University of Texas at Austin

O. W. (Owen Willans) Richardson:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Richardson, O. W. (Owen Willans), 1879-1959
Title: O. W. (Owen Willans) Richardson Papers
Dates: 1898-1958 (bulk 1920-1940)
Extent: 112 document boxes, 2 oversize boxes (49.04 linear feet), 1 oversize folder (osf), 5 galley folders (gf)
Abstract: The papers of Sir O. W. (Owen Willans) Richardson, the Nobel Prize-winning British physicist who pioneered the field of thermionics, contain research materials and drafts of his writings, correspondence, as well as letters and writings from numerous distinguished fellow scientists.
Call Number: MS-3522
Language: Primarily English; some works and correspondence written in French, German, or Italian.
Note: The Ransom Center gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics, which provided funds to support the processing and cataloging of this collection.
Access: Open for research. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials. Part or all of this collection is housed off-site and may require up to three business days’ notice for access in the Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Room. Please contact the Center before requesting this material:

Administrative Information

Additional Physical Format Available: The Richardson Papers were microfilmed and are available on 76 reels. Each item has a unique identifying number (W-xxxx, L-xxxx, R-xxxx, or M-xxxx) that corresponds to the microfilm. This number was recorded on the file folders housing the papers and can also be found on catalog slips present with each item.
Acquisition: Purchase, 1961 (R43, R44) and Gift, 2005
Processed by: Tessa Klink and Joan Sibley, 2014

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

The English physicist Owen Willans Richardson, who pioneered the field of thermionics, was also known for his work on photoelectricity, spectroscopy, ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, the electron theory, and quantum theory. He was awarded the 1928 Nobel Prize for physics for his work in thermionics and for his discovery of Richardson's Law.
Richardson was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England to Joshua Henry Richardson and Charlotte Maria Willans Richardson. He was educated at Batley Grammar School and Trinity College, Cambridge before eventually earning his D.Sc. from University College London in 1904. During his time at Trinity College, he worked in the Cavendish Laboratory under Joseph John Thomson. He was part of a group of scholars which included Ernest Rutherford, Charles Thomson Rees Wilson, Paul Langevin, and Harold A. Wilson, with whom he forged professional and personal relationships.
In 1905, Richardson married Harold Wilson's sister, Lilian and in 1906, he accepted an appointment as professor of physics at Princeton University. While at Princeton, Richardson did research work and published papers on photoelectricity, spectroscopy, X-rays and thermodynamics. His students at this time included Robert H. Goddard and Arthur and Karl Compton. During this same period, Richardson's sisters married two of his American colleagues: Elizabeth married Oswald Veblen in 1908 and in 1911 Charlotte married Clinton Davisson. In 1913, Richardson returned to England after accepting the Wheatstone professorship of physics at King's College, University of London. He was also, at this time, elected as a fellow of the Royal Society.
He published his first book, The Electron Theory of Matter, in 1914 and his second, The Emission of Electricity from Hot Bodies, in 1916. His expertise made him an asset during the First World War and he was recruited to do research in the area of telecommunications, more specifically in the industries of wireless telegraphy and telephony.
He received the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society in 1920 and served as president of the Physics section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science from 1921 to 1922. He relinquished teaching duties in 1924 upon his dual appointments as Yarrow research professor of the Royal Society and director for research in physics at King's College. He also served as president of the Physical Society from 1926 to 1928. Richardson was awarded the 1928 Nobel Prize for physics on December 12, 1929. He was knighted in 1939.
Richardson influenced many students and peers and worked with such collaborators as T. Tanaka, Frederick Steell Robertson, Percy Maurice Davidson, Subbarao Ramachandra Rao and Alexander Konstantinovitch Denisoff. He played host to visiting scholars including Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, Niels Bohr, Max Planck, Peter Debye, and Arnold Sommerfeld. Richardson contributed to the field by advancing scientific understanding of the emission of electrons from hot surfaces. His third and last book, Molecular Hydrogen and Its Spectrum, was published in 1934. He retired from the University of London in 1944.
Richardson and his wife Lilian had two sons, Harold Owen Wilson Richardson and John Dixon Wilson Richardson, and one daughter, Lilian Mary Richardson (who married A. K. Denisoff). Harold studied physics, while John entered the practice of medicine and psychiatry. After his wife Lilian died in 1945, Richardson married physicist and family friend Henrietta Maria Rupp in 1948. Richardson died of a cerebral thrombosis on February 15, 1959.


