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Carver A. Mead Papers

Identifier: 10284-MS

Scope and Contents

The Carver A. Mead papers collection represents many aspects of Carver Mead's professional life. Some highlights of the collection include audio recordings and transcripts for Mead's class lectures from the courses Physics of Computation and Analog Integrated Circuit Design. Also included in the collection are Mead's lab notebooks from the 1960s and an assortment of microchips and masks designed by Mead and his students from the 1970s. The collection also contains several magazine and newspaper articles written about Mead's work and drafts of his published works.


  • 1956-2017
  • Majority of material found within 1968-1994


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research. Researchers must apply in writing for access. Some files are confidential and will remain closed for an indefinite period. Researchers may request information about closed files from the Caltech Archives.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright may not have been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Caltech Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and, unless explicitly stated otherwise, is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

Biographical / Historical

Carver Andress Mead was born in Bakersfield, California on May 1, 1934. He grew up in Big Creek, California in the community located behind the Big Creek Hydroelectric Plant Number 8. His early interest in electronics led Mead to Caltech as a freshman in 1952, and he graduated with his B.S. in 1956, his M.S. in 1957, and his Ph.D. in 1960, all in the field of Electrical Engineering. Mead began his teaching career as an Instructor at Caltech in 1958. After moving up the ranks as Professor, he was honored as the Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Computer Science in 1980. During his teaching tenure, Mead taught courses in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Computation and Neural Systems.

In addition to his forty-year teaching career, Professor Mead’s transistor research in solid state electronics led him to pioneering design methodologies for very large scale integration, or VLSI of integrated circuits in microchip technology. He is credited with famously coining the term Moore's Law (named after Intel co-founder, Gordon Moore), which predicted that every year the number of transistors would double in an integrated circuit. Mead has contributed to over 80 patents and to over 200 published works, including the widely used textbook, Introduction to VLSI Systems in 1980. He has been honored with many awards and honors, including the National Medal of Technology from President George W. Bush in 2003. As of 1999, Carver Mead holds the title of Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, Emeritus, and remains active in his research and in the Caltech community.

For more information on Carver A. Mead, the 1996 Carver A. Mead oral history interview with Shirley K. Cohen transcript can be accessed at Caltech Archives Oral Histories.

Additional oral histories can be found at: Science History Institute (2004) and Computer History Museum (2009).


49 linear feet (85 archives boxes, 2 half size boxes, 4 oversize flat boxes, 2 record cartons, 7 poster tubes, 1 postcard box, and digital files)

Language of Materials



Carver A. Mead, Caltech Alumnus (B.S. 1956, M.S. 1957, PhD 1960) and the Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, Emeritus, taught at Caltech for over forty years. Mead retired from teaching in 1999, but remains active in his research and in the Caltech community. Mead’s papers consist of correspondence, biographical material, teaching notes, notebooks, book drafts, audiovisual material, artifacts, and research material, including his work with very large scale integration (VLSI) of integrated circuits.


Series 1: Correspondence is divided into three subseries. Subseries 1: Alphabetical – Names, Personal consists of correspondence with various individuals and is arranged in alphabetical order by last name. Subseries 2: Alphabetical – Subject/Topical consists of correspondence arranged by subject or topic and includes general groupings such as invited talks, or by a specific title, such as National Geographic. Subseries 3: Chronological consists of several correspondence that is grouped in chronological order.

Series 2: Personal and Biographical is divided into four subseries. Subseries 1: Biographical consists of several articles from published works that feature Carver Mead, and are grouped in chronological and alphabetical order by title. Subseries 2: Personal Business Documents various reports, memos, and correspondence related to Mead’s personal business holdings, arranged in alphabetical order (Closed until 2037). Subseries 3: Personal Administrative consists of personal calendars, consulting services, and other personal administrative documents. Subseries 4: Miscellaneous consists of an assortment of ephemeral personal materials such as the Mead coat of arms.

Series 3: Photographs and Audiovisual is divided into three subseries according to media type. Subseries 1: Photographs consists of mostly personal and research photographs, also includes some negatives and slides. Subseries 2: Audio consists of recordings on audiocassette of Mead’s class lectures or talks. Subseries 3: Video consists of Mead’s collection of VHS and U-matic videocassettes, which includes recordings of television appearances and lab footage. Many of the audiovisual materials have been digitized. File names for the digitized media can be found in the container list.

