[OASIS] Harvard University Library
OASIS: Online Archival Search Information System
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:ARB:ajp00016View HOLLIS Record   Frames Version
Questions or Comments   Copyright Statement

Sax, Karl, 1892-1973 . Papers of Karl Sax 1938-1959: Guide

The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University


The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

© 2003 President and Fellows of Harvard College

Last update 2016 June 14

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130.
Call No.: IB KS
Location: Archives.
Title: Papers of Karl Sax 1938-1959: Guide
Date(s): 1938-1959
Creator: Sax, Karl, 1892-1973.
Quantity: 2.5 Linear Feet
Abstract: The papers of Karl Sax were compiled primarily during his tenure at the Arnold Arboretum, though their contents reflect both his administrative work and his research in cytology, horticulture, and genetics. Originally from Washington, Sax spent many years studying and researching in Maine and Massachusetts. Sax became director of the arboretum in 1946. Sax’s tenure at the Arboretum was filled with challenges, as his administration dealt with both the controversial “Bailey Plan” and redeveloping a collection neglected during World War II. Sax’s collection spans the years 1938-1959, covering his time as a professor and as director of the Arnold Arboretum.


Access to Finding Aid record in Hollis Classic or Hollis.

Other descriptions of this material

Current version of this finding aid is available at the Archives of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.

Processing Information:

June 2003, revised 2005. Danielle Peloquin, March, 2010

Acquisition Information:

Provenance: The Karl Sax papers were acquired during his tenure at the Arnold Arboretum. This collection was then transferred from the Arnold Arboretum’s departmental holdings to the Arboretum’s Archives in 1986 when the Archive was established. Supplemental correspondence from Edward A. Sax to Robert Cook in 2001 was added in 2004.

Terms of Access:

Researchers seeking to examine archival materials are strongly encouraged to make an appointment. The Director, or an office of origin, may place restrictions on the use of some or all of its records. The extent and length of the restriction will be determined by the Director, office of origin, and the Archivist and will be enforced equally for all researchers.

Terms of Use:

The copyright is held by The President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Arnold Arboretum Archives of Harvard University. The copyright on some materials in the collection may be held by the original author or the author's heirs or assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining written permission from the holder(s) of copyright and the Arnold Arboretum Archives prior to publishing any quotations or images from materials in this collection.
Photocopies may be made at the discretion of the Arnold Arboretum Archives staff. Permission to make photocopies does not constitute permission to reproduce or publish materials outside the bounds of the fair use guidelines.

Biographical Note

Karl Sax served as the 5th Director of the Arnold Arboretum (1946-1954). More a research scientist than an administrator, Dr. Sax had the challenging responsibility of leading the Arboretum through a difficult transitional period. His administration dealt with needs for maintenance of the living collection left undone due to the labor and materials shortages caused by World War II. It confronted the controversy stirred by the so-called Bailey Plan to reorganize Harvard's Botany Department and remove resources from the Arboretum's Hunnewell Building and library by transferring herbarium specimens and books to a new building in Cambridge. Arboretum funds would also be used in the Department of Biology, and the interest in horticulture and the living collections would be lessened. Many people connected with the Arboretum were concerned that this move would compromise the work of the institution. In 1953 the Association for the Arnold Arboretum was incorporated and initiated a suit questioning whether the proposed organizational changes, with the funds of the Arboretum used within the department of biology, would be a breach of the trust under which the Arboretum was founded. Dr. Sax did not approve of the reorganization plan and refused to implement it without legal review. He resigned from his administrative duties in 1954.

Karl Sax (1892-1973) was born in Spokane, Washington and received a B. S. in agriculture from Washington State in 1916. He earned an M.A. in biology from the Bussey Institution of Harvard University in 1917 and served in the US Army from 1917 to 1919. Sax joined the staff of the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Maine, and earned a D.Sc. from the Bussey Institution in 1922 while serving at Maine until 1928. In 1928 Dr. Sax was appointed Associate Professor of Plant Cytology at the Arnold Arboretum, faculty at the Bussey Institute, and became a full professor in 1936. When Elmer D. Merrill retired as director of the Arnold Arboretum in 1946, Sax was appointed acting director and director the following year. After stepping down as director in 1954, he remained as Professor of Biology until his retirement in 1959.

Dr. Karl Sax was a pioneer researcher in cytology and genetics, focusing on chromosomal studies and their application to cross breeding of agricultural varieties. His studies of the methods of chromosome breakage used experimental exposure to X-rays and other types of radiation. His influential 1938 paper, "Chromosome aberrations induced by X-rays" opened up a new area of investigation subsequently developed by other scientists. Dr. Sax's contributions in horticultural plant breeding produced many hybrid plants, which he named.

Sax became concerned about the problems of feeding an ever-expanding world population. He was a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood organization, and wrote a book on population problems, Standing Room Only. In his retirement years, Sax received grants from the National Institutes of Health to support his study of the radiomimetic effects of common products like coffee, cola drinks, drugs, and food additives.

Scope and Content

This collection consists of six archival boxes that span the years from 1938-1959, which primarily reflect Sax's research in cytology, horticulture, and genetics, but also include his administrative work as director of the Arnold Arboretum from 1946-1954.
The correspondence files reveal much of Karl Sax's administrative decisions. Over sixty communications with Beatrix Farrand, a consulting landscape gardener, discuss planting suggestions for Bussey Hill, Peters Hill, the shrub collection, the Prunus collection and various boundary plantings within the Arboretum landscape, from 1946-1952. Sax's objections to the Bailey Plan are noted in letters that date from 1949 to 1954. Administrative discussions regarding land sales at the Case Estates, Stony Brook Reservation, Weld-Walter Tract, and the leasing and sale of the Bussey Institute are outlined in detail. Numerous letters address the history and status of The Bussey Institute from 1949-1952. Some demographic studies are discussed in letters dated 1949. The correspondence files are stored in one archival box within the collection.

In addition to correspondence, there are 5 archival boxes that include logbooks of detailed data on experiments, notes on nursery plants, a crossing index, cytological reviews, Arboretum plant accession books 1939-1942, and records with notes on all matters of fertilization, planting, and plant propagation. Reflecting Sax's extensive research and experimentation, the records and logbooks include notes on pollen and seed maturity of hybrid plants, logbooks indicating x-ray and colchicine treatment on pollen and seed, experiments with sweet corn, wheat, root, broccoli, etc. One archival box includes hundreds of 5x8 file cards indicating experiments of heat treatment, crosses to be made, maternal inheritance, and speciation. The notes are legible, either handwritten or typed, and vary in detail on experimental data and results.


The Karl Sax collection is arranged in 4 series:

Container List