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Eric Temple Bell Papers

Identifier: 10006-MS

Scope and Content

The collection includes literary and scientific manuscripts and correspondence with publishers regarding mathematics and science fiction.


  • Creation: 1919-1955



The collection is open for research. Researchers must apply in writing for access.

Publication Rights

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 Archivist. 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.


Eric Temple Bell was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1883. He came alone to the U.S. at the age of 19 and enrolled in Stanford University, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1904. He continued his education at the University of Washington with a master's degree in 1908. Subsequently he moved to New York to earn his PhD at Columbia University in 1912. He returned to the West to teach mathematics at the University of Washington, where he stayed for 14 years. He came to Caltech as professor of mathematics in 1926.

Bell was a specialist in the theory of numbers. He received the prestigious BĂ´cher Prize from the American Mathematical Society in 1920. From 1924 to 1927 he served on the Society's council and in 1926 became its vice president. In 1930 he served as vice president of the Physical Sciences Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and from 1931 to 1933 was president of the Mathematical Association of America. In 1938 he received the Gold Medal of the California Commonwealth Club for his mathematical writings. He was the author of almost 300 mathematical papers, four advanced and ten popular books on mathematics, among the latter the highly regarded Men of Mathematics (1937). His technical books include Algebraic Arithmetic (1927) and The Development of Mathematics (1940). Bell was a member of a number of learned societies, including the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences.

Under the pseudonym John Taine, Bell authored 13 science fiction novels and more science fiction magazine stories, most written between the years 1920 and 1940. A writer for the Caltech magazine Engineering and Science wrote: "Bell's science fiction is distinguished by its violence. It abounds in overwhelming catastrophes of nature, prehistoric reptilian monsters, men turned into brute beasts and men turned into masses of fungoid growth." Bell also wrote plays, poetry, and works of non-fiction.

Eric Temple Bell died in Pasadena, California, on December 21, 1960.


4 linear feet (9 boxes)

Language of Materials



Eric Temple Bell was professor mathematics at Caltech from 1926 to 1953. He was a specialist in the theory of numbers. He also distinguished himself as a writer of science fiction under the name of John Taine, and also as the author of non-fiction and poetry. His papers include literary and scientific manuscripts; correspondence, largely with publishers; and some reprints of his own scientific publications.


The Papers of Eric Temple Bell are comprised of separate groups of papers which were acquired by the Caltech Archives in a piecemeal fashion. The collection is currently organized into four series, generally reflecting the sequence of donation. The first series, Science Fiction and Non-Technical Writings, contains some of Bell's science fiction manuscripts in both typewritten and holographic form. A copy of the manuscript for his long poem, "The Scarlet Night," is located in series 4 because of its late date of acquisition. The Correspondence series (series 2) is a mixture of types, but letters with publishers predominate, and there is little in the way of interesting scientific exchange. Series 3, the Mathematical Manuscripts, came to the Archives through the care of Professor Tom Apostol of the Caltech mathematics department. It represents at best a sample of Bell's work, mainly from the 1940s. The fourth series of the collection, Miscellaneous and Supplementary Material, contains a portion of Bell's many mathematical articles in reprint form, from the 1920s through the late 1940s.

Acquisition Information

The Eric Temple Bell Papers were assembled from a number of different sources. The earliest to be documented is the 1971 donation of the manuscript of "Man and his Lifebelts" from a private source. The mathematical manuscripts were given to the Caltech Archives by Caltech professor of mathematics Tom M. Apostol in 1981. The manuscript copy of the poem "The Scarlet Night" was donated to the Archives by Bell's biographer, Constance Reid, in 1997. E. T. Bell's reprints were added to the collection at various times from various sources.

Related Material

Substantial correspondence with E. T. Bell, his wife Toby, and their son, Taine, may be found in the papers of H. P. Robertson in the Caltech Archives. Readers should also consult the Historical File on E. T. Bell which contains additional stories and playbills for dramatic productions by this author.

A collection of Eric Temple Bell papers is deposited in the Special Collections department of the University of California, Santa Cruz, library. A finding aid to this collection is available at the Online Archive of California.

Finding Aid for the Eric Temple Bell Papers, 1919-1955
Processed by Caltech Archives Staff.
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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
(626) 395-2704