Series 4: California Institute of Technology is divided into four subseries. Subseries 1: Caltech Administrative consists of administrative material related to Caltech business, including official Caltech correspondence, Computer Science department materials, and colleague files. Subseries 2: Caltech Ephemera contains Caltech related material such as newsletters and a historical brochure for the Athenaeum. Subseries 3: Committees and Planning consists of memos, correspondence, and other materials related to Mead’s work on various boards and committees, in chronological order. Subseries 4: The Gordon and Betty Moore Laboratory Building Planning consists of materials related to the construction of the building and includes memos, reports, and construction schedules, in chronological order.

Series 5: Teaching is divided into two subseries. Subseries 1: Teaching Notes and Student Work consists of teaching notes, notebooks, and theses and notes of student work, in chronological order. Subseries 2: Analog Integrated Circuit Design Lectures consists of notes, figures, and syllabi for the Computer Science 182 course, arranged by lecture number.

Series 6: Research is divided into nine subseries. Subseries 1: Lab Records and Reference/Technical files consists of lab data notebooks, manufacturing and vendor files, and reference material, with notebooks arranged in chronological order and lab data is in original order. Subseries 2: Writings consists of drafts, notes, and final versions of publications, in chronological order. Subseries 3: Technical Notes and Reports consists of technical notes for projects and includes paperwork for the Silicon Structures Project, in chronological order. Subseries 4: Proposals consists of correspondence and other papers related to grant or research proposals, in chronological order. Subseries 5: Figures consists of figures and sketches from unidentified talks or class lectures. Most figures are undated. Subseries 6: Patents consists of all materials related to Mead’s patents, including one original patent document, patent drafts, patent filing correspondence, and abandoned patents. Most of the documentation was accessioned as Supplement III. Subseries 7: Publications (Supplement I) consists of a partial collection of Mead's publications, and folders include correspondence, notes, corrections, and figures, in chronological order. Subseries 8: Publications (Supplement II) is a chronological continuation of subseries 7. Subseries 9: Collective Electrodynamics is the bulk of Supplement IV, and consists of drafts and correspondence related to the book of the same title written by Mead in 2000.

Series 7: VLSI is divided into four subseries. Subseries 1: General VLSI consists of material related to VLSI research and work, including chip manufacturing files, articles, and reports. Subseries 2: Introduction to VLSI Systems consists of material associated with the book published with Lynn Conway, which includes book drafts, notes, and administrative files. Subseries 3: Analog VLSI and Neural Systems consists of material associated with the 1989 book, which consists of drafts, figures, and administrative paperwork. Subseries 4: Artifacts consists of chips, wafers, Gerber chip masks and punch cards, which were originally used with the Gerber plotter.

Series 8: Talks, Conferences, and Honors is divided into two subseries. Subseries 1: Chronological consists of correspondence, talk transcripts, notes, and transparencies listed in chronological order. Subseries 2: Talks and Miscellaneous were added to the collection after the initial processing, and have been kept in original order (accessioned with Supplement I).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Carver Mead donated his papers and artifacts to the Caltech Archives in 2016 and transferred materials through 2016-2018.


Accruals to the collection are expected.

Related Materials

In 2017, Carver Mead documented his donation of materials to the Caltech Archives with the Caltech AMT film crew on hand. He was inspired to create a series of videos where he described the history of his science and technology including, “My First Chip.” The videos can be accessed through the Carver Mead YouTube Channel To learn more about Carver Mead’s Caltech professional overview, see

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Penelope Neder-Muro from 2016-2018. Most records in the series are in chronological or original order, depending on the creator's original record keeping. Duplicate copies were removed and recycled. Personal financial earnings documents were also removed and recycled.

Supplement I was transferred and processed in January 2018. Supplement II was transferred and processed in April 2018. Supplement III was transferred and processed in July 2018. Supplement IV was transferred and processed in August 2018. Supplement V was transferred and processed in October 2018.

Finding Aid for the Carver A. Mead Papers, 1956-2016, bulk 1968-1994
Penelope Neder-Muro & Mariella Soprano
December 2017. Updated December 2018.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the California Institute of Technology Archives and Special Collections Repository

1200 East California Blvd.
MC B215-74
Pasadena California 91125 United States of America
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