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David Knapp Papers, 1884-1973 (bulk 1930-1973)

Description of Collection


American Institute of Physics. Center for History of Physics.

College Park, MD 20740

Papers created by

Knapp, David Goodwin, 1907-

Size of collection

1 linear foot (2 manuscript boxes)

Short description of collection

This collection contains scientific manuscripts, reports, drafts of papers, memoranda, correspondence, bibliographies, biographical references, photographs, illustrations, calculations, reprints and newspaper clippings focusing on terrestrial magnetism from David Knapp, a geophysicist.

Language(s) of collection


Unit ID

AR 104

Biography of David Knapp

David Goodwin Knapp was born in Indianapolis on July 20, 1907. He worked as a minor laboratory apprentice at the National Bureau of Standards from 1926 until 1928 and as laboratory technician at Indianapolis Power & Light Company from 1928 until 1936. He received his B.S. from Butler University in 1935. During 1936 and 1937 Knapp attended George Washington University. Also in 1936 Knapp began work as a geophysicist at the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey. David Knapp performed research in the areas of cartographic techniques in geomagnetism, solar-diurnal variations, arctic aspects of geomagnetism, induction effects in permanent magnets, equatorial and auroral electrojets as shown by magnetic events, dipole determinations, and the history of geomagnetism. Knapp was a member of the American Geophysics Union and the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy. He was the secretary of the Terrestrial Magnetism and Electricity section of the AGU from 1944 till 1950.

Scope and Contents of Collection

The collection focuses on terrestrial magnetism. The subjects covered are atmospheric electricity, aurora borealis, sunspots, storms, the ionosphere, compasses, and geomagnetic cartography. It contains scientific manuscripts, reports, drafts of papers, memoranda, correspondence, bibliographies, biographical references, photographs, illustrations, calculations, reprints and newspaper clippings. The correspondence deals mainly with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey before and during Knapp’s time as a scientist there. The correspondence with R.S. Owendoff concerns Knapp’s critique and suggestions for Owendoff’s book. There are manuscripts, notes and newspaper clippings written and collected by Knapp dealing with aspects of terrestrial magnetism. There are manuscripts by other scientists and some government publications as well. There are theoretical discussions on handwritten and typed notes, and calculations dealing with a variety of topics in terrestrial magnetism. The bibliographical materials are comprised of subject bibliographies, a bibliography of Knapp’s works and a review of the literature dealing with terrestrial magnetism. The biographical materials are lists of biographical references and obituaries from 1952 till 1970. The pictorial materials are drawings of scientists and two photographs. The photographs are of the 1968 IAGA-WMS Symposium and the 1884 Polar Year Meeting. Correspondence accompanies the Polar Year Meeting photo. Before Knapp’s death, Joseph C. Cain culled this collection from Knapp’s files. As a result of the selection process, this collection appears to be thin in some areas. The general correspondence seems to be especially fragmented.

Restrictions on Use and Access

No restrictions.

Use of primary source material in the Niels Bohr Library requires prior approval through an Application for Access, which includes a statement of research purpose and the names and addresses of two scholars as references. Access applications can be obtained by contacting the Library (telephone 301-209-3177; or e-mail The application can also be printed from our website.

Selected Search Terms

These papers have been indexed in the International Catalog of Sources for History of Physics and Allied Sciences (ICOS) using the following terms. Those seeking related materials should search under these terms.

Subject terms

Atmospheric electricity.
Cosmic rays.
Magnetism, Terrestrial.

Genre terms

Biographical files.
Newspaper columns.

Arrangement of Collection

Organized into the following series: I. Correspondence; II. Manuscripts, Publications and Notes; III. Bibliographic and Biographical Materials; IV. Pictorial Materials.

The documents in this collection have been arranged chronologically by date, with the exception of materials with no date and the subseries entitled "Theoretical Discussions." The materials with no date were arranged alphabetically. The "Theoretical Discussions" were left in their original order, which appears to be roughly chronological.

Material Separated from Collection

Photographs and drawings were removed from the collection and placed in the Emilio Segrè Visual Archives. Photocopies of the photographs and drawings remain with the collection.

Provenance and Acquisition Information

The papers were donated by Joseph Cain in 1987.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Heather McBride in January 2001.

Newspaper articles were photocopied onto acid-free paper and the originals were removed from the collection. All materials were rehoused in archival quality, acid-free folders and boxes. All notations made by the processor to assist with identification were made in pencil and enclosed in brackets. All other notations were previously on the documents in the collection when it was received.

Related Collections

  • Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Monthly reports of Merle Tuve, 1928-1940.
  • Mendenhall, Thomas C. (Thomas Corwin), 1841-1924, Autobiographical notes, 1901-1906.
  • Mendenhall, Thomas C. (Thomas Corwin), 1841-1924, Papers, 1869-1951.
  • Tuve, Merle Antony, (1901-1982), Oral history interview with Merle Antony Tuve, 1982 January 13 and 5 February.

Administrative Information


Finding Aid to the David Knapp Papers, 1884-1973 (bulk 1930-1973)


This finding aid has been encoded by the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics as part of a collaborative project supported by a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, an independent federal agency. Collaboration members in 2002 consisted of: American Institute of Physics, California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Rice University, University of Alaska, University of Illinois, and University of Texas.


American Institute of Physics. Center for History of Physics.

One Physics Ellipse
College Park, MD 20740

November 25, 2002

Encoding Information

Machine-readable finding aid encoded in EAD 2002 by Clay Redding on November 25, 2002. Any revisions made to this finding aid occurred as part of the editing and encoding process.

