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Papers of Charles Phelps Smyth


Held at: Science History Institute Archives [Contact Us]315 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Science History Institute Archives. 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

Charles Phelps Smyth (1895-1990) was an American physical chemist. Born in Clinton, New York on February 10, 1895, Smyth earned his A.B. in Chemistry (1916) and his M.A. in Chemistry (1917) from Princeton University. After earning his master's degree, he worked as a Chemist at the National Bureau of Standards (1917-1918), where he worked on electroplating. Smyth served as an officer in the United States Army during the latter stages of World War I (1918-1919). Rising to the rank of First Lieutenant, he served in the Chemical Warfare Service of the U.S. Army's Ordnance Corps. After his discharge from the military, Smyth attended graduate school at Harvard University, earning his Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1921. At Harvard, he studied under Nobel Laureate Theodore William Richards.

In 1920, Smyth accepted a teaching position at Princeton University's Department of Chemistry, where he went on to enjoy a distinguished career. At Princeton, he became a recognized pioneer in the study of dielectrics and his chemical research was directed towards the increased knowledge of the structure of matter. He rose through the ranks of the Department of Chemistry's faculty hierarchy, serving as Instructor (1920-1923), Assistant Professor (1923-1927), Professor (1938-1958), and David P. Jones Professor of Chemistry (1958-1963). Smyth retired from Princeton in 1963 and continued his association with the university as Professor Emeritus for many years afterwards (1963-1990).

Smyth was also noted for his contributions to the American war effort during World War II. From 1943 to 1945, he worked on the Manhattan Project at Princeton University. In 1945, he served on the highly secret Project ALSOS, an Anglo-American intelligence operation that sought to determine the state of Germany's nuclear program and to keep the program's assets and personnel from falling into the hands of the Soviet Union. In this capacity, Smythe discovered a centrifuge in Celle, Germany, which was used for uranium enrichment. He also assisted in locating and questioning several scientists involved with the German nuclear effort, including Paul Harteck, Paul Herold, Eberhardt Elbel, and Werner Osenberg.

Charles Phelps Smyth was the author of two books: Dielectric Constant and Molecular Structure (1931) and Dielectric Behavior and Structure (1955). He also served as the editor of Journal of Chemical Physics (1933-1936, 1952-1954) and authored numerous scientific journal articles. Smyth was an active member of several professional organizations, including the American Chemical Society, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences. He was also a recipient of the Medal of Freedom (1947), the American Chemical Society's Nichols Medal (1954), and an honorary degree from the University of Salford (1970).

Charles Phelps Smyth passed away in Bozeman, Montana on March 18, 1990.


Papers of Charles Phelps Smyth, Science History Institute Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Charles Phelps Smyth Papers, Princeton University Library Special Collections, Princeton, New Jersey. - Charles Phelps Smyth Papers, 1918-1985 - Finding Aids (

Kauzmann, Walter and John D. Roberts, Charles Phelps Smyth, 1895-1990. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 2010. - Smyth_Charles.pdf (

Oral History with Charles P. Smyth, Science History Institute Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. -

The Papers of Charles Phelps Smyth contain the personal papers of American physical chemist Charles Phelps Smyth. The materials in this collection are mainly of a biographical nature, documenting Smyth's life from his baptism as an infant to his death. His service in the United States military in World Wars I and II and his friendship with his mentor, Nobel Laureate Theodore William Richards are highlighted. This collection contains little documentation regarding Smyth's work as a scientist and educator. The Papers of the Charles Phelps Smyth are arranged into the following four series:

  1. Biographical Materials
  2. Correspondence
  3. Supplementary Materials
  4. Certificates and Diplomas

The Papers of Charles Phelps Smyth were donated to the Science History Institute (formerly the Chemical Heritage Foundation) by Emily V. Smyth in April 1993.

The Papers of Charles Phelps Smyth were processed by Andrew Mangravite in January 2011.

Science History Institute Archives
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid created by Andrew Mangravite and encoded into EAD by Kenton G. Jaehnig.
Finding Aid Date
Access Restrictions

There are no access restrictions on the materials for research purposes and the collection is open to the public.

Use Restrictions

The Science History Institute holds copyright to the Papers of Charles Phelps Smyth. The researcher assumes full responsibility for all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply.

Collection Inventory

Series Description

Arranged chronologically by year, this series contains Charles Phelps Smyth's biographical materials. The materials in this series are mostly of a personal nature. Files regarding Smyth's education at Princeton University, his military service during World War I, and his career as a professor at Princeton University make up the largest components of this series. Small numbers of files documenting his stint at the National Bureau of Standards, his activities during World War II, his awards, and other miscellaneous personal matters are also preserved here. Of particular interest are a pair of notebooks kept by Smyth during his service on Project ALSOS in Germany near the end of World War II.

The contents of the files in this series consist of a variety of materials, including, but not limited to, correspondence, certificates, report cards, exams, notebooks, and news clippings.

Baptismal Certificate, 1895.
Box 1 Folder 1
Confirmation Certificate, 1910.
Box 1 Folder 2
"Examination Papers for Entry into the Freshman Class, Princeton University", 1904, 1907.
Box 1 Folder 3
General Note

Charles Phelps Smyth's father Charles H. Smyth, Jr. taught at Princeton University. These materials may have belonged to him.

The Princeton School, Princeton New Jersey - report card for Charles Phelps Smyth, 1909-1910.
Box 1 Folder 4
The Lawrenceville School, Lawrenceville, New Jersey - report cards for Charles Phelps Smyth, 1910-1912.
Box 1 Folder 5
Princeton University - Freshman Entrance Exams - German A, 1910 June.
Box 1 Folder 6
(Princeton University) - IV Latin Composition: Barss I (Revised), 1911 March.
Box 1 Folder 7
Princeton University - "Information Concerning Freshman Work in Hygiene and Physical Education", 1912 September.
Box 1 Folder 8
Princeton University - (Examination in) Freshman English Regular Course, 1913 January.
Box 1 Folder 9
Princeton University - Hygiene, 1913 January.
Box 1 Folder 10
Princeton University - "Official Report of the Standing of Charles Phelps Smyth", 1913 February.
Box 1 Folder 11
Princeton University - Roman History, 1913 March.
Box 1 Folder 12
Princeton University - Test in Conics, 1913 May.
Box 1 Folder 13
Princeton University - First Term Exam Schedules, 1913-1914.
Box 1 Folder 14
Princeton University - Phi Beta Kappa (Admittance) Letter, 1915 March.
Box 1 Folder 15
Princeton University - Charles Phelps Smyth grades while a student at Princeton, 1912-1916.
Box 1 Folder 16
Princeton University - Charles Phelps Smyth grades, 1915-1916.
Box 1 Folder 17
Princeton University - notification of award of Sayre Fellowship in Applied Chemistry, 1916.
Box 1 Folder 18
Princeton University - "Record Book of Charles Phelps Smyth admitted to the Graduate School of Princeton University, October 1916", 1916.
Box 1 Folder 19
Princeton University - letter informing Charles P. Smyth of Graduate Scholarship, 1917.
Box 1 Folder 20
(U.S.) Department of Commerce - Certificate of Probationary Appointment - Bureau of Standards (Includes departmental employee regulations.), 1917 June.
Box 1 Folder 21
Bureau of Standards - memorandum, re: Charles Phelps Smyth's eligibility to enter duty, 1917 July.
Box 1 Folder 22
Princeton University - letter from George A. Hulett to Ordnance Department, U.S. Army, recommending Charles P. Smyth for a commission, 1917 December.
Box 1 Folder 23
Charles Phelps Smyth acceptance of commission as 2nd Lieutenant, Ordnance Department, 1917 December.
Box 1 Folder 24
War Department - Charles Phelps Smyth active duty assignment, 1918 January.
Box 1 Folder 25
(U.S.) Department of the Interior - Bureau of Mines - ID card, 1918 January.
Box 1 Folder 26
War Department - Design Section Gun Division - Special Detail duty orders, 1918 January.
Box 1 Folder 27
(U.S.) Department of Commerce - Bureau of Standards - Charles Phelps Smyth letter of resignation, 1918 February.
Box 1 Folder 28
War Department - 2nd Lieutenant announcement, Chemical Service Section (Charles Phelps Smyth was stationed at American University, Washington, D.C.), 1918 April.
Box 1 Folder 29
War Department - transfer to Chemical Services Section, 1918 April.
Box 1 Folder 30
Vaccination Register, 1918 June.
Box 1 Folder 31
War Department - certificate 1st Lieutenant, Chemical Warfare Service, 1918 July.
Box 1 Folder 32
War Department - appointment of Charles Phelps Smyth as 1st Lieutenant, Chemical Warfare Service, 1918 July.
Box 1 Folder 33
War Department - honorable discharge papers, 1918 December.
Box 1 Folder 34
