Richard Harbert Smith

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Prof. Richard Harbert Smith - 1st Rector of ITA. (Photo: 1946)
Prof. Richard Harbert Smith.
Brazilian immigration register of Prof. Richard Harbert Smith (1946).

(Click here for the brazilian portuguese version.)

Born January 15, 1894, Dillsboro, Indiana

He attended:

- Moores Hill College, Indiana - BS 1915

- Massachusetts Institute of Technology - SB 1918

- Johns Hopkins University, MA 1928 - PhD 1929

While a student at MIT, he entered war service in 1917 through the US Navy Air Corps. After WWI, Smith then worked as an assistant at the Navy's aerodynamics laboratory. Ten years later he was an associate physicist at the Navy's laboratory when MIT hired as an associate professor of aeronautical engineering in 1929. In 1931, he was promoted to full professor. Smith resigned June 20, 1946, although it should be noted that he actually left in July 1945 having taken a leave of absence for two terms.

In 1931, Smith spent 3 months at the world famous Aerodynamic Institute in Gottingen, Germany. From April 15 to June 30, 1934, he was on exchange with Prof. C.B. Millikan of the California Institute of Technology.

There was a UP article on Smith in 1948 that appeared in various newspapers. (We have clippings from the Newark, NJ Star-Ledger, the Buffalo, NY News, Jamaica, LI Press; and Washington, DC News.). The article notes that Brazil had recruited a number of US aeronautical engineering experts to start this new aeronautical technical center.

According to Prof. Shatswell Ober's history of the department, Smith was one of several hires in 1929. It would be possible to determine the various courses, Smith taught by reviewing the MIT course catalogs from this period. Ober makes one other mention of Smith:

"Richard Smith, long Dr. Hunsaker's assistant administrator for aeronautical engineering, left in 1945 to go to Brazil to establish an institute of aeronautics. (This, by the way, was a really outstanding contribution to scientific and technological education in Brazil.)" (Shatswell Ober, "The Story of Aeronautics at M.I.T," unpublished mss April 28,1965, p. 26). Smith made two other contributions during the World War II period. First, he was the faculty advisor to the MIT Civilian Pilot Training Program. Second, he was an instructor for several class of female engineering trainees for the Curtiss company.

There is likely to be a few more additional facts about Smith to be gleaned from official documents as well as the Institute Archives which is the official repository of departmental records. We also have a portrait of Prof. Smith that dates to 1932.

Please let me know if you have additional questions.

Deborah G. Douglas, Ph.D.
Curator of Science and Technology
MIT Museum, N51-209
265 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA "  phone  "  fax -
Source: MIT General Collection, "Richard H. Smith" biographical file, MIT Museum, Cambridge, Massachussets  


The above biographical data on Prof. Richard H. Smith was posted here by Seth Emanuel Couto Melo Filho (ITA, 1979) on January 13, 2009, after an effort by him to obtain and to share with the ITA alumni community some detailed information about the life of the first ITA rector. They were provided and authorized to be published only on wikITA on December 23 and 31, 2008, by Mrs. Deborah G. Douglas (Ph.D.), Curator of Science and Technology of MIT Museum, in response to an e-mail message sent by Seth Emanuel from the brazilian National Civil Aviation Agency - ANAC (where he holds a position of Civil Aviation Regulation Specialist) to the MIT Museum, after a first e-mail contact of him with the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. At that time (end of 2008), and even now (Dec 12,2009), no biographical details on Prof. Smith, as professor or head of the MIT Department of Aeronautics, could (can) be found in the whole worldwide web (www) using search engines like Google (try it here for "Richard Harbert Smith"+MIT), except on a few brazilian sites (CTA, ITA, FCMF, Scielo, FINEP, EMBRAER, etc) which refer to him only by his contributions to establish ITA and as being its first rector. In some of these sites his name appears abbreviated as "Richard H. Smith", or missing an "r" as "Richard Habert Smith" (as seen by Dec 12, 2009, on: "Galeria de Reitores" in ITA site), or with an "e" in place of "a" as "Richard Herbert Smith" (as seen by Dec 12, 2009, on: "Criação do Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica - ITA" - Pró-Reitoria de Graduação - ITA). So the content of the e-mail message from Mrs. D. G. Douglas not only clarified the right spelling of his name but also allowed for the above biographical information on him to be the first open published one in the whole internet, up to the end of 2009. Although the source of this information was credited by Dr. Deborah G. Douglas to MIT General Collection, "Richard H. Smith" biographical file, MIT Museum, Cambridge, Massachussets, it was (and is) not yet publicly accessible on that site. This Credits note was written and inserted in this post on December 12, 2009, by Seth Emanuel Couto Melo Filho (ITA, 1979), when he also illustrated the original biographical data with hyperlinks to correlated external sources and inserted the below external link to a list of Technical Reports written by R. H. Smith published on the NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS). All of these links were obtained in searches done mainly with the help of Google and/or Wikipedia search engines.

External links

  1. Smith, R H - List of Technical Reports. NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS).
  2. Smith, R. H. Conferência "BRASlL, FUTURA POTÊNCIA AÉREA" (Trechos) - conferência realizada em 26 set 45, no Auditório do Ministério da Educação - RJ, a convite do Instituto Brasileiro de Aeronáutica. - Portal do DCTA - Departamento de Ciência e Tecnologia Aeroespacial.
  3. Plano Smith (ITA/CTA) - Portal da FCMF - Fundação Casimiro Montenegro Filho.
  4. Galeria de Reitores do ITA. Portal do ITA.
  5. Reitores e Vice-reitores do ITA. Portal do ITA.
  6. Richard Harbert Smith. Wikipedia.
  7. Richard Harbert Smith. Wikipédia (portuguese).
  8. Flight Training Suspended Here. War Order Is First To Effect Institute; Ban Is Temporary. The Tech, Vol LXI, No. 50, Dec 9, 1941. MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
  9. Flight Training Nears Completion. Trainees Next Term Must Pledge Service, Pass Rigid Physical. The Tech, Vol LXI, No. 59, Jan 20, 1942. MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.


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