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Max Mason papers, 1877-1961

Description of Collection


American Institute of Physics. Niels Bohr Library & Archives.

Papers created by

Mason, Max

Size of collection

2 linear feet
4 manuscript box(s)
1 oversize folder(s)

Short description of collection

The papers of Max Mason consist of professional and business correspondence, research notebooks, manuscripts, lantern slides and memorabilia.

Language(s) of collection


Collection number:


Biographical Note

Max Mason was born on October 26, 1877 in Madison, Wisconsin.. He graduated with an undergraduate and Master's degree from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD in mathematics and physics from the University of Gottingen in 1903.

Mason was an instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1903, then an assistant professor from 1904 to 1908 at Yale University. Mason left Yale to become a professor at the University of Wisconsin, where he taught Mathematical Physics and later attained research professor status.

Mason interrupted his university teaching in 1917 for war research at the Naval Experimental Station, New London, Connecticut. He was the inventor of the Mason Hydrophone, a submarine detection device which isolated the noise of U-boat motors running underwater. He supervised his invention's manufacture and installation on American and British ships during the war.

After World War I, Mason returned to academic research and in 1925, became the President of the University of Chicago. He resigned in 1928 to become Director of Natural Sciences at the Rockefeller Foundation, then President of the Foundation in 1929.

During these years, he formed a business partnership with several research associates, Mason, Slichter and Hay, to process engineering patents and research. The firm dissolved in 1928. Mason formed another new company with both original and additional partners, Mason, Slichter and Gauld. The new firm, which operated from 1929 to 1936 also handled consulting on engineering patents and business.

Mason left the Rockefeller Foundation in 1936 for a place on Caltech's Observatory council; he supervised the Palomar Observatory 200-inch telescope building and installation. He replaced George Ellery Hale as chairman of the council in 1938, where he served until 1948.

Mason engaged in submarine r research again for the Navy during World War II. His accomplishments were awarded by a citation from the Naval Ordnance. He also received the U.S. Medal for Merit from President Truman in 1948. A Caltech executive council member and trustee until his retirement in 1951, Mason ended his career as a research associate in astrophysics.

Mason was a member of committees on the National Research Council, the American Mathematical Society, American Physical Society and several foreign professional organizations, including the Deutsche Mathematiker Vereinigung.

Mason died after a long illness in Claremont, California on March 23, 1961.

Scope and Contents of Collection

The Max Mason papers consist of four boxes of professional and business correspondence, research notebooks, manuscripts, lantern slides and memorabilia.

Mason's professional correspondence ranges from 1927 to 1938. Most of the letters are from the years he was President of the Rockefeller Foundation. Mason's correspondence with colleagues primarily concerns avenues of research, committee investigations and job changes. The nature of Mason's professional relationships with Robert Millikan, Louis Slichter, Karl Taylor Compton and John D. Rockefeller Jr. are exemplified in these letters. Certain folders hold correspondence with members of committees; the letters of the Chicago's World's Fair centennial Committee and two National Academy of Science Award committees indicate the depths of Mason's involvement in professional organization activities. A National Academy of Science folder contains a short but interesting autobiographical outline.

The business correspondence of Mason, Slichter and Hay comprises correspondence between Mason, his partners and clients who had major business contracts with the firm. Firm letters and reports concern consulting work to engineering businesses and patent developers. Most of the letters are between the partners and describe internal company decisions about patents, business deals and financial transactions. The later Mason, Slichter and Gauld company correspondence is predominantly internal, including business reports and letters on patent royalties, company and personal income taxes.

The notebooks indicate the type of mathematical study Mason pursued. A marble-bound student notebook from 1900 contains notes for a mathematics course with David Hilbert while Mason was a doctoral student at Gottingen University. Two loose-leaf notebooks from 1942 and 1943, while Mason was at Caltech hold mathematical computations with loose sheets of figures and diagrams.

The manuscript materials include typewritten drafts of Mason's work from different periods. These draft are prime examples of Mason's research and administrative writing ability. A number of address written by Mason for formal occasions also tell much about his professional attitudes toward scientific and everyday life. The addresses reveal a combination of personal anecdote and philosophical discussion; his topics emphasize rationality in the intellectual processes of scientific research.

