President Jimmy Carter Signs a Photograph to His Mentor, Admiral Hyman Rickover, Father of the Navy’s Nuclear Fleet

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World War II was barely over when Hyman Rickover, in 1946, recognized nuclear power “as an opportunity for the Navy”. The next year he received training in nuclear power at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and there began exploring the possibility of nuclear ship propulsion. In February 1949 he was assigned to the Division...

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President Jimmy Carter Signs a Photograph to His Mentor, Admiral Hyman Rickover, Father of the Navy’s Nuclear Fleet

World War II was barely over when Hyman Rickover, in 1946, recognized nuclear power “as an opportunity for the Navy”. The next year he received training in nuclear power at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and there began exploring the possibility of nuclear ship propulsion. In February 1949 he was assigned to the Division of Reactor Development within the Atomic Energy Commission and then assumed control of the Navy’s effort as Director of the Naval Reactors Branch. Using this twin role as a platform, with unrelenting determination, Rickover advocated, in fact championed, nuclear power in his effort to modernize the U.S. Navy, expand its reach and efficiency, and increase its firepower in a world in the midst of the Cold War. He supervised the construction of the world’s first nuclear powered submarine, USS Nautilus (which joined the fleet in January 1955), and over the next decades spearheaded the building of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear fleet and oversaw its operations. Using his submarines and missiles, American might could now be delivered to any point in the world; and American submarines could cruise, silently and never surfacing, beneath the waves shadowing Soviet naval movements, collecting Soviet missile telemetry and eavesdropping on Soviet communications. This had not merely military implications, but diplomatic ones as well; as although no point on earth was safe from destruction, the ultimate goal was deterrence rather than war.

Rickover advised all presidents from Truman through Reagan, and had close relationships with a number of them. President Kennedy consulted Rickover on many matters, including the question of the multilateral nuclear force that would place international crews on American submarines. He extended Rickover’s period of service past the standard retirement age. President Nixon promoted Rickover to four-star admiral. Rickover gave Jimmy Carter, when the latter was a young naval officer, his first important job; Carter later stated that Rickover had a “profound effect on my life, perhaps more than anyone else except my own parents.” Rickover was awarded numerous medals and decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and the Congressional Gold Medal for exceptional public service. In 1980 President Carter gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest non-military honor, for his contributions to world peace.

An 8 by 10 inch color photograph of Rickover with Carter during the latter’s presidency, inscribed and signed “With best wishes to Admiral Hyman Rickover, Jimmy Carter June 9, 1980.” We obtained this directly from the Rickover descendants.

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