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Finding Aid for the Elmer and Joseph Heller Collection on Richard P. Feynman 1935-1990
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Related Material
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Elmer and Joseph Heller Collection on Richard P. Feynman,
    Date (inclusive): 1935-1990
    Collection number: 10261-MS
    Creator: Heller, Elmer W. and Joseph
    Extent: 0.25 linear feet
    Repository: California Institute of Technology. Caltech Archives
    Pasadena, California 91125
    Abstract: The small collection of 36 items contains 20 letters and postcards of Richard Feynman to his childhood friend Elmer W.Heller, in addition to letters from others to Elmer Heller, including two letters from Arline Greenbaum, Feynman's first wife. Also included are some miscellaneous documents and photos related to Richard Feynman. The collection was assembled and donated by Elmer Heller's brother, Joseph Heller.
    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.

    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], Elmer and Joseph Heller Collection on Richard P. Feynman, 10261-MS, Caltech Archives, California Institute of Technology.

    Acquisition Information

    The collection was donated by Joseph Heller on May 5, 2010. Mr. Heller had been given the collection by the estate of his brother, Elmer Heller, then deceased.


    As related by Joseph Heller, he and his brother were childhood friends of Richard Feynman in Far Rockaway, New York. Mr. Heller's older brother, Elmer, was born in the same year as Feynman but apparently was a year ahead in school. The two were good friends because of their mutual interest in mathematics and science. Both attended Far Rockaway High School, from which they graduated in 1934 and 1935 respectively. Joseph Heller was a few years younger; his birth year is not clearly stated in information conveyed to the Caltech Archives. Elmer W. Heller attended Purdue University where he majored in mechanical engineering, and Feynman attended MIT. The bulk of the letters and postcards exchanged between Elmer Heller and Feynman date from the years 1935 and 1936 when both were in college. According to an interview recorded with Joseph Heller by the Caltech Archives, Elmer Heller worked in Palmer Laboratory at Princeton University on the Manhattan Project along with Feynman during World War II. There are no letters between Heller and Feynman in the collection after 1940. According to the same interview, Elmer Heller resided in Israel for some years after the war but returned to the US to Los Angeles in the early to mid-1950s, when he joined North American Rockwell. Joseph Heller also moved to Los Angeles where he reestablished contact with Richard Feynman in the 1950s when Feynman had been recruited to Caltech. Elmer Heller also reportedly had contact with Feynman in the same period. Further information about early years in Far Rockaway and later contacts, as well as about early friends and relationships--including concerning Feynman's first wife, Arline Greenbaum--is available in Joseph Heller's oral history  of May 5, 2010. Elmer Heller died on June 13, 2009, in Laguna Hills, California. An obituary was published in the Los Angeles Times on June 20, 2009.

    Scope and Content

    Of the 36 items donated by Joseph Heller, 20 are letters and postcards from Richard Feynman to Elmer Heller, Joseph's brother. The bulk date from 1935-1936, and the last letter is 1940. Notable is a letter from Feynman of June 10, 1939, telling Heller he is engaged and asking him to obtain a rowboat for Arline. The remaining materials are miscellaneous letters to Elmer Heller concerning Feynman and some additional related documents.
    Among additional letters, there are two letters from Arline Greenbaum, Feynman's first wife, to Elmer Heller, probably from 1935 (one is dated this year, the other undated). There is also a Christmas card signed by Arline "Richard and Arline Feynman," with a thank-you note for a wedding present; this places the letter at Christmas, 1942.
    Additional correspondents include Far Rockaway friends Robert Stappler and David Leff, as well as Feynman biographer Jagdish Mehra.
    Notable among miscellaneous material is a copy of an essay on Goethe titled "The Limitations of Reason," composed by Feynman probably in 1937 at MIT.
    The collection is organized into the following series:
    • Series 1. Correspondence
    • Series 2. Miscellaneous documents and photographs

    Related Material

    Related material in the Caltech Archives is principally the Papers of Richard P. Feynman. The interview with Joseph Heller  concerning the donation is available in transcript at the Archives' oral histories online web site. The Feynman biographer Jagdish Mehra deposited his papers at the University of Houston, and correspondence with Elmer Heller can be found listed in the finding aid to that collection, along with an interview by Mehra with Heller.

    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
    Far Rockaway (New York, N.Y.)
    Feynman, Richard P. (Richard Phillips), 1918-1988