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Mellon Institute of Industrial Research Papers

Identifier: 0000-0042

Scope and Contents

The collection contains: research reports, special reports, research proposals, correspondence between the scientists and the fellowship sponsors, board of trustee meeting minutes, promotional materials, informational booklets, annual reports, publications, reprints, institutional newsletters, newspaper scrapbooks, employee identification cards, audiovisual materials, and other related ephemera.

The Mellon Institute of Industrial Research papers have been arranged into 13 series: Research Services, Leadership files, General Operation files, Personnel Files, Printed Materials, Robert Kennedy Duncan Club, Building Services, Library, Newspaper Clippings Scrapbooks, Reprints, Treasurer, Audio-Visual Materials, and Miscellaneous.

The bulk of the research reports, correspondence related to the fellowships, proposals and fellowship agreements can be found in the Research Services series; the Fellowship Agreements sub-series is a great place to see what companies engaged the Mellon Institute. Correspondence and other materials generated by the institute's leadership, including the board of trustees, Robert Kennedy Duncan, and the Mellon family, can be found in the Leadership Files series. Correspondence, memoranda and other materials related to the general operation of the Mellon Institute are found in the General Operation Files series.

The Personnel Files series contains photo identification cards and address records for fellows, department heads and employees; the identification cards are an easy way to determine a person’s job duties and fellowships. Any printed materials that were published and distributed by the Mellon Institute can be found in the Printed Materials series; this includes annual reports, semi-annual bibliographic bulletins, event programs, safety manuals, membership guides, insurance booklets, alumni directories, monthly and weekly newsletters, and promotional brochures and books about the Mellon Institute and its history. (The institutional newsletter and annual reports have been digitized and can be accessed via the University Archives digital collections site: Materials related to the activities of the Robert Kennedy Duncan Club, the institute's social club, can be found in the Robert Kennedy Duncan Club series. Correspondence and receipts related to the construction of the building on the corner of Bellfield and Forbes Ave can be found in the Building Services series.

Correspondence, accession logs and interlibrary loan logs from the Library can be found in the Library series. Newspaper clippings of the institute’s activities between 1915-1950 were compiled into scrapbooks; these scrapbooks can be found in the Newspaper Clippings Scrapbooks series along with other scrapbooks from the institution. Reprints of articles and journal contributions by Mellon Institute scientists are organized by the authors last name and stored in the Mellon library. Financial records and ledgers can be found in the Treasurer series. Audio, video, and films created by and documenting the institute’s activities are part of the Audio-Visual Materials series. Miscellaneous items and oversized materials are in the Miscellaneous series.

The Mellon Institute newsletters and annual reports (1914-1967) have been digitized and can be accessed via the University Archives digital collections site:


  • 1909-1986


Conditions Governing Access

Access to some materials in the collection is restricted. Please contact the University Archives for more information.

Biographical / Historical

The Mellon Institute of Industrial Research was a non-profit independent research firm, dedicated to solving the immediate research needs of industry and training new scientific researchers for the benefit of society as a whole. The institute was established in 1913 with financial support from Pittsburgh financiers Andrew W. Mellon (1855-1937) and Richard B. Mellon (1958-1933). Originally founded as the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research and School of Specific Industries at the University of Pittsburgh, it was the first major research firm of its kind in the United States. In 1927, the institute separated from the University of Pittsburgh and incorporated as an independent, non-profit organization that was managed by a board of trustees. It also changed its name to Mellon Institute of Industrial Research.

The ‘industrial fellowship system,' the framework behind the institute, was conceived of by Robert Kennedy Duncan (1968-1914), a chemist and professor. The fellowship system promoted strong partnerships between industry and scientific research; it also educated new scientists and exposed them to the real world of industrial research. Research activity peaked in the 1950s when the institute was engaged in 77 different fellowships, in addition to eight fundamental research fellowships. In 1967 the Mellon Institute merged with Carnegie Institute of Technology to form Carnegie Mellon University. The institute was then renamed the Mellon Institute for Research and continued to function on a smaller scale as a division within the university conducting research for government and industry. In the years following the merger, the institute shifted to project-based research and rebranded several times – 1970 Mellon Institute of Science; 1974 Carnegie-Mellon Institute for Research; 1979 Mellon College of Science; 1989 Carnegie Mellon Research Institute (CMRI) – until it dissolved in 2002.


