University of Texas
John Matthias Kuehne
August 11, 1872–February 14, 1960



John Matthias and Marie Wild Kuehne



John Matthias Kuehne, professor emeritus of physics, died on February 14, 1960. He was 87.

Front: Helena, Ferdinand, Emil, John Mathias. Back: Johanna, Henry, Frederich, Herman, Lydia, William, Selma, ca. 1898

Johannes Matthias Kuehne was born in Hallettsville, Lavaca County, Texas, on August 11, 1872, one of nine children of Ferdinand Frederich and Lydia Anna Eliese Melchior Kuehne, a German immigrant family. His parents had emigrated from Germany as children. There were three nieces and nephews also on the family farm. He was educated at home by his parents who were teachers (they taught their classes in German) and farmers. He remembered when Krakatoa erupted, he was eleven, and the sky in Texas glowed red. He said, “I learned to read astride a horse behind a plow.” He had planned to be a farmer, however, his parents convinced him to attend a summer normal school at Halletsville. At their behest, he took the state normal examinations when he was 18. Upon passing them, he taught in a rural school, Lindenau School, near Cuero for a number of years. A group of German farm families settled the community in 1891 near the junction of Sandies Creek and the Guadalupe River. The farmers donated money to start a school located on the John T. Wofford ranch and originally called Wofford. During a school benefit given in 1893, however, an entertainer sang the popular German song "Lindenau," and, at her suggestion, the name was given to the school. One of his pupils was a “pretty soft-spoken girl five years younger than he.” She was later to become his wife. During the summers, Kuehne returned to the normal school. It was during this period that Kuehne became acquainted with Henry Jacob Braunig, a noted photographer in Halletsville. Braunig introduced Kuehne to photography and trained him in the essentials. It became a lifelong passion of his.

A lecture at summer normal by Dr. Joseph Baldwin of the University of Texas ignited his ambitions and, from that moment, Kuehne resolved to attend the University of Texas. Baldwin (at right) was Professor of Pedagogy with degrees from Bethany College, VA.

In 1896, at the age of 25, Kuehne and a boyhood friend, Edmund Wild (at left), came to the University as roommates. "Old B Hall," where the computer center now stands, was a new dormitory for men in those days, and bluebonnets grew on the empty fields around the Forty Acres. Dr. Kuehne found physics and mathematics easy and interesting and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in the spring of 1899 with a bachelor of arts degree in physics. Professor Baldwin died that year. Kuehne was appointed Tutor in Physics (i.e., teaching assistant) for the school years 1899–1900 and 1900–1901, and upon completion of his master of arts degree in 1901, received his first appointment as a member of the faculty (Instructor) in 1901. His masters involve earth magnetic field measurement.

After his masters, between 1901-1903, Kuehne did magnetic surveying for the US Coast and Geodetic Survey. His Survey Databook records extensive travel in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Ohio, mostly by train. This would have required fulltime commitment. He is listed as teaching at UT, not sure how he handled both jobs.

In 1903, Wild, Kuehne's roommate, earned a PhD at UT, his thesis was entitled, Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy; a critical study of his philosophy, with special reference to its ethical aspects. Kuehne and Edmund Wild are shown below.

During this period, his friend Wild’s sister, Kuehne’s former grade school student, Marie Wild, entered the university as a freshman. Dr. Kuehne later described her as "tall, graceful and very charming." She was born in Wied, TX. They were married in September 11, 1900 and were to raise two daughters. Wedding picture at right. Wild and Kuehne at left.










Through leaves of absence at Texas and fellowships at the University of Chicago, the academic years 1906–1907 and 1907–1908 saw the completion of formal course work for the Doctor of Philosophy degree and the initiation of an experimental research project under Robert A. Millikan. This project, the converse of the Rowland effect, was continued at the University of Texas upon Kuehne's return for the fall semester of 1908. Upon successful conclusion, his dissertation was published in the Philosophical Magazine for April, 1910, (On the Electrostatic Effect of a Changing Magnetic Field, Phil. Mag. 5, 469 (1910)) the year he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Chicago. On the occasion of Dr. Kuehne's seventieth birthday, Millikan commented upon Kuehne's work in a letter to the chairman of the Physics Department: "When Maxwell's electromagnetic theory was undergoing all the tests which we physicists could devise to see if it ever fell down anywhere, Dr. Kuehne put in one of the latest nails in the establishment of that theory when he was a graduate student at the Ryerson Laboratory at the University of Chicago. He made a worth-while contribution, therefore, in that particular research to the greatest accomplishments of all time—the establishment of Maxwell's electromagnetic theory." In 1950 Kuehne arranged for Millikan to give a lecture to Sigma Pi Sigma. Millikan, 82 at the time, quite frail and needing assistance to walk, gave a rambling talk in which he kept referring to “that boy Kuehne.”

The American Men of Sciences lists Professor Kuehne's climb through the academics ranks as: Instructor, 1901–1909, Assistant Professor, 1909–1917, Associate Professor 1917–1923, Professor, 1923. Research interests are given simply as magneto-electric effects and diffraction of light at metallic and non-metallic edges. Dr. Kuehne was elected an active member of the Alpha of Texas Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1905 and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1915. He was a Charter Member of the reorganized Texas Academy of Sciences in 1929 and was elected a Fellow later that year. He served as department chair for a number of years.

Professor Kuehne went "on modified service in the Fall Semester of 1942, modified service at that time consisting of the teaching of two courses together with their labs, if any, for upper division or graduate courses. Ten years later, in the fall of 1951, after 55 years at the University of Texas and 50 years as a member of the faculty, Professor Kuehne resigned to become Professor Emeritus of Physics. He maintained good health, an active and critical intellect, and wide-ranging interests in arts and letters on the Campus and in the Austin Community until shortly before his death on February 14, 1960, at the age of eighty-seven years and six months. It is perhaps a result of his longevity that the university overlooked the customary memorial resolution upon his death. Newspaper clippings, some personal memorabilia, and the memories of the few remaining individuals on the faculty who knew Professor Kuehne constitute the basis for the information presented here in an attempt to portray to some small extent the intellectual life and accomplishments of this remarkable man.

Additional information about Professor Kuehne:

A letter of October 18, 1951, from University President T. S. Painter acknowledging Professor Kuehne's resignation as Professor of Physics modified service and recommending him for Emeritus status, contains the following paragraph:

"I doubt if on our faculty there is any other member who has had contact with as many students as you, and knowing you as I do, I realize just how many young people have benefited from these associations. For a good teacher does much more than drill his students in the laws of his science; he shares much of his own outlook in life and when this is wholesome and optimistic, the student gains a very great deal. You would be surprised to know how often "old-timers" ask me about you specifically. It is quite obvious that they hold you in respect and in real affection."

An article from the Daily Texas on Sunday, November 15, 1942, describes the 70th birthday party for Dr. Kuehne as follows: "Dr. John Matthias Kuehne, professor of physics, only 70 years old, Saturday night was surprised guest of honor at a birthday turkey dinner given by the Department of Physics, in the Physics Building Library. When asked to attend an 'informal party for the department , Dr. Kuehne didn't think he could go, because he already had tickets and had brushed off his best suit to go to the symphony at Hogg Auditorium; and if there is anything the congenial doctor likes, it's good music, but he was lured to the party with the promise that it would be over before the concert began. Well, Dr. Kuehne didn't ever get to Hogg, but he heard the symphony anyway, because students in the Physics Department constructed a special broadcasting system by which the music was piped to him in the Physics Building.

"As the some 100 colleagues, students, friends and former students arrived at the birthday party, they signed a parchment scroll on which Dan E. McCaskill, former student under Dr. Kuehne, had printed the following inscription: 'In appreciation to Dr. John Matthias Kuehne for the inspiration that we have gained as students, colleagues and friends from his critical thinking and for the genial associations that we have enjoyed. I'd trust him with my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor."

Many of Professor Kuehne's former students were scattered throughout the nation in wartime 1942 and, not able to attend the birthday party, sent their congratulations by letter or wire. A few excerpts from their many letters give further insight into the deep respect they felt for their former teacher, the person whom they sought out as counsellor and turned to as friend.

“ ...I have always considered Dr. Kuehne a sort of Godfather to me, for he more than anyone else was the guiding influence in causing me to select physics as a major in the University. . . " — E. W. Schuhmann

" ...I shall always remember with real pleasure the many interesting and instructive hours spent in your classes as well as the enjoyable associations with you outside of class." -- Lloyd Cherry

" ...I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for your friendship and helpful instructions while I attended the university ..." — Earl Deacon
“ appreciation of the inspiration that I have gained from you both in the classroom and in personal contact. l am sure that all of your many students join me in expressing these sentiments. . ." — G. R. Tatum

" ...We are all proud of the contributions that you have made to science and to the lives of the men and women of Texas with whom you have worked for many years ." -- Archie Straiten

". . .Please think of us and know that we are thinking of you and recalling the many happy hours that we have spent in the company of you and your many friends during those great years when I was privileged to work for you and with you .... However, more important to me than all of this fun, and more cherished in my memory, is the contribution which you have made to my progress through life. l am deeply grateful for the knowledge and inspiration which I received from your excellent teaching and your splendid example. I have long since forgiven you for the several figurative and literal headaches which I suffered as a result of some of your examinations. I develop a cramp in my hand and a pain where I sit now when I think of that major examination taken by the physics graduates of 1928. Seven and one-half hours with a half-hour recess for supper!. . . There was another incident which I recall with both appreciation and amusement. On the day when you organized our laboratory class in optics, I spoke up quickly and excitedly: 'Dr. Kuehne, let Peurifoy and I work together? Your only reply was, 'I believe, Mr. Edrington, that LET controls the objective.” None of my English instructors ever made a more instructive statement with a more lasting result. . ." — Tom Edrington

". . . It is a real pleasure to thank you for the time and effort you spent as one of my teachers, to praise you for your work both as a teacher and as a citizen, and to wish you many more years for continuation of your work." — R. E. Greenwood

“. . .I remember with pleasure my association with you as a student and as a friend. . ." — Noyes D. Smith, Jr.

"... By your untiring labor in the field to which you have dedicated your life, you have been an inspiration to all those with whom you came in contact..."—Sister Michael O'Bryrne

“. . . The astronomers of McDonald and Yerkes Observatories and their families join in sending greetings to Professor and Mrs. Kuehne. . . His support and friendly interest have aided in bringing about the construction in Texas of the world's second largest telescope." --O. Struve

"If we could have our wish we would be with you tonight celebrating with as fine and jovial a leader and companion as any group ever had. . ." — Charles Rutherford, Edward White, Wilson Nolle, Allen Chernosky, Eugene Ennis, Burton Jones, Laymon Miller, Roland Bulmberg, Robert Payne, Robert Thompson, Paul Boner, Marian Boner.

Excerpts from an unidentified magazine article, entitled simply "Dr. J. M. Kuehne", will strike a resonant note in the memory of those who knew him well:

"The tall, straight professor with the shock of snow-white hair and well-trimmed mustache and goatee strode quietly into the amphitheater classroom in the Physics Building and, after class noises had subsided, began his lecture. As students listened to his remarks, which were almost invariably punctured with gestures, they soon realized they were being told how to determine temperature by counting the number of chirps of a cricket in one minute. With only a twinkle in his eyes to betray him, the professor patiently explained that the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit is thirty seven plus the number of chirps per minute of the Oecanthus Niveus (or green tree cricket) divided by four.

Dr. John Matthias Kuehne has been entertaining and instructing university students since he began teaching here in 1899 as a tutor. Though well past the retirement age for professors (Dr. Kuehne is seventy-six), he still teaches two classes in photography weekly to almost a hundred students (the number who register for his popular course is always considerably more but has to be reduced because of darkroom space available)...

“In 1908, he taught the first photography course to be offered at the university. Classes and labs were held in the basement of the old Main Building. A few years later, he organized the Austin Camera Club 'for those people who are interested in improving methods of making pictures, rather than for those who just snap pictures and let the drug store develop the film.

“A colored filter for black and white film which is standard equipment for photographers today was first produced by Kuehne out of pieces of glass and wood.

Students attend few of his classes without a rewarding example of his pointed sense of humor. Once, returning to his optics lab after a short absence, he found the telescope trained on a window at Scottish Rite Dormitory for women. "We are testing the field of the telescope, Dr. Kuehne” explained one of the flustered students. 'This really is a good telescope. See how square that window frame appears through the glass?" Dr. Kuehne gazed into it for a moment. 'It certainly is,’ he agreed. 'You can almost read the time on that girl's watch."

Dr. Kuehne always taught the optics and spectroscopy courses, laboratory as well as lecture. The laboratory rooms were designed generally much like those of other laboratories in the old physics building, though equipped with heavy, dark shades that could be lowered in metal tracks for complete room darkness. Ceilings were finished with acoustical tile, making the room excellent acoustically, as well as light and attractive when the many windows were opened to the campus outside. Work tables consisted of cement pillars topped with thick slabs of soapstone, each containing air and gas outlets and electrical panels with 110- and 220-volt AC and DC outlets as well as one 50-ampere circuit, two general purpose circuits, and one high frequency circuit leading to the central switchboard in the generator and battery rooms. Sinks, desks, blackboards, and wood storage cabinets completed these excellent student laboratory rooms. The equipment was the best available and of wide variety, permitting instructive experiments in many basic areas of optics and spectroscopy. A large room in the basement was designed for the 21-foot Paschen-Runge-mounted concave grating, complete with darkroom and source room opening to the outside with heliostat for solar spectroscopy. Laboratory notes were complete and well written. Dr. Kuehne gave his own laboratory lectures and then worked closely with the students throughout the laboratory period. No teaching assistants or graders were used.

What is the purpose of this description? Perhaps it becomes important in comparison with a senior laboratory room in the new R. L. Moore building. The walls are of painted building tile, and massive, exposed cement beams loom cavernously above excessively bulky air ducts. A reverberation time of seconds precludes intelligible speech, even if it could otherwise be understood above the noise of rushing air in the ducts overhead. A few 120-volt outlets dangle grotesquely in the center of the room from dark cables suspended from the ceiling, and other 120-volt outlets are set in an exposed conduit around the walls. A small sink sits in miserably impotent isolation in the middle of the room, and black table tops contribute to the general feeling of gloom. A scarcity of laboratory stools was the apparent result of their having been somehow overlooked in the furnishing of the building and, reportedly, the laboratory apparatus now compliments the room in which it is housed. The whole depressing, dismal impression is one of thoughtless neglect. If this is considered an overstatement, it is suggested that a visit be made, for example, to room 7.302.

The questions asked might be either how so much of the depression-limited material resources of the department and of the personal resources of its faculty could be expended in this earlier time on the mere teaching of physics, or perhaps how little could be expended now? To Dr. Kuehne, as teacher and scientist inextricably combined, the student was the glorious reason for the existence of the university and excellence of teaching of physics as an experimental as well as a theoretical science was the unquestionably overriding consideration. To this, add the more esoteric connotations of "teacher" as a molder of youthful character, a disciplinarian to correct, a friend to guide, and a model to be emulated, and it is evident that being a teacher such as Dr. Kuehne was a full-time, life-long job. Personal scientific research and publication was not a neurotically demanding requirement in Dr. Kuehne's life. Although no literature search has been made over the early nineteen hundreds to provide a publication list, it is doubted there could have been many of the type commonly published now. Of his dissertation, Millikan once said, "I had rather have this one piece of work to my credit than all the outpourings of R. W. Wood." Perhaps this was sufficient for the personal satisfaction of Kuehne. Lest these remarks be misconstrued, let it be emphasized that no apology is thought necessary for the lack of a publication list in the brief biography of a man whose life was so distinguishedly devoted to his profession.

Although teaching two courses while on modified service and spending essentially all day each week day with his many students and their multitudinous laboratory projects, Dr. Kuehne was willing always to assist others when the need arose. When a young colleague was worried about the strain of such a large teaching load on a man in his seventies, Professor M. Y. Colby, then chairman of the physics department, responded, "Teaching comes as naturally to Dr. Kuehne as breathing; he doesn't feel any strain." At about this time, in the early part of World War II, the physics department taught many Navy V-5 and V-12 students. A number of classes were scheduled in Sutton Hall, precluding the use of demonstration experiments. Dr. Kuehne graciously agreed to hold Saturday morning sessions in the Physics Building Auditorium to perform for these students demonstrations appropriate to the material covered earlier in the week. It was a never-to-be-forgotten experience to see the tall, white-bearded, athlete-straight old gentleman, with the character of a lifetime etched ruggedly on his still-virile, Viking-like countenance, breath life and excitement into otherwise routine demonstrations.

Dr. Kuehne was scientific representative for the university in selecting the location and choosing the design of the McDonald Observatory. It was upon his initiative that the 9-inch refractory student telescope and the star transit were added to the design of the old Physics Building. As an aid to his understanding of the manifold problems relating to the location of the observatory, Dr. Kuehne visited the major observatories of North America and talked to the nation's outstanding astronomers. He took his wife Marie and daughters Elizabeth and Hildegard. They left in July of 1927 and visited Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Canada, Glacier and Yellowstone National parks. Kuehne visited Mount Lowell, Mount Wilson, Lick and Dominion astrophysical observatories. They returned to Austin October 1 where he resumed teaching. The superb location and excellent facilities bear witness in part at least to the wisdom of his advice to the university administration.

Photo of Kuehne and family campsite on trip to evaluate locations for McDonald Observatory. 1927

Here is the diary that Kuehne kept on the trip, courtesy of Dot Everett Waldrip, his granddaughter: Kuehne Diary of Observatory Site Investigation.

Lowell Observatory visited by Kuehne, Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. The building at left contains the 24" Clark refractor. On the right is the Rotunda Museum.

Apparently there was the usual pressure brought to bear by vested political and partisan regional interest with respect to the location of the observatory. There was a strong move to choose Mt. Bonnell or one of the other hills across the lake, also a strong attempt by El Paso to have the observatory located there. These interests are reflected in news clippings from across the state. It is to the credit of Professor Kuehne and then university president H. Y. Benedict that the ultimate choice was dictated by purely scientific considerations.

Photography and Art

Dr. Kuehne's interest in photography evidently dates from his undergraduate days. Upon his death, the Kuehne family gave his collection of glass-plate negatives to the Texas History Center and the Alcalde of June, 1960 reproduced several of his early campus photographs. One shows students in an introductory physics lab in 1904. The students, all mature looking males in coats and ties, are determining the heat of vaporization of water. Interestingly enough, the equipment shown clearly in the photograph is the same equipment currently used in that experiment, some seventy years after the photograph was taken.
Music - Theater - Community Service - Horticulture

Professor Kuehne personified the Renaissance man—a man of science, a man of arts and letters, and above all a man who savored life immensely. A striking physique and boundless energy coupled with a challenging, pervasive intellect led to the pursuit of many non-academic interests at a near-professional level. He was a rare type of man, admired by all and envied by many. In its earlier days, the university participated dominantly in the cultural life of Austin through lectures, theatrical presentations, musical recitals, etc., and Professor Kuehne contributed his many talents unselfishly to the artistic and intellectual development of the community. A music lover and an accomplished musician, he sang to his own bass viol, sang in university and church choirs, served as faculty sponsor to the University Light Opera Company, and played in the University Orchestra. Over the many years after his active participation in musical productions had ended, Dr. and Mrs. Kuehne continued to be dedicated supporters of the Music Department and its activities and were distinguished guests at all musical concerts. A brief insight into their esteem for Professor Kuehne is given by a letter from the Music Department, written in 1953, some two years after Professor Kuehne's retirement. The letter, signed by 35 members of the Music Department, states “Seeing our good friends, Dr. and Mrs. Kuehne, at concerts has become one of the finest traditions at this university and a source of inspiration to us, whether we are on the stage or members of the audience at the time.” The graciousness of the Kuehnes is reflected in their response “...To say that we are overwhelmed by the highly complimentary communication of the Music Department would be putting the matter very mildly. To tell the plain truth, we were actually embarrassed by the undeserved recognition from the department. I say undeserved, for definitely we are at the receiving end of the line, and it is we who should express ourselves as grateful for the benefits we have enjoyed from the presence in our midst of a high class music department.”

Although members of the faculty often participated in community theatrical productions, Dr. Kuehne, as a physics professor, must, nevertheless, have been somewhat unique. There are pictures of him in Shakespearian costume, indicating participation in university productions, and mention of several Little Theater productions. A review of Eugene O'Neill's "Beyond the Horizon" begins: "Is 'Beyond the Horizon worth seeing? Yes, Kuehne will make you cry and Cook will make you laugh. ... If you don't cry during the play, you will before you go to sleep that night. You must. . . In the scene where the father tells his son to leave the family home, one must feel aroused. Dr. John Kuehne in the part of the father got the sympathy of every man. When he opened the door and left the room, it was a human being who went out to cry alone at his own stupidity."

A review of "Hotel Universe," by Philip Barry, mentions a "well-seasoned" cast containing Dr. J. M. Kuehne, Professor of Physics, "who is well-known for his acting ability." Pictures accompanying two reviews suggest the dramatic power he must have brought to the parts he played.

There is little reason to document the many-faceted involvement of Dr. Kuehne in community and environmental affairs. However, one early example that perhaps should not be overlooked is his organization of central Texas for the purpose of providing food, medicine, and clothing for destitute women and children of Germany and Austria after World War I. The telegrams from Herbert Hoover and Robert Lansing, survive to bear testimony to this:

Dec. 11, 1919 To: J. M. Kuehne, Austin, TX. “Society of Friends twenty south twelfth Street Philadelphia are in full charge of child feeding in Germany and my organization is assisting them to the extent of supervising all food purchases and paying cost of shipping from Atlantic ports to Germany STOP They will be grateful for your support STOP Relief of adults in Germany not so pressing my own childfeeding organization giving daily supplementary meal to hundred twenty five thousand children in Austria and we will appreciate your contribution-Herbert Hoover”

The October 29, 1919, American Statesman reported a meeting at Scholz Garten to organize a local branch of the Society for the Relief of the People of Germany and Austria-Hungary. About 70 people were present including John M. Kuehne, Herman Bohm, Henry Petre and William Trenckmann. A collection of law enforcement agents and officials were present, thought the Statesman reports that they were "reticent, but stated that they found nothing calling for a complaint."

October 29, 1919, Washington, D.C. To: J. M. Kuehne, Austin, TX. “Since trade and communication with Germany and Austria have been resumed no objection is perceived to an organization for relief of destitute women and children in those countries.-Robert Lansing, Secretary of State.

There seemed to be few times when Dr. Kuehne was not involved in some community or environment-related project, from the elimination of rock quarries in the city to the preservation of parks in their natural beauty. His early background on the farm left him with a life-long interest in horticulture. He budded and grafted his own trees in developing better fruits and nuts, experimented with native Texas grapes in producing outstanding white wine, and introduced new plants and flowers into the Austin area.


These remarks are based upon rather casual bits of conversations and could be very wide of the true mark, but it is not thought so. A religious agnostic who could conceive of nothing worse than soaring around for all eternity on obviously inadequate gossamer angel's wings, Professor Kuehne was nevertheless an active, participating member of the First Congregational Church. His interests were in the ethical and moral precepts embodied in religion and their translation into practical guidelines for living. There was no apparent conflict between rational, scientific concepts and his emotional bonds to religion, as he conceived and lived it. His personal doctrine seems aptly expressed in a quotation from a Christmas card from the Kuehnes in 1948. "I expect to pass through this life but once. If, therefore, there is any good I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, let me not defer it, for I shall not pass this way again." As a man in his seventies, still youthful in mind and vigorous in body, he once said to a young student, "I would not trade this grizzled, wrinkled old countenance for your smooth young face under any circumstances. I have no desire to start over, to live another life. There is nothing I would like to do over, or that I wish I had done differently." Of his stay at the university he said, "It has been a wonderful experience, and, if I had it all to do over again, I'd do it the same way." Such expressions of deep satisfaction and total contentment were inevitably followed by a touching tribute to the person who so obviously made it all so. Of his wife, he said, "The wisest decision I ever made was to marry the woman I married." Those who knew Mrs. Kuehne would have to agree. She was apparently the perfect companion throughout this classically academic life of an erstwhile farm boy, from the date of marriage in August, 1900, to Professor Kuehne's death 60 years later. Dr. Kuehne died on Sunday, February 14, 1960. He was survived by two daughters, Mrs. Hildegard Everett and Mrs. Elizabeth Rehn, by three grandchildren and two great grandchildren. The memorial service at the Austin Congregational Church finished with a poem by John Sheton Davis (photo below), a member of the congregation entitled "Dr. Kuehne, My Friend":

A head hallowed in the whitest snow
And eyes shining with a knowing glow,
He saw things with the clear simplicity of the young in age
And expressed them with the insight of an elder sage
And now he's gone, where he must be
Delighted by new things to see.
In truth his youth shall see the sight
Illumined by age in wisdom's light.
Indeed, what'ere the nature of the immortal realm,
It shall be enlightened by the presence of him."
–By John Sheton Davis, February 18, 1960



In May, 1974. UT Board of Regents approved the renaming of the Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library to the John M. Kuehne Physics-Mathematics-Astronomy Library.

Kuehne story from Professor George Thurston: “We were in an optics class and Kuehne had brought a telescope to illustrate resolution. He noticed a group of the students at the window with the scope pointed toward a girls dorm. They had found a scantily clad coed as the subject for their study. Kuehne takes the telescope and points it in the same direction. He looks for a short time and remarks matter-of-factly, “The resolution is so good you can see the hands on her watch.”

Material excerpted: from document, written largely by Professor W. W. Robertson, supporting renaming of the Physics-Math-Astronomy Library in RL Moore Hall as the John Matthias Kuehne Library, from Dot Kuehne Waldrip, Kuehne’s granddaughter, and from miscellaneous documents from the Kuehne Collection in the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and other sources collected by Mel Oakes..


John Mathias Kuehne Photo Album

John Matthias Kuehne, 1912 Cactus, UT yearbook , Germania Club, Kuehne, front row, third from right.
John Matthias Kuehne,
John Matthias Kuehne
John Matthias Kuehne, 1900 Cactus, UT yearbook
John Matthias Kuehne, bottom row 2nd from right.
1901 Cactus, UT yearbook
John Matthias Kuehne. The calendar is for March and the 1st falls on a Monday. Years consistent with that are 1897, 1909, 1915, 1920, and 1926. The shoes are loafers, no laces. The large book on top of the books is a Rand McNally Business Atlas (enlarged). This version matches fairly closely with those from late 1880s. The condition appears to be used. Kuehne has no beard. He wore a beard during his PhD work at Chicago between 1906–1908 and he has a beard in the 1912 Cactus. These facts suggest the year 1897. He would be 25. If date is correct, this is likely his apartment, notice the bed at left. He was appointed an assistant at UT in 1898.
John Matthias Kuehne, likely in his office in Old Main. He appears to be about the same age as in upper picture, however, now he clearly is in an official office. He was appointed an instructor for 1898. This might be a reasonable date for the picture. He finished his BA in 1898 and MA in 1901.
John Matthias Kuehne, postcard from University of Chicago. March 26, 1907. Postcard to his mother. Photos on table, unknown, wife Marie, probably his mother.
Michael Wild and J. M. Kuehne, ca. 1897–1898
Wild was Kuehne's brother-in-law.

Johanna Kuehne Winkler and Marie Wild Kuehne, Eastwoods Park


Hulda Wild, E. W. Winkler, Johanna Kuehne Winkler and Marie Wild Kuehne, Bluebonnets


Auditorium in Old Main Building, University of Texas at Austin
John Matthias Kuehne, ca. 1935
John Matthias Kuehne
John Matthias Kuehne (Old Year 1942) and grandson John Everett (1943), preparing their Christmas card
John M. and Marie Kuehne
John M., Hildegard and Marie Kuehne
Hildegard Kuehne
John M. Kuehne’s daughter
She married Rizer Everett.
John M. and daughter, Hildegard.
John Mathias Kuehne
John M. Kuehne,
One of his acting roles.
John M. Kuehne
J. M. Kuehne, Annie and Emily Pagel, daughters of his father's sister.
This picture was taken down by the creek in Weid, Texas in Lavaca county. (Picture ID by Dorothy Waldrip.)
L to R: J. M. Kuehne, Clara Gebhardt Schoch, Eugene P. Schoch, Johanna Kuehne Winkler, Marie Wild Kuehne
Reclining: Ernest William Winkler, Edmund Wild,
(Photo in front of apparently abandoned Pease Mansion on Niles Road, Austin, TX. ca. 1903–1904)
Back Row, L to R: Eugene P. Schoch, (Schoch was a member of the UT faculty for 65 years. He was the founding father of the discipline of chemical engineering at UT, and advocated vigorously for its recognition as a separate department, which occurred in 1938), his wife Clara Gebhardt Schoch, Edmund Wild, Johanna Kuehne Winkler (sister of J. M. Kuehne), Marie Wild Kuehne
Front Row: Hulda Wild, Ernest William Winkler (botanist who headed the School of Botany for a number of years) and J. M. Kuehne. Photo date 1903–1904 since William and Johanna married in December 22, 1904.
LtoR: Marie Kuehne, Kurt Heinrich, Johanna Winkler, Hulda Wild, unknown, unknown, John M. Kuehne
Pease Mansion Restored
Hildagard Kuehne, 3rd from left, and friends.
Kuehne Home, 716 West 23rd Street
Article on Kuehne's search for site for McDonald Observatory.
Kuehnes’ Christmas Card
Kuehnes’ took a trip to China and Japan before WWII.
Kuehnes’ Christmas card, grandson, John Everett, c.1946

Kuehnes’ Christmas card, Grandchildren Dot and John Everett, 1948.

Kuehne’s Christmas card, Evening Star at Sunset and Home, 1949.

Kuehne Postcard

Kuehnes’ Christmas card, 1950, Celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Their wedding picture in the background.

Kuehnes’ Christmas card, Glacier Park, 1951.
Card sent to Weldon & Marie Scheel, fellow members of the Congregational Church of Austin

Kuehnes’ Christmas card, Granddaughter Dot Everett, 1953.

Kuehnes’ Christmas card

Kuehnes’ electrical discharge patterns. Positive charge on left, negative on right. During a visit with Kuehne, around 1950, to give a Sigma Pi Sigma lecture, Nobelist, Robert Millikan, is reported to have remarked, "They are beautiful and visual proof of the electron theory.”


What the pictures show is not the appearance of a static electric charge, but rather the manner of spreading of a charge in the sensitive film of a photographic plate. In producing them, a glass photographic plate is laid, with the sensitive side up, on a sheet of tin somewhat smaller than the plate. The outer terminal of a charged Leyden jar (basically a capacitor) is permanently connected with the tin, One end of a metal rod provided with an insulated handle is touched to the sensitive , plate near its middle, and the other end is brought near the inner heruinal of the charged jar. When the spark passes, a part of the charge from the inner terminal will spread over the sensitive film producing upon development the characteristic discharge figure of that kind of charge, positive or negative, The traces of the moving electrons through the sensitive film will develop black, therefore showing white on the print. The chief interest of the figures lies not so much in their intrinsic beauty as in the radically different pattern of the traces from positive and negative charges, In the negative traces there is very evidently something (obviously the electrons) being thrown out and away from the point of contact. In the positive traces it is equally evident that something (again the electrons) is being drained inward, toward the point of contact.

Couple walking along Shoal Creek by John Mathias Kuehne, date listed as1930s, however woman's dress and high collar suggest earlier. The photo is of William and Johanna Kuehne Winkler. Johanna was John M.'s sister. This photo appeared in May 2021, "The Alcalde" article by Chris O'Connell (Photograph courtesy of the John Matthias Kuehne Photograph Collection, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History)

Bookplate design by John M. Kuehne. Note U of T at top. Camera and tripod denote his lifetime interest in photography. The microscope his interest in science. The sheet music refers to his love of music. The telescope points to optics and astronomy. Note the highly stylized letters J(ohn), M(atthias) and K(uehne). Example of Kuehne's penmanship at right.
In his 1934 addition of R. W. Wood’s classic textbook on Physical Optics, Professor Kuehne has written many notes to himself. One that demonstrates his wry sense of humor is shown at right. "Is this convincing to the light ray?"
Kuehne at blackboard, from The Alcalde.
Kuehne at his desk at U. of Chicago, 1907. Note on card is in German and to his wife, Marie.
Kuehne 's Fellowships at U. of Chicago, 1906-1907 and 1907-1908. $320/year.

Reprint cover from John M. Kuehne’s PhD Thesis, University of Chicago, 1909,
Supervisor, Robert Millikan

In 1896 Millikan had come to U. of Chicago as assistant professor. In 1909 as Kuehne is finishing up his experiment, Millikan is starting his famous oil drop experiment in which he is the first to measure the charge on the electron. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923.

In Kuehne's research notebook he mentions two conversations with Professor Michelson (of Michelson-Morley fame). The first on January 16, 1907 in which he asked for a suggested dissertaion topic. Michelson suggests measuring the magnetic effect of a moving static charge—a charged disc rotated by a motor and all on a long horizontal beam suspended by a torsion wire, the plate rotating between the poles of a large stationary electromagnet. Kuehne explores the literature and finds that Rowland did the experiment and many others have repeated and improved the experiment. However Kuehne finds that the electrostatic effect of a changing magnetic field has not been successfully done and calculations suggest the effect is too small to be measured. On February 9th Kuehne suggest to Michelson that he has some ideas as to how to do the measurement. Michelson likes the idea and says that since it is a different experiment than the one he proposed, the Kuehne should consider it his own idea. When Kuehne discussed the experiment with Millikan is not known to me. The work is done in two parts 1) First phase at University of Chicago starts January 1907 and ends August 1907 (2) Second phase at University of Texas at Austin starts in September with move to a magnet at UT in lab space near Professor Mather. . He mentions having Mr. Gruber in UT machine shop making equipment for him. In December he laments that he made little progress due to interruptions. In the spring of 1908 he works diligently on the problem, however he reports no work in the summer due to "bad health." In Fall, he moves magnet into Room 18 which is lab and private office. In May he has the following entry frightening entry:

In May, June, July, and August he works nonestop to complete the work. On August 20, he records his final data which will be used in his publication. Presumably sometin in 1909 he writes up the work and submits the dissertation. The dissertation is dated 1910.

Final Version of John M. Kuehne’s PhD Thesis Apparatus, University of Chicago, 1909,
Supervisor, Robert Millikan
At right appear be bank of Leyden jar capacitors.

Kuehne dissertation, 1910, University of Chicago

Kuehne dissertation, 1910, University of Chicago

Kuehne dissertation

Kuehne dissertation

Kuehne dissertation

John Kuehne's appointment to US Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1902. He was employed by them from 1901-1903,
while still a Tutor in Physics at University of Texas. His log for this work appears to be quite full time and would suggest he was on leave from UT while still maintaining his appointoment.

Job offer from Carnegie Institue to do magnetic surveys around the world.
Follow up letter on job offer from Carnegie Institue to do magnetic surveys around the world.

Kuehne dissertation

Kuehne dissertation

Robert A. Millikan's letter to Kuehne 1932
Robert A. Millikan's letter to Kuehne 1923


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