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American Association of Physics Teachers records of Richard M. Sutton, 1934-1949

Description of Collection


American Institute of Physics. Niels Bohr Library & Archives.

Papers created by

American Association of Physics Teachers.

Size of collection

1 linear feet
2 manuscript boxes

Short description of collection

Correspondence, reprints, and photographs from Richard M. Sutton's term as president of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and his editorship of the AAPT publication "Demonstration Experiments in Physics."

Language(s) of collection


Collection number:


Historical Note

Richard Manliffe Sutton (1900-1966) is known primarily for his contributions to the teaching of physics in colleges and secondary schools. He received his BS degree from Haverford College in 1922 and for the next three years worked as a full-time instructor of physics at Miami University, Ohio. In 1925 he accepted a fellowship to carry on graduate study at the California Institute of Technology where in 1929, working under Robert A. Millikan, he acquired his Ph.D. He spent the next two years at California Institute of Technology in research and teaching, until 1931, he returned to Haverford to become an assistant professor of physics. In 1937 he became an associate professor and in 1942, a full professor. From 1944-1956 he served as Chairman of Haverford's Physics Department. In 1949, while still at Haverford, Sutton began is association with Case Institute of Technology where he participated part-time in the General Electric Science Fellowship Program for the training of high school science teachers. He left Haverford in 1956 to accept a professorship in the Case institute Management Development program.

Returning to California Institute of Technology in 1958, Sutton was appointed Professor of Physics and Director of Relations with Secondary Schools. In 1965 he obtained a two-year leave from California Institute of Technology and, under a grant from the Ford Foundation, went to Pilani, India to help set up a beginning course in the Birla Institute of Technology and Science.

During his career, Sutton delivered lectures at such schools as Denver (1941), Minnesota (1941-42), Case (1949, 1951 and 1955), Delaware (1953), Columbia (1954) and Gustavus Adolphus College (1955). He was a member of the solar eclipse expeditions to Colorado in 1918, Saskatoon in 1945, and Minnesota in 1954, and served as a civilian representative on the National Defense Research Committee in 1944. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the Science Teachers Association.

Sutton achieved distinction and considerable national recognition for his editorship of the AAPT sponsored book Demonstration Experiments in Physics (McGraw-Hill, 1938). The development of the book, which is documented in detail in the collection of AAPT - Sutton papers, reflected Sutton's interest in improving educational techniques in the teaching of physics. His tenure as President of the AAPT in 1940 and some of his subsequent work with the teachers' organization are also documented, up through 1949, in the AAPT - Sutton collection.

Sutton also received recognition for his revision of the College Physics textbook by Mendenhall, Eve and Keys (D.C. Heath, 1944, 1950, 1956), for his own Physics of Space (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965), for his Editorship of Appleton-Century-Crofts Physics Series, and for his service in the role of Advisor in Physics to the Encyclopedia Britannica (1957-).

Sutton's research interests included mathematical models, solar eclipses and ionization by slow positive ions. But it is for his contributions to physics teaching, for which he was awarded AAPT's 1952 Oersted Medal, that he is best known.

Scope and Contents of Collection

These papers document Richard M. Sutton's role in the activities of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) from 1934 to 1949. The major part of the material deals with Sutton's work as editor of the AAPT sponsored book, "Demonstration Experiments in Physics" and his tenure as President of AAPT in 1940.

Box I: "Demonstration Experiments in Physics" correspondence (1934-1939) documenting the entire project in detail. Topics include: soliciting of material, choosing of editors and allocation of editorial duties, writing of the text and final publication. Some photographs and partial, unfinished copies of the text are included.

Box II: General correspondence (1940-1949) relating to Sutton's term as President of the AAPT in 1940, some additional correspondence and notes concerning Sutton's later connections with the Association, and miscellaneous documents of the AAPT (e.g. the brief histories of the AAPT: the 1940, 1946 and 1948 "Supplements" to the American Journal of Physics.) The collection also includes material on the American Council on Education, American Institute of Physics and American Physical Society.

The main correspondence during the period of Sutton's Presidency were Karl Lark-Horovitz, Chairman of the AAPT Committee on Cooperation in the Study of Secondary School Sciences; Harvey Lemon, 1939 President of the AAPT and one of the Association's representatives to the American Council on Education; and Paul Klopsteg, 1940 Treasurer of the AAPT who advised Sutton on many matters of policy. Klopsteg's letters to Sutton provide some additional documentation (beyond official AAPT historical records) of the early relationship of the Association to the American Institute of Physics. The major concerns reflected in Sutton's Presidential correspondence include the initiation of programs to improve the teaching of physics in secondary school, representation of the AAPT on the American Council on Education, selection of the 1940 recipient of the Oersted Medal for notable contributions to the teaching of physics, preparation of the program for the AAPT annual meeting and the initiation of an intensive membership drive.

Later correspondence is concerned, in part, with the problem of retraining secondary school science teachers to help compensate for wartime manpower shortages in the colleges and universities. In addition, Sutton's Chairmanship of the 1949 AAPT Nominating Committee is documented both by correspondence and by Sutton's handwritten notes (Box 2, folder marked "Miscellaneous").

Restrictions on Use and Access

Permission of an officer of depositing organization required for access to records less than 25 years old.

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.


Klopsteg, Paul E. (Paul Ernest), 1889-
Lark-Horovitz, K. (Karl), 1892-1958.
Lemon, Harvey Brace, 1885-
Roller, Duane Emerson, 1894-
Sutton, Richard Manliffe, 1900-1966.
Zeleny, John.


American Association of Physics Teachers.
American Institute of Physics.
American Physical Society.

Subject terms

Education. Societies, etc.
Physics. Experiments.
Physics. Societies, etc.
Physics. Study and teaching.

Genre terms

Photographic prints.

Organization and Arrangement of Collection

This collection is organized into two series:

  • Series I: Demonstration experiments in physics
  • Series II: General correspondence

Provenance and Acquisition Information

Received from Grace Sutton, 1966-1968.

Processing Information

This collection is unprocessed.

Preferred Citation of Collection

Box [number], Folder [number], American Association of Physics Teachers records of Richard M. Sutton. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, College Park, MD 20740, USA.

Administrative Information


Finding Aid to the American Association of Physics Teachers records of Richard M. Sutton, 1934-1949


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: Demonstration experiments

Box 1 Topics include soliciting of material, choosing of editors and allocation of editorial duties, writing of the text and final publication. Some photographs and partial, unfinished copies of the text are included, 1934-1939

Series II: General correspondence

Box 2 Topics include Sutton's term as President of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), history of the AAPT, American Council on Education; American Institute of Physics (AIP), and the American Physical Society (APS), 1940-1949