Finding Aid for the Robert T. Knapp papers 1860-1989

Processed by Caltech Archives Staff.
Caltech Archives
California Institute of Technology
1200 East California Blvd.
Mail Code 015A-74
Pasadena, CA 91125
Phone: (626) 395-2704
Fax: (626) 793-8756
California Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.

Descriptive Summary

Title: Robert T. Knapp papers,
Date (inclusive): 1860-1989
Collection number: 10176-MS
Creator: Knapp, Robert T. 1899-1957
Extent: 3 linear feet
Repository: California Institute of Technology. Caltech Archives
Pasadena, California 91125
Abstract: The working papers, correspondence, publications, photos, artifacts, and biographical materials of Robert Talbot Knapp form the collection known as the Papers of Robert T. Knapp in the Archives of the California Institute of Technology. Knapp attended the Throop College of Technology in Pasadena, the forerunner of Caltech, and became professor there from 1951 until his death in 1957. Knapp was widely known as a leader in the fields of hydrodynamics, fluid mechanics, and mechanical engineering.
Physical location: Archives, California Institute of Technology.
Language of Material:
Languages represented in the collection:


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], Robert T. Knapp papers, 10176-MS, Caltech Archives, California Institute of Technology.

Acquisition Information

The Robert T. Knapp papers were donated to Caltech in two installments in 2000 by Mr. Charles Briscoe, the second husband of Knapp's widow, Pearl Gilliland Knapp.


Robert Talbot Knapp was born January 5, 1899, in Loveland, Colorado. He received his secondary education in Los Angeles public schools and studied for three and one-half years (fall 1916 through fall 1919) at Throop College of Technology in Pasadena, forerunner of the California Institute of Technology. Knapp continued his studies in mechanical engineering at MIT in the spring semester of 1920, and he received his bachelor of science degree from MIT in the same year. Knapp returned to Caltech in 1922 as an instructor. He subsequently earned his PhD there in 1929 and became a full professor in 1951.
Knapp became widely known for his work in hydrodynamics. At Caltech he designed and directed the Hydrodynamics Laboratory, colloquially known as the pump lab, where he conducted significant studies on hydraulic machinery, sedimentation, and high-velocity open-channel flow. He consulted for the Los Angeles Flood Control District, the Metropolitan Water District, and for the US Soil Conservation Service and the US Bureau of Reclamation on the Grand Coulee irrigation project. After World War II he built and operated a hydraulic structures laboratory in Azusa, east of Pasadena, for the study of harbor problems.
Knapp's investigations covered hydrodynamic problems of hydraulic turbines and centrifugal pumps; wave and wave surge problems of beaches and harbors; the mechanics of cavitation and cavitation damage; and problems of soil erosion, drainage and irrigation. During World War II he served as consultant to the US Army on underwater ballistics. Knapp received the Melville Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1955 for his paper "Recent Investigations on the Mechanics of Cavitation and Cavitation Damage." At the time of his death, Knapp was working on a book on cavitation, which was subsequently completed by his coauthors, James W. Daily and Frederick G. Hammitt ( Cavitation, 1970), and which has become a standard text. In 1959 ASME established the Robert T. Knapp Award for outstanding work in the field of fluid mechanics.
Robert Knapp married Pearl Gilliland in Los Angeles in 1925. He died suddenly in Pasadena on November 7, 1957.

Scope and Content

The Knapp collection is small but contains useful biographical material, some dating back to the Civil War. There is also selected material on Knapp's engineering projects, and here the photographs are the most valuable records. Some photos have been placed in documents boxes, but the majority reside in oversize boxes (boxes 4-6).
Knapp's Melville Medal, as well as a World War II medal issued by Columbia University, were also donated to Caltech by Charles Briscoe.
Interested researchers should consult memoirs of the pump lab: James W. Daily's "Pump Lab Reminiscences," originally published in Engineering & Science magazine, and other accounts in Historical Files (Engineering and Applied Sciences Division); and the oral history of Allan J. Acosta (Caltech Archives 1994). Photos of Robert and Pearl Knapp are located in the Archives' PhotoNet and are available for viewing at the Archives' web site .

Related Material

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
Fluid Mechanics
Mechanical Engineering


Mechanical Engineers

Container List

Box 1, Folder 1

Correspondence and documents


Relocated from Historical Files.
Box 1, Folder 2

Family photographs and memorabilia


Relocated from Historical Files.
Box 1, Folder 3

Biographical: Throop College of Technology

Box 1, Folder 4

Biographical: MIT

Box 1, Folder 5

Biographical: General

Box 1, Folder 6

Publications lists


Corrected and annotated by Vito A. Vanoni
Box 1, Folder 7


Box 2, Folder 1

Hydrodynamics Laboratory

Box 2, Folder 2

Hydraulics Structures Laboratory, Azusa, CA ( See also: Box 6, photographs)


Also relates to Apra Harbor project, Guam
Box 2, Folder 3

Apra Harbor, Guam ( See also: Box 6, photographs)

Box 2, Folder 4

Edison Company reports 1953

Box 2, Folder 5

Miscellaneous technical files

Box 2, Folder 6

Photographs: Terminal Island [?] ( See also: Box 6, photographs)

Box 2, Folder 7

Photographs: People, miscellaneous ( See also: Box 4, photographs)

Box 2, Folder 8

Illustrations: Technical ( See also: Box 5, photographs)


Including Russell Porter
Box 3, Items unfoldered

Slides, film, artifacts

Box 4, Items unfoldered

Oversize box: Photographs and prints, miscellaneous


Includes portraits of engineers.
Box 5, Items unfoldered

Oversize box: Photographs, cavitation studies

Box 6, Items unfoldered

Oversize box: Photographs including Terminal Island, Hydraulic Structures Laboratory (Azusa, CA), Apra Harbor Project, Guam aerials, unidentified