Science and History Get Personal

In this post, one of a series on science and technology archival materials that we are writing as part of the North Carolina Science Festival, we’re looking at science collections in the Private Collections Unit of our Special Collections Branch. Private Collections includes the personal papers and records of individuals, families, and businesses, and contains materials on subjects and time periods that compliment our county and state agency records. This list of suggested collections was provided by Fran Tracy-Walls, our Private Collections Archivist.

Bensen Aircraft Corporation Papers, 1966 – 1973

Papers of Russian immigrant Igor B. Bensen. In 1953 Bensen realized his dream of establishing his own aircraft company. At the invitation of North Carolina state officials, Bensen formed the Bensen Aircraft Corporation near the Raleigh-Durham Airport with the goals of developing safe, light-weight, rotary-wing aircraft for both construction and use by private individuals. By April of 1954, Bensen had completed the first gyro-glider and was making towed flights with this prototype. The gyro-copter, a powered version of the glider, was first flown on December 6, 1955. This collection includes promotional material relating to the gyro-copter, a manual for building and operating the gyro-glider, and 6 double oversize technical drawings for Model B-8 of the Bensen Gyro-glider.  (Call number: PC.1931; Size of collection: 23 items)

Reginald A. Fessenden (1866-1932) Papers, 1887-1935

Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (October 6, 1866-July 22, 1932) was an American inventor and physicist whose career was varied and colorful. Born in Quebec, Canada, he was educated in schools in Canada and the United States. After two years as principal of Whitney Institute in Bermuda, he went to New York to develop his scientific interest through practical experience. After a year’s work as tester for Edison Machine Works, in 1887 he was made chief chemist of the Edison Laboratory at Orange, New Jersey. In 1890 he went to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, as chief electrician for the Westinghouse plant there. He was professor of electrical engineering at Purdue University, 1892, and at Western University of Pennsylvania, 1893-1899. Fessenden came to North Carolina in 1900 under the auspices of the United States Weather Bureau to conduct experiments in wireless telegraphy on Roanoke Island. His two years’ work here attracted considerable publicity and corresponded in time with the experiments of the Wright Brothers in that locality.

Fessenden’s patents number over five hundred, mostly in the field of radio. He is recognized as the originator of the continuous wave principle in wireless transmission, and, also, as the inventor of the heterodyne system of reception. From his Brant Rock experimental station, Fessenden made the first known radio broadcast of speech and music on Christmas Eve, 1906. The same year, he established what was said to be the first two-way trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphic contact, between Brant Rock, Massachusetts, and Machrihanish, Scotland. Among his better known inventions in fields other than radio are the fathometer (or sonic depth finder for ships), the smoke cloud for tanks, the turbo-electric drive for battleships, the wireless compass, and various submarine signaling devices.   (Call number: PC.1140; Size of collection: 60.5 feet)

Dr. Wiley D. Forbus Manuscript, 1973

Typed 988-page manuscript in two volumes, “Medicine in North Carolina, 1524-1960,” by Dr. Forbus, professor emeritus of pathology, Duke University Medical Center.  (Call number: PC.1526; Size of collection: 1 item)

Paul M. Gross Papers, 1956-1978

These papers contain minutes, memoranda, reports, grant proposals, correspondence, meeting files, etc., relating to the North Carolina Atomic Energy Commission (1956-1968) and the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology (1963-1978), on which former Duke University Professor Gross (1895-1986) served in various capacities.  (Call number: PC.1927; Size of collection: 4 Cubic Feet)

Lafayette Holt Papers, 1860-1932

In 1882 Peter and Lafayette Holt built the Lafayette Mill, Burlington, Alamance County, alongside the North Carolina Railroad.  It was the first mill in the county to operate by Corliss steam power. During this period water-powered mills became passé. Lafayette continued to invent parts to be used in textile manufacturing. This collection includes a small quantity of photographs, patents for parts of textile manufacturing equipment (1916-1932), clippings, pamphlets, and a few letters and notes belonging to Lafayette Holt of Burlington, Alamance County. (Call number: PC.1992; Size of collection: 1/3 of a foot)

Harry E. LeGrand Papers, 1949-2010

Harry E. LeGrand (1917- ) was born near Mebane, Alamance County, and was graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1939 with a B.S. degree. Following service in World War II, he embarked on a career as a hydrogeologist that continued well past 2000. After 1974 LeGrand served as a consulting hydrogeologist with several agencies, conducting studies in North Carolina (consulting for North Carolina Dept. of Natural and Environmental Resources; later the North Carolina Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources) and in various parts of the United States and also in Europe, Australia, and the Caribbean area. The collection is organized into six series: biographical material; unpublished writings in verse and essay, and a collection of memoranda, 1987-1992, written to raise serious issues about ground water, the aquifers that contain and transmit water, and the importance of geological considerations in locating safe radioactive disposal sites, addressed to the North Carolina Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Authority; published scientific articles, reports, etc. on hydrogeology and related areas, particularly in North Carolina, covering the Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Mountain Region, but also the Southern States; miscellaneous materials related to hydrogeology; and illustrations of hydrogeological concepts: paper copy, transparencies, and lantern slides; and samples of data regarding various N.C. river basins and associated streams. The materials are primarily articles; addresses; reports; poems and essays; memoranda; abstracts; surveys; and illustrations of geological and hydrogeological phenomenas, utilizing diagrams, maps, charts, etc. and employed in transparencies and lantern slides. In addition to his published works in various journals and studies, LeGrand’s writings include some poems and essays.  (Call number: PC.2004; Size of collection: 2 cubic feet)

Dr. Thomas Fanning Wood (d. 1892) Papers, 1861-1923

Papers of Dr. Wood, Wilmington physician and botanist, first secretary of the N.C. Board of Health (1877-1892), and editor of the North Carolina Medical Journal. Wood’s correspondence (1867-1892) includes letters from leaders in fields of immunology, medicine, public health, pharmacology, and botany, and letters of report on public health in most of North Carolina’s counties. (Call number: PC.1346; Size of collection: 3 3/4 feet)

The Science of Paper Conservation

Don’t forget that tomorrow, Friday April 20, we are hosting an event on paper conservation as part of the NC Science Festival.  So please join us in Search Room from 9 AM to 3 PM to take part in that event. And, as I’ve mentioned previously, there will be several events in downtown Raleigh as part of the Science Festival on both Friday and Saturday, which means that demand for parking near the Archives and Library Building may be higher than usual. Several streets will also be closed as part of the 24 hour opening celebration for the Nature Research Center; consult their website for more information about that event. If you plan to visit us on Saturday to do research, you may want to leave extra time for driving and parking.


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