Main content

Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades records


Held at: Williamson College of the Trades (Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades) [Contact Us]106 S. New Middletown Road, Media, PA, 19063

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Williamson College of the Trades (Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades). 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

"On December 1, 1888, Isaiah Vansant Williamson [(1803-1889)], a Philadelphia merchant and philanthropist, founded The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades. His purpose in founding the School was to provide financially disadvantaged young men with the opportunity to become productive and respected members of society... The founding of The Williamson Free School with a two million dollar endowment was one of [Williamson's] last charitable acts before he died in 1889.

"Upon founding the School, [Williamson] directed through a deed of trust that the Quaker ideals of hard work, honesty, religious faith, and modest lifestyle be instilled in the students... Although some of the original rules have since been adapted to the times, the School remains dedicated to the values upon which it was founded.

"The 220-acre campus, located in Middletown Township, Delaware County, PA, was purchased in 1889. Frank Furness, one of the most prominent architects of the day, was employed to design the buildings. The School opened in 1891 and it offered three-year programs in bricklaying, carpentry, machine shop, and pattern-making. With the first graduation in 1894, the School became a significant pioneer in America's vocational education movement.

"In 1957, when a fire destroyed all but one of the shop buildings, it looked like Williamson might be forced to close, but the School was saved when the Board of Trustees entered into agreement with the Trustees of the Rodman Wanamaker estate, creating The John Wanamaker Free School of Artisans, now an integral part of Williamson. The agreement funded the construction of four new shop buildings and a general education building, and provided an endowment that covered an increase in the number of scholarships offered.

"Until 1961, students were of high school age and the School's curriculum emphasized the trades. However, due to the rise of secondary education and the significant advances of technology, the Williamson Board of Trustees decided to convert the School to a post-secondary institution. Programs were upgraded and in 1972 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania granted the School the authority to award the Associate in Specialized Technology Degree. Williamson now offers Craftsman Diplomas in Carpentry and Masonry and Associate [degrees] in Specialized Technology Degrees in Construction Technology (with an emphasis on carpentry or masonry); Horticulture, Landscaping and Turf Management; Machine Tool Technology; Paint and Coatings Technology; and Power Plant Technology."


Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades. "A Brief History of the Williamson School." 2011. Accessed January 16, 2015.

This collection, dating from 1746 to 2014, consists of administrative and financial records; a variety of visual, audio, and audiovisual materials; alumni and student publications; alumni records and personal papers; blueprints, deeds, and other documents relating to the School's property; and several other materials that document the functions of Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades (now known as Williamson College of the Trades) and the experiences of its students, faculty, and affiliates. Most of the documents in the collection are from the span of the School's existence, 1888 to the present.

The largest portion of this collection is publications and a variety of visual, audio, and audiovisual material. Photographs and photograph albums, as well as VHS, DVD, audio reels, audiocassettes, glass plate negatives, lantern slides, super-8, film negatives, and slides, range in date from the late 19th through the early 21st centuries and document the teachers, Trustees, students, activities, campus, facilities, and other aspects of Williamson. The publications consist of: a nearly complete run of "The Mechanic" (Williamson's yearbook), 1899, 1904-2013; the staff newsletter, "Willy Weekly," 1992-2004; and another newsletter, "IV Monthly," 1998-2014. Also available is a nearly complete run of the School magazine, which began as "Williamson Life," then became "Williamson Alumni Magazine," and finally, once it was incorporated into the School's operations, is now known as "The Williamsonian." Available issues include: "Williamson Life," 1896-1899; "Williamson Alumni Magazine," 1910-1936; and "The Williamsonian," 1937-2013.

Additional documents in the collection include: materials relating to the establishment of Williamson and its history including a deed from 1746, Board of Trustees records, correspondence of past presidents, financial records, administrative records, blueprints and other documents relating to the buildings and grounds, legal materials, and materials relating to the faculty and staff, recruitment, admissions, school events, and the School's curriculum. Student-related materials include papers and ephemera that document student life, events, activities, and athletics, as well as some student records. There is a small amount of records from the Ladies Auxiliary. Other materials include obituaries of faculty and staff, trustees, presidents, alumni, and others connected to Williamson; newspaper clippings about the school and alumni; postcards; scrapbooks; awards and certificates; materials donated by alumni and others organized by donor (some of which contain materials relating to World War II and Williamson students who contributed to the war effort); materials collected on about a half dozen specific Williamson graduating classes; materials relating to archival requests from alumni, faculty and staff, and others; and various other papers, records, and ephemera.

