Tolman, Richard C. (Richard Chace), 1881-1948

Alternative names
Birth 1881-03-04
Death 1948-09-05

Biographical notes:

Bernard Mannes Baruch was a financier and head of several war committees, including chairman of the War Industries Board, 1918-1919, and U.S. representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, 1946.

From the guide to the Speech before the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, June 14, 1946, 1946, (American Philosophical Society)

Tolman (1881-1948). Chemistry, physics, California Institute of Technology, 1922-1948.

From the description of Papers, 1735-1958. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82743699


Richard Chace Tolman was born March 4, 1881 in West Newton, Massachusetts. He attended MIT, earning his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1903. He spent the next year in Berlin, then returned to complete his graduate work with a PhD at MIT in 1910. From that time until World War I he served on the faculties of the Universities of Michigan, Cincinnati, California (Berkeley) and Illinois. During the war Tolman began what would be a distinguished career as a scientific advisor and administrator for the US government. His first assignment was with the Chemical Warfare Service, and later (1919-1922) as associate director and then director of the Fixed Nitrogen Research Laboratory, whose purpose was to continue the government's research program on the nitrogen products used in explosives and fertilizers. In 1922, Tolman accepted a position at the California Institute of Technology, where he would remain for the rest of his academic career. He served as professor of physical chemistry and mathematical physics, as well as holding the position of dean of the graduate school.

Tolman became interested in relativity theory early in his career and published several key papers. His scientific work between the wars ranged over statistical mechanics, relativistic thermodynamics and cosmology. His classic book, The Principles of Statistical Mechanics, was published in 1938. Between 1940 and 1946 Tolman had major responsibilities in the joint efforts of science, industry and the military to achieve victory in the Second World War. He served as vice chairman of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), with special cognizance for armor and ordnance, including the development of the proximity fuse and rockets. He served as scientific advisor to General Leslie R. Groves on the Manhattan Project, as US advisor to the wartime Combined Policy Committee, and immediately after the war as chief technical advisor to the US delegation to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. At the time of his death in September 1948 he was chairman the Declassification Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Tolman earned the US Medal for Merit and the rank of honorary officer of the Order of the British Empire. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1923.

Richard Tolman was married to Ruth Sherman Tolman, a psychologist.

From the guide to the Richard Chase Tolman papers, 1735-1958, (California Institute of Technology. Archives.)


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  • Technology--History
  • Nuclear weapons--Addresses, essays, lectures
  • Chemistry, Physical and theoretical
  • Mathematical physics
  • Nuclear nonproliferation--Addresses, essays, lectures
  • Nuclear arms control--Addresses, essays, lectures
  • Nuclear energy--Addresses, essays, lectures


  • Physicists


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