Obituary: Edward Creutz; worked on Manhattan Project


Jul 23, 2009

San Diego Union Tribune

Edward Creutz; worked on Manhattan Project

By Blanca Gonzalez

July 13, 2009

As a physicist working on the Manhattan Project, Edward Creutz played a role in creating the atomic bomb.

As a pioneering scientist with what's now known as General Atomics, Mr. Creutz helped develop nuclear reactors to produce energy.

His interest in science stemmed from a childhood full of outdoor picnics, camping and gardening in his native Wisconsin, which intrigued him with its post-glacial landscape.

In a 1958 interview, Mr. Creutz called science a “very natural human activity. (Science) is our desire to understand our surroundings, what the world is. And every person has this drive born in him.”

Mr. Creutz died of natural causes June 27 at his home in Rancho Santa Fe. He was 96.

Mr. Creutz was one of the nation's leading scientists when Fred de Hoffmann asked him to help establish a new atomic-energy company for General Dynamics.

He became director of research for the division known as General Atomic. The company, designed to develop peaceful uses of atomic energy, would later become General Atomics. He also was director of the division's John Jay Hopkins Laboratory for Pure and Applied Science.

Mr. Creutz was involved in creating the Triga research reactor, a design that is now used worldwide, and initiated major research in fusion.

Although he had earned a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin and was considered a brilliant scientist, he eschewed the title of doctor and preferred to be called Mr. Creutz. He was a modest and humble man, and believed the designation of doctor should be reserved for physicians, his wife, Elisabeth, said.

Mr. Creutz was among the scientists working on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, N.M., in the 1940s. Among his favorite recollections of the time were the birth of his son Michael and a Christmas presentation of Handel's “Messiah.”

Mr. Creutz, who played timpani, also known as kettle drums, liked to tell the story of how they needed three timpani for the musical presentation, but they could only borrow two from a nearby high school.

He and the other organizers of the orchestra and chorus asked the machine shop to make a drum using half of a spare atomic-bomb casing.

Mr. Creutz's varied interests included canoeing, gardening, photography and Polynesian culture. He became so fascinated with Tahiti that he wanted to learn the language. When he couldn't find an English-Tahitian dictionary, he translated one from the French and published his own version.

He was very proud of helping develop the intellectual community in San Diego, said his son Carl. Mr. Creutz and some of his colleagues often accompanied Roger Revelle to various meetings to support him in his efforts to establish a University of California campus in San Diego.

Although Mr. Creutz maintained a home in Rancho Santa Fe since 1956, he spent time in Washington after he was named assistant director of research at the National Science Foundation in 1970.

He moved to Honolulu in 1977 and became director of the Bishop Museum, the largest museum in Hawaii. Mr. Creutz returned to Rancho Santa Fe in 1987.

Edward Chester Creutz was born Jan. 23, 1913, in Beaver Dam, Wis., to Lester and Grace Smith Creutz. His father was a history teacher and later became a school superintendent. His mother taught math and general science.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, he was an instructor there and at Princeton. He was named head of the department of physics at the Carnegie Institute of Technology at age 36, making him one of the youngest in the nation to head a major college physics department.

In 1955, Mr. Creutz was named scientist-at-large and evaluated the U.S. controlled thermonuclear program for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. In December 1955, General Dynamics announced Mr. Creutz's appointment to the new General Atomic division.

Mr. Creutz was married to the former Lela Rollefson for more than 30 years. The couple had three children. She died in 1972. Mr. Creutz married the former Elisabeth Cordle in 1974.

Mr. Creutz is survived by his wife, Elisabeth; sons Michael of East Moriches, N.Y., and Carl of Charlottesville, Va.; a daughter, Ann Jo Cosgrove of Williamsburg, Va.; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Private funeral services are pending. The family suggests donations to San Diego Hospice and The Institute for Palliative Medicine, 4311 Third Ave., San Diego, CA 92103.

Blanca Gonzalez: (760) 737-7576;

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