Fellowships were sponsored by a wide variety of companies and individuals such as the Armstrong Cork Company, American Iron and Steel Institute, Gulf Oil, H.H. Robertson Company, Union Carbide, and the St. Joseph Lead Company, as well as many federal agencies such as the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Interior. The institute also pursued non-proprietary ‘fundamental' research as well. Often a sponsor would engage the institute to solve a specific problem or set of problems. It was common for the institute to serve as the sole or primary source of research and design for some companies. Notable areas of research include: air pollution, ceramics, metallurgy, textiles, organic chemicals, chemical hygiene, prosthetics, plastics, silicones, lacquers, and synthetic rubber. Significant discoveries include: the first gas mask used in WWI; “flakes coffee” a forerunner to instant coffee; cellulosic and plastic film coverings for meat, such as the skinless hot dog; and ethylene glycol, widely used in anti-freeze.

The duration of a fellowship was flexible, some lasted months or a year, while others were ongoing research efforts that lasted decades. Typically, fellowships were renewed on a year-to-year basis until the needs of the sponsor were met. In a handful of cases, the research generated through a fellowship, led to the establishment of new companies such as Dow Corning Corporation, Visking Corporation, Lubrizol Corporation, and the Union Carbide Corporation.

Fellowships were comprised of a ‘Fellowship Head’ and ‘Research Fellows’ who were akin to a department head or professor and a senior postdoctoral student, respectively, in an academic environment. The fellowship heads were typically permanent staff members and experts in the subject area, whereas the research fellows were temporary and expected to go onto positions in the industrial or academic communities. The alumni of the institute remained fiercely loyal, in part to the efforts of the Robert Kennedy Duncan Club (RKDC), which organized events such as plays, choral concerts, sporting tournaments, symposia, and social gatherings to encourage a sense of comradery and ownership of the institution. The RKDC also published a series of newsletters: Toot-Toot (1916-1917), R.K.D. Bulletin (1918-1919), Mellon Institute News (1937-1971), RKC Club Columns (1972-1974), and Mellon Columns (1975-1980); which were circulated to current and former fellows and included announcements on recently hired personnel, retirements, marriages, staff bios, events, and news from alumni.

Related Organizations

In 1935 The Air Hygiene Foundation was established in response to the Hawk Nest Tunnel disaster, a large scale incident of occupational silicosis. The Air Hygiene Foundation was a nonprofit trade organization headquartered at the Mellon Institute. The Foundation conducted research and collected and disseminated information on occupational health and industrial hygiene. The name of the organization was changed to Industrial Hygiene Foundation of America in 1941. Some research reports can be found in the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research papers, whereas the bulk of the publications and conference proceedings that were produced by the foundation are in a separate collection named Industrial Hygiene Foundation Collection.

Throughout the tenure of the organization, the Mellon Institute maintained close ties to the local universities. In 1964, the Mellon Pitt Corporation (MPC) was formed. This organization provided a legal and administrative framework which enabled closer collaboration between the Mellon Institute, Carnegie Tech and the University of Pittsburgh.

After the merger, a number of technical centers were established to accommodate project research. These included: Computer Engineering Center (1976) staffed with experts in both hardware and software; Center on the Materials of the Artist and Conservator (1976) to investigate thermoplastic resins, particularly acrylics, for conservation activities; Rail Systems Center (1981) to study the economics, power systems, communications in the U.S. rail system networks; Materials Characterization Center (1982) to provide research in materials technology; Battery Technology Center; Center for Metals Production; ASTM Test Monitoring Center.


