Scope and Content
Organization and Arrangement
Title: Vern Oliver Knudsen papers,
Date (inclusive): 1922-1974
Collection number: 1153
Knudsen, Vern Oliver, 1893-1974
57 document boxes (28.25 linear feet)
8 map folders
University of California, Los Angeles. Library.
Department of Special Collections.
Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
Abstract: Vern Oliver Knudsen (1893-1974) was a professor in the Department of Physics at UCLA before serving as the first dean of the
Graduate Division (1934-58), Vice Chancellor (1956), Chancellor (1959). He also researched architectural acoustics and hearing
impairments, developed the audiometer with Isaac H. Jones, founded the Acoustical Society of America (1928), organized and
served as the first director of what is now the Naval Undersea Research and Development Center in San Diego, and worked as
a acoustical consultant for various projects including the Hollywood Bowl, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Schoenberg Hall,
the United Nations General Assembly building, and a variety of radio and motion picture studios. The collection consists of
manuscripts, correspondence, galley proofs, and other material related to Knudsen's professional activities. The collection
also includes the papers of Leo Peter Delsasso, John Mead Adams, and Edgar Lee Kinsey.
Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library Special
Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
Restrictions on Access
Portions of this collection are restricted. Consult finding aid for additional information.
COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library Special
Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
Property rights to the physical object belong to the UCLA Library,
Department of Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright,
are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of
the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the
copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC
Regents do not hold the copyright.
Processed by Frank Glover, 1979. Additions to collection (boxes 45-65) made by Julia Morton, with assistance from Kelley
Wolfe Bachli, in the Center for Primary Research and Training (CFPRT), 2010.
The processing of this collection was generously supported by
[Identification of item], Vern Oliver Knudsen papers (Collection 1153). Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research
Library, University of California, Los Angeles.
Provenance/Source of Acquisition
- Gift of Morris Knudsen, 1975 and 1979.
- Gift of James Knudsen, 2004 and 2005.
Vern Oliver Knudsen was born in Provo, Utah, on December 27, 1893; BA, Physics, Brigham Young University, 1915; worked at
Western Electric, later known as the Bell Telephone Laboratories, 1918; PhD, Physics, University of Chicago, 1922; professor,
Department of Physics, UCLA; served as first dean of the Graduate Division, UCLA, 1934-58; became Vice Chancellor at UCLA,
1956; Chancellor, UCLA, 1959; researched architectural acoustics and hearing impairments; developed audiometer with Isaac
H. Jones; founded Acoustical Society of America, 1928, and served as president, 1933-35; organized and served as first director
of what is now the Naval Undersea Research and Development Center in San Diego, California; acoustical consultant for various
projects, including the Hollywood Bowl, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Schoenberg Hall, the United Nations General Assembly
building, and a variety of radio and motion picture studios; published two books,
Architectural acoustics and
Acoustical design in architecture; died, May 13, 1974.
Vern Oliver Knudsen was born December 27, 1893 at Provo, Utah, the youngest child of Scandinavian immigrant parents.
At Brigham Young University (1911-1915), he was influenced by Professor Harvey Fletcher to study physics. After graduating
with a B.A. in physics, he fulfilled a missionary obligation for the Mormon Church. During World War I, he studied parasitic
earth currents in relation to transatlantic telegraph communications and in 1918, he joined Harvey Fletcher at Western Electric,
which later became known as the Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he worked on the development of amplifiers and oscillators,
increasing his knowledge of the emerging technology of vacuum tubes which
Fletcher and his colleagues were using in studies in hearing.
Knudsen began graduate studies at the University of Chicago as a student of A.A. Michelson in 1915. Knudsen's doctoral research
applied the vacuum tube techniques to a study of the sensibility of the ear to small differences of intensity and frequency.
Robert A. Millikan, Chairman of the Physics Department at Chicago, introduced him to Dr. George E. Schambaugh, a foremost
otologist. Knudsen and Schambaugh together investigated the sensitivity of pathological ears to small differences in loudness
and pitch, and ten cases of diplacusis, the condition in which the same tone is heard at a different pitch in each ear. This
led to later investigations of normal and impaired hearing with Drs. Isaac H. Jones and Norman A. Watson.
Receiving the Ph.D. in Physics magna cum laude in 1922, Knudsen turned down offers from the University of Chicago and the
Bell Telephone Laboratories, to accept the position of Instructor at UCLA, or rather the University of California Southern
Branch, as the campus near central Los Angeles was then known. Here began Knudsen's close professional and personal lifelong
relationship with Leo P. Delsasso, at that time a sophomore student who served as assistant to the department chairman. Knudsen
confronted the lack of research space and equipment, and conducted studies of architectural acoustics and of hearing impairments.
He and Dr. Jones developed the audiometer to assist in their research. Acoustics became a major emphasis of the UCLA Physics
Department, and a reverberation chamber was to be one of the department's major facilities when the university moved to the
Westwood campus in 1929. The work done here resulted in major experimental and theoretical research programs throughout the
Knudsen was consulted on the acoustics of hundreds of structures, eventually to include major radio and motion picture studios,
the Hollywood Bowl, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and Schoenberg Hall, as an indication of his local contribution, but also
on a wider scope, to include the United Nations General Assembly Building in New York. His two textbooks on architectural
acoustics have become standard references on the subject.
In 1928 Knudsen joined with Professor F.R. Watson (father of Norman A. Watson), Wallace W. Waterfall (a former student of
Professor Watson) and Dr. Harvey Fletcher (of the Bell Telephone Laboratories) in founding the Acoustical Society of America.
Knudsen served as president of the Society (1933-1935) and was honored by it in many ways.
When UCLA began offering advanced degrees, Knudsen was a prime mover and first Dean (1934-1958) of the Graduate Division.
The offering of graduate degrees by public universities was an innovative idea at that time. Students who did doctoral research
under Knudsen included Norman Watson, Edwin Fricke, Richard Bolt, Robert Leonard, Richard Frick, and Isadore Rud-nick. Other
students who came under Knudsen's influence were W.A. Munson, Robert Watson, Cyril Harris, John Munier, Ludwig Sepmeyer, Waldo
Lyon, Walter Rosenblith, Harper North, Paul Veneklasen, and Dah You Maa.
During World War II, Knudsen, on leave of absence from academic and research duties, helped to organize and served as first
director, of what is now the Naval Undersea Research and Development Center at San Diego. With the aid of Leo Delsasso and
excellent scientists and staff recruited in a minimum of time, much early research on the propagation of sonar signals was
Knudsen became Vice Chancellor of UCLA in 1956 and Chancellor in 1959, a position which he held one year before reaching the
mandatory age of retirement. “Retirement” for Knudsen meant a renewal of his research and consulting activities, finally reversing
the increasing administrative demands which he had regretted since first becoming dean. Also renewed were his concerns with
many causes such as environmental quality and, above all, his campaign against noise pollution.
In addition to the Acoustical Society, Knudsen participated in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the
American Physical Society, the Los Angeles Building and Safety Commission, the California Institute for Cancer Research, the
Board of Directors of the Hollywood Bowl Association, and the Hope for Hearing Foundation. He received great satisfaction
in seeing the new physics building at UCLA named in his honor. Dr. Knudsen died May 13, 1974, at the age of eighty. He was
survived by his widow, three children, and two grandchildren.
Scope and Content
Collection consists of manuscripts, correspondence, galley proofs, and other material related to the professional activities
of Vern Oliver Knudsen, physicist, acoustical consultant, and administrator at UCLA. The collection also includes the papers
of Leo Peter Delsasso, John Mead Adams, and Edgar Lee Kinsey.
