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Dahlgren leader Smith, 99, dies
Bernard Smith, former technical director at Dahlgren, dead at 99

Date published: 2/17/2010

BY FRANK DELANO

Bernard Smith, whose technical and managerial leadership in the 1960s and '70s transformed the Naval Weapons Laboratory at Dahlgren, died Friday of liver cancer at his home in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 99.

Smith, who served as NWL's technical director from 1964 to 1973, "expanded the electromagnetic warfare competence of NWL and changed it into a large, stable and well-recognized research-and-development, testing-and-evaluation organization," said James E. Colvard.

Smith's management innovations were later used throughout the Navy's civilian facilities, said Colvard, who succeeded Smith as technical director of what then became the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

Smith's changes at Dahlgren were part of his lifetime of invention that ranged from rockets and high-speed sailboats to wood stoves and bicycles. He was also a prolific writer of books, scientific papers, letters and essays on a wide range of subjects.

He was born May 15, 1910, to Jewish parents who had immigrated from Russia in 1895. Smith grew up poor in the Lower East Side of New York City. He did not attend high school and, like his father and ancestors, worked as a blacksmith.

At the height of the Great Depression, Smith attended a meeting of the American Interplanetary Society and found himself in a roomful of rocket pioneers. The group later became the American Rocket Society, a forerunner of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

"I was the first man in America to publicly fire a liquid-fuel rocket. That was in 1932," Smith said in a 1973 interview.

Smith moved to California in 1935 and worked as a welder for the Fruehauf Trailer Co. At 34, he decided to go to Reed College in Portland, Ore., the only college that would accept him. After college, he got a job at the Naval Ordnance Test Station in China Lake, Calif.

"I started designing squibs for igniters, then igniters, then rocket motors, then whole missiles, then management responsibilities for many missiles and, finally, after 12 years I was a department head," he said in 1973.


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