Library of Congress Manuscripts: An Illustrated Guide
Previous Table of Contents Next

Science and Medicine

Over the years the Manuscript Division has acquired the papers of outstanding scientists, engineers, explorers, and inventors-- collections that illustrate epochs of scientific endeavor ranging from Benjamin Franklin's path-breaking experiments in colonial America to Wernher Von Braun's contributions to space exploration. These collections offer glimpses of such diverse technological achievements as John Fitch's 1794 steamboat, John Ericsson's Civil War Monitor--the Union ironclad famous for its duel with the Confederate Merrimac--Samuel F. B. Morse's telegraph, Alexander Graham Bell's telephone, and Herman Hollerith's computer. Also documented are Margaret Mead's ethnographic studies of South Sea islanders, Sigmund Freud's analyses of human behavior, Gifford Pinchot's efforts to save American forests, Luther Burbank's plant breeding experiments, Frederick A. Cook's polar discoveries, J. Robert Oppenheimer's work on the atom bomb, and Gregory Pincus's development of the birth control pill.

Researchers can trace the history of communications in the Morse and Bell collections as well as in the papers of Lee De Forest. Morse's first telegraphic message with its stirring "What Hath God Wrought?" embossed in dots and dashes is among the Library's treasures. Bell's papers bear witness to his wide- ranging activities and multifaceted life; his laboratory notes contain early sketches of the telephone, and other papers reflect his interest in educating the deaf, eugenics, marine engineering, and aviation. Schematics and diagrams are among the papers of De Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube and other electronic devices essential to the development of radio.

Thumbnail image of Alexander Graham Bell's 
notebook entry of 10 March 1876 Alexander Graham Bell's notebook entry of 10 March 1876 describes his successful experiment with the telephone-- speaking through the instrument to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, in the next room. Bell wrote "I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence: 'Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you.' To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said." [Page 2] (Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers)

The archives of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics contain photographs and other materials spanning the history of aviation from Thaddeus Lowe's Civil War ballooning exploits to modern space rocketry. These archives supplement the personal papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, whose notebooks and diaries cover the brothers' scientific experiments as well as their celebrated flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Orville's entry for 17 December 1903, describing the first successful powered flight, recreates a remarkable moment in aviation history.

Of the Library's strong psychoanalytical collections, the papers of Sigmund Freud, written in his unique gothic script, are by far the most significant. In addition to his correspondence with other practitioners and members of his family, the Library holds manuscripts of many of his monographs and of one of his most famous cases, that of Sergius Pankejeff--"the Wolf-Man." Complementing this file are Pankejeff's own papers, which include many of his paintings and drawings, and the papers of Pankejeff's analyst, editor, and friend Muriel Gardiner.

Thumbnail image of discarded pages of Sigmund Freud's 
draft Scholars are grateful to whoever rescued the discarded pages of Sigmund Freud's draft of "Eine Teufelsneurose im siebzehnten Jahrhundert" ("A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis"), which differ from the final published version. (Sigmund Freud Collection)

Insight into the history of nineteenth-century medical practice may be found in the Joseph M. Toner Papers. Similarly, the papers of Abraham Flexner, who studied American medical schools at the beginning of the twentieth century, are of major importance, since they provided the basis for his controversial report Medical Education in the United States and Canada (1910), which revolutionized the teaching of medicine and forced more than half of the existing schools to close.

Thumbnail image of Margaret Mead and 
her husband Gregory Bateson Margaret Mead and her husband Gregory Bateson are shown doing field research in Papua, New Guinea, in 1938. This landmark research expedition, which began and ended in Bali, Indonesia, was the first to use photography to document native cultures. (Margaret Mead Papers)

The extensive papers of anthropologist Margaret Mead include the "Pacific Ethnographic Archives," a mass of field notes, diaries, and oral transcripts assembled by Mead and her associates. Production materials document most of Mead's writings, and the rich photographic files testify to her pioneering application of that technique to anthropology. Nearly ninety years before Mead's first field trip to Samoa, Charles Wilkes commanded a navy expedition (1838-42) to the northwest coast of the United States, the Antarctic, and the Pacific islands. His papers include diaries, maps, and notebooks containing a wealth of scientific information. The recent acquisition of the Frederick A. Cook Papers refocuses attention on the enduring controversy over who was the first person to reach the North Pole--Cook or Adm. Robert E. Peary.

Thumbnail image of William Hornaday, a leading naturalist and longtime
crusader for wildlife conservation, William Hornaday, a leading naturalist and longtime crusader for wildlife conservation, was photographed here in 1920 feeding one of his charges in the New York Zoological Park (popularly called the Bronx Zoo because of its location). Hornaday, the park's founding director, sought to use its "natural" surroundings to establish breeding populations of vanishing animals. (William T. Hornaday Papers)

Beginning with the Second World War, an increasingly close relationship has developed between government and the scientific community. A vast amount of federal money has been spent on sponsored research, much of it concentrated on the development of atomic energy, a story well told in the division's collections. The papers of Vannevar Bush, a prime mobilizer of the scientific community, document his role as director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) and supervisor of the Manhattan Project, which developed the atom bomb. Complementing the Bush Papers are those of J. Robert Oppenheimer, head of the Los Alamos atomic project. Oppenheimer remained a key figure in atomic policy matters until his security clearance was revoked in a controversial action in 1954, a subject that coincidentally is recorded in the papers of journalists Joseph and Stewart Alsop, two of Oppenheimer's staunchest defenders. Closely associated with Oppenheimer was I. I. Rabi, a leading molecular physicist and scientific statesman, whose papers document his participation on many government advisory committees and his contacts with the international scientific community.

Thumbnail image of 1795 handbill, John
 Fitch announced the invention of his steamboat In this 1795 handbill, John Fitch announced the invention of his steamboat and sought funds to perfect his machine. Though Fitch built boats that successfully hauled passengers, they were commercial failures. (Peter Force Collection)

Commanding public attention today are questions about the fate of the earth. Several of the division's collections concern this subject. The conservation manifestos and other papers of William Hornaday, longtime director of the New York Zoological Park, reveal his efforts to preserve native animals, particularly a remnant herd of American bison. The papers of Barry Commoner, the "Paul Revere of environmental activists," speak to contemporary concerns about ecology, and the papers of Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist and environmentalist E. O. Wilson reflect his impassioned and sometimes controversial discussions of biodiversity.

Previous Table of Contents Next

Manuscript Reading Room

Library of Congress Home Page

Library of Congress
Legal | External Link Disclaimer
Ask a Librarian ( October 14, 2010 )