The final box holds lantern slides (which might be illustrations for a lecture on Mason's submarine detection work) and memorabilia, including degree diplomas and citations.

Mason's contributions were primarily in mathematical physics, submarine detection development and scientific organization committee research. He published a number of articles and reports relating to his inventions and research. Mason was also an active administrator during his years at the University of Chicago, Rockefeller Foundation and California Institute of Technology. The Max Mason papers represent an important cross-section of his accomplishments.

Restrictions on Use and Access

Researchers must have an approved access application on file in order to access archival materials.

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.


Burgess, George K.
Gauld, Brownlee B.
Mason, Max, 1877-1961
Rockefeller, John D. (John Davison), 1874-1960.
Slichter, Donald.
Slichter, Louis Byrne, 1896-1978-
Trowbridge, Augustus, 1870-1934.


California Institute of Technology.
Mason, Slichter and Gauld (Firm)
Mason, Slichter and Hay (Firm)
National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)
Palomar Observatory.
Rockefeller Foundation.
Universität Göttingen.

Subject terms

Geophysics. Research.
Underwater acoustics.

Organization and Arrangement of Collection

This collection is organized into six series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Research notebooks
  • Series III: Manuscripts
  • Series IV: Latern slides
  • Series V: Memorabilia
  • Series VI: Diplomas

Series I is arranged first alphabetically, by correspondent name, then chronologically; all other series are arranged chronologically.

Provenance and Acquisition Information

Received from Maxwell and William Mason and Mrs. W. T. Jones, 1963.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by in .

Preferred Citation of Collection

Box [number], Folder [number], Max Mason papers. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, College Park, MD 20740, USA.

Administrative Information


Finding Aid to the Max Mason papers, 1877-1961


American Institute of Physics Niels Bohr Library & Archives

One Physics Ellipse
College Park, MD 20740


Encoding Information

Machine-readable finding aid encoded by Melanie J. Brown in . Any revisions made to this finding aid occurred as part of the editing and encoding process.

Series I: Correspondence

Subseries A: General correspondence

Box 1 Folder 1 Professional Correspondence: Chicago World's Fair Centennial, undated
Folder 2 Professional Correspondence: "M", undated
Folder 3 Professional Correspondence: "N" (Navy Department), undated
Folder 4 Professional Correspondence: National Academy of Science, undated
Folder 5 Professional Correspondence: National Academy of Science: Committee on Cyrus B. Comstock Fund, undated
Folder 6 Professional Correspondence: National Academy of Science: Committee on Marcellus Hartley Fund, undated
Folder 7 O - no correspondence found in original folder., undated
Folder 8 P - Correspondence between Mason and W.W. Palmer and F. O'Byrne on Mason's exemption from jury duty because of physical incapacity., 1931-1936
Folder 9 Pierce, Mason & Hayes. Correspondence with attached reports on submarine and related patent royalties from partners and individuals in research. Correspondence include: G. Pierce, J. Roebuck, L. Slichter & D. Hay., 1927-1934
Folder 10 R - Correspondence on Mason's acceptance of Rockefeller Foundation job, Foundation business and Mason's research. Correspondents are: D. Rines, J.D. Rockefeller Jr., W. Aldrich., 1928-1936
Folder 11 S - Correspondence between Mason and H. Swift on research in animal growth and hormones., 1936
Folder 12 Slichter, Louis B. Correspondence to and from Slichter on research, job considerations, conditions at MIT. Attached letters from K.T. Compton and F.B. Jewett., 1929-1936
Folder 13 T - Correspondence between Mason and A. Trowbridge on meetings for scientific research and mutual activities., 1930-1933
Folder 14 U - Correspondence on Mason's membership to U.S. Senior's Golf Association., 1934
Folder 15 V - no correspondence found in original folder., undated
Folder 16 W - undated, 6 page draft from "W.W." to Mason on philosophical dilemma within the progress of science., undated

