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William Henry Pettee Papers: Finding Aid
mssPettee papers  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Overview of the Collection
  • Access
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content
  • Indexing Terms

  • Overview of the Collection

    Title: William Henry Pettee Papers
    Dates (inclusive): 1847-1898
    Bulk dates: 1865-1878
    Collection Number: mssPettee papers
    Creator: Pettee, William Henry, 1838-1904.
    Extent: 839 pieces in 4 boxes and 1 roll
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Manuscripts Department
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: (626) 405-2129
    Email: reference@huntington.org
    URL: http://www.huntington.org
    Abstract: This collection contains the papers of American geologist and professor of mining engineering William Henry Pettee (1838-1904) consisting primarily of letters dating from 1865 to 1878. The main subjects are the California State Geological Survey; geologist Josiah Dwight Whitney (1819-1896); Colorado; and Freiberg, Germany.
    Language: English.


    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 Henry Pettee Papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


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

    Removed or Separated Material

    Photographs of Europe and of the Cheyenne and Ute Indians have been transferred to the Photo Archives of the Huntington Library (see photPF 7261-7289 and photPF 21557-21567).

    Biographical Note

    Geologist and professor of mining engineering 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 Harvard with a degree 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 consists primarily of letters, some of which were written by William Henry Pettee from California (Yuba and Feather River areas and San Francisco, 1870-71), from Colorado (South Park Topographical Expedition, 1869), and from Freiberg while studying at the Royal Academy of Mining (1865-68). The main subjects are the California State Geological Survey; Josiah Dwight Whitney; Colorado; and Freiberg.
    A significant portion of the collection consists of correspondence addressed to Josiah Dwight Whitney from various persons (520 letters, including those from William Henry Pettee to Whitney).
    Correspondents represented in the collection include: William Henry Brewer, William More Gabb, Wendell Phillips Garrison, Watson Andrews Goodyear, Leo Lesquereux, Josiah Dwight Whitney, and William Dwight Whitney.
    The collection also contains some photographs of William Henry Pettee and other members of the Pettee family, members of the California State Geological Survey, and images of Europe during the years Pettee was studying in Freiberg.
    The collection falls into four main groupings:
    Notable individuals represented by 4 or more letters include William Henry Brewer, William More Gabb, Wendell Phillips Garrison, Watson Andrews Goodyear, Leo Lesquereux, Josiah Dwight Whitney, and William Dwight Whitney.
    Some notable items include:
    • Pettee, William Henry. To Josiah Dwight Whitney. 1870, 1871, 1879. Letters tell of field work in California.
    • Pettee, William Henry. To Matilda (Sherman) Pettee. 1871, Feb. 26 and June 11. These letters tell of visits to the home of J. Ross Browne for the wedding of Pettee's co-worker Alfred Craven to Browne's daughter.
    • Gabb, William More. To Josiah Dwight Whitney. 1878 (5 letters). Final letters from the young paleontologist before his sudden death.
    • Goodyear, Watson Andrews. To Josiah Dwight Whitney. 1878, May 27. Letter concerning the naming of Mt. Whitney.


    Arranged alphabetically by author, followed by photographs and oversize materials.

    Indexing Terms

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


    Pettee, William Henry, 1838-1904.
    Whitney, J. D. (Josiah Dwight), 1819-1896.
    Geological Survey of California.
    Königliche Bergakademie (Freiberg, Germany)
    Geological surveys -- California -- History -- Sources.
    Geological surveys -- Colorado -- History -- Sources.
    Geologists -- United States -- Correspondence.
    Geology -- Rocky Mountains.
    Geology -- Sierra Nevada (Calif. and Nev.)
    Gold mines and mining -- Colorado -- South Park.
    Mines and mineral resources -- California.
    Mines and mineral resources -- Rocky Mountains.
    Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany)
    Sierra Nevada (Calif. and Nev.)
    South Park (Colo.)


    Letters (correspondence) -- California -- 19th century.
    Letters (correspondence) -- Colorado -- 19th century.
    Letters (correspondence) -- Germany -- 19th century.

    Alternate Authors

    Brewer, William Henry, 1828-1910.
    Gabb, William M.
    Garrison, Wendell Phillips, 1840-1907.
    Goodyear, W. A. (Watson Andrews), 1838-1891.
    Lesquereux, Leo, 1806-1889.
    Whitney, J. D. (Josiah Dwight), 1819-1896.
    Whitney, William Dwight, 1827-1894.