Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Cummings Structural Concrete Company Records


Collection ID:
Cummings, Robert A., 1866-1962
1884-1952 and undated
Collection text is in
. Some materials in
Physical Description:
20 Cubic feet
36 boxes

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
The Cummings Structural Concrete Company Records consists primarily of correspondence and business records documenting Robert A. Cummings' firm, consulting work, and participation in professional associations, especially the American Society of Civil Engineers, 1892-1893, circa 1900-1939; technical data and publications on soils testing, 1900-1939; and drawings, blueprints, and photographs and glass negatives of construction projects.
Series 1, Biographical, 1904-1936 and undated documents the professional life of Robert A. Cummings. There are three subseries within this series: Subseries 1, Cummings System of Reinforced Concrete, 1904-1930 and undated; Subseries 2, Professional Organizations, 1908-1936 and undated; and Subseries 3, Writings, 1908-1939 and undated. This series includes documents related to the Cummings System of Reinforced Concrete, including patents, photographs, and advertisements. The series also includes documents relating to professional organizations such as the Allegheny County Authority, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the World Engineering Congress. Cummings was also a member of the Soils Committee for the American Society of Civil Engineers, and those documents are included in this series. Cummings wrote published and unpublished articles regarding concrete, soil, and construction methods. His writings are also included in this series.
Series 2, Operational Records, 1884-1952 and undated consists of six subseries: Subseries 1, Administrative, 1901-1948 and undated; Subseries 2, Correspondence, 1884-1952 and undated; Subseries 3, Contracts (for projects), 1902-1930 and undated; Subseries 4, Legal Materials, 1907-1916; Subseries 5, Financial, 1894-1921 and undated; and Subseries 6, Personnel, 1918-1921. This series contains the bulk of the information about Cummings' concrete business. Within this series are administrative materials that document the running of the business, including daily reports, bond and insurance papers, specifications, supply notes, field requisitions, and design notebooks. Also included is correspondence to and from Cummings. Recipients of the correspondence include company employees and corporations that did business with the company. A portion of the correspondence is divided topically into subjects such as soil sampling apparatus and barge claims.
The bulk of this series consists of contracts for projects on which Cummings worked. The majority of the projects consist of bridges, water tanks, commercial buildings, and retaining walls. Materials include correspondence, receipts from vendors, hand-written notes, accident reports, blueprints, sketches, and laboratory test reports on materials. The contracts are arranged by contract number as assigned by Cummings. The unnumbered contracts are listed alphabetically. The legal materials consist of documentation that relate to legal matters Cummings dealt with, including the lawsuits Robert Cummings vs. William J. Stewart, Alexander Melville vs. Robert Cummings, andLock Joint Pipe Company vs. Frederick Melber and Electric Welding Company. This series also contains financial and personnel records, including account books, bills, receipts, proposals, estimates, and business journals, as well as applications for employment, correspondence, and weekly progress reports.
Series 3, Subject Files, 1891-1949 and undated consists of correspondence, pamphlets, printed materials, and drawings. The topics within the subject files include soil testing and standards, roads, railroads, minerals, electricity, and concrete barges.
Series 4, Publications, 1887-1955, includes published material related concrete. The series is divided into two subseries: publications by title and publications by subject. Included are booklets, articles of incorporations, charters and by-laws, journals, and government publications. Some of the materials are in German or French.
Series 5, Photographs, 1902-1916 and undated includes 3" x 5", 8" x 10" and other various sizes of photographic prints. The series contains black and white and sepia toned prints. Some of the prints have been mounted onto cardboard or cloth, and some prints have tape on the corners. Some of the prints are annotated on the back. Most of the images are of construction sites in various stages of progress, the interiors of buildings being constructed, manufacturing equipment, and laborers working. Some of these images document early twentieth century methods of manufacturing, such as the use of rope pulleys.
Series 6, Photograph Negatives, undated includes about 75 photograph film negatives. The images in these negatives are primarily of construction scenes, including workers, equipment and work sites.
Series 7, Glass Plate Negatives, 1889-1918 and undated includes 8" x 10", 5" x 8", and 3" x 4" glass plate negatives containing images of bridges, slabs of concrete, construction scenes, the interiors and exteriors of hotels, and the interiors and exteriors of railroad stations.
Series 8, Lantern Slides, undated includes images of the work of the Cummings Structural Concrete Company on 4.5" x 5" glass slides. The images are of industrial machinery, construction sites, and workers.


