Rank Insignia Previous Honoree ID Next Honoree ID

honoree image
First Name: Hyman

Last Name: Rickover

Birthplace: Makow Mazowiecki, POL

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: George

Date of Birth: 27 January 1900

Date of Death: 08 July 1986

Rank or Rate: Admiral

Years Served: 1918-1982
Hyman George Rickover
'Father of the Nuclear Navy'

Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1922

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Hyman George Rickover

Admiral, U.S. Navy

Hyman George Rickover was born on 27 January 1900 to Abraham and Rachel (née Unger) Rickover, a Jewish family in Maków Mazowiecki of Poland which, at that time, was under Russian rule. "Rickover" is derived from the village and the estate of Ryki, located within an hour of Warsaw, as is Maków Mazowiecki. "Hyman" is derived from the Hebrew word חַיִּים (Chayyim) meaning "life."

Fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms, the young Rickover emigrated to the U.S. with his parents in 1905; decades later, the entire remaining Jewish communities of Ryki and Maków Mazowiecki were killed or otherwise perished during the Holocaust.

Rickover's immediate family lived initially on the East Side of Manhattan and moved two years later to Lawndale, a Chicago community where Rickover's father continued work as a tailor. Rickover took his first paid job at nine years of age, earning three cents an hour for holding a light as his neighbor operated a machine. Later, he delivered groceries. He graduated from grammar school at 14.

While attending John Marshall High School in Chicago, where he graduated with honors in 1918, Rickover held a full-time job delivering Western Union telegrams, through which he became acquainted with U.S. Congressman Adolph J. Sabath. By way of the intervention of a family friend, Sabath, himself a Czech Jewish immigrant, nominated Rickover for appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. Though only a third-alternate for an appointment, through disciplined self-directed study and good fortune Hyman passed the entrance exam and was accepted.

Naval Career through World War II

On 2 June 1922, Rickover graduated 107th out of 540 Midshipmen and was commissioned as an Ensign. He joined destroyer USS La Vallette (DD-315) on 5 September 1922. Rickover impressed his Commanding Officer with his hard work and efficiency, and was made Engineer Officer on 21 June 1923, becoming the youngest such officer in the squadron.

He next served on board the battleship USS Nevada (BB-36) before earning a Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Electrical Engineering by way of a year at the Naval Postgraduate School at the Naval Academy, followed by further work at Columbia University. At Columbia, he met his future wife, Ruth D. Masters, a graduate student in International Law, whom he married in 1931 after she returned from her doctoral studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. Shortly after marrying, Rickover wrote to his parents of his decision to become an Episcopalian, remaining so for the remainder of his life.

Fond of life on a small ship, and knowing that young officers in the submarine service were advancing quickly, Rickover went to Washington and volunteered for submarine duty. His application was turned down due to his age; he was 29 years old. Fortunately for Rickover, he ran into his former Commanding Officer from Nevada while leaving the building, who interceded successfully on Rickover's behalf. From 1929-33, Rickover qualified for submarine duty and command aboard the submarines USS S-9 and S-48.

During 1933, while at the Office of the Inspector of Naval Material in Philadelphia, PA, Rickover translated Das Unterseeboot (The Submarine) by World War I German Imperial Navy Admiral Hermann Bauer. Rickover's translation became a basic text for the U.S. submarine service.

In June 1937, he assumed command of the minesweeper USS Finch (AM-9), and on 1 July of that year was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. In October, his designation as an Engineering Duty Officer became effective, and he left the Finch. He was assigned to the Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines, expecting to be transferred shortly to the Bureau of Engineering in Washington, DC. After an overland trip across China, Burma, and India; by air across the Mideast to Athens and then London; and by ship to the U.S., Rickover arrived in Washington and took up his duties as Assistant Chief of the Electrical Section of the Bureau of Engineering on 15 August 1939.

On 10 April 1942, after America's entry into World War II, Rickover flew to Pearl Harbor to organize repairs to the electrical power plant of the USS California. In that role he was "a leading figure in putting the ship's electric alternators and motors back into operating condition," enabling the battleship to sail under her own power from Pearl Harbor to Puget Sound Navy Yard.

Later in the war, his service as head of the Electrical Section in the Bureau of Ships brought him a Legion of Merit and gave him experience in directing large development programs, choosing talented technical people, and working closely with private industry. His wartime service was noted later in the 11 January 1954 Time magazine issue that featured him on its cover:

"Sharp-tongued Hyman Rickover spurred his men to exhaustion, ripped through red tape, drove contractors into rages. He went on making enemies, but by the end of the war he had won the rank of Captain. He had also won a reputation as a man who gets things done."

Naval Reactors and the Atomic Energy Commission

In 1946, a project was begun at the Manhattan Project's nuclear-power focused Clinton Laboratory (now the Oak Ridge National Laboratory) to develop a nuclear electric generating plant. The U.S. Navy decided to send eight men to this project, including three civilians and one senior and four junior naval Officers. Realizing the potential that nuclear energy held for the Navy, Rickover applied.

Although he was not initially selected, through the intercession of his wartime boss, Admiral Earle Mills, who became the head of the Navy's Bureau of Ships that same year, Rickover was finally sent to Oak Ridge as the Deputy Manager of the entire project, granting him access to all facilities, projects and reports.

Following efforts by physicists Ross Gunn, Philip Abelson and others in the Manhattan Project, he became an early convert to the idea of nuclear marine propulsion. Rickover worked with Alvin M. Weinberg, the Oak Ridge director of research, both to establish the Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology and to begin the design of the pressurized water reactor for submarine propulsion.

In February 1949, he received an assignment to the Division of Reactor Development, Atomic Energy Commission, and then assumed control of the Navy's effort as Director of the Naval Reactors Branch in the Bureau of Ships, reporting to Mills. This twin role enabled him to both lead the effort to develop the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN-571), which was launched and commissioned in 1954, as well as oversee the development of the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, the first commercial pressurized water reactor nuclear power plant.

The decision for selecting Rickover to head the development of the nation's nuclear submarine program ultimately rested with Admiral Mills. According to Lieutenant General Leslie Groves, the primary military leader in charge of the Manhattan Project, Mills was anxious to have a very determined man involved, and - though he knew that Rickover was "not too easy to get along with" and "not too popular" - in his judgment Rickover was the man who the Navy could depend on "no matter what opposition he might encounter, once he was convinced of the potentialities of the atomic submarine."

Rickover did not disappoint. The imagination, drive, creativity and engineering expertise demonstrated by Rickover and his team during that era resulted in a highly reliable nuclear reactor in a form-factor that would fit into a submarine hull with no more than a 28-foot beam. These were substantial technical achievements:

In the early 1950s, a megawatt-scale nuclear reactor took up an area roughly the size of a city block.

The prototype for the USS Nautilus propulsion plant was the world's first high-temperature nuclear reactor.

The basic physics data needed for the reactor design were as yet unavailable.

The reactor design methods had yet to be developed.

There were no available engineering data on the performance of water-exposed metals that were simultaneously experiencing high temperatures, pressures and multi-spectral radiation levels.

No nuclear power plant of any kind had ever been designed to produce steam.

No steam propulsion plant had ever been designed for use in the widely varying sea temperatures and pressures experienced by the condenser during submarine operations.

Components from difficult, exotic materials, such as zirconium and hafnium, would have to be extracted and manufactured with precision via techniques that were as yet unknown.

Promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral in 1958, the same year he was awarded the first of two Congressional Gold Medals, for nearly the next three decades Rickover exercised tight control over the ships, technology, and personnel of the nuclear Navy, interviewing and approving or denying every prospective officer being considered for a nuclear ship. Over the course of Rickover's record-length career, these personal interviews amounted to tens of thousands of highly impressionable events; over 14,000 interviews were with recent college-graduates alone. These legendary interviews loomed large in the minds of midshipmen from both the U.S. Naval Academy and Naval ROTC. Varying from arcane to combative to humorous, and ranging from midshipmen to very senior naval aviators who sought command of aircraft carriers (which sometimes lapsed into ego battles), the content of most of these interviews has been lost to history, though some were later chronicled in the several books on Rickover's career, as well as in a rare personal interview with Diane Sawyer in 1984.

