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J. Howard Mathews papers

Identifier: 00220

Scope and Contents

This collection includes correspondence to and from firearms manufacturers and experts, catalogs, brochures, and booklets from manufacturers of firearms, ammunition, and gun powders, and materials from a course he taught at the University of Wisconsin. Much of the collection focuses on Mathew's comprehensive book, Firearms Identification. Research data on firearms identification, including rifling specifications for thousands of firearms and photographs of firearms, test shells, and laboratory equipment are in the collection, along with book reviews and drafts of the book.


  • Creation: circa 1913-1970


Language of Materials

Some of the materials are in French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

Biographical Note

Joseph Howard Mathews was born October 15, 1881 in Auroraville, Wisconsin to Joseph and Lydia T. Mathews. He received his B.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1903, his M.A. in chemistry from Harvard in 1906, and his Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard in 1908. Mathews spent most of his career as a professor, and later chairman, of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin. He taught there from 1908 until his retirement in 1952.

Mathews was an expert on scientific methods of crime detection. During his long career, he conducted research in this field and lectured on it at the University of Wisconsin and nationwide. In 1962 his authoritative three volume work, Firearms Identification was published. It served as a comprehensive guide to identifying hand firearms manufactured throughout the world over the span of nearly 100 years. Firearms Identification includes characteristics of various makes of firearms including widths of lands and grooves, twist of rifling, diameter of bore and grooves, and other measurements. Much of the data was gathered by Mathews which was a colossal task as these measurements vary both from gun to gun and from year to year. His hard work paid off as the book was highly regarded by gun collectors and people in the law enforcement field.

Mathews married Ella G. Gilfillan in 1909. The union produced two daughters, Marion (born 1912) and Jean (born 1917). Mathews died on April 15, 1970 at the age of 88.


13.5 Cubic Feet

Legal Status

Copyright: Michigan State University. Property Rights: Michigan State University.

J. Howard Mathews Papers
4 Published And Cataloged
M. Badgley Malone
July 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives and Historical Collections Repository

Conrad Hall
943 Conrad Road, Room 101
East Lansing MI 48824 US