Skip to main content

Archibald Johnston Letterbook

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: SC MS 0137

Scope and Contents

The correspondence encompasses the year of 1912. The collection includes 55 letters and notes and approximately 770 telegrams in various forms from various telegraphic companies. Some sheets are handwritten, some in code, some in partial code, some in English, in Spanish, some typed and some block printed pasted into a single book. The ledger type book measures 11” by 15” by 3 inches thick. The beginning pages of the book have alphabetic tabs (black and red ink alphabet) where the letters were attached. Subsequent pages are numbered 1 through 301(black print) where the telegrams were glued in a chronology from late December 1911 to October 1912. The book was stored in damp poor conditions so much of the paste and glue loosened both the correspondence and the book binding.


  • Creation: 1912


Conditions Governing Access

Collection housed remotely. Users need to contact 24 hours in advance.

Conditions Governing Use

Collection is open for research.

Biographical / Historical

Archibald Johnston (1865-1948) graduated from Lehigh in 1889 in Mechanical Engineering. Upon graduation he went to work for the Bethlehem Iron Company where he was put in charge of building and operating the first gun forging plant and armor plate department in a steel manufacturing plant in the United States. In 1899, when the company became the Bethlehem Steel Company under the directorship of Charles M. Schwab, he became assistant general superintendent. Later, Schwab appointed him a president of the steel company. In 1906, Schwab incorporated Bethlehem Steel. Johnston was made first vice president of the Corporation. Under the forceful nature of Schwab in the name of patriotism and the anticipation of the war (World War I), the boroughs of Bethlehem and South Bethlehem were consolidated in 1917with Johnston leading the effort. Johnston was elected the City of Bethlehem’s first mayor in 1918 and served until 1922. During his term as mayor he improved the relationship between the Company and the community. He was a company man. He retired from Bethlehem Steel Corporation in 1927. Johnston married Estelle Borhek in 1891. She was a daughter of the prominent Bethlehem timber merchant family Brown-Borhek. She accompanied him on many trips to South America and on some occasions their children also came along according to some of the correspondence.

The correspondence in this collection gives an interesting and exciting view of the rise of Bethlehem Steel to a world power in steel manufacturing under the flamboyant direction of Charles M. Schwab, as Chairman of the Board and Eugene G. Grace, as President. Schwab’s intention was to make Bethlehem Steel a prize steel manufacturing company of armament, guns, battleships and equipment. Based on the telegrams and letters in this collection it is apparent that Bethlehem Steel had high-powered representatives such as Archibald Johnston stationed around the world. The Bethlehem Steel executives in 1912 had direct access to senators, generals and admirals both in the United States and worldwide. Archibald Johnston’s arena appears to have been primarily Argentina, Brazil and Chile when those South American countries were very affluent and interested in establishing their own navies and coastal defenses. Chile also had fine quality iron ore mines which Bethlehem Steel owned as well as iron mines in Cuba. Along with a number of other Bethlehem Steel executives who covered Europe as well as South America, the daily telegrams back and forth to each other and the home office in South Bethlehem indicate a broad spectrum of business with England, France, Germany, Greece, Japan and Turkey as well as South America. The business messages have an interesting code system based on German terminology (e.g. “Bleiplatte, Koolhaus, Kopfmuskel, Kornjahres, Musikhaus, Stubenbett”). Possibility is that Schwab designated this usage since he had German parents who immigrated to Pennsylvania. It is during this time of the Johnston correspondence that Bethlehem Steel developed the “H” beam (later modified to an “I” beam). The correspondence in this collection, however, mostly deals with orders for armament and battleships, the main products produced at the South Bethlehem plant at the time.


2 Linear Feet (3 boxes)

Language of Materials



The collection contains ciphered, coded confidential telegrams from/to Archibald Johnston (Lehigh 1889), a president of Bethlehem Steel Company as well as personal letters. He represented The Company abroad primarily in South America. Most of the correspondence is dated 1912 to/from Charles M. Schwab, director of Bethlehem Steel Co. or Eugene G. Grace (Lehigh 1899), a president designate (made a president in 1913) and Archibald Johnston. The business correspondence is mainly telegrams written in code. The personal letters and telegrams are usually in English but a few are in Spanish. As some of the correspondence indicates, his wife and family accompanied him to South America.


In general, the material represents a single year but a few stray letters that were loose are from late 1911. The pasted-in material was removed from the original book and filed in archival folders. In most cases the letters are sorted alphabetically and the telegrams filed generally according to date beginning from late 1911 to late October 1912. Many of the related messages were pasted on top of the previous with the most recent on top and in some cases extending to an additional page. In detailing the contents, unless otherwise noted the year is 1912 and from Archibald Johnston (code name Kornjahres).

Related Materials

Forging America: The History of Bethlehem Steel, Allentown, PA., The Morning Call, December 2003.

Souvenir History Book of the Borough of South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, issued in connection with the semi-centennial celebration October 3-9, 1915.

Archibald Johnston Letterbook
Eleanor Nothelfer
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Lehigh University Special Collections Repository

Lehigh University
Linderman Library
30 Library Drive
Bethlehem PA 18045 USA
610-758-6091 (Fax)