Admiral Hyman George Rickover was called the father of the modern nuclear Navy. He was also the longest serving Navy officer in American history. Rickover was born on Jan. 27, 1900 in Makow Mazowiecki, a town in Poland that was then occupied by Russian troops. In 1905, Rickover's mother took him and an older sister to Belgium in order to escape anti-Semitic pogroms. They fled again to America to follow their father, a deserter from the Russian Army, who was making a new life in America as a tailor. Arriving in Chicago in 1905, Hyman grew up on Maxwell Street, the center of the garment trade. The family later moved to the Lawndale neighborhood on the west side. At the age of only 9 years old, Rickover went to work to help support the family. Rickover said of his childhood later in life that it was one of "hard work, discipline, and a decided lack of good times."
In 1916, Rickover got a job working as a page and message runner at the Republican National Convention in Chicago. He stayed as close as he could to the speaker's platform in order to get more deliveries. He delivered one message to a U.S. Congressman who later nominated Rickover to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He graduated from Annapolis in 1922 with a class rank of 106 from the top out of a class of 539 midshipmen. With his commission as an ensign, Rickover went to duty at sea for the next six years as an officer on the destroyer USS Lavallette and the battleship USS Nevada. He was granted shore duty to attend and graduate from Columbia University with a Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering in 1929. He met his future wife at Columbia.
From 1929 to 1933, Rickover qualified for submarine command and taught himself to be an expert on submarines. He worked for the Office of the Inspector of Naval Material in Philadelphia and translated from German to English a book by World War I German Admiral Hermann Bauer called Das Unterseeboot (The Submarine). The Rickover translation became the basic text for the U.S. Submarine Service. Rickover served in World War II as head of the Electrical Section of the Bureau of Ships and won a Legion of Merit for his work. After the war, he went to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to study atomic power and became an advocate for the use of nuclear energy to power submarines and surface ships with specially built small reactors.
Rickover oversaw the development of the first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, launched in 1955. Long before anyone commonly used the phrase "zero tolerance," Rickover's high standards for integrity and exacting training methods were largely responsible for a perfect reactor safety record under his watch. Rikover was promoted to Vice Admiral in 1958 and received his first Congressional Gold Medal of Honor that same year. He supervised the nuclear navy for three decades and always insisted on exacting standards for safety. During the same period, America's Cold War rival, the Soviet Union, lost several submarines to reactor accidents.
Admiral Rickover was involved in controversy during President Jimmy Carter's administration for allegedly asking that Carter dilute a report about the nuclear accident in 1979 at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania because he thought the original report as written was too critical of the civilian nuclear industry. Rickover was forced to finally retire as a full Admiral in 1982 at the age of 82 after 63 years of service to the Navy, the longest service on record by far. He has served under thirteen American presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan. Rickover died in 1986. He received many awards and a Los Angeles Class submarine was named for him in 1988. In November 2005, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley dedicated a wing of Senn High School as the Hyman Rickover Naval Academy, one of four military training facilites in the Chicago Public School System.