Alumni Profile: Ed Hawthorne, EE’43

Ed Hawthorne, EE’43

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Edward Hawthorne, EE’43

Ed Hawthorne came to the United States from Poland on Thanksgiving Day 1937 at the age of 16. Speaking no English except the inevitable “I don’t speak English,” he spent his first months taking books out of the library and reading them on his own because the English courses for foreigners progressed too slowly for him. Although he had already earned a diploma from a Polish gymnasium, he enrolled in public high school in the spring of 1938, graduating the following year with a 92 average and medals in both math and chemistry.
Ed had heard about the highly selective Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, which admitted undergraduates solely on merit, and decided to apply. Ranking in the top five percent of applicants on the entrance exam, he not only won one of the coveted spots but also was one of a handful of incoming students given an additional $300 annual stipend – sufficient to cover living expenses back then. Six years after fleeing the Nazis and immigrating to the United States with only one sentence of English, he graduated first in his class in 1943.
Cooper Union launched Ed on a highly successful professional career in both academia and industry. He joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, beginning as an instructor and ending as a tenured professor while earning his Masters and PhD degrees (1953) in electrical engineering. A decade later, he abandoned a tenured position at an Ivy League institution to join the emergent and exciting aerospace industry.Here, he spent the next 30 years making major contributions to defense and NASA programs. As Chief Scientist for Space Programs at Hughes Aircraft, he was the manager of two of the seven Surveyor lunar landers, precursor to the Apollo missions and crucial for establishing the feasibility of soft-landings on the moon. Surveyor 5, one of Ed’s two projects, landed
successfully on the moon on September 11, 1967, where it remains to this day.
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Edward and Lillian Hawthorn in 2007

Ed remained connected to Cooper Union throughout his professional and personal life. Thirty years after graduating, he was awarded the Cooper Union President’s Citation (equivalent to an additional honorary degree) recognizing the achievements of a distinguished alumnus. He was also a prominent member of the Alumni Hall of Fame and the Sarah Amelia Hewitt Society.