Montana State University in Bozeman Montana State University - Home Montana State University Library - Home

Collection 783 - William Milnor Roberts Papers, 1828-1959

Creator: Roberts, W. Milnor (William Milnor), 1810-1881

Provenance Note: Diaries, correspondence, travel notes, and reports created or collected by William Milnor Roberts were willed to Montana State University by Milnor Roberts in April, 1965. Additional papers pertaining to Roberts were donated by the University of Oregon in 1969.

Historical Note: William Milnor Roberts (1810-1881) was a Pennsylvania-born civil engineer. He began his career in 1825 on the Union Canal of Pennsylvania and by 1830 had gone on to railroad construction work. From 1835 to 1857, Roberts was engaged as chief engineer for various projects in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Canada, serving as chief of one company while, at the same time, consulting for several others. From 1857 to 1865 he was in charge of the building of the Don Pedro Railway in Brazil. After his return to the United States Roberts was engaged on important hydraulic and railroad works, such as the improvement of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the construction of the St. Louis Bridge, the water supplies of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and construction of a railroad in Nova Scotia. In 1869 he made the reconnaissance for a route to the Northern Pacific Railroad which included the route through Montana. His report published by Jay Cooke served as the basis for financing the construction of the line to the Pacific coast and he served as chief engineer for the Northern Pacific Railroad from 1870 to 1879. In 1874 President Grant appointed him on a commission of five engineers to examine the mouths of the great delta rivers of Europe in order to recommend treatment of the Mississippi delta. In 1879 Roberts accepted an appointment to direct the improvement of the harbors and rivers of Brazil. He married twice, first to Annie Gibson of Pennsylvania in 1837 with whom he had six children before her death in 1857, and to Adeline DeBeelen of Pittsburgh in 1868 with whom he had four children. He was a member of the American Society of Engineers, the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the American Geographical Society. William Milnor Roberts died of typhoid fever in Soledad, Brazil, July 14, 1881. In 1923 the engineering building on the Montana State College campus was named in his honor.

Content Description Note: The papers consist of autobiographical and biographical sketches, personal and professional correspondence, diaries, travel logs, manuscript reports, printed materials, and photographs all pertaining to Roberts' professional life as an engineer. Places to which the materials relate include Pennsylvania, Montana Territory, and Brazil. Activities of Roberts that are particularly strongly recorded are his surveys of routes for the Northern Pacific Railway from 1869 through the 1870s and his work for the government of Brazil from 1857-1865 and 1879-1881. Photographs include portraits of Roberts and watercolor paintings of Brazil during the 1870s.

NEW: Scanned images of selected documents are now available in Series 3, 5, 6, and 7. Look for the bold type in folder title headings for the links.

Contents

Series 1 Biographical material, 1857-1923
Series 2 Correspondence, 1828-1959
Series 3 Diaries, travel logs, and notes, 1829-1881
Series 4 Credentials and legal documents, 1854-1927
Series 5 Reports, 1862-1881
Series 6 Printed material
Series 7 Photographs, ca. 1860-1923

Series 1: Biographical material, 1857-1923

Manuscripts, legal documents, notes and clippings pertaining to the life of William Milnor Roberts. Included are: four manuscript autobiographies written by Roberts between 1857 and 1874; biographical essays prepared by his sons, Milnor and Thomas; genealogical notes; legal account of the Roberts estate in 1881; applications for membership in professional societies requiring vita information submitted by Roberts.

Box 1
1. Autobiography, 1859
2. Autobiography, ca. 1866
3. Autobiography, ca. 1871
4. Autobiography, ca. 1874
5. Autobiographical fragments
6. Biography, 1915, no author
7. Biography by T. P. Roberts, 1923 (draft)
8. Biography by T. P. Roberts, 1923 (final)
9. Biography, National Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1940
10. Biography, History of the NPRR by E. W. Smalley, 1883
11. Reminiscence by W. B. Roberts, 1907
12. WMR tunnel experience as of 1857
13. WMR engineering biography as submitted to professional societies
14. WMR estate account, 1881
15. American Society of Civil Engineers obituary, 1881
16. Dedication of Roberts Hall, MUS campus, 1923
17. Genealogy notes

Contents | Special Collections

Series 2: Correspondence, 1828-1959

Professional and letters written or received by William Milnor Roberts or his son, Milnor Roberts. Writers include many people associated with the engineering projects in which Roberts was engaged. Of particular note are: letters written by Roberts to his wife, Adeline, during his 1869 reconnaissance of the Northern Pacific Railroad route through Washington, Idaho, and Montana; a file of letters on engineering matters written to Henry S. Drinker; letters pertaining to Roberts' work in Brazil during both of his visits there. Letterpress copies of Roberts's outgoing correspondence were separated from the volumes prior to their donation to MSU. The damaged volumes, which contain indicies to the letters, have been retained with the letters in this series. The letters have been chronologically arranged.

Box 2
1. 1828-1860
2. 1863-1868
3. 1869
4. 1870-1871
5. 1872-1874
6. 1875
7. 1876
8. 1876 Henry S. Drinker letters
9. 1877
10. 1878
11. 1879-1880
12. January-July 1881
13. August 1881
14. 1908-1939
15. 1949-1959
16. Fragments
17. Envelopes
18. Index to letterpress book, 1873-1875
19. Index to letterpress book, 1874-1875
20. Index to letterpress book, no date

Contents | Special Collections

Series 3: Diaries, travel logs, and notes, 1829-1881

Personal diaries, travel logs and engineering notes compiled by William Milnor Roberts throughout the latter part of his adult life. Some volumes are personal diaries, recording Roberts' daily activities and impressions of people, places, and events. Other logs and notes are more professionally oriented, recording Roberts' observations of landscapes, geographic features, and engineering problems. Occasionally the personal and professional writings overlap, and both were likely used by Roberts to compile his lengthy written reports and essays in Series 4. The journals document Roberts's travels in the western United States (especially the northwest), Europe, and Brazil. Notes in box 5, folders 6-9 are either unidentified or memoranda Roberts recorded from his readings.

Box 3
1. Commonplace Book, 1829; Field Book, 1833
2. Journal, voyage from Baltimore to Rio De Janeiro, May 31-July 12, 1859
3. Journal, June 4-16, 1865
4. Journal, June 17-July 22, 1865
5. Journal, July 23-September 11, 1865
6. Notes from Omaha to San Francisco, June 15-June 25, 1869
7. Notes from Sacramento to Chico, June 29, 1869
8. Notes from Yreka to Portland, July 1, 1869
9. Notes from Portland to Olympia, July 7, 1869
10. Notes on Columbia River, July 14, 1869
11. Journal from Wallula to Walla Walla, July 16, 1869
12. Journal from Lake Pend Oreville and memos, July 20-28, 1869
13. Journal from Lake Pend Oreville and along Clarke's Fork of the Columbia River,
     July 30, 1869
14. Continuation of the above, August 3, 1869
15. Memos of reconnaissance along Clark's Fork of the Columbia in 1869
16. Journal beginning with Camp No. 16 on Jack River, August 8, 1869
17. Continuation of above to August 16, 1869
18. Journal from Helena to Fort Benton, August 18, 1869
19. Journal at Bozeman starting for Virginia City, September 1, 1869
20. Notes from Corinne to Omaha, September 1869
21. Diary, January 4, 1871
22. Memos of trip from Portland to North of Pumphrey's, March 20, 1871
23. Puget Sound journal, May 4, 1871
24. Journal of journey across the plains from Portland to Kelton, May 22, 1871
25. Continuation of above, May 24, 1871
26. Continuation of above, May 27, 1871
27. Journal of a reconnaissance from Helena over the Rocky Mts. via 10 Mile and a branch of the
     Little Blackfoot, August 8, 1871
28. Notes from Helena to Blackrock, August 17, 1871
29. Journal, Corinne to Ogden, August 21, 1871
Box 4
1. Journal of a reconnaissance from Helena to near Pompey's Pillar in the Yellowstone Valley
     and Return, October 30 - November 4, 1871
2. Same, November 5-7, 1871
3. Same, November 8-11, 1871
4. Same, November 12-20, 1871
5. Data on Montana survey, 1871
6. Rules for Montana survey, 1871
7. Notes of reconnaissance from Fargo to Edminton and return, July 6, 1872
8. Montreal bridge notes, 1872
9. European travel log, August 29-September 9, 1874
10. September 9-16, 1874
11. September 16-26, 1874
12. September 23-30, 1874
13. September 30-October 6, 1874
14. October 6-October 12, 1874
15. October 13-19, 1874
16. October 19-25
17. October 28-30, 1874
18. Memoranda concerning certain works at rivers and harbors in Europe and in Egypt in September and October, Sept 5, 1874
19. Mississippi River Journal, Nov. 27, 1874
20. Mississippi River Journal, SW Pass, Dec. 2, 1874
21. Mississippi River Journal, Beginning at Pilot Town, Dec. 7, 1874
22. Notes from New Orleans to New York, Dec. 18-21, 1874
23. SW Pass notes, 1874
24. Diary/travel log of Washington Territory, 1878
25. Survey memos of Washington Territory, 1878
26. Diary, 1879
27. Notes on Sao Francisco River, August 12, 1879
28. Diaries, August 21-Nov. 7, 1879, Vol. 1, Vol. 2
29. Diaries, Nov. 8-Dec. 7, 1879, Vol. 3, Vol. 4

