AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXVII , No. 1, Spring 2005


Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher
June 9, 1984 - London, England, President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher viewing model of manned space station. Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library.

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History of Physics and Allied Fields at the Reagan Library
By Diane Barrie, Archivist, Ronald Reagan Library

The Reagan Administration, 1981-1989, was an active time for scientific research and new scientific ventures. The space program and the space shuttle continued despite the tragedy of the Challenger disaster in 1986. The 1980s opened with a severe energy crisis gripping the nation. Many of our early records reflect the quest for more domestic oil, new ways to extract domestic oil, and alternative energy sources. In 1983, President Reagan called for a strategic defense involving lasers in space. Although there were many skeptics of the program, it resulted in the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) which continues to this day. And in the mid-1980s, the scientific community began a campaign for a federally funded superconducting super collider (SCC). President Reagan gave the go-ahead for this project in 1987. Finally, the specter of AIDS colored the second half of the administration in the intense effort to find a test for the virus, clear the U.S. blood supply, and begin work on some kind of vaccine.

The Reagan Library textual material consists of two main collections of interest to researchers, the White House Office of Records Management (WHORM) Subject File and White Staff and Office files. In the Reagan Library, the Staff and Office Files offer the most substantive material and is the larger collection. WHORM subject categories can also offer useful material for research. For scientific activities in the 1980s the best categories are AT (Atomic/Nuclear); OS (Outer Space); NR (Natural Resources) and SC (Science). These categories are all available for research. They consist mostly of public correspondence in support of/or against certain projects, but occasionally contain some policy documents. Records on the science projects like the SCC can also be found in various FG (Federal Government) subject categories, especially pertaining to meetings of the Cabinet and sub-cabinet councils.

Ronald Reagan at the NIH, 1987
July 23, 1987 - National Institutes of Health, President Reagan looking into microscope, and Samuel Broder. Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library.

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The Library has numerous staff and office collections that contain information about scientific efforts in the 1980s. The most relevant collections are the George Keyworth and William Graham collections. Keyworth and Graham served as the White House Science Advisor/Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Reagan administration. Their collections consist of memos, correspondence, reports, research and policy papers on all of the scientific issues of the 1980s. Both collections currently have a limited amount of material available for research. Please see the Reagan Library Web site for inventory lists and material that is available.

Numerous scientific data can be found in the staff collections for the Office of Policy Development, and the office collections for the sub-cabinet councils, particularly the Domestic Policy Council. Most of the information about SDI is located in various staff and office collections for the National Security Council. This material is usually still national security classified information. Our collection also contains correspondence with many physicists, most notably Edward Teller.

The Reagan Library is the first presidential library administered under the President Records Act of 1987. This act allows for presidential records to be opened in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Researchers may inquire about research or FOIA requests at the Reagan Library by writing the Library, 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley, CA 93065, or by calling 1-800-410-8354 and asking for the reference archivist. E-mail should be sent to The library's Web site address is

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AIP History CenterCenter for History of Physics
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