Felton family papers

Collection 1151

1839-circa 1922
(2.4 Linear feet ; 5 boxes, 4 volumes)

Summary Information

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Felton, S. M. (Samuel Morse), 1809-1889.
Felton, Samuel Morse, 1853-1930.
Felton family papers
1839-circa 1922
2.4 Linear feet ; 5 boxes, 4 volumes
Finding aid prepared by Cary Majewicz
Processing made possible by a generous donation from Thomas Moran and Cynthia Starrett.
Mixed materials [Volume]
Mixed materials [Box]
The Felton family papers consist primarily of correspondence, telegrams, memoranda, and reports of Samuel Morse Felton (1809-1889) and his son Samuel Morse Felton II (1853-1930), both civil engineers who became prominent railroad executives. Samuel Morse Felton rescued the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Philadelphia Railroad from financial ruin in the 1850s and made it into an important transportation route for Union troops during the Civil War. Felton also played a role in thwarting an assassination attempt on President Lincoln in February 1861. He went on to work for several railroad companies. Samuel Morse Felton II also forged a highly successful career in railroads, particularly with the Chicago Great Western Railroad during the late 1800s. Felton II was eventually named director general of military railways during World War I.

Preferred Citation note

Cite as: [Indicate cited item or series here], Felton family papers (Collection 1151), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Biographical/Historical note

Samuel Morse Felton was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts on 17 July 1809 to Cornelius C. Felton and Anna Morse. He spent much of his life in Massachusetts where he studied civil engineering and for a time served as the secretary of the Charlestown Lyceum. In 1843, he took an engineering job with the Fitchburg Railroad in Boston. In 1851, he left Massachusetts and took over the job of president of the financially troubled Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad (PWBRR). As president, Felton helped restore this floundering railroad and it became one of the most important transportation routes for Union soldiers during the Civil War. A few years later, Felton was named president of the Pennsylvania Steel Company, though he maintained his connections with PWBRR. He also served with several other railroads during this time, such as the local Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, the Northern Pacific Railroad, which traversed much of the northwestern United States; and the Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain Railroad, with served far upstate New York. From 1862 to 1865, Felton helped oversee the construction of the Hoosac Tunnel in Massachusetts. In 1869, he accepted President Ulysses Grant's appointment as commissioner to inspect Pacific railroads.

Felton died in Philadelphia on 24 January 1889. He married twice, first to Eleanor Stetson (1813-1847) of Charlestown, Massachusetts, second to Maria Low Lippitt (1826-1911) of Savannah, Georgia. He and Eleanor had three daughters. Together with Maria they had one daughter and three sons, one of whom, Samuel Morse Felton II, inherited his father's railroad sensibilities.

Samuel Morse Felton II was born in Philadelphia on 3 February 1853, and he also developed a very successful career in railroads. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated with an engineering degree in 1873. His talents and abilities led to appointments as president of the Chicago and Alton Railroad in 1889 and president of the Chicago Great Western Railroad in 1909. He also worked for the Mexican Central Railroad, the Tennessee Central Railroad, and the Cincinatti, New Orleans, and Texas Pacific Railway. Further recognition came during World War I when he was named director general of military railways. In this position Felton controlled and organized American railway forces and supplies in France. For his service, Felton received the Distinguished Service Medal and the Cross of the Legion of Honor from France. Over the course of his life he held numerous other positions and memberships; he worked extensively with the Western Railroad Association and was a member of the American Society of Military Engineers and American Railway Engineering Association, among others.

Felton died in Illinois in 1930. At the time he was working with the Central Trust of Illinois. Felton married Dora Hamilton of Philadelphia and the couple had one son and three daughters.

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Scope and Contents note

Housed in five boxes and four volumes, the Felton family papers are a small but rich collection highlighting the lives of Pennsylvania railroad executives Samuel Morse Felton (Series 1) and Samuel Morse Felton II (Series 2). The vast majority of papers from both men are business oriented and pertain specifically to their railroad-related duites and activities.

Most of the collection originated from the elder Felton; his papers span his career from 1839 to his death in 1889. Besides railroad topics and building projects, some materials discuss Union troop movement to Washington, D. C. and the February 1861 assassination attempt on President Lincoln. Other items of interest include papers on the construction of Massachusetts' Hoosac Tunnel during the Civil War, telegrams discussing troop movement in 1861, and Felton's letter books from 1857-1859 and 1868-1874.

The remaining papers in the collection came from Felton's son, Samuel Morse Felton [II], a railroad executive and military advisor. Made up almost entirely of correspondence from 1916 to 1920, these materials pertain mostly to Felton's railroad work. Some letters discuss the use of railroads in Mexico during the revolution in 1916, in France during World War I, and in Russia during the revolution in 1918.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania ; 2011

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107

Conditions Governing Access note

The collection is open for research.

Acquisition information

Gift of C.C. Felton, 1941, and Samuel Morse Felton, 1961-1963.

Processing Information note

This collection incorprates papers that were formerly cataloged as Collection 1814.

Samuel Morse Felton's memoir, resolution, and account of the plot to assassinate President Lincoln were formerly cataloged under the call number Am .67045, Volumes 1 & 2.

The Bessemer Steel Company memoir of Samuel Morse Felton was formerly cataloged under the call number Gb .0596.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

At other institutions:

Samuel Morse Felton family papers, 1841-1930, #170. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Archives Center, Washington, D. C.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad.

Geographic Name(s)

  • Hoosac Tunnel (Mass.).
  • United States--Foreign relations--Mexico.
  • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Transportation.

