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Winans papers

Identifier: MS 0916


Railroad engineers and inventors, Ross Winans (1797-1877) and his son Thomas Winans (1820-1878), are the principal figures around which the Winans papers are built. The collection includes the correspondence, legal papers, accounts, bills, and receipts of both men. There is also a variety of other materials such as patents, drawings, designs, and experimental data relating to steamship building. The collection is strong in documenting the business and manufacturing of Ross Winans from 1835 to 1862. The real estate purchases and financial affairs of Thomas Winans are also well represented.


  • 1828-1963


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical Note

1797: Ross Winans born in Sussex County, New Jersey

1820: Ross Winans marries Julia DeKay; first child born, Thomas DeKay Winans

1821: Ross Winans first patent -- fulling cloth

1823: Second child born, William Lewis Winans

1828: Ross Winans and family move to Baltimore; Ross Winans devises friction railroad car wheel and axel with outside bearings

1831: Ross Winans appointed assistant engineer of machinery on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

1832: Ross Winans devises eight wheel Columbus car

1835: Ross Winans partnership with George Gillingham to manufacture railroad machinery for the B and O Railroad

1843: Ross Winans expansion of works and production; sons Thomas and William L. Winans sent to Russia to assist George W. Whistler in construction of Russian Railroad

1850: Thomas and William L. Winans contract for the remount of moving machinery of the St. Petersburg and Moscow Railroad, and partnership with Winans, Harrison and Winans

1851: Thomas Winans returns to U.S.

1856: Ross Winans controversy with Henry Tyson

1857: Closure of Ross Winans Locomotive Works

1858-1878: Ross, Thomas, and William L. Winans work on Cigar boats

1861-1862: Thomas Winans soup house

1861: Ross and Thomas Winans manufacture pikes and balls for Confederacy; Ross Winans construction of steam gun; Ross Winans election to Maryland Legislature; Ross Winans' arrest and release by federal troops

1870: Ross Winans publication of One Religion, Many Creeds

1873: Ross Winans construction of Winans Row

1877: Ross Winans death

1878: Thomas Winans death

1897: William Lewis Winans death


10 Linear Feet (24 boxes; 1 oversized volume; 2 oversized folders)

Language of Materials



Boxes 1-4 contain the papers of Ross Winans and Thomas Winans, which include correspondence, accounts, bills, receipts, patents, legal papers, and assorted other materials. Boxes 5-24 contain 81 manuscript bound volumes relating to Ross and Thomas Winans. These include ledgers, cash books, time books, journals, daybooks, diaries, pamphlets, notebooks, order books, scrapbooks, and log books. The Ross Winans time book, 1857-1864 is an oversized volume.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Most of the items in the collection were donated by Mrs. Reginald W. Hutton and Miss Celeste W. Hutton in April of 1948. Thomas Winans gave the Society three volumes of detailed records concerning experiments with the steam yacht “Walter S. Winans” in 1928. At a later, unknown date, Mr. J.G.D. Paul added about 33 other items to the Winans papers, including a biography of Ross Winans by Carlyle Barton, a number of Ross Winans pamphlets (1872-1875), a Hutton Winans scrapbook (1903-1934), and a body of genealogical research material relating to the Winans-Hutton family.

Related Materials

A photo album containing images of Thomas Winans' two Baltimore estates, Alexandroffsky and Crimea, has been transferred to the photographs collection: PP 0127, Views of Alexandroffsky and the Crimea photograph album, circa 1875

Scope and Contents

The Winans papers, 1821-1963, document the careers and interests of Ross Winans and his son Thomas Winans, railroad engineers and inventors. There is material relating to the manufacturing, patents, and financial affairs of both men, primarily during the years 1835 to 1875. The papers of each are grouped separately, and divided by type of document. The material itself is arranged chronologically.

Ross Winans' correspondence is to a great extent concerned with railroad manufacturing and business dealings. There is limited material relating to his activities during the Civil War and shipbuilding. Correspondents include James Brewster, President of the Hartford and New Haven Railroad Co.; Charles Howard, President of the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad Co.; A. Joyner, President of the Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad Co.; Enoch Seurs, Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad Co.; Uriah Townsend of the New York Locomotive Works; L.S. Wattson, President of the Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain Railroad Co.; the President and Directors of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Co.; P.E. Thomas, President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Co.; and Chauncey Books, President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Co.

In a similar fashion, Ross Winans' accounts, bills, and receipts reflect his heavy involvement with railroad manufacturing. There is also a sizeable collection of material relating to shipbuilding, and a few pieces connected with munitions manufacture during the Civil War. Starting in about 1860, there is a large group of hay receipts and payroll accounts for farm hands. Ross Winans must have been operating a farm at this time.

The legal papers of Ross Winans include business agreements, indentures, purchase of patent rights, and deeds. There are also articles of co-partnership, apprentice indentures, articles of agreement and a single deposition concerning a riot, possibly directed at Ross Winans' works. This body of papers is wholly oriented towards the business of railroad manufacturing.

Ross Winans' patent material consists of letters patent and U.S. Patent Office imprints detailing his various improvements. The twenty-seven items deal mostly with steam engines, railraod locomotives, and railroad rolling stock. It is a strong area of the collection, for it appears complete and is very informative with regard to Ross Winans' mechanical ideas.

Thomas Winans' correspondence is, like his father's, business oriented. However, little has to do with any one type; rather it reflects the financial interests of a wealthy man who dabbled in numerous projects. He was involved with his father's war munitions works, as letters from Baltimore Police Marshall George Kane indicate. His letter books show a preponderant interest in ship building (1858-1878), as he often collaborated with his brother William Lewis by mail. An apparently complete series of incoming correspondence from Alexander Brown and Sons (Winans' banker) provide much information about Thomas Winans' financial affairs for those two years. His other major correspondents included John H.B. Latrobe; Osmun Latrobe; Anson T. Colt; William H. Graham; James Whistler; Baring Bros.; George Brown; Walter Wilkinson; Reverdy Johnson; Blatchford, Seward and Griswold; and Ross R. Winans.

The accounts, bills, and receipts of Thomas Winans are not as extensive as are his father's. They are in some respects similar to Ross Winans' in that some deal with the same projects. Thomas Winans can be seen as supplying munitions to the Confederacy and as being engaged in ship construction, both most likely in conjunction with Ross Winans. Other materials of Thomas Winans in the series deal in a scattered way with such things as his wife's clothing; real estate; and freight charges.

A strength of the Thomas Winans materials is the extensive number of legal papers dealing with real estate. Thomas Winans must have felt land to have been a good investment, for he made numerous purchases, mostly in the City of Baltimore from 1848 to 1875. This series of documents consists of those real estate legal papers connected with former owners of property bought by Thomas Winans and those papers dealing with his own purchase of property. Much of the property purchased by Thomas Winans went into the grounds of his two large estates, Alexandroffsky and Crimea; but a sizeable remainder probably was rented out to individuals and businesses.

Thomas Winans' papers exhibit some concern for the poor of the city. This is indicated by documents related to a soup kitchen established across the street from Alexandroffsky. Estimates ranging from 600 to 4,000 people were supposedly fed there daily during its operation from 1861 to 1862. The material concerning this project is scarce in this collection, but what does exist is highly informative.

The Winans papers indicate some possible business partnership between Thomas and Ross Winans. There is a small body of correspondence (about 30 items) referring to Mess. Winans Co. or just Winans Co. Some of this material relates to the ship construction carried out by Ross and Thomas Winans. It is likely they collaborated in other areas as well. One of these was a whiskey distillery and distributorship, from which there is a great deal of material. Most of all of it consists of whiskey inspection receipts and sales receipts for the years 1860-1861. The other joint effort was the involvement of Winans Co. in the manufacture and distribution of war munitions to southern sympathizers, Baltimore police force, and to the Confederacy itself.

Winans Co. was also involved in a protracted dispute with the U.S. Government. Basically what the documents display is the refusal of a Col. H.B. Brewerton of the Engineering Corps to take back four dredging scows he lent Winans until they were repaired by the latter. There is extensive material in the Winans Co. correspondence series concerning the disagreement.

Although the papers of Ross and Thomas Winans make up the majority of the collection, there is some material relating to William Lewis Winans (son of Ross Winans and brother of Thomas Winans). This includes a long series of letters from W.L. Winans to his brother Thomas (1858-1862). These letters, contained in a copybook in Box 22, concern the development of the Cigar boat steamships both were so interested in. Business and personal topics are also covered. The collection also includes scattered and incomplete material of Ross R. Winans, the Hutton Family, and the deBearn family. There is also a small group of items relating to genealogical research on the Winans family, consisting of correspondence, essays, and family trees.

Guide to the Winans papers
Under Revision
William G. LeFurgy
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Revision Statements

  • 2019-09-16: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Sandra Glascock .

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States