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Jesse W. M. DuMond Papers

Identifier: 10010-MS

Scope and Content

The papers of Jesse W. M. DuMond are organized in two series, correspondence and biographical material. The correspondence includes letters from prominent physicists and other scientists. These include, among others, Hans Bethe, R. T. Birge, Niels Bohr, S. Chandrasekhar, Arthur H. Compton, R. P. Feynman, P. Kapitza, M. von Laue, Robert A. Millikan, J. R. Oppenheimer, Linus Pauling, Emilio Segrè, Kai and Manne Siegbahn, C. H. Townes, and J. H. Van Vleck. Also included are correspondence files with DuMond's son-in-law, the physicist W. K. H. Panofsky.

The biographical series is of mixed character. Of special interest is DuMond's two-volume autobiography, which he completed in September 1972. The photos in this series represent important and detailed documentation for the instrumental design and experimental work conducted by DuMond and his colleagues at Caltech. The apparatus photos were received without identification in most cases, and they have been left untitled by the archivists. Finally, DuMond's 80th birthday album contains letters and greetings from a diverse array of scientist and colleagues.


  • 1912-1976


Language of Materials

English, French, & German


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.


Jesse William Monroe DuMond, experimental physicist, was born in Paris on July 11, 1892, to expatriate American parents, Fredrick Melville DuMond and Louise Adele Kerr. After the death of his mother before he was two years old, DuMond was cared for by his maternal grandmother, Catherine E. Kerr, a resident of Paris, up to the age of seven. In 1899 young DuMond came to the U.S. to live with his paternal grandparents. From his grandfather, Alonzo Monroe DuMond, who had founded a sheet-metal business in Rochester, the young Jesse learned practical manual skills and a deep respect for craftsmanship. In 1905 the DuMond grandparents moved with their grandson to California, settling permanently in Monrovia, just east of Pasadena. Young Jesse graduated from Monrovia High School in 1911. He subsequently entered Throop College of Technology, the forerunner of the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena in September, 1912, from which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1916. For his thesis, he designed and built a harmonic analyzer, a type of mechanical calculator.

After graduation DuMond accepted a position with General Electric at their testing facility in Schenectady, New York. In the spring of 1918 he joined the American Expeditionary Forces in France and served until the Armistice. In 1920 DuMond married Irene Gaebel, a Frenchwoman. The couple had three children, a son and two daughters. They were divorced in 1942, and DuMond married Louise Marie Baillet in that same year. Returning to the U.S. in 1920, DuMond took a year's job at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, DC. In September 1921 he returned to his alma mater, since 1920 called the California Institute of Technology, to undertake a Ph.D. in physics. DuMond received his doctorate in 1929 with the thesis, "Experimental and Theoretical Studies of the Breadth and Structure of the Compton Shifted Line." For this work, he designed and built, with the aid of his first graduate student Harry A. Kirkpatrick, a multi-crystal spectrograph. This apparatus housed fifty calcite crystals, each carefully regulated to focus spectral lines with high intensity and resolution. The results confirmed DuMond's interpretation of the broadening and structure of the Compton shifted line and provided support for the Rutherford-Bohr dynamic atomic model.

Although he accepted briefly a professorial position at Stanford in 1931, DuMond returned to Caltech, where he served on the faculty for thirty-four years, becoming associate professor in 1938, full professor in 1946, and emeritus in 1963. During the 1930s DuMond's research in spectroscopy was based on the ingenious design and careful construction of original apparatus. Much of the work was carried out by DuMond himself, with some help from students and from the gifted personnel of Caltech's machine shops. DuMond and his associates produced in these years a 30-kilowatt X-ray tube operating at 300 kilovolts, a precision two-crystal spectrometer, and the large curved crystal gamma-ray spectrometer. The latter instrument, whose development spanned World War II, opened the door to a whole family of spectrometers that were used all over the world in a variety of nuclear spectroscopy studies. The original curved crystal spectrometer, called the Mark I, was presented to the Smithsonian Institution by Caltech in 1990.

Beginning in the 1930s, DuMond and his students embarked upon a series of experiments on the fundamental atomic constants, particularly, the charge and mass of the electron and Planck's constant, h. With the work of R. T. Birge at Berkeley, DuMond's continuing investigation of the fundamental constants in the late 1930s and again after World War II in collaboration with E. Richard Cohen remained definitive until the late 1960s. With E. Richard Cohen and K. M. Crowe DuMond published the book, Fundamental Constants of Physics, in 1957.

DuMond was the author or coauthor of more than 175 papers on physical topics. He was a fellow of the American Physical Society, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1953, and was also a member of Sigma Xi. He received two honorary doctorates, from the University of Uppsala in 1966 and the University of Manitoba in 1967. He also received a distinguished service award from Utah State University in 1974. He died in Pasadena on December 4, 1976, at the age of 84.


3.5 linear feet (9 boxes)


Jesse William Monroe DuMond, experimental physicist and professor of physics at Caltech, 1938-1963, was known for his work on physical constants and spectroscopic instrumentation. His papers contain principally his scientific correspondence, with some reprints, photos of experimental apparatus, and biographical material, the latter including his unpublished autobiography.

Physical Location

Archives, California Institute of Technology.

Acquisition Information

The correspondence files of Jesse W. M. DuMond were given to the Caltech Archives in 1985 by his colleague and collaborator, Felix Boehm. The small amount of biographical material, including photos, was donated by DuMond's niece Jackie Ziff in 2004.

Related Material

Researchers may wish to consult the oral history of Felix Boehm, DuMond's longtime colleague and collaborator. DuMond correspondence in the Caltech Archives may also be found in the papers of Robert A. Millikan and the papers of Lee A. DuBridge.

Finding Aid for the Jesse W. M. DuMond Papers, 1912-1976
Processed by Caltech Archives Staff.
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

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

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