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Guide to the Papers of Richard Phillips Feynman, 1933-1988
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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: Richard Phillips Feynman papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1933-1988
    Collection number: Consult repository
    Creator: Feynman, Richard Phillips, 1918-1988
    Extent: 39 linear feet
    Repository: California Institute of Technology. Archives.
    Pasadena, California 91125
    Abstract: This collection documents the career of Nobel Prize winner Richard Phillips Feynman (1918-1988). It contains correspondence, biographical materials, course and lecture notes, speeches, manuscripts, publications, and technical notes relating to his work in quantum electrodynamics. Feynman served as Richard Chace Tolman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology from 1951 until his death.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    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 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], Papers of Richard Phillips Feynman. Archives, California Institute of Technology.

    Acquisition Information

    The Papers were gifted to Caltech by Richard Feynman and Gweneth Feynman in two main installments, beginning in 1968.
    The first group of papers, now boxes 1-20 of the collection, was donated by Feynman himself in 1968 and added to from time to time during his lifetime. It contains materials dating from circa 1933 to 1970. The second group, comprising just under three-fourths of the whole collection, occupies boxes 21-90. It was given to Caltech by Feynman's widow Gweneth early in 1989. Group 2 contains papers primarily from the 1970s and 1980s, although some older material is present. Supplements since 1994 occupy three boxes and have come from various donors outside the Feynman family.

    Processing History

    This collection was processed by Charlotte E. Erwin, Carol Finerman, and David A. Valone and completed on July 1, 1993. The finding aid was updated in September 2002.


    Physicist Richard Feynman won his scientific renown through the development of quantum electrodynamics, or QED, a theory describing the interaction of particles and atoms in radiation fields. As a part of this work he invented what came to be known as "Feynman Diagrams," visual representations of space-time particle interactions. For this work he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics, together with J. Schwinger and S. I. Tomonaga, in 1965. Later in his life Feynman became a prominent public figure through his association with the investigation of the space shuttle Challenger explosion and the publication of two best-selling books of personal recollections.
    Feynman was born in the borough of Queens in New York City on May 11, 1918. He grew up and attended high school in Far Rockaway, New York. In 1939, he received his BS degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He then attended Princeton University as a Proctor Fellow from 1940 to 1942, where he began his investigation of quantum electrodynamics under the supervision of J. A. Wheeler. He was awarded his PhD in 1942 for his thesis on the least action principle.
    While still at Princeton, Feynman was recruited for the atomic bomb project. He was transferred to Los Alamos in 1942, where he headed a team undertaking complicated calculations using very primitive computers. While at Los Alamos, Feynman became good friends with Hans Bethe, who at the end of the war secured a position for Feynman as an associate professor of physics at Cornell. Feynman remained at Cornell from 1945 to 1951. During this time he formalized his theory of quantum electrodynamics and began to publish his results. He also participated in the Shelter Island Conference of 1947, which helped to determine the course of American physics in the atomic age. At this conference he introduced his theory of QED to the leading American physicists.
    In 1951, Feynman accepted an offer to become the Richard Chace Tolman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology, a position he filled until his death. While at Caltech Feynman continued his work at the leading edge of theoretical physics, making important contributions to the study of liquid helium, particle physics, and later quantum chromodynamics. He also began his distinguished career as a teacher and lecturer. In 1961 and 1962 he delivered to Caltech's freshmen the introductory lectures that were later published as The Feynman Lectures on Physics.
    In 1986, Feynman was asked to serve on the Presidential Commission investigating the space shuttle Challenger accident. In a dramatic fashion, Feynman publicly demonstrated the inelasticity of the shuttle's O-rings at near freezing temperatures, a leading cause of the disaster. He also contributed an extended appendix to the Committee's report, highlighting the technical and administrative deficiencies of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's space program.
    Feynman's many interests outside of science, such as his fondness for codes and safecracking, his bongo drums, his theatrical appearances, his artwork, plus his experiments in out-of-body experiences, are well documented in his autobiographies, as well as in his papers at Caltech.
    Feynman continued his scientific work and his lecturing activities up until his death on February 15, 1988, after a long battle with a rare form of cancer.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The working papers, correspondence, manuscripts and related materials of Richard Phillips Feynman (1918-1988) form the collection known as the Feynman Papers in the California Institute of Technology Archives. Feynman was the Richard Chace Tolman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech from 1951 to 1988.
    The Papers were gifted to Caltech by Richard Feynman and Gweneth Feynman in two main installments, beginning in 1968. Caltech has title to the Papers themselves, while the Feynman heirs retain literary and publication rights. The Feynman Lectures on Physics and the Lectures on Gravitation form an exception, in that Caltech is the copyright holder in these publications.
    The first group of papers, now boxes 1-20 of the collection, was donated by Feynman himself in 1968 and added to from time to time during his lifetime. It contains materials dating from circa 1933 to 1970. The second group, comprising just under three-fourths of the whole collection, occupies boxes 21-90. It was given to Caltech by Feynman's widow Gweneth early in 1989. Group 2 contains papers primarily from the 1970s and 1980s, although some older material is present.
    The two groups of papers have been kept separate, although box numbering is continuous throughout the collection. The guide to the collection is in two parts, and researchers must expect to consult both parts. At the time the second group of papers was processed, an effort was made to create an arrangement parallel to that of group 1. However, the different content and larger scope of group 2 eventually resulted in a somewhat different scheme.
    The Feynman collection contains a large amount of both incoming and outgoing correspondence. Feynman's scientific contacts include many of the greatest names in twentieth-century physics: Hans Bethe, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Stephen Hawking, Werner Heisenberg, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Hideki Yukawa--to name only a few. In Group 1, correspondence has been spread over four sections: correspondence (largely with individual colleagues), miscellaneous or general correspondence, publication correspondence, and, in the biographical section, a small number of personal letters.
    For Group 2, an attempt was made to pull both personal, general, and publication correspondence into one main section, Section I. However, when letters demonstrated both intellectual and physical links with other documents, their original contextual relationships were maintained. Thus, publication correspondence will be found both in Section I and in Section VI. Fan mail surrounding Feynman's television appearances, his two autobiographies, and his Nobel Prize has been placed in Section II, Biographical, as has other correspondence relating to his business and consulting activities documented there.
    Course and Lecture Notes:
    Feynman's lecture courses at institutions in Southern California other than Caltech, and even outside the U.S., are represented in Group 2. Of special interest are the courses Feynman gave, in addition to those he attended, at Hughes Aircraft Company, and the sets of lectures that were later published as Statistical Mechanics and QED (originally the Mautner Lectures, which were in turn predated by the Robb Lectures, first delivered at the University of Aukland, New Zealand). Material pertaining to the publication of these lecture series is found in Group 2 correspondence under the respective publishers.
    Talks, Speeches, Conferences:
    In this category are those lectures delivered for a special occasion or purpose, usually as single lectures, but sometimes as a series, and in both formal and informal settings. This category overlaps somewhat with Course Notes and Lectures. In Group 1, these materials are to be found under Professional Organizations and Meetings (Section III) and Manuscripts (Section V). In Group 2, they are arranged under Section V in chronological order, when dated, and in a subsection of undated talks. Folders in this category contain a wide variety of talk-related documents, from holograph notes to correspondence to slides, figures, or transparencies.
    Group 1 contains a small section of publication correspondence (Group 1, Section IV), mostly pertaining to Feynman's book or monograph publishers; in Group 2, similar correspondence has been placed in the main correspondence section (Group 2, Section I). Group 2's Section VI lists Feynman's publications by title in chronological order. Folders contain a variety of material, from holograph notes to correspondence to proofs and prints. Researchers should note that formal reprints have been grouped at the end of Group 2, in Section IX.
    Working Notes and Calculations:
    The vast majority of Feynman's working notes are located in Group 2. A representative sample from his early years appears in Group 1, Section V. Of special interest in this group are notebooks from his student days, beginning ca 1933. The notes in Group 2 capture the breadth and depth of Feynman's thought, as well as reflecting many aspects of his personality. They cover a wide range of subjects, from quantum electrodynamics and later quantum chromodynamics to biology and computers. The notes also reflect Feynman's working style. They are sometimes carefully organized into notebooks that were rigorously dated, such as the binders dated between 1966 and 1987 at the beginning of Group 2, Section VII. Unfortunately for researchers, these are the exception. The great mass of Feynman's working notes are scattered on miscellaneous sheets of papers, envelopes, placemats, and seemingly whatever else was at hand when thoughts struck him. Feynman occasionally took time to organize these into a system for files, although only a small fraction of his notes found their way into such a system. The great majority was left in a scattered condition and grouped during the processing of the papers as well as possible by subject matter. Many miscellaneous papers remain.
    Work of Others:
    Feynman officially maintained neutrality on the work of his contemporaries, but informal commentaries in the form of notes and marginal glosses on the work of others abound in his papers. A small segment of such materials can be found in Group 1, Section V. A large amount of work by others, both with and without Feynman's commentary, forms Group 2's Section VIII. A preponderance of material on computers dictated an arrangement in which computer-related projects are categorized separately. Individuals whose work is strongly represented--largely Caltech colleagues, students, or collaborators--are listed singly; otherwise materials have been listed by subject.
    Note on use of Guide:
    In writing the guide to the collection, the archivists have observed certain conventions, particularly in the area of manuscript description. Square brackets ([]) are used to mark editorial insertions, such as titles created by the archivist which are not derived directly from the manuscripts themselves. Brackets are also used to signify unnumbered pages in a manuscript.

    Indexing Terms

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


    Bethe, Hans Albrecht, 1906-
    Bohr, Niels Henrik David, 1885-1962
    Fermi, Enrico, 1901-1954
    Hawking, Stephen W., 1942-
    Heisenberg, Werner, 1901-1976
    Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967


    Particles (Nuclear physics)
    Physics--Study and teaching
    Quantum chromodynamics
    Quantum electrodynamics
    Quantum theory
    Space shuttles--Accidents--Investigation--United States
    Challenger (Space shuttle)


    California Institute of Technology

    Genres and Forms of Materials

    Lecture notes
    Technical notes

    Related Collections

    Researchers should also consult the Caltech Archives' Historical Files, which contain much miscellaneous material on Richard Feynman acquired from many sources. Similarly the Photo Archives offer a selection of images, obtained in a similar way. The Audio and Video Collections contain substantial Feynman material; researchers should consult the specific index.
    Manuscript collections at Caltech which contain materials of particular relevance to Feynman include the Papers of Robert Leighton and the Caltech course lecture notes by Bruce H. Morgan.