Rickover's stringent standards and powerful focus on personal integrity are largely credited with being responsible for the U.S. Navy's continuing record of zero reactor accidents. During the mid-to-late 1950s, Rickover revealed the source of his obsession with safety in a personal conversation with a fellow Navy Captain:

"I have a son. I love my son. I want everything that I do to be so safe that I would be happy to have my son operating it. That's my fundamental rule." [p. 55, Power at Sea: A Violent Peace, 1946-2006 (2006)]

He also made it a point to be aboard during the initial sea trial of almost every nuclear submarine completing its new-construction period, and by his presence both set his stamp of personal integrity that the ship was ready for the rigors of the open seas, and ensured adequate testing to either prove as much or to establish issues requiring resolution.

As head of Naval Reactors, Rickover's focus and responsibilities were dedicated to reactor safety rather than tactical or strategic submarine warfare training. It could be argued that because of Rickover's singular focus on reactor operations, and direct line of communications with each nuclear submarine's captain, that this acted against the captains' war-fighting abilities.

Such a claim, however, does not hold up well in consideration of the highly-classified national security accomplishments of the submarine force, such as are allegedly chronicled in Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage. Moreover, the accident-free record of U.S. Navy reactor operations stands in stark contrast to those of America's primary competitor during the Cold War, the Soviet Union, which lost several submarines to reactor accidents in both its haste and chosen priorities for competing with superior U.S. technology.

As stated in a retrospective analysis in October 2007:

"U.S. submarines far outperformed the Soviet ones in the crucial area of stealth, and Rickover's obsessive fixation on safety and quality control gave the U.S. nuclear Navy a vastly superior safety record to the Soviet one. This was especially crucial as in a democratic society, particularly after the Three Mile Island nuclear power station crisis in March 1979, a host of nuclear accidents or well-publicized near misses could have shut down the nuclear fleet completely."

However, the extreme focus on nuclear propulsion plant operation and maintenance was well known during Rickover's era as a potential hindrance to balancing operational priorities. One way by which this was addressed after the Admiral retired was that only the very strongest, former at-sea submarine commanders have held Rickover's now uniquely eight-year position as NAVSEA-08, the longest chartered tenure in the U.S. military. From Rickover's first replacement, Kinnaird R. McKee, to today's head of Naval Reactors, Kirkland H. Donald, all have held command of nuclear submarines, their squadrons and ocean fleets; not one has been a long-term Engineering Duty Officer such as Rickover.

Three Mile Island

Following the Three Mile Island (TMI) power plant's partial core melt on 28 March 1979, President Jimmy Carter commissioned a study, "Report of the President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island (1979)." Subsequently, Admiral Rickover was asked to testify before Congress in the general context of answering the question as to why naval nuclear propulsion had succeeded in achieving a record of zero reactor-accidents (as defined by the uncontrolled release of fission products to the environment resulting from damage to a reactor core) as opposed to the dramatic one that had just taken place at Three Mile Island. In his testimony, he said:

"Over the years, many people have asked me how I run the Naval Reactors Program, so that they might find some benefit for their own work. I am always chagrined at the tendency of people to expect that I have a simple, easy gimmick that makes my program function. Any successful program functions as an integrated whole of many factors. Trying to select one aspect as the key one will not work. Each element depends on all the others."


Hyperactive, political, blunt, confrontational, insulting, flamboyant, and an unexcelled workaholic who was always demanding of others - without regard for rank or position - as well as himself, Admiral Rickover was a thundering force of nature and lightning rod for controversy. Moreover, he had "little tolerance for mediocrity, none for stupidity." "If a man is dumb," said a Chicago friend, "Rickover thinks he ought to be dead." Even while a Captain, Rickover did not conceal his opinions, and many of the officers he regarded as dumb eventually rose in rank to be Admirals and were assigned to the Pentagon.

