Francis Duncan

Francis Duncan headshot
Francis Duncan (1922-2016) was born in Oak Park, Illinois. A naval World War II veteran, he graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in History and earned his MA and PhD (1954) in History from the University of Chicago. After working as an analyst for the Air Force Office of Intelligence, Duncan moved to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in 1957 and was a historian for the AEC and its successor agency, the Department of Energy, from 1962 until 1987. He co-authored with Richard G. Hewlett, Atomic Shield, 1947-1952, Volume II of a History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, which won the David D. Lloyd Prize from the Harry S. Truman Institute. The volume covers the J. Robert Oppenheimer controversy and many technical and political issues facing the AEC including the debate about the development of thermonuclear devices and the effect of the Korean War on nuclear policy. By 1974, Hewlett and Duncan had also published Nuclear Navy, 1946-1962, a study of the naval nuclear propulsion program. Duncan also published numerous articles in the Naval Institute Proceedings, encyclopedias and professional journals.

Duncan first met Admiral Rickover in 1969 after completing his work on the AEC history, and was assigned to the Admiral’s office in 1974. Until his retirement in 1987, Duncan worked closely with the Admiral and his staff, visiting laboratories, touring shipyards, and attending sea trials of nuclear-powered attack and missile submarines, cruisers, and aircraft carriers. He also assisted with research for Rickover’s monograph, “How the Battleship
Maine was Destroyed.” In 1990, Duncan published an overview of Rickover’s nuclear propulsion program in Rickover and the Nuclear Navy: The Discipline of Technology, which won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize in 1991.

Duncan’s nearly twenty years involvement with Admiral Rickover and the nuclear naval program allowed him unprecedented access to Rickover’s colleagues, friends, family and the Admiral’s thoughts and personal papers, resulting in the biography
Rickover: The Struggle for Excellence, originally published in 2001.

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Rickover eBook cover