These documents, which cover the period 1878-1910, consist of unbound correspondence, letterbooks, technical notes, legal documents, and other items relating to Frank J. Sprague, engineer, inventor, and pioneer in electric traction. In 1883 and 1884 Sprague worked for the Thoms A. Edison Construction Dept., installing the first overhead three-wire central station at Sunbury, Pennsylvania, and the first underground three-wire station at Brockton, Massachusetts. After leaving Edison's employ Sprague, along with longtime Edison associate Edward H. Johnson, established the Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Co. to develop and sell motors, which were manufactured by the Edison Machine Works. In 1887 he designed and built the Richmond Union Passenger Railway, the first successful large-scale electric railway in the United States. Sprague's company was absorbed in 1890 by the recently formed Edison General Electric Co., which produced and sold Sprague motors until the creation of General Electric two years later. After briefly serving as a consulting engineer for Edison General Electric, Sprague organized a new company in 1892 to build and install electric elevators.
The selected items pertain primarily to motors, electric lighting, three-wire central stations, electric railways, and various patent matters. Among the correspondents are Edison, Johnson, and other Edison associates, including Charles A. Benton, Sherburne B. Eaton, William J. Hammer, Jacob H. Herrick, William J. Jenks, Thomas Commerford Martin, John Muir, John H. Vail, and Henry Villard. In addition to the correspondence, there are notes by Sprague regarding a formula for a "new method of regulating pressure in a system of feeders" (1884); a certificate of incorporation for the Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Co. (1884); minutes of meetings of the Board of Trustees of the Edison General Electric Co. (1889-1890); and an extract from a 1907 address by Philip A. Lange of the Westinghouse Co. describing Sprague's contributions to the electrical industry.
Among the items not selected are eleven letterbooks covering the years 1883-1902. These books contain numerous letters from Sprague and his associate Horace F. Parshall to Edison, Charles Batchelor, Edward H. Johnson, Francis R. Upton, John H. Vail, and other officials of the Edison electric light companies and local illuminating companies. Many of the letters deal with the design of Sprague's motors and other components of his electric traction system, their manufacture by the Edison Machine Works, and problems of quality control. Other letters discuss the patents of Sprague and Edison and the relationship between the Sprague company and the various Edison companies. The first letterbook, covering the period September 1883-February 1886, also contains letters relating to the activities of the Edison Construction Dept. in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. The policy of the New York Public Library prohibits the photocopying of individual items from these letterbooks, and many of the letters would be difficult to reproduce because of light, faded, and blurred ink. The recipient's copy of most of Sprague's letters to Edison are in the archives of the Edison National Historical Park and are reproduced in the digital and microfilm editions of The Thomas A. Edison Papers.
An online finding aid to the archival collection is available. Courtesy of The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.