History of the Collection
Title: George Wells Beadle Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1908-1984
Creator: Beadle, George Wells,1903-1989
Extent: 15 linear feet
California Institute of Technology. Archives.
Pasadena, California 91125
Collection is open for research.
Permission to publish or quote from material whose literary or reproduction rights are
owned or supervised by Caltech must be obtained in writing from the Archivist. The
Caltech Archives makes no representation that it is the owner of the common law copyright
or literary property in all of its unpublished manuscripts (the official records of the
Institute excepted). Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission to publish from
copyright holders. Questions about copyright and reproduction rights should be addressed
to the Archivist.
[Identification of item, Box and file number], George Wells Beadle Papers, Archives,
California Institute of Technology.
History of the Collection
The Papers of George Wells Beadle (b.1903-d.1989)
Papers, 1903-1983, of George Wells Beadle, Chairman of the Biology Division at the
California Institute of Technology (1946-1961); President of the University of Chicago
(1961-1968); recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the Nobel Prize in
Physiology for his studies in genetics (1958); member of councils and boards both in
government and the private sector; awarded honorary degrees from many universities,
including Yale (1947), Oxford (1959), Brown (1964) and The University of Michigan (1969);
includes letters; manuscripts; reports; biographical and genealogical material;
photographs; awards; miscellaneous.
The George Beadle collection is a rich source of information about Beadle the scientist
and Beadle the man; it also presents an important historical perspective on the
scientific and political community during the 1940's and 1950's. However, as broad as
this collection is, it should be used in conjunction with the Biology Division collection
In 1972, when the Biology Division collection was first processed, it was discovered the
collection also included personal papers of Beadle written prior to 1946. The archivist
made the decision to separate only those Beadle papers from the general collection, to
place them at the beginning of the collection, and to call them "The Papers of George
Beadle." Beadle material added in 1982 and 1985 formed two more record groups.
This major reorganization undertaken in 1992 pulls the Beadle papers together and makes
them more accessible by dividing them into ten sections rather than in the alphabetic
arrangement imposed by the Biology Division. With this 1992 reorganization, the Beadle
collection now consists of the documents called "The Papers of George Beadle" in the 1972
collection, the two record groups added in 1982 and 1985, and appropriate documents
transferred from the Biology Division collection. Documents were considered appropriate
for transfer if they dealt solely with the work of Beadle, rather than with the work of
the Biology Division, but it was often difficult to make this distinction in the case of
correspondence, especially if the writer was a member of the Biology Division. This
correspondence was often a mixture of personal notes, research comments and Biology
Division discussions. Eventually, the archivist selected correspondence with only certain
colleagues, among them Alfred H. Sturtevant, Linus Pauling, Max Delbrück and Norman
The sections containing correspondence with professional societies, government
organizations and publishers reveal how Beadle was sought after for his scientific
skills, his managerial experience, and his ability to express himself clearly both in
lectures and writing. His name and reputation added prestige to the boards on which he
Sections dealing with manuscripts contain, in some cases, not only the final version but
also the first draft replete with drawings, and progressive rewrites.
Although the Research Section contains correspondence and documents dealing with Beadle's
work, the correspondence yields pertinent information on the works of colleagues as well.
Beadle often sent pages of a manuscript still in progress to colleagues and many sought
his comments on their work.
The Reprints Section tells the story of the results of his years of research.
The Biographical Section contains personal items, recollections, and transcripts of
interviews with Beadle; these present a comprehensive picture of the man and the
The Additional Material with information of his major awards, including the Nobel Prize,
adds a crowning touch to the collection.
Papers generated by Beadle while President of the University of Chicago are in the
archives of the University of Chicago.
George Wells Beadle 1903-1989
George Wells Beadle was born on the family farm in Wahoo, Nebraska on October 22, 1903 to
Chauncey (Colman) Elmer Beadle and Hattie Albro. "Beets" (the childhood nickname was to
remain throughout his life) was 4 1/2 when his mother died and he, his older brother and
younger sister Ruth were raised by his father and a series of housekeepers. The early
years on the farm gave Beadle a life-long love of gardening. In 1908, the forty acre farm
was designated as a model by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Educated in local schools, Beadle was prepared to become a farmer after he graduated from
high school, especially since his older brother had been killed in an accident a few
years earlier. However, Bess McDonald, a science teacher, convinced Beadle to go on to
the University of Nebraska College of Agriculture. Since tuition was free and he could
work to earn expenses, Beadle overcame his father's objections and enrolled, fully
intending to return to the farm after receiving his degree.
