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Atterbury family papers

Creation: 1834-1990
Accession: 2053


The Atterbury family, specifically brothers John Guest Atterbury (1811-1887) and William Wallace Atterbury (1823-1911), and John's son William Wallace Atterbury (1866-1935), were descendants of a London bank house representative and Huguenot family. John was a lawyer and later a Presbyterian minister, as was William. The younger William was a career officer for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Atterbury family papers consist primarily of the personal papers of the younger W.W. Atterbury as preserved by his family, along with a few items from his father and uncle.


  • Creation: 1834-1990



4.25 Linear Feet

Biographical Note

The Atterbury family, specifically brothers John Guest Atterbury (1811-1887) and William Wallace Atterbury (1823-1911), and John's son William Wallace Atterbury (1866-1935), were descendants of a London bank house representative and Huguenot family.

Lewis Atterbury (1779-1872) emigrated from Manchester, England, to represent a London banking house in Baltimore, where he married Catherine Boudinot (1781-1877), a member of an old Huguenot family and niece of Elias Boudinot (1740-1821), the President of the Continental Congress.

Their son, John Guest Atterbury, was born in Baltimore on February 11, 1811, studied at Yale and became a lawyer in New York City. He relocated to Detroit, Michigan, in 1836, where he married Catherine J. Larned (1822-1907), the daughter of Charles Larned (1791-1834). In 1843, he gave up his legal practice, took degrees in divinity, and began a second career as a Presbyterian minister. He was assigned, first to Flint, Michigan, and then to New Albany, Indiana. Between 1868 and 1871, he served as secretary to the New School Branch of the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education in New York City. He returned to Detroit, where he was secretary of the Presbyterian Alliance until his death on August 24, 1887.

John's younger brother, William Wallace Atterbury, graduated from Yale in 1843 and was also a Presbyterian minister and secretary of the New York Bible Society.

John named his seventh son after his brother. William Wallace Atterbury was born in New Albany, Indiana, on January 31, 1866. He graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale in 1887 and secured a position in the Pennsylvania Railroad's special apprenticeship program at its Altoona Shops. He completed the regular four-year course in three years. He then started on the company's career ladder as Assistant Road Foreman of Engines on the Philadelphia Division. After several transfers, he was promoted to Assistant Engineer of Motive Power for the Northwest System of the PRR Lines West of Pittsburgh in 1892. In the following year, he became Master Mechanic at Fort Wayne. His jurisdiction included Chicago, and his first years in an administrative position were colored by his experiences of the great Pullman Strike of 1894.

Atterbury's performance on Lines West resulted in his being transferred to the more prestigious Lines East organization in 1896 when he was appointed Superintendent of Motive Power. He was promoted to General Superintendent of Motive Power in 1901, with jurisdiction over the design and construction of all equipment used east of Pittsburgh and Erie. In this position, he favorably impressed President A.J. Cassatt (1839-1906), and in 1903, he was elevated to General Manager, the chief operating officer of the railroad. From this post, he was promoted to Vice President in Charge of Operations in 1909.

In 1916, Atterbury was also elected President of the American Railway Association. In that capacity, he expedited the movement of troops and supplies during the Mexican border troubles and the mobilization that preceded U.S. entry into World War I. In this capacity, he became known to General John J. Pershing (1860-1948). When America entered the war, Atterbury was appointed Director-General of Transportation of the American Expeditionary Forces with the rank of brigadier-general. He was associated with the French government in the operation of four main railway lines and the ports and terminals necessary to land the American troops and supplies and move them to the front. He received decorations and honors from most of the Allied powers for his services. Atterbury was discharged from the military on May 31, 1919.

On March 1, 1920, the railroads returned to private control, and Atterbury resumed his position on the PRR. He developed the new regional organization, and replaced the old Lines East and Lines West managements, promoted the development of more powerful locomotives, and supervised the creation of the company's Employee Representation Plan. Atterbury also led the group of railroads that successfully crushed the 1922 to 1923 Shopmen's Strike. In November 1924, he was promoted to Vice President without designation, a post designed to ensure a smooth transition to the presidency. Upon the retirement of Samuel Rea (1855-1929) in October 1925, Atterbury became the tenth President of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR).

Atterbury's presidency encompassed the heights of the 1920s boom and the depths of the Depression. He initiated the expansion of electrification to cover all main lines east of Harrisburg and began major terminal improvements in Philadelphia. He attempted to turn the company into a full-service intermodal transportation agency by purchasing trucking bus lines and joining ventures with Greyhound, TWA, and several shipping firms. Atterbury resigned from the presidency in ill health on April 24, 1935, and died at Bryn Mawr Hospital on September 20, 1935.

