Harvey Fletcher
Scientist, Father of Stereophonic Sound, Author

Brigham Young High School
Class of 1904


Harvey Fletcher in 1908

Dr. Harvey Fletcher in the 1930s


Harvey Fletcher was born in what was then the small town of Provo, Utah in 1884.

While he was the son of pioneer parents, and had no early ambitions to become a scientist or scholar, his pursuit of a formal education led him to a distinguished career as a scientist, engineer, and educator, and he is recognized for his contributions to the study of acoustics, speech, medicine, music, and atomic physics.

As a young man, Harvey Fletcher's ambition was to follow in his father’s footsteps building houses, and to work with his uncles in their grocery businesses.

In stark contrast to the pioneering spirit of his parents, his view of the world could be summed up in the following quote:
As I looked across the Utah Valley, I thought that the tops of the mountains that I could see in any direction marked the end of the world where people live. On the other side of these was the great ocean. There were cracks in the wall that held the ocean back, so that the water from the ocean leaked through and formed the various streams that come down from the mountains.
Though his father had only four months of formal education, it is evident that Harvey himself valued school. By 1901 he had finished eighth grade, and he progressed on to the only institution in the Utah Valley that offered an education beyond this level.

He enrolled in Brigham Young Academy at the high school level, and as part of the curriculum was exposed for the first time to math, physics, and chemistry. Though he had to repeat his first course in physics, achieving the highest grade in the class the second time around, he eventually excelled in his studies, graduating from Brigham Young Senior High School on May 23, 1904, and from Brigham Young University in 1907 with a B.S.

In 1906 he was one of three students -- the others being Elmer Jacob and Clarence Jacob -- who climbed the mountain to help Professor Ernest Partridge, with his equipment on top of the Academy building, survey the block "Y" to be created on the mountain.

Fletcher spent a year teaching physics and mathematics at what had then become Brigham Young University, and he spent his summers running government surveys in the unexplored mountain country of eastern Utah and supervising the building of water mains that would supply the town of Provo.

By that point, he had decided that he wanted to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago so that he could develop a successful career as a scientist.

He was a little nervous about going alone to Chicago, so he persuaded Lorena Chipman, whom he had been courting, to marry him and join his adventure.

Without prior admission to the university, the couple moved to Chicago and took their chances. Indeed, because much of the curriculum offered at Brigham Young was not accredited by Chicago, and because the degree that he earned only involved three years of college level courses, the university initially deemed it necessary for him to take four years of courses in order to move on to the graduate program. While this was beyond his means, Robert A. Millikan, then an assistant professor, proposed that Fletcher enroll as a special student, carrying out the first year of classes for the graduate physics program.

Successful completion of these courses, plus one year of make-up work in undergraduate courses, earned him entrance into the graduate program, from which he earned the first Ph.D. summa cum laude ever awarded by the University of Chicago.

It was during his tenure as a student at the University of Chicago that Fletcher worked with Robert Millikan to measure the charge of an electron. This research later contributed immensely to the development of the field of electronics and its subsequent use in the television and radio industry.

Having achieved his doctorate in Chicago, Fletcher returned to BYU in 1911 to teach, as he had vowed he would, where he became the only faculty member to hold a Ph.D. He was appointed chairman of the Physics Department, and he taught at his alma mater for the next five years.

It was then that he accepted a position with Western Electric Company in New York, and his record of achievement blossomed to unprecedented levels.

He was appointed Director of all Physical Research at Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he published 51 papers and two books, and was awarded 19 patents.


Dr. Harvey Fletcher:Speech and Communication

Much of his research is considered to be authoritative, and his books, Speech and Hearing and Speech and Hearing in Communication are landmark treatises on the subject.

Fletcher directed or was involved in numerous research projects, which led to the development of products and technology that are widely in use in our daily lives.

His oversight of a project on hearing aids led to the development of the first such device to employ vacuum tubes.

In the 1930s, he and Wilden Munson formulated a graph that is now referred to as the Fletcher-Munson Loudness Curves, which correlates between sound intensity and loudness. They devised this by getting groups of people to judge when pure tones of two different frequencies were the same loudness, and averaged their results.

Another technological advancement that Fletcher pioneered involved clarity in the transmission of sound via telephone. His research involved the perception of sound from the typical talker to the typical listener, and how small imperfections in speech sounds affect the ability of the listener to recognize what is said.

It was concluded that more precise instruments that convert sound waves into electrical form and then back into sound waves, with minimal distortion, were required in order to make the telephone the remarkable communications device that it is today.

Harvey Fletcher was instrumental in the promotion of stereophonic recording and transmission. In 1931, Fletcher, along with colleague Arthur C. Keller and conductor Leopold Stokowski, recorded and transmitted, from the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, monaural and binaural (stereo) sound.

Harvey Fletcher, '04, and Leopold Stokowski.
Harvey Fletcher and Leopold Stokowski.

Fletcher and Stokowski made a presentation at Carnegie Hall in 1940 with recorded stereo music from a three-channel system using sound on film with a frequency range from 30 Hz to 15,000 kHz and a volume range of 120 decibels. A 4th track was used as a loudness playback control track.

The New York Times reported. “The loudest sounds ever created crashed and echoed through venerable Carnegie Hall last night as a specially invited audience listened, spellbound, and at times not a little terrified.”

Fletcher’s achievements are not restricted to ones associated with his work for Bell Laboratories.

He helped found the American Acoustical Society and became its first president. He was president of the American Society for Hard of Hearing, an honorary member of the American Ontological Society, an honorary member of the Audio Engineering Society and an honorary member of the American Speech and Hearing Society.

He was awarded the Louis E. Levy Medal for physical measurements of audition by the Franklin Institute in 1924. He was president of the American Physical Society which in the leading physics society in America. He was elected vice-president of the America Association for the Advancement of Science in 1937.

He was a member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and an honorary member of Sigma Pi Sigma. He is also a member of the National Hearing Division Committee of Medical Sciences.

He was given the Progress Medal Award by the American Academy of Motion Pictures in Hollywood. He acted as National Councilor for the Ohio State University Research Foundation eight years. In addition, he has received honorary degrees from Columbia University, Stevens Institute, Kenyon College, Case Institute of Technology, and the University of Utah.

Harvey Fletcher continued to contribute long after his retirement from Bell Laboratories. After his retirement, he founded the Engineering program at Brigham Young University and continued to maintain an active role in a research program having to do with acoustics well into his 80’s.

Fletcher also enjoyed fishing because it allowed him to spend time with his sons, five of whom earned doctorate degrees (one died in infancy), and he attributed much of his success to his wife, Lorena.

Countless individuals make use of and appreciate the technology that Harvey Fletcher helped to develop during a stellar career that spanned almost seven decades.

Truly, this man blossomed from his humble beginnings and aspirations, to become a character of great influence on the everyday lives of much of mankind.



Harvey Fletcher, BYH Class of 1904
Dr. Harvey Fletcher

Harvey Fletcher [BYH Class of 1904] was born on September 11, 1884 in Provo, Utah. His parents were Charles Eugene Fletcher and Elizabeth Miller Fletcher. He married twice: First to Lorena Karen Chipman on September 9, 1908 in Salt Lake City, Utah. They had six sons (one died as a child) and one daughter. Lorena was selected as U.S. Mother of the Year in 1965. Following the death of Lorena Fletcher on January 2, 1967, he second married Bessie Fern Chipman Eyring [BYH Class of 1912] on June 15, 1969. Fern was the widow of Carl F. Eyring, and was his first wife's sister. The parents of Lorena and Fern were Stephen L. Chipman [BYA HS Class of 1884] and Sina Nielsen Chipman, of American Fork, Utah. Harvey Fletcher died on July 23, 1981 in Provo, Utah just a few weeks before his 97th birthday. Interment, American Fork, Utah.


Four great physicists who brought renown to Brigham Young University and who were recipients of numerous national honors were:

Dr. Milton Marshall, left, chairman of the Physics Department, in whose honor the pendulum in the Eyring Physical Science Building was named;

Dr. Harvey Fletcher, father of the stereophonic sound and first dean of the College of Physical and Engineering Sciences, for whom the Engineering Laboratory Building was named;

Dr. Carl F. Eyring, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, for whom the Carl F. Eyring Physical Sciences Center was named; and

Dr. Wayne B. Hales, chairman of the Physics Department, in whose honor a lecture room in that building was named.
[Photo circa 1950s, BYU Archives]


Harvey Fletcher, BYH Class of 1904
"Harvey Fletcher in boyhood" See Footnote*

*FOOTNOTE

From: Richard Stavast
To: BYA-BYH Website
Sent: Friday, November 11, 2011
Subject: Harvey Fletcher page impossibility

Recently I came across a page dedicated to Harvey Fletcher on your site. I need to report an impossibility contained in it so that you can make correction.

Mr. Fletcher was born in 1884. There is a photograph of a young boy posted on the page standing to the rear and side of two automobiles and labeled, "Harvey Fletcher in his boyhood". I would estimate that boy to be between 8-12 years old, which would place the date of such a photo to be prior to 1900.

Here is the impossibility: The year of those automobiles is clearly nearer the 1920s, at which time he would have been well at his 30's.

The photograph may be of a family member of his, but it clearly cannot be Mr. Fletcher. I hope someone can contact his family or other archives and determine the true party so the annotation can be corrected.

I had the opportunity to photograph Mr. Fletcher in the late 1970’s while a photographer on the staff of the Daily Universe at BYU - about 3 years before he died.

We had an amazing conversation for several hours, and his comments were influential in my changing from photography into an engineering technology major.

Please take interest in my request, so that this source of information to all about this man can be as accurate as possible.

Regards,

Lyle Stavast

Editor's Note: If any reader can enlighten us about this photograph, please contact us at yhigh@ymail.com



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