1804-1917; bulk: 1866-1913
Guide to the Collection
This collection consists of correspondence, diaries, and scrapbooks chronicling Blake's scientific and photographic interests, including his service with the United States Coast Survey (1866-1875), his work as an astronomer with the Darien Exploring Expedition (1870), and his experiments in physics and electrical communication which led to the development of the Blake transmitter for the Bell Telephone Company.
Francis Blake (1850-1913) was born in Needham, Mass., the son of Caroline Burling (Trumbull) and Francis Blake, Sr. Known widely as the inventor of the Blake transmitter for telephone communications, Blake was a respected physicist who also worked on the United States Coast Survey from his teenage years through early adulthood (1866-1878); was responsible for the design of his elaborate family estate, Keewaydin, in Weston, Mass.; and was a serious amateur photographer. He married Elizabeth Livermore Hubbard (1849-1941) in 1874, and together they had two children: Agnes (Blake) Fitzgerald (b. 1876) and Benjamin Sewall Blake (b. 1877).
Davis, Keith F. "The High-Speed Photographs of Francis Blake." The Massachusetts Historical Review 2 (2000): 1-26.
Hall, Elton Wayland. Francis Blake : An Inventor's Life 1850-1913. Boston, Mass.: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003.
This collection contains 82 boxes of correspondence and a 50-volume diary, 1866-1913, and 41 scrapbooks chronicling Blake's service with the United States Coast Survey (1866-1875); his work as an astronomer with the Darien Exploring Expedition (1870); his determination of differences in longitude between Greenwich, England, and the U.S.; and his experiments in physics and electrical communication which led to the development of the Blake transmitter for the Bell Telephone Company. The papers also include extensive records of household expenses; business investments; the construction of his estate, Keewaydin (Weston, Mass.); his photographic interests; and his association with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Thursday Evening Club, the Brookline (Mass.) Country Club, and the town of Weston. Also, Blake's personal ledger and trial balance account books; a 5-volume diary and personal account book of his wife Elizabeth L. (Hubbard) Blake; Blake family genealogy; and papers of the Hubbard, Lane, Sewall, and Trumbull families. Correspondents include Alexander Graham Bell, Charles O. Boutelle, Julius E. Hilgard, Charles F. McKim, and Thomas O. Selfridge. The collection also contains over 100 printed volumes relating to Blake's scientific and photographic interests.
This collection was donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society by the descendants of Francis Blake, Jr., May 1964.
The collection is arranged as Francis Blake had personally arranged it.
Photographs (box 78 and volumes 33-37) have been removed to the Francis Blake photographs (Photo. Coll. 57). As a result, there is no box 78 and no volumes 33-37 in the Francis Blake papers.
Digital facsimiles of the Francis Blake's U.S. Coast Survey papers (Series II) are available on Age of Exploration, a digital publication of Adam Matthew Digital, Inc. This digital resource is available at subscribing libraries; speak to your local librarian to determine if your library has access. The MHS makes this resource available onsite; see a reference librarian for more information.
Detailed Description of the Collection
Photographs (box 78 and volumes 33-37) have been removed to MHS Photo. Coll. 59. As a result, there is no box 78 and no volumes 33-37 in the Francis Blake papers.
I. Private letters, 1866-1912
Incoming correspondence and copies of occasional outgoing letters from Francis Blake, chiefly regarding personal, family, and business matters in Boston and Weston, Mass. Of particular interest are letters concerning Blake's attempts to sell his transmitter patents to national and international telephone companies; correspondence with the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company of Rhode Island concerning machinery and tool manufacture for Blake's laboratory; correspondence with Charles Follen McKim (1847-1909) regarding the landscape design of Keewaydin; a letter dated 31 Jan. 1881 from Alexander Graham Bell; a life-long series of letters from Blake's brother Charles H. M. Blake concerning his business ventures in Mexico; correspondence with Boston area photographers; references to theater performances of Edwin Thomas Booth (1833-1893); and an account of the imprisonment of Jefferson Davis at Fortress Monroe.
II. U.S. Coast Survey, 1843-1889
Official incoming correspondence to Francis Blake from the U.S. Coast Survey office, chiefly regarding business matters. Correspondents include Charles O. Boutelle and Thomas Oliver Selfridge (1836-1924) commissioning Blake as an astronomer with the Darien Exploring Expedition to survey the Isthmus of Darien, S.A., for an interoceanic canal, as well as expense and pay accounts and charts and notebooks of weather, birds, and general observations at Observatory Island, S.A. Also, instructions for astronomical measurements from Julius Erasmus Hilgard (1825-1891) with respect to Blake's surveys determining the differences in longitudinal measurements between Greenwich, England, and the United States; letters and news clippings regarding a federal investigation for alleged misappropriation of funds by Boutelle and Hilgard; and a scientific ledger book charting survey points at Keewaydin.
