On a windy day 40 years ago this Sunday, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chair Dixy Lee Ray dedicated the National Accelerator Laboratory, which was founded seven years earlier, as the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. In 1969, the AEC had announced its decision to name the lab in honor of Nobel Prize-winning Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, famous for producing the world’s first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction at the University of Chicago.
More than 1,500 people attended the dedication, including several congressmen, former Universities Research Association President Norman F. Ramsey and H. Guyford Stever, the science advisor to the president. Speakers at the ceremony included Ray, Senator Charles Percy, Joint Committee on Atomic Energy Chair Melvin Price, URA President Robert Bacher, Laura Fermi (Enrico Fermi’s widow), lab Director Robert R. Wilson and Users Committee Chair and future lab director Leon M. Lederman.
During his remarks, Wilson said, “We are deeply honored to have the name of Fermi attached to our laboratory. Laura, I pledge in your name that we will do our best to make this a laboratory worthy of the name of Enrico Fermi.”
A plaque at the entrance of Wilson Hall states that President Richard Nixon and previous AEC Chair James Schlesinger dedicated Fermilab. Even though Nixon sent a letter for the dedication that Stever read aloud at the ceremony, he and Schlesinger never visited Fermilab. Watch these pages for news of a corrected plaque marking this significant moment in Fermilab’s history.
The program from the dedication, the text of the remarks given by the speakers, a copy of the original AEC press release announcing the naming, and many other materials related to the dedication are available in the Fermilab Archives.
You can read about the event in the May 9, 1974, and May 16, 1974, issues of the original Fermilab employee newsletter, The Village Crier. You can also see the program and read more about the dedication ceremony at the Fermilab History and Archives Project website.
—from the Fermilab History and Archives Project