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James Jay Ryan papers

Identifier: uarc 975

Scope and Content

This collection contains personal papers, papers relating to the University of Iowa, safety publications and reprints, plans, papers relating to the Minnesota State Board of Registration for Architects, Engineers and Land Surveyors, and to the Citizens Transit Council. The collection also contains bound volumes of Ryan's professional papers including legal consulting, publications and papers, professional editorial columns, talks on profession and safety, American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers (MSPE), research and grants, automobile safety letters and flight recorders.


  • Creation: 1933-1973


Language of Materials

Collection materials in English

Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Biographical Sketch of James Jay Ryan (1903-1973)

James Jay Ryan, B.S. (1925) University of Iowa, M.S. (1929) University of Pittsburgh. Professor mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota (1931-1963). Best known for his inventions of the flight data recorder and the retractable seat belt.

James Ryan was born on 27 November 1903 in LeClaire, Iowa. In 1925 he received his B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Iowa, and in 1929, his M.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, doing his graduate work at Stanford University. Ryan came to the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor in mechanical engineering in 1931, being promoted to associate professor in 1940, and full professor in 1950.

Concerned about automobile safety, in 1949 Ryan began crashing cars into walls while his students observed, to complete his own testing in auto safety experiments. As a result, he invented the retractable seat belt, which he patented in 1963. Although nicknamed "Crash" Ryan, he was never injured in the experiments, and federal government researchers frequently consulted him on research. He also invented the flight data recorder, or "black box," patented in 1960, and now required on all commercial airlines. He conducted experiments under grants from the Office of Naval research, the Naval Medical Research Institute, the National Research Council, the United States Air Force, and the United States Public Health Service.

In 1963, Ryan retired because of a rheumatic heart condition. He died on 31 May 1973 at the age of 69.


7.0 Cubic Feet (7)


This collection contains the papers of James J. Ryan, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota.

Source of acquisition

Much of this material was received from J.J. Ryan, Jr. on 6 November 1980.

James Jay Ryan Papers, 1933-1973
University Archives staff; updated by Amy Flessert
July 2006
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area