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William Sellers & Co. records

1827-1947
 Collection
Accession: 1466

Abstract

William Sellers & Co. was an iron works that manufactured machine tools used for turning, planing, shaping, drilling, boring, or cutting metal or wood. The company was founded in 1848 as Bancroft & Sellers by mechanical engineers and inventors Edward Bancroft (1811-1855) and William Sellers (1824-1905). The records consist of five volumes, as well as correspondence from William Sellers and the Sellers firm.

Dates

  • 1827-1947

Creator

Extent

54 item(s)

Historical Note

William Sellers & Co. was an iron works that manufactured machine tools used for turning, planing, shaping, drilling, boring, or cutting metal or wood. The company was founded in 1848 as Bancroft & Sellers by Edward Bancroft (1811-1855) and William Sellers (1824-1905).

William Sellers, a member of the illustrious Sellers family of inventors and mechanicians and one of America's leading mechanical engineers, was born in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, on September 19, 1824. Sellers attended a private school run by his family, and between the ages of 14 and 21 served his apprenticeship in the Wilmington, Delaware, machine shop of his uncle, J. Morton Poole (1812-1879). In 1845, he took charge of the shop of Bancroft, Nightingale & Co. in Providence, Rhode Island. Sellers returned to Philadelphia and set up his own machine shop in 1847. A year later, he was joined by Edward Bancroft as Bancroft & Sellers.

Upon Bancroft's death in 1855, the firm was reorganized as William Sellers & Co., including his brother, John Sellers Jr. (1826-1906), and his cousin, Coleman Sellers (1827-1887). The Sellers firm was one of the foremost American machine shops. Sellers himself obtained over ninty patents covering machine tools, including the spiral-geared planer, rifling machines, and injectors for steam locomotives and boilers.

Sellers served as president of the Franklin Institute from 1864 to 1867. It was here that he delivered his influential paper urging the adoption of a standard system of screw threads, an essential ingredient of interchangeable parts. His proposed system was adopted by the U.S. Government in 1868 and the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1869, leading to its quick, universal acceptance.

Besides his machine shop, Sellers organized the Edge Moor Iron Company in 1868. It became a major producer of structural steel and ironwork, providing materials for the Centennial Exposition and the Brooklyn Bridge. In 1873, he reorganized the William Butcher Steel Works in Nicetown into the Midvale Steel Company, turning it into one of the leading producers of heavy steel forgings, ordnance, and armor plate.

Sellers was also a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania from 1868 until his death and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and other professional societies.

The Sellers firm was incorporated in 1886. It continued to function until April 9, 1947, when the machine tool division was sold to the Consolidated Machine Tool Corporation and relocated to Rochester, New York.

Scope and Contents

The records consist of five volumes, as well as correspondence from William Sellers and the Sellers firm.

The firm's first order book (1848-1854) contains orders with dimensions for machinery, mostly shafting (1867-1872). The visitors' register (1861-1947) contains the autographs of numerous dignitaries who visited the plant. They range from fellow mechanical engineers from the U.S., Britain, Germany and Japan, to industrialists who had placed orders with Sellers, to distinguished foreigners on tour, such as Louis Philippe d'Orleans, Comte de Paris. The register provides insight into networking among mechanical engineers and the personal element in technology transfer.

Also present are a register from the patent marks drawing room, a list of parts for a multiple automatic spacing punch with pneumatic control, and a scrapbook containing Army-Navy "E" Awards from World War II.

A series of forty-five letters from Sellers at the Edge Moor Iron Works to his second wife, Amelia Haasz Sellers, vacationing at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1883 contains business as well as domestic news.

The records contain three extraneous items belonging to Benjamin Ferris of Delaware, the father of Sellers' first wife. These are Ferris' will and a religious essay, "A Metaphysico-Physiological Discourse on the Works of Creation, Part II" by John Linton (undated), along with an 1827 letter from Linton to Ferris on religion.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
William Sellers & Co. records
Status:
Author:
John Beverley Riggs
Date:
1978
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Revision Statements

  • 2020: Laurie Sather

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400