University of Texas, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

A Guide to the Athelstan Spilhaus Papers, 1912-2003 (bulk 1930-1990)

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Spilhaus, Athelstan
Title: Athelstan Spilhaus Papers
Dates: 1912-2003 (bulk 1930-1990)
Abstract: Scientific and popular writings, research reports, autobiographies, diaries, correspondence and transcripts concerning 20th century oceanography, meteorology, cartography, science education, environmentalism and resource management.
Accession No.: 2004-191; 2005-183; 2009-031; 2010-029; 2010-168
OCLC No.: 128174282
Extent: 50 ft., 3 in.
Laguage: Materials are written in English.
Repository: Dolph Briscoe Center for American History,The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Note

Scientist, administrator and educator, Athelstan Spilhaus (1911-1998) contributed to oceanography, meteorology, and cartography; served as a dean at the University of Minnesota; and promoted science education and science-based management of the earth’s resources. Born in Rondebosch, South Africa, he held degrees in mechanical engineering (University of Cape Town, 1931) and in aeronautical engineering (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1933).

In 1936 Spilhaus joined the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Here he developed the bathythermograph, a device that made possible the measurement of ocean depths and temperatures from a moving vessel. This invention established his international reputation. From 1941 through 1945 he served in the United States Army, teaching meteorology and traveling in Europe and China, where he supervised a network of weather stations and met Chairman Mao Zedong.

In 1948 Spilhaus became dean of science and technology at the University of Minnesota, a position he held until 1967. While there, he promoted the establishment of a Sea Grant Universities program for oceanographic education and research. The U.S. Congress formally established this program in 1966. In 1955 Spilhaus started writing scripts for Our New Age, a science-based newspaper comic strip, which ran until the early 1970s.

President John F. Kennedy in 1961 appointed Spilhaus U.S. Commissioner to the Seattle World’s Fair, also known as the Century 21 Exposition. In 1967 he became president of the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, but left two years later after difficulties with the museum directors. During the 1970s, he served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, as consultant to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and in other scientific and cultural roles. An advocate for improvements in environmental science and urban development, Spilhaus promoted the Minnesota Experimental City, a project envisioned as a venue to test new urban designs in real-world conditions.

From 1977 to 1978 Spilhaus was a distinguished visiting professor of marine sciences at the University of Texas. During the 1980s and 1990s Spilhaus designed new map projections highlighting the earth’s oceans, as well as map-themed puzzles. During his last years Spilhaus and his third wife Kathleen became known as authorities on antique mechanical toys.

Scope and Contents

The Athelstan Spilhaus Papers, 1912-2003 (bulk 1930-1990), document the scientific, educational and cultural activities of Spilhaus, and illuminate the evolution of American meteorology, oceanography, cartography and environmental science during the 20th century. Reports and scientific journal articles from the 1930s concern topics in mechanical engineering, notably the evolution of air-powered instruments in aircraft. An early photograph album (1929-1930) depicts Spilhaus’s life in South Africa during his college days, and travel journals, a memoir and photographs from 1936 record his road journeys through Africa. Correspondence, publications and research reports (1937-1955) document the development of the bathythermograph and other advances in oceanography. Military orders, journals, reports, annotated maps, news clippings, and photographs (1941-1946) record Spilhaus’s activities in northern Europe and in China, and document conditions in those regions.

News clippings, magazine articles, correspondence, research reports and transcripts cover Spilhaus’s time at the University of Minnesota and his support of the Sea Grant Universities program, the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, the Experimental Cities project, public health, urban renewal, environmentalism and other topics of public concern during the 1960s and 1970s. Drafts and annotated drafts of his unpublished autobiography and other writings, oral history interviews, and materials assembled for a biography during the 1990s recount Spilhaus’s story in his own words. Furthermore, the collection contains books and articles by him with correspondence related to their publication, maps and cartographic projections devised by Spilhaus, prototypes of games and toys, and production drawings for the newspaper comic Our New Age. Materials also include lecture tapes and transcripts, testimonials, CDs, and DVDs.


Access Restrictions

Use of some audio material requires an appointment; please contact sound archivist for an appointment.

Use Restrictions

Unrestricted use

Index Terms

Subjects (Persons)
Spilhaus, Athelstan, 1911-1998
Subjects (Organizations)
Minnesota Experimental City Authority
University of Minnesota
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Century 21 Exposition (1962: Seattle, Wash.)
Mechanical toys
Meteorological instruments
Oceanographic instruments
World War, 1939-1945 -- China.
Africa -- Description and travel
China -- Description and travel

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Athelstan Spilhaus Papers, 1912-2003 (bulk 1930-1990), the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Processing Information

Processed by Edward Sevcik, June 2006.

