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O'Shaughnessy (Michael M.) papers
BANC MSS 92/808 c  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Additional Notes on Collection
  • Related Collections
  • Separated Material
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing Information
  • Biographical Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection

  • Language of Material: Italian
    Contributing Institution: The Bancroft Library
    Title: M.M. (Michael Maurice) O'Shaughnessy papers
    creator: O'Shaughnessy, M. M. (Michael Maurice), 1864-1934
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 92/808 c
    Physical Description: 125 linear feet 20 boxes, 54 cartons, 42 volumes, 5 oversize boxes, 154 oversize folders, 52 tubes
    Date (inclusive): 1882-1937
    Abstract: The M. M. (Michael Maurice) O'Shaughnessy papers, 1882-1937, consist of materials relating to his career as a civil engineer, working first as a consultant in private practice, and later as City Engineer of San Francisco. The collection contains primary and secondary source materials both created and collected by O'Shaughnessy in the course of planning, conducting, and overseeing a large range of engineering projects, and later kept as part of his own private files. His writings include typescripts and published versions of many speeches, articles, and books by O'Shaughnessy—both in his role as City Engineer, and as a consulting engineer who was active at the national and local level in professional organizations and societies. With these are his engineering notes and notebooks, a collection of reference materials, and a small amount of personal and family papers.
    Language of Material: Collection materials are in English, and a small amount of Italian
    Physical Location: Many of the Bancroft Library collections are stored offsite and advance notice may be required for use. For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 94270-6000. Consent is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner. See: http://bancroft.library.edu/reference/permissions.html.
    Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], M.M. (Michael Maurice) O'Shaughnessy papers, BANC MSS 92/808 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Additional Notes on Collection

    Photographs integral to reports and textual records have been retained within the collection and noted in the container listing under the related folder. Notes follow the pattern: Includes photographs (supplementary or duplicate): # of prints and negatives. "Duplicate" indicates that other copies are found in BANC PIC 1992.058—PIC, and "Supplementary" indicates that duplicates were not found in BANC PIC 1992.048—PIC. Negatives for each file have been removed and housed separately in Box 20, in restricted freezer storage.

    Related Collections

    Title: O'Shaughnessy family papers, ca. 1920s-1980s
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 2003/229 c

    Separated Material

    Some printed materials have been transferred to the book collection of The Bancroft Library.
    Most photographs, unless integral to reports and mss files, have been transferred to the Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library (BANC PIC 1992.058--PIC)

    Acquisition Information

    The M. M. O'Shaughnessy papers were given to The Bancroft Library by Miss Elizabeth O'Shaughnessy on August 15, 1992. Two additional items (a report and survey map) were purchased from separate sources in 2002.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Linda Jordan in 2000-2001; completed by Mary L. Morganti in 2003-2005.

    Biographical Information

    Michael Maurice (M. M.) O'Shaughnessy was born in Limerick, Ireland, on May 28, 1864, the son of Patrick and Margaret (O'Donnell) O'Shaughnessy. One of nine children, he was educated in the public schools in Ireland, and attended Queen's College, Cork, and then in Galway. He graduated with honors from the Royal University, Dublin on October 21,1884, and received the degree of Bachelor of Engineering.
    0n March 8, 1885, O'Shaughnessy sailed for America and ten days later reached New York City, then proceeded on to San Francisco, arriving on March 30, 1885. He began his career working as Assistant Engineer, first for the Sierra Valley and Mohawk Railroad (1885-1886) and later for Southern Pacific Railroad (1886-1888) at various locations throughout California. He began private consulting as a civil engineer in August 1888, and undertook the surveying and engineering of land developments in California, laying out a number of small towns. From 1890 to 1898, he was in general engineering practice in California, with an office in San Francisco. He served as Chief Engineer of the 1893 California Mid-winter International Exposition; was Chief Engineer for the Mountain Copper Company and built 12 miles of narrow-gauge railroad in Shasta, California in 1895; and completed projects for several corporations, including the Spring Valley Water Company.
    From 1899 to 1906, O'Shaughnessy was engaged in the design and construction of four large irrigation and hydraulic projects on about twenty sugar plantations in the Hawaiian Islands, including Olokele Aqueduct, Kauai; Koolau Aqueduct, Maui; and Kohola Aqueduct, Hawaii. From 1907 to 1912, he served as both Chief Engineer and Consulting Engineer for John D. and Adolph Spreckels' Southern California Mountain Water Company in San Diego, and completed the Dulzura Conduit and Morena Rock Fill Dam. Other work during this period included Throttle Dam (New Mexico), channel rectification on the Salinas River for Spreckels Sugar Company, Crocker-Huffman Dam on the Merced River, and development of the water works at Port Costa.
    On September 1, 1912, O'Shaughnessy was appointed City Engineer by Mayor James Rolph, and received a yearly salary of $15,000—almost double that of his predecessor. He held the position for twenty years - until January 8, 1932, when a new City Charter was adopted that separated the ordinary work of the City Engineer from that of its public utilities, including the municipal water supply. On February 8, 1932, the newly formed Public Utilities Commission appointed him Consulting Engineer for Hetch Hetchy Water Supply, a position that he held until his death in 1934. Accomplishments during his tenure as San Francisco City Engineer include extensions of streets and sewers, design and construction of boulevards, tunnels, bridges, development of a high pressure fire system and fire alarm signal station, and municipally owned utilities, including a street railway system and water supply and hydro-electric power projects.
    The major part of O'Shaughnessy's time and interest were occupied with the Hetch Hetchy Water Supply project. Former City Engineer Carl E. Grunsky had selected the Tuolumne River as the source of water for San Francisco, but there were lengthy delays due to opposition from many sources. O'Shaughnessy's immediate predecessor, Marsden Manson, kept the project alive, and following engineer John R. Freeman's report on the project in 1912, Congress approved President Wilson's grant of the federal lands to San Francisco. Construction work began in 1914 in the mountains and was finally completed in 1934, when water first reached reservoirs. The work required building a railroad, power plants and transmission lines, several storage dams and reservoirs, and an aqueduct. During the lengthy period of construction, O'Shaughnessy resisted attacks by numerous opponents of the project who sought to stop the progress of the work. In July 1923, the dam at Hetch Hetchy Valley was dedicated in his honor, and officially given the name, O'Shaughnessy Dam.
    Throughout his career, O'Shaughnessy served as a consulting engineer for a wide variety of projects, including municipal, state and federal government endeavors, as well as corporate and private enterprise. Notable among these are water and power projects throughout California, including Strawberry Dam (Stanislaus River); Lower Otay, Barrett and El Capitan Dams (San Diego); Alpine Dam (Marin County); Bowman Dam (Yuba River); and Juncal Dam (Santa Barbara); and elsewhere in the U.S., including Skagit River, Seattle and Dix River, Kentucky. He advised on municipal transportation systems, including street railways in Detroit, Michigan and Tacoma, Washington, and waterfront development in Portland, Oregon. He also served in an advisory capacity for Marin County Municipal Water District and as Acting Commissioner of the waters of Lake Tahoe for the Dept. of the Interior. O'Shaughnessy was called upon as an expert witness in several land valuation cases, and reported on his studies of earthquakes for the City of Santa Barbara, and on the St. Francis Dam failure.
    M. M. O'Shaughnessy was elected a Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers on June 4, 1902, and was active in the San Francisco Section, serving as its President in 1920. He was a regular contributor to the publications of the Society, and in 1913 won the James Laurie Prize for his article on the construction of Morena Dam, the largest rock fill dam in the world. He was a member of the American Water Works Association, American Society of Military Engineers, American Society for Testing Materials, and the Seismological Society, and regularly lectured to engineering students at Stanford University, University of Santa Clara, and the University of California, Berkeley.
    In 1890, M. M. O'Shaughnessy married Mary Spottiswood of San Francisco. They had four daughters (Margaret, Mary, Elizabeth, and Helen) and two sons (Francis J. and Maurice, who died in early childhood). In 1893, O'Shaughnessy built a summer cottage at 60 Summit Avenue, Mill Valley, which eventually evolved into a 3-story, 10-room home with a tennis court, barn, and gardens laid out by John McLaren, the designer of Golden Gate Park. In 1912, O'Shaughnessy purchased 2732 Vallejo Street as the family's San Francisco residence, although they continued to spend summers in Mill Valley. He was a member of the Commonwealth Club of California, University Club, Chit Chat Club, Presidio Golf Club, Save the Redwoods League, and the American Irish Historical Society, and throughout his life remained an active member of the Roman Catholic Church.
    M. M. O'Shaughnessy died of heart failure on October 12, 1934, just a few days before the mountain water from Hetch Hetchy flowed into the reservoirs.
    Sources include:
    Memoirs : Michael Maurice O'Shaughnessy, American Society of Civil Engineers, 1934.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The M. M. (Michael Maurice) O'Shaughnessy papers, 1882-1937, consist of materials relating to his career as a civil engineer, working first as a consultant in private practice, and later as City Engineer of San Francisco. The collection contains primary and secondary source materials both created and collected by O'Shaughnessy in the course of planning, conducting, and overseeing a large range of engineering projects, and later kept as part of his own private files. His writings include typescripts and published versions of many speeches, articles, and books by O'Shaughnessy—both in his role as City Engineer, and as a consulting engineer who was active at the national and local level in professional organizations and societies. With these are his engineering notes and notebooks, a collection of reference materials, and a small amount of personal and family papers.
    Although O'Shaughnessy repeatedly claimed that all of his files perished in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, clearly a significant amount from prior to that event survived in other locations. Although little general correspondence from his private office was found, job files from 1889 to 1912 make up a significant portion of his records as a consulting engineer. His early projects are chiefly land surveys in northern California, but in 1899 O'Shaughnessy began work on an extended series of irrigation projects in the Hawaiian Islands for the sugar plantations of the California firms of Alexander & Baldwin, Hind, Rolph, & Company, and the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company. The scrapbooks, correspondence and letter books, reports, notes, maps, plans and specifications, printed materials, and clippings found in those files provide detailed information about development on several islands, including Hawaii's Kohola Aqueduct, the scenery that is described in Jack London's Voyage of the Snark.
    In 1906 O'Shaughnessy began work as a consulting engineer for John D. and Adolph B. Spreckels' Southern California Mountain Water Company, which was later sold to the City of San Diego. In much the same manner as he undertook projects and provided expert opinions or testimony for several cities in Marin County, he consulted for City of San Diego projects until 1934. O'Shaughnessy established similar long-term connections with many of his early clients, including George Rolph, the Spreckels, Crocker-Huffman Land & Water Company, and Archibishop Riordan of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, and they too continued to contract with him for various projects throughout his career.
    O'Shaughnessy usually worked on several projects simultaneously, and often completed several smaller projects in a number of different locations during the course of a larger contract. Consulting Engineer Job Files (Series 1.3) include all projects for which he had an official role and was compensated, even if he only gave advice or however minor his input. Files related to projects on which he consulted as a professional courtesy to his fellow engineers or resulting from his particular interest in their work, are in Professional Consultations and Investigations (Series 3.4). Although O'Shaughnessy closed his general consulting office in San Francisco in September 1912, when he assumed the position of San Francisco City Engineer, he continued to consult for outside interests throughout his career, sometimes under the auspices of the City but more often on his own.
    It is important to note that O'Shaughnessy's papers are his own private files, and should not be misconstrued as the official records of the City of San Francisco. They contain only limited, and often public, information about municipal projects documenting the growth and improvement of San Francisco's transportation, water supply, and power systems. While work during his tenure included Twin Peaks Reservoir, Stockton Street and Twin Peaks Tunnels, Ocean Beach Esplanade, Municipal Railway System, and numerous boulevards, streets and sewers, there is little information about the duties and daily operations of the City Engineer's office or projects.
