Collage Created by Ed Supovitz
Leo Szilard

American Jewish Inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame


Leo Szilard: Inducted into
the National Inventors Hall
of Fame-1996
by Seymour “Sy” Brody

Leo Szilard was an American Jewish inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, in 1996, for his co-discovery with Enrico Fermi , for the Neutronic Reactor/ Nuclear Fission. Patent number 2,708,656.

He was born on February 11, 1898, in Budapest, Hungary. Szilard was the son of a Jewish civil engineer. He was an engineering student in the Budapest Technical University, in 1916. He was there one year, when he was drafted into Austro-Hungarian Army as an officer-candidate. He was honorably discharged after World War I.

He decided to leave Hungary because of the wide spread anti-Semitism under the Horthy regime. He continued his engineering studies at the Institute of Technology, in Berlin-Charlottenburg. He changed from engineering to physics and had as instructors, Albert Einstein, Max Planck and Max von Laue. He received his Ph.D. in physics in 1922.

In 1933, Szilard fled Germany to escape Nazi persecution. He went to England where he started to investigate chain reactions. He felt that the Allies would have to create an atomic bomb before the Germans.

He received a refugee fellowship, in 1935 and he was able to continue his nuclear physics research at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford. In 1936, he received a chain-reaction patent, which he assigned to the British Admiralty which would be kept secret.

He predicted that there would be a World War II and he emigrated to New York in 1938. He began experiments at Columbia University. In 1940, he received $6,000 in research funds from the government. When Germany invaded France, he and Enrico Fermi requested funds from the government for the production of pure graphite and uranium which are necessary for a reactor.

Szilard drafted a confidential letter to President Roosevelt explaining the possibility of a nuclear war with Nazi Germany. Albert Einstein also signed the letter which led to the creation of the Manhattan Project. Szilard moved to the University of Chicago where he worked on the first nuclear reactor along with Enrico Fermi. In 1942, they constructed the first neutronic reactor, a uranium and graphite atomic pile in which the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was achieved, in 1942.

After Nazi Germany was defeated, President Harry Truman decided to use the atomic bomb to defeat Japan. They dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing many people and practically destroying the cities. Szilard and other scientists were against the use of chain reaction bombs in this manner.

Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi were awrded a patent for the nuclear fission reactor, in 1955

Leo Szilard became a naturalized American citizen in 1943. He married Gertrude Weiss, a public-health physician. He became a Fellow of the Salk institute, La Jolla, California, in 1964.

He died in his sleep of a heart attack in La Jolla, California on, May 30, 1964.


For additional information, contact
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S.E. Wimberly Library


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Last updated 12 December 2008