Skip to main content

Lyman J. Briggs papers

 Record Group
Identifier: UA-10.3.137

Scope and Contents

The Lyman Briggs collection contains publications, correspondence, and articles written by Lyman Briggs. Also included is memorabilia including identification cards and passes, invitations, and Michigan State University memorabilia.


  • Creation: 1882-1979, Undated


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.

Historical Note

On May 7, 1874, Lyman James Briggs was born near Battle Creek, Michigan to Chauncey and Belle Briggs. Briggs grew up on the family farm and in 1889, at the age of 15, entered Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) and graduated with a degree in Agriculture in 1893. He received a M.S. in physics at the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. at John Hopkins University. In 1896, Briggs married Katharine Cook (M.A.C. class of 1893) and took a job in the Department of Agriculture in the Bureau of Soils.

Once Briggs’ education was complete he began his research in the field of soil physics, leading to the development of moisture equivalent classification method for soils. Briggs also worked with ecologist H. L. Shantz, publishing research on the relationships between environmental factors and water requirements of plants.

In the run up to World War I, the Department of Commerce requested Briggs join the Bureau of Standards. Briggs was tasked with organizing a division within the Bureau to develop a certification of gauges for the manufacture of munitions. Other projects included the development of a stable zenith instrument for the Navy and construction of a wind tunnel for aeronautical research. Due to the success of his projects, Briggs was given a permanent appointment as the chief of the Mechanics and Sound Division.

In 1932, Briggs was named acting director of the Bureau of Standards by President Herbert Hoover. During the Depression Briggs was tasked with keeping the Bureau afloat despite budget cuts. Briggs kept the Bureau viable during these years and in 1939 was called to the White House and tasked with a top-secret investigation into atomic power. Named as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Uranium, Briggs soon began to prove the possibility of atomic power and weaponry. The committee was absorbed into the National Defense Research Committee where Briggs and his fellow scientists furthered their research and ultimately recommended a determined effort to develop an atomic weapon. The project was taken over by the Office of Scientific Research and Development and the Manhattan Project was formed from the research Briggs and his colleagues conducted.

After the war, Briggs retired from the Bureau and returned to his research. Lyman Briggs passed away in his sleep March 26, 1963 at the age of 88.


2 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Custodial History

Gift of Dr. Peter Briggs Meyers.

Legal Status

Donor(s) have transferred any applicable copyright to Michigan State University but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright was not transferred. Copyright restrictions may apply. Property Rights: Michigan State University.

Lyman J. Briggs Papers
4 Published And Cataloged
J. Makowski
April 2013
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