Archives News

Special Collections Research Center


Charles F. Brush Collection

Special Collections Research Center, Case Western Reserve University

“From early boyhood I was an omnivorous reader of scientific literature. Such parts of astronomy, chemistry, and physics as I could understand were a never-ending source of delight. I also constructed much crude apparatus – telescopes, microscopes, and photographic appliances. In my early high school days I made, among other things, many pieces of electrical apparatus – static machines, Leyden jars, batteries, electromagnets, induction coils and small motors. But not until 1865 was I able to produce a real arc light, a very small one indeed; but it was the first I had ever seen and filled me with joy unspeakable.”      ~Charles F. Brush, 1926


Charles Francis Brush (1849-1929) was a Cleveland inventor who became world famous for the development of the open coil-type dynamo, the arc light and the first windmill to generate electricity. His extensive collection of patents, correspondence and research are housed in the Special Collections Research Center at Case Western Reserve University. This website has been developed to provide a sampling of this incredible collection, which has been entirely digitized and archived in Digital Case.  Access to all items of the collection is available through the Finding Aid, found in OhioLINK's EAD collection.

A graduate of the University of Michigan in 1869, Charles Brush returned to Cleveland as a Mining Engineer. He worked as an analytical chemist from 1870-1873 and then began to experiment with electricity. He was married to Mary Morris in 1875 and they had three children, two daughters and a son. By 1877 he was devoting all of his time to the study of electricity and subsequently developed the Brush Electric Dynamo and the Brush Electric Arc Light. In 1879, he made Cleveland history by lighting Monumental Park (now known as Public Square) with 12 arc lamps and the following year he lit portions of New York City’s famed Broadway Avenue.

Although Thomas Edison is often hailed as the first person to make electric lighting commercially successful, Charles Brush preceded Edison in the invention and commercialization of this technology. Brush’s innovation in areas of arc lighting, electricity generation and storage remain comparatively unknown. He has yet to be recognized properly as a pioneering American inventor.

Not only was Brush interested in the scientific world, he was very involved in the community. Brush was a trustee at Case School of Applied Science, Western Reserve University, University School, Cleveland School of Art and Lakeview Cemetery. Brush not only gave financial support to such organizations as the Cleveland Museum of Art, Trinity Cathedral and the Cleveland Orchestra, he was a philanthropist in his own right. In 1928, Brush established the Brush Foundation in memory of his son, who died tragically the year before. Donating $500,000, Brush directed the Foundation to fund research in the field of eugenics and to study the problems of human overpopulation.

Charles Brush won many awards, including the French Legion of Honor, the Rumford Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Edison Medal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, the Franklin Medal and four honorary degrees. In 1928, a high school in Lyndhurst, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, was named in honor of Charles Brush and its school mascot was, and still is, “Arcy.”

Click here for a biography of Charles F. Brush.

Additional Links:

Multimedia: Includes a PowerPoint of Charles F. Brush presented by Kelvin Smith Library’s Social Sciences, History & Political Science Librarian, Mark Eddy, at the Business History Conference June 2, 2007, as well as audio and video clips from the collection.  Coming Soon!
Archives: A summary of the entire collection including photos, patents, research papers and scientific notes.
Scholarship: Includes the only known dissertation written about Charles F. Brush as well as a bibliography of published scholarship on Brush.
Finding Aid: A complete list of the entire Charles F. Brush collection with links to the digital content.

Kelvin Smith Library | 11055 Euclid Avenue | Cleveland, OH 44106-7151 | 216-368-3506