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Henry Margenau papers

Call Number: MS 129

Scope and Contents

The Henry Margenau Papers are arranged in two series: Personal and Correspondence, and Writings. The collection reveals very little about Margenau's personal life, but it does afford the researcher a good picture of his personality. Through his philosophical and ethical writings and speeches, the researcher can study the workings and development of Margenau's philosophy and thought. Specifically, the researcher can trace his evolution from a specialist in spectral line broadening to a philosopher of science, religion, ethics, and the power of the human mind. Margenau's correspondence and publications reveal not only the great diversity of thought within the scientific community, but also that the establishment of scientific "truth" is a long and complex process. For example, the collection documents the disagreement and tension surrounding the acceptance of such theories as relativity and quantum mechanics, as well as the serious attention prominent scientists paid to notions like extrasensory perception and parapsychology. Margenau's papers also reveal the connection between science, government, and industry. Rather than work solely within the walls of a university, Margenau's prominence at Yale led him to consult for the Argonne National Laboratories, General Electric, and the Lockheed Corporation, among others, and he was long affiliated with the Office of Naval Research.

There are biographical musings made by Margenau in June 1963 on five Soundscriber discs in Historical Sound Recordings (HSR) in the Yale University Library. The researcher must make an appointment with the HSR curator in order to listen to the discs.


  • 1927-1990


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Henry Margenau has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Henry Margenau, 1977 and 1994, and transferred from the Kline Science Library, 1977.


The papers are arranged in two series: Series I. Personal and Correspondence, 1931-1989. Series II. Writings, 1927-1990.


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 document Henry Margenau's professional career as a physicist and philosopher of science. They chiefly consist of correspondence and published and unpublished writings.

Biographical / Historical

Henry Margenau was born on April 30, 1901 in Bielefeld, Germany. Largely self-taught and ambitious, Margenau was trained to be an elementary school teacher. In 1922, however, he emigrated from Germany, settled in Nebraska with a distant relative, and worked as a farm hand. He attended Midland Lutheran College from 1923 to 1924, majored in Latin, and completed his degree in one year. He came to physics quite by accident, when he accepted an assistantship to Dr. Moore, a research physicist at the University of Nebraska, in the summer of 1924. In addition to assisting Dr. Moore, Margenau took courses in physics and mathematics, and in the fall of 1925, began taking graduate level courses. By the spring of 1926, he had a master of science degree in physics. His benefactor and mentor died, but Margenau was retained by the university to continue doing research and to work as an instructor.

Margenau's master's thesis on the Zeeman Effect was published, and he was offered a fellowship from the Yale University physics department in 1927. After two years at Yale, Margenau had completed his Ph.D. in physics. He then went to study quantum theory in Europe on a Sterling Fellowship and returned to Yale in the fall of 1931, with the promise of an assistant professorship after an additional year as an instructor. He was assistant professor of physics from 1931 to 1939, at which time he was made an associate professor.

During World War II, Margenau stayed at Yale and continued to teach. With the arrival, in 1941, of Ernst Cassirer, a prominent philosopher and physicist, Margenau's interests shifted to philosophy. Cassirer and Margenau co-taught a graduate course on Kant and Neo-Kantianism, and in 1944 collaborated on an English edition of Determinismus and Indeterminismus in Der Modern Physik. Unfortunately, Cassirer died before the completion of the project, and Margenau did not continue the work in his absence. Rather than augment and amplify the text as had been planned, Margenau left it as it was, and added a preface over his name as well as a new bibliography. The book was eventually published in 1956.

In 1945 Margenau was promoted to full professor and, in 1950, he received the first joint appointment in physics and philosophy to be offered by Yale, the Eugene Higgins Professorship of Physics and Natural Philosophy. Margenau retired Emeritus from Yale in 1969, but continued to research and write about physical phenomena as well as philosophy and ethics. In the 1960s he developed a considerable interest in the problems of parapsychology, psychical research, and the physical reality of consciousness. Einstein's Space and Van Gogh's Sky (1982), for example, a book Margenau wrote with psychologist Lawrence LeShan, is an exploration of psychic phenomena and perception.

Though Margenau was affiliated with Yale from the 1920s onward, his reputation and professional activities took him all over the world and to many institutions. In 1939 he received a fellowship from the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, where he worked with Eugene Wigner and Archibald Wheeler. He was visiting professor at the University of California in 1947, and at the University of Heidelberg in 1953 and 1971. He was at Carleton College in 1953-1954, and at the University of Tokyo under the auspices of a Fulbright Lectureship in 1960. He taught at Whitman College in 1971-1972, and was a Hadley Fellow at Bennington College in 1975. He was a Joseph Henry Lecturer in 1954, and a National Phi Beta Kappa lecturer in 1965. Margenau's professional memberships included the American Physics Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Académie Internationale de Philosophie des Sciences in Brussels. He was president of the Philosophy of Science Association and the New England section of the American Physics Society. Margenau served as vice president of the Connecticut Academy of Science and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi.

Henry Margenau has been referred to as the most important philosopher of physics of his generation and one of the most eminent philosophers of science in the twentieth century. He was the recipient of a number of honors and awards, including the San Marcos University Medal in 1951, the Century Award from Michigan State University in 1955, and the Devane Medal in 1969. He was in great demand as a consultant and worked in that capacity for MIT's Radiation Laboratory, the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Bureau of Standards, Argonne National Laboratories, General Electric, and the Lockheed Corporation. The latter, for example, had been assigned by the Air Force to study the physical processes taking place in the fireball created by exploding the first hydrogen bomb. Margenau's early work on spectral line measurement led Lockheed to seek his expertise; measuring the spectral lines produced by the bomb's explosion was the key to discerning the bomb's internal heat, and necessary for the success of the project.

Margenau was a prolific author. His books include: Physics: Principles and Applications (1949), The Nature of Concepts (1950), Open Vistas (1961), Ethics and Science (1964), Scientific Indeterminism and Human Freedom (1968), The Scientist (1965), Integrative Principles of Modern Thought (1972), and The Miracle of Existence (1984). He coauthored Foundations of Physics (1936), with R. Bruce Lindsay; The Mathematics of Physics and Chemistry (1943), with George Murphy; Theory of Intermolecular Forces (1969, 1971), with N. Kestner; and co-edited Cosmos, Bios, Theos (1992), with Roy Abraham Varghese. Margenau also published numerous physics and philosophical articles, and served as editor of such journals as Foundations of Physics, Main Currents in Modern Thought, Journal of the Philosophy of Science, American Journal of Science, Reviews of Modern Physics, Journal of Chemistry and Physics, Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy and Radiative Transfer. He was consulting editor for the Time Life Science Series.

Henry Margenau became a citizen of the United States in 1930, and married Louise M. Noe in 1932. They have three children: Rolf Carl, Annemarie Luise, and Henry Frederick.

Guide to the Henry Margenau Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Emily Epstein
June 1996
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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