Box 5
1. Diaries, December 8, 1879-January 14, 1880
2. Diaries, January 17-December 31, 1880
3. Notes, January 11-April 9, 1881
4. Diaries, January 1-July 3, 1881
5. Brazilian address book
6. "Notes on profile by E. F. Johnson
7. "Notes from report by W. F. Raynolds"
8. "Notes on the mouth of the Columbia"
9. Unidentified notes

Contents | Special Collections

Series 4: Credentials and legal documents, 1854-1927

Membership certificates, professional credentials, and legal documents pertaining to William Milnor Roberts or his son, Milnor Roberts. Included are testimonial letters written by former employers and professional colleagues prior to Roberts departure for Brazil in 1857. Oversize documents have been removed to Box 8, folder 4

Box 5 (cont.)
10. Credentials and legal documents, 1854-1857
11. 1868-1874
12. 1875-1881
13. 1889-1927

Contents | Special Collections

Series 5: Reports, 1862-1881

Manuscript reports, and report drafts, prepared by William Milnor Roberts regarding the various engineering projects on which he worked. Many of the reports were later published in booklet and pamphlet form and have been retained in Series 5, printed materials. The reports in this series cover every major engineering project on which Roberts worked during the latter portion of his career, including those in Brazil and those undertaken for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Also included are essays of a general nature Roberts wrote on various topics, such as life in Brazil, the nature of gravity and American government. The essays have been arranged chronologically for those with a verifiable date. Reports that cannot be dated have been arranged alphabetically following the others. Oversize maps, as well as one large letterpress book containing reports, have been stored in Box 8.

Box 6
1. Dom Pedro II Railroad, 1862
2. Dom Pedro II Railroad, 1864
3-6. Description of railroad from Atlantic to the Pacific, 1869
7. Illinois and St. Louis Bridge, June 13, 1870
8. Earthquakes and other phenomena, April 1872
9-10. Discussion relating to the improvement of the mouths of large rivers, March-April, 1874
11. Beginning of important paper (operations of Nature) May 11, 1874
12. Original report to Messers. W. H. Irwin, W. S. Wilson, and others on coal in south western Kentucky, July 31, 1874
13. Proposed harbor at Guy end of canal, December 1874
14. Notes on mud, December 1874
15. South Pass jetties, January 1875
16. What fills interstellar space? November 1875
17. Gravity - its relation to engineering and to all things, October 12, 1876
18. Egypt, the pyramids, etc., 1877
19. Pressure of water at great depths, February 12, 1878
20. The first railroad in the U.S., September 1878
21. Northern Pacific Railroad Report, October 1878
22. Northern Pacific Railroad surveys for the branch from Tacoma across the Cascade range, October 28, 1878
23. Civil Engineering, 1878
24. Report from W.M. Roberts to His Excellency Joao Lins Vierra Camansaode Sinimbu, Presidente do Comelho
     (water works of Rio de Janeiro), March 20, 1879
25. Port of Santos Report, 1879
26. Port of Santos Report, 1879
27. Comparison of the Panama proposed level ship canal and the Suez canal, April 4, 1880
28. Report on the Sao Francisco River, May 31, 1880
29. Report on the Sao Francisco River, May 31, 1880

