This collection consists of Watkins' official and personal correspondence concerning the efforts of the Smithsonian to obtain federal appropriations for the establishment of a section of steam transportation in the USNM, the construction of ship models for an exhibit at the Cotton States and International Exposition, Watkins' research on the history of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and his various appointments at the Smithsonian; an annual report, 1892, for the Section of Transportation and Engineering; biographical material and newspaper clippings; photographs; a history of the Camden and Amboy Railroad by Isaac L. Dripps; personal memorabilia; and publications.
J. Elfreth Watkins (1852-1903), a railroad employee and museum curator, was employed by the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Company as a mining engineer from 1871 to 1872. He then joined the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1872 as an Assistant Engineer of Construction. After a disabling accident in 1873, Watkins was employed as a Chief Clerk from 1874 to 1886 for the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Camden and Atlantic Railroad. In 1885, while still a railroad employee, Watkins was offered an honorary curatorial position in the Section of Steam Transportation, Department of Arts and Industries in the United States National Museum (USNM); in 1887 he was promoted to Curator of Transportation. Watkins returned to the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1892 to prepare its exhibit for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. When the Exposition closed, Watkins joined the staff of the Field Columbian Museum as Director of Industrial Arts. In 1895 he returned to the USNM as Curator of Technological Collections and in 1898 was named Curator of the Division of Technology (Modern Phases). He also served as Engineer of Property, 1888-1889, and Chief of Buildings and Superintendence, 1896-1903, for the USNM.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7268, Watkins, J. Elfreth, (John Elfreth),1852-1903, J. Elfreth Watkins Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives
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