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Frank Press papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0159

  • Staff Only
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Scope and Contents of the Collection

Papers received in 1981 include information about earthquake projects Press worked on for the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA); and correspondence, minutes, reports, and budgets from the American Geophysical Union of which Press was a member, serving as president, 1974-1976. His years as an Executive Council member of the National Academy of Sciences are documented in papers, programs, and minutes; and correspondence, proposals, and reports describe his consulting for several National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) projects, including Apollo, Viking, and Voyager. Correspondence, proposals, reports, and memoranda describe Press's role as chair of the Earthquake Prediction Panel of the Office of Science and Technology in the Office of the (U.S.) President in the 1960s. Memoranda, discussion papers, reports, and minutes describe his activities as a member of the U.S. President's Science Advisory Committee, 1961-1964, and include information about space science and support of scientific research by the federal government.

Papers received in 1983 include correspondence and reports about Press's work on several ARPA projects, including the Seismological Determination of Epicenters of Nuclear Events; and agendas and minutes of the governing board of the National Academy of Sciences as well as correspondence and memoranda on marine environmental policy and rural development.

Papers received in 1993 document some of Press's activities as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), 1977-1980, and include a chronological correspondence file; extensive subject files, including information on energy, environmental issues, health policy, and industrial innovation; and agendas and minutes of meetings. Also included is personal correspondence, 1958-1981; and correspondence with individuals at MIT and papers about an MIT symposium honoring Press in 1981.

Papers received in 2015 include speeches given by Press arranged chronologically; research data sets; writings by Press including journal articles arranged in a numbered system, and newspaper and magazine articles and editorials. There are also numerous photographs, some from the White House photographer, very few personal ones, some research related - these were mostly in 35mm slides form. Transparencies, a CD-ROM, 35mm slides, and texts of Understanding Earth are present. There were many boxes of oversize material including framed photographs and honorary degrees - these were deframed and housed in oversize boxes.


  • Creation: 1945 - 2013


Access note

This collection is not fully processed and portions of this collection must be reviewed to identify any restricted material before access can be granted. Please submit your requests at least ten business days before your desired visit to allow time for this review. An archivist will respond within five business days to let you know whether your requested material is open. For complete information on this policy, see our Statement on Accessing Institute Records.

Materials related to Press' work with the Carter administration were formerly restricted by donor agreement. This restriction was lifted upon Press' death, per his wishes.

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.


Frank Press, 1924-2020, B.S. in physics, 1944, City College of New York; M.A. 1946 and Ph.D. 1949 in geology, Columbia University, taught geology and geophysics at Columbia University until 1955, then taught geophysics at the California Institute of Technology. He came to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965 where he was made professor and head of the Department of Geology and Geophysics. He was science advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981, when he became president of the National Academy of Sciences. His research in seismology included the development of the theory for understanding long-period surface waves in the earth's structure and the instrumentation to record them. He also developed techniques for seismic study of the moon and planets.

Press, an MIT Corporation life member emeritus, was the chair of the MIT Department of Geology and Geophysics (renamed in 1969 as the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and currently the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, or EAPS) from 1965 to 1977 and later returned to MIT for a short period as an Institute Professor. He is credited with major advances in geophysical research into the structure of the Earth’s interior, lunar and planetary science, earthquake seismology, and seismic wave propagation.

MIT Obituary:


94.1 Cubic Feet (90 record cartons, 2 mss boxes, 2 reels microfilm, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



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

Source of Acquisiton

Materials were given to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) by Frank Press between 1981 and 2015.

Separated Materials note

The following materials have been transferred to the MIT Museum:

Chinese certificate

Encyclopedia Britannica certificate

MIT Certificate of Recognition, 1981

National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council certificate, 1958

Society of Exploration Geophysicists certificate, 1975

U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Academy of Sciences certificate, 1974

7 black and white photographs of Frank Press

Processing Information note

This collection is not yet fully processed.

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.

Transfer List to the Papers of Frank Press
In Progress
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2023 September 6: Access notes for the collection were enhanced and revised by Chris Tanguay, Processing Archivist.

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