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MS026: Ichabod Washburn Papers

Identifier: MS026

Scope and Contents

The bulk of the materials in this collection is bills, receipts, and accounting relating to the building of Washburn Shops, ranging from 1868 to 1873.. This includes a list of expenses over the years which totaled over $52,000. in 1872. Also included is a copy of the original 1865 subscription list for the “Scientific School in Worcester,” with Mr. Washburn’s offer to erect and equip a machine shop for the school. Mr. Washburn’s will is also part of the collection. These materials came from the American Antiquarian Society, and were arranged by date in five folders, which are at the back of the collection.

The collection also includes biographical materials, ranging in date from 1928 to 1978. A booklet by George I. Rockwood, published in 1943 and titled “The Founder of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute,” makes a case for declaring Ichabod Washburn the real founder. A photograph of Mr. Washburn is at the end of the collection.


  • 1814-2006

Biographical / Historical

Ichabod Washburn was born August 11, 1798 in Kingston, Massachusetts. His family was very poor, and he was apprenticed at the age of nine to a chaise, harness, and trunk maker in Duxbury. By the age of sixteen, Washburn had moved to Leicester and was apprenticed to a blacksmith. A few years later he established his own business in Millbury making agricultural implements. By 1820, he had come to Worcester and, with Benjamin Goddard, established a business making woolen machinery. In 1824 he began making card wire at a factory in Northville. By the 1830s, when Mr. Goddard retired from the business, Mr. Washburn, with the help of Stephen Salisbury II, had moved his business to Grove Street and the company was making piano wire and wire for many other uses. In 1850, his son-in-law became a partner of the firm, known as Washburn & Moen Manufacturing Company (later a subsidiary of U. S. Steel). By 1865, Washburn & Moen was the largest wire mill in the world.

Mr. Washburn gave much of his wealth to worthy causes during his lifetime and bequeathed much of his estate to help the poor and needy. He had, for some years before John Boynton’s offer of money for an endowment and support for a school, hoped to establish a school which would train young people for mechanical trades. Boynton’s offer was made on the condition that the people of Worcester provide the land and buildings for a school. Seth Sweetser and Emory Washburn, who Boynton approached, broadened the aim of the school to provide an “industrial education.” It was Ichabod Washburn, who received a letter from the original committee set up to solicit money and land to build the school, who insisted that this industrial education have a strong practical component. To that end, he offered to build and equip a machine shop for the school. Mr. Washburn died December 30, 1868, before the shops were completed, but his will provided for their completion.

Reading the biographical materials in this collection, as well as Mildred McClary Tymeson’s account in Two Towers, will provide more information, and opinions, as to the central role Ichabod Washburn played in establishing the school which became Worcester Polytechnic Institute.


.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Most of these papers were given to WPI by the American Antiquarian Society in 1946. They came to the AAS from the old records of Peter C. Bacon, one of the administrators of Ichabod Washburn’s estate. The biographical materials and photograph were part of WPI’s files.

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