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 (princeton.edu)
Kauzmann, Walter and John D. Roberts, Charles Phelps Smyth, 1895-1990. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 2010. - Smyth_Charles.pdf (nasonline.org)
Oral History with Charles P. Smyth, Science History Institute Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. - https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/4j03d097t
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:
- Biographical Materials
- Supplementary Materials
- 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.
- Princeton University. Department of Chemistry
- United States. Army. Chemical Warfare Service
- United States. War Department. Alsos Mission
- 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.
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.
Charles Phelps Smyth's father Charles H. Smyth, Jr. taught at Princeton University. These materials may have belonged to him.
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.
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.
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.