Mechanics Institute

Mechanics' Institute of St. Louis Records, c. 1830-1894

-Finding aid by Benjamin D. Breun

September 1989

Revised October 1991


During the period from November 17, 1943, to April 1, 1944, Judge W. McMurray donated to the National Park Service records of the Mechanics' Institute of St. Louis, as well as a few records of the MacMurray-Judge Architectural Iron Company Works and other unrelated items.

It is doubtful that these are the complete records of the Mechanics' Institute. The majority of these records date from 1839 to 1846, along with six diplomas from 1848 and a financial statement from 1861. The only possible connection the financial statement has with the Mechanics' Institute is that it is addressed to J.J. Clark, a possible relative of Meriwether Lewis. Clark, president of the Institute during the period these records were created.

The Mechanics' Institute was founded in 1839 by Samuel A.M. Shipp, Thornton Grimsley, and their associates, the two most significant of these being John H. Ferguson, the chairman of the Council of the Mechanics' Institute, and Meriwether Lewis Clark, the president of the Members of the Mechanics' Institute. According to its charter, the goals of the Institute were to:

...promote and encourage manufactures, and the mechanic and useful arts, by the establishment of popular Lectures on the sciences connected with them, by the formation of a cabinet of metals, Minerals, and a library and reading rooms; by offering premiums on all objects; deemed worthy of encouragement; by examining all new inventions submitted to them; by establishing schools for young mechanics and other miners, and by other means to the said society deemed expedient.

The Mechanics' Institute was chartered by the Missouri General Assembly on February 13, 1841.

The Institute held annual fairs open to the public at which it displayed machines, art, and architectural models, and demonstrated chemical reactions. The public could also buy many things at the fairs, and there were competitions for the best manufactured item. The winners received diplomas and cash awards. At least two of these annual fairs were held in St. Louis' Old Courthouse, now part of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

The Institute held annual lectures that were also open to the public. Unlike the fairs, the lectures were usually held at the Institute. Both the fairs and the lectures were sources of income for the Institute.

Members of the Institute paid weekly dues, and the president of the Members of the Mechanical Institute received an annual report from the Council chairman.

Information obtained from this collection must be properly cited, whether used in publications or in other formats. A citation suggested for this collection is:

National Park Service

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Archives

Mechanics' Institute of St. Louis Records, Circa 1830-1894

Box__, Folder__

Researchers are advised that before records, photographs, and any other unpublished materials from this collection can be published or exhibited, permission from the National Park Service must be obtained in writing.


The original order of the records in this collection, i.e., the order in which the records were maintained when they were active files in the nineteenth century, is not known. It is known, though, that the order of the records was altered sometime during the 45 years from the time they were received by the National Park Service in 1943-1944 and their processing as an archival collection in the summer of 1989. To aid researchers using these materials, the Archives staff has re-organized the collection into three series. Researchers are also advised that a general index to this finding aid, listing proper names, subjects, and titles of publications, is included as Appendix 1.

Series 1. Mechanics' Institute Records, Dated

Folders in this series contain documents for which the date is known. Items too large to be filed in manuscript boxes have been moved to an oversized box. Separation sheets have been filed in each item's place, and the new location is listed in parenthesis after each item's description. Items are listed in chronological order.

Series 2. Mechanics' Institute Records, Undated

Documents in this series include business forms, records that span more than one year, and undated records. Items in this series are arranged in their assumed chronological order.

Series 3. Judge W. McMurray Papers

Records in this series were not produced by the Mechanics' Institute, but appear to have belonged to Mr. McMurray personally. Documents in this series are arranged chronologically.

Oversize Items

Items too large to be preserved in standard archive document cases have been removed to an oversize box or a map case drawer. The original location of oversize items within the collection is noted in the Container Listing section of this finding aid, as are cross references to their new location in the oversize box or map case. The oversize materials are described at the end of the Container Listing section on pages 12-18.

If you have questions regarding archives holdings, contact Archivist Jennifer Clark at the JNEM Archives at (voice) 314-655-1600. Appointments are encouraged, if possible.

Last updated: October 1, 2020

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