Scope and arrangement
The Frank Sprague Papers, 1874-1939, document his career as an inventor and engineer in the field of rail transportation from his days as a U. S. Naval Academy cadet until his death in 1934. The papers consist chiefly of his correspondence and the business records of his companies, the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company, Sprague Electric Company, Sprague Electric Elevator Company, Société Française Sprague, and Sprague Safety Control and Signal Corporation. The company records, 1884-1933, include correspondence, memoranda, technical reports, blueprints, diagrams, photographs, patent applications, patent interference case files, and laboratory and shop records. His work as a consulting engineer and his participation in several professional organizations are also documented, particularly his work for the Electric Traction Commission of the New York Central Railroad, 1902-1906, and for the U. S. Naval Consulting Board, 1915-1923. The papers also include copies of his speeches and writings, personal notebooks, numerous scrapbooks of clippings and printed material about his inventions and rail transpiration in general, and a small series of personal papers including personal and household correspondence, portraits, genealogical material on the Sprague family, ephemera, tributes, and awards.
The Frank J. Sprague papers are arranged in sixteen series:
Spans Sprague's career from 1874-1934. Some of the earliest letters were written by Sprague to his future (second) wife Harriet Chapman Jones. However, most of the correspondence concerns his businesses and inventions. The series is arranged chronologically and, particularly in the early years, contains non-correspondence as well. It should be noted that there are also significant accumulations of correspondence outside of this series. Researchers interested in particular aspects of Sprague's career should be sure to consult this series as well as series relating to particular companies or activities. Correspondents include Sprague's co-workers and railroad and electric company officials, including Thomas Edison.
Consist of eleven volumes of letter books beginning with his work for the Edison Company and ending with the absorption of the Sprague Electric Company by General Electric in 1902. (The years 1886, 1887, and 1890 are not covered). Two of the letter books of the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company were kept by F. H. Parshall, who, like Sprague, worked for both the Edison Company and Sprague.
This section contains correspondence, business papers, technical reports, drawings, blueprints, photographs, and patent papers created in the course of Sprague's work for these companies, and that undertaken both before the formal creation of these companies and after their dissolution. They relate primarily to the development and exploitation of Sprague's electric streetcar system and the multiple-unit system in the United States and abroad. Included are miscellaneous business, financial, and legal papers (contracts, agreements, lists of stockholders, articles of incorporation, extracts from meeting minutes); copies of Sprague patents, 1884-1904, and others bearing upon his work; patent applications and patent litigation papers; and multiple unit system installation project files. Railroads represented in the project files include the Boston Elevated Railroad, Brooklyn Elevated Railroad, Chicago South Side Elevated Railway, Great Northern and City Railway, Manhattan Railway Company, Metropolitan Railway (London), and the Southern Pacific Railway. The papers of the Société Française Sprague concern the exploitation of his multiple unit system patents in France.
This section contains correspondence, memoranda, notes, bids, agreements, photographs, patent papers, circulars, and scrapbooks regarding the invention and marketing of the Sprague-Pratt push button electric elevator, 1890-1898, and the Sprague dual elevator system, 1926-1932. Included are papers documenting installations in the Central London Railway and the Adams Express Building, New York City. Additional material on Sprague's elevator work can be found in the two previous sections, since much of this work was done under the auspices of the Sprague Electric Company.
The Electric Traction Commission of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad was responsible for overseeing the electrification of Grand Central Terminal and the railroad's main passenger lines into New York City. The papers include correspondence, 1902-1906, primarily between Sprague and William J. Wilgus, New York Central Vice President and Chief Engineer, minutes, reports, proposals, specifications and blueprints and photographs. This section also contains correspondence, patents, specifications and plans, blueprints and photographs, 1905-1922, concerning the Wilgus-Sprague collaboration on the third rail system created for the project.
Contains Sprague's records of his work for the civilian advisory board formed by Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, to provide engineering assistance to the Navy during World War I. The papers include correspondence, meeting minutes, committee reports, and scrapbooks, 1915-1923. Also in this section are letters, blueprints, notes, diagrams, sketches, and test reports documenting Sprague's work on fuses, depth charges, and projectiles, 1915-1922. Finally, there is Sprague's correspondence regarding the Navy Pay Bill, 1918-1920.
Series forms the most extensive and complete section of Sprague's papers. The general correspondence, 1913-1933, contains letters to and from the American Railway Association (1921-1924), W. C. Burton (1920), Harold C. Cockerline (1914-1917), General Electric Company (1913-1920), the Interstate Commerce Commission (1915-1927), John P. Kelley (1916-1926), New York State Transit Commission (1922-1933), Public Service Commission (1915-1924), and the U. S. Railroad Administration (19181920), as well as letters concerning the Railway Bill (1919-1920).
The correspondence of the Chicago Office, 1922-1927, consists of letters to F. Desmond Sprague from Frank Sprague and others, and copies of his replies. Additional correspondence can be found in two scrapbooks.
Included also are laboratory and shop test records, notebooks and daily work diaries of company engineers, and project files. The project files consist of correspondence with railroad companies, bids, contracts, and inspection reports on the installation of the Sprague automatic train control system on the New York Central, Great Northern, and other railroads. There are extensive patent and patent interference case records, minutes and other papers on Interstate Commerce Commission hearings on automatic train control, and eight scrapbooks of clippings and printed material.
Includes correspondence as a member and/or officer in the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (1906-1917), American Institute of Consulting Engineers (1912-1922), American Academy of Engineers (1909-1911), New York School of Applied Design, and correspondence regarding the licensing of Civil engineers (1911-1914).
Contains his formal speeches and articles followed by scientific and technical notes, memoranda, and sketches on numerous inventions, most of which do not concern railroads.
Scientific and technical notes & memoranda on: piano players (1903); utilization of high speed turbines with slow speed propeller (1909); two potential third rail systems under railway signal control (1909-1910); making of master records for phonographic reproduction (1910); cooling apparatus (1911); automatic air pressure differentiation (1911); inertia shock absorption for automobiles (1911-1913); simultaneous gun fire of ship's battery (1916); plain and helicopter types of airplanes (1931); miscellaneous sketches and drawings, (1906-1907); canal haulage, etc.
Contain scientific notes, accounts, diary entries, and sketches.
Contain portraits of Sprague, genealogical and biographical material, personal memorabilia, and photostats of the many letters of tribute sent to him from around the world on his 75th birthday.
Documenting Sprague's career from preliminary work on the Richmond streetcar system through the first tests of the multiple unit system and the development of automatic train control, including photographs of his Watsessing, New Jersey plant, its staff, equipment, and products.
Over 200 volumes of Sprague Collection uncataloged printed material can be found in the Research Division, with classmark VDCS and VDCS+.
Descriptive list of the "n. c". volumes in the Frank J. Sprague Collection, being pamphlets, brochures, broken runs of periodicals, off-prints thereof, trade catalogues, and similar ephemera.