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Bragg, Sir William Henry (1862-1942)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0116 William Henry Bragg Collection
Held at: Royal Institution of Great Britain
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Full title: Bragg, Sir William Henry (1862-1942)
Date(s): 1888-1969
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 7.65 metres
Name of creator(s): Bragg, Sir William Henry, 1862-1942. Knight. Physicist.


Administrative/Biographical history:

William Henry Bragg was born in Westward, Cumberland, the son of Robert John Bragg, a farmer, and Mary Wood in 1862. He was educated at Market Harborough and attended King William's College on the Isle of Man. In 1881 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge to study Mathematics. In 1884 he was third wrangler in part one of the Tripos and gained a first in part 3 of the Mathematical Tripos in 1885. In 1886 he became Elder Professor of Mathematics and Physics of the University of Adelaide and moved to Australia. In 1889 he married Gwendoline Todd and they had three children, William Lawrence, Robert Charles and Gwendoline Mary. He did not undertake much research until after addressing some scientific people in the country about current and past research in 1904. With the assistance of R. D. Kleeman, he decided to research into the radiations of electrons, x-rays, radioactivity and the extent to which they were absorbed and scattered by gases and solids. He discovered that alpha-particles of radium were ceased in ionisation. In 1903 he became President of Section A of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1907 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1909 he returned to England as Cavendish Professor of the University of Leeds which he held until 1915. In 1912 Max Von Laue showed that x-rays are diffracted by the atoms of a crystal. Using ionisation on such work and working with his son, William Lawrence Bragg (known as Lawrence in order to distinguish him from his father), they developed the science of x-ray crystallography. In 1913 he used ionisation to reflect x-rays and together with his son Lawrence, published "X-Rays and Crystal Structure" in 1915. He won the Nobel Prize for physics with Lawrence in 1915. He also gained several medals for his work on x-rays and crystallography, such as the Rumford medal in 1916 and the Copley medal in 1930 from the Royal Society, and the Faraday medal in 1936 from the Institution of Electrical Engineers. From 1915 to 1923, he was the Quain Professor of Physics at the University of London. During the First World War, he worked on underwater acoustics for the Admiralty in order to detect submarines. He was knighted in 1920. He became Fullerian Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI) in 1923. He was known as a good lecturer and had many of his lectures published for example: The World of Sound in 1920 and Concerning the Nature of Things in 1925, which were taken from his Christmas Lectures given at the RI. He published papers such as `On the Absorption of X-rays and the Classification of the X-rays in Radium' in Philosophical Magazine in 1904, and others in Nature, Proceedings of the Royal Society and Transactions Royal Society South Australia; and books such as Crystallography and X-Rays and Crystal Structure. In 1932 he became President of the Physical Society. In 1935 he became President of the Royal Society. He died at the RI, London, in 1942.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Sir William Henry Bragg include: (Box1) pocket diaries 1924-1942 relating to day to day engagements. (Box2-Box11) Miscellaneous correspondence and notes c1898-1962, relate to various topics such as letters of praise over his lectures and addresses; his work on and observations of crystals and x-rays; his papers and books; honours and meetings. (Box26) Bragg-Rutherford correspondence 1904-1935, relates to letters and discussions between William Henry Bragg and Ernest Rutherford on his work; chairmanships; lectures and publications. (Box28) Father/Son correspondence and autobiography, relates to letters between William Henry Bragg and Lawrence Bragg discussing lectures; laboratory work; working together on research; also contains letters to other correspondents such as H Young and Kathleen Lonsdale; autobiographical notes. (Box37) A B Wood correspondence 1917-1962, relates to William Henry Bragg's work for the Admiralty and continual contact with A B Wood; also includes correspondence between Lawrence Bragg and others on biographical information 1962-1969. (Box12) Research notebooks c1900-1930 relate to his lectures, abstracts of literature and notes by Lawrence Bragg. (Box13) General files on scientific work relate to notes on sound and light; colours from plants; anthracene (under Lawrence Bragg); clay; crystals; paramagnetism and diamagnetism. (Box14-Box16) General files on crystallography relate to various aspects of his work on the subject such as, anthracene and naphthalene; proteins; liquid crystals; diamonds; calcium carbide as well as proofs on the Story of Electromagnetism; draft autobiography and biography; notes for a lecture on the solid state of matter and some correspondence on his research for the Admiralty in the First World War. (Box17) General files on research relate to studies in radioactivity; notes on topics such as focal conics, fluid crystals, nematic liquids and optics; correspondence on topics such as crystallised substances, x-rays, density values and publications. (Box18) Miscellaneous scientific notes and correspondence relate to discussions and drafts for the books Crystallography and X-Rays and Crystal Structure; discussions on other scientists' views for example Debye's 'relaxation time' argument. (Box19) Press cuttings and draft lectures relate to drafts for articles and papers as well as correspondence between Lawrence Bragg and Kathleen Lonsdale on the biography of William Henry Bragg. (Box20-Box24) Reprints 1891-1944 and synopses and reprints of lectures 1931-1942, relate to various publications by William Henry Bragg in journals such as Transactions Royal Society South Australia, Philosophical Magazine and Nature; also includes some articles about William Henry and Lawrence Bragg. (Box25) Medals 1887-1939. (Box27) Royal Institution administrative files 1923-1941, relate to correspondence regarding pupils, studentships, lectures, funding, laboratory work, bye-laws and the Bragg-Paul pulsator, an iron lung to aid artificial respiration (Robert W. Paul). (Box29) Lectures, manuscripts (MSS) and proofs 1938-1941; (Box30, Box32-Box34) lectures and articles 1920-1940; (Box31) lecture notes 1886-1888, relate to lectures, speeches and addresses given by William Henry Bragg at various locations for instance the Royal Society, the RI and those given in Adelaide, Australia, on subjects such as x-ray analysis, crystals, Count Rumford, acoustics and elementary physics; also includes proofs and drafts of articles for journals such as Nature. (Box35) Broadcast scripts 1928-1942, relate to scripts for radio broadcasts on topics such as Michael Faraday, crystals and x-rays. (Box36) Letters of condolence to Lawrence Bragg on the death of William Henry Bragg, Mar-Jun 1942. Notebooks 1904-1913, relate to topics such as radioactivity and x-ray crystallography. Newspaper cuttings (6 volumes) 1913-1940.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As outlined in the scope and content field. Some material is uncatalogued. Some material forms part of the Sir William Lawrence Bragg collection at the RI.

Conditions governing access:

Access to bona fide researchers by appointment with the Keeper of the Collections or the Assistant Archivist, the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI). Conditions may apply.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Reproduction of material is permitted at the discretion of the Keeper of the Collections, RI. Conditions may apply.

Finding aids:

Catalogue at the RI.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Papers of Sir William Henry Bragg were presented to the RI by the Bragg family in 1964.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Other correspondence and papers of Sir William Henry Bragg are located at: Leeds University Brotherton Library (reference: MS 81); Cambridge University: Churchill Archives Centre (reference: AVHL); University of Texas at Austin Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre Library; the Royal Society; Cambridge University Library Department of Manuscripts and University Archives (reference: Add 7653); Oxford University Bodleian Library Special Collections and Western Manuscripts (reference: SPSL). The Royal Institution of Great Britain holds portraits, an ionised spectrometer and molecular models for teaching purposes, of Sir William Henry Bragg.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: catalogue at the RI.Other useful published sources on Sir William Henry Bragg: William Henry Bragg 1862-1942 Man and Scientist; G M Caroe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1978. Description compiled by Miss Ivone Martins, Assistant Archivist, RI.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
March 2001.

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