‘By Cracky,’ He Turned 100: Franklin Miller Jr.’s Birthday
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
Professor Emeritus of Physics Franklin Miller Jr. gives a whole new meaning to Old Kenyon. Miller, who was born on Sept. 8, 1912, turned 100 this past Saturday.
Kenyon celebrated Miller’s centennial with a reception, followed by a performance in Rosse Hall, which featured the amateur string quartet that Miller founded at Kenyon.
The Oreo, Miller’s favorite cookie, is also celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and Oreos were abundant at the celebration, as were many friends and family, including Miller’s only child, Franklin Miller III.
At his age, Miller has some grand stories to tell, beginning with that of his birth.
“What happened was, my mother went into the hospital to have a baby … in 1912, and the baby came out all right. Then, the afterbirth came. She heard the afterbirth and a thump on the floor, and then the afterbirth started to cry. It was a twin, and nobody had told her,” Miller said.
Miller, his fraternal twin Henry and their sister Katherine were born in St. Louis, Mo., and raised by their father, Franklin Miller Sr., and mother, Maude Barnes.
Miller attended the John Burroughs School for high school.
Miller went on to Swarthmore College, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics. At Swarthmore, he played varsity soccer and ran track.
“I loved athletics, and, in fact, I was the conference champion for the Mid-Atlantic States,” Miller said.
But the road to that success was not one free of obstacles.
“The car broke down halfway [to the championship] and we were out in the country, and the meet was going to start in another hour. … Some way or another, we got it started again, out in the country, and we went on,” Miller said. “When we arrived, they were already dressed and lined up for the race that I was supposed to run in. They postponed it long enough for me to get my track suit on and, by cracky, I won the race.”
At Swarthmore, Miller was also a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Miller and his brothers soon shut down the chapter, however, “because we were told by the headquarters that we could not have any Jewish students, but we wanted to have any student of our choice,” Miller said.
Miller’s extracurriculars did not stop there. “I was also quite musical in college. I played in the school orchestra, I played piano, and then, after I got to Rutgers University, I taught myself the viola, and I played in an amateur string quartet,” Miller said.
After graduating from Swarthmore in 1933, Miller went onto the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. in physics. After completing the doctoral program in 1937, Miller married one of his University of Chicago students, physics major Libuse Lukas, and became a professor at Rutgers University.
But as a Quaker pacifist, Miller found Rutgers a difficult place to teach, especially during World War II, so, in 1948, he left Rutgers and took a post at Kenyon, where he felt the community better respected his pacifist views.
One year later, Miller founded the Society for Social Responsibility in Science and became its first president.
“The idea was to persuade scientists and engineers to use their training for the good of humanity, not towards destruction,” Miller said.
The Society grew to include approximately 400 members from around the world, among them Albert Einstein.
With the society facing a grave political dilemma, Miller visited Einstein at his home in Princeton, N.J.
“We were asking [him] advice about whether or not to cooperate with Bertrand Russell, the English philosopher. Bertrand Russell was talking about some sort of campaign against the H-bomb … so, we wanted to know if we should compete with Russell and go ahead with a demonstration against the H-bomb as well,” Miller said. “We asked Einstein for advice since he was our most famous member, and Einstein said, ‘Let Russell do his thing. We don’t want to fight each other, we want to fight the army.’ Thus, we let Russell do his thing.”
Still, Miller found time to coach soccer, leading the Lords to four winning seasons.
In addition, Miller advised the radio station, WKCG (now WKCO). “In those days, it was AM only, and it was done by wire. You had to have a transmitter in the dorm, so, every time they built a new dorm, I had to build a new transmitter,” Miller said.
The list of Miller’s involvements in Kenyon’s history is extensive, as is his fulfillment in the years he’s spent completing them.
“If I make it to 100, I’ll be satisfied,” Miller said prior to his birthday.
Though Miller is much older than most Gambier residents, he said he loves the college setting: “I would never go anywhere else.”