Frank J. Sprague papers

Collection Data

Description
Papers document Sprague's 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. Papers consist chiefly of his correspondence and 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. 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. Papers also include copies of his speeches and writings, personal notebooks, numerous scrapbooks of clippings and printed material about his inventions and rail transportation 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.
Names
Sprague, Frank J. (Frank Julian), b. 1857 (Creator)
Edison, Thomas A. (Thomas Alva), 1847-1931 (Correspondent)
Wilgus, William J. (William John), 1865-1949 (Correspondent)
General Electric Company (Correspondent)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1874 - 1939
Library locations
Manuscripts and Archives Division
Shelf locator: MssCol 2850
Topics
Electric railroads
Electrification
Elevators
Railroads -- Automatic train control
Railroads -- Electrification
Street-railroads
Transportation engineering
Urban transportation
Engineers
Inventors
Great Northern Railway Company (U.S.)
Southern Pacific Railroad Company
New York Central Railroad Company
United States. Naval Consulting Board
United States
Genres
Blueprints
Negatives
Photographs
Scrapbooks
Notes
Biographical/historical: Frank Julian Sprague (1857-1934) engineer, inventor, and "father of electric traction", was born in Milford, Connecticut and raised in North ä Adams, Massachusetts. He graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1878 and served in the Navy until 1883 when he resigned his commission to work for Thomas Edison. Unhappy with the Edison Company's focus on the development of electric lighting, Sprague left the following year to found the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company, the first of several companies he organized to develop and exploit his inventions. He became nationally renowned in 1887 for the creation of the world's first city-wide electric streetcar system for the Richmond Passenger Railway of Richmond, Virginia, This was followed in 1892 by the invention of the first automatic electric elevator, and in 1897 by the creation of the "multiple-unit system" for electric railroads. First installed on the Chicago South Side Elevated Railway, the multiple unit system made high-speed urban and suburban mass transit possible. Trains which had formerly been made up of a locomotive pulling at most four passenger cars were replaced by trains composed of unlimited numbers of motorized cars controlled by a master switch, resulting in faster, more flexible service., with much greater passenger capacity. This patented system was exploited by the Sprague Electric Company until the firm was absorbed by the General Electric Company in 1902. Sprague undertook considerable consulting work as well. He was a member of the Electric Traction Commission which directed the electrification of the New York Central Railroad's main line and Grand Central Terminal, 1902-1906, and the Naval Consulting Board, 1915-1922. During World War I he worked on the improvement of depth charges and fuses. After the war he turned his attention to a field that had begun to interest him before the war, the development of automatic safety devices for railroads. In 1922 the Interstate Commerce Commission began to require that major railroad companies install safety systems that would automatically control the train if the engineer did not comply with roadside signals. The Sprague Safety Control and Signal Corporation was one of the first companies to install and test these devices, most notably on the New York Central Railroad and the Great Northern Railway. However, Sprague was never as successful in this area as in his earlier endeavors. He received many awards for his achievements, including the Gold Medal of the Paris Exhibition of 1889, the Elliott Cresson Medal (1904) and the Franklin Medal (1910) of the Franklin Institute, the Grand Prize of the St. Louis Exhibition (1904), the Edison Medal of the American Instutite of Electrical Engineers (1910), and the John Fritz Medal of the Founder Engineering Societies (1934).
Content: 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.
Physical Description
Extent: 100 linear feet (110 boxes, 164 v., 68 packages)
Type of Resource
Text
Identifiers
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b11343705
MSS Unit ID: 2850
Archives collections id: archives_collections_2850
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): a27751e0-67cd-0134-1d05-00505686d14e
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