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Case Western Reserve University Libraries

The Charles F. Brush Collection, Department of Special Collections

Collection Profile

The Department of Special Collections in the Kelvin Smith Library celebrates the life of a pioneer in American electrical technology and industry, Charles F. Brush Sr. (1849-1929) with a collection of over 25 linear feet of materials. An inventor, entrepreneur, and business leader, Brush figured prominently in the rise of Cleveland as an important center of technological innovation and manufacturing in the late 19th century. The Brush collection brings together two separate sets of materials originally gathered by Dorothy Brush Walmsley, the wife of Charles F. Brush Jr., and Charles Baldwin Sawyer, a friend and business partner of Brush Jr. The materials were loaned to the Case Institute of Technology in 1962. After Sawyer's death in 1964, a single, consolidated collection was donated to Western Reserve University. (Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University federated in 1967 to become Case Western Reserve University.)

The Charles F. Brush Collection showcases Brush Sr.'s lifelong interest in electricity and electromagnetic phenomena, as well as his engineering and business acumen in the invention and large-scale production of municipal systems. Brush preceded Thomas Edison in producing the first commercially viable system for outdoor electrical lighting, and he became the first person in America to illuminate public streets with electricity. In the course of his career as an inventor, Brush made significant contributions to electrical generation and storage technology. Brush is also considered by many to be the father of wind-powered electrical generation.

The Brush Collection includes professional and personal correspondence, laboratory notes, instrument diagrams, manuscripts of scientific papers, patent specification and litigation documents, photographs of Brush and his inventions (including arc lamps, batteries, generators, and his famous windmill for home electricity generation), and documentation of his numerous scientific, professional, and civic awards. Other holdings include business contracts and financial records, product catalogs, and selected shipping/sales ledgers from the offices of the Brush Electric Company during the 1880s. Audio and video reminiscences of Brush, recorded in the 1950s and 1960s by former associates, are also stored in the collection. In addition, the research materials of biographers and historians have been collected.

The Brush Collection significantly enhances our understanding of the history of electrical technology, as well as the role of entrepreneurship and regional business consortia in the evolution of American industry. Along with other holdings in the Department of Special Collections, such as the Warner & Swasey and C. B. Sawyer collections, as well as related collections in the Western Reserve Historical Society, the Brush papers also illuminate the development of Cleveland as a national center of technological innovation during the latter half of the 19th century. The Brush Collection continues to provide faculty and researchers in the Case community, as well as scholars from around the world, with resources for academic research in the history of technology and the history of business. The collection receives regular attention from museums, historical societies, media outlets, publishers, business firms, secondary and undergraduate students, and educators with requests for the use of Brush collection materials in exhibits, documentaries, news programs, and research projects.

Collection Profile: Mark A. Eddy
Overview: N. Sue Hanson
Illustrations: Sharlane Gubkin and Tom Steman

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