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John Von Neumann Collection


Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Von Neumann, John, 1903-1957.

Hungarian-born John Von Neumann was a world-famous mathematician. Between 1930 and 1933 he was a visiting professor of mathematical physics at Princeton University and one of four people selected for the first faculty of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study (one of the others was Albert Einstein), position he held from its formation in 1933 until his death. The best known of Von Neumann's accomplishments was his development of one of the speediest, most accurate, and most useful computers, which made the essential calculations that enabled the United States to build and test its first full model of the hydrogen bomb. Another computer he later developed enabled the Navy to do twenty-four hour weather predictions in a few minutes and helped the armed forces plan the movement of men and material by mathematically simulating logistic problems. His work in quantum mechanics gave him a profound knowledge concerning the application of nuclear energy to military and peacetime uses, enabling him to occupy an important place in the scientific councils of the nation. During the Second World War, Von Neumann played a major role among the scientists who developed the atomic bomb. He was a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and a key consultant to the American Air Force on nuclear weapons.

The Magnetic Drum Digital Differential Analyzer (ADDIA) was a computer built by Northrop Aircraft Corporation in 1950.

The collection consists of twenty-nine autograph letters and a typed manuscript (copy) of the mathematician John Von Neumann. ‡b The letters were sent to Von Neumann's mathematics professor, Gábor Szegő, spanning a period of twenty-three years, starting when Neumann was in his last year of high school. In the first thirteen letters, penned during his high school years, Neumann writes about mathematical problems and solutions. In a letter dated February 28, 1933, he writes about teaching at Princeton University as a visiting professor, and in the letter dated October 12, 1933, when he was at the Institute For Advanced Study, he writes about the American system of recruiting staff members at American universities. Other topics include the Depression of 1934, his lectures at different universities, quantum theory and quantum mechanics, his second marriage, and his childhood friend, Princeton's Nobel laureate physicist Eugene Wigner.

The 30 p. typescript is a copy of a lecture titled "An Adaptation of the MADDIDA : A Digital Differential Analyser of Northrup Aircraft, Inc." According to a handwritten note at the bottom of p. 1, the lecture was presented during the Cowles Commission Conference at the University of Chicago in 1949.

Also included is a photocopy of and article by Charles E. Pepper from the Princeton Alumni Weekly issue of June 7, 1966 titled "The Computer - Big Machine on Campus," in which he writes about a new computer at Princeton University and mentions the first computer built by Von Neumann, which is displayed at the Smithsonian Institute.

The collection was formed as a result of a Departmental practice of combining into one collection material of various accessions relating to a particular person, family, or subject.

The thirty-page typescript was a gift of R. S. Oppenheimer on May 6, 1965.

The twenty-nine letters were a gift of Prof. Gábor Szegő on June 10, 1966.

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Folder inventory added by Nicholas Williams '2015 in 2012.

No appraisal information is available.

Manuscripts Division
Finding Aid Date
Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

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Collection Inventory

Description of Contents of Folders 2-4, 6, undated. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

6 Letters to Gábor Szego, 1919-1920. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

9 Letters to Gábor Szego, 1921-1928. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

14 Letters to Gábor Szego, 1933-1941. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Transcript: "An Adaptation of the MADDIDA, A Digital Differential Analyser of Northrup Aircraft, Inc.", 1950. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Transcript (Copy): "The Computer: Big Machine on Campus," from Princeton Alumni Weekly, 1966. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

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