Princeton University - appointment of Charles Phelps Smyth as University Scholar, 1919 January.
Box 1 Folder 35a
War Department - name correction document, 1919 June.
Box 1 Folder 35b
National Academy of Sciences - Charles Phelps Smyth - National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council delegate letters, 1925, 1927, 1928.
Box 1 Folder 36
Princeton University - two congratulatory messages to Charles Phelps Smyth on promotions, 1927, undated.
Box 1 Folder 37
Miscellaneous talks and conferences attended by Charles Phelps Smyth (Includes news clippings detailing talks given by Charles Phelps Smyth.), 1928-1970 .
Box 1 Folder 38
American Chemical Society - "The Double Bond" - two spoof newsletters for a convention held in Buffalo, New York (One includes a caricature of Charles Phelps Smyth in an "electrical moment".), 1931 September 2-3.
Box 1 Folder 39
Princeton University - Sigma Xi certificate, 1935 May.
Box 1 Folder 40
Franklin Institute - Dinner in Honor of the Medalists (Charles Phelps Smyth seems not to have been involved.), 1937 May.
Box 1 Folder 41
Princeton University - letter informing Charles Phelps Smyth of promotion to full professor, 1938 April.
Box 1 Folder 42
War Department - ALSOS Mission - "Notes in the Field" - two pocket notebooks kept by Charles Phelps Smyth and a small pocket memoranda, 1945.
Box 1 Folder 43
(U.S.) Office of Price Administration - War Ration Book No. 3/overseas travel expense forms, 1945, undated.
Box 1 Folder 44
War Department - Manhattan District service certificate (Includes a certificate issued by Office of Scientific Research and Development for wartime service, dated March 1945.), 1945 August.
Box 1 Folder 45
Princeton University - press announcement: Medal of Freedom awarded to Charles Phelps Smyth, 1947 December.
Box 1 Folder 46
News Clipping - "Col. at SHAPE Bars Parrot Jape" (Colonel Bernard Fergusson's parrot poem.), 1952.
Box 1 Folder 47
American Chemical Society - Nichols Medal Meeting, New York City (Charles Phelps Smyth was awarded the Nichols Medal that year.), 1954.
Box 1 Folder 48
Princeton University - Charles Phelps Smyth named David P. Jones Professor of Chemistry, effective July 1958, 1958 April.
Box 1 Folder 49
Princeton University - notification of a salary increase for Charles Phelps Smyth, effective July 1959, 1959 April.
Box 1 Folder 50
Princeton University - notification of a salary increase for Charles Phelps Smyth, effective July 1960, 1960 April.
Box 1 Folder 51
Princeton University - press release, re: retirement of Charles Phelps Smyth, 1963.
Box 1 Folder 52
Princeton University - Bursar's Office - retirement annuity premiums and miscellaneous financial, 1938-1965.
Box 1 Folder 53
Technion - request for Charles Phelps Smyth autograph (For reproduction on glass wall/exhibit.), 1964.
Box 1 Folder 54
Charles Phelps Smyth - unidentified notebook, 1969.
Box 1 Folder 55
Smyth Reunion - attendee list (Includes news clippings, re: Charles Phelps Smyth engagement and family home.), 1969.
Box 1 Folder 56
University of Salford - Honorary Degree - signed menu, program, seating charts, etc., 1970.
Box 2 Folder 1
University of Salford - Honorary Degree - certificate in presentation folder, 1970.
Box 2 Folder 2
Spiral Notebook - appears to be notes concerning potential Princeton hires, 1971.
Box 2 Folder 3
Office of Naval Research, Boston, Massachusetts - letter of appreciation for work performed as a consultant by Charles Phelps Smyth, 1978.
Box 2 Folder 4
Anderson, J.E. - "In Memoriam: Charles Phelps Smyth (1895-1990)", 1990.
Box 2 Folder 5
Princeton University - signed expression of gratitude to Charles Phelps Smyth for service to Princeton, undated.
Box 2 Folder 6
Buffalo Evening News - short paper by Charles Phelps Smyth explaining dipole movements (Possibly 1931.), circa 1931.
Box 2 Folder 7
Charles Phelps Smyth lecture notecards - "Radio Waves and Molecules"/"Effects of Electric Fields on Dielectrics" (Possibly 1931, from an American Chemical Society conference held in Buffalo, New York.), circa 1931.
Box 2 Folder 8
Charles Phelps Smyth pocket Soennecken notebook - various test results and calculations, undated.
Box 2 Folder 9
Three Postcards of Princeton, New Jersey - includes one depicting the Charles Phelps Smyth family home, undated.
Box 2 Folder 10
Charles Phelps Smyth - "Autobiographical Notes", undated.
Box 2 Folder 11
Charles Phelps Smyth - "Bibliography", undated.
Box 2 Folder 12
Charles Phelps Smyth - Reprints and Book Information (Publishers' ads.), undated.
Box 2 Folder 13
Miscellaneous General Materials, undated.
Box 2 Folder 14

Series Description

Arranged chronologically by year, this series contains Charles Phelps Smyth's correspondence files. Of particular interest is a single file containing Smyth's correspondence with his friend and mentor, 1914 Nobel Laureate Theodore William Richards. A single file containing Smyth's correspondence with chemist and Harvard University President James B. Conant is also found in this series. Files containing congratulatory correspondence regarding Smyth's Medal of Freedom, his Nichols Medal, and his election to the National Academy of Sciences are also preserved here.

Correspondence - Theodore William Richards (Includes letters of personal and scientific value.), 1919-1926.
Box 2 Folder 15
Correspondence - miscellaneous, 1931, 1954, 1960, 1970.
Box 2 Folder 16
Correspondence - James B. Conant, 1933, undated.
Box 2 Folder 17
Correspondence - Allan Ranch, Augusta, Montana and Circle Guides, Ootsa Lake, British Columbia, Canada (Interesting war-related materials.), 1942-1956.
Box 2 Folder 18
Correspondence - Medal of Freedom - letters of congratulations, 1947.
Box 2 Folder 19
Correspondence - Nichols Medal - letters of congratulations, 1953-1954.
Box 2 Folder 20
Correspondence - Election to the National Academy of Sciences - congratulations, 1955.
Box 2 Folder 21

Series Description

Arranged chronologically by year, this series contains miscellaneous materials regarding the Smyth Family, which were collected and maintained by Charles Phelps Smyth. A majority of the materials in this series concern Smyth's father Charles H. Smyth, Jr., an American geologist. A small amount of materials regarding Smyth's great-grandfather Charles Smyth are also present here.

The contents of this series consist of a notebook, travel tickets and documents, a sketchbook, maps and lithographs, a scrapbook containing memorial notices, and news clippings.

Charles H. Smyth, Jr. - Advanced Mineralogy notebook, 1889.
Box 3 Folder 1
Charles H. Smyth, Jr. - travel tickets and documents, 1890, 1891.
Box 3 Folder 2
Charles H. Smyth, Jr. - sketchbook of minerals, undated.
Box 3 Folder 3
Charles H. Smyth, Jr. - old maps and lithographs of the Adirondack Region (compilation), undated.
Box 3 Folder 4
"Charles Smyth" - an unused scrapbook containing memorial notices for Charles Smyth (Charles Phelps Smyth's great-grandfather, died 1870.), Charles H. Smyth, Jr. (Charles Phelps Smyth's father, died 1937.), 1870-1937.
Box 3 Folder 5
Assorted, unattached news clippings, originally included in "Charles Smyth" scrapbook, 1908-1963.
Box 3 Folder 6

Series Description

Arranged alphabetically by year, this series contains certificates and diplomas awarded to Charles Phelps Smyth over the course of his life. The contents of this series include, but are not limited to, Smyth's United States Army officer commissions, his Harvard University Ph.D. diploma, and his certificates of election from the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences.

Lawrenceville School - graduation diploma, 1912 June.
Box 4 Folder 1
Alpha Delta Tau Fraternity (Lawrenceville School), 1912 August.
Box 4 Folder 2
Adjutant General's Office - Commission as 2nd Lieutenant, Army Ordnance Section, 1918 January.
Box 4 Folder 3
Adjutant General's Office - Commission as 2nd Lieutenant, Army Chemical Service Section, 1918 April.
Box 4 Folder 4
Harvard University - Ph.D. diploma, 1921 June.
Box 4 Folder 5
American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - certificate of election, 1935 May.
Box 4 Folder 6
National Academy of Sciences - certificate of election, 1955 April.
Box 4 Folder 7
State Department - certificate of appreciation (Charles Phelps Smyth assisted in preparation of the American Program at the Brussels Universal and International Exhibition held in 1958.), 1958 October.
Box 4 Folder 8
Conference on Electrical Insulation - certificate of appreciation (Charles Phelps Smyth delivered the J.B. Whitehead Memorial Lecture at this conference held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.), 1958 October.
Box 4 Folder 9

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