Rickover found himself frequently and loudly in bureaucratic combat with these senior naval officers, to the point that he nearly never became "Admiral" Rickover: Two Admiral-selection boards - exclusively made up of Admirals - passed over Captain Rickover for promotion, even while he was in the process of becoming famous. One of these selection boards even met the day after USS Nautilus had its keel-laying ceremony in the presence of President Truman. It eventually took the intervention of the White House, U.S. Congress and the Secretary of the Navy - and the very real threat of changing the Navy's Admiral-selection system to include civilians - before the next flag-selection board welcomed the twice passed-over Rickover (normally a career-ending event) into their ranks.

Even Rickover's most senior, renowned and professionally-accomplished nuclear-trained officers that he had personally selected, such as Edward L. Beach, Jr., had mixed feelings about "the kindly old gentleman," or simply "KOG", as Rickover became euphemistically known in inner circles. Beach, in his later years, once referred to him as a "tyrant" with "no account of his gradually failing powers" (p. 179, U.S. Submarines, 2002).

However, President Nixon's comments upon awarding Rickover the four-star rank of Admiral on 16 November are germane:

"I don't mean to suggest ... that he is a man who is without controversy. He speaks his mind. Sometimes he has rivals who disagree with him; sometimes they are right, and he is the first to admit that sometimes he might be wrong. But the greatness of the American military service, and particularly the greatness of the Navy, is symbolized in this ceremony today, because this man, who is controversial, this man, who comes up with unorthodox ideas, did not become submerged by the bureaucracy, because once genius is submerged by bureaucracy, a nation is doomed to mediocrity."

While both Rickover's military authority and congressional mandate with regard to the U.S. fleet's reactor operations was absolute, it was not infrequently a subject of Navy-internal controversy. As head of the Naval Reactors branch, and thus responsible for "signing off" on a crew's competence to operate the reactor safely, he had the power to effectively remove a warship from active service and did so on several occasions, much to the consternation of those affected.

In short, Rickover was obsessed with a safe, details-focused and successful nuclear program. Coincident with this success, the perception became established among many observers that he sometimes used the raw exercise of power to settle scores or tweak noses.

Full Accountability

In a distinct contrast to numerous examples of Admirals and senior naval Officers who would come to point their finger at individuals or groups of individuals in the fleet when something went seriously awry, Rickover adamantly took full responsibility for everything within the scope of the naval nuclear propulsion program (NNPP). Sample Rickover quote:

"My program is unique in the military service in this respect: You know the expression 'from the womb to the tomb'; my organization is responsible for initiating the idea for a project; for doing the research, and the development; designing and building the equipment that goes into the ships; for the operations of the ship; for the selection of the Officers and men who man the ship; for their education and training. In short, I am responsible for the ship throughout its life - from the very beginning to the very end." (Hearings on Military Posture and H.R. 12564, U.S. G.P.O., 1974, page 1,392)

Willingness to "Sink Them All"

Given Rickover's single-minded focus on naval nuclear propulsion, design and operations, it came as a surprise to many when in 1982, near the end of his career, he testified before the U.S. Congress that, were it up to him, he "would sink them all." A seemingly outrageous enigma of a statement - and perhaps one attributable to an old man beyond his time - in context, Rickover's personal integrity and honesty were such that he was lamenting the need for such war machines in the modern world, and specifically acknowledged as well that the employment of nuclear energy ran counter to the course of nature over time.

At a congressional hearing Rickover testified that:

"I do not believe that nuclear power is worth it if it creates radiation. Then you might ask me why do I have nuclear powered ships. That is a necessary evil. I would sink them all. I am not proud of the part I played in it. I did it because it was necessary for the safety of this country. That's why I am such a great exponent of stopping this whole nonsense of war. Unfortunately limits - attempts to limit war have always failed. The lesson of history is when a war starts every nation will ultimately use whatever weapon it has available." Further remarking: "Every time you produce radiation, you produce something that has a certain half-life, in some cases for billions of years. I think the human race is going to wreck itself, and it is important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it." (Economics of Defense Policy: Hearing before the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the U.S., 97th Cong., 2nd sess., Pt. 1 (1982))

However, after his retirement - and only a few months later, in May 1982 - Admiral Rickover spoke more specifically regarding the questions "Could you comment on your own responsibility in helping to create a nuclear navy? Do you have any regrets?":

"I do not have regrets. I believe I helped preserve the peace for this country. Why should I regret that? What I accomplished was approved by Congress - which represents our people. All of you live in safety from domestic enemies because of security from the police. Likewise, you live in safety from foreign enemies because our military keeps them from attacking us. Nuclear technology was already under development in other countries. My assigned responsibility was to develop our nuclear navy. I managed to accomplish this."

