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Linus Yale papers

Call Number: MS 872

Scope and Contents

40" (8 boxes) Dates: 1821, 1844-1873

The Linus Yale Papers provide insight into the life of Linus Yale, inventor of the Yale lock, and of his wife, Catherine (Brooks) Yale, and document part of the history of the Yale Lock Company. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence from business associates, friends and family, but there are also legal and financial papers relating to the Yale Lock Company. Almost the only outgoing correspondence consists of letters exchanged by Linus and Catherine.

Although the material dates from the 1840s to the 1870s, most of Linus Yale's correspondence and the family papers date from the 1850s. The collection focuses on the period following Yale's early inventions during which he was working to establish the reputation of his locks and to develop a financially successful business in Newport (N.Y.) and Philadelphia. His correspondence traces his attempts to acquire and enforce patents, his controversies with rival manufacturers, and his continual improvements of his locks. The correspondence of his son John Brooks Yale, treasurer from 1867 of the Yale Lock Company, carries on many of these themes.

Yale's correspondence also reveals his intellectual and social life, and together with letters to and from his wife and from her family and friends presents a picture of a closely-knit circle much interested in the artistic, literary, and intellectual currents of their day.

The collection is divided into three series: CORRESPONDENCE, YALE LOCK COMPANY PAPERS, and FAMILY PAPERS.

The correspondence reveals Yale's strong interests in art and invention, as well as his involvement with his business. The development of the Yale lock and the Yale Lock Company is shown in the correspondence with various corporate entities, with Yale's various agents (John Buckingham, E.W. Partridge, Charles Oscar Yale), and with his friend and associate John Hoskin. Topics discussed include continuing improvements of the Yale lock (see also the correspondence with the United States Patent Office), competition with rival manufacturers, litigation over infringements of Yale's patents, and controversy over the general effectiveness of various types of locks.

Yale's artistic, intellectual and social life comes to light in the correspondence of Henry and Walter Brown, A. Heymann, William Manley, and particularly that of his two most frequent correspondents, John Hoskin and William Morris Davis. The letters from Davis encompass philosophy, religion, economics and politics (for instance, the connection of slavery to Eli Whitney's inventions, 1855 Jan 25), mechanics and various branches of science, and ideas for new inventions. The letters of both Davis and Hoskin include fine drawings of machinery, safes, and locks. It is unfortunate that many of these letters are badly stained and torn.

Series II is entitled YALE LOCK COMPANY PAPERS. Since Linus Yale's business went through several reorganizations at different periods, subsumed under this title are the antecedent companies of Yale and Phillie (ca. 1853), Yale and Greenleaf (ca. 1861-1863), Yale and Winn (ca. 1866-1869), and finally Yale Lock Company (1869-1873). The series is divided into two sections, Correspondence and Legal, Financial, and Other Papers.

Correspondence contains incoming letters addressed not only to the company, but also to John B. Yale in his capacity as treasurer from 1867 to 1873. While some of the correspondence concerns routine orders for locks, questions on prices, and complaints, there are also substantive letters on financial matters, on the reorganiation of the company as the Yale Lock Company (1869), and on suits against infringements of Yale patents (1869-1870). The letters are arranged chronologically.

The second section comprises legal papers, financial papers, and printed matter. Among the legal papers are a number of patents held by inventors other than Yale, several accompanied by detailed drawings of locks. The financial papers include statements, invoices, bills, a bank book (1869-1870), and related material. Newspaper clippings and several pamphlets on ores and metal processes conclude the series.

Series III, FAMILY PAPERS, is composed of correspondence (1844-1858), a few pages of a journal kept by Catherine Yale's sister, Nancy (Brooks) Gore (1844), a letter from Zebedee Simonds whose relation to the Yale family is unknown (1821), printed matter belonging to John B. Yale, and a miscellany of poems and calling cards.

The correspondence, arranged chronologically, is largely that of Catherine Yale. There are many highly affectionate letters exchanged by Linus and Catherine, written during his frequent business trips, which deal both with business and with family matters. Aside from a few letters (1857) from Linus Yale, Sr., and from Linus Yale, Jr.'s brother-in-law Ira Cady, the remainder of the correspondence comes from Catherine's family and friends. Frequent correspondents are her sisters Nancy Gore and Elizabeth (Brooks) Carter, her brother-in-law Charles Carter, and Fanny Marley. Much of the correspondence deals with the social, cultural, and intellectual life of New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston in the 1850s, and contrasts sharply with letters from Nancy Gore describing life in Union, Wisconsin, in the same period.

These often lengthy and emotional letters reveal a group of women who were active in many spheres of life, and whose interests ranged from family concerns and the position of women to the arts and literature. Catherine Yale was the author of poems, essays, and several volumes of short stories; her friend Fanny Marley was preparing for a career as an artist in Boston. Immersed in day-to-day family life and regularly menaced by illness and death, they often turned to homeopathic medicine for cures and to religion and spiritualism for comfort.

The Linus Yale Papers were purchased by Yale University in 1965.


  • 1821-1873


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased by Yale University, 1965.


Arranged in three series: I. Correspondence. II. Yale Lock Company Papers. III. Family Papers.


3.25 Linear Feet (8 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Family and business correspondence and financial records largely relating to the invention of the Yale Lock and Linus Yale's attempts to establish a sucessful business in Newport, New York, and Philadelphia. The papers of the Yale Lock company continue after the death of Linus Yale and contain documents on its financial reorganization and on suits against infringements of Yale Patents (1868-1870).Yale's intellectual and social life is revealed in his correspondence with Henry and Walter Brown, William Morris Davis, A. Heymann, William Manley and John Hoskin. Many of the letters also concern mechanics, and ideas for new inventions, with drawings. The family correspondence includes numerous letters between Linus Yale and his wife, Catherine, as well as letters between her and her sisters. Of particular interest are the letters from her sister Nancy Gore in Wisconsin, which contrast with the letters from another sister, Elizabeth Carter, in New York, and a friend, Fanny Marley, preparing a career as an artist in Boston.

Biographical / Historical

Linus Yale: manufactured first lock at Shelburne Falls, Mass., 1851, known as "Yale Infallible Bank Lock"; improved this lock, 1851-1860; received patent for "Cylinder Lock", 1861; with Henry R. Towne established the Yale Lock Manufacturing Company, 1868, with a plant in Stamford, Connecticut.

Guide to the Linus Yale Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Janet Elaine Gertz
January 1982
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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