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Finding Aid for the Papers of John Todd and Olga Taussky-Todd 1920-2007, bulk 1950-1995
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Related Material
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Papers of John Todd and Olga Taussky-Todd,
    Date (inclusive): 1920-2007, bulk 1950-1995
    Collection number: 10128-MS
    Creator: Todd, John, and Taussky-Todd, Olga; 1911-2007, 1906-1995
    Extent: 24 linear feet
    Repository: California Institute of Technology. Caltech Archives
    Pasadena, California 91125
    Abstract: The scientific and personal correspondence, teaching notes, writings and talks, biographical papers, and a small collection of audiovisual material form the collection known as the Papers of John Todd and Olga Taussky-Todd in the Archives of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Both mathematicians, John Todd and Olga Taussky-Todd arrived at Caltech in 1957, respectively as a professor and a research associate. Olga Taussky-Todd was the first woman to receive a formal Caltech teaching appointment and, in 1971, a full professorship. The Todds stayed at Caltech for the rest of their lives. Upon retirement both became emeritus, but they both remained professionally active until their deaths: Olga Taussky-Todd in 1995 and John Todd in 2007.
    Physical location: Archives, California Institute of Technology.
    Languages represented in the collection: English German French


    The collection is open for research. Researchers must apply in writing for access. Some files will remain closed for an indefinite period. Researchers may request information about closed files from the Caltech Archivist.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright may not have been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Caltech Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and, unless explicitly stated otherwise, is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Papers of John Todd and Olga Taussky-Todd, 10128-MS, Caltech Archives, California Institute of Technology.

    Acquisition Information

    The core of the collection was donated by John Todd and Olga Taussky-Todd in 1994. A second donation came from John Todd's estate following his death in 2007. Additional supplements were donated by Mary Ann McLaughlin Schultz in 2007.


    John Todd and Olga Taussky-Todd, husband and wife, were European-born and -trained mathematicians who came permanently to the United States in 1947 and to Caltech in 1957 to serve on the mathematics faculty. John Todd specialized in numerical analysis, linear algebra, and computation. Olga Taussky-Todd was principally known for her contributions to matrix theory. She worked under Richard Courant at the University of Göttingen and had direct contact with the circle around Emmy Noether both in Göttingen and later at Bryn Mawr. The joint collection of papers documents primarily the Todds' professional life. A modest amount of personal and biographical material is also included.
    Olga Taussky was born in 1906 in Olmütz, then in the Austro-Hungarian empire, now Olomouc in the Czech Republic. She received her doctorate in 1930 from the University of Vienna under the guidance of number theorist Philip Furtwängler. She then served as an assistant to Richard Courant at Göttingen University in the editing of David Hilbert's collected works. At Göttingen she came in contact with many prominent mathematicians. She returned to Vienna as assistant to Hans Hahn and Karl Menger but soon obtained fellowships at Bryn Mawr College in the United States (1934-1935) and at Girton College in Cambridge, England (1935). At Cambridge, G. H. Hardy helped her obtain a teaching position at the University of London, where she met and married the Irish mathematical analyst John Todd in 1938.
    Taussky-Todd spent the early years of World War II in Belfast lecturing at Queen's University. In 1943 she returned to London with her husband and took up a research job with the Ministry of Aircraft Production. In the "Flutter Group" led by R. A. Frazer she became deeply interested in matrix theory and particularly in bounds for the characteristic roots of matrices. When in 1947 her husband John accepted an invitation to the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, DC, she accompanied him and was soon employed in establishing the new field of matrix theory. During that time she was also appointed a member of the Institute for Advanced Study and worked with John von Neumann in the early development of computer science. When John Todd was offered a faculty position at Caltech in 1957, again Olga joined him, but as a research associate. She was finally appointed full professor at Caltech in 1971, becoming the first woman at Caltech to hold this rank. During her Caltech years she taught and mentored many young mathematicians and maintained a wide circle of mathematical colleagues.
    Taussky-Todd was a prolific mathematician who wrote close to 300 papers. Her main interests were algebraic number theory, integral matrices, and matrices in algebra and analysis. Her papers ranged from the most abstract mathematics to applications of mathematics to specific problems such as flutter theory in aeronautics and finally to applications of matrix theory to the stability of motions. Throughout her life she received many honors and distinctions, most notably the Cross of Honor for Science and Arts, one of the highest civilian honors awarded by her native Austria. Taussky-Todd retired in 1977 but remained active in research until her death in Pasadena in 1995.
    John Todd was born in Carnacally, Ireland, in 1911. He was known to his friends and colleagues throughout his life as Jack. In 1928 Todd entered Queen's University in Belfast, where he was influenced by A. C. Dixon. After earning his bachelor degree in 1931, he moved to St. John's College, Cambridge University, for graduate study under the renowned mathematician John E. Littlewood. Todd left Cambridge after two years when offered a teaching job at Queen's University in Belfast. Subsequently he moved to King's College, London, where he soon met the mathematician Olga Taussky. They wed in 1938.
    Following the outbreak of World War II, John and Olga relocated to Belfast. Soon afterwards, John began work for the British Admiralty on the problem of demagnetizing ships to evade detection. He then established the Admiralty Computing Service in London, and with Arthur Erdélyi and Donald Sadler, he was asked to set up the British National Mathematical Laboratory. In the closing days of the war, Todd was part of an expedition to Oberwolfach in Germany to confirm rumors concerning mathematicians detained there by the Nazis. Once the war ended, Todd returned to King's College to teach numerical analysis. The following year, having received an invitation from John Curtiss to help establish the Institute for Numerical Analysis (INA) at UCLA under the National Bureau of Standards, he and his wife emigrated to the US. Todd worked for ten years at the NBS headquarters in Washington, where he helped launch the field of high-speed computer programming and analysis. Todd became head of the Computation Laboratory and later headed the numerical analysis section.
    In 1957 John Todd and his wife Olga moved to Caltech, which was just entering the field of computer science. He developed the first undergraduate courses in numerical analysis and numerical algebra, which play a key role in scientific computing. He later became interested in the history of computation. John Todd became professor emeritus from Caltech in 1981. He died in Pasadena, California, in 2007 at the age of 96.

    Scope and Content

    The John Todd and Olga Taussky-Todd papers where donated to the Caltech Archives without restriction. Two files still under U.S. government classification remain closed pending declassification processing. The papers mostly document John Todd and Olga Taussky-Todd's work in mathematics. The collection has been divided into six series: Correspondence (1); Teaching (2); Writing (3); Talks and Conferences (4); Biographical and Personal Material (5); and Audiovisual Material (6).
    Series 1: Correspondence. The alphabetically arranged series includes mainly communications with individuals, journals of mathematics, and mathematical societies. It contains both incoming and outgoing correspondence. Users will find additional correspondence throughout the collection. For miscellaneous correspondence under letters A, B, and C, individual correspondents are listed. For subsequent miscellaneous folders, this level of processing was discontinued. Major individual correspondents represented in Series 1 include: Élie Cartan, Richard Courant, Emmy Noether, J. Ochoa, Arnold Scholz, Erwin Schrödinger, John von Neuman, and Hans Zassenhaus.
    Series 2: Teaching. The series is subdivided into two subseries. Subseries 1 contains Olga Taussky-Todd's teaching materials from American University in Washington and Caltech. Subseries 2 contains John Todd's teaching materials, including notes for courses he taught at the University of London, Queen's University in Belfast, King's College in London, and Caltech.
    Series 3: Writing. This series is further subdivided into three subseries. Subseries 1 contains Olga Taussky-Todd's writings and is further subdivided into scientific notes; scientific notepads; mathematical problems and solutions; Caltech Mathematics Department notes; drafts of papers; reports and proposals; and notes on lectures by others. Subseries 2, John Todd's writings, is further subdivided into scientific notes; reports and proposals; reviews; and notes on lectures by others. In this last category are several sets of notes from lectures given by G. H. Hardy in 1932-1933. Subseries 3 is devoted to the reprints and publications of both Olga Taussky-Todd and John Todd and is divided accordingly. Subseries 4, titled Olga Taussky-Todd and John Todd Scientific Collection, includes papers, handbooks, reports, and other scientific materials created by other scientists, technicians, or students. Subseries 4 is further divided into papers dedicated to Olga Taussky-Todd, reprints, and articles, including papers by Henri Cartan, Emmy Noether, and several works by Wacław Sierpiński. Subseries 4 also includes technical reports (with two closed files, World War II and post-war related), course notes, and speeches.
    Series 4: Talks and conferences. The series is subdivided into two subseries, each arranged chronologically, mainly over 1930–1990. Subseries 1, devoted to Olga Taussky-Todd, follows Taussky-Todd's career from the 1930s to the end of her life and documents her nationally and internationally acknowledged authority on matrix theory. Subseries 2, devoted to John Todd, includes a smaller collection of his talks, mostly about computing and the history of computing.
    Series 5: Biographical material. This series is relatively compact but presents some personal and biographical information about the authors, which is almost absent in the previous series. The series is further subdivided into correspondence; school notebooks from the 1920s and the 1930s, written by Taussky-Todd and Todd both as students and teachers; Olga Taussky-Todd awards; celebrations and tributes; personal interest and memorabilia; financial and business affairs; Taussky and Todd family materials; biographical recollections, interviews and speeches, magazines and news clippings; and oversized materials which mostly contains certificates, diplomas and three-dimensional metal awards.
    Series 6: Audiovisual material. The series is subdivided in two subseries, of which the larger contains photographic material under self-explanatory headings. The photographic materials include both informal photos and formal portraits from the early 1930s to the 2000s; events, travel, people (including Erwin Schrödinger, Emmy Noether, Albert Einstein and Kurt Goedel), and family. Subseries 2 contains audio materials consisting of four audio cassettes with recordings related to Olga Taussky-Todd and an unidentified three-inch audio reel.
    The collection is organized into the following series:
    • Series 1. Correspondence
    • Series 2. Teaching
    • Series 3. Writing
    • Series 4. Talks and Conferences
    • Series 5. Biographical and Personal Material
    • Series 6. Audiovisual material

    Related Material

    Oral history interview with John Todd , Caltech Archives 1996. Autobiographical essay by Olga Taussky-Todd  written for the Caltech Archives in 1979-80

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    National Bureau of Standards
    California Institute of Technology
    Computer science
    Mathematical analysis
    World War, 1939-1945


    Computer scientists