Willingness to Forgo All Accomplishments

As quoted by President Jimmy Carter during his 1984 interview with Diane Sawyer:

"One of the most remarkable things that he ever told me was when we were together on the submarine and he said that he wished that a nuclear explosive had never been evolved. And then he said, 'I wish that nuclear power had never been discovered.' And I said, 'Admiral, this is your life.' He said, 'I would forego all the accomplishments of my life, and I would be willing to forego all the advantages of nuclear power to propel ships, for medical research and for every other purpose of generating electric power, if we could have avoided the evolution of atomic explosives.'"

Forced Retirement

By the late 1970s, Rickover's position seemed stronger than it had ever been. He had survived more than two decades of attempts by the Navy brass to force him into retirement - including being made to work out of a converted ladies room and being passed over twice for promotion. Over many years, powerful friends on both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees ensured that he remained on active duty long after most other Admirals had retired from their second careers.

But on 31 January 1982, in his 80's, and after 63 years of service to his country under 13 presidents (Woodrow Wilson through Ronald Reagan), Rickover was forced to retire from the Navy as a full Admiral by Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, with the knowledge and consent of President Reagan. This was done in a premeditated fashion. As Lehman, a reservist naval aviator while serving as Secretary of the Navy, put it in his book, Command of the Seas:

[O]ne of my first orders of business as secretary of the navy would be to solve ... the Rickover problem. Rickover's legendary achievements were in the past. His present viselike grip on much of the navy was doing it much harm. I had sought the job because I believed the navy had deteriorated to the point where its weakness seriously threatened our future security. The navy's grave afflictions included loss of a strategic vision; loss of self-confidence, and morale; a prolonged starvation of resources, leaving vast shortfalls in capability to do the job; and too few ships to cover a sea so great, all resulting in cynicism, exhaustion, and an undercurrent of defeatism. The cult created by Admiral Rickover was itself a major obstacle to recovery, entwining nearly all the issues of culture and policy within the navy.

Fitting to the end of the decades-long reign and reputation of Rickover, his career concluded in both a battle with the defense establishment and a coming-to-terms with his own human limitations.

In the early 1980s, structural welding flaws - whose nature and existence had been covered up by falsified inspection records - led to significant delays and expenses in the delivery of several submarines being built at the General Dynamics Electric Boat Division shipyard. In some cases the repairs resulted in practically dismantling and then rebuilding what had been a nearly-completed submarine. While the yard tried to pass the vast cost overruns directly onto the Navy, Rickover fought Electric Boat's general manager, P. Takis Veliotis, tooth and nail at every possible turn, demanding that the yard make good on its shoddy workmanship.

Although the Navy eventually settled with General Dynamics in 1981, paying out $634 million of $843 million in Los Angeles class submarine cost-overrun and reconstruction claims, Rickover was bitter over the yard having effectively and successfully sued the Navy for its own incompetence and deceit. Of no small irony, the U.S. Navy was also the yard's insurer - though the concept of reimbursing General Dynamics under these conditions was initially considered "preposterous" in the words of Secretary Lehman, the legal basis of General Dynamics' claims included insurance compensation

Outraged, Rickover furiously lambasted both the settlement and Secretary Lehman, who was partly motivated to seek an agreement in order to continue to focus on achieving President Reagan's goal of a 600-ship Navy. This was hardly Rickover's first clash with the defense industry; he was historically hard, even harsh, in exacting high standards from these contractors - but now his relationship with Electric Boat took on the characteristics of an all-out, no-holds-barred war (Running Critical: The Silent War, Rickover & General Dynamics, 1986).

Veliotis came to be indicted by a federal grand jury under racketeering and fraud charges in 1983 for demanding $1.3 million in kickbacks from a subcontractor. He nonetheless eventually escaped into exile and a life of luxury in his native Greece where he remains a fugitive from U.S. justice.

