Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Ernest O. Lawrence Papers, ca. 1920-1968
BANC MSS 72/117 c; BANC FILM 2248  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (0.80 Mb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Ernest O. Lawrence papers
    Date (inclusive): ca. 1920-1968
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 72/117 c; BANC FILM 2248
    Creator: Lawrence, Ernest Orlando, 1901-1958.
    Extent: Number of containers: 48 cartons, 12 oversize folders Number of microfilm reels: 79 60.6 linear feet 12 digital objects (13 images)
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, CA 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    URL: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
    Abstract: Included are the personal papers of Ernest Lawrence, administrative records for the University of California Radiation Laboratory, the Joseph C. Hamilton papers dealing with the Crocker Radiation Laboratory, and some papers of Lawrence's close associate, Donald Cooksey. The papers relate primarily to the Radiation Laboratory, University of California; relations with the Office of Scientific Research and Development and the Atomic Energy Commission; development of cyclotron technology and establishment of cyclotrons at other institutions, etc.
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

    Information for Researchers


    RESTRICTED ORIGINALS. USE MICROFILM COPY ONLY WITH CALL NUMBER BANC FILM 2248. Use of originals only by permission of the appropriate curator. Inquiries concerning these materials should be directed, in writing, to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library 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], Ernest O. Lawrence Papers, BANC MSS 72/117 c; BANC FILM 2248, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

    Alternate Forms Available

    Digital reproductions of selected items are available.

    Material Cataloged Separately

    • Some photographs of Ernest Lawrence have been removed to The Bancroft Library's Pictorial Collection.
    • Phono records of speeches have been removed for separate indexing in The Bancroft Library's Audio-Visual Collection.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog
    Particle accelerators.


    Ernest Orlando Lawrence, Nobel prizewinning physicist, inventor of the cyclotron and the founder and first director of the University of California Radiation Laboratory, was born on August 8, 1901 in Canton, South Dakota. His parents Carl Gustavus and Gunda Jacobson Lawrence were the children of Norwegian immigrants. Ernest Lawrence attended St. Olaf College and later the University of South Dakota, where he received his A.B. degree in 1922. He had originally thought to become a medical doctor, but was influenced to switch to a career in physics while attending the University.
    Following graduate work at the University of Minnesota and the University of Chicago, Lawrence accompanied his research advisor, Professor W. F. G. Swann, to Yale University, where he received his Ph.D. degree in 1925. Lawrence continued research in photoelectricity at Yale as a National Research Fellow and an assistant professor. He gained an important reputation in this field through his measurements of the ionization potential of the mercury atom and the time lapse between radiation striking a metal surface and the first appearance of electrons (with Jesse W. Beams). Several universities sought Lawrence for their faculties. He accepted an offer to join the University of California faculty in 1928, and two years later he was the youngest full professor on the Berkeley faculty.
    He was soon caught up in the quest for a way to accelerate particles to high energies and thus expand the research into the atomic nucleus begun by Ernest Rutherford's bombardment of light elements using the alpha particles from radium. In September, 1930, he made the first public announcement of the new method at the meeting of the National Academy of Sciences held in Berkeley and demonstrated a tiny model cyclotron. From the days of that first model, Lawrence followed a pattern of building bigger and more sophisticated machines. In 1939, he received the Nobel Prize for his remarkable invention.
    The first cyclotrons of any size were the 11" (1930) and the 27" (1934), later expanded to 37" (1937). They were used to confirm the existence of artificially induced radioactivity, the disintegration of light ions, and to produce large amounts of neutrons for the study of radio isotopes. Next came the 60" medical cyclotron (1939), which was used in the work of Lawrence's brother, Dr. John H. Lawrence, on the effects of neutron therapy on cancer and the production of radioisotopes for medical use. Then followed the 184", which in its final form in 1946 included the synchrotron design of Edwin M. McMillan, and, in 1954, the Bevatron, based on a design of William Brobeck.
    Along with these advances in cyclotron technology came a phenomenal growth in what was called the Radiation Laboratory. By 1936, it was a combination of some office space in, and an old wooden building behind, LeConte Hall, the physics building, but it soon expanded into many buildings. In 1940, before the tremendous growth during and after World War II, there was a separate medical cyclotron laboratory, called Crocker Radiation Laboratory, the construction of the Donner Biophysics Laboratory had begun, and money had been obtained to construct the 184" cyclotron in a setting off the main campus on Charter Hill. This growth was possible because Lawrence had proved to have a remarkable gift for getting financial support. He had complete faith in the need for his exploring ideas; his enthusiasm was infectious. He used the funds received to produce significant research results and so the cycle repeated.
    During World War II, Lawrence worked closely first with the National Defense Research Committee on microwave research and submarine detection and then with the Office of Scientific Research and Development's Section S-1, subsequently the Manhattan Engineer District, on the magnetic separation method for isolating U 235. The magnet for the 184" cyclotron was converted into a giant mass spectrograph, Calutron, for research into the separation technique. Not only did Lawrence head the activities at the Berkeley laboratory, but he also attended many Washington meetings and gave advice concerning the development of the atomic bomb and suggestions for its use. In addition, Radiation Laboratory scientists worked on the development of prototype racetrack separators for the magnetic separation plant section of the Y-12 facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
    After the war, the University of California Radiation Laboratory continued to be financed from Manhattan Engineer District funds. The Laboratory was even given support for projects outside of the District's specific province. With the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission, the support of the Laboratory was taken over by the Commission and increased. In 1952, at the AEC's request, Lawrence established a new laboratory at Livermore to do weapons and other applied research.
    By this time, Lawrence seldom took part in the actual experiments carried on at the laboratories. However, he still took time out from busy administrative duties to visit various parts of the complex Laboratory, to talk with colleagues about their work and offer his help. Like many other scientists after the war who became national figures, Lawrence was called upon by the federal government to give his opinion on problems in weapons development and the dangers of radioactive fallout. An old interest in television inspired him to work on a color television tube in the early 1950's. This grid style picture tube, the Lawrence tube or Chromatron, was used in the portable color television sets of a Japanese company in the late 1960's.
    Although he had been diagnosed early in 1952 as having chronic ulceritis and told to rest and relax more, Lawrence could not stay his fast pace for long. At President Eisenhower's request, and with only the hesitant approval of his doctor, Lawrence attended the 1958 Geneva conference on the suspension of nuclear testing. There he became acutely ill and had to return early to the United States. He died shortly afterward, on August 27, 1958, leaving behind Mary Blumer Lawrence, his wife of 26 years, and their six children.