In addition to the material found within the O. W. Richardson Papers, the following biographical sources were used:
Foster, E. W. "Richardson, Sir Owen Willans (1879–1959)." Rev. Isobel Falconer. In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
"Richardson, Owen Willans." In Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Vol. 11. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008. 419-423. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 8 December 2014.
Wilson, William. "Owen Willans Richardson. 1879-1959." In Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. London: Royal Society Publishing, 1960.

Scope and Contents

The papers of Nobel-prize winning physicist O. W. (Owen Willans) Richardson contain manuscripts and research materials for Richardson's published and unpublished work; correspondence to and from fellow scientists and educators, students, scientific organizations, colleges and universities, government agencies, and businesses; as well as works received from many distinguished colleagues and students. Spanning 1898 to 1958 (bulk 1920 to 1940), the papers are arranged in four series: I. Works, 1900-1949; II. Letters, 1905-1951; III. Recipient, 1903-1958; IV. Miscellaneous, 1898-1952. The papers are primarily written in English, although some French, German, and Italian language materials are present.
The papers include manuscript materials for Richardson's own monographs and articles concerning his research on thermionic emission, the hydrogen molecule, soft X-rays, quantum theory, the Rydberg constants, and other topics. The related work of many of Richardson's students and fellow physicists, chemists, electrical engineers, and mathematicians in the international research community is well-documented in work undertaken either with Richardson or independently. Richardson's role as an educator is revealed in correspondence with students, colleagues, and various organizations and his files frequently include applications, testimonials, reports, theses, and dissertations. The papers also attest to other aspects of Richardson's professional career, such as his work with scientific organizations, attendance at conferences, work supporting government and commercial research, patents received, and honors and awards such as the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1928. A small portion of the papers are personal in nature, chiefly correspondence from or to various family members.
Among the many distinguished physicists represented in the Richardson papers by correspondence and/or writings are Hannes Alfvén, Edward Victor Appleton, Francis William Aston, Charles Glover Barkla, Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett, Niels Bohr, Max Born, William Henry Bragg, William Lawrence Bragg, Percy Williams Bridgman, James Chadwick, Sydney Chapman, John Douglas Cockcroft, Arthur Holly Compton, Edward Uhler Condon, Clinton Joseph Davisson, Louis Victor DeBroglie, Peter Debye, Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, Arthur Stanley Eddington, Paul Ehrenfest, Enrico Fermi, James Franck, Yakov Ilyich Frenkel, Dennis Gabor, George Gamow, Hans Geiger, Otto Hahn, Werner Heisenberg, Frederic Joliot, Irene Joliot-Curie, Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, Petr Leonidovich Kapitza, Hendrik A. Kramers, Paul Langevin, Irving Langmuir, Max von Laue, Ernest Orlando Lawrence, M. Stanley Livingston, Fritz London, Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, Theodore Lyman, Albert Abraham Michelson, Robert Andrews Millikan, Nevill Francis Mott, Robert Sanderson Mulliken, Wolfgang Pauli, Rudolf Ernst Peierls, Jean Perrin, Max Planck, Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Schrödinger, Manne Siegbahn., Arnold Sommerfeld, Otto Stern, John William Strutt (Baron Rayleigh), George Paget Thomson, Joseph John Thomson, Harold Clayton Urey, John H. Van Vleck, Robert Williams Wood, and Pieter Zeeman.
The Richardson Papers were originally cataloged during a project in 1967 supported by the Joint Committee of the American Physical Society – American Philosophical Society on the History of Theoretical Physics in the Twentieth Century. At that time, the papers were described on over 8,000 catalog cards which were reproduced in the 454-page A Catalogue of the Sir Owen Richardson Manuscript Collection in the History of Science Collection, The University of Texas, compiled by James Henry Leech. This finding aid replicates and replaces information previously available only through the card file or the catalogue.
Series I. Works
The Works series consists chiefly of research notebooks and notes, drafts, and proofs for Richardson's professional research and writings, 1900-1949 (32 boxes). In addition to handwritten notes and drafts, typescript drafts, galley proofs, page proofs, and offprints, a number of works are also represented by blueprints, calculations, charts, diagrams, graphs, photographs, or plates. Research topics include, but are not limited to, thermionic emission, the hydrogen molecule, soft X-rays, quantum theory, and the Rydberg constants. Among the earliest materials are notebooks for experiments at Cambridge University, 1902-1906. Some of the more extensively featured manuscripts in the collection include The Electron Theory of Matter (1914), The Emission of Electricity from Hot Bodies (1916), several papers on the spectrum of H₂ (1929-1934), and Molecular Hydrogen and its Spectrum (1934).
Because Richardson frequently collaborated with others, a number of works found in this series were co-authored with colleagues and students, among them Ursula Andrewes, Charles B. Bazzoni, Devidas Raghunath Bhawalkar, Francis Cecil Chalklin, Rabindranath Chaudhuri, Karl Taylor Compton, Kusumeshu Das, Percy Maurice Davidson, E. W. Foster, Sunao Imanishi, Thomas Ralph Merton, A. A. Newbold, J. Nicol, Subbarao Ramachandra Rao, Eric Keightley Rideal, Frederick Steell Robertson, F. J. Rogers, S. C. Roy, T. B. Rymer, Charles Sheard, Frederick Soddy, T. Tanaka, and William Ewart Williams. Particularly well-represented are Davidson and Robertson, including research undertaken by Richardson and Robertson for the British Admiralty on optics and thermionics during World War I.
