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Charles F. Brush, Sr. Papers: Online Exhibit

Kelvin Smith Library Special Collections

In 1879, Charles F. Brush, Sr. made Cleveland, Ohio 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. Brush was well known in his lifetime for his inventions, his business acumen and his philanthropic works and was respected for his contributions to science and society, yet history reveals little about one of our greatest inventors.

The Charles F. Brush, Sr. Papers in the Kelvin Smith Library Special Collections offer a rich source of material documenting the life and work  of this accomplished American scientist, inventor, businessman and philanthropist most famous for his invention of the arc lamp.  The collections consists of correspondence, laboratory notes, patent information, litigation records, financial material, newspaper clippings, company records, scientific articles, biographical information, photographs, audio recordings, and artifacts described in detail in the Guide to the Charles F. Brush, Sr. Papers

In an effort to increase access to and use of the collection, the Charles F. Brush, Sr. Papers were digitized in their entirety in a project funded by Brush Engineered Products in 2008-2009.  The following online exhibit invites our visitors to learn more about Charles F. Brush, Sr. first-hand, through his correspondence, business records, scientific research and photographs.


Series 1: Correspondence 1876-1931

Brush was a keen observer of the world around him and a diligent correspondent.  Series 1 features correspondence between Brush and his family, friends and peers which illuminates the scientific, political, social and business culture of his day.  Highlights of this series include correspondence between Brush and his children, in particular Charles F. Brush, Jr. and Edna Brush Perkins.  Raised in wealth, they were accustomed to expensive travel and entertainment which they described in rich detail to their father who in response requested greater detail.

Most of the letters here were written between Charles F. Brush, Sr., and his family members, most notably his son, Charles F. Brush, Jr., and his son’s wife, Dorothy Brush (Walmsley). In the letters (dated between 1911 and 1929) between Brush, Sr., his son, and daughter-in-law, they discuss their lives in Cleveland and elsewhere, their travels, scientific experiments, school, and grandchildren. The correspondence also documents how Dorothy and Brush, Sr., coped with the death of Charles F. Brush, Jr., in 1927.

The correspondence files also highlight Brush’s efforts to prove his kinetic theory of gravitation. This theory suggested that the behavior of gravity could be explained by the action of ether. Ether was thought to be a gas which many believed occupied space in which light traveled. Thus, Brush attempted to prove the existence of ether. After many years of conducting his own experiments in the basement laboratory in Euclid Avenue, Brush contracted with scientists at the U.S. Bureau of Standards and General Electric to further his work. As the correspondence shows, the experiments done at the U.S. Bureau of Standards and General Electric could not prove, to their satisfaction, the existence of ether.


Series 2: Laboratory Notes 1880-1929

Of note in this series is a bound volume of laboratory notes, written by Brush between 1880 and 1883.  On pages 1-3 he describes losing an 1879 journal in a fire. Pages 4-29 contain Brush's best recollection of various things from old journal, as well as G.W. Stockley's signature witnessing that Stockley also recalled Brush explaining his ideas to him in 1879.  These are primarily accounts of his early experiments with the original arc lighting system in the 1870s.  Brush continues his journal of lab notes on page 60, making entries until page 146, in the years 1880, 1881, 1882, and 1883.

Most of the other material here deals with his storage battery experiments and his prodigious attempts to prove his kinetic theory of gravitation later in life.


Series 3: Patents 1872-1888

Especially significant are Brush’s patents found here. Within this series are two volumes, which contain 68 printed patent specifications of Brush inventions involving the arc light, the Brush dynamo, storage battery systems and his windmill.


Series 4: Litigation 1895-1906

Brush engaged in a number of court battles to protect his patents and legal rights, the documentation of which is found in this series. The material here concerns infringements on patents held by Charles F. Brush, Sr. and includes correspondence, contracts, drawings, blueprints and court proceedings relating to trials involving the Brush Electric Company, the Accumulator Company, the Brush-Swan Company and the Linde Air Products Company as well as litigation involving Brush patents, including the Brush arc lamp, storage battery, and the Brush dynamo.


Series 5: Financial Records 1878-1891

This series provides many interesting examples of 19th century personal and business records typical of a well-to-do American in the gilded age.  Meticulous files include personal checks, check stubs, and invoices for services and goods purchased by Brush during the construction and furnishing of his Euclid Avenue mansion.

The financial success Brush earned through the manufacture and sales of his inventions is recorded in the financial records of the Brush Electric Company, ca.1880-1889. Found here are ledger sheets recording royalties from his inventions, as well as a record of merchandise ordered and shipped by the company in the ten years prior to its sale to the Thomson-Houston Electric Company in 1889.


 Series 6: Newspaper Clippings 1878-1964

Included in this record series are newspaper clippings from daily newspapers around the country as well as scientific journals and popular publications such as Harper’s Weekly concerning the arc light, dynamo, and storage battery, the Brush Euclid Avenue home and windmill, The Brush Foundation and its activities, obituaries for Charles F. Brush, patent litigation, and the kinetic theory of gravitation


Series 7: Articles by Charles F. Brush 1875-1928

This series contains reprints, as well as some typed and handwritten manuscripts, of scientific articles written by Brush over a 50 year time span. There are a few articles here addressing his groundbreaking work with the arc light, but most deal with his experiments to support his kinetic theory of gravitation. 