NOTE: Digital facsimiles of the papers in this series are available on Age of Exploration, a digital publication of Adam Matthew Digital, Inc. This digital resource is available at subscribing libraries; speak to your local librarian to determine if your library has access. The MHS makes this resource available onsite; see a reference librarian for more information.
III. Autobiographical correspondence from Francis Blake to Elizabeth M. Crosby, 1870-1892
IV. Bills, house building, 1874-1875
Estimates, bills, and receipts for the design and construction of Keewaydin, Francis Blake's home in Weston, Mass.
V. Greenhouse, May-Dec. 1891
Correspondence and specifications with Lord & Burnham Company of New York, horticultural architects and builders, for the design of the Keewaydin greenhouse.
VI. Bills, domestic, 1875-1912
Scrapbooks of bills and receipts for food and dry goods including clothing, furniture, interior decorations, photographic supplies, tools, fuel, and tack purchased by the Blake family at Keewaydin.
VII. Telephone, 1877-1917
Correspondence and diagrams detailing the development of the Blake transmitter for the telephone, patent offers to Bell Telephone and New England Telephone, attempts to patent the transmitter worldwide, other electrical inventions, and various inventions from other inventors. Also, tables and graphs recording the number of telephone calls made from selected Boston metropolitan phone lines, and one volume of monthly earnings reports of American Telephone and Telegraph Company. Correspondents include Alexander Graham Bell, John Elbridge Hudson (1839-1900), and Thomas A. Wilson.
VIII. Clubs and societies, 1879-1908
Correspondence, bylaws, financial statements, lists of officers, minutes, and annual reports, chiefly of Boston area clubs and societies, including the Boston Camera Club, Somerset Club, St. Botolph Club, Union Club, American Society for Psychical Research, the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Good Citizenship, and others. Also, scrapbooks of The Country Club, Brookline, Mass., with bylaws, financial statements, club rules, programs, race lists, and advertising ephemera of horses and horse racing at Clyde Park, as well as correspondence regarding the purchase and sale of thoroughbreds.
IX. Benjamin Sewall Trust, 1879-1902
Will of Benjamin Sewall, inventory, and executor's and trustees' probate accounts.
X. Health, 1880-1911
Correspondence relating to Francis Blake's personal health, pathological reports, EKG, physician's diagnoses, and laboratory reports on well-water and toxic arsenic levels in wallpaper.
XI. Trumbull estate, 1881-1910
Personal and legal correspondence regarding settlement and distribution of the Trumbull estate to heirs, as well as surveys of Trumbull real estate holdings in Worcester, Mass.
XII. Wines, 1882-1901
Correspondence with French and European wine producers and importers, as well as a scrapbook of wine lists, price lists, recipes, advertisements, and news clippings of wines, champagnes, brandies, and other foreign and domestic liquors.
XIII. Thursday Evening Club, 1882-1913
Correspondence, announcements, and invitations with respect to members and guests, featured speakers, entertainment, transportation and other arrangements for biannual club meetings hosted by Francis Blake at Keewaydin.
XIV. Keewaydin Water Works, 1883-1909
Correspondence; advertising catalogues from the Henry R. Worthington Pumping Engines and Water Meters Company, New York; and meter readings and bills rendered to local customers of the Keewaydin Water Works, Weston, Mass.
XV. Republican Club of Weston, 1884-1912
Correspondence, ballots, flyers, speeches, and news clippings regarding political candidates and issues of Weston town, Massachusetts state, and national interests, including the controversial presidential campaign of William Jennings Bryant.
XVI. Weston town letters, 1887-1908
Incoming and copies of outgoing correspondence from Francis Blake, selectman, with respect to Weston town business, including the design and construction of the Charles River Bridge, Weston Public Library, the development of the Weston fire department, Weston town seal, and the introduction of paved roads, water, sewer, electric and telephone utilities, and other public services, as well as selectmen committee minutes, bylaws and warrants, budgets, ballots, and lists of town officers.
XVII. Louisa S. Jackson Trust, 1889-1913
Disbursement vouchers to Louisa Jackson from Francis Blake, trustee.
XVIII. Blake genealogy, ca. 1849, 1891-1913
Manuscript volume, ca. 1849, recording births, deaths, and marriages of the Blake family (1689-1849) in England and Massachusetts. Correspondence with genealogists and photographs of the Blake family and homes in England.
XIX. Investment, 1893-1912
Correspondence chiefly with Francis Blake's attorney, Philip Dexter, with respect to personal investment decisions and actions in stocks, bonds, annuities, mortgages, and Boston real estate.
XX. Riverside Bridge, 1894-1901
Correspondence, contracts, and receipts related to the construction of a bridge over the Charles River on land owned by Blake in Newton, Mass.