Richardson's other writings are connected with his teaching and his work with scientific organizations, such as testimonials and reports with professional and personal evaluations of students and colleagues, biographical sketches and obituary notices of fellow scientists, lecture notes, and speeches. Personal writings include two poems.
The works in this series are arranged alphabetically by title. When multiple versions and formats represent a single title, they are arranged from earliest to latest state. A complete index of titles is included in the Index of Works by O. W. Richardson in this finding aid
Series II. Letters
The Letters series spans 1905-1951 (4 boxes) and contains drafts of Richardson's outgoing correspondence to approximately 600 colleagues, students, scientific organizations, universities, and corporations. The letters are arranged alphabetically by recipient name, including Niels Bohr, William Lawrence Bragg, American Telephone and Telegraph Company, Percy Maurice Davidson, Clinton Joseph Davisson, Gerhard Heinrich Dieke, James Hopwood Jeans, King's College, University of London, A. A. Newbold, Frederick Steell Robertson, and the Swedish Royal Academy of Science, among others.
Series III. Recipient
The Recipient series consists of Richardson's incoming letters from approximately 3500 correspondents, 1903-1958 (23 boxes). Scientific correspondence dates primarily from 1920 to 1938 and includes letters pertaining to research projects and papers from well-known physicists such as Edward Victor Appleton, Niels Bohr, William Henry Bragg, William Lawrence Bragg, Percy Maurice Davidson, James Hopwood Jeans, Ernest Rutherford, Joseph John Thomson, and many others. Other frequent correspondents include students–often sending applications, requesting testimonials, or seeking Richardson's opinion on scientific endeavors or training–or colleagues and administrators from King's College, University of London and many other colleges and universities.
Correspondence from British scientific societies and government organizations including the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the National Physical Laboratory, the Physical Society, and the Royal Society, and from major corporations with research laboratories, such as American Telephone and Telegraph Company, Bell Telephone Laboratories, and General Electric, is also well-represented in this series.
The series also contains about 350 letters of congratulation on the occasions of Richardson's Nobel Prize award in 1928 and knighthood in 1939. A small portion of the correspondence is personal in nature, primarily letters from Richardson's sisters, their husbands, and other relatives from the Denisoff, Davisson, Richardson, Veblen, and Wilson families.
The recipient correspondence is arranged alphabetically by author name and chronologically thereunder when multiple letters are present. All correspondent names are included in the Index of Correspondents segment of this finding aid.
Series IV. Miscellaneous
Items in the Miscellaneous series range from 1898 to 1952 (46 boxes) and consist largely works by Richardson's colleagues and students, as well as third-party correspondence they wrote to persons other than Richardson.
Works by others include their research, manuscripts, proofs, or prints of scientific papers, such as Ernest Rutherford's "Report on the Structure of an Atom" and J. M. Drinkwater's "An Objective Determination of the Visibility Curves of a Michelson Interferometer." Well-represented in this series are Ursula Andrewes, Leslie Fleetwood Bates, Devidas Raghunath Bhawalkar, Francis Cecil Chalklin, Gerhard Heinrich Dieke, Felix Ehrenhaft, Irving Langmuir (files concerning an unsuccessful patent lawsuit brought against him by Harold D. Arnold), A. M. Mosharrafa, Wolfgang Pauli, Frederick Steell Robertson, T. Tanaka and William Mayo Venable. Also present are many theses and dissertations submitted to Richardson by Riaz Ahmad, Richard Audorf, Rabindranath Chaudhuri, Kusumeshu Das, Alexander Konstantinovitch Denisoff, Mahmoud Ahmed El-Sherbini, Aziz Milad Ferasah, Irena Gimpel, Otto Hahn, Hugh Harvey Hyman, Alice Leigh-Smith, Abbas Aly Nasr, Ian Sandeman, and William Wilson. A few manuscript works also include letters written to Richardson; these were left in place with the manuscript work under discussion.
Various papers such as general correspondence, reports, minutes, notices, and programs from several organizations are also present, most extensively from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, King's College and the University of London, the National Physical Laboratory, the Physical Society, the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, and the Royal Society.
This series also contains a small amount of Richardson's non-research papers, such as addresses, inventories of apparatus, lecture notes, lists of writings, and physics exams, as well as correspondence from others written to his wife, Maud, and other third-party family correspondence.
The materials in this series are arranged alphabetically by creator. The finding aid includes an Index of Works by Others to facilitate access to the names and titles of the extensive non-Richardson works present in this series. Similarly, all correspondent names in this series are included in the Index of Correspondents segment of this finding aid.
Immediately following Series IV. Miscellaneous are seven boxes of original envelopes and file folders removed from the papers during processing in the 1960s and two boxes of items separated to oversize storage during processing.

Related Material

While the collection at the Ransom Center constitutes the largest existing holding of Richardson's papers, smaller amounts of his correspondence are found in collections of Carl Barus (Brown University), Niels Bohr (Denmark), Ernest Rutherford (Cambridge), and Oswald Veblen (Library of Congress).

Separated Material

The 2,700 books that make up the Richardson Library date primarily from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and cover the history of the atom; these were cataloged in the Ransom Center's book collection. Also included in the Richardson Library are journals and yearbooks in the fields of physics, chemistry, mathematics, and astronomy, over 14,000 pamphlets and offprints from scientific journals, technical monographs published by the Bell Telephone System, papers from the proceedings of the German Academy of Science, discussions published by the Faraday Society, papers published by the Royal Society of London, and monographs published by the Western Electric Company.
Photographs of Richardson with his family and with fellow scientists, such as E. F. Burton, Marie Curie, S. C. Laws, and J. J. Thomson, were removed from the collection and are housed in the Ransom Center Photography Collection's History of Science Collection.
The Sound Recordings Collection at the Center includes a phonodisc formerly owned by Richardson of a lecture given by Lord Rutherford at Goettingen on Monday, December 14, 1931.
The Center's Vertical File Collection includes one folder of printed information for Dorothy Miller Richardson and 2 folders for O. W. Richardson.

Index Terms


Appleton, Edward Victor, Sir, 1892-1965.
Bohr, Niels, 1885-1962.
Bragg, William Henry, Sir, 1862-1942.
Bragg, William Lawrence, Sir, 1890-1971.
Davidson, Percy Maurice, 1902- .
Davisson, Charlotte Sara Richardson.
Davisson, Clinton Joseph, 1881-1958.
Denisoff, Alexander Konstantinovitch, 1905- .
Dieke, Gerhard Heinrich, 1901-1965.
Jeans, James, 1877-1946.
Newbold, A. A.
Richardson, Henrietta Maria Rupp.
Richardson, Lilian Maud Wilson, died 1945.
Richardson, O. W. (Owen Willans), 1879-1959.
Robertson, Frederick Steell, 1876- .
Rutherford, Ernest, 1871-1937.
Thomson, J. J. (Joseph John), 1856-1940.
Veblen, Elizabeth Mary Richardson, 1881-1974.
Veblen, Oswald, 1880-1960.


Great Britain. Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
King's College London.
National Physical Laboratory (Great Britain).
Physical Society (Great Britain).
Royal Society (Great Britain).
University of London.


Cathode rays.
Hydrogen bonding.
Nobel Prizes.
Spectrum analysis.
Thermionic emission.

Document Types

Galley proofs.
Page proofs.
Research notes.

Container List