Finding Aid for the Carl D. Anderson Papers 1923-1987

Processed by Paula Hurwitz.
Caltech Archives
California Institute of Technology
1200 East California Blvd.
Mail Code 015A-74
Pasadena, CA 91125
Phone: (626) 395-2704
Fax: (626) 793-8756
California Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.

Descriptive Summary

Title: Carl D. Anderson Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1923-1987
Collection number: 10053-MS
Creator: Anderson, Carl D. (Carl David) 1905-1991
Extent: 2.5 linear feet
Repository: California Institute of Technology. Caltech Archives
Pasadena, California 91125
Abstract: A selection of the course and teaching notes, correspondence, technical files, and photographs of Carl D. Anderson (1905-1991) form the collection known as the Carl D. Anderson Papers in the Archives of the California Institute of Technology. Working under Robert A. Millikan at Caltech, Anderson conducted experiments on the penetrating radiation known as cosmic rays with a magnet cloud chamber, and in 1936 he won the Nobel Prize in physics for his discovery of the positive electron, or positron. Anderson was professor of physics at Caltech until 1976 and chairman of the Division of Physics, Math and Astronomy from 1962-1970.
Physical location: Archives, California Institute of Technology.
Language of Material:
Languages represented in the collection:
English German


The collection is open for research. Researchers must apply in writing for access.

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], Carl D. Anderson Papers, 10053-MS, Caltech Archives, California Institute of Technology.

Acquisition Information

Carl D. Anderson donated selected papers to the Caltech Archives in 1987 and 1988.


Carl David Anderson was born September 3, 1905, in New York City. He was the only child of Swedish immigrants Carl David Anderson and Emma Adolfina Ajaxson. In 1912 the family moved to Los Angeles, where the elder Anderson managed a small restaurant business. Carl attended Los Angeles Polytechnic High School, from which he graduated in 1923. The following fall he entered the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena as a freshman, intending to study electrical engineering. In his sophomore year, during a course with Ira Bowen, he decided to change his major to physics. After receiving his BS in 1927, he stayed on at Caltech to do graduate work under Robert A. Millikan. His doctoral thesis, entitled "Space-Distribution of X-Ray Photoelectrons Ejected from the K and L Atomic Energy-Levels," involved a cloud-chamber study of photoelectrons (electrons exposed to radiation) scattered from various gases by X rays. He received his PhD in 1930.
Anderson was encouraged by Millikan to stay on at Caltech for a postdoctoral year to conduct experimental research on the penetrating radiation known as cosmic rays. Anderson designed and constructed an apparatus consisting of a giant electromagnet wrapped around a cloud chamber. He inserted a lead plate into the middle of the cloud chamber to lessen the particles' energy and to clarify the direction of their motion (negatively charged particles moved downward). An arc-lighted camera was focused on the chamber's window to record the vapor trails of electrons or other charged particles passing through. The magnet cloud chamber was put in operation in October 1931. At this time, scientists had only identified two elementary particles of matter--the electron and the proton. However, in 1928 Paul Dirac, in what came to be known as Dirac's equations, posited the existence of another particle, comparable in mass to the negatively charged electron, but with a positive charge, an "anti-electron." On August 2, 1932, viewing a very clear photograph of an upward-moving particle with mass similar to the electron, Anderson knew he had discovered the "positive electron," later named the positron. This was the particle predicted by Dirac. In fact, Dirac's theory predicted that all elementary particles should have their own antiparticles. Thus the term "antimatter" emerged, and Anderson was hailed as its discoverer. Anderson published his research in Science magazine on September 9, 1932. At first his results were met with skepticism. Ultimately they were confirmed by experimenters, initially in 1933 at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England, by Patrick M. S. Blackett and G. P. S. Occhialini.
Anderson's work garnered him the Nobel Prize in 1936, at the age of only 31. A year prior to this date, in 1935, Anderson and his first graduate student, Seth Neddermeyer, discovered another subatomic particle, which they named the mesotron (later called the μ-meson or muon). The muon discovery grew out of experimental work on cosmic rays done at high altitude (around 14,000 feet) on Pikes Peak in Colorado. In 1933 Anderson became assistant professor at Caltech. He was named associate professor in 1937 and professor in 1939.
During World War II Anderson was closely associated with the Caltech rocket research and development effort, led by Charles C. Lauritsen and funded by the U. S. Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). Anderson spent his time working on problems associated with the launching of rockets from airplanes. For his wartime work, he received the Presidential Certificate of Merit in 1945. In 1946 Anderson married Lorraine Bergman. They had two sons.
In the postwar period Anderson returned to his work on cosmic rays. He and his graduate students continued to take cloud chamber photographs at high altitudes, now using a B-29 aircraft, and also measuring variations in cosmic-ray effects at selected latitudes on the Earth's surface. They painstakingly accumulated further evidence of the existence of more subatomic particles, thus confirming the underlying complexity in the structure of matter and leading the way to a new branch of study, particle physics.
By the late 1950s, Anderson's kind of cosmic-ray investigation was beginning to be supplanted by work done on huge high-energy accelerators, both at Caltech and around the world. Anderson became chairman of the Caltech's Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy in 1962, a position which he held until 1970. He retired from Caltech in 1976 with the title Board of Trustees Professor of Physics, Emeritus.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Anderson was the recipient of many awards: the Gold Medal of the American Institute of the City of New York (1935), the Elliott Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute (1937), the John Erikson Medal of the American Society of Swedish Engineers (1960), in addition to three honorary doctorates from Colgate University (1937), Temple University (1949) and Gustavus Adolphus College (1963). He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1936 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1954. Anderson died in San Marino, California, at the age of 85.