Series I. Correspondence, 1918-1969

Subseries A. General Correspondence, 1918-1969

This subseries contains correspondence dated from before and during Knapp’s presence at the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey regarding the magnetic observatories, dip pole variations, department operations and the history of geomagnetism. There is also some material relating to publications belonging to Knapp and others and the International Geodetic and Geophysical Union’s Section of Terrestrial Magnetism and Electricity.

Box 1 Folder 1 General Correspondence, 1918-1969

Subseries B. Correspondence with R.S. Owendoff, 1965

This subseries contains letters, essays, and manuscripts dealing with Knapp’s critiques and suggestions for R.S. Owendoff’s book, "Better Ways of Pathfinding."

Box 1 Folder 2 Correspondence with R.S. Owendoff, 1965

Series II. Manuscripts, Publications and Notes, 1888-1973, n.d.

Subseries A. Manuscripts by Knapp, 1961-1973

This subseries contains manuscripts about magnetic storms, geomagnetic cartography, the history of geomagnetism, international units, magnetostatics and the U.S. observatory system.

Box 1 Folder 3 Manuscripts by Knapp, 1961-1966
Folder 4 Manuscripts by Knapp, 1968-1973

Subseries B. Notes and Newspaper Clippings, 1925-1970, n.d.

This subseries contains Knapp’s handwritten and typed notes and newspaper clippings about terrestrial magnetism, atmospheric electricity, sunspots, auroras, and magnetic storms. There are also typed notes entitled "Seminars in Geomagnetism and the Upper Atmosphere."

Box 1 Folder 5 Notes and Newspaper Clippings, 1925-1970
Folder 6 Notes and Newspaper Clippings, n.d.

Subseries C. Theoretical Discussions, ca. 1930-1945

This subseries contains handwritten and typed notes. These notes include "Distribution Coefficients," "Oscillations for Temperature Coefficients," "Temperature Compensation by Differential Expansion," "Actions of Pivots of a Z Variometer," "Extract from ‘Deutache Sudpolar Exposition 1901-3,’" "Report on Planimeter Measurements," "The Vortical Theory of Energy," "Variation in the Dip of the Compass Needle in an Average Laboratory," "An Exception to Newton’s Third Law," "The Influence of Iron Ore in the Earth’s Crust upon Magnetic Perturbations," and "Smoothing Formulas." Many more of the notes are untitled.

Box 1 Folder 7 Theoretical Discussions, n.d.
Folder 8 Theoretical Discussions, n.d.
Folder 9 Theoretical Discussions, n.d.

Subseries D. Manuscripts and Reprints by Other Scientists, 1888-1972, n.d.

This subseries contains manuscripts, reprints and photocopies of works by other scientists. The authors include J. Bartels, Louis A. Bauer, C.S. Beals, C.L. Doolittle, E.A. Fath, Clark M. Garber, N.H. Heck, Victor Hess, H.H. Howe, L.G.H. Huxley, Wolfram Illing, W.P. Jenny, S.B. Nicholson, T.F. Wall, and E.H. Vestine. Several of the manuscripts are anonymous.

Box 2 Folder 1 Manuscripts and Reprints by Other Scientists, 1888-1972, n.d.

Subseries E. Publications, 1922, 1945, n.d.

This subseries contains two government publications, "Horizontal Intensity Variometers" and "Magnetic Survey of the Florida Peninsula." It also contains a booklet entitled "Geomagnetism Geoelectricity." It contains biographical information, research specialties and some pictures of Soviet scientists.

Box 2 Folder 2 Publications, 1922, 1945, n.d.

Series III. Bibliographic and Biographical Materials, 1947-1970, n.d.

Subseries A. Bibliographies, 1947-1970, n.d.

This subseries contains bibliographies composed by Knapp and others including a "Bibliography on the Quartz Horizontal-Force Magnetometer," "Bibliographic Notes on Geomagnetic Parameters and Coordinates in Space," "Contributions to Magnetism of Leonhard Euler and his Son Johann Albrecht Euler", "Bibliography of David Knapp," and "Review and Abstract of Some of the Literature in Terrestrial Magnetism." There are also two rolls of microfilm containing bibliographic cards for all items published in the American Geophysical Union’s "Transactions" under the Terrestrial Magnetism and Electricity heading and all relevant items under the General Heading. It also contains item proposed for inclusion but rejected because of prior listing in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Box 2 Folder 3 Bibliographic Materials, 1947-1970, n.d.
Folder 4 Bibliographic Materials, n.d.

Subseries B. Biographical Materials, 1958-1959

This subseries contains revisions of a list of biographical references of men who developed the field of geomagnetism.

Box 2 Folder 5 Biographic Materials, 1958-1959

Subseries C. Obituaries, 1952-1970

This subseries contains newspaper clippings on Harold McComb, H. Freeborn Johnston, Henry R. Joesting, Ernest Harry Vestine, and Sydney Chapman.

Box 2 Folder 6 Obituaries, 1952-1970

Series IV. Pictorial Material, 1884-1968

This series contains a drawing commemorating the old U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey building and drawings of scientists. The scientists include Jean Baptiste Biot, Michael Faraday, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand Helmholtz, Baron Alexander von Humboldt, Thomas Young, Hans Christian Oersted, Dominique Francois Arago, Augustin Jean Fresnel, Julius Robert Mayer, James Prescott Joule, William Thompson, John Tyndall, and James Clerk Maxwell. It also contains a photograph of the 1968 IAGA-WMS Symposium and a photocopy of a picture of the first Polar Year Meeting (1884) with correspondence regarding the identification of the men in the picture.

Box 2 Folder 7 Drawings, 1929, n.d.
Folder 8 IAGA Meeting, 1968
Folder 9 Polar Year Meeting, 1884