of New York City, Thomas J. Dowd was born, raised and educated in
Manhattan. His father, a concertmaster, and mother, an opera singer,
encouraged his love for music and stressed self-discipline in his
schooling. Graduating with a strong foundation in math and science
from Stuyevant High School in June of 1942, Tom, unlike most of
the boys in his class, was too young for the military draft and
thus able to continue his education.
He went on to attend City College at night and play professionally
in the band at Columbia University (eventually becoming conductor),
where he soon attained a position at the university's physics laboratory.
Working for the Office of Scientific Research Development (OSRD),
the teenager found himself under the guidance of such men as John
R. Dunning, Bill Havens and future Nobel Prize winner James Rainwater.
Upon turning 18 years old, Tom was drafted into the military and
immediately commanded the rank of sergeant. His assignment remained
the same, though, continuing the secretive work in the physics labs
of Columbia University. He operated a cyclotron, changed targets,
performed density tests of different elements, and recorded statistics
as part of the Neutron Beam Spectography division.
As much of this early nucleonic research was done in New York, the
code name for this clandestine work was derived from the Manhattan
Engineer District, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to which
Tom was assigned. It was not until August of 1945, when an atomic
bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, that the rest
of the world first heard about the "Manhattan
With his knowledge of radiation exposure and detection devices,
Tom was sent to monitor a pair of nuclear explosions in the Pacific
before returning home to civilian life in 1946. Unable to get college
credit for the highly 'classified' work at Columbia, the frustrated
young man took a summer job at a classical music recording studio.
As fate would have it, a musician's strike was looming, causing
an onslaught of recording activity that initiated Tom into the recording
In 1949, as he recalls, "The recording
strike came and went and all of a sudden I received a call
from National to do a new artist, Eileen
Barton. We only recorded four sides, in one three-hour
session, and I never saw the girl again. But, the first record
they released was 'If I Knew You Were Coming, I'd Have Baked
A Cake', which went on to be a monstrous hit."
At the forefront of a new generation of recording
engineers, Tom put microphones on each instrument and pushed the
limits of the direct to disc recording technology. With his innovative
approach, and a growing reputation for making 'hit' records, he
quickly made friends of musicians, and began recording such greats
as Dizzy Gillespie,
Joe Turner and
The young man from Manhattan had a new career.