Revised by Evan Hocker, February 2009, and Laurel Rozema, February 2010, July 2010.

Detailed Description of the Papers



2M420 Photographs
Personal, 1912, [circa 1940-circa 1980]
Astronomical, personal, 1939, [circa 1960-circa 1980]
Bathythermograph: [circa 1940]
Personal, assorted, [circa 1945-circa 1970]
Korea, [circa 1960]
United States Science Exhibit, Seattle World’s Fair, 1962
Tall ships, 1976
Toys and clock, [circa 1960], 1986
Academic conferences, public relations, UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], personal, [circa 1960-circa 1975]
Solar Triangle sculpture at Rockefeller Center, 1972
2M421 Photographs 1911-1918
China, [circa 1945]
Maps, scientific presentations, personal, [circa 1920-circa 1945]
2M422 Maps and geomorphology: articles, news clippings, correspondence, ephemera, [circa 1970-circa 1990]
2M423 Diary and autobiographical writings, 1936, [circa 1940], [circa 1972]
Toys, inventions and maps: drafts, research files, news clippings and correspondence, [circa 1960-circa 1995]
2M424 Maps and plate tectonics: drafts, research files and correspondence, [circa 1970-circa 1995]
United States Army travel documents, health reports and itineraries, 1945-1946
2M425 Scientific articles: drafts, related correspondence and news clippings, [circa 1930-circa 1980]
2M426 General correspondence, 1980, 1989-2000
United States National Fisheries and Aquarium Program, correspondence and report, 1962-1965
“The Next Industrial Revolution,” drafts, 1971
Design for globe sundial, [circa 1970]
2M427 Sundial patent: certificates, research reports and correspondence, 1984-1986
New York University: correspondence and news clippings, 1946
Biographical materials: correspondence and news clippings, 1955-1975
Bathythermograph: articles and news clippings, 1938-1987
2M428 China: flight records, news clippings, weather reports, itineraries, diary, 1944-1945
Obituaries, testimonial cards, memorial service guest book, 1998
United States Science Exhibit at the Seattle World’s Fair [Century 21 Exposition], news clippings and correspondence, 1962
2M429 United States Science Exhibit at the Seattle World’s Fair [Century 21 Exposition], news clippings and correspondence, 1962
German political leaflets, [circa 1945]
Nuclear bomb testing: news clippings, 1952
University of Minnesota science education: news clippings and report, 1951-1952
Western Pacific meteorology: research reports, diary, 1945-1950
Iceland, England, North Africa: meteorology reports, activity reports, United States Army orders, duty diaries, correspondence, 1943-1946
Experimental City Project: correspondence, news clippings and articles, 1963-1975
Innovative City Project, correspondence and articles, 1986-1987
Meteorology: news clippings, magazine articles and correspondence, 1938-1986
2M430 Correspondence, articles and news clippings, 1947-1990
Autobiography: outline and chapters, with related correspondence, 1974
Ocean stewardship, environment and business: articles and drafts, 1989-1990
Franklin Institute: correspondence and news clippings, 1967-1968
American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], correspondence and news clippings, 1969
Sea Grant Universities: oral history transcripts, conference proceedings, annotated drafts, news clippings and correspondence, [circa 1965]-2003
Backwards Land, by Athelstan Spilhaus, manuscript, [circa 1960]
2M431 Sea Grant Universities: correspondence, articles, news clippings, drafts 1963-1972
Palm Beach [Florida] schools: Spilhaus superintendancy, news clippings and correspondence, 1970
International Geophysical Year [IGY] and First Satellite [Sputnik]: news clippings, articles, correspondence, 1955-1963
Corporate correspondence and patent reports, 1955-1966
Ecolibrium Project: correspondence and news clippings, 1972
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], correspondence and news clippings, 1974-1975
2M432 United States Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] report on Athelstan Spilhaus, 1961-1966
Escher designs: correspondence and drafts, 1986
Sea Grant Universities: testimony before United States Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, with related correspondence and news clippings, 1966
Pollution, science education, Eco-Fair: news clippings, 1970-1990
Expense reports, itineraries, testimonials, proceedings, interviews and news articles, 1970-1990
2M433 South Africa: news clippings, 1947
Biographical and Genealogical reports, articles, clippings and correspondence, [circa 1940]-1987
