Guide to the Papers of John A. Anderson, 1914-1951

Processed by Charlotte Erwin, California Institute of Technology Archives staff.
California Institute of Technology
1200 East California Blvd.
Mail Code 015A-74
Pasadena, CA 91125
Phone: (626) 395-2704
Fax: (626) 793-8756
Email: archives@caltech edu
© 2003
California Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.

Guide to the Papers of John A. Anderson, 1914-1951

Collection number: Consult repository


California Institute of Technology

Pasadena, California

Contact Information

  • Archives
  • California Institute of Technology
  • 1200 East California Blvd.
  • Mail Code 015A-74
  • Pasadena, CA 91125
  • Phone: (626) 395-2704
  • Fax: (626) 793-8756
  • Email: archives@caltech edu
  • URL:
Processed by:
Caltech Archives staff
Date Completed:
Revised 2000; 2003
Encoded by:
Machine-readable finding aid created by Kevin C. Knox. Derived from XML/EAD encoded file by the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics as part of a collaborative project (1999) supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities
© 2003 California Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.

Descriptive Summary

Title: John A. Anderson papers,
Date (inclusive): 1914-1951
Collection number: Consult repository
Creator: Anderson, John Augustus, 1876-1959
Extent: 3.5 linear feet
Repository: California Institute of Technology. Archives.
Pasadena, California 91125
Abstract: These papers document the career of astronomer John A. Anderson. The bulk of the documentation is in the form of correspondence, calculations, drawings, and photos. They relate chiefly to Palomar Observatory and Anderson's work on the instrument and optical design of the telescope.
Language: English.

Administrative Information


Collection is open for research.

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 Head of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and 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, box and file number], John A. Anderson Papers. Archives, California Institute of Technology.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Astronomy Department, California Institute of Technology.


John August Anderson was born on August 7, 1876, in Rollag, Minnesota, the sixth son of Norwegian immigrants. He earned a bachelor's degree from Valparaiso College in Indiana in 1900. After a brief period of teaching, he began graduate study at Johns Hopkins University and received his PhD in 1907. His thesis was a study of the emission and absorption spectra of the oxides of the metals neodymium and erbium.
Anderson was appointed professor of astronomy at Hopkins in 1908. At that time he was requested to take charge of the ruling engine constructed by Henry Rowland, the great American pioneer in spectroscopy. Anderson refined Rowland's machine to produce gratings of even finer resolving power. In 1912, Anderson was called upon by George Ellery Hale to assist in the construction of a new ruling engine for the Mount Wilson solar observatory in Pasadena, California. In 1916 Anderson relocated to California to become a permanent member of the Mount Wilson staff within the physical laboratory set up there by Hale. During his years with Mount Wilson, Anderson conducted major experimental work in solar observation and spectroscopy and became an expert in optics. With Harry O. Wood of the Carnegie Institution's Seismological Laboratory, he development a new torsion seismometer for the measurement of local earthquake shocks.
In 1928, the California Institute of Technology received funds for the building of the 200-inch Palomar telescope, then the largest optical telescope in the world. Anderson was asked by Hale to serve as executive officer of the newly formed Observatory Council, whose charge was to oversee all aspects of the telescope project. Over the next twenty years, Anderson directed and participated in site selection, design and testing of the 200-inch mirror, the establishment and operation of an on-site optical shop, and the design and testing of the telescope structure and, especially, its instrumentation. Anderson remained head of the Observatory Council up to the time of the telescope's dedication, in June 1948.
Anderson had maintained a part-time connection with Mount Wilson, from which he retired in 1943. He was a member of several learned societies, including the American Astronomical Society and the American Physical Society. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1928. John Anderson died in Pasadena on December 2, 1959.

Scope and Content of Collection

The John A. Anderson Papers were transferred to the Caltech Archives by the Astronomy Department in 1974. They comprise the working papers of Anderson and, to some degree, of the Observatory Council. Included is correspondence, much of it connected with technical matters relating to the Palomar telescope. Major correspondents are: George Ellery Hale (1928-1936, director); Clyde McDowell (1935-1938, engineer); Russell Porter (1929-1932, designer and architect). Other types of material include drawings, blueprints, photos; calculations and technical data; reports; reprints; and documents relating to solar observation and spectroscopy.

Indexing Terms

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


Hale, George Ellery, 1868-1938


California Institute of Technology
International Education Board
Palomar Observatory--Administration
Rockefeller Foundation


Astronomical instruments--Design
Astronomical observatories--Administration
Optical instruments--Design
Telescopes, reflecting--Design

Genres and Forms of Materials


Related Collections

Astronomy Department Records
Astrophysics Archive
George Ellery Hale Papers
Bruce Rule Papers

Collection Contents

Box 1, Folder 1

Biographical information



Box 1, Folder 2

California Institute of Technology 1940-1948

Box 1, Folder 3

Committee on Bolometric Apparatus 1929-1939

Box 1, Folder 4

Fund for Astrophysical Research 1937-1946


Hale, George E.

Box 1, Folder 5


Box 1, Folder 6


Box 1, Folder 7


Box 1, Folder 8

Hill, Bryon 1937-1941

Box 1, Folder 9

McDowell, Clyde S. 1935-1938

Box 1, Folder 10

McDowell, Clyde S. Memoranda 1935-1938

Box 1, Folder 11

Menzel, Donald A. 1939-1940

Box 1, Folder 12

Miscellaneous I


Bass, W.L.


Concerning Brown, W.


Curtis, H.L.


Dawson, V.E.


Diamond, D.


Dodge, H.


Elston, T.S.


Evenson, F.F.


Fletcher, C.


Frost, E.B.


Gibbs, R.C.


Gray, G.W.


Hall, J.S.


Harrison, G.R.


Hazard, R.E.


Heck, W.H.


Heaney, N.S.


Hoeppner, W.L.


Holmes, W.H.


Hubble, E.P.


King, H.C.

Box 1, Folder 13

Miscellaneous II


Leibhardt, E.


Macelwane, J.B.


Main, V.E.


McCabe, C.F.


Morgan, T.H.


Meinel, A.


Melton, B.S.


Morin, H.E.


Myers, E.H.


O'Laughlin, H.


Puckett, A.E.


Perry, J.


Porter, R.W.

Box 1, Folder 14

Miscellaneous III


Rieber, F.


Robinson, H.M.


Rusk, C.B.


Ryerson, K.


Schmid, A.


Skilling, W.T.


Tauchmann (?) G.T.


Teale, E.W.


Trent, F.P.


Virden, R.J.


Watson, R.S.


Wilson, M.


Slater, B.B.


Suverkrop, L.


Wormser, F.E.


Wright, F.

Box 1, Folder 15

National Defense Research Committee: re Range finder problem 1940-1943

Box 1, Folder 16

Observatory Committee 1931-1937

Box 1, Folder 17

Observatory Council 1929-1938

Box 1, Folder 18

Pickering, W.H. 1928-1929

Box 1, Folder 19

Porter, Russell, W. 1929-1932

Box 1, Folder 20

Rockefeller Foundation-General Education Board 1928-1948

Box 1, Folder 21

Strong, John 1946-1947

Box 1, Folder 22

Thorkelson, H.J. 1929-1948

Box 1, Folder 23

Tillyer, E.D. 1946

Box 2, Folder 1

Warner and Swasey Company 1928-1936

Box 2, Folder 2

Woodbury, David O. 1937-1943


Carl Zeiss, Inc.

Box 2, Folder 3

1928-February 1932

Box 2, Folder 4

March 1932-1937

Box 2, Folder 5

re: Recording photometer


The Observatories

Box 2, Folder s 6-14

Calculations for lenses, mirrors, etc. I-IX

Box 2, Folder 15


Box 2, Folder 16

Data for corrector plate for 200 inch mirror

Box 2, Folder 17

Date re: Telescope - miscellaneous

Box 3, Folder 1

Dedication of Palomar June 1948

Box 3, Folder 2

Dome of Palomar, miscellany 1931-50

Box 3, Folder 3

Drawings of an optical spherometer by R.W. Porter

Box 3, Folder 4

Equipment for completion - lists, memoirs, etc. 1947


Graphs - lenses, mirrors, etc.

Box 3, Folder 5


Box 3, Folder 6



Lenses - Correspondence, Ross, Frank E.

Box 3, Folder 7


Box 3, Folder 8



Lenses - Correcting, calculations of Ross

Box 3, Folder 9

I 1935-1949

Box 3, Folder 10

II 1935-1949

Box 3, Folder 11

Lenses - Correcting orders 1935-1941

Box 3, Folder 12

Lenses - Spencer Lens Co. weekly reports 1942-1944

Box 3, Folder 13

Meteorgraph record 1933



Box 3, Folder 14

Coating (aluminization) 1933-1950




Corning Glass Works

Box 3, Folder 15

Correspondence 1935-1948

Box 4, Folder 1

Blueprints and photos


General Electric Correspondence

Box 4, Folder 2


Box 4, Folder 3


Box 4, Folder 4


Box 4, Folder 5


Box 4, Folder 6

Possible materials 1929-1935



Box 4, Folder 7

Data on curvature

Box 4, Folder 8




Box 4, Folder 9

Corning to Pasadena 1932-1935

Box 4, Folder 10

Pasadena to Palomar 1947



Box 4, Folder 11



Address book


Drafts for an exhibit




Palomar reprints list


Drawings of a telescope by R. Edgar

Box 4, Folder 12

Monthly Reports re: Construction 1946-1948

Box 4, Folder 13

Mount Wilson "Seeing" Record 1918-1933

Box 4, Folder 14

Photographs I

Box 5, Folder 1

Photographs II



Box 5, Folder 2

News clippings

Box 5, Folder 3

Telescope celluloid model correspondence 1936-1940

Box 5, Folder 4

Radio Station 1935-1946

Box 5, Folder s 5-8

Requests for photographs 1932-1945

Box 5, Folder s 9-12

Requests - miscellaneous 1931-1947


Schmidt telescope

Box 5, Folder 13

Correspondence, 1946-1947

Box 5, Folder 14

Data I

Box 6, Folder 1

Data II

Box 6, Folder 2

Seismometer data



Box 6, Folder 3

Bills, ordinances, permits, etc. 1936-1946

Box 6, Folder 4



Property purchase

Box 6, Folder 5


Box 6, Folder 6


Box 6, Folder 7

Roadways 1934-1938

Box 6, Folder 8

San Diego Board of Supervisors, 1935-1942


"Seeing" records and problems,

Box 6, Folder 9


Box 6, Folder 10


Box 6, Folder 11

Selection 1928-1934

Box 6, Folder 12

Utilities 1936-1940

Box 6, Folder 13

Solar furnace

Box 6, Folder 14

Solar telescope


Spectrographic equipment

Box 6, Folder 15


Box 6, Folder 16

Gratings 1938-1940

Box 6, Folder 17

f/0.36 objectives lens. G.E. Hale correspondence 1933-1936

Box 6, Folder 18

Bausch and Lomb spectrograph 1931


Tube and mounting

Box 6, Folder 19

Committee on design 1928-1936

Box 7, Folder 1

Contracts 1936

Box 7, Folder 2

Correspondence with individuals 1933-1936

Box 7, Folder 3

Correspondence with companies 1929-1935

Box 7, Folder 4

Correspondence with Westinghouse Electric and Mfg. Company 1936-1940

Box 7, Folder 5


Box 7, Folder 6

Memoranda 1936

Box 7, Folder 7



Papers and reprints and reports

Box 7, Folder s 8-10

Papers by J. Anderson; See folder for list (3 folders)

Box 7, Folder 11

Reports I

Box 7, Folder 12

Reports II

Box 7, Folder 13

Reports III

Box 7, Folder 14

Reprints I

Box 7, Folder 15

Reprints II

Box 7, Folder 16

Reprints correspondence 1933-1938