Friday, November 5, 2010

Osborn's Personal Papers

by Mike Fox and Jo Yudess

22 Boxes of Papers

Alex Osborn’s personal papers are available at the University at Buffalo’s Special Collection Library. Recently, We I went to UB’s Special Collections library (North Campus) to look at Osborn’s personal papers. Lots of boxes of his work – 22 in all.

Mike’s Observations
I started with Box 11 Creative Education Movement, circa 1963. Most of the work I read covered drafts of his speech to the 9th Annual Creative Problem Solving Institute in the summer of 1963. He refined, re-typed, refined again until he got what he wanted. His handwriting: a bit scrawley, but readable. The best part was the precision in his thinking.

Top Experience

There were letters to and from such notables as Guilford, Torrance and Taylor. These letters showed the respect each had for the other. There is nothing quite like a bunch of high-powered people trying to figure out a new challenge.

This isn’t a book, all polished and refined. This isn’t a story told to us in a college course. This is Alex Osborn’s own handwriting. The feeling of being connected is visceral.

If you plan to investigate this collection, prepare to spend some time. It’s sizeable. Each file box has multiple file folders. I managed to get through two file folders in the box. After two hours or so, I ran out of brain glucose, so I had to quite. Who says that research isn’t fun?

When You Go …

The Osborn collection is on the premises. You don’t have to make arrangements ahead of time. The special collections research room has rules. All note taking is by pencil or computer. No pens allowed. You can one or two boxes at a time – maybe three if you’re lucky. They will not bring all 22 boxes to you at one time. Copying services are available, but expect a delay. Copying is done later, then mailed out. Expect a fee per page.

Jo ‘s Observations

I examined materials in Box 12, Patentable Ideas, circa 1949-1951, thinking they would be Osborn’s inventions, but discovered that was not the case. After publication of Your Creative Power in 1948, Osborn was inundated with requests from readers to help them get their ideas produced. It became such a volume of letters that he used a form letter to reply. He acknowledged the difficulty in sending products to a company and sympathized with the writers. Part of the letter explained that he would return their items, but could not comment or review them without a waiver of indemnity. Some of the ideas, names for products, for example, might be things his advertising firm had already conceived.

He was concerned that there was no formal process for people to use for this purpose. He and a friend from England, P. Clavell Blount, wrote to each other frequently trying to get a clearing house for ideas or a National Association of Suggestion Systems underway in either country. After two years of this effort, he began organizing the letters and his thoughts to use as background for chapters 32 and 33 in Wake Up Your Mind (1952). He asked friends, family and co-workers to write to many large organizations to ask their requirements for submission of ideas as part of the data collected.

A Few Notable Quotes

In Osborn’s scrawly handwriting was “Got a good idea? Then you need idea upon idea to make good on your good idea.” In a letter to Osborn in 1950, Fred W. Leu wrote, “Industry kills ideas by discarding men at the very age when they begin to develop them.” One irate writer complained that his invention of radioactive golf balls, which could be found in any rough with a Geiger counter, was rejected by the company he sent it to because the golf balls were too dangerous to carry around.
As Mike and I only examined two of many boxes, there are probably many other interesting pieces of information to be found. A search of this material might make an interesting thesis or project. It is housed at UB because he was a graduate and on the board of directors at the University of Buffalo when it was still a private institution.

From the University at Buffalo’s Special Collection Library Website

Here is the data on Osborn and his collection. I have transferred it from the UB’s Special Collections website. I put it here so you don’t have to find it on your own!

Alexander Faickney Osborn, 1888-1966

Alex Osborn’s personal papers are available at the University at Buffalo’s Special Collection Library, 420 Capen Hall (North campus).
Ph: (716) 645-2918
There are 22 boxes of his papers in the archives.
Title: Alexander F. Osborn Papers, 1948-1966
Abstract: The papers of Alexander F. Osborn, founder of Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn, and the Creative Education Foundation consist primarily of his professional activities

Information for Users
Preferred Citation: [Description and dates], Box/folder number, MS016, Alexander F. Osborn Papers, 1948-1966, University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo.
Terms of Access and Use: Alexander F. Osborn Papers, 1948-1966, are open for research.
Copyright: Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the University Archives before publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.

The Alexander F. Osborn Papers were donated to the University Archives by Alexander Osborn and the Creative Education Foundation in January 1967.

Scope and Content Note
Original manuscripts and work files, circa 1948-1963, of Osborn's books, Your Creative Power (1948), Wake up Your Mind (1952), Applied Imagination (1953, revised 1957 and 1963); files on the Creative Education Foundation, including annual reports, 1954-1962, publications, including guides, directives, reprinted articles and speeches, circa 1958-1963. Teaching Tools of the Creative Education Foundation include instructor's manuals and student workbooks, 1959-1963. Creative Education Foundation include instructor's manuals and student workbooks, 1963-1964, consists primarily of requests for literature and information.

Series I. Your Creative Power, circa 1948
Container List
Series I. Your Creative Power
Box 1 Your Creative Power, circa 1948; includes work files, chapter 1-25
Box 1 Your Creative Power, circa 1948; includes work files, chapter 26-39
Box 2 Your Creative Power, circa 1948; includes work files, chapter 40-41

Series II. Wake Up Your Mind, circa 1952
Box 4 Wake Up Your Mind, circa 1952; includes work files, chapter 1-7
Box 5 Wake Up Your Mind, circa 1952; includes work files, chapter 8-18
Box 6 Wake Up Your Mind, circa 1952; includes work files, chapter 19-26
Box 7 Wake Up Your Mind, circa 1952; includes original manuscript

Series III. Applied Imagination, circa 1957
Box 7 Applied Imagination, 1958; includes revision
Box 8 Applied Imagination, 1958; includes work files, chapter 1-32
Box 9 Applied Imagination, 1958; includes work files, chapter 22-24, and original manuscript
Box 10 Applied Imagination, 1963; includes revision 1963

Series IV. Creative Education Foundation circa 1949-1964
Box 11 Creative Education Movement, circa 1963
Box 12 Patentable Ideas, correspondence, circa 1949-1951
Box 12 Patentable Ideas, correspondence, circa 1949-1951
Box 12 Non--Patentable Ideas, correspondence, circa 1949-1951
Box 13 Creative Education Foundation: Reports and Publications,
circa 1953-1964

Series V. Creative Education Foundation Correspondence circa 1963-1964
Arranged alphabetically
Box 14 Correspondence, D-E (A-C missing)
Box 15 Correspondence, F-G
Box 16 Correspondence, H
Box 17 Correspondence, J-K
Box 18 Correspondence, L (M-R missing)
Box 19 Correspondence, S-T
Box 20 Correspondence, U-Z

Series Vi. Books by Alex Osborn, undated
Box 21 Translation of Alex Osborn’s Books, undated
Box 22 How to Think Up, undated
Box 22 Your Creative Power, undated
Box 22 Wake Up Your Mind, undated
Box 22 Applied Imagination, undated
Box 22 The Creative Education Movement, undated
Box 22 Source Book for Creative Thinking, undated


  1. So Cool! I can see myself thumbing through those papers some day, sipping coffee, and thinking upon the early days of creative studies. Wow, nice thought. :)

    Thanks for posting this for the community.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. HAHA! Wow- great minds think alike. My name is Stephen Harwick and I work for the Creative Education Foundation. I too have been rummaging through Alex Osborn's files and the categories you outlined ring a very familiar bell.

    Favorite Quote so far:

    "This is a report on a mistake by a group I am addressing on August 21. The national convention of Theta Sigma Phi (women in journalism) has described me as "the originator of brainstorming." I don't know what gave them this impression for we know it isn't true. I have asked them to correct it in any further releases they send out" -Charlie Clark to AFO

    AFO's response:
    "Re yours of August 7, I don't care who is called "the originator of brainstorming". So don't let that worry you."

    I have gone through soooo many files since I started working here that I can't say for sure that I truly have a favorite quote though.

    And re yours of November 5, visceral... I can't count how many times I've gotten the chills reading some of this stuff. Nor how many times I've been bursting at the seams with excitement about the creativity movement or a great find.

    I actually found the placard that Alex hung on his wall (and CHERISHED!) when he sold 300,000 copies of his book "The Goldmine Between Your Ears" to GM. It is awe inspiring to hold it. I can't even explain how I felt when I found it. But the funny/Alex-esque part about it was- it had such a shabby frame that was really quite drab even to begin with.

    I don't even know how to capture the feeling of joy and camaraderie I am feeling now- hearing that people hundreds of miles away are doing the same exhilaratingly tedious task as me.

    I have spent full days delving into the files and I LOVE being able to warp back to the pioneer days- it's like I'm in a different world.

    I'd love to hear about your progress and talk about more creativity artifact finds. We should talk more sometime. The office number is 508 960 0000 and my email address is