Science, Medicine, Exploration, and Invention

Over the years the Manuscript Division has acquired the papers of outstanding scientists, engineers, explorers, and inventors--collections that illustrate epochs of scientific endeavor ranging from Thomas Jefferson's and Benjamin Franklin's path-breaking experiments in colonial America to Wernher Von Braun's contributions to space exploration. These collections offer glimpses of such diverse technological achievements as John Fitch's 1794 steamboat, John Ericsson's Civil War ironclads, Samuel F. B. Morse's telegraph, Alexander Graham Bell's telephone, and Herman Hollerith's computer. Also documented are Margaret Mead's ethnographic studies of South Sea islanders, Sigmund Freud's analyses of human behavior, Gifford Pinchot's efforts to save American forests, Luther Burbank's plant breeding experiments, Frederick A. Cook's polar discoveries, J. Robert Oppenheimer's work on the atom bomb, and Gregory Pincus's development of the birth control pill.

Telegram from Orville Wright announcing the first successful powered flight

Researchers can trace the history of communications in the Morse and Bell collections as well as in the papers of Lee De Forest. Morse's first telegraphic message with its stirring "What Hath God Wrought?" embossed in dots and dashes is among the Library's treasures. Bell's papers bear witness to his wide-ranging activities and multifaceted life; his laboratory notes contain early sketches of the telephone, and other papers reflect his interest in educating the deaf, eugenics, marine engineering, and aviation. Schematics and diagrams are among the papers of De Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube and other electronic devices essential to the development of radio.

The archives of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics contain photographs and other materials spanning the history of aviation from Thaddeus Lowe's Civil War ballooning exploits to modern space rocketry. These archives supplement the personal papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, whose notebooks and diaries cover the brothers' scientific experiments as well as their celebrated flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Orville's entry for 17 December 1903, describing the first successful powered flight, recreates a remarkable moment in aviation history. Other aviation collections include the papers of Octave Chanute, Benjamin Delahauf Foulois, Grover Cleveland Loening, Glenn Luther Martin, the Piccard family, Marjorie Claire Stinson, and numerous army and air force pilots and officers.

Of the Library's strong psychoanalytical collections, the papers of Sigmund Freud, written in his unique gothic script, are by far the most significant. In addition to his correspondence with other practitioners and members of his family, the Library holds manuscripts of many of his monographs and of one of his most famous cases, that of Sergius Pankejeff--"the Wolf-Man." Complementing this file are Pankejeff's own papers as well as those of his analyst, editor, and friend Muriel Gardiner.

Insight into the history of nineteenth-century medical practice may be found in the Joseph M. Toner Papers and in the papers of Elizabeth Blackwell, considered to be the first American woman to earn a medical degree. The papers of Abraham Flexner are also of major importance, since they provided the basis for his controversial report Medical Education in the United States and Canada (1910), which revolutionized the teaching of medicine and forced more than half of the existing schools to close.

Scientific exploration of native and foreign lands and peoples is another recurring topic in the division's collections. Early maps and drawings of the United States abound as do documents relating to official government expeditions to chart areas beyond the original thirteen colonies. Included are Thomas Jefferson's instructions to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the land acquired through the Louisiana Purchase; engineer and army officer Frederick West Lander's surveys of the western United States; ethnologist and geologist Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's studies of the Great Lakes and Northwest; archaeologist and ethnologist Ephraim George Squier's examination of native peoples in New York, Ohio, and the Mississippi Valley; and army officers Philip Henry Sheridan's and George Brinton McClellan's respective expeditions to the American West. Examples of foreign explorations include Robert Wilson Shufeldt's expeditions to Africa; Lewis Varick Frissell's trips to study and film Newfoundland; Adolphus Washington Greeley's and Frederick A. Cook's expeditions to the polar regions; George Kennan's studies of Russia and Siberia; Thomas Oliver Selfridge's surveys of the Isthmus of Darien (Panama); and Charles Wilkes's journeys to the Antarctic, Hawaii, and other Pacific islands. The latter region also figures prominently in the extensive papers of anthropologist Margaret Mead, which include the "Pacific Ethnographic Archives," a mass of field notes, diaries, photographs, and oral transcripts assembled by Mead and her associates during their many trips to study native peoples of the Pacific.

Beginning with the Second World War, an increasingly close relationship has developed between government and the scientific community. A vast amount of federal money has been spent on sponsored research, much of it concentrated on the development of atomic energy, a story well told in the division's collections, most notably in the papers of Vannevar Bush, supervisor of the Manhattan Project; J. Robert Oppenheimer, head of the Los Alamos atomic project; John Von Neumann, longtime consultant to the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and member of the United States Atomic Energy Commission; and I. I. Rabi, a leading molecular physicist and scientific statesman, who served on many government advisory committees at home and abroad.

Commanding public attention today are questions about the fate of the earth. Several manuscript collections concern this subject, including the conservation manifestos and other papers of William Hornaday, longtime director of the New York Zoological Park; the papers of Barry Commoner, the "Paul Revere of environmental activists;" and the papers of Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist and environmentalist E. O. Wilson.

Selected items relating to:

Physics Aviation Medicine
Exploration Invention

Science, Medicine, Exploration, and Invention Items List | Words and Deeds

am Sept-8-97