Skip to main content

Gregory Breit papers

Call Number: MS 1465

Scope and Contents

The Gregory Breit Papers contain personal and professional correspondence, diaries, notebooks, writings, and research project, teaching and conference files which document Breit's research and teaching career. The papers were transferred to Manuscripts and Archives from the Department of Physics, Yale University in 1987. Sixteen linear feet of the 48.5 linear feet of papers are fully processed and arranged in two series. The remaining 32.5 linear feet are preliminarily processed.



Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, consists of Breit's outgoing letters, and letters received from individuals and representatives of government agencies, academic institutions, professional associations and scholarly societies, journals, and conferences and symposia. The bulk of the correspondence dates from the 1950s through 1973 and is of a professional rather than personal nature. While there is correspondence dating from the years of World War II within the series, Breit never took possession of his wartime files, which were classified. Routine Yale University and the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY-Buffalo) correspondence is not included in the series, but is within the Yale and SUNY-Buffalo material (boxes 58 and 59).

Individuals with whom Breit corresponded extensively include Saraj N. Gupta, McAllister H. Hull, Jr., Allan C. G. Mitchell, H. Pierre Noyes, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Moti L. Rustgi, Edward Teller, Merle A. Tuve, John A. Wheeler, and Eugene Paul Wigner. Institutions represented in the series include the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution, Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, the National Science Foundation, the U. S. Army Ballistic Research Laboratory, and the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission. Breit's correspondence with an individual may be found under the individual's name as well as under the name of the organization or institution with which he or she was associated.

Correspondence relating to professional recommendations and student and personnel records has been removed from Series I and is restricted. (See Restricted Material below.)

Series II, DIARIES AND NOTEBOOKS, consists of diaries which contain brief notations of professional activities; notebooks which contain entries relating to Breit's lectures and courses; notes pertaining to conferences and meetings Breit attended; and calculations and related notations.

Series I and II were microfilmed in a joint project with the American Institute of Physics as a part of the Institute's series Sources for the History of Nuclear Physics. The 32.5 linear feet of preliminarily processed papers have been roughly sorted and arranged in categories. The preliminarily processed material described below was not microfilmed.

Writings: Reprints of articles by Breit; preprint and reprint mailing lists and requests; manuscripts and typescripts of papers and articles by Breit and others; and referee reports by Breit for the Physical Review.

Data files: Memoranda, notes, and calculations relating to research conducted by Breit and his colleagues; calculations and notes pertaining to preprints and articles of others.

Teaching files: Lecture notes and course syllabi.

Yale University and SUNY-Buffalo files: Routine administrative files regarding the physics departments of the universities, including notes, memoranda, and correspondence. Personnel-related files are restricted.

Research project files: Grant proposals, progress reports, annual reports, and related correspondence. Project account books which contain personnel salary records are restricted.

Conference files: Notes and printed material relating to conferences and symposia attended by Breit.

Notes: Manuscript and typescript notes and internal office memoranda pertaining to Breit's day-to-day professional activities.

Personal files: Curriculum vitae, photographs, lists of publications, and certificates of awards. A diary dated 1959-1962 contains entries regarding Breit's health.

Student files: Student grade sheets, examinations, lab notebooks; files containing memoranda, notes and typescripts relating to Breit's supervision of doctoral students' dissertations. All files are restricted.

Restricted material: Material described above as restricted has been arranged by type of material and placed in boxes 63 through 65. This material is restricted for seventy-five years after the date appearing on the document in order to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.

Series I and II of the Gregory Breit Papers were microfilmed in a joint project with the American Institute of Physics as part of the Institute's series Sources for the History of Nuclear Physics. Researchers who are unable to visit Yale University or the American Institute of Physics may borrow or purchase the microfilm from the Center for the History of Physics, American Institute of Physics:

Center for the History of Physics

American Institute of Physics

335 East 45th Street

New York, NY 10017-3483


  • 1917-1991


Conditions Governing Access

Boxes 63-65 of Series III, Additional Material, are restricted for seventy-five years after the date appearing on the document and will be available for research between 2011 and 2050 as established by Yale Corporation regulations.

Series I, Correspondence and Series II, Diaries and Notebooks have been microfilmed. Patrons must use FILM HM 211 instead of the originals.

For the portions of the collection that have been filmed, patrons must use HM 211 instead of the originals.

