John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) was a leading theoretical physicist of the twentieth century, contributing particularly to the fields of general relativity, gravitation, and quantum mechanics. Wheeler was a pioneer in the study of black holes, celestial phenomena which he named. (He had a penchant for creating new terms in physics, and is credited with naming other phenomena such as geons, wormholes, and quantum foam.) Wheeler is also known for his work in atomic and nuclear physics. In 1939, he and Niels Bohr co-authored a paper that gave the basis for recognizing that Uranium 235 and Plutonium 239 are highly fissile, a milestone in the understanding of atomic energy. Wheeler believed in the importance of public service, assisting in the U.S. war effort to develop the atomic and hydrogen bombs, and served as a scientific advisor to numerous government agencies. During a prolific academic career that spanned seventy years, Wheeler taught physics to thousands of undergraduate students at Princeton University and the University of Texas, and mentored more than fifty Ph.D. students. The Wheeler Papers provide an extensive look into the expansive career of John Archibald Wheeler , the pioneering and award-winning theoretical physicist. Comprised of 150 linear feet, this large collection contains a wide array of materials including correspondence, subject files, manuscripts by Wheeler , papers by colleagues and students, research notes and notebooks, photographs, awards, and audiovisual materials. The collection provides much insight in to Wheeler ’s lengthy career as a scientist, scholar, and teacher. The bulk of the material is from the 1950s to the 1990s and covers the wide scope of his professional endeavors, from his teaching at Princeton University and the University of Texas, to his many publications, to his consultation work with government agencies, industry, and atomic energy projects, to his numerous public talks and lectures.
John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) was a leading theoretical physicist of the twentieth century, contributing particularly to the fields of general relativity, gravitation, and quantum mechanics. Wheeler was a pioneer in the study of black holes, celestial phenomena which he named. (He had a penchant for creating new terms in physics, and is credited with naming other phenomena such as geons, wormholes, and quantum foam.)
Wheeler is also known for his work in atomic and nuclear physics. In 1939, he and Niels Bohr co-authored a paper that gave the basis for recognizing that Uranium 235 and Plutonium 239 are highly fissile, a milestone in the understanding of atomic energy. Wheeler believed in the importance of public service, assisting in the U.S. war effort to develop the atomic and hydrogen bombs, and served as a scientific advisor to numerous government agencies. During a prolific academic career that spanned seventy years, Wheeler taught physics to thousands of undergraduate students and mentored more than fifty Ph.D. students at Princeton University and the University of Texas.
John Archibald Wheeler was born in Jacksonville, Florida on 9 July 1911. His parents were librarians and instilled in him a lifetime love of reading and learning, the importance of an active mind, the worth of achievement and service. He was a quick learner and an advanced student, entering Johns Hopkins University at age 16.
Wheeler studied under Karl Herzfeld at JHU and earned his Ph.D. in physics in 1933. His dissertation focused on the theory of the dispersion and absorption of helium. After graduation, he received a National Research Council fellowship to study at New York University and with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen. Returning to the U.S. in 1935, Wheeler accepted a position as Assistant Professor of physics, later Associate Professor, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
After spending a short research sabbatical at the Institute for Advanced Study, Wheeler was offered an Assistant Professor position at Princeton University in 1938. Grateful for the chance to work in the same town as the likes of Albert Einstein, Eugene Wigner, Hermann Weyl, and John von Neumann, he readily accepted. Princeton was to be Wheeler's primary employer until 1976.
After the United States was dawn in to the Second World War and an atomic program was started in earnest, Wheeler served as a consultant and physicist on several atomic energy projects. He worked for the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory (1942-1943), E.I. duPont deNemours & Co. in Delaware (1943-1944), and Hanford Engineering Works in Washington state (1944-1945). After the war ended, he returned to Princeton, and earned a promotion to Professor of physics in 1947.
Wheeler received a Guggenheim fellowship (1949-1950) to visit Paris and Copenhagen. From 1950 to 1953, while based at Princeton, he was a consultant and physicist for Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. He was in charge of the Project Matterhorn group that worked on conceptual analysis for the first hydrogen bomb, the "Mike" test of 1 November 1952, and created the design handbook for the first family of hydrogen bombs.
Wheeler's stints as a visiting professor during his career were numerous: University of Michigan (1939), University of Chicago (1940), the Lorentz Professor at the University of Leiden (1956), the Ritchie Lecturer in Edinburgh (1958), a Visiting Professor at the University of California Berkeley (1960), a Fulbright Professor in Kyoto (1962), Visiting Fellow of Clare College at Cambridge University (1964), at the University of Washington (1975), and Columbia University (1983).
After "retiring" from Princeton, Wheeler's career continued at the University of Texas at Austin where he became the Director of the Center for Theoretical Physics in 1976, Ashbel Smith Professor in 1979, and Jane and Roland Blumberg Professor in 1981. Wheeler retired from the University of Texas at Austin in 1986; in 1987, he returned to Hightstown and Princeton as emeritus professor. He remained active as a scholar and teacher until the latter stages of his life, maintaining an office at Princeton until 2006.
Wheeler served as consultant or advisor to the following: the Atomic Energy Commission; Department of Defense, where he was Chairman of Project 137 in 1958, the forerunner of Project JASON; the Central Research Division of E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co.; the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy; President Saxon of the University of California on the scientific work of the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Laboratories; the Southwest Research Institute (Board of Trustees, 1978); and, the United States General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament (1969-1972, 1974-1977).
His memberships included election to: the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1954); the American Mathematical Society; and, the American Philosophical Society (1951), where he served as vice president (1971-1974), councilor (1963-1966, 1976-1979) and member of the Library Committee for more than twenty years. (He was largely responsible for the Society's involvement with the Joseph Henry Papers [Mss. B. H39p], a joint project with the Smithsonian.)
Wheeler was a member of the American Physical Society (President 1966); the Danish Royal Academy of Sciences (Foreign member); the International Astronomical Union (1971); l'Academie Internationale de Philos. des Sciences; the New York Academy of Sciences (Honorary member); the Philosophical Society of Texas (1982); the Royal Society of Sciences at Uppsala; and the United States National Academy of Sciences (1952).
Wheeler served on the board of directors for: the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1971); Battelle Memorial Institute; and, the Southwest Research Institute (1978). He was also on the Editorial Board for the Journal of Mathematical Physics (1982-1985).
Wheeler was widely published and among his most important works are: Geometrodynamics (1962); Gravitation Theory and Gravitational Collapse (1965), with B. Kent Harrison, Kip S. Thorne and Masami Wakano; Spacetime Physics (1966), with Edwin F. Taylor; Einstein's Vision (1968); Gravitation (1973), with Charles W. Misner and Kip S. Thorne; Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and Cosmology (1974), with Martin Rees and Remo Ruffini; Frontiers of Time (1979); Quantum Theory and Measurement (1983), with Wojciech Zurek; Clues to Creation (1985); A Journey Into Gravity and Spacetime (1990); Spacetime Physics: Introduction to Special Relativity (1992); At Home in the Universe (1994); Gravitation and Inertia (1995), with Ignazio Ciufolini; Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics (1998), with Kenneth Ford; Exploring Black Holes: Introduction to General Relativity (2000).
Wheeler received eighteen honorary degrees from the universities in the United States and abroad. These include Sc.D.s from Western Reserve University (1958), University of North Carolina (1959), University of Pennsylvania (1968), University of Middlebury (1969), Rutgers University (1969), Yeshiva University (1973), Yale University (1974), University of Maryland (1977), Gustavus Adolphus University (1981), Catholic University of America (1982), and University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (1983). He also received an honorary Ph.D from the University of Uppsala (1975), and an honorary LL.D. from Johns Hopkins University (1977).
Wheeler earned numerous awards during his lifetime, including the: J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize (1984), the Oersted Medal from the American Association of Physics Teachers (1983), the Niels Bohr International Gold Medal (1982), the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award from the University of Texas at Austin (1981), the Herzfeld Award (1975), the National Medal of Science (1971), the Franklin Medal from the Franklin Institute (1969), the Enrico Fermi Award from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (1968), the Robertson Memorial Award from the National Academy of Sciences (1967), the Albert Einstein Prize from the Strauss Foundation (1965), and the A. Cressy Morrison Prize from the New York Academy of Sciences (1947).