Subsequent to accusations by the indicted Veliotis, a Navy Ad Hoc Gratuities Board determined that Rickover had received gifts from General Dynamics including jewelry, furniture and exotic knives valued at $67,628 over a 16-year period. Charges were investigated as well that gifts were provided by two other major nuclear ship contractors for the navy, General Electric and the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock.

Veliotis also charged, without providing substantiating evidence, that General Dynamics had given gifts to other senior naval Officers, and had routinely underbid contracts with the intention of charging the government for cost overruns. These charges were not pursued by the Navy, at least in part due to Veliotis' flight from justice.

Secretary Lehman admonished Rickover for this impropriety via a nonpunitive letter and stating that Rickover's "fall from grace with these little trinkets should be viewed in the context of his enormous contributions to the Navy." Rickover released a statement through his lawyer saying his "conscience is clear" with respect to the gifts. "No gratuity or favor ever affected any decision I made." Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin, a longtime supporter of Rickover, later publicly associated a debilitating stroke suffered by the Admiral to his having been censured and "dragged through the mud by the very institution to which he rendered his invaluable service."

Beyond any personal enmity or power struggles between the two naval leaders, it was Rickover's advanced age, singular focus and waning political clout regarding nuclear power, and strong, near-insubordinate stance against paying the fraudulently inflated submarine construction claims that gave Secretary Lehman substantial political capital to have Rickover retired. A moderate loss of ship control and subsequent depth excursion during the sea trials of the newly constructed USS La Jolla (SSN-701) - over which Rickover had direct supervisory control and, as the man-in-charge, actual culpability by way of human error - provided Lehman with the final impetus for ending Rickover's career.

Upon being apprised of Lehman's decision that it was time for the Admiral to finally retire, President Reagan asked to meet with Rickover. As quoted from Lehman's Command of the Seas, Rickover was unhappy with the course of events and held forth in a tirade against Lehman, with Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in attendance, at the meeting with the President:

(Rickover, referring to Lehman:) "Mr. President, that piss-ant knows nothing about the Navy." The Admiral turned toward (Lehman) and raised his voice now to a fearsome shout. "You just want to get rid of me, you want me out of the program because you want to dismantle the program." Shifting now toward President Reagan, he roared on: "He's a goddamn liar, he knows he is just doing the work of the contractors. The contractors want me fired because of all the claims and because I am the only one in the government who keeps them from robbing the taxpayers."

(Lehman, as later quoted by CNN:) "... it was a difficult moment for the president in the Oval Office. And he was so concerned about the man, about Admiral Rickover and that he not be embarrassed, that he asked us all to leave. He said, "Admiral Rickover and I see things the same way. Could you leave us a while? We want to talk about policy."

Offering respectful words for Admiral Rickover's past service, but not encouragement for continued service, President Reagan eventually brought the meeting to a close and Rickover's 63-year career was at its end.

The Navy's official investigation of General Dynamics' Electric Boat division was ended shortly afterward. According to Theodore Rockwell, Rickover's Technical Director for more than 15 years, more than one source at that time stated that General Dynamics' officials were bragging around Washington that they had "gotten Rickover."

On 28 February 1983, a post-retirement party honoring Admiral Rickover was attended by all three living former U.S. Presidents at the time, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. President Reagan was not in attendance.

Final Public Words and Thoughts

Developed and polished over the course of the last five of his 63 years of public service, Admiral Rickover's final public remarks after his retirement included a lecture in May 1982 at the Morgenthau Memorial Lecture series under the auspices of the Carnegie Council ("The Voice for Ethics in International Policy").

In his lecture, titled Thoughts On Man's Purpose in Life, Rickover presented his crucible, summary comments on the subject for the audience's careful consideration. Drawing upon wide-ranging philosophers and dignitaries such as Voltaire, Emerson, Sir Thomas More, Robert Browning, President Theodore Roosevelt, Justice Louis Brandeis, Aristotle and Martin Luther, as well as extracts from the I Ching, Rickover presented some of the fundamentally guiding thoughts and beliefs that he had acquired during his lifetime.

