© 2009 University of Chicago Library
Michelson, Albert A. Papers
1 linear foot (3 boxes)
Special Collections Research Center
Albert A. Michelson, physicist, professor. The Albert A. Michelson Papers consist of Michelson’s correspondence (1906-1935), correspondence regarding the curation of Michelson’s medals (1930-1940), cancelled checks, Michelson’s notebook on the Velocity of Light Determination (1925), an inventory Michelson’s materials held at Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories, reprints of articles (1891-1925), biographical materials on Michelson, drafts of speech about Michelson, press releases from the University of Chicago (1924-1927), two copies of Michelson’s notebook titled “Velocity of Light,” and a typescript of a work about Michelson’s interferometer.
The collection is open for research.
When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Michelson, Albert A. Papers, [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library
Albert Abraham Michelson was born on December 19, 1852 in Strelno, Poland (then a part of Prussia) to Samuel and Rosalie Przlubska Michelson. Two years later the Michelson family left Strelno for Murphys, California where his father opened a dry goods store. Michelson attended Lincoln Grammar School in San Francisco, and graduated from Boys’ High School in 1869. The family then moved to Virginia City, Nevada.
That same year Michelson won an appointment to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He was nominated by President Ulysses S. Grant after a recommendation from Senator William M. Stewart and Congressman Thomas Fitch of Nevada. Michelson graduated in 1873, spent two years at sea in the West Indies, and returned to the Academy in 1875 as an instructor in physics and chemistry.
In 1879 Michelson was posted to the Nautical Almanac Office in Washington, D.C. to work with Simon Newcomb, but the next year he received a leave of absence to continue his studies in Europe. He studied at the Universities of Berlin and Heidelberg, the College de France, and the École Polytechnique in Paris. Michelson resigned from the Navy and took an appointment as Professor of Physics in the Case School of Applied Science, Cleveland, Ohio in 1883. In 1890 he left to take a position at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Two years later he became a Professor of Physics and the first head of the Department of Physics at the University of Chicago.
Michelson rejoined the Navy in 1918 to serve in World War I, but returned to Chicago and was eventually appointed to the first of the Distinguished Professorships in 1925. Four years later he resigned from the University to work at the Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, California.
Michelson’s achievements and honors during his long career are vast, but perhaps most impressive was his 1907 Nobel Prize in Physics—the first Nobel Prize won by an American scientist. He excelled in the study of optics, and gave a Nobel Prize acceptance speech “Recent Advances in Spectroscopy.” Other noteworthy achievements include the famous “Michelson-Morley experiment” (1887), which was acknowledged by Albert Einstein as an important foundation stone in the Theory of Relativity, and his work at Mount Wilson that produced the most accurate determination of the velocity of light ever obtained by strictly optical methods.
Michelson’s many awards also include the Matteucci Medal (Societá Italiana, 1904), Copley Medal (Royal Society, 1907), Elliot Cresson Medal (Franklin Institute, 1912), Draper Medal (National Academy of Sciences, 1916), Franklin Medal (Franklin Institute, 1923), the Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1923), and the Duddell Medal (Physical Society, 1929).
In addition to numerous papers, Michelson’s works include Velocity of Light (1902), Light Waves and Their Uses (1899-1903), and Studies in Optics (1927). His was president of the American Physical Society (1900), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1910-1911), and the National Academy of Sciences (1923-1927). He was a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Society of London, and the Optical Society. He was also an Associate of l’Académie Française.
Michelson married Margaret McLean Hemingway in 1877. The couple had two sons and a daughter—Albert Hemingway, Truman, and Elsa. They divorced, and Michelson married Edna Stanton of Lake Forest, Illinois in 1899. They had three daughters—Madeleine, Dorothy, and Beatrice. Albert Abraham Michelson died on May 9, 1931 in Pasadena, California.
On May 8, 1948, the United States Navy dedicated a new laboratory to Michelson in California’s Mohave Desert. The Michelson Museum, located in the Michelson Laboratory, contains Michelson’s early research apparatus, original manuscripts and research notes, reprints of published research papers, photographs, the Michelson medals, and the parchment announcing Michelson as the recipient of the 1907 Nobel Prize in Physics.
The Albert A. Michelson Papers consist of Michelson’s correspondence (1906-1935), correspondence regarding the curation of Michelson’s medals (1930-1940), cancelled checks, Michelson’s notebook on the Velocity of Light Determination (1925), an inventory Michelson’s materials held at Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories, reprints of articles (1891-1925), biographical materials on Michelson, drafts of speech about Michelson, press releases from the University of Chicago (1924-1927), two copies of Michelson’s notebook titled “Velocity of Light,” and a typescript of a work about Michelson’s interferometer.
The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:
Henry Gordon Gale. Papers
George Ellery Hale. Papers
University of Chicago. Department of Physics. Records
University of Chicago. Division of the Physical Sciences. Records
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Correspondence and materials related to Michelson’s medals, 1930-1940
|Box 1 Folder 3|
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Notebook, "Velocity of Light Determination," 1925, and accompanying typed description
|Box 1 Folder 5|
of archival material pertaining to A. A. Michelson at the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories in Pasadena, CA.
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|Box 1 Folder 7|
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Miscellaneous biographical materials:
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Typewritten drafts of speech about Michelson
|Box 1 Folder 11|
Press releases regarding A. A. Michelson, 1924-1927
|Box 1 Folder 12|
Exhibit captions for exhibit of Michelson's scientific instruments, 1930
|Box 2 Folder 1|
Copy of Michelson’s Notebook, The Velocity of Light
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Copy of Michelson’s Notebook, The Velocity of Light
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Typescript of "Applied Telescopic Optics and Interferometry: Albert A. Michelson’s Light Wave Measuring Rod The Cosmic Unit of Metrology," by T.J. O’Donnell
|Box 3 Folder 2|
Photocopy of "Applied Telescopic Optics and Interferometry: Albert A. Michelson’s Light Wave Measuring Rod The Cosmic Unit of Metrology," by T.J. O’Donnell and accompanying letters (1967)