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Erastus Washington Smith Papers, 1758-1917 (bulk 1850-1881): Finding Aid

Published in June 1986

Summary Information

  • Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
  • Publisher Address:
    589 McNair Road
    Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
    Phone: 410-293-6917
  • Call number: MS 213
  • Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
  • Title: Erastus Washington Smith Papers
  • Dates: 1758-1917
  • Bulk Dates: 1850-1881
  • Size: 3.88 linear feet
  • Container Summary: 1 manuscript box, 1 half-manuscript box, 3 flat boxes, 3 oversize folders
  • Creator: Smith, Erastus Washington
  • Language(s) of material: English
  • Abstract: Erastus Washington Smith was an engineer noted for his work in marine steam engine manufacturing, steam water pump production, and on the Harlem River Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge. The papers include correspondence and periodicals pertaining to Smith's engineering career, as well as materials related to U.S.S. Dunderberg and steamship Oregonian.

Biography of Erastus Washington Smith

Erastus Washington Smith was a native of the State of Connecticut and an eminent engineer. Raised in Ohio, he began his career in Cleveland employed in a steam-engine manufactory. Subsequently, he went to New York as an apprentice to the Allaire Works, for some years the most noted in the country. To further his education in the physical sciences, he left the firm long enough to graduate from New York University in 1844. Returning to the Allaire Works, where he remained for six more years, he became the principal in the construction of some of the best vessels of that time.

After this long and diversified experience in construction and design, Erastus Smith became a consulting engineer. At different times, many steamship companies were under his direction, either in the capacity of Engineer-in-Chief, Constructing Engineer, or Superintendent of Machinery. Many of the largest and finest engines built in the United States are from his designs and drawings.

He was a designer for the Harlem River Bridge and Consulting Engineer for the Brooklyn Bridge. In 1866, New York University conferred on Erastus W. Smith the honor degree of Doctor Physici Artibus (Doctor of Physical Arts). This was the first such degree ever conferred in the United States.

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Description of Contents

The Erastus Washington Smith Papers, comprising 3.88 linear feet of documentation, span from 1758 through 1917, with a majority of the documents falling between the years 1850 and 1881. The Papers focus on Smith's life and work as an engineer, including his work on marine and hydraulic steam engines, as well as plans for Army transports and U.S.S. Dunderberg.

The papers consist of incoming and outgoing letters (mostly in the form of letterbooks), newspaper clippings, periodicals, invoices, design drawings, and engineering/mathematical implements.

The Erastus Smith Papers are organized into two series by document type. Many of the materials in Series 1: General Files focus on Smith's honorary degree from New York University, as well as several calculating tools likely used by Smith in his engineering work. The series also includes some Civil War era documentation, including materials on the ironclad U.S.S. Dunderberg, which Smith likely worked on, and plans for Army transport boats designed by Norman W. Wheeler. Series 2: Letterbooks consists entirely of bound copies of outgoing correspondence written by Smith. The letterbooks, which include some personal correspondence, are composed primarily of business correspondence pertaining to Smith's work on marine steam engines, steam engines for water pumping utilities, and the Leonard & Smith Company.

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The Erastus Washington Smith Papers are organized into the following two series:

  • Series 1: General Files, 1758-1917
  • Series 2: Letterbooks, 1850-1874
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Access and Use


Access is unrestricted.

Copyright and Permission

The Erastus Washington Smith Papers are the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.

It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information.

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Acquisition and Appraisal

Provenance and Acquisition

Gift of Florence M. and Philip C. Morgan in September 1959.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Material

Additional material pertaining to the career of Erastus Washington Smith may be found in the Erastus Smith Steamship Papers Collection, 1841-1883, at The Mariners' Museum Library in Newport News, Virginia.

Materials Cataloged Separately

No materials have been removed from this collection and cataloged separately.

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Processing and Other Information

Preferred Citation

Erastus Washington Smith Papers, MS 213

Special Collections & Archives Department

Nimitz Library

United States Naval Academy

Processing Information

This collection was processed by in June 1986. Finding aid written in June 1986 and revised by David D'Onofrio in May 2014.

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Subject Headings

Name and Subject Terms

  • Dunderberg (Ironclad screw frigate)
  • Marine engineering
  • Oregonian (Cargo ship)
  • Smith, Erastus Washington
  • Steam engineering
  • United States. Army -- Transportation
  • Wheeler, Norman W.

Genre Terms

  • Articles
  • Clippings (information artifacts)
  • Correspondence
  • Design drawings
  • Invoices
  • Letter books
  • Manuscripts
  • Slide rules
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Contents List

Series 1: General Files, 1758-1917 Boxes 1-2, MSOS

Series Description

Documentation pertaining to Smith's honorary degree from New York University, Civil War era Army transports designed by Norman W. Wheeler, and the ironclad U.S.S. Dunderberg. Included in the series are letters, design drawings, newspaper clippings, periodical issues, and engineering/mathematical implements.

Series Arrangement

Arranged alphabetically by document type or title.

Box 1 Folder 1

Army Transport and Ferry Boat Plans - Correspondence and Specifications, 1863, undated 2 items

Specifications for transports to be designed by Norman W. Wheeler.

Drawer MSOS Folder 1

Army Transport and Ferry Boat Plans - Design Drawings, 1863 (approximate) 5 items

Design drawings by Norman W. Wheeler.

Box 1 Folder 2

Doherty Circular Slide Rule, 1917 1 item

Box 1 Folder 3

U.S.S. Dunderberg (Ironclad Screw Frigate), 1862-1867 18 items

Documents pertaining to the ship's construction, construction costs, and sale to France.

Box 1 Folder 4

Letters - Miscellaneous, 1863-1881 6 items

Includes a signed letter from Gideon Welles.

Box 1 Folder 5

Newspaper Clippings - Miscellaneous, 1962-1875 14 items

Includes clippings on early ironclad warships.

Box 1 Folder 6

Newspaper Clippings - NYU Honorary Degree, 1866 3 items

Box 1 Folder 7

Oregonian (Steamship), 1866 4 items

Documentation of the ship's cruise from New York to San Francisco.

Drawer MSOS Folder 2

Palmer's Computing Scale, 1843 1 item

Periodical Issues, 1758, 1866 8 items

Box 1 Folder 8 Item 1
Newport Mercury, 1758 December 19 1 copy
Box 1 Folder 8 Item 2
American Artisan and Patent Record, Volume III, no. 9, 1866 July 4 3 copies

Includes an article on Smith's honorary degree from New York University.

Box 1 Folder 8 Item 3
Scientific American, Volume XV, no. 2 (new series), 1866 July 7 4 copies

Includes an article on Smith's honorary degree from New York University.

Drawer MSOS Folder 3

Plan for Unidentified Piece of Equipment, undated 1 item

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Series 2: Letterbooks, 1850-1874 Boxes 3-5

Series Description

Copies of outgoing business and personal correspondence sent by Smith pertaining to his work as a consulting engineer. Projects undertaken by Smith include the design of boilers and steam engines for ships, water works, and other urban public works projects. Some of the earlier letters pertain to Smith's prior work for the Allaire Works, while some of the later letters deal with Smith's real estate transactions.

Series Arrangement

Arranged chronologically by starting date.

Box 2 Folder 1

Letterbook, 1850-1859 1 volume

Box 2 Folder 2

Letterbook, 1852-1853 1 volume

Pertains to the Leonard & Smith Company.

Box 3 Folder 1

Letterbook, 1852 1 volume

Box 4 Folder 1

Letterbook, 1854-1859 1 volume

Box 5 Folder 1

Letterbook, 1870-1874 1 volume

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