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John Brackett Hersey papers

 Record Group
Identifier: MC-12

Scope and Content Note

The papers of John Brackett Hersey consist of 18 boxes of documents dating from 1940 to 1989 (7.5 linear feet). These contain departmental records, correspondence, memorandum, committee minutes, proposals, reports, reviews, patent information, drafts of papers, book chapters and speeches, notebooks, cruise journals, daily logs, data, charts, news clippings, drawings, 8 rolls of film, 63 photos of instruments, and over 100 other photographs. The bulk of his papers span the years 1960-1970 and encompass Hersey’s role as Chairman of Geology and Geophysics at WHOI and his work for the Office of Naval Research.


  • 1940-1989

Language of Materials

The records are in



Open: materials are available for research.


Copyright: Permission to publish material from the collection must be authorized by the Institution Archivist.

Biographical Information

John Brackett Hersey (1913-1992) was born in Wolfsboro, New Hampshire. After graduating from Princeton University with an A.B. in 1934 and an M.A. in 1935, Hersey took a PhD in physics with a minor in geology from Lehigh University in 1943. His was the first doctoral degree in physics given by the department and it was here that Hersey came under the influence of Maurice “Doc” Ewing.

Employment and military service prior to his years at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) included work for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, Phillips Petroleum, a teaching assignment in Lehigh’s Geology Department, and a tour with the U.S. Naval Ordnance Laboratory. In 1944, he was commissioned in the U.S. Naval Reserve and retired two years later as a lieutenant.

Before and after World War II, Professor Ewing, Hersey and other students from Lehigh used Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution ships in their research. This exposure lured Hersey to Woods Hole in 1946 and he remained with the Institution for more than 20 years. He started as a Research Associate and rapidly progressed to Senior Scientist. In 1963, Hersey was made the first Chairman of the Geology and Geophysics Department, a position he formally held until 1968. Hersey took a leave of absence in 1966 to work for the Office of Naval Research principally as Deputy Assistant Oceanographer and Special Assistant to the Assistant of the Navy for Research and Development. He resigned from WHOI in 1968. Hersey’s Civil Service retirement in 1979 was followed by 11 years with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) as Senior Staff Scientist. Honors during his military and civilian career included an Individual Citation Medal and Distinguished Civilian Service Medal from the U.S. Navy and the Fleming Medal given by the American Institute of Geonomy and Natural Resources.

Hersey’s principal scientific interests were in solid earth geophysics, marine seismology and geology, underwater acoustics, and sound scattering by marine animals. While he received patents for methods of study and applications in marine seismology and underwater acoustics, his best-known patent was for the Continuous Seismic Profiler, which was used for continuous measurement of layered sediment structures beneath the ocean floor. Hersey authored or co-authored over 50 scientific journal articles and has an equal number of unpublished manuscripts on subjects of interest to the U.S. Navy. He also contributed approximately 10 review chapters in scientific books on underwater acoustics, marine geophysics, marine animal acoustics and oceanographic instrumentation. Other projects Hersey was involved in include Projects Nobska, Medea, and Atlantis; and with Allyn Vine on SOSUS.

Hersey was a Fellow in the Acoustical Society of America, Geological Society of America and the Royal Astronomical Society. His membership in scientific societies included American Geophysical Union, Society of Exploration Geophysicists, Seismological Society of America. While at WHOI Hersey served on a number of committees for the Navy, the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, and others.


18 boxes (9 lin. ft.)


The papers of John Brackett Hersey consist of Hersey's papers spanning the years 1960-1970 and encompass his role as Chairman of Geology and Geophysics at WHOI and his work for ONR.

Custodial History

Prior to their donation to the Archives, the papers were kept in the department of Geology and Geophysics, and in the home of Brackett and Sally Hersey.

Acquisitions Information

During the 1970’s, John Brackett Hersey’s secretary, Florence Mellor, transferred 6 boxes to the Data Library and Archives (DLA) from the department of Geology and Geophysics. In 1995, Mrs. Sally Hersey, Brackett’s wife, gave WHOI 7 boxes that were delivered to the Institution by Contemporary Naval Historian Gary Weir. Cruise data acquired by the DLA arrived at various times.

Related Material

Additional materials relating to John Brackett Hersey include his 1991 oral history. Materials may also be found in the departmental records from Geology and Geophysics (AC-12) and in the papers of , Allyn Vine, Sydney Knott, and Frederic Hess. The Navy has additional Hersey materials in the collection at the Naval Research Laboratory.

Separated Material

Some technical reports and data have been integrated into the Data Library and Archives collection. Bottom photos, film, charts and ship tracks, and additional reports were integrated into the various Data Library and Archives collections.

Processing Information

Processed by Nancy Stafford. Processing of this collection was partly supported by a grant from the Friends of the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics.

Some technical reports and data have been integrated into the Data Library and Archives collection. Except for the grouping of the “Correspondence Files” by Agency, Company, and Individual, there was no discernable order to the remaining contents. Metal clips and staples were removed, acidic and fragile materials were photocopied, and the papers were put into labeled, acid-free folders and boxes. Photographs were put into archival sleeves. Bottom photos, film, charts and ship tracks, and additional reports were integrated into the various Data Library and Archives collections.

A Guide to the the John Brackett Hersey papers, 1940-1989
Nancy Stafford
April 2001
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written inEnglish

Repository Details

Part of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Data Library and Archives Repository