Personal Name(s)

  • Atterbury, Wallace.
  • Beale, Robert R.
  • Bent, George E.
  • Biddle, Craig.
  • Bingham, John Armor, 1815-1900.
  • Black, William.
  • Blackwell, Thomas.
  • Brooks, John B.
  • Cameron, Simon, 1799-1889.
  • Crawford, William.
  • du Pont, Samuel F, 1803-1865.
  • Forbes, John M., 1813-1898.
  • Hare, P. H.
  • Holmes, Alexander.
  • Langrift, W. C.
  • Latrobe, Benjamin Henry, 1806-1878.
  • Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Assassination.
  • Lossing, Benson John, 1813-1891.
  • McAdoo, William Gibbs, 1863-1941.
  • McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885.
  • Pinkerton, Allan, 1819-1884.
  • Porter, Fitz-John, 1822-1901.
  • Pratt, Enoch, 1808-1896.
  • Sanford, E. S.
  • Stearns, George, 1809-1867.
  • Thayer, Nathaniel, 1808-1883.
  • Yulee, David, 1810-1886.


  • Railroads--Management.
  • Tunnels--Massachusetts.
  • World War, 1914-1918--Transportation.

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Collection Inventory

Samuel Morse Felton   (3 boxes, 3 volumes)

Scope and Contents note

Samuel Morse Felton was appointed president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad (PWBRR) in 1851, and his letterpress book of 1857 to 1859 (Volume 1), concerns his management of the railroad. The PWBRR was an important transportation route for the Union Army during the Civil War, and papers in Box 2, Folders 6-9 relate to troop movements, as well as to the role Felton played in foiling an assassination plot against Lincoln in February 1861. In Box 2, Folder 8 is Felton's handwritten account (along with later typed transcriptions) of the actions he took to save president Lincoln. There is a significant grouping of Felton's outgoing and incoming telegrams from 1861 to 1863 (Box 3), which also document the transportation of Union troops and supplies. Some of the later telegrams concern the construction of the Hoosac Tunnel in Massachusetts, for which Felton served as commissioner from 1862 to 1865.

After the Civil War, Felton became president of the Pennsylvania Steel Company, but his interest in railroading remained strong. Another letterpress book dated 1868 to 1874 (Volume 2) contains his letters as president of the Delaware Railroad and other positions he continued to hold in the industry. Comprising a significant portion of Felton's material is correspondence from 1839 to 1889 (Boxes 1 and 2). Most of the letters are about railroad and business interests and among his correspondents are Craig Biddle, John B. Brooks, Simon Cameron, Samuel F. du Pont, John M. Forbes, Alexander Holmes, Benjamin H. Latrobe, Jr., Benson J. Lossing, Allan Pinkerton, Fitz John Porter, Enoch Pratt, E.S. Sanford, Nathaniel Thayer, David Yulee, P.H. Hare, John Bingham, George McClellan, George Stearns, Thomas Blackwell, Robert Beale, and George E. Bent.

Box Folder

Correspondence (1839-1847) 

1 1

Correspondence (1853-1858) 

1 2

Correspondence (1860-1863) 

1 3-14

Correspondence (1864-1869) 

2 1

Correspondence (1872-1889) 

2 2

Correspondence (Undated) 

2 3

Miscellaneous business papers (1861-1863) 

2 4

Miscellaneous, including copies of telegrams (1861, undated) 

2 5

Memoir and resolution of service [copies] (1865, 1891, undated) 

2 6

Memoranda regarding plans for movement of troops to Washington, D. C. (1861) 

2 7

Account of a plot to murder Abraham Lincoln [original and typed transcriptions] (1866, undated) 

2 8

"History and evidence of the passing of Abraham Lincoln from Harrisburg Pa. to Washington, February 22nd, and 23rd, 1861" and related printed materials (1858-1868) 

2 9

Telegrams (1861-1863, undated) 

3 1-5

Letterpress book (July 1857-December 1859) 


Letterpress book (November 1868-October 1874) 


Memorial from Bessemer Steel Company (1889) 


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Samuel Morse Felton II   (2 boxes, 1 volume)

Scope and Contents note

Samuel Morse Felton II also served as president and chairman of several railroad companies and industry associations. His papers date from 1916 to about 1922 and are housed in two boxes and one volume. Some of his materials relate in part to Felton's position as advisor to the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1916 and illustrate preparations made by the corps for war with Mexico. Starting in 1917, his correspondence documents his activities as director general of military railroads. There are letters regarding the shipment of locomotives overseas (Box 4, Folder 10), a copy of an article by Edward Hungerford titled "The Military Railroad" (Box 4, Folder 12), Felton's recollections of his military trip to Europe in July and August 1918 (Box 4, Folders 13-14), and items from 1918 regarding the Russian Railway Service Corps (Box 4, Folder 20). Among his correspondents are Wallace Atterbury, Maj. Gen. William Black, Col. W.C. Langrift, William G. McAdoo, and William B. Parsons. This series also contains a typescript of an official report Felton compiled titled "History of Director General of Military Railways" (Volume 3).

Box Folder

Correspondence (1916-1920, bulk 1917-1918) 

4 1-21

Railway Age article: "American Railway Forces in the Great War" by Samuel O. Dunn (3 January 1919) 

5 1

Engineer Operations Bulletin (September-November 1918) 

5 2

"Trip to Europe, July 16th to August 3rd, 1921" typed manuscript (circa 1922) 

5 3

Autographed photograph of and letter from Marshall F. Foch (1921) 

5 4

Miscellaneous (1893, 1907, undated) 

5 5

"History of Director General of Military Railways" (1922) 


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