Box 7
1. Essay on the mobility and incompressibility of water, June 27, 1880
2. Egypt-the Khedive in 1874, July 25, 1880
3. A visit to the pyramids, 1880
4. A study of gravity, July 1880
5. An article on points relating to the "Three Americas Railway," August 5, 1880
6. Criticism on "Theory in regard to earthquakes," September 18, 1880
7. Gravity, October 1880
8. Maranhao, December 7, 1880
9. Maranhao [1880]
10. Ceara [1880]
11. The city and port of Aracaju [1880]
12. Aracaju river investigation, 1881
13. Memos from the Depths of the Sea, January 1881
14. Port of Perambuce, March 28, 1881
15. Report upon the ports of Victoria, Nenevente, Piuma, and Itapemirim, draft, May 1881
16. Same as above, June 25, 1881
17. Puerto de Caravellas, June 28, 1881
18. Arapapahy Canal
19. Characteristics of some of the great rivers
20. Circulation of air and water, second study
21. The Danube
22. Danube sediment report
23. The Florida Ship canal
24. Narrow gauge railroad and the American gauge
25. Pernambuco Harbor
26. The Revolving ball
27. Santos harbor report
28. Some inclined plane notes
29. South Pass discussion
30. Something about Brazil
31. Study of two of Professor Tyndall's ideas
32. Study of the experience at the Sulina Mouth of the Danube - views of the English engineers
33-34. Study of the mouth of the Mississippi-its proposed improvement
35. A study-the United States

Contents | Special Collections

Series 6: Printed material, 1836-1923

Newspaper clippings, books, and printed reports created or collected by William Milnor Roberts. Newspaper clippings include entire issues of American and Brazilian newspapers that contain articles dealing with either engineering projects or Roberts family matters. Clippings from unidentified newspapers have been sorted by topics. Printed reports make up the bulk of this series and are almost entirely written by Roberts. They have been arranged chronologically and listed with their full titles in this inventory. Printed ephemera, such as broadsides, business cards, and menus, are also included.

Box 8
1. American newspapers
2. American newspapers
3. Brazilian newspapers
4. Oversize credentials from Series 4
5. Oversize maps from Series 5
Letterpress book with reports on Suez Canal and Santos from series 5

Box 9
1. American Society of Civil Engineers clippings
2. Brazil clippings
3. Miscellaneous railroad clippings
4. Mississippi River clippings
5. Northern Pacific Railway clippings
6. Ohio River navigation clippings
7. Personal interest clippings
8. Personal interest clippings
9. Philadelphia water supply clippings
10. Pittsburgh water supply clippings
11. St. Louis bridge clippings
12. Western travel clippings
13. Western travel clippings
14. NPRR brochures, 1873
15. NPRR brochures, twentieth century
16. Railway & Marine News Vol XXII, Jan 1924, No. 1
17. Montana Engineer, Nov. 1938, Vol. IV, No. 1
18. Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, 1873-74
19. Ephemera
20. Ephemera
21. Reports, 1835-36
         1835 Report of W.M. Roberts, Engineer of Harrisburg and Lancaster Railroad
         1835 Report of W.M. Roberts, Chief Engineer of Cumberland Valley Railroad Co.
         1836 S.W. Roberts account of Allegheny Portage Railroad
         1836 Report Chief Engineer to President & Directors of Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad
         1836 Report of W.M. Roberts on Surveys for the Harrisburg Waterworks or Water Power
22. Reports, 1837-48
         1837 2nd Report of W.M. Roberts, Chief Engineer of Cumberland Valley Railroad Co.
         1837 3rd Annual Report of W.M. Roberts, Chief Engineer of Cumberland Valley Railroad
         1837 2nd Annual Report of W.M. Roberts, Chief Engineer of Harrisburg and Lancaster Railroad
         1838 Report of Superintendent of Harrisburg and Lancaster Railroad
         1838 3rd Annual Report of W.M. Roberts, Chief Engineer, Harrisburg and Lancaster Railroad
         1848 Report of W.M. Roberts on Survey to avoid Schuylkill Inclined Plane
         on the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad
23. Report, Sao Francisco River, 1880

Box 10 Printed reports (no folders)
1850 Report on Preliminary Surveys for Bellefontaine and Indiana Railroad
1852 2nd Annual Report of Directors of Bellefontaine and Indiana Railroad
1853 Report on Surveys of Allegheny Valley Railroad
1853 Exhibit of Allegheny Valley Railroad
1856 Improvement of the Ohio River
1857 Proposed Improvement of the Ohio River
1863 Report of Don Pedro, 2nd Railroad
1863 Annual Report of Managers of Union Canal Co. of Pennsylvania to Stockholders
1866 Present State and Prospects of North Missouri Railroad
1868 Report of W.M. Roberts, Consulting Engineer, to the President & Managers of Erie Canal Co. of Pennsylvania
1869 Preliminary Report with reference to Extension of New Pittsburgh Water Works
1869 Illinois and St. Louis Bridge Co., Report of Chief Engineer
1869 Special Report of Reconnaissance of Route for Northern Pacific Railroad between
     Lake Superior and Puget Sound via the Columbia River
1871 Report of W.M. Roberts on the Ohio River and North Pacific Railroad
1871 Northern Pacific Railroad. The Yellowstone Valley
1871 Northern Pacific Railroad. Surveys and Explorations.
1871? Northern Pacific Railroad; Its Route, Resources, Progress, and Business
1872 American Society of Civil Engineers Proceedings and Transactions of 4th Annual Convention,
    Chicago, June 5 & 6, 1872
1873 History of Monogahela Navigation Co.
1874 Report of Chief Engineer on unfinished portion of Northern Pacific Railroad
1874 General Orders No. 74, War Department, Washington, July 2, 1874
1874 Report of W.M. Roberts on the New Water Works of the City of Pittsburgh
1875 Mouths of the Mississippi. Correspondence etc., 1874-75
1875 Report of a Reconnaissance of the Missouri River in 1872
1875 Report on the Water Supply for the City of Philadelphia by a Commission of Engineers
     appointed by the mayor, 55 pages
1875 Report on the Water Supply for the City of Philadelphia by a Commission of Engineers
     appointed by the mayor, 143 pages
1875 Notes on the Improvement of the Mouth of the Mississippi. A paper by W.M. Roberts
     to the American Society of Civil Engineers, Oct. 21, 1875
1875 Final Proceedings of Advisory Committee of Engineers convened by J.B. Eads
     to consider plans for the improvement of the Mouth of the Mississippi
1875 Transactions of American Society of Civil Engineers, Second Series No. 26,
     Transactions Vol. IV. Proceedings Vol. I, Dec. 1875
1875 Report of Board of Engineers and Correspondence relating to the Improvement
     of the Mouth of the Mississippi River by Jetties.
1876 Carpenters' Hall and its Historic Memories
1876 Report on Four Thousand Acres of Coal, Iron Ore, and Timber Lands on the Allegheny Mountains
1876 Journal of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Transactions Vol. V, Proceedings Vol. II, Feb. 1876
1876 List of Members of the American Society of Civil Engineers
1876 Published letter to the American Society of Civil Engineers from W.M. Roberts,
    Chair, subcommittee on finance for the Centennial Commission.
1876 The Institution of Civil Engineers; Charter, By-Laws, and Regulations
1877 List of Members. Institution of Civil Engineers
1877 Report on Hart Creek Sewer
1877 Report of the President & Directors, Northern Pacific Railroad Co. Annual Meeting Sept. 26, 1877
1877 Engineer's Facts & Reasons for Locating the N.P. Railroad upon the selected line west of the Rocky Mountains
1877-78 American Society of Civil Engineers. Ballot list for officers of the Society 1877-78
1878 American Society of Civil Engineers. Ballot list for officers for the year beginning Nov. 1878
1878 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Officers, Committee, Members, Constitution and By-laws
1878 Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Transactions Vol. VII, Proceedings Vol. IV, April 1878
1878 Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Transactions Vol. VII, Proceedings Vol. IV, Aug. 1878
1878 Reminiscences and Experiences of Early Engineers. Operations on Railroads with Special Reference
     to Steep Inclines. Paper by W.M. Roberts included in Transactions above.
1878 Extracts from By-Laws, Inst. of Civil Eng. (also application for student membership 188-)
1878 The Benevolent Fund of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Report of Proceedings at 14th Annual General meeting
1879 American Society of Civil Engineers. Constitution and By-Laws
1879 Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Transactions Vol. VIII. Proceedings Vol. V, Jan. 1979
1879 Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Transactions Vol. VIII. Proceedings Vol. V, March 1979
1879 List of Members. Institution of Civil Engineers
1880 Abstract of Report of the Hydraulic Commission of Brazil, W.M. Roberts, Chief Engineer. Upon examination of the Sao Francisco River, 1879-1880
1880 Roberts on the Sao Francisco River, Brazil
1880 O Porto so Maranho. Por W. Milnor Roberts
1880 Journal of Franklin Inst. 3rd series Vol. Ixxx No. 5-Nov. 1880
1880 Relatorio W. Milnor Roberts, sobre o exame do Rio S. Francisco
1881 Excerpt, Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Vol Ixviii
    Session 1881-82, Part ii. Memoirs of William Milnor Roberts
1881 Address of James Abernathy, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 11 Jan.
1881-82 Excerpt. Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers
1956 Memories by Eleanor Roberts Baltzell

Box 11
1868 Useful Information for Railway Men
1869 Engineers and mechanics pocket book
1878 Molesworth's pocket book of engineering formulae
1881 A history of the St. Louis Bridge
1890 Memoirs of John Bannister Gibson, by Thomas P. Roberts
1894 History of the Gazzam and DeBeleen Families

Contents | Special Collections

Series 7: Photographs and paintings, 1860-1923

Membership certificates, professional credentials, and legal documents pertaining to William Milnor Roberts or his son, Milnor Roberts. Included are testimonial letters written by former employers and professional colleagues prior to Roberts departure for Brazil in 1857. Oversize documents have been removed to Box 8, folder 4

Box 11
1. WMR, portrait, ca. 1860s
2. WMR, Centennial Exhibition admission pass, 1876
3. WMR, carte de visite, ca. 1880s
4. WMR, portrait, ca. 1880s
5. Northern Pacific Railway survey party, Helena, 1869
6. Northern Pacific Railway engineers, ca. 1876
7. George Stark and WMR, Helena, 1876
8. WMR, portrait from National Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1940
9. Dr. Alcoforados country house, Brazil, 1880
10. Imperor Pedro II, ca 1880
11. Elena Solar Y, ca. 1880
12. J. B. Eads, portrait, ca. 1870
13. Elenor Roberts Baltzell
14. Roberts Hall, MSU Bozeman, 1923
15. Roberts Hall, MSU Bozeman, 1922 (under construction)
16. Roberts Hall, MSU Bozeman, architects rendering
17. Port of Santos, Brazil, 1879 (photograph of painting)
18. Watercolor painting, the shrine of Bom Jesus da Lapa, Brazil, 1879
19. Watercolor painting, Paulo Afonso waterfall, in the state of Bahia 1879
20. Watercolor painting, Paulo Afonso waterfall, in the state of Bahia, 1879

Contents | Special Collections

Updated: 12/13/10