Dr. J. Allen Hynek - Brief Biography
Summary: A brief biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the father of scientific ufology.
Dr. J. Allen Hynek (1910-1986)
Dr. Hynek was born in Chicago in 1910. He received bachelor and doctorate of science degrees in physics and astronomy from the University of Chicago in 1931 and 1935 respectively. While working on his doctorate he was a fellow of the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.
From 1936 to 1941, Dr. Hynek was an instructor and assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Ohio State University. From 1941 to 1946 he supervised technical reports in applied physics at John Hopkins University. He went back to Ohio State in 1946 to become a full professor in physics and astronomy.
For five years ending in 1960, Dr. Hynek was associate director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Astrophysics Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was head of the optical satellite tracking program. During this period he lectured at Harvard University.
Dr. Hynek became the Chairman of the Astronomy Department and director of the Dearaborn Observatory at the Evanston campus of Northwestern University. His specialty was the chemical composition of he stellar atmosphere. He pressed very hard for Northwestern to procure a modern astronomical telescope in order to spare students extensive travel to do advance research. He retired from teaching in 1973.
His legendary career in the study of UFO phenomena began in 1948 at Ohio State when he was asked by the Air Force to act as astronomical consultant to Project Blue Book - a role he carried out for 20 years. In 1966, after a rash of sightings in Michigan, he went to the area to take charge of the investigation. After interviewing scores of people he ascribed certain sightings to luminous marsh gas rather than something from space. In a wonderful example of irony, the infamous "swamp gas" flap had a major impact on the level of skepticism toward government investigations and prompted many amateurs to become citizen investigators.
In due course Dr. Hynek became disenchanted with the intentions and methodology of the Air Force. When Project Blue Book was closed, he voiced this concern, continued his work privately and eventually founded the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) in 1973. By then Dr. Hynek had executed a 180 degree turn in his views on the subject - one of the most famous such reversals in history.
Dr. Hynek wrote several books and published the International UFO Reporter. It was he who formulated the encounter classification scheme made famous in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
A reporter once suggested to him he might be remembered not as an astronomer but as the man who made UFOs respectable. He replied, "I wouldn’t mind. If I can succeed in making the study of UFOs scientifically respectable and do something constructive in it, then I think that would be a real contribution."
He died of a brain tumor on April 27, 1986.
Were it not for the challenging (to the mainstream community) content of the science of this phenomena, Dr. J. Allen Hynek would already be widely recognized as one of the most important scientists of the twentieth century.
Content assistance from CUFOS
Personal Note: This author heard Dr. Hynek speak at a small gathering in Denver, Colorado just a month or two before he died. He was obviously not well and had difficulty formulating his thoughts. He did not mention his illness and persevered to give a fine presentation of the state of the evidence at that time. He worked up until the last moment because he believed in what he was doing and knew he was right.
I have dedicated this website to him and all the others researchers who refused to be dissuaded from going where others fear to thread. They are collectively the Galileo of our time.