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Guide to the Charles Vincent Litton papers, 1912-1972
BANC MSS 75/7 c  
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Charles Vincent Litton Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1912-1972
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 75/7 c
    Origination: Litton, Charles Vincent, 1904-1973
    Extent: Number of containers: 13 boxes, 6 cartons, 7 oversize folders
    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 Litton and copies of letters by him; notes; notebooks; reports; blueprints and drawings; patents; etc. concerning vacuum tubes and machinery built by Litton and his various businesses; the operation of the companies; Litton's theories of physics; and materials related to personal business matters.
    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], Charles Vincent Litton papers, BANC MSS 75/7 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Material Cataloged Separately

    • Photographs transferred to the Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library
      Identifier/Call Number: (BANC PIC 1975.058--PIC)


    Charles Vincent Litton was born, March 13, 1904, in San Francisco, California to Charles A. and Alice J. (Vincent) Litton. As a boy he had been fascinated with radio—at the age of 12 he had his own "wireless house" in back of his parents' house in Redwood City-and so, it was not surprising that he went on to study electrical engineering. He received his A.B. from Stanford University in 1924 and his E.E. in 1925.
    After graduation he went to work in the area of the design and building of glass vacuum tubes. First he was a research engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York, from 1925 to 1927, and then a development engineer and department head of the vacuum tube division at Federal Telegraph Company in Palo Alto, California, from 1927 to 1932.
    When Federal Telegraph Company left the Bay Area, Litton expanded his "backyard laboratory" in Redwood City and in April, 1932, established Litton Engineering Laboratories. This was the first and the longest lived of the businesses owned by Litton. All were administered so that his own personal philosophy, policies of operation and ideas were those of the company.
    Litton Engineering Laboratories designed and manufactured glassworking machinery and equipment for the manufacture of power vacuum tubes and became engaged as well in some vacuum tube development work. Their Litton lathe was world-famous. In 1940 they expanded and began to manufacture vacuum tubes to meet wartime demands.
    In 1942, while still supervising his own business, Litton went East for two years to help Federal Telephone Company in New Jersey with the manufacture of a high frequency radar tube.
    A fire in November, 1945, destroyed Litton Engineering Laboratories' manufacturing plant and development laboratories. This precipitated the separation of the vacuum tube phase of the business and its subsequent move to San Carlos, California.
    In 1946 this operation became Litton Industries (of California). It handled the vacuum tube development and manufacture in the microwave field and sold only to the Department of Defense. Litton Engineering Laboratories continued to manufacture glassworking machinery and equipment.
    As the owner of two businesses, he was concerned about the financial situation of his family in the event of his death. He also wished to be freer to do research and development, rather than being tied down to the running of the businesses. So in 1953, he sold the stock of Litton Industries (of California) to Electro-Dynamics and it became Litton Industries, Inc.
    Litton then founded English Mountain Ranch, Inc., to handle ownership of new buildings and real estate and moved Litton Engineering Laboratories to Grass Valley, California. The business still kept mainly to the production of machinery and equipment but did turn out some lines of magnetrons.
    In 1961 Litton and some of his staff set up another corporation to manage and operate Litton Engineering Laboratories. Litton was able, once more, to return to research and development. Later he moved to Carson City, Nevada, where he died in 1973.

    Scope and Content

    The Litton collection came to The Bancroft Library in August, 1974 as a gift of Mrs. Carles V. Litton and family. It consists of thirteen boxes and six cartons of correspondence and related papers with some material in oversize folders. It includes letters addressed to Litton; copies of letters written by him; business papers; memos; reports; brochures; clippings; blueprints and drawings; notebooks; patents; and notes. The papers cover a wide range of subjects including the business operations of Litton's companies; developments and designs for tubes and machinery; Litton's theories in physics; and personal and family matters. Included also are family historical materials including a keepsake album, records and letters covering the years 1856 to 1933.
    While there is good documentation for the activities of Litton Engineering Laboratories after 1945 there is relatively little for the period from its founding in 1932 till 1944. There is also little information about Litton's business activities after 1961.
    The Key to Arrangement which follows gives more detailed information about the collection.