The Mellon Institute was headquartered in three buildings throughout its tenure. The original building was a single story structure on the University of Pittsburgh campus. The institute quickly outgrew these facilities, and in 1915, the Mellons built a new building at the corner of Thackeray Ave and O’Hara Street, now known as Allen Hall on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus. By the late 1920s, the Mellons purchased property at the corner of Bellefield and Forbes Avenues and began to plan for a new and larger headquarters. Construction on the new building began on November 6, 1930. Pittsburgh-based architects Benno Janssen (1874-1964) and William York Cocken designed the building, which took up an entire city block and drew inspiration from classic Greek architecture. Construction was completed in 1937, and the building was dedicated during ceremonies that took place between May 5 – 9, 1937, which included a symposium and a public open house.

In 1958, the institute expanded again and opened the Bushy Run Laboratories in Westmoreland County. Situated on 230 acres, the Bushy Run facility housed the Radiation Research Laboratories and the Chemical Hygiene Laboratories, which focused on ensuring the safe production, handling and use of organic chemicals. After the merger, in 1995, CMRI relocated to the Pittsburgh Technology Center in South Oakland, now the home to the Entertainment Technology Center.


346 Linear feet (346 linear feet, which includes 43 scrapbooks, 2 boxes of oversized materials, and audio-visual materials. )




This collection contains records from the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research, an independent non-profit industrial research firm that merged with Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1967 to form Carnegie Mellon University. The collection consists of 346 linear feet of materials pertaining to the general operations of the institute, including: the creation of the institute in 1913 and its merger with CIT; proposals, reports, correspondence and contracts related to sponsored fellowships and fundamental research; building receipts, correspondence, architectural drawings and floor plans for the Mellon Institute’s building at the corner of Fifth and Bellfield Avenues, as well its previous location at Thackeray Ave and O’Hara Street and the Bushy Run laboratories in Westmoreland County; materials related to the institute’s 50th anniversary celebrations; and materials that document the social and alumni activities of the Robert Kennedy Duncan Club.


The collection is arranged into 13 series, two of which have been further arranged into subseries, and one of which has been further arranged in sub-subseries. Additional information on arrangement is noted in the series or subseries description.

Processing Information

This finding aid reflects the processing and preservation activities that were carried out between August 2017 and June 2019. Prior to these activities, the collection had been rehoused in archival boxes and folders sometime in the mid 1990s. The folders were described and numbered – in most cases – and a minimal folder inventory was created.

In 2017, the collection was surveyed and it was determined that the current arrangement was random, rather than original. For example, research reports and correspondence related to fellowships were not grouped together, and in some cases materials generated through a single fellowship were not grouped together. Additionally, materials related to finances and the building services were also not grouped together. The survey also reveled that the materials were re-foldered and described by over a dozen individuals, therefore the folder description was very inconsistent. The folder descriptions also did not always match the folder inventory. Often the description of the folder inventory had been shortened or abbreviated.

Based on the survey findings, a new arrangement scheme was imposed on the collection. In most cases, the pre-existing folder descriptions were kept, but made more uniform, and the pre-existing FF numbers were kept and incorporated into the new finding aid as the “legacy” number. Duplicates of materials like pamphlets, member guides, newsletters, annual reports, fliers, and other printed materials that were published by the Mellon Institute were deaccessioned. Materials related to payroll and employee’s federal taxes were also deaccessioned. Folders of photographs were transferred to the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research Photograph Collection. Audio-visual materials, which were previously not included, were incorporated into the collection, as were other miscellaneous materials such as the silver tea set and the copper printing plates.

Additional materials from the Mellon Library were transferred to the University Archives in September 2017 and November 2018, and incorporated into the collection. This included Air Pollution Conference materials, Mellon Institute Library reports and records, Center for Materials Production Reports, reprints from Bushy Run Laboratories, and other miscellaneous materials.

Mellon Institute of Industrial Research papers
Emily Davis
June 4, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Carnegie Mellon University Archives Repository

4909 Frew St
Pittsburgh PA 15213
(412) 268-5021