Papers of John Brackett Hersey


Manuscript Collection 12

(7.5 linear feet)

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.

Access: Unrestricted.


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

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Data Library and Archives
MS #8, Woods Hole, MA 02543

April 2001
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Table of Contents

Biographical Note


Scope and Content Note

Series Descriptions

Processing Note

Related Collections

Container List

  Biographical Note

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 Ph.D 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 Application, Inc, (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.


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 which were delivered to the Institution by Contemporary Naval Historian Gary Weir. Cruise data acquired by the DLA arrived at various times.

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 ONR. There are six series: Personal, Chronological, Correspondence, AMSOC-MOHOLE, IIOE, and Manuscripts.

Series Descriptions


Contained within this series are notebooks of essays and lecture notes from 1956-1962 when Hersey taught courses in Oceanography part-time at MIT, journals from cruises aboard Yamacraw and Chain 19, daily logs, correspondence and memberships. A draft of his autobiography covering the years 1946 -1948 is located in Box 18 (Oversized).


Folders are arranged chronologically and then by subject and contain materials similar to those found in other series. Included are letters, memorandum, drawings, handwritten notes, patent information, proposals, and articles. Major subjects include Thresher, JOIDES, Big Sparker, Gulf of Maine, the Navy’s ten-year program (TENOC), Tongue of the Ocean, and correspondence regarding Harold Edgerton’s “Boomer” paper.


Correspondence was grouped by Agency, Company, and Individual and then chronologically within groups. Additional correspondence with Harold Edgerton may be in found Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier, Inc. files. Roy Rather, who left WHOI for Commercial Engineering Corporation has correspondence in those files.


As an American Miscellaneous Society (AMSOC) member, Hersey served on the site selection panel for Project Mohole. This series includes minutes of various AMSOC Committee and Panel meetings, memoranda, letters, articles, documents on drilling contractors and platforms as well as information on Soviet drilling projects and LOCO. The contents of this series also reflect Hersey’s work in 1961 on R/V Chain and his partnership with Maurice Ewing and Roger Revelle in forming the Consortium for Oceanic Research and Exploration, Inc. (CORE).


Hersey participated in the International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE) during the 1960’s. This series includes correspondence, memoranda, proposals, notes, articles, a list of participants and cruises in this multidisciplined project.


This series contains articles and drafts written by Hersey, as well as lectures, speeches, and reprints of his published papers that may not be available in the MBL/WHOI Library. The topics reflect Hersey’s interest in underwater sound transmission, acoustics, explosive echo-ranging and thermistor chain data. Also included is his personal account of the work of the Thresher advisory group. A large section of folders is devoted to material that is presumed to be a work or works in progress Hersey was preparing with Helen Roberts, another WHOI scientist, on the underwater acoustic ray theory. Included are drafts and revision of an historical overview, approximately seven chapters, and bibliographical material. A draft of Hersey’s autobiography can be found in the Personal series (or oversized) and other writings may be integrated into the Chronological and Correspondence series.

Processing note  

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.

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

Related Collections

 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 Columbus Iselin, Allyn Vine, Sydney Knott, and Frederic Hess. The Navy has additional Hersey materials in the collection at the Naval Research Laboratory.

