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Published 1981 | public
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The Theodore von Kármán Collections at the California Institute of Technology: guide to the original collection and a microfiche edition


History of the Collection and Acknowledgments: Theodore von Kármán left instructions in his will that his papers be given to the Laboratory of Fluid Mechanics and Jet Propulsion named after him at the California Institute of Technology. Shortly after his death in 1963, the U.S. Air Force Academy Library selected several items from the collection for an exhibit at the dedication of the new von Kármán wing of the Academy's library. These items were subsequently presented to the library. The collection itself remained in the custody of the Kármán Laboratory until April 1968, when Professors Duncan Rannie and Frank Marble released the material to Dr. Judith R. Goodstein, the Institute's Archivist, following the formal creation of Caltech's science archives program. By 1971, about half of the 100 or so storage cartons had been examined and a brief report was prepared for the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. The systematic arrangement and description of the collection began in 1976, with the support of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Von Kármán's papers posed a number of special problems. An accomplished physicist, aerodynamicist, and applied mathematician, he carried on an extensive and world-wide correspondence in Hungarian, German, French, and Italian until he settled permanently in the United States in 1930. Handwritten letters, often times lacking the last name in the signature, transformed the routine alphabetical arrangement of his personal correspondence into an assignment worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Also, von Kármán generated copious files in Budapest, Aachen, Pasadena, Washington, and Paris, and no two secretaries kept his files the same way. In the absence of any consistent internal arrangement, the staff went ahead and reorganized a good portion of his papers, completing the project in September 1978. The microfiche publication of the Theodore von Kármán collection in 1980 was supported by a contract with the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C. Many people contributed to the successful completion of these projects. We are grateful to Annamarie Keene, Jackie Kuhl, and Ruth Gordon for their industry and ingenuity in coping with rusty paper clips, yellowed folders, and abstruse scientific records. The Guide's general appearance owes much to the helpful advice and skillful typing of Joanne Clark. It is also a pleasure to acknowledge Erwin Morkisch for his exacting preparation of the individual files for microfiching; Jack Scharlin for his overall supervision of the actual photography; Loma Sprude for preparing the necessary guide sheets for the microfiche edition; Marcia Goodstein for assuming the responsibility of checking the microfiche; and Paul Hanle whose generous cooperation made the microfiche publication possible. Special thanks are due to Johanna Tallman for her steadfast administrative support.

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© 1981 California Institute of Technology.


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August 19, 2023
October 24, 2023