Frank Thomson papers
Held at: Drexel University: Archives and Special Collections [Contact Us]W. W. Hagerty Library, 3300 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Drexel University: Archives and Special Collections. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Frank Thomson devoted his career to working on railroads during a period of rapid expansion in the railroad industry. Born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in 1841, Mr. Thomson was the son of a distinguished jurist, Alexander Thomson. At the age of seventeen, he became an apprentice in the Pennsylvania Railroad shops at Altoona. When the Civil War began in 1861, he enlisted in the Union military to serve as the chief assistant to Colonel Thomas A. Scott, who had been appointed assistant secretary of war for military railroads. Mr. Thomson worked for the U.S. Military Railroads in the South and Southwest, on the Orange and Alexandria Line in Virginia, the Loudon and Hampshire Line in Virginia, the Nashville and Decatur Line, and the Nashville and Chattanooga Line.
Mr. Thomson was relieved of his military duty in June of 1864 and spent the rest of his career working for the Pennsylvania Railroad, beginning as superintendent of the Eastern Division of the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad. In 1871 and 1872, he was manager of transportation for an entourage escorting the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia on a railroad trip around the United States and Canada. Mr. Thomson became superintendent of motive power for the Pennsylvania Railroad at Altoona in 1873 and general manager of PRR east of Pittsburgh and Erie in 1874, during which time he led efforts to standardize the track and cars used on the railroad. Mr. Thomson was elected second vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1882 and first vice president in 1888. He was promoted to president in 1897 but died after two years of service, in 1899.
The collection consists of four series: correspondence, railroad-related material, other printed material, and photographs. Representative formats include paper records, brochures, newspaper clippings, bound volumes, maps, and photos. U.S. Military Railroads activities during the Civil War period (especially 1863-1864) and the Russian Grand Duke Alexis’s state visit to the United States in 1871-1872 are especially well documented.
Mr. Thomson’s correspondence between 1861 and 1864, much of which details the day-to-day administrative operations of the United States Military Railroads, may be of particular interest to researchers interested in the Civil War. Researchers interested in railway history should note that although railroad materials comprise their own series, much of Mr. Thomson’s correspondence also documents the administration of the U.S. Military Railroads. Most of the paper records in the Pennsylvania Railroad subseries deal with the Grand Duke Alexis’s visit, which was the largest official state visit by Russia to the United States to that time. The administrative history of the Pennsylvania Railroad itself is not particularly well documented in Mr. Thomson’s correspondence, but the collection does contain maps, books, publications, and other printed matter relating to the railroad.
The provenance of the collection, and how it came to the archives at Drexel University, is unclear. The correspondence, which consists of letters to and from Mr. Thomson, was clearly collected by him, and the printed matter and some of the railroad-related material were also presumably collected by Mr. Thomson. Other parts of the collection, however, such as the portion of the printed matter series that relates to Mr. Thomson’s death, are believed to have been collected by Mr. Thomson’s daughter, Anne.
Original order has been lost over time; arrangement of the collection has been imposed by the archivist. Correspondence is arranged chronologically to the year. Railroad-related material is divided into three subseries: one for the United States Military Railroads, one for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and one for other, unidentified, or general railroad material. The printed matter series contains subseries for materials relating to Mr. Thomson’s promotion to president, his death, and general printed matter. Some items, because of their large size or special storage requirements, have been physically separated from the rest of the series and are stored in oversized storage boxes.
Poor paper quality and improper storage over time have led to physical deterioration of some records. During processing, a number of newspaper clippings and telegrams were photocopied and the originals discarded because of their poor condition. Much of the correspondence and railroad material was folded for many years and is therefore fragile along the creases.
- Correspondence, 1861-1873 and undated.
- United States Military Railroads, 1861-1864 and undated.
- Pennsylvania Railroad, 1863-1899 and undated.
- Other/unidentified railroads, 1860-1873 and undated.
- Printed matter:
- Promotion to Pennsylvania Railroad president, 1897 and undated.
- Death of Frank Thomson, 1899 and undated.
- General printed matter, 1826-[19??] and undated
- Photographs and drawings, 1890-1897 and undated.
This collection is not yet digitized. Please to request scans of any items or to schedule a visit to the archives.
Believed to have been donated by Anne Thomson, daughter of Frank Thomson.
