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Encyclopedia > Hyman Rickover

Hyman George Rickover, (January 27, 1900 - July 8, 1986) was a US Navy Admiral known as the "Father of the Nuclear Navy."

Admiral Rickover looking over the Nautilus nuclear submarine
Admiral Rickover looking over the Nautilus nuclear submarine


He was born to a Jewish family in Maków Mazowiecki (at the time part of Russia, now in Poland) and immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1905.


Rickover was commissioned as an ensign after graduation from the US Naval Academy in 1922, and served on the destroyer USS La Vallette (DD-315) and the battleship USS Nevada (BB-36) before attending Columbia University, where he earned the degree of Master of Science in Electrical Engineering. From 1929 to 1933 he qualified for submarine duty and command aboard the submarines S-9 and S-48.

Translates Das Unterseeboot

During 1933, while at the Office of the Inspector of Naval Material in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rickover translated the book Das Unterseeboot (The Submarine), by World War I Admiral Hermann Bauer. Rickover's translation became a basic text for the US submarine service.


In June 1937, he assumed command of the minesweeper USS Finch (AM-9). Later that year, he was selected as an Engineering Duty Officer and spent the remainder of his career serving in that specialty.

Bureau of Ships during World War Two

His service as head of the Electrical Section in the Bureau of Ships during World War II brought him a Legion of Merit and gave him experience in directing large development programs, choosing talented technical people, and working closely with private industry.

Division of Reactor Development and Naval Reactors Branch

Soon after World War II, he became an early convert to the idea of nuclear marine propulsion. Assigned to the Bureau of Ships in September 1947, Rickover received training in nuclear power at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and worked with the bureau to explore the possibility of nuclear ship propulsion. In February 1949 he received an assignment to the Division of Reactor Development, Atomic Energy Commission and then assumed control of the Navy's effort as Director of the Naval Reactors Branch in the Bureau of Ships. This twin role enabled him to lead the effort to develop the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, Nautilus (SSN-571), which was launched in 1955. Promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral by 1958, for three decades Rickover exercised tight control over the ships, technology, and personnel of the nuclear Navy, interviewing every prospective officer being considered for a nuclear ship. Rickover's stringent standards have possibly been responsible for the U.S. Navy's perfect record on reactor safety, perhaps being the only such organization involved in nuclear power. However, Rickover stressed hard science over studies in tactics, which possibly damaged the actual warfighting ability of submarine commanders.

Jimmy Carter and Three Mile Island

Following the Three Mile Island power plant disaster in 1978, President Jimmy Carter commissioned a study of nuclear power in the United States. The original report was highly critical of the nuclear power industry and, in effect, urged all nuclear power plants be shut down. In a decision he later came to regret, Rickover urged Carter to have the report modified. However, by that time, new nuclear power plant construction had virtually ceased. Carter was one of the officers that Rickover had interviewed many years before.


After sixty-four years of service, Rickover was forced to retire from the Navy as a full admiral by President Reagan on January 19, 1982. Rickover's strong stance against paying inflated defence contractor claims had made him a target for the new Republican administration with its many supporters and campaign contributors among those contractors.

Research Science Institute

In 1984, Rickover formed the Rickover Science Institute, now the Research Science Institute (RSI). RSI (http://www.cee.org/rsi) is a summer program for approximately 70 high school students held at MIT. Students attend RSI for six weeks to do research, attend lectures, and produce a research paper at the end of the program. RSI is now one of the most selective and prestigious summer programs in the world. RSI is run by the Center for Excellence in Education (http://www.cee.org/).

Named in his honor

The Los Angeles-class submarine USS Hyman G. Rickover (SSN-709) was named for him. It was commissioned in 1984, two years before the Admiral's death, making it one of the very few US Navy ships to be named for a living person.


At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, students rub the nose of a bust of Rickover for good luck before tests.

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