Main content

Henry Howson family papers


Held at: Wallace Township Archives [Contact Us]P.O. Box 670, Glenmoore, PA, 19343

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Wallace Township Archives. 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

Henry Howson, Sr. was born in Yorkshire, England in 1823. He apprenticed at an engineering firm in London, William Fairbairn & Co., where he learned mechanical and electrical engineering. Next, he was employed as a draughtsman and designer for well-known inventor James Nasmyth, then briefly worked with his brother, Richard Howson, as a patent agent in Manchester. Henry came to the United States in 1851 and settled in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, he again worked briefly as a mechanical and electrical engineer, designing several pumping engines for the Philadelphia Water Works. In 1853, he set up his own practice as a patent solicitor, continuing in this line for over 30 years. Howson published many papers over the course of his life, initially about mechanical engineering, and later about patent law. He was instrumental in convincing the Commissioner of Patents to lift the requirement for patent applications to include models. He died in 1885.

Henry Howson, Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1859 to Henry Howson and his second wife, Elizabeth Brewton Howson. Henry Howson, Jr. became a patent solicitor like his father, joining the family firm in 1875. He maintained residences in Philadelphia, but also had a strong interest in gardening. He enjoyed the family's country home in Glenmoore, Wallace Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, "Brae Head Farm." He was involved in the local Fairview Presbyterian Church's annual flower, fruit, and vegetable exhibition, both as an organizer and as an exhibitor, from the establishment of the competition in 1897 until at least 1920. Henry Howson, Jr. and his wife, Emma Reed Divine, married in 1886 and had several daughters together. After his death in 1937, his daughter Margaret (1894-1984) served as the executrix of his estate.

The first location of Henry Howson's firm, established in 1853, was at Forest Place on South 4th Street, Philadelphia. The firm's name was changed to Howson & Son when one of his sons, Charles, joined the firm. When another son, Henry Howson, Jr., came on board in 1875, the name was changed again to Howson & Sons. Expanding to Washington, D.C. in 1868 and New York City in 1887, the practice remained a family affair for decades. Henry Sr.'s nephew, Hubert A., became part of the firm in 1872; his grandson (Charles' son) Charles Henry Howson was welcomed in 1900. Two of Charles Henry's sons, Charles H., Jr. and James D., followed him in 1930 and 1936, respectively. Charles H. Howson, Jr. would be the last descendent of founder Henry Howson to practice in the firm, although Howson & Howson is still active as a Philadelphia-based intellectual property law firm as of 2014.


Howson & Howson. "Our History." Accessed February 24, 2014.

The North American. "Howson & Howson," in Philadelphia and Popular Philadelphians. Philadelphia: The North American, 1891. Pages 61-62. Accessed February 24, 2014.

The bulk of this collection is from Henry Howson, Jr., with some documents from his father, and a sizeable quantity of papers from his daughter, Margaret, relative to Henry Howson, Jr.'s estate. Most materials relate to properties owned by the family in Philadelphia and in Chester County, Pennsylvania (Brae Head Farm) or the Howson patent law firm; there are a few items about Henry Howson, Sr.'s engineering work, Henry Howson, Jr.'s involvement with the Fairview Presbyterian Church's annual flower, fruit, and vegetable exhibition, and other topics. A partial inventory to the collection is available on-site.

The Howson family had properties at 1223 Taney Street, 109 North 34th Street, and Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia, as well as Brae Head Farm in Chester County. This collection includes a large quantity of materials relating to these properties, such as invoices and receipts from vendors, water rent bills, and a few drawings/plans. The financial records date mostly from 1860 to the 1930s. There are also Brae Head Farm yearly reports, 1894-1926, and ledgers, 1923-1930; house plans for Fairmount Ave., and other materials.

Various other family legal and financial documents, including many annual tax returns, are also in the collection. There is a large quantity of Henry Howson, Jr. estate papers, spanning from his death in 1937 through the early 1950s.

Correspondence, relating to the Howson patent office, as well as non-work related, dates mostly from 1875 to circa 1916.

A packet of materials relate to the Fairview Presbyterian Church's annual flower, fruit, and vegetable exhibition, 1897-1920. There are receipts and correspondence generated by Henry Howson, Jr. in his role as an organizer of the event, as well as certificates for his winning entries in the competition.

Of special interest are: a design for an invention by Henry Howson, Sr., drawn in Manchester, England in 1849, and a photograph of a black man identified as "Old Jennings."

Also available on-site are scanned glass plate negatives of family photographs from the early 20th century, on a DVD and printed out.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2012-2014 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 Wallace Township Archives directly for more information.

Wallace Township Archives
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 Wallace Township Archives for information about accessing this collection.

Collection Inventory

Print, Suggest