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Guide to the Papers of Lee A. DuBridge, 1932-1986
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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: Lee A. DuBridge papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1932-1986
    Collection number: Consult repository
    Creator: DuBridge, Lee A., 1901-1994
    Extent: 102 linear feet
    Repository: California Institute of Technology. Archives.
    Pasadena, California 91125
    Abstract: The Papers of Lee A. DuBridge span the years 1932 to 1986 and contain correspondence, documents, reports, speeches, and memorabilia which reflect his tenure as chairman of the department of physics, University of Rochester; head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Radiation Laboratory; president of the California Institute of Technology; and his active participation in scores of professional, governmental and civic organizations.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Because of the sensitivity of some of the material in the DuBridge papers, the University Archivist has closed certain files. Closed files will be reviewed periodically and opened when no longer deemed sensitive. Researchers may consult the University Archivist for further 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

    Papers of Lee A. DuBridge. Archives, California Institute of Technology.

    Acquisition Information

    The main body of the papers of Lee A. DuBridge was formally given to Caltech by Dr. DuBridge himself in 1974. The papers were supplemented in 1988, 1989, and 1993.

    Processing History

    The final processing was completed by Edythe Baker and the Archives staff in 1978. It has been updated in 1988, 1989, 1993, and 2000.

    Custodial History

    Prior to 1978, during the period following his retirement from the presidency of Caltech in 1969, the papers were in the care of Dr. DuBridge's secretary, Miss Edythe Baker. Miss Baker was responsible for the sorting and arrangement of the papers up to the time they were turned over to the Archives.


    Lee Alvin DuBridge, president of the California Institute of Technology from 1946 to 1969, was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on September 21, 1901. He majored in physics at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and received his PhD in 1926 from the University of Wisconsin. The subject of his thesis, the photoelectric effect, continued to occupy him during his first postdoctoral years, initially as a National Research Council fellow at Caltech under Robert A. Millikan (1926-1928), and subsequently as assistant professor of physics at Washington University, St. Louis. DuBridge co-authored Photoelectric Phenomena (1932) with Arthur L. Hughes, chairman of physics at Washington University, and later published his own book, New Theories of the Photoelectric Effect , in 1935.
    Meanwhile, in 1934, DuBridge was recruited to be the new chairman of the physics department at the University of Rochester. There he and S. W. Barnes designed and oversaw construction of an eight-million electron-volt (8 MeV) cyclotron, the most powerful instrument of its kind in the United States at that time, and only the third in existence--the other two were located at Berkeley and Princeton. The cyclotron led to their discovery of the proton-neutron (p-n) reaction.
    In the fall of 1940 DuBridge was called to a still larger scientific and administrative enterprise: the founding directorship of MIT's Radiation Laboratory (the "Rad Lab"). At this time, the importance of radar to military achievements had already been demonstrated in Europe. The Rad Lab would be responsible for the development and manufacture of most of the Allied forces radar capability for the remainder of World War II. Several accounts of the Rad Lab have been published, most significant among these Henry Guerlac's Radar in World War II (1987). Researchers should also consult DuBridge's own unpublished memoir of his time at the Rad Lab at the Caltech Archives and the diary of his London trip in 1943 in his papers. In 1942 DuBridge was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
    After the war, DuBridge returned to Rochester, but his stay was to be brief. He was soon persuaded by Max Mason, his former professor from University of Wisconsin and a Caltech trustee, to take on the presidency of Caltech as successor to Robert A. Millikan. In the twenty-two years that he was to occupy this position, DuBridge left an indelible mark on Caltech. He began with solving the multitude of problems attending the transition of the Institute from wartime to postwar research. The hiring of new faculty, the procurement of federal sponsorship for basic scientific research, and the creation of a new administration were among these activities. In the latter category fell the recruitment of Robert F. Bacher to be chairman of the physics division and ultimately Caltech's first provost. During Bacher's tenure, Caltech's physics program was preeminent and boasted several resident Nobel laureates: Carl Anderson, Richard Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann and William A. Fowler (Fowler received the prize in 1983 but did his Nobel-winning work in astrophysics during the Bacher-DuBridge years). DuBridge presided over the dedication of the 200-inch telescope on Mount Palomar--then the world's largest optical telescope--and the formation of the joint Caltech-Carnegie Institution of Washington council to run the Palomar and Mount Wilson observatories.
    In 1952, Caltech began the building of its own one-billion electron-volt (1 BeV) synchrotron. Outside of physics DuBridge also promoted the expansion of other divisions. He supported new directions in biology, building from a strong foundation in genetics under Thomas Hunt Morgan and George Beadle to include molecular and behavioral biology, through the work of Max Delbürck and Roger Sperry (all four cited biologists were also Nobel laureates). To Caltech's programs in chemistry, geology and planetary science, and in engineering DuBridge brought new financial and administrative support, new faculty and new ideas. Under his leadership, Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was converted to the peacetime business of unmanned space exploration and transferred to the newly created NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), while retaining Caltech's management.
    DuBridge was active in many professional, educational and civic organizations. He also held prominent posts in Washington, beginning with his tenure on and eventual chairmanship of the Presidential Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) in both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations (1951-1958). Upon his retirement from Caltech in 1969, he was called back to Washington by President Richard Nixon to serve as his science advisor (1969-1970).
    Lee DuBridge was married to Doris Koht DuBridge, and they had two children. After his wife's death in 1973, he married Arrola Bush Cole. DuBridge died of pneumonia in Duarte, California, just east of Pasadena, on January 23, 1994, at the age of 92. His admirable personal and intellectual qualities made him effective both as a leader and as an eloquent spokesman for science, technology and education. He has been called by one Caltech trustee "a towering figure in Caltech's history and in the world of science and engineering." For a fuller account of his life and science, including mention of advisory positions, board memberships and awards, readers should consult the Biographical Memoir by Jesse Greenstein (National Academy of Sciences, 1997).
    Charlotte E. Erwin, Associate Archivist, July 2000

