Known as the founder of the modern American nuclear Navy, Rickover pioneered the use of nuclear power for the Navy and was also an influential critic of the U.S. educational system.
Born to a Jewish family in a part of Poland under Russian rule in 1900, Rickover fled with his parents to the United States in 1905 in an effort to avoid Russian-instigated pogroms. The family settled in the lower East Side of New York City. Despite working several part-time and full-time jobs to help support the family, Rickover graduated high school with honors and was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy. Commissioned as an ensign in 1922, he served on both destroyers and battleships, becoming convinced that smaller ships and submarines were the future of the Navy.
Rickover’s naval career was a successful one, but it was his service in World War II that defined both his career direction and, in many ways, the future of the U.S. Navy. As head of the Electrical Section of the Bureau of Ships, he directed salvage operations, worked with private industry, and pioneered the use of advanced technology in the outfitting of naval vessels. During the 1950’s, Rickover directed the Navy’s development of its nuclear submarine program. His accomplishments were not without controversy, however, as Rickover’s rather abrasive personality and bluntness often alienated those with whom he worked.
In his typically outspoken fashion, Rickover published a best-selling book, Education and Freedom, in 1959 and subsequently lobbied the administration of President John F. Kennedy to enact changes that he believed would strengthen the public school system. After having a sixty-three-year military career that was longer than that of any military officer in history–thanks in part to the ascension of one of his protégés,
Allen, Thomas B., and Norman Polmar. Rickover: Father of the Nuclear Navy. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2007. Rockwell, Theodore. The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made a Difference. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1992.