Held at: The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute [Contact Us]222 N 20th St, Philadelphia, PA, 19103
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute. 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
The Sellers family was active in engineering and manufacturing in Philadelphia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A Quaker family, they were descended from Samuel Sellers, a "First Purchaser" who received a land grant from William Penn at the time of Pennsylvania's founding in 1682. In the nineteenth century, four family members - brothers Charles (1806-1898), George Escol (1808-1899), and Coleman II (1827-1907) Sellers and their cousin William Sellers (1824-1905) - were prominent industrialists, inventors, and mechanical engineers, responsible for important innovations in engineering and manufacturing while also running major industrial companies and, in the case of Coleman II and William, taking an active role in Philadelphia civic affairs.
Charles, George Escol, and Coleman II Sellers were grandsons of the noted painter Charles Willson Peale. George Escol, in addition to his engineering pursuits, was active for a time in the Philadelphia art community and later took a great interest in archaeological research pertaining to the American Indians. Charles and George Escol worked for their father's firm Coleman Sellers and Sons in their early years, after which they were engaged in a number of engineering activities. In the 1830s they developed new designs for railroad locomotives that were to become standard in future American productions. Later, they moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they established several manufacturing companies. George Escol was not active in Philadelphia after his move to Cincinnati, subsequently spending several years in southern Illinois and later retiring to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he died in 1899.
Coleman Sellers II began working at his brothers' Globe Rolling Mill in Cincinnati in 1846. In 1850-1851 he was involved in the design and construction of locomotives for the Panama Railroad, after which he returned to Cincinnati and took charge of a local locomotive works. From the mid-1850s to mid-1880s he worked as chief engineer at his cousin's firm, William Sellers & Company in Philadelphia. In the 1880s and 1890s he was involved in the hydroelectric power development of Niagara Falls, designing the first large dynamos installed at the Niagara Falls power plant. Coleman Sellers II held more than thirty patents, including his 1861 patent for the kinematoscope, an important development in the history of film. He served as Vice President of the American Philosophical Society and President of The Franklin Institute from 1870 to 1874.
William Sellers was a mechanical engineer and inventor who filed more than ninety patents and was the recipient of several international engineering awards. After working in his early years in a family machine shop near Wilmington, Delaware, he moved to Providence, Rhode Island to run the shops of what eventually became the Corliss Steam Engine Company. He returned to Philadelphia in the 1840s and established the firm that became William Sellers & Company, one of Philadelphia's largest machine tool works from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. For a time, Sellers also owned Midvale Steel, one of the city's largest steel works. An important engineer and innovator, one of Sellers' greatest contributions to industry was the standardization of the screw thread, which allowed for interchanging of machine parts and gave rise to increased efficiency in manufacturing and industrial applications. William Sellers served as president of The Franklin Institute from 1864 to 1866 and was one of the prime movers in organizing the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.
Sellers family papers on machinery, 1845-1893, consist of approximately nine hundred items, a majority of which are hand drawn technical drawings for metal parts and machinery. There are small amounts of other materials, including patents and awards from exhibitions relating to machinery, certificates, and photographs of machinery, such as lathes, railroad cars, steam engines, and other mechanical engineering examples. An inventory is available on-site.
Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.
In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute directly for more information.
- The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Sarah Leu through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
- This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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