XXI. Davenport Stone and Mt. Feake, 1895, 1902
Correspondence and topographical maps concerning the Davenport Stone on Doublett Hill, Weston, Mass.
XXII. Agnes Blake, 1895-1904
Correspondence to Francis Blake concerning his daughter Agnes and her personal health, future and wellbeing, including reports from a hired personal detective.
XXIII. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1896-1910
Correspondence and reports of the Committee to Visit the MIT Department of Physics and Electrical Engineering, as well as the Jefferson Physical Laboratory at Harvard University, regarding their physical facilities, faculty, and student status.
XXIV. American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 1877-1903
Official correspondence to Francis Blake, treasurer, regarding securities, investments, and the management of the Academy's Rumford Fund.
XXV. "Editors" Word Contest, 1897
Correspondence and news clippings from Women's World Magazine and Jenness Miller Monthly.
XXVI. Massachusetts General Hospital, 1899-1902
Typescript of Extracts from a History of the Massachusetts General Hospital, 1872-1846, by William Tudor. Letters to Francis Blake acknowledging the MGH history book as a gift.
XXVII. Edward L. Wilson, 1901-1903
Correspondence with Francis Blake concerning the ill health of Edward Wilson, an assistant to Alexander Graham Bell, who was institutionalized at the Massachusetts State Hospital at Taunton and the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.
XXVIII. Harvard University, 1902
Scrapbook, 27 June 1902, of Harvard University's 1902 commencement bestowing an honorary degree of Master of Arts to Francis Blake, along with correspondence, programs, news clippings, and biographical notes.
XXIX. Ludlow Manufacturing Associates, 1902-1912
Business correspondence, bylaws, meeting agenda, reports, and financial statements of Ludlow's jute and hemp manufacture.
XXX. Charles B. Wells estate, 1902-1912
Legal correspondence to Francis Blake, executor, with respect to the management of Wells's estate.
XXXI. Robert Craighead, 1903-1904, 1911
Correspondence, news clippings, and investigative reports of Robert Craighead for Francis Blake by an agent of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency.
XXXII. St. Mary's Episcopal Church, 1903-1912
Sunday bulletins, prayer leaflets, and correspondence regarding church business and activities at New Lowe Falls, Mass.
XXXIII. Elizabeth Hubbard Blake, 1842-1908
Typescript letter from Charles T. Hubbard to Benjamin Sewall, 1845. Invitations, guest list, and news clippings of the debutante ball, 1895, for his daughter Agnes Blake. Letters from Elizabeth Blake, while traveling throughout the United States, to husband Francis.
XXXIV. Charles H. M. Blake, 1877-1901
Correspondence and power of attorney to Francis Blake from his brother Charles.
XXXV. Lane family, 1804-1883
Correspondence and contracts of Lane Lamson & Company, Lane family wills, and deeds to Weston, Mass., lands. Letters, 1872-1873, from David Lane while on a cattle drive with his young family from Missouri to Wyoming.
XXXVI. Blake oversize, 1866-1913
Oversize documents removed from manuscripts.
XXXVII. Photographs, ca. 1860-1900
The photographs contained in box 78 and volumes 33-37 have been REMOVED to MHS Photo. Coll. 59. As a result, there is no box 78 and no volumes 33-37 in the Francis Blake papers.
Finding aid to the Francis Blake photographs available at: http://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fap005
XXXVIII. Account books, 1842-1912
Hubbard business account book recording the import and wholesale exchange of cotton, pig iron, tobacco, and sugar for New England manufacturers. Elizabeth Blake cashbook detailing domestic expenses and silver inventory. Francis Blake's personal ledger and trial balance.
XXXIX. Miscellaneous scrapbooks, 1862-1909
Two scrapbooks of news clippings, theatre broadsides, menus, and other ephemera detailing the social life and customs of Boston. Scrapbook of bills and receipts for food, hotels, transportation, and clothing while traveling in Paris, Marseilles, and Rome, including a trans-Atlantic crossing on the S.S. La Bretagne from New York and a holiday at the Casino de Dinard, Saint-Enogat, France. Scrapbook of holiday greetings, calling cards, and invitations to whist parties, dinners, open houses, dedications, commencements, weddings, and birthdays. Menus from a wide variety of eating establishments, including restaurants in Boston and France, railroad dining cars, and vacation retreats, particularly Glen House, New Hampshire.
XXXX. Francis Blake diaries, 1866-1913
XXXXI. Elizabeth Hubbard Blake diaries, 1885-1906
Photographs Removed from the Collection
Photographs have been removed from this collection to the Francis Blake photographs, ca. 1860-1964. Photo. Coll. 57.
Francis Blake papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.