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James Robbins Randolph Papers

Identifier: Ms-1971-001

Scope and Content

This collection contains the papers of engineer and physicist James Robbins Randolph and includes such materials as notes, calculations, writings (published and unpublished) and correspondence.

Reflected in the papers are Randolph's research interests in the use of rockets in warfare and space travel. The collection includes several notebooks of calculations and notes on rocket design, planetary atmospheres, and comets. One of Randolph's particular interests during World War II was the subject of mental mobility, the ability to effectively adapt to rapid and extreme changes. Randolph actively researched and promoted mental mobility as a means to combat Germany's blitzkrieg war strategy. The collection contains Randolph's research file on the subject, including correspondence and reports, as well as his published writings appearing in Field Artillery Journal and Cavalry Journal.

Also included in the collection is a typescript draft of Randolph's unpublished 1920s science fiction novel, "The Neighbor World," including an introduction by Robert H. Goddard. (Randolph referred to his novel, written in the 1920s, as the first serious attempt by a science fiction writer to describe in detail the construction of a rocket that would actually fly to Mars and back.) Accompanying the typescript are summaries, appendices and illustrations for the book, as well as the first section of an unpublished sequel.

The collection also holds Randolph's writings on a number of disparate subjects, including book-length manuscripts on blitzkrieg and retirement planning. Several files contain collections of Randolph's essays, many focusing on the logistics of space travel. Elsewhere, in several pieces, Randolph speculates that medieval legends of fairies may have been based on visitors from Mars. Much of Randolph's writing promotes capitalism over communism and is particularly anti-Soviet. Other essay topics include opinions on current events and relations between the sexes. In one piece, titled "Amanda: Colored Daughter of Southwest Virginia," Randolph reminisces about his family's early 20th-century relationship with an African American family in Blacksburg Virginia (probably the John and Amanda Rollins family).

Completing the collection is a folder of general materials, including a studio portrait of Randolph, some memoranda from Fairleigh Dickinson College, an American Ordnance Association membership certificate, and several pieces of correspondence exchanged between Randolph and T. Marshall Hahn and James B. Eades of Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1963.


  • 1922 - 1969


Language of Materials

The materials in the collection are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Biographical Note

James Robbins Randolph, instructor in mechanical engineering and physics, was born on August 4, 1891. Randolph's father, Lingan Strother Randolph, Sr., served as a professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI), and the younger Randolph received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from VPI in 1912. After obtaining a master's degree in physics from Harvard in 1921, Randolph taught physics at Simmons College and Mt. Allison University from 1920 to 1922, was a physicist for the National Bureau of Standards from 1922 to 1925, then taught mechanical engineering at George Washington University and Rhode Island State College from 1925 to 1930. From 1931 to 1943, Randolph was an officer in the U. S. Army Reserve Ordnance Department (and in active service from 1942 to 1943), attaining the rank of major. Randolph returned to teaching in 1943, serving successively in the physics and mechanical engineering departments of Western Maryland College, Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, the Pratt Institute, and Fairleigh Dickinson College. Randolph maintained memberships in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Physical Society, the Army Ordnance Association, and the American Rocket Society. In 1947/1948, he served as editor of the Journal of the American Rocket Society. James R. Randolph died on February 4, 1969, and is buried at Riverside Cemetery, Springvale, Maine.


1.5 Cubic Feet (1 box)


This collection consists of the papers of engineer, mathematician and physicist James Robbins Randolph, including notes, calculations, correspondence and writings.


Randolph's notebooks have been moved intact into file folders, and the folders have been divided according to content type, with a set of calculation/notes files preceding files of essays and other writings. Both sets are arranged alphabetically, with the exception of the files for the unpublished book manuscript for "The Neighbor World," all of which are arranged in front of the essays and other writings.

Physical Access

Please note: This collection is in off-site storage and requires 2-3 days notice for retrieval. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives for more information.

Source of Acquisition

The James Robbins Randolph Papers were donated to Special Collections and University Archives in 1971.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the James Robbins Randolph Papers by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement, and description of the James Robbins Randolph Collections commenced and was completed in September 2011.

James Robbins Randolph Papers, 1922-1969
John M. Jackson, Archivist
2011 (CC0 1.0)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US