Skip to main content


Special Collections Online at UT

Ted Carlson Papers

Identifier: MS-2490

  • Staff Only

The Ted Carlson Papers, 1912-1969 (bulk 1932-1960), consists primarily of the incoming and outgoing correspondence of Carlson, a New York City psychiatrist who, in 1944 and 1945, worked as a laboratory engineer on the Manhattan Project. Other papers, including those related to Carlson's military service, are also included.

The collection consists of two series: Correspondence (Series I) and Other Papers (Series II). The Correspondence series is further divided into Outgoing Correspondence (Sub-series A), Incoming Correspondence (Sub-series B), and Correspondence by Others (Sub-series C). The series of Other Papers is divided into two sub-series: Military Papers (Sub-series A) and Non-military/Personal Papers (Sub-series B).

Series I: Correspondence, 1932-1960

The outgoing correspondence found in this collection dates from 1944-1960, although the bulk of the letters date from after the time of Carlson's military service. Almost all of these letters were written to Carlson's parents and provide details on his day-to-day life, his family, and his business dealings.

A small number of letters, however, do provide insight into Carlson's views on his work on atomic energy and its use by the military. On August 7, 1945, the day after an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, Carlson wrote to his parents: As you have undoubtedly realized by now, the cat is out of the bag. Did you guess right away when they announced the harnessing of atomic power - that that was what I had been working on for the past year and one-half. It seems to be sort of a relief to be able to say a little of what I have been doing. In that same letter, Carlson also writes of his opinion on the use of atomic power as a military weapon, saying, Use as bombs is only a monument to the stupidity of the human race who should know better than to spend their time fighting each other - I have noticed already that some people are worrying next what scientists are going to do in the line of horror. They don't seem to realize that we (I'm flattering myself -- please forgive) are just exploring the secrets and possibilities of nature, and if the scientist had his way, none of his discoveries would be used destructfully, but in the betterment of mankind. It's just the irony of it all that most discoveries may be used in both a good and bad sense.

In a July 2, 1946, letter to his parents, Carlson continues to hold his stance on the negative effects of military influence on the development of atomic energy. In that letter, he states, The whole point is that the people of the world should realize acutely that war does not pay, and should take the steps to abolish war. It may take an atomic war to awaken us from our self-centered and self-destructive complacency, but good God, I hope it will not be necessary. Carlson continued this letter with a postscript regarding the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission, noting that the Military Affairs Committee just voted 24-3 that the Atomic Energy Commission should include at least one and potentially two military men. Very unfortunate. I dread the steps towards militarism being taken.

The incoming correspondence, which spans from 1932 through 1949, contains letters to Carlson from his parents and friends. These letters primarily deal with news from home. Also included is some military and work-related correspondence.

Of particular interest is a series of letters to Carlson, then a student at Wesleyan University, from his friend Bob during 1941 and 1942. In these letters, Bob describes the feelings of a college-aged male during the early years of World War II. On December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Bob asks, What do you think of the war? Many of us here can't seem to get any studying done since it happened last night. I was thinking the other day about the beginning of Germany's invasions. We were back in Cal Smith's math class, remember? He wondered how any of us could do studying then, and that was about two years ago, wasn't it? A good deal has happened since then, and now things are loads worse.

Series II: Other Papers, 1912-1969

While the bulk of the collection consists of correspondence, a small number of other papers are included. The majority of these papers is personal in nature, and provides information on Carlson's education and his family. A smaller amount of material deals with Carlson's military service. Included in these military papers are records of Carlson's drafting and enlistment as well as his assignment to the Enlisted Reserve Corps.


  • 1912-1969 (bulk 1932-1960)

Conditions Governing Access

Collections are stored offsite, and a minimum of 2 business days are needed to retrieve these items for use. Researchers interested in consulting any of the collections are advised to contact Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in this collection remain with the creator. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library.


3 Linear Feet


The Ted Carlson Papers, 1912-1969 (bulk 1932-1960), consists primarily of the incoming and outgoing correspondence of Carlson, a New York City psychiatrist who, in 1944 and 1945, worked as a laboratory engineer on the Manhattan Project. While the bulk of Carlson's outgoing correspondence is from post-World War II years, a number of the letters from mid- to late-1945 provide insight into his views on the use of atomic energy as a military weapon. Other papers, including those related to Carlson's military service, are also included in the collection.

Biographical/Historical Note

Born August 22, 1922, to Erick V. and Hildur Watlin Carlson, both Swedish immigrants, Eric Theodore Ted Carlson grew up in Middletown, Conn. He attended Wesleyan University (Middletown, Conn.), where he majored in chemistry and was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. After graduation in 1944, Carlson began graduate work in chemistry as a research fellow with Dr. Henry Gilman at Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa).

During that same year, however, he was drafted into military service and sent to Fort Snelling, Minn. After only ten days on active duty, Carlson was placed in the Enlisted Reserve Corps, where he was assigned to work as a laboratory engineer at the Chrysler Corporation in Detroit, Mich. It was during this time that Carlson worked on top-secret research projects related to the harnessing of atomic energy, projects that Carlson said only the very highest Chrysler executives knew on what we were working (August 7, 1945). After the completion of the Manhattan Project and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Carlson was recalled to active military duty on October 15, 1945. He served in various capacities at Fort Sheridan, Ill. and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. In addition, he was briefly assigned to Oak Ridge, Tenn. in November 1945 before being transferred to the Monsanto Chemical Company in Dayton, Ohio.

In the fall of 1946, Carlson enrolled at Cornell Medical School, graduating in 1948. He married Jean Elvidge in the summer of 1950. In addition to teaching part-time at Cornell, Carlson opened his own psychiatric practice in New York City in January 1955.


Collection consists of three boxes divided into two series: Correspondence and Other Papers.

Acquisition Note

This collection was donated to Special Collections by Gary Johnson in April 2005. It is part of the Johnson Family Historical Documents Collection.

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA