Papers and correspondence of Sir Joseph John Thomson, 1856-1940

Scope and Content

The surviving material is, unfortunately, somewhat scanty. It includes a little personal and college correspondence, some notes and drafts particularly for his book Conduction of electricity through gases (first published by Thomson in 1897, third edition with his son G.P. Thomson in 1928), and various biographical accounts of Thomson and the discovery of the electron, several by his son.

Administrative / Biographical History

'J.J.' Thomson was one of the foremost physicists of his day. His name is principally remembered for the discovery of the electron and for his work on gaseous exchanges. He was born in Manchester and educated at Owen's College (a forerunner of Manchester University). In 1875 at the age of nineteen he went with a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge where he remained for the rest of his life. After graduating in mathematics in 1880 he worked at the Cavendish Laboratory under Rayleigh, succeeding him as Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics in 1884, and his guidance of the Cavendish Laboratory for a generation (until 1919) established its international reputation as a research school. He was Master of Trinity from 1918 until his death in 1940. Thomson was elected FRS in 1884 (Bakerian Lecture 1913, Royal Medal 1894, Hughes Medal 1902, Copley Medal 1914, PRS 1915-1920). In 1906 Thomson was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his investigation of the conduction of electricity by gases. He was knighted in 1908 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 1912.


By section as follows: Personal material and correspondence, Notes and drafts for publications, Scientific correspondence, Accounts and biographies of Thomson, Published works. Index of correspondents.

Access Information

By appointment only.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Sir Joseph John Thomson (1856-1940) by J. Alton and J. Latham-Jackson, CSAC catalogue no. 74/4/80, 14 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath

Custodial History

Received in 1979 by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre from the Thomson family via Trinity College, Cambridge. Deposited in Trinity College Library in 1980.