    Most thoroughly documented in the City Engineer Files are efforts to secure a reliable source of water for San Francisco. These include acquisition of the Spring Valley Water Company (Series 2.2.3), and construction of Hetch Hetchy (Series 2.4.1), described in 1924 as the largest and most complete water and power project ever contemplated by a municipality. Water stored in reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada is carried through 155.1 miles of mountain tunnels and pipes, across the San Joaquin Valley, through the Coast Range and under San Francisco Bay before entering Crystal Springs Reservoir, south of San Francisco. O'Shaughnessy wrote and spoke more about Hetch Hetchy than any other project. The City Engineer's Public Relations files (Series 2.3) include more than 100 statements, articles and speeches written for the general public; more technical papers presented at engineering conferences, and writings and his book are found in Professional Activities (Series 3.3).
    A significant body of correspondence is found throughout the collection, including letters in files relating to specific jobs as well as those relating to his professional activities. The City Engineer General Correspondence Files (Series 2.1) are a particularly rich resource for insights into how projects were planned and completed, as well as O'Shaughnessy's role in regional and city politics. He had strong opinions on most issues and he freely expressed them in his letters, which often includes other interesting bits of information as well. For instance, in a February 1920 letter to a Detroit engineer (in connection with his consulting job), O'Shaughnessy mentions making preliminary studies for "a long span bridge here of almost unprecedented length...across the Golden Gate near Fort Point between San Francisco and Marin Counties." A February 23, 1916 letter (in Box 4: 2) includes lyrics to the song, "Dammin' Up the Stream," that relates to engineer J. Waldo Smith and the Ashokan Reservoir. In an exchange of letters with Stanford University's Bailey Willis, President of the Seismological Society of America, regarding the publication of articles on quake-proof construction, they discuss promoting a plan to "Make California Quake-proof."
    O'Shaughnessy kept meticulous notes during project site and professional inspection trips, and this detail is repeated in his travel diaries and notes from excursion trips that are found in Personal and Family Papers (Series 5). The diary from his 1925 European trip that included stops in Chicago, New York, Ireland, London, Paris, Switzerland, Italy, and home via Boston and Montreal, chiefly recount visits to engineering structures. Descriptions of tunnels, dams, powerhouses, and street, road, railroad and bridge construction appear along with notes on museums, cathedrals, and ruins, and interesting methods of finance and city planning.
    O'Shaughnessy was shrewd investor and acquired mining interests and real property in many of the locations in which he worked. His personal papers contain a significant amount of plans, leases, correspondence, and financial records relating to the early development of Mill Valley, particularly the "O'Shaughnessy block" in downtown. A few of his school notebooks from ca. 1882-1883, sympathy letters and tributes following his death, a remarkably small amount of personal and family correspondence, and records relating to the settlement of the estates of his sister and parents-in-law complete the collection. Personal papers created or collected by his wife, Mary Spottiswood and other family members, chiefly daughters Margaret, Mary, Helen, and Elizabeth, have been cataloged separately as BANC MSS 2003/229 c.
    Formats represented include scrapbooks, correspondence, reports (both published and unpublished), notes and notebooks, maps, plans and drawings, specifications, contracts and agreements, minutes of meetings, legal and financial materials, print materials, clippings, and photographs. It should be noted that the collection is most likely incomplete: these are the files that survived a fire at the O'Shaughnessy Vallejo Street home in 1987. Although the records have been cleaned and flattened, and repaired as needed during processing, there still remains evidence of smoke and water damage.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Civil engineers--California
    Dam failures--California--Los Angeles County
    Dams--Design and construction
    Flood control--California
    Irrigation engineering--Californi.
    Public works--California--San Francisco
    Street-railroads--California--San Francisco
    Water resources development--Law and legislation
    Water-supply--California--Marin County
    Water-supply--California--San Diego
    Water-supply--California--San Francisco
    Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (Calif.)
    San Francisco (Calif.)--Water-supply
    Engineering drawings
    O'Shaughnessy, M. M. (Michael Maurice), 1864-1934
    O'Shaughnessy, M. M. (Michael Maurice), 1864-1934--Archives
    San Francisco (Calif.). City Engineer
    Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System
    Spring Valley Water Company