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Inventory of the William H. Pettee Papers, 1847-1898, bulk 1865-1878
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Significant persons represented by 4 or more letters

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: William H. Pettee Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1847-1898,
    Date (bulk): bulk 1865-1878
    Creator: Pettee, William H., 1838-1904
    Extent: Number of pieces: 839
    Repository: The Huntington Library
    San Marino, California 91108
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Gift of Mrs. Robert Bacher and Mr. David Dow, grandchildren of William H. Pettee, August, 1981


    Collection is open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information please go to following URL .

    Publication Rights

    In order to quote from, publish, or reproduce any of the manuscripts or visual materials, researchers must obtain formal permission from the office of the Library Director. In most instances, permission is given by the Huntington as owner of the physical property rights only, and researchers must also obtain permission from the holder of the literary rights. In some instances, the Huntington owns the literary rights, as well as the physical property rights. Researchers may contact the appropriate curator for further information.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], William H. Pettee Papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


    William Henry Pettee (1838-1904) was born in Massachusetts, the son of Otis Pettee who was a manufacturer of cotton goods, inventor of cotton milling machinery, and president of the Charles River Railroad. William graduated from Harverd in classical studies in 1861. He spent the next three years studying engineering at Lawrence Scientific School (later part of Harvard University), during which time he also assisted in teaching chemistry. He continued his graduate studies from 1865 to 1868 in Freiberg, Saxony, at the Royal Mining Academy and visited mining areas throughout northern Europe. On his return to Cambridge in 1869 he became an instructor in the new school of mines which Harvard had requested Josiah D. Whitney to found. During the summer of 1869 Pettee went with Whitney as part of the South Park Topographical Expedition to do field work in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. In 1870-71 Pettee was given leave to become an assistant to Whitney on the California State Geological Survey. Pettee is particularly known for his barometric determination of altitude and his studies of the beds of gold-bearing gravels. His work led to the publication of Whitney's book Auriferous Gravels of the Sierra Nevada of California and to Contributions to Barometric Hypsometry. Pettee did his field work in the northeastern part of the state (mainly the region of the Yuba and Feather Rivers) in 1870 then went to the Geological Survey office in San Francisco in 1871 for the reduction and arrangement of the summer's observations. He returned to Cambridge and served as Assistant Professor of Mining from 1871 to 1875. When the University of Michigan established its School of Mines, he was invited to become Professor of Economic Geology and Mining Engineering; he continued at the University of Michigan for the next 29 years. In 1879 he returned to California to complete his observations on the auriferous gravels so they could be included in Whitney's 1880 publication. Pettee did the behind-the-scenes research for many publications and was active in the American Institute of Mining Engineers, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Philosophical Society and other learned organizations.

    Scope and Content

    The collection falls into four main groupings:
    • 1) Letters from Freiberg, Saxony and Europe,
      Date: 1865-1868
      written by Pettee
    • 2) Letters from Colorado,
      Date: 1869,
      written by Pettee
    • 3) Letters from California,
      Date: 1870-1871 and 1879,
      written by Pettee
    • 4) Correspondence addressed to Whitney from various persons in
      Date: 1878

    Main subjects

    • A. California State Geological Survey
    • B. Josiah Dwight Whitney
    • C. Colorado
    • D. Freiberg, Saxony

    Significant persons represented by 4 or more letters

    • Brewer, William Henry
    • Gabb, William More
    • Garrison, Wendell Phillips
    • Goodyear, Watson Andrews
    • Lesquereux, Leo
    • Whitney, Josiah Dwight
    • Whitney, William Dwight