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BONER, CHARLES PAUL

BONER, CHARLES PAUL (1900–1979). Charles Paul Boner, physicist, university administrator, and organist, was born in Nocona, Texas, on February 8, 1900, to Charles Wilbur Boner and Sallie Lee (Westmoreland) Boner. He attended schools in Montague and Bellevue, Texas, and graduated from Bellevue High School in 1916. In 1918 his undergraduate education at the University of Texas at Austin was interrupted by service in the U. S. Army. Afterwards, he received a B.A. in physics in 1920 and an M.A. in physics in 1922. He was a Whiting Fellow at Harvard University in 1927–28 and then earned his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Texas in 1929. He spent a year in commercial radio in 1923, during which he developed an interest in sound and electroacoustics. At the University of Texas during the 1920s, Boner worked under Professor S. Leroy Brown of the Physics Department and helped construct and operate the first studios for university radio station KUT. He also built the first large-scale public address system for the university’s Memorial Stadium.

From 1920 to 1936 Dr. Boner held appointments as an instructor, assistant professor, and associate professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Texas and was appointed professor of physics in 1936. During this time Boner initiated the first electronics courses at the university and started a research program in acoustics that was advanced for its time. His studies on the pipe organ were especially noteworthy. The work involved not only research into the physics of organ pipes but also the construction of a large organ which was located in the physics building (now Painter Hall). Austin radio station KNOW used this four-manual organ daily during its University Hour program. Boner himself played the instrument on the Southwest Network’s weekly Organ Reveries program.

More importantly at the university, Boner developed a program in architectural acoustics and became internationally known for his ability to design sound studios, auditoria, and other public buildings and for his ability to diagnose and correct poor acoustic properties in buildings.

During the 1930s Boner conducted extensive research on various phases of acoustics and helped pioneer broadcast studio and music room design by employing sound diffusing structures. His design of WFAA-KGKO Studios atop the Santa Fe Building in Fort Worth, for example, was the first such constructed in the United States. Also in the early 1930s Boner reconditioned, rebuilt, and undoubtedly improved the mobile recording device used by John Lomax and Alan Lomax in their historic field recordings made for the Library of Congress. Their odyssey resulted in the first recordings of Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter).

In the early 1940s Boner served as acoustical consultant for the new University of Texas music building, which incorporated a then-radical design using such techniques as acoustical diffusion, angled walls, and spring-isolated floors, walls, and ceilings. He took a leave of absence from the University of Texas in 1942 to serve as associate director of Harvard University’s Underwater Sound Labs, where he played a significant role in the development of sonar and the acoustic torpedo. In 1945 he returned to the University of Texas to head the newly-formed Defense Research Laboratory. He served as director from 1945 to 1965.

Boner established the Office of Government Sponsored Research (OGSR) at the University of Texas in 1949. That same year he was appointed dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and served in that capacity until 1954. In 1953 Boner was also appointed to the specially-created dean of the university, a position corresponding to the current vice president for academic affairs. During 1956–57 he served as vice president of the University of Texas System but stepped down to continue research.

In 1935 Boner launched an independent acoustical consulting firm in Austin that was still in practice in the early 2000s as Boner Associates, Inc. (BAI). Over many years, he and his sons served as consultants on numerous public and private facilities of every type worldwide. He was a pioneer in the academic study of feedback, and his research in sound system technology culminated in a method for equalization and the control of feedback and response anomalies caused by acoustic coupling between rooms and their sound systems. He authored the first definitive paper on the subject in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society in 1965 and was issued a series of patents beginning in 1966. All sound system equalization in practice today traces back to this development. In all, Boner supervised the acoustic design or improvement of more than 800 buildings, including churches, schools, gymnasia, theaters, auditoria, radio stations, restaurants, libraries, and the Astrodome.

Boner was elected a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America in 1941 and served as president of the society in 1963–64. He regularly taught courses in architectural acoustics in the School of Architecture until his retirement in 1970.

Boner was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the American Association of Physics Teachers, Sigma Xi (Life Member), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Association of University Professors, and the Philosophical Society of Texas. He was an honorary member of Sigma Pi Sigma and a charter member of the Institute of Noise Control Engineering. He was also a fellow in the Acoustical Society of America, Audio Engineering Society, and the Texas Academy of Science. Since 1983 the National Council of Acoustical Consultants has honored Boner by awarding the Boner Medal to outstanding acoustical consultants in the country. In 1993 the C. Paul Boner Graduate Fellowship in Physics was established at the University of Texas at Austin.

Paul Boner was married to Marian Oldfather on September 9, 1930. They had three sons. They were members of All Saints Episcopal Church in Austin. He died on April 12, 1979, in Austin.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

The Audio Annals 1877–2005: C. Paul Boner, Ph.D. (http://www.audioannals.com/bonercp.htm), accessed April 30, 2011. Charles Paul Boner Papers, 1918–1979, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. “In Memoriam: Charles Paul Boner,” Memorial Resolutions and Biographical Sketches, University of Texas at Austin Faculty Council (http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/2000-2001/memorials/SCANNED/boner.pdf), accessed December 13, 2010. Nolan Porterfield, The Last Cavalier: The Life and Times of John A. Lomax (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996).

John H. Slate

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Handbook of Texas Online, John H. Slate, "Boner, Charles Paul," accessed December 14, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbo78.

Uploaded on June 3, 2014. Modified on August 30, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.