Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom records
Scope and Contents of the Collection
The Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom collection (1967-1978) documents the attempts of a small, grass-roots citizens’ movement to sway public opinion and influence the decision-making process of Congress. The collection consists of correspondence, newsletters, fact-sheets, reports, books, articles, clippings, pamphlets, bibliographies, and photographs.
When Dr. Shurcliff founded the League, he formulated a classification scheme for his files, and a copy of this scheme is included in the inventory. The collection has been maintained in this order, and folder headings reflect Dr. Shurcliff’s original numbering system. In some cases the numbers for specific categories do not appear in the final folder list as these categories were never actually used. The inventory includes the symbol (in parentheses) originally designated by William Shurcliff in his classification system.
In addition to the correspondence, the Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom collection includes an extensive series of magazines and newspaper articles and reports accumulated by Dr. Shurcliff. Clippings of articles were often sent to the League by members from diverse geographic locations, this establishing a core of reference material. And, as Dr. Shurcliff has noted, “most reports were highly specialized, issued by small little-known groups, written by little known people; hard to index, hard to file properly and virtually impossible to find elsewhere.”
Books, theses and college papers examining the issues of the sonic boom, noise pollution, and supersonic transportation represent another valuable series of information that might otherwise be lost.
The collection of newspaper clippings is arranged by country, and within the United States, by state, subdivided alphabetically by paper, then by date. For preservation, this section has been recorded on 35 mm microfilm and is available only in this form. The inventory contains a list of the newspapers, complete with frame numbers, to facilitate access.
- 1967 - 1978
- Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom (Organization)
This collection is open.
Conditions Governing Use
Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.
The Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom was founded on March 9, 1967, by Dr. William A. Shurcliff, physicist and senior research associate at the Cambridge Electron Accelerator, and Professor John T. Edsall, Harvard biochemist. The incentive to form Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom derived from Dr. Shurcliff’s concern over government publications concerning the acceptability of sonic boom. Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom operated out of Dr. Shurcliff’s home in Cambridge, and he conducted most of the campaign.
The purpose of the League was to oppose sonic boom and to halt the construction of all commercial supersonic transports, both in the United States and abroad. To this end, a massive information dissemination campaign was launched, directed primarily at the taxpayer, the media, and Congress. Dr. Shurcliff’s aim was to change public policy through public outrage. By demonstrating the potential damage to property and health caused by sonic booms, the economic inefficiency and unfeasibility of supersonic transportation, and the strain placed on the tax dollar by the increase in government funding of Boeing’s SST, Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom hoped that supersonic travel would be prohibited in the United States.
Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom’s principal activities consisted of gathering newspaper and magazine articles, books, and reports related to the SST and using this information to prepare fact-sheets, newsletters, and handbooks to influence the opinions of individuals and institutions. One of the major results of the League’s efforts was the publication of Dr. Shurcliff’s book, SST and the Sonic Boom Handbook, a book issued in 1970 based on earlier Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom handbooks. This book is an especially helpful secondary source of information and should be consulted by those using the Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom collection.
The media was originally identified as the most expedient means of reaching and influencing the public. Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom initially focused its campaign on newspapers, radio, and television. Between 1967 and 1968, the attitude of the press changed from pro-SST to anti-SST.
Congressmen and other government officials, especially those connected with the Federal Aviation Agency and the Department of Transportation (two agencies directly involved with the development of the SST), were also contacted. Some members of the Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom lobbied in Washington against the appropriation of additional funds for Boeing’s SST.
Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom had 5,000 members from all parts of the country, and Dr. Shurcliff made a deliberate point of maintaining personal contact with them. Bureaucratic methods of communication were conscientiously avoided. No dues were required and financial support of Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom derived from periodic requests for contributions. The members’ activities are represented in the collection by newspaper and magazine clippings, which they sent to Dr. Shurcliff.
It is important to realize that while Dr. Shurcliff and Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom were responsible for taking up the anti-SST cause, making it visible, and involving various environmental groups in the struggle, others had pioneered in the opposition to the harmful effects of the sonic boom. In Sweden, Bo Lundberg, Director General of the Aeronautical Research Institute, had published many articles and reports discussing the hazards of supersonic travel as early as 1960. Much of Dr. Shurcliff’s scientific information is based on these accounts. Senator William Proxmire (Democrat-Wisconsin) was also an early opponent of the SST and its noise pollution.
On March 24, 1971, Congress voted against the bill that would have provided the funds necessary for the continuation of Boeing’s production of a commercial SST. With this decision, Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom felt it had achieved a major goal and decided to concentrate its energies on prohibiting the British-French Concorde from landing at airports in the United States.
In December 1971, Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom, at Dr. Shurcliff’s request, went into “hibernation.” However, the League did not formally terminate until November 15, 1978, when the papers of the group were turned over to the MIT Institute Archives. As a result, the bulk of the collection contains material from 1967-1971, but there is additional information covering subsequent SST-related issues from 1971-1978.
19 Cubic Feet (19 record cartons)
Language of Materials
The Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom collection (1967-1978) documents the attempts of a small, grass-roots citizens’ movement to sway public opinion and influence the decision-making process of Congress. The League was founded by Dr. William A. Shurcliff, physicist and senior research associate at the Cambridge Electron Accelerator, and Professor John T. Edsall, Harvard biochemist. The collection consists of correspondence, newsletters, fact-sheets, reports, books, articles, clippings, pamphlets, bibliographies, and photographs.
Organized into nine series: Series 1. Administrative Material; Series 2. Group Information; Series 3. Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom Literature; Series 4. Magazines; Series 5. Reports; Series 6. Technical Material; Series 7. Books; Series 8. Membership Cards; Series 9. Newspaper Clippings
Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.
Separated Materials note
In 1977, Dr. Shurcliff weeded the collection and disposed of 1/5 of the material. In processing the collection, numerous duplicates have also been discarded, reducing the size by four linear feet.
- Shurcliff, William A. SST and Sonic Boom Handbook. New York: Ballantine Books, 1970. http://library.mit.edu/item/000577587 MIT Libraries.
The following list is a guide to major correspondents.
- Elizabeth Borish
- Ping Ferry
- Bo Lundberg
- Federal Aviation Agency
- Department of Transportation
- Volpe Committee
- National Academy of Sciences
- Coalition Against the SST
- Anti-Concorde Project
- Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom
- Environmental policy -- Public opinion. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Lundberg, Bo K. O., 1907-1991
- Shurcliff, William A.
- Sonic boom. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Supersonic transport planes -- United States -- Government policy Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom (Organization)
- Guide to the Records of the Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom
- Ready For Review
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- 2023 March 21: Revised by processing archivist Chris Tanguay in March 2023 to update access notes and enhance description.
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