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Archibald Johnston papers

Creation: 1894-1923
Accession: 1770


Archibald Johnston (1864-1948) was a mechanical engineer, who joined the Bethlehem Iron Company in 1889 where he was responsible for the erection of the gun forging and armor plate plant. In 1901 he was elected to the company's Board of Directors, and between 1906 and 1908 was president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. The bulk of this collection is concerned with Johnston's work at Bethlehem Steel; a smaller portion consists of strictly personal papers.


  • Creation: 1894-1923



10 Linear Feet

Biographical Note

Archibald Johnston (1864-1948) was a mechanical engineer and long-time employee of the Bethlehem Iron Company and its successor companies. Jonhston was the son of Joseph Johnston (1827-1900) and Martha Stroman Johnston (1823-1898), born in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania on May 30, 1865, and died on February 2, 1948. He received a mechanical engineering degree from Lehigh University in 1889, and on February 11, 1891 married Estelle S. Borhek (1867-1952) of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Johnston joined the Bethlehem Iron Company upon graduating from Lehigh and remained with that firm until his retirement in 1927. Johnston's career at Bethlehem was marked by steady advancement. He began in the physical testing department, but was soon put in charge of the erection of Bethlehem's new gun forging plant, the first of its kind in the country. He continued to supervise the plant after it went into operation. In I89O Johnston took over the construction of Bethlehem's armor plate plant, also the first in the country, and remained in charge when that plant went into production. In 1900 Johnston was appointed Assistant General Superintendent of the entire Bethlehem plant. In 1901 he was named General Superintendent and was elected to the Board of Directors.

In 1906 E. M. Mcllvain (1863-1935), unable to agree with the policies of Bethlehem's new owner, Charles Schwab (1862-1939), resigned as President of the company, and was succeeded by Johnston. In 1908 Schwab reorganized Bethlehem's top management structure. He himself assumed the title of President, and Johnston was named First Vice President, the title he held until his retirement. In this position Johnston was in charge of government sales, both foreign and domestic. He negotiated the sales of guns, armor, battleships, and complete naval stations, often remaining outside the country for' six months at a time.

Johnston held numerous other positions in the various operations controlled by Bethlehem Steel Corporation. He was Second Vice President of Juragua Iron Co.; Vice President of Bethlehem Steel Products Co. and Bethlehem Iron Mines Co.; a Director of Harlan and Hollingsworth Corp., and Samuel L. Moore & Sons Corp.

From 1917 to 1921 Johnston, a Republican, was mayor of the City of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Johnston was a Director of the First National Bank of Bethlehem, and a trustee of Homeopathic State Hospital, in Allentown, Pennslyvania, and the Moravian College and Theological Seminary, in Bethlehem.

He was a member of the following professional organizations: American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Institute of Mining Engineers, American Iron and Steel Institute, Iron and Steel Institute (Great Britain), and Theta Delta Chi.

He belonged to the following clubs: Union League and University (Philadelphia); Metropolitan (Washington); Railroad (New York); Lehigh Country Club (Allentown); Country Club of Northampton County (Easton, Pennslyvania); and Bethlehem Country Club (Bethlehem).


Arranged into three series, two of which have been arranged further in subseries:

Series I. Correspondence; Series II. Reports and tests; Series III. Miscellany.

Scope and Content

The vast majority of this collection is concerned with Johnston's work at Bethlehem Steel: correspondence, specifications, proposals, memos, blueprints, salary records, pamphlets, and photographs. A much smaller portion consists of strictly personal papers, such as family correspondence, and class notes from college.

The material has been grouped into three series: Correspondence, Reports and Tests, and Miscellany.

The correspondence files of Series I cover such subjects as ordnance contracts with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Italy, Russia and Turkey in the pre-World War I years (circa 1906-1913), general business correspondence and memoranda, sales letters, promotion notices, proposals and inquiries, etc. Correspondence regarding Bethlehem Steel's patent infringement suits with Midland Steel and Niles-Bement-Pond Company (1905-1909) are included. Also covered is the construction of an oil refinery in Argentina and the ore mines in Cuba, Puerto Rico, New York and New Jersey.

These topics generated large amounts of correspondence with a narrow focus. This Johnston filed by subject. In addition, Johnston corresponded with a large number of individuals and companies about a wide range of topics. These letters he filed by correspondent. Some correspondents rated their own individual file, while others, with whom Johnston corresponded infrequently, were grouped together in alphabetical folders. Series I reflects this system. Johnston filed his letters both by subject and by correspondent. Subseries A contains letters filed by correspondent, while Subseries B contains letters filed by subject.

Series II, Reports and Tests, contains twelve subseries: Armor Plate, Blast Furnaces, Financial, Processes & Equipment, Guns, Industrial Relations, Inspection Trips, Miscellaneous Reports, Notes & Notebooks, Plant Expansion, Rails, and Tool Steel.

Series III consists of contracts and notes concerning legal contracts and a single account book. The book is for a shipping company and covers the years 1867-1882. It appears to have no connection with Johnston, his family, or any other papers in the collection. The book was received with the rest of the collection, however, and so is filed with it.

There are two significant gaps in the Johnston papers. First, there is almost no material on Johnston's early career with Bethlehem dating from 1889 to 1892. All his printed biographies say that he was put in charge of the construction of the new armor plate and gun forging plants, yet there are no papers relating to those activities. This is especially unfortunate since Bethlehem had great trouble in producing its first armor plate, and the plant itself suffered many construction delays. Johnston's papers could provide valuable insight into the nature of these problems. This void is doubly intriguing when one considers that John Fritz's autobiography makes no mention of Johnston in its discussion of the construction of the armor and gun plants.

Second, there are no papers relating to foreign arms sales during World War I. This is unfortunate since Johnston was the chief foreign ordnance salesman, and since Bethlehem sold munitions to the Allies prior to America's entry into the war.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Related Material

Bethlehem Steel Corporation records (Accession 1699), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Language of Materials


Additional Description

Separated Material

Archibald Johnston photographs (Accession 1982.302), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

The bulk of the imprints - annual reports, pamphlets, article reprints, printed copies of government specifications - were given to the Published Collections Department.

Related Names


Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Archibald Johnston papers
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
Script of description:

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA