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Carroll L. Wilson papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0029

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The six accessions given to the Institute Archives by Carroll Wilson from 1979 to 1983 were integrated into the present arrangement, maintaining Wilson's folder titles and original order when possible. No re-ordering was done within the folders. There are five series: Series 1, Personal, Biographical and Family Papers; Series 2, MIT Related Records; Series 3, Corporate Records; Series 4, Subject Files and Correspondence' and Series 5, Speeches and Writings.

Additional materials were received in 1978 with the records of the Workshop on Alternative Energy Strategy ( MC 180). The materials have not been physically integrated into the original collection, but were arranged in a parallel manner; they support the documentation contained in series 2 and 4 and are listed at the ends of these series.

The papers document Wilson's professional and personal life from 1932 until his death in 1983. The bulk of the collection dates from 1959 to 1982 and deals primarily with energy and environmental concerns. Documentation is thinner for his earlier career. Most of the papers created during his years at the Atomic Energy Commission from 1947 to 1950 are housed at the History Division of the U. S. Department of Energy, and those from the National Defense Research Committee and the Office of Scientific Research and Development, 1936 to 1946, are at the National Archives. There are only a few papers from his position as assistant to Karl Compton at MIT from 1932 to 1936 or from his work in private industry from 1950 to 1959, and there is only one folder of pre-MIT papers—correspondence from Wilson's brief stay in 1926 at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.


  • Creation: 1926 - 1983


Access note

Materials in this collection are open unless they are marked as restricted. Restrictions are noted in the container list.

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.



Carroll Louis Wilson was born in Rochester, New York, on September 21, 1910, the son of Louis William and Edna Carroll Wilson. Except for a brief stay in 1926 at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he attended the public schools of Rochester and graduated from Monroe High School in 1928. That same year he enrolled at MIT and received the bachelor of science degree in Management in 1932. He married Mary Bishoff on April 1, 1937, and the couple had four children. He died on January 12, 1983, at the age of 72.


Following his graduation from MIT, Wilson was appointed assistant to Karl Taylor Compton, the president of the Institute. During the next five years, he worked closely with Compton and Vannevar Bush, who was vice president and dean of engineering, in the reorganization and expansion of the Institute. Wilson also helped them with their work for the federal government including the Science Advisory Board and the committee on patent policy of the National Research Council.

In 1936, as special advisor to Bush, Wilson developed a procedure for the administration of MIT patents by the non-profit Research Corporation of New York. Still at MIT, he worked for the Research Corporation from March 1937 to June 1940, organizing and directing the division which handled patents for a number of educational and scientific institutions.

As the nation headed toward war in June of 1940, Bush organized the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), a civilian organization of scientists and engineers reporting to the President of the United States, for the development of new weapons. As assistant to the Committee, Wilson helped organize the Radiation Laboratory at MIT and took charge of scientific and technical liaison with Great Britain and Canada. In the early months of 1941 he went to London with James B. Conant, a member of the Committee, to establish an NDRC office there. In 1942 NDRC was placed under the newly created Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), the major science and technology agency of the war, and Bush was named its director. Wilson, as his executive assistant, continued to supervise liaison with Britain.

In November 1945, Wilson was granted leave from OSRD to consult with the State Department on atomic energy matters, and a few months later he became secretary to their Board of Consultants. Under the chairship of David Lilienthal, the Board formulated the Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy, subsequently known as the "Acheson-Lilienthal Report," which became the basis of the U.S. proposals to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission when it was created in June 1946.

Wilson spent several months as vice president and director of the National Research Corporation in Boston until October 1946 when he was appointed consultant to the newly created U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Two months later, President Harry Truman appointed him the first general manager of the Commission, a post he held from January 1947 to June 1950. As general manager, Wilson took a leading part in establishing the civilian-manned national energy program and represented the Commission in its associations with contractors, the U.S. Congress, the Defense Department, and foreign governments. Dissatisfaction with Gordon E. Dean, appointed chair of the Commission in 1950, led Wilson to resign in June of that year.

Carroll Wilson spent the next nine years in private companies involved in uranium mining and the manufacture of nuclear fuels for submarines. From 1951 to 1954 he was president of Climax Uranium Company and director of industrial development of the parent company, Climax Moylbdenum Company. In July 1954 Wilson left Climax to become a vice president and general manager of the Metals and Controls Corporation in Attleboro, Massachusetts. He resigned in 1959 when the company merged with Texas Instruments.