- Drexel University: Archives and Special Collections
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Prepared by Megan Manchester.
- Finding Aid Date
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
Photocopies made at discretion of archives staff. Consult archivist regarding copyright restrictions.
The twenty-three folders contain primarily letters written to Mr. Thomson, although there are occasionally drafts of letters written by him interfiled with his incoming correspondence. The small number of letters dated after Mr. Thomson’s death were sent to Anne Thomson. The two bound volumes are letter books containing copies of Mr. Thomson’s outgoing business correspondence from 1863 and 1864; the later volume, however, is very difficult to read due to poor paper quality and the bleeding of the ink over time.
Arrangement is chronological to the year, except for the oversized items located in OV1. Business and personal correspondence are interfiled. Groups of letters that were clearly stored together or are about a particular subject have been kept together in their own folder and labeled with their subject.Physical Description
23 folders, 3 bound volumes
Arranged into three subseries: United States Military Railroads, 1861-1864; Pennsylvania Railroad, 1863-1899; Other/unidentified railroads, 1860 and 1873.
The U.S. Military Railroads subseries includes records of railroads that were operated by the U.S. Military Railroads, such as the Orange and Alexandria Line, the Nashville and Decatur Line, and the Nashville and Chattanooga Line. Records include timetables, broadsides, tickets, and forms (mostly blank) for payroll, bookkeeping, requisitions, and other administrative functions. The bound volume, although labeled “Letters,” also contains these kinds of items. Included here is a hand-drawn map (author unknown) of Front Royal, Virginia, the site of a Confederate victory during the Civil War, showing the location of railroad lines and the positions of troops.
The bulk of the Pennsylvania Railroad subseries The bulk of the paper records are timetables of special trains scheduled for the Grand Duke Alexis, invitations to events sponsored in the duke’s honor, and other records of the duke’s visit; a few timetables have been removed to OV1. Later records include publications, booklets, plaques, and maps. A few records of other railroads operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad, such as the Oil Creek Railroad, are included with this subseries.
The other/unidentified subseries contains records of other railroads not affiliated with the U.S. Military or Pennsylvania railroads, and records relating to railroad affairs, but whose provenance is unknown. Formats include bound volumes and paper records.Physical Description
12 folders, 1 bound volume
Arranged into three subseries: Promotion to Pennsylvania Railroad president, 1897; Death of Frank Thomson, 1899; General printed matter, 1826-.
The subseries on Mr. Thomson's promotion to president of the Pennsylvania Railroad contains newspaper clippings about Mr. Thomson’s life and career, published when he was promoted to president of Pennsylvania Railroad.
The subseries on Mr. Thomson's death includes minutes and bound volumes honoring the life of Frank Thomson, Mr. Thomson’s necrological notice, and a scrapbook (presumed to have been compiled by Anne Thomson) containing newspaper clippings published on the event of Mr. Thomson’s death.
General printed matter includes miscellaneous brochures, books, and speeches. Most are assumed to have been collected by Mr. Thomson, but the provenance of the items dated after Mr. Thomson’s death is unknown.Physical Description
6 folders, 1 bound volume
Includes two pen-and-ink drawings and seven photographs, not all of which can be identified.Physical Description
Contains map of Front Royal, Virginia, site of a Civil War battle, showing railroad lines and troop positions.
Contains forms, schedules, etc.
Pen and ink drawing. Multi-paned cartoon of buffalo hunt, provisions, and cabin.
Shows Frank Thomson's office.
Shows Frank Thomson in his office, seated at a desk, surrounded by portraits and maps.
Shows fifteen men posed on horse carriages in front of Pennsylvania Railroad car and in doorways of car, location unknown.
Shows twelve men posed on horse carriages in front of a Pennsylvania Railroad train, location unknown.
Shows twelve men posed with horses and carriages in front of a Pennsylvania Railroad train and a building, N[orthern?] P[acific?] Elevator Co., location unknown.
Depicts Frank Thomson and another man with hunting rifles and dogs standing on the back of a train caboose, location unknown.
Subject of portrait is unidentified.
Written in the artist's hand: "Drawn for Frank Thomson, Esq., First Vice President, Penna. R.R. by Capt. McCauley, U.S. Army." Cartoon of a train with four cars and a man chasing a bull off the tracks.