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Guide to the Raymond Thayer Birge Papers, 1909-1969
BANC MSS 73/79 c  
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Raymond Thayer Birge Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1909-1969
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 73/79 c
    Creator: Birge, Raymond Thayer, 1887-
    Extent: Number of containers: 42 boxes, 25 cartons and 7 oversize folders Linear feet: ca. 45.5
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Abstract: Letters written to him and copies of letters by him; manuscripts and reprints of his articles and papers; speeches; research data including notebooks; lecture notes, course descriptions, exams and other University-related material; papers (minutes of meetings, programs, etc.) relating to professional organizations, including American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Institute of Physics, American Physical Society and National Academy of Sciences. Covers his research on band spectra and physical constants as well as his academic career.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    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], Raymond Thayer Birge Papers, BANC MSS 73/79 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.


    Raymond Thayer Birge was born in Brooklyn, New York, March 13, 1887, to John Thaddeus and Caroline S. (Raymond) Birge. He attended high school in Troy, New York. From there he went to the University of Wisconsin where he obtained his A.B. in 1909, his A.M. in 1910 and his Ph.D. in 1914. His dissertation was on the photographing of the band spectrum of nitrogen and required a technique including careful measurement.
    In 1913 he accepted his first academic position, as instructor of physics at Syracuse University. In 1915 he was promoted to assistant professor. After the first World War the cost of living rose sharply and this, coupled with the threat of an increased teaching load leaving little or no time for research, inspired Birge to look for a position elsewhere. He greatly respected E. P. Lewis and knew of the well equipped spectroscopy laboratory at the University of California, and, when offered the position of instructor there in 1918, he readily accepted. In 1926 he was made professor of physics and by 1933 was chairman of the Department, a position he retained until his retirement.
    His research in spectroscopy led to several important contributions characterized by his style of rigorous and close attention to detail. He provided the original experimental verifications of quantum theory; discovered the carbon 13 isotope; predicted the existence of deuterium; and made a critical analysis and calculation of values of all general physical constants.
    His chairmanship of the Physics Department was characterized by an emphasis on research including the strengthening of the Department by attracting promising young men and giving them as much freedom to pursue research as possible.
    He retired in 1955 and, among other things, wrote a detailed history of the Physics Department and began a more intensive look at the scientific validity of certain psychic phenomena.

    Scope and Content

    The Birge collection came to The Bancroft Library in November 1972 as a gift of Professor Birge. Consisting of forty-one boxes (now 42) of correspondence and twenty-five cartons of related papers, with some material in oversize folders, it includes letters addressed to Birge; copies of letters written by him; reports; University notices; notes; minutes of meetings of University committees; research data; reprints of his writings; exams; news clippings; and publications. The papers cover a wide range of subject matter including his research on band spectra and physical constants; his membership in professional organizations; and his career as professor of physics and chairman of the Physics Department.