There is a period of general relativity history famous for its lack of activity, where during the 1950's, almost no general relativity was done. Looking through various bibliographies, there were very little papers written on the specific topic of general relativity during that period, save for some papers, mostly by John Synge, L. Markus (mostly writing on the topic as a mathematician) and Bonnor (for the action of EM fields in GR). There's a handful of other authors I can find (Matte, Buchdahl, Nariai, Taub, Schwinger, Milner, Finkelstein, etc), but overall it's fairly rare to encounter a paper from the 1950's.

Then in the 1960's, the activity picks up, a lot of papers on causal structures, singularities and cosmology pop up.

Is there a particular set of papers that triggered this renaissance? I can't really think of any really famous paper from the era that would trigger it (the famous papers tended to be more in the middle of this era).

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    $\begingroup$ More likely the advance in sensitive instrumentation, combined with the ability to chuck stuff into high enough orbit to measure GR effects. $\endgroup$ Mar 9, 2018 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ Google Ngram shows decline in 1935-1945, but does not detect any decline in the 1950-60. $\endgroup$ Mar 9, 2018 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ Yes the decline may have happened earlier (already GR papers in the 40's were starting to be a bit sparse) $\endgroup$
    – Slereah
    Mar 9, 2018 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ Its not like there was a lack of other exciting topics (like nuclear physics) to keep people occupied. Post Manhattan Project that was well funded and considered important, so people got involved in it. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 9, 2018 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ One very influential paper from precisely 1960: Kruskal, M.D., Maximal extension of Schwarzschild metric, Phys. Rev., II. Ser. 119, 1743-1745 (1960). ZBL0098.19001. $\endgroup$ Mar 9, 2018 at 18:24

1 Answer 1


An influential figure in the later development of general relativity was John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008). In the academic year 1952/53 he offered a yearlong course on special and general relativity at Princeton (the first such course there). According to Paul Halpern's book cited below, ``among the highlights of the spring session was a class trip on May 16 to Einstein's house (...). There, the eight graduate students in attendance had the unprecedented chance to ask the theory's designer any questions on their minds." Here are some of Wheeler's papers on general relativity from mid- to late 1950s (the actual list may be longer if he published something in physics journals that were not covered by Mathematical Reviews): MR0127375 Wheeler, J. A. Neutrinos, gravitation and geometry. 1959 Rend. Scuola Internaz. Fis. "Enrico Fermi'', Corso XI pp. 67–196 Zanichelli, Bologna

MR0100507 Weber, Joseph; Wheeler, John A. Reality of the cylindrical gravitational waves of Einstein and Rosen. Rev. Mod. Phys. 29 1957 509–515.

MR0094239 Lindquist, Richard W.; Wheeler, John A. Dynamics of a lattice universe by the Schwarzschild-cell method. Rev. Mod. Phys. 29 1957 432–443.

MR0093387 Misner, Charles W.; Wheeler, John A. Classical physics as geometry: Gravitation, electromagnetism, unquantized charge, and mass as properties of curved empty space. Ann. Physics 2 (1957), 525–603.

MR0091832 Regge, Tullio; Wheeler, John A. Stability of a Schwarzschild singularity. Phys. Rev. (2) 108 (1957), 1063–1069.

MR0091828 Brill, Dieter R.; Wheeler, John A. Interaction of neutrinos and gravitational fields. Rev. Mod. Phys. 29 (1957), 465–479.

MR0090447 Power, Edwin A.; Wheeler, John A. Thermal geons. Rev. Mod. Phys. 29 (1957), 480–495.

MR0067622 Wheeler, John Archibald Geons. Phys. Rev. (2) 97, (1955). 511–536.


  1. Kruskal's paper mentioned in the comments was written up and submitted on his behalf by Wheeler.
  2. While it might be difficult to attribute the increase in interest in general relativity to a single paper, there was an important event that influenced later developments. In 1957, a conference on general relativity later known as GR1 was organized by Bryce DeWitt and Cecile Morette DeWitt. According to the report by Peter Bergmann (one of participants) in Reviews of Modern Physics, https://journals.aps.org/rmp/abstract/10.1103/RevModPhys.29.352, one of main inspirations was a quest for developing quantum theory of gravity (still elusive). A readable account can be found in "The quantum labyrinth. How Richard Feynman and John Wheeler revolutionized time and reality." by Paul Halpern (Basic Books, New York, 2017) and in Feynman's own memoirs.
  3. The history of general relativity seems to have followed a more complex path than the `beginning-to-slump-to-golden age' scheme, according to Hubert Goenner in his paper "A golden age of general relativity? Some remarks on the history of general relativity." It is available here: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1607.03319.pdf Some developments and statistics from 1950s that he lists do not seem to support the thesis of there having been ``hardly any paper published" in this decade.
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    $\begingroup$ I was thinking of mentioning John Wheeler, but I was a bit involved with other matters the last couple of days and didn't want to spend the time looking over his autobiography Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics that I read 5 or 6 years ago (although I purchased a copy of the book right after it appeared in print) to see what extent he was behind the resurgence in general relativity, which the book definitely discusses. For what it's worth, in 1980 I rode in an elevator with him (along with several other people). $\endgroup$ Mar 11, 2018 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ Dave, thanks for your comment. While OP asks about specific papers, I wanted to point out that before papers are written, the researchers have to be trained, conferences have to be organized etc. , hence the focus of my answer on these factors. Wheeler was PhD advisor of Kip Thorne, among others. And of course there were some developments outside the US (e.g. by Felix Pirani), which I did not address. I am not an expert. $\endgroup$ Mar 11, 2018 at 16:14

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