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James R. Killian papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0423

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The collection reflects James R. Killian's personal and non-Massachusetts Instiute of Technology (MIT) professional activities from 1923 to 1985. Biographical information, personal and business correspondence, and journals and correspondence about his retirement provide some insight into his private life. There is a small amount of correspondence and other material from the years when he was editor of Technology Review and vice president of MIT, including an audiocassette interview (1982) he participated in about research at MIT during World War II.

Killian's many years of government service are documented in correspondence, reports, financial data, publicity material, and minutes of board meetings from the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television and from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; reports, notes, and correspondence of his involvement with the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the President's Board of Consultants in Foreign Intelligence Activities, and the President's Science Advisory Committee Capabilities Panel and Panel on Arms Limitation and Control. There is some correspondence and speeches from 1957 to 1959 when he was special assistant to the president for science and technology. The collection includes transcripts of an oral history interview conducted by the Columbia University Oral History Project in which Killian discusses his years as science advisor; Correspondence, financial data, notes, and photographs describe his involvement with the Atoms for Peace Award; also included are NATO Commission reports and correspondence.

Killian's relationships with professional societies such as the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering are documented in correspondence and reports; his involvement with various corporations such as AT&T, General Motors, and the MITRE Corporation are described. Information about his civic activities in Boston and Cambridge is also included. The collection contains copies of Killian's speeches and writings, including background information, publicity, and manuscript drafts of Sputnik, Scientists, and Eisenhower; and correspondence, drafts, and notes for Education of a College President.


  • Creation: 1923 - 1988


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.

Digital Access Note

Some parts of this collection are available online: see the link under the "Digital Material" heading below or the links to specific online digital items found within their entries in this finding aid.

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.


James Rhyne Killian, 1904-1988, S.B. in management, 1926, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), remained at MIT as assistant managing editor, then managing editor, of Technology Review, the magazine of the Alumni Association; he was editor from 1930 to 1939, and helped found the Technology Press, now the MIT Press. In 1939 he became executive assistant to MIT president Karl T. Compton. During World War II, when Compton was involved with the National Defense Research Committee, Killian acted as Compton's surrogate in directing the operation of MIT, which was also heavily involved in wartime research and development. Killian was appointed executive vice president in 1943, and vice president and member of the MIT Corporation in 1945. He became the 10th president of MIT in 1948 and served until 1959; he then served as chair of the MIT Corporation, 1959-1971.

As special assistant for science and technology to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957-1959, Killian formed the President's Scientific Advisory Committee (PSAC) which was instrumental in initiating national curriculum reforms in science and technology and in establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He participated in many other government advisory and study groups including President Harry S.Truman's Communications Policy Board, 1950-1951; the President's Advisory Committee on Management, 1950-1952; the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Naval Academy, 1953-1955; the Army Scientific Advisory Panel (chair), 1951-1956; and the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, 1961-1963. He was chair of the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television, 1965-1967, which led to the "Public Television Act of 1967"; he then served as director of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, 1968-1974. He was a member of the General Advisory Committee of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1969-1974. Among his books are Sputnik, Scientists and Eisenhower (1977); Flash! Seeing the Unseen by Ultra-High Speed Photography, with Harold E. Edgerton (1939, 1954); and The Education of a College President (1985).


68.2 Cubic Feet (64 record cartons, 12 manuscript boxes, 2 audiocassettes)

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 James R. Killian. Additional material was given in 2000 by Maude B. Barnes Wells.

Related Materials

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Office of the President, records of Karl T. Compton and James R. Killian, AC 4

Atoms for Peace Awards records, MC 10, MIT Department of Distinctive Collections

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Office of the Chairman of the Corporation, records of James R. Killian, AC 125

James Killian offical papers as Science Advisor to President Eisenhower are housed at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas.


  • Edgerton, Harold E., and James R. Killian, Jr. Flash! Seeing the Unseen by Ultra High-speed Photography. Boston: Hale, Cushman & Flint , 1939; C. T. Branford, 1954. MIT Libraries.
  • Killian, James R., Jr. The Education of a College President: A Memoir. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985. MIT Libraries.
  • Killian, James R., Jr. Sputnik, Scientists, and Eisenhower: A Memoir of the First Special Sssistant to the President for Science and Technology. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982. MIT Libraires.
Guide to the Papers of James R. Killian
Ready For Review
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

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