John Aristotle Phillips

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John Aristotle Phillips (born August 23, 1955) is a U.S. entrepreneur specializing in political campaigns, who became famous for attempting to design a nuclear weapon while a student.

"A-Bomb Kid"[edit]

Phillips was born in August 1955 to Greek immigrant parents and raised in North Haven, Connecticut.[1] In 1976, while attending Princeton University as a junior undergraduate, he designed a nuclear weapon using publicly available books and papers.[2] In February 1977, several months after the story first went public, Phillips was contacted by a Pakistani official trying to purchase his bomb design, an incident addressed on the Senate floor by William Proxmire and Charles Percy.[3] Phillips was a celebrity by this time, dubbed The A-Bomb Kid by the media,[4][5] and making a series of television appearances including a featured spot on the game show To Tell The Truth.[3]

Phillips was an underachieving student who played the tiger mascot at Princeton games. Hoping to stay at the school, he proposed a term paper for a seminar on nuclear proliferation outlining the design for an atomic bomb similar to the Nagasaki weapon. Whether the weapon as designed would have actually exploded was questioned. Dr. Frank Chilton, a California nuclear scientist who at that time specialized in nuclear explosion engineering, said Phillips’s design was "pretty much guaranteed to work."[6] However, Phillips' faculty advisor Freeman Dyson, a renowned physicist, and professor Harold Feiveson, who held the seminar, said Phillips' design was not functional.[7] Nevertheless, the Federal Bureau of Investigation confiscated Phillips's term paper and a mockup he had constructed in his dormitory room. In 1979, Phillips published his story together with a co-author, David Michaelis, as Mushroom: The True Story of the A-Bomb Kid (ISBN 0-671-82731-6 / ISBN 0-688-03351-2).

Political activity[edit]

Phillips parlayed his celebrity into a brief career as an anti-nuclear activist. In 1980 and 1982 he ran for the United States House of Representatives as a Democratic Party candidate in Connecticut's 4th congressional district, losing both times to Republican Stewart McKinney.[7]

Aristotle, Inc.[edit]

The experience he had gained during his campaigns obtaining the voter list from the state and using it for campaign purposes led him and his brother Dean (who had written a program to handle the list on an Apple II) to found Aristotle, Inc. in 1983,[7] a non-partisan technology consulting firm for political campaigns which John Philips has since led as the CEO. It specializes in combining voter lists with personal data from other sources (such as income, gun ownership or church attendance) and data-mining, to assist with micro-targeting of specific voter groups; as of 2007, its database contained detailed information about ca. 175 million U.S. voters and it had about 100 employees.[7] Aristotle has served every occupant of the White House since Ronald Reagan, and consults for several top political action committees.[8]

In 1998 he spoke of the critical importance to a political campaign of targeting its advertising, including on the world wide web.[9] In 2009 he observed that 8.9% of registered voters in the United States are ineligible to vote because they have moved away or died.[10]

As of 2007, Phillips lived in San Francisco with his wife, Patricia and daughter, Katherine Grace.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vollers, Maryanne (August 7, 1980). "The A-Bomb Kid Runs for Congress". Rolling Stone. Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. (323): 42–43.
  2. ^ "Student Designs Nuclear Bomb". Spokane Daily Chronicle: 2. October 9, 1976. Retrieved July 24, 2011.
  3. ^ a b David Michaelis (July 18, 1977). "What's A Nice Kid Like John Phillips Doing With an A-Bomb?". New York Magazine. NYM Corporation. 10 (29): 66.
  4. ^ Charles Peterson (May 8, 1977). "John Aristotle Phillips: The A-Bomb Kid". Youngstown Vindicator. Retrieved July 24, 2011.
  5. ^ Collins, Paul (December 16, 2003). "The A-Bomb Kid". Village Voice.
  6. ^ "Student Plans Complete Nuclear Bomb". Spokane Daily Chronicle. 9 October 1976. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d e James Verini: Big Brother Inc.. Vanity Fair online, December 13, 2007
  8. ^ Aristotle - Now You Know
  9. ^ Lindlaw, Scott (June 17, 1998). "Politicians Slow to Embrace Web". Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 'If you're advertising for Lands' End and you run an ad that doesn't appeal to 50 percent of viewers, all you're doing is wasting money,' said John Aristotle Phillips, president of Aristotle Publishing, which supplies Internet advertising. 'If you run an anti-abortion spot that offends viewers or gets out the vote you don't want, you're not just wasting money, you're losing the election.'
  10. ^ Harper, Jennifer (October 29, 2009). "Inside the Beltway - THEY'RE ALL GONERS". Washington Times. p. A9. Uh-oh. Zombie voters walk. The nonpartisan research group Aristotle International compared federal, state and local lists of deceased or relocated voters to reveal Wednesday that 16,331,707 (or 8.9 percent ) of all registered voters are 'deadwood' - a 3 percent increase compared to last year. In all, nearly 10 percent of voters listed on registration rolls are ineligible to vote. "Deadwood on voter rolls complicates the electoral process and can cause problems like fraud and vote miscounts. It always creates a perception of low voter turnout," company CEO John Aristotle Phillips tells Beltway "It gets down to this: by depressing turnout, dead voters make the rest of us look bad." They also deplete campaign funds.

Further reading[edit]

  • John Aristotle Phillips and David Michaelis (1978), Mushroom: The Story of the A-Bomb Kid, New York: Morrow, ISBN 0688033512 .

External links[edit]