The revolutions in mass production and mass consumption of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries transformed the material world of modern America. The industrial and commercial buildings of that era expressed, in architectural form, the new images of progress and efficiency that characterized Victorian America and then the Machine Age and modernism. The research collections of the Hagley Museum and Library on business and technology are a rich resource for the study of the iconography and the built environment of modern commercial and industrial America. We invite the attention of architectural historians to our collections, and to the grants available to assist visiting scholars.

View PDF version of the guide with images from our collections

Hagley's collections contain significant documentation on many of the commercial and industrial structures that defined modern America, such as the skyscraper, the industrial plant, the department store, the office building, the railroad station, and the airport. Many major industrial sites are described in our collections, as well as some of the best-known buildings in America, including the Empire State building, Penn Station, the Pentagon, and the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society (PSFS) building. The focus of the collection is on American topics, but there are also significant materials that permit comparison with European practice.

Building types represented in the Hagley collection include:

Aircraft factories

Apartment houses

Automobile factories



Chemical plants

Coal and ore processing plants

Coke ovens

Company stores

Company towns

Defense plants

Electrical factories

Explosives factories

Exposition buildings

Gasoline service stations

Grain elevators


Hydroelectric dams

Industrial research laboratories

Leather tanneries

Nylon factories

Office buildings

Oil refineries

Paper mills

Power plants

Prefabricated housing

Railroad shops

Railroad stations

Rayon plants

Retail stores

Rubber and tire factories



Steel mills

Textile mills


Water works

Worker housing

World's Fairs


The imprints collection of approximately 200,000 volumes includes a wide range of material pertinent to the study of commercial and industrial architecture. Publications describe the planning and building of industrial and commercial structures and how they operated on a daily basis. There is considerable information on building materials, furniture, building systems, and design. Of particular note are two microfilmed collections of rare insurance drawings totaling more than 3,600 images, primarily from the 1840s to the 1930s. These collections include both site plans and axonometrics with notes. The E. Hexamer & Company plates primarily cover the Philadelphia region. The Associated Factory Mutual Fire Insurance Company's group of images is national in scope and has documentation on textile, aircraft, paper, automobile, tobacco, electrical equipment, and other factories.

Hagley possesses one of the nation's finest collections of trade catalogs, including ones that describe the full range of building types from industrial to domestic, and from component parts to prefabricated structures. The trade catalogs also contain specific information on mechanical equipment, hardware, furnishings, office equipment, and building materials.

Hagley has a distinguished collection of World's Fairs and exposition publications and ephemera. These include catalogs, guide books, pictorial volumes, pamphlets issued by exhibitors, and materials on the physical structures that housed exhibitions. Beginning with the London Crystal Palace of 1851, all the leading international expositions in Europe and North America are represented, along with numerous lesser ones. These collections are important sources of information on architectural history, including the exhibits and buildings of major corporations (often created by leading designers such as Raymond Loewy, Walter Dorwin Teague, and Norman Bel Geddes), and the expositions' ties to urban planning.

Hagley also has an extensive set of trade journals, ranging from the general to the specialized. They contain information on building types, building materials, design, fireproofing, refrigeration, and lighting and heating systems. Several journals directed towards builders and contractors are especially useful.

Hagley's extensive collection of specialized technical encyclopedias and period textbooks describe standard practices in building and construction. Regional histories, atlases, city directories, industrial directories, and monographs on individual building types can supplement research on industrial and commercial structures.

Imprints holds many publications issued by individual firms. They include firm histories, annual reports, company magazines, and promotional brochures, generally with illustrated views of industrial plants and offices. The imprints collection also contains many published materials that discuss specific features of industrial and commercial architecture. Among the subjects covered are: Building materials (asbestos, concrete, terra cotta, etc.)

Building systems (including electricity and plumbing)

Civil, mechanical, electrical, and nuclear engineering

Factory design and management

Fire prevention

Industrial archaeology

Interior design and office planning

Materials handling

Store fronts and window displays

Studies of individual builders, architects, and designers


Hagley holds the country's finest collection of business records and corporate archives (25,000 linear feet). Many of these organizations built significant structures, employed prominent architects and engineers, and sponsored innovations in building materials and construction practices.

Included in Hagley's holdings are some original materials relating to the work of architects such as Daniel Burnham, Frank Furness, Cass Gilbert, Vincent G. Kling, William Lescaze, Kenneth M. Murchison, Edward Durrell Stone, and Lester Tichy of Raymond Loewy Associates. The work of architectural firms Graham, Anderson, Anderson, Probst & White, and Howe & Lescaze also are represented, along with the archive of Victorine and Samuel Homsey, Inc., one of the first husband and wife architectural practices in the U.S.

The business records at Hagley generally have correspondence and other written materials on design and construction of industrial and commercial facilities. Many of the collections include building and site plans, and the PSFS and Phoenix Bridge Company records contain full drawing sets. Some original furnishings for the PSFS building, designed by William Lescaze are at Hagley. Some collections also contain material promoting construction-related products such as steel, concrete, and plastics.

Hagley's holdings include the archives of the following major corporations and trade associations:

American Iron and Steel Institute

Bethlehem Steel Corporation

Chamber of Commerce of the United States

E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. (explosives, nylon, rayon, plastics)

Joseph Bancroft & Sons Company (textiles)

J. E. Rhoads & Sons, Inc. (leather tanneries)

Lukens Steel Company

MCI Communications Corporation, Inc.

Maryland Steel Company

Pennsylvania Power & Light Company

Pennsylvania Railroad Company

Philadelphia Saving Fund Society (PSFS)

Phoenix Bridge Company

Radio Corporation of America (Camden, NJ)

Remington Rand (office interiors)

Seagram Company Ltd.

Sperry Corporation (computers, defense)

Strawbridge & Clothier (retail stores)

Sun Oil Company (oil refining, service stations)

Westinghouse Electric Corporation (Power Generation Divisions)

Westmoreland Coal Company

Many of the photographs in Hagley's extensive pictorial collection provide an especially rich source on commercial and industrial architecture. Firms routinely took pictures to document the engineering, design, and construction of buildings, and then photographed interiors, production processes, and employees in the work place.

Among Hagley's major holdings are more than 100,000 photographs from the Sperry Corporation, 70,000 photographs documenting the iron and steel industry, 60,000 views of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation's Power Generation Divisions plant, and more than 20,000 images from the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Railroad. The 5,000 photographs from the PSFS archive show many of its bank buildings, including the construction of its Philadelphia headquarters and views of the interior.

Other commercial structures documented in Hagley's photographic collections range from gas stations to convenience stores. In addition to material from corporate archives, the Dallin Aerial Survey contains 15,000 aerial views of the Delaware Valley and adjacent areas, taken between 1925 and 1940.

Hagley also holds the papers of individual entrepreneurs, managers, and engineers. Some of these collections contain information on plant and building design. The records of general contractor John McShain are a particularly rich source. His extensive work included the Jefferson Memorial, the Pentagon, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and National Airport in Washington, D.C., as well as many churches, schools, and office buildings.


For general questions about using any of these materials, please use our Ask Hagley online form or call 302-658-2400 ext 227.

The Hagley Center for the History of Business, Technology and Society awards travel grants for visiting scholars. Some housing is available on the property. The Center also organizes conferences, research seminars, and academic programs. For more information