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George W. Stewart Papers

Identifier: RG99.0141

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Scope and Contents

The George W. Stewart papers include correspondence, speeches, memoirs, and reprints of Stewart's published articles. This material primarily reflects his professional activities in the field of physics. Some family photographs are included in a manuscript about the life of Stewart's father, who was a Methodist minister. Correspondence with his sister, Mary Morgan, is included, as well as from his brother, Oscar, who was also a physicist. An undated draft of a sermon is included, Jesus' Conception of God, which may have been delivered at the Iowa City Unitarian Church.The focus of Stewart's research was acoustics, as well as the crystal formations found in liquids. He was also interested in promoting gifted students. Correspondence includes a description of a spring 1938 trip to Paris, London, Copenhagen, and Stockholm to visit the laboratories of physicists such as Niels Bohr and Manne Siegbahn. Correspondents include Harold C. Urey, who earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934. The minutes of the National Research Council conference of December 1921 are included, as well as minutes from the Iowa Colloquium of College Physicists, dated 1946 to 1952. One folder contains Stewart articles compiled by James P. Wells.


  • Creation: 1899-1955


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Biographical or Historical Information

George Walter Stewart was born on February 22, 1876, in St. Louis, Missouri. His father served as a Methodist minister in several Missouri towns, including Sedalia, Carthage, and Kansas City. After graduating from high school in Kansas City, George worked at the Methodist Book Concern in St. Louis to earn money for college. In 1898, he received his B. A. degree from DePauw University. He took his Ph.D. in 1901 at Cornell University. Stewart received the Doctor of Science honorary degrees from DePauw University (1928) and from the University of Pittsburgh (1931) and from Kalamazoo College (1949). Following graduation at Cornell, Stewart was an assistant in Cornell's physics department from 1899 to 1901 and served as instructor from 1901 to 1903. He served as assistant professor and professor of physics at the University of North Dakota from 1903 to 1909.

Stewart was named head of the State University of Iowa Department of Physics in 1909, where he was successful in establishing a Ph.D. program. Stewart's older brother, Oscar, was head of the Physics Department at the University of Missouri for a number of years. Stewart was involved in the planning and construction of the Physics Building (now MacLean Hall), which was completed in 1912. During World War I, he served the war effort through the National Research Council and as a civilian expert for the United States Navy. From 1923 to 1924 he directed the research work of a group of U. S. Army officers at SUI. His research focused on acoustics, and he developed an acoustic wave filter. His discovery of crystal formations in liquids lead to the development of a high-viscosity motor oil.

Stewart established the Iowa Colloquium of College Physicists in 1936, which attracted prominent scientists such as Erwin Schrodinger, Niels Bohr and H. Lorentz. Stewart was named a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1938. In 1942 he was the recipient of the Oersted Medal for Notable Contributions to the Teaching of Physics, awarded by the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Among his other contributions at SUI, Stewart served as acting dean of the Graduate College from 1921 to 1922 and served on the board of trustees of the School of Religion for twenty-nine years. Stewart also worked with Carl E. Seashore on the promotion of gifted students through the National Research Council. In 1935, one of his students was James A. Van Allen. According to George H. Ludwig's biographical sketch of Van Allen, Stewart helped Van Allen "obtain an important grant from the private Research Corporation as seed money for research on cosmic rays using balloon-borne equipment." Stewart retired as head of the Physics Department in 1946 and Van Allen was named head in 1951.

Stewart married Dr. Zella Mildred White in 1904 and they had one son, Rodney Cromwell Stewart. George W. Stewart died on August 16, 1956.

Denise Anderson, April 2010


0.75 Linear Feet


Head of Physics Department, 1909 to 1946. Established the Iowa Colloquium of College Physicists in 1936 and named to National Academy of Sciences in 1938. Correspondence, minutes, speeches.

Method of Acquisition

These materials were transferred to the University Archives prior to 1970.

Related Materials

Folder, "Stewart, George Walter," Faculty and Staff Vertical Files collection (RG01.0015.003)

Records of the Department of Physics (RG06.0028.001)

Records of the Department of Religious Studies (RG06.0032.001)

Fletcher, Harvey. "George W. Stewart." National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs 32 (1958): 379-398.

Stewart, G.W. "Incidents in Connection with the Construction of the Physics Building at the University of Iowa, 1909-1911." Iowa City, 1952. 24 pp. MacLean Hall. Archives in Faculty Memoirs LD2568.3 S8 v.6; Archives, in Historical Papers Collection (RG01.0001.003).

Stewart, George Walter. Acoustics; a text for students in music, psychology and speech at the University of Iowa. Iowa City, State University of Iowa, 1923.

Stewart, George Walter. Introductory acoustics. New York : Van Nostrand [c1932].

Stewart, George Walter. Notes on the ultra high frequency ESMDT course given in Electrical Engineering Dept. in 2d semester, 1941-42 [Iowa City, Iowa, 1942?].

Stewart, George Walter. A biographical portrait of Zella White Stewart, M.D. Iowa City, Iowa [Athens press] 1943.

Papers of Zella White Stewart, Iowa Women's Archives

Drs. George and Zella (White) Stewart Collection. Johnson County Historical Society. Scrapbooks, correspondence, photographs.

Denise Anderson, April 2010
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Iowa Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242