Scope and Contents

The Atterbury family papers are primarily of the personal papers of the younger W. W. Atterbury (1866-1935) as preserved by his family, along with a few items from his father, John Guest Atterbury (1811-1887), and uncle, William Wallace Atterbury (1823-1911). Atterbury's railroad presidential papers are located at the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg.

A large portion of the collection concerns W.W. Atterbury's activities as a member of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA) and several trips he took to Europe in the aftermath of his war service in order to promote the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) and investigate possibilities for American investment in European reconstruction, particularly in the former Habsburg Empire. The former contains official APPA letters and pamphlets and Atterbury's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, as well as many personal letters written to Atterbury expressing support or opposition to Prohibition. The latter is primarily concerned with making travel arrangements and arranging introductions. There is a memo prepared for Atterbury on hotels and sightseeing in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. There is some information on the railways of Austria and Hungary and on the natural gas fields of Transylvania. There are also notes and articles on the economic and political conditions in Europe during the early 1920s and a copy of the Versailles Treaty.

Pennsylvania Railroad miscellany includes the personal letters describing Atterbury's placement in the Altoona apprenticeship program; his promotions through 1903; a 1905 memo on organization and officer selection; a report on President Cassatt's plan for securing adequate water supplies; a booklet of schematic plans and sections of Penn Station in New York (1907); an illustrated book of PRR presidents (1909); a minute from the Women's Aid during World War I; a prospectus for the Pennroad Corporation; a 1917 speech by Atterbury on adequate freight rates; company financial and operating statistics for use on Atterbury's European trips; newspaper clippings on the 1923 Broad Street Station fire; and an engraved minute on Atterbury's retirement.

Atterbury's war service is documented primarily by newspaper clippings, with a few letters and telegrams.

Personal miscellany includes a letter from E.H. Hooker describing the European situation (1923), a copy of an 1881 letter from Atterbury's schoolmaster to his father regarding his disruptive behavior, and files on alumni activities and the education of his own children.

The papers also contain two interesting reports by the Foreign Sales Department of the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1922. One details conditions in Eastern Europe, primarily in Poland. The other is a full, illustrated report of a mission from Harbin to Omsk to negotiate with the Soviet authorities in the aftermath of the civil war. The report gives a highly critical picture of the devastation, the breakdown of economic life, and the technical incompetence or indifference of the Bolsheviks in Siberia. There is also a report on Russian famine relief by the American Relief Administration (1923), two pre-war French political tracts, and a biography of T.G. Masaryk.

The papers also contain some interesting graphics and ephemera, including large tourist maps of the Near East, Nile Valley, and Sudan; cabin plans of the White Star liners Arabic, Olympic, and Majestic; timetables and brochures from steamship lines; invitations to the inauguration of President Herbert Hoover and Governor William C. Sproul; a history of the Hutchinson Presbyterian Church in New Albany, Indiana, where John G. Atterbury was pastor; itinerary and menus from Marshall Foch's 1921 American tour; menus of banquets and testimonial dinners, many for World War I figures; European dining car menus; and a poster/lunch menu from Ciro's of Paris.

There are some genealogical notes and publications, notably on the Boudinot family, whom Atterbury seemed to consider his most illustrious forebears. Also included are the log of Atterbury's yacht, the Arminia, with records of several cruises to Alaska, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and New England; and a typescript biography of Atterbury by Patricia Talbot Davis entitled "The Railroad General," which was later privately published by the Atterbury family.

The papers of W.W. Atterbury's father, John Guest Atterbury (1811-1887), include a Yale alumni obituary and a case book and letter book from his early law practice in New York City and Detroit. The volume lists cases argued by Atterbury with notes on disposition. The volume also contains copies of Atterbury's outbound letters dealing with his legal practice.

Atterbury's uncle and namesake, William Wallace Atterbury (1823-1911), is represented by a travel diary of a tour of Europe and the Holy Land made in 1865 to 1866, an adventure similar to that described by Mark Twain in Innocents Abroad. The diary describes the Atlantic crossing and the typical grand tour of Britain, France, Switzerland, and Italy. Atterbury then traveled by boat to Egypt and then by camel caravan through the Sinai, Palestine, and Syria. A typed transcript of the diary is also provided.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research. Litigators may not view the collection without approval.

Use Restrictions

Copyright on biography retained by Patricia Talbot Davis; other literary rights retained by depositor.

Additional Description


On Deposit.

Related Names


Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Atterbury family papers
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Revision Statements

  • 2021: Ashley Williams

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA