Subject Guide


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.  

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. 



Aircraft factories - Apartment houses - Automobile factories - Banks - Bridges - 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- Hotels - 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 - Shipyards - Skyscrapers - Steel mills - Textile mills - Warehouses - Water works - Worker housing - World's Fairs 


The imprints collection of approximately 200,000 volumes includes a wide range of materials pertinent to the study of commercial and industrial architecture. Publications describe the planning and building of industrial and commercial structures and how they operate daily. There is considerable information on building materials, furniture, building systems, and design. Of note are two microfilmed collections of rare insurance drawings totaling over 3,600 images from the 1840s to the 1930s. These collections include both site plans and axonometrics with notes. The E. Hexamer & Son 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 textiles, aircraft, paper, automobiles, 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, guidebooks, 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 toward builders and contractors are especially useful. 

Hagley's comprehensive 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 C. Tichy of Raymond Loewy Associates. The work of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, and Howe & Lescaze are also 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 the design and construction of industrial and commercial facilities. Many collections include building and site plans, and the PSFS and Phoenix Bridge Company records contain complete 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 commercial and industrial architecture source. Firms routinely took pictures to document the engineering, design, and construction of buildings and then photographed interiors, production processes, and employees in the workplace. 

Among Hagley's significant 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 interior views. 

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 Company collection 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, the National Airport in Washington, D.C., and many churches, schools, and office buildings.