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Wheeler Gift Collection

Latimer Clark’s Library: The Wheeler Gift Collection

Latimer Clark’s library, assembled over his long career in the telegraph industry, was the most comprehensive collection of material on electricity and telegraphy of its time. After Clark’s death, the collection was bought in 1901 by Schuyler Skaats Wheeler of New Jersey, who donated it to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in New York, where it became known as the “Wheeler Gift Collection.” A two-volume catalogue of the collection was published in 1909, listing almost 6,000 items.
(William D. Weaver: Catalogue of the Wheeler Gift of Books, Pamphlets and Periodicals in the Library of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, New York: AIEE, 1909. 504 & 333 pp.)

One condition of the gift was:

The Library to remain in New York City and to be a reference library, free to all, including non-members and available for consultation at least three days in the week and some evenings and some Sundays, as soon as the Institute is in permanent quarters.

The full text of the Deed of Gift is given below, together with the part of the Preface describing the scope of the collection.

Latimer Clark c. 1862.
From Merveilles de la Science

In 1913 the Engineering Societies Library was established in New York City, a joint venture of the AIEE, the ASME (Mechanical Engineers), and the AIME (Mining Engineers), funded by a $1.5 million gift from Andrew Carnegie. The AIEE’s main contribution to the Library was the Wheeler Gift Collection. For many years the collection was accessible according to the terms above, but in the 1990s the ESL decided that it could no longer maintain its Manhattan premises and closed the library there.

By that time the Wheeler Gift Collection had been merged with other works at the library, and had suffered from neglect over the years, much of the material being kept in poor physical conditions. A 1985 survey of the collection showed about 9% (532 items) were missing, and it seems unlikely that the situation improved in the following ten years, prior to the dispersion of the collection.

Constrained by the terms of the Gift to keep the collection in New York City, the ESL boxed up whatever could be definitely identified as part of the original Wheeler Gift and in 1995 sent 205 cartons of books and papers to the Humanities and Social Sciences division of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street. The rest of the collection, including items in the 1909 catalog that were part of the Wheeler Gift but did not have identifying labels, went to Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, MO.

Sadly, the portion of the collection which remained in New York has languished in the Rare Book Division of the NYPL ever since, uncatalogued for lack of funds, and largely inaccessible. The Collection is not listed in CATNYP, the NYPL's catalog, nor is there any mention of it on the NYPL website. Even the entry for the Library's own copy of the Wheeler Gift catalogue has only this information:

Catalog of the library of Josiah Latimer Clark, purchased in 1901 by Schuyler Skaats Wheeler, and presented by him to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.
The library of the Institute was consolidated in 1909 with the libraries of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Institute of Mining Engineers to form the Engineering Societies Library.

Perhaps the NYPL should consider letting Google Book Search scan and index the Wheeler Gift Collection. That would at least fulfill Wheeler's condition that the collection be publicly and freely accessible.



It is my privilege to be able to announce the completion of negotiations by which I have become the possessor of the very remarkable collection of electrical books of the late Mr. Latimer Clark of London.

My object in securing the collection was to present the books to our Institute and make it the custodian of the most complete electrical Library in the world, as well as to stimulate such interest that the Institute may in time own a permanent home in New York.

The assurance received from those who have cooperated with me in this undertaking, that the collection is very complete and includes practically every known publication in the English language previous to 1886, on magnetism, electricity, galvanism, the lodestone, mariner's compass, etc., have been more than verified by my own examination of the books since their arrival in this country. There ar.e among its 7,000 titles many books which are not to be found in either of the famous libraries with which it has been compared, and I find that there are even some of the very earliest examples of printing.

I have always been a strong believer in the principle that every professional man is under obligation to contribute in some way to the welfare of the profession in which he is engaged, and in obedience to this idea I now desire to present this Library to you complete, reserving to myself only the photographs, autographs, and such duplicate books as I may add to my own collection without detracting from the completeness of the Library.

As an early contributor to the Institute and one of the original members of its Building Committee, I am interested in securing for it permanent headquarters and adding to its importance, dignity and strength. It is my desire that the Institute accept the Library and through its Library Committee and a suitable Librarian administer it in such a way as to make it generally useful, and I hope that the possession of these books will add to the Institute's prestige.

I am inclined not to suggest rules for the management of the Library, believing that those who are in charge from time to time are in the best position to know what is desirable, but in order to fix its general character, and secure its permanence, I condition the gift upon the acceptance by the Institute of the following provisions:

First. The Library to be kept insured against loss by fire as fully as it may be practicable to determine its value, and an annual appropriation of $1,500 to be provided for its maintenance.

Second. A complete catalogue raisonne to be published in the name of the Institute, reciting the conditions of gift and explaining the features of interest of each book for the convenience and information of members. This catalogue to be prepared at once and a bound copy of it to be placed in the hands of each member of the Institute.

Third. The Library to be in charge and control of a Library Board or Committee made up of members of the Institute and not more than a quarter of the whole number of members of this Committee to be allied with any one commercial or other interest.

Fourth. The Library to remain in New York City and to be a reference library, free to all, including non-members and available for consultation at least three days in the week 'and some evenings and some Sundays, as soon as the Institute is in permanent quarters.

Fifth. Rare books, that is, books which it is practically impossible to replace, to be exhibited under glass with suitable explanatory cards and to be subject to closer examination only at the Library and upon suitable introduction of the visitor to the Library Committee or their representative, the Librarian, and under such other precautions as will positively assure the preservation and safety of the books.

And further, it is my earnest desire that the Institute shall within five years raise a sufficient fund by subscription, and provide itself with a permanent home for its meetings and Library, and that this home shall be centrally located, reasonably safe from fire and not heavily mortgaged.

In case of the failure of the Institute to comply with the substance or spirit of these conditions, of with the desire expressed above for a permanent home, the Library shall revert to me or my heirs or assigns.

Having in view the sole purpose of encouraging the Institute to attain the position which I feel sure all of its members desire, I have sought to name conditions easily within its reach.


May 17th, 1901.

PREFACE (partial)

THIS work is due to the generosity of Mr. Andrew Carnegie, who donated a fund to house, catalogue and complete the celebrated Latimer Clark collection of books, pamphlets and periodicals, presented to the Library of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers by Dr. Schuyler Skaats Wheeler. A history in detail of the acquisition of the collection and of Mr. Carnegie's gift is given in the Report of the Library Committee for 1903. [1] It is not inappropriate to recall here that it was on the day following a "Library Dinner," given February 9, 1903, by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, at which Dr. Wheeler and Mr. Carnegie were the guests of honor, that Mr. Carnegie announced his desire to provide in New York City the building now known as the Engineering Societies' Building. In this palatial structure, of which the two upper floors are devoted to library purposes, the collection has found an ideal home.

[1] As this Report was not published in the Transactions of the Institute, and also contains a history in detail of the founding of the Library, it is printed at the end of Vol. II. with the omission of the sections dealing with financial matters.

In planning the work, and particularly in view of the requirement of the Wheeler Deed of Gift that a copy should be placed in the hands of each member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, of whom but a small proportion can make use of the collection at its home in New York City, it was felt that the contents should be given as much general interest as the titular scope of the book would admit. In other words, it was thought desirable to impart to the work so far as seemed feasible a direct educational value, to the end that the reader might through its pages easily trace the evolution of the electrical science and arts and form at least a passing acquaintance with the monuments of electrical literature. The character of the notes was fixed by this consideration, and in accordance with it a large number of engravings have been introduced, consisting of reproductions of significant pages of text, title pages of rare books, portraits of authors, plates illustrating epochal discoveries, etc. The admirable Introduction by Brother Potamian (Dr. M. F. O'Reilly of Manhattan College, New York City) adds in a high degree to this feature of the work, which is also furthered by an Appendix on that curious fiction of the sixteenth century, the sympathetic telegraph.

The chronological order of entries and the division into sections adopted were naturally suggested by the historical character of the collection and the special nature of some of its parts. A systematic subject classification was not found practicable for the reason that most of the books antedate any specialization in the electrical science or art. Moreover, for historical research, and especially in the early periods, a chronological arrangement has a distinct advantage where the nature of the subject matter is indicated, as in the present case, by notes accompanying the title entries. Any advantage incident to an alphabetical arrangement according to authors finds compensation in an author index, which also includes all names occurring in the titles as editor, party to a controversy or otherwise, together with all names mentioned in the annotations. Owing to the great richness of the collection in books and pamphlets relating to the telegraph, and especially to the early period of the ocean telegraph, a subject index has been provided for entries of this class.

In making additions to his library, Mr. Latimer Clark evidently considered nothing obtainable in print should be excluded that has any relation, however slight, to the historical or technical side of electrical science or the electrical arts. This inclusiveness, which greatly enhances the value of the collection, rendered desirable some system of classification that would insure due prominence to its extensive miscellaneous portions, and also avoid what, under a strict chronological arrangement, might be the entry of an important historical work sandwiched between entries of, say, a trade catalogue and a parliamentary report. It was therefore decided to distribute the entries into sections according to certain criteria which, though far from satisfactory from a bibliographical standpoint, nevertheless appeared defensible if judged with reference to the needs of those who will make practical use of the Catalogue. Since circumstances rendered it necessary to carry out the work of classification with reference to a card transcript of titles and annotations and not from examination of the contents of each book, close scrutiny will doubtless show that some items have been misplaced. In particular, the latter method of selection might have placed in Section I. some of the entries now in Section II.

