SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Edward Teller, a member of the Manhattan Project that created the first atomic bomb and who later emerged as the foremost champion of the vastly more destructive hydrogen bomb, has died. He was 95.
Mr. Teller, dubbed the “father of the H-bomb” and a key advocate of the antimissile shield known as “Star Wars,” died Tuesday at his home on the Stanford University campus.
Mr. Teller was a tireless advocate of a vigorous U.S. defense policy during and after the Cold War, urging development of advanced weapons as way to deter war.
“The second half of the century has been incomparably more peaceful than the first, simply by putting power into the hands of those people who wanted peace,” he told a forum on the 50th anniversary of the atomic bomb attacks on Japan.
Mr. Teller’s staunch support for defense stemmed in part from two events that shaped his view of world affairs: the 1919 communist revolution in his native Hungary and the rise of Nazism while he lived in Germany in the early 1930s.
Witty and personable, with a passion for playing the piano, Mr. Teller nevertheless was a persuasive warrior who influenced presidents of both parties.
In 1939, he was one of three scientists who encouraged Albert Einstein to alert President Roosevelt that the power of nuclear fission — the splitting of an atom’s nucleus — could be tapped to create a devastating new weapon.
He later would quip that he often believed the only reason he became a part of the trio was “because I was the only one who knew how to drive and had a car to get us there.”
Two years later, even before the first atom bomb was completed, fellow scientist Enrico Fermi suggested that nuclear fusion — fusing rather than splitting nuclei — might be used for an even more destructive explosive, the hydrogen bomb.
Mr. Teller’s enthusiasm and pursuit of such a bomb won him the title “father of the H-bomb,” a characterization he said he hated. The first megaton H-bomb was exploded in 1952.
The H-bomb was never used in war, but atomic bombs were dropped on Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some scientists had suggested at the time that a bomb be exploded in the sky miles over Tokyo harbor in hopes of scaring Japan into surrendering with a minimum of casualties.
“I think we shared the opportunity and the duty, which we did not pursue, to find … a possibility to demonstrate” the bomb, Mr. Teller said at the anniversary forum. “Now in retrospect I have a regret.”
Among honors Mr. Teller received were the Albert Einstein Award, the Enrico Fermi Award, the National Medal of Science and, in July, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Mr. Teller was born Jan. 15, 1908, in Budapest. He received his university education in Germany, earning a Ph.D. in physics at the University of Leipzig.
In 1935, Mr. Teller and his wife, Mici, came to the United States, where Mr. Teller was a professor at George Washington University until 1941, the same year the Tellers became U.S. citizens.
After the success of the Manhattan Project, Mr. Teller left in 1946 to become a physics professor at the University of Chicago.