John Archibald Wheeler married Janette Latourette Hegner on 10 June 1935. They had three children: Isabelle Letitia Ufford, James English Wheeler , Alison Wheeler Lahnston. On 13 April 2008, Wheeler died of pneumonia at the age of 96 in Hightstown, New Jersey.
The Wheeler Papers provide an extensive look into the expansive career of John Archibald Wheeler , the pioneering and award-winning theoretical physicist. Comprised of 150 linear feet, this large collection contains a wide array of materials including correspondence, subject files, manuscripts, papers by colleagues and students, research notes and notebooks, photographs, awards, and audiovisual materials. The collection provides much insight in to Wheeler ’s lengthy career as a scientist, scholar, and teacher. The bulk of the material is from the 1950s to the 1990s and covers the wide scope of his professional endeavors, from his teaching at Princeton University and the University of Texas, to his many publications, to his consultation work with government agencies, industry, and atomic energy projects, to his numerous public talks and lectures.
Of primary significance in the collection are the numerous volumes of research notebooks, containing Wheeler's daily record of calculations, thoughts, notes, ruminations on journal articles and theories, records of meetings attended, and conversations held about his work. Among other subjects, the notebooks touch upon physics, nucleonics, quantum electrodynamics, and relativity.
The correspondence in the collection is profuse, and provides much insight in to Wheeler's thoughts, works, and activities. It includes evaluations of theories, personal evaluations of scientists, and Wheeler's efforts to promote physics and scientific education.
The collection also includes important documents relating to Wheeler's participation in committees and professional organizations, such as: the Committee on Scientific and Technical Personnel of NATO, headed by Senator Henry M. Jackson; the Joint Committee of the American Physical Society; and the American Philosophical Society on the History of Theoretical Physics in the Twentieth Century.
Series I-VII are comprised of materials accessioned prior to 1994. Series with an "A" designation are comprised of materials accessioned in 1994 and later years.
Bequeathed by John A. Wheeler initially as a deposit, 1976; presented as a gift by James Wheeler and accessioned, 1986 (1986 1206ms); later accessions added periodically afterwards to 2010, the bulk of which were made by James Wheeler , with additional accessions by Letitia Wheeler Ufford and Alison Wheeler Lahnston. Kenneth Ford was instrumental in assisting the Wheeler family in transferring a number of the accessions of the papers to APS.
Processed by Anne Harney and Michael Miller
General physical description
150 linear feet
In addition to manuscript materials, John Wheeler donated a few hundred books to the APS. The books have been transferred to the APS collection of printed materials. Each book has been cataloged separately. A full list of the books is available.
- American Philosophical Society.
- Johns Hopkins University. Students.
- North Atlantic Treaty Organization. -- Committee on Scientific and Technical Personnel.
- Princeton University.
- University of Texas.
- Adler, Ronald John, 1937-
- Ball, Joseph A., (Joseph Andrew), 1932-
- Bekenstein, Jacob David
- Bohr, Aage Niels, 1922-
- Bohr, Niels Henrik David, 1885-1962
- Born, Max, 1882-1970
- Braginskiĭ, V. B., (Vladimir Borisovich)
- Breit, Gregory, 1899-1981
- Brill, Dieter R.
- Buchdahl, H. A., (Hans Adolph), 1919-
- Cethovic, Dragoljub Savo
- Condon, Edward Uhler, 1902-1974
- DeWitt, Bryce S., (Bryce Seligman), 1923-
- DeWitt-Morette, Cécile
- Dempster, Hugh
- Dicke, Robert H., (Robert Henry)
- Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955
- Feynman, Richard P., (Richard Phillips), 1918-1988
- Fischer, Arthur E.
- Ford, Kenneth William, 1926-
- Fuller, Robert W., 1920-
- Geroch, Robert P., 1942-
- Gingerich, Owen
- Godfrey, Brendan B.
- Hehl, F. W., (Friedrich W.), 1937-
- Heisenberg, Werner, 1901-1976
- Herzfeld, Karl F., (Karl Ferdinand), 1892-1978
- Kuchar, Karel Vaclav, 1935-
- Leutwyler, Heinrich
- Misner, Charles W.
- Ohanian, Hans C.
- Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
- Penrose, Roger
- Ruffini, Remo
- Sakharov, Andrei, 1921-1989
- Shepley, Lawrence C., 1939-
- Teitelboim, Claudio
- Teller, Edward, 1908-2003
- Thorne, Kip S.
- Toll, John S.
- Weber, J., (Joseph), 1919-2000
- Wheeler , John Archibald, 1911-2008
- Wigner, Eugene Paul, 1902-1995
- Black holes (Astronomy)
- Hydrogen bomb
- Manhattan Project (U.S.)
- Nuclear physics.
- Particles (Nuclear physics)
- Project Matterhorn
- Quantum electrodynamics.
- Quantum theory.
- Relativity (Physics)
- Science -- Societies, etc.
- Science -- Study and teaching (Higher)
|1913-1976||Volume 1-5: |
|1909-1990||Box 72-76: |
|1914-2006||Box 165-176: |
IV. Works by Wheeler
|1939-1988||Volume 12-23: |
IVA. Works by Wheeler
|1949-1996||Volume 24-81: |
Contains notes taken by Wheeler , preparatory notes for classes given by Wheeler , and notebooks on research and aspects of nucleonics, mathematical and statistical physics, quantum electrodynamics, relativity, thermodynamics, elementary particles, and astro-and geophysics.
The notebooks are voluminous and date from 1949-2008. The notebooks contain notes, letters, excerpts from journals, newspaper and magazine clippings, bibliographies and reading lists, and photographs. Wheeler's method was to paste in material and add his own comments or responses in the margins or in the pages that followed.
Some notebooks are indexed. See "Notebooks. Tables of contents."
Materials in Series V were accessioned prior to 1994.
|1927-2008||Volume 82-89: |
|1926-1987||Volume 90-110: |
|1924-2007||Box OS2: |
The original accession of graphics was a small collection of photographs, largely separated from correspondence and documents from elsewhere in the collection. Of interest are a series of photographed postcards, written by Albert Einstein to Paul Ehrenfest. Materials in Series VII were accessioned prior to 1994.
|1880-2005||Box OS3: |
The later accessions of graphics are more extensive, containing 24 boxes (12.0 linear feet) of materials--photographs, slides, negatives, and transparencies. The numerous professional photographs provide a rich insight in to Wheeler's lengthy and prestigious career, from his days as a young professor in the 1930s to an emeritus scholar in the 2000s. The series also includes a glimpse in to Wheeler's personal life, through several boxes of photographs of Wheeler with family and friends. Materials in Series VIIA were accessioned in 1994 and later years.
|1894-2005||Volume 111: |
Includes personal correspondence with family and friends, cards, planners, and address books. Also part of the series are two boxes of quotes written on to index cards collected by Wheeler during his lifetime. The quotes are testament to Wheeler's erudition and, together with the rest of the materials in this series, provide a glimpse into Wheeler's personality. Materials in Series VIIIA were accessioned in 1994 and later years.
A collection of personal and professional financial records, primarily comprised of income tax returns and supporting receipts and documentation. The series is subdivided in to loose papers and notebooks. Of particular interest is a notebook concerning Wheeler's expenses while working in science and atomic energy. Materials in Series IXA were accessioned in 1994 and later years.
|1933-2003||Box OS4-OS5: |
Correspondence, diplomas, and certificates relating to Wheeler's many professional accolades. Of particular interest is a facsimile of the American Philosophical Society's First Roll Book presented to Wheeler in 2001 on the 50th anniversary of his election to membership in the APS. Materials in Series XA were accessioned in 1994 and later years.
Over one hundred items of audio/visual material. Comprised of videotapes, 3/4-inch tapes, microfilm reels, and cassette tapes. The material concerns various aspects and subjects related to Wheeler's professional endeavors. Included are lectures, interviews, symposia, and documentaries. Materials in Series XIA were accessioned in 1994 and later years.
|1910-1970||7.0 Reel(s)||Box 260|
|1929-1987||12.0 Volume(s)||Volume 114-125|
An assortment of objects--drafting tools, a rolodex collection, pins, souvenirs, and commemorative and award medals. Of interest are two small pieces of graphite from the first nuclear reactor and numerous award medals won by Wheeler , including the National Medal of Science and the Wolf Prize Pin. Materials in Series XIIIA were accessioned in 1994 and later years.