William Thomson, Lord Kelvin: Papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

(1) Correspondence

There is a main body of correspondence, arranged alphabetically by correspondent. This is supplemented by additional letters, which are divided into subject groups:

Tm1 to Tm31. Testimonials written by Kelvin in 1846 regarding the professorship of natural philosophy in Glasgow University.

CS1 to CS708 Compass and sounding machine correspondence, 1877-1880. There are letters from various people and organisations to Kelvin and to his nephew William Bottomley, concerning Kelvin's inventions. Roughly half the letters are to Kelvin, half to Bottomley.

Pr1 to Pr438. Peerage congratulations received by Kelvin and his wife when he was made Baron Kelvin in 1892. Lady Kelvin's mother's death occurred at the same time, and many of the letters include reference to this event.

Jb1 to Jb240. Jubilee congratulations received by Kelvin and his wife for the jubilee of his professorship in 1896.

Rt1 to Rt26. Correspondence relating to Kelvin's retirement in 1899.

OM1 to OM59. Congratulations received by Kelvin and his wife in 1902 when he was awarded the Order of Merit and made Privy Councillor.

DS1 to DS25. Correspondence relating to attempts to have the decimal system of weights and measures accepted in Britain, 1901-1906.

LB1 to LB31. 31 letter books containing drafts (except for LB4 which contains press copies) of letters written to Kelvin: LB1 to LB4, 1878-1884; LB5 to LB31, 1899-1906.

(2) Papers

PA1 to PA10. Notes by various people concerning the Kelvin collection.

PA11 to PA17. Kelvin's notes made while reading with William Hopkins at Cambridge.

PA18 to PA41. Cambridge and Glasgow, 1840s and 1850s.

PA42 to PA86. Mainly reprints of Kelvin's published papers.

PA87 to PA179A. Mainly manuscript drafts of Kelvin's papers.

PA180 to PA182. Lists regarding Kelvin's letters and papers.

PA183 to PA188. Material regarding the Lalla Rookh.

PA189 to PA214. Tides.

PA215 to PA231. Telegraphs.

PA232 to PA242. Indian Telegraph Service Examination.

PA243 to PA266. Metric System.

PA267 to PA300. Miscellaneous, c.1850 to c.1900.

PA301 to PA316. Reports from the Physical Laboratory, Glasgow University.

PA317 to PA332. Miscellaneous.

PA333 to PA355. Obituary notes, etc., for Kelvin.

PA356 to PA406. Miscellaneous material.

PA407 to PA446. Material relating to people other than Kelvin.

(3) Notebooks

180 volumes, c.1835-1907, mainly research notebooks, with some additional correspondence.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), scientist and inventor, studied at Glasgow University from 1834, before entering Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1841, where he was a fellow, 1846-1856 and 1872-1907. He was professor of natural philosophy in Glasgow, 1846-1899; president of the mathematical and physical section of the British Association at Glasgow, 1876; and chancellor of Glasgow University, 1904. He also helped to found the the firm Kelvin&White, Ltd., Glasgow, which he used to manufacture his inventions. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1851, and served as president from 1890 to1894. He was knighted in 1866 and created baron in 1892. Between 1851 and 1854 Thomson formulated the two great laws of thermodynamics, equivalence and transformation. In 1853 he developed the theory of electric oscillations, which was to form the basis of wireless telegraphy, and he superintended the laying of a cable across the Atlantic in 1866.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

The papers were presented to the Library by Sir Joseph Larmor between 1936 and 1942, with the major part being presented in 1936.


Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. The biographical history was compiled with reference to the entry on Kelvin in the Concise Dictionary of National Biography, Part II, 1901-1970, p.665(Oxford University Press, 1982).

Alternative Form Available

Microfilms of the collection are available in the Rare Books Reading Room.

Conditions Governing Use

Original material may not be photocopied, but copies are available from the preservation microfilms.