University of Minnesota: news clippings and correspondence, 1965-1968
Lectures and speeches: notes and drafts, 1960-1976
2M434 University of Minnesota: news clippings and correspondence, 1950-1960
Correspondence, drafts and news clippings, 1980-1990
2M435 Articles about Spilhaus, [circa 1970-circa 1990]
Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars: correspondence, 1971-1975
Scientific institutions and societies: correspondence, 1971-1985
2M436 Master’s thesis on air driven gyroscopic instruments, 1933
Activity and expense reports, correspondence, 1972-1976
Oceanography, and marine conservation: drafts, correspondence, articles and news clippings, [circa 1970-circa 1990]
Pre-prints of “Our New Age” newspaper comic, 1965-1971
2M437 Scientific articles: drafts and related correspondence, [circa 1930-circa 1975]
2M438 Spilhaus oral history: transcripts and draft transcripts, 1976
Articles about Spilhaus, 1950-1960
General correspondence, 1970-1980
University of Minnesota: correspondence and news clippings, 1970-1980
Bathythermograph: reports and correspondence, 1937-1943
2M439 Bathythermograph: reports and correspondence, 1950-1960
Spilly, by Athelstan Spilhaus[Autobiography], 1977
Diaries, and autobiographical manuscripts, 1936-[circa 1950]
Drafts of published and unpublished magazine articles, 1960-1980
United Nations Educational, Scientifica and Cultural Organization [UNESCO]: correspondence and drafts, 1955-1957
2M440 “Performance of an Airplane at Constant Altitude Angle and Constant Throttle Setting:” report and correspondence, 1934
Articles and lectures: drafts, 1956-1980
Jobs: news clippings, 1950-1975
Weather control proposal: correspondence, 1945, 1994-1995
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO]: correspondence and drafts, 1955-1957
2M441 Articles and lectures: drafts, 1960-1980
Spilly, by Athelstan Spilhaus [Autobiography], 1977
Nauticus, the National Maritime Center: proposal and correspondence, 1989
Sea Education Association [S.E.A.]: proposal and correspondence, 1976-1977
Halley’s Comet: journal articles, research materials and drafts, 1984
Upper Atmosphere Ozone measuring program: report, 1939-1941
Spilhaus Space Clock: production drawings, templates and patent certificate, 1966 and [circa 1966]
Iceland, England, North Africa: meteorology reports, activity reports, United States Army orders, duty diaries, correspondence, 1943-1946
2M442 Books and publications credited to Athelstan Spilhaus:
Atlas of the World: Geophysical Boundaries, 1991
Grandfather’s Tool Town, 1989
Harmony of Man’s Industry and Living Space, 1973
Mechanical Toys: How Old Toys Work, 1989
Meteorological Instruments (3rd edition), 1953
The Ocean Laboratory, 1967
The Puzzle of the Plates: Spilhaus Repeating World Map, 1985
Satellite of the Sun: the science of the earth and its surroundings, 1958, 1964
Satellite Del Sole, (Italian translation by G. C. Chiappei), 1959
Turn to the Sea, 1959, 1961, 1962
Weathercraft: How to Make and Operate your Own Weather System, 1951
Workbook in Meterology, 1942
Books and publications containing work by Athelstan Spilhaus:
Baily, Matilda and Ullin Leavell, A World to Discover, 1963
Bartell, Joyce J., ed., The Yankee Mariner & Sea Power: America’s Challenge of Ocean Space, 1981
California Institute of Technology, The Next Ninety Years: Proceedings of a conference held at the California Institute of Technology, March, 1967, 1967
Committee on Pollution, National Academy of Sciences, Waste Management and Control, 1966
Gerwick, Ben C., editor, Arctic Ocean Engineering for the 21st Century: Proceedings of the first Spilhaus Symposium, 1985
Guy, Richard K. and Robert E. Woodrow, eds., The Lighter Side of Mathematics: Proceedings of the Eugene Strens Memorial Conference on Recreational Mathematics and its History, 1994
Leydet, Francois (ed.), Tomorrow’s Wilderness, 1963
Panel on Science and Technology, Proceedings before the Committee on Science and Astronautics, United States House of Representatives, Ninety-First Congress, 1970
Rozwenc, Edwin C., et al., The Restless Americans: The Challenge of Change in American History, 1972
Sheffield, Charles, Marcelo Alonso and Morton A. Kaplan, The World of 2044: Technological Development and the Future of Society, 1994
Singer, S. Fred (ed.), The Ocean in Human Affairs, 1990
United States Department of Commerce, U.S. Science Exhibit: Seattle World’s Fair, final report, 1962
Books by others, retained with the collection
Briggs, Peter, Men in the Sea, 1968
Cohn, Victor, 1999: Our Hopeful Future, 1956
Official Guide Book: Seattle World’s Fair, 1962