    Scope and Content of Collection

    DuBridge's papers span the years 1932 to 1986 and contain correspondence, documents, reports, speeches, and memorabilia which reflect his tenure as chairman of the department of physics, University of Rochester; head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Radiation Laboratory; president of the California Institute of Technology; and his active participation in scores of professional, governmental and civic organizations.
    The earliest group of papers--all in photocopy form--represent selected correspondence between DuBridge and the two presidents of the University of Rochester under whom he served: Rush Rhees (who retired in 1935) and his successor Alan Valentine. These letters span the period 1933 to 1947 and were added to the collection in 1988 through the generosity of the University of Rochester. They appear as the first supplement to the original collection.
    Next chronologically are the papers relating to the Radiation Laboratory. These are DuBridge's personal papers and reflect only incidentally his directorship of the laboratory. Most of the correspondence dates from the period 1945-1958, thus post-dating the actual operation of the lab. Despite the retrospective nature of these papers, there is interesting correspondence with such figures as Luis Alvarez, Vannevar Bush, Ernest O. Lawrence, Karl T. Compton, Sir Robert Watson-Watt, and Edward L. Bowles. Correspondence relating to the Radiation Laboratory Series concerns the writing and publication of this twenty-seven-volume record, whose purpose was to preserve for the public the value of wartime radar work. Further history of the lab is documented in correspondence and original manuscript copies of Henry Guerlac's History of the Radiation Laboratory , first published as a classified report in 1946 and finally later revised as the two-volume Radar in World War II (American Institute of Physics, 1987). Also of interest in this section are DuBridge's diaries of his trip to London in 1943.
    DuBridge's Caltech papers are arranged in six sections (Parts A-F) concerned with academic divisions and associated research facilities, administrative and business matters, faculty, students, and trustees. Predominant within the divisional files are papers of the chairmen and prominent faculty members, for example, George Beadle, Max Delbrück, Linus Pauling, Carl Anderson, Robert Bacher, Richard P. Feynman, William A. Fowler, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Fritz Zwicky. Part A of the Caltech section includes material on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Seismological Laboratory, and the Mount Palomar and Mount Wilson observatories. JPL papers of particular interest are those in which the relationship between the lab, Caltech and NASA during the period 1959 through 1968 is examined. Both the Stever Visiting Committee (1968) and the Starr Committee (1967-1968) studied the manner in which Caltech administered JPL for NASA. Within the Mount Wilson and Palomar observatory papers is correspondence reflecting upon the relationship between Caltech and the Carnegie Institution of Washington, as well as the papers and correspondence which developed out of the National Geographic Sky Survey (1949-1957).
    Within the administrative section (Part B) is correspondence between DuBridge and his assistants Charles Newton (1947-1960) and Lyman Bonner (1967-1968). Also represented are papers relating to fundraising. Correspondence with members of the Caltech Associates and philanthropic foundations reveals DuBridge as an extremely effective and diplomatic fund raiser. The epitome of DuBridge's diplomacy is manifested in the papers with trustees. Herein differences of opinion between faculty, students and trustees are resolved; the unending quest for new sources of funds to insure the quality of Caltech is pursued; and the search for dynamic new members of the board undertaken.
