Frank J. Hecker papers (1891-1908, bulk 1898-1905)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Cheney J. Schopieray
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Frank J. Hecker papers
Creator: Hecker, Frank Joseph, 1846-1927
Inclusive dates: 1891-1908
Bulk dates: 1898-1905
Extent: 1.5 linear feet
The Frank J. Hecker papers are primarily made up of official letters and documents pertaining to his service during and following the Spanish-American war (1898-1899) as Chief of the Division of Transportation, Quartermaster's Department, and as a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission (1904). The collection also contains newspaper clippings related to his work in these capacities and miscellaneous photographs, printed items, and ephemera.
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:

Access and Use

Acquisition Information

Donated, 1952. M-910.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.


Gift of Christian Henry Hecker, 1952.

Preferred Citation

Frank J. Hecker Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The Frank J. Hecker papers have been organized into the following series:
  • Series I: Correspondence and documents
  • Series II: Photographs
  • Series III: Ephemera, printed materials, and miscellany


Frank J. Hecker was born in Freedom, Michigan, in 1846. In August 1864, at the age of 18, he enlisted in Company K of the 41st Missouri Infantry. From December 1864 to 1866, he served under Grenville M. Dodge in the Department of Missouri Headquarters as a clerk. Once his service had been finalized, Hecker worked for the Union Pacific Railroad (1866-c. 1870); for several railroad construction projects of Major Thomas C. Cornell (1870-1876); and as superintendent of the Detroit, Eel River, & Illinois Railroad (c. 1876-1879).

In December 1879, T. D. Buhl and Frank Hecker established the Peninsular Car Works for the manufacture of freight cars, with Mr. Buhl as president, and Mr. Hecker as vice president and treasurer. Frank Hecker worked alongside Charles L. Freer; James F. Joy and General Russell A. Alger were company directors. In 1884 or 1885, Hecker and Freer purchased Buhl's stock and changed the name of the organization to the Peninsular Car Company. The Peninsular Car Company combined with a competitor, the Michigan Car Company, in 1892 to form the Michigan-Peninsular Car Company. Frank Hecker remained president of the Michigan-Peninsular Car Company until 1899.

In June 1898 (during the Spanish-American War), Secretary of War Russell A. Alger gave Frank Hecker the authority to purchase and charter ships for the transportation of troops and supplies for the United States government. On July 18, 1898, William McKinley commissioned Mr. Hecker as a Colonel of Volunteers, Chief of the Division of Transportation, Quartermaster's Department (official order dated August 18, 1898). In this capacity, Col. Hecker continued his purchasing and hiring duties, outfitted transports for conveying troops to and from Cuba and Manila, arranged for the transportation of troops by rail, contracted for the movement of Spanish prisoners from Santiago to Spain, and conducted inspections. His resignation was approved May 1, 1899.

When Theodore Roosevelt established the second Isthmian Canal Commission to supervise the construction of a canal and establish the Canal Zone government in March 1904, Colonel Frank J. Hecker was among the men appointed to serve in the group. However, in October 1904, newspaper allegations claimed that the Commission purchased construction and other supplies without public advertisement and suggested that Col. Hecker may have mishandled lumber contracts to suit the business interests of his friend, Senator Russell A. Alger, and himself. Col. Hecker resigned the next month, citing illness related to the Canal Zone climate (despite encouragement from President Roosevelt to remain in his position).

While Frank Hecker never held another public office, he remained active in Michigan industry and business. From May 1905 to December 1906, Col. Frank Hecker, Truman H. Newberry, William C. McMillan, and Charles L. Freer owned a controlling share of capital stock of the Detroit Free Press . Among Frank Hecker's many other affiliations, he was on the original Board of Directors of the Union Trust Company of Detroit (October 1891), Detroit Lumber Company (December 1899), and Alger-Sullivan Lumber Company (1900). He also served on the Boards of Directors of the Detroit Copper and Brass Rolling Mills, LaSalle County Carbon Cola Company, and State Savings Bank (later the Peoples State Bank). Col. Hecker was also one of the organizers and the president of the Woodlawn Cemetery Association (1895ff.) and was appointed to the Metropolitan Police Commission of Detroit, 1888-1891.

Colonel Frank Hecker is also remembered for his Detroit home, built in 1888, which is now in the State and National Registries of Historic Sites.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Frank J. Hecker papers are primarily made up of official letters and documents pertaining to his service during and following the Spanish-American War (1898-1899) as Chief of the Division of Transportation, Quartermaster's Department, and as a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission (1904). The collection also contains newspaper clippings related to his work in these capacities and miscellaneous photographs, printed items, and ephemera.

