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William Congreve papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: William Congreve papers
    Inclusive Dates: 1803-1869
    Collection Number: mssCongreve
    Collector: Congreve, William, Sir, 1772-1828
    Extent: 116 items in 2 boxes
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
    Manuscripts Department
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: (626) 405-2191
    Fax: (626) 449-5720
    Email: reference@huntington.org
    URL: http://www.huntington.org
    Abstract: This is the most significant archive extant of manuscript materials by and about the prolific English inventor and technologist William Congreve and his family.
    Language of Material: The records are in English and French.

    Administrative Information


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

    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

    William Congreve papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of Jeremy M. Norman, December 2013.
    Forms part of: Jeremy Norman Collection on the History of Aerodynamics, Aviation and Aerospace.


    Sir William Congreve, 2nd Baronet KCH FRS (1772-1828) was an English inventor and rocket artillery pioneer distinguished for his development and deployment of Congreve rockets, and a Tory Member of Parliament (MP). He was son of Lt. General Sir William Congreve, 1st Baronet (1742-1814), the Comptroller of the Royal Laboratories at the Royal Arsenal.

    Scope and Content

    The archive extends over six decades, from 1803 to 1869. Included in the archive are letters and manuscripts covering William Congreve's career in rocketry. The most notable of these is his diary of the 1807 Copenhagen bombardment, which represents the first truly successful large-scale use of the Congreve war rocket in combat. Other noteworthy manuscripts include a signed draft and a fair copy of a "Report to the Commissioners of the Navy" dated October 1813, in which Congreve summarized his war rocketry activities from 1805 to 1813; a letter dated November 1813 relating to "the expense, or rather the economy of the Rocket System"; bills for materials used in rocket construction; an undated letter to a Captain Elliot discussing the subject of a "rocket cavalry"; letters discussing a plan of "applying Rockets for throwing ropes ashore from shipwrecked vessels"; and letters in which Congreve writes of his achievements and his attitude towards his work. The archive also contains manuscripts and letters relating to some of Congreve's other inventions: naval guns, bombships, and Congreve's design for a paddlewheel boat, which is detailed in a long letter illustrated with Congreve's sketches. Also included are a long series of love letters that Congreve wrote to his wife, Isabella, and another series of long, detailed letters written to Congreve during the last few months of his life by his secretary, R. Drake, discussing, among other things, Congreve's political career as a Member of Parliament, his precarious financial position, the publication of his Treatise on the General Principles, Powers, and Facility of Application of the Congreve Rocket System (1827), and negotiations with the British East India Company for exclusive rights to the Congreve war rocket for use in India. Included in the remainder of the archive is a letter from Congreve's father, William Congreve Sr., to Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), president of the Royal Society, discussing the elder Congreve's responsibilities at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich. Another series of letters, some written by Congreve, concern a will of which Congreve's aunt, Miss Mary Congreve, was the executrix. There are numerous letters written by Isabella Congreve after Congreve's death in 1828, mostly on financial matters-- Congreve's affairs were left somewhat embarrassed upon his death, and the archive includes several records of bills and promissory notes, both paid and owing. Lastly, there are several letters presumably written by Congreve's descendants, the last dated Feb. 1, 1869.
    A PDF of the Calendar of Manuscripts in the Congreve Archive is available on Jeremy Norman's History of Science web site. 

    Indexing Terms

    Personal Names

    Banks, Joseph, 1743-1820
    Congreve, Isabella Charlotte
    Congreve, William, Sir, 1742-1814
    Congreve, William, Sir, 1772-1828
    Croker, John Wilson, 1780-1857


    Military history

    Geographic Areas

    Great Britain -- History -- 19th century


    Financial records
    Legal documents
    Letters (correspondence)