Skip to main content

Willard Dow papers

 Record Group
Identifier: MC-80

Scope and Content Note

The Willard Dow papers span the years 1972 to 1978 and include correspondence, budget information, proposals, project reports, and drawings. The materials primarily reflect the research contracts that Dow fulfilled, but they also include reports written by Dow's colleagues, some of which were annotated by Dow. Of particular note are Dow's files (1975 to 1978) regarding a deep probe telemetering system that he developed under a contract for the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). This device used a high-frequency echo sounder to study the sediments below the seafloor.


  • 1972-1978

Language of Materials

The records are in English.


Open: materials are available for research.


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

Biographical Information

Born June 23, 1916, in Cambridge, MA, Willard Dow grew up in Waltham, MA, and attended Tufts University, graduating in 1942 with a B.S. degree in physics and an emphasis in electronics and radio. He took a number of postgraduate courses and served as an instructor at Tufts from June 1942 to June 1944, teaching the physics lab for the Navy V-12 officer training program and working on the college’s Signal Corps research project. He joined the staff at Sylvania Electric Co. in June 1944 as an electronics engineer, designing and fabricating high-gain microwave frequency amplifiers for the early military radar systems for the MIT Radiation Lab. He built aviation radar systems for the Royal Air Force and for the United States Army and Navy Air Forces, equipment that was used extensively in Europe and the Pacific. He also helped develop and produce the transducer for the Navy, which was used in atomic bomb experiments in the Pacific.

Dow, also called "Willie," began his long career at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution when he responded to an ad in The Boston Globe for a research associate, working part-time on weekends beginning December 21, 1946, on Project B-16. In May 1947, he was hired on a full-time basis in the underwater acoustic group headed by J. Brackett Hersey. With much of the Hersey group’s work Navy-supported, Dow and other WHOI employees made many cruises in Navy ships, including one on the USS Maloy with then WHOI Director Admiral Edward Smith, Columbus Iselin, Bill Shultz, Stan Bergstrom, Allyn Vine, Carlton Wing, Tom Rennie, and J. B. Hersey, among others.

A licensed radio amateur since 1936, Dow combined his interest in electronics and radio to make many contributions to ocean sciences and engineering. He designed the famous “suitcase amplifier,” which facilitated calibrated measurements of underwater sound. These portable, broadband, high-gain amplifiers had very low microphonics and were used for a wide variety of pioneering sound transmission measurements at several research facilities. Hersey and Dow introduced the technique of an “inverted echo sounder” for accurately positioning tethered instruments. Dow also developed shock-excited sound sources that were used to make high-resolution travel time measurements of seafloor reflections, which was particularly effective in delineating sedimentary structures in the first few meters of the seafloor. He worked on some of the early underwater acoustic telemetry systems and deep-towed hydrophone arrays.

He was promoted to research engineer in 1950 and to electronics engineer in 1952. In 1963 he was promoted to research specialist, transferring to the Ocean Engineering Department in 1972, where he remained until he retired in 1979. He received a WHOI 30-year service award in October 1977. Despite suffering from chronic sea sickness, Dow sailed on research cruises on the ketch Atlantis, the Bear, and the Chain. When his prototype sound source was lost in an experiment on one Chain cruise, he built an entire replacement from spare parts. He was the author or co-author of 14 publications in oceanography and underwater acoustic instrumentation, and he held four patents.

Active in the community, Willard Dow founded the Sippewissett Association in 1965 along with Philip Hamilton, Carolyn Miller, and Andrew Wessling, and he served as its president for 20 years. In addition to its social activities, the neighborhood group was involved in zoning and conservation matters.

Dow's interest in light opera led to his introduction to Evelyn Parker, a talented pianist who taught and played professionally; she was also employed at WHOI for many years. They were married in 1954 and celebrated their 44th anniversary shortly before her passing in 1998. The Dows were part of the Trysail Chorus that produced four Gilbert and Sullivan operettas from 1949 to 1953 in Falmouth, and they had season tickets to the College Light Opera Company from its founding in 1968. Dow was a regular at the Wednesday folk dances in Woods Hole for 40 years, and he was particularly fond of the Greek dances. He was a sharp word punster and an unbeatable Scrabble player (word has it that the late Captain Emerson Hiller was a favorite challenger). He died at age 89 on May 27, 2006.

[Taken from Dow's WHOI obituary, edited by Katy Sternberger]


1 box (.25 lin. ft.)


The Willard Dow papers and data consist of materials documenting Dow's research projects at WHOI between 1972 and 1978, with particular emphasis on a deep probe telemetering system that he developed under a contract for the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). Materials include correspondence, proposals, budget information, project reports, and drawings.


Arranged in two series.

Custodial History

The custodial history of the collection is undocumented.

Acquisitions Information

No acquisition information was found for this collection.

Related Material

Researchers looking for related materials may wish to consult the MBLWHOI Library catalog. There are a number of technical reports written by Dow regarding telemetering systems and the inverted echo sounder for which he is known. Dow's oral history interviews are also available.

Processing Information

Processed by Katy Sternberger in February 2015. Folders were rearranged into two series, but papers were left in original order, except for the folder containing correspondence, which was arranged in chronological order. Extra copies of documents were removed and destroyed; at most there are two copies of the same document. Personally identifiable information was redacted, the document photocopied, the copy added to the collection, and the original destroyed. Basic preservation measures were taken (that is, removing rusty staples and paper clips).

A Guide to the Willard Dow papers, 1972-1978
Willard Dow
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