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Guide to the Papers of George Ellery Hale, 1882-1938
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Collections

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: George Ellery Hale papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1882-1938
    Collection number: Consult repository
    Creator: Hale, George Ellery, 1868-1938
    Extent: 80 linear feet
    Repository: California Institute of Technology. Archives.
    Pasadena, California 91125
    Location of Collection: Boxes 1-147 and addenda (3 boxes) (Personal Papers), California Institute of Technology,
    Institute Archives, Pasadena, CA
    Boxes 148-173 (Director's Files), Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
    Abstract: This collection documents George Ellery Hale's role in planning and developing major observatories in the U. S., and in founding the California Institute of Technology and the Huntington Library. The collection also illustrates the role Hale took in organizing the National Research Council, and in promoting international cooperation among scientists. Records relating to Hale's work on the spectrohelioscope are also included.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    The collection is open for research. Researchers must apply in writing for access.

    Publication Rights

    Requests for permission to publish material from the Hale papers located at Caltech should be addressed to: Archivist, California Institute of Technology, Mail Code 015A-74, Pasadena, CA 91125.
    For files listed below in the custody of the Huntington Library (Section XI only), permission requests should be addressed to: Curator, Scientific Manuscripts, Huntington Library, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108.
    Users of the papers are reminded that the literary rights to letters and documents in the collection written by persons other than George Ellery Hale are not necessarily in the public domain. It is the responsibility of a scholar or publisher to obtain publication permission from the individual or organization in possession of the literary rights.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item, box and file number], Papers of George Ellery Hale. Archives, California Institute of Technology.

    Acquisition Information

    George Ellery Hale's personal papers were placed in the custody of the California Institute of Technology by his heirs in 1966. These materials form the collection known as the Papers of George Ellery Hale at the Caltech Archives. The Director's Files from the Mount Wilson Observatory remained in the possession of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. They have since been deposited in the Huntington Library.

    Processing History

    The original organizing of the Hale papers took place in 1966 under the direction of Caltech Professor Daniel J. Kevles. A microfilm edition of 100 rolls and a guide were subsequently made with funds from the National Historical Publications Commission. The original description of the collection was done by Dr. Kevles and published in the Guide to the Microfilm Edition of the George Ellery Hale Papers. In preparing an updated introduction to the papers for an online edition of the legacy finding aid, the main portion of Professor Kevles's original introduction has been retained. An addendum, as well as a few minor editorial changes to the introduction, have been added by Charlotte E. Erwin, Associate Archivist, Caltech, in February 2000.


