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Birkinbine Engineering Company Records, Collection II

 Collection
Identifier: SC MS 0084-2
The Birkinbine Engineering Company records houses the company’s business records as well as the Birkinbine family’s personal materials. This collection, dating from circa 1850 to 1950s, with the bulk dates of 1870 to 1910, consists of printed and graphic materials documenting a variety of company projects – notably water works and mining – as well as materials that illustrate the Birkinbine Engineering Company’s professional affiliations. Specifically, it includes volumes; bound and loose journals and pamphlets; maps; technical and architectural drawings; plans; writings by members of the Birkinbine family; financial records; photographs and graphic materials; patents; tools; and realia.

This collection thoroughly documents the range of mining and water works projects performed by the Birkinbine Engineering Company. It also highlights the processes of raw mineral extraction while conveying a sense of the industry’s vale and growth. This collection chronicles the Birkinbine Engineering Company’s development and influence in the engineering industry through nearly a century of company records and publications. Additionally, the collection offers a limited sample of the Birkinbines’ personal interests through assorted periodicals and graphic materials.

This collection documents the evolution of a major engineering company while capturing the state of the mining and water works industries during the 19th and 20th centuries. This collection caters to researchers interested in mining and water works projects congruent with the public works and sanitation initiatives of the late 19th century. While the Birkinbine Engineering Company records elucidates a variety of civil and mechanical engineering processes and projects, it concentrates on the production of iron ore and water works projects in Pennsylvania. Researchers interested in the Birkinbine Engineering Company’s mining involvement, its contributions to Philadelphia’s urban development, and the state of the mining and water works industries during the 19th and 20th centuries will find this collection to be a valuable resource.
Series statement This collection consists of four series: “I. Company and personal records, 1853-1948,” “II. Photographs and graphic materials, 1860-1953,” “III. Maps, drawings, and plans, circa 1850s-1950s,” “IV. Pamphlets and journals, 1860s-1950s,” and “V. Tools and realia, 1840-circa 1920s.”

Dates

  • 1840-1963

Conditions Governing Access note

This collection is open for research use.

Copyright note

Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.

Extent

75.0 Linear Feet (75 linear feet (79 box of records + photographs + maps and drawings + pamphlets + patents and realia))

Overview

The Birkinbine Engineering Company got its start through Henry P. M. Birkinbine. His son, John, gained early engineering experience through various water supply projects in and around Philadelphia; this experience later helped direct the Birkinbine Engineering Company’s involvement in many water-related projects around the country in the late 19th century as part of the improved public sanitation initiatives. The Birkinbine firm also specialized in mining engineering, both in the United States and Mexico. John also had a firm grounding in mechanical engineering through his work in the Weimer Machine Works in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. John’s interest in manufacturing pig iron from charcoal, combined with his knowledge of hydraulics, catalyzed his concern for the condition of forests in Pennsylvania and he became one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association. He also was president of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, founding member and secretary of the United States Association of Charcoal Iron Workers (as well as long-time editor of its journal), and served as an iron ore expert with the United States Geological Survey. The Birkinbine Engineering Company records houses the company’s business records as well as the Birkinbine family’s personal materials. This collection, dating from circa 1850 to 1950s, with the bulk dates of 1870 to 1910, consists of printed and graphic materials documenting a variety of company projects –notably water works and mining – as well as materials that illustrate the Birkinbine Engineering Company’s professional affiliations.

Biographical / Historical Note

The Birkinbine Engineering Company got its start through Henry P. M. Birkinbine. His son, John, was born in 1844 when Henry was operating a forge and auger works near Reading, Pennsylvania. Later, Henry served for 10 years as chief engineer of the Philadelphia Water Department. John gained early engineering experience through various water supply projects in and around Philadelphia; this experience later helped direct the Birkinbine Engineering Company’s involvement in many water-related projects around the country in the late 19th century as part of the improved public sanitation initiatives.

The Birkinbine firm also specialized in mining engineering, both in the United States and Mexico. In the 1870s, John Birkinbine was reportedly the first American to critically examine the iron deposits of the Cerro de Mercado in Durango, Mexico. He also was one of the first engineers to suggest the practicability of making iron on the Great Lakes from coke made from Pennsylvania coal. He also experimented with the use of various fuels, from charcoal to coke to smelt iron. Additionally, he had a firm grounding in mechanical engineering through his work in the Weimer Machine Works in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. He eventually married the owner’s daughter and was later a stockholder.

John Birkinkbine’s interest in manufacturing pig iron from charcoal, combined with his knowledge of hydraulics, catalyzed his concern for the condition of forests in Pennsylvania and he became one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association. He also was president of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, founding member and secretary of the United States Association of Charcoal Iron Workers (as well as long-time editor of its journal), and served as an iron ore expert with the United States Geological Survey. After John Birkinbine’s death, the company continued under the leadership of his sons, but the business became defunct by World War II.

Related Archival Material

Birkinbine Collection I

Processing Information

The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.

This collection was minimally processed in 2013-2014, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.

Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article "More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections," the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages in 16 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 4 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections or complete any preservation work.
Author
Finding aid prepared by Chase Markee and Evan Peugh
Date
2014 September 24
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Sponsor
The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project.

Repository Details

Part of the Lehigh University Grant Projects Repository

Contact:
Linderman Library
30 Library Drive
Bethlehem PA 18015 USA
610-758-4506
610-758-6091 (Fax)