The collection is arranged into eight series.
Series 1: Biographical, 1904-1936 and undated
Subseries 1.1: Cummings System of Reinforced Concrete, 1904-1930 and undated
Subseries 1.2: Professional Organizations, 1908-1936 and undated
Subseries 1.3: Writings, 1908-1939 and undated
Series 2: Operational Records, 1884-1952 and undated
Subseries 2.1, Administrative, 1901-1948 and undated
Subseries 2.2: Correspondence, 1884-1952 and undated
Subseries 2.3: Project Contracts, 1902-1930 and undated
Subseries 2.4: Legal Materials, 1907-1916
Subseries 2.5: Financial, 1894-1921 and undated
Series 3: Subject Files, 1891-1970 and undated
Subseries 3.1: Alphabetical, 1891-1970
Subseries 3.2: Testing, 1904-1916
Series 4: Publications, 1887-1955
Subseries 4.1: By title, 1887-1953
Subseries 4.2: By subject, 1902-1940 and undated
Series 5: Photographs, 1902-1916 and undated
Series 6: Photograph Negatives, undated
Series 7: Glass Plate Negatives, 1889-1918 and undated
Series 8: Lantern Slides, undated

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
Robert Augustus Cummings (1866-1962) was a consulting civil engineer who worked primarily in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was born in Norfolk, England and attended the Gresham School at Holt in Norfolk. He trained as a civil engineer with William J. Brewster in his offices, located in Westminster, London, England. During his early career, he worked as a surveyor and field examiner at the Ordinance Survey of Great Britain and Ireland before he relocated to Canada to conduct engineering work on the Grand Trunk Railroad. During the late 1880s and early 1890s, Cummings was employed as a general draftsman for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in Philadelphia. He worked later as a designer of heavy dredging machinery for the Bucyrus (Ohio) Steam Shovel and Dredge Company and as an assistant engineer of the Norfolk and Western Railroad in Roanoke, Virginia. Cummings established a firm as a civil and consulting engineer in Philadelphia in 1893 before relocating to Pittsburgh in 1899. He founded the Cummings Structural Concrete Company and the Electric Welding Company in 1900, and in 1902 he founded the Lehigh Valley Testing Laboratory, all of which were located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1936, he partnered with his son in the consulting firm of Robert A. Cummings, Jr. and Associates.
During his career, Cummings worked on the design and construction of a variety of projects, including bridges, warehouses, filtration systems, private residences, machine shops, dry docks and piers, factories, dams, and locks. He additionally conducted railroad and land surveys, researched various types of cement, and designed rock, hydraulic, and elevator dredges. Cummings is best known for inventing the "Cummings System of Reinforced Concrete," in which iron or steel bars are embedded within a mixture of Portland cement, water, sand, and gravel or broken stone. As Cummings stated in a 1904 presentation to the Member Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania, reinforced concrete "makes an excellent paint for preserving iron or steel, adhering to the metal very firmly and protecting it thoroughly against corrosion. It can easily be made water tight, and its durability is beyond question. These properties of cement mortar can be utilized in re-enforced concrete. This material is well adapted for molding into a monolithic structure, which does not disintegrate when subjected to shocks such as are produced by railroad trains and vibrates much less for a given load than structural steel. Correctly designed re-enforced concrete structures are not liable to sudden failures, as is the case with ordinary concrete, but gives warning by the falling off of the surface concrete long before the point of failure is reached."
Cummings belonged to a number of professional organizations, including the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Engineering Societies Library Board, the American Railway Engineering Association, the American Society for Testing Materials, and the Institution of Civil Engineers of London, England. He married Mary Eloise Hood on December 14, 1892, and had two children, Robert Augustus Jr. and Eloise Hood. Robert A. Cummings died on October 21, 1962, in Pittsburgh.
Cummings, Robert A. Presentation to the Member Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania, Meeting of Structural Section. November 22, 1904.
Hool, George A. Concrete Engineers Handbook, Data for the Design and Construction of Plain and Reinforced Concrete Structures. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1918.


Erin Molloy
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Custodial History
Transferred to the Archives Center from the Division of Mechanical and Civil Engineering, now the Division of Work and Industry on July 31, 1986.
Processing Information
The collection was processed by Erin Molloy (intern) and supervised by Alison Oswald, archivist, April, 2011.

Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research but is stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at or 202-633-3270.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright held by the Smithsonian Institution. Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no gurantees concerning copyright restrictions. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Preferred Citation
Cummings Structural Concrete Company Reocrds, 1884-1952 and undated, Archives Center, National Museum of American History


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Negatives Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Research (document genres) Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs -- 1900-1950 Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Reinforced concrete Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Pittsburgh (Pa.) Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Engineering Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Drawings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Glass negatives Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Concrete construction Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Civil engineering Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Business records Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Blueprints Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American Society of Civil Engineers. Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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