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Compton, K. T. (Karl Taylor), 1887-1954



  • Existence: 1887 September 14 - 1954 June 22

Biographical Note

Karl Taylor Compton, 1887-1954, BS 1908, MS 1909, College of Wooster; PhD in physics, 1912, Princeton University, was president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1930 to 1948, then chairman of the Corporation until his death in 1954. He taught physics at Reed College, then at Princeton University, where he also was director of research at the Palmer Laboratory and chairman of the Physics Department. His areas of research included the passage of photoelectrons through metals, ionization and the motion of electrons in gases, the phenomena of fluorescence, the theory of the electric arc, and collisions of electrons and atoms.

In World War I he was assigned to the American Embassy in Paris as an associate scientific attache. At MIT Compton transformed both the administrative and academic structure, strengthened the scientific curriculum, and developed a new approach to education in science and engineering. He served as chairman of the Section of Physics of the National Academy of Sciences, 1927-1930, and in 1930 helped organize the American Institute of Physics. In 1933 President Roosevelt asked Compton to chair the new Scientific Advisory Board. When the National Defense Research Committee was formed in 1940, Compton became chief of Division D (detection: radar, fire control, etc.) and in 1941 was placed in charge of those divisions concerned with radar within the new Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). From 1943 to 1945 he was chief of the Office of Field Services of OSRD and scientific advisor to General MacArthur. After the Japanese surrender, Compton went to Japan as part of the Scientific Intelligence Mission. In 1948 he was appointed by President Truman to head the Research and Development Board, formed to oversee scientific preparedness in the postwar period.

*Prepared by the Institute Archives, MIT Libraries (November 1995)


Found in 13 Collections and/or Records:

Dugald C. Jackson papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0005
Abstract The collection documents the career of Dugald C. Jackson, a member of the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1907 to 1935. Correspondence, reports, and other materials document Jackson's years as head of the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering, his innovations in the department and the undergraduate curriculum, the establishment of a cooperative education program (course 6-A), and his work on MIT committees. His work as a consulting engineer and inventor is...
Dates: 1878 - 1952

Francis Bitter papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0077

These papers document the career of Francis Bitter, who helped establish the National Magnet Laboratory at MIT. The bulk of the collection postdates 1934, when Bitter came to MIT. The papers consist primarily of correspondence with colleagues, professional societies, and concerns that hired him as a consultant.

Dates: 1925 - 1967

George Russell Harrison papers

Identifier: MC-0060
Scope and Contents Records about the MIT Centennial and the Spectroscopy Laboratory document Harrison's years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Technical notebooks, information about Wavelength Tables, correspondence about consulting projects and with professional organizations, working notes, and other material concerning ruling engines for diffraction gratings document Harrison's research. There are copies of his publications and his scientific and popular speeches (1935-1972). Also included are...
Dates: 1916 - 1973

Harry Manley Goodwin papers

Identifier: MC-0121

Harry Manley Goodwin was a member of the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1890 to 1940 in the Department of Physics. He also served in several administrative positions. The collection contains correspondence with MIT colleagues during the period Goodwin was a professor of physics; and correspondence, speeches, memoranda, and news releases from the period he was dean of graduate students and of the graduate school.

Dates: 1888 - 1936

Karl T. Compton Memorial Convocation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Identifier: AC-0171
Scope and Contents note This collection consists of an audio recording of speeches and music presented at an Institute wide Convocation at the Massachusetts Institute of Techology (MIT) commemorating former president and former chair of the Karl T. Compton. A memorial service had been held earlier in the year in June, but the convocation was held on October 4, 1954 so that students could participate. Speakers included chair of the facult Martin J. Buerger, Dean of Science George R. Harrison; Provost Julius A....
Dates: 1954 - 1954

Karl Taylor Compton Memorial Tribute, WGBH radio broadcast

 Collection — Box 1: [Barcode: 39080036788492]
Identifier: MC-0238
Scope and Contents

The collection comprises an audio recording of the October 4, 1954 Karl Taylor Compton Memorial Tribute speeches given by Ralph Lowell and James R. Killian on WGBH radio broadcast.

Dates: 1954-10-04

Karl Taylor Compton papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0416
Scope and Contents of the Collection The collection contains biographical information about Karl T. Compton, physicist and president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Materials include correspondence between George Harrison, Julius Stratton, and Margaret Hutchinson Compton about Harrison's biography of Compton. Compton's date books, 1919,1934-1935, 1942-1954, some with detailed entries, and Karl and Margaret Compton's appointment calendars provide some information about the Comptons' daily activities....
Dates: 1906 - 1961

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Charles Hayden Memorial Library dedication records

Identifier: AC-0167
Scope and Contents of the Collection The collection contains audio recordings of speeches given and music performed at the dedication of Hayden Library (Building 14) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) May 19, 1950. Speakers include Norman C. Cousins, Julian P. Boyd, Vernon D. Tate, James R. Killian, and Ralph T. Walker. Hayden Library dedication trio consisted of MIT faculty Klaus Leipmann (violin), Gregory Tucker (piano), and George Finckel (violoncello). A copy of the dedication program is...
Dates: 1950 - 1950

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Office of the Chair of the Corporation, records of Karl T. Compton

Identifier: AC-0065
Scope and Contents The Office of the Chair of the Corporation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), records of Karl Compton came to the MIT Institute Archives with the Compton-Killian presidential papers (AC 4). This corporation collection is arranged in three series: 1949-1950, 1951-1952, and 1953-1954. Within this chronological order, material was arranged alphabetically by either the subject or the surname of the correspondent. Although Karl Compton assumed the...
Dates: 1948 - 1954

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Office of the President, records of Karl Taylor Compton and James Rhyne Killian

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: AC-0004
Abstract The collection consists of records created while Karl Taylor Compton (president 1930-1948) and James Rhyne Killian (president 1948-1959) served in the position of president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It contains correspondence, reports, memoranda, and committee materials about the activities of the presidents and their staff, the definition and evolution of policies, and the administration of the Institute. Records document Compton's early efforts to strengthen the...
Dates: 1930 - 1959

MIT Class of 1937 50th Reunion records

Identifier: MC-0265
Scope and Contents This collection is a copy of an audio recording put together by Peter Reitz, MIT class of 1937, for the 50th reunion of the class of 1937. It includes selections taken from the "Sounds of MIT, 1939" originally recorded by the MIT Sound Laboratory for distribution to alumni clubs. Side one includes the MIT cheer, MIT president Karl T. Compton agreeing to attend an alumni function, Robert H. Richards (MIT class of 1868), Glee Club singing "Dear to Tech", Davis R. Dewey on change in economic...
Dates: 1987

Norbert Wiener papers

Identifier: MC-0022

This collection documents the career of Norbert Wiener. Wiener was a member of the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1919 to1960 in the Department of Mathematics, and was a leader in the field of cybernetics. The material in this collection includes biographical information, correspondence, course material, manuscripts, and reprints.

Dates: 1898 - 1981

Robert J. Van de Graaff papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0045
Abstract The collection documents the career of Robert Jemison Van de Graaff, known for developing high-voltage electrostatic generators used for nuclear structure research, cancer therapy, and radiographic studies. Materials include correspondence, reports, contracts, drawings, and technical notes for major projects Van de Graaff worked on during his tenure at MIT, including projects for the US Office of Scientific Research and Development, as well as materials relating to the courses he taught in...
Dates: 1928 - 1948