AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXII, No. 1, Spring 2000


New Quarters for the University of Minnesota Archives
by Penelope Krosch

Please click on any photo to view an enlarged version.

The University of Minnesota Archives was established in 1928 by the first University President, William Watts Folwell, a historian. From a modest collection of faculty publications, University Archives now holds 16,000 feet of papers consisting of over a thousand collections. University publications and over a million photographs and audio-visual items enrich the collection. As the University approaches its sesquicentennial in 2001, the archivists will be challenged both by research into the past of the University and by planning for the preservation of a growing number of records stored only in electronic formats.

The University is Minnesota’s research and land grant institution and the contents of the archives are correspondingly diverse, ranging from records of the agriculture experiment stations to its Department of Surgery during the era when it was a leader in open heart surgery and organ transplants. Faculty collections and a small number of alumni collections are equally diverse. Scientists including physicists are well represented among faculty collections in the archives. Chemists Isaac Kolthoff and Lee I. Smith were involved in synthetic rubber research during World War II. Aeronautical engineer Jean Piccard and his wife Jeannette were famous for their work on high altitude balloons. Astronomer Willem Luyten is noted for his research on faint blue stars. Of the early members of the Physics Department, Anthony Zeleny’s papers are as much used for his anti-smoking crusade as well as for his research in electricity in the 1920s. Among the more contemporary collections of A.O.C. Niernote are the papers of Alfred O.C. Nier, father of the mass spectrometer. An excellent video of Nier’s career covers his research from his work on the Manhattan Project to his contributions to the space program. Also preserved are papers of his colleagues Edward Ney and Phyllis Freier, who both did research in cosmic physics. Early records of the School of Physics (1942-1960) are available as well as several sets of technical reports and other research reports. It is hoped that the papers of Otto Schmitt will also be placed in the archives when they are available.

University Archives and eight other archives and special collections units moved into new quarters in early 2000. The Elmer L. Andersen Library is located on the University of Minnesota’s West Bank Campus. The new building offers conference facilities, a large exhibit space on the first floor for local and traveling exhibits, and three large reading rooms. The building should be open to the public in March of this year.

The most intriguing part of Andersen Library are the two storage caverns which open on the banks of the Mississippi River. The caverns were mined into the riverbank’s sandstone strata and reinforced to prevent collapse. The storage facilities were constructed as a free-standing building inside the caverns. Each cavern is 600 feet long. One cavern is reserved for book storage and the other for archives and manuscript collections. The archives cavern is divided in two parts. One is a high bay with sixteen tiers of shelving, for which a forklift is available for searching. The other part is divided in two horizontally to allow for unaided access to the collections. The construction plan allowed for access to a future third cavern when needed.

For further information please send e-mail to: or telephone 612-624-0562. Mail inquiries should be sent to University of Minnesota Archives, 218 Elmer L. Anderson Library, 222 21st Ave. So., Minneapolis, MN 55455.

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AIP History CenterCenter for History of Physics
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