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Pearce Atkinson papers (1868-1903, bulk 1879-1895)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Amy Smola and Meg Hixon, January 2012
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Pearce Atkinson papers
Creator: Atkinson, George W. P. and Atkinson, Pearce, 1868-1896
Inclusive dates: 1868-1903
Bulk dates: 1879-1895
Extent: 1 linear foot
The Pearce Atkinson papers contain correspondence between Atkinson and his parents, written primarily in the 1890s. The majority of the letters date from his time at Lehigh University and early engineering career with the Union Pacific Railway. These letters include descriptions of his college life and later railroad work in the mountains of Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu

Access and Use

Acquisition Information

1990. M-2604.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Preferred Citation

Pearce Atkinson Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged in the following series:
  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Ephemera

The Correspondence series is arranged chronologically, with undated items placed at the end.


Pearce Atkinson was born on January 9, 1868, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of George W. P. and Margaret P. Atkinson. During his early life, he lived in Racine, Wisconsin, and Cleveland, Ohio, and his family eventually moved to Chicago, Illinois. In 1885, he entered the School of Mechanical Engineering at Lehigh University, where he joined the Delta Upsilon fraternity; after his graduation in 1889, the University published his book on the subject of steam heating in railway cars. After receiving his degree, Atkinson worked as an engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad Company in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, and later worked as a contractor for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Between 1895 and 1896 he worked for Atkinson Mining Engineers and Mining Operators in Cripple Creek, Colorado. In 1896, he traveled to Cuba, where he reportedly served as aide-de-camp for Cuban General Antonio Maceo Grajales; he died in Pinar del Río, Cuba, on August 4 of that year. He had two younger brothers, Clarence and Arthur.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Pearce Atkinson papers consist of 295 letters, primarily between Atkinson and his parents, written mostly in the 1890s. In several letters written to their father in 1879, a young Pearce and his brother Clarence told of their daily lives, and frequently mentioned their newborn brother Arthur. Most of the correspondence, however, dates from the time that Pearce entered Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and covers his collegiate years as well as his early career as a railroad engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad Company. While in Pennsylvania, he frequently wrote his parents about his coursework, financial situation, and social life, which often included visits to Philadelphia. His father sometimes sent him money, and occasionally offered advice on education and other topics; in one letter, he suggested five possible thesis topics, all related to railroads (March 18, [1888]). Additionally, several academic progress reports are interspersed among the letters (June 22, 1888, January 1889, et al.). After graduation, Atkinson wrote his parents from various locations in the western United States, and described his career and life while based in Salt Lake City, Utah; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Denver, Colorado; and several locations throughout California. Along with discussing his engineering work, he also wrote vivid descriptions of the local scenery and occasionally commented on politics. On May 30, 1894, he mentioned a group of Coxey's army members encamped near Denver, and he continued to report about strikers and additional unrest throughout June. Atkinson's final letters were written in early 1895, though his parents received a handful of later correspondence, including condolences for his death (July 19, 1898) and a letter from Charles Pollak, a family friend, regarding the death of Pollak's father (November 14, 1903). The ephemera item is a bloodstained handkerchief, labeled "Pearce Atkinson."

Subject Terms

  • Bethlehem (Pa.)
  • Cheyenne (Wyo.)--Description and travel.
  • Chicago (Ill.)
  • Colorado--Description and travel.
  • Coxey's Army.
  • Delta Upsilon Fraternity.
  • Education, Secondary--United States--History.
  • Evanston (Ill.)
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.
  • Railroad engineers.
  • Salt Lake City (Utah)--Description and travel.
  • Strikes and lockouts.
  • Union Pacific Railroad Company.
  • Atkinson, Margaret
Genre Terms:
  • Letters (correspondence)

Contents List

Container / Location Title
Box   1 Folders   1-15
 January 27, 1868-December 24, 1888
Box   2 Folders   1-15
 December 28, 1888-November 14, 1903, and  undated
Ephemera [series]
Box   2 Folder   16

Additional Descriptive Data


Atkinson, Pearce. Steam Heating of Railway Cars. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Lehigh University, 1889.

Delta Upsilon Fraternity. Delta Upsilon Quarterly. Vol. 20. Delta Upsilon Fraternity.

Delta Upsilon Fraternity. The Delta Upsilon Decennial Catalogue [1903]. Delta Upsilon Fraternity, [1903].