Materials from Williamson's Alumni Association, organized in 1896, are part of this collection. Included are the Association's constitution and by-laws (1957-2007), meeting attendance records (1945-1972), meeting minutes (1944-2005), officer nominations and ballot forms with a list of committees and members (1967-2002), member dues records (1924-1953), financial records, correspondence, donation records, directories, fundraising and event planning materials, materials from alumni activities and award dinners, and other records. Also present in the collection are additional boxes of materials from the Alumni Association containing: student record cards (20th century) with name, graduating class year, pledges and subscriptions to the Alumni Association, and some mailing addresses; and additional Alumni Association records, especially those concerning a lawsuit the Association brought against the School around 1957-1960.

Over-sized materials include a large number of class and club and athletic team photographs, as well as some documents and photographs relating to the buildings and grounds.

Also available on-site, but not included as part of this archival finding aid, are a wide variety of objects including tools, class and Williamson flags, wooden objects, school clothing, and other artifacts.

Additional finding aids are available on-site, namely: a detailed arrangement outline for the archives, a folder-level inventory covering most of the collection, and item-level inventories of the photographs, slides, audiovisual materials, and (oversize) flat files.

The collection is organized into divisions and files as follows:

I: Creation of the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades I-1: Creation of The WFSMT I-2: Biography and Information I-3: General History II: Board of Trustees II-1: Board of Trustees - Organization II-2: Board of Trustees - Meetings II-3: Board of Trustees - Social Events II-4: Board of Trustee Recognition III: Presidents of the WFSMT III-1: Presidential Correspondence IV: Finance IV-1: Financial Reports IV-2: Financial Statements IV-3: Donations - Outside Firms IV-4: Property V: Institutional Advancement V-1: Institutional Development/Advancement Reports V-2: Alumni Relations V-3: Annual Giving V-4: Endowment Support V-5: Charitable Club and Societies V-6: Capital Campaigns/Giving VI: Personnel and Administration VI-1: Personnel Management VI -2: Employee Handbooks VI-3: Employee Policies VI -4: Insurance VI-5: Pension Programs VI -6: Employment at WFSMT VI-7: Employee Evaluations VII: WFSMT Management and Administration VII -1: Office Management VII-2: Safety VII -3: Institutional Development VII -4: Long Range Planning (more costly repairs) VIII: Buildings and Grounds VIII-1: Building Information VIII-2: Grounds Information VIII-3: Williamson School Station VIII-4: Building - Proposals, Repairs, Restoration VIII-5: Building and Grounds Committee VIII-6: Blueprints IX: Legal IX -1: Depositions X: Recruiting/Admissions X-1: Student Recruiting X -2: Student Admissions XI: Education XI-1: Curriculum XI-2: Education XI-3: Education Evaluation XI-4: Library XII: Student Life XII-1: Rules, Regulations, and Duties XII-2: Student Records XII-3: Student Activities XII-4: Athletics XII-5: Fundraising XII-6: Health Care XII-7: Student Awards XII-8: Student Mentoring XII-9: Transportation XIII: School Events XIII-1: On Campus Events XIII-2: Off School Campus Events XIV: Ladies Auxiliary Treasury XIV-1: Finance XIV-2: Members XIV-3: Campaigns and Projects XV: Alumni Association XV-1: Alumni Committee Organization XV-2: Alumni Association Finance XV-3: Alumni Awards and Recognition XV-4: Alumni Projects XV-5: Alumni Events XV-6: Alumni Correspondence XVI: Obituaries XVI-1: Obituaries XVII: Williamson Commemoration XVII-1: Williamson Commemoration XVIII: Newspaper

XIX: Publications XIX-1: Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades Publications XX: Memorabilia XX-1: Photographs XX-2: Audiovisual XX-3: Journals XX-4: Postcards XX-5: Awards/Appreciation XX-6: Individual Collections XX-7: Class Collections XX-8: Miscellaneous Collections XX-9: Flags and Pennants XXI:Literature and Art XXI-1: Williamson Literature XXII: Partnerships XXII-1: Wanamaker XXII-2: Westinghouse XXII-3: Rankin School XXIII: Archival Requests XXIII-1: School Members - Information XXIII-2: Campus - Information

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 Williamson College of the Trades (Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades) directly for more information.

Williamson College of the Trades (Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades)
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.
Access Restrictions

Contact Williamson College of the Trades (Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades) for information about accessing this collection.

Collection Inventory

Print, Suggest