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Knudsen (Vern Oliver) papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Restrictions on Access
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance/Source of Acquisition
  • Processing Note
  • UCLA Catalog Record ID
  • Biography
  • Biographical Narrative
  • Scope and Content
  • Expanded Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Related Material

  • Contributing Institution: UCLA Library Special Collections
    Title: Vern Oliver Knudsen papers
    Creator: Knudsen, Vern Oliver, 1893-1974
    Identifier/Call Number: LSC.1153
    Physical Description: 28.25 Linear Feet (57 document boxes, and 8 map folders)
    Date (inclusive): circa 1922-1980
    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, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
    Language of Material: English .

    Restrictions on Access

    Portions of this collection are restricted. Consult finding aid for additional information.
    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Advance notice required for access.

    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.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Vern Oliver Knudsen papers (Collection 1153). Department of 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.

    Processing Note

    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 Arcadia funds.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 1973009 


    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.

    Biographical Narrative

    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 world.
    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 Rudnick. 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 accomplished.
    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

    This collection of Vern Knudsen papers, ca. 1922-1980, 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 published books and two unpublished books 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 comprises material that was a gift of Morris Knudsen, a son of Vern Knudsen, in 1975, and material that was a gift of James Knudsen, a grandson of Vern Knudsen, in 2004 and 2005. 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.

    Related Material

    Teacher, researcher, and administrator [oral history transcript] / Vern O. Knudsen, interviewee. UCLA Oral History Department interview, 1966-1969. Available at Department of Special Collections, UCLA.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Architectural acoustics.
    Physicists -- United States -- Archives.
    Adams, John Mead
    Delsasso, Leo Peter
    Kinsey, Edgar Lee
    University of California, Los Angeles -- History
    Knudsen, Vern Oliver, 1893-1974--Archives.
    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. Department of Physics--Faculty