan Hahn, WHOI’s first public information officer, later wrote,

For many, Fye’s arrival was a welcome change. He was more business-like and decisive than his predecessors, and he clearly favored expansion. In his very first year, he established committees for the design of a new research vessel, for land acquisition, for a building program, and for the formulation of an educational policy. As early as 1959, his committees began to show results, first evincing the promise of a fine, new research vessel from the government and than initiating summer courses in oceanography. Within 10 years of his arrival, he had succeeded in implementing the major plans formulated by all his committees.

By 1960 the Institution’s operating budget had doubled under Fye, rising from $2.4 million in 1957 to $5 million. This rapid expansion, due largely to an increase in government support, was expected to continue, and as Fye wrote [in the annual report for 1958], “one of the most important decisions the Institution has ever had to make is what role it should play in this expansion…We should retain our well-established leadership in the field but it is not yet clear to what extent we should increase the size of our plant and staff.”

Actually there was a fair amount of disagreement over just how large and how business like the Oceanographic should aspire to become, and many employees regretted the loss of the extreme informality and flexibility that had characterized the Institution’s first 30 years. When questions of administrative policy came before the Board of Trustees, however, Fye’s ideas were supported, and in 1961, he was made President [of the Corporation] as well as Director of the Institution. With this mandate to continue his program of expansion, Fye added the research vessels Atlantis II and Gosnold to the Institution’s fleet, acquired a small aircraft, saw work begun on a new laboratory [ Redfield Building], and approved publication of the Institution’s magazine, Oceanus. 3

The Institution finally became so large that in 1962 and 1963 Fye and his advisors recognized the need to institute a more formal system of titles, appointments, and tenure for senior staff members. In addition to the stiff resistance Edward Smith faced trying to establish greater organizational structure, Fye also encountered a ‘palace revolt’. In the end, however, he prevailed. The establishment of six scientific departments placed decision-making responsibilities closer to the scientist performing the research. The trustees also approved the new Visiting Committee to help evaluate the program and make recommendations. Cooperative scientific studies both on a national and international scale were underway at the time adding further complications to the administrative process. WHOI also continued expanding its educational activities, including the utilization of Atlantis as a training ship.

One of Fye’s first official acts as director included the establishment of a Staff Committee which, under the chairmanship of Bostwick Ketchum, set out to re-evaluate the Institution’s role in higher education. WHOI had always been involved in the education of graduate students and maintained an informal arrangement of awarding degrees through fellowships. Also in 1959 WHOI started its summer course in “Theoretical Geophysical Fluid Dynamics” which involved distinguished theoretical oceanographers, and which still continues today. However, with the advent of graduate schools and departments of oceanography appearing nationwide, the Institution needed to formalize its program to attract the young talent.

In 1968 Fye’s long-standing hopes for a true educational program took a major step forward when WHOI and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology established a joint Ph.D. degree program. [A year earlier] the Oceanographic became a degree-granting Institution in its own right. The addition of an academic program predictably forced the Oceanographic to enlarge its physical plant. In 1967, the Fenno estate was purchased and the decision gradually made to split the Institution between the waterfront village of Woods Hole and the almost 200 acre Quissett Campus [over a mile] to the northeast. 4

By 1965 oceanography had gone through a decade of development which included ambitious international cooperative programs. WHOI scientists participated in IGY, the International Cooperative Investigations of the Tropical Atlantic, and the Cooperative Study of the Kuroshio Current. The 7-week Atlantis II cruise in 1969 was considered a landmark in modern oceanography; it was the first interdisciplinary cruise to the Black Sea using modern shipboard logistics, and it produced a wealth of knowledge as well as many fundamental questions. Two more cruises to the Black Sea were made on R/V Chain and the US Deep Sea Drilling Program’s Glomar Challenger in 1975. The advent of the International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE) in 1970 provided the community of academic oceanographers with opportunities to conduct large multi-investigator programs designed to investigate specific ocean regions and processes. Oceanography saw a transition from observational exploration to scientific investigations with an application of the scientific method. As a result, the quality and importance of the research of oceanography improved dramatically. Fye responded to a request from the Panel on Oceanography of the President’s Scientific Advisory Committee to substantiate his assertion that such a development took place. He noted that the challenges of oceanography attracted many new people into the field from other research areas; that great advances in techniques and improved understanding within the basic sciences greatly assisted oceanography; that obvious up-grading of facilities and instrumentation had occurred, such as Atlantis II’s superiority over the ketch Atlantis; and that improved quality of research resulted from the transition of oceanography into more investigative and applied scientific methods.