    Scope and Content

    The E. O. Lawrence Papers were transferred from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, formerly the Radiation Laboratory, to The Bancroft Library in 1972 and 1973. Additional papers were donated by Mrs. Lawrence in 1974. The collection includes the personal papers of Ernest O. Lawrence, administrative papers for the University of California Radiation Laboratory, the Joseph G. Hamilton papers dealing with the 60" cyclotron and the Crocker Radiation Laboratory, and the papers of Lawrence's close associate, Donald Cooksey, covering the years 1920-1965.
    The collection as a whole covers the years 1920-1968 and presents a detailed record of all phases of Lawrence's life and career and the growth, administration and projects of the Radiation Laboratory. There are letters, memos, telegrams, reports, transcripts of telephone conversations, and such miscellaneous items as invitations, newsclippings, notes, expense records, etc. Some photographs of Ernest Lawrence have been removed to The Bancroft Library's Pictorial Collection. All phonograph records and tapes have been removed to The Bancroft Library's Audio-Visual Collection.
    The papers from the Laboratory were kept in series covering major subjects. Folders in some series were in alphabetical correspondent/subject arrangement and, in others, a chronological arrangement. This basic arrangement has been retained with few exceptions. The Manhattan Engineer District series was completely re-organized, particularly the "declassified miscellaneous," into an alphabetical correspondent/subject arrangement; and all material relating to experimental work was removed from the Equipment series and interfiled into other series. Additional personal papers donated by Mrs. Lawrence were interfiled with existing series.
    Lawrence's personal and professional papers cover the period 1920-1958 and are to be found in all series. For the years before 1945 they are integrated with the papers concerning the Radiation Laboratory and, as such, provide a complete picture of advances in cyclotron technology, the establishment of cyclotrons at other institutions, the research done by Lawrence and others at the Radiation Laboratory both before and during World War II, and the research work at other institutions, as reported by colleagues.
    For the years after 1945, the papers are, for the most part, made up of the official papers of the University of California Radiation Laboratory. They focus mainly on the administration and research work of the Laboratory's "Hill" area, with some information on activities at the Livermore and Los Alamos installations. Thus, for instance, there is little material about the development of the Lawrence tube or Chromatron.
    The papers contain only a small amount of information about the University of California's Donner Laboratory and the Radiation Laboratory-related activities of the University of California, San Francisco. However, a detailed account of the administration and medical research of the Crocker Radiation Laboratory of the University of California from 1939 to 1962 is to be found, due to the inclusion of the papers of Joseph G. Hamilton, M.D., the Laboratory's director.