Skip to main content

ORNL hosts VIP visitors

Then Sen.-John Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, visit ORNL's Homogeneous Reactor Experiment No. 2 during a campaign visit in February 1959. Image credit: Ed Westcott, ORNL

75 years of science and technology

In 1959, then-Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, became surely the most glamorous couple ever to stand on the viewing platform of the Oak Ridge Research Reactor.

The Kennedys are just two of the host of dignitaries from around the world who have made ORNL a destination because of its pioneering role in the peaceful uses of atomic energy and its global leadership in science.

Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush spoke here in 1978, 1992 and 2004, respectively. Vice President Hubert Humphrey visited in 1965, and Vice President Al Gore, a Tennessee native, made a couple of visits.

Other prominent political visitors have included Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford (before either was president), Albert Gore Sr., favorite-son-senator and Ambassador Howard Baker (several times), and Ambassador Andrew Young.

Royalty have dropped in as well. Former King Leopold of Belgium visited in 1957, Queen Frederika of Greece in 1958, a young King Hussein of Jordan in 1959, and King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand in 1960. International visitors also included Ambassador Indira Nehru (later Prime Minister Indira Gandhi) of India in 1963.

Renowned physicist and Fermilab architect Robert Wilson spoke in 1999. Visiting Nobel Laureates include Glenn Seaborg, Gertrude Elion and Leon Lederman. Nobel winners Harry Kroto and Bill Phillips gave lectures in the 1990s,

then returned as two of the eight Nobelists who have given Eugene P. Wigner Distinguished Lectures since the lecture series was established in 2014.