Held at: Independence Seaport Museum, J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library [Contact Us]Penn's Landing on the Delaware River, 211 South Columbus Blvd. and Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA, 19106
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Independence Seaport Museum, J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library. 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
George Sproule was born in Ireland in September 1867. On December 4, 1884, he entered the office of the Board of Port Wardens of Philadelphia, “the local administrative authority of the Port of Philadelphia [from] 1766 until 1907,” (Sproule, page 3). On July 23, 1888, he was elected secretary, and “his promotion at that time [was due] wholly to the fact of his knowledge of the port and of shipping matters generally,” (Document in collection). He served in that capacity until the Board of Port Wardens was abolished in 1907 and their duties were divided between the municipal Department of Wharves, Docks and Ferries and the State Board of Commissioners of Navigation for the Delaware River and its Navigable Tributaries. Sproule was elected Secretary of the Board of Commissioners of Navigation. According to The Port of Philadelphia: Its Facilities and Advantages, the Board of Commissioner of Navigation was responsible for “all wharf property on the Delaware River and its navigable tributaries in both Delaware and Bucks Counties; … regulations governing the stationing and anchoring of ships and vessels within the entire limits of the Port of Philadelphia, … all the functions exercised by the Harbor Master under the old law; [and] licens[ing] and regulat[ing] the Pennsylvania state pilots,” (Sproule, pages 3-4).
In 1920, J. Hampton Moore became Mayor of Philadelphia and he appointed Sproule to serve as Director of Wharves, Docks and Ferries, a position which included jurisdiction of the piers in Philadelphia. In addition, the Director “ha[d] authority to condemn and improve wharf property and [was] vested with other powers which … served to greatly stimulate the up-building of a modern port,” (Sproule, page 3). A municipal dredging plant and ice boats were responsibilities of the Director. Finally, Sproule, as Director, became the ex-officio President of the Commissioners of Navigation. An obituary found in “Commerce and Industry” states that, “in [Sproule’s] eight years in office, there was witnessed a greater development of the commercial facilities of the port of Philadelphia than has been witnessed in all the previous maritime activity of the history.” He was also responsible for helping to organize the Port of Philadelphia Ocean Traffic Bureau and for initiating modern pier construction.
He married Nora Louise Gerrish of Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1896 and they were the parents of two sons: S. Jackson Sproule and C. Gerrish Sproule. He died on July 2, 1928 of a heart attack at the age of 60.
He was remembered as “an authority on all questions affecting the use of wharves [with] his intimate knowledge of shipping [making] him a most valuable asset to the shipping community,” and the “best grounded man in Philadelphia on all matters concerning the port of Philadelphia,” (document from collection).
His son, Samuel Jackson Sproule, “Jack” was born on January 18, 1905. He was educated at the Episcopal Academy, in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. Following in his father’s footsteps, he worked on the water almost entirely until 1946. He worked with freight, traffic issues, and steamship organizations. For brief periods of time, he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and for his brother’s company, C.G. Sproule, Inc. as an automobile broker and insurance salesman.
In 1942, Sproule enlisted in the Navy and served as Port Representative for the United States Shipping Administration, Recruitment and Manning Organization. He served in this capacity until 1945, when he was made Director of the Manning Division of the United States Shipping Administration. In 1946, with the end of World War II, the organization was abolished due to budget limitations.
Sproule also belonged to the Maritime Society of the Port of Philadelphia Traffic and Transportation Club.
Sproule, George F., ed. The Port of Philadelphia: Its Facilities and Advantages. Harrisburg: William Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1914.
The George Sproule papers document his activities in Philadelphia maritime and shipping matters in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The collection includes business records, clippings, correspondence, appointment books, ephemera, photograph albums, publications and laws, a scrapbook, and writings, the bulk of which were authored by George F. Sproule.
The collection is divided into three series: "George F. Sproule materials," "Newspaper Clippings Volumes regarding Maritime and Pier Events," and "Samuel Jackson Sproule materials."
The "George F. Sproule materials" series consists of business documents, clippings regarding Sproule, and correspondence regarding Sproule's work as secretary of the Board of Wardens for the Port of Philadelphia, Secretary of the Board of Commissioners of Navigation, and Director of Wharves, Docks and Ferries. This series also contains two appointment books which probably belonged to Captain J.R. Whitehorse. Ephemera includes invitations, event programs, certificates and a souvenir book on Providence, Rhode Island issued by the Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association. Two photo albums, both presented by the Commercial Museum, document a trip taken by the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, U.S. Congress aboard the pilot boat Philadelphia; an inspection by the Rivers and Harbors Committee of the U.S. Congress of the Delaware and Raritan Canal in 1911; and images of the Municipal Piers constructed by the Department of Wharves, Docks and Ferries, circa 1920, and various ships on the Delaware River, including the John Wanamaker. A scrapbook, consisting mainly of clippings regarding George F. Sproule, includes information on his death and funeral. Of interest to researchers focusing on the Board of Port Wardens is the folder of writings, most of which were authored by Sproule. The scope of these writings are broad, however, they address, in a fair amount of detail, the history of the Port of Philadelphia, a topic on which Sproule was considered an expert.
The "Newspaper Clippings Volumes regarding Maritime and Pier Events" consist of 17 volumes and cover the years 1884 to 1912 and 1922 to 1928. The years from 1913 to 1927 are not present. These volumes give a long history of maritime events, especially the accidents and disasters occurring at sea, and might prove useful for a researcher.
The final series, the "Samuel Jackson Sproule materials," contains clippings regarding the War Shipping Administration during World War II, photographs that are largely unidentified, and correspondence and documents regarding the War Shipping Administration and Sproule's search for a job following the closing of the War Shipping Administration at the end of World War II.
There is much material for researchers interested in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Philadelphia maritime history, including shipping, ports, wharves, docks, and related matters; the Port of Philadelphia; the Board of Port Wardens; and shipping and pier events. Additionally, researchers interested in the Port of Philadelphia's role in World War II or the War Shipping Administration, Recruitment and Manning Organization may find this collection to be valuable.
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
- Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association.
- Pennsylvania. Board of Commissioners of Navigation for the River Delaware and its Navigable Tributaries.
- Pennsylvania. Board of Wardens for the Port of Philadelphia.
- Philadelphia (Pa.). Dept. of Wharves, Docks and Ferries.
- Port of Philadelphia Ocean Traffic Bureau.
- United States. Navy.
- United States. War Shipping Administration.
- Independence Seaport Museum, J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Jack McCarthy and Leslie Willis
- Finding Aid Date
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
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Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.