Rickover's core comments centered around the thoughts that "principles of existence - responsibility, perseverance, excellence, creativity, courage - must be wedded to intellectual growth and development if we are to find meaning and purpose in our lives" and that "a final principle of existence essential to man's purpose in life is the development of standards of ethical and moral conduct."

Earnest in pointing out the triumph of action over thoughts alone, Rickover's comments included the following:

"Man has a large capacity for effort. In fact it is so much greater than we think it is that few ever reach this capacity. We should value the faculty of knowing what we ought to do and having the will to do it. Knowing is easy; it is the doing that is difficult. The critical issue is not what we know but what we do with what we know. The great end of life is not knowledge, but action. I believe that it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on him ... we must live for the future, not for our own comfort or success."

He closed his remarks at the lecture with a question and answer period that addressed various aspects of Rickover's public service record, opinions, philosophies and anticipation for the future.


• The Los Angeles-class submarine USS Hyman G. Rickover (SSN-709) was named for him. It was commissioned two years before the Admiral's death, making it one of the relatively few U.S. Navy ships to be named for a living person.

• USS Hyman G. Rickover was launched on 27 August 1983, sponsored by the Admiral's second wife, Mrs. Eleonore Ann Bednowicz Rickover, commissioned on 21 July 1984, and deactivated on 14 December 2006.

Rickover Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy, housing the departments of Mechanical Engineering, Naval Ocean Engineering, Aeronautical and Aerospace Engineering, and Rickover Center at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command are also named in his honor.

• Admiral Hyman Rickover Fellowship (M.I.T.)

•Rickover Naval Academy

• Rickover Junior High School

Military Medals and Awards

• Navy Distinguished Service Medal (2 Awards)

• Legion of Merit (2 Awards)

• Navy Commendation Medal

• Army Commendation Medal

• World War I Victory Medal

• China Service Medal

• &American Defense Service Medal

• &Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal

• World War II Victory Medal

• Navy Occupation Service Medal with "ASIA" Clasp

• National Defense Service Medal (2 Awards)

• Honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire


Submarine Qualification Badge

Non-Military Medals and Awards

Admiral Rickover was twice awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for exceptional public service; the first in 1958, and the second 25 years later in 1983, becoming one of only three persons to be awarded more than one.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter presented Admiral Rickover with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest non-military honor, for his contributions to world peace.

He also received 61 civilian awards and 15 honorary degrees, including the prestigious Enrico Fermi Award "For engineering and demonstrative leadership in the development of safe and reliable nuclear power and its successful application to our national security and economic needs." In addition to the Enrico Fermi Award, some of the most notable awards include:

the Egleston Medal Award of Columbia University Engineering School Alumni Association (1955)

he George Westinghouse Gold Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) (1955)

the Michael I. Pupin 100th Anniversary Medal (1958)

the Golden Omega Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) (1959)

the Prometheus Award from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) (1965)

the Newcomen Medal (1968)

the Washington Award from the Western Society of Engineers (1970)

Honorary Degrees include:

Sc.D.: Colby College (1954); Stevens Institute of Technology (1958); Columbia University (1960)

Death and Burial

As a result of strokes, pneumonia, and generally declining health over time, Admiral Hyman George Rickover died at his home in Arlington, VA, on 8 July 1986.

Rickover's grave is in Section 5 overlooking the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame at Arlington National Cemetery. His first wife, Ruth Masters Rickover (1903-1972), is buried with him and the name of his second wife, Eleonore A. Bednowicz Rickover, whom he met and married while she was serving as a Commander in the Navy Nurse Corps, is also inscribed on his gravestone. He was survived by Robert Rickover, his sole son by his first wife.

During the last century, only a few names naturally come to mind of those who have made a truly major impact on both their navies and their nations: Mahan, Fisher and Gorshkov. Rickover joined them. Creating a detail-focused pursuit of excellence to a degree previously unknown, he redirected the U.S. Navy's ship propulsion, quality control, personnel selection, and training and education, and has had far reaching effects on the defense establishment and the civilian nuclear energy field.

Honoree ID: 633   Created by: MHOH




Honoree Photos

honoree imagehonoree imagehonoree image

honoree imagehonoree image

honoree image