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Gibbs-Van Name papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 83

Scope and Contents

The Gibbs-Van Name Papers consist primarily of Ralph Gibbs Van Name's correspondence; they document the publishing of technical and biographical works on his uncle Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839-1903). The papers are divided into five series, each alphabetically and chronologically arranged by material type. They span the dates 1843-1959, with the bulk of the material covering the years 1929-57.

Series I, Collected Works , contains correspondence and papers concerning the establishment of the Gibbs Memorial Fund and the republishing in 1928 of The Collected Works of J. Willard Gibbs. Included in the series are letters from Edwin B. Wilson and G. A. Hewlett, an agreement to establish a memorial fund, committee reports and notes, and a typescript of the introduction which summarizes the committee's work. Printed works include reviews.

Series II, Commentary , documents the writing, editing, and publishing of the two-volume work, A Commentary on the ScientificWritings of Josiah Willard Gibbs (1936). F. G. Donnan of University College, London, edited volume I and Arthur Haas of the University of Vienna edited volume II. As supervising administrator for the project, Ralph Gibbs Van Name maintained a steady flow of correspondence with the editors. His correspondence with Yale treasurer George Parmly Day and president James Rowland Angell concerns the financial difficulties of publishing the volumes during the depression. Other prominent correspondents include Irving Fisher, Paul Epstein, George W. Morey, and William F. G. Swann. Memorandum and payments to authors complement the correspondence.

The papers concerned with the first of two modern biographies of Josiah Willard Gibbs are found in Series III. In her Willard Gibbs: American Genius (1942), Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) intended to discuss Gibbs's life, personality, and scientific importance, but the Van Name family was not pleased with her research or with the completed biography. The correspondence provides insights on Ralph Gibbs Van Name's character, Van Name family relationships, and the sentiments of Gibbs's former students. Correspondents include Theodora Van Name, Norman Holmes Pearson, William Lyon Phelps, and Edwin B. Wilson. Much of Ralph Gibbs Van Name's correspondence addresses his misgivings about Rukeyser's abilities as a biographer, which resulted in his decision to withhold family correspondence from her. Van Name called upon former students to review the biography in the hope of discrediting it. Folders 122-26 contain reviews of the book. Rukeyser generally received favorable literary reviews and mixed scientific ones. Miscellaneous genealogical notes are also found, probably written by Theodora Van Name to help answer questions raised by Rukeyser.

Series IV, Lynde Phelps Wheeler , contains correspondence and other papers relating to Wheeler's biography, Josiah Willard Gibbs: The Historyof a Great Mind (1951). After publication of Rukeyser's biography, Van Name asked Wheeler to help compile reminiscences of Gibbs for future biographical research. Later he encouraged Wheeler to write a Gibbs biography to counteract the image Rukeyser created. The series contains correspondence with several associates of Gibbs, including Irving Fisher, Edwin B. Wilson, and George W. Morey. The series also includes a complete list of Gibbs's living students in 1944 and a number of reviews of Wheeler's book.

The final series, Additional Papers , includes a variety of information on Gibbs, Ralph Gibbs Van Name, the Van Name family, and the Gibbs family. Biographical inquiries contain requests for information on Gibbs and Van Name's responses. Biographical works include sketches of Gibbs that shed light on attitudes towards him as a professor, scientist, and an individual. The estate and family papers provide genealogical charts, copies of early Gibbs correspondence, and financial records. Gibbs Memorial and Hall of Fame material combine to describe how the memorial was established and its financial connection with the Hall of Fame nomination. Also included are lecture notes taken by Van Name in 1899-1900 for a class taught by Gibbs, photographs, press releases on the USNS Josiah Willard Gibbs, and printed material.

The papers present a relatively complete account of efforts by Van Name to publish Gibbs's works, to encourage biographical studies of him, and to enhance his reputation. Through the correspondence and biographical sketches the character of J. Willard Gibbs and the Van Name family are revealed.


  • 1843 - 1959
  • Majority of material found within 1929 - 1957


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 8: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Gibbs-Van Name 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

Many of the papers were originally part of the Gibbs Family Papers in Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, which were transferred to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in December 1982. Additional Gibbs-Van Name papers were donated to Beinecke Library by Theodora Van Name Palmer in 1961.


3.5 Linear Feet (8 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence and other materials documenting the efforts of Ralph gibbs Van Name to publish technical and biographical work on Josiah Willard Gibbs, the scientist who developed the theory of thermodynamics.


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 ofAmerican Biography, IV, pp. 248-51; Muriel Rukeyser, Willard Gibbs (1942), and Lynde Phelps Wheeler, Josiah Willard Gibbs, the History of aGreat Mind (1951).


Ralph Gibbs Van Name was born in New Haven on October 22, 1877. The son of Addison and Julia Gibbs Van Name and nephew of Josiah Willard Gibbs, he was educated at Yale, receiving a B.A. in 1899 and a Ph.D. in 1902. Van Name was an instructor at Yale 1904-09, assistant professor 1909-24, associate professor of physical chemistry 1924-36, research associate in chemistry 1936-44, and research associate emeritus until his death on January 4, 1961. On June 25, 1925 he married Josephine Earl; the couple had two children, John Addison and Virginia Gibbs Van Name.

While serving on the Yale faculty, Van Name devoted much attention to memorializing the life and work of his uncle Josiah Willard Gibbs. He helped edit The Scientific Papers of J. Willard Gibbs (1906) and through the Gibbs Memorial Fund assisted in the publication of TheCollected Works of J. Willard Gibbs (1928) and A Commentary on the Scientific Writings of J. Willard Gibbs (1936). He also provided assistance to biographers Muriel Rukeyser and Lynde Phelps Wheeler.

Guide to the Gibbs-Van Name Papers
Under Revision
by Heather L. Holeman
October 1986
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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