John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere.

April 29, 1962

Ladies and gentlemen:

I want to welcome you to the White House. Mr. Lester Pearson informed me that a Canadian newspaperman said yesterday that this is the President's "Easter egghead roll on the White House lawn." I want to deny that!

I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet. Whatever he may have lacked, if he could have had his former colleague, Mr. Franklin, here we all would have been impressed.

In any case, I am delighted to welcome you here. We are delighted to have the Norwegian Ambassador and the Swedish Minister to represent their governments, and we are delighted to have the Nobel prize winners of the Western Hemisphere here at this dinner.

I know that the Nobel prize does not have any geographic or national implications. Mr. Nobel in his will, in fact, made it very clear when he said that he hoped that in the giving of the prize that no attention would be paid to nationality. He declared it to be "my express desire that in awarding the prize, no consideration whatsoever be paid to the nationality of the candidates; that is to say, the most deserving be awarded the prize, whether he or she be Scandinavian or not."

In any case, there is no nationality in the Nobel prize, just as there is no nationality in the acquisition of knowledge. I know that every man here who has won the Nobel prize, not only does he build on the past, which goes back hundreds and thousands of years, on the efforts of other men and women, but he also builds on the efforts of those in other countries; and therefore, quite rightly, the Nobel prize has no national significance.

But I think we can take some satisfaction that this hemisphere has been able to develop an atmosphere which has permitted the happy pursuit of knowledge, and of peace; and that over 40 percent of the Nobel prizes in the last 30 years have gone to men and women in this hemisphere.

And of particular pleasure today is the fact that 13 Nobel prizes for peace have gone to those who live in this hemisphere. I think the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of peace, are very basic drives and pressures in this life of ours--and this dinner is an attempt, in a sense, to recognize those great efforts, to encourage young Americans and young people in this hemisphere to develop the same drive and deep desire for knowledge and peace.

So I want you to know that you are most welcome here. I regard this as the most distinguished and significant dinner that we have had in the White House since I have been here, and I think in many, many years.

And I hope that it will stimulate among all people, in this hemisphere and far beyond, the recognition of the close ties that bind all who labor to provide a better life for their people.

So I hope that you will join me in drinking to the Nobel prize winners of this year and other years--and perhaps more widely, to all those people everywhere whom they serve.

Note: The dinner was held in the State Dining Room and the Blue Room at the White House. Early in his remarks the President referred to Lester B. Pearson, Canada's Liberal Party leader, a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1957. Later he referred to Ambassador Paul Koht of Norway and to Ambassador Gunnar Jarring of Sweden who was represented by his wife.

The White House announced, on April 28, that the roster of Nobel guests included 46 United States citizens; one Canadian, Lester Pearson; one Frenchman, long resident in Washington, Alexis Leger; and one German who was working in the United States, Rudolf Mossbauer. In addition, other prominent men and women from the arts, education, and science had been invited, among them several university presidents.

Before the dinner, the release stated, the President and Mrs. Kennedy would receive in their private quarters the 1961 Nobel winners: Dr. Melvin Calvin of the University of California, who was cited for work in photosynthesis; Dr. Robert Hofstadter of Stanford and Dr. Rudolf Mossbauer, of the California Institute of Technology, cited for work in atomic physics; and Dr. George von Bekesy of Harvard, cited for discoveries on the mechanism of the inner ear.

Following the dinner, it was also announced, Mr. Fredric March, a two-time winner of the acting award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, would read excerpts from the works of Sinclair Lewis (Nobel Prize for Literature, 1930); George C. Marshall (Nobel Prize for Peace, 1953); and Ernest Hemingway (Nobel Prize for Literature, 1954).

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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