Finding Aid to the Papers of Grote Reber, 1924-1999
Location of collection: National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Archives, 520 Edgemont Rd., Charlottesville, VA. Phone: 1-434-296-0203, email: archivist at nrao.edu
Title and dates of the collection: Papers of Grote Reber, 1924-1999
Size of the collection: approx. 35 linear ft (October 2004 figure includes both processed and unprocessed materials in Charlottesville, VA; it does not include unprocessed materials still in Tasmania)
Papers/Records created by: Reber, Grote (1911-2002)
Short description of collection: These papers document the career, research, and personal life of Grote Reber, who designed and built the worldís first radio telescope in 1937, and established radio astronomy as a key sub-discipline of astronomy. His interest and research in radio astronomy and in other fields, including archeology, botany, electronics, and meteorology, continued nearly until the time of his death in 2002. The papers consist of correspondence, technical and research materials on radio astronomy and a wide variety of other topics, manuscripts and published papers, speeches, ham radio materials, newspaper and magazine clippings, photographs, and other miscellaneous materials.
Selected search terms:
- Reber, Grote, 1911-2002
- Radio astronomy - History
- Radio telescopes
- Research Corporation
- National Radio Astronomy Observatory (U.S.)
- Archaeology - Australia
Biography: Grote Reber was born in Chicago, Illinois on 22 December 1911, and grew up in Wheaton, a suburb of Chicago. His father, Schuyler Colefax Reber (1867-1933), was a lawyer and part owner of a canning factory, and his mother, Harriet Grote Reber (1871-1945) had been a teacher before her marriage. When he was 16, Reber received his amateur radio license, W9GFZ; the license was signed by then Secretary of the Interior, Herbert Hoover. He graduated from Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1933 with a degree in electrical engineering, and between 1933 and 1947 held a series of jobs with Chicago companies, including General Household Utilities, Stewart-Warner Corporation, and the Research Foundation of the Armour Institute of Technology.
Reber had read about Karl Jansky's 1933 detection of cosmic radio emission, and tried unsuccessfully to interest astronomers at University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory and at other observatories and universities in further research in the area. Finally, he said, "I consulted with myself and decided to build a dish." He took the summer of 1937 off from his job with Stewart-Warner, and, using his own funds, designed and built a 32-ft parabolic transit dish in the vacant lot next to his mother's house, and then designed and built a series of sensitive radio receivers to place at the focal point of his dish. Since automobile ignition noise interfered with his observations, Reber worked only at night, and recorded by hand the minute-by-minute readings from his output meter. He continued at his job in Chicago during the day, and slept for a few hours each evening. He detected galactic radio noise in 1939, made the first maps of radio emission from the galaxy, and detected solar radio emission in 1943.
The astronomical community was initially skeptical about his work, and the editor of The Astrophysical Journal was hesitant to publish the results. Reber claimed, "The astronomers of the time didn't know anything about radio or electronics, and the radio engineers didn't know anything about astronomy. They thought the whole affair was at best a mistake, and at worst a hoax." Finally, after several astronomers visited his Wheaton installation, they were convinced of the soundness of his work, and his initial papers on "Cosmic Noise" were published almost simultaneously in The Astrophysical Journal and the Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers.
In 1947 Reber accepted a position with the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., where he was to set up a radio program at the Central Radio Propagation Laboratory. He sold the Wheaton dish and all his instrumentation to the government, and it was all moved to the NBS facility at Sterling, Virginia. Reber was soon frustrated by working as part of a government bureaucracy, by the lack of support for building a large radio telescope, and by the growing influence of McCarthyism. He was interested in the sea interferometer technique being used by Australian radio astronomers, and, in 1951, abandoned his dish and the National Bureau of Standards, and went to Hawaii to work independently. From 1951 to 1954 he worked on Mt. Haleakala on Maui, Hawaii, building a rotating antenna. His observations were hampered by ionospheric refraction and terrestrial interference, so he got useful data for only a few strong radio sources. Because of his observing problems, he studied the ionosphere, and published important papers on the ionosphere and the atmosphere, as well as a paper on the age of lava flows.