In 1970, after Fye had been director for a dozen years, support for oceanography was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, and the growth of many laboratories was leveling off. Fye, however, was as tireless a fundraiser as he was a program initiator, and in 1970 alone he accepted the new R/V Knorr , saw the Biology Department embark on a long-term attempt to use sewage effluent to feed shellfish, and established a new program in Marine Policy and Ocean Management [MPOM]. This last provided graduate and post-graduate education for students in fields such as law and economics who were interested in marine problems. Fye correctly understood that in the fierce competition for federal funds projects related to actual problems -- “in the real world,” as he liked to say – had an advantage over “pure” research.

“It appears to me that in the next decade some of the most challenging problems for the Institution will arise out of man’s need to make ever greater use of the oceans,” wrote Fye in 1975 [Annual Report], displaying again his acute sense of where the next years’ funds would come from. “We should enhance activities in applied research, ocean engineering, and marine policy in order to increase the connections between our research and tomorrow’s needs.” 5

During the slow growth in the 1970s, when the Presidential Study known as the “ Stratton” Commission proposed many challenges for the years ahead, Fye rose to those challenges. He also believed the future of marine sciences as well as of mankind lay in cooperation among nations as well as among scientists. WHOI’s unofficial motto for the 1970s became “to use the oceans wisely through better understanding.” He recognized the need for WHOI to address societal problems, and founded MPOM for which he served as director for the first ten years, then acting director from 1985 to 1986, and advisor until his death in 1988.

One of Fye’s most visible successes occurred in 1974 with the construction of Clark Laboratory, the Institution’s largest research facility. In 1983 the Institution honored Fye with the construction of a sophisticated, state-of-the-art chemistry laboratory named in his honor. The plaque in the building’s lobby reads, “Paul M. Fye, dedicated scientist, educator, administrator and statesman, whose wisdom and foresight led the Institution and international marine science into a new era.”

As the Institution’s longest serving director, Fye guided WHOI through a time of unprecedented growth and development. During his administration, the number of employees doubled, the annual budget grew from $2.4 million to $24 million, articles published in the scientific literature more than equaled all those published previously, and the number of Associates quadrupled. In addition, the number of vessels also increased: Aries , Gosnold and Chain were adapted for oceanographic work, and in 1963 WHOI received the first modern US vessel built strictly for oceanographic research, the R/V Atlantis II. DSV Alvin arrived in 1964, R/V Knorr arrived in 1970, and R/V Oceanus joined the fleet in 1975. Other changes in the Institution included the initiation of summer courses, adoption of copyright and patent policies and of a tenure system, establishment of science department structure, organization of the directorate and staff council, and the hire of a full-time development officer to seek “free funds.” In 1967 WHOI became a degree-granting institution and in 1968 established the Joint Program with MIT. In 1973, as part of the National Sea Grant College Program of NOAA, the WHOI Sea Grant Program was initiated to support research, education, and advisory projects to promote wise use and understanding of ocean and coastal resources for the public benefit. However, during the early years the program was almost exclusively research-based. New facilities included the construction of the Laboratory for Marine Sciences (Redfield Building); the purchase of the Laboratory of Oceanography (Smith Building) from the US Navy; and the dedication of the Iselin Marine Facility. Land acquisition included various Woods Hole properties, the 1968 purchase of the Fenno and Webster estates (Quissett Campus), and the 95-acre Matamek Research Station in Quebec, Canada.

Paul Fye held many advisory positions during his tenure as director. He served on the Polaris Group for Long-range Research and Development from 1960 to 1965; the Committee on Oceanography and Ocean Affairs Board of the National Academy of Sciences from 1961 to 1972; the Board of Visitors of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory from 1966 to1968; the Geological Sciences Department Visiting Committee at Harvard University from 1967 to1972; the SACLANT ASW Research Centre, La Spezia, Italy from 1968 to 1973; the President’s Task Force on Oceanography from 1969 to 1979; and the MIT Study of Critical Environmental Problems in 1970. He also served on local and state school Boards.

Fye also had significant influence in industry. He was a member of the Board of Directors of Arthur D. Little, Inc. from 1969-1985; Textron, Inc. (1969-1985); Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (1975-1981); and Lord Abbett Funds (1975-1985). He was also a Trustee or Corporation Member of many groups, including the Bermuda Biological Station for Research, Inc. (1960-1979); and the Marine Biological Laboratory (1958-1988).

Among his awards he earned the US Navy Certificate of Commendation in 1960 and 1966, and the US Navy Distinguished Public Service Award in 1977. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the American Chemical Society; the American Geophysical Union; the American Physical Society; the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography; the Council for Foreign Relations, Inc.; the Marine Technology Society, serving as its President from 1968 to 1969; and the US Naval Institute.

When Paul Fye retired in 1977 as Director, WHOI established the Paul McDonald Fye Fellowship and the Ruth and Paul Fye Award for Excellence for the best scientific or technical paper written by a graduate student.  He remained President of the Corporation until 1986 and advisor to the Marine Policy Center until his death in 1988.

Although he was a firm administrator who would fight for his ideas, Paul Fye was also a kind person. He described himself as a “worried optimist”; his goal “to help the research staff accomplish their career objectives” was also a mechanism for institutional operation and growth. Fye recognized the commitment and wide variety of skills needed to run a ship-operated Institution. He was as comfortable on the docks as he was in the boardrooms. 6

  1. 1 William Von Arx, “The War and Post-war Years at WHOI,” 15 July 1991. Biographical File, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Archives, Woods Hole, Mass.
  2. 2 James S. Coles, “Paul MacDonald Fye: An Appreciation,”Oceanus 20, no.3 (1977): 4
  3. 3 Jan Hahn, “Biographical Sketch of Paul Fye as Director and President of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution," draft #1, 1-2, 11 May 1977. Biographical File, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Archives, Woods Hole, Mass.
  4. 4 Ibid., 2-3.
  5. 5 Ibid., 2-3.
  6. 6 Arthur G. Gaines Jr., “The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts,” inOcean Frontiers: Explorations by Oceanographers on Five Continents (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1992), 70.


82.6 box(es) (103.25 linear feet)


The records of the WHOI Office of the Director, 1958-1977 (Paul McDonald Fye) consist of administrative records which span the years 1942 to 1979, with the bulk of the material falling within his years as director.


During Fye's administration records were filed in various ways, and specific series were used for each decade of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The original order of materials was disturbed and altered, especially in the later years of his administration. The materials are organized into twenty series. The series are arranged chronologically and consist of:

Custodial History

Paul Fye’s materials arrived in the Archives at various times during and after his nineteen years in office. Several folders relating to the administrative changes in the early 1960s had been removed and were returned to the Director’s files during processing.

Acquisitions Information

The archival collection of Paul M. Fye, WHOI Director, 1958-1977, was transferred to the Archives during and after his tenure.

Related Material

Additional information about the history of WHOI during Paul Fye’s administration can be found in the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Annual Report for the years 1958-1977, which details the yearly scientific activities of the Institution as well as its physical growth. An unpublished collection of articles entitled A Compilation of Articles on the Early History of WHOI - Its Founding, Growth and Development (WHOI TR-1996 G43), contains ten articles and unpublished papers highlighting significant events in the Institution’s history. On Almost Any Wind: The Saga of the Oceanographic Research Vessel Atlantis by Susan Schlee, 1978, details the final years of the ship and makes reference to Fye’s directorship. Oceanography: The Past, edited by Mary Sears and Daniel Merriman, 1980, includes a chapter by Fye about the Institution.

Additional material about Fye is available in the WHOI Biographical Files. The Director’s Annual Reports to Trustees and the Corporation further highlight activities of the Institution. The WHOI archives also houses extensive records of the Marine Policy Center (formerly MPOM), for which Fye served as director from 1960 to 1970, acting director from 1985-1986, and advisor until his death in 1988. This collection also includes his speeches from 1940, and 1958 to 1981. There is also a sizable collection of materials documenting Fye’s activities as President of the WHOI Corporation from 1961-1986.

Processing Information

Processing of the collection was partly supported by a Grant-in-Aid from the Friends of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. Processed by Margot Garritt and Kathryn Owens.

A Guide to the WHOI Office of the Director records, (Paul McDonald Fye), (1942-1957), 1958-1977, (1978-1979)
Margot Garritt
December 1998
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written inEnglish

Repository Details

Part of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Data Library and Archives Repository