In 1959 Wilson returned to MIT as a lecturer in the Sloan School of Management, helping to direct and teach the Public Policy seminar program. In 1960 he was promoted to visiting professor, in 1961 to full professor, and in 1974 he was appointed Mitsui Professor in Problems of Contemporary Technology. Although he officially resigned from the Institute in 1976, he continued as a senior lecturer and Mitsui Professor until his death in 1983.


Beginning in 1959 when he left private industry, Wilson's interests and talents led him to undertake numerous, concurrent projects. The role of science and technology in U.S. foreign policy and in the economic development of Third World countries, the relationship between developed and emerging countries, and global energy and environmental problems were concerns running through his activities in these years.

In 1951 Wilson became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and participated in study groups on Emerging Problems of U.S. Foreign Policy in Africa (1953 to 1954) and Nuclear Weapons and U.S. Foreign Policy (1954 to 1956). From 1962 to 1964 he chaired a study group on Science and Technology in U.S. Foreign Policy.

Stimulated by a Council on Foreign Relations trip to Africa, Wilson created the MIT Fellows in Africa program in 1961, funded by the Ford Foundation. The Fellows helped to fill managerial positions in the new African states left open by the departing British until they could be replaced by African university graduates. He initiated a similar program in Latin America in 1965 and directed both until they were closed down in 1967.

Carroll Wilson also took a leading part in the establishment of the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi. The laboratory was founded in 1969 with the broad objective of producing species-specific, biodegradable pesticides.

From 1964 to 1971 Wilson was a member of the United Nations Advisory Committee to the Economic and Social Council on the Application of Science and Technology for Development (ACAST), which addressed the problems and goals of Third World nations.

He was a member of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) from 1961 to 1970. As the U.S. delegate and chair of the OECD Committee for Research Cooperation, Wilson helped to initiate cooperative programs among neighboring nations on common environmental problems including toxic chemical trade and packaging, water pollution, transfrontier movement of sulphur dioxide and acid rain, and sonic booms.

The Economic Policy Council of the United Nations was formed in 1976 to examine international economic issues of joint interest to industrial and developing countries. During the six years of the Council's operation, Wilson served on four panels: the Monetary and Capital Formation Flow Panel, the Energy and Jobs Panel, the North American Economic Area Panel, and the U.S. Policies Towards the International Financial Institutions Panel.

Wilson was a member of the Trilateral Commission from its establishment in 1973. It was founded to provide a forum in which non-governmental leaders from the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan could encourage cooperation among their governments on common problems.

Before the first U.N. Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm in 1972, Wilson, as an advisor, was charged with identifying critical global environmental problems to be considered at the conference. He therefore organized and directed the Summer Study of Critical Environmental Problems (SCEP) in July 1970. Forty people from many disciplines came to Williamstown, Massachusetts, to evaluate existing knowledge about global environmental conditions and priorities for research needed to fill in the gaps. Debate about the SCEP findings on climate led to a second study the following summer in Stockholm. Thirty-five atmospheric scientists from fifteen countries participated in the Summer Study of Man's Impact on Climate (SMIC). The reports of these groups were presented to the Preparatory Committee and the Secretary General of the U.N. Environmental Conference. In addition to advising on the conference, Wilson served as advisor to the executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, specifically on energy and the outer limits of global capacities.

Early in 1973 Wilson delivered the Elihu Root lectures at the Council on Foreign Relations. The second of the lectures, "A Plan for Energy Independence for the U.S.," formed the basis for the lead article in the July issue of Foreign Affairs. The third lecture described a process for making global assessments to handle the urgent problems of the world. To demonstrate the process, Wilson enlisted thirty-five leaders from fifteen countries to study global energy prospects to the years 1985 and 2000. After two and a half years of intensive work, the workshop on Alternative Energy Strategies (WAES) released its report entitled ENERGY: Global Prospects 1985-2000 (New York: McGraw Hill, 1977).

As a result of the WAES conclusions on the need for alternative fuels by the early 1980s, Wilson organized the World Coal Study (WOCOL), engaging industrial and governmental leaders from sixteen countries. Their final report was used for the planning of the Venice Summit in June 1980 and the International Agency of the OECD and its Coal Industry Advisory Board.

