J. Allen Hynek (1910-1986) Papers
Scope and Contents
The Hynek Papers span the years 1953 to 1988 and fill a total of fourteen boxes. They provide a record of Hynek’s professional life but offer scant insight into his personal affairs. Missing are any personal correspondence or private papers that might shed some light on the person behind the media-created personality.
The papers include biographical materials, clippings, reports relating to Hynek’s work on Project Stargazer, and some materials pertaining to Hynek’s UFO work and his work at Northwestern.
Biographical material includes various curriculum vitas through the years; press kit bios; profiles; obituaries from The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Time, and Newsweek and a 1996 obituary for Mimi Hynek. Also included are a few pieces of promotional material and memorabilia, including a misspelled Trivial Pursuit card featuring Hynek as an answer, and some correspondence.
Clippings from newspapers, magazines, and journals cover the early 1950s to 1988 and are arranged chronologically. Most of the clippings come from the 1970s.
The clippings begin with the “Scanning the Skies” columns Hynek wrote for The Columbus Dispatch throughout the 1950s. Many of the columns are undated. The first dated column is from February 15, 1953 and the last one is dated July 19, 1959, just before Hynek’s appointment to Northwestern was announced. “Scanning the Skies” explained astronomical phenomena, tracked the beginnings of the space race, and promoted the construction of a new planetarium in Columbus. While Hynek wrote most of these columns during his time at Ohio State, some were written during his leave at Harvard and the Smithsonian from 1956 to 1960. Of special note is the column from October 23, 1955, which may be Hynek’s first public comment on UFOs, and the pieces relating to the launch of Sputnik in October 1957. Most of the clippings from the early to mid 1960s concern the burgeoning U.S. Space Program, and especially Hynek’s unfulfilled vision of a lunar-based or balloon-carried telescope. The clippings from 1966 document the major UFO sighting in Michigan that launched Hynek into public view as a UFO expert, the role that he was to play for the rest of his life.
The bulk of the clippings date from the 1970s, when UFOs and Hynek were most prominent. The 1972 publication of Hynek’s book, The UFO Experience, the Oct. 1973 UFO sightings in Mississippi, the 1973 founding of the Center for UFO Studies in Evanston, and the Christmas 1977 release of Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” were all major media moments for Hynek and are well documented.
The final clippings relate to Hynek’s retirement from Northwestern, his eventual move to Arizona, and his death in 1986.
The last Clippings folder holds undated clippings.
Project Stargazer materials document Hynek’s long-running effort to create a viable balloon-based astronomy program. The first twelve folders hold the multi-volume report on the early years of the project written in 1961 by Hynek’s deputy at the Smithsonian and former student at Ohio, G.J. Nielson. His report covers the years 1957 – when the Air Force, Hynek, and his colleagues at the Smithsonian began discussing the balloon project – to 1961, and includes extensive documentation for each of its six volumes. The materials in the thirteenth folder add to this record a 1960 proposal and a 1964 pamphlet written by Hynek promoting the idea of balloon-borne astronomical observation. It also contains a scathing final report by Hynek after Project Stargazer lost funding and was shut down in 1966.
UFO files document the publication of Hynek’s 1972 book, The UFO Experience, and the 1973 founding of the Center for UFO Studies. Several reviews, press releases, and excerpts from the book are included. Also included are issues of the newsletter published by the Center, The International UFO Reporter, from 1976 to 1978, and promotional material from the National Speakers Bureau, which organized some of Hynek’s UFO lectures. Northwestern University material includes teaching notes and interoffice correspondence. The correspondence, some of it between University Relations staff about Hynek, mostly concerns his various media appearances and other publicity efforts, including promoting his book. It reveals a tense relationship between Hynek and a university that sometimes found the UFO-related publicity embarrassing. University officials were particularly anxious that the Center for UFO Studies not be identified as a Northwestern project. For his part, Hynek expressed frustration at the lack of support he received. Teaching notes cover a wide range of topics; aside from a few lecture outlines, notes are contained on index cards arranged alphabetically by subject. Of special interest is a note about Halley’s Comet, the appearance of which coincided with Hynek’s birth and death.
Addition, Boxes 5-7 This addition to the J. Allen Hynek Papers fills four boxes and spans the years 1952 to 1985, with the bulk of the material dating from the early 1960s. The majority of the material in the addition is technical, including budgets, contracts, and inventories. Correspondence and status reports are also included, however, and are more accessible. The addition contains records from two of Allen Hynek’s major research projects: Project Stargazer, his effort to mount a balloon-based astronomy program, and Image Orthicon, his groundbreaking marriage of television technology with telescopes. Hynek’s Image Orthicon work was funded by separate contracts with NASA and the Air Force, and the files are organized accordingly. The addition also includes one folder and one tube of unidentified (possibly observatory equipment) blueprints.
Addition, Boxes 8-14 This addition to the J. Allen Hynek Papers fills seven boxes and spans the years 1925 to 1982, with the majority of the material dating from the late 1950s to early 1960s. The bulk of the addition consists of biographical materials (most dated earlier than in the original series), records of projects Hynek worked on, and UFO sighting reports. Biographical material includes press releases, clippings, publications and notes. The newspaper clippings span the years 1956 to 1958 during which Hynek and his colleagues at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory were often cited in news reports on Sputnik and subsequent satellites, as well as the Satellite Tracking Program. Of special note within the biographical materials are several issues of the literary magazine of Crane Technical High School, which contain short stories written by Hynek. Reprints and publications folders include articles from the years 1935 to 1978 including Hynek’s 1935 dissertation: “A quantitative study of certain phases of F-type spectra.” There are also reprints of articles from 1953 to 1955 in which Hynek is acknowledged or thanked, as well as a folder documenting Hynek’s travels and schedule during the years 1958-1960 reflects his role in promoting the satellite tracking program and involvement in various projects. Subject files consist of six folders in the subject files that briefly cover a few of Hynek’s research areas.
During the years following the launchings of the first artificial earth satellites, Hynek collected teletype news reports released by the Soviet news agency TASS. These are arranged chronologically and by topic.
IGY-STP (International Geophysical Year - Satellite Tracking Program) files are divided into three groups: the first section contains general information, correspondence, memos, and press releases regarding STP and the IGY generally. The second section consists of materials relating to the satellite tracking stations: the design of the stations and the telescope cameras, the costs for materials and personnel, and photographs of the stations and the equipment. Of special interest is the folder of Hynek’s trip reports, which appear to be transcriptions of audio tapes documenting Hynek’s experience traveling to prospective sites around the world (including Iran, Curacao, and Spain) in an effort to establish tracking stations. The last section of STP-related material concerns the Moonwatch division and includes a newsletter for Moonwatch participants as well as a manuscript “A Moonwatcher’s Manual,” written by Hynek.
Project Stargazer materials provide additional documentation of Hynek’s balloon-based astronomy program. This includes three folders of correspondence spanning the dates 1959 to 1966, arranged chronologically. There is also a folder of many photographs, negatives, and contact sheets (both B&W and color images) of the successful launching of the Stargazer balloon in China Lake, California in 1962, in which pilot Joseph Kittinger and astronomer William C. White rose to an altitude of 82,200 feet.
Image orthicon materials include general information on the image orthicon technology used at both the New Mexico observatory and the Dearborn Observatory in Evanston. There are several folders of photographs taken with the image orthicon enabled telescopes of specific events and also general or unidentified images. UFO files are organized alphabetically by folder and chronologically within the folder. This material pertains to Hynek’s investigations of UFO phenomena, dating from 1959 to 1971. The first four folders contain correspondence from people reporting UFO sightings as well as a number of letters from school children wanting more information about UFOs in general. The next several folders contain newspaper clippings and publications related to UFO sightings and investigation as well as a small number of photographs of popular depictions of aliens and UFOs. The next thirty-three folders document individual sighting reports and investigations, and are arranged alphabetically by the last name of the person reporting the sighting or the location of the sighting. These folders contain correspondence (mostly with William Powers, Hynek’s associate, or with Hynek), sight reports (hand-written notations of what the person saw), calculations, typed reports (mostly by William Powers). [Note: For William Powers, see also Faculty Biographical Files, Archives Room 110.] Some of the reports were written for or published in Project Blue Book (the U.S. Military’s files on UFOs). The last two folders contain negatives and photographs of purported UFOs, usually sent to Hynek in letters reporting a sighting or obtained from witnesses of investigated sightings.
The materials relating to Hynek’s establishment of the two New Mexico Observatories, Organ Pass and Corralitos, include correspondence between staff based in New Mexico and Dearborn Observatory administration in Evanston, photographs of both observatories, and documents pertaining to the transfer of ownership of the Corralitos Observatory to Hynek’s non-profit group, CARA.
The final section of the addition contains miscellaneous Photographs and negatives collected by Hynek, arranged chronologically. They include photographs of colleagues at a colloquium, portraits of visiting professors, pictures of observatory equipment, and unidentified astronomical photographs taken through telescopes.
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions governing access: None.
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is stored at a remote campus location and requires two business days advance notice for retrieval. Please contact the McCormick Library at firstname.lastname@example.org or 847-491-3635 for more information or to schedule an appointment to view the collection.
Language of Materials
Astronomer J. Allen Hynek led Northwestern’s Astronomy Department into the Space Age and became the nation’s foremost expert on unidentified flying objects (UFOs). He oversaw the significant expansion of Northwestern’s Astronomy Department and made important contributions to his field, most notably by successfully incorporating television technology into telescopes for the first time. However, he was best known for his work on UFOs. His work inspired the film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The Hynek Papers provide a record of Hynek’s professional life but offer scant insight into his personal affairs. The papers include biographical materials, clippings, reports relating to Hynek’s work on Project Stargazer, and some materials pertaining to Hynek’s UFO work and his work at Northwestern.
The papers include biographical materials, clippings, reports relating to Hynek’s work on Project Stargazer, and some materials pertaining to Hynek’s UFO work and his work at Northwestern. Clippings from newspapers, magazines, and journals cover the early 1950s to 1988 and are arranged chronologically. Northwestern University materials include teaching notes. Aside from a few lecture outlines, notes are contained on index cards arranged alphabetically by subject.
Method of Acquisition
The J. Allen Hynek Papers comprise several accessions. Most of the clippings and correspondence were transferred to the University Archives by the Office of University Relations as Accession Number 74-44. Biographical information and teaching notes were transferred from the University Archives’ Biographical and General Files as Accession Numbers 79-140 and 82-138. Materials relating to the Stargazer Project were transferred to the University Archives by the Department of Physics and Astronomy as Accession Number 88-269 on November 9, 1988. Additional newspaper clippings, notes, reprints, and materials relating to the Corralitos observatory were donated to the University Archives by Mimi Hynek as Accession Number 92-44 on May 4, 1992.
One-half cubic foot of duplicate and extraneous material was discarded. The following four of Hynek’s books were added to the University Archives’ Faculty Authors Collection:
Astrophysics. (Hynek, ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1951.
Challenge of the Universe. (with Norman D. Anderson). Washington, D.C.: National Science Teachers Association, 1962.
Astronomy One. (with Necia H. Apfel). Menlow Park, Calif.: W. A. Benjamin, 1972.
The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1972.
Processor: Dan Schwerin, July 8, 2002.
- Guide to the J. Allen Hynek (1910-1986) Papers
- Dan Schwerin
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Part of the Northwestern University Archives Repository
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