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Johns Hopkins University Joseph Sweetman Ames collection

Identifier: MS-0061

Scope and Contents

The material in this collection deals largely with Ames's work at The Johns Hopkins University. There is only one item from his student days: the notebook of notes he took while attending Henry A. Rowland's lectures on light in 1888. The letters in this collection are ones recommending Ames for various positions at Hopkins. There is Franklin D. Roosevelt's letter (1939) accepting Ames's resignation from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.

The 17 speeches (1931-1935) in this collection are ones given by Ames as President of Hopkins. Most were given on commencement or Commemoration Day. Other speeches were ones to the P.L. Club on "The Fringes of Science," the American Bible Society, and the Maryland State Normal School and speeches on the re-opening of Homewood House and on Dr. John H. Latan.

The largest part of the collection consists of copies of class lectures Ames delivered in the Physics Department at Hopkins. According to a former student, Ames did not allow note-taking in his classes. He wrote out all of his lectures and reproduced them for his students. Included in this series are 5 sets of Ames's lecture notes. They date from 1918 to 1923 near the end of Ames's teaching career. These lectures were not published, but the ones on Theoretical Mechanics are part of the text by the same name which Ames published with Francis D. Murnaghan in 1929.

Three of the lectures, the ones on thermodynamics, mechanics and electricity, are from a three-year sequence which Dr. Ames gave as a course in theoretical physics to graduate students. These lectures along with Ames's two works Textbook of General Physics (1904) and A Manual of Experiments in Physics (1896) which he wrote with Hopkins colleague W.J.A. Bliss and R.W. Wood's Physical Optics give a good view of the Hopkins physics curriculum between 1915 and 1925.

The lecture notes on relativity are the typescript of the original. They are from a course Ames gave once or twice. They are interesting as constituting one of the first courses on relativity given in the U.S.

The fifth set of lecture notes are from lectures Ames delivered at the Bureau of Standards in 1918-1919.

There are 7 photographs of Ames in this collection. Two are formal portraits, one shows Ames working at his desk and one is of him after receiving an honorary degree from the University of Pennsylvania. There is also a photograph taken in 1917 of Ames and General William Mitchell taken in front of an airplane in France. An undated photograph shows Ames seated around a conference table with Hopkins colleagues William H. Howell, William Bullock Clark, William H. Welch, Basil L. Gildersleeve, and Edward H. Griffin.


  • 1888-1968


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

Collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical Note

Joseph Sweetman Ames was born July 3, 1864 in Manchester, Vermont the only child of George L. and Elizabeth L. Bacon Ames. Ames attended the Shattuck School in Faribault, Minnesota from 1872 until 1883. Ames took his B.A. from The Johns Hopkins University in 1886 after which he studied in Helmholtz's laboratory at the University of Berlin.

Ames returned to Hopkins in 1887 to do work in spectroscopy and took his Ph. D. in 1890. During this period (1888-1891) Ames held an assistantship in Henry A. Rowland's laboratory. Upon Rowland's death in 1901, Ames became Director of the Physical Laboratory. Ames became an associate professor at Hopkins in 1891 rising to full professor in 1899. He taught until becoming provost of the University in 1926 and president from 1929 to 1935.

Ames was a long-time member of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. One of the original members from the Committee's creation in 1915, Ames served as chairman of either the executive committee or the full committee from 1919 until his retirement in 1939.

Ames died in 1943.


0.47 Cubic Feet (1 legal size document box)

Language of Materials



Joseph Sweetman Ames became Director of the Physical Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in 1901. He taught until becoming provost of the University in 1926 and president from 1929 to 1935. This collection largely consists of speeches and lectures given at Johns Hopkins, but also includes correspondence, photographs, reprints, and biographical information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The materials in this collection have been collected from various sources. Most of the letters were transferred from the University's Alumni Records Office in 1972. The letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt (1939) was donated by Hans Mark of the Ames Research Center in 1971. The volume of notes Ames took in Rowland's course on light in 1888 were given by Ames to a student J. Kaplan who donated them to the University in 1972. Apparently upon his retirement Ames gave some of his library to some of his favorite students. The copies of Ames's lectures were donated by another former student Richard T. Cox in 1968. The reprint of Ames's "Certain Aspects of Henry's Experiments on Electromagnetic Induction" was donated by Dr. R.E. Gibson in 1977.

Related Materials

Ames's genealogical research files were donated to the Maryland Historical Society.

Related Sources

For a more detailed analysis of Ames's career and his complete bibliography see Crew, Henry, "Biographical Memoir of Joseph Sweetman Ames, 1864-1943." National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs 23 (1944): 181-201.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Cynthia H. Requardt in 1989.

Johns Hopkins University Joseph Sweetman Ames collection
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA