AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXVII , No. 2, Fall 2005


Joe Anderson and Carl Zeiss Archiv director Dr. Wolfgang Wimmer review Zeiss R&D records.

Click on photo to see a larger image.

Major Changes and Progress in the Project to Document the History of Physicists in Industry (HoPI)

Some of the highlights of our continuing study of indus- trial physicists during the last year include:

  • The grant-funded project has been extended to the end of 2007.
  • Orville Butler, an experienced PhD historian of science/business, was hired to replace Tom Lassman who left to accept a career track position.
  • Staff held site visits at major German industrial archives.
  • A candidates list for longer oral history interviews is being developed.
  • Oral history interviews were conducted with 3 major industrial physicists.
  • All 59 interviews with physicists and R&D managers are transcribed and edited.
  • We're well into analysis of the transcripts, using NVivo topical-indexing software.

By last fall we had completed site visits at the central R&D laboratories at IBM, Corning, GE, Lucent, Xerox, 3M, Exxon Mobil, Kodak, and Texas Instruments—nine of the fifteen companies targeted in the study—and had conducted question-set interviews with 54 corporate physicists and science managers and 19 technical librarians, records managers, or archivists employed by the companies. Thus we were well ahead of schedule in laboratory site visits and question-set interviews, but as a result we had fallen behind in editing and analyzing the interviews.

We also had gathered enough information to focus more attention on longer career-length interviews with selected leaders in industrial physics, while continuing site visits at archives that collect and preserve industrial records, both here and abroad. In addition we also realized that the overall project would require more time than we had originally expected (particularly with the loss of a key staff member). Thanks to additional funding from the Avenir Foundation, one of the five organizations supporting the study, we have been able to extend our work through December 2007. We have shifted our focus over the past year, concentrating on 1) transcribing, editing, and analyzing all the interviews that we've completed; 2) initiating what we hope will become a permanent new program to identify and interview especially influential corporate physicists; and 3) conducting site visits at major industrial archives in Germany. In June, project historian Tom Lassman left AIP to accept a civil service-track position with the U.S. Army History Office, and we have been fortunate in recruiting Orville Butler, an experienced science and business historian who has also had experience as archivist for Maytag, to fill the position, joining us in mid-September.

All the completed interviews are now transcribed and edited, and we’re currently analyzing them using a qualitative sociological software program called NVivo. In April, project director Joe Anderson presented an interim report on the project (online at, based in part on an initial analysis of the interviews and other sources, at a conference of science archivists at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. While our findings at this point are still tentative and based on a partial analysis, we have acquired a general sense of the varieties of structure and funding of current corporate research and the kinds of records that are created. We will test these observations as we proceed with more lab site visits and a rigorous analysis of the interviews and other sources during the remainder of the project and then prepare our guidelines and recommendations for identifying and preserving historically valuable R&D records.

While in Germany, Anderson conducted site visits at representative archives that form a remarkable safety net for preserving significant industrial records there. The repositories visited were the Deutsches Museum Archives, a major institution that accepts orphaned business records; the in-house archives of the Siemens and Carl Zeiss companies; and the chambers of commerce and industry archives in Cologne and Munich. While a significant number of German businesses support their own archives, the chambers of commerce and industry in six of the eleven German Landes preserve records of a broad cross-section of other companies.

We also began work in late 2004 on career-length oral histories with selected corporate physicists who have had a major impact on US corporate research or research policy. We’ve contacted more than 30 distinguished corporate scientists and historians to develop, with their advice, a list of potential interview candidates. So far we have completed five of the longer interviews and have sufficient funds to conduct a total of 15 or more during the project. When the study is completed we’ll continue to tape-record interviews of leading industrial physicists as funds permit. Because career-length oral histories are expensive to conduct—with hours of research and editing before and after the actual interview, which typically runs from four to ten hours—we have begun an Industrial Physics Endowment Campaign to support this and related work to preserve the history of physicists in industry (for the Campaign see "History that Matters Campaign"...OR... see our Spring 2005 Newsletter).

The HoPI study is continuing to make good progress, and we’ve created a better mix of all the varied project activities over the last year. We are currently scheduling our next laboratory site visits and additional career-length interviews, as well as continuing to analyze the interviews already in hand.

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