Reber was always eager to investigate new questions, and in July 1954 he wrote, "As you probably guessed, now that I am beginning to understand the phenomena available here at Kole Kole [Hawaii], I am beginning to lose interest in the situation and am anxious to get on with the next experiment." He moved from Hawaii to Tasmania in 1954, primarily because he expected the ionospheric transparency associated with the south magnetic pole would provide observing opportunities not available elsewhere. He concentrated on long wavelengths, and designed and built several arrays to study Galactic radio emission and absorption.
Reber had a keen interest in political and social issues, and was particularly concerned with the management of U.S. scientific research, arguing against the funding of big science and large radio telescope projects. He questioned the "big-bang" universe, and argued vigorously against it until his death. Throughout his life he was interested in a wide variety of non-astronomy topics, and he did research and published papers in archaeology, meteorology, and botany. He was concerned about population growth and preservation of natural resources, and he designed and built his own energy-efficient house and his own electric car. He kept meticulous records on everything: how far he walked each day, postmark and receipt date for all received mail, how long light bulbs in his house lasted, which foot parrots held berries in while eating. He collected old broadcast radios, vacuum tubes, and early electronic equipment.
With the exception of his time at National Bureau of Standards, Reber worked independently, and continued with his own research even during a few brief honorary appointments at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Ohio State University, and Australiaís Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Between 1951 and 1980 he received financial support from the The Research Corporation, whose grant administratorsí remarkable flexibility allowed Reber to conduct research in his own non-traditional ways. His technical skills, his imagination and curiosity, his stubborn persistence and disregard for conventional methods and opinions, led him to investigate topics ignored by others. Reber built the world's first radio telescope, was the world's first radio astronomer, and for almost ten years was the only person in the world devoting significant research time to radio astronomy. Reber's pioneering work was ultimately recognized by the professional astronomy community. He received the Franklin Instituteís Cresson Prize, an honorary Doctor of Science from Ohio State University, the American Astronomical Societyís Russell Lecture Prize, the Bruce Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the Associated Universities Inc. Jansky Lectureship, and the Jackson-Gwilt Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Although he made trips to the U.S., including one in 1959-1960 to reconstruct his Wheaton dish at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, Reber continued to live in Tasmania after moving there in 1954. He applied for Australian citizenship, which was granted, but he never followed through with the final formalities, so remained a U.S. citizen. He died in Tasmania on 20 December 2002, two days before his 91st birthday.
[Biographical note written by Ellen N. Bouton, with advice and assistance from Kenneth I. Kellermann. For a more detailed biography of Reber, see K.I. Kellermann: "Grote Reber (1911-2002)" Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 116, 703-711, 2004.]
Accession history: In 1982, at the request of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) Director Morton S. Roberts, Margaret B. Weems, NRAO Technical Publications, wrote to Grote Reber inquiring about Reberís interest in depositing his research equipment and documentation with NRAO in Green Bank, WV. There was apparently no further correspondence at that time. In 1989, Kenneth I. Kellerman, NRAO Senior Scientist, visited Reber in Tasmania, Australia, and suggested Reber transfer his materials to NRAO for safekeeping. Reber wrote to Kellermann on 23 August 1993, offering to donate his materials to NRAO; following discussions with NRAO Director Paul Vanden Bout, Kellermann wrote back to Reber on 9 September 1993 accepting the donation. After lengthy negotiations between Reber, Kellermann, and the shipping agents, 98 packing crates of books, journals, papers, correspondence, artifacts, and equipment were shipped from Tasmania in July 1994, and arrived at the NRAO site in Green Bank WV in autumn of 1994. Over the next several months, an initial rough inventory and sort of the material was done by Kellerman and several members of the NRAO staff, primarily Hein Hvatum, Fred Crews, George Grove, and Carl Chestnut. On 24 May 1995, Reber arrived in Green Bank, and spent the next several weeks helping with the sorting of materials and equipment, and sharing stories and information about them.
