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Samuel Robinson Williams papers, 1886-1955

Description of Collection


American Institute of Physics. Niels Bohr Library & Archives.

Papers created by

Williams, Samuel Robinson,

Size of collection

2.5 linear feet
5 manuscript box

Short description of collection

Correspondence and other papers of physicist Samuel R. William.

Language(s) of collection


Collection number:


Biographical Note

Samuel Robinson Williams (1879-1955) graduated from Grinnell College in 1901 and obtained his M.S. from the University of Nebraska in 1903. He spent the next two years (1903-1905) at the University of Berlin, where he became acquainted with such eminent physicists as Max von Laue and Max Planck, but did not receive his Ph.D. (Columbia, 1906) until after his return to the United States. Upon his return he served two years as instructor and tutor in physics at Barnard College. In 1908, Williams went to Oberlin College, where he was professor of physics for sixteen years before accepting an invitation to come to Amherst College in 1924. He taught at Amherst for 23 years, and became Emeritus Professor of physics in 1947. Williams also served as research associate at the Calif6rnia Institute of Technology from 1922 to 1923, spent time observing at the Cavendish Laboratory in 1928-1929 and, following his retirement, served as consultant at the General Motors Research Lab in Flint, Michigan, where he worked from 1949 to 1950 with Charles Kettering and Gifford Scott on problems in magnetism. He also devoted some time working in the field of low-temperature physics at Duke University in 1953.

Williams' main research interests centered on magnetism and its effects upon the properties of metals. Williams' other interests included the history of science and its use as an aid in the teaching of physics. In the early 1930's he was responsible for the organization of the Snell Museum of Physics at Amherst College and, at the time of his death on February 19, 1955, he had written at least the first draft of a history of Physics at Amherst. Williams was known for his love of teaching and for encouraging his students to pursue independent research.

Scope and Contents of Collection

The papers of Samuel R. Williams span the years from his undergraduate days (1897) until his death in February 1955, and consist primarily of letters (more than 1000) written by Samuel Williams to his family. The letters concern Williams' life-long interests in the field of magnetism, physics teaching (Oberlin College and Amherst College), and the history of science (reflected in his organization of the Snell Museum of Physics at Amherst in the early 1930's). Perhaps the most interesting groups of letters cover the years Samuel Williams was a graduate student at the University of Berlin (1903-19)05, where he became acquainted with such eminent physicists as Max von Laue and Max Planck; the period spent observing at the Cavendish Laboratory (1928-1929; and his time as consultant, working with Charles Kettering and Gifford Scott at the General Motors Research Laboratory (1949-1950). In addition to his correspondence, the collection also includes a few reprints and articles by SRW as well as diaries, travel notebooks and memorabilia from his student days.

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.


Laue, Max von, 1879-1960.
Planck, Max, 1858-1947.
Williams, Samuel Robinson, b. 1879.


Amherst College
Cavendish Laboratory (Cambridge, England)
General Motors Corporation. Research Laboratories.
Snell Museum of Physics (Amherst, Mass.).
University of Cambridge.
Universität Berlin

Subject terms

Physics. Study and teaching.

Genre terms

Photographic prints.

Organization and Arrangement of Collection

This collection is organized into three series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Miscellany
  • Series III: Additions

Preferred Citation of Collection

Box [number], Folder [number], Samuel Robinson Williams papers, 1886-1955. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, College Park, MD 20740, USA.

Administrative Information


Finding Aid to the Samuel Robinson Williams papers, 1886-1955


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. Mueller in 2014. Any revisions made to this finding aid occurred as part of the editing and encoding process.

Series I: Correspondence

Subseries A: Chronological correspondence

Box 1 Folder 1 1886, 1894--one item each, undated
Folder 2 1901 [21 items], undated
Folder 3 1902 (3 items); 1903 (7 items), undated
Folder 4 1904 [35 items], undated
Folder 5 1905 - sunnner 1906 [60 items], undated
Folder 6 1911, 1914 (one item each); 1922 (two items); 1925, 1927 (one item each), undated
Folder 7 1928 (June-December) [32 items], undated
Folder 8 1929 (partially represented); 1930 (two items) [64 items total], undated
Box 2 Folder 9 1933 (incomplete); 1934 {45 items total], undated
Folder 10 1935-36 [102 items], undated
Folder 11 1937-1938; 1939 (incomplete) [93 items total], undated
Folder 12 1940-1941 [77 items], undated
Box 3 Folder 13 1942 (incomplete); 1943 (3 items); 1944 (5 items) [25 items total], undated
Folder 14 1945 {85 items], undated
Folder 15 1946 (one item); 1947 (7 items); 1949 (6 items), undated
Folder 16 1950 [137 items], undated
Folder 17 1951 [62 items], undated
Box 4 Folder 18 1952 [79 items], undated
Folder 19 1953-1954 [123 items], undated

Subseries B: Additional correspondence

Box 4 Folder 20 60 postcards mailed from Europe, 1903-1913--nearly all are from S.R. Williams to his family during his student days at the University of Berlin (1903-05). , undated
Folder 21 Amherst Fraternity correspondence, 1932~39--dealing with fraternity matters. , undated
Folder 22 Oberlin Physics building, 1941-43--regarding the construction and dedication of a new physics building at Oberlin College. , undated

Series II: Miscellany

Box 5 Folder 1 Folder of reprints and articles by S.R. Williams, both technical and non-technical, some dealing with the teaching profession., undated
Folder 2 Folder containing diaries, notes, and memorabilia from SRW's student days, dating from 1897 when he was a freshman at Grinnell College. Items include: Black travel notebook from pleasure trips in and around Germany, 1904; little black notebook from SRW's , undated
Folder 3 Folder containing honorary DSc award from Oberlin (1940); announcements of award in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine, a General Motors Research Laboratories report entitled “Historical Summary of Charles F. Kettering's Experiments in Magnetism" and other artic, undated
Folder 4 Picture book of SRW's years in Berlin, including postcards, photographs and many fine art prints. A few later pictures have been thrown in loose; plus a stack of unused European postcards., undated

Series III: Additions

Box 6 Folder 1 Letters, 1939. Letters from Samuel R. Williams to his son, Ralph M. Williams (4 letters): 6/22/1939 - ALS, Amherst, 1 Page; 6/27/1939 - ALS, Amherst, 1 page; 6/30/1939 - ALS, Amherst, 1 page; 2/2/1939 - ALS, Pasadena, 2 pages., undated
Folder 2 "Cycling Notes," 1904. Photograph album of S.R. Williams' bicycle trip through Germany, France and Switzerland in the summer of 1904. Williams was accompanied by Archibald Sinclair, a Canadian student of theology., undated
Other additions include two uncataloged cartons of letters from Samuel Williams to his son, Ralph, 1933-1955, deposited by R. Williams in July 1969., undated