Clinton Davisson’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1937
Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Before coming to Stockholm I talked in London with Professor and Mrs. Thomson who regret exceedingly their inability to be here on this great occasion. It is Professor Thomson’s desire that the spirit of my remarks be taken as expressing his sentiments as well as my own.
I welcome this opportunity of assuring you that I appreciate most deeply, prize most highly the great honor which His Majesty, Your King, conferred upon me in the impressive ceremonies of a few hours since.
Great as is my pleasure in accepting, jointly with my friend, Professor Thomson, this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics, the pleasure is made greater still by the joy it brings to countless numbers of my fellow countrymen, to my family, to my colleagues and hundreds of associates in the great industrial laboratories in which I work, to the physicists of America and to thousands of patriotic Americans who regard it as a most notable recognition of their country.
I have wondered at times during the last month, if the people of Sweden fully realize the great importance attached to Nobel prize awards by the people of the United States. I hardly realized it myself a month ago. The recipient is transformed overnight from, in my case, an exceedingly private citizen to something in the nature of a semi-public institution.
This, I think, is not exactly the result which Alfred Nobel sought to achieve by his last will and testament. His aim, it seems, was merely and quite simply to provide substantial reward for high achievement in certain laudable fields of endeavor – achievements which are made, not primarily for gain, which are beneficial to mankind, but which mankind does not, in the usual course of events, pay for.
In particular Nobel seems to have had no thought of dispensing special honor or distinction to the winners of his prizes. These intangibles which have so increased in value with the years must be regarded, I think, as precious byproducts which Nobel did not envisage. That they should come to rate so highly in the world, as today they do, was, indeed, by no means inevitable. Their great value derives quite definitely from the thorough, ceaseless labors of long lines of Nobel Prize Committees – Committees which for years have commanded the respect, the confidence and the admiration of the educated classes of all countries.
It is exceedingly fortunate that Nobel was a Swede. For what people other than the Swedish were so endowed by their freedom from international entanglements, by the liberality of their views, and by the breadth of their tolerance to organize and administer the precious trust which Alfred Nobel gave into their hands?
In conclusion, allow me to thank most sincerely everyone concerned, and this, I take it, means everyone in Sweden, for the tangible as well as the intangible rewards which you have bestowed upon me. Let me thank you, also most sincerely, for the warmth of the welcome you have extended to Mrs Davisson and me on this our first, but I trust not our last, visit to your wonderful and beautiful Sweden.
Prior to the speech, Professor A.E. Lindh of the University of Uppsala addressed the laureate: To you, Clinton Davisson, we extend our greetings, and we are happy in the thought that, in spite of the great demands on your precious time, you have been willing to make the long voyage across the Atlantic and with your presence contribute to the brilliancy of this our Festival. We express our admiration for the magnificent scientific achievement, carried out by you and George Thomson, i. e. the discovery of one of the most remarkable natural phenomena, the electron diffraction, a phenomenon, which has proved most valuable in the service of present-day research work. We congratulate you on the occasion of your being awarded this distinction of merit.
Their work and discoveries range from the Earth’s climate and our sense of touch to efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.
See them all presented here.