‘The President Needs a Secretary of Peace’

Herman Sheets: Hired in 1953; Left in 1969 (Recounted by Paulann Sheets)

Herman’s achievement was to create the research lab. There had been nothing at all like it at EB. He was always prepared to see a good idea. He was open to it, and then to think, “This is great. Maybe they can make some money on it.”

He was worried about interruptions between government contracts and the risk of losing talent. So he thought about alternative projects. They rolled steel and made a dish antenna. They built an aluminum submarine for Reynolds. Somebody else would have said, ‘We can’t do that.” Herman was Mr. Diversification.
He thought about little things as well as big ones. He was responsible for getting the springs out of mattresses on submarines. They had foam rubber mattresses to replace them. The noise – it all adds up.

In the yard, Herman observed a welding process that really intrigued him. The men told him they came up with it themselves. He said, “What do you mean? Tell me about that.” Herman ended up going to the general counsel, a terrific guy. Together they applied for a patent in the names of two welders. It put their kids through college.

He experimented with creating oxygen with aqueous algae. That was too far afield for Rickover. The real thing that got Rickover’s ire up, though, was that Herman was working with Navy engineers who wanted more mobile, deeper-diving, faster little ships that could go places the bigger ships could not. These might be diesel-powered. That’s why Herman left – he was fired.

Herman was very proud of the work done at EB. And he took it very, very seriously. But he also said, “The president needs a secretary of peace at his side.” He was a very gentle individual. He had a gift for the foibles of life and the fools we can make of ourselves.