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Collection Overview

Hess, Harry Hammond, 1906-1969
H. H. Hess Papers
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
34 boxes
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1-34


The H. H. Hess Papers consists of professional papers, correspondence, and related materials of the American geologist and educator Harry Hammond Hess (1906-1969).

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

Consists of Hess's papers, articles, reports, lecture notes, on-site field notes, notebooks, correspondence, committee materials, off-prints, unpublished papers, photographs, documents, seismological charts, slides, and printed matter, as well as some papers of others. The professional correspondence includes letters from colleagues in academe, the U.S. government, geological organizations, and scientific societies. Much of the material in the collection covers the varied scientific topics with which Hess was engaged-in particular, Hess's work with the National Academy of Sciences' Space Science Board, which advises the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on scientific matters. Hess participated in the academy-sponsored Mohole Project, which had the objective of drilling a hole through "Moho," the Mohorovicic seismic discontinuity separating the mantle of the earth from its crust. The collection also contains work Hess did for the Office of Naval Research of the Navy Department, including material relating to his theory of continental drift. Furthermore, there are materials pertaining to the Princeton Caribbean Research Project, organized and directed by Hess, which explored every aspect of Caribbean geology.


This collection is currently unprocessed.

Collection Creator Biography:

Hess, Harry Hammond, 1906-1969

Harry Hammond Hess, the son of Julian S. and Elizabeth (Engel) Hess, was born in New York City on 24 May 1906. Hess received a B. S. degree from Yale in 1927 and then went to Princeton to pursue a Ph.D. in geology (1932).

Through the years, Hess held an assortment of positions, primarily academic, relating to geology. After completing his degree at Princeton, he taught at Rutgers University for one year (1932-1933), and assisted with research in the geophysical laboratory in the Carnegie Institute of Washington, D.C. (1933-1934). In 1934, Hess joined the Princeton teaching faculty-gaining full professorship in 1948-a post he would maintain until his death. At Princeton, Hess served as the chairman of the Geology Department (1950-1966), and was the sixth Blair Professor of Geology (1964). In addition to his teaching at Princeton, Hess spent two years abroad as a visiting professor at Capetown University, South Africa (1949-1950), and Cambridge University, England (1965).

While a graduate student, Hess began research in the fields of marine geological and geophysical studies by measuring the earth's gravity field aboard a U. S. Navy submarine in the Caribbean. Hess was given a commission as lieutenant in the U. S. Naval Reserve as a means to facilitate his work on Navy subs during subsequent trips. When called to active duty during World War II in 1941, Hess was initially assigned to enemy submarine detection in New York City. He created a successful system to predict German submarine location and kept the New York waterways safe. Hess then went on to other assignments in the Pacific, including landing at Iwo Jima. While traveling on the "Cape Johnson," Hess conducted echo-sounding surveys and discovered submerged, flat-topped seamounts between Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands. He named his seamounts discovery "guyots," in homage to the founder of the Princeton geology department and the first Blair Professor, Arnold Guyot. After being discharged in 1946, Hess remained active in the Naval Reserve, gaining the level of rear admiral in 1961.

With the assistance of Princeton, the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, several oil companies, and the governments of Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Colombia, Hess established the Caribbean Research Project in 1947. As a result of this project, Caribbean geology was investigated extensively, particularly by graduate students, who used their data as the basis for their Ph.D. dissertations. Hess also proposed the Mohole Project (1958), which had the objective of drilling a hole through the ocean's "Moho," the Mohorovicic seismic discontinuity separating the mantle of the earth, to take core samples, and he originated a theory of ocean-floor spreading and continental drift (early 1960s).

Hess's interest in rocks was not confirmed to the earth: He was the chairman of the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences (1962) and a collaborator with several committees of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (1963), including being involved with the first moon landing, which occurred only one month before his death.

In keeping with his varied scientific interests, Hess was a member of innumerable committees, societies, and organizations relating to geology, oceanography, and space science. Furthermore, he authored many articles and book chapters on these subjects.

Hess died of a heart attack on 25 August 1969, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, while presiding at a Space Science Board conference. He was buried in the Arlington National Cemetery. Hess was survived by his wife of 35 years, Annette (Burns), and their two sons, George Burns and Frank Deming Mather.

Collection History


The materials in this collection were a gift from Mrs. Annette Hess. (AM 77-113, AM 77-113A) 2 offprints on the geology of Central and North Curaçao by Vermunt and Rutten, reprinted from Proceedings of Koninklijke Akademie Van Wetenschappen Te Amsterdam, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2 (1931) were a gift of Louis G. Zachos in 2005. (AM 2006-34)


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

Finding aid written by Ran Tao in 2004.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

H. H. Hess Papers; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1-34