The Nick Names of the Early Survey Meters 

Paul Frame, Oak Ridge Associated Universities

During WW II, a variety of code names were given to the Manhattan Project’s radiation detection instruments, presumably as a security measure.  In an unpublished manuscript, K.Z. Morgan (ca. 1951) stated “Perhaps at this point one should apologize for the names that are used for these meters.  They were chosen to be as silly as possible, supposedly to confuse “unauthorized personnel” during the war.” Herb Parker, another member of the original group of health physicists at the Metallurgical Laboratory, held the same opinion. He explained "somehow we fell into the habit of getting light relief" with these "foolishly named" instruments (BRH Vignettes of Early Radiation Workers). Another Metallurgical Laboratory worker, Norman Hilberry, commented that the meters were given "cockeyed crazy names." Nevertheless, the instrumentation had to be called something, and similar nick-names continued to be given to such equipment long after the need for secrecy had passed.

The following list identifies some of the better known code names given to early instrumentation:

“Betty Snoop,” an ion chamber named after the cartoon character Betty Boop (1943-19450.

“Chang and Eng,” a dual chamber neutron detector named by Herb Parker after the famous Siamese twins (1943-1945).

“Cutie Pie,” an ion chamber given the slang term for something really neat (1943-1944) - it was "named Cutie Pie due to its diminutive size."

“Doc,” a Victoreen GM detector named after one of the dwarves in the Disney Movie “Snow White.” (ca. 1940).

“Fish Pole,” a high end ion chamber at the end of a long pole. The meter might be attached to the pole or separate from it. The meter however is not a “cutie Pie style instrument with a pistol grip.

“Juno,” an ion chamber named after the queen of the gods in Roman mythology, i.e., the wife of Jupiter, (late 1940s).   Developed at Hanford under the direction of Carl Gamertsfelder.

“Long Tom,” a modification of the Cutie Pie with the ion chamber connected to the meter at the end of a 40” extension.

“Paint Pail,” an ion chamber housed inside an actual paint pail (1943-1945).

“Pee Wee,”   an air proportional counter for alpha contamination. (ca. 1950)

“Pluto,” an alpha detector named after Mickey Mouse’s dog (1943–1945).

“Poppy,” a proportional counter named for its characteristic audio output.  

"Radium hen" also known as the "clucking hen"  a GM detector with audio output developed by Thomas Chalmers at the National Physical Laboratory in England during the 1930s. The name derived from the audio output which sounded like clucking. Quoting an August 24, 1935 article in the Reno Evening Gazette: "The hen family can well be proud of the "bird." It is sexless and yet clucks excitedly like any barnyard Leghorn. It needs no food, except electricity, looks like an ordinary watering can, and has led perplexed scientists to the location of many radium eggs."  The Radium Hen would get my vote as the first true survey meter.

“Rascal,” an Eberline instrument  that combined the functions of a ratemeter and a scaler. (ca. 1980)

“Rudolph,” neutron detector with red nose on the end of the probe (early 1950s).

“Samson,” an ion chamber named after the Biblical hero. Possibly an acronym for “son of standard alpha monitor” (early 1950s).

Sandy,” another name for the “Pluto,” named after Little Orphan Annie’s dog (1943-1945).

“Sneezy,” an air sampler named after one of the dwarves in “Snow White” (1943-1945).

“Snoops,” another name for the “Pluto.” (1943-1945).

“Snoopy,” a neutron detector named after Charlie Brown’s dog (1960s vintage).

“Sweepy” a floor monitor

"Tattler," a personal monitor (chirper) made by Victoreen (ca. 1950s/60s)

“Walkie Squawkie” a light weight GM survey meter with speaker for audio output (ca. 1945)

“Walkie Talkie” a light weight GM survey meter using headphones (ca. 1945).

“Zeus,” an ion chamber named after the chief god in Greek mythology (1943-1945). Developed by Frank Shonka at the University of Chicago during WWII.

“Zeuto,” also spelled “Zuto,” a combination of “Zeus” and “Pluto” (1943-1945).

During WW II, the use of “Pluto,” Mickey Mouse’s dog, as the name for an alpha detector caused something of a stir -  it was too reminiscent of “plutonium.” As a result, the powers that be (or were) changed the name to “Snoops ” but the latter never really caught. Another name, “ Sandy ” (little orphan Annie’s dog), had a little more success as a substitute for “Pluto.”  Down but not out, “Snoops” managed several comebacks: in the name for a high-end ion chamber, the “Betty Snoop” (named after the cartoon character, Betty Boop); in the “Snooper,” an inexpensive GM survey meter produced by Precision Radiation Instruments in the 1950s, and; in “Snoopy” a well known neutron rem meter developed in the 1960s.

Sadly, the use of nick names for survey meters has declined in recent years, but one of my favorites, the “Rascal,” is of fairly recent vintage (ca. 1980).  The name is a descriptive one. It, just like the instrument, is a combination of “ratemeter” and “scaler”


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Last updated: 05/10/11
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