Oskar Morgenstern papers, 1866-1992, bulk dates 1917-1977

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Morgenstern, Oskar, 1902-1977
Oskar Morgenstern (1902-1977) was a Distinguished Professor in Game Theory and Mathematical Economics at New York University. This collection documents his professional life through his correspondence and diaries, writings, and research. It forms parts of the Economists' Papers Archive.
42.3 Linear Feet (121 boxes, three oversize folders, and one oversize tube.)
Material in English and German.
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

This principally concerns Morgenstern's work as an economic theorist, university professor, author and lecturer, and consultant to business and government. It consists of correspondence, diaries, subject files, printed material, audiovisual material, manuscript and printed writings and their supporting papers, and biographical and bibliographical information about his career and publications.

The first two decades of Morgenstern's career as an economist, the 1920s and 1930s, were associated with the University of Vienna where he was educated and was a faculty member until his emigration to the United States in 1938. He published major books about economic forecasting (1928) and the limits of economics (1934) and numerous other writings in which the subjects of business cycles, prices, the depression of the 1930s, economic conditions in Europe and America, currency and exchange, and economic history and theory are prominent. Information about them is scattered throughout the Correspondence, Writings and Speeches, and Subject Files series. Morgenstern's interests and correspondents were international, although principally European and American. A considerable part of the correspondence and writings during these years, and all of the diaries, are written in German. English is also prominent, and other languages also occur.

Morgenstern's output of publications during the 1940s, his first decade at Princeton University, was less extensive than in the 1930s, but he and John von Neumann published their classic Theory of Games and Economic Behavior in 1944. Information about this book and subsequent international developments in game theory pervades the Correspondence, Subject Files, and Writings and Speeches series until Morgenstern's death. The elaboration of game theory was not only theoretical but also practical, and Morgenstern's writings and projects illustrate its applications, especially in US military and foreign policy during the Cold War.

The Writings and Speeches series (including the diaries), Subject Files, and Correspondence series are as extensive for the 1940s as they are for the later decades of Morgenstern's career. He routinely placed letters and other material in his files for subjects and writings. There are a number of letters for some correspondents, but extensive correspondence with an individual is not characteristic of this collection. A person's letters may be filed in more than one chronological group of correspondence.

Morgenstern published prolifically during the 1950s to 1970s. His major books focused on accuracy in economics (1950), organization (1951), national defense (1958), international finance and business cycles (1959), the peaceful uses of underground nuclear explosions (1967), stock market prices (1970), political, economic, and military forecasting (1973), and expanding and contracting economies in various societies (1976). These books and numerous articles and reviews reveal his interest in economic theory, international economic problems, and the application of mathematics and economics to public policy problems. The Writings and Speeches, Subject Files, and Correspondence series document many of his publications and such topics as the Cold War, nuclear issues, military and naval affairs (especially the US Navy), defense, space, economic analysis, game theory, the stock market, business cycles, mathematics and economics, statistical validity, and his work with John von Neumann, Martin Shubik, Friedrich A. von Hayek, Gottfried Haberler, Antonio de Viti de Marco, Eveline Burns, Gerald L. Thompson, N. N. Vorob'ev, and others.

Morgenstern taught at Princeton until his retirement in 1970, when be began teaching at New York University, and both schools are represented, particularly in the Subject Files series. These files and the Writings and Speeches series document his relationship with public and private organizations, especially the Office of Naval Research, the Rand Corporation, various foundations and scholarly societies, and Mathematica, a consulting firm that did contract work for government and business. Morgenstern was co-founder of Mathematica. The Mathematica series contains correspondence, memos, policy reports, project proposals, and research papers. The institutions that are often mentioned include NASA, Office of Naval Research, and Sandia Corporation. Topics, among others, relate to analysis of military conflicts, economics of the space program, management research, or peaceful use of nuclear energy. Some materials related to Mathematica Series are still scattered across the rest of the collection.

