Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding Aid for the James Bonner Papers 1940-1996
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing History
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Related Material
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: James Bonner Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1940-1996
    Collection number: 10155-MS
    Creator: Bonner, James Frederick 1910-1996
    Extent: 34 linear feet
    Repository: California Institute of Technology. Caltech Archives
    Pasadena, California 91125
    Abstract: The papers of James Frederick Bonner (1910 – 1996), Caltech alumnus (PhD, 1934) and professor of biology, 1938-1981. His papers include a large correspondence section with colleagues and organizations worldwide, as well as writings and talks, papers about his consultancy activities, scientific and technical files and biographical material.
    Physical location: Archives, California Institute of Technology.
    Languages represented in the collection: English


    The collection is open for research. Researchers must apply in writing for access.
    Some files are confidential and will remain closed for an indefinite period. Researchers may request information about closed files from the Caltech Archivist.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright may not have been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Caltech Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and, unless explicitly stated otherwise, is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], James Bonner Papers, 10155-MS, Caltech Archives, California Institute of Technology.

    Acquisition Information

    The papers were donated by the Bonner family.

    Processing History

    Processed by Mariella Soprano, 2011.
    Processing of the James Bonner papers started in 1998 and was completed in 2011.


    James Bonner was born in Ansley, Nebraska, his mother's hometown, on a vacation trip. His father, Walter David Bonner, a chemist, was Professor at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, until James was five years old. He then became head of the Chemistry Department at the University of Utah. His mother, Grace Gaylord, was also a chemist, as was his paternal grandfather. His six siblings all received doctoral degrees.
    In 1939 James married Harriet Rees; a son and a daughter resulted from the marriage. The marriage was dissolved in 1963 and in 1964 James married Ingelore Silderbach. They remained married until Ingelore's death in 1995.
    Bonner did his undergraduate degree at the University of Utah, majoring in chemistry and spending his junior year (1929) at Caltech. He became a graduate student in biology at Caltech in 1931. He studied Drosophila genetics with Theodosius Dobzhansky and Alfred Sturtevant and plant physiology with Herman Dolk, Kenneth Thimann and Fritz Went. Bonner obtained his PhD in Biology in 1934.
    He started as research fellow at Caltech in late 1935 and became full professor in 1946. He was made professor emeritus in 1981. After retirement he and his wife, Ingelore Bonner, founded a genetic company called Phytogen. The company was taken over by the J. G. Boswell Company in 1984.
    During the Second World War, he was enlisted by the Emergency Rubber Project to work on increasing the rubber yeld of the guayule plant. Bonner's combined work on rubber and plant hormones was later applied in developing ways to increase the yield of rubber trees in Malaysia, a project for which he was a consultant for many years. Another area of his research covered how chromosomes functions in the growth and development of plants and animals. Bonner was always concerned with the practical application of biological knowledge to the problems of food supply and overpopulation, and he and Harrison Brown, a geochemist, and John Weir, a psychologist, published a book on this subject titled the 'Next Hundred Years' in 1957. Following the success of this book, Bonner participated in several conferences on this topic, most notably the 'Next 90 Years' conference and the 'Next 80 Years' conference at Caltech, in 1967 and 1977 respectively. He also participated in science policy and funding debates through his involvement with the Calbiochem Foundation and the Keystone Center.
    He was a member of at least twelve national and international societies, among these: the National Academy of Sciences (1950), the German Academy of Sciences (1970), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow), the American Society of Plant Physiologists (President, 1948-49), and the Botanical Society of America (chairman, Physiological section, 1949-50).
    He traveled all over much of the world, including climbing many mountains such as the Himalayas. Many detailed reports of his travels can be found among his papers. Skiing was his passion, and skiing vacations were considered 'sacred' and never sacrificed in favor of work commitments. For many years he was part of the National Ski Patrol system and also active in the Sierra Club.

