Frederick Vinton Hunt


Born: 15 February 1905
Died: 20 April 1972

Frederick Vinton Hunt was an American educator and scientist who contributed substantially to numerous aspects of acoustical engineering and communications. He earned undergraduate degrees in 1924 and 1925 from Ohio State University and a doctorate in physics from Harvard University in 1934.

Hunt’s early interest was in room acoustics—the way sound bounced around in a room. This was followed by an interest in phonograph recording and playback that began in 1936. At about that time, Hunt was working at Harvard. The university was preparing to celebrate its 300th anniversary and Hunt was asked to record some speeches commemorating the event. Starting with the existing disc recording equipment of the day, Hunt decided to try to invent a lightweight phonograph pickup that would not damage the soft plastic of the records. In earlier years, a heavy pickup was necessary to get good volume from acoustic playback, but with electrical amplification, the heavy pickup was no longer necessary. Hunt used his background in physics to design a much lighter pickup, and he published the results in Electronics magazine in 1938. The article became a classic and influenced the development of pickups for many years.

In 1941, Hunt founded the Harvard Underwater Sound Laboratory. During World War II, this laboratory developed anti-submarine devices, including guidance systems for torpedoes as well as more efficient sonar systems. At its height during the war, the staff expanded to 450, and the laboratory facilities grew to include ships, field stations, and the Hemenway Gymnasium at Harvard.

Hunt’s phonograph inventions were not his only lasting contributions. In 1954 he published the book Electroacoustics: The Analysis of Transduction and Its Historical Background. This book became a standard reference source for recording and reproduction of sound, and remains in print today.