Expanded Scope and Content Note
This collection of Vern Knudsen papers, ca. 1922-1974, contains correspondence, manuscripts, galley proofs, and other material
relating to the activities of Dr. Knudsen during his 52 years' association with UCLA.
The arrangement is roughly chronological, but reflects the file-keeping practices of Dr. Knudsen and his staff over several
distinct periods; for example earlier material of subsequent interest had in many cases been pulled from original files, rearranged,
and interfiled with later material, whereas other earlier material was stored as originally arranged. Material from a given
time span or on a particular subject may therefore often be discovered scattered through-out the collection. Obvious instances
of this are cross-referenced in the register.
A chronological file of Dr. Knudsen's speeches, an alphabetical file of committees and organizations, and material relating
to two books and a journal article by Dr. Knudsen comprise separate and distinct parts of this collection, as do files maintained
separately by Leo Delsasso and a small amount of material originally belonging to John Mead Adams and E. Lee Kinsey. These
other three men were also physics professors at UCLA. Dr. Knudsen's personal, scientific, and administrative careers were
so frequently indistinguishable from one another that it would have served no purpose to separate his papers into those categories
or to separate the material accumulated by his colleagues. In particular, the inclusion in this collection of extensive files
of Leo Delsasso reflects the close and lifelong collaboration of these two men. Approximately one box of early Physics Department
records, however, mostly deriving from the period when Dr. Knudsen was Chairman of the Department (1932-1938), has been removed
intact from this collection and transferred to the University Archives. The records relate to budgets, equipment and students,
1925-1941 (RG 39).
This collection was a gift of Morris Knudsen, a son of Vern Knudsen, in 1975. Additional papers relating to Dr. Knudsen's
research and acoustical consulting, especially those generated prior to or independent from his career at UCLA, have been
presented to Brigham Young University by Dr. Knudsen's family.
There is a three-volume transcript of an interview of Dr. Knudsen by Mr. James V. Mink which is also available in the Department
of Special Collections, UCLA. (Call number: 300/101). Another copy of this transcript is available in the UCLA Physics Library.
Organization and Arrangement
Arranged in the following series:
- Correspondence and papers, 1920s-1974.
- Acoustical consulting correspondence and papers, 1928-1976.
- British mission notes, 1942.
- National Defense Research Committee and Ear Defenders, 1938-1942, 1956.
- National Research Council: Committee on Undersea Warfare, 1944-1952.
- Graduate Division, University of California, ca. 1929-ca. 1963.
- Dedication of Knudsen and Kinsey Halls, 1963-1964.
- Chancellorship (Congratulatory and get-well correspondence), 1959-1960.
- Architectural Acoustics (Book), ca. 1929-ca. 1932.
- Acoustical Designing in Architecture (Book), ca. 1948-ca. 1957.
- Noise (Unpublished Book), 1949-1955.
- Acoustics For Better Living (Unpublished Book), ca. 1970-ca. 1971.
- Speeches, Public Letters, Lecture Notes, 1920s-1973.
- Committees and associations, 1925-1980.
- Leo P. Delsasso papers, 1959-1963.
- John Mead Adams notebooks 1901-1926.
- Publications by Vern O. Knudsen (Manuscripts and Reprints of Papers), ca. 1922-ca. 1973.
- Biographical Materials and Awards, 1928-1974.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the repository's online public access catalog.
Knudsen, Vern Oliver, 1893-1974--Archives.
Adams, John Mead, b. 1882.
Delsasso, Leo Peter.
Kinsey, Edgar Lee, 1903- .
University of California, Los Angeles. Dept. of Physics--Faculty.
National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Undersea Warfare.
United States. Office of Scientific Research and Development. National Defense Research Committee.
University of California, Los Angeles--History.
Physicists--United States--Archival resources.
Teacher, researcher, and administrator [oral history transcript] / Vern O. Knudsen, interviewee. UCLA Oral History Department interview, 1966-1969. Available at
Library Special Collections, UCLA.