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Josiah Willard Gibbs papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 1175

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of the papers of Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839-1903), which include correspondence, scientific papers, lecture notes taken by one of Gibbs' students, photographs, scientific illustrations, and honors and awards, as well as correspondence of his father, J. Willard Gibbs (1790-1861). Series I., Josiah Willard Gibbs Correspondence, consists almost entirely of professional and scientific correspondence. Major correspondents include Wilder Dwight Bancroft; Hugo Buchholz; Franklin Bowditch Dexter; Timothy Dwight; Smith B. Goodenow; Wilhelm Ostwald; Karl Planck; and Sir Joseph Thomson. Series II., Notebooks and Scientific Papers, includes documentation of Gibbs' work in vector analysis of orbits; statistical mechanics; and electromechanics. Series III., Class Notes by George P. Starkweather, contains lecture notes taken by Starkweather on subjects including electricity and magnetism; thermodynamics; the electromagnetic theory of light; and vector applications. Series IV., Portraits and Illustrations, contains portraits of J. Willard and of Josiah Willard Gibbs, among other subjects. Series V., Correspondence of J. Willard Gibbs, contains personal and professional correspondence of Josiah Willard Gibbs' father, a theologian and Yale professor. Correspondents include William Henry Beecher; Elijah Coleman Bridgeman; George Edward Day; William Allen Macy; and Benjamin Silliman.


  • 1811 - 1947
  • Majority of material found within 1863 - 1903


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

This collection may be housed off-site at Yale's Library Shelving Facility (LSF). To determine if all or part of this collection is housed off-site please check the library's online catalog, Orbis; material for which the location is given as "LSF" must be requested 36 hours in advance. Please consult with Beinecke Access Services for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Josiah Willard Gibbs Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Josiah Willard Gibbs Papers are almost entirely the bequest of Addison Van Name, 1922. A few items were donated to Beinecke Library by Theodora Van Name Palmer in 1961.


Organized into five series: I. Josiah Willard Gibbs Correspondence, 1876-1915; II. Josiah Willard Gibbs Notebooks, Scientific Papers and Personal Papers, 1863-1947; III. Lecture Notes by George P. Starkweather, 1892-1896; IV. Photographs and Illustrations, 1860s; V. Letters by and to J. Willard Gibbs (1790-1861), 1811-1860.


11.09 Linear Feet (25 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The collection consists of the papers of Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839-1903), which include correspondence, scientific papers, lecture notes taken by one of Gibbs' students, photographs, scientific illustrations, and honors and awards, as well as correspondence of his father, J. Willard Gibbs (1790-1861).

Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839-1903)

Josiah Willard Gibbs, mathematician and physicist, was born in New Haven on February 11, 1839, the son of Josiah Willard Gibbs, professor of sacred literature at Yale, and Mary Anna Van Cleve. He received a B.A. from Yale in 1858, an M.A. in 1861, and a Ph.D. in 1863. After serving as tutor in Latin (1863-65) and natural philosophy (1865-66), Gibbs went to Europe to study for three years. He returned to New Haven in 1869 and was appointed professor of mathematical physics at Yale in 1871, a position he held until his death.

Best known for developing the theory of thermodynamics, Gibbs wrote a number of extremely important and influential scientific works, the most significant being "Graphical Methods in the Thermodynamics of Fluids" (1873), "A Method of Geometrical Representation of the Thermodynamic Properties of Substances by Means of Surfaces" (1873), "On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances" (1876, 1878), "Electrochemical Thermodynamics" (1886, 1888), and Elementary Principles in Statistical Mechanics (1902).

He lived at the home of his sister and brother-in-law, Julia Gibbs and Addison Van Name, and died unmarried in New Haven on April 28, 1903.

For additional biographical information, see the Dictionary of American Biography, IV, pp. 248-51; Muriel Rukeyser, Willard Gibbs (1942), and Lynde Phelps Wheeler, Josiah Willard Gibbs, the History of a Great Mind (1951).

Processing Information

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, competing priorities, and whether or not further accruals are expected. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.

This finding aid was produced in 2014 from a previously existing card set in the Manuscripts Catalog. All pertinent bibliographical information has been retained.

Former call number: MS Vault Gibbs.

Josiah Willard Gibbs Papers
Under Revision
Beinecke Staff
October 2014
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.