Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Melvin Kranzberg Papers


Collection ID:
Kranzberg, Melvin, Dr., 1917-1995
1934 - 1988
Physical Description:
140 Cubic feet
433 boxes
Personal papers of Dr. Kranzberg from his undergraduate years at Amherst College through his professional career. Collection documents his involvement with development of the new field of history of technology and his role as principal founder of the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT); work as consultant and advisor to domestic and international agencies, colleges, and universities; personal affiliations, lectureships, publications; and teaching and administrative activities for more than 40 years as a college professor.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
This collection consists of 140 cubic feet of material divided into nine series and housed in 359 document boxes. Several subseries remain organized in the original order as they were received. There has been no attempt by the archivist to rearrange them. Some folders did not have folder titles. The archivist has provided titles in those instances, and these folder titles have been put in brackets [] in the Container List. Melvin Kranzberg's personal activities from 1934 through 1968 are arranged chronologically in Series 4: PERSONAL ACTIVITIES, including his early education. Series 8: TEACHING AND ADMINISTRATION is divided into two subseries and is comprised of teaching and administrative files compiled by Dr. Kranzberg during his forty years as a college professor.
Series 2: Correspondence between Kranzberg and numerous colleagues in the U.S. and abroad, 1949-1988. He was actively involved with technically oriented societies, U.S. government agencies, and SHOT. Since he also wrote a textbook and several encyclopedia articles, subjects range from business to academic to personal.
Kranzberg's role as a consultant and advisor is located in Series 1: CONSULTATION AND ADVISEMENT. This series is further divided into nine alphabetically arranged subseries. Kranzberg's many professional affiliations are arranged in Series 5: PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS. This series is comprised of eight alphabetically arranged subseries. Series 2: CORRESPONDENCE is also arranged alphabetically and contains much of Dr. Kranzberg's correspondence during the years 1949 to 1988. He was actively involved with a number of technically oriented societies, United States government agencies, and the Society for the History of Technology. Since he also wrote a textbook and several encyclopedia articles, the subjects represented range from business to academic to personal.
Series 7: RESEARCH SUBJECT FILES is arranged alphabetically and documents nearly forty years of research by Kranzberg on hundreds of diverse topics. The results of some of this research is available in Series 6: PUBLICATIONS, which is divided into eleven subseries and contains manuscripts, research, correspondence, outlines, and reprints of various Kranzberg essays and books. In addition, much of Kranzberg's research results were delivered in a verbal format. Series 3: LECTURESHIPS is divided into three subseries, and not only details lectures and speeches delivered by Melvin Kranzberg, but also those given by his colleagues, and those delivered at the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminars for Professional Journalists, which he organized. Series 9: SPECIAL PROJECTS consists of materials relative to a number of projects of varying importance and duration, such as engineering and human values and ethics in an age of pervasive technology.


Collection is divided into nine series.
Series 1: Consultation and advisement, 1958-1987
Series 2: Correspondence, 1949-1988
Series 3: Lectureships and speeches, 1951-1988
Series 4: Biographical, 1934-1963
Series 5: Professional affiliations, 1961-1988
Series 6: Publications, 1942-1968
Series 7: Research subject files, 1940-1978
Series 8: Teaching and administration, 1947-1988
Series 9: Special projects, 1951-1980


Kranzberg's Six Laws
As reported in the July 1986 Issue of Technology and Culture, Volume 27, Number 3, pages 544-561, Kranzberg's Six Laws are listed as follows in the SHOT Presidential Address.
"These are not laws in the sense of commandments but rather a series of truisms deriving from a longtime immersion in the study of the development of technology and its interactions with sociocultural change." 1.. Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.(p.545); 2. Invention is the mother of necessity, (p.548) 3. Technology comes in packages, big and small, (p. 549); 4. Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions, (p. 550); 5. All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant, (p. 553); 6. Technology is a very human activity—and so is the history of technology, (p. 557); 7."But if ours is truly a man-made world, I claim that mankind can re-make it. And in that remaking process, the history of technology can play a very important role in enabling us to meet the challenges besetting mankind now and in the future."


Melvin Kranzberg (born St. Louis, Mo.) received his A.B. from Amherst College (1938), and his M.A. (1939) and Ph.D. (1942) in modern European history from Harvard University. When World War II commenced, Dr. Kranzberg went, with an Amherst professor, Charles W. Cole, to work at the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D. C. At that same time, he enlisted in the Signal Corps Reserve. Since he was regarded as "educable," he was sent for electronics training at Catholic University, and then to Johns Hopkins for a three-year course in electrical engineering that was crammed into sixteen weeks. Instead of receiving a commission, he was sent to Philco Radio Laboratories in Philadelphia for another three-month crash course, this one in radar.
By the end of his course of study, however, the Signal Corps no longer needed officers and he was put in the infantry. After basic training, he was assigned to the Army's Specialized Training Program. His language skills enabled him to engage in an intensive three-month study of Turkish. Since invasion of Turkey was not likely, he then entered a language program in German. This led to appointment in Military Intelligence, where he was charged with interrogating German POWs, often on the front lines. That assignment lasted from about September 1944 through the Battle of the Bulge, until the German surrender. He received three Battle Stars, a Combat Infantry Badge, and a Bronze Star. He was awarded honorary doctorates of letters (Litt. D.) by New Jersey Institute of Technology and Northern Michigan University, doctorates of engineering (D. Eng.) by Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Colorado School of Mines, and doctorates of humane letters (L.H.D.) by Denison University and Amherst College.
Dr. Kranzberg's major professional contribution has been the establishment of a new field of history: the history of technology. He was the principal founder of the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT), founding editor (1959-81) of its quarterly journal, Technology and Culture, and served as SHOT Secretary (1959-74) and President (1983-84). A cofounder of ICOHTEC (International Committee for the History of Technology, a Scientific Section of the International Union for the History Science [UNESCO], he served as its vice-president from its inception in 1968. When he retired from that post at ICOHTEC'S 17th International Symposium (Hamburg, 1989), he was elected honorary president for life. In 1979-1980 Dr. Kranzberg was national president of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society (120,000 active members in 500 chapters and clubs). Over the years, he has been a Sigma Xi National Lecturer and has served on various committees of the honorary organization. He was Chairman (1966, 1979) of Section L (History and Philosophy of Science) of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and Chairman (1978-81) of the AAAS Committee on Science Engineering, and Public Policy. From 1977-1980, he chaired the Advisory Committees of the Policy Research and Analysis (PRA) and Science Resources Studies (SRS) Divisions of the National Science Foundation (NSF). An original member (1964) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's History Advisory Committee (Chairman, 1966-71, 1984-87), he also served on NASA's National Advisory Council (1984-87). In 1989, Dr. Kranzberg was elected to the newly founded Board of the National Association for Science, Technology, and Society (NASTS), an "umbrella organization for educators, scientists, engineers, public policy analysts, public interest groups, media, and individuals interested in the impact of scientific and technological development on society." At its 1992 Annual Technological Literacy Conference, Kranzberg was honored by being the initial recipient of a NASTS Honorary Lifetime Membership.
Other activities include: Vice-President, AAAS (1966); Chairman (1957-58), Humanistic-Social Division, American Society for Engineering Education (ASEEO; Vice-President (1959), Society for French Historical Studies; Trustee (1979-), Charles Babbage Foundation; and Chairman (1972-73), U.S. National Committee of the International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science. He has served on the Technology Assessment Panel of the National Academy of Sciences and the NAS Committee on the Survey of Materials Science and Engineering, The National Research Council's Committee on the Education and Utilization of the Engineer, and various advisory committees of the National Academy of Engineering.
Kranzberg has been a member of the Editorial Advisory Boards of the following journals: Engineering Education; Science, Technology & Human Values; Knowledge in Society; History and Technology; and Research in Philosophy and Technology; and the "Inside Technology" book series of the MIT Press. In 1980, he coordinated the Course-by-Newspaper on "Energy and the Way We Live" with 400 newspapers and was awarded a $10,000 prize by the Academy for Educational Development. He was a TV commentator on the PBS "Connections" series and lectured throughout the world, including USIA tours to India, Southeast Asia, and Africa. He has written or edited: The Siege of Paris, 1870-1871 (1950; reprinted 1970); 1848: A Turning Point? (1959, 14 printings); the two-volume
Technology in Western Civilization (1967; Japanese, 1976; Spanish, 1980); Technology and Culture: an Anthology (1972; Arabic, 1976; Spanish 1980); By the Sweat of Thy Brow: Work in the Western World (1975 [an alternate selection of the Fortune Book Club]; Italian, 1976); Technological Innovation: A Critical Review of Current Knowledge (1978); Energy and the Way We Live (1980); Ethics in an Age of Pervasive Technology (1980); Bridge to the Future: A Centennial Celebration of the Brooklyn Bridge (1984); Technological Education/Technological Style (1986); and Innovation at the Crossroads Between Science and Technology (1989). He is also the author of over 150 articles in encyclopedias, learned journals, and scholarly collections on topics in European history, engineering education, history of technology, science-technology policy, and science-technology-society interactions.
Dr. Kranzberg taught at Harvard, Stevens Institute of Technology, Amherst College, and Case Western Reserve University, where he established the first graduate program in the history of technology at an American university. From 1972 to 1988, he was Callaway Professor of the History of Technology at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). He is a member of the honorary societies Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, Epsilon Pi Tau, and Phi Kappa Phi. His awards include: Leonardo da Vinci Medal, Society for the History of Technology (1968); Apollo Achievement Award, NASA (1969); Special Research Day Citation, Case Western Reserve University (1970); Special Recognition Award, American Industrial Arts Association (1978); and the Roe Medal, American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1980). Dr. Kranzberg was one of 100 Americans presented the State of Israel's Jabotinsky Centennial Medal (1980) for eminence in the sciences and letters, and was elected (1985) an Honorary Foreign Member of the Czechoslovak Society for the History of Science and Technology, Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. In 1991, the Liberal Education Division of the American Society for Engineering Education presented him its Olmsted Award for "outstanding contributions to engineering education by bringing the humanities and technology together for the mutual benefit of both." In November 1991, the Society for Social Studies of Science (SSSS) and the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) presented him the Bernal Award for "outstanding contributions to the social studies of science." At its 1994 meeting in Zaragoza, Spain, the prestigious International Academy of the History of Science elected Dr. Kranzberg to its membership.
The January-September 1976 issue (Vol. 12, Nos. 1-3) of Lex et Scientia (The International Journal of Law and Science) was devoted to Kranzberg's 1975 Mellon Lectures at Lehigh University, and the French Centre de Recherche sur la Culture Technique dedicated its June 1983 (No. 10) issue of Culture Technique to him. In 1985 The Society for the History of Technology and the MIT Press co-published John M. Staudenmaier's, Technology's Storytellers: Reweaving the Human Fabric as a "tribute" to him, and Lehigh University Press published (1989) Stephen H. Cutcliffe and Robert C. Post's, In Context; History and the History of Technology — Essays in Honor of Melvin Kranzbergr containing articles by major historians of technology. When Dr. Kranzberg became emeritus in June 1988, the Georgia Tech Foundation established the Melvin Kranzberg Professorship in the History of Technology. The first occupant of this chair was Dr. Bruce Sinclair, former head of the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto and a former student of Dr. Kranzberg. Dr. Melvin Kranzberg married tLouise Lester Clark.


Robert Harding
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Collection donated by Georgia Institute of Technology, through Dr. Melvin Kranzberg, August 24, 1988.
Processing Information
Collection processed by Robert Harding, 1985

Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research but is stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at or 202-633-3270.
Preferred Citation
Melvin Kranzberg Papers, 1934-1988, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Technology -- Societies, etc. -- 1930-1990 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Personal papers -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Educators -- 1930-1990 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Business records -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Technology -- History -- 1930-1990 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Professional papers -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence -- 1940-1990 Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Society for the History of Technology Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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