Spilhaus, M. Whiting, South Africa in the Making: 1652-1806, 1966
Villee, Jr., Claude A., Absolute Values and the New Cultural Revolution: commemorative volume of the thirteenth international conference on the unity of the sciences, 1985
Carter III, Samuel, Kingdom of the Tides, 1966
2M443 Journal articles and reprints, 1931-1970
2M444 New York University Constant Level Balloon Project: report and news clippings, 1946-1950
Journal articles and reprints, 1961-1993
Sea Grant Universities: journal articles, news clippings and reports, 1965-1985
Seminar on science and the news: transcript, 1960
Interviews and speeches: transcripts and event programs, 1950-1977
2M445 Meteorological instruments and toys: patent records, correspondence, 1938-1990
Biographical summaries: articles and testimonials, 1961-1970
Experimental City Project: journal articles, news clippings and reports, 1967-1969
Assorted news clippings, 1959-1994
Desk calendars and day planners, 1966-1997
Pan Geo, Incorporated: certificates, minutes, correspondence, 1984-1990
Meteorological instruments and toys: patent records, correspondence, 1938-1990
Biographical summaries: articles and testimonials, 1961-1970
Experimental City Project: journal articles, news clippings and reports, 1967-1969
Assorted news clippings, 1959-1994
Desk calendars and day planners, 1966-1997
Pan Geo, Incorporated: certificates, minutes, correspondence, 1984-1990
2M446 United States Army meteorology: reports, news clippings and correspondence, 1942-1949
Patent research reports, articles, drafts and correspondence, 1942, 1953-1981
Mechanical Toys: publication correspondence, 1992
Mechanical toys and games: articles, drafts and printed materials, 1981-1990
Certificates of achievement and appreciation, 1912-1991
Biographical materials collected for Athelstan Spilhaus: a Man of Ideas, [circa 1940-circa 1990]
Speeches: transcripts and drafts, 1960-1976
2M447 Newspapers and news clippings, [circa 1950-circa 1975]
Pre-prints for “Our New Age” newspaper comic, 1965-1971
2M448 General correspondence, [circa 1940-circa 1980]
Reports and news clippings, 1945-1947
Geography game cards and puzzle, 1987 and [circa 1987]
Spilhaus, Athelstan, and Kathleen Spilhaus, Mechanical Toys: How Old Toys Work, 1989
2.325/D48 Correspondence, notes, and articles exchanged between Spilhaus and Roger Goldsmith of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Primarily relating to the study of mapping and representing the earth's features, particularly the continents and oceans.
3S32a Photographs, personal and scientific, 1903-1980
Photographs, bathythermograph, [circa 1950]
3S105b Photographs, negatives [restricted], 1940-1980
3S131 Oversized Materials
Photographs, 1930-1933, [circa 1950], 1972
2.116/1428 Time-zone maps of the world, [circa 1960]
News clippings, certificates of appreciation and achievement, magazines, printed materials, [circa 1950-circa 1980]
Parisian World’s Fair [of 1900] photo book, magazines, 1900, 1945-1973
Map-theme jigsaw and toys, [circa 1985]
2.116/1429 China, the Philippines and South Asia: military maps, weather maps, 1945
China and the world: production drawings for maps, news articles, [circa 1980]
Production drawings for various maps, 1985-[circa 1995]
2.116/1430 “American Geophysical Union [AGU]’s 75th Anniversary Triptych of the World:” production drawings and paste-ups, 1989
“The Geocycle:” production drawings, maps, 1989 and [circa 1989]
Production drawings for various maps, 1995 and [circa 1995]
2.116/1431 “Our New Age” newspaper comic: production drawings, 1965-1968
2.116/1432 Our New Age” newspaper comic: production drawings, 1969-1971
2.325/D37c Production drawings and tracing sheets for maps, [circa 1985]
2X3c Audiocassette
Speeches, lectures and interviews, 1970-1976, 1991
2X4a Reel-to-Reel audiotapes
Speeches, lectures and news programs, 1962-[circa 1976]
2X4b Speeches, lectures and news programs, 1962-[circa 1976]
2.325/F265 VHS videotape:
"Cape to Cairo, 1936: An Interview with Athelstan Spilhaus"
4Y50 Compact discs:
"Athelstan Spilhaus Manuscript, © Louise S. O’Connor"
"Spilhaus Photos Mao Camp"
"An Interview with Athelstan Spilhaus, CAPE to CAIRO 1936"
2.325/A6 Photograph album from college years in South Africa: trip on steam ship off the coast, sand yacht racing at Muizenberg, life at the University of Cape Town, sailing, and automobile travel near East London, 1929-1930
Hand-painted image of “Spilhaus Lighthouse,” depicting the concepts of higher education, by Jon M. Beberg, [ca. 1950s]
Newprint photo using fisheye lens, undated