    Scope and Content

    The James Bonner Papers were donated to the Caltech Archives without restriction. They document virtually all aspect of his life and work. The papers have been divided into seven series: Correspondence (1); Caltech (2); Organizations and companies (3); Writings, talks and lectures (4); Scientific and technical files (5); Rubber and guayule (6); Biographical material (7).
    Series 1: Correspondence, includes communications with both individuals and corporate bodies and is arranged in alphabetical sequence. Users will find additional correspondence throughout the collection and it contains both incoming and outgoing correspondence.
    Series 2: Caltech is subdivided in Subseries 1: Institute Business and which includes Industrial Associates. Subseries 2: Division of Biology is further subdivided into people; committees and general administrative matters, including correspondence; teaching material and lecture notes. All these files include a certain amount of correspondence. Apart for the section on 'People' whose folders are listed alphabetically, all other folders are listed in no particular sequence within their category.
    Series 3: Organizations and companies is subdivided in Subseries 1: Professional Associations and Societies and within this subseries may be found National Academy of Sciences. Subseries 2: Calbiochem (California Foundation for Biochemical Research); Subseries 3: Keystone Center; Subseries 4: Phytogen. All these folders include correspondence. Only the section on Professional Associations and Societies is arranged alphabetically and all other folders have been kept in original file order.
    Series 4: Writings, talks and lectures is subdivided in Subseries 1: Submitted papers to journals, books and unpublished material (Includes correspondence), including the Cell Biology book typescript. Subseries 2: Articles by others reviewed or submitted to journals by Bonner is further subdivided into articles submitted to the Journal of Theoretical Biology and articles submitted to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Subseries 3: Talks, conferences and lectures. All folders in this series have been kept in original file order. Correspondence can be found all through the series.
    Series 5: Scientific and technical files is subdivided in Subseries 1: Laboratory Notebooks and courses notes; Subseries 2: Data and technical files (including correspondence), including a section on Rat Library. Subseries 3: Research proposals (evaluated). All folders in this series all other folders have been kept in original file order. Correspondence can be found all through the series.
    Series 6: Rubber and Guayule is subdivided in Subseries 1: Malaysia - committees, meetings and other papers; Subseries 2: Malaysia - Correspondence; Subseries 3: Malaysia - Publications; Subseries 5: Guayule including a section Correspondence. Folders in some of these sections are listed in chronological order, the rest of the folders have been kept in original file order. Correspondence can be found in all through this series.
    Series 7: Biographical material is subdivided in 5 subseries. It includes a large section on travel, correspondence with members of the family, documents and correspondence about Bonner's milestone birthdays and a small collection of photos and slides. The 5 subseries are: 1. Travel reports and correspondence, with a section Australia and one on China; Subseries 2: Personal interests and activities; Subseries 3: Family correspondence and documents; Subseries 4: Biographical miscellanea; Subseries 5: Photos, slides and other media. Only the section on family correspondence and documents is arranged alphabetically; all other folders have been kept in original file order.
    The collection is organized into the following series:
    • Series 1. Correspondence
    • Series 2. Caltech
    • Series 3. Organizations and Companies
    • Series 4. Writings, talks and lectures
    • Series 5. Scientific and technical files
    • Series 6. Rubber and Guayule
    • Series 7. Biographical material

    Related Material

    George Wells Beadle Papers 1908-1984. Biology Divisional Records, 1926-1984. Papers of Lee A. DuBridge, 1932-1986. Papers of Norman Horowitz, 1940-1992. Thomas Hunt Morgan Papers, 1916-1946. Alfred H. Sturtevant Papers, 1849-1969. James Bonner Oral History. Lyman Bonner Oral History. Oral History Interview with James Bonner, Sterling Emerson, Norman Horowitz and Donald Poulson.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    California Institute of Technology
    Biology--Study and teaching.
    Molecular biology
    Plant biology
    Plant hormones


    Plant biologist