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MS041: Alexander Wilmer Duff Collection

Identifier: MS041

Scope and Contents

This collection includes correspondence to and from Duff. Most of the correspondence is departmental in nature. One prominent correspondent is Harold B. Smith who was chair of the Electrical Engineering Department at WPI from 1896-1931. Smith and Duff worked at Purdue at the same time, and Smith was instrumental in getting Duff to take the position at WPI. Another prominent correspondent is Ira N. Hollis, President of WPI from 1919-1925, most of the 1919 correspondence discusses Duff’s return to WPI after his work for the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Washington, D.C. The rest of the Duff/Hollis correspondence is departmental in nature. The collection also includes reprints of Duff’s publications in scientific journals from 1896-1938. The collection also includes several death notice clippings from when Duff died in 1951. One half of the collection is the handwritten manuscript of a revision of College Physics. The book was first published by Duff in 1925, but due to advances in physics and a hope to improve the book’s teaching methods, a revised edition was written by Duff and Masius in 1941.[From 1941 preface]. Masius was a professor in WPI’s physics department.


  • 1894 - 1951


Biographical / Historical

Alexander Wilmer Duff was born in St. John, New Brunswick in 1864. He graduated from the University of St. John, and later studied at the Universities of London and Germany and in 1901 received his D. Sci. from the University of Edinburgh.

Duff was professor of physics at the University of Madras, India from 1889-1890; the University of New Brunswick from 1890-1893; Purdue University from 1893-1899; and at WPI he was chair and professor of the physics and department from 1893-1936. Robert Goddard was one his students from the class of 1908. Duff received a Degree of Science Honorary degree from WPI in 1943. Duff’s research areas included viscosity, acoustics, tidal phenomena, and cathode rays. He was the recipient of the Oersted Award in 1938 for Notable Contributions to the Teaching of Physics.

During World War I, Duff was a consultant and experimental engineer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps where he worked on bomb sites, trajectories, and stabilizers. Duff wrote several books in the field of physics, but is most well known for his “A Textbook on Physics”. This book was first published in 1908 and had 8 subsequent editions published and was the leading textbook in physics for the next 30 years.


1 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was compiled from other WPI administrator, faculty and department archival collections.

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Repository Details

Part of the WPI Manuscript Collections Repository

100 Institute Rd
George C. Gordon Library
Worcester MA 01609 USA