    The presidential correspondence (Part D) is arranged in two sections: The first, a chronological file of DuBridge's outgoing correspondence, cuts across the arbitrary arrangement of the collection into sections and illustrates the immense scope and quality of correspondence. It is the only place in the collection where DuBridge's daily correspondence may be viewed as a whole. The second section contains an alphabetical listing of personal and miscellaneous correspondence with such prominent names as Niels Bohr, Detlev Bronk, Sir John Cockcroft, James B. Conant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Theodore von Kármán, I. I. Rabi, Louis Ridenour, Vladimir Rojansky, Dean Rusk, William Shockley, J. E. Wallace Sterling, and Alan T. Waterman.
    In addition to being an educator and science advisor, DuBridge was a great administrator and diplomat. These skills converge and are particularly revealed in the correspondence relating to his professional, government and civic activities (Sections IV-VI). When asked to name the most meaningful professional memberships he had maintained, DuBridge selected the following: the National Academy of Sciences (1941-1968); board member of the Rand Corporation (1948-1961); the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1951-1957); the Rockefeller Foundation (1956-1967); the Mellon Institute (1958-1967); and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (1963-1968).
    Regarding government service, DuBridge stated that the most rewarding activity he had engaged in was service on the National Science Board (1950-1954, 1958-1964). The NSB correspondence is interfiled with the general correspondence of the National Science Foundation (1945-1968). He also served on the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC, 1945-1968), and the papers contain correspondence with Gordon Dean, David Lilienthal, Glenn Seaborg, and Lewis Strauss. From 1946 to 1952, DuBridge served as a member of the AEC's General Advisory Committee; and from 1952 to 1962 as a member of the Science Advisory Committee of the Office of Defense Mobilization.
    Although DuBridge's civic memberships ranged from air pollution control to nutrition to local United Nations associations, he was most active in the move to establish, in the early 1960s, an educational public TV station in the Los Angeles-area station KCET. He was the first chairman of the executive committee (1962-1968) and was named chairman emeritus upon his retirement. The KCET correspondence is extensive and covers early negotiations with the major commercial TV networks for support, fund raising appeals to foundations and individuals, and administrative board and personal matters.
    One theme which surfaces throughout the collection is the threat of the Cold War and the degree to which this political situation imposed itself upon educational institutions in the 1940s and through the 1950s. DuBridge met the issue head-on and openly addressed the issue of communism at Caltech. Much of his concern is documented in correspondence with Caltech trustees (Section I, Part F), wherein is found his statement entitled "Communism at Caltech?", 1949; the file entitled "Correspondence with a Caltech Alumnus, 1951-1952"; and papers concerning Linus Pauling's publicly stated views. Neither staff nor faculty members were immune to the suspicious political climate, as the papers connected with Paul Orr (1955), H. S. Tsien (1948-1970) , and J. R. Oppenheimer (1946-1968) reveal.
    The last three numbered sections of the collection (Sections VII-IX) contain the papers related to DuBridge's publications and biographical material. The latter section covers both personal and family matters, as well as club memberships, awards and honors.
    The Appendix and the last three sections--Supplements 1988, 1989, and 1993--contain material that was donated to the Archives after 1974. The Appendix contains predominantly scrapbooks and also a set of White House press releases. The 1988 Supplement has already been discussed--the University of Rochester papers. The 1989 Supplement represents a small amount of miscellaneous material removed from the papers of Harold Brown, DuBridge's successor at Caltech. The last Supplement, 1993, contains more biographical material, including albums, photographs, material related to Richard Nixon, and a number of medals and other awards.

