Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
William Riley McKeen Jr. Papers: Finding Aid
mssMcKeen  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (116.04 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Overview of the Collection
  • Access
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical and Historical Note
  • Scope and Content
  • Related materials in the Huntington Library
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms

  • Overview of the Collection

    Title: William Riley McKeen Jr. Papers
    Dates (inclusive): 1871-1928
    Bulk dates: 1895-1915
    Collection Number: mssMcKeen
    Creator: McKeen, William R., Jr., 1869-1946
    Extent: 12 boxes (7.5 linear ft.)
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Manuscripts Department
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: (626) 405-2191
    Email: reference@huntington.org
    URL: http://www.huntington.org
    Abstract: This collection contains the personal and professional papers of American railroad mechanical engineer and innovator William Riley McKeen Jr. (1869-1946), who developed some of the first gasoline-powered railroad motor cars, beginning in 1905 for the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1908, he became president of the McKeen Motor Car Company, which built over 150 of the pioneering motor cars through 1917. The materials are primarily focused on the McKeen motor cars and the history of their promotion and production, 1905-1917. Materials include promotional booklets and ephemera, news clippings, scrapbooks, operating manuals, McKeen’s personal notebooks and over 300 photographs.
    Language: English.

    Access

    Open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information, contact Reader Services.

    Administrative Information

    Publication Rights

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], William Riley McKeen Jr. Papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Provenance

    Gift of the Los Angeles Railroad Heritage Foundation, September 1, 2008.

    Custodial History

    This collection was previously owned by Donald Duke and forms a subset of the Huntington's Donald Duke Collection of Railroad Photographs and Ephemera. Duke received the papers from William R. McKeen Jr. in 1946, when Duke was 18 years old. In his acknowledgements in RDC: The Budd Rail Diesel Car by Donald Duke and Edmund Keilty (Golden West Books, 1990), Duke wrote: “My interest in railcars goes back to my high school days where I developed an interest in the McKeen Motor Car. I found out William R. McKeen, Jr. was still alive and living in Santa Barbara. I visited him several times. On his death, he left his personal files and illustrations to my custody.”

    Processing/Project Information

    This collection came with an inventory created approximately 1999, indicating several oversize blueprints of car and part drawings and technical data tables, which did not come with the rest of the collection. The whereabouts of these items are unknown. A copy of this original inventory is kept in the collection file.

    Biographical and Historical Note

    American railroad mechanical engineer and innovator William Riley McKeen Jr. (1869-1946) was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1869. His father, William Riley McKeen (1829-1913), was a banker and president of the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad. McKeen Jr. graduated from Rose Polytechnic Institute and Johns Hopkins University, then studied at a technical university in Berlin, 1890-1891. In 1892, he apprenticed in the mechanical shops of the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway in Columbus, Ohio. The next year, he began work as master car builder for the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad in Indiana. In 1898, he joined Union Pacific Railroad as district foreman at North Platte, Nebraska, a position he held until May 1901, when he became master mechanic of the Wyoming division of Union Pacific. In 1902, he was promoted to Superintendent of Motor Power and Machinery for Union Pacific in Omaha, Nebraska.
    At the behest of Union Pacific head E. H. Harriman, McKeen led a team of company engineers to design an economical gasoline-powered rail car with an internal combustion engine, a technology still in its infancy. The first motor car was created in March 1905 and was soon put into service carrying passengers. By 1908, demand for the distinctively designed motor cars with porthole windows and other advanced features led to the formation of the McKeen Motor Car Company, with McKeen as president. The company was created as a Union Pacific subsidiary and operated out of Union Pacific shop buildings in Omaha, Nebraska. By 1912, fewer new cars were being ordered, and in 1917 the last cars were built. In 1920, Union Pacific took control of the company’s assets. In the 12 years of production, over 150 McKeen motor cars were built, operating on several railroads in the United States, with exports to Canada, Cuba, Australia and Mexico.
    McKeen retired to Santa Barbara, California around 1923, where he died in 1946. McKeen was survived by his third wife, Carmen T. McKeen. His first two marriages, to Elizabeth New in 1893, and Mary L. Hull in 1911, ended in divorce.

    Scope and Content

    This collection contains the personal and professional papers of American railroad mechanical engineer and innovator William Riley McKeen Jr. (1869-1946) who developed some of the first gasoline-powered railroad motor cars, beginning in 1905 for the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1908, he became president of the McKeen Motor Car Company, which built over 150 of the pioneering motor cars through 1917. The materials are primarily focused on the McKeen motor cars and the history of their promotion and production, 1905-1917. Materials include promotional booklets and ephemera, news clippings, scrapbooks, operating manuals, McKeen’s personal notebooks and over 300 photographs.
    Series 1 begins with McKeen’s youth and schooling, with examples of some of his engineering notes and workbooks. There are also notes on designing his house, a genealogy of the McKeen family, and his father’s estate settlement papers, which include correspondence between McKeen and his siblings. McKeen’s professional work and concerns are reflected in several notebooks he kept during his career, with detailed notes related to employees, design issues and other work in the railroad mechanical shops. There are only a few letters of business correspondence, and just one copy of a letter from E. H. Harriman (no original).
    Among the personal papers is a file of documents related to a 1912 lawsuit brought against McKeen and his second wife, Mary, by Mary's former husband, Charles Hull, in Omaha, Nebraska. This file contains documents that would be of interest to medical and social history researchers: a detective’s transcript of observations of prostitutes and activities at brothels (collected to disparage Mr. Hull).
    Series 2 contains McKeen motor car materials, primarily promotional brochures and ephemera (including a package of custom cigarettes), operating manuals, production statistics, news clippings and articles. See also Series 3 and 4 for clippings and photographs of McKeen motor cars.
    Series 3 contains three scrapbooks: A) a personal ledger, with clippings; B) a scrapbook of over 100 clippings about the McKeen Motor Car Company, 1907 – 1920; and C) a scrapbook of photographs and clippings about McKeen motor cars in Australia, 1911-1912.
    Series 4 contains photographs, including a set of Union Pacific company photographs of McKeen motor cars over the years 1905-1911. McKeen appears in some photographs, and there are some views of employees, Omaha shop buildings, engines and production views. Other photographs show McKeen motor cars on various railroads, some wrecks, engine parts, and views of the McKeen Highway Coach, a passenger vehicle introduced in 1915.

    Related materials in the Huntington Library

    • Donald Duke Collection of Railroad Photographs and Ephemera (Call number: 645950)

    Arrangement

    The collection is arranged in the following 4 series:
    • Series 1. Personal and professional papers, 1871-1922
    • Series 2. McKeen motor cars: promotional and operating materials, 1905-1919
      • Subseries A. McKeen motor cars on Union Pacific Railroad
      • Subseries B. McKeen Motor Car Company
    • Series 3. Scrapbooks
      • Subseries A. Ledger and scrapbook, 1895-1928
      • Subseries B. McKeen Motor Cars scrapbook, 1906-1920
      • Subseries C. McKeen motor cars in Australia scrapbook, 1911-1912
    • Series 4. Photographs
      • Subseries A. Union Pacific Railroad photographs of McKeen motor cars, 1905-1911
      • Subseries B. McKeen motor cars and other railroad views, approximately 1905- 1915
      • Subseries C. Views of trucks and parts, United Motor Truck Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1915. Two views of McKeen Highway Coach vehicle.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the Huntington Library's Online Catalog.  

    Subjects

    McKeen, William R., Jr., 1869-1946 -- Archives.
    McKeen Motor Car Co.
    Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad Company -– History.
    United Motors Company.
    Union Pacific Railroad Company -– History.
    Electricity -- Study and teaching.
    Internal combustion engines -- History.
    Railroad engineering.
    Railroad cars -- Design and construction.
    Railroad motorcars.
    Railroad passenger cars.
    Railroads – Australia.
    Railroads -- United States.
    Prostitution -- United States -- History -- 20th century.

    Forms/Genres

    Ephemera.
    Letters (correspondence).
    Manuscripts.
    Notebooks.
    Photographs.
    Promotional materials.
    Scrapbooks.
    Workbooks.

    Additional Contributors

    Duke, Donald, 1929-2010, former owner.
    Hawkins, Omar F. (Omar Finlay), 1890-1967, photographer.
    Reichert, Albert A., 1876-1963, photographer.
    James Bayne Co., photographer.
    McKeen Motor Car Co.