On 6 June 1999 Reber wrote to the Director, Radio Observatory, Green Bank, WV, suggesting he send his remaining artifacts to Green Bank, and requesting payment of shipping costs, his travel, the wages of assistant, contingency funds ($2K), and the refurbishment of the small Reber Building adjacent to the reconstructed Reber telescope in Green Bank. Unfortunately, this letter was addressed to Green Bank and was ignored by the local Green Bank staff. On 28 September 1999 Reber wrote again, this time to NRAO Director Paul Vanden Bout in Charlottesville VA, inquiring about his previous letter. On 11 November 1999, Kellermann responded to Reber, agreeing in principle but suggesting a delay in shipment until the new Science Center, planned for construction in Green Bank, was completed, since that was where the artifacts would be housed. There was no further correspondence on this topic, no material was shipped, and Reber died in December 2002.
On April 3 and 4, 2003, Dave Jauncey, Tasso Tzioumis, and Dave McConnell, all from the Australia Telescope National Facility, Esko Valtaoa, visiting radio astronomer from Finland, Martin George, from the Queen Victoria Museum, and Dale Blanchard, executor of Reber's estate inventoried all of the materials in Reber's house. In September 2003, Kellermann and Australian radio astronomer David Jauncey met with Dale Blanchard, executor of Reber's estate, to discuss plans for commemorating Reber's life and work. Kellermann and Jauncey then visited the Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston, Tasmania, to inspect the remaining materials, now stored at QVM. Although Reber's correspondence with NRAO in 1999 indicated he had only equipment and artifacts to ship, materials at QVM included a quantity of papers, manuscripts, and correspondence equal to or greater than what had been shipped to NRAO in 1994. It is expected that equipment and artifacts which relate primarily to Reber's activities in Tasmania will remain in Australia where they will be on display at the QVM and at Parkes. It is hoped that the remaining manuscripts, papers, and correspondence will be shipped to NRAO so the entire collection can be processed and properly preserved at one location, and that the books, journals, catalogues etc will be divided between Tasmania and Charlottesville as mutually agreed. Some personal papers remain with Dale Blanchard. In April 2004, Kellerman, Jauncey, and Martin George, astronomer, historian, planetarium director and QVM Acting Director, spent four days sorting the materials at QVM and creating a very preliminary inventory. Also in April 2004, Reber's papers, publications, and correspondence received at NRAO in 1994 were transferred to to NRAOís new Archives in Charlottesville VA, and processing of the collection was begun. Artifacts and equipment received in 1994 will remain in Green Bank WV, and many items are on display or will be used in future displays at the Green Bank Science Center.
Access to collection: No restrictions. The Archives are open part-time; contact the Archivist for appointment.
Restrictions on use of collection: No restrictions on Reberís papers. Related materials, primarily photocopies from other sources, gathered by Kenneth I. Kellermann during his research on Reber are available for reading, but may not be copied, as ownership and copyright rests with other institutions.
Processing notes: This collection was processed by Ellen N. Bouton, with assistance from Kenneth I. Kellermann. Selected correspondence, papers, and data extracted from material received in Green Bank in 1994 was arranged chronologically by Kellermann in 2003; some staples and paper clips were removed. Arrangement, description, indexing, foldering and boxing of this material was begun in April 2004 by Bouton. Remaining paper clips and staples were removed during this processing.
Processed material has been indexed, but container lists will not be created until all material in Charlottesville VA, as well as material in Tasmania yet to be shipped to Charlottesville, is processed. Descriptions of material in the collection, both processed and unprocessed, are provided in the interim. Contact the Archives for more detailed information.
