Herman Seaborg

Herman Seaborg

Herman Theodore Seaborg, the son of Swedish immigrants, worked as a mechanic in Ishpeming, Michigan. He married Selma Erickson, who had been born in Grangesburg, in the Dalarna region of Sweden.

In 1912 their son, Glenn Seaborg was born. He worked his way through college as a stevedore, fruit-packer and laboratory assistant. Seaborg became professor at the University of California in 1945 and six years later was awarded the Nobel prize for his discovery of plutonium and his research into transuranic elements.

Primary Sources

(1) Glenn Seaborg wrote about his father in his autobiography, Life of Glen Seaborg (1982).

My father, Herman Theodore Seaborg, was also born in Ishpeming. His parents came to Ishpeming in their youth and met and were married there. His mother, Charlotta Wilhelmina Farrell (whose family name was changed from Johnson or Anderson) came to Ishpeming in 1869 at the age of nineteen from Örebro with her parents and brothers and sisters. His father, Johan Erik Sjöberg (whose name was anglicized to Seaborg) came to Ishpeming from Hällefors in 1867 at the age of 23. Johan, like his father, who was the Master Mechanic at the Hällefors iron works, and like his son (my father), was a machinist. As I recall my father telling me, he came over as a steerage passenger in a cargo ship. Johan Erik had as a friend at the Hällefors Iron Works the grandfather of the Swedish Nobel Prize winner The Svedberg, so I suspect that the name The and my middle name Theodore have a common origin.

Ishpeming had typical sections that were nearly all Swedish and it was in one of these that we lived. Since my father was fluent in Swedish and this was my mother's native tongue, the Swedish language was spoken in my home as it was throughout this community. I learned to speak and understand Swedish before I did English, but I am afraid that in the intervening years my facility with the language has declined.

I attended the Ishpeming public schools until I was ten years old and starting the fifth grade. Then my family, which included my younger sister Jeanette, moved to Home Gardens, now a part of South Gate, California (near Los Angeles). This move was made largely at the urging of my mother, who wanted to extend the horizon for her children beyond the limit of opportunities available in Ishpeming. However, unlike in Ishpeming, where he would have had guaranteed employment for life, my father never found a permanent employment in his trade in California, and our family found itself in continuing poor circumstances.