Subseries B: Mason, Slichter and Hay correspondence

Box 1 Folder 17 Correspondence on expenses and summations of research. Correspondents include: L. Slichter, D. Slichter, I. Reber., 1925
Folder 18 Correspondence on expenses, contract statements and log of research trips. Correspondents include: L. Slichter, R. Talley, C. Leith., 1926
Folder 19 Reports on company research; ore location, mining project and magnetic field method. Correspondents include: L. Slichter, D. Slichter, H. Hayes., 1926
Folder 20 Correspondence on patent reports, ore mining research and business. Correspondents include: L. Slichter, V. Mason, R. Talley., 1927
Folder 21 Reports on partnership in "Physical Exploration Co." Correspondents include: L. Slichter, D. Slichter, W. Collins, H.D. Smith., 1928
Box 2 Folder 1 Correspondents on publication of paper based on company research and discussion between partners on finances. Correspondents include: L. Slichter, L. Healy, D. Jackson., 1928
Folder 2 Report, "The Chilson Method"; letter from D. Jackson attached to "Acoustic Survey of the Dix Dam Reservoir", 1926; undated

Subseries C: Mason, Slichter and Gauld correspondence

Box 2 Folder 3 Correspondence on mining research contracts. Correspondents includes: L. Slichter, D. Jackson, A. Locke, B. Gauld., 1929
Folder 4 Correspondence on geophysics projects. Correspondents include: B. Gauld, C. Berkey, C. Buell., 1930
Folder 5 Correspondence between partners on Mason's personal and company's income taxes., 1931
Folder 6 Correspondence between Mason & B. Gauld on proceedings against contracting company for unpaid bills. Resolution on 1928 tax refund., 1932
Folder 7 Correspondence between Mason and L. Slichter on thermostat and patent business transaction., 1934
Folder 8 Correspondence on partnership agreements, contracts with oil companies and patents. Correspondents include: L. Slichter, D. Rines, H. Butler, R. Munden., 1935
Folder 9 Correspondence on contract negotiations and patent royalties. Correspondents include: L. Slichter, D. Slichter, R. Hoguet., 1935
Folder 10 Correspondence on patents, contract agreements and payment schedules. Correspondents include: L. Slichter, W. Campbell, E. DeGoyler, A. Buchner., 1935
Folder 11 Correspondence on partnership profits, payments and income taxes. Correspondents include: L. Slichter, B. Gauld, E. Leonardson, A. Buckner and D. Rines., 1936

Series II: Research notebooks

Box 3 Folder 1 Student notebook - marble-bound cover with notes taken on David Hilbert's lectures on "Analytical Functions", 1900
Folder 2 Loose-leaf notebook - titled "Astrophysics Building," with mathematical computations, 1942
Folder 3 MIT computation book, signed by Mason. Contains mathematical computations; California Institute of Technology memorandums "to M.M. from BHR" on "Active Project Section IV"; letter from Collins P. & Howard Huntington Memorial Hospital on Mason's resignation from trustees, committee membership and related activities., 1943-1948

Series III: Manuscripts

Box 3 Folder 4 The Plan of the Book introduction to book by E.P. Bell; Geophysical Exploration for Ores; letter from E. Kennedy on paper publication plans and Mason reply; The Relationship of the California Institute of Technology to Industrial and Governmental Research, 1927-1945
Folder 5 Addresses, typewritten drafts, 1927-1939; undated
Folder 6 Addresses, typewritten and handwritten, 1945-1957; undated

Series IV: Lantern slides

Box 4 Slides of submarine outer structure, cross-section diagrams and drawings of equipment., undated

Series V: Memorabilia

Box 4 U.S. Medal for Merit and a medal inscribed "W.I.A.A.A. Annual Meet Second Prize Running High Jump", 1898
Folder 1 Membership citation, C. Michelsen Institute; U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development; U.S. Naval Ordnance Development Award; U.S. Medal for Merit citation, signed by President Truman and Secretary Hall., 1936-1948; undated
Folder 2 The Commercial Club of Chicago testimonial booklet, undated
National Academy of Science membership diploma., undated

Series VI: Diplomas

Oversize folder 1 Honorary Doctor of Law Degrees, undated
University of Chicago, undated
University of Wisconsin, 1926
Columbia University, 1926
Yale University, 1926
Dartmouth College, 1927