The Henry Crew Papers, comprising seven boxes, are arranged in two main categories: correspondence and diaries. Three folders of biographical materials precede the correspondence. Four folders of notebooks and one folder of publications and bibliographies follow the diaries. The papers richly document Crew's career and personal life from his graduate school days in the 1880's to his death at age 93 in 1953. Crew was an important figure in the development of experimental physics in the United States, as well as an influential educator in the period of transition from classical to modern physics in American higher education. His contributions to the history of physics are equally significant and represent the basis of his current status in the scientific community. The papers illuminate Crew's multiple roles as an experimental scientist, an educator, and an historian of science.
Crew's correspondence, comprising the first two and three quarters boxes of his papers, cover the years 1882 to 1953. The correspondence folders, with a few exceptions, are arranged alphabetically by the surname of the correspondent. Within each folder the correspondence is, for the most part, arranged chronologically. Variations from this scheme of arrangement were retained by the University Archives in order to preserve the congruence between the order of the hard copy and the microfilm copy of Crew's Papers, and thus to facilitate access to both formats. Variations in the chronological arrangement of correspondence within folders most often occurs in the event of a series of letters being exchanged on the same topic. Exceptions to the alphabetical surname arrangement of folders consists of four folders of correspondence received from the American Institute of Physics and two folders of correspondence added to the Papers as received from the Institute out of the biographical file of the Northwestern University Archives. These aberrant files pertain to specific subjects: a position with The Bureau of Weights and Measures, a fellowship to Johns Hopkins, recommendations to the Nobel Committee, participation in the Physics Club of Chicago, Northwestern physics department files, and miscellaneous correspondence. They often contain correspondence with individuals represented in the alphabetical correspondence folders. Some correspondence folders of well-known individuals, such as A.A. Michelson and George Ellery Hale, contain clippings and publications in addition to correspondence. These materials are filed after the correspondence.
With the exception of two folders of Crew family correspondence, the vast bulk of Crew's correspondence is with other physicists, astronomers, and scientists. Opinions were solicited and given about the qualifications of colleagues for various academic and administrative positions. For example, in 1907 the astronomer George Ellery Hale was engaged in a search for a new president of the Throop Institute. He wrote asking Crew's opinion of several men and any suggestions Crew might have. A number of letters were exchanged on the subject. Experimental physics was relatively new in the United States and the pool of capable manpower was limited and well known to everyone in the field, making the process of filling vacant positions a major task at institutions attempting to upgrade their programs in physics.
Another frequent topic of Crew's correspondence was the current state of a particular scientific inquiry. Crew wrote to ask Hale about some telescopic modifications he was considering. Nobel laureate A.A. Michelson wrote asking to borrow a quantity of chemicals from Crew for his investigations. It is evident that a science in its formative stages required a great deal of cooperation among its practitioners.
The topic that occupied the largest portion of Crew's correspondence were his professional social obligations. These obligations included notes recognizing the accomplishments of others and thanks for their recognition of his achievements. Many letters introduced scientists visiting the area and asking Crew to provide some form of hospitality. Crew's correspondence include many invitations to participate in conferences, seminars, and meetings, as in 1909 when he was asked, in his capacity as president of the American Physical Society, to attend an international meeting of physicists in Canada. Crew also wrote letters acknowledging and commenting upon the lectures and publications of colleagues.
One folder of miscellaneous correspondence has been added to the Papers from the University Archives biographical files. This folder contains photocopies of letterbook copies of Crew correspondence rewritten between 1904 and 1906 in the University Club. The family correspondence is mainly between Crew and his sister Carolyn and Crew and his son William Henry. It covers a wide range of domestic and family matters.
Crew was a dedicated diarist and his diaries provide a splendid record of his daily professional and personal life. The papers contain two and one quarter boxes of diaries. The first fourteen folders contain forty seven daily diaries covering the years 1876 to 1953. The diaries become progressively more detailed, philosophical, and insightful. They include such mundane occurrences as weather reports and such deeply moving personal events as the period of illness leading to his wife's death. The diaries detail Crew's activities on the Northwestern campus with notes about committees and students and in the larger scientific community in entries concerning professional meetings, papers given and responses to new ideas and theories. The diaries provide Crew's perceptions of the events of the day and about himself, as when he recorded every detail or his learning to drive in the years after his retirement in 1933. In addition to the daily diaries Crew kept special diaries on those trips to Europe in 1895, 1921, and 1927.
The daily diaries are indexed for the years 1930 to 1952. Diary pages are numbered from 1 to 5166 and Crew indexed entries by individual names, events, and organizations. There are two forms of the index. The first is an alphabetically arranged looseleaf notebook and the second is an alphabetically arranged 3″X5″ card file.
Crew corresponded with a number of men notable in the history of science. There are folders of correspondence with Nobel laureates Albert A. Michelson (Box 2, Folder 14) and Robert Millikan (Box 2, Folder 15). There is also some Michel- son correspondence in the Physics Club of Chicago folder (Box 2, Folder 21). Correspondence with pioneer physics educator Henry Rowland is filed in Box 2, Folder 24. Correspondence between Crew and astronomer George Ellery Hale can be found in Box 1, Folder 27 and Box 2, Folder 1. In Box 1, Folder 11 is Crew's correspondence with early astrophysicist Alfred Brashear. In addition, the papers contain one folder of correspondence between Crew's son, William, and the distinguished English physicist Ernest Rutherford (Box 3, Folder 1).