Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Henry Burden Family Papers, 1816-1853

Finding aid created by
Clements Staff, 1998, and Meg Hixon, November 2011

Summary Information
Title: Henry Burden family papers
Creator: Burden, Henry, 1791-1871
Inclusive dates: 1816-1853
Bulk dates: 1823-1853
Extent: 30 items
The Henry Burden family papers contain correspondence between Burden, his business acquaintances, and his sons pertaining to his numerous industrial inventions and to the business affairs of the Troy Iron and Nail Factory in Troy, New York. The collection documents the iron industry in the mid-19th century, as well as the market for Burden's numerous industrial inventions.
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:

1997. M-3419.8.

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). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

Henry Burden Family Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged chronologically.


Henry Burden was born in Dunblane, Scotland, on April 22, 1791, and a talent for inventing led him to the University of Edinburgh, where he studied drawing; though he did not receive a degree, he later became quite successful. In 1819, he emigrated to the United States, and worked with the agricultural manufacturer Townsend & Corning in Albany, New York, until 1822, when he and his wife, Helen McOuat, moved to Troy, New York. In Troy, he joined the Troy Iron and Nail Factory, and quickly rose through the ranks with his talent for suggesting ways to increase efficiency; under his leadership, the factory built a locally famous, giant waterwheel. In addition to his work at the factory, he patented several machines used throughout the iron industry, and his success at transforming the Troy Iron and Nail Factory into a leading manufacturer allowed him to become its sole owner in 1848; he renamed the company "H. Burden & Sons." Along with his iron-working inventions, Burden also took an interest in steamboat innovation, though he proved less successful in this endeavor. Following his death on January 19, 1871, his sons William and Townsend took over the business, although the increased use of steel meant a decline in its revenues. Burden's other sons included Peter, James, and Jesse; Peter also worked for his father, selling his machines throughout the United States.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Henry Burden family papers contain correspondence between Burden, his business acquaintances, and his sons pertaining to his numerous industrial inventions and to the business affairs of the Troy Iron and Nail Factory in Troy, New York. The first letter in the collection is from a Mr. Fletcher to Peter Burden, Henry's father, about payment for local workers in Balfron, Scotland (April 25, 1816). The remainder of the collection is addressed to Henry Burden and, to a lesser extent, his sons, and primarily consists of business letters related to the sale of his patented machinery and to the iron industry. A number of businessmen wrote to the ironworks from locations such as Albany, Liverpool, and Glasgow, discussing the state of the industry and their dealings with the Troy Iron and Nail Factory. For example, D. Abercromby, an acquaintance from Scotland, told Burden of the current economic situation, drained by the flow of talented workers to the United States (April 18, 1828). Peter also traveled to Pittsburgh in late 1847 and early 1848, attempting to sell his father's machines to interested manufacturers, and others wrote of their own use of Burden's inventions. Though most of the material is business-related, the collection holds a few letters from Burden's other family members, including one from his nephew Peter, who stated his intent to go to California (April 26, 1850).

Subject Terms

    • Iron industry and trade--United States--History.
    • Metal-working machinery.
    • Troy Iron and Nail Factory.
    • Burden, Peter A.
    • Simmons, John.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   33, Small Collections Folders   42-47
    Henry Burden family papers,  April 25, 1816-February 7, 1853 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Henry Burden family papers include a letter written by John Simmons, manager of the Ulster Iron Works in Ulster County, New York. The Clements Library also holds a collection of Ulster Iron Works records.


    Forcey, Charles B. "Burden, Henry." American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press, 2000.