Morgenstern habitually incorporated into his files pertinent thoughts or information that might be useful for later consideration. Consequently, the Subject Files and Writings and Speeches series often include letters, memoranda, lecture notes, writings by others, mathematics, printed material, and other Items. Thus, a file for a topic or publication in 1963 may contain relevant dated material from other years and decades.

The diaries, 1917-1977, are relatively complete, but Morgenstern did not write daily or every month. There are significant gaps: 1918-1920; February-May 1938; March 1946-January 1947; and September 1951-February 1952. Shorter gaps also occur in April-May 1924, September 1925; June-July 1948; and April 1949. The diaries are in the Writings and Speeches series.

Morgenstern's library of printed material was donated to New York University.

Biographical / historical:
Date Event
1902, Jan. 24
Born in Grlitz, Silesia, Germany
Doctorate in political science, University of Vienna
Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fellowship
Lecturer and professor in economics, University of Vienna
Die Grenzen der Wirtschaftspolitik
Lecturer and professor of economics, Princeton University
Became US citizen
(with John von Neumann) Theory of Games and Economic Behavior
Married Dorothy Young
On the Accuracy of Economic Observations
The Question of National Defense and International Transactions and Business Cycles
Cofounder, Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna
Cofounder, Mathematica
Spieltheorie und Wirtschaftswissenschaft
(with C. W. J. Granger) Predictability of Stock Market Prices
Retired from Princeton University
(with Klaus Knorr and Klaus P. Heiss) Long Term Projections of Power: Political, Economic, and Military Forecasting
(with G. L. Thompson) Mathematical Theory of Expanding and Contracting Economies
Distinguished Professor in Game Theory and Mathematical Economics, New York University
1977, July 26
Died in Princeton, NJ
Acquisition information:
The Oskar Morgenstern papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library as gifts between 1987-1999, from Karin Morgenstern Papp in 2013, and from Kenneth Johnson in 2022.
Processing information:

Processed by Denise Dolan, Bill Erwin, and Robb Hellwig, February 1991.

The bulk of Morgenstern's papers came to the library in their original labeled folders. However, the order of the folders was so random throughout the cartons that the structure of his files must have been disarranged. The series in which the collection is now arranged, therefore, represent an order imposed by staff.

Morgenstern often filed his correspondence in mixed chronological and alphabetical groups that sometimes overlapped in their dating. For example, there are sets of correspondence for: 1925-1926, A-Z; 1926-1927, A-Z; 1928, A-Z; and 1928-1939, A-Z. The alphabetical part of this arrangement assists the location of letters by particular individuals, especially since numerous signatures, often the foreign ones, are incomplete or difficult to read. Letters found scattered about the cartons were placed in a separate group of chronological correspondence.

Additions processed by John Bauman and Meghan Lyon, August, 2013; Leah Tams, September 2022.

The bulk of the material in the 1999 and 2006 additions had no discernible order. Thus, it was decided that the structure and series used for the original collection would be imposed on the additions. In almost every instance files were constructed and titles supplied. Some notable exceptions were: the family Teichler folder in the Information series, "Briefe von Oskar" in the Correspondence series, the Luigi Einaudi file in the Correspondence series, The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior folders in the Writings and Speeches series, and the Merck-Knoppers and Mommsen-Krup files in the Subject Files series. The 2013 addition represented missing years in the Correspondence and Subject Files series, and files were intellectually incorporated in the finding aid despite being physically housed in separate boxes.

Accessions described in this collection guide: 1999-0265, 1999-0438, 2006-0067, 2013-0065, and 2022-0114.

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Access note. Some materials in this collection are fragile audiovisual/photographic formats that may need to be reformatted before use. Contact Research Services for access.

Access restricted. Accessions 1999-0265, 1999-0438, and 2006-0067 require additional arrangement, description, and/or screening because they are unprocessed. Contact Research Services for more information.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Oskar Morgenstern papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.