Correspondence Series: With the exceptions noted below, this series currently includes the bulk of Reberís correspondence from 1924 until 1969. For his handwritten notes, diagrams, calculations, and data, Reber frequently used the backs of letters written to him, sometimes apparently unsolicited mail but also letters from equipment manufacturers regarding items he had either ordered or inquired about. He occasionally used the backs of carbon copies of his own letters as well. Thus, researchers using the correspondence may also wish to examine Reberís papers from the appropriate time period to see if there is any relevant correspondence on the verso of the papers. Additionally, Reber occasionally used the backs of similar letters to him for his own carbon copies. Letters are often annotated with notes about postmark and receipt dates, with receipt dates of items requested, or with notes about enclosures.
Staples or clips attaching handwritten notes and other materials to letters have been removed and the material filed with the letters. When they have been retained, any photographs, drawings, reprints, or other materials sent to Reber have been filed with the relevant letters.
Correspondence related to some significant groupings of material has been kept with that material in either the Notes and Papers series or the Publications series. For example, the several letters relating to the move of Reberís equipment from Wheaton IL to Sterling VA have been filed in the Notes and Papers series with the notes, paper, contracts, etc related to that move. Correspondence, either between Reber and the editors or between Reber and his co-authors, related to the drafts, editing, and publishing process of Reberís publications, has been filed with the particular publication in the Publications series. However, correspondence related to Reberís various rejected submissions has been retained with the General Correspondence series.
All other correspondence has been divided into three units:
- Research Corporation correspondence: Currently this unit includes correspondence from 14 February 1954 through 21 April 1967. Primary correspondents are Grote Reber; J. William Hinkley, President; Charles H. Schauer, Director of the Grants Program and later Vice President; Alfred Kelleher, Field Representative in California and later Division of Grants in New York; Hal H. Ramsey, Field Representative in California; Isabelle Goldfischer, Kelleherís secretary in New York; and Jennie Ewanoski, Schauerís Administrative Assistant. Much of this correspondence includes informal personal exchanges in addition to the particular topic(s) of the letter. Size: 355 items, 0.5 linear feet
- Miscellaneous Research Corporation material sub-unit: one folder containing photocopies of material related to Reberís long relationship with the Research Corporation; these photocopies were made by K.I. Kellermann during a visit to the Research Corporation archives on 19 February 2004. This sub-series material covers the period 1947-1987 and includes copies of correspondence between Reber and the Research Corporation that predate material in Reberís own correspondence files currently in Charlottesville, copies of correspondence related to Reberís work between the Research Corporation and other persons, a review of Reberís relationship with the Research Corporation between 1950 and 1957 attributed to Charles H. Schauer, and a section about Reber from Schauerís summary of his years at Research Corporation written on his retirement. Size: 37 items.
- An additional folder contains 8 issues of the Research Corporation Quarterly Bulletin collected by Reber Fall 1963-Fall 1966.
- Family correspondence: Correspondence between Reber and family members, primarily his brother Schuyler (1914-1989) and Schuylerís wife, Jean. This unit currently covers the period 1924-1993, although the bulk of the correspondence covers 1952-1960. Size: approx. 100 items, 0.5 linear feet.
- General correspondence: Includes all correspondence on all topics not included in the units listed above. Extensive correspondence related to the shipment of 98 cases of equipment and papers to NRAO in 1994 is included in this unit. This unit currently covers the period 1934-1996. Size: 490 items, 1.0 linear feet.
Oral History Interview: Transcription of an oral history interview conducted on 19 October 1985 by Alberta Adamson, Wheaton History Center; transcribed at National Radio Astronomy Observatory by Sheila Marks with assistance from K.I. Kellermann and help from Jeff Reber (nephew of Grote) on spelling of some proper nouns. Owning repository: Wheaton History Center, 660 North Main St., Wheaton IL 60189, USA. Interview covers Reber's family history, his childhood and youth in Wheaton, and some of his early work in radio astronomy. 13 pages.
