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Guide to the James Porteous Collection, 1877-1947, 1972
MSS #004  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Abstract
  • Published Sources

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: James Porteous Collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1877-1947, 1972
    Collection number: MSS #004
    Origination: Porteous, James, 1848-1922
    Extent: 9 boxes
    Repository: Fresno City and County Historical Society
    Fresno, California
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Papers of James Porteous, donated by his daughter, Mrs. Agnes Porteous Walker.


    Collection is open for research by appointment only.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Fresno City and County Historical Society. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Society archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Fresno City and County Historical Society as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], James Porteous Collection, MSS #004, Fresno City and County Historical Society.


    James Porteous was born in 1848, in Haddington, Scotland, the son of a wheelwright and blacksmith, William Porteous. In 1877, James Porteous moved to Fresno and established a wagon shop that would later become the largest agricultural implement business in the valley, Fresno Agricultural Works.
    James Porteous is best known for his role in the development and marketing of the Fresno Scraper. After developing and patenting several dirt-scrapers himself, he would purchase the rights to two additional scrapers--one patented by William Deidrick, and one patented by Abijah McCall and Frank Dusy. Porteous would combine the elements of these two scrapers with his own improvements and begin manufacturing the Fresno Scraper. This implement would play a vital role in the land-leveling, ditch-digging and road construction of the San Joaquin Valley and go on to be marketed throughout the world. The Fresno Scraper was used during WWI on the European front, and was used in the construction of the Panama Canal. Eventually, the bulldozer would bring the use of the Fresno Scraper to an end.
    At the time of his death, Porteous held 200 patents, including patents for 50 of his own inventions. In addition to his operation of Fresno Agricultural Works (now known as Fresno Ag), Porteous farmed 80 acres of tree fruit and vines and was active in Fresno's civic life. He was one of the founders of the YMCA, a charter member of the First Presbyterian Church, president of the Knob Hill Oil Company in Bakersfield, a member of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, and an officer of the lodge of Odd Fellows. Porteous authored a volume of poetry entitled Death and the Reporter. Records indicate 1000 volumes were published and paid for by Porteous.
    Porteous became a citizen in 1879, and married Jenny Ritchie. (There is a discrepancy in their year of marriage. Fresno Past and Present, Vol. 23, No.4, indicates the wedding took place in 1895 yet personal correspondence alludes the wedding may have occurred in late December, 1900.) James and Jenny had 6 children, William, Mary, Agnes, Margaret, James Jr., and John. In 1916, the family moved to the prominent home that still stands at 1095 North Van Ness.

    Scope and Content

    The Porteous papers span 1877-1947, 1976 and contain correspondence, financial records, patents, and legal documents, printed material, Fresno Agricultural Works catalogs, photographs, a scrapbook, newsclippings, the manuscript and one hard-bound copy of Death and the Reporter.


    Photographs: Photo Boxes 1 and 2, files 1-80, Glass Negative Collection #004

    Published Sources

    "James Porteous, Fresno's Forgotten Inventor," Fresno Past and Present. The Journal of the Fresno City and County Historical Society. Winter 1981. Volume 23 No.4.
    "James Porteous, 'History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the San Joaquin Valley, California'", by Prof. J. M. Guinn, A.M. The Chapman Publishing Co. Chicago. 1905. Pg. 1271+.
    Death and the Reporter, by James Porteous, Monfort and Co. Printers, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1913.