F. Dow Smith

F. Dow Smith played a key role in OSA’s history and served the Society and the optics community with tremendous dedication. During his long and distinguished career, Smith worked for many years on classified Cold War defense activities for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Born January 2, 1921, in Manitoba, Canada, Smith grew up in Toronto. During World War II, he served six years as an airplane mechanic in the Royal Canadian Air Force. After the war, he entered Queen’s University in Ontario, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics. He went on to earn a Ph.D in optics at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics. . As a doctoral student, Smith conducted research on thin films at the Bausch & Lomb Optical Company. His work there, as well as at the Institute of Optics, was primarily in the field of physical optics.

Smith also nurtured a passion for geometrical optics and lens design. He capitalized on this interest when, in 1951, he joined the Physics Department at Boston University and worked on developing lenses for aerial reconnaissance photography. In 1958, he joined the newly formed Itek Corporation, where he helped supervise the design of the camera system for the top-secret Corona program that culminated in the production of America’s first spy satellite. In 1960, the satellite was used to gather images of the Soviet Union to determine its level of missile defense preparedness. The satellite’s findings helped alleviate U.S. fears of being at a “missile gap” disadvantage to the Soviets.

Two decades would pass before the American public learned of the extraordinary achievements of aerial and satellite reconnaissance during the Cold War. Smith served as president of the New England College of Optometry from 1979 until he retired in 1986. After leaving that post, he remained active as a consultant in optical physics.

Smith was the recipient of numerous distinguished awards and honors. He received the George W. Goddard Award for exceptional work in the field of photo-optical instrumental technology and was designated a “Space Pioneer” by the U.S. government. Smith received OSA’s Distinguished Service Award and was elected an OSA Fellow. He served OSA in many capacities first as director at large then as chairman of the Technical Council and as president in 1974. Smith was the society’s treasurer from 1980 to 1992. Smith was described once as a person who exemplified volunteer leadership at its best.

 He died in 2002.