Scope of the Collection
Title: The Papers Of Harry O. Wood,
Date (inclusive): 1905-1954
Wood, Harry O.
Extent: Linear feet: 12
California Institute of Technology. Archives.
Pasadena, California 91125
Collection is open for research.
Copyright has not 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 Head of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the
California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and is not
intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be
obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item, Box and file number], The Papers Of Harry O. Wood, Archives,
California Institute of Technology.
Harry Oscar Wood (1879-1958) was a Research Associate in Seismology at Caltech from 1925
to 1955. Born in Gardiner, Maine, he received bachelor's and master's degrees from
Harvard. In 1904 he became an instructor in mineralogy and geology in the geology
department at Berkeley, which was led at that time by Andrew C. Lawson. After the 1906
San Francisco earthquake, Wood's interests shifted to seismology. Under Lawson's
direction, he wrote a detailed report on the 1906 quake for the State of California's
Earthquake Investigation Commission. Wood resigned his position at Berkeley in 1912 to
work for T. A. Jagger at the newly founded volcano observatory at the Kilauea Volcano on
the island of Hawaii. Wood left Hawaii late in 1917 to join the Army Engineer Reserve
Corps for the duration of World War I. Working in Washington, DC, he came into contact
with both George E. Hale and John C. Merriam, two to the most influential scientists of
their day. Merriam was an eminent paleontologist who had been a professor at Berkeley
during Wood's time there. Hale, a solar astronomer, was the director of the Mount Wilson
Observatory in Pasadena. During the war Hale had established the National Research
Council (NRC) to coordinate scientific efforts nationally. After the war, Merriam became
director of the NRC and then, in 1921, president of the Carnegie Institution of
Washington. Both men would play a role in Harry Wood's future.
Although Wood remained in Washington for several years after the war as an NRC staff
member, his dream was to study local earthquakes in California, an activity he called
"provincial investigation." This was to be distinguished from the European-style study of
earthquakes at long distance known as teleseismic study. Wood finally convinced Merriam
that the Carnegie Institution should fund a seismological research program in California.
Headquartered in Pasadena, the program at first operated out of the offices of the Mount
Wilson Observatory. Wood envisioned a network of five seismic recording stations.
Eventually, in 1924, Hale came to the rescue. As a trustee of the California Institute of
Technology, he persuaded that institution to fund the construction of a new seismological
laboratory. This building was located west of the Caltech campus in the San Rafael hills
and was ready for use in December, 1926. Meanwhile, Wood, with the help of Mount Wilson
astronomer John Anderson and others, was developing seismographic instruments designed to
record local shocks.
The Seismology Laboratory was operated jointly by Caltech and the Carnegie Institution
until 1937, when the Carnegie withdrew from the partnership. With the title of Research
Associate in Seismology, Wood remained in charge of the operation of the lab and the
network. In 1930 Caltech hired its first professor of geophysics, Beno Gutenberg. Charles
Richter, at first Wood's graduate student assistant, was subsequently appointed Professor
of Seismology. The scientific work of Gutenberg and Richter, including the invention of
the earthquake magnitude scale in 1935, made the Seismology Laboratory world famous.
In 1935 Wood contracted a severe infection which affected his nervous system. Although he
recovered sufficiently to continue his scientific work, he never fully regained his
health. He died in Pasadena on February 4, 1958.
Scope of the Collection
The papers of Harry O. Wood were transferred to the Caltech Archives from the Seismology
Laboratory. The initial donation, now occupying twenty-two document boxes, was made in
1976; it was supplemented with two more boxes about ten years later. The supplemental
material has been processed separately from the original portion.
The collection consists mainly of correspondence (over 19 boxes) of a personal and
general nature. The personal correspondence covers mainly the years from 1912 to 1954. It
contains numbers of letters to and from prominent geologists, seismologists and private
citizens of the day. Also included are letters with various manufacturers, which were
furnishing, or attempting to furnish, equipment and material for the instruments used in
the seismological laboratories, which needed special clocks, motors, paper, etc. There
are also letters from observatories throughout the world, individuals inquiring about the
earthquake situation in Southern California, which Wood always cordially answered, and
reports of earthquakes from volunteers living in California. General correspondence is
organized by topic. Three boxes of Carnegie Institution of Washington correspondence
features especially the letters between Wood and Arthur L. Day and John C. Merriam. This
correspondence is mainly concerned with the establishment of the central station for
seismological investigation in Pasadena. Two boxes of Seismological Society of America
correspondence contain letters to and from Ralph Arnold, Perry Byerly, George D.
Louderback and S. D. Townley. Material on the 1857 California earthquake can be found in
the Louderback file. There are three boxes of U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
correspondence plus, in the supplement, correspondence files on specific earthquakes.
Also in the supplement are correspondence files from Wood's period at the Hawaiian
Volcano Observatory from 1912 to 1918.
In addition to the correspondence, the papers contain manuscripts and printed materials
in the form of miscellaneous manuscripts, memoranda, notes, records, reports, reprints,
and copies of the publication