Series 8: Other Papers 1860-1960

This series contains material representing various interests of Charles F. Brush for which he kept a small store of information not elsewhere classified.  Together they provide a view of matters that concerned him outside his laboratory and document family and personal history as well as other interests he shared with family and friends.

Included in this series are biographical sketches of Charles F. Brush and his son, Charles F. Brush, Jr., as well as various Brush family trees. These include two published genealogies that focused on the parents of Charles F. Brush, Sr.; Isaac and Delia Brush.

Collected Publications are arranged chronologically and include a small collection of reprints of articles which appeared in scientific journals. Authors of the articles include such Brush contemporaries as Elihu Thomson.

Legal documents found here relate mostly to business and property interests of Charles F. Brush. Items include contracts between Brush and the Brush Electric Company, Brush’s 1879 contract with the city of Cleveland to light Monumental Park, and the 1928 establishment of the Brush Foundation.

Miscellaneous items include awards and citations received by Brush, samples of his business cards, a ledger belonging to his brother Henry, and the 1927 dedication program of Charles F. Brush High School in Lyndhurst, Ohio.

 Series 9: Brush Companies 1880-1954

The Brush Laboratories Company was founded in 1921 by Charles F. Brush, Sr., Charles F. Brush, Jr., and Charles Baldwin Sawyer, to engage in scientific research, testing and engineering, as well as the making of and dealing in inventions, patents and processes. Charles F. Brush, Jr., was the first president. After Charles F. Brush, Jr.’s, unexpected death in 1927, Sawyer assumed the leadership in the company. The records here include employment contracts and resignations, stock agreements with Charles F. Brush, Sr., license agreements, and patent transfers. The Brush Electric Company includes product catalogs or descriptions of early Brush electrical products such as electric light systems and dynamos.


Series 10: Charles Baldwin Sawyer Collection Related to Charles F. Brush 1911-1966

Charles Baldwin Sawyer was a close friend of Charles F. Brush, Jr., Charles F. Brush, Sr.’s son. Sawyer, closely attached to Brush's family for many years, wanted to make known the unique contribution of Charles F. Brush, Sr., to American electrical technology. After the latter's death in 1929, Sawyer gave much effort to gathering data, verifying historical events, and collecting documents and artifacts relevant to Brush's career. In this series, are Sawyer’s files related to Charles F. Brush, Sr.

Of note is the correspondence between Sawyer, Dorothy Brush Walmsley, Margaret Richardson, E. S. Lincoln, and the Case Institute of Technology regarding the writing of a biography of Charles F. Brush, Sr.

Other files document Sawyer’s efforts to publicize Brush’s accomplishments through anniversary celebrations, plaque unveilings, and even the naming of a World War II battleship after Brush.

Series 11: Margaret Richardson Biography of Charles F. Brush 1882-1929

Under contract to Charles F. Brush, Jr.’s, widow, Dorothy Brush Walmsley, Margaret Richardson attempted to write a proper biography of Charles F. Brush, Sr.  Due to health reasons, Richardson was unable to finish the biography and sold her notes, chapter drafts, copies of Brush materials, and other files, all contained here, to Charles Baldwin Sawyer in 1954.This series represents a rich source of biographical material about Brush collected and organized by a devoted biographer.

Within this series, organized by chapter, are the files complied by Margaret Richardson during her attempt to write a biography of Charles F. Brush, Sr.  Within each folder are contained a wide variety of materials, including chapter drafts, notes, copies of materials in the Brush papers, news clippings, and background information.

Her miscellaneous files are organized in two folders of correspondence, arranged by author. Especially important is the correspondence between Richardson and Dorothy Brush , widow of Charles F. Brush, Jr., regarding Richardson’s efforts to write a Charles F. Brush, Sr., biography.

Richardson's research files include material related to her Brush biography filed alphabetically by subject heading. Included here are Richardson’s handwritten notecards, divided by bibliography, chronology, and topical subject.

 Series 12: Harry Eisenman Dissertation on Charles F. Brush 1943-1967

Files here include a copy of Eisenman’s 1967 dissertation on Charles F. Brush and the research files he created while writing it. The research files contain background and contextual information about Brush, his life and times.  Also included here are copies of scientific articles, price lists for scientific equipment¿ and fragmented transcriptions of interviews he conducted with Brush family members and former employees.

We thank Mr. Eisenman for his generosity in allowing a copy of his dissertation to be downloaded here

Series 13: Photographs and Drawings 1880-1954

This series includes portraits of Brush, Brush with his scientific contemporaries, his birthplace Walnut Hill, his home on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio including images of his basement laboratory at that house, assorted images of equipment and machines that he used there, and his backyard windmill. Included in this series are glass plate negatives of many of these images and negatives and prints taken as part of his experiments in gravitation and his study of gasses. Also of note are drawings of his backyard windmill.



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