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Container List

Box Folder Title
1 Autobiographical Draft 1946 – 1949, n.d. (1 oversized folder in Box 18)
Acoustical Society of America,1959
American Miscellaneous Society (AMSOC), 1953 
Correspondence, Naval Reserve 1947-1955
Correspondence, 1948-1964 (3 folders)
Daily logs, 1967-1987 (4 logs)
Daily log, Austin, Texas visit notes, February 1986
Farewell Party – Technical Memo No. XXX-66, “Cruise Plans for HERSEY cruise No. D. C.”
Letter from Paul Fye, Chief Explosives Research Dept., USNOL, 1954
Marine Technology Society, 1963
MIT 1964 - c.1970
National Oceanographic Association Marine Resources Commission, 1966
Notebook: Journal of Yamacraw -3, 1957
2 Notebook: Essays, 27 March 1956 – 2 January 1962 (8 notebooks)
3 Notebook: The Sea: Ideas and Observations, January 1960
Notebook: Journal of Chain 13 starting at Helsinki, 4 August 1960
Notebook: Notes on VDS, Feb. 1960
Office of Naval Research 1965-1976 
Office of Naval Research, Ocean Science and Technology Group, 1966
Chronological Files
American Geophysical Union, 1947-1989
4 Scattering Layer-Raft Experiments [P.F. Smith], 1948 (2 folders)
Patents, 1957-1976 (6 folders) (1 oversized folder in Box 18)
Tongue of the Ocean, 1958-1965 (2 folders)
Printed Materials, 1958-1978
Proposal: Puerto Rico Trough, 1959
TENOC, 1960-1961
5 Correspondence on Harold Egdgerton’s “Boomer” paper, 1960-1964
Gulf of Maine Seismic Survey, 1961
Big Sparker, 1961
Thresher Advisory Group, 1963 (5 folders)
Chain 43, 1964-1965
Memoranda – Out, 1964-1965
Flow Camera Report by K. Fuglister, 1965-1967
6 JOIDES, 1965-1972 (5 folders)
JOIDES proposal by Global Marine, Inc., 1965
Memo and “Year-end thoughts…” by Hugh McLellan, 1967 
Deep Scattering Layer: Memos and papers from Robert Smith, 1967
Navy Articles, c 1970’s
Gravity Meeting notes, 1971
Flyer for Hersey’s presentation on “Geologic History of the Earth Beneath the Mediterranean Sea”, 1971
Proposal Appraisals, 1972-1974
Draft: Maury Center, 1973 (1 oversized folder in Box18)
Remote Sensing, 1973-1974 
7 Trip Reports, 1973-1977 
Naval Underwater Systems Center Technical Memos, 1976
Letter and article from Goesta Wollin, 1978
Comments on “Assessment of the Risk to the Fleet…” by C. W. Spofford, 1978
Comments on “Ocean Acoustic Tomography” paper by Walter Munk, 1978
Comments on “What is the Mediterranean Ridge” paper by Kim Kastens, 1981
International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, 1981
Articles: Long range shallow water transmission, 1981
  Correspondence and memos
8 Agencies
National Science Foundation (NSF), 1962-1967 (7 folders)
U.S. Mine Defense Laboratory, 1956-1958
U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office, 1963-1966 (2 folders)
U.S. Naval Ordinance Test Station, 1958
U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, 1964-1965
U.S. Naval Underwater Ordnance Station, 1956, 1958-1961
U.S. Navy, 1962
U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office, 1951-1962 (2 folders)
U.S. Navy Office of Naval Research, 1968
9 U.S. Navy Underwater Sound Laboratory, 1948-1958 (2 folders)
U.S. Navy Underwater Sound Reference Laboratory,1948-1965 (3 folders)
Caulfied Engineering, 1984-1985
Commercial Engineering Corporation, 1959 -1961 (3 folders)
Commercial Engineering Corporation, Instructions for sonar scan fish, 1961
10 Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier, Inc., 1959-1964 (5 folders)
Surprenant Mfg. Co., 1956-1958
Companies A to Z, 1958 (3 folders)
Companies A to Z, 1959 (4 folders)
11 Companies A to Z, 1960 (3 folders)
Companies A to Z, 1964
Edgerton, Harold, 1962-1984 (2 folders)
Ewing, Maurice, 1959
Helmberger, Donald, 1978
Sykes, Lynn, 1959
Tharp, Marie, 1978
Weir, Gary, 1991
Individuals A to Z, 1955
Individuals A to Z, 1956
Individuals A to Z, 1957 (2 folders)
Individuals, 1966-1981 (2 folders) 
12 American Miscellaneous Society (AMSOC), 1957-1964 (8 folders)
13 AMSOC Committee – Mohole Project, 1962-1965 (3 folders) 
Articles, Newspaper clippings 1964-1966
Consortium for Oceanic Research and Exploration, Inc. (CORE) 1962-1963 (2 folders)
Correspondence, AMSOC-MOHOLE 1960-1964
14 LOCO, 1962- 1963
Minutes, AMSOC Committee and various committees relating to AMSOC, 1962-1963
Pamphlet, “Status of AMSOC Oceanic Deep Drill Project”, 1962
Soviet Research, 1962-1963
Speech, Appropriations Committee, October 28, 1963
Correspondence, IIOE U.S. Participants, 1962-1964
Correspondence, IIOE International Participants, 1964
15 IIOE, 1960- 1965 (4 folders)
Notes on Indian Ocean Topography from Burnet, n.d.
16 Speeches, 1955 - c 1980
–Oceanography, 1955 –Address, American Society for Engineering Education, 1971 

–Underwater acoustics-the workhorse of remote sensing in the ocean, 1979

–Symposium on underwater photography, c. 1980
Articles, abstracts, and reprints, 1944-1982 –Gravity investigation of Central-Eastern Pennsylvania, 1944

–The Navy’s ocean science program, c. 1968

–Coordination of oceanography in the U.S. Navy, c. 1968

–The application of electrically powered sound pulses to problems of submarine seismology and hydroacoustics, 1961

–Correlation of physical properties of deep sea sediments with sub-bottom reflections, 1961

–Sound reflections in and under the oceans, 1963

–A Progress report on environmental studies in the Mediterranean Sea, 1961

–Proposal for the classification of acoustic bottom loss as a function of grazing angle in the ocean, 1977

–Summary of bottom-loss curves, 1977

–A temperature/depth profile of the Gulf Stream, 1980

–Memo, review of Chain 13 passage…July 4-26, 1960

–Explosive sound transmission in the surface mixed layer, 1980

–Explosive echo-ranging results, 1980

–Comments on D.E. Weston’s “Underwater explosions as acoustic sources”, (with copy of Weston’s paper), 1980

–The Woods Hole thermistor chain data revisited, (Int’l. STD Conference and Workshop), 1982

–Project Seaspider: the design, assembly, construction and sea trials of a tri-moored buoyant structure with neutrally buoyant legs to provide a near-motionless instrument base for oceanographic research. n.d.

Papers and drafts, n.d.

Chain 7 and Chain 13 data analysis –Chain cruise 13 thermistor chain data, draft 

–Draft on Navy’s operating systems under water 

–The swim bladder as a factor in the deep-scattering layer 

–Memorandum on a seismic reflection method for shallow depth surveying 

Bibliography for table of velocity of sound in water(1816-1957),n.d.
A review of underwater acoustics, carbon copy, n.d.
Draft: Oceanus - Thresher Search, n.d.
17 Helen Roberts/Underwater acoustic ray theory project, n.d. (15 folders) 
18 Oversized Box
Helen Roberts portfolio, c. 1949 (3 folders) 
Autobiographical Information, 1946-1948
Invention Disclosure, 1972-1976
Draft: Maury Center, 1973

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