Wilbur M. Wilson (1881-1958) graduated from Iowa State College in 1900 and received his M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University in 1904. In 1913, after teaching at Iowa State and working for the Illinois Steel Company and Strauss Bascule Bridge Company, he joined the faculty at the University of Illinois, retiring in 1949 as professor of structural engineering.
In 1946 Wilson served as a "non-participating scientific observer" in Operation Crossroads, the U.S. military's series of atomic bomb tests at Bikini, in the Marshall Islands. As a passenger aboard the U.S.S. Panamint, it was Wilson's responsibility to witness the bombings and to later assess the structural damage to ships that had been placed within the bombs' blast range.
This collection contains biographical materials; personal correspondence; education, organizational, and professional papers; manuscripts of academic articles; and papers related to Wilson's service in Operation Crossroads.
The Operation Crossroads portion of the collection contains numerous photographs of the atomic tests; "The Voyage of the Panamint," Wilson's 123-page diary from the experience [also in the University Archives, RS 11/5/33]; official correspondence; letters from Wilson to his family; eyewitness accounts; and other official and documentary papers. For more information about Operation Crossroads, see the documentary film Radio Bikini (1988).
In addition, the collection contains personal correspondence from Wilson to his wife, Teresa, and daughter, Grace. The earliest letters document Wilson's experiences working as a gold miner and carpenter in Colorado in 1901. Later letters discuss his investigation of the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse of 1940.
The collection also includes Teresa Wilson's high school class photo and postcards from her sister Grace, who was an undergraduate at the University of Illinois; reminiscences by Teresa's mother, Fannie Aylworth Stewart; and genealogy records of the Aylworth and Stewart families.
Wilbur and Teresa Wilson's daughter, Grace Wilson of Urbana, Ill., donated the collection to the Illinois Historical Survey in 1976.