Existence and Location of Copies

Correspondence (1932-1973) and Diaries and Notebooks (1935-1973) are available on microfilm (20 reels, 35mm.) from the American Institute of Physics, New York, NY. HM 211

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Gregory Breit was transferred to Yale University in 2011. 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

The papers were transferred to the Yale University Department of Physics from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1982 and transferred from the Department of Physics to Manuscripts and Archives in 1987. The papers were formally donated to Manuscripts and Archives by Ralph W. G. Wyckoff in 1988. Gift of Faith R. Wyckoff, 2011.


The papers are arranged in three series and one addition: I. Correspondence, 1932-1973. II. Diaries and Notebooks, 1935-1973. III. Additional Material, circa 1929-1980.


49 Linear Feet (66 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers consist of personal and professional correspondence, diaries, reports, data files, writings, printed material, and topical files relating to Gregory Breit's research and teaching career. There are also photographs, biographical information, and files related to his father's design of an anti-submarine attack device in the late 1910s.

Biographical / Historical

Gregory Breit was born on July 14, 1899,in Nickolaev, Russia. He was a student at the School of Emperor Alexander in Nickolaev from 1909 to 1915. He immigrated to the United States with his family in 1915 and became a citizen through the naturalization of his father in 1918.

Breit received the A.B. (1918), the M.A. (1920), and the Ph.D. (1921), from Johns Hopkins University. He was a National Research Council Fellow at the University of Leyden from 1921 to 1922, and at Harvard University from 1922 to 1923.

He began his teaching career in 1923 when he joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor of physics. From 1924 to 1929, he was a mathematical physicist at the department of terrestrial magnetism at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. where he initiated experiments in nuclear physics and developed with M.A. Tuve and other colleagues the multi-section high-voltage accelerating tube and made early measurements on nuclear reactions. During several months in 1928, Breit was a resident at the Technische Hochschule in Zurich, Switzerland.

Breit was professor of physics at New York University from 1929 to 1934, and at the University of Wisconsin from 1934 to 1947. He was a research associate at the Carnegie Institution (1929-1944); a member of the Physical Sciences Division of the National Research Council (1932-1933, 1938-1941); a visiting member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University (1935-1936); and councillor of the American Physical Society (1935-1938).

During World War II Breit was on the staff of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, Washington Navy Yard (1940-1941), where he developed degaussing methods to protect naval ships against German magnetic mines. In 1942 Breit was named information chief coordinator of the Fast Neutron Project, Metallurgical Laboratory (Manhattan Project), at the University of Chicago, where he was involved in the early development of the atom bomb.

From 1942 to 1943 Breit was a member of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University where he conducted research on the proximity fuse which was used to stop the "buzz bomb" attacks on Great Britain and Belgium. He was a member of the Ballistic Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland as head physicist and member of the director's Scientific Advisory Committee from 1943 to 1945. His war service also included research for the Uranium Committee of the National Defense Research Committee, headquartered at the National Bureau of Standards.

In 1952, before the United States detonated the world's first hydrogen bomb, Breit conducted research at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Yale's Sloane Physics Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory which proved that a hydrogen bomb explosion would not cause a worldwide chain reaction.

Breit joined the faculty of Yale University as professor of physics in 1947 and was named the first Donner Professor at Yale in 1958. After reaching mandatory retirement in 1968, Breit accepted a position as Distinguished Service Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He continued to conduct research after 1976 as professor emeritus.

A prolific author of scientific articles, Breit was also associate editor of the Physical Review (1927-1929, 1939-1941, 1954-1956, 1961-1963), associate editor of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (1951-1960), and consultant to the editor of Il Nuovo Cimento (1964-?).

Breit was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1939, was made a fellow of the Institute of Radio Engineers in 1945, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1951. He was also a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Physics Society (London), and the Geophysical Society. Breit was the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1954, the Franklin Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1964, the National Medal of Science in 1967, and the T. W. Bonner Prize of the American Physical Society in 1969.

Gregory Breit married Marjorie MacDill in 1927. They had no children. He died in Salem, Oregon, on September 13, 1981.

Guide to the Gregory Breit Papers
Under Revision
by Susan Brady with Michael Gerber, Kathy Hutton, and Carol King
June 1989
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

Yale University Library
P.O. Box 208240
New Haven CT 06520-8240 US
(203) 432-1735
(203) 432-7441 (Fax)


Sterling Memorial Library
Room 147
120 High Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours