Lauritsen, Charles Christian, 1892-1968

Alternative names
Birth 1892
Death 1968

Biographical notes:

Lauritsen, C. C. (1892- 1968). Professor of Physics, California Institute of Technology, 1930-1962.

From the description of Papers, 1927-1977 (Bulk 1946-1973) (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 80301645


Charles Christian Lauritsen, known to his colleagues as Charlie or C. C., was born in Holstebro, Denmark in 1892 and educated at the Odense Technical School. During World War I, although Denmark officially remained neutral, Lauritsen chose to leave Europe for the United States, where he and his wife, the former Sigrid Henriksen, and son Tommy first settled in Florida. After some years of working at engineering and design jobs around the country, Lauritsen began his formal study of physics after hearing a talk by Robert A. Millikan, Caltech's president. Enrolling at Caltech in 1927, he received his PhD in 1929 and was appointed to the physics faculty in 1930.

Charlie Lauritsen spent his entire academic career at Caltech. Beginning with his work with Millikan on the cold-emission effect (the subject of his dissertation), he went on to construct with R. D. Bennett a high-voltage X-ray tube that operated initially at 750 and later at one million volts. Though designed originally to study physical problems, the "Hi Volts" lab was also used for radiation therapy for cancer patients. In 1931 Millikan established the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory with funds from the cornflakes magnate, W. K. Kellogg. From this point on, the Kellogg Laboratory would be the scene of major breakthroughs in the new science of nuclear physics. From the first artificial production of neutrons with a positive ion accelerator, the team of Lauritsen, H. R. Crane, W. A. Fowler, T. Lauritsen (son of Charles) and many others created a world-renowned center for the study of nuclear reactions.

During World War II, Lauritsen was called to Washington to head up research into weapons design. He soon transferred his project, Section L (L for Lauritsen) of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), to Pasadena, where he drew on the Kellogg team plus numerous other Caltech scientists and engineers for the design and development of combat rockets. By late 1944, after over one million rockets had been produced for the war effort, Lauritsen decided to turn the project over to the navy, and he was instrumental in the founding of the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) at Inyokern, California (today the China Lake Naval Weapons Center). Thereafter Lauritsen turned his efforts to the development of the atomic bomb. After the war, he continued to advise the U.S. government on strategic weapons and on defense policy, eventually serving on over sixty committees, panels and advisory groups.

Much honored for his wartime and scientific work, Lauritsen retired from Caltech in 1962. He died after a long battle with cancer in April, 1968.

From the guide to the Charles Christian Lauritsen papers, 1927-1977, (California Institute of Technology. Archives.)


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Ark ID:


  • World War, 1939-1945--War work--United States
  • Science and state
  • Physical instruments
  • Particle accelerators
  • Accelerators
  • Accelerators--United States--California
  • X-rays
  • Medical physics
  • World War, 1939-1945--Science
  • World War, 1939-1945--War work
  • Nuclear physics
  • Nuclear physics--Instruments
  • Scientific apparatus and instruments


  • Physicists


  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States--California (as recorded)