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MS002: Theophilus (Theo) Brown Papers, 1893-1971

Identifier: MS002

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the life and career of Theophilius Brown, WPI Class of 1901. Series 1 contains his personal diaries which include information on developments at John Deere, the Brown family, world events, and local news.


  • Majority of material found within 1893-1971

Conditions Governing Access

Permission of archivist.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright restrictions may apply.

Biographical / Historical

Theophilus (Theo) Brown was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1879 as the oldest of three children; he had two younger sisters, Amy and Kate. His first diary is dated 1893 and contains his reflections on life, the weather, and anything else that captured his imagination. His love of engineering is evident from his first entry where he records his fascination with the North End electric cars while also lamenting his bout with chicken pox. He attended Classical High School in Worcester, graduating in 1897, where he notably rowed in the first United States crew competition and kept notes in his second diary which features near daily entries. This diary includes ink drawings of his rowing team and a proposed “rowing machine” that could aid in training. That fall he enrolled at “the Tech” where he documented his interest in shop practice and drawing. Brown graduated from Worcester Tech in 1901 and began working for his uncles at the Richardson Manufacturing Company in Worcester. In 1911, he once more began to keep a diary, where he often noted the weather and monitored his sleep patterns. He also mentions signing a Canadian patent for a low down spreader machine as well as designing a lime sower and lift mower. Many of Brown’s ideas are depicted as color sketches in his diaries. After a trip to Chicago to meet with representatives from John Deere, Brown accepted a job offer and relocated to Illinois to serve as superintendent of the Marseilles Manufacturing Company plant, a division of John Deere, in East Moline. While there, Brown met and married Elise Koehler of Davenport, Iowa. Diaries from this period are rich with photographs of individuals testing many of Brown’s designs. In 1916, Brown was reassigned as head of the experimental department of Deere & Co. plow shop, where he continued his work designing and improving machinery and hardware. Many of his designs first appeared in his diaries as sketches featuring the distinctive John Deere colors of green and yellow. From 1918-1923, he corresponded with automobile mogul Henry Ford after the latter’s purchase of plows and other farm equipment. Brown continued to document his activities at home and work in the diaries while also noting major world events. During World War II, Brown recreated sketches of newspaper headlines and maps depicting the frontlines in color as he followed the progress in Europe and the Pacific. Brown’s son in law by his daughter Lee, William (Bill) Cade, served in the Army Air Corps’ design department. After the war, Brown continued to recreate newspaper headlines and political cartoons in his diary in addition to recording his work at John Deere. He retired from John Deere in 1952 having been awarded more than 150 patents for his designs. Despite his retirement, he was still active in the company as a consultant and member of the advisory board. His retirement was spent traveling with his wife Elise and doting on his family, which now included his five grandchildren from his daughter Lee. By 1970, the effects of Parkinson’s disease were evident in Brown’s handwriting. He eventually converted to typed entries as his health continued to deteriorate. In 1971, on the occasion of his 92nd birthday, Brown was honored at a luncheon hosted by John Deere employees. With their health waning, he and Elise spent summers in Massachusetts. His last entry is dated May 22, 1971 and is followed by a clipping of Elise’s obituary. Theo Brown passed away in July 1971 at the age of ninety-two in Princeton, Worcester County, Massachusetts.


99 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



This collection contains several diaries and other items related to noted mechanical engineer, Theophilius (Theo) Brown. A graduate of WPI, Brown was awarded many patents for his work on agricultural machines while employed by John Deere. Brown's diaries also contain information related to world events, his work, and personal life.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Brown Family

MS002: Theophilus (Theo) Brown Papers, 1893-1971
Arthur L. Carlson
March 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the WPI Manuscript Collections Repository

100 Institute Rd
George C. Gordon Library
Worcester MA 01609 USA