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Guide to the Department of Physics Records, ca. 1920-1962
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Brief History

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Department of Physics Records,
    Date (inclusive): ca. 1920-1962
    Collection Number: CU-68
    Creator: University of California, Berkeley. Dept. of Physics
    Extent: 8 boxes (8 linear ft.)
    Repository: The Bancroft Library. University Archives.
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Abstract: Contains correspondence files, budget materials, records of departmental meetings, material re research projects, instructional files.

    Includes records from the chairmanships of E.P. Lewis, E.E. Hall, R.T. Birge and C. Helmholz.
    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], Department of Physics Records, CU-68, University Archives, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Brief History

    The Department of Physics is as old as the University. The first professor of physics, John LeConte, was the first person elected to the original faculty (November 17, 1868). From 1876 to 1881 he also served as President of the University.
    The physics department occupied one lecture room and one office in North Hall until the death of John LeConte (April 29, 1891). From 1912 to 1923 it occupied all of South Hall. In 1923 LeConte Hall (dedicated to John and Joseph LeConte) was completed at a cost of $443,000. The accommodations were doubled in 1950 with the completion of an addition to LeConte Hall at a cost of $1,200,000. In 1964 the department gained another equal amount of additional space with the completion of Raymond Thayer Birge Hall, at a cost of $2,400,000.
    Frederick Slate became “head” of the department on the death of John LeConte, and he retained that position until his retirement in 1918. After that the department had “chairmen”: E. P. Lewis, 1918 until his death on Nov. 17, 1926; E. E. Hall, until his death on Nov. 19, 1932; Birge, until his retirement in 1955; A. C. Helmholz, 1955-1962; and B. J. Moyer, 1962 to the present.
    Physics was a one-man department until 1876 when John LeConte assumed the additional duties of President and then had the assistance of a temporary instructor. The first permanent addition to the staff was Frederick Slate in 1877. He was in charge of the physics laboratory which started in 1879 in one room in South Hall and was one of the first such laboratories in America. In 1887 W. J. Raymond became the third member of the staff. He retired in 1935. Lewis was appointed in 1895 and R. S. Minor in 1903. At the end of the first half century (1918) the staff consisted of Lewis, Minor, Hall, Raymond and three instructors. In 1918 Birge became instructor. From then on the staff rapidly increased in size and distinction. At the present time there are about 60 on the teaching staff.
    John LeConte was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1878. Birge was elected in 1932, followed by E. O. Lawrence (1934), L. W. Alvarez and E. M. McMillan (1947), E. Teller (1948), R. B. Brode (1949), N. E. Bradbury (1951), E. Segrè (1952), C. Kittel (1957), O. Chamberlain (1960), and G. T. Chew (1962). The Berkeley physics department now holds ten per cent of the entire physics membership of the academy. But more importantly, E. O. Lawrence was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1939, McMillan (with G. T. Seaborg) in 1951, Segrè and O. Chamberlain in 1959.
    Originally every student in the University was required to take three years of physics lectures. Shortly thereafter only certain types of students needed to enroll. In 1887 the total physics enrollment was 76; in the fall of 1964 it was 4,908.
    The first Ph.D. was awarded in 1903. The total number awarded by 1918 was only 12, but 74 were awarded to 1933, 400 to 1955, and about 800 to 1964. John LeConte published some 100 papers during his life. The only other active research worker prior to 1918 was E. P. Lewis, who published some 70 papers. Printed lists of departmental publications by both staff and students were not started until 1925. The total published from then to 1933 was 199, and to 1963 it was 2,379.
    Prior to World War I the largest number of physics graduate students was 25. After the war the number rapidly increased, in spite of rigid selection, to over 200 in 1933 and to over 400 at present. Half of these students do their research in the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, which is technically a part of the physics department.—Raymond T. Birge