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Baker, William O. (William Oliver) (1915-2005)
William O. Baker Papers
Public Policy Papers
Permanent URL:
65 boxes
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-65


William O. Baker (1915-2005) was a prominent research chemist, head of Bell Laboratories, and a frequent advisor to the government on scientific affairs and technology. His government service spanned from the Truman administration through the Bush administration and focused on intelligence gathering and national security issues. Baker's papers document his government service beginning with President Eisenhower, as well as his career at Bell Labs, and include correspondence, writings, and reports.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

Baker's papers document his government service beginning with President Eisenhower, as well as his career at Bell Labs, and include correspondence, writings, and reports. The papers include materials on his governmental service at both the federal and New Jersey state level, notably for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), New Jersey Board of Higher Education, and New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology. The papers on Bell Labs primarily cover his management of the lab and their research accomplishments from the time he became vice president for research in 1955, but also include papers related to his own research.

Collection Creator Biography:


William O. Baker (1915-2005) was a prominent research chemist, head of Bell Laboratories, and a frequent advisor to the government on scientific affairs and technology. At Bell Labs, he was considered a great organizer of scientific research and oversaw some of the most significant inventions of the century. As an advisor, he worked to apply science and technology to meet national needs over several presidential administrations, from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush, especially related to intelligence gathering, national security, and communications systems.

Baker earned his bachelor's degree in science from Washington College in 1935 and his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Princeton University in 1938. At Princeton, Baker worked in the emerging field of polymer research with Professor Charles Smyth. In 1939, Baker obtained a position as a research scientist at Bell Telephone Laboratories, which conducted research on communications for AT&T, where he would spend his entire career. At Bell, Baker became an accomplished polymer chemist. His work focused on macromolecules, plastics, and fibers, the chief insulators in communications technology. He also developed applications for the use of plastics to replace expensive materials, such as metal telephone sets and the lead sheathing on cables and electrical lines. During World War II, his research and development of the new polymer microgel, a synthetic rubber, was significant in alleviating the rubber shortage. His later research into the electromagnetic behavior of organic solids led to the development of ablative heat shields for missiles and satellite re-entry. Over the course of his career, he authored nearly 100 scientific and technical papers and received 13 patents for his research.

Baker rose steadily in the Bell Labs administration. He was named head of polymer research and development in 1948, assistant director of chemical and metallurgical research in 1951, and director of physical sciences research in 1954. In 1955, Baker was promoted to the lab's vice president of research, in charge of overseeing all research programs. Baker became president of Bell Labs in 1973 after the retirement of James B. Fisk. He served in this capacity until 1979 and as chairman in 1980, when he retired. Under his leadership, the lab became one of the world's most advanced and largest research laboratories, growing to 16 laboratories in 8 locations with 17,000 employees. During his long career at Bell, Baker became known for his ability to encourage the creativity of his scientists, promote collaboration, and maintain a focus on usable and useful applications of the science. While he was directing the lab, they developed numerous significant technologies and innovations, including the optical laser, the first fiber optic system, satellite communications systems, the UNIX computer operating system, the transistor, and an improved integrated circuit, and three Bell Labs scientists won the Nobel Prize.

Baker advised the federal government on science and technology throughout his career and into his retirement, notably on the technology of intelligence gathering, believing that scientific research could have the greatest impact if the findings were disseminated to the government. For over 40 years, he served in a variety of federal and presidential posts, and on numerous commissions and panels. In all of his advisory work, Baker emphasized the necessity and practical applications of scientific experimentation and advocated for government policies to support and encourage more rapid technological developments. Baker was a scientific adviser to every president from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, spanning from the most intense epoch of the Cold War through the collapse of the Soviet Union. His contributions were responsible for numerous advances in intelligence, data processing, and information management. He served as an original member of the President's Science Advisory Committee (1957-1960) and the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (1957-1977 and 1981-1990) and as consultant to the special assistant to the President for Science and Technology (1963-1973). He also chaired the group that designed the Office of Science and Technology Policy under President John F. Kennedy.

Many of his most significant contributions were in the areas of national security and intelligence gathering. Baker's first involvement with the federal government was to serve as chairman of a ten-member team that investigated the applicability of emerging science and technology for intelligence gathering. The study, named the "Baker Report," was completed in 1958 and marked a major milestone of a new era of gathering intelligence. He was also a member of the Science Advisory Board of the National Security Agency from 1959 to 1976 and continued to serve as a consultant after that period. Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Baker designed parts of the command and control system and continued to serve as the chief designer of the system during the administrations of several presidents after, utilizing the most current science and technology such as computers and satellite reconnaissance. The research at Bell Labs also contributed important developments to this field in such diverse areas as intelligence gathering, missile guidance and detection, undersea warfare, and weapons command and control, and Baker always made the findings of the lab available early to the federal government for application.

His involvement with the government extended to numerous other agencies, generally related to communications technology. From 1961 to 1963, he was a member of Orrick Commission that established the White House Office of Telecommunications Management and served as the liaison between government and private telecommunications organizations on international projects. As a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advisory board (1980-1993), he was involved in planning and implementing communications and other associated facilities required for crisis management. Beginning in 1984, he was involved in developing the non-military global communications services of the U.S. government as chairman of the Diplomatic Telecommunications System Policy Board for the Department of State. From 1969 to 1973, Baker was a Regent of the National Library of Medicine and oversaw the development and implementation of the Medicine Information System later used internationally. He also advised Congress and federal agencies including the Department of Defense (1958-1971), the National Bureau of Standards (1969-1978), the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Management (1970-1978), the Library of Congress (1963-1973), and the National Cancer Advisory Board (1974-1980).

Baker also served the New Jersey state government as an advisor. He was a co-founder in 1985 of the New Jersey Commission of Science and Technology and was one of the founding members of the New Jersey Board of Higher Education (1967-1994). Both positions, as well as his service on numerous commissions and panels, contributed to the state's high-technology movement during that period. He was also active in education reform on the state and national level. He co-authored the report "A Nation at Risk" for the National Commission on Excellence in Education in 1983 that revealed the need to improve education at all levels and served on visiting committees or as a trustee of several institutions, including Rockefeller University and Princeton University. Baker was also active in many scientific academies and professional societies, covering his wide range of interests, and as an adviser to or director of several philanthropic foundations.

William Oliver Baker was born on July 15, 1915 to Harold M. and Helen (Stokes) Baker. He married Frances Burrill on November 15, 1941 and they had a son, Joseph. He received numerous honors for his achievements from the academic, scientific, and business communities, including the rarely given National Security Medal in 1983, the National Medal of Science in 1988 for his leadership in science and engineering and for his service to government and education, and the Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Science in 2000 for his lifetime commitment to science and public service. Baker died on October 31, 2005 at the age of 90.

Collection History


Gift of William O. Baker in August 2004 [ML.2004.028], William D. Caughlin (AT&T archivist) in December 2007 [ML.2007.038], and Joseph Baker and A. Michael Noll in December 2007 [ML.2007.039]. Additional materials were received from the estate of William O. Baker in June 2006 [ML.2006.007], and from A. Michael Noll in June 2006 [ML.2006.008], October 2007 [ML.2007.034], December 2007 [ML.2007.040], January 2008 [ML.2008.001], and February 2010 [ML.2010.006].


The majority of the materials separated from the William O. Baker Papers are related to Baker's involvement, often as a member of a board or committee, with numerous professional and academic organizations, institutes, and non-profit organizations devoted to science research, including the American Chemical Society, the Health Effects Institute, the Mellon Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences, as well as universities and corporations, notably Princeton University and Rockefeller University. These papers included reports and publications of the organizations, as well as meeting materials and routine correspondence. Other materials separated from the Baker Papers include published materials that Baker collected on areas of interest to him, notably education and his areas of scientific research, personal files related to Baker's finances, property ownership and medical treatment of himself and his wife, invitations, awards certificates, plaques and medals, Baker's college papers and class notes, and duplicate materials.


These papers were processed with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Processing Information

Eleven accessions were combined to form this collection. The collection was initially processed in 2008 by L. Durgin after the 2004-2007 accessions were received and a collection-level MARC record and finding aid were created at this time. Further processing was conducted in 2010 by Adriane Hanson. An updated finding aid and series-level description were created at this time.

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, any copyright vested in the donor has passed to The Trustees of Princeton University and researchers do not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with use of donor-created materials within the collection. For materials in the collection not created by the donor, or where the material is not an original, the copyright is likely not held by the University. In these instances, 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. 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 a question about who owns the copyright for an item, you may request clarification by contacting 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.

Box 14, Interviews and Oral Histories, includes seven VHS tapes.

Credit this material:

William O. Baker Papers; Public Policy Papers, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-65

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Related Materials

Researchers seeking to identify related collections at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library should consult the Princeton University Library Finding Aids page and browse the subjects American politics and government, Cold War, and History of science. The Manuscripts Division in Firestone Library at Princeton University holds the papers of several members of the chemistry faculty who were at Princeton while Baker was a graduate student, including the papers of his advisor Charles Smyth.


The following sources were consulted during the preparation of the biographical note: "William O. Baker, 90, an Adviser to Five Presidents About Scientific Matters" by Margalit Fox. The New York Times, November 3, 2005. "William Oliver Baker, 15 July 1915-31 October 2005" by Frederick Seitz. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 152, No. 1, March 2008. "William Oliver Baker (Deceased)" Marquis Who's Who Online Accessed June 18, 2009. Biographical materials; William O. Baker Papers, Box 11-12; Public Policy Papers, Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Subject Terms:
Communication -- Research.
Government communication systems.
Government consultants -- United States.
Intelligence service -- United States.
National security -- United States.
Research, Industrial -- Laboratories -- Management.
Science -- Study and teaching.
Telecommunication -- United States -- Research.
Genre Terms:
Writings (document genre)
Bell Telephone Laboratories‏
United States. Federal Emergency Management Agency
United States. National Security Agency
United States. President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board
United States. President's Science Advisory Committee
New Jersey Board of Higher Education
New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology
Baker, William O. (William Oliver) (1915-2005)