    George Ellery Hale's papers reflect the wide diversity of his activities and accomplishments. Born in Chicago in 1868, he received his B.S. from M. I. T. in 1890. Active in the development of astrophysics, he quickly established a distinguished scientific reputation for his invention of the spectroheliograph. He made important contributions to the study of solar phenomena, organized and co-edited the Astrophysical Journal, and was the leading figure in the design, funding and construction of the Kenwood, Yerkes, Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories.
    Hale was also exceedingly energetic in the organization and promotion of the enterprise of science, both at home and abroad. In the United States he played a highly influential role in the National Academy of Sciences. He revivified the Academy almost single-handedly by organizing the National Research Council, obtaining substantial endowment for the NAS, and establishing the critically important National Research Council Fellowships. A founder of the International Union of Cooperation in Solar Research, Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Sciences, and a frequent delegate to the International Association of Academies, he became deeply involved in the international relations of science before the First World War. Instrumental in the establishment of the International Research Council after the war, he was president of its successor, the International Council of Scientific Unions from 1931 to 1934.
    Hale settled in Pasadena, California in 1904 to assume the duties of Director of the newly established Mount Wilson Observatory and became deeply involved in the educational and cultural affairs of the area. Among his most important efforts were the creation and development of the California Institute of Technology and the Huntington Library. The Hale collection provides an unusually complete record of his activities.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Papers of George Ellery Hale cover the years from 1882 to 1938, the year of his death, with the inclusion of a few scattered condolence letters from the period directly following. Apart from its importance for the study of Hale's personal and professional life, the collection is one of the richest sources for the history of science in the United States in the early twentieth century. It contains a good deal of significant material relating to the theoretical and instrumental development of astrophysics and the history of the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories. The collection is of singular importance for the study of science and government, particularly with respect to the affairs of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council. It documents much of the early history of the California Institute of Technology. Finally it contains substantial material on the general affairs of the scientific community in the United States and Europe.
    In April 1966, with the Hale family's consent, the personal papers and the Mount Wilson files were organized and catalogued under the direction of Dr. Daniel J. Kevles of the California Institute of Technology. The project was undertaken with the cooperation and encouragement of Dr. Horace Babcock, Director of Mount Wilson, his predecessor, Dr. Ira Bowen, Dr. Charles Weiner of the American Institute of Physics' Center for History of Physics, Dr. Lee DuBridge, President of Caltech, and Mr. Fred Shelley of the National Historical Publications Commission. Most of the financial support for the organization of the papers was provided by the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the California Institute of Technology; the American Institute of Physics' Center for History of Physics provided the remainder of the funds from a grant made to it by the National Science Foundation to facilitate and encourage the preservation of manuscripts in the history of science.
    The heart of the Hale collection consists of the personal and organizational correspondence and the Director's Files of the Mount Wilson Observatory. All three of these groups must be used together. Since Hale's own arrangement of his files was respected in the organization of the collection, the personal correspondence contains scattered files on organizations. Furthermore, all three groups of files contain material related to individuals, organizations, and problems in science. For example, a good deal of information on the Mount Wilson Observatory is in the Robert S. Woodward file, among many others, in the personal section. Similarly, substantial material on William W. Campbell is to be found in the National Academy of Sciences files in the organizational section.
    Cross-checking for material on given subjects must also be done within particular sections. For example, the files on international scientific organizations, which deal mainly with the International Research Council and its associated Unions, must be used together with the records relating to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council.
    The remaining material is a valuable supplement to the rest of the collection. Hale's family letters, particularly the letters to his wife, Evalina, contain many a frank and detailed appraisal of his activities. The documents relating to his scientific work are of two types: notebooks and letters, all of which date between 1926 and 1936, dealing with his work on the spectrohelioscope. There are twelve notebooks. Three appear to be for 1892, 1893, and 1909 respectively; the rest are dated 1905, 1906, 1911, 1916, 1917, 1920-1930, 1924, 1933, and 1934. In addition to strictly scientific work, Hale recorded in these notebooks ideas and plans for institutions with which he was associated, drafts of articles, and, on occasion, his general thoughts.
    In the biographical and personal material are Hale's pocket diaries, an indispensable source for the study of any aspect of Hale's life. These diaries exist for the following years: 1886, 1893, 1894, 1903, 1905, 1910-1912, 1914, 1916-1927, 1929-1935. Three additional diaries are undated. The rest of the biographical and personal section contains material on Hale's childhood and student days at M. I. T.; his autobiographical notes and personal miscellania; requests and thanks for funds, speeches, personal help, etc.; and honors, invitations, clubs, and lists of books bought.
    Organization of Collection
    The original Hale papers in their entirety are organized into ten series: I. Personal correspondence and documents relating to individuals (Boxes 1-46); II. Correspondence and documents relating to organizations (Boxes 47-79), subseries A-D as follows: A. International (Boxes 47-52); B. National Academy of Sciences (Boxes 53-57); C. National Research Council (Boxes 58-63); D. General (Boxes 64-79); III. Family letters (Boxes 80-83); IV. Scientific work (Boxes 84-90); V. Biographical and personal material (Boxes 91-112); VI. Drafts of articles (Boxes 113-127); VII. National Research Council documents (Boxes 128-137); VIII. California Institute of Technology documents (Boxes 138-142); IX. League of Nations Committee on Intellectual Cooperation documents (Boxes 143-147); X. Director's Files of the Mount Wilson Observatory (Boxes 148-173, Huntington Library).
    Alternate Formats of this Collection
    This collection is also available in microfilm.
    All of sections I to III have been filmed, as well as almost all of Section IV. Most of Section IV consists of Hale's scientific notebooks. Notebooks containing unidentifiable data tables, computations, and the like have been omitted from filming; in any case, the majority of these unfilmed notebooks contain mostly blank pages. The pagination in the filmed notebooks is discontinuous, since blank pages were of course not photographed. In Section V two boxes of correspondence concerning Hale's business affairs and eight boxes of bills and receipts have not been filmed; the editor judged almost all of this material to be inconsequential.
    None of the material in Sections VI to IX has been filmed. The articles in Section VI are available in published form without significant change from the drafts. Both Sections VII and VIII were not free for filming. (Section VII contains copies of the minutes of the meetings of the Executive Board and various Divisions of the National Research Council; Section VIII, the minutes of the meetings of the Board of Trustees of the California Institute of Technology.) Section IX contains mimeographed copies of some of the proceedings of the League of Nations Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, which are available elsewhere.
    Section X has been filmed almost in its entirety. The Director of the Mount Wilson Observatory removed a small percentage of the documents considered to be of a confidential nature. These documents principally concern the budgetary history of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the Observatory.
    Most of the documents not filmed are open to the inspection of qualified scholars.
    For a detailed biography of Hale as well as a bibliography of his writings, one may consult Helen Wright, Explorer of the Universe: A Biography of George Ellery Hale (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1966), which is based on a study of the Hale papers.
    The microfilm edition and its original guide are still available for purchase. Please contact the Archives at Caltech: Mail Code 015A-74, Pasadena, CA 91125; tel. (626)395-2704; email archives@caltech.edu.
    Since the original work of organizing and describing the George Ellery Hale Papers was done in the late 1960s, certain organizational changes have affected both the proprietary and depository conditions surrounding the collection. As noted in Daniel Kevles's original introduction, a new administrative building for the Mount Wilson Observatory was planned, and the Hale papers were to be brought together into one unified collection and housed within that structure. This building was never built. Further, the agreement between the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Carnegie Institution of Washington for the joint operation of the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories, established in 1948, was dissolved in 1980. A few years later, the Carnegie Institution turned over its Hale manuscripts, the so-called Director's Files, to the Huntington Library, along with other materials relating to the Mount Wilson Observatory, including a rare book collection. The remainder of the Hale papers—by far the bulk of the manuscript material—remained in the custody of Caltech. According to Mrs. Hale's original stipulation, they were to do so until the completion of the new building which would house the collection—a project which was ultimately never completed.
    Thus the Hale papers are divided between two neighboring institutions, and each administers its portion according to its understanding of Mrs. Hale's original gift.
    Researchers should be aware that a small amount of correspondence has been added to the Hale papers at Caltech since the original microfilming was done. The material is contained in one additional box. Also, the Hale heirs gifted George Ellery Hale's medals to Caltech, where they are now housed in the Archives. Further, numerous photos of Hale, the Mount Wilson Observatory and the Palomar Observatory are available in the Caltech Photo Archives, most of which have been digitized and are viewable at the Archives' web site: http://archives.caltech.edu.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection.


    Abbot, Charles Greeley, 1872-1973
    Hale, George Ellery, 1868-1938--Awards
    Hale, George Ellery, 1868-1938--Family
    Abetti, Giorgio, 1882-1982
    Brashear, John Alfred, 1840-1920
    Carnegie, Andrew, 1835-1919
    Dunn, Gano, 1870-1953
    Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955
    Frost, Edwin Brant, 1866-1935
    Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964
    Jeans, James H., Sir, 1877-1946
    Larmour, Joseph, Sir, 1857-1942
    Millikan, Robert Andrews, 1868-1953
    Noyes, Arthur A. (Arthur Amos), 1866-1936
    Rutherford, Ernest, 1871-1937
    Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924
    Woodward, Robert Simpson, 1849-1924


    California Institute of Technology
    Carnegie Institution of Washington
    Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories
    Mount Wilson Observatory
    National Research Council (U.S.)
    Yerkes Observatory
    Huntington Library
    Kenwood Observatory
    Palomar Observatory


    Astronomical observatories--Planning--United States
    Fund raising
    Scientists--International cooperation

    Related Collections

    Other manuscript collections which contain material relevant to Hale's life are: the records of the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council at the Academy's headquarters in Washington, DC; the John C. Merriam papers at the Library of Congress; the Harry M. Goodwin papers at the Huntington Library; and the Robert A. Millikan papers at the California Institute of Technology.