Scope and Content

The Carl D. Anderson papers represent only a small piece of Anderson's scientific legacy. The collection is divided into four series. The first, Course Notes and Teaching Files, 1920s-1940s, includes both notes taken by Anderson during his student years at Caltech and his own lecture notes. The former group is of interest for the prominent professors who taught at Caltech in this era, notably J. Robert Oppenheimer (quantum theory), but also Robert A. Millikan (electron theory) and the distinguished visiting physicist from Munich, Arnold Sommerfeld (problems in wave mechanics). The second series contains files from the period of Anderson's chairmanship of the Division of Physics, Math and Astronomy (PMA) at Caltech, from 1964-1970, and a few items past those dates. Series 3 contains a small set of correspondence which includes letters with scientific collaborators such as Seth Neddermeyer, H. Victor Neher, and Bruno Rossi. Also included here are two substantial files on William Shockley (Caltech B.S., physics, 1932; later inventor of the transistor and Nobel laureate) from the period of Shockley's notoriety over his controversial, inherently racist views on population genetics, 1962-1970.
Series 4 is a mix of technical notes, photos, World War II material, and some biographical papers. Of special interest are the historic cloud-chamber photos taken by Anderson that record the discovery of new subatomic particles. (Most of these photos have been scanned to the Caltech Archives online database, PhotoNet .) The World War II material, though of small scope, provides some interesting documentation of the Holy Moses aircraft rocket, also known as the HVAR 5.0", engineered at Caltech towards the end of the war and first deployed in France following D-Day (1944). Anderson's war work centered on aircraft rockets and torpedoes; this work is documented in the 1970 interview by A. B. Christman of the Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, a copy of which is filed here. The assorted photos in this series were examined and described by Anderson's colleague, Professor Eugene W. Cowan, in a short, recorded interview which is filed following the photos in series 4.
The collection is organized into the following series:
  • Series 1. Course Notes and Teaching Files, 1920s-1940s
  • Series 2. Administrative files
  • Series 3. Correspondence
  • Series 4. Technical files and biographical

Related Material

Scientific apparatus related to Carl D. Anderson, now in the Caltech Archives' collections, includes the cloud chamber with which his important particle discoveries were made; some of his Geiger counters, including the one used in the muon experiment; and a fragment of the Holy Moses rocket, returned to Anderson from France where it knocked out a German tank following the D-Day invasion.

Indexing Terms

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


California Institute of Technology
Cosmic rays
Particles (Nuclear physics)
World War, 1939-1945 Equipment and supplies


Nobel Prize winners

Container List


Series 1. Course Notes and Teaching Files, 1920s-1940s


Subseries 1. Course notes (courses taken by Carl Anderson)

Box 1, Folder 1

Complex variable 1927-1930


Ma 114, taught by Professor Morgan Ward.
Box 1, Folder 2

Complex variable, part 2 1927-1930


Ma 114, taught by Professor Morgan Ward.
Box 1, Folder 3

Electricity and magnetism 1927-1930


Probably Ph 122, taught by Professor Paul Epstein.
Box 1, Folder 4

Electromagnetic waves 1928-1930


Ph 123, taught by Professor Paul Epstein.
Box 1, Folder 5

Electron theory 1927


Ph 114, taught by Professor Robert A. Millikan.
Box 1, Folder 6

Heat radiation and quantum mechanics 1930


Ph 126, taught by Professor Paul Epstein.
Box 1, Folder 7

Math analysis, parts 1 and 2 1927-1930


Ma 119, taught by Professor E. T. Bell.
Box 1, Folder 8

Math analysis, part 3 1927-1930


Ma 119, taught by Professor E. T. Bell.
Box 1, Folder 9

Problems in wave mechanics 1928-1929


Ph 129; note from original file indicates taught by Arnold Sommerfeld (visiting from Munich).
Box 1, Folder 10

Quantum theory, part 2 1930


Ph 134, taught by Professor J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Box 1, Folder 11

Relativity 1927-1929


Probably Ph 136, taught by Professor Richard C. Tolman.
Box 2, Folder 1

Theory of Relativity undated, 1941


Unclear what course these notes pertain to.
Box 2, Folder 2

Thermodynamics 1927-1930


Ph 111, taught by both Professors Fritz Zwicky and Paul Epstein.

Subseries 2. Teaching notes (courses taught by Carl Anderson)

Box 2, Folder 3

Modern physics (Ph 3) 1934-1937

Box 2, Folder 4

Modern physics (Ph 3) 1938, undated

Box 2, Folder 5

Modern physics (Ph 3): exams and problems 1928, 1935-1935


Includes exam on special theory of relativity, 1928.
Box 2, Folder 6

Sophomore physics (Ph 3) undated


Series 2. Administrative files


Subseries 1. Chairmanship files, Physics, Math and Astronomy Division

Box 2, Folder 7

Planning, Division of Physics, Math and Astronomy (PMA) 1964-1970

Box 2, Folder 8

Division Chairmen's meetings, Administrative Council meetings 1965-1970

Physical Description: Spiral-bound notebook.
Box 2, Folder 9

Provost, physics faculty meetings, new appointments, executive officer, executive officers' meetings 1967-1970

Physical Description: Spiral-bound notebook.
Box 2, Folder 10

Instruction (teaching assignments) 1966-1970

Physical Description: Spiral-bound notebook.
Box 2, Folder 11

High Energy Physics 1965-1970

Physical Description: Spiral-bound notebook.
Box 2, Folder 12

Kellogg-Sloan (laboratories) 1966-1969

Physical Description: Spiral-bound notebook.
Box 2, Folder 13

Solid state (physics) 1964-1969

Physical Description: Spiral-bound notebook.
Box 3, Folder 1

Nuclear spectroscopy 1965-1967

Physical Description: Spiral-bound notebook.
Box 3, Folder 2

Space physics 1965-1966

Physical Description: Spiral-bound notebook.
Box 3, Folder 3

Astronomy 1965-1967

Physical Description: Spiral-bound notebook.
Box 3, Folder 4

Radio astronomy 1965-1970

Physical Description: Spiral-bound notebook.

Subseries 2. Miscellaneous memos

Box 3, Folder 5

Memos: Robert Leighton: Divisional Activities on a Per Professor Basis 1971

Box 3, Folder 6

Memos: Robert F. Christy: Research involving Human Subjects; Faculty Growth at Caltech 1972-1973

Box 3, Folder 7

Memo: Jon Mathews: Courses and Teaching in 1973-1974 1973

Box 3, Folder 8

Memo: Robert A. Huttenback: Graduate and undergraduate degree programs in social science 1971


Series 3. Correspondence

Box 3, Folder 9

A - L 1949-1958

Box 3, Folder 10

M - P 1944-1961

Box 3, Folder 11

R 1951-1960

Box 3, Folder 12

S 1951-1961

Box 3, Folder 13

T - V 1944-1961

Box 3, Folder 14

W - Z 1951-1961

Box 4, Folder 1

Butler, C. C. 1950-1953

Box 4, Folder 2

Continental Classroom 1959


Television course.
Box 4, Folder 3

Lauritsen Memorial Lectures 1971-1975

Box 4, Folder 4

Neher, H. Victor 1951-1956

Box 4, Folder 5

Rossi, Bruno 1952-1954, 1980

Box 4, Folder 6

Shockley, William (1) 1962-1970

Box 4, Folder 7

Shockley, William (2) 1962-1970

Box 4, Folder 8

Sigma Xi (1) 1938-1940, 1957-1958

Box 4, Folder 9

Sigma Xi (2) 1938-1940, 1957-1958

Box 4, Folder 10

Sorrels, John D. 1973

Box 4, Folder 11

Thompson, R. W. 1954-1979


Includes 1 letter to E. W. Cowan, 1 letter to R. B. Leighton, and 1 letter from Isao Kita.
Box 4, Folder 12

Wald, Edwin 1956-1957, 1961

Box 4, Folder 13

York, Carl 1952-1959

Box 4, Folder 14

Correspondence, miscellaneous 1970-1973


Series 4. Technical files and biographical

Box 5, Folder 1

Student notebook, untitled 1929

Box 5, Folder 2

Summaries and transcripts of articles by Kolhörster, Kolhörster and Bothe, and Skobelzyn 1923, 1927, 1929, 1932, undated

Box 5, Folder 3

Magnetic field calculations undated (ca. 1930s)

Box 5, Folder 4

Notes for talk, probably on cosmic rays undated (after 1939)

Physical Description: Two sets of 3 x 5 cards.
Box 5, Folder 5

Notebook, Cosmic Rays, Vol. I 1942 Jun-Aug

Box 5, Folder 6

Notebook, Cosmic Ray Data, B-29 flights 1947 Jul 2

Box 5, Folder 7

Notebook, untitled, with loose papers 1970-1971

Box 5, Folder 8

Reprints by Anderson and others 1934-1971


Includes Reviews of Modern Physics special issue, Symposium on Cosmic Rays, U. of Chicago, June 1939.
Box 5, Folder 9

Reprint, Anderson and Neddermeyer, "Cosmic Ray Particles of Intermediate Mass," Physical Review 54 (1938); with note concerning discovery of muon and photograph 1938, 1987

Physical Description: Photocopy of original article.


Includes cloud chamber photograph and 1987 MS note by Anderson with explanation of photo: a muon passing through a Geiger counter and stopping in a cloud chamber.
Box 5, Folder 10

Photographs of cosmic-ray research and World War II rocket project ( See also: E. W. Cowan, description of Carl Anderson's photos) 1930s-1940s

Physical Description: Prints and negatives made from original glass slides. Includes Carl Anderson's original captions.


Includes cloud chamber photos of positron, muon (μ-meson), and other particles; cosmic-ray apparatus; expedition to Pikes Peak, Colorado, summer 1935; and Holy Moses rocket damage to German tank.
Box 5, Folder 11

E. W. Cowan, description of Carl Anderson's photographs ( See also: Photographs of cosmic-ray research and World War II rocket project) 1987 Dec 9

Physical Description: Cassette tape and interview transcript.
Box 5, Folder 12

Project Moses (Holy Moses aircraft rocket) 1944, undated


This rocket also known as HVAR 5.0" (high-velocity aircraft rocket).
Box 5, Folder 13

Interview with Carl Anderson on Caltech aircraft rocket program, World War II, by A. B. Christman, Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, California 1970 Oct 5

Physical Description: Photocopy of interview transcript.
Box 5, Folder 14

Biographical sketch 1975