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Eli Whitney papers

Call Number: MS 554
Scope and Contents

The Eli Whitney Papers consist of correspondence and business papers relating to Eli Whitney's invention and patenting of the cotton gin and to his subsequent development of a system to produce firearms employing interchangeable parts. The papers include drawings for machinery, land records relating to the acquisition of property for Whitney's factory site, patents and other documents relating to the protection of Whitney's inventions, and account books and other financial and legal records relating to business and investments. The papers also document the continuing manufacture of guns at Whitney's factory after his death in 1825, under the management of his estate and later of his son Eli Whitney. In addition, the papers include personal papers of Eli Whitney and other family members.

The papers also include photocopies of documents relating to Eli Whitney located in other repositories including the Connecticut Historical Society, the Harvard College Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the National Archives, the New Haven Colony Historical Society, and the New York Historical Society. Additional photocopies of Whitney material from the Baldwin Family Papers, the Blake Family Papers, the Hillhouse Family Papers, and the Josiah Whitney Papers in the Manuscripts and Archives Department are also included in the papers. This collection of materials was assembled, in part, during the preparation of The World of Eli Whitney by Jeanette Mirsky and Allan Nevins. This volume relied heavily on the Whitney Papers and, as such, it gives a more thorough analysis of the Whitney Papers than can be done here.

While the Eli Whitney Papers span from 1716-1959, the bulk of the material dates from 1785-1881, or from Eli Whitney's student days at Yale through the life of his son Eli Whitney.

Other family members represented in the series by smaller quantities of papers are Whitney's wife Henrietta Edwards Whitney, her father Pierpont Edwards, brother Alfred P. Edwards, and children Francis Whitney Chaplain, Elizabeth Whitney, and Eli Whitney. Student papers from Princeton, a personal letterbook, business diary, and other financial and legal papers, as well as obituary notices comprise the papers of Eli Whitney (1820-1895) in this series.

Conditions Governing Access

The entire collection, with the exception of Accession 2018-M-0059 and Box 15 of copy negatives, is available on microfilm. Patrons must use FILM HM 219 instead of the originals.

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

Gift of Susan B. Whitney, Elizabeth Fay Whitney, Mrs. Leonard G. Sanford, Mrs. Thomas M. Debevoise, and Mrs. Earl M. Knight in 1941 and 1953. Gift of Anne S. Sharpe, 2018.

The Yale University Library acquired the Whitney Papers through gifts in 1941 and 1953 from Eli Whitney's great-granddaughters, Susan Brewster Whitney, Elizabeth Fay Whitney, Henrietta Edwards Whitney Sanford, Anne Farnam Whitney Debevoise, and Frances Pierrepont Whitney Knight.

Majority of material found within 1785 - 1881
10 Linear Feet (16 boxes)
Related Names
Whitney, Eli, 1765-1825
Language of Materials