Between 1959 and 1983 Wilson was involved in other environmental projects and organizations: he was a member of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, serving as an advisor to the director and a member of the Board of Trustees; he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Bolton Institute for Sustainable Growth and collaborated on a seminar held yearly at MIT from 1972 to 1976 on Strategies for Sustainable Growth; from 1972 to 1981 he was a member of the Club of Rome, an international forum for debate on global problems; as a member of the Commission on Critical Choices for Americans, organized in 1973 by Nelson Rockefeller, he served on two panels: "Energy and its Relationship to Ecology, Economics and World Stability" and "Food, Health, World Population and the Quality of Life"; from 1973 to 1975 he was associated with the Centre for Educational and International Management (CEI) in Geneva, organizing and advising a project on professional education for environmental management--a project carried out concurrently at MIT; and in 1977 when President Carter directed the Council on Environmental Quality to make a study of probable environmental changes through the end of the century, Wilson advised the project in areas of climate and energy.

In the fall of 1981, under the auspices of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Wilson initiated another international, cross-disciplinary study. The European Security Study (ESECS) addressed the question: How can NATO improve its conventional capacity so as to enhance its deterrent to aggression and lessen its dependence on possible early use of nuclear weapons? Wilson died before the project's completion, but the study was concluded and the final report published in 1983. The report is entitled Strengthening Conventional Deterrence in Europe and is available in the Institute Archives.

Honors and awards

Carroll Wilson received two honorary doctorate degrees, an Sc.D. from Williams College in 1947 and an Eng.D. in 1976 from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. In 1948 President Harry Truman awarded him the Medal for Merit honoring his contributions from 1940 to 1946 to the war effort at the Office of Scientific Research and Development. In the same year the British Government named Wilson an Honorary Officer of the Civil Division of the order of the British Empire in recognition of his "valuable services in the Allied cause." And in 1981 he was awarded the John and Alice Tyler Ecology/Energy Prize for his work on world environment and energy studies.


58 Cubic Feet (58 record cartons)

Language of Materials



Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Source of Acquisiton

The papers were given to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) by Carroll Wilson in six accessions from 1979 to 1983. In October 1984 additional material was transferred to Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) by Susan Leland of the Workshop on Alternative Energy Strategies office.

Appraisal note

Needs review.

Related Materials in Other Institutions

Atomic Energy Commission records at the Historian's Office of the Department of Energy in Washington.

Records of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) and Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) at the National Archives.

Related Materials in the Institute Archives

Workshop on Alternate Energy Strategies records, 1972-1981 (MC 180).

World Coal Study records, 1977-1980. (MC 186).

European Security Study records, 1981-1982. (MC 171).

Report of the Carroll L. Wilson Awards Committee, January 1987. One of a Kind: Carroll L. Wilson: A Biography by Milton Lomask. Cambridge, Mass., 1987. MIT Libraries.

Processing Information note

During processing the collection was reduced from 88 to 50 cubic feet: seven cubic feet of chronological copies of correspondence duplicated in the alphabetical files were removed, along with ten cubic feet of duplicates, bills and receipts, and publications, reports and papers not authored or advised upon by Wilson. one cubic foot of publications was sent to the gifts and exchanges department of the MIT Libraries. Six cubic feet of papers created by Wilson in his capacity as director of the World Coal Study, the Workshop on Alternative Energy Strategies, and the European Security Study were added to the separate collections on those projects.

Papers received in 1978 with the records of the Workshop on Alternative Energy Strategy (MC 180.) were reduced during processing from ten to six cubic feet. The materials have not been physically integrated into the original collection, but were arranged in a parallel manner and placed at the end of the collection. The materials support the documentation contained in series 2 and 4.

Boxes 52 and 60 are subcontainers of boxes 51 and 53 respectively. They were once listed as separate containers with the same barcode but are now connected to the larger container for requested purposes, with the smaller container listed as a subcontainer as appropriate.

Processing Information note

Some collection descriptions are based on legacy data and may be incomplete or contain inaccuracies. Description may change pending verification. Please contact the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections if you notice any errors or discrepancies.


Guide to the Papers of Caroll L. Wilson
Ready For Review
Amy Sugarman
Copyright 1983, 1984
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processing of the collection was funded by a grant from the U.S. Office of Education, Title II-C.

Revision Statements

  • 2022 April 12: Digital archivist, Joe Carrano, updated extent and containers to reflect that boxes 52 and 60 are actually subcontainers

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US