College opened up a whole new world of possibilities; after dabbling in several fields he
was drawn to the study of genetics. A summer job for Professor Franklin Keim, classifying
genetic traits in a wheat hybrid population, increased that interest. Other assignments
followed, all focusing on genetic studies.
After graduating in 1926, Beadle spent a year studying with Keim to earn a Master of
Science degree in 1927 and then went on to Cornell University for his doctorate. There,
he became part of Rollins A. Emerson's team that included Barbara McClintock, George
Sprague and Marcus Rhoades. During his stay at Cornell, Beadle published 14 papers
dealing with genetic investigations on maize, including ten on the mechanics of synapsis
and cytokinesis in "sticky chromosome" mutants. He also married Marion Hill, a graduate
student in botany; their son was born in 1931.
He received his Ph.D. in 1931 and was awarded a National Research Council Fellowship.
This allowed him to join the Biology Division of the California Institute of Technology.
At first, Beadle continued at Caltech with his work on maize in conjunction with R. A.
Emerson's son, Sterling. Soon, however, Beadle was caught up in the excitement of the
Drosophila research being conducted by T. H. Morgan and his associates. Following in the
tradition of collaborative research which had begun in Morgan's "Fly Room" at Colombia,
Beadle joined in on two important studies with Emerson and A. H. Sturtevant on the
problem of genetic recombination in fruit flies.
In January of 1934 Boris Ephrussi came to Caltech from Paris, where Beadle and Ephrussi
not only became research colleagues but close friends. After Ephrussi's return to France
in the fall of 1934, Beadle arranged to spend the first half of 1935 in Paris to work
with Ephrussi on an experimental method for doing developmental genetics in Drosophila.
They conducted a number of experiments, picking out disks of embryological optical cells
and injecting them into larvae, to find out whether chemicals in the body of the larva
would affect the color of a transplanted eye. Using this tissue transplanting technique,
Ephrussi and Beadle demonstrated that the Drosophila eye-color mutations vermillion and
cinnabar are inactivations of genes controlling sequential steps in the synthesis of the
brown component of eye pigment. Through these experiments, Beadle became convinced that
the study of genetics needed to be approached through chemistry. The search for a method
to accomplish this would occupy the next phase of Beadle's scientific career, and bring
him his lasting scientific reputation.
Beadle left Caltech in 1937 to accept a position at Stanford. Due to his new found
interest in connecting genetic and biochemical work, Beadle began working with a chemist,
Edward L. Tatum. While listening to Tatum lecture one day in 1940, Beadle realized that
their work might be made easier if they could identify mutant organisms to test their
gene theory. For this they used Neurospora, a red bread mold. Through a series of
experiments, Beadle and Tatum proved that genes transmit hereditary characteristics by
controlling specific chemical reactions. This "one gene-one enzyme" hypothesis was
Beadle's major contribution to fundamental genetics. For this work, Beadle shared the
Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1958 with Ed Tatum and Joshua Lederberg, Tatum's student.
In 1946 Beadle was invited back to Caltech to become head of the Division of Biology. He
added a number of outstanding people, including Max Delbrück, Ray Owen, Robert
Sinsheimer, Roger Sperry and Norman Horowitz to the talented group already in place.
However, the demands of Beadle's administrative duties took their toll on his scientific
work. Beadle proved to be an able administrator, admired by staff and students, and he
continued to write and speak at major institutions. His research, however, was put on
hold for the next 23 years. His personal life changed as well when he married Muriel
Barnett, a writer, in 1953 after divorcing his first wife.
Beadle left Caltech in 1961 to become President of the University of Chicago; he held
that post until 1968 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 65. He remained in
Chicago taking up again the study of the origin of Maize, the problem he had considered
when a doctoral candidate at Cornell.
Several years later, Beadle moved back to California and continued his research, lectures
and writing until the onset of Alzheimer's Disease brought a halt to his activities.
Beadle died on June 9, 1989.
George Beadle can best be summed up in the words he wrote to describe R. A. Emerson in
1974. Beadle called Emerson cordial and enthusiastic, with a zest for life, a hard worker
who could discuss his scientific work informally and share his knowledge. Beadle likewise
was generous in sharing his knowledge with students and colleagues. Norman Horowitz best
recalled Beadle the administrator, who presided over the Biology Division with
enthusiasm, intelligence and good humor. He was a popular and much admired boss and