Alan J. Adler papers available for research

June 10, 2022
Hanna Ahn
A page from a notebook detailing a sailboat design

Authored by Hanna Ahn and Spencer Gondorf, Curatorial Assistant for the History of Science and Technology Collections

Alan J. Adler papers

What is the connection between sailboat design, a flying disc toy, and an innovative coffee press that cuts brew time from 5 minutes to 1 minute? 

Aerobie ring and book

AeroPress coffee maker 

Aerodynamics, or the way objects move through air!

The Department of Special Collections and University Archives is proud to present the newly processed Alan J. Adler papers, which represent 40 years (1966-2006) of engineering innovation and design on the improved aerodynamics of sailboats, toys, and appliances. The collection includes physical prototypes and finalized products of the Aerobie, Boomerang, Disc Golf, and the AeroPress, which were all designed to manipulate air flow to maximize the speed and efficiency of a variety of activities, from the flight of a flying disc toy to the brewing of espresso. Also included are a selection of notebooks that demonstrate Adler’s longtime interest and curiosity in astronomy. Adler first studied the subject to do celestial navigation of sailboats; later, he took on astronomy as a hobby and built telescopes and mounts. He also created the "Adler Index" for binocular astronomy.

About Alan Adler

Alan John Adler is a self-taught inventor, Stanford engineering lecturer, and, even more famously, a coffee brewing perfectionist. Adler holds 40 patents in electronics, optics, aerodynamics, sensors and miscellaneous areas such as the AeroPress coffee maker. 

Adler spent the first 25 years of his career working as an engineering consultant in solid-state analog circuit design. Ampex Corporation (whose collection also resides at Stanford), Itek Corporation and Acurex Corporation each filed patents based on his work. Adler also lectured and mentored students at Stanford through his  graduate-level course: An Introduction to Sensors (ME220).

Outside the classroom, Adler obsessed over the aerodynamics of sailboats, toys, and brew time for coffee makers. He kept notebooks for each of his hobbies to calculate and record his personal progress. According to Adler, the notebooks “might seem naïve but I was learning, starting from scratch. Self-taught as I am for all that I learned.” 

A page from a notebook detailing a sailboat design

A page from a notebook detailing toy design

About the collection

Adler donated 70 of his notebooks to the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, along with dozens of prototypes and examples of products produced by his company Aerobie, which he founded in 1984. Aerobie shares its name with the flying disc that Adler invented after eight years of tinkering with a design for a better flying disc (think frisbee) in his garage. According to the company website, “Aerobie has become the world leader in performance flight sporting goods,” and has broken world records for farthest thrown object, with the most recent version claiming a Guiness World Record at 1,333 feet. 

The Alan J. Adler papers are a unique resource for researchers interested in engineering and product design and development. The Department of Special Collections and University Archives will incorporate this collection into teaching and outreach programs related to the history of engineering and design innovation at Stanford University. 

Adler photograph of Aerobie

The Stanford University Archives collects, preserves, and provides access to content in any format that documents the history of the university, in support of teaching, learning, and research at Stanford and beyond. Please contact us if you would like to discuss sharing your materials with us, or if you have any questions about using the collections.