Frank Hecker's correspondence and documents begin in June 1898, as he began to manage the purchase of transport ships. Correspondents include Hecker, Russell Alexander Alger (Secretary of War), Charles Patrick Eagan (Commissary General of Subsistence), George D. Meiklejohn, Nelson A. Miles (Commander, U.S. Army), William Giles Harding Carter, and many representatives of companies in business with the government. The letters are all official, mostly regarding the purchase and charter of ships; the inspection of ships; and the procurement of laborers, construction materials, and equipment throughout the campaigns in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere.

The letters and documents include Frank Hecker's appointment as Chief of the Division of Transportation within the Quartermaster Department; J. M. Ceballas and Company's report of expenses for the transportation of prisoners of war from Santiago de Cuba to Spanish ports, September 1898; correspondence regarding proposed stations for U.S. troops in Cuba and the construction of railways and piers; and other communications respecting transportation, supplies, and storage.

Frank Hecker's two letter books consist of retained copies of his official War Department letters to governmental and military personnel and various businesses. This correspondence contains additional detailed information on the purchase, charter, and maintenance of transport ships and equipment, as well as administrative and financial decisions related to them.

From 1899 to 1903, the collection's correspondence and documents follow up on Hecker's work during the Spanish-American War. Among these are legal documents regarding the John C. Calhoun v. Atlantic Transport Company case (including Hecker's testimony before the Supreme Court, New York County). John Calhoun brought suit with the transport company for commission related to the sale of several vessels to the U.S. government during the war. The correspondence and documents also include one small, undated, Spanish-American War-era notebook, marked "Col. F.J. Hecker. U.S. Vols." Each of approximately 50 pages in this volume contains a ship's name, owning company, tonnage, size, speed, claimed capacity, and cost of charter.

The correspondence and documents dated 1904ff begin with President Theodore Roosevelt's appointment of Col. Hecker to the (second) Isthmian Canal Commission and a letter specifying the responsibilities of the Commission. The bulk of this material is made up of the proceedings of the Isthmian Canal Commission. The proceedings (meetings 1-49, 53-55, 60) consist of minutes and resolutions, awarded contracts, financial distributions, subcommittee appointments, and other administrative paperwork. Hecker's letter of resignation to Theodore Roosevelt (November 11, 1904) is present, as is the President's letter of acceptance and a series of letters to Hecker, lamenting his decision to leave the commission. Several of them (particularly Russell Alger's of December 1, 1904, and George W. Davis' of January 17, 1905) suggest that Hecker's resignation was in part the result of confusion and turmoil caused by the allegations made against him by the newspapers.

The collection also includes clippings from Detroit and New York newspapers with content concerning Hecker's resignation from the Isthmian Canal board. Please see the detailed box and folder listing for a complete list of photographs, printed items, and ephemera.

Subject Terms

  • Hecker, Frank Joseph, 1846-1927--Archives.
  • Isthmian Canal Commission (U.S.)
  • Spanish-American War, 1898--Equipment and supplies.
  • Spanish-American War, 1898--Transportation.
  • United States. Army. Quartermaster's Dept.
  • United States. Army--Equipment and supplies.
  • United States. Army--Transportation.
Subjects - Visual Materials:
  • Alger, Russell Alexander, 1836-1907.
  • Dodge, Grenville Mellen, 1831-1916.
  • Hecker, Frank Joseph, 1846-1927.
  • McKinley, William, 1843-1901.
  • Pershing, John J. (John Joseph), 1860-1948.
  • Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919.
  • Alger, Russell Alexander, 1836-1907.
  • Bird, Charles, 1839-1930.
  • Bryson, George Eugene, 1864-1912.
  • Burr, William H. (William Hubert), 1851-1934.
  • Carter, William Giles Harding, 1851-1925.
  • Clous, J. W.
  • Corbin, Henry Clarke, 1842-1909.
  • Cortelyou, George Bruce.
  • Crawford, Joseph U.
  • Davis, George Whitefield, 1839-1918.
  • Drake, Edward A.
  • Eagan, Charles Patrick, 1841-1919.
  • Griscom, Clement Acton, 1841-1912.
  • Grunsky, C. Ewald.
  • Harrod, Benjamin Morgan, 1837-1912.
  • Hay, John Milton, 1838-1905.
  • Hayes, Rutherford Birchard, 1822-1893.
  • Hecker, Frank Joseph, 1846-1927.
  • Loeb, William, 1866-1937.
  • Ludington, Marshall I., 1839-1919.
  • McKinley, William, 1843-1901.
  • Meiklejohn, George de Rue, 1857-1929.
  • Miles, Nelson Appleton, 1839-1925.
  • Murphy, Dominic Ignatius.
  • Parsons, William Barclay, 1859-1932.
  • Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919.
  • Shafter, William Rufus, 1835-1906.
  • Walker, John Grimes, 1835-1907.
  • Webb, William Seward, 1851-1926.
  • Young, Samuel Baldwin Marks, 1840-1924.
Genre Terms:
  • Contracts.
  • Ephemera.
  • Financial records.
  • Invitations.
  • Legal documents.
  • Letter books.
  • Maps.
  • Military records.
  • Orders (military records)
  • Photographs.
  • Telegrams.

Contents List (Request Materials)

Request materials for use in the Clements Library
Container / Location Title
Correspondence and documents [series]
Box   1  
 August 13, 1891-October 20, 1898.     Letters include one from Rutherford Birchard Hayes to Mrs. Hecker, August 13, 1891. Another contains two sketch maps of Playa de Marianao, Cuba, depicting a temporary landing place for transport ships, October 20, 1898 
Folder   1: Oversize Manuscripts  
William McKinley DS to Frank J. Hecker, Appointment to Colonel,  July 9, 1898.
Volume   1  
 June 30, 1898-September 16, 1898; 508 pages
 September 16, 1898-April 19, 1899; 141 pages
Box   2  
 October 21, 1898-December 14, 1898.
Box   3  
 December 15, 1898-April 12,1900; April 8, 1901-November 23, 1903.     Col. Hecker's undated notebook of ship names and information is located in this box 
Box   4  
 February 24, 1904-September 7, 1904.
Folder   2: Oversize Manuscripts  
Theodore Roosevelt DS to Frank J. Hecker, Appointment to Isthmian Canal Commission,  March 3, 1904.
Box   5  
 October 8, 1904-January 17, 1905; November 2, 1908.
Photographs [series]
William McKinley, signed photograph, 1900.
Theodore Roosevelt, signed photograph with inscription to Frank J. Hecker, November 18, 1904.
Grenville Mellen Dodge, signed photograph with inscription to Frank J. Hecker, 1905.
Photograph of General John J. Pershing decorating Col. Frank J. Hecker with the Civil War Medal, Camp Custer, Michigan, August 26, 1923.
Russell Alexander Alger, signed photograph, undated.
Ephemera, printed materials, and miscellany [series]
Published document. United States. Army--Armed Forces in Cuba. September 13, 1898 : Sir, I have the honor to submit the following report of the campaign which terminated in the fall of Santiago de Cuba, and the adjacent territory, and the establishment of the military government therein. (National government publication, [Washington, D.C., 1898])
Butler, Charles Henry. Freedom of private property on the sea from capture during the war ("special advance sheets," 1898)
Invitation to attend a reception at the Executive Mansion, given by William and Ida McKinley, January 25, 1899.
Invitation to attend a religious service in memory of Félix François Faure, deceased President of the Republic of France, February 21, 1899.
Capitol admission ticket and printed program for the funeral of President William McKinley, [ September 1901].
Program for a reception given by the Detroit Club to congratulate Frank Hecker on his appointment to the Isthmian Canal Commission, March 12, 1904.
"The President" [Theodore Roosevelt] name card, on which is written "With hearty thanks for your congratulations," in an official White House envelope, [postmarked November 12, 1904].
Printed program for the unveiling ceremonies for a statue of Frederick the Great, Washington, D.C., November 19, 1904.
Newspaper clippings (in three envelopes, marked "Re to Resignation from Panama Canal Commission," "Article N.Y. World Oct 7th…," and "Detroit Interviews," 1904).
21 empty envelopes; many marked with titles such as "Playa de Marianao" and "Havana Construction of Pier and Railroad Contract &c."

Additional Descriptive Data

Partial list of company names represented in the Frank J. Hecker papers:

  • American Indies Company.
  • Baker-Whiteley Coal Company.
  • E. J. Codd Company.
  • Hamburg-American Steamship Company.
  • H. W. Coffin & Company.
  • International Navigation Company.
  • J. B. King Transportation Company.
  • Panama Railroad Company.
  • Wagner Palace Car Company.

Alternate Locations

The following items are housed in the Clements Library Book Division:

Hecker, Frank J. Activities of a lifetime, 1864-1923 (Detroit: privately printed, 1923)

Hecker, Frank J. Recollections of my service and experiences in the Spanish-American war 1898-1899 (Detroit: privately printed, 1913)

Related Materials

185.6 Records of the Second Isthmian Canal Commission, 1904-16. Records of the Panama Canal, National Archives.


Hecker, Frank J. Activities of a lifetime, 1864-1923 (Detroit: privately printed, 1923)

Hecker, Frank J. Recollections of my service and experiences in the Spanish-American war 1898-1899 (Detroit: privately printed, 1913)