Section I, which occupies Vol. I., comprises the more notable items of the collection. Section II. consists largely of excerpts or reprints from the Transactions of learned societies, from periodicals, etc., the total of entries for this class of items being not far from two thousand. It may be added that these items, together with the pamphlets of the collection, are to be found in the Library gathered in bound volumes numbering about 200. In this section are also included a considerable number of pamphlets and some miscellaneous items, such as engravings, collections of clippings, etc. Sections III., IV. and V. comprise miscellaneous publications relating specifically to telegraphy, principally in pamphlet or circular form, and including numerous prospectuses, reports, etc., dating in the early period of cable telegraphy. Section VI. consists of reports of early electric light, telephone and electrical manufacturing companies. Section VII. relates to patent specifications and litigation. Section VIII. contains a considerable collection of parliamentary papers having an electrical bearing, and also covers legislative and legal subjects of a like nature. Section IX. comprises pamphlets, etc., relating to expositions, electrical congresses and societies. Section X. consists of entries of early electrical trade catalogues, circulars and price lists.

Much care has been bestowed on the compilation of Section XL, which is a bibliography of the sets, or partial sets, of periodicals in the collection, in number more than one hundred. The first drafts of entries in these sections were prepared from examination of the volumes and by reference to various available bibliographical sources. The drafts relating to the journals throughout the world now in existence were then submitted for revision to the present editors of these journals. The secretaries of the English, French and German electrical societies very kindly acted upon a request to have the drafts of the entries of former electrical journals printed in their languages revised by the respective librarians of such societies. In the case of British journals no longer published, the entries for those not strictly electrical in character were revised by Mr. H. M. Mayhew of the periodical department of the British Museum.

Mr. Clark took a special interest in the subject of so-called sympathetic or telepathic telegraphy, and spared no pains to make this section of his Library inclusive of the subject. In view of the completeness of this interesting department, an historical account of the idea of the sympathetic telegraph is given as an appendix to the Catalogue proper, together with a list of references to the more notable writings in which the subject receives notice, including some works not in the Library.

Schuyler Skaats Wheeler

Born in New York City, May 17, 1860; son of James Edwin and Ann (Skaats) Wheeler; married in October. 1898, to Ella Adams Peterson, of New York;—2nd, in April, 1901, to Amy Sutton, of Rye, N. Y.

Schuyler S. Wheeler is the President of the Crocker Wheeler Company, manufacturers of electric equipments at Ampere. (Essex Co.) With Professor Francis B. Crocker he organized the company in 1889 and has since been its head.

Mr. Wheeler's interest in the application of electric force to tools and motors of one kind and another, was aroused early in life. At one time he was a member of Edison's engineering staff. He was given charge of the work at the first incandescent light station, when the light was introduced in 1883 and contrived many of the devices that were adopted for the perfection of the light. The electric elevator and the electric light machines are also among the modern new power devices he has produced. From 1888 to ’95 he was the Electrical Expert of the Board of Electric Control in New York City.

In 1904 Mr. Wheeler received from Franklin Institute the John Scott medal for the invention (1886) of the electric buzz fan. His book, prepared in collaboration with Professor Crocker, on the practical management of dynamos and motors is a recognized authority. He brought to this country the Latimer Clark library, the largest collection of rare electric books in existence, and presented it to the American Institute of Electric Engineers. He organized the United Engineering Society and the erection of its building in New York was chiefly the result of his energy.

Mr. Wheeler was educated at the Columbia Grammar School and entering Columbia College left there before graduation to become Assistant Electrician of the Jablochkoff' Electric Light Company, remaining there until he joined the Edison staff. He was successively electrician of the Herzog Teleseme Company and manager as well as electrician of the C. & C. Electric Motor Company, the first concern engaged in the production of electric motors. Shortly afterwards the Crocker-Wheeler Company was organized.

Besides being the co-author of the work on dynamos and motors, Mr. Wheeler wrote the code of professional ethics for engineers which was adopted by the American Institute of Electric Engineers in 1912. He holds the Honorary degrees of D.Sc. from Hobart College and M.Sc. from Columbia, is a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and a member, at one time President, of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. He has been Vice President of the Automobile Club and is a subscriber of the University Club, the St. Nicholas Society, Somerset Hills Country Club and the New York City Chamber of Commerce.

[Scannell's New Jersey First Citizens: Biographies and Portraits of the Notable Living Men and Women of New Jersey with Informing glimpses Into the State's History and Affairs. William Edgar Sackett, John James Scannell. Published by J.J. Scannell, 1917]

Last revised: 7 November, 2015

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