Richard S. Westfall, known as Sam to his friends, was born in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1924 and graduated from Fort Collins High School in 1942. He entered Yale University that same year. His studies at Yale were interrupted during 1944-46 for service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In 1946 Sam returned to Yale where he completed his B.A. in 1948, his M.A. in 1949, and his PhD. in history in 1955. After teaching at the California Institute of Technology (Instructor in History, 1952-53), the University of Iowa (Instructor and Assistant Professor of History, 1953-57), and Grinnell College (Assistant and Associate Professor of History, 1957-63), Sam Westfall joined the faculty of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University in 1963 as a Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, to which he added the title of Professor of History in 1966. In 1976, Sam was elevated to the rank of Distinguished Professor of History and Philosophy of Science. He retired as an emeritus professor in 1989.
Early in his career at Indiana, Sam Westfall reached the heights of his profession and established himself as one of the premiere historians of science in the world. Sam focused on the Seventeenth Century, with special emphasis on Sir Isaac Newton In his extraordinary career, he published nine books and over one hundred articles. Among those books, two are especially noteworthy. In 1971, Force in Newton's Physics: The Science of Dynamics in the Seventeenth Century appeared, which won the Pfizer Award of the History of Science Society in 1972. This award is given annually for the best book in the history of science. Sam's most significant contribution, however, was Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton, which appeared in 1980. This 900-page magnum opus is universally regarded as the definitive biography of Sir Isaac Newton. A work to which Sam Westfall devoted twenty years of his life, Never at Rest, is thoroughly researched, brilliantly written, magisterial in its sweep and scope, and rich in irony and wit. It also won the Pfizer Award in 1983, making Sam Westfall the only historian of science ever to win the Pfizer Award twice. The Royal Society of Literature set its seal of approval on Sam's biography when it elected him a Fellow in 1982, making Sam a member of a minuscule group of historians honored for their literary achievements. As testimony to his standing as a Newton expert, he was one of three scholars who were interviewed and shown in the one hour TV biography of Isaac Newton produced in 1996 by the Arts & Entertainment channel.
To aid in his research, Sam received numerous research grants, including repeated awards from the National Science Foundation He also received Fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. In 1985, he was invited to spend a month at the Bellagio Center (supported by the Rockefeller Foundation) on Lake Como in Italy.
Sam Westfall was an outstanding teacher as well as a great scholar. During his tenure at Indiana University, he was a visiting professor at numerous institutions including the University of Melbourne (1980), Mount Holyoke College, where he was the Henry R. Luce Visiting Professor of Cosmology (1981); Dartmouth College, where he was the Vernon Professor of Biography; and Harvard University, where he was Visiting Professor of the History of Science (1990-91). Students in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and in the Department of History who had the privilege of taking Sam's courses were unanimous in their praise for the organization of those courses and for Sam's magnificent delivery.
During his illustrious career, numerous honors were heaped upon Sam Westfall. In 1981 he was awarded the George Sarton Medal of the History of Science Society for outstanding scholarship over an entire career. Recognizing that Sam Westfall was not only a splendid historian, but a fine literary stylist, the Royal Society of Literature (as we saw) elected him a Fellow in 1982. During the same year, Sam was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also elected a membre effectif'mibe Academie Internationale d'Historie des Sciences in Paris. Among special distinguished lectureships which Sam held are: Kalb Lecturer, Rice University (1982); Sigma Xi Lecturer (1985, 1987); Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Distinguished Lecturer, University of Texas (1985); Herbert Spencer Lecturer at Oxford (1989); Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar (1989-90); Magee and Albertson Professor, University of Puget Sound (1994); and Mossman Lecturer, McGill University(1994). Sam was also honored with the Leo Gershoy Award of the American Historical Association (1981) and the Wilbur L. Cross Medal of the Yale Graduate School (1988).