Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America

Archives related to: Thomson, Frank, 1841-1899

titleFrank Thomson papers, 1826-1915 and undated (bulk 1863-1864, 1871-1872, 1897-1899)
repositoryDrexel University
collection titleThe collection consists of four series: correspondence, railroad-related material, other printed material, and photographs. Representative formats include paper records, brochures, newspaper clippings, bound volumes, maps, and photos. U.S. Military Railroads activities during the Civil War period (especially 1863-1864) and the Russian Grand Duke Alexis’s state visit to the United States in 1871-1872 are especially well documented.

Mr. Thomson’s correspondence between 1861 and 1864, much of which details the day-to-day administrative operations of the United States Military Railroads, may be of particular interest to researchers interested in the Civil War. Researchers interested in railway history should note that although railroad materials comprise their own series, much of Mr. Thomson’s correspondence also documents the administration of the U.S. Military Railroads.

Most of the paper records in the Pennsylvania Railroad subseries deal with the Grand Duke Alexis’s visit, which was the largest official state visit by Russia to the United States to that time. The administrative history of the Pennsylvania Railroad itself is not particularly well documented in Mr. Thomson’s correspondence, but the collection does contain maps, books, publications, and other printed matter relating to the railroad.

The provenance of the collection, and how it came to the archives at Drexel University, is unclear. The correspondence, which consists of letters to and from Mr. Thomson, was clearly collected by him, and the printed matter and some of the railroad-related material were also presumably collected by Mr. Thomson. Other parts of the collection, however, such as the portion of the printed matter series that relates to Mr. Thomson’s death, are believed to have been collected by Mr. Thomson’s daughter, Anne.

Original order has been lost over time; arrangement of the collection has been imposed by the archivist. Correspondence is arranged chronologically to the year. Railroad-related material is divided into three subseries: one for the United States Military Railroads, one for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and one for other, unidentified, or general railroad material.

The printed matter series contains subseries for materials relating to Mr. Thomson’s promotion to president, his death, and general printed matter. Some items, because of their large size or special storage requirements, have been physically separated from the rest of the series and are stored in oversized storage boxes.

Poor paper quality and improper storage over time have led to physical deterioration of some records. During processing, a number of newspaper clippings and telegrams were photocopied and the originals discarded because of their poor condition. Much of the correspondence and railroad material was folded for many years and is therefore fragile along the creases.

Biographical sketch
Frank Thomson devoted his career to working on railroads during a period of rapid expansion in the railroad industry. Born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in 1841, Mr. Thomson was the son of a distinguished jurist, Alexander Thomson.

At the age of seventeen, he became an apprentice in the Pennsylvania Railroad shops at Altoona. When the Civil War began in 1861, he enlisted in the Union military to serve as the chief assistant to Colonel Thomas A. Scott, who had been appointed assistant secretary of war for military railroads.

Mr. Thomson worked for the U.S. Military Railroads in the South and Southwest, on the Orange and Alexandria Line in Virginia, the Loudon and Hampshire Line in Virginia, the Nashville and Decatur Line, and the Nashville and Chattanooga Line.

Mr. Thomson was relieved of his military duty in June of 1864 and spent the rest of his career working for the Pennsylvania Railroad, beginning as superintendent of the Eastern Division of the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad.

In 1871 and 1872, he was manager of transportation for an entourage escorting the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia on a railroad trip around the United States and Canada. Mr. Thomson became superintendent of motive power for the Pennsylvania Railroad at Altoona in 1873 and general manager of PRR east of Pittsburgh and Erie in 1874, during which time he led efforts to standardize the track and cars used on the railroad.

Mr. Thomson was elected second vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1882 and first vice president in 1888. He was promoted to president in 1897 but died after two years of service, in 1899.

extent2.6 cubic ft.
formatsBusiness Papers Personal Papers Correspondence Photographs Clippings
accessThe collection is open for research.
record link
record source
finding aidOnline and in repository.
acquisition informationBelieved to have been donated by Anne Thomson, daughter of Frank Thomson.
updated02/07/2020 18:20:33

titleALS : Philadelphia, Pa., to Gen. W. A. Stokes, Atlantic City, N.J., 1874 Aug. 1
repositoryHagley Museum and Library
collection titleCover letter from Pennsylvania Railroad Company general manager Frank Thomson to William A. Stokes, chairman of the stockholders' investigating committee, for a list of property valuations for the Pennsylvania Railroad Grand Division and the United Railroads of New Jersey Grand Division.

SODA HOUSE - Manuscripts & Archives

Call Number or Accession Number:
0840 (No. 4)
extent3 leaves : 26 cm.
formatsBusiness Papers Correspondence
accessLibrary use only.
record sourcehttp://
updated11/12/2014 11:30:08