Notes & Papers Series: This series contains Reberís own notes, drawings, photographs, diagrams, observational data, and calculations, as well as meeting programs, reprints and newspaper clippings, amateur radio materials, and other miscellaneous retained materials. Design and construction notes, drawings, and related correspondence for the Wheaton antenna, as well as its reconstruction in Sterling VA and Green Bank WV, are included in this series. Correspondence related to some significant groupings of material has been kept with the material. For example, the several letters relating to the move of Reberís equipment from Wheaton to Sterling VA have been filed with the notes, papers, and contracts related to that move. This series includes all materials and correspondence related to Reberís receipt of the Franklin Instituteís Elliott Cresson Medal in 1963. Reberís own publications, along with drafts thereof, are part of the Publications series. This series currently covers the period 1920-1966. Size: 1.5 linear feet + one drop front box, 28.5 x 22.5"
Photographs Series: This series currently contains photos and negatives of Reberís ham radio equipment and setup, of the Wheaton antenna and components thereof, of old radio equipment, of other radio antennas, and of Reber, as well as some family photos. Photos used in Reberís published papers are filed with the appropriate publication in the Publications series. This series currently covers approx. 1910-1960, and is sorted but unindexed. Size: 0.5 linear feet.
Publications Series: This series includes Reberís publications in books, journals, and published conference proceedings. It includes drafts, final versions, proofs, cuts from journals, and reprints. If neither journal cuts nor reprints are available, we have retained a photocopy of the article, Correspondence, either between Reber and the editors or between Reber and his co-authors, related to the drafts, editing, and publishing process has been filed with the relevant publication. However, correspondence related to Reberís various rejected submissions has been retained with the General Correspondence series. This series includes 86 publications and covers the period 1935-2000. Size: 1.0 linear feet.
- Beans: materials related to Reberís research on beans and twining vines.
- Biographical materials - notes: This series includes obituaries, biographical information, articles about Reber, etc. The majority of the material in this series was collected by K.I. Kellermann.
- Certificates, diplomas, etc.
- Data log books
- Ham radio materials: 2 boxes of received QSL cards.
- Mementos and souvenirs
- Meteorological materials: materials related to Reberís meteorological studies in Hawaii and Tasmania
- Newspaper and magazine clippings collected by Reber
- Radio equipment catalogs
- Reprints: Reberís collection of received reprints
- Speeches: Talks presented at conferences, public talks to a variety of groups, and acceptance speeches for awards
- Miscellaneous materials
- 3 file cabinets (30 linear feet): In addition to materials listed above, there are 3 file cabinets of unprocessed materials. The majority of the linear footage consists of reprints of Reber's publications, but the reprints are interspersed with a significant quantity of other papers and correspondence.
- Additional material not created or collected by Reber, held in Charlottesville: Kenneth I. Kellermann's photographs of Reber; Kellermann's correspondence with him, including correspondence with Reber and others between 1981 and 1999 about shipment of Reber materials to NRAO in Green Bank WV; Kellermann's notes and materials from his visits to the DuPage County [Illinois] Historical Museum and the Wheaton [Illinois] History Center in September 1999.
Materials in Tasmania include papers and correspondence, as well as radio and electronic equipment, Reber's electric car, books, journals, and personal effects. The papers and correspondence are not currently accessible, but we hope they will be shipped to NRAO for indexing, processing and inclusion in the Reber collection. All other materials will remain in Tasmania at the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston. No specifics on size of the collection are available at this time.
- Correspondence: Approximately 1955 through 2002, covering both professional and personal topics.
- Papers: Approximately 1960s through 2002. Topics include meteorological records, energy-efficient houses and Reber's construction of his own house, solar heating and energy, hydroelectric power, electric cars and Reber's construction of his car, ham radio materials, ionospheric materials, materials and notes on aging, materials on Reber's Australian citizenship application, materials on Reber's disagreements with and studies of the National Science Foundation grant and proposal process, archeology, beans and twining plants, financial material, photographs, brochures and catalogs.