Glenn T. Seaborg


Glenn T. Seaborg : biography

19 April 1912 – 25 February 1999

Personal life

In 1942, Seaborg married Helen Griggs, the secretary of Ernest Lawrence. Under wartime pressure, Seaborg had moved to Chicago while engaged to Griggs. When Seaborg returned to accompany Griggs for the journey back to Chicago, friends expected them to marry in Chicago. But, eager to be married, Seaborg and Griggs impulsively got off the train in the town of Caliente, Nevada, for what they thought would be a quick wedding. When they asked for City Hall, they found Caliente had none—they would have to travel north to Pioche, the county seat. With no car, this was no easy feat but, happily, one of Caliente’s newest deputy sheriffs turned out to be a recent graduate of the Cal Berkeley chemistry department and was more than happy to do a favor for Seaborg. The deputy sheriff arranged for the wedding couple to ride up and back to Pioche in a mail truck. The witnesses at the Seaborg wedding were a clerk and a janitor. Glenn Seaborg and Helen Griggs Seaborg had six children, of whom the first, Peter Glenn Seaborg, died in 1997. The others were Lynne Seaborg Cobb, David Seaborg, Steve Seaborg, Eric Seaborg, and Dianne Seaborg.

Seaborg was an avid hiker. Upon becoming Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1961, he commenced taking daily hikes through a trail which he blazed at the headquarters site in Germantown, Maryland. He frequently invited colleagues and visitors to accompany him and the trail became known as the "Glenn Seaborg Trail." He and his wife Helen are credited with blazing a trail in the East Bay area near their home in Lafayette, California. This trail has since become a part of the American Hiking Association’s cross-country network of trails. Seaborg and his wife walked the trail network from Contra Costa County all the way to the California-Nevada border.

Seaborg was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1972 and the Royal Society of London. He was honored as Swedish-American of the Year in 1962 by the Vasa Order of America. In 1991, the organization named "Local Lodge Glenn T. Seaborg No. 719" in his honor during the Seaborg Honors ceremony at which he appeared. This lodge maintains a scholarship fund in his name, as does the unrelated Swedish-American Club of Los Angeles.

Seaborg kept a close bond to his Swedish origin. He visited Sweden every so often and his family were members of the Swedish Pemer Genealogical Society, a family association open for every descendant of the Pemer family, a Swedish family with German origin, from which Seaborg was descended on his mother’s side.

Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission

After appointment by President John F. Kennedy and confirmation by the United States Senate, Seaborg was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) from 1961 to 1971. His pending appointment by President Kennedy was nearly derailed in late 1960 when members of the Kennedy transition team learned that Seaborg had been listed in a U.S. News & World Report article as a member of "Nixon’s Idea Men". Seaborg said that as a lifetime Democrat he was baffled when the article appeared associating him with Vice President Richard Nixon, whom he considered a casual acquaintance.

President Kennedy and his Atomic Energy Commission Chairman, Glenn Seaborg While chairman of the AEC, Seaborg participated on the negotiating team for the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT). Seaborg considered his contributions to the achievement of the LTBT as one of his greatest accomplishment. Despite strict rules from the Soviets about photography at the signing ceremony, Seaborg sneaked a tiny camera past the Soviet guards to take a close-up photograph of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev as he signed the treaty.

Seaborg enjoyed a close relationship with President Lyndon Johnson and influenced the administration to pursue the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Seaborg was called to the White House in the first week of the Nixon Administration in January 1969 to advise President Richard Nixon on his first diplomatic crisis involving the Soviets and nuclear testing. He clashed with Nixon presidential adviser John Ehrlichman over the treatment of a Jewish scientist, Zalman Shapiro, whom the Nixon administration suspected of leaking nuclear secrets to Israel.