Warren E. Henry, ca. 1943

Warren E. Henry, ca. 1943
Source: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

Warren Henry performing research at cryogenic temperatures at the Naval Research Laboratory high magnetic field facility, ca. 1943.

Chemist-physicist Warren Elliott Henry was born to two Tuskegee alums who were local schoolteachers. He grew up on a peanut farm in Alabama, where George Washington Carver often conducted research on crops.

Henry earned a Bachelor of Science (1931) from Tuskegee Institute, a Master of Science in Organic Chemistry (1937) from Atlanta University, and a PhD in Physical Chemistry (1941) from the University of Chicago. He returned as faculty to Tuskegee Institute in 1941, before being recruited by the MIT Radiation Laboratory in 1943. Henry later joined the faculties at Morehouse College and Howard University.

Training Tuskegee Airmen

Training Tuskegee Airmen

Returning to Tuskegee [in 1941], Henry took a position as an assistant professor of chemistry. Because of his broad program of studies at Chicago the Institute qualified him to teach physics, asking him to teach special physics courses to the young men who were training to be Army Air Corps officers. These young men ultimately formed the 99th Pursuit Squadron and became world famous as the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.

MIT Radiation Lab

During the war and a break from teaching, Henry visited fellow University of Chicago alumni, Persa Raymond Bell at the [MIT] Radiation Laboratory. Bell had shown Henry the type of research being conducted to contribute to the war effort, and asked if he would like to work there. Shortly after, Henry was recruited by MIT in 1943 to undertake a crucial project for the U.S. Navy.

Classified as top-secret, Henry worked to develop video amplifiers that were used in portable radar systems on warships. The amplifiers, capable of detecting and tracking targets like German submarines, filtered and strengthened radar signals and were considered 'faster than anything else at the time.'

After a three-year tenure at MIT, Henry returned to the University of Chicago to work on a post-doctoral fellowship in the Institute for the Study of Metals, working with a research group on superconductivity. At this time, the military began experimenting with jet aircraft and were experiencing crashes due to metal fatigue. Using information from his doctoral research on minute temperature changes, and testing sample spars made of various metal alloys, Henry was able to isolate which alloy would last the longest and just how long it would last.

"Pioneering NRL Physicist had Tuskegee Ties," U.S. Naval Research Laboratory News Release, 23 February 2012 

Henry later held positions at Morehouse College, Howard University, the Naval Research Laboratory, and Lockheed Missile and Space Company. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Timeline: 1940s
Career: EducationEngineeringMilitaryScience
Object: Photograph
Collection: HBCUs, Howard University, MIT Rad Lab, Morehouse, Tuskegee, University of Chicago