    Indexing Terms

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


    Alvarez, Luis W., 1911-1988
    Anderson, Carl D. (Carl David), 1905-1991
    Bacher, Robert F. (Robert Fox), 1905-
    Beadle, George Wells, 1903-1989
    Bohr, Niels Henrik David, 1885-1962
    Bowles, Edward Lindley, 1897-1990
    Bronk, Detlev W. (Detlev Wulf), 1897-1975
    Bush, Vannevar, 1890-1974
    Compton, K. T. (Karl Taylor), 1887-1954
    Cockcroft, John, Sir, 1897-1967
    Delbrück, Max, 1906-1981
    Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
    Feynman, Richard Phillips, 1918-1988
    Fowler, William A., 1911-1995
    Lawrence, Ernest Orlando, 1901-1958
    Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
    Orr, Paul
    Pauling, Linus, 1901-1994
    Rabi, I. I. (Isidor Isaac), 1898-1988
    Rhees, Rush, 1860-1939
    Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994
    Shockley, William, 1910-1989
    Sterling, J. E. Wallace (John Ewart Wallace), 1906-1985
    Tsien, Hsue Shen, 1911-
    Valentine, A. R., 1901-1980
    Von Kármán, Theodore, 1881-1963
    Waterman, Alan Tower, 1892-1967
    Watson-Watt, Robert Alexander, Sir, 1892-1973
    Zwicky, F. (Fritz), 1898-1974


    California Institute of Technology--Administration
    California Institute of Technology--Faculty
    Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    Carnegie Institution of Washington
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (U.S.)
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Radiation Laboratory--Administration
    Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories
    National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)
    National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    National Science Foundation (U.S.)
    Rand Corporation
    Rockefeller Foundation
    University of Rochester. Dept. of Physics
    U.S. Atomic Energy Commission


    Cold War
    Communism and intellectuals--United States
    Radar--Military applications
    World War, 1939-1945--Radar

    Genres and Forms of Materials

    Biographical files



    Related Collections

    Users of the DuBridge papers will also benefit by consulting his two-volume set of memoirs in the Caltech Archives. Another oral history, given jointly by DuBridge and William A. Fowler, was done for the National Science Board oral history project and is on deposit at Caltech.
    Related manuscript collections of interest include the presidential papers of DuBridge's immediate predecessor, Robert A. Millikan, and his successor, Harold Brown. As Caltech's president, DuBridge had deep working relationships with many people at the Institute. Perhaps closest of all to him, both personally and professionally, was Robert F. Bacher, whose papers have been donated to the Archives. Researchers should also consult divisional papers in the Caltech Archives (especially biology and geology), as well as the papers of the division chairmen of DuBridge's time who have donated their papers to the Archives. These include, in biology, George Beadle and Robert L. Sinsheimer; in engineering, Frederick C. Lindvall; in geology, J. P. Buwalda, Chester Stock, Ian Campbell and Robert P. Sharp; and in physics, math and astronomy, Robert F. Bacher and Carl D. Anderson.
    A summary of the DuBridge holdings in the Caltech Archives, including photos and audio-video material, may be obtained through the Caltech Archives' web site: http://archives.caltech.edu .
    The Archives Staff, revised July 2000