Columbia University Archives: Manhattan Project

University Archives

Butler Library postcardColumbia University Archives
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Butler Library, 6th Floor
535 West 114th Street
New York, NY 10027

Phone: (212) 854-3786
Fax: (212) 854-1365
E-mail: uarchives@columbia.edu

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Related Collections

Barnard College
The Barnard Archives and Special Collections serves as the final repository for the historical records of Barnard College, from its founding in 1889 to the present day. For more information, please contact archives@barnard.edu.

Health Sciences Library
The Archives and Special Collections at the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library of Columbia University can help you find information about the schools of the Medical Center: College of Physicians & Surgeons, School of Nursing, College of Dental Medicine (formerly the School of Dental & Oral Surgery), Mailman School of Public Health, and the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences. For more information, please contact hslarchives@columbia.edu.

Manhattan Project

How to find information about the Manhattan Project

Columbia was awarded the first federal contract to explore the use of atomic power for energy, or for bombs, and had the first atomic pile. Because the work was done for the government, most records relating to what is now known as the Manhattan Project are under the custody of the National Archives. For example, they hold the records of the Atomic Energy Commission.

The Department of Energy releases declassified Manhattan Project-related reports and documents on its OpenNet website. This searchable database includes bibliographical references to all documents declassified and made publicly available after October 1, 1994. Some documents can be viewed as full text. This website also provides a comprehensive Manhattan District History.

To start your research into Columbia's role in the Manhattan Project, read Laurence Lippsett's article "The race to make the bomb. The Manhattan Project: Columbia's wartime secret." The article appeared in Columbia College Today, Spring/Summer 1995, 18-21, 45. 

The following are the most often consulted resources available at the University Archives. In order to use the University Archives collections at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML), you will be required to register your own Special Collections Research Account before your visit and to validate the account in person with government-issued photo identification or Columbia ID card. Once you have created your Special Collections Research Account, you will be able to request materials directly from the finding aid: click the check box located on the right for the box(es) you need, and then scroll back to the top of the container list document and click “Submit Request” button in the red-rimmed box at top. This should lead you directly to your Special Collections Research Account to complete the request form.

  • Annual Reports
    The Annual Reports of the President and Treasurer to the Trustees offer a yearly "state of the University" from 1891 to 1946. You can find statements about Columbia's role in the 1945 Annual Report presented to the Trustees (starting on page 14).
     
  • Central Files, 1890-1984
    Central Files contain the core administrative records of the University. The records that comprise Central Files originated in the Office of the President starting in 1890 and continue through the present. Central Files chiefly contains correspondence (sent and received) between Columbia University administrators and other University officers, faculty, trustees, and individuals and organizations from outside the University. Box 301, folder 1 contains the August 6 and 14, 1945 telegrams from War Department to President Butler about continuing the secrecy of atomic bomb research. In addition to the War Department, Central Files includes correspondence with Fermi, Dunning, US Atomic Energy Commission, etc.
     
  • George Braxton Pegram papers, 1903-1958
    Nuclear physicist, professor of physics, and Dean of Graduate Faculties at Columbia University, Pegram conducted a great deal of defense-related research and was responsible for the famous meeting between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and American nuclear scientists prior to World War II that eventually led to the establishment of the Manhattan Project. The National Defense Research Committee contracts for work on uranium and the Physics Department, correspondence, 1940-1947 (declassified in 1960), can be found in the "Atomic Energy Commission" folder in Box 41. There is also a folder titled "Atomic Bomb Discussion" in this box. Box 41 is stored offsite and must be requested at least 48 business hours in advance of use in our reading room.
     
  • Historical Photograph Collection - Series V: Atomic Energy
    A small series of images related to atomic research conducted by Columbia. Included are images of the Nevis and Pupin Laboratories and a 1948 exhibit about atomic energy; including the Seventh Biennial Award Dinner for The Atomic Bomb Project, sponsored by Chemical & Metallurgical Engineering; Waldorf-Astoria, 1946.
     
  • Historical Subject Files
    The Historical Subject Files consists of clippings, press releases, programs, and other printed matter compiled over the years by curators of the Columbiana Collection and staff of the University Archives. You can find relevant materials in the following folders:
    • "Atomic Energy Research, 1930s-1980s" in Box 6 folder 5
    • "Manhattan Project, 1940s-2000s" in Box 41, folder 10
    • "SAM Labs--Manhattan Project, 1940s-1990s" in Box 48, folder 3

For more information on how to access our collections, check out our Research & Access website. If you have any questions about how to find materials or how to access materials, please contact uarchives@columbia.edu.

In order to use the University Archives collections at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML), you will be required to register your own Special Collections Research Account before your visit and to validate the account in person with government-issued photo identification or Columbia ID card. Once you have created your Special Collections Research Account, you will be able to request materials directly from the finding aid: click the check box located on the right for the box(es) you need, and then scroll back to the top of the container list document and click “Submit Request” button in the red-rimmed box at top. This should lead you directly to your Special Collections Research Account to complete the request form.

  • C. S. (Chien-shiung) Wu Papers
    The collection consists of speeches, reports, publications, research notes, and correspondence. The bulk of the collection relates to Wu's involvement in the American Physical Society as well as her research activities. The correspondence is chiefly professional, relating to C. S. Wu's physics research, professional commitments, appointments, meetings, conferences, and publications. Correspondence also includes letters from individuals around the world praising Wu for her accomplishments, asking advice, arranging speaking engagements, discussing administrative matters, and trading research notes, as well as information on publications and other topics. In addition, the collection contains information on Wu's involvement in the development of an affirmative action program at Columbia University in the 1970s.
     
  • Selig Hecht papers, 1914-1937
    Professor of biophysics at Columbia University, 1926-1947, and author of Explaining the Atom (1947).
     
  • Dana Paul Mitchel Papers, [ca. 1925]-1960
    Professional and personal correspondence, administrative records, manuscript lecture notes, and some miscellaneous printed materials. The general correspondence file, 1927-1958, contains letters, both personal and professional, with colleagues, with and about his students, about laboratory equipment, about weapons for the Army and Navy, and with industry concerning his research.
     
  • Department of Physics Historical records, 1862-1997
    This collection is made up of an assortment of historical material, consisting of photographs, negatives, faculty and guest lecturer correspondence, biographical materials for some of the faculty, programs from various lecture series given at Columbia, publications, picture postcards, and even a sheet of commemorative postage stamps. These documents were collected in The Columbia Physics Department: a brief history, a booklet of reproductions of some of the archival documents, correspondence, and photographs relating to the history of the Physics department of Columbia. It includes listing and photos of Columbia's Nobel Laureates and discussion of Columbia's involvement in the Manhattan Project. Correspondents include Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, H. A. Lorentz, R. A. Millikan, and Max Planck.
     
  • Oral Histories
    The Columbia Center for Oral History Archives is one of the largest oral history collections in the United States. The Manhattan Project is discussed in a number of interviews under a number of projects. To search for these interviews, begin by exploring the Oral History Portal. When you have found an oral history interview that interests you, please click the link to view the Full CLIO record.The CLIO record will include information about restrictions and whether or not this interview is open to researchers. You can request the transcripts to be read at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library's reading room by using your Special Collections Research Account. For more information, please visit the CCOH Archives website.

For more information on how to access our collections, check out our Research & Access website. If you have any questions about how to find materials or how to access materials, please contact uarchives@columbia.edu.

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About the images

Top - Two graduate students assembling graphite blocks for nuclear reactor. (Scan 3114) Atomic Energy, Misc. (Box 139) Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Right - "Two leaders in atom work at Columbia -- Dr. John R. Dunning (right), one of the country's pioneer atomic scientists, points out to Dr. Pegram the workings of his "atomic pinball machine," which he